MANDATORY AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey guys . . . So I know you're probably tired of seeing my name on the story list, since I have like four stories going at once. But this idea was bounding around in my head and I wanted to put it here. I write fairly fast, so updates will be regular, just like for my other stories. I usually write one chapter of each story at a time, circulating through each one-by-one. Anyway, this story will be more of a poignant look at the loss of innocence and childhood, and will have MUCH LESS DRAMA than Love Must Come. I'm actually thinking of putting LMC on hiatus for this story . . . Anyway, make SURE you leave a review to give me feedback. I will not continue this story unless I get at least THREE reviews asking me to.

DISCLAIMER: This disclaimer applies to the entire story. Kingdom Hearts and any and all things having to do with it do not belong to me. However, the plot and plot events are entirely MINE, along with the band Destiny's Embrace, the use of the word Hikari as a name, and the characters' personalities.

NOTES: This story will have some adult content so for now, it is rated T. Eventually, it will go up to M rating for obvious reasons as the plot progresses. I encourage you to stick with me until then.



Chapter One


One, two, buckle my shoe

Childhood.The one thing we as humans take the most for granted, the innocence of childhood is a wonderful thing. It swirls by, a magical combination of butterfly chasing, dirt-covered knees, and Hot Lava Monster on the playground. Boys are cute and girls have cooties, and no, Mom, I don't want to eat my vegetables. Grandma sends gifts, but you never send her thank you notes, and she passes away before you really get to know the meaning of death. You play outside for hours in the Summer with your best friends, and you pray to Jesus every night in the hopes that he'll bring you a Daddy. You crawl around on the floor and insist that you're a puppy dog, and you fight over the remote with your siblings on Saturday morning. Hopscotch at recess, your crush tells you he likes someone else, and you beg your Mommy for a new Barbie doll for Christmas. Arithmetic, Christopher Columbus, Spelling Bees, and learning to swim at Summer Camp. Childhood.

Three, four, shut the door

Everything seems so simple when you're a child, doesn't it?

Five, six, pick up sticks

Before the night of October the 25th, the year she turned seventeen, Kairi Frierson firmly believed in the simplicity of youth. When she was five, she chased butterflies and prayed to Jesus every night, and He brought her a Daddy. A Mommy, too, and a brother. He brought her a family that loved her and made her feel wanted. Her Daddy was in the Army, so he was never home for long, but she didn't mind. Just so long as they were together some of the time, that's all she cared about. She was seven when her Daddy left the service, and they settled down on the triad of Destiny Islands. She went back to hopscotch and wiping the dirt off of her knees, arguing with her older brother over the rights to the remote. Years went by, she knew every single person in her elementary school, and she was happy. Her best friends were always there for her, and her family was tight-knit and warm.

Seven, eight, lay them straight

Until something terrible happened, shattering the semblance of bliss that Kairi had become so accustomed to, leaving her lost and fending for herself in the midst of the darkness.

Nine, ten, a big fat hen

Because after all, what's the one thing we as humans take the most for granted?


Kairi stared unblinkingly up at the ceiling of her bedroom, counting down the seconds until her alarm went off. Every day, it went like this: she woke up hours before she was meant to, and she prayed for God to make the day pain-free. Because every day, she was reminded of the achingly empty hole in her heart that would never be filled—the loss was absolute, and it seemed as though sometimes she just wanted to give up. So she counted each and every second, promising herself that as soon as that alarm blared in her ears, she would put on a smile and face the day for the things that she had lost, and the pain she had suffered. Even if she had nobody there to witness her strength, it was worth it for the sake of her heart.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

It was time. The day had come. Junior year had been a blur of torment and loneliness, and now the day for Senior year had come. How were people going to react? Were they going to shun her like they had the previous year? Could she handle seeing the faces of those that she had once called friends? Kairi closed her eyes, feeling as though she were stuck to her mattress.

Could she really go through with this?

Beep! Beep! Beep!

The alarm seemed to get louder and louder, until she could no longer hear herself think, and she slammed her hand down on top of the clock to silence it. Sighing in exasperation, she sat up and combed her fingers through her elbow-length crimson hair. She had never before dreaded a first day of school as much as she dreaded this day. Her fluffy white Maltese dog peered up at her curiously from her bed, her beady black eyes silently encouraging her to be strong.

"Should I just forget all about it, Memory?"she asked the puppy with a heavy sigh.

Memory whined and rose up on her paws a little bit. She licked her nose and started to wag her tail. She was a tiny little thing that weighed no more than five pounds. Memory had been with her for years, and whenever Kairi looked at her, she was distinctly reminded of the one who had gifted the little canine to her. His cobalt blue eyes haunted her dreams; his dazzling white smile never failed to send chills down her spine.

But he was no longer in her life. He hated her now—he believed her to be a whore, an attention-seeker, a liar. He had once been her best friend, and they had many memories together. Summer sunsets on the beach, eating sea salt ice cream. Video game marathons and supervised sleepovers and ordering pizza. He used to walk her home from school every day, from the start of third grade when they met to the last day before everything fell apart in Junior Year. They had been thick as thieves—a perfect match. But he left her, just like everyone else did and now . . . She was alone.

Kairi sucked in her breath and focused hard on the way her heart was beating. She always got over-emotional when she thought of her former best friend, and she knew that if she saw him at school, it was going to be difficult. She knew she was being way too kind, still caring for him after everything he had done. He had hurt her, betrayed her—he hadn't been there for her like he'd promised.

The teenage search for popularity would be the downfall of us all.

Memory yipped and leapt up onto her lap, nuzzling her nose into the palm of her hand. Kairi obliged her, scratching her gently around the ears.

"You're right, Memory," she whispered, her long hair falling forward as she hugged the dog tightly. "I am strong enough."

She let go, and the puppy hopped onto the mattress, curling up to sleep. Kairi rose to her feet, steeling herself for the day's events. Destiny Islands was a small town, and she'd been gone from the public sight for what, eight or nine months? There was always the slight chance that nobody remembered her . . .

Kairi went to her closet and sifted through the nice clothing that her mother had bought for her to bring to her new apartment. She smiled a little bit at the thought that this was her apartment, and she was only eighteen. She hadn't wanted to move out, but when your enraged adoptive father insists that you're no longer his daughter and orders you out of his house, what else can you do? She could still remember the look of hatred and pain in his eyes at her accusations; could still feel the hurt as freshly as if he had wounded her just moments ago. They hadn't spoken since November, right after everything happened, the only person still on her side being her adoptive mother. Would Kairi ever see her Daddy again? Would he ever look at her through the eyes of a father?

Would he ever come to love her once more?

Kairi shook the depressing thoughts from her head and picked out a periwinkle dress to wear. It was a simple Forever21design, A-line skirt, cinched waist, and silver-studded Peter Pan collar. She took off her pajamas and slipped it on over her thin body, the silk ghosting against her flesh, and turned to gaze at herself in the full-body mirror that rested in the corner.

Frowning, Kairi touched the contours of her heart-shaped face as if it were made of spun glass. She hated the way she looked. She was fine with her body weight and shape, but after everything that had happened to her during Junior year and that October night, she no longer found herself pretty. She was an ugly, repulsive thing, and maybe if she were prettier, it never would have happened. Bad things didn't happen to the pretty ones. She blinked her cerulean eyes, twin sapphires framed with impossibly long dark lashes, and pursed her pouty lips. Why couldn't she look like some of her old friends had? They had all been so gorgeous . . . Kairi had spent months telling herself that if she looked more like them, she wouldn't have had to go through what she had, and maybe . . .

Maybe she wouldn't be so alone right now.

Turning away from her reflection, she slipped her feet into a pair of black velvet flats. She grabbed a brush off of her vanity and ran it through her thick, luscious red locks and tried her best to make sure her bangs fell just right across her face. She sat down and piled on the make-up, as she usually did everyday, to hide her true self from the world. Her lashes were coated in mascara and lined in shimmering pearl eyeshadow. Her high cheekbones were powdered with rosy blush and her face smoothed with BB cream. She opened up a tube of frosty pink lip stain and spread it across her lips, sitting back to stare at the final look blankly.

Kairi would never be satisfied with her appearance, not so long as that pain-filled void of guilt remained in her heart.

Murderers didn't deserve to feel pretty.

The eighteen-year-old, five-foot-three-inches tall girl grabbed her black backpack, stuffed her new binder and pencils inside, and headed out of her bedroom. Her apartment was nothing special—it was small and cozy, fully furnished with expensive things that her mother had selected for her in blues and whites, and had two bedrooms. Kairi walked past the bathroom, pausing in front of the door to the second bedroom. It was firmly shut, and pastel pink letters from the craft store were nailed to the front of the door.


Kairi's lower lip trembled and she briefly caressed the letter 'H' with her finger. She tried not to remember the agony that had ripped through her body that day, piercing her heart so much more than any physical ailment ever could. She tried so hard not to give in to her emotions and despair—tried to focus on the present and the promising future. She was returning to school to not only show her bullies that she could not be defeated, but also to prove to Hikari that she would live on.

But it was so hard, to lose your child and wake up to the slowly spinning Earth each day knowing that nobody could hear your screams.

Memory barked a couple of times, trotting out of her bedroom with her tongue hanging out. She weaved her way around Kairi's ankles, urging her to hurry. The dog was smart, and she always had been.

"I know, I know," she said, her voice thick with emotion. "I'm going."

She moved down the hall, tossing once last lingering glance at the bedroom door before she made her way through the kitchen. She grabbed her car keys and her iPhone, sliding her finger across the touchscreen. She was only mutedly dismayed when she saw that there were no calls and texts, because she never got any calls or texts. The only ones she had ever gotten were mean and nasty after the events of Junior year, and even those had stopped trickling in. Her own mother never even called her, though she did drop in from time to time to check on her. No, Kairi was by her lonesome, for the most part, save for the comforting company of Memory.

Kneeling down by the front door, Kairi kissed Memory on top of the head, giggling in spite of her anxiousness at going back to school. The dog yipped happily and pushed her small muzzle against Kairi's petting hand, and Kairi simply enjoyed herself for a moment. She was content in the knowledge that Memory would always love her no matter what she said or did, and nobody could take that away from her.

"Goo'bye, poopoo," she said in a babyish tone of voice, wrinkling her nose fondly when the dog looked up at her expectantly. She pointed to the food bowl, which was still full from last night, as Memory had forgone eating for the chance to crawl into bed with her. It was early September, but it was cold this time of year either way, so Memory loved to slip beneath the covers and burrow up against her feet. The Islands were located on a strange part of the world, which had erratic weather changes all year round, such as rain in the Summer and random hot days in the dead of January. So more often than not, Kairi's companion and only friend cuddled with her at night.

Kairi finally pulled herself away from her beloved pet, locking the door behind her and slinging her bag up higher on her shoulder. She turned and walked toward the elevator, chewing her lip nervously as she pressed the Lobby button.

The last time Kairi had set foot in her high school, it had been the Monday after Thanksgiving. The cruel remarks and jibes had already begun to overwhelm her, and she had worn herself thin trying desperately to get her friends back. She was devastated that nobody had believed her when she'd told them what had happened to her, but she wanted her friends to stay in her life more than anything. It was no use, though, because who would believe her story? It was disgusting and insane, and it just had to be a lie. And as she had walked through those doors, the whispers had spread like wildfire, all aimed toward tearing her down.

"I can't believe she's still coming here," someone said in a stage whisper, looking Kairi up and down snidely. "Can't she see she's not welcome anymore?"

Kairi hugged her books tighter to her chest, her heart aching with sorrow. Why hadn't her friends stood by her side? Why hadn't her best friend comforted her? Why was he standing by his locker, glaring at her as though her mere presence made him ill? That's what hurt the most—seeing all of the tenderness he'd once had for her void from his intense azure gaze, only to have it be replaced by white-hot fury. He'd never trust her again, and he didn't want to be her friend anymore. He'd told her so to her face the day she'd ran to him, begging him to help her, because he didn't believe her. No one did.

"Hey, slut!" a random male voice called out nastily from the crowded hall. "Take your ugly ass back out those doors!"

"You're disgusting, saying that about your own brother," another voice remarked viciously. "People like you deserve to be in mental hospitals."

The redhead halted in her tracks, her cropped hair falling forward to shield her face. She was mere feet away from her former best friend's locker, and tears as fat as pebbles were cascading down her cheeks. She kept her eyes lowered, feeling his hard gaze upon her. He was so much taller than her, now that they were seventeen, and knowing that he hated her made her feel frightened of him. Though now, she would always be frightened of all men. She had been keeping her secrets for so long, and when they had come bubbling forth, she had expected to get help, not be shunned. Men had hurt her and taken away her innocence—and it was men who had claimed her to be a liar.

"You cut your hair," he said harshly, and she flinched at the coldness of his tone.

She kept her eyes downcast. Of course she had . . . He had always told her he liked her hair short, since it reminded him of when they were children, building castles in the sand. She had allowed it to grow to her shoulders in recent months, and after everything had fallen apart, she had thought that maybe, just maybe, he'd stop hating her if she looked the way he wanted her to? He may not have believed her tale, but at least he might look at her with something more than vehemence.

"Y-Yes," she stammered, feeling eyes against her in all directions. She felt so exposed, and she knew that everyone was watching their exchange with interest. She was under a lot of pressure, and so was he.

"Why are you here?" he asked, his words cutting into her heart painfully deep. "Why don't you just drop out already? I'm tired of seeing your face."

"I . . . I'm sorry," she whispered, choking on her words. "Please . . . Can't we go talk somewhere?"

"No," he said flatly, and he slammed his locker door shut so hard that it jarred her bones. "You sicken me. I can't believe that you would say that shit about your own brother . . . About my best friend . . . You're fucking sick."

His curse words lashed against her like chain whips, reminding her of how much they had changed in the past few years since starting high school. She remembered a time when he had hated her brother, stating that he didn't like the way he "looked" at her. She remembered feeling sad because he didn't know the truth behind those looks, and now she was even sadder because he knew now, but he didn't believe her words. So she started to cry, dropping her binder to the floor, ignoring the papers that fluttered all over the hall. Kairi heard the students around her start to laugh derisively, and she felt so suffocated that it was almost unbearable.

"I trusted you!" she sobbed to her former best friend, gazing directly up into his cobalt blue eyes.

He narrowed his eyes down at her and clenched his fists at his sides. His unruly chestnut brown hair had gone from bushy to spiky in a matter of years as he'd grown, adding to his overall handsome, rugged look. His bangs fell to his chin, shrouding his eyes a bit so that when he looked back at the weeping redhead, he looked scary and dark.

"And I trusted you," he snarled. "But you lied to me. You fucking lied to everyone because you couldn't stand not being in the limelight. Well, guess what, Kairi? Now you are. And nobody's applauding. So get the fuck out of my sight before I throw up."

Kairi turned on her heel and fled, the choruses of cheers and laughter floating into her ears like a cacophony of torture, reminding her that from now on, she had nobody to protect her.

The pleasant dinging of the elevator bell overhead snapped Kairi out of her reverie and, with a miserable sigh, she exited the cage and stepped out onto the linoleum floor of the lobby. Her apartment complex was way out in the hills, far away from where her school and the majority of the city housing was located, so she knew she had a long drive ahead of her. She hoped she could stay strong and not lose her confidence—she was going to go to school, and she was going to graduate with the rest of her peers. Her brother had graduated the year before, so perhaps everyone had already forgotten who she was and what she had done?

Kairi absentmindedly touched her long, long hair. Hopefully, it would keep her former best friend from noticing her. After he had so awfully and publicly shunned her and cut her from his life, she had allowed her hair to grow back out almost to her lower back to spite him. Not that he would care—she hadn't seen him or heard from him since that fateful day.

She gulped, wondering what it would be like if she saw him today.

In the car, Kairi hooked her phone up to the stereo and chose a song to play. She blushed, as she always did when she played this particular band, because she felt as though the band members would know. Normally, this would seem odd, but the band she called her favorite just-so-happened to be local and her former best friend with the sparkling azure eyes and bedheaded brown hair just-so-happened to be the frontman and lead guitarist of said band. They were extremely talented and already signed to a small record label and everything, and often played shows in downtown clubs. Kairi had never attended any, of course, since she had rarely left her house the past school year after dropping out of all of her classes, except to pick up groceries or to go to night school. She felt embarrassed, knowing that if he knew she listened to his band religiously, he might be repulsed.

He had said he was sickened by her, and when she looked at herself in the mirror, she was sickened, too.

As the sounds of her favorite song by them came flooding through the speakers, his angelic vocal talents made her shudder. Every time she heard him sing, she was reminded of how much she missed him. She missed everything about her old life, especially the carefree happiness of knowing that your best friend was always going to care for you more than anyone else. But it had come at a price, because she had been hiding something so awful and devastating to her spirit that it had nearly torn her apart. And when she'd woken up one morning to vomit bile into the toilet, she'd known that it was time to come clean.

The proof was there, so why had nobody believed her but her mother?

She drove down the freeway with her hands at ten and two, tears brimming in her eyes as she listened quietly to him singing. He had always dreamed of playing music and being in a band, ever since fifth grade when his father had given him his first guitar for Christmas. His voice was positively Godly, but he hadn't ever found the right people to play in a band with him—people that complimented his talents in just the perfect manner. Well, he seemed to have found them some time after she'd dropped out, because their demo songs hit Youtube and Facebook with an explosion of good reception. Within weeks, they had become the most popular band out there, calling themselves Destiny's Embrace, and mixing his hauntingly beautiful clean vocals with his brother's skillful, growling screams to create music that you could not only lose yourself to, but that spoke volumes to teenagers who just wanted to get the Hell away from the life they were living in. Kairi couldn't help but feel proud; he had always promised her that he would make a difference someday, and he would show other kids their age that there was always a way out. That music was the escape they so craved.

There was just one downfall.

Kairi's brother—the one who terrified her the most—was the bassist in Destiny's Embrace, and was the "best friend" that her former friend had referred to the day he'd humiliated her in the hallway with his stinging rejection. Even if she wanted to go to one of their shows, she wouldn't be able to handle seeing his face again, remembering what it was like to hide such horrid secrets from the people around her.

When she got to the school, Kairi sat in the car for fifteen minutes, listening to the music and watching as hundreds of students poured across the parking lot and started making their way up the front steps. She recognized more than a few of them, and knew that today wasn't going to go very well if they recognized her right back. God, she hoped they just left her alone. Please, just let them leave her alone.

Kairi hadn't felt this nervous and scared in a long time, and just when she thought she might faint, she saw him. Her heart ceased its incessant pounding and her eyes zoned in on his confident gait and trademark grin.

Sora Yoshimura was extremely handsome and alluring in the way his Japanese features blended to create his facial appearance. His cobalt blue eyes were striking, and could melt you into a puddle when he looked at you. His hair was long and spiky, looking as if he had just crawled out of bed, and his skin was slightly tanned. Kairi leaned closer to her windshield, her eyes studying the way he had filled out a bit more, his muscles practically straining against his tight black V-neck. He was wearing a pair of light blue skinny jeans that had rips in the knees and all-black lace-up Vans, and when he turned to wave at someone, Kairi could swear he was looking directly at her.

Panicking, the redhead ducked down in her seat, hoping against all hope that he hadn't seen her gawking. She turned bright red at the thought. What would he think if he knew how she still obsessed over him, after all these months? He'd probably be freaked out, that was for sure, and more than anything, revolted. Yes, there was once a time when he would have been ecstatic to hear that she found him attractive—she distinctly recalled how he had tried clumsily to steal her first kiss in the seventh grade, but he tripped and sent them both tumbling into a mud puddle—but now, she had a feeling that Sora would be appalled to see her, let alone find out she liked him.

It was pretty creepy that she hadn't seen hide nor hair of him in almost a year and had feelings for him that hadn't waned . . .

Kairi squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to regain control of her breathing. Memory would be disappointed if she could see Kairi's position now: hiding in her car like a criminal. She scooted back up into her seat and fixed her hair in the mirror, sighing heavily.

'Well,' she thought resignedly. 'Here we go.'

With that, she opened the door and stepped outside, her mind and heart prepared for what she expected to be one of the worst days of her young life.


Kairi stood in front of the bathroom mirror, wringing water and ketchup out of the ends of her hair. The stench of the food that had been dumped on top of her head was overwhelming, and she just wanted to sit in a stall and cry for the rest of the day. She had no idea what she had done to deserve what had happened to her, but apparently, someone had decided that she would look good with their lunch on her hair and face. She could still hear the laughter filling the cafeteria; could still see them pointing at her and snickering as she struggled back to her feet after being shoved and covered in food.

She hadn't even said anything—she had just dashed straight for the bathroom.

Today had been nothing but sheer torment. As soon as she'd walked in the doors, everyone had known exactly who she was. It had started with the telltale whispers and fingers aimed straight for her, and she had almost turned around and left. But then, she remembered Hikari and how she had made a vow to live her life to the fullest, and she had straightened her back resolutely. She marched to the office to get her schedule, passing by a group of her old girlfriends as she went. They'd stopped and gaped at her, obviously astonished that she was showing her face after all of this time, but Kairi hadn't thrown them a second glance.

Back when she needed them most, they hadn't thrown her a second glance, either.

After receiving her schedule and finding out where her homeroom was, she hurried to the correct hall to find it. At the time, her name was still just being passed along quietly, and she'd managed to keep to herself without anyone bothering her. She found her class and stepped inside, her cerulean eyes scanning her classmates. It was already full, and many of them were gathered around each other's desks, chattering amiably about their exciting Summer trips, amongst other things. Nevertheless, they all went deadly silent as soon as she walked into the classroom and stared at her as if she were a ghost come back from the dead.

"What is she doing here?" someone finally hissed, their voice shattering the silence.

Kairi fought the urge to roll her eyes—she was getting pretty sick of hearing that phrase—and went to find an empty seat at the back of the classroom. There was only one other girl back there with her, and as soon as Kairi plopped her stuff down on the floor, the girl was eyeing her with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. At first, it hadn't bothered the redhead, and she had turned her attentions to reading over her class schedule for the quarter. Around her, the groups of friends had started to huddle together even closer, and she heard her name and supposed "lies" being spoken repeatedly all over. She tried her best to shut out the noise, but it was difficult.

Finally, Kairi's head snapped up and she turned to glare at the girl next to her. She had collarbone-length platinum blonde hair and big, bright blue eyes that wouldn't tear themselves away from Kairi's face. She wore a white dress made of chiffon and knee-high brown boots that laced up, and while she was definitely stylish, Kairi couldn't help but feel envious of her flawless skin and pretty face.

"Can I help you?" she demanded of the rudely staring girl.

The girl shook her head vigorously, looking afraid, and quickly lowered her gaze to the sketchbook that rested atop her desk. Kairi eyed her warily for a moment longer before she faced the front. The teacher had entered the room now, and was calling off attendance. Kids were still trying to get in a few last bits of juicy gossip about Kairi before the bell rang, some of them glancing furtively back at her as if she were going to sprout two heads at any moment. She merely held their gaze, not wanting them to gain the upper hand over her. This year was different from Junior year. She had no plans to run away crying at every turn. She was going to face them all, whether they believed her story or not, and she was going to succeed in school. She wanted to graduate with everyone else more than anything, to prove that she could do something right to her father and mother, and a school full of bullies wasn't going to get in her way.

The blonde girl next to her continued to look over at her all through class, and when the bell rang for second period, Kairi felt as if she couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Fast forward to the last half of lunch, and Kairi was pouting at herself in the mirror in dismay. There was no way she was going to be able to finish out the rest of the school day looking and smelling like a garbage can. If she had thought she looked ugly before, she definitely looked hideous now. She reached up and picked a noodle up off of the top of her head, flicking it away from her with a scowl. This was ridiculous. Why couldn't people just let things go? She knew in her heart that she had told the truth, and her mother believed her, so that was all that mattered in Kairi's opinion.

She heard voices on the other side of the door, so she hurriedly scrambled into the handicap stall, sitting atop the toilet seat and pulling her knees to her chest. The voices were familiar, and she recognized them as belonging to two of the girls she had once called her close friends.

"Did you see her face, Fuu?" one of them snorted. "With all that food and shit . . . Yuck!"

"Disgusting," Fuu, the second girl, responded, and I heard makeup bags being unzipped.

The first girl, Olette, laughed scathingly. "I still can't believe she's actually back. After everything that happened last year, you'd think she'd bee too embarrassed. Seriously, I mean she told everyone her brother got her pregnant. Like, so fucking ew."

Kairi winced at hearing her ordeal come out of Olette's mouth as if it meant nothing—as if it truly were untrue, and that if it were true, then it was Kairi's fault that it had happened. She could remember the looks on Fuu and Olette's faces when she'd told them, how enraged they'd been that she would accuse the most popular guy in school and top choice on everyone's crush lists of impregnating and raping her. Of all people, Kairi had expected them to believe her, but they hadn't. They'd immediately jumped down her throat, and the next day at school, everyone was already treating her horribly.

"And the weird thing is she said it had been going on for like, ever," Olette said, lowering her voice conspiratorially.


"Yeah, I was the first person she told, and she said that it had been going on for years. Then, she wakes up pregnant, and so she told," Olette said. "I was like, ew, W-T-F, you were having a relationship with your adoptive brother?"

Fuu snorted, "Whore."

"Damn straight," Olette scoffed. "She probably was just slutting it up and blamed Riku to cover it up. She used to party all the time. One time, she . . ."

Kairi tuned them out, closing her eyes against the torrent of tears that were threatening to come out. It was hard to hear your old friends talk about you like that. It was hard to listen to them bashing you when all you could see inside your mind was happy memories of the good times you had shared. Kairi could distinctly remember shopping trips, sleepovers, and making lemonade in the Summer. She had told Olette about the nightmare she'd been experiencing because she had thought she could trust her—she wasn't prepared for her closet girlfriend to reject her like that.

"Well, whatever," Olette was finishing up. "I just don't know what in the Hell possessed her to come back this year. She's going to have a shitty time here at Destiny High . . ."

"Amen," Fuu agreed.

Kairi waited with bated breath for their heels to click-clack out of the bathroom before she let her feet hit the floor. She sat there, smelling like ketchup and staring blankly at the graffiti-covered stall walls, wondering where she went wrong in life to deserve the burdens that God had given her to carry. It was often said that God never gives you more than you can handle, but with each new hurdle she came across, Kairi was beginning to believe that statement was false.

One of the most important rules you learn as a child is to always tell the truth, but doing so had left Kairi with nothing.

The bell rang, and Kairi stayed right where she was for the rest of the day. She knew that she was being weak, like she had been the previous year when this was happening to her, but she couldn't do it. She just couldn't go back out there, especially not when she had been covered with food. She leaned her head against the wall and dozed off sporadically, her dreams drifting off into the land of mystery. When she woke up, she couldn't remember anything but the scent of juniper and daisy-peppered hills.


Kairi eventually snuck out of the bathroom about ten minutes after the final bell for the school day had rung. She looked left and right, as though she were about to cross a freeway, and then bolted down the hall toward the nearest stairwell. The building was nearly empty, the only sounds coming from groups of stragglers still heading out to the buses. Kairi knew that there were teachers, and she briefly felt remorseful about skipping her last three classes. She wanted this school year to be a good one academically—she had plans to walk the graduation stage in June—and she didn't want to be "that girl," the one who skips class to get out of turning in her homework, or something.

Kairi ran the rest of the way to her locker, practically slamming herself against it in her anxiety. She quickly turned the dial on the lock so she could retrieve her books and backpack, hoping that nobody saw her in the state she was in. It had been embarrassing enough when the guy had dumped his meal on top of her head, and she didn't want to repeat that. Heart beating fast, she threw the door open and scrambled to grab her things.

And that was when she heard his voice.

". . . Nahh, dude, for reals, though," he was saying to whoever it was that he was walking next to as he came strolling down the hall. "I just told her to quit freaking out. Like, I'm not going to fucking cheat on you, for the last time."

"Damn, bro," his friend responded. He had ice blonde hair that was obviously bleached, because his dark brown roots were peeking through, and sparkling blue eyes (that seemed to be the recurring theme here, didn't it?). His nose was pierced and he was wearing clothes similar to Sora's: skinny jeans, Nike kicks, and a V-neck. He went on to say, "I don't know how you constantly deal with that shit. It's like you guys are always fighting."

Kairi gulped in terror and stuffed her face inside of her locker, hoping that they didn't notice her. Because ohmyGod, that was Sora and his smile was so bright, and holy Hell, that was the drummer of Destiny's Embrace, wasn't it? She started to tremble, because this was what she had tried to avoid all day. How coincidental that after she hides out all day and just now goes to her locker, trying to scoot outside without anyone seeing her covered in somebody else's lunch, and here he comes, waltzing down the hall like nobody's business . . . ? Was God trying to make her life miserable?

"Yeah, we're always fighting, but it's whatever," Sora replied, fingering the strap of his messenger bag. "She's cute, and—"

"Sora, who are we kidding?" the drummer smirked. "You just like fucking her."

Sora elbowed him sharply. "That's not all I like about her—"

Kairi blinked against the darkness of her locker where she was standing with her head poked into it. Sora was having sex with someone? She didn't know why it shocked her so much—he was almost nineteen, after all—and she couldn't stop her stomach from sinking. She had liked him once and she liked him still, and hearing that he was in a relationship with somebody only painfully reminded her of their lost friendship.

"She . . ." Sora's voice trailed off, and Kairi mentally cursed the Heavens. Their footfalls slowed until they halted completely, and then, "Kairi?"

'Dear Lord God in the Heaven above, why are you doing this to me?!' Kairi thought despondently as she slowly turned around to stare up at her incredibly tall, ridiculously attractive former best friend. Now that she was viewing him up close and not from behind the safety of her windshield, she could clearly see just how much his body and facial features had matured. His skin was smooth and his hair long and spiky, his eyes bright and clear, and oh? Were those biceps? Hallelujah.

"Y-You're back?" he asked, looking pale and astonished. His eyes studied her warily, taking in her disheveled appearance with a mixture of puzzlement and awe. It was as if she had died and was just now rising from the grave.

Kairi opened her mouth to speak, speechless and petrified, but Sora's bandmate beat him to it.

"Wait? Is this . . . The Kairi? The one who lied about Riku last year?"

The silent moment was shattered and Sora's mind seemed to come spilling back into his body. His eyes hardened and he set his mouth into a thin line, and Kairi pressed her back against the locker as if the metal would embrace her and whisk her away.

"What are you doing here?" Sora grated out through clenched teeth, both of his hands wrapped tightly around his backpack strap.

Kairi drew her shoulders back and reared herself up to her full height. She only reached his chest, and it was embarrassing, but it was the principle of the matter that counted most. She narrowed her eyes at him.

"Am I not allowed to go to school anymore now?" she demanded. "I want to graduate with everyone else."

Sora and his friend exchanged disgusted glances, and then he sneered down at her.

"You smell like shit," he remarked nastily. "And you weren't in class today when the teacher called your name. So you're obviously not very serious about it."

Kairi blinked. Of course she would have a class with the one boy who knew how to tear her apart with a single look. And of course that happened to be one of the three classes that she'd skipped out on. She wondered which one it was, but not for long before she hurried to defend herself. This year was supposed to be about success, not constantly crying in the bathroom until she was bullied into dropping out, like she had last year.

"For your information, I didn't ask to be covered in all this nasty . . . Food," she spat, tucking her hair behind her ears angrily. "And it's none of your business how I go about graduating . . ." She averted her eyes. "At least, not anymore. So just fuck off, Sora."

"Oooh," his friend hissed in amusement, laughing at the enraged expression that passed over Sora's handsome face.

Kairi slammed her locker door shut and stormed off, feeling simultaneously accomplished and forlorn. When she was younger, she never would have dreamed of talking to Sora like that, and he would never have told her she smelled bad (which was mortifying, by the way). When she got to the doors that led outside, she paused momentarily and glanced back at Sora and his friend. They were still standing in front of her locker, conversing amongst each other most likely about her. As she stopped, he suddenly turned his head and stared right back at her. The look on his face nearly made her faint.

"Sora! Sora! Wait up!"

Kairi skidded to a halt on the sidewalk as her ten-year-old best friend turned around to greet her. She bent over at the waist, placing her hands on her knees for support as she gulped in precious lungfuls of air. The redhead had never been athletic, though she rather enjoyed a good swim every now and then. Her chin-length hair was matted with sweat from her physical exertion coupled with the heavy sunlight, and she flushed with embarrassment at her appearance.

"Where are you going?" she asked. "It's Summer! Weren't we supposed to go down to the beach today?"

"I just . . ." He lowered his head, his bushy brown spikes drooping with his dismay. Something was obviously wrong with him, because he'd abruptly walked out of her house without giving any reasoning behind it just moments ago. She'd immediately took off after him, chasing him up the hilly street.

"Aw, come on," Kairi pleaded, pouting at him. He was the same height as her, as he always had been. "You promised me when you got back from your trip that you would."

"I don't really feel like it today, Kai," he said softly. "I just . . . I wanna go home."

"Well . . . Let me walk you there!" the nine-year-old exclaimed brightly, because she knew why he was sad. His Grandma had just passed away and, while he didn't really know her all that well, he had been acting really depressed as of late. So far, Summer had been a total bust. "I've hardly gotten to see you since school let out."

"O-Okay," he agreed, turning and starting to walk away.

Determined to cheer him up, Kairi rushed ahead of him and started hop-skipping backward. She placed her fingers into her mouth and pulled her cheeks apart, blowing him a raspberry. He stopped walking and stared at her incredulously, though a smile tickled the corners of his lips.

"Stop, Kairi," he said, unable to hide the laugh. "I mean it—I'm really sad right now."

"I know," she giggled, leaping forward to throw her arms around his neck. "That's why I'm trying to cheer you up! Come on and smile—you always make me smile!"

"I don't know if I can, Kai . . ." he said, his arms hanging limply at his sides. There was that look again—that look of desolation and unbearably deep sorrow. Kairi didn't like seeing it there. It made her think of the time when she accidentally left her Play-Dough out on the table and it dried out, so she couldn't play with it anymore.

"Then here," she said, letting go of him and looking around for something she could put to good use. She spotted a weed of some sort growing on the side of someone's yard, so she bent down and plucked it from the dirt. She turned and faced him, grinning wickedly.

"What's that for?" he asked.

"I'll let you tickle me for . . . Five whole seconds if you smile," Kairi said decidedly, waving the prickly weed back and forth tauntingly. She knew how much Sora loved to tickle her—it had cracked him up when he tickled her in the Spring and she peed her pants in Church—and she also knew that he wouldn't be able to resist her offer.

Sora arched one eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. "Five whole seconds? Uninterrupted?"

Kairi smirked and nodded. "Uh-huh."

His cobalt blue eyes twinkled. "Ten seconds."

"No way!" she protested. "I'll go six-and-a-half, and that's it."

Sora pursed his lips. "Make it seven, and you've got yourself a deal!" He held his hand out, his face blank of any betraying emotions, so Kairi gladly took it to give it a good shake.

She soon realized her mistake when he tackled her to the grass, forgoing the use of the weed and using his fingers to tickle her sides with reckless abandon. She laughed and squealed, trying to hold her bladder as he tortured her. When she looked up at him, he was smiling, and it was exactly what she had been hoping to see—a ray of golden sunshine in the middle of an otherwise cloudy day, and she was content.

Kairi leaned up and planted a kiss on his cheek that caused him to halt his incessant tickling, and when she pulled back and wrinkled her nose at him, he gazed down at her in shock. He was blushing a bright red that rivaled the color of Spring apples, and it made Kairi laugh heartily.

"Wh-What was that f-for?" he stammered nervously, sitting down on his rump next to her in the grass. He kept a hand on his cheek, as if her kiss were tangible, and looked at her with uncertainty.

"My brother says you kiss the ones you love," Kairi said, her words having more meaning than either of them could ever hope to understand. "And you're my best friend, Sora. So keep smiling, okay? Everything's gonna turn out fine!"

But as soon as the words left her lips, the smile faded from his eyes and the sadness returned, leaving Kairi feeling embarrassed and upset that her plan hadn't worked. She vowed then that she would do whatever it took to make him smile again, even if it took all Summer and all the tickle sessions in the world.

The memory faded into nothingness, and Kairi fought back tears. Sora was looking at her with that very same look right now, and she knew that she had failed. She had broken her promise to him, just as he had to her, and they were at a standstill. It was not so much a matter of betrayal as it was the actual matter of trust, the most delicate flower of all.

Funny how childhood friendships always seem to shatter the easiest, isn't it?


A/N: Remember to leave a review. Feedback helps me better my writing. Thank you~