Once again, I am terribly sorry about the slow update speeds. I know that it's horrible of me, and I'll need to get better with it. Hopefully though, you guys will still enjoy the chapter, even if it's another short one. Sorry, but I think you guys deserve at least a little bit of fluff for putting up with me and my horrible updating habits.

Chapter 11

"Sensei?" I asked as I noticed a familiar brown haired woman dressed in a beige pantsuit, even though it was still blazing hot outside. I was in my summer uniform, and even I felt a light sweat break out on my brow as I gazed at the garment. How she wore something like that in this weather was completely beyond me. Although her frigid mood might have had something to do with it, given that she was slumped over a bench on the side of the road, a half empty can of iced coffee in her hands.

"Hey, Ryuuji, maybe we should just keep walking." Ami suggested, cupping a hand over her mouth so that her words wouldn't be heard by Sensei, who seemed far too out of it to hear her anyways. The woman seemed to be staring off into space, and barely registered our presence.

But of course, as it seemed with everything else in my life, that wasn't the case. Sensei's ears perked up, and her head jerked up at us, causing Ami and me to collectively take a step back in a combination of fear and surprise. Her eyes were red and there were clear indicators that she had used a lot of makeup to cover up bags around her eyes. She looked like a mess.

"That's right, keep walking! That's what everyone seems to be doing these days. Just keep walking and enjoy your seventeen-year-old lives. There's not much left for a single woman in her thirties, but to watch them walk by me." Sensei moaned to no one in particular. But I guess since I happened to be in the vicinity, I supposed that I couldn't just leave her to wallow in her misery.

"Sensei, let me help you up." I sighed, extending a hand to a suspicious Yuri-sensei, while Ami shook her head and did the same, "I can't believe we're doing this." She muttered as Sensei dropped her empty can to the floor and pulled herself up with our help.

"Hey, you could have tried to look for a trashcan." I remarked, grabbing her can and tossing it in a nearby trashcan. I know that it was probably the last thing that she wanted to hear, but I wasn't going to stand around while someone littered.

Sensei shrugged, "What's the point? I'm just an old maiden by now. Can you believe that I haven't even had a steady boyfriend for years? Not one."

"How pathetic." Ami said from beside me, interrupting Yuri-sensei. Shocked at her words, I could only gape in shock at what she had just said. Sure, I knew that Ami could be downright mean sometimes, but wasn't this taking it a little far?

"What did you say?" Sensei asked shakily.

"You heard me. How long are you going to use that as an excuse?" Ami repeated coldly, her eyes boring straight into Yuri-sensei, while I watched helplessly, not knowing whether or not I should step in. But the way that things were going, I seriously doubted that I would be able to do much to them anyways.

"Look, you brat, I didn't ask for this!" Yuri-sensei roared violently shoving Ami backwards, so that she crashed into me in the process. Luckily, I had been prepared for the assault, and I managed to keep both of us on our feet, so that Ami could stay up and glare at our teacher.

"Then why don't you do something about it?" Ami asked, and finally, I knew what she was doing. She was trying to provoke Yuri-sensei intentionally. Why? I had absolutely no idea, but at least I now knew that my girlfriend wasn't completely crazy, at least. It didn't really seem like she was sane, but at least she was still sane. Well, partially sane.

"It's not that simple." Yuri-sensei replied weakly, seemingly having lost her will to fight. Her voice faltered, and a defeated expression spread across her face, replacing the flash of anger that had disappeared almost as suddenly as it had initially appeared.

"Hey, don't worry about it, Sensei. Ami cares about you, and she wants to help you out, in her own way. We all do." I reassured, giving Ami a look. I knew that she was trying to help, but she had a way of being incisive with her advice.

"Thanks there, Takasu. It means a lot." Yuri-sensei thanked me, offering me a weak smile that probably felt every bit as stiff and forced as it looked to me.

"So, Ami, why did you help her out?" I asked as we entered the gates of school, a disheartened Yuri-sensei having been pulled aside by our classmates moments ago.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Ami denied, not bothering to even look in my direction or acknowledge my words, although I knew that she was lying. For being such a great actor, it was awfully easy to read her sometimes.

I gave her an understanding look, "It's all right, I know that you were just trying to help her."

"Look, it pisses me off when I see someone too afraid to take action. It reminds me of who I used to be, and I hate who I used to be." Ami replied tersely, stopping in her tracks.

"So is that why you want to quit modeling? Because you're afraid that you'll go back to the way you used to be?" I asked, arching an eyebrow as I did so.

Ami sighed and ran a finger through her hair with a weary motion, "I guess there's no hiding stuff from you, is there?"

I nodded with a deliberately cocky smirk, doing my best impression of the expression that was often used on me by her. I guess that I did a poor job of it, because the next thing I knew, Ami was softly giggling, her earlier forlorn expression a thing of the past.

"Geez, we won't turn out like that, right?" Ami muttered softly, gesturing to Yuri-sensei, who was now listlessly drifting in the general direction of the main school building, although she seemed so weak that a soft breeze would bowl her over. I seriously doubted that she would be able to show up in time for homeroom, at the rate that she was going.

I grimaced at the sight, which was pitiful, if I was being frank, "I hope not."

"Good. Because I don't plan on looking my age in the future." Ami replied with some of her usual swagger, a comforting sight for me to see. Things had been way too serious this morning.

"Ami!" I turned to see Maya approaching the two of us, her normally flowing brown hair tied up in a messy bun, with her bangs falling freely across her face, resembling her appearance at the summer festival. As the thoughts of the festival crossed my mind, I involuntarily felt my cheeks redden at the memory of Maya's unexpected embrace.

Resolving to put the thoughts out of my head, I vigorously shook my head, while Ami looked at me in a mixture of concern and confusion. In her position, I probably would have too.

"Say, Ryuuji, are you okay?" Ami asked, to which I immediately stopped in my action, feeling embarrassed at being caught in the middle of my admittedly strange behavior.

"Yeah, I thought there was something in my hair." I quickly made up, hoping that Ami would buy my excuse.

Evidently, she didn't really believe me, if her arched eyebrow was any indication, but she didn't press the matter any further, instead returning her attention to the sudden arrival of Maya.

"Maya, what's with the new hairstyle?" Ami inquired, gesturing to Maya's noticeably different hairdo, which was still as stylish as her normal hairstyle was.

"I don't know, I just decided that I liked having my hair tied up." She replied, running a hand along her new mass of hair, pulling a few strands out of the bun as she did so. For a brief moment, her eyes darted in my direction, but the moment passed almost as quickly as it came, leaving me to wonder if it had even occurred at all.

"Well, it looks good on you." Ami complimented, "Maybe you should have changed your hair earlier."

"Yeah, maybe I should have." Maya replied with a laugh, slinging her schoolbag over her shoulder, just as the first bell rang, indicating that class was about to start. Acknowledging this, Maya nodded at Ami before she turned to leave, but not before locking eyes with me for a brief moment, although I quickly broke the contact and looked off to the side instead, suddenly finding the windows of the school building intensely interesting.

"So, Ryuuji, that reminds me, I never did ask you what happened with Maya. Did you ever find out from her why she went missing at the festival? She never told me, even when I tried asking." Ami asked, tapping my shoulder to gain my attention, unintentionally sending a shock down my spine with her unannounced action.

But I quickly recovered from the surprise and nodded, "Yeah. It turns out that she was rejected by Kitamura, and she just needed to be alone for a while after that happened. I actually felt pretty bad for her, because it sounded like Kitamura was pretty cold with her."

I wasn't exactly lying, but I wasn't telling her the whole truth either. But then again, did she really have to know about the hug between me and Maya? It's not like anything was ever going to come out of it, so wouldn't it be better not to mention it at all?

"Well, at least it looks like it's not affecting her too much now. The first love's the hardest one to get over. I guess that I'm just lucky I never had to get over my first love." Ami said, wrapping herself around my arm as she spoke, "Otherwise, I'm not sure what I would have done about my feelings."

"Yeah, same." I nodded weakly, feeling positively sick with myself.

"So, Ryuuji, is there a timed sale you need to go to today? Or do you want to go to get a coffee?" Ami asked me as class ended, already ready to go while I was stuck shoving books into my bag, although I'm not sure why I even had them out in the first place. There was no way that I would have been able to pay attention today, not with the whole Maya ordeal weighing on my mind.

God, this was all so confusing. Why did things have to become so complicated, so quickly? I mean, I knew that I loved Ami, and nothing would be able to change that. So then, why did I react so strongly to Maya this morning? For a moment, I wished that things would just go back to the way that they were, but I knew that was a lie. I was lucky to have friends, and to be dating the girl that I truly loved, and I could never give that up. Not when I knew what the alternative was.

I could be stuck with my unrequited love, maybe coming up with fruitless ways to try and impress Minori, and it would all have been for nothing, and I would have ended up not truly accomplishing anything in high school. Instead, I was out living a dream that always seemed too good to be true and was liable to collapse at any moment. But every time I woke up in the morning, it was still there, and I could continue on the dream, if only for a little longer. No, I could not go back to my old life, even if that meant that I wouldn't have to deal with these conflicting feelings.

I just had to do my best to push them out of my mind, and to try to remember the fact that my girlfriend was Kawashima Ami, and how unbelievable that truly was once I stopped to think about it.

"Actually, I think that there's supposed to be a sale on beef today, and I was just thinking about making beef curry today." I replied, grinning as the thoughts of cooking flooded my mind and made me momentarily forget about the issue that Kihara Maya was currently posing to me.

My plans for what I could do with extra beef carried me all the way into the grocery store, where I was jerked out of my thoughts by the dinging of the automatic doors of the grocery store that hissed open and blasted a wave of cold air into my face.

"All right, Ami, I'll need you to get a shopping cart, and I'll head straight for the beef." I ordered, already outlining the plan in my mind. Beef wasn't an item that was on sale often, which meant that I wouldn't be the only one trying to get ahold of it today. I couldn't afford to waste any more time.

"Got it, boss." Ami replied sarcastically, although it wasn't with any malice. I knew from her grin that she was more amused with my serious demeanor more than anything, although it was partly because she had yet to experience the task of trying to fight through waves of housewives to reach rare sale items.

Without any hesitation, I tore off in the direction of the meat section, knowing that it would likely already be crowded by the time I arrived. Although I had hoped that I would be wrong, it seemed like I had been correct in my assessment, because I found myself faced with a fairly large crowd of housewives all jockeying to get to the beef.

Moments later, Ami arrived, pushing a shopping cart with her, eyes widening at the sight.

"Ryuuji, does this happen often?" She asked, an overtone of disbelief in her voice. She was clearly surprised by the sight, although I had already expected her to be. I had gone through the same feeling the first time I had seen a crowd while grocery shopping.

"Only when there's beef at stake." I replied, feeling like an action hero, the comedy of the moment not lost on me as Ami cracked up at my words, reminding me of how ridiculous I sounded right now, although I didn't have the luxury of caring. Not when I was losing out on beef every second I spent talking to Ami.

Giving her one last nod, I began forcing myself into the crowd, taking advantage of the fact of my strength to overpower some of the housewives standing in my way, although I was receiving an equal amount of shoving back. However, I was not going to be deterred, and I flashed a glare at some nearby shoppers, causing them to recoil in fear at my expression, giving me the opening I was looking for and allowing me to slip to the front of the crowd, where the coveted meat lay.

Quickly scooping up a few packages, I put my head down and began with the arduous task of escaping the waves of housewives that scrambling to replace my position at the front. Using my skinny frame, I managed to slither through most of the crowd, finally emerging from the chaos, feeling as though I had achieved a great victory in doing so.

"I've returned." I proclaimed in my best impression of a soldier who had just returned from war, imagining that I closely resembled one by now.

Ami merely rolled her eyes and continued with her laughter, while I unceremoniously dropped the four packages of beef I had managed to grab into the shopping cart, inspecting my handiwork with a certain amount of pride.

"God, Ryuuji, you can be such a dork sometimes." She managed in between deep breaths as she tried in vain to regain control of herself and stop laughing, although her efforts were in vain, as she broke into a fresh set of giggles.

"Hey!" I said, not really insulted, but nonetheless wanting to play along with Ami.

"It's not a bad thing." Ami replied, finally taking a deep breath and stifling her laughter, "It's actually kind of endearing."

"Same goes for you. It's nice to see you smiling for real again." I answered, noticing that she was genuinely smiling, and not forcing it as she had been recently. Ever since she had admitted to me that she was considering quitting modeling, she had been smiling more, but it had felt strangely fake, so this was a welcome change.

Ami nodded, "You know, I'm still serious about what I said before. I really am thinking about quitting, especially if it means that I'll be able to go through this every day. I don't want to let my high school days go to waste in front of the cameras."

"As long as you're happy with yourself, I'm happy. Even if you weren't modeling, you would still be special to me. I don't know if that means much, but it's something, right?" I replied, offering her a reassuring look and placing my hand on top of hers.

"It's more than something. It's everything." Ami replied, taking advantage of the grip she now had on my hand to pull me forward, so that our faces were mere centimeters apart, a sly smirk on her face as she did so.

I breathed out slowly, inhaling the moment before I placed a hand on her chin, and tilted her face upwards, feeling her figure tense up at my touch. With a smirk of my own, I closed the gap between us, kissing her lightly, hoping that it would be enough to reassure her that I would be behind any decision that she would make.

I wasn't lying either. I truly did believe that, no matter what she chose, Ami would still be special to me. I couldn't have cared any less if she was a model or not, because frankly, I had never imagined that I would even ever have a girlfriend in the first place. Whether or not she was a model had never even occurred to me. But I knew that with Ami, it wouldn't matter, because I had never liked her for the fake persona she had offered the world anyways. All that mattered to me was the Ami that she hid from most of the world, and that wouldn't change.

"Look. I want you to know that I will be behind you, whether or not you quit modeling. I'm already lucky enough to be dating you in the first place." I said softly as we pulled away.

"Now, I think that there are some carrots that need inspection." I continued, taking control of the shopping cart and pushing it off towards the produce section, knowing that Ami probably wouldn't want to hear more about the topic of her modeling. There was already enough for her to worry about.

"Don't tell me that you're going to have to fight for those too." Ami quipped, subtly pointing her head towards the crowd that I had fought through earlier to reach the beef.

I smiled, "Not unless there's another sale going on."

Well, hopefully, that was fluffy enough to make you guys forgive me. I really do love writing in some humor and banter between the two, because I feel like they're just so well suited for it, with Ami's quick thinking and wit really coming out in those kinds of interactions. But yes, there are some serious topics mixed in that are going to become more prominent as this story continues, which I think will have to be for at least 10 more chapters, for about 25 in all. I can understand if you guys don't want to see any angst or drama, but I just don't feel like it's realistic for Ami and Ryuuji's relationship to be perfect, especially when Toradora felt so realistic in its portrayal of its characters as real people.

As you guys have probably figured, this will be a storyline focusing on Maya, Ami, and Ryuuji, and their relationship, which I have decided to emphasize in lieu of the cultural festival, just because I don't think you guys want to see more of the same material that was already in the anime, and frankly, I know that I can't compete with the brilliance of the original anyways. I might hint at some events that occurred in the anime, but from here on out, the storyline will actually be largely original, since my focus is on Ami, rather than Taiga.

Part of the reason for the long time before this update is because I grappled with this decision, and I ultimately chose in favor of an original story that would allow me to explore Ami, Maya, and Nanako more, as they have become the true cast of this story, and yes, that does mean that I will have a storyline about Nanako, although that will be more about Ryuuji and Ami's friendship with her, more than any romantic plot.

Do you guys support this decision, or would you guys rather see a storyline more faithful to the original?

Please let me know in either a review or PM. Any and all thoughts on this topic would be appreciated. Not to mention, the more responses I get, the easier it will be for me to decide the future direction, and in turn, it'll be easier for me to write another chapter. :)

Thanks so much for reading!