The next morning…
“What a horrible weather to be holding a horse race!” Sakura exclaimed, trying to balance her sky blue umbrella in the turbulent wind.
“Oh dear! It will be impossible to video dear Sakura-chan in a cute new outfit in this frightful rainstorm,” Tomoyo said in despair. She had heard about the race and insisted on following.
“I hope the race is still being held,“ Syaoran said. Then he rubbed his arms; the weather definitely got colder since yesterday. “Hey, can you pass me my jacket from the bag?”
“Sure.” Sakura fumbled inside the bag where they packed away their lunches and other goodies for the day, taking out Syaoran’s dark green jacket. Their fingers brushed as she handed it to him. Jumping, Sakura dropped the jacket onto the muddy ground. Her heart beat faster as she remembered the previous night. His quiet, yet forceful voice was still ringing in her ear saying, “Is that all you ever want to be to me? Just a good friend?”
“What’s the matter with you?” Syaoran asked, scowling as he picked up his clothing from the dripping mud in disgust.
“S-sorry,” Sakura stammered. What did he
mean by telling her about Li Leiyun, his cousin? Was it just an impulse
drawn from the stormy weather? Or did it indicate that they were growing
one step closer? Yet, he showed no sign of their conversation the previous
night. Maybe guys did have a short term memory. Still, she couldn’t believe
he slept through her answer. But in another way, she was relieved that
he had. If he had heard her answer, then what?
As they entered the stable before the race began, they saw a pretty young woman with golden blonde hair sobbing into someone’s shoulders. To their shock, it was Arima crying in Asuma’s arms!
In between sobs, Akagi Arima said with her voice muffled in Tamemura Asuma’s broad shoulder, “My horse, Snowy, got sick last night, because she was out in the rain too long, and she’s being taken care of at the vet now… And I can’t enter the race because, because I have no horse and…”
Stroking Arima’s soft hair, Asuma soothed, “It’s all right. You can still enter the race. You can borrow Midnight Star. You often practiced with him in the past, and he likes you. Don’t be discouraged… It’s not like you. You can still enter the race, so Arima, don’t cry.”
“I can borrow… Midnight Star?” Arima asked, swallowing a hiccup. Then she gazed intently at Asuma’s handsome tanned face. “But why would you lend me your favorite horse? Isn’t it better if I’m not in the race?”
“Arima, it doesn’t work like that. I want my rival and best friend to race against, straight and fair. That adds to the excitement and thrill of horse racing—“ Then, gazing up to the stable door, Asuma realized that a little audience had gathered to watch. He turned red. His arms dropped from around Arima.
Bolting straight up and quickly wiping off her tears on her pretty riding outfit, Arima stammered, “Ah… hi you guys… Err… The horse I was planning to race on got sick, so I was uh…”
“I offered to lend her Midnight Star, since Arima’s used to riding on him ever since we were little,” Asuma continued, adjusting his perfectly tailored riding jacket.
Everyone felt like they walked in on something private. Sighing, Sakura noted how only actresses could look beautiful when they cried. Nudging Syaoran, Sakura whispered, “I thought that they were sworn enemies or something, yesterday.”
“Seems like we were mistaken,” Syaoran answered back.
“Oh ho ho ho…” Tomoyo thought, “How sweet!”
“Well, I’ll send someone to prepare our horses,” Asuma said. “Li, Kinomoto-san, uh…” He realized he didn’t know who the new girl holding a video camera was.
“Daidouji Tomoyo,” Tomoyo said, smiling
and bowing her head.
“Nice to meet you, Daidouji-san. Well, see you on the race grounds. It’s good to see you guys here, even in this miserable weather.” Despite his friendly manner, Asuma stiffly walked out, clearly embarrassed for showing public affection to Arima.
“Is it starting yet?” Sakura asked, eagerly looking at the race ring with round eyes. It was her first time watching a horse race. Since they were Asuma and Arima’s guests, they got special seats in the front row. With her excitement, she was oblivious to the pouring rain shower.
“Yeah. See? The racers are in their positions.” Syaoran pointed to the starting line where horses shuffled restlessly and the racers were stretching and adjusting the saddles and reins.
“Good luck, Tamemura-san! Akagi-san!” Sakura shouted, waving her hand, leaning over the railings like an overexcited little child. She tried to keep her blue hat from blowing off. She was wearing one of Tomoyo’s new outfits along with a pretty, shimmery blue rain jacket made of thin, waterproof material and matching boots. Her golden brown hair was braided into two pigtails.
“Finally you can wear one of my outfits,” Tomoyo commented in rapture.
BANG!!! The umpire shot off the gun.
The race began. Tamemura Asuma was on a
silvery white stallion, his strong, muscular figure bent over with the
rain pelting him. Close beside him followed Akagi Arima, her glossy wind
tousled blonde hair blowing back from her face. Her eyes glimmered keenly
as she rode the ebony black Midnight Star. The whole camera crewmen cast
were focusing on her, and many “male” fans had gathered to watch, whistling
and waving autograph papers. Many students from university and high school
was there to support the two, not to mention the Seijou University cheerleading
squad, who was screaming, “GO, GO! FIGHT FIGHT! L-O-V-E TAMEMURA!”
“Wow! Look! They’re so fast!” Sakura pointed and admired as the two riders galloped out of site. “Come, let’s go follow their course.” She ran to the next location that the racers would pass by. The expression on her face was of pure rapture and joy; despite the wetness, her eyes were twinkling and her cheeks were rosy. In fact, she had never looked so pretty in a while, since it was one of her fewer times that she actually forgot her worries and thoroughly enjoyed something else.
Wryly, Tomoyo noted that Syaoran was rather looking at Sakura than at the direction of the race with an odd expression. Strange expression he’s wearing, Tomoyo noted. I can’t describe it; it’s almost content and easygoing, yet wistful at the same time.
The first person to race past them was Arima, who was galloping at an unbelievable speed, so fast, she was a blur. Several meters behind her followed Asuma. They had finished the first lap.
The spectator’s voice rang out, “Looks like Akagi, last year’s second place champion is the first to turn the lap, followed by Tamemura, last year’s first place. The other’s are following far behind! Amazing! Never seen such wonderful horsemanship, Akagi! Very beautiful too. Akagi Arima is a popular actress these days and is starring in a new movie later this year. Go watch it!” Everyone laughed at the spectator, who was sidetracking.
“Can a person race that fast?” Sakura asked, as Midnight Star whizzed past her with Arima. The other racers were more than half a lap behind Arima.
Even Asuma was frowning as he galloped after her on his snowy white stallion, blinking through the thickening rain drops. He knew something was wrong with Arima. Even though she was talented, it was impossible to race that fast. He knew, out of all people; after all, he had raced against Arima since they were children. Over the growing meters, Asuma called out, “Arima! Your going too fast! Something’s wrong!”
“What are you talking about? Jealous? I’m
not going to lose to you this time!” Arima shouted back, feeling an exhilarating
sensation as the wind and water soaked through her skin. Midnight Star’s
hooves clattered on the muddy ground. Never had she felt so triumphant
“Do you sense something queer?” Syaoran asked, his eyes flickering to the horse that he had knew since his childhood in Hong Kong.
Nodding, Sakura grabbed onto her magic
key hanging from a chain around her neck.
On the next lap, Sakura leaned over the railings around the race course and tried to shout, “Akagi-san! You’ve got to stop—“ Too late. Arima had already sped past her. There was no choice. As Asuma galloped shortly behind, Sakura called out, “Tamemura-san! Akagi-san is in danger! Midnight’s acting strange—“
Slowing down his pace to talk to Sakura, Asuma replied, “I know! There’s something wrong with Midnight Star. He’s not his normal self. But she won’t listen to me. If she keeps going at this speed… I don’t wanna even think of it.”
“I have a good idea! Just try to stay close behind Akagi-san, and I’ll try to work things out!” Sakura said reassuringly. Yet inside, she wasn’t so sure.
“Got it!” Asuma thundered off, following
Arima and ignoring all the other racers around him. I can’t let anything
happen to Arima!
“What do you plan on doing, Sakura-chan?” Tomoyo asked, drawing her jacket hood over her long hair to keep it out of her face.
“We can’t do anything on the race course,
with all the spectators. But we must stop Midnight Star and Akagi-san!”
Running to another part of the course, Sakura stated, “I’m going to use
the Loop to take Akagi-san off the race course!”
After a while, Arima realized something was wrong. Where was she? This wasn’t the race course. Had she taken a wrong turn since she was going too fast? The rain lashed at her, and she tried to peer at her surroundings. Everything was a blur. She had to slow down! “Whoa, boy, whoa. Midnight Star! Stop, good boy!” Yet Midnight Star didn’t even pause.
A slow sense of panic rushed through her. What was happening? She hadn’t felt this helpless since she was seven, when she took a wrong turn into the woods while she was on her little pony. And, it had been night time, so dark and scary. She felt so alone and frightened. Not even her horse could comfort her. Arima felt as if she were seven again, lost, hungry, and cold. Staying on Midnight Star was hard enough. Her golden hair was pasted to her face, and the horrible dampness soaked to her skin. Mud had splattered all over her new white riding pants. Where was everyone? She couldn’t hold on much longer. Midnight’s body was so slippery. Her head spun from the speed. She tried to wipe away her tears, but she couldn’t take her hands off the horse reins.
Maybe she was being punished. Punished for being so selfish. Punished for being so mean to Asuma. He had been so nice to her. Yet, how had she treated him? It had always been that way. She was the selfish one. Back in elementary, she had been so jealous when Asuma won the Children’s Horse Racing Contest, and the trophy. Yet, when she cried, he gave her his golden trophy. In middle school, they had a big argument before the Grand Championship. As they were about to tie for the race, he slowed his pace at the last moment, and she won. In high school, she went crazy over Kinomoto Touya. So, Asuma helped her with numerous plots and conspiracies to get Touya to like her. Asuma even pretended to have a crush on Nakuru to keep that annoying girl away from Touya. He spent hours reassuring her and taking her to do fun things when she cried because of her rejection. When she was scouted by agents to become a movie star, she knew that he disapproved of it. Yet, he helped her endlessly to prepare for the auditions. And she treated him like dirt, when she grew busy in her life as a star. They had their biggest argument even when she told him that she was going to quit racing, and that this was going to be her last race. Yet, when her horse got sick, he lent her his. During the race, he had told her to slow down, that something’s wrong. And had she listened? Only, scorned him.
Now, she realized it. She loved him. She loved him ever since she first met him, through all their fights, growing up together, living next doors, coming to the stables after school, going home together… And she probably wouldn’t live to confess it… She couldn’t hold on any longer… It wouldn’t be that bad to fall of a horse going this fast, would it? All the stories about famous racers who lost their use of arms and legs due to spine and neck damage flicker in her mind… Well…
“ARIMA!!!” Asuma shouted, galloping close behind her. “Can you hear me? Something’s gone wrong, but what ever you do, hold on!”
Asuma! He came for her, after all. She
sighed in relief. Then she remembered. Back when she was seven, when she
had been lost in the woods, it was Asuma who had come to find her. Not
her father, who was away at a Racing Tournament. Not her maids, who didn’t
care for her. Not her mother, who was obsessed with money and partying.
It was Asuma, who had just been a little seven year old boy then. He had
come riding on a snowy white pony, holding up a flashlight through the
pitch, wet dark, calling her name, “Arima!”
Sakura, Syaoran, and Tomoyo came running through the forest. Sakura was holding out her staff. The Loop card had successfully removed them from the racing course to a secluded part of the countryside. Now, was the real problem. How could she catch Midnight Star, without hurting anyone, especially Akagi-san?
“Do you think it’s possible to get Akagi-san off Midnight Star?” she asked Asuma, who had halted. He was breathing heavily, his sun bleached hair pasted to his forehead.
“If Akagi-san can jump off Midnight Star safely…” Syaoran trailed off.
“I’ll ensure that,” Asuma stated. “I’ll do anything for her. I can’t let her get hurt.”
Seeing Asuma in such despair stirred a warmth in Sakura’s heart. He seemed so sincere. “You must care for her very much,” she said softly.
“Care for her?” Asuma said, giving a short bitter laughter. “Hell, I love that crazy girl. I always thought that’s obvious. The things I would do for her. But does she love me? No. She’s always looking for someone better.”
“Did you tell her your true feelings? Maybe she doesn’t know,” Sakura said.
“She knows that she just needs to flick a finger and I’ll be at her feet. Tell her my true feelings? I already told her my true feelings, before we entered high school, and she rejected me flat. Then, I knew where I really stood. And that’s good enough for me. I won’t bother her or pressure her again. She’s taking her own path; whether it’s towards me or away from me, I leave it as her choice,” Asuma stated, in a matter of fact way. Yet, he sounded awfully sad as he said this. “But, that doesn’t stop me from being mad for her. Strange how friendship and love intertwines, isn't it?”
“Friendship and love…” Sakura pondered. “But doesn’t friendship enforce love more?”
Embarrassed by what he said, Asuma stated, “Well, I won’t let anything bad happen to her. Can you use your magic thingy, so that Arima passes this place one more time?”
Nodding, Sakura used the Loop. To Arima’s surprise, she returned to the original starting point when she first entered the woods and was speeding towards Asuma, Sakura, Syaoran, and Tomoyo once more. Hadn’t she already passed them a while ago? What was happening?
“Arima!” Asuma called out. “I’m going to take a short cut to the other side of these woods! You take the long way around. I’ll be waiting for you by the pond there! And when you reach me, jump off Midnight Star!”
“What?! I can’t jump!” Arima shouted, trying to blink away the tear drops mixed with rain.
“Yes you can! I know you can. I’ll catch you, Arima, trust me. All right? All you have to do is jump at the right moment, and leave the rest to me. Everything will be all right!”
“Okay!” Midnight Star had already raced
off with Arima, fading into a black spot, shimmering in the rain. Arima
had to trust Asuma.
“Do you think this will work?” Sakura asked, as they waited by the pond on the other side of the forest by taking a short cut. Her heart pounded as she waited for the ferocious Midnight Star and Arima to appear out of the woods. She gripped her pink staff tightly, in the other hand holding the Woody card.
On his snow white horse, Asuma waited, sweating heavily despite the murky cold rain. There was only one chance.
Tomoyo stood a little distance away from the road, (out of danger zone) still videotaping. Above them, on a tree branch stood Syaoran, holding out his sword and ward papers, just in case.
Finally they could hear the distant thundering of horse hooves coming from the forest. Midnight Star emerged, out into the clearing. Arima was barely holding on, clenching her eyes shut.
As Arima approached the pond, everything else was a blur… Only Asuma’s sturdy, strong figure, galloping towards her on a pure white stallion was vivid… He was about to brush past her… JUMP!
Keeping a firm grip on his horse with his knees, Asuma spread out his arms, catching hold of Arima. From the impact, they fell off the horses together and rolled off to the side of the muddy ground. Arima murmured pressing her nose into Asuma’s damp shirt, “You caught me, ‘Suma.”
“Of course I did,” Asuma replied, holding her tightly in his arms, as if he was afraid to let go.
Half delirious, half remembering her childhood, Arima whispered, “Knew you would come for me on a snow white horse… Suma… Don’t wanna be lost any more… I was so scared.”
“You’re not lost anymore, Arima. I found
you. I’m here with you,” Asuma whispered back.
Meanwhile, without stopping when Arima jumped off, Midnight Star pounded off, straight ahead. He neighed in fury as he realized that he had splashed into the pond, and lashed out his limbs to clamber out. Then, a glowing light blazed around him. At that moment, Midnight Star sprouted large feathered wings. A cloud of jet black feathers swirled around in the wind. As Midnight Star tossed his head, they saw that a sharp crystal horn from the center of his forehead glowed.
“Wow! What a beautiful creature!” Tomoyo exclaimed, as she saw the Midnight Star had transformed into a marvelous ebony black unicorn.
“It says in the Five Force Scroll: The Unicorn, a rebellious, wild creature that has taken form of an ordinary black stallion for years; though it may seem uncontrollable, it has a sensitive, timid nature inside and it is best not to anger or intimidate it,” Sakura read out from the Five Force Scroll. One more, she thanked the Kaitou Magician for returning the Scroll to her.
“Well, how are we gonna catch it?” Syaoran shouted, leaning over from the tall tree branch.
As the midnight black unicorn tried to escape from the muddy pond, Sakura shouted, “Woody! Keep the Unicorn from escaping!”
Immediately, vines entwined around the Unicorn’s body and legs. It struggled and whinnied, spreading out its vast wings, and tore away from the Woody. Angrily, it tilted its proud head, and soared up to the sky, his ebony black mane blowing in the wind. In the cloudy dark sky, his crystal horn glimmered. His wild coal black eyes were ablaze.
Quick, think Sakura. Sakura forced herself to act. Quickly, her eyes darted to the tree that Syaoran was standing on. Deftly, she shimmied up the slippery wet tree, pulling herself onto the highest branch.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Syaoran shouted up as the Unicorn soared down towards them, speeding down to the tree. Taking this moment, Sakura jumped down from her position on the branch, landing half on the mystical creature’s back. For a second, she dangled dangerously in the air with one leg over the Unicorn’s back and the other hanging midair. One of her shoes slipped off, splashing down into the ground far below.
Enraged, the Unicorn tried to throw Sakura off, soaring higher and higher into the sky. Desperately, she held onto its neck with both hands.
“Kinomoto! Stupid! You’re gonna fall off!” Asuma shouted. Everyone gazed up at the sky in suspense and horror.
Midnight Star, alias the Unicorn ferociously tore through the air, trying to toss Sakura off. Still she hung on, though the wetness made it impossible to balance her body. Clinging onto the horse’s neck, Sakura whispered in the Unicorn’s ear, “I don’t want you to get hurt. Calm down, good boy. It’s all right, Midnight Star. It’s gonna be all right.”
“But that’s not Midnight Star! It’s a Dark Force!” Syaoran shouted hysterically from the tree branch he was standing on. That insane girl only learned how to ride a horse the previous day! And what was she trying to do, ride on a wild, crazy flying horse? Either she was gonna fall down and die, or he was gonna die in the process from a heart attack! Calm down, he told himself.
Closing his eyes, he murmured, “Good boy, Midnight Star. We’ve known each other for a long time. Don’t do this. You’re not gonna throw Sakura off. You’re not naturally violent. Please, listen to Sakura. Come back to the gentle, spirited soul that you were, Midnight Star.” As he said this, he sent out his aura to the Unicorn.
For a second, the Unicorn ceased its turbulent tantrum and seemed to listen. This was the moment Sakura needed to properly balance herself on the horse’s back. Carefully, she stroked the Unicorn’s mane. “Thank you Midnight Star. I knew that you were good. You don’t mind returning to a card now?”
The Unicorn whinnied agreeably in response and soared through the air gently, and smoothly. The wildness in his eyes slowly disappeared, returning with warmth and gentle spirit.
Syaoran closed his eyes, as he felt the
cool breeze of wind sweep over him. It was okay now. Midnight Star had
silently consented to return to a card. Sakura has managed as usual.
“That’s one amazing girl,” Asuma stated, leaning Arima against the tree that Syaoran was watching Sakura from.
“Yeah. Sakura’s always been that way,” Syaoran agreed wholeheartedly. She handled the matter on her own. Imagine anyone jumping from a tree onto a mad unicorn, and managing to stay on, let alone control it! Only Sakura would manage.
“I can see why you like her so much.” Asuma grinned in relief as he watched the Unicorn nuzzle against Sakura in the air. Midnight Star, his favorite horse. Well, he had always known that there was more to that stallion then he anticipated.
Syaoran placed a hand on the rough bark of the tree, then tightened his grip. “I told her… I told her I had no feelings for her.”
“Really?” Asuma raised an eyebrow, yet didn’t sound relatively shocked. “When?”
“Why would you do something like that?” Asuma asked, reflecting surprise, though taking it more calmly than Syaoran had expected.
“Why would I do something like that…” Syaoran murmured, not really answering the question.
“Ha. And why is she staying at your apartment? Why did you bring her to the stables? Why do you always watch her with that kinda expression?”
Syaoran hung his head, then looked down from the tree. “What expression. Never mind. When did you make all these observations, Tamemura-san? I only introduced her to you yesterday.”
“Leiyun would have done the same.” Heaving a remorseful sigh, Asuma commented, “Well, it finally stopped raining. God, I owe that girl and you Arima’s life. I’ll always be grateful for that. And before I criticize anything about your problems, I better do something with mine.” He gazed at Arima with a wistful expression.
“You’re still crazy about her, even after she rejected you, years ago,” Syaoran pointed out.
“Obviously. And I can’t even do anything about it…” Then, giving a brief laugh, Asuma said, “Strange. When has the little boy who used to challenge me to races and lost all the time grown into someone I can talk about my love problems to?”
Syaoran gave a rueful shrug, and looked
up again to see how Sakura was managing.
Meanwhile, with full force Sakura held out her star headed staff. “Spirit of the dark forces! I, Sakura command you! Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card!”
The Unicorn illuminated a hazy light, then shot out brilliant barbs of light in all directions. Then, the magnificent black stallion slowly succumbed and materialized into a card.
Sakura held the Unicorn card to her heart. On the front was a picture of a beautiful glossy jet black stallion with a pointed crystal horn and wings. At that moment, she shouted, “HOEEEEEEEE!” She had forgotten that she was midair, since she had been riding the Unicorn. Now that it was turned into a card, she was high up in the sky. Desperately, she kicked out her legs. Heedless, she fell straight down, on the way grabbing Syaoran’s leg to stop her from falling.
“What the heck are you trying to do?” Syaoran
screamed as he lost balance from the tree branch. “Let go of my leg!” He
tried to hold on to the tree trunk, but it only resulted him falling into
the pond, along with her.
Sweat-dropping, Tomoyo peered over the pond. “Hey, are you two okay?”
Sputtering, Syaoran and Sakura swam up to the ground.
Very crossly, Syaoran asked looking through the wet bangs that covered half his face, “Now, did you have to drag me into the pond, too? I was already wet enough.”
“Sorry. At least we dropped into the pond, or else, we would have broken our necks,” Sakura said, smiling and heaving herself up to the ground.
“Wonderful how you can find a good point of falling into a pond,” Syaoran grumbled, squeezing the water out of his polo shirt.
Ignoring him and turning to Asuma, she said, “Tamemura-san, I’m really sorry, but I think your horse was not really a horse.”
Shaking his head ruefully, Asuma replied, “It’s all right. I always knew that horse was a wee bit too old. He’s been around for ages. Just make sure that Midnight Star stays happy and treat him nice. We’ve been through a lot together, but I’m sure you’ll be a great new mistress. That’s all I care about; just that my horse is content.”
“Hmm, said like a true racer,” Tomoyo stated, approvingly. She had concluded that horse racing was her new favorite sports. Why? So much action to tape! Chuckling softly to herself, she noted that Syaoran looked very cute with his chestnut brown locks hanging limp against his head, dripping with water.
“I’m just curious about one thing,” Sakura said, staring at her new card. “How did you realize there’s something wrong with Midnight Star, since you don’t have any special powers, do you?”
“You don’t need to have special powers to know if there’s anything wrong with something you love or care for,” Syaoran confirmed, still trying to dry himself up.
“Li’s right,” Asuma said, smiling. “Magic isn’t just present in solid form. It appears in subtle ways, such as in nature and everyone’s lives. I love racing and I really care for my horses, as well as Arima’s safety. When something’s gone wrong, I can sense it with my inner self. That’s the second face of magic in our world. It’s not concrete magic, but just the specialties of human nature.”
“Wow… I never thought of it that way,” Sakura replied, thinking deeply. “Actually, after things were under control and I was soaring through the air on Midnight Star’s back, I had a wild sort of elation as the wind blew on my face. I felt free as I flew higher and higher into the air, released from all the bonds and pressure on earth. It was a exhilarating feeling, as if I was in a fairy land.”
Asuma stared at the card that Sakura was holding. “To think he wasn’t a real horse, after all, but actually a unicorn…”
“Wait, are you all right, Akagi-san?” Sakura asked, concerned, turning to Arima.
Arima swayed as she took a deep breath to comprehend what had just happened. Had she just seem humans and horses flying around? Or did she have a head concussion? “I’m fine!”
Protectively, Asuma held her close against him. “It’s all right Arima. You don’t have to be a perfectionist all the time.”
Looking up at him, Arima whispered, “Okay. Then don’t think I’m a sissy or anything, and you know I’ve never done this before… but I think I’m gonna faint.”
And Arima grew limp in Asuma’s strong arms as her head rolled to the side. He smiled as he looked down at the peaceful sleeping face streaked with mud and rain drops, and her bright golden blonde hair hanging limp around her face. To the others, he stated, “It’s getting late. I think we better forget the race. It’s probably over by now, anyway. My house is near by. Do you three want to come as well?”
The “house” turned out to be a grand mansion
even bigger than Tomoyo’s. They were all completely in awe. Arima was laid
gently on a spare bed. Tomoyo, Sakura, and Syaoran were able to take steaming
baths in marble bathrooms and eat a scrumptious 5 course meal. They all
borrowed some extra clothes, since theirs were all wet from falling into
the pond. While they waited for Arima to gain her conscience, they admire
Asuma’s many gold, silver, and bronze trophies and medals decorating various
rooms, along with framed photos of different races, ranging from Asuma
as a little boy, to a young man.
Finally, Arima stirred. Sakura bent over concerned. The others were outside the room. Yawning, Arima asked, “What’s the matter? Wait a second. Why am I here? The race—”
Silently, Sakura murmured a secret apology for using the Erase card to erase Arima’s memory. Then she stammered an excuse, “Ah… Well, during the race, you went off course, and Tamemura-san followed you… And you fell off.”
“Oh.” Arima looked down. “Asuma saved me, didn’t he? I remember glimpses of rain and forests, and my horse going too fast. And a tall, handsome figure on a white horse.” Sitting up on the bed, Arima faced Sakura. “You’re a girl. You don’t mind if I talk to you, right?”
Sakura looked at Arima’s small, pretty face. She wasn’t an empty-headed beauty either. There was wittiness behind those large bright eyes and a sense of humor as her soft lips curved into a smile. She looked like an angel with her wavy fair hair clouded around her, falling softly onto her white nightgown. No wonder she was so popular on TV.
“Did you ever wonder when your prince would come along and save you?” Arima asked, hugging her knees with a child-like wistful air. “I did. When I was little, I used to dream my prince would come on a snowy white stallion, and whisk me away. I always wondered, where he was, what he was doing, who he was. It’s childish, yet have you ever wondered, Kinomoto-san?”
“My prince?” Sakura closed her eyes. For a split second, she saw a silhouette of a tall young man sitting straight up on a majestic stallion, his chestnut hair and flowing cape blowing in the wind. She giggled as she pictured her “Prince Charming.” Then she shook her head, distorting the image. Why did she see Syaoran’s face?
“I was such a fool. You may think I always had a perfect life. Well, I used to be poor. All the luxuries in my life came after my little brother was born, when I was around seven. I still remember wishing so bad for extravagance and riches when I was a little girl, when I didn’t have pretty clothes, lots of toys, good food, a pretty house. Then, father was successful in business with Asuma’s father and struck it rich. That’s how we live in a big mansion and have plenty of money now. My little brother, Tomaki, your classmate doesn’t know about being poor. As you can tell, he’s spoilt rotten because my parents wanted to give him everything I didn’t have when I was a child. Aki thinks the world of himself. In ways, I’m jealous that my little brother lived in such a sheltered world.” Arima brushed away her silky wavy hair from her face. “I used to hate Asuma when I was little. He had a little pony and everything since he was three. I couldn’t win a single race against him. But I continued practicing to beat him. It’s always been a one-sided competition. I would always be struggling and fighting, while he’ll always look over me, smiling. I hated it.”
“But from what I saw, I always thought he liked you,” Sakura interjected.
“I don’t even know why I’m saying all this to you. Liked me?” Arima looked up with rather a dreamy sad expression. “Maybe. He told me he liked me, right before we entered high school. I scorned him and rejected him cruelly. I told him I liked Kinomoto Touya. Yet even then, I knew deep in my heart that I was afraid. Afraid of losing his friendship if I took a wrong step even if I loved him. Well, he hasn’t mentioned it since then, though we always stayed friends. But if he really cared for me, he would have said something to me again. Yet, we’re in college now, and he hasn’t said anything. We’ve moved on with our lives. Me as an actress, him as a champion racer. I’ve dated and hung around with many guys, some of them popular good looking actors. Strangely none of them feel right for me. I guess no one feels the same after knowing Asuma. Still, what’s gone is gone.”
“You don’t really mean that, do you?” A soft man’s voice came from the bedroom doorway.
Blinking, Arima looked up. Asuma leaned against the doorway, looking very handsome with his flannel shirt half buttoned and one hand casually in his pocket. Then, Asuma briskly strode across the room and knelt down beside her bedside. “Don’t reject me a second time, Arima. You know the only person I ever cared for is you. Do you know how hurt I was when you rejected me? I vowed to myself that I would never ask until I really deserved you. I was half tempted to bash Kinomoto Touya’s head out when he refused you. Yet I couldn’t do that. I didn’t want to hurt you, even if you hurt me. But tell me, can you reject me a second time?”
“Asuma…” Arima’s eyes flooded with tears as she buried her head into his broad shoulders. “Asuma… I always dreamed my prince on a white stallion would come for me… And I didn’t know who he was… I was lost. But now I know. I should have known since long ago. My prince is you, Asuma.”
“What are you talking about?” Asuma whispered, stroking Arima’s golden hair.
“I remember, when I was seven, and I was lost in the forest behind the stables. It was night time, and no one came looking for me in that miserable weather. But someone came for me on a snowy white pony. And it was you, Asuma. You’ve always come for me when I’m in despair.” Arima looked up into Asuma’s eyes. “You know, I didn’t even like racing at first. I only started learning because I wanted to beat you. But now, I love it… And I cherished all the days we spent together. But that’s gone now.” Slowly, Arima ran her hand through Asuma’s unruly sand brown hair. “You’re wrong. I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you.”
“Don’t talk like that Arima. You’re the
most beautiful, talented, intelligent girl I’ve ever seen in my life. And
I’m not gonna let you go a second time,” Asuma placed his hand on her soft
cheeks, gazing straight into her eyes with burning desire. “’Cause I love
you Akagi Arima, and I’m proud to say it.”
“How romantic!” Tomoyo sighed, as she closed the room door and dabbed the corner of her eye with a lace handkerchief.
Nodding Sakura commented, “I’m so glad things worked out for them.” Placing her hands on her cheeks, she murmured, “’Asuma, you’re my prince on a white stallion…’ It’s like a fairy tale! But I admit it. Tamemura-san is soooo handsome, manly, and dashing.”
“I agree completely! Did you see him racing? He’s so tall, muscular, and nice as well! Any girl would die for him,” Tomoyo backed up.
“Girls are so sentimental,” Syaoran said dryly, running his finger through his damp hair, wet from a shower.
“You’re just jealous,” Sakura remarked wryly. “If you had a heart, you’ll see how emotionally touching and beautiful the situation is,” Sakura replied. “Oh! I have a good idea.” From the corner she drew out two cards. “Flowery! Bubble! Bring beauty and happiness around the couple!”
Immediately, rainbow bubbles and fragrant flowers floated around Arima and Asuma, who didn’t even realize it.
“Ho ho… How Sakura-ish to use the cards that way,” Tomoyo noted.
Then, slightly frowning, Sakura said, “It’s really strange. I used the Erase card on Akagi-san, yet she still remembers part of what happened at the race. She remembers what Tamemura-san did for her and everything.”
“Ah, the power of love conquers everything,” Tomoyo announced, star-eyed.
Laughing, Sakura threw a cushion at her friend. “Gosh, that’s soooo corny!”
“I’m glad you know that, too,” Syaoran said solemnly, trying to keep a straight face. “Though, since it’s you, I was a little afraid you may not know the difference. GAH!!!”
He dodged a cushion as Sakura shouted, “What do you mean by that?!”
There was a crash as the cushion knocked over one of the priceless heirloom porcelain vases in the room in Asuma’s mansion.
“Uh oh!” The three exclaimed.
“It’s your fault!” Sakura and Syaoran shouted in unison, pointing accusingly at each other.
After school, the next day, Tomoyo, Syaoran, and Sakura headed back to the stables.
“I bet Tamemura-san and Akagi-san are getting along beautifully now that they know each other’s true feelings,” Sakura commented.
“I really admire them,” Tomoyo replied,
holding up her V-8. “They make such a cute couple.” They entered the stables
“What do you mean you didn’t finish the papers for English class?” Arima shrieked, throwing a handful of papers at Asuma.
“Well, half of it was your duty, wasn’t it? It’s a partner assignment!” Asuma retorted, glaring at her through the papers flying everywhere and kicking a trough violently, causing the wood to splinter into pieces.
“You know I was busy with the race and the new move shooting! I didn’t have time!”
“Ha, so it’s always my fault, is it! Be that way, you snobbish brat!”
“IDIOT!” Arima whacked her hand down at Asuma, who ducked beneath her legs, then threw a handful of straw at her from behind.
“Ugh!” Arima sputtered. Bits of hay stuck out from her perfectly styled hair. Everyone stifled giggles. Even the horses in the stables seemed to guffaw. “How dare you, Tamemura Asuma! I have to go to a dinner meeting tonight with important producers!”
Seeing Tomoyo, Sakura, and Syaoran, Asuma quickly turned around with an angelic expression different from the deep scowl he had been wearing before, “Hi! Good to see you guys again. Did you get home safely, last night? It was pretty late.”
“Yes, thank you. We’re sorry about the race,” Tomoyo said. “We heard someone else won.”
“It’s all right. Arima and I can compete and win in other races,” Asuma said. “Oh did you hear?”
Arima said, genuinely smiling, “I’m not going to quit racing yet. I love it too much. And I love being in the stables with Asuma. My manager said as long as it doesn’t disrupt my schedule too much, he doesn’t mind if I continue racing, at least for a hobby. Oh yeah. Me and Asuma are officially going out now!”
“That’s great!” they all exclaimed.
“God save me,” Asuma commented, jokingly,
yet slung a muscular arm around Arima’s slim waist.
“’NEE-CHAN!!! Did you hear, did you hear?” Someone shouted, running into the stables and grabbing Arima’s suit sleeve.
“Show more respect for you older sister, Aki,” Arima scolded, pinching the boy’s cheek.
“’Nee-chan~ I’m not a baby!” Akagi Tomaki complained. Then he straightened up, noticing other visitors, and flicked back his glossy silvery blonde hair, flashing a 100-watt smile.
“Aki-kun?” Sakura exclaimed. What was her classmate doing here? Oh yeah, he was Arima’s little brother! She could see the resemblance in looks, yet—
“Right on! Akagi Tomaki, captain of the basketball team, Tybalt in the school production, and class president! Well, what are you doing here, Sakura-chan? Don’t tell me you came to visit me?” Aki exclaimed self-assuredly, placing a hand over his chest. “I’m touched!”
“My modest brother,” Arima said, sarcastically. “What are you doing here, anyway? You never come to the stables.”
“Ha ha. Top news. There’s gonna be the “Best Couple Contest.” And the finalists will be able to participate in the new movie that you’re starring in, ‘nee-chan.”
“Great. How wonderful. Now, don’t tell me you’re going to enter,” Arima said in a dangerously low tone.
With starry eyes, Aki turned to Sakura, grabbing both her hands. “Sakura-chan, enter the Best Couple Contest me!”
“Hoe-e? I uhh…” Sakura stammered. I can’t enter a ‘Best Couple Contest’ with Aki-kun! I hardly even know him! Sure, I’ve seen him around a lot, like at the Winter Wonderland, the Spring Carnival Circus, the musical rehearsals, but…
POW!!! Arima punched Aki’s head. “Don’t even think about it. Now go home. You have math tutor in ten minutes.”
“Spoilsport,” Aki muttered, rubbing his
head. “You’re just jealous that I might become a more famous idol than
you because of my great looks.” Again, he flipped back his glossy blonde
hair, which cost him 200,000 yen to style each month.
When Aki was driven off in his private limousine, Arima turned to Sakura and Syaoran and grabbed each of their hands. “I’ve got a big favor to ask. You don’t mind right? Good. (Leaving no chance for an answer.) Well, can you two enter the Best Couple Contest together?”
“WHAT?!” Sakura and Syaoran shouted.
“Please? I know that Aki’s gonna enter, and he’s got a good chance of winning. And I don’t think I’ll be able to bear filming in the same movie as him. But you two have a better chance, because you guys had a modeling contract in New York right? You guys have experience together.” Arima stared at them pleadingly.
“I think it’s a great idea!” Tomoyo exclaimed. “I was already thinking about it. See, I already have the application forms. ‘All teen couples between the age of 13 and 18 are valid applicants, along with the required photos and application papers.’ The accepted candidates would be announced at a later date to compete in a couple competition to choose the best couple in Japan. The winning couple will film in the popular new movie being released this winter, starring Akagi Arima. If you don’t do it with Syaoran, you’ll have to enter with Aki, Sakura-chan. So, it’s better to agree to this. Anyway, I’ll be the manager!”
“Hoe.” Sakura sweat-dropped. “But we’re not a couple!”
“That doesn’t matter. You can pretend
to be one,” Tomoyo stated.
Later on as everyone was about to leave, Arima called out, “Hey Sakura—I can call you by your first name, right?”
“Yes, Akagi-san?” Sakura asked. She genuinely liked Arima. Despite the fact that she was a famous actress, she didn’t show it. She was just like a normal big sister or something.
“Thanks for listening to my problems last time. I really hope we can become close friends. Or if you ever need older female advise, have boy problems, fashion problems, or any other girl’s dilemma, come to me, anytime.” Arima held out a peace sign with her fingers and winked. “Hey, heard you’re living with Li. Way to go!”
“Hoe-e!” Sakura blushed red, then grinned. She was really glad that she met Arima. Akagi Arima was one cool young woman/actress/racer.
“Cool! The Best Couple Contest!” Chiharu exclaimed at school. “And the winners get to be in the same movie as the talented, beautiful actress, Akagi Arima? I want to enter! Yoo hoo! Takashi-kun!”
“What?” Takashi asked, nonchalantly. “Another contest? Sure, why not.” Yawning, his head drooped over his desk again.
“Wow… he’s not making another story up,” Tomoyo commented to Naoko.
“Yeah. Yamazaki-kun’s rather been quiet lately. Personally, I think it’s because Chiharu’s been showing interest in other guys. Remember? She went crazy over that Kaitou Magician while he was on the news every day back then,” Naoko replied.
“Kaitou-kun?!” Sakura exclaimed.
“Eh?” Naoko raised an eyebrow and pushed up her glasses.
“Umm, nothing…” Sakura turned red.
“And today, Chiharu-chan said that Aki-kun looked like a model,” Naoko continued.
“Oh ho ho. So this is an opportunity to bring Chiharu-chan and Yamazaki-kun together again,” Tomoyo said.
Akagi Tomaki ran up to Sakura, waving the application form. “Did you consider my offer?”
“Huh? Oh… I…” Sakura stumbled, turning red. How could she decline it?
“She’s already entering with me,” Syaoran told Aki coolly.
“WHAT?!” Aki hit the roof.
A quick buzzing went around the students. “Psst! Did you hear, Li-san and Kinomoto-san are entering the Best Couple Contest.”
“They were a couple?!”
As Syaoran and she rollerbladed home from school, Sakura stated flatly, “I never said I’m gonna enter the contest with you.”
“I never said that you had to,” he replied indifferently.
“Oh ho ho ho. Of course you two will!” Tomoyo exclaimed, jumping out from behind the bushes.
Syaoran and Sakura flipped over backwards on their rollerblades. “Where did you come from, Tomoyo-chan?” Sakura asked.
“Video taping as usual. Anyway, let’s get
started on your application sheets. And of course, I’ll be your manager.
Oh yeah. Cute. Didn’t know you two rollerbladed to and from school.”
As they sat down in Syaoran’s apartment living room, Tomoyo commented, “So, you two have been living alone, *together* for some time. Oh, I’m not implying anything. Ho ho ho. Anyway, I already filled out the basic data page, with all the name, age, birthday, etc. page. All that’s left are the photos and the questions page.”
“Sigh… It sounds too complicated,” Sakura said. “Who else is applying?”
Akagi Tomaki was in deep thought. He really wanted to win the Best Couple contest, since that would ensure him a role in the new movie his sister was filming. Too bad Sakura was entering with someone else. Aloud, he lamented, “Ah, it’s a sin to be this handsome. There’s no one good enough for me.”
Erika’s ears pricked. She whispered to Eron, her twin brother, “Hey, did you hear about that new contest that everyone’s raving about?”
“Yeah. So?” Eron asked, raising an elegant eyebrow. “Don’t tell me…” Too late.
Erika ran up to Tomaki, putting on her sweetest smile. “Hey, Aki-kun. You have no one to enter the contest with, right? Do you want to enter with me?”
“You?” Aki stopped a moment to ponder over it. Erika was very pretty, had a good figure, and was popular among the guys. He had a good chance of winning with her, if anyone else. “Okay!”
Sweat-dropping, Eron commented, “I thought it was the Best ‘Couple’ Contest, meaning boyfriend/girlfriend sorta relationship.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter as long as we win!” Aki and Erika retorted. “And you can be our manager! Start filling out the application sheets.”
From the application paper sheet, Tomoyo read out, “Next question. What are your favorite activities and pastimes together?” She opened up her laptop, preparing to type up the answer, during break at school.
“Hmm…” Sakura and Syaoran pondered together. They were already stuck!
“Does capturing cards count?” Syaoran asked.
“C’mon. We can’t tell ‘em that,” Sakura said. “Err… how about searching through old documents to find out about the past.”
Quickly, Tomoyo typed, ‘They enjoy rollerblading together and also (hmm… Tomoyo thought) cooking.’ Well, they did cook meals together. Tomoyo called out, “Next question. What was your most romantic moment together?”
“Romantic? Um, I, let’s see…” Sakura squeaked.
Then, her face started to flame red. When she cried in his arms after Yukito’s
rejection of her. When he came back to Japan to save her. When they stood
on the cliff together at camp, watching the sunrise. When…
From the other side came Erika’s clear voice. “Aki-kun and my most romantic moment was one starry evening, as we were walking down the sandy shores of the beach. The only sound was the distant cries of seagulls and the crashing of powerful waves…”
Eron was trying his best to write it out, while Aki kept on adding unnecessary details out of the top of his head. “Her beautiful golden eyes were lit by the moonlight, and her thick, wavy hair blew gently into my face…”
Dryly, Eron commented, “Will you two tone
down your romantic fantasies a bit? It’s obvious someone has been
reading too much shoujo manga for ideas.”
Lowering her voice, Sakura asked, “Since when were Aki and Erika a couple?”
“It’s only temporarily for the contest,” Tomoyo replied smiling. “It seems as if the only real couple entering is Yamazaki-kun and Chiharu-chan. Unless you guys finally admit your feelings to each other, which is highly unlikely. (Sakura and Syaoran guffawed.) So, what’s you guys’ most romantic moment? Just make one up, if you can’t think of one.”
“Hmm, let’s see… How about when we first met?” Syaoran asked.
“Ha ha. Yeah. You gave me death glares, insulted, and used physical violence on me. How romantic,” Sakura said sarcastically.
“Sheesh. I’m just trying to help,” Syaoran muttered. “How can we have a romantic moment when we’re not even a couple?”
I have no feelings for you… Syaoran’s words echoed in Sakura’s ears. It was only a couple of months ago, last December, yet, it seemed so long ago, in a haze. A lot had happened since then, however.
Shaking her head, Tomoyo made up an answer, typing it up. Those two were hopeless! One of Sakura and Syaoran’s romantic moments was on the top of a cliff in the stark of dawn, watching the fiery and beautiful crimson sunrise, as they let out the truths of their hearts… “Anyway, next question. What do you like best about him/her? Each of you have to give an answer.”
“Eh?” Syaoran tried to stop his ears from turning red. He couldn’t say anything! Then he stated in a bored tone, “I like her ability to make it to school just on time, every single day. Oh her omelet rice specialty’s pretty good.”
“What?” Sakura fumed inside. So, that’s the best point he could think about me? When she thought about him, she saw his straightforward amber eyes under level dark eyebrows, a melting smile, glossy chestnut brown hair. He was strong, tall, athletically coordinated, kind-hearted, sincere… but… Out loud, she stated, “I like his ability to do his homework, vacuum the house, and cook dinner at the same time.”
Sweat-dropping, Tomoyo commented, “I don’t exactly think that was what this question was asking for. Anyway, next question is: Can you describe the personality traits, good and bad, of him/her?”
“He’s self-centered,” Sakura stated without hesitation.
“A lazy, frustrating, late sleeper who won’t wake up even if there’s an elephant stampede.”
“A sheltered girl who’s scared of everything including ghosts, thunderstorms, and the dark.”
“A reserved, aloof, indifferent, cold-hearted jerk.”
“Stop, stop, STOP!” Tomoyo cried. “It’s GOOD and bad personality traits.” Yet, Sakura and Syaoran were glaring at each other with flaming fury.
“Oh dear. Are you two entering the ‘Best’ Couple Contest or the ‘Worst’ Couple Contest?” Erika asked callously as she walked by.
“SHUT UP!” Sakura and Syaoran retorted.
Sigh. I didn’t have to say all those insulting things about Syaoran, for the application form. I wasn’t being truthful. There’s so many things I like about Syaoran, yet those little things aren’t why I like him. I like him because he is himself. Sakura held out her charcoal critically, and continued to sketch with swift, free lines during art class, releasing her frustration. But there’s so many differences between us two.
Last class, the art teacher had informed them to draw something that captured spirit and life. Carefully, Sakura drew out her pastel set and began coloring her piece. She really liked how it had turned out.
“Wow, Sakura-chan! That’s really nice!” Rika exclaimed.
“Really, it makes me feel as if I’m part of the picture,” Chiharu added.
“Ah, thanks. It’s not that good…” Sakura said bashfully.
The art teacher announced, “Okay, when
you’re finished, hand in your pieces to the front and I’ll hang them on
During break, Sakura heard a murmur among the students in front of the art class, as they were looking at the class 3-2 exhibit.
“Cool! There’s two same pieces on the wall, right next to each other!” Someone exclaimed.
“Not the same, but similar. They’re very good though. Who’s is it?” Another person said.
“One of them is Kinomoto-san’s. You know, the girl playing Juliet in the school production.”
“Hoe?” Sakura pushed her way through the
crowd to have a better look at the exhibit. Then, she saw two almost identical
art pieces. They both had focused
on a jet black horse half jumping under a stormy sky. Yet, one was done in pastel and one in watercolor. Sakura’s pastel piece had more detail, precision, and toning, yet the other person’s watercolor piece better captured the ruthless lines, movement, and spirit with bolder, swifter, and coarser lines. What was stranger was that in her picture, way back in the distance, she had included a girl with golden brown hair, leaning on a fence, watching the horse. And the other picture also had a person with dark brown hair standing in the way distance so that he was only a speck. Who could have drawn that art piece, so similar to her own?
“Sakura-chan, do you know who drew the other one?” Rika asked. “It’s a really strange coincidence. When the art teacher told us to draw something that capture movement and spirit, someone thought of the same thing as you.”
“I drew it because the black stallion is supposed to symbolize the spirit of the wind, restlessness, desire for freedom and rebellion. But I don’t know who drew the other one,” Sakura said.
“I did,” someone said in a clear voice.
Turning around, Sakura searched through the crowds until she saw Syaoran standing out. “You?” she squeaked. No wonder. After all, they went to see the race together and everything. Yet, how could he draw the same thing as her, despite the different techniques?
“It’s really strange,” Chiharu commented. “It seems that Sakura-chan and Li-kun have more in common than they think they do.”
“Eh?” Syaoran raised an eyebrow. Then he
stared back at the pictures. Didn’t I always point out we’re so different?
Then why did she draw practically the same thing as me, out of the top
of her head…
From way behind them, Erika stared at the pictures with burning hazel-gold eyes.
“They are more similar than they would like to admit,” Eron murmured into her ear.
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