Chapter 58: Eternal Rivals
A strange board with a yin yang symbol in the center and Chinese characters and trigrams embossed along the edges spun before her eyes. It was strangely familiar. What was it? A compass. That¡¯s right, it was a compass to locate Clow Cards.
There was a boy, no older than ten. Who was he? His lips moved as he repeated an incantation in a different language. The board flared out with light, shielding his face. His hands reached out to her. ¡°Give them to me!¡±
¡°W-what?¡± she asked.
¡°The Clow Cards.¡± He scowled at her.
She clutched her Clow Cards in her pocket. ¡°N-no! I made a promise to Kero-chan.¡±
A rough hand grabbed her by the shoulder and the other reached around for her pocket. She struggled against him. He was but a boy—she could push him away easily. No, he was still a good inch taller than her. Meaning she must be at least as young as he was. His grip was unyielding.
¡°No, I won¡¯t give them to you!¡± She pushed him away and turned around, running away from the boy.
A black shadow fell upon her. Three figures shadowed in the dark blocked her path.
¡°We shall meet soon, Card Mistress.¡±
Sakura looked up. ¡°Who are you?¡± She could only discern a pair of silver-blue eyes gleaming in the dark. Suddenly, her pocket felt light, and the Sakura Cards flew out around her.
¡°Where are you going? Don¡¯t! Don¡¯t leave me!¡± she cried out, making a grab for the Light and the Windy. ¡°Don¡¯t leave me.¡± She crumpled onto her knees. ¡°Don¡¯t leave me¡¦¡±
Kinomoto Sakura, age 16, awoke with a start.
¡°What¡¯s wrong, Sakura-chan?¡± Kero-chan asked, flying out of his drawer and hovering over Sakura, who looked pale in the moonlight. Her eyes were glossy.
With a weak smile, Sakura reached out and grabbed Kero-chan, who let out a muffled squeal. She brought him close to her and squeezed him into a tight hug. What an unpleasant dream. But had it been a nightmare? If so, why did she ache inside like she did when she woke up in the middle of the climax of a dream, wishing she could fall back asleep and see the rest of it unfold?
Kero-chan let his mistress hug her before venturing to ask again, ¡°Sakura-chan, are you all right?¡±
¡°I had a dream that all my Cards left me. I¡¯m their mistress. They can¡¯t leave me, can they?¡± Sakura asked, clutching the Sakura Cards to her chest.
¡°No, so long as you are alive and have the power to sustain them, I believe.¡± Kero-chan paused.
¡°Why wasn¡¯t I able to heal Miho¡¯s mother with the Veil?¡± Sakura flipped over the Veil Card with the red ribbons on the face of the card against a black background. ¡°I was certain that with the Veil, I could recover her vision.¡±
¡°It¡¯s as Eriol said—it has nothing to do with your powers. There must be something internally that Miara-san has to resolve before regaining her sight. It¡¯s like the Age Card—the individual has to overcome the barrier before reverting back to one¡¯s original age,¡± Kero-chan stated.
¡°Poor Miho-chan. I got her hopes up for nothing,¡± Sakura said, voice muffled in her pillow.
¡°Well, on the bright side, you seem to have gained control over your powers again,¡± said Kero-chan. ¡°I was worried for a second when I heard about your problems at Kumatori Mountains.¡±
¡°But it might happen again,¡± Sakura murmured. ¡°I don¡¯t know when I will lose control.¡±
Autumn had come in Tomoeda and the trees outside were dyed in glorious shades of deep crimson, orange and golden. Art class was the last period in the day, and one of Sakura¡¯s favorite classes of the day. It was probably the only class Chang Eron was horrid in, and that was also fun to watch. During summertime, classes were often held outside and students engaged in outdoor projects. Now that it turned chillier, the instructor chose indoor activities for the students. Today, Eron was struggling in vain to hold up a clay structure that kept wobbling out of shape.
¡°What are you staring at?¡± demanded Eron to Sakura, wiping his clay-smeared hands on a wet cloth and staring at the formless lump of gray-brown in front of him. He glanced over at Erika¡¯s clay sculpture. After Erika had gotten over her disdain of touching the gooey gray clay, she had started to carefully mold an accurate replica of a cat.
Sakura chuckled, glancing between Erika and Eron¡¯s clay molds. ¡°I can see where all the artistic talent of the family went to.¡±
¡°Well, she should be good—it takes her an hour each morning to paint her face with makeup and curl her hair,¡± remarked Eron wryly.
¡°Plus she has good fashion sense—she¡¯s sort of a trendsetter for the girls, though her style is opposite from Tomoyo-chan¡¯s,¡± added Sakura. Tomoyo, of course, was the other main trendsetter. ¡°And Erika-chan really impressed everyone back in junior high as Rosalie in the school production of Star-Crossed. Truthfully, she¡¯s a much better actress than you are, Eron-kun. Luckily, Paris¡¯ part suited you pretty well and it didn¡¯t require much acting on your part to play a handsome count.¡±
¡°Wow, are we actually praising Erika now? And thanks a lot for pointing out that my role suited my narrow acting range.¡± Eron smashed his clay back into a ball. ¡°But I guess the real break-out performers were you and Romeo.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right. Romeo-san was great, wasn¡¯t he?¡± A glazed look came over her eyes. ¡°Too bad I never got to interact with him much. I don¡¯t really remember his real name anymore—I guess I thought of him as ¡®Romeo¡¯ during rehearsals. And when I try to picture his face, I only remember the costumes Tomoyo made, the navy cloak, the feathered hat, the boots and the sword. Isn¡¯t that funny?¡±
Eron frowned and changed the subject. ¡°So, the Veil didn¡¯t work on Miara-san.¡±
¡°Miara-san told me it wasn¡¯t the Veil which instigated her blindness—she said it was her illness. But I don¡¯t believe her. I¡¯m still convinced it¡¯s the Veil—only I can¡¯t cure her eyes even though I have sealed the dark force. I can¡¯t even tell Kai-kun about it. He would be so disappointed—but he probably already knows it was a failure.¡± Sakura paused.
¡°If it is really because of her illness, then there was nothing you could have done about Miara-san¡¯s blindness in the first place. And if it is really the dark force¡¯s fault, then there is always hope that we can find a way use the Veil in order to cure her eyes,¡± stated Eron staidly. Miara-san was a strong woman, with her family to support her, much stronger than Risa-sama ever was.
¡°Maybe I am missing something,¡± said Sakura. ¡°Perhaps I can get Moonie-chan to give me some hints.
¡°Moonstone, the guardian of the Five Force Scroll,¡± replied Sakura. She pointed to her clay sculpture. ¡°It¡¯s about that big and has bunny ears and wings.¡±
¡°I see.¡± Eron grinned and jabbed a finger at Sakura¡¯s winged teddy-bear like clay sculpture. ¡°And what is that?¡±
¡°Hey, you poked a hole in Kero-chan¡¯s head!¡± Sakura carefully filled in the hole with more clay, then sighed. ¡°Something with the ears is off. He looks more like this teddy-bear I have, not Kero-chan.¡±
Nodding, Sakura replied, ¡°It¡¯s this cute black teddy-bear with white wings. I found him the other day underneath my bed when I was cleaning. He must be really old. I wonder if it was a present from someone. I felt so bad for neglecting him, so I dusted him and put him on my bed. I think Kero-chan plays with him during the daytime when I¡¯m not home.¡± She had a silly little smile. ¡°I should probably name him¡¦ What should I name him, I wonder.¡±
Eron sighed. ¡°Were you one of those kids who believed that dolls have souls and feelings?¡±
¡°They do!¡± retorted Sakura with a pout. ¡°Onii-chan said so.¡± Eron only chuckled in response.
The art teacher clapped her hands to get the attention of the class. ¡°Put your finished clay sculptures on the rack at the end of the room, and I will have them baked in the oven. Make sure you don¡¯t have any cracks now, or else they will crack under the heat when they are being baked,¡± announced the art teacher, Nakashima-sensei ¡°Now, the theme of your next art project is ¡®family.¡¯ You can do a portrait or a collage or a sculpture—the medium is up to you.¡±
¡°That¡¯s easy,¡± stated Chiharu. ¡°I¡¯m doing a collage. How about you, Rika-chan—you¡¯re awfully good at sketching.¡±
¡°I think I¡¯ll do a portrait,¡± said Rika. ¡°Okaa-san would get mad if I cut up family pictures.¡±
¡°I think I¡¯m going to a family tree and trace back all my ancestors,¡± stated Naoko. ¡°What are you doing, Sakura-chan?¡±
¡°Probably a collage,¡± replied Sakura. It seemed easiest to do.
¡°Yay! Sakura-chan¡¯s mother is so pretty—I wanted to see more pictures of her,¡± Naoko exclaimed clapping her hands together.
¡°Remember to include lots of pictures of your brother, Sakura-chan,¡± stated Chiharu with a grin. Takashi scowled.
¡°What about you, Eron-kun?¡± Sakura asked, turning to Eron.
¡°Huh?¡± Eron looked up vacantly.
Then Sakura bit her lips—this was not so fun of a project for those who did not have parents.
¡°You don¡¯t have to feel sorry for me,¡± stated Eron, reading right through Sakura¡¯s troubled experience. ¡°It¡¯s not like I even remember what my mother or father¡¯s faces looked like.¡±
¡°But you must have pictures of them,¡± said Sakura.
¡°Pictures?¡± Eron shrugged. ¡°Did they even have cameras in our parents¡¯ generation?¡±
¡°Of course they did, silly.¡± Sakura¡¯s brows furrowed down. How could one live without even knowing the face of his parents? True, she had barely any memory of her mother. But all the beautiful photographs and her father¡¯s stories of Nadeshiko had kept her mother alive in her life. But Eron and Erika did not even know what their mother looked like!
¡°What are you doing, Tomoyo-chan?¡± asked Naoko. ¡°If it¡¯s you, you¡¯ll surely do something creative.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t know—I¡¯ll do something to include ojii-san and okaa-san and Sakura-chan,¡± replied Tomoyo, her eyes sparkling with all the possibilities.
¡°I still can¡¯t believe your mother and Sakura-chan¡¯s mother were cousins and classmates, just like you two. I mean, what are the chances?¡± stated Naoko. ¡°It¡¯s like you two were meant to be best friends.¡±
¡°Well, a lot of our parents are from around this area. People don¡¯t really seem to move away from here,¡± replied Tomoyo. ¡°Or they end up returning here eventually.¡±
¡°Aki-kun went to a different school back in elementary,¡± remarked Naoko. ¡°I never really got to ask you. Why did you end up transferring to Seijou Junior High? You live closer to Eitoukou and it¡¯s overall a better school, isn¡¯t it?¡±
¡°My sister was a Seijou graduate,¡± replied Aki. ¡°The drama club in Seijou was stronger, and she transferred to Seijou in junior high also, when Asuma-san went to Hong Kong because of his father¡¯s business. That¡¯s when she was still racing—Seijou gave her more days off school too.¡±
¡°Ah, didn¡¯t Tamemura-san graduate from Seijou also?¡± asked Sakura.
¡°That¡¯s right. Tamemura-san transferred back into Seijou Junior High when he came back from Hong Kong. My sister and Asuma-nii-san were cutthroat racing rivals back then for the junior horseracing competitions.¡± Aki chuckled. ¡°Then, my sister decided that she would go into acting.¡±
¡°I¡¯m still so jealous that you have such a beautiful, famous sister, Aki-kun,¡± Chiharu said, clasping her hands together. ¡°Do you get to meet famous people?¡±
¡°Not particularly,¡± said Aki.
¡°Aki-kun is good-looking enough, and with a sister in the entertainment industry, have you ever considering following her path?¡± asked Naoko.
¡°No. I¡¯m not interested in the entertainment industry,¡± replied Aki.
Chiharu tilted her head. ¡°You know, when I first saw Aki-kun, I thought you were the playboy type. But ever since I worked with you in the journalism club in junior high, I though, wow, Aki-kun works really hard. Is it your dream to become a journalist?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t know. I enjoy it,¡± replied Aki. ¡°I also enjoy basketball and politics and perhaps copyediting. But that doesn¡¯t matter. I¡¯ll probably end up running the Tamemura and Akagi horse track.¡±
¡°You¡¯re not even into horses,¡± remarked Sakura.
¡°Nonetheless, growing up in that environment, I know my fair share about horseracing,¡± replied Aki.
¡°But that¡¯s not what you want to do, is it?¡± Tomoyo asked.
Aki glanced away. Ever since the incident at Kumatori Mountain, Aki had avoided eye-contact with Tomoyo. Everyone thought that knowing Aki, he would laugh it off. But he must have been more hurt than he let on. He mumbled while molding his lump of clay, ¡°I don¡¯t have much of a choice as the third child. My eldest brother has a successful career in the government—he will inherit the largest share but my father is proud of having a son in the government. My sister is an actress. So, as the second son, I have to fulfill my duties to my family and run the family business.¡±
¡°That¡¯s not fair,¡± Sakura said. ¡°If your siblings could pursue their dreams, you should be able to as well.¡±
With a lopsided grin, Aki said, ¡°Well, I don¡¯t have a particular calling, nor a passion, nor an outstanding talent.¡±
¡°That¡¯s not true, you¡¯re good at so many things!¡± exclaimed Sakura.
¡°I have many hobbies,¡± replied Aki. ¡°But in the end, my hobbies are my hobbies, and I need to fulfill my duty as the second son. I owe that much to my father and mother. Onee-chan was the horse lover, but when she gave up racing to be an actress, the responsibility fell to me to carry out the Akagi line once I graduate from college.¡±
Chiharu tilted her head. ¡°Wow, Aki-kun has already though so far ahead into the future. I don¡¯t think beyond the next cheerleading match.¡± She glanced at her deskmate. ¡°I thought all guys were like Takashi—carefree and living the moment.¡±
¡°I was looking at old yearbooks after Chiharu-chan mentioned how it¡¯s funny looking at all the connections, and I saw Akagi Arima-san¡¯s class too,¡± stated Naoko. ¡°What a talented class, with Arima-san the most popular female actress, Tamemura-san a worldwide horseracing champion, Kinotomo-san and Tsukishiro-san as doctors¡¦¡±
¡°I wonder where we will be seven years from now,¡± sighed Rika.
¡°What is your dream, Rika-chan?¡± Chiharu asked.
¡°Don¡¯t laugh—it¡¯s silly, but I never really had any grand dream. It was just to be a bride and run a house.¡± Rika blushed and stared at her lap. But now, that dream was shattered, and she did not even know where the man she loved was.
Tomoyo patted Rika¡¯s back sympathetically.
¡°It¡¯s not silly,¡± said Sakura. ¡°My mother had the same dream. Having a family is the greatest thing a woman can have, she once stated.¡±
¡°But she also had a wonderful career as a model,¡± remarked Rika.
Chiharu stated, ¡°Our parents¡¯ generation was pretty amazing too—with Tomoyo¡¯s mother off as CEO of the Daidouji Enterprise, Sakura¡¯s mother as a model, Miho¡¯s mother as a reputable journalist and Yamazaki-kun¡¯s mother as an actress. Talk about a generation of female power.¡±
Sakura clapped her hands together. That¡¯s right¡¦ Eron¡¯s father and mother must have attended this school too. ¡°Do you know where I can find copies of all old Seijou yearbooks?¡± Sakura questioned, turning to Chiharu.
¡°Well, obviously some of us with parents who were alumni must have copies—but the quickest way is to check out the school library,¡± replied Chiharu. ¡°Why?¡±
¡°Thanks!¡± Sakura had already bolted up from her desk.
She turned to grab Eron¡¯s arm. ¡°Eron-kun! You must come with me.¡±
¡°Eh, where?¡± Eron trailed along after Sakura who pulled him after her. ¡°Sakura—where are you dragging me off to?¡±
¡°The library!¡± Sakura exclaimed.
Naoko narrowed her eyes suspiciously. ¡°Those two are awfully close these days, aren¡¯t they?¡±
¡°It seems so.¡± Tomoyo sighed.
Sakura lead Eron to the back of the library, passing shelves and shelves of books, and plopped down on her knees in the reference section of the library. Squinting her eyes, she began scanning the rows of old Seijou High yearbooks. Nineties¡¦ Eighties¡¦ The further she went back in years, the dustier the books were from disuse. She wiped the spines with her sleeve to get a better look at the faded gold-embossed dates.
¡°What are you looking up old yearbooks for?¡± asked Eron as Sakura took out a yearbook and began flipping through the delicate pages. He coughed as dust drifted up from the book.
¡°Found it,¡± whispered Sakura as she came to a yellowed page. ¡°Class 2-2¡¦¡±
¡°Found what?¡± Eron leaned over Sakura¡¯s shoulder, waving at the dust disdainfully.
¡°Look. You said you don¡¯t remember what your father looks like. He¡¯s here,¡± said Sakura in awe. She stared at the small profile shot of Chang Ryouta. The Dark One. It was a black and white picture, so she could only decipher that his hair was dark and his eyes bright. In the picture, he was unsmiling, but his facial bone structure was quite similar to Eron¡¯s, if not more chiseled and sharply-featured.
In awe, Eron dropped to his knees next to Sakura. He managed to choke out, ¡°That¡¯s my¡¦ father.¡±
¡°Yes, it¡¯s him,¡± said Sakura softly, handing Eron the yearbook. She was slightly moved by the way Eron hunched over the yearbook as if he was opening up a treasure chest. Even in the midst of rows of students¡¯ faces, Chang Ryouta¡¯s face stood out with its androgynous beauty. Another face stood out—a row up from Chang Ryouta¡¯s photo, Sakura caught a glimpse of another familiar face. The young man¡¯s head was tilted up in a cocky slant unlike the other students, and his eyes stared out as if he was looking straight at you. Even in black and white, she could sense that his hair must be a dark brown, and his eyes a lighter color.
¡°Humph, my father was in the same class as Li Ryuuren,¡± muttered Eron.
¡°This is Li¡¦ Ryuuren?¡± asked Sakura slowly.
Looking up, Eron saw the shadow over Sakura¡¯s verdant eyes again. ¡°You know him?¡±
¡°He had something to do with my mother and fighting against the dark forces, didn¡¯t he?¡± Sakura paused, squinting her eyes. Her head throbbed as flashes of smiling faces against the brilliance of cherry blossoms flitted through her mind. ¡°He¡¯s the descendant of Li Shulin-sama.¡±
Out of the corner of his eyes, Eron watched Sakura stare at the mug shot, mesmerized. Why is it that even if Li Syaoran is not here, and you have allowed the Memory to seal his existence out of your mind, there are still shadows of him everywhere? Eron quickly flipped over the page to Class 2-3. There was Chang Reiji. ¡°Here¡¯s my uncle.¡±
Sakura looked over at the face that was so identical to Chang Ryouta¡¯s. Chang Reiji had a hesitant half-smile smile and seemed a little more sallow and thinner than his twin. ¡°Ah, they exactly look the same!¡±
¡°Look.¡± Eron¡¯s voice was a bare whisper, and his fingers pointed to a picture of a pale girl with a pleasant face whose features seemed vaguely familiar. He read out loud the kanji beneath the photo. ¡°Yoshida Eriko. That¡¯s my mother.¡±
¡°Ah, Erika-chan actually resembles her a lot,¡± remarked Sakura, staring at that face. Li Ryuuren was forgotten—they had found Eron and Erika¡¯s mother!
¡°I never knew Erika-chan looked like our mother—because we¡¯re twins, even though we¡¯re fraternal twins,¡± said Eron in awe. ¡°Erika looks like our mother¡¦¡± He continued to flip through the pages, hoping to find another glimpse, any other picture of her.
¡°Art club, check out the art club page.¡± Sakura stated.
¡°Eh?¡± Eron turned to Sakura.
¡°I don¡¯t know—just check it,¡± said Sakura, not knowing why she said that either.
Indeed, when Eron turned to the clubs section of the yearbook, he found under the art club a group picture of four boys and six girls, and a slightly older-looking man with glasses, not dressed in the school uniform. Eron quickly glanced at the label. ¡°Look, Yoshida Eriko and Chang Reiji. They were both in the same club. Chang Reiji won first place in the Tokyo Young Architectural Design Contest¡¦ Yoshida Eriko¡¯s oil painting was exhibited in the student gallery at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum. Hey, isn¡¯t this Miho and Kai¡¯s father?¡±
Sakura peered at the caption beneath a grinning man with glasses. ¡°Tanaka Keisuke, student teacher and supervisor of the art club. I didn¡¯t know he taught at Seijou High back then. I can¡¯t believe how much Tanaka-san looks like Kai-kun.¡±
¡°Really? I think Mizuki-kun resembles Miara-san more,¡± stated Eron, flipping the page to the theater club. ¡°Look, the production of the Phantom of the Opera.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right, it was a joint Seijou Junior High and High School production,¡± Sakura said. There was a whole page devoted to the musical production, and there was a picture of Nadeshiko in a frilly white dress as Christine Daae. Next to her was the boy who had played Viscount Raoul de Chagny. And to her right was Chang Ryouta in a tuxedo and black cape.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t tell me otou-san played the Phantom?¡± Eron guffawed. ¡°He¡¯s even wearing the ridiculous white mask.¡±
The two scanned over and saw the picture of the orchestra. ¡°First violinist and concert master, Li Ryuuren¡¦¡± murmured Sakura as she took a second glance at the picture of a handsome young man in a tuxedo playing the violin. ¡°Assistant director and script supervisor¡¦ Mizuki Miara.¡± It was unsettling to see such a bright, cheerful Miara, so different from the frail person she was now. And they were all so young¡¦ In this picture, her mother was younger than she was now.
¡°Set design by the Seijou Art Club.¡± Eron stared hard at a snapshot of the students painting the set to the musical. There was a candid shot of Chang Reiji and Yoshida Eri painting the set side by side, laughing together. It must be them.
Sakura leaned over closer to see what had silenced Eron. She saw the clearly recognizable face of Chang Reiji (or was it Ryouta?) and Eron¡¯s mother, Yoshida Eriko. They looked so carefree. No way this could have been the Dark One who had caused so much pain for her mother and Li Ryuuren. Then it occurred to her, ¡°I thought¡¦ Yoshida Eriko-san and Chang Ryouta-san were your parents?¡±
Eron nodded, silent, as it began to connect in his mind. ¡°Eri¡± and Reiji-san had been classmates and in the same club. They had been friends. Could Chang Reiji have been in love with Eri? But why did she choose Ryouta then?
He tucked the yearbook under his uniform blazer and stood up.
¡°Where are you going?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°You can¡¯t take the yearbook out of the library.¡±
¡°They won¡¯t notice one book missing from a dusty bottom shelf,¡± replied Eron.
¡°That¡¯s still stealing,¡± protested Sakura.
Eron gave her a look. ¡°And you¡¯re still friends with Mizuki Kai?¡±
¡°Where were you?¡± asked Erika flatly when Eron hurried into the house, kicking off his shoes and hurrying into the living room.
¡°You¡¯re home already? I thought you had a date.¡±
¡°It got canceled. Mike-san had a photoshoot,¡± replied Erika, eying what Eron had hidden under his jacket. ¡°So, what did you stay late at school for?¡±
¡°Look Erika, it¡¯s the old Seijou High yearbook,¡± stated Eron, holding out the book.
Erika stared blankly back at her brother, who held open the yellowed pages of a yearbook at her. ¡°So what?¡±
¡°It¡¯s our parents. Aren¡¯t you curious what kind of people they were?¡± Eron demanded.
Shrugging, Erika replied, ¡°Not particularly. The past is the past. They¡¯re gone now. I don¡¯t particularly have interest in what they did, who they dated, who their friends were, what their hobbies were.¡±
¡°Look, this is our mother—our birth mother. You even look a bit like her. We never even knew who she was, what she looked like, what her interests were. We just knew her name.¡± Eron flipped the page to the art club. ¡°She was an artist. She was in the same club as Reiji-san.¡±
Staring at the girl with the dark hair in pigtails, Erika said, ¡°I¡¯m a lot prettier and more stylish than her. Goodness, and look at the length of skirts back then. How dowdy.¡±
¡°Did you know Reiji-san and our mother were friends?¡± Eron reiterated, sitting down next to Erika on the sofa. ¡°She was not classmates with our father but Reiji-san. They were in the art club together. Isn¡¯t it strange? Do you think they dated?¡±
¡°What¡¯s so strange about it?¡± Erika asked. ¡°Besides, Reiji-san¡¯s health wasn¡¯t well, and he supposedly missed a lot of school anyway. It sounds like Sakura¡¯s been putting ideas in your head. You never were curious about our parents before.¡±
¡°But you too have thought, if we had a mother, if we had a father, how different we would be now,¡± said Eron. ¡°For instance, you would never be allowed to date that good-for-nothing Mike Kant.¡±
¡°If we had a mother, she would have cut off that ponytail of yours and locked up the wine cabinet,¡± retorted Erika with a grin.
¡°I didn¡¯t understand why Mizuki Kai fought so hard to preserve his family. I thought he was stupid in every single decision he made,¡± remarked Eron.
¡°But if you saw that ridiculous smile on Miho¡¯s face when she was that her house has been rebuilt, you can¡¯t help understand why Kai tries so hard. So hard that even if it destroys himself, he would sacrifice all to return what Miho has lost,¡± Erika said softly.
¡°What should we do about Mizuki Miara?¡± Eron asked. ¡°That wasn¡¯t planned at all.¡±
¡°Eron, nothing turned out the way we planned,¡± replied Erika. ¡°Now that your true powers have wakened, you think you can do as you please and blatantly ignore all orders from the Dark Ones. But you¡¯re wrong.¡±
¡°Are you¡¦ still communicating with them?¡± questioned Eron darkly.
Erika yanked out from her shirt a crimson jewel shaped like an iris encased in a crystal globe hanging from a chain. ¡°You can¡¯t simply block out the Dark Ones for ever. They¡¯ll punish you for it.¡±
A fierce look came over Eron¡¯s golden eyes. ¡°Not if I¡¯m more powerful than them. And I will be.¡±
¡°Well, good for you. The Li Clan is meddling big-time in Japan right now, and they might get in our way,¡± said Erika. ¡°That¡¯s what happens when you laze off. Even with the dark forces on our side, it would have been hard to ward off the Li Clan when it is fully mobilized.¡±
¡°I¡¯ll try to look into what the Li Clan is up to. And you keep your eyes out also,¡± said Eron.
¡°You don¡¯t need to tell me that—I already am.¡± Erika frowned as she stared at the open yearbook page on her lap. Yoshino Eriko, the woman who had given her life up to bring her and Eron to the world. No matter what, I won¡¯t end up like you¡¦
Ever since Kinomoto Touya started residency at Kinhoshi Hospital, he rarely got more than four consecutive hours of sleep. Sometimes, he could sneak in naps in his room shared with Yukito in the resident hall. He stifled a yawn as he refocused on the senior doctor as they entered the hospital cafeteria.
¡°Did you meet the new doctor? She transferred from Li Hospital in Hong Kong, I heard? She¡¯s quite a beauty,¡± said Doctor Kimura to his protégé.
Now he was fully awake. Kinomoto Touya repeated with a scowl, ¡°Li Hospital?¡±
¡°What department is she in?¡± asked first-year resident intern Terada. ¡°All the female doctors in the oncologist department are so unattractive.¡±
¡°Ah, there she is,¡± returned Kimura-sensei, looking up as a young woman walked towards them. ¡°Li-sensei, come over here. Let me introduce some first-years.¡±
¡°Hello, my name is Li Jingmei. Nice to meet you!¡± stated the woman in a blouse and knee-length skirt under a white coat with a modest bow. ¡°Good afternoon, Kimura-sensei.¡±
Touya stared at the brown-haired woman, with keen brown eyes watching from horn-rimmed glasses. She had a professional, no-fuss appearance about her. Some would consider her attractive if she loosened her hair from her tight bun and perhaps lost her thick glasses. However, Li Jingmei had a strictly professional air that would intimidate most men. Her Japanese was slightly accented, but she seemed to have adjusted quite well to the transfer because several nurses and doctors nodded to her as they passed by her in the cafeteria.
Doctor Kimura cleared his throat. ¡°This good-looking one is Kinomoto Touya, first year resident intern, and the short one next to him is Terada Hideo.¡±
Touya stared at Jingmei to the point where she squirmed uncomfortably. Finally, he asked, ¡°You¡¯re not by any chance related to Li Syaoran, are you?¡±
Jingmei smiled. ¡°You know him? I¡¯m a first cousin on the father¡¯s side with him. Hopefully the kid hasn¡¯t had a too bad impression on you, but judged by your expression, I guess he has.¡±
¡°What a small world!¡± exclaimed Doctor Kimura, clapping his hands together. ¡°Was this Li Syaoran a university friend of yours, Kinomoto-kun?¡±
¡°No, no, he¡¯s his little sister¡¯s boyfriend,¡± replied Terada Hideo with a chuckle. ¡°You know Kinomoto-san has a horrible sister complex.¡±
¡°W-who was whose boyfriend?¡± stammered Touya. ¡°Over my dead body. My little sister is only a freshman in high school!¡±
¡°What century are you living in? Kindergarten girls even have boyfriends now,¡± stated Doctor Kimura. ¡°My daughter is only 5 and she has ten boys lined up in front of our house every day.¡±
¡°Well, you don¡¯t have to worry about your little sister and my little cousin being in that kind of relationship,¡± stated Jingmei with a smug smile. She held up her pinky finger and made a little swooping motion. ¡°Little Syaoran has another significant other.¡±
¡°She can¡¯t be as cute as Sakura-chan,¡± stated Terada Hideo. ¡°Kinomoto-sans¡¯ little sister was even featured in Vogue Japan! I wouldn¡¯t mind waiting two years for her—¡° He shut his mouth when he was Touya¡¯s vicious glare.
¡°No, but Mizuki Kai-kun, Syaoran¡¯s koibito is very handsome,¡± replied Jingmei. ¡°He has spiky hair and earrings in his ears like some gangster. But he¡¯s very charismatic and polite. And he¡¯s very passionate about his love for Syaoran.¡±
¡°Oh¡¦ Oh¡¦¡± stammered Hideo, baffled. ¡°I-I see.¡±
¡°I see,¡± replied Touya, hiding a chuckle behind his hands. Will he ever get rid of the pesky Li Clan? But he found that despite her being cousin to Syaoran, he liked Jingmei¡¯s honest eyes and blunt manner of speech. Quite different from all Li¡¯s I¡¯ve met thus far, and I¡¯ve met more than I would ever have liked to.
¡°To-ya! It¡¯s time for lunch!¡± called out Yukito, his silvery hair glistening and his eyes sparkling like it always did during mealtimes. ¡°Oh, who is your friend?¡±
¡°Doctor Li Jingmei, this is Doctor Tsukishiro Yukito,¡± Touya said wearily.
Yukito bowed and said, ¡°Nice to meet your, Li-sensei,¡± then gave his sunniest smile, the smile which enabled double portions from the cafeteria ladies who ladled out rice.
¡°Y-yoroshiku onegai-shimasu!¡± stammered Jingmei stammered, bowing down also. At that moment, something in her callous heart popped and unbeknownst to herself, she let out a little sigh of contentment. Fair hair, large eyes, clear skin, gentle manners, glasses—this was it, the moment she and her best friend Fanren had always dreamt about. This was the prince she had been waiting for all her life.
Staring at Li Jingmei¡¯s enraptured face and Yukito cluelessly smiling back, Touya heaved a long sigh.
Mizuki Kai sauntered down the hallways of Kinhoshi Hospital—he hadn¡¯t been back in over half a year. Without doubt, he was sick of the hospital air, but he felt a little nostalgic of those days when Nina-chan and Su-chan followed him around like little ducklings, and Sakura and Syaoran squabbled down the hallway while trying to avoid Sakura¡¯s older brothers. In the distance, he saw an unexpected familiar face. His draw dropped. There was no mistaking the spectacles and the tight bun. What was Dr. Li Jingmei doing here? He spun around and went down another corridor before she spotted him. Syaoran was back—Kara had told him that there was a Li delegation in Japan. It should be of no surprise that Jingmei was here too. But it was—what use would Jingmei be in any sort of Li Clan mission? Or perhaps she wasn¡¯t related to the mission, and there was another reason she was here.
When Kai came out of his private reverie, he found himself in a different wing of the hospital—luckily, he had been planning on heading towards the pediatrician wing anyway. Kai halted as Miho passed by the hospital corridor. Miho was wearing an orange-red jumper over a plaid blouse and a matching red beret. Whether it was Kaho or Nakuru or her mother, somebody had taken Miho on a fall shopping spree—his little sister looked adorable in the autumn color palette.
Miho¡¯s eyes rounded as she spotted Kai, still in his school uniform and hair neatly parted in the middle. Her heart leaped every time she saw Kai without his usual black outfit and punk get-up, and she had to remind herself no matter how much he resembled Mika-nii-chan, he was now Mizuki Kai, not the brother who she had once idolized.
¡°What are you doing here? Are you following me around?¡± demanded Miho, the smile she had on her face fading.
¡°No, actually, I¡¯m here to meet Tsukishiro-san,¡± Kai replied staidly.
Miho realized that Kai was holding a pink package in his arms. ¡°Why Tsukishiro-san?¡±
¡°Mizuki-kun!¡± called out Yukito, walking up to Kai. ¡°Oh, Miho-chan is here too. How was your mother¡¯s check-up?¡±
¡°She doing well,¡± replied Miho. ¡°But no sign of her vision returning.¡± She glanced back at Kai.
¡°Umm¡¦ Here,¡± Kai said, handing Yukito the package.
Yukito took it. ¡°May I?¡± Kai nodded, and Yukito peeked in. It was a white teddy bear. ¡°Are you sure you don¡¯t want to give it to her in person? She¡¯s been waiting for you. She asks why you don¡¯t visit her.¡±
¡°But I sent her dolls and books,¡± replied Kai slowly.
¡°I read the books to her, and she plays with the toys. But she¡¯s a kid—she gets tired of them after a while. She wants to see you. And she misses the stories you used to tell her,¡± replied Yukito. ¡°Her tantrums are getting worse too. Especially because she no longer has Su-chan to play with¡¦¡±
Miho looked back and forth from Yukito and Kai. ¡°Who? Nina-chan?¡±
¡°Her parents never visit her, either,¡± replied Yukito. ¡°The housekeeper or nanny comes once in a while. I know because I keep an eye out for her, but as a doctor, I can¡¯t spend too much time alone with her as that would be unfair to the other children.¡±
¡°Go,¡± said Miho to Kai. ¡°You used to spend so much time with her. Back when we were candy-striping here, you used to ditch all your other duties, but you used to always play with her. If you¡¯re going to bother caring at all, you should do it all the way instead of pathetically just sending gifts.¡±
¡°Come,¡± Yukito said brightly, pushing Kai along.
When they came to the end suite in the pediatric section, Yukito gently knocked on the door. ¡°Nina-chan, guess who¡¯s here?¡± He swung the door open. A tiny girl engulfed a large bed with pink lace sheets rubbed her eyes and looked up. Then, she blinked.
Kai stood at the doorway, holding the stuffed doll in his arms. ¡°Umm¡¦ I¡¦¡±
Nina bolted out of her bed, her pigtails bobbing behind her, and jumped up, throwing her arms around Kai¡¯s waist. ¡°Kai-nii-chan! Kai-nii-chan is back!¡±
Kai kneeled down and engulfed little Nina in a tight hug, eyes shut. ¡°Sorry, Nina-chan, for staying away for so long.¡±
¡°It¡¯s okay, Kai-nii-chan, because you¡¯re, back,¡± said Nina. She spotted the doll. ¡°Is that for me? How cute! Thank you!¡±
¡°Nee, Nina-chan, don¡¯t I look different from before?¡± asked Kai, smoothing Nina¡¯s golden wisps of hair.
Nina scrunched up her nose. ¡°No¡¦ Your hair is not Mr. Porcupine anymore.¡± She giggled, holding up her chubby palm and stroking Kai¡¯s silky hair.
Kai hoisted Nina up and carried her back to her bed.
¡°Tell me a story, Kai-nii-chan. Oh, do you know what happened while you were away? You know Ayu-chan next doors likes Yuuto-kun next next doors, but Yuuto-kun told Ayu-chan that he thinks I am the prettiest girl in the entire hospital, but I told Ayu-chan that I think Yuuto-kun is stupid so Ayu-chan told Yuuto-kun that I told her that he is stupid so Yuuto-kun now likes Ayu-chan better than me.¡±
Scowling, Kai turned around to Yukito, who grinned. ¡°You lied to me. She does have friends in the hospital.¡±
Yukito shrugged then slinked away from the room as Kai knelt down by the bedside, tucking Nina into bed with her new teddy bear. Miho was waiting a little further down the hallway. She stared up at Yukito and said, ¡°How is it that Nina-chan can recognize him so easily? And how can she just accept him and forgive him so quickly? How come she can so easily say the words that I can¡¯t say?¡±
¡°That¡¯s what children are like. They are quick to forget and forgive. Only adults hold grudges and question ulterior motives of everyone,¡± Yukito replied quietly. ¡°Funny, isn¡¯t it? The older you get, the more stubborn and childlike you become.¡±
¡°So, something like that happened,¡± remarked Touya to Yukito in the hallway in between patient meetings later on in the day when Yukito relayed his earlier encounter with Kai and Miho. ¡°So, Mizuki Kai¡¯s been hanging out at the hospital again. Silly kid. It¡¯s like he¡¯s giving Nina-chan all the love he can¡¯t show his real little sister.¡±
¡°I wonder why Miho-chan still refuses to accept him as her brother when he¡¯s trying so hard for her,¡± stated Yukito, sighing. ¡°Then again, Mizuki-kun really shouldn¡¯t have lied to her like that.¡±
¡°But I sort of understand Mizuki-kun¡¯s point of view. If Sakura were ever to hate me¡¦¡± Touya trailed off.
¡°She would never hate you,¡± stated Yukito.
¡°I don¡¯t know. Sometimes, I feel as if Sakura knew what I said to the Brat last winter¡¦¡± Touya gulped hard. ¡°If she knew¡¦¡±
¡°Syaoran didn¡¯t return to Hong Kong because of what you said to him,¡± replied Yukito.
Touya slammed his fist into the wall. ¡°I know. But nonetheless, I did say those things to him. And he saved her life when she was dying. When I was helpless and when everyone else had given up hope, he was the one who saved her.¡±
¡°Yet, you hate him because he was the one who saved her,¡± said Yukito somberly.
¡°No. I don¡¯t hate him. I can¡¯t hate him. But I do hate the fear he instills in me, the fear that I might become insignificant in Sakura¡¯s life.¡± Touya frowned.
¡°Why the frown, To-ya? You¡¯ll get premature wrinkles!¡± A familiar piercing voice sounded in his ears and a death grip fastened around his heck.
Turning pale, Touya looked up at Yukito with dread. ¡°Is it what I think it is?¡±
Yukito nodded. ¡°Hello, Nakuru-san. What brings you here?¡±
Nakuru jumped in front of Touya, revealing a tight, spotless white uniform, and pointed to the white cap on her head with the red hospital cross at the center. Her long fuchsia hair was pulled up into pigtails. ¡°How do I look?¡±
¡°Please tell me that is just some silly cosplay of yours,¡± said Touya.
¡°Nope!¡± Nakuru grinned. ¡°Guess again.¡±
¡°Halloween costume. Disguise? Certainly not fetish?¡±
¡°Nope, nope, nope.¡± Nakuru twirled around. ¡°What do you think I was doing all this time? I was sad when To-ya and Yu-ki became Pre-Med students, and I couldn¡¯t join you two. But I thought, I definitely want to spend time with you again. It was tough and stressful. Now, here I am—I finally graduated from nursing school, and I¡¯m a new nurse here at Kinhoshi Hospital.¡±
¡°Tell me this is just a bad nightmare,¡± stated Touya, clutching his temple in his hands.
¡°Well, we¡¯re colleagues now, Nakuru-san,¡± said Yukito. At that moment, a doctor collided into him.
¡°Ah, sorry, I wasn¡¯t looking where I was going,¡± said Li Jingmei, straightening her skewed glasses, looking up from her charts. ¡°Ah, where is Kimura-sensei¡¯s office again? I¡¯m still getting lost.¡±
¡°I¡¯m actually heading in that direction,¡± said Yukito. ¡°I¡¯ll show you the way.¡±
¡°T-thank you, Tsukishiro-sensei!¡± Jingmei exclaimed, turning starry-eyed.
¡°Who is that ungraceful creature?¡± Nakuru asked Touya as the pair walked off.
¡°Li Jingmei-sensei, from Hong Kong. The Brat¡¯s cousin,¡± replied Touya dryly. ¡°She just went ¡®hanyaan¡¯ to Yukito, didn¡¯t she?¡±
¡°She did,¡± replied Nakuru with a smirk.
¡°I do hate the Li¡¯s after all,¡± grumbled Touya.
Nakuru giggled, wrapping her arms around Touya and twirling her finger around the stethoscope hanging from his neck. It was totally worth the rigorous training and tedious memorization of the human anatomy to be working with Touya!
Skipping lunch the next day, Mizuki Kai stood in the archery courtyard, shooting off one arrow after another. Only two pierced the bull¡¯s eyes and the rest fell within the red and blue ring.
¡°Your aim is a little off today, Tanaka Mikai,¡± said a rich female voice.
He set his bow down and turned around. A tall her girl platinum hair that fanned around her stood before him. For a second, he squinted his eyes, taken back to years ago. Then, he shook his head, dispelling the image. ¡°Kara-senpai, what are you doing down here?¡±
¡°I saw you down here, letting your arrows miss the target, and figured something was wrong.¡± Kara tilted her head. Her silver cross earrings caught the light.
¡°Why is Doctor Li Jingmei in Japan?¡± Kai asked, shielding his eyes from the sun and walking over to Kara.
¡°That annoying woman. I don¡¯t know. Leiyun wanted her. Perhaps to look after Syaoran¡¯s arm,¡± said Kara with an oblivious shrug.
¡°How is his arm?¡±
¡°No improvement. I mean, I doubt he¡¯s ever going to regain use of his arm, elbow down at this point,¡± said Kara. ¡°Perhaps I should read my cards for him.¡±
¡°You still do Tarot card readings?¡± Kai smiled.
¡°Hmmm¡¦ You¡¯re unusually concerned about Syaoran all the time. Maybe Jingmei was right. I heard that you two were like this.¡± Kara made a pinky motion. ¡°And you seem to be the only person he has let know of his return to Japan.¡±
Kai¡¯s pale eyes bulged out a little bit and he did not know whether to laugh or groan. ¡°That gossiping doctor, spreading useless rumors,¡± he growled.
¡°So, what is it that you were really worried about a while ago? Miho-chan trying to avoid you or your mother¡¯s vision not returning.¡± Kara stared up at Kai with her lavender marble-like eyes.
¡°Both and neither,¡± replied Kai vaguely. The wind blew across the courtyard, blowing through their hair. He pointed. ¡°Ah, your earring got tangled in your hair.¡±
¡°Oh?¡± Kara fiddled with the strands of hair wrapped around her cross earring.
¡°I got it.¡± Kai reached over and carefully eased out the tangled hair.
¡°Thanks, Kai. But you should be more cautious, you know.¡± Kara said, stepping away from Kai. ¡°Your girlfriend is sending murderous glares my way.¡±
¡°You¡¯re such a nice boy—that¡¯s your main flaw.¡± Kara smiled, patting Kai¡¯s head.
¡°W-when did Mizuki-kun¡¦ err¡¦ I mean senpai¡¦ become so close with Rido-senpai?¡± asked Aki, scowling as he peered over the bench at Kai¡¯s head bent over Kara¡¯s head. A group of class 1-2 students were gathered on the lawn enjoying eating lunch outside before it got too cold to. ¡°Isn¡¯t he going out with you, Meilin-chan? Doesn¡¯t it make you mad?¡±
Meilin scowled, suddenly losing her appetite for lunch. So, when Kai ditched lunch plans with her, he went off to see that vixen Kara. Then, an idea came across her. ¡°You know, Aki-kun. You¡¯re the best-looking guy in our class¡¦ Well, I guess Eron is the handsomest, but you¡¯re the most manly guy in our grade. It¡¯s surprising you don¡¯t have a girlfriend yet—you¡¯re pointguard in the basketball team and the only freshman starter. You¡¯re class president, popular with the girls, not to mention rich. In other words, you¡¯re the perfect package. You should be able to have any girl you want in this school. And Rido-senpai is the prettiest upperclassman there is.¡±
¡°Finally someone who agrees with me,¡± Aki exclaimed. He leapt up to his feet. ¡°I must seize the opportunity when I can.¡±
¡°Meilin-chan, you really shouldn¡¯t encourage his ego like that when he¡¯s trying to recover from his crush on Tomoyo-chan,¡± remarked Chiharu.
¡°Oh, I don¡¯t think he¡¯s recovered yet,¡± Sakura stated.
¡°He¡¯s been flirting with everyone recently though,¡± said Meilin.
¡°Defense mechanism—his ego was hurt when Tomoyo pushed him away on the autumn school trip,¡± stated Naoko.
¡°Poor Aki-kun—he¡¯s lived always getting what he wanted. It must have been a serious blow for him,¡± stated Chiharu, watching Aki walk up to the tall, platinum-haired girl.
Aki cleared his throat to catch the upperclassman¡¯s attention. ¡°Rido-senpai, I¡¯m on the journalism club, and was wondering if you¡¯re interested in joining,¡± said Aki, leaning over and tilting his head in his best angle. To his surprise, she actually paused and gazed at him profoundly.
Finally, Kara smiled a cold smile. ¡°You¡¯ve grown quite a bit, Akagi Tomoaki-kun.¡±
Aki¡¯s jaw dropped. ¡°You know my name?¡±
¡°It¡¯s been a while, but I recognize you still.¡± She turned to Kai. ¡°Yo, Kai—this is Fatty-Tomoaki. Do you remember him? He used to hide out behind the girl¡¯s bathroom blubbering after kids picked on him.¡± Kara laughed. ¡°He¡¯s actually pretty cute now.¡±
¡°You used to attend Eitoukou?¡± Aki asked slowly.
¡°For a while,¡± shrugged Kara. ¡°You know Tanaka Mikai though, don¡¯t you?¡± She put a hand on Kai¡¯s shoulder and pushed him forward.
¡°Yes¡¦ Who didn¡¯t?¡± muttered Aki, looking away.
¡°Weren¡¯t you two in the same class last year, back in junior high, when Kai flunked down a grade?¡± Kara asked. ¡°You didn¡¯t know then that ¡®Mizuki Kai¡¯ was the high-and-mighty ¡®Tanaka Mikai,¡¯ prince of Eitoukou Elementary School, did you?¡±
¡°How could I? Name, personality and looks completely changed,¡± replied Aki, unable to meet Kai¡¯s eyes.
Kara turned to Kai. ¡°Did you recognize Fatty-Tomoaki, Kai?¡±
Kai shrugged. ¡°How could I? Name, personality and looks completely changed,¡± he replied nonchalantly.
¡°You knew Aki was short for Tomoaki,¡± replied Aki glumly. ¡°How many Akagi Tomoakis are there?¡±
¡°I was never good with names,¡± replied Kai vaguely.
¡°I—I—¡° Aki¡¯s ears turned red and he bolted off indoors.
¡°What¡¯s going on?¡± whispered Chiharu to the other girls who had been clearly eavesdropping on the conversation.
¡°It seems like Mizuki-kun used to attend Eitoukou Elementary—and you know Aki-kun transferred to Seijou in junior high. Before, Aki-kun used to attend Eitoukou too; they must have attended the same school!¡± Naoko deduced.
Meilin snickered. ¡°Aki-kun used to be fat? And picked on?¡±
¡°Our prince-complex Aki-kun?¡± Chiharu added with a snort.
¡°Wait, so this Rido Kara-senpai used to attend Eitoukou too?¡± Meilin frowned. Eitoukou was Kai and Miho¡¯s old school.
¡°Emergency, Sakura-chan!¡± Chiharu exclaimed, bursting into the classroom with a jacket over the sky-blue Seijou cheerleading outfit.
¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Aren¡¯t you supposed to be on the bus to Eitoukou for the cheerleading competition?¡±
¡°That¡¯s the problem—our flier is sick, so she can¡¯t make it to the competition,¡± stated Chiharu. ¡°We need a replacement quickly, or else we¡¯ll be disqualified.¡± She grabbed Sakura by the hand. ¡°Sakura-chan. You¡¯ve been in cheerleading since third grade. You know all the routines.¡±
¡°But I haven¡¯t practiced since junior high—¡° protested Sakura.
¡°You¡¯re more athletic than anyone in high school. There¡¯s nobody else who can do this. Please, Sakura-chan, for the team,¡± said Chiharu.
Somehow, Sakura found herself on the school bus—at least she was excused from afternoon classes. Gazing out the window, she could see the white Kinhoshi Hospital from the distance. And then, Miho¡¯s old house in the posh, upper-class neighborhood that she rarely passed by.
¡°Thanks so much for agreeing to this,¡± Chiharu said, tying a sky-blue ribbon into Sakura¡¯s hair in the seat next to her. ¡°I think my spare uniform will fit you.¡±
Sakura returned to watching the recording of the Seijou cheerleading routines on Tomoyo¡¯s camcorder—Tomoyo had recorded it at the last soccer game. Since Sakura had been captain of the cheerleading club in elementary and junior high, and often choreographed the routines, it didn¡¯t take her long to memorize the routine by eye.
¡°I¡¯ve never been on the Eitoukou High School campus—I heard it¡¯s really big,¡± stated Chiharu.
When the girls filed off the bus, they gasped to see the spacious campus and the gleaming, up-scale building.
¡°The gymnasium is across the campus,¡± remarked the cheerleader captain, a senior girl with long black hair tied back in a high ponytail. ¡°Kinomoto-san, thanks for filling in last minute—I was always sad you never tried out for our team in high school. You were famous back in junior high, and you would have had a guaranteed spot on the squad.¡±
¡°I wanted to try out other things in high school,¡± replied Sakura, squirming uncomfortably. ¡°And I¡¯ve never done this routine before, so I hope I can be of help.¡± Sakura followed after the older girls. She felt a slight pang for refusing to join in a particular club in high school. Though she drifted from club to club to help out last semester, it was not the same as being a part of one specific team. Back in junior high, cheerleading had been so fun. From the field where they practiced, she could always see the soccer practice¡¦
Who had been on the soccer team? Eron? Who else¡¦
¡°We¡¯ll have a chance to practice before the competition beings,¡± stated the captain. She glanced up at the school building. The farthest right-hand window of the second floor was wide open. ¡°Just a warning though. Eitoukou students are a snobby, nasty bunch. Avoid talking to them at all costs.¡±
Sakura nodded vaguely. Suddenly, she halted and turned around. It was so faint, she could barely hear it. But when she craned her ear, she could discern the sweet mellow notes of a familiar violin air drift outside of a classroom.
I¡¯ve heard this tune before¡¦ Where have I heard it before? Ah, who is playing it so beautifully, so sadly? Unbeknownst to herself, she started walking towards the school building.
¡°Sakura-chan, where are you going?¡± Chiharu asked, turning around to Sakura. ¡°We need to head towards the gymnasium, that way.¡±
Pushing her gym bag into her friend¡¯s hand, she said, ¡°Sorry Chiharu-chan. I¡¯ll catch up in a minute.¡± Before Chiharu could respond, Sakura felt her legs carrying her forward, quicker, afraid that the tune might stop, and she wouldn¡¯t be able to find its source. Now, she was running, her legs carrying her faster and faster through the doors and into the building, towards the end of the hallway, then up the stairs. The song was coming from the second floor. Which room? This was an unfamiliar campus to her, but all she had to do was listen to the faint music beckoning her forward. Yes, this is my mother¡¯s tune. How does anybody else know it? It was the end door, probably a music room. The door was cracked open. She was breathing hard when she flung open that door to the music room, to the mysterious violinist inside it.
For a second, Sakura was blinded by the direct afternoon sunlight shining through the windows. Then, her eyes focused. There was a gleaming black grand piano at one end of the room. And at the opposite end of the room stood a tall young man wearing the gold-lined black blazer and pants of the Eitoukou uniform. His back was towards her as he played a fading chord on the violin. She noticed that the handle of the violin bow was tied to his right hand with a white bandage. Strange. He lowered the violin from his chin and slowly turned around. She stood, paralyzed.
Li Syaoran¡¯s bow slipped from the violin as the music room door burst open, and he turned his head. There she was standing at the doorway, staring at him with wide eyes. Her short, golden-brown hair was tousled, as if she had been running. How¡¦ Why was Sakura here at Eitoukou Academy? He saw the conflicted expression on her face, first of mere surprise, then a strange flicker in her emerald eyes before her lashes were lowered. He had often imagined what she would look like in the Seijou High uniform, blue blazer and black pleated skirt. Back then, he had imagined he would also be in that same blue blazer.
She finally spoke. ¡°Please don¡¯t stop—it¡¯s a very beautiful tune.¡±
¡°Sa—¡± He stopped himself, as he recognized the inquisitive expression on Sakura¡¯s face. Remember, she doesn¡¯t know who I am.
¡°I¡¯m sorry to interrupt—I didn¡¯t mean to rudely burst in here like this. I just felt like I had to hear who was playing the beautiful music.¡± She smiled slightly then bowed her head slightly and inching towards the door.
Wait, Syaoran wanted to say.
But it was Sakura who looked up at him again with her questioning starry verdant eyes, eyes that seemed to probe him. ¡°Did you hurt your hand?¡±
¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran stared at his bandaged right hand. He could not make a fist yet, so he had bound his hand to the bow with extra bandage. Though he could not control the bow well, at least he could make a sound. Only the sound of the violin could calm him these days. He could avoid everyone at this foreign school in the music room.
¡°Sorry, I didn¡¯t mean to probe!¡± exclaimed Sakura. ¡°I was thinking, ah, this person loves violin so much, even though his hand is injured, he is still playing it.¡± Again, that hesitant, trembling smile came over her lips. ¡°I thought the song sounded so lonely. I know why now. A person in pain still can produce such a beautiful sound.¡±
There was a call from outside. ¡°Sakura-chan? Where are you?¡±
At this, Sakura bowed down her hair again bashfully. ¡°Ah, sorry to intrude and babble on like this. Please continue to practice—but rest your hand a little too.¡± Then she dashed out the room, closing the door behind her.
Setting down the violin on the table, Syaoran stared at the closed door, dumbfounded. He unwound the bandage holding the bow to his hand, letting the bow clatter to the floor. His right hand slowly relaxed, eased from the bandage. It was throbbing again. Just several weeks ago, he had seen her at the mountainside. She had been so real then. The gap had momentarily been bridged that moment he held her in his arms in the rain. But now, the chasm was wider than ever. Was it really that painful for you, that you completely erased me from your mind? But perhaps, it really is for the better. Next time we meet¡¦ You might really end up hating me forever.
¡°Sakura-chan, where were you?¡± Chiharu asked when Sakura joined her in the gymnasium.
¡°There was someone playing the violin,¡± said Sakura, clutching heart.
¡°You mean the Star-Crossed main theme?¡± Chiharu remarked, craning her neck. ¡°I heard it too. I was wondering who was playing it.¡±
¡°I see, that¡¯s why it sounded familiar,¡± Sakura replied absentmindedly.
¡°Well, it was a popular production—everybody sang along to the songs and hummed the tunes for months afterwards. I won¡¯t be surprising that students going to this school picked up the tune also,¡± Chiharu replied. ¡°Well, I think it was the Star-Crossed theme.¡±
Nodding her head, Sakura replied, ¡°But it wasn¡¯t the main harmony. It was a variation. Nobody knows it—it¡¯s my mother¡¯s tune.¡±
¡°Eh?¡± Chiharu blinked, before linking her arm into Sakura¡¯s. She had grown accustomed to her friend talking abstractly. ¡°Anyway, let¡¯s go beat those snobby Eitoukou students.¡± She raised a blue and silver pompom into the air. ¡°GO SEIJOU! Down with Eitoukou!¡±
¡°How did the cheerleading competition go?¡± asked Tomoyo, sewing on eyelet lace to petticoats for her new dress. They were sitting in Sakura¡¯ s room as Sakura lay sideways on the bed, massaging her ankle which she had slightly strained during the competition. She had photo albums spread about her, as she was choosing pictures for her art project collage.
¡°We got third place,¡± replied Sakura, flipping through a page in the album. There was a picture of her mother on the organ and her brother, who looked no older than ten, playing the violin. The toddler sitting on the floor, clapping her hands must be herself.
¡°That¡¯s great. Congratulations!¡± stated Tomoyo, glancing over at Sakura. What had happened during the competition? Sure, Sakura probably was a little disappointed for not getting first place, but it wasn¡¯t like her to dwell on not winning. Chiharu had mentioned that Sakura had seemed strange ever since they went to Eitoukou.
Kero-chan popped a strawberry into his mouth. ¡°I don¡¯t see why you didn¡¯t join the cheerleading team in the first place, Sakura-chan. You used to be captain and all. Though you always dropped the baton on your forehead.¡±
Sakura shut the album and fiddled with the sapphire ring from the chain around her neck. She held it up to the light and saw the star form on the smooth blue stone. Blue like the color of Li Ryuuren¡¯s eyes. Abruptly, Sakura sat up on her bed. Li Ryuuren had sapphire blue eyes like this gem. That¡¯s what had been bothering her. The Eitoukou boy with the violin resembled Li Ryuuren. Maybe that¡¯s why he seemed so familiar.
¡°What¡¯s wrong, Sakura-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked gently.
¡°I wonder if the eyes in my dreams were Li Ryuuren-san¡¯s,¡± remarked Sakura.
¡°Dream?¡± asked Kero-chan, raising an eyebrow.
¡°Yes, the eyes I always see in my dreams,¡± said Sakura. ¡°Ice blue eyes, cold like winter... eyes that are full of hate.¡±
Walking into homeroom the next day, Sakura found a large group of students gathered around Chiharu¡¯s desk the next morning. Considering midterm results were to be posted up that afternoon, everybody seemed to be in a cheerful mood.
Naoko looked up. ¡°Look, this is the old Eitoukou yearbook. I borrowed it from a friend who attends there.¡±
Glancing at the black book with a golden embossing of the school¡¯s crest on the cover, Sakura asked, ¡°What for?¡±
¡°Just look at this,¡± Naoko said. ¡°Class 5-D. Look under Akagi Tomoaki.¡±
Peering at the page, Sakura saw a photo of a little boy who looked younger than ten years. He had a pleasant face, round rosy face, large spectacles and an old-fashioned bowl haircut.
¡°He looks so different!¡± exclaimed Chiharu.
¡°I know—it¡¯s like he had a face implant!¡± Naoko exclaimed.
¡°It looks like he grew up and lost some of his baby fat,¡± remarked Sakura. ¡°He doesn¡¯t look that different at all, besides a different hairstyle and contacts.¡±
¡°I think he looks kind of cute,¡± remarked Rika.
At that moment Aki entered the room and the students fell silent. He scowled as he walked to his desk. ¡°What?¡± He glanced over at the black and gold yearbook and turned pale.
Naoko quickly flipped the pages. ¡°Do you want to see Miho-chan when she was little? Look at Class 3-B.¡±
They were greeted by a girl with large eyes and chubby, rosy cheeks. Her hair was neatly parted into two thick braids. ¡°She¡¯s so adorable!¡± squealed Chiharu.
¡°And the best part!¡± stated Naoko. ¡°The Tanaka Mikai page!¡± She flipped over to a colored page—Eitoukou had a large budget and could afford colored pages from its school sponsors.
They were greeted by a page full of shots of Tanaka Mikai practicing archery, in the student council, receiving an archery medal, dressed like a prince in gleaming ivory for the cultural fair.
¡°The editor of the yearbook must have been a Tanaka Mikai fan,¡± remarked Chiharu.
Meilin stared at the images of the auburn-haired boy with clear, blue-sky eyes and a smile like an angel. ¡°Who gets an entire page in the yearbook dedicated to them?¡± she demanded in disbelief.
¡°He got one every year,¡± Aki stated, slouching in his chair. ¡°There¡¯s a glass case back in the elementary building just dedicated for all the golden trophies he won in archery competitions. He was that big of a deal.¡±
¡°If his father didn¡¯t pass away, I wonder how different things would have been for him,¡± remarked Meilin, recalling the first time she had seen the Thief of the Night in his long black cloak and lips twisted in a sardonic smile.
¡°Is that why Kai-kun left Eitoukou?¡± asked Naoko. ¡°Because his father passed away?¡±
¡°Eh... I heard he got recruited by NASA,¡± interjected Aki. ¡°And got a scholarship to study in the States.¡±
¡°More like he got abducted by aliens and got replaced with a conniving, mastermind thief,¡± muttered Meilin.
Aki looked over at Naoko¡¯s desk and glared at the smiling face of young Tanaka Mikai, age twelve.
The results for the first midterms last week were posted up on the bulletin board by noon. From the opposite end of the hallway, there were exclamations of, ¡°Wow, Mizuki-kun got first place again. Congratulations.¡±
Sighing, Meilin turned to her own measly ranking for 34.
¡°Wow, Aki-kun, you got 100% on the last exam. Congratulations!¡± exclaimed classmates.
Sakura looked up at the scoreboard. Usually Tomoyo or Eriol ranked first. Eriol¡¯s grade often fluctuated based on his mood—if he wanted to, he probably could have received top scores in all his exams. But he sometimes decided to make up answers or flunk a test or two. Once in a while, Takashi or Rika would score in the lead also. Aki usually ranked in the top five. Students rarely scored a 100 though.
Aki grinned. Then, he ran down to the opposite end of the hallway. He glanced at the scoreboard and his eyes bulged. ¡°Eh? How did Mizuki-kun get 103%?¡±
Tachibana Rei from class 2-2 replied, ¡°He corrected a mistake the teacher made on the test and got extra credit.¡±
¡°So, you need to find Aki-kun to ask him about last year¡¯s journalism club budget?¡± asked Sakura to Miho, who had come over to the high school building after school had ended.
Miho nodded. ¡°The budget doesn¡¯t add up—I think Aki-senpai had been using his own money to finance the paper.¡±
¡°It¡¯s something he would do,¡± Tomoyo remarked. ¡°After all, the paper was his passion.¡±
¡°True—he¡¯s the type that goes all out when he dos something,¡± replied Miho. In a sense, she had admired Aki for his sheer gung-ho enthusiasm. ¡°But nonetheless, he shouldn¡¯t have done that.¡±
Meilin made a face. ¡°I heard from Kai that Aki-kun was awfully bossy and a big bully in the journalism club.¡±
¡°It¡¯s true, but now I see he meant well,¡± said Miho. ¡°I understand what a big responsibility it is to run the club.¡± She paused and glanced down the hallway.
Sakura spotted the tall, lithe upperclassman with short platinum blonde hair. Her black pleated skirt was too short as usual, and today she wore black boots with elaborate silver buckles. Whenever she saw Rido Kara, Sakura was reminded of the day she fainted in the fortuneteller¡¯s tent during the cultural fair before summer vacation. She had never finished her reading. In the midst of her thoughts, Sakura almost collided into Miho, who had stopped mid-track.
¡°What¡¯s wrong, Miho-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked.
¡°That¡¯s—¡° Miho pointed to the tall, violet-eyed girl.
¡°Do you know her? You said that you¡¯ve never heard of Rido Kara-senpai,¡± said Meilin, glancing at Miho¡¯s expression.
¡°What are you talking about¡± Miho stared at Kara for a second. ¡°She¡¯s Kamura Karin-senpai.¡±
¡°Karin¡¦¡± Meilin repeated to herself.
Sakura turned to Miho. ¡°Her name is Rido Kara, she said. Are you sure?¡±
¡°No, I¡¯m pretty sure she¡¯s Kamura-senpai. Her hairstyle changed, but she¡¯s quite distinct looking, you know,¡± replied Miho. ¡°She doesn¡¯t really look fully Japanese.¡±
¡°Did you know her well?¡± asked Sakura.
¡°She was an upperclassman back at Eitoukou,¡± replied Miho. ¡°She was in the junior high division though, so I didn¡¯t know her too well. But¡¦¡± She hesitated. ¡°Onii-chan was often seen with her.¡±
¡°Were they¡¦¡± Sakura glanced at Meilin. ¡°Close?¡±
Miho shrugged. ¡°Perhaps. I wasn¡¯t too interested back then. But I think she disappeared in the middle of the school year. I don¡¯t know¡¦ It was a hectic time with otou-san¡¯s death and okaa-san falling ill¡¦ To think she would turn up here. What a coincidence.¡±
Sakura turned to glance at Meilin¡¯s expression. Did she already know about this? She couldn¡¯t tell because Meilin looked relatively expressionless. Now that she thought about it, Sakura remembered hearing that ¡®Mikai¡¯ had been involved with some upperclassman back at Eitoukou. Was that Rido Kara-senpai¡¦ Or Kamura Karin, as Miho called her.
The girls walked past the gym, where a large part of the student body had gathered.
¡°What¡¯s going on now?¡± asked Sakura to Chiharu.
¡°Aki-kun supposedly challenged Mizuki-kun to a basketball match,¡± replied Chiharu. ¡°Takashi¡¯s keeping score!¡±
¡°Eh?¡± Sakura and Tomoyo hurried into the gymnasium where they could hear the squeaking of sneakers against the polished wooden floor and the heavy echo of the basketball bouncing on the court. Meilin followed after them, dragging her feet.
¡°Chiharu-senpai, when¡¯s the game ending? I need to talk to Aki-senpai,¡± Miho stated.
¡°They just started,¡± replied Chiharu, pushing through the crowds.
They saw Aki in a red jersey over his gym clothes dribbling the ball down the court then gracefully making a layup shot.
¡°Four-to-two!¡± called out Takashi from the sidelines, flipping the scoreboard. ¡°Beautiful shot. Akagi Aki in the red jersey just dribbled around Mizuki Kai and made a shot in. Mizuki Kai, in the white jersey, has the ball. Oh, no! Akagi has stolen the ball and is dribbling back to make another shot. Beautiful! Six-to-two, in favor of Akagi Aki!¡±
¡°What¡¯s going on here? Why a basketball match?¡± demanded Sakura to Naoko, who was cheering for Aki only out of class loyalty because Mizuki Kai had a huge fan club already.
¡°I don¡¯t know. Aki-kun supposedly challenged Mizuki-kun,¡± replied Naoko.
¡°But it¡¯s not really fair—Aki-kun is pointguard in the basketball team, while Kai-kun doesn¡¯t sports,¡± stated Sakura. She remembered the horrible trouble Kai had given everyone back in gym class with his laziness.
¡°Well, Mizuki-kun¡¯s not doing too poorly considering he¡¯s up against a basketball team member. It¡¯s just, he doesn¡¯t seem to enthusiastic about it,¡± Naoko stated as they watched Aki slap the ball away from Kai¡¯s grasp again.
Sakura tilted her head. ¡°Tomoyo-chan, don¡¯t you think Aki-kun has been a little strange lately? He¡¯s been so competitive against Kai-kun all of a sudden. And Aki-kun¡¯s not really the competitive type.¡±
¡°Mizuki Kai! Your sister is watching!¡± cried out Meilin from the bleachers.
Kai looked up and saw Miho standing in the sidelines, sandwiched between the tall high school students. Suddenly, his eyes sparked. Instead of jogging, he now sprinted down the court, catching up with Aki. As Aki leapt up to make a shot, Kai jumped higher and slammed the ball down. Then, he dribbled the ball out to the three-point line.
¡°No way, he¡¯s making a three-pointer!¡± exclaimed Sakura.
Naoko stared at Sakura as if she were speaking a different language—Sakura had a good knowledge of most sports thanks to her brother participating in almost every club sport there was back in high school.
Takashi declared, ¡°And the shot went in! With the three-pointer, Mizuki Kai has brought the score to 6 to 5, quickly catching up. Now, if he makes the next three-pointer, he would pass Akagi¡¯s score—and he made it in! 6 to 8!¡±
Aki let out a grunt of frustration. Basketball was his thing—he was the quickest pointguard in the prefecture. Someone like Kai couldn¡¯t outrun him and outshoot him. He wasn¡¯t even sweating! Panting, Aki wiped the sweat off his brows on his jersey. Kai was dribbling the ball down the court now. He leapt into the sky. Aki jumped too—he had to block Kai! But Kai drove the ball down into the hoop, and the ball dropped through the basket with a whoosh.
¡°Slam dunk!¡± cried out Takashi. There was cheering in the crowds. ¡°And time¡¯s up! Mizuki Kai¡¯s victory, with 10 points to Akagi Aki¡¯s 6.¡±
There was a cheer in the court. Kai looked up and beamed at Miho. ¡°Miho-chan, onii-chan won for your sake!¡±
Miho scowled. ¡°I never asked you to.¡±
¡°Gosh, Aki-kun looks pissed,¡± murmured Naoko to Sakura. ¡°Sore loser.¡±
¡°Poor Aki-kun. He got beaten in his most confident sport,¡± remarked Meilin. Kai looked very handsome with his white jersey, spinning the ball with his forefinger.
A fuming Aki slammed the basketball on the ground and stomped off the court. ¡°I can¡¯t beat him. Sports, academics, popularity¡¦ I can never beat him.¡±
¡°Tomoyo, I think you should go talk to him,¡± whispered Sakura.
Tomoyo nodded, following after Aki. ¡°Aki-kun, wait! Aki-kun.¡±
Aki turned around. ¡°I wanted to win and show you how cool I was, and look at me. I¡¯m so pathetic.¡±
¡°No, Aki-kun. You wanted to win for your own sake. You wanted to prove yourself against Mizuki Kai¡¦ Or more like ¡®Tanaka Mikai.¡¯ You went to Eitoukou Elementary together, didn¡¯t you?¡± Tomoyo handed Aki a towel.
¡°Thank you.¡± Aki wiped his forehead with the towel. ¡°Tanaka-senpai was one year ahead of me. He was a legend in our school. Good-looking, smart, national archery champion, and the prince of our school.¡±
¡°You are all those things too at Seijou, you know, Aki-kun,¡± Tomoyo remarked.
¡°No.¡± Aki shook his head. ¡°It was on a complete different level. He¡¯s like the male equivalent of you, Tomyo-chan. Everything I have right now is through great effort. For him, everything came naturally.¡±
¡°I think Mizuki-kun worked hard too to get what he wants. You see how hard he tries to gain Miho-chan¡¯s acceptance again.¡±
Aki frowned. ¡°That Mizuki Kai. I mean senpai. I don¡¯t know what he¡¯s been up to over the years, and don¡¯t understand exactly know why Miho is mad at him. But what ever his problem is, I don¡¯t care.¡±
¡°Ah, I understand now.¡± Tomoyo gazed into Aki with calm gray-violet eyes. ¡°Tanaka Mikai was your role model, wasn¡¯t he?¡±
For a second, Aki stared back at Tomoyo. ¡°He was,¡± Aki admitted ruefully. ¡°He was everything I dreamed of being. What you see now, this is the Akagi Aki that I¡¯ve shaped in the hopes of being half like Tanaka-senpai. Back in elementary school, I was awkward, unathletic, unmotivated and a social outcast. When I transferred schools and started junior high, I completed remolded myself into the person you see today.¡±
¡°Everybody changes over the years. Kai-kun has changed as well,¡± Tomoyo said.
¡°I don¡¯t know why, but it angers me,¡± replied Aki. ¡°When I figured out that Mizuki-kun was actually that Tanaka-senpai¡¦¡± Aki crumpled the towel into a ball. ¡°That lazy and rude delinquent is actually the Tanaka Mikai-sama¡¦¡±
¡°You were annoyed at what the person you considered your role model has become,¡± completed Tomoyo. ¡°The person who you admired the most had regressed when you worked so hard to catch up with that person. You¡¯re angry at the wasted potential.¡±
Aki looked startled as he stared at Tomoyo. ¡°How do you phrase things so neatly?¡±
Tomoyo smiled sadly. ¡°But don¡¯t you think Kai-kun is only human too—he¡¯s been struggling to overcome those wasted years these recent months.¡±
¡°That¡¯s what I hate about him,¡± stated Aki vehemently. ¡°If he just remained the delinquent Mizuki Kai, I would have been fine. It would be another tragic story of the perfect golden boy gone to seed. But overnight, he simply reverted back to Tanaka Mikai. As if he could just switch on and off into a complete different person. If I stopped all my studies and flunked out of junior high, I would never be able to catch up two grades of work. If I stopped basketball practice for even half a year, I would lose my stamina and ability to shoot, and my position in the team. If I ran away from my family, I wouldn¡¯t have the courage to return with a smiling face, and if I was rejected by my sister the way he was, I wouldn¡¯t be able to continue trying. I¡¯d grow angry and resentful. Yet, he can do all these things so easily, change so easily. I despise him.¡±
¡°That was an interesting conversation you had with Akagi-kun,¡± remarked Eriol as Tomoyo walked outside with an unusually troubled expression.
Tomoyo turned around. ¡°Eriol-kun—you were listening?¡±
¡°I was just passing by, looking for Miho,¡± replied Eriol. ¡°It seems like Mizuki-kun is serious about winning back Miho¡¯s heart, isn¡¯t he?¡±
¡°Why don¡¯t you talk to Miho and suggest she forgives Kai-kun?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°She¡¯d listen to you.¡±
¡°It¡¯s not a matter of forgiving anymore,¡± Eriol said.
¡°It¡¯s all a matter of pride, isn¡¯t it?¡± said Tomoyo sadly.
Eriol lost all merriment in his eyes. ¡°I guess so.¡±
While others were abuzz about Akagi Aki and Mizuki Kai¡¯s dynamic basketball match yesterday, Meilin kept dwelling on Miho¡¯s words. ¡°I¡¯m pretty sure she¡¯s Kamura-senpai. She was an upperclassman back at Eitoukou¡¦ She was in the junior high division though, so I didn¡¯t know her too well. But¡¦Onii-chan was often seen with her.¡±
So what if Kai hadn¡¯t told her that ¡°Rido Kara¡± was a some childhood acquaintance of his? It was none of her business. She turned to Naoko. ¡°Naoko-chan, do you still have the Eitoukou yearbook?¡±
¡°Actually, I still do,¡± said Naoko, slipping out the yearbook from her desk.
During lunch break, Meilin quickly flipped through the pages, passing the elementary section and reaching the junior high section. This might take a while since she did not know her class. Luckily, she quickly scanned the names of junior high class 1-1. There she was. A younger version of Kara—it was unmistakable. Her pale hair was longer and held back in a ponytail, and she wasn¡¯t smiling.
¡°Mei-chan, what are you doing sitting at your desk all by yourself during lunchtime?¡± Kai bent over.
Jumping up in her seat, Meilin quickly slammed the yearbook shut and slipped it into her desk.
Kai narrowed his eyes suspiciously. ¡°Are you hiding something from me?¡±
¡°N-no!¡± stammered Meilin. ¡°Anyway, what are you doing here in our classroom?¡±
¡°I came to see you, Mei-chan,¡± replied Kai.
Sighing, Kai slumped into the chair next to her and leaned his head forward on the table. ¡°I¡¯m trying to escape from Aki. He comes to my classroom every single break with some sort of challenge or a competition—chess, billiards, sudoku, ramen-eating contest, you name it.¡±
¡°Why?¡± asked Meilin.
¡±I don¡¯t know!¡± groaned Kai. ¡°I¡¯m so beat. And I still feeling sick from 20 bowls of ramen.¡± He clutched his stomach. ¡°I figured he won¡¯t look for me in his own classroom.¡±
¡°Why don¡¯t you just lose to him? Then maybe he¡¯d stop challenging you.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t know¡¦ Every time he challenges me, somehow a large groups of spectators come by and then Miho-chan pops out, and I can¡¯t lose in front of her,¡± replied Kai.
Meilin giggled. ¡°You¡¯re as much of an idiot as Aki-kun is.¡±
Kai leaned against her shoulder and moaned, ¡°I¡¯m so beat. I don¡¯t think I can do this anymore.¡±
¡°Well, then just refuse his challenges in the future.¡±
¡°Can¡¯t.¡± Kai sighed. ¡°It¡¯s a battle of a man¡¯s dignity. It will injure his pride if I decline his challenges.¡±
¡°Oh men and their silly ideals about pride.¡± Meilin rolled her eyes.
¡°Though it may be a hassle for Sakura-chan, I¡¯m hoping this is just another dark force,¡± said Kai. ¡°At least then I know it¡¯s just a temporary state of being for Aki.¡±
¡°Now it¡¯s a tennis match?¡± Sakura exclaimed, watching the crowd gathered around the tennis court. Aki made a serve that sizzled over the net, and Kai made a fantastic backhand return. ¡°I didn¡¯t know either of them played tennis.¡±
¡°It¡¯s one of those upper-class sports that all preppy kids learn,¡± replied Naoko.
¡°How long have they been at it?¡± Tomoyo asked.
¡°A good half hour at least,¡± said Naoko.
They could see that both Aki and Kai, dressed in white polo shirts and shorts, had worked up a sweat. Aki adjusted his visor and made another server. Sakura watched the neon yellow ball bounce back and forth. Jumping into the air, Kai made a swooping overhead smash, and the ball skimmed over the top of the net and bounced off the court after Aki narrowly missed it.
¡°Deuce!¡± called out the student referee.
Kai returned Aki¡¯s next serve with a volley.
¡°Advantage!¡± Then ¡°Game!¡± This game was Kai¡¯s victory.
¡°They each won one set now,¡± Naoko stated. ¡°Whoever wins the next set is the winner.¡±
¡°Look, Miho-chan¡¯s over there,¡± pointed out Meilin. She sighed. ¡°Kai should just give this up. Aki-kun¡¯s never going to stop.¡±
¡°It¡¯s eating up Aki also,¡± remarked Eron from the sidelines.
¡°Eron-kun.¡± Sakura looked up at Aki, who adjusted his visor as he jumped in spot, awaiting Kai¡¯s serve. ¡°It¡¯s not a dark force, is it? It doesn¡¯t feel like one.¡±
¡°Kai thinks it is a dark force,¡± said Meilin, watching Kai throw up the tennis ball then swing down his titanium tennis racket in a powerful serve.
¡°It must be one of the Emotions,¡± Eron replied. ¡°You already encountered one of them with Yutaka Ichiro. If only we can figure out which Emotion is striking against Aki.¡±
¡°I think it¡¯s the Pride,¡± said Sakura.
¡°Why do you think that?¡± Eron looked up at her.
¡°Well, Aki-kun¡¯s not challenging Kai-kun out of anger or revenge or simple spite. I don¡¯t even think Aki-kun dislikes Kai-kun—rather the opposite. I¡¯m pretty sure he respects Kai-kun.¡± Sakura paused. ¡°Therefore, the motivation to beat Kai-kun must be over his pride. Back in junior high, Aki-kun looked down on Kai-kun because Kai-kun was a delinquent. But now, Kai-kun is top of his class and one grade above us. Until Aki-kun can prove to himself that he is as good as Mizuki Kai aka Tanaka Mikai is, his wounded pride will not be able to rest.
Meilin watched Aki slam the ball across the court. ¡°But it doesn¡¯t seem like a particularly bad dark force—it hasn¡¯t really done any harm yet.¡±
¡°The longer a person stays under the influence of an Emotion, the more warped they become,¡± Eron replied somberly. ¡°Until the person eventually loses sight of everything else and becomes overwhelmed by that single emotion.¡±
¡°What happens then?¡± asked Sakura, glancing at Eron.
¡°A fixation on one negative emotion most surely leads to self-destruction.¡± Eron smiled sadly.
¡°That dress looks wonderful on you, Sakura-chan!¡± Kero-chan exclaimed as Tomoyo adjusted the ribbons on a new dress made of cobalt blue chiffon layered with white petticoats and a bodice embroidered with black thread.
¡°I¡¯m so excited that I can finally dress Sakura-chan up in a new battle costume,¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, holding up her camcorder.
Taking a deep breath, Sakura held out the key that hung from the long chain around her neck. ¡°Key that hides the power of the moon. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!¡± The pink staff with the crescent moon intertwined with a star appeared.
¡°Do you think Aki-kun would take the bait?¡± asked Kero-chan.
¡°Tomoyo-chan asked to meet him—he¡¯d surely come,¡± replied Sakura. She jumped up on a tree overlooking the park.
Sure enough, as they awaited by the sidewalk leading to King Penguin Park, Akagi Aki came strolling up, hands in his maroon jacket. He looked around suspiciously.
¡°What are you planning, Sakura-chan?¡± Kero-chan asked.
¡°I hope this works,¡± said Sakura, flipping out a card. ¡°Age—transfer Akagi Tomoaki back to elementary school.¡± She struck down her Star-Moon staff on the card.
A light engulfed Aki and they could see him shrink and expand side ways.
A boy, around ten or eleven years old, looked up, swaddled in oversized clothes. He had brownish bowl-cut hair and a round, earnest face. He lifted up his arms and stared at his chubby hands. His lower lip trembled.
¡°Go, Tomoyo-chan,¡± Sakura whispered.
Tomoyo nodded then stepped out. Bending over to the child, she said, ¡°Why are you crying?¡±
Young Aki looked up at the beautiful older girl. ¡°The kids at school made fun of me. They call me Fatty-Tomoaki and they hid my school uniform after gym time.
¡°That¡¯s horrible,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°What did you do?¡±
¡°I told on the teacher. And they call me a tattle-teller now,¡± young Aki replied. ¡°I wanted to be like him.¡±
¡°Tanaka Mikai. I want to be cool and popular,¡± he said.
¡°Well, by high school, you will the most popular boy in your grade. You would be top of the class and three-year consecutive basketball MVP,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°And you would run the school newspaper all on your own.¡±
Aki blinked his rounded brook-brown eyes. ¡°Liar.¡±
¡°It¡¯s true,¡± said Tomoyo.
¡°Really.¡± Tomoyo smiled gently. She looked up at Sakura, making a circle with her thumb and forefinger, making and OK sign.
Sakura whispered, ¡°Age! Return Aki-kun to his original age!¡± Nothing happened. She frowned. ¡°Age! Age!¡± Something was wrong with her powers again.
¡°Don¡¯t panic, Sakura-chan,¡± Kero-chan said. ¡°You know the Age requires the individual resolving the past.¡±
But Sakura was trembling. ¡°What if I¡¯m unable to seal this dark force? Back in Kumatori Mountains, I lost control over my powers, and I almost died.¡±
¡°But you¡¯re still alive.¡±
Sakura looked over to see Kai, dressed in black, standing on the tree branch opposite from her. ¡°Kai-kun!¡±
¡°Use the Age on me. I¡¯ll go talk with him,¡± said Kai.
¡°Are you sure?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°I might not be able to turn you back.¡±
¡°Well, maybe Miho will like me better in that form anyway,¡± replied Kai.
¡°All right. Age—turn back Mizuki Kai to Tanaka Mikai in sixth grade.¡± Sakura also called upon the Small to shrink Kai¡¯s clothes to an appropriate fit.
Then, Kai jumped down the tree, in front of Aki. Young Aki stared with round eyes at Tanaka Mikai, standing in front of him.
¡°Tanaka-senpai!¡± exclaimed Aki, mouth dropping. ¡°You¡¯re back.¡±
¡°I¡¯m back?¡± Kai asked.
¡±You disappeared from school—they said you got scouted by NASA and transferred to the United States,¡± said Aki.
Kai nodded in understanding. ¡°Yes, I¡¯m back.¡± He turned over and called out, ¡°Props please—Eitoukou basketball court and some balls.¡±
Sakura nodded. ¡°Illusion—recreate the Eitoukou gymnasium.¡± She drew out another card she had barely used since she had sealed it. ¡°Ball!¡±
A basketball fell into young Mikai¡¯s hands and Tomoaki realized he had been standing in the Eitoukou gymnasium all along. He began to dribble the ball. ¡°Try to take the ball away from me, Akagi-kun.¡±
¡°I can¡¯t,¡± said Tomoaki. ¡°H-how can I?¡±
¡°You can,¡± replied Mikai. ¡°You¡¯re going to be the basketball captain in junior and the youngest pointguard in five districts in high school.¡± Now, he was bent low dribbling the ball in and out between his legs.
Tomoaki lunged forward and missed. ¡°Tanaka-senpai, what is your dream?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t have room for my personal dreams,¡± replied Mikai, the ball bouncing up and down at his side.
¡°You must have some aspirations—you¡¯re so talented. They said sports managers wanted you to sign up for the Olympics for archery,¡± Tomoaki insisted. ¡°You can do anything. You must have something you want to be.¡±
¡°I never did. All I wanted to do was restore to my family everything lost,¡± replied Mikai.
¡°Why—why don¡¯t you take advantage of what you have? You¡¯re great already, but why don¡¯t you want to become the best version of yourself? What do you want to accomplish as an adult? Fame? Fortune? A legacy?¡± demanded Tomoaki.
¡°I said, I don¡¯t have anything I want to be, anything I want to accomplish,¡± Mikai responded, shoulders trembling. ¡°All I wanted was freedom.¡±
Sakura joined by Tomoyo¡¯s side as the two boys were within the confines of the basketball court crafted by the Illusion. ¡°The table¡¯s turned. Kai-kun¡¯s under pressure—he¡¯s starting to break.¡±
¡°Poor Kai-kun—it must be difficult to return to that age,¡± murmured Tomoyo.
¡°Even if it meant disappoint your mother, sister and all your teachers and classmates?¡± asked Tomoaki.
¡°After tasting freedom, I could not return. I did not want to return,¡± Mikai said. The ball slipped from his fingers, and Tomoaki lunged forward, snatching away the ball and dribbling down the court. He jumped up and slammed the ball into the hoop.
Tomoaki spun around victoriously. ¡°Tanaka-senpai, I made a slam dunk, just like Jordan. I really did it.¡±
Mikai grinned back. ¡°I knew you could do it.¡±
Sakura blinked—Aki was slowly growing into the features that she was now accustomed to. Kai also.
¡°Tanaka-senpai, I practiced hard for basketball—I ran 20 laps around the gym every morning. I practiced hoops till my hands became raw. I spent my first year in the basketball club mopping the gym and gathering balls. I worked really hard.¡± Aki smiled, tilting up his chin. ¡°And I¡¯m proud of myself for coming this far.¡±
There was going to be no better chance to seal this Emotion—it might be one of those dark forces when once you determined what it was, you could seal it, and Aki had identified pride in himself. He was no longer defending his own pride—he was acknowledging his deficiencies and his own accomplishments. Grinning, Sakura held out her staff. ¡°Spirit of the dark forces, emotions concealed. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card, Pride!¡±
A new card materialized in front of her. On the face of the card was a woman wearing a mask of purple pride with chin tilted up and eyebrows arched haughtily.
Aki, now fully his actual age, collapsed on the ground. The Illusion disappeared and they were once more in the woods by King Penguin Park.
Back to his proper age, Kai leaned over and picked up Aki. ¡°I¡¯ll return him back to his house.¡±
¡°Thanks, Kai-kun, for helping out,¡± said Sakura.
¡°I¡¯m glad I could be of some aid,¡± replied Kai. ¡°I think this kid has made me realize something important as well though.¡±
¡°And that is?¡±
¡°The reason why I ran away in the first place.¡± Kai smiled bitterly. ¡°It¡¯s because I was a coward.¡±
After Kai left with Aki, Sakura glanced around with sudden alertness.
¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± Kero-chan said.
¡°I feel a strange presence,¡± stated Sakura, looking up at the full moon.
¡°Is it another dark force?¡± asked Tomoyo.
¡°No¡¦ It feels different,¡± remarked Sakura. ¡°It¡¯s coming from the King Penguin Park area.¡±
Kero-chan frowned as Sakura ran down the path.
¡°What is it, Kero-chan?¡± Tomoyo put a new empty cassette into her camcorder and hoisted her bag of props over her shoulders.
¡°It smells like the Li¡¯s,¡± Kero-chan murmured.
¡°Syaoran-kun?¡± Tomoyo whispered.
¡°No¡¦ Different,¡± replied Kero-chan grimly. ¡°I¡¯ve never felt this sort of power before.¡±
King Penguin Park looked eerie at nighttime, illuminated by the bright full moon. Sakura clutched her star-moon staff and gazed around her for the abnormal power. She could hear Tomoyo¡¯s footstep behind her. But there were more footsteps ahead of her.
Never had Sakura felt such a sense of imminent danger. She flipped out a Sakura Card. ¡°Light! Illuminate the path.¡± Nothing happened. ¡°Light!¡±
¡°What¡¯s wrong, Sakura-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked, frowning.
¡°I don¡¯t know¡¦ maybe I burned out my powers,¡± Sakura said. But she hadn¡¯t even used much of her powers tonight, compared to usual.
¡°Well, well, I guess the Card Mistress has finally sensed my presence,¡± said a low, silky voice.
Slowly, Sakura gazed up at the familiar scene. There in the shadow were three figures. The man in the center, the one who had spoken, stepped forward towards the lamppost. His hair was silver like the moon, and his eyes were sterling blue. Sakura gasped. She had seen those eyes before, in her dream.
To be continued Chapter 59: Thundercloud¡¦
Wish-chan: October 31, 2008
I really wanted to get this chapter out by Halloween. It¡¯s one day late because I had to make edits, but let¡¯s just pretend I did get it out by Halloween. ^_^; This chapter turned out too long so I had to split it into two chapters. I would think of Chapter 59 and 58 as one chapter. Of course, if it was anime, it would be at least 3 episodes, I suppose. My comments will go along with Chapter 59¡¦ Now, onwards.
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