Valentine’s Day Special
Chapter 67.5: Ring
The story takes place in between Part II and Part III of The New Trials of Card Captor Sakura, Chapter 67: The Sacrifice…
A quarter-century ago, Tomoeda, Japan…
Fifteen year old Amamiya Nadeshiko stared at the sapphire blue gem sparkling on her fourth finger. Half a year ago, she had been a regular junior high student with no worries in the world. Her parents had passed away in a car accident when she was a young girl, and all her life, she had lived in the same neighborhood with her grandfather and had the same friends and went to the same places. “I’ve never seen anyone so carefree”, her best friend and cousin Sonomi had often told her. Everything had changed when she met Li Ryuuren. Ryuuren was a young man from Hong Kong who had enrolled in Seijou High, the adjoining escalator school to Seijou Junior High. The first time she had met him, she had fallen off a tree and landed on him. She knew not that he was the destined Chosen One of the mighty Li Clan from Hong Kong and a descendent of one of the Great Five, as was herself. Overnight, she was thrust into a world of magic, plotting and schemes. Her rainbow-hued sky was dyed crimson as she and he knew that the day of doom was pending. And yet, in her heart bloomed an unfathomable feeling of despair and joy. The midnight blue eyes of the boy from Hong Kong was hypnotic as the stone on her finger, and as the days passed by, the ring on her finger weighed down heavily.
Two months ago, on Christmas Eve, Li Ryuuren had given her the ring. I want you to have it, he had told her. A tiny voice had told her it was too valuable of a gift to receive. Yet, he had given it to her. Why?
Mizuki Miara, her classmate and sometimes friend, stated to Nadeshiko. “Do you really want me to believe that Ryuuren-san gave you THE Five Force Treasure? Why would he do something like that? Do you realize that is the ring that Lord Landon Reed gave to Li Shulin as an engagement ring? It’s been passed down for generations in the Li Clan—it’s a priceless heirloom.”
It was not the first time that Miara had vented her frustration at her, and her questions were not unjust. They were the same questions she herself had, and the ring sparkled like starlight on her slender finger. She had known that it was an important heirloom that Ryuuren’s mother had passed down to him before she died. So, why had Ryuuren given her the ring? It was far too extravagant even as a thank you gift for the meager Christmas tree she had given him. Besides, they were more rivals than friends, more friends than lovers.
“A ring signifies a promise,” stated Miara. She tugged at the unruly auburn curl that tumbled from her long braid. “As romantics say, a ring symbolizes a ‘repetitive unbroken wholeness in time and space.’” She glared at Nadeshiko. “Are you sure that Ryuuren-san didn’t give it to you with romantic intentions?”
out a long sigh, Nadeshiko stated, “You know Ryuuren-san hates me.”
“Who dares to hate my precious Nadeshiko-chan?” demanded Sonomi. Sonomi adored Nadeshiko and was jealousy protective of her cousin and best friend.
“No, he doesn’t,” said Miara, her steel gray eyes penetrating. “He thinks you’re foolish and silly and a big klutz, but he doesn’t hate you. In fact, think about it. Why would he give you such an important ring? It must be his way of proposing to you!”
“Eh?” exclaimed Nadeshiko and Sonomi in unison.
arms were folded across her chest. “All male heirs of the Li Clan used the ring
as an engagement ring up till now.”
“B-but…” stammered Nadeshiko. She twisted the ring around her finger. “I’m too young to even think about marriage. A-and… it’s Ryuuren-san. He wouldn’t.”
“It makes sense. If you both want to find the Clow Cards, even if one of you finds it first, it’s an ideal situation if you two were married and you can share the power of the Clow,” Miara said, nodding her head. The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. “Yes, Ryuuren-san is a smart person. He figures you are someone worthy to be a part of the Li Clan. And with Ryuuren-san’s Power of the Moon and your Second Sight, you will bear phenomenally strong successors.”
“S-successors?” Nadeshiko turned beet red. “You mean children? I’ve never even thought of—”
“My lovely Nadeshiko-chan, you should be my bride when you grow up,” stated Tanaka Keisuke, a tall man with messy hair and square-framed glasses and a student teacher. “I’ll be a much more gentle and caring husband than Ryuu-kun will ever be.”
Miara slapped away the older man’s hand with her notebook. “You’re disgusting, Tanaka-sensei! Pedophile! What are you doing here? Don’t you teach at Seijou High?” Miara demanded, glaring up at him.
“I’m substituting for your art class today. And it’s only a five year difference,” he mumbled under his breath. He looked grave for a while, his eyes fixed on the fiery blue gem on Nadeshiko’s slender white finger. For a moment, partly to his artistic temperament, he felt desirous of such a bewitching jewel. If he had it, he would lock it up in a chest and hide it from the world, for fear someone would steal it from him. But Nadeshiko wore it on her finger in broad daylight, as if she did not know the true value of the gem. As should be. Beauty should not be locked away from the world.
“Tanaka-sensei, are you teaching us today? Please accept my chocolate tomorrow!” exclaimed the girls’ classmate Manabu Rumi.
“Tanaka-sensei, please be a model for my sketch!” exclaimed another girl.
Miara rolled her eyes, tossing back her long braided auburn hair. “I can’t believe girls actually like Tanaka-sensei.”
“He is rather handsome,” Sonomi stated shrewdly. “Though I think it’s the effect of the glasses.”
“But nobody’s as handsome of Li-senpai in the high school division,” stated Rumi with a sigh, joined by several other girls’ sighs.
Nadeshiko nodded absentmindedly. She had always been partial to men wearing glasses, since her deceased father had worn spectacles. Ryuuren had been wary when loud, boisterous and nosy Tanaka Keisuke had stepped into their lives. For the first month, Ryuuren had been convinced that Tanaka Keisuke must be an evil force in disguise. But now, it was hard to imagine a time when Tanaka Keisuke-san had not been around, ceaselessly asking questions and poking about curiously, sometimes coming dangerously coming close to finding about the truth of their mission to finding the Clow Cards and the mystery of the Five Force Treasures.
“Maybe we should just tell Keisuke-san the truth,” she had told Ryuuren the other night, when Keisuke had pretty much witnessed them sealing off the Explosive. In fact, she pretty much figured that Keisuke knew much more than he let on and was only hiding the fact.
“Are you crazy? Do you think this is a child’s play? So we tell Keisuke-san. What if he tells someone else—he’s a blabbermouth. Then, who knows who else will find out. If more people than necessary find out about the missing Clow Cards, the results could be disastrous. What if it gets into the wrong hands?” replied Ryuuren, his dark blue eyes flashing dangerously. And Nadeshiko knew not to push the issue again.
Why? Why is it always your way? Why don’t you ever listen to me?
“Nadeshiko-chan, who are you giving your chocolates to tomorrow?” interjected Rumi.
“For what?” asked Nadeshiko.
“Valentine’s Day, of course!” exclaimed Rumi. “You have to give your handmade chocolate to the boy you like.”
For a brief second, Nadeshiko thought of a pair of dazzling blue eyes the color of her star-sapphire gem. “But I’m a horrible cook.”
“Good, so you won’t be giving anyone chocolates!” stated Sonomi, eyes narrowed at the boys in her class. In her eyes, the male population of Seijou Junior High was not worthy of her precious Nadeshiko. “How about you, Mizuki-san? Do you have plans to give chocolates to anyone?”
“Miara-chan is even worse of a cook than Nadeshiko-chan,” muttered Rumi under her breath.
Miara glared at Rumi. “I already bought a deluxe Valentine’s Day chocolate box from La Palace du Chocolat to give to Ryuuren-san.” She turned to Nadeshiko. “Just because you’re hesitating doesn’t mean that will stop me from giving it to Ryuuren-san.”
“Hoe.” Nadeshiko hung her head down, doodling on her sketchpad. Her ring glimmered in the afternoon sunlight that filtered into the classroom.
“It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?” said a quiet, low voice beside her. Tanaka Keisuke examined her sketch over her shoulder. “Though I admit you’re a better pianist than an artist, Nadeshiko.”
Nadeshiko looked up at her teacher and friend. He smiled down at her kindly. At that moment, she wanted to tell him about everything, about Li Ryuuren’s mission in Japan, about her determination to find the Clow Cards, about the Five Force Treasures and the legend of the Great Five. But for some reason, even without words, it seemed as if Keisuke understood. “Thank you, Tanaka-san.”
The next day, it took all of her courage to step into Seijou High School, and Amamiya Nadeshiko played with the end of her violet pigtail, as she did when she was nervous.
“What is this?” asked Li Ryuuren, staring down at the beribboned red box skeptically. He opened the box and saw the malformed brown edibles.
“C-chocolate,” stammered Nadeshiko. She had begun to think this was a horrible idea. She peeked over Ryuuren’s shoulders and saw that his shoe locker was laden with beautifully wrapped boxes of chocolate, clearly of higher caliber than the ones she had made last night.
To her relief, he did not laugh at her. He skeptically bit into a chocolate then made a face. “This is horrible.”
“Hoe!” Nadeshiko hung her head down. “I’m sorry.”
“Were you trying to poison me or something? I can’t believe you’re trying to force me to eat this,” said Ryuuren, tossing the remaining chunk back into the box.
“Hoe! I’m sorry, I’ll take it back,” said Nadeshiko trying to grab the box.
He held it way above her head, out of reach. “No, I’ll keep it. As evidence that you really are trying to kill me.”
“I-I’m not!” Tears sprung to her eyes. Would he know that she had spent all night trying to loosen the mushy chocolate that wouldn’t harden from the mold, and that this was the twelfth and only edible batch? The tips of her fingers were all swollen and blistered from touching the scalding molten chocolate, but she had been so proud when she had finally tied the ribbon on her first box of chocolates. “I-I’ll never make the mistake of making chocolates for you again!”
“Good.” He suddenly grabbed her bandaged fingers. Then he placed his lips on them very gently. “I’m the better cook between the two of us. Let me do the cooking should you suddenly develop a craving for sweets.”
He then left her, wobbly-kneed and blushing furiously, an awkward junior higher in the midst of the high school students giving her annoyed looks. While he had deemed her chocolates inedible, he had nonetheless slipped the box into his bag, though he had left the other fancy boxes to tumble out of his shoe locker.
Curling her bandaged fingers into a tight ball, she pressed them to her heart. It seemed as if the ring was pulsating on her finger. There will be a day when I will return this ring to you, for this ring is not meant to be mine. When that day comes, I will probably reminisce times like this when we were still young and innocent. Even if I know the end is bound to come, I do not want to give this ring up for a little longer. For the moment, let it be a little token to give me strength. Let it be my final link to you.
Present time, Tomoeda, Japan…
Sixteen year old Kinomoto Sakura stared at the star sapphire ring which fit perfectly on her ring finger. It was a ring that had once graced her mother’s ring, before it was cast into a deep chest for fifteen years. A deep blue the color of an ocean of tears, this ring was a ring of many farewells. Once upon a time, Li Ryuuren had given this ring to her mother. Amamiya Nadeshiko had returned it to Ryuuren once they parted ways. Ryuuren, unable to bear the sight of the ring of so many memories had sent it to an acquaintance who in return guarded it till a thief chanced to steal it away.
Who did the ring belong to? Surely, Ryuuren would know, but he had long since passed away. Syaoran should rightfully have received it, according to tradition. But Ryuuren had given it to Tanaka Keisuke, his trusted friend, and the ring then had drifted through many hands. It was a ring without a proper owner.
A couple days ago, Kai had told her, “Why do you think I sent the sapphire ring to you with a letter mentioning Syaoran?” She had been utterly baffled by his sudden outburst. “Syaoran asked me to send the ring to you, why else? I don’t know why he did, and that is the truth, so you can ask him.”
It was a paradox. The paradox of the ring.
According to Kai, it was Syaoran who wanted her to safeguard this ring. From whom? The Li Clan would want it back eventually, since it was a Li Clan heirloom. But before it had ever belonged to the Li’s, it had been a very precious stone that had belonged to Landon Reed’s mother, Clow Reed’s grandmother, Lady Eleanor Cleau Reed. Sakura had met Lady Eleanor just once, inside Memoria. There, she had been a young girl with golden hair and cornflower blue eyes, with a certain fairylike quality to her. She had given the ring to her second son before he had parted from England. It was said that the ring was used as an engagement ring in the Li Clan and passed on to the next generation, ever since the time of Li Shulin, who had received the ring as a token from Lord Landon Reed. Thus, Li Shulin was the only one of the Great Five who had been a bearer of two of the Five Force Treasures, the Reed ring and the Li sword. Li Ryuuren, instead of giving the ring to Ielan as an engagement ring, had sent to his good friend Tanaka Keisuke, also known as the artist Shing, for safekeeping shortly after he left Japan. For a short while, his son, Tanaka Mikai, otherwise known as the Kaitou Magician had borne the ring after stealing it from his own father.
A couple weeks ago, the yakuza had stolen the ring, along with her Star Key. Back then, she had temporarily been alarmed that the Leiyun had been after the ring. She had seen both Leiyun and Kara eying the gem before. They all had legitimate claims on the ring, Leiyun as the first son of the first son of the main line of Li’s in the Li Clan, and Kara Reed as the last remaining descendent of Lady Eleanor Cleau Reed. Even Kai had better claims, as the ring had been given by its owner to Tanaka Keisuke. Of course there was but one person she believed that Li Ryuuren wanted to pass the ring to, and supposedly that person wanted her to keep the ring just a little longer. For if everything happened for a reason, there must be a good reason why the ring had been passed on to her.
But for what reason? The simple thing would be to ask the rightful owner. But she was afraid to.
Excitement filled the classes of Seijou High, with adolescent boys and girls at the peak of their youthful romantic notions.
“My favorite day of the year is coming up!” sighed Akagi Aki of class 1-2. “The day where I can receive plenty of love from the female population.”
“Valentine’s Day is coming up,” Yanagisawa Naoko said with a pout. “I completely forgot. I always thought I would have a boyfriend by the time I am in high school to give my homemade chocolates to.”
“I thought I would have a different boyfriend to give chocolates to by the time I was got to high school,” remarked Mihara Chiharu, shaking her head, before staring at her childhood friend and boyfriend Yamazaki Takashi. He was much taller and a bit more serious and intuitive than his elementary counterpart, but not much else had changed.
Daidouji Tomoyo turned to Meilin. “Are you giving Kai-kun chocolates? It’s your first Valentine’s Day together, isn’t it?”
“Chocolates?” Li Meilin wrinkled his nose. “He doesn’t need it. He gets plenty of adoration from the Kaitou Magician Fan Club.”
“How about you, Sakura-chan?” asked Sasaki Rika. All the girls knew that Sakura’s breakup with Chang Eron was still a sensitive subject. But Rika couldn’t help wondering if this was the perfect opportunity to get back on her feet. She glanced over the classroom at Li Syaoran, working on his homework during lunchtime even while the rest of the class was goofing off. Even after knowing Li Syaoran for six years now, he was still an enigma to her.
Sakura stated absentmindedly, “Do any of you know how to make chocolate truffles shaped like a heart dusted with 99% dark cocoa powder and filled with butter-cream ganache?”
Naoko blinked at her friend. “Sakura-chan, we’re high school students, not gourmet chocolatiers.”
“Truffles with butter-cream gananche?” Erika who was nearby, looked up. “That’s Eron’s favorite.”
The other girls glanced at each other.
“Sakura-chan isn’t over Eron-kun yet,” Chiharu whispered to Naoko. “She’s going to make him chocolates to win him back.”
“Poor Sakura-chan,” said Naoko, shaking her head. “At times like this, I think it’s better not to get mixed up in all the Valentine’s Day drama.”
Oishii Nobuhiro, the chef and owner of La Seine, the French gourmet restaurant, had grown fond of the scowling brown-haired high school boy from Hong Kong that Tsukishiro Yukito had introduced last year. He had grown to entrust more complex affairs such as finance to the boy, and often wondered what he had done before Li Syaoran had come to work for the restaurant.
“Valentine’s Day is coming up. You’re a young, handsome boy. I’m sure you have a sweetheart? What about that Kinomoto-kun’s younger sister that started working here recently?” asked Chef Nobuhiro.
“Chef, please don’t evade my question. I reviewed your financial accounts.” Syaoran with a deep frown. “With such good business every night, I don’t understand how you’re making so little profit.”
“Ah, Li-kun, as meticulous as ever,” remarked Chef Nobuhiro. “You’ve been such a great help to me ever since you began working here. I don’t know how I could manage the book-keeping without you. How are you so good with numbers?”
Syaoran was not in the mood to be humored. “You spend lavishly on ingredients and the food you create is so time-consuming, you have more employees than a hotel restaurant. If you maintained a tighter budget each day and cut down on the number of employees, we can probably reap up profit three times the amount within a month,” he said, to-the-point as usual. “Truthfully, you undercharge on all the meals considering the quality of the food you produce is on-par with any 5-star restaurant.”
Chef Nobuhiro shrugged, as he was prone to do in matters of business. Even his manager of ten years despaired at him numerous times. “It’s true, it’s not a profitable business. But I wanted to make gourmet food accessible and affordable for everybody. Because I like making people happy with the food that I cook. And if I raise the prices, the food won’t be affordable to the every-day family or couple who wants to go out and enjoy a quality meal together.”
And Syaoran glanced up at the roly-poly chef with a half-smile. “Chef Nobuhiro, you really like food, don’t you?”
“I do,” said the head chef.
“Did you always know it was your calling?” Syaoran asked.
The chef smiled. “I worked at the neighborhood sushi-ya since I was ten and spent four years at a culinary school in Paris and ten years in apprenticeship under a famous French chef there. Twenty years ago, I came back to Japan with the hopes of opening up my own restaurant.”
“I guess it takes a long time to train as a chef,” Syaoran mused.
“Why, are you thinking of opening up a restaurant?” asked the head chef with a low chuckle.
“N-no!” exclaimed Syaoran turning red.
“Humph. I was thinking maybe you were thinking of ways to support yourself after you elope with darling Sakura-chan.”
Syaoran choked. “E-excuse me?”
“Oh, my employees have told me all the details. That ogre-brother of hers doesn’t approve of you two, right? So you two are working here to save up to elope.”
“N-no, it’s not like that!” stammered Syaoran, turning beet red.
Slightly misty eyed, Chef Nobuhiro stared off into the distance. “Decades ago, when I was a young lad, I had a sweetheart. She was the prettiest girl with eyes that crinkled when she smiled. We used to work together at the sushi-ya owned by her father, and were planning to open up a restaurant together once we saved up enough money.”
“Ah, I see,” said Syaoran.
“She promised to wait until I returned from training in France. I had to ambition to become the best chef in Japan to make her proud of me. Fifteen years. I endured fifteen years in a foreign country with no friends, training and training with the hopes of returning home to Japan to open up a restaurant for my beloved. Many long nights I stared at the river Seine, thinking what a bliss it would be if she was by my side.” The chef paused for a moment, as if he was recollecting yonder days long forgotten. “When I returned, she was the first person I sought out. I had bought her a little diamond ring from a boutique in Paris with the savings I had accumulated and went to her soon as I landed. And I found that she had long since been married. Fourteen years, she told me. Fourteen years she had waited for me, and I had not returned. Tired of waiting, she married the man who had been by her side the past fifteen years that I had not been there. One more year. She could not have waited that one last year.” And Chef Nobuhiro clutched his white toque. “So you see, all I have is this restaurant. And I have seen many couples engaged and then return to celebrate anniversaries here. Thus, I feel very blessed in my job.”
In Syaoran’s eyes, Chef Nobuhiro was a magician, a magician with food. And he wanted to use his talent to make people happy, and that happiness kept him working at this restaurant for a quarter-century. “You are amazing, Chef Nobuhiro. I think that lady would also think so if she saw your restaurant.”
“Oh, since when did you learn flattery, Boy from Hong Kong?” chuckled the chef. “Now, enough chitchat; get to chopping. Chop chop.”
Kinomoto Sakura was not the best cook in the world, though not exactly the worst either. According to her older brother, she was the type of cook who should stick to “safety” dishes such as curry and other basic 5-ingredient dishes. In the Kinomoto household, she was by far the least accomplished chef. “Better than mother’s,” Touya had reassured her when he had tasted her first croquette. Which was not a compliment. Kinomoto Nadeshiko had been a notorious failure in the kitchen.
Nonetheless, Sakura was persistent. Valentine’s Day was around the corner, and she was about to embark on her most challenging kitchen endeavor ever. After school, she headed off to her part-time job at La Seine. She changed into her waitress uniform, a starched white lace apron over a crisp black dress. Taking a deep breath, she walked up to Syaoran who was prepping in the kitchen.
He looked up at her as he heard her footsteps approaching.
She stared at him with her earnest green eyes. “Do you know how to make homemade chocolate truffles shaped like a heart dusted with 99% dark cocoa powder and filled with butter-cream ganache?”
A fellow waiter stared at her as if she were speaking another language.
But Syaoran looked pensive for a while. Apparently, he did know how to make homemade chocolate truffles shaped like a heart dusted with 99% dark cocoa powder and filled with butter-cream ganache. “Why?
“I promised someone that I would make truffles for Valentine’s Day,” mumbled Sakura.
“Oh, did you?” A dark cloud bloomed overhead because Syaoran had a good inkling who this someone might be. “And why exactly do you have to make such a complicated chocolate recipe for this person?”
Sakura blinked staidly. “Because a promise is a promise.”
A very Sakura-like answer.
“And why should I help you?” That was a very Syaoran-like reply.
“Because. You’re the best cook I know. Well, second-best,” was her frank response. “Otou-san is the best cook.”
Syaoran was flattered to be put in the league of Kinomoto Fujitaka and found himself saying despite his better judgment, “Well, I guess I will help you if I have nothing better to do after work today.”
The restaurant had closed for the night, and all the employees left.
“Is it all right to use the kitchen?” asked Sakura tentatively; it was the first time she had been in the kitchen when it was complete quiet. She tied the white chef’s apron around her waist.
Syaoran nodded. “The chef told me to prep for Valentine’s dessert, and I said I’ll make the caramel truffles.”
The gleaming counters and shining kitchen utensils were all to their disposal, and Sakura clapped her hands together. “I never cooked in such a fancy kitchen before.”
Indeed, the spacious La Seine kitchen was enviable to any top chef. Syaoran had already prepared the ingredients. He pointed to a huge slab of dark chocolate.
“That’s the biggest block of chocolate I have ever seen!” exclaimed Sakura.
“We’re going to have to cut off chunks of it to melt,” said Syaoran. He handed her a knife.
Sakura proceeded to grate off pieces of chocolate. The block was so hard, she had difficulty make a dent.
“This is going to take all night long,” said Syaoran. He proceeded to take a bigger butcher knife and in a series of rapid movements, had chopped the huge block into smaller, even-sized pieces; Sakura clapped in awe.
“Next we’re going to temper the chocolate, right?” Sakura asked. She had made chocolate before with Tomoyo, that one time back in elementary school when she had made her first batch of Valentine’s Day chocolates, though nothing as fancy as the ones she were attempting today.
“I’m going to check the temperature of the water,” replied Syaoran, placing a cooking thermometer in the heated water. He nodded. “Good. Perfect temperature.”
Into a small cooking pan, Sakura gently placed the chunks of chocolate. She stirred for the next couple of minutes till the chunks melted into a glossy dark brown liquid. The sweet smell wafted up her nose.
“Now, we can add the cream to make the ganache,” said Syaoran. “Keep stirring.” He carefully poured thick cream from a pitcher.
Sakura stirred the white cream into the dark chocolate, till the concoction turned into a milky-brown color. “Look!” she exclaimed. “I want to drink it!”
“You’ll scald your tongue,” he said. “Now, we can add the butter, and heat up the chocolate again.” The golden slab of butter bubbled and quickly dissolved into the mixture. They turned off the heat, and removed the melted chocolate into a clear glass bowl with the help of a spatula.
“We’re going to have to wait for the chocolate to become stiff before we can make the truffles,” he said.
Sakura placed the bowl in the refrigerator. Sitting by the kitchen counter, she finished her math homework while watching Syaoran prepare several more batches of chocolate for the Valentine’s Day special dessert menu. He apparently didn’t need help, because he managed to make seven batches while finishing his math homework before her. Watching him multitask reminded her of last summer at his house, watching him vacuum while reading an ancient Chinese text meanwhile reciting the lines of Star-Crossed with her. After an hour had passed, her ganache was stiff and they were able to shape the truffles. Sakura insisted on shaping the little balls of ganache into hearts by hand instead of opting for a mold. Finally, Syaoran showed her how to dust the fragile bonbons in dark cocoa powder, and she placed the finished product proudly into little individual paper cups.
Meanwhile, Syaoran too was finishing up his batch of raspberry champagne truffles for the restaurant. He rolled the raspberry ganache into little balls with the melon scooper and she dipped them into dark chocolate.
“You don’t have to help,” said Syaoran.
“It’s fun,” she replied, carefully placing little pieces of chopped pecan on the marzipan truffles. “When did you learn how to make chocolates?”
“Wei taught me years ago,” he replied, his hands in constant motion as he rolled the truffles into perfect balls. “But I learned the fancy stuff from Chef Nobuhiro. He was apprenticed to the best chocolatier in Paris for two years out of the fifteen years he spent there.”
“You get along well with the Chef,” remarked Sakura. “He seems like a nice person, though he looks really scary. I wonder if he has a family.” It would be nice being married to someone who was able to cook such delicious food.
“No, he doesn’t,” said Syaoran. “There was a woman he once cared for. She promised to wait for him during his apprenticeship in France.”
“What happened to her?”
“By the time he returned, she was already married to another man.”
“That’s so sad!” exclaimed Sakura. “So that’s why he never married?”
“But the Chef is also doing the work he loves, so he is content,” said Syaoran.
Sakura looked grave for a moment. “But isn’t the Chef lonely?”
“No, I don’t think so,” was Syaoran’s response.
“He kind of reminds me of you in that sense.”
“In what way?” he replied sharply. In his opinion, he and the chef were nothing alike.
“Just, I remember back in elementary school when we went on the trip to the beach. I was very surprised when you said you lived alone with Wei.”
“Why was it surprising?”
“Don’t take it the wrong way. But it was the first time I got to really find out more about you. And I was happy that we got to talk. It was the first time I felt like I got to really know you.” Sakura smiled slightly. “But to me, it sounded like you were lonely, because you didn’t even seem to realize you were.” She paused, as if she had said too much. But Syaoran didn’t look angry. Only befuddled.
Finally, he said, “That night, it was the first time I stared at the Japanese seashore. I had never seen so many stars before. In Hong Kong, it’s too bright at night to see the stars clearly. I couldn’t fall asleep.”
“Because of the dark force?”
“Because it was the first time I was sleeping in a room full of other people. It was distracting,” he replied. “I wanted to be alone, to have a quiet moment to myself.”
“And I came along and interrupted,” sighed Sakura.
“No.” Syaoran paused. “I was happy.” He didn’t know it then, but in realizing he wasn’t alone on that starry night at the beach, he for the first time realized he had been alone all along.
Sakura stared at him, a little baffled, with those jade-green eyes.
Perhaps he was embarrassed he had said too much, and he asked, “Why are you making so many truffles?”
“I’m going to make enough to give all my friends,” replied Sakura. She tilted her head. “Do you want a batch too? I’m pretty sure I’ll have enough left over.”
And Syaoran scowled deeply. “I hate butter-cream ganache! It’s the kind of sweet that I dislike most in the world. I would never want something like that for Valentine’s Day!”
“Hoe.” Just a moment ago, he had been so friendly. Sakura hung her head low, wondering if she had made some sort of mistake.
“Valentine’s Day is a nightmare,” groaned the teachers. It was impossible to teach a class of hyperactive, love-stricken students.
Mizuki Kaho merely grinned at Yamaguchi-sensei. “But isn’t it good to have one day in a year where girls can gather the courage to express their feelings to the one they have special feelings for?”
At the end of the day, Valentine’s Day was merely a popularity contest for the boys. Akagi Aki’s pride was soothed for the day as his locker was bulging with boxes of chocolate, as was Hiiragizawa Eriol’s locker. Eriol methodically sorted the chocolates into the Nakuru pile, the Suppi-chan pile and the Kero-chan pile. Meanwhile, Mizuki Kai, regardless of the fact that he had a girlfriend, was bombarded with chocolate treats from not just Seijou High and Junior High, but various neighboring schools as well, as his popularity was widespread from his archery competitions and also through a female motorcycle gang. When Chang Eron opened his locker, a shower of boxes of all shapes and sizes tumbled out. Now that he was no longer dating Sakura, that made him automatically one of the most eligible guys in Seijou High. There was a large teddy bear holding a heart-shaped box as well. He looked up. A mousy girl with brunette pigtails quickly hid behind the wall. Then, he picked up the last star-shaped box. With a frown, he carried it to the classroom.
“Good morning Eron-kun!” said Sakura, already in her seat.
“What is this?” asked Eron, holding out the red box on his desk accusingly.
“Homemade chocolate truffles shaped like a heart dusted with 99% dark cocoa powder and filled with butter-cream ganache,” replied Sakura. “Your favorite.”
Slowly, Eron blinked at her. Then, he recalled that he had requested something like that back when they were still dating. “Why? Who gives chocolates to their ex-boyfriend on Valentine’s Day?”
“I promised you I will make them for you,” said Sakura. “They’re not perfect, but I got help, so they should be edible at least. I hope you like them.”
The girls in the classroom nudged each other. None of them missed the poisonous glare sent by Li Syaoran. Li Syaoran surprisingly did not receive a single box of chocolates this year. He had been a popular candidate in past years, but there was a general consensus that it was too daunting to even think of touching Syaoran’s shoe locker with the death glares he had been shooting off to everyone as of late.
“Li-kun’s cool but scary,” said a girl from the next class over. “I prefer someone kind and gentle like Hiiragizawa-kun.”
Meanwhile, Eron made a show of holding up the box of chocolate and flaunting it in front of the scowling Syaoran. It was too precious to consume and yet, too delectable was the face of Syaoran when he saw the star box. If Eron was a little less refined, he probably would have stuck his tongue out at his least favorite classmate.
“Don’t flatter yourself. You’re not that special,” stated Kai, slinging his arm around Eron’s neck and holding up a star-shaped box. “Everyone in the Alliance of the Stars got chocolates from Sakura-chan this year.” He popped a truffle into his mouth. “Mmm… It has a taste of Syaoran.”
“You got one too?” asked Tomoyo, holding up her star box.
“It’s actually good,” Miho stated, called over by Sakura, licking her thumb and forefinger.
Meanwhile, Hiiragizawa Eriol looked up tragically, hands upheld. “Why? Why hasn’t Sakura given me chocolates?”
“She might have run out,” suggested Tomoyo.
“She might have forgotten,” stated Kero-chan from Tomoyo’s pocket—it was too precious of a day to miss out on, a day of unlimited sweets.
“It may have been intentional,” remarked Miho.
“There must be a reason,” concluded Mizuki Kaho, tasting her truffle and smiling furtively.
By now, the self-satisfied smirk faded to a scowl rivaling that of Syaoran’s as Eron realized that in a Sakura-like way, she had circled the same chocolate to all her acquaintances.
“Well, it’s in my favorite flavor,” stated Erika, reaching over uninvited and popping a truffle in her mouth. “I don’t see why you’re sulking, Eron. You don’t even like sweets.”
Valentine’s Day was one of the busiest nights of the year at La Seine, and Sakura, Syaoran and Eron headed to La Seine straight after school ended.
“Tonight’s the busiest night of the year since Christmas!” stated the manager, pacing up and down. “We’re completely booked out. Remember, tonight will be a very special night for couples. There will definitely be engagements and anniversaries happening tonight. It is our job to make the event even more memorable and special for our guests.”
The waiters donned pink shirts instead of their usual white one.
“Why do you look so happy?” asked Eron grumpily as he adjusted his red bowtie.
Syaoran looked up from the mirror, admittedly in much better spirits than earlier that day. He couldn’t admit that pink was a good color on him.
Both boys looked up as they saw Sakura emerge from the women’s locker room. The waitresses wore cherry pink dresses instead of the usual black with pale pink aprons matching the waiters’ shirt, and Sakura timidly fiddled with her pink lace headband.
“It looks cute on you,” said Eron with a smile.
Syaoran glared at him and resumed folding the red napkins.
The clock hit 6:00, and the first guests began to file in, mostly older couples who had left their kids at home for a romantic dinner.
When Sakura emerged again with three platters of filet mignon with fries, she saw that the restaurant was completely packed.
“Table 21 is waiting,” hissed Syaoran as he hurried out with two full trays.
“Got it,” replied Sakura.
Both of them looked up as they heard piano music drift through the dining hall. There was a grand piano at one end of the room which was usually unplayed for most of the year; they had figured its purpose was decorative rather than functional.
“I guess the manager hired a pianist because tonight’s a special day,” remarked Eron.
The lights had been dimmed and the manager had lit all the tables with red candles in glass holders with special pink tablecloth. Though it was the same dining area that she worked in every other day, the change in music somehow made everything a little bit more special. Sakura looked up and saw all the tables for two, where couples gazed into each other’s eyes over the candlelight and a scarlet rose in a vase. Somehow, the live piano seemed to cast a magical enchantment over the restaurant, and the same dining space seemed to be transported to a Parisian bistro overlooking the Seine River.
Unconsciously, Sakura detoured from her tables to draw nearer to the piano. It was a man in a black tuxedo, and he strummed out the tunes with sincerity, not looking up from the keys. When she was close enough to see the pianist’s face, her jaw dropped. “Onii-chan!”
The pianist, without skipping a beat, looked up. “Hi, Kaijou.”
She stepped back and almost collided into the table closest to the piano. A pair of hands steadied her. “Are you all right, Sakura-chan?”
Sakura spun around, still balancing her tray. “Yukito-san! What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?” She realized he wasn’t alone. He was seated in a table of five with Eriol, Miho, Nakuru and Mizuki-sensei. They smiled and waved at her.
“It’s been yearly tradition for your brother to play the piano on Valentine’s Day at La Seine,” said Yukito. “Even though tonight’s our rare evening off, he decided to fulfill his annual role.”
Nakuru, who had been nodding to the tune, exclaimed, “Ah, I’ve heard this song before. Touya-kun used to play it often in high school.”
Yukito nodded. “This is a tune that his mother composed, and it’s a special song for Touya.”
“It’s a beautiful melody,” said Eriol, closing his eyes. “What is it called?”
“ ‘Memories of Warmth,’ ” replied Sakura, watching her brother with a soft smile.
“Touya-san is amazing!” exclaimed a jovial male voice from the table behind them.
“Kai-kun!” exclaimed Sakura. The large round table adjacent to Eriol’s table was seated with her classmates, Meilin, Tomoyo, Aki, Naoko, Chiharu and Yamazaki Takashi.
“Goodness, it was hard to get a reservation here,” stated Meilin. She turned to Kai with a frown. “How did you get reservations anyway? I thought they were booked full.”
“We invited Rika-chan, but she’s on a date tonight,” said Chiharu with a wink.
“The food’s awesome tonight. Did Li-kun help with preparations?” asked Yamazaki Takashi.
“Your brother is so handsome,” sighed Naoko. “I wish I had a brother like that.”
Meanwhile, Tomoyo in a lovely white satin dress, filmed Touya playing the piano very contentedly.
“It almost looks like you have a crush on Sakura-chan’s brother,” remarked Aki slightly peeved.
“It’s not that,” said Tomoyo, blushing happily. “But look at his ears. His ears look just like Sakura’s!” She leaned further back to capture a better angle of Touya’s side profile and her chair almost collided into Eriol’s, as the dining floor was extra packed today and extra tables had been set up.
“Touya-san really is Kinomoto Fujitaka and Amamiya Nadeshiko’s son,” remarked Eriol fondly.
“I wonder why Clow Reed didn’t choose him as his successor,” Miho commented. “He fits the part of evil sorcerer very well.”
“Yes, he does,” stated Kai with admiration in his voice. His brief stint learning piano under Hiiragizawa Eriol had been unsuccessful, but he always had an appreciation for fine arts. “But Sakura-chan looks cuter in a skirt.”
Yamazaki Takashi cleared his throat. Now that his tummy was filled with delicious grilled tuna and mashed potatoes, he was ready to tell a good tale. “The origin of Saint Valentine was none but a tragedy. Saint Valentine was prosecuted for his religious beliefs and in jail, he miraculously healed the blindness of his jailer’s daughter, whom he had fallen in love with as she came to visit him every day. And his miracle was none but a curse for she had to witness his public execution, where he was flogged to death.”
“Shut up, Takashi-kun! You’re ruining the mood,” said Chiharu with a scowl.
Yamazaki Takashi laughed. “You think I’m the one ruining the spirit of things?”
The group looked up at where Takashi was pointing at, and witnessed Syaoran and Eron vehemently glaring at each other over their trays.
“Two hundred yen that Li-kun smashes the cherry tart into Chang-kun’s face before the night is over,” said Naoko.
“Two hundred yen that Sakura-chan shoves the cherry tart in both their faces,” stated Kai.
They were so busy coming up with bets, that they did no notice that the piano had come to a sudden halt.
Tsukishiro Yukito worriedly handed Touya the cellphone, and Touya stepped outside briefly to take the call. When he returned, he quietly spoke to the manager. “Manager, I’m sorry, an emergency came up at the hospital.”
“It’s all right,” replied the manager. “I’m glad that you could come in for a little while and keep up the tradition you set for six years.”
With a frown, the maitre d’ stated, “It’s a pity though, the diners really were enjoying the piano. It makes the night seem more special.”
In a small voice, Sakura said, “Can’t you get a replacement pianist?”
“And who may you suggest?” asked the manager skeptically. “You don’t happen to inherit your brother’s musical talent, do you?”
“Unfortunately not, but that guy in glasses over there is an extremely skilled pianist,” Sakura stated, pointing to yonder table. “He’s really amazing!”
“We can’t get a guest to play the piano,” said the manager.
“Well, he’s done with eating. And you can pay him,” Tomoyo reasoned.
“And who may you be?” The manager peered at the pale-skilled, violet-eyed girl in a lacy white dress and dark curls tumbling down to her back.
“Tomoyo-chan’s right. I don’t think Eriol-kun would mind,” stated Sakura.
The manager pondered for a second and said, “Well, why don’t we go over there and have a talk with him then.”
Hiiragizawa Eriol eyed Sakura warily as the manager explained the situation to him.
“Please, Eriol-kun, please?” asked Sakura with her big green eyes. “It’d make so many people happy.”
“It will be my pleasure to help out in any small way I can after such a fabulous meal,” replied Eriol finally. “However, I will only do it if Tomoyo-san will accompany me with her lovely voice.”
The manager turned to the violet-eyed girl holding a camcorder. “You sing?”
“Tomoyo-chan won the Junior High School Choral Concour three years in a row,” said Sakura proudly.
The manager figured that even if the glass-wearing boy wasn’t as talented a pianist as Kinomoto Touya was and even if Sakura’s friend was not as talented in singing as Sakura had claimed, at least the two would make a visually striking pair.
Not before long, the diners looked up to see that the style in piano had changed. While Touya had played in a light, jazzier style, the new pianist had a heavier touch, as if he had been thoroughly trained in classical music. The first tune was warm-up for Eriol and was slightly jarring as if they had been transported from a night of sentimental soft oldies to a funeral elegy.
“Did he really just play a requiem on Valentine’s Day?” muttered Miho, shaking her head.
“Can you try something slightly more… romantic?” suggested the manager meekly as he handed Eriol sheets of piano scores. “That young man over there is going to propose to his girlfriend soon.”
“Of course,” said Eriol. He looked up at Tomoyo. “Do you have any songs you want to sing?”
Tomoyo looked pensive and pointed to a song she had sung before for choir.
“Ah, I don’t need sheet music for that.” Eriol had frequently been accompanist to the choir and knew a lot of Tomoyo’s repertoire by heart. “It’s one of my favorites as well. Yubiwa.”
Tomoyo curtsied daintily and then adjusted the mike stand. She looked over her shoulder towards Eriol at the piano. He nodded. He didn’t need the piano score. He positioned his fingers over the keys. She closed her eyes, as Eriol’s eyes fingers flew over the keys in a simple uplifting chord repetition. She took a breath and in her soft, sweet voice echoed into the mike. Her voice was not loud nor operatic. It was quiet, a little wistful, but clear and soothing. Many diners ceased eating and chatting and looked towards the piano for the first time that evening. There was something elfin about the slight, fragile looking young girl with a small pale face and long violet curls cascading down her waist. As Tomoyo sang on, the restaurant fell completely silent, and even the waiters halted moving about and watched the singer and her pianist in the midst of serving, afraid to move lest they miss a line of the lyrics.
Since then my tears began to overflow
Your last smile begins to blur and I can’t see it anymore.
Please don’t go… please don’t go… Stay here.
Pierce through the light in the sky.
Sakura looked across the dining tables. At the far end, Syaoran was serving a table, looking serious as poured glasses of water. Words she once had not been able to say. Please don’t go. Words that had been lost in the whirlpool of events that had happened since the past year.
Even this small insignificant me
Loved you more than anyone with all my strength.
Thank you for all of these precious feelings that you’ve given to me.
He felt he was being watched. Syaoran looked across the dining hall. Sakura was clearing the tables. He saw that Sakura was wearing the sapphire ring on a chain around her neck, for the blue gem gleamed even from so far away. For the first time that evening, the restaurant was still as the diners and waiters alike listened to Tomoyo’s song. There was an unusual compatibility between Eriol’s accompaniment and Tomoyo’s voice, as if the two understood each other, musically and in the soul. The rhythm and pitch was impeccable, but more importantly, it seemed like the piano and the voice were on the same wavelength, like an orchestra that had practiced together for many seasons. For a moment, Syaoran was brought back to a time when he had thought that perhaps one day, he too could find happiness. Back then, he had thought it would be like a light piercing through the sky. Instead, it was quiet and delicate, like the flickering candlelight struggling to glow even as the wick burned out.
Please don’t forget, you’re not alone.
Even if we let go of each other’s hand, they are still linked.
With my first love, I first realized
That such sadness exists.
As she sang out the resonant words, Tomoyo folded her hand to her heart. Eriol glanced up at the little angelic songstress, marveling at her staidness in spite of being put in the spotlight at the spur of the moment. There always had been an unearthly quality about the girl, one which kept him fascinated and yet warned him to keep a distance.
Even if something ceases to exist,
Something will live
The smile you gave me when we parted was a message from you to live on strongly.
Eron always had a penchant for music, ever since he had crouched next to the radio with Erika during Christmas time to catch the lilting tune of the carols. Though Tomoyo’s voice was lovely, as he had always known it to be, he was more fascinated by Eriol’s accompaniment. It had changed. While Eron himself was not a skilled musician but a mere amateur, he had a discerning ear. Someone who was as talented on the piano as Hiirgizawa Eriol was did not accompany. They played on their whim and asked the voice to follow along. But Eriol was playing subtlety and minimally, letting the voice alone shine. The diners were spellbound by the voice, not the piano. Eron’s eyes lingered on a bright pair of emerald eyes flecked with gold from the candlelight. Sakura watched her friends, enraptured, water pitcher dangerously tipped over. She was oblivious to the fact that two were actually watching her instead of the spotlight. He was not a fool. He knew that the chocolates today were an apology from her. He did not want her to forever feel apologetic towards him. But one day, maybe he could make their situation reverse.
We can surely meet again, if it’s the two of us.
Even if we are far apart, let us gaze into each other’s eyes
Betting everything on our hopes and dreams;
Let us promise that embracing the intensity of that day,
We will live the future that blooms tomorrow.
Tomoyo’s voice rang true and clear till the last word, and the song came to an end. She stopped, her hands on the microphone, her breath coming out unevenly. It wasn’t like her to lose control of her breath. But she felt like she had let go of so many emotions in that one song. For a moment, she had forgotten the dining area full of people, and all she had been aware of was her voice and the piano. And the audience cheered heartily, their dishes forgotten and going cold much to the dismay of the chef. Next, Eriol opted for a catchy, light tune, allowing the diners to resume their course, and Tomoyo hummed along, swaying back and fro.
“They look beautiful together,” remarked Miho, capturing Eriol on the piano and Tomoyo standing next to him, singing into the long mike stand, hands moving expressively, much more lively than she had been for the first song.
“They are quite a like pair,” remarked Mizuki Kaho. If there was anyone as inscrutable as Hiiragizawa Eriol, it was Daidouji Tomoyo.
“Tomoyo-senpai is so talented,” sighed Miho. “And she’s so sweet and nice. She deserves better that Eriol.”
“Well, no woman with the reincarnation of Clow Reed can ever truly be happy,” remarked Kaho offhandedly.
It was rare for Chef Nobuhiro to take a break and come out and greet his customers. He made a round of the table, greeting his guests. He paused the longest in front of a young couple who was seated near the back of the restaurant, hidden by the pillar and plants. It was a popular proposal booth.
When he came back, he told Syaoran, “Prepare the special vanilla cream cake with roses. The best you got.”
“Yes sir,” replied Syaoran, gazing curiously at the pair. “Are they a special couple?”
“Yes. The young man is proposing to the lady tonight.” He smiled proudly, almost like a father fondly seeing his girl grown up.
“Do you know them?”
“Yes, I’ve seen the young lady since she was a little girl who had to be boosted up on the highchair in the opening days of this restaurant.” Chef Nobuhiro stared at the young woman, around twenty, with curly brown hair tied back from her round face, eyes glistening in the candlelight as she gazed up at her fiancé-to-be. “She’s a split image of her mother at that age. Her parents brought her here for every birthday and many special occasions. And I am honored one of her happiest days in life will unfold right here in this place of many warm memories.”
Sakura, who had been listening to the conversation, suddenly burst out, “Is she the daughter of your first love, the one you left behind in Japan to study in France?”
“And I thought you had closed lips,” the chef said to Syaoran almost accusingly.
“Sorry,” mumbled Syaoran.
Chef Nobuhiro chuckled. “What for? Stories of old one’s mistakes are meant to be heard by the younger generation to learn from. Besides, do you think I am not happy now? I was filled with joy that she was able to be a part of my life and dream, even as a customer of my restaurant, for I was able to see their lovely family enjoy the food that I prepared for them with much love.”
Sakura looked up at the Chef’s wizened face. His hands were gnarled and callused from working with fire and knives, but his face had a youthful, joyful visage.
The chef said sternly, “Now, enough chitchatting. There is a cake to be made and many tables to be served.”
“I think Chef Nobuhiro took the words that Tomoyo-chan once told me to a new level,” said Sakura, passing Syaoran the bowl of icing. “ ‘The greatest happiest is to watch the person you love happy.’ Perhaps Tomoyo-chan was right after all.”
Syaoran paused icing the cake and looked up at Sakura. “But you see, Chef Nobuhiro’s greatest happiness is cooking.”
“Maybe you are right,” said Sakura. “I’ve been caught up in this notion that I learned from Eriol-kun, that to gain something, you have to give up something of equivalent value. But how can you put a value on what is more precious?”
“Right. Humans are always forced to make choices. Sometimes, the choices they make are not always the best choice. But we make the best out of the choice we made, because as you said, you can always make that choice the right choice,” said Syaoran. He added the final swirl of pink sugar blossom on the cake. “Ready to carry it out?”
“It’s not too heavy?” The engagement ring was hidden expertly in the center of the cake. Syaoran thought it was not the most innovative proposal, but surely the bride-to-be would be thrilled nonetheless. After all, it was not the method but the person which counted.
The evening grew late and the diners left the restaurant with little raspberry champagne truffles in paper cartons as a souvenir of the night. Sakura, Syaoran, Eron and the other waiters expertly cleared the dining tables. Chef Nobuhiro torched his final crème brulée, and Tomoyo and Eriol were thanked heartily by the manager. The last candlelight was blown out and it was called a night.
“No fight,” said Naoko disappointedly as they walked into the streets bustling with lovers even in the late hour.
“But we got to hear Tomoyo-chan’s lovely voice,” sighed Chiharu. “She truly has a gift.”
“Hiiragizawa-kun seems to think so as well,” Yamazaki Takashi said. “I wonder if he’s drawn to the person or the talent.”
“Even without her voice, Tomoyo-chan has a myriad of talents up her sleeve, and even without that, Tomoyo-chan is just a wonderful person to the core,” said Naoko. “And you can’t even be jealous because she is so nice.”
“I wonder if she’s happy though,” remarked Chiharu.
“Of course she is,” Naoko said. “She’s happy so long as she can videotape Sakura-chan.”
“But how long can you stay happy merely watching the one you love happy?” Chiharu replied.
“So long as you believe that is true happiness,” was Takashi’s surprisingly response.
Walking down the street with your beloved one was something many couples took for granted, but for Sasaki Rika, it was a precious time which came by only after many weeks of planning and waiting. There was a part of Rika that was a bit rueful she couldn’t watch the drama unfold at La Seine with her friends. She was pretty sure it would lead to a disastrous exchanged between Eron and Syaoran. It would be entertaining for sure, but she would surely hear everything in detail from Chiharu tomorrow. After all, there was nothing more important than these precious moments, as brief as they were, that she could spend with her beloved one.
Rika stared up at Terada-sensei shyly. She held out a heart-shaped box.
“Thank you Rika,” said Terada Yoshiyuki with a smile. “Homemade?”
Rika nodded shyly.
“I have something for you too. Close your eyes.” Rika obediently closed her eyes. He took her hand. “Now, you can open it again.”
Rika held up her hand to the lamplight. A golden band glimmered on her ring finger.
Terada-sensei blushed slightly. “I realized that the one I gave you has long since become too small for you. I wanted to give you a proper ring. Of course, you don’t have to wear it in public, but…” He blushed more and held out his hand. A wider golden ring glimmered from his ring finger as well.
Rika’s eyes glistened. She threw her arms around Terada-sensei, something she would never have dreamed of doing in public. But it was Valentine’s Day, the one day where lovers could display their affection to the world freely. “Thank you, Terada-sensei. I will treasure it with all my heart.”
“And will you promise me, someday…” For some reason, at that vital moment his voice failed him.
But she replied, completing his sentence, “I will.”
There was one person that night who was not in high spirits. Kai looked quite disappointed that his intended Valentine’s dinner for two had turned into an excursion for half their classmates, Meilin was on the contrary relieved that she was not forced to spend the evening with the Thief of the Night who had been sulking all day since she had not given him his much-anticipated box of chocolates. All in all, it was the most fun Valentine’s Day she had ever had. Meilin nudged Kai. “I think Miho-chan has something to say to you. She’s been fidgeting all night long.”
“O-onii-chan,” said Miho, with crimson cheeks. She held out a black box with silver stripes. “I-it’s not like I wanted to prepare something, but Eriol got carried away making chocolate yesterday and there was some left over, and it looks like you won’t be getting any from Meilin-nee-chan.”
Kai took the box, flustered, gaping happily that he had received his first box of chocolates from his precious little sister. Inside was dark chocolate molded into the shape of skulls. “These are spectacular! They’re too precious to eat. I am going to have them fossilized and keep them by my bedside.”
“Ew, gross,” said Miho, before running off, blushing.
“I’m glad Miho-chan is becoming a little more truthful to herself,” chuckled Kaho.
“And we have excess ghastly skull-shaped chocolate at home that even Suppi-chan refuses to eat,” remarked Eriol.
“Oh, by the way, Eriol, don’t get mad, but Sakura-chan dropped off a box of truffles for Nakuru, you and me this morning, but I ate them all,” stated Suppi-chan.
With a thin smile, Eriol asked, “Were they delicious?”
“Absolutely divine,” said Suppi-chan. “I was skeptical at first, but they tasted better than they looked.”
“We’ll have a talk when we go home, Spinel Sun,” said Eriol so pleasantly that Suppi-chan shuddered and slipped away into Nakuru’s bag.
The group parted ways for the evening, and Meilin found that she was alone with Kai finally. There was an awkward silence. “I heard from Eriol-kun at dinner that those are handmade,” Meilin remarked, staring at the black and silver-skulled box on Kai’s lap. “You must have been a half-decent brother after all, to have your younger sister prefer you over the half-dozen boys in junior high who find her extremely cute and had been eagerly awaiting chocolate from her.”
“Humph, those boys.” A dangerous smirk came over Kai’s face as he cracked his knuckles. “They won’t go near her again.”
Meilin groaned “You didn’t.”
“Well, since we’re on the subject, don’t you have anything for me?” Kai demanded, arms crossed in his car in the parking lot. He was in Valentine’s mode as could be in his black blazer and red and black pinstriped shirt.
“What?” she asked.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” stated Kai, exasperated. “In fact, it’s almost over. I thought maybe you were trying to surprise me or wait till we’re alone, but frankly, I’m at the end of my patience.”
Meilin blinked her heavy black lashes. “I’m serious. I didn’t prepare anything. I thought you don’t like sappy things like this.”
He strummed his finger on the steering wheel. “I don’t, but it’s different. I mean, you’re my girlfriend. You’re supposed to prepare for things like this.”
“Says who?” Meilin smiled thinly. “I thought you hate conventionality.”
“I do,” said Kai. “But there are exceptions. Is this a part of the surprise?”
“I didn’t prepare anything.”
“I’m sure you would have for darling Syaoran-kun,” Kai remarked quite childishly.
“I used to get carried away by stuff like this, but now, I think it’s sort of silly, and I thought you did too,” was Meilin’s curt reply.
The two stomped into their apartment, silent in the elevator ride to the seventh floor and went into their respective flats, slamming the door behind them.
It was after Meilin had washed up and snuggled into bed, in the brink of sleep, when she heard a banging on her window.
With a frown, she turned on her nightstand. It was Kai pounding on the glass.
“What is it?” she snapped as she opened her windows.
“I saw it,” Kai said excitedly, holding up the crescent moon-shaped box. “Why didn’t you say anything?” He had found it belatedly underneath his pillow. “In fact, how did you get into my bed without me knowing? When did you even put it there?”
The corner of her lips curled up, and Meilin replied, “You think I’ve been dating a thief and haven’t picked up a few tricks by now?”
Li Leiyun was in a sour mood as he sat in his great armchair, strumming his finger on the armrest. He glowered at the two females present in the room. “Well, don’t you two have something for me?”
Kara Reed and Erika glanced at each other and shrugged. Pointing at the stack of chocolate laid out on the corner table, Kara replied, “You’ve received plenty of chocolate today, haven’t you?”
“But it’s common courtesy to give chocolate to your fellow allies, isn’t it?” said Leiyun. “I heard that dear Sakura-chan gave chocolate to all the members of the Star Alliance.” He glared at Jinyu. “You. Aren’t you sad that you didn’t receive a single box of chocolates today? And it’s your last year as a high schooler.”
Kara stated, “Jin doesn’t like sweets.”
Helping herself to a box of champagne truffles, Erika remarked, “How can anyone not like sweets?”
“Well, nobody in their sane mind offers mafia chocolate,” Leiyun pointed out.
With a frown, Erika demanded, “You’ve never tried chocolate?”
Jinyu stiffly shook his head.
“No way!” Erika fished through her purse and held out a box of ganache truffles. “You’ve got to try these. They’re not too sweet, because they’re made with dark chocolate, and these are imported straight from France—they’re the best of the best.”
“No thank you,” said Jinyu.
Kara grinned mischievously. “C’mon, Jin. A girl is offering you chocolate; you can’t refuse it.”
There, at that moment, was a three-way communication between Leiyun, Kara and Erika. It was the only way to conquer the Boss of the Hong Kong Triads.
“I’m holding onto his legs!” cried out Leiyun.
“I’ve got his nose. He won’t be able to hold his breath much longer!” exclaimed Kara.
And as Jinyu’s lips parted, Erika shoved a ganache into his mouth.
It was a matter of seconds before Leiyun and Kara had fled to the other side of the room to avoid the Black Dragon’s wrath.
Only Erika waited eagerly. “Well, how is it?”
Jinyu had a look of disgust as he realized that chocolate melted in your mouth if you did not chew it. But then as the sweet, creamy filling spilled out into his tongue, filling his mouth with an unfamiliar, rich and nutty flavor, he could not help licking his lips.
“Well?” Erika blinked her long lashes.
“It’s not horrible,” he finally remarked.
“Which in the Black Dragon’s terms means he quite liked it,” giggled Kara. She popped the other truffle in her mouth. “This is delicious. Who did you buy it for? Surely not Leiyun?”
“No way!” Erika scowled.
“I see. You bought if for Eron, lest he does not receive chocolates from his beloved Cherry Blossom.” Kara giggled. “You have a serious brother-complex, don’t you?”
“Do not!” exclaimed Erika. She shoved the half-empty box of chocolates into Jinyu’s hands. “You can eat them or throw them away—I don’t care.”
It was almost midnight, and the mid-February night was still bitingly cold. But Sakura was giddy from the beautiful evening that had unfolded in front of her. She couldn’t remember the last time she spent one day forgetting about the dark forces, about Leiyun and the Li Clan and her awkward relationship with Eron.
Sakura checked the postbox. She smiled slightly. There was a cherry pink round box tied with a big red and white checkered ribbon. Carefully, she took it out. There was no card, but she could easily figure who it was from. It seemed like Syaoran had not gotten over the habit of giving out chocolate on Valentine’s Day ever since he got the misconception that both sexes gave chocolate on Valentine’s Day thanks to Yamazaki Takashi back in elementary school. But now, it was more of a tradition than anything else.
She walked into the house. Syaoran who had gotten back a half-hour earlier, was doing his homework in the kitchen, as if waiting for her. “Thanks for the chocolate!” she called out, holding up the box.
“W-who said it was me?” stammered Syaoran.
“Oh, is it not from you?” Sakura took the seat across from Syaoran on the kitchen table. The picture of Nadeshiko on the counter today was one of her wearing a pink and white dress with a big red ribbon in her hair, and she was eating a heart-shaped truffle. It must have been from a Valentine’s day advertisement.
“You’re finally back. How did the rest of the evening go?” asked Touya, walking down the stairs. “I felt bad having to run out like that.”
“Onii-chan, you’re back already?” Sakura asked.
“It turned out to be something silly,” said Touya. “Well, I got to get out of the job early, though I felt guilty to the manager.”
“It’s okay. Eriol-kun took over, and he was even more popular,” said Sakura. “The manager made him promise to return for White Day.”
Touya scowled. “It’s the glasses, isn’t it?” Glowering because his popularity at La Seine had been surpassed in the course of a single evening, he walked up behind his little sister. “What is that? It looks interesting.” Without Sakura’s permission, Touya unwrapped the red ribbon and the pink paper. Inside was a magenta tin box printed with little cherries on stems. He opened the lid then whistled. “Wow, these are fancy. Are these store-bought or homemade?”
“Give it back to me!” Sakura exclaimed, raising her hand to snatch away her box of chocolates.
Without flinching, Touya took a piece and popped it into his mouth. “Mmm… This is delicious. I’ve never tasted anything quite like this before. What is this center? Raspberry? Or cherry?” He took a second piece and examined it more closely.
“Onii-chan! You’re such a meanie! Didn’t you receive boxes of chocolates already from the nurses!” Sakura snatched away her precious box of chocolate. She sniffled as she saw the two pieces missing from the rows of beautiful sakura-shaped white chocolate tinted with a rose-color blush. “Wow, these are absolutely beautiful!”
“I know. It’s almost a shame to eat them,” said Touya, holding up the sakura-shaped chocolate up to the light.
Sakura took a piece. It was a pity to eat it. But Syaoran was sitting on the edge of his chair, watching her, as if waiting for her to take a bite. Finally, she bit into a pink petal. The outer white chocolate melted immediately in her mouth, filling her tongue with a milky richness. Her eyes rounded. A sweet, slightly succulent and sour cream filled her mouth. It was cherry-flavored ganache at the center of the chocolate. “This is delicious!” she exclaimed.
“Really?” Syaoran leaned over the table, as if taking in every change in Sakura’s expression. “Is it really good?”
Sakura nodded. “It’s the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted.”
“It really is,” said Touya, sneakily reaching over for a third piece.
“No!” exclaimed Sakura, covering the chocolate with her arms.
“Stingy,” said Touya. He yawned. “Well, I have to wake up early and return to the hospital tomorrow.” He walked upstairs to his room that he currently shared with the Brat.
After her brother left, Sakura peeked up at Syaoran with pink cheeks. “T-thank you,” she said. She reached into her bag and took out a round box.
“What is this?” asked Syaoran. He realized she had been carrying it with her the whole day.
“You stated you didn’t like butter-cream ganache,” mumbled Sakura. “And I didn’t know what kind of chocolate you liked, so…” She bashfully, pushing the box over to Syaoran.
“It’s for me?”
She nodded. “Of course, I’m ashamed to show it now that I’ve seen your specially chocolates, and they’re really nothing much to look at, but I hope you’ll like at least one of them.” Now, Sakura was feeling quite miserable. “Actually, you don’t have to eat them. I’ll understand completely if you don’t want them. After all, they’re not very well made, and they look very amateur and—“
“I’ll eat them!” Syaoran declared before Sakura decided to take back the chocolates. “I’ll eat them all!”
Leaning forward with her chin balanced on two hands, Sakura watched Syaoran devour each piece of chocolate. He relayed a various assortment of expression ranging from suppressed shock to relief and once in a while clear enjoyment.
“What is this?” asked Syaoran, looking at a final mystery piece. It was a round piece of milk chocolate with something that resembled a squished animal-like face with ears. “Kero-chan?”
Sakura pouted. “No. It’s Syaoran-flavored chocolate.”
He grinned. It was a wolf. “So, what does a Syaoran-flavored chocolate taste like?” He bit into the chocolate and almost chipped a tooth. “Ow!”
“Sorry!” exclaimed Sakura. “It took many tries trying to get the shape right—and it still doesn’t look like a wolf. They might have ended up a little hard. You don’t have to eat it!”
Shaking his head, Syaoran let the rest of the chocolate melt in his mouth. Unlike the exterior mold, there was a soft, chewy caramel inside that was sweet and gooey. “This is really good!”
“You don’t have to say that to make me feel better,” said Sakura.
“No, I’m serious.” Syaoran popped another chocolate in his mouth. “What is this filling?”
Sakura smiled. “I came up with the recipe by myself.”
“Wow. It’s really good. What’s in it?”
“Well…” She twiddled her thumb.
Syaoran raised an eyebrow. “It’s a secret?”
“Not exactly.” Sakura mumbled unintelligibly, “I was randomly experimenting flavors and somehow came up with the ultimate combination but it was by chance and I don’t remember how I did it.”
And Syaoran snickered. “Of course.” More seriously, he asked, “When did you make all this?”
“Yesterday, when I got home.” She stared at her box of cherry chocolates. “When did you make these?”
“Yesterday, after you went home,” he replied. Then, turning red, he stammered, “I was busy making the truffles for La Seine and this was just an experiment that didn’t turn out right but it was a waste to throw away.”
She smiled up at him nonetheless. “Thank you.”
“Today was really crazy at the restaurant,” remarked Syaoran in a desperate attempt to change subjects.
“All our friends showed up, and onii-chan was the pianist,” giggled Sakura. “And then Eriol-kun took over with Tomoyo-chan. Plus we learned about what happened about Chef Nobuhiro’s first love. It was really a strange Valentine’s. But it was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was fun.” The two stared at each other across the table, each holding a box of chocolates, in Syaoran’s case, an empty case, since he had finished the last piece for fear Kero-chan would steal a piece and he would miss out on a single piece that Sakura had created from scratch.
Meanwhile, Kero-chan, in between bites of his truffles, was busily pressing the buttons on his cellphone, an earphone piece, plugged into his ears.
“Did you get it?” asked a girl’s voice over the phone.
“Yeah, I’m sending you the video clip right now,” said Kero-chan, pressing a series of buttons on his new gold cellphone with an HD videocamera feature. “Sent!”
Some minutes later, he heard a squeal from the other end of the receiver. “Kero-chan, I’ll bring you the promised double-chocolate cake tomorrow!”
Kero-chan thought he heard something along the lines of, “Finally, a successful Valentine’s Day footage for my new movie!” before the line went dead.
The manager of La Seine was in high spirits since the success of Valentine’s Day, and Syaoran and Sakura were pleasantly surprised to find a little bonus from their week’s wages.
“Valentine’s Day was our best profit in the past ten years,” the manager stated. “The musical accompaniment was a great hit, and we’re getting calls regarding what nights the pianist comes in. Do you think Hiiragizawa-kun and Daidouji-san is interested in making this a repeated gig?”
Syaoran said stiffly, “I’m not sure.” It was bad enough with Eron at work; he did not think he could keep his sanity with Eriol and Tomoyo flitting around.
Chef Nobuhiro meanwhile ogled the figures in the account book. “Li-kun, what is this? Is there some sort of mistake?”
Clearing his throat, Syaoran replied, “No, sir. I completely understood your ideals and have just taken a few minor measures in order to live up to your ideals.”
The chef was baffled and exchanged a quizzical glance at his manager.
“I spoke with your butcher and had a little conversation with him. He’s been ripping you off thoroughly,” said Syaoran.
“I’ve been buying from him for the past five years,” mumbled the chef.
Syaoran said sternly, “You do realize that when you buy in bulk, most retailers would give you special prices, especially to such a valued customer. He was charging you extravagant prices.”
“I’m not good with bargaining,” said the chef sheepishly.
“I made an Excel spreadsheet calculating the average customer per night to the amount of food consumed for each day of the week in each month over the past ten years and came up with fairly accurate statistics. I know you value fresh ingredients, so I have adjusted the consumption of excess raw ingredients. I’ve also enlisted an acquaintance skilled in website design to update the restaurant website and forum as to spread word to the younger generation. A lot of younger people are scared off by the fancy ambiance and think La Seine would be outrageously expensive. The website promotes a luxury ambience at an affordable price.” Syaoran paused to produce the spreadsheets carefully organized by month and type in a clear file.
“You’re amazing, Li-kun,” said the manager, pouring over the files. “You must be a math whiz or something to come up with this.”
Anyone less humble would have smirked. Syaoran stated, “Leftover food will be donated to the homeless shelter every night at ten’o’clock. I have also suggested a business model for a bakery plan, where you can sell freshly baked goods and chocolate, which I think based on the positive response on Valentine’s Day, would be a very successful venture. Please consider it.”
“Watch out, I think he’s vying for your spot,” said the chef to the manager. “So, Li-kun, are you really sure you’re not wanting to open up a restaurant of your own?”
Syaoran smiled. “One of my cousins owns the biggest dimsum venture in Hong Kong. I got some tips from him.”
“So, did Sakura-chan like the chocolates you made for her?” Chef Nobuhiro asked slyly.
“How did you—” Syaoran turned beat red.
“I peeked in at the kitchen to see what little mouse was so busily conjuring up a new chocolate recipe in the middle of the night,” replied the chef with a smile.
Sugar-induced coma, more commonly known as nausea from overindulging from sweets was rampant the day after Valentine’s Day. The infirmary was full of boys who complained of tummy aches and headaches, and Li Leiyun promptly gave all of them a mysterious white pill.
Sakura was slightly alarmed to come home from school to a green-faced Kero-chan. “Kero-chan, you look ill,” said Sakura. “Are you okay?”
“I thought I would never say this, but I never want to see chocolate again,” said Kero-chan, grasping his bulging pot-belly.
“Well, you were greedy and gobbled up that scrumptious-looking cake Tomoyo brought over all by yourself,” said Sakura. “You could have shared with the family, and Yukito-san is coming over later.”
“It was mine!” declared Kero-chan, wiping the crumbs of his lips. “Mine, mine, mine.”
Suddenly, Sakura narrowed her eyes. She reached over and grabbed Kero-chan’s cellphone. “I saw you doing something with this. What is it?”
“I-It’s nothing!” exclaimed Kero-chan, knowing his mistress would be furious with him if she found the secret video saved on his phone.
He flew out the door, downstairs and hid in the laundry room. To his dismay, the Brat was taking the laundry out, humming a little tune by himself, not even noticing his presence.
Kero-chan peered into the laundry basket. “What are you in such a good mood for?”
Syaoran jumped. “Geh, what are you doing in here?”
“Hiding. If Sakura-chan passes by, tell her I’m not here.”
Sure enough, Sakura poked her head in the laundry room. “Have you seen Kero-chan?”
“Nope,” said Syaoran, eying Kero-chan hiding under the socks.
With a frown, Sakura went down to the basement. Kero-chan came out of the basket, holding up a blotchy shirt. “Did you mix white laundry with colored laundry? You just ruined Sakura-chan’s favorite shirt.”
Syaoran looked aghast. He never made silly mistakes like mixing white with colored laundry.
“You’re dead. She’s going to be furious. Yukito-san bought for her when she first entered junior high,” said Kero-chan. With a smirk, he said, “I won’t tell Sakura-chan you did it, if you play Road Fighter 4 with me till the last level.”
“Chocolate,” whispered Syaoran into Kero-chan’s ear, and the creature’s face turned purple.
“I hear your voice, Kero-chan!” called out Sakura from the hallway. She burst into the laundry room. Rapidly, Syaoran hid the ruined shirt behind his back. Sakura eyed Syaoran and Kero-chan suspiciously. “What are you two doing in here?” she demanded suspiciously.
“Nothing!” echoed Syaoran and Kero-chan.
A quarter century ago…
There is something quite lovely and ethereal about a school girl in a sailor uniform, with her long hair loose around her like a woodland fairy, seated by the piano. Her fingers ran over the smooth ivory and black keys and the sweet tune she played melted in his ears like honey. Sunlight poured in through the open window and a gust of wind swept in, blowing the music sheets around. Her violet hair fanned out behind her, and it was as if an angel graced his presence. That smiling face as she looked over her shoulders, as if beckoning to him, he would never forget till his dying day.
Picking up the scattered sheets of music, Li Ryuuren walked towards the piano. “Why did you call me over here? I thought it was an emergency.”
With her twinkling evergreen eyes, Amamiya Nadeshiko looked up at him. “My cooking might be horrible, but this is something I prepared for you.”
“Did you compose this tune?”
“I’m not really finished, and it’s just the melody so far, but I wanted you to hear it.”
“Does it have a meaning?”
Nadeshiko nodded. “I want to call it ‘Memories of Warmth.’”
“Nukumori no kioku. I like that,” said Ryuuren with a soft smile. “It’s a good song. It gives me a warm feeling. May I be honored to think that it’s a song composed for me?”
“I actually was thinking of my father when I composed it,” said Nadeshiko with reddened cheeks.
“I don’t know whether to be jealous or not,” remarked Ryuuren idly. He picked up his violin. “Play it one more time.” She did, and this time, he accompanied her. He had picked up the simple melody by ear. If anyone had been passing by the first floor music room, they would have seen the lovely image of the girl of the violet hair on the piano and a dark-haired young man by her side, on the violin. But even before that, they would have heard the beautiful tune which filled listeners with peace, as did many students who were out on the field, wondering who was playing such a lovely tune.
“That sounded really good together!” exclaimed Nadeshiko as the song came to an end.
“You’re a good composer,” he told her.
“Better than cooking, right?” she asked.
“The chocolates weren’t half too bad. Hard and formless, but not altogether inedible,” he said. “Though I’m not convinced they were not poisoned, after all.”
“Which in Ryuuren-terms means it was alright.” Nadeshiko beamed up at him. Ryuuren had actually eaten them, after all. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Li Ryuuren.”
He saw the ring gleaming on her finger. Till this day, he was unsure of why he had given it to her on that Christmas day. His family would throw a fit should they find out he had handed away a family heirloom.
If you keep wearing that ring, does that mean that you will love me eternally?
Wish-chan (July 2011): Many apologies for disappearing for so long. Long-time readers will know I do tend to do that every so often, but when I do, it’s for a good reason. I am ashamed to admit that job took precedence over everything, including writing. If it is any solace, it also took over my social life over the past couple months. I was also on and off sick for the past couple months; I think it’s the longest I’ve had a cold. I finally went to the doctor, and I apparently had a nasal drip or something. I have an abnormal dislike for going to the hospital and I think this is the first time I did go for a cold. I got back my results yesterday and other things came out clean. But I am always making excuses, aren’t I? Truthfully, I just checked my blog, and I didn’t realize how much time had passed since I had last updated. It’s been almost four months since the horrifying earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which was a reminder to us at how frail and helpless humankind can be against the forces of nature. Yet, I think in times of calamity, people can bond together and show their greatest strength. Though in a small way, I am always fascinated at how Card Captor Sakura still remains such a resonant and relevant icon in Japan and in the world even a decade after it ended. Kinomoto Sakura still remains a beacon of hope for many till this day, as can be seen through CLAMP’s efforts towards the earthquake relief. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=S7SnQPYJPHk
I was originally planning on releasing this chapter on White Day, March 14, but it didn’t seem appropriate at that time, and coming back to edit this chapter at the end of June, when I finally have some time again, and I couldn’t help thinking, something is missing in this chapter… wow nothing happens in this chapter. Then again, a lot of times that’s my favorite kind of episode on a action anime; the ones where nothing happens. I think everybody’s waiting for Chapter 68, but it’s good to have a bit of fluff once in a while before we go on to the heavy stuff. I haven’t written a Valentine’s Special yet, though I’ve done three Christmas chapters, so finally here it is. When I wrote it, it really was around Valentine’s Day, but time has passed on. I think it’s been so long since I’ve written a completely light-hearted chapter, and I missed doing it. It’s a songfic, now that I think of it. Yubiwa is the song which made me love Maaya Sakamoto, and it remains one of my favorite songs till this day. Yes, I made a whole chapter about a ring just because I like a song called “Ring.” This chapter actually are parts of Chapter 67 that I had to take out, such as Chef Nobuhiro’s back story.
Here is the Valentine’s Day-inspired AMV collaboration project with the song “Syaoran the Waiter Boy” sung my Hazuki Goldair. I warn you the song is dangerously addictive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_rpyLuYX4s
Truthfully speaking, my days of absence all the more solidify why emails are so important to me, because they are record of my time of absence and reminder for me to return to what I do love to do. Write. Emails are therefore cherished (in the most literal sense) at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have been unable to check and reply to emails for the period I have been MIA and will promptly start responding to emails, so apologies for being so negligent. Lovely would be a life where I could just do what I truly loved to do. If you haven’t already, check out the Yahoo New Trials Ring at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring. For the latest New Trials updates and other news, check out my blog at http://wishluv.blogspot.com.
Thank you everybody for being so patient, and I promise I will try to be better about staying in touch.