Megami Fan Fiction

Discussion in 'Melting Pot' started by SashaBraus, Feb 21, 2016.
  1. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Chapter 11


    Thoughts




    It was a surprisingly chilly evening and Souji was spending another lonely night talking with Nanako. Souji had helped Nanako with the laundry and he was currently trying out his magic tricks for his cousin. Unfortunately, she saw right through his futile attempts of magic. The two of them bonded a great deal over this period of time. Souji real felt like he had a little sister now. Nanako shared a lot with Souji and he did the same with her… Souji just wished that he could fulfill his promises to her.

    Time had passed surprisingly quickly for Souji since Rise Kujikawa's departure from Inaba, especially since he sheltered himself in the basketball club and made up with Yosuke. If Souji was not as even-tempered as he was, Yosuke would probably still be bandaged, but Souji was rather forgiving. Except for a few different shades, Souji's life was returning to the same routine that he had been living through before his short time with Rise. He would spend his free time with Yosuke and Chie, watching Chie beat the shit out of Yosuke for asinine reasons. His Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays had Souji playing basketball with Kou and then joining Daisuke for some fattening food at Aiya's. Souji would even occasionally visit the drama club to practice his eloquence. He did not have to deal with Yumi though. Her father was in the hospital and she despised him for some reason. Souji only visited Yumi at the hospital once before he got sick of her.

    The glares lessened after a time, and the teachers stopped being asses towards him soon enough. It allowed Souji to prepare and take his exams in peace and quiet. He even finished in the top of his grade for the midterms. It gave Souji a small feeling of joy in his otherwise dull life.

    Thankfully, Kanami had left a week after she came. She had made slight advances on Souji and her agent did nothing to stop her. Only when Souji told Yosuke and six other Kanamin fans where the filming was taking place did she stop chasing after Souji… at least for the time being.

    All of that was nice, but even with this repaired relationship with Inaba's society, Souji still felt a little lonely. Souji was just was not sure what to do with himself at times, especially when he did not feel like hanging out with Chie or Yosuke, or when there was no basketball club. Souji just needed something to do during those days, but… it was as if he became physically and emotionally drained because of the idleness.

    It was that chilly night in July when the same iconic commercial that brought Rise Kujikawa to Souji's attention for the very first time came on the air again.

    Souji saw Rise in the same striped bikini as the water poured over her head. He watched her take another drink from that disgusting concoction.

    I wonder what they're paying her to drink that shit, hmm… I hope she is at least trying to stand up for herself now… wherever she is…

    "I'm tired of diets! And enough with going to the gym! Good thing there is something easy enough that I can handle," Rise announced.

    A voice advertised, "Quelorie Magic is made for those for those worried about their calorie intake and body fat. It'll slim you down in no time!"

    Nanako looked at Souji and asked, "Big bro… do you think we'll ever see Rise-chan again?"

    Souji shrugged, "I don't know… she's gone back to work, so…"

    "Do you want to see Rise-chan again, Big bro?" Nanako asked, "You look like you want to."

    Do I… Do I really look like I want to see Rise again? She was my friend, but… I can deal with not seeing her again. She has probably already pushed the memory of our friendship to the back of his mind.

    Souji did not really want to answer right now, and he was saved from answering by having Rise's shining and pristine face appear on TV. She was wearing a yellow and orange dress that sparkled in the summertime sun. A park was in the background with beautiful oak trees and perfectly trimmed fresh green grass. At least… they had shot it sometime during the day. The one defining factor from the usual Rise Kujikawa that Souji and even most of the public usually saw… was that her dark red hair was down and around her shoulders.

    She looks nice, no complaints.

    Rise had a huge smile on her face as she waved to the camera and cocked her head slightly to the left. She said gleefully, "Hey, hey everyone! I hope you all know that my birthday is coming up soon! I hope all of you are my fans and excited for me! If you want to send me a card for my special day, I will personally read every single one of them and send them back with an autograph!" The smile on Rise's face was trying to get wider, every one of her white teeth were showing.

    It looks fallacious to me. She's not going to read all of them.

    Souji knew he was right about the autograph part being false, at least. Rise said, "Thank you for being the best fans in the world, you guys!"

    Underneath Rise's white smile and her gratitude, the words in very small fine print said, "All autographs will be produced in a factory-based manner, and will not be hand-written. However, we still appreciate the sentiment."

    Souji nodded to himself, noticing the fine print, "Idiots…"

    Nanako asked, "Should we send a card, Big bro?"

    Souji sighed, "I don't know… She won't read any of the cards, Little Sis." A headache was starting to form.

    "Really?" Nanako had not noticed the writing at the bottom.

    "She does not have the time to reply to all of her fans or write all of those autographs," Souji answered.

    "Maybe, you should find a special gift for her," Nanako smiled, "I think you would like to do that…"

    Nanako! What the hell?

    "Huh? What makes you think that?" Souji almost stuttered.

    "You seem a little lonely, Big bro…," Nanako said. He added, "You weren't lonely when Rise-chan was here."

    "Little sis…," Souji muttered.

    Souji was being put into too many uncomfortable situations by a little kid and he had to just keep his mouth shut. That's why he just refused to speak and just keep everything to himself. Still, he was not sure what he was going to do tomorrow. He was probably going to waste some time again doing something pointless. Souji almost wished that he could go on a 'real' vacation somewhere, just to take his mind off of everything.

    It was for that reason Souji could not really sleep that night. He really wanted to blame his cousin, but… he could not do that. Souji could not blame Rise for his lack of sleep, so he blamed himself.

    When Souji came down from his room the next morning, Nanako was already up and making eggs for him. That was definitely a plus for the silver-haired boy… a younger cousin who could make breakfast.

    As Souji was about to head out the door, Nanako called out to him, "Big bro! Are you headed out?"

    "Yeah…," Souji answered.

    "Let's go shopping," Nanako suggested.

    "Why? For what?" Souji did not like where this was conversation was going.

    "For Rise-chan!" Nanako smiled.

    I knew it.

    Souji sighed… This is not really what he was planning to do today.

    "Let me go get some more of my money," Souji told Nanako. He originally had enough money for… a meal at Junes or Aiya's, not some sort of shopping spree.

    Nanako started cleaning the table of the dirty dishes while Souji went upstairs. He walked over to his desk and pulled open one of his drawers. He took out some of the money he had saved from doing some part-time jobs in the evening.

    Thank god… I can't believe Nanako is making me do this. Who knew she was such an evil girl? I don't even lik… Souji didn't finish that thought-sentence.

    "Big bro!" Nanako must have finished cleaning the dishes because Souji was lingering around, thinking.

    Souji sighed again before he put the bills in his wallet and closed the drawer in his desk. Heading down his desk, he saw an expectant Nanako waiting to go shopping with him… for Rise's birthday! He popped his collar before heading out the door, reluctantly, with Nanako.

    How the hell did I get dragged into this?

    As the two walked towards to the bus station in the Shopping District, Souji was still wondering what the hell he had gotten into and what he was going to do. He felt a little odd when he passed Marukyu Tofu, not really able to place the name of his emotions. The bus ride to Okina City was a silent endeavor as well, with Souji not really feeling like saying anything.

    Reaching Okina City and its voluminous amounts of shopping, Souji was reminded of the last time he spent time of Rise. He never really got to spend the whole day with her, thanks to that couple's comments. After a week of thinking about it, he had concluded that she was going to leave his side that day no matter what. It just probably would not have been such a dramatic exit if it was not for that stupid guy who could not keep his mouth shut.

    The thing was… where the hell was he supposed to find a gift for Rise Kujikawa? He was a guy!

    Where should we go? I'm not going into a clothing store… that'd be weird. I have no idea where we should start…

    "Nanako?" Souji looked at his cousin, she was a little girl… but still.

    Nanako started pulling him towards a store he recognized; it was one of the stores that Rise had dragged him into before. It was called "Croco Fur" and it had all sorts of shit that Souji would never think of buying for any girl… besides, he could not afford any of it.

    "Little sis," Souji asked his cousin, "Why here?"

    "It's colorful and pretty," Nanako said.

    Souji shook his head and muttered, "You have to be kidding me." He faced his cousin and said, "You know we can't afford anything in here, so if you want to look around… that's all we'll be doing… looking."

    That's basically what happened, with Nanako looking around and Souji standing there with a hand on his hip. It was just like before…

    I swear… if you give Nanako about seven years and dye her hair… shit, we'd have another Rise. She'd be dragging suckers into stores all the time. God help their poor souls.

    Of course, the saleslady ignored the little girl browsing the goods and went straight to Souji's side. The saleslady was young and cute with a mischievous smile, could not be older than twenty. Her dress suit was a nasty purple color, however, but that did not stop her from addressing him, "How can I help you today? Looking for something for your girlfriend?"

    Souji shook his head, "My cousin brought me here and she's looking around."

    The saleslady looked around and finally noticed the little girl that was browsing through the clothes and accessories. Her mischievous smile widened at the sight of Nanako and said, "Your cousin is adorable. You must be really close to her to let her bring you here."

    "I guess so," Souji responded.

    "Well… if you're not doing anything later," the saleslady winked at Souji.

    Oh come on!

    "Big bro!" Nanako saved Souji from answering, "I found something…"

    As Souji walked over to where Nanako was looking, the saleslady smirked, "Big bro, hmm?"

    Nanako was looking at the glass case which held the small amount of jewelry and fancy accessories that Souji knew were out of their price range. The fact that Nanako found something that might suit Rise's fancy made his head hurt. Of course Rise would be expensive.

    "What did you find?" Souji asked.

    Nanako pointed down through the glass case at a piece of jewelry. Sadly, Souji saw the price tag before the jewelry and died on the spot.

    "Little sis…," Souji muttered, "I can't afford that. I'm not rich or anything."

    "But… it's for Rise-chan," Nanako told Souji.

    "I know what you want me to do, but… I don't have that kind of money," Souji told Nanako.

    The saleslady came up behind Souji, "Did you say Rise? As in Rise Kujikawa?"

    Nanako turned around and nodded, "We're looking for something for Rise-chan's birthday."

    The woman of twenty's dark brown eyes widened as she realized who she had been talking to. "You're Souji Seta, aren't you? You're Rise's alleged boyfriend, right?" She now believed that her chances of picking up this guy were zero to none.

    That will follow me until the day I die, I know it. It can't help with Little sis stirring everything up.

    "No, I'm not her boyfriend," Souji shook his head, denying what was obvious for the thousandth time, "It was all over the news."

    The saleslady, despite everything she heard including Souji's word, didn't really seem to believe him. Her heart dropped a bit, but she looked down to see what Souji and his cousin was looking at.

    "That locket…," the saleslady whispered.

    Souji closed his eyes in frustration. He did not want to look at the heart-shaped piece of jewelry any longer. How much gold was actually in the locket, Souji did not know, but it was probably too much for anyone without a shitload of money to afford. At least for a high school student… Why Nanako picked this piece all of a sudden…

    I guess… it would look good on her, but… aggh. I would have to sell my soul to afford the damn thing. Why did Nanako bring me here? I should just send her one of those cards instead of wasting anymore time here being hit on.

    The saleslady came right up to his left side and said to Souji, "If you're looking at that, you must really like her… no matter what you say about not being her boyfriend."

    What's with people assuming things?

    Souji opened his eyes and looked at Nanako, "We'll come back, okay?"

    Nanako looked a little confused. "Why?" she asked.

    Souji placed his hand on Nanako's shoulder, "I'll explain later."

    Souji ended up walking out of "Croco Fur" with Nanako, but only after they took one last momentary glance at the gold-laden pendant. The two browsed through a few more shops, but neither Nanako nor Souji found nothing that he thought was worthy for Rise.

    Maybe I really should just send a card…

    The two went back by way of the bus, but Souji found himself a little down. He thought that it was probably because Nanako was so excited about trying to find something for Rise and that their trip was an epic failure. The one thing that Nanako was really excited about, Souji could not buy.

    I'm sorry… I probably should have gotten a better job, like work part-time at a hospital. Though… I probably would been molested by some older woman.

    Souji spent another evening talking with Nanako because Dojima was at work again. The talk was a bit less cheerful and active than usual. The reason for that was obvious.

    The silver-haired boy again found his solace in reading, but this time it was reading about a man who had no confidence in himself. He struggled and struggled in life until he thought it would be all over. When the man was about to give up and end his life, he finally found his way through love. Souji had to admit it was cheesy, but it was something to calm him down after another rough day.

    Damn it… I think Little sis really wanted me to get a nice gift for Rise. Not like I know how I would even get it to her. If I shipped it in a card, her agency people would probably keep it for themselves.

    Souji did not really have an agenda for today either when he woke up the next morning. He just trudged off down the Samegawa Floodplains after eating toast that was made by a somewhat-less than cheerful Nanako. His purpose for heading down the floodplains was unknown, besides maybe getting some Vitamin K and some fresh air. What he did not expect was to run into Yukiko Amagi in the floodplains.

    The daughter of the manager of the Amagi Inn seemed excited to see him near the covered table and benches, even if it was by chance. Her black blouse and long white skirt was a change from the dominant amount of red that she usually wore. Her long black hair held back by a by a red headband was brushed at least a hundred times and she waved at the sight of him.

    "Souji-kun," Yukiko smiled, "It's nice to see you."

    While Souji was "going out" with Rise, Yukiko did not act very friendly towards Souji. She was normally shy, but she made these subtle remarks that gave Souji the idea she liked him. She also made attempts to prove her affection, like cooking for him… her cooking was terrible.

    "Yukiko-san," Souji decided to be respectful of the girl who would be the next manager of the Amagi Inn, "Good morning…" He could have added the –chan suffix at the end, but she was not younger, but... it was not the same.

    Yukiko looked a little disheartened, but she composed herself with a smile and said, "How are you?"

    "I'm doing alright," Souji responded.

    The two started walking in the direction of the Southern Shopping District. Yukiko had requested him to follow, and Souji had nothing better to do. He just hoped there were no detrimental consequences afterwards.

    They were idly wandering around the Southern Shopping District when Yukiko asked, "Aren't you glad that whole mess is over?"

    "What do you mean?" Souji responed.

    "That whole business with Rise, I mean" Yukiko explained. She continued as they stopped around the bus station, "You were never really going out with her. It was just some sham that she concocted."

    "Right… sure…," Souji answered idly.

    That's harsh. She's probably going to start harping on Rise unless I change the subject.

    That's exactly what Souji tried to do, "Is the inn still really busy?"

    Yukiko shook her head, "Not during the hottest part of the summer… I just don't think they like coming to Inaba when they could go to somewhere more… interesting."

    "That makes sense," Souji said, "They probably want to go to a beach… somewhere where they can relax in a swimsuit."

    Yukiko frowned, but said somewhat to herself and somewhat to Souji, "I should invite Chie to our inn; she hasn't been there in a long time. You should come." She added idly, "I guess I'd invite Yosuke too."

    Probably so I wouldn't be the only male, and to mellow out Chie.

    "I'll think about it," Souji told his classmate.

    Yukiko's smile widened. She suddenly said to him, "I made a special lunch today… do you want to try some?"

    I don't want to die…
     
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  3. Jakku

    Jakku Member

    oh
    this is what you guys were talking about with his fan fiction
    uh k
     
  4. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    This is what happens when you're really bored about five years ago and throw out sixteen chapters in a week.
     
  5. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Chapter 12


    Thoughts




    Souji all but needed a stomach pump to dislodge every last piece of the meal that Yukiko had made for him. The omelet was downright disgusting and he was not even sure it was completely cooked.

    Three months of poisoning and her cooking has not improved at all.

    Souji was not exactly what he had even agreed to outside of being poisoned, but apparently Yukiko had promised to call up Chie, who would call Yosuke; the main point was that he was invited to her inn. Souji was a little perturbed by being invited against his will, but… who knows… it might be fun to spend a night at the Amagi Inn.

    There are hot springs at this inn, right? I doubt they're mixed though. Chie would have a fit, especially if Yosuke comes.

    The only thing that Souji requested was that if he was going to be lodged in the Amagi Inn for a day was that they let Nanako come along with him. Souji wanted an ally there, and he felt like she belonged there.

    As soon as I asked for Nanako to come, Yukiko agreed straight away. She was that excited to have me to come.

    He did have to ask Nanako if she was interested in coming to the Amagi Inn in a couple of days. That was the topic of conversation when Souji came home from retching and getting rid of what he thought was an uncooked omelet.

    As he joined Nanako at the table in front of the TV, he smiled and asked, "Little sis… would you be interested in staying over at the Amagi Inn in a couple of days?"

    "Big bro?" Nanako looked straight at Souji, "Are you going to come too?"

    "I am," Souji nodded, "I was invited, but I asked if you could come too. But… I wanted to know if you wanted to come first."

    Nanako looked a little apprehensive. She did look happy that Souji invited him, however. Souji was not sure if she really wanted to go to the inn…

    Something must be bothering her…

    "What's wrong?" Souji asked.

    "Do you want to go, Big bro?" Nanako responded.

    I am a little unsure of myself… going to the inn. That's why I want Nanako there.

    "Only if I have my Little sis come along," Souji smiled.

    Nanako returned the smile, "Okay, I'll come with you." As they silence permeated for a second, she asked, "Do they have hot springs there?"

    "I believe they do," Souji nodded.

    Nanako smiled, but it disappeared in an instant.

    "Little sis…?" Souji turned his head a bit sideways.

    "What are you going to do for Rise-chan now?" Nanako looked down at the table.

    "I don't know," Souji shook his head, "But… there was no way I could have afforded that locket."

    "Why?" Nanako asked.

    "You saw how fancy it was, right?" Souji responded.

    Nanako nodded, "Yes…"

    "It's something that somebody would buy for someone special for one special occasion," Souji said, "It is not something you can go to a store, see it, and buy it… unless you have a lot of money."

    No one in Yasogami could have afforded it… except Ai Ebihara.

    He remembered being dragged along by that girl with long orange hair, being forced to skip class with her to go shopping. It was a painful experience, like all shopping trips were. It was nothing like shopping with Rise, however. Ai would just buy things for the hell of it… because she just could. Rise would take care in deciding on what she wanted by trying on everything first, though it was excruciating at the time; Souji felt it was less agonizing going around with Rise after experiencing both shopping trips, though.

    "Is Rise-chan special to you, Big bro?" Nanako asked.

    Why does she keep asking me that?

    "Why are you asking me that again?" Souji responded, "Is it because I never gave you a response the last time?"

    Nanako shook her head… She told Souji, "It's because I think she still likes you."

    Souji rolled his eyes, "Remember, that relationship was not real. She did not 'like' me to begin with."

    "It looked real to me," Nanako shook her head again, "I bet Rise wanted it to be."

    Souji was getting a headache again. Nanako just loved to push buttons… awkward buttons, ones that caused the nerves in the cerebral cortex to flare up. The idea that Rise had grown to like him, it was just silly. Rise had given up this faux-relationship and because of that… his life was returning to its normal, boring self.

    "Little sis… I'm getting a headache. I should go to bed," Souji tried to excuse himself.

    Nanako had a concerned look on her face, "Should I get you some medicine?"

    "No, I will just sleep it off," Souji said. He tried to assuage his cousin, "I will be fine… I do not want you to worry about it."

    Nanako stood up and walked over to Souji. She hugged her cousin and said to him, "I hope you feel better, Big bro…"

    Souji could not help but to smile as he walked upstairs and skipped his daily reading to go straight to bed. He had a lot on his mind, but at least he knew he had a cousin who cared about him and would always support him.

    Souji's headache was gone the next morning. Souji was saved from finding something to do when both Chie and Yosuke called to hang out with him. That is why Souji headed out towards Junes right after having some of the Nanako-prepared breakfast of sunny-side up eggs and toast.

    Yosuke and Chie were waiting for Souji when he arrived at Junes. The two of them were sitting across from each other at a metal-wire table on the far end of food court. Chie and Yosuke seemed to be chatting with each other, but when they saw Souji they stopped talking and looked towards the young man with the popped collar.

    Yosuke stood up, "What took you so long, man?"

    Chie whacked him over the head, "We just called him. Don't pester him. You're lucky he's even hanging out with you."

    Yosuke put his head down as he rubbed the part that Chie had struck, "You're so mean…"

    It's never going to end between these two, will it?

    "I was having breakfast," Souji explained, "Sorry…"

    Chie shook her head and muttered, "Don't apologize…"

    "So… what's up?" Souji asked, wondering the purpose of being called out other than just watching Chie eat a steak before noon.

    Yosuke had this cheery smile on his face, "We're going to the Amagi Inn! That's what!"

    Chie added, putting down her fork, "I haven't been there in so long. We used to stay there all time, but she's been so busy lately."

    Yosuke seemed to have not heard Chie at all because he was idly saying, "Relaxing in yukata, good food, and hot springs…"

    As long as Yukiko is not the one making the food

    Chie was ignoring Yosuke as she focused her attention on Souji, "Your cousin is coming with us, right?"

    Souji nodded, "She's my younger cousin. I'm really close to her, so I hope you treat her well."

    Chie asked, "What's her name?"

    "Nanako…," Souji said.

    "That's a cute name," Chie said, "I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun."

    Off in the background, Yosuke was still saying by himself, "I wonder if they have mixed hot spring times?"

    Chie stopped ignoring Yosuke at that point and the fluffy brown-haired young man now had two places to massage on his head from Chie's pummeling.

    "Yosuke! You moron! Even if they did, like we would bathe during those times…," Chie told him.

    "You didn't have to hit me," Yosuke muttered, "I'm going to have bruises."

    "If you keep saying things like that, you'll have more than bruises," Chie threatened.

    Another kick to the nads?

    "Chie…," Yosuke shook his head.

    "Anyways…," Souji tried to ignore Yosuke and Chie's feud and change the subject, "It's interesting that she invited us all now, right?"

    "It's because of you, ya know?" Yosuke was still rubbing his head, but had sat down, "She waited until school was over, and wanted to see if you were over the whole…"

    "The whole what?" Souji cocked his head to the side as he took the chair between where Chie had finally re-taken her seat.

    "The whole Rise mess," Chie finished.

    "She did not want to try and make a move unless she thought I had gotten over Rise?" Souji asked. When both of them, nodded… including Yosuke of all people; Souji said, "No one believes that this was a faux-relationship, even when Rise said so?"

    Chie shook her head, "I do, but Yukiko doesn't. I'm sure you were just pretending, but Yukiko really believes that you were dating Rise."

    "When Risette said it wasn't real," Yosuke said, "Then I believed it."

    I wish you would have believed it earlier, Yosuke. It would have saved me a lot trouble.

    Souji just shook his head, "I just want to relax, a change of pace. The only good thing about this 'relationship' was that it was something where I could help somebody… change somebody's life, hopefully for the better."

    Chie looked at Souji sympathetically. She had finally figured out how much this experience meant to him. It may not have been a lot of deliberate romanticism in this faux-relationship, but despite the annoyances from the paparazzi, agents, and other newscasters; this experience was probably Souji's most important so far. It changed his life, but Chie was a bit unsure how to classify it.

    To tell the truth, Chie was happy to have Souji sitting next to her in class. He was calm and smart. He also finished first on the tests. To tell the truth, she was jealous of Rise when she found about the two of them, but finding out the purpose of this 'relationship'; it made her respect Souji that much more. But still… respect and something Chie would rather not mention were too different things.

    Souji only left their side when Yosuke and Chie started pummeling on each other again. It was certainly amusing to watch them fight, but it got old after a while. There was only so much pounding that Souji could watch Chie give Yosuke.

    They would probably make a good couple, but Yosuke would probably die before they got far enough along in the relationship to get serious.

    Souji wandered into the Shopping District after leaving his friends. He walked to the Southern Shopping District and by the time he walked past Marukyu; he stopped in his tracks.

    "It's been a while since I bought some tofu," Souji said to no one in particular, "I have no reason to buy any, though."

    Souji sighed. It was kind of depressing, thinking about the times he walked into Marukyu. It was such a difference in his life, being able to do something outside the norm… something interesting.

    He had not walked five meters past the tofu shop when a policeman came up to him. The man looked very serious and seemed like he had some important to say to Souji.

    "Can I help you officer?" Souji asked as the officer stood in front of him.

    The officer took off his hat to wipe the sweat from his forehead. As he placed the hat back on his head, he responded, "There have been reports of bullying in the Shopping District. Have you seen anything?"

    Souji shook his head, "I'm afraid I have not."

    "Well… if you do, let us know," the policeman said.

    "Will do," Souji said.

    As the officer walked away…

    I did not know bullying was that prevalent in Inaba. What's next? Biker gangs?

    Souji decided he would leave through the Northern Shopping District. Before he had passed Aiya's, he was confronted by two older looking boys. One was gangly and had a good five inches on Souji, the other was bald and shorter than him… but he was very muscular.

    Don't tell me I just ran into the bullies…

    "Yes?" Souji stared up at the tall guy.

    "Hey…," the tall guy completely ignored Souji and looked at the shorter guy, "Looks like we got another guy who is willing to give us a loan."

    "What's a loan?" the shorter guy asked.

    "You're a moron," the tall guy responded, "It means he is going to give us money and then we are supposed to give it back later."

    The shorter guy said, "But… We're not going to return his money."

    Souji muttered, "I think that was the point. He was being facetious."

    "Fac… eti… ous?" the shorter man was struggling.

    "Don't confuse him and don't make it harder than it should be," the taller guy said, "The girls won't come after you if you are a bloody mess."

    I can't fight. It's not like I train with a sword everyday. My occasional training with Chie won't help me.

    As the muscular boy advanced menacingly towards Souji, he prepared for the worse. He was mainly preparing for the barrage of fists that would come from the two bullies. But before Souji was pummeled like Chie hits Yosuke, a tall young man with black pants and a black tank top came running from Tatsumi Textiles. This new arrival was as muscular as the shorter bully, and he had shock blond hair slicked back. He collided with the shorter boy and all Souji could see was a flurry of punches. When the bald-headed bully flew back with a bloody nose, the taller bully came in to help. A single straight right-handed punch from this new arrival knocked out a tooth of the other bully.

    As the blond-haired young man stood over the two fallen bullies, he wiped off the sweat from fighting and commanded, "What did I say about bullying people!"

    "We're sorry, Kanji-san…," the shorter bully got to knees, wiped the blood from his nose and muttered, "We weren't thinking."

    "We're sorry…," the other bully said as an afterthought.

    "Whatever…," this Kanji shook his head, "Now… Get lost! Dammit!"

    The two bullies took off in a hurry. Kanji huffed in disgust at their retreating backs.

    He must have kicked their ass before.

    "Kanji, right?" Souji addressed his protector.

    "What about it!" Kanji seemed confrontational.

    "Thanks…," Souji said.

    "Uhh… it's nothing," Kanji said, "I just don't like people beating up on people. It's wrong."

    "Well… I think that's a good thing to live by," Souji said.

    Kanji seemed taken aback, "Well… most people don't see it that way."

    "Hey you!" the policeman had entered the Northern Shopping District, near Tatsumi Textiles, and was yelling in the vicinity of Kanji and Souji, "Stop!"

    "Shit… the cops…," Kanji muttered.

    The cop ran up to the two of them before Souji could decide if they should run away or any other brilliant idea that Souji might concoct.

    "So… you're the bully we've been looking for," the cop was looking straight at Kanji. He turned his attention to Souji, "Thanks for finding him. It wasn't safe for you to stay near him though."

    "Who are you calling a bully!" Kanji's tone was rising.

    Souji defended Kanji, "Kanji is no bully. He actually protected me against the bullies when they tried to steal my money."

    "A likely story," the cop said. He suddenly came to a revelation, "Don't tell me… that you two work together… you are the brains and…," the cop looked at Kanji, "this guy is the brawn."

    I thought cops are supposed to have a shred of intelligence.

    "That's it!" Kanji had lost his temper and he looked like he was about to rip into the cop.

    The cop actually looked a little scared of Kanji. Yet, the cop was ready to stop Kanji if he came at him. The confrontation was stopped when a lady's voice cut through.

    "What is going on officer?" an older lady walked out from Tatsumi Textiles.

    "M… Mom!" Kanji exclaimed.

    Mom…

    "This young man is accused of bullying, Ma'am," the cop explained.

    "Kanji-kun wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm afraid you have the wrong person," Kanji's mother told the cop.

    "Well...," the cop seemed a little flustered at Kanji's mother's words of reassurance, "We will still be keeping an eye on him."

    The cop walked a way, obviously frustrated. Kanji's mother said to Kanji, "I see you made a new friend, Kanji-kun. I hope you two get along."

    "Leave me alone, you old bag!" Kanji yelled.

    Kanji's mom, unfazed, walked back into Tatsumi Textiles. Kanji seemed rather embarrassed by the whole ordeal and turned towards Souji and apologized, "Sorry about that. My mom likes to do stuff like that. Sorry about the cop, too. They always think I'm a bad kid and what not."

    "It's okay, and I don't think you are a bad kid. Do you go to Yasogami because I've never seen you there?" Souji stated.

    "School? I just don't feel like going," Kanji sighed.

    "What year are you?" Souji asked.

    "I'm a first-year," Kanji told him, "But… whatever."

    Kanji started to walk away; he looked like he had no intention of going back to Tatsumi Textiles or staying here any longer. Souji called out, "Hey, Kanji!"

    "What…?" Kanji turned around.

    "Are you doing anything tomorrow?" Souji asked.

    "Why?" Kanji responded.

    "I'm wondering… if you want to go to the Amagi Inn with some friends of mine," Souji explained.

    I do owe him a lot.

    "Huh? The Amagi Inn…," Kanji looked confused. He shrugged, "Sure… whatever."
     
  6. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Chapter 13


    Thoughts




    Souji had returned home after surviving a bully attack. Nanako had left and was hanging out with a friend of hers for the afternoon. With Souji left alone in his temporary residence, he grabbed a grape drink and sat down on the couch. Grabbing the remote from the table, he turned on the TV. As he flipped through channels, he stopped at a football, "soccer", match that was playing out.

    Is this what Nanako does everyday?

    When the first half ended, and the team from Nagoya was down by six goals, Souji went to throw out his grape drink. When Souji returned to his seat to watch the announcers lament on the porous defensive of Nagoya; he saw that the commercials were still airing. It was just too iconic that the current commercial airing at that exact moment was of Rise Kujikawa promoting her poison drink again.

    Nobody wants Quelorie Magic… they just want to see you in the swimsuit. Women are not going to look like you drinking that shit. Only men watch these commercials. Sex sells, you know…

    The second half had Nagoya being scored on six more times. Souji sighed as he wondered on why he even bothered watching this pathetic excuse of a match.

    Oh yeah… there's nothing else on.

    Souji shut off the TV after the game finished. He did not even want to bother looking for anything else to watch. Souji walked upstairs and grabbed a book before heading back to seat on the couch. After making himself comfortable, Souji began to read about another hopeless fool who could not get a damn thing done without the help of a woman to comfort him. It was not that interesting of a read, but… it was something to do.

    Some time later, Souji felt himself being shaken awake by a small girl with short brown ponytails tied in pink ribbons. That girl was his cousin, Nanako. Souji was unsure on how long she had been home, but she was smiling as he turned towards her.

    After blinking and making sure he would be groggy, he decided to ask a simple question, "Did you have a good time with your friend?"

    "Yeah!" Nanako responded gleefully, "We went over to Maki's house."

    Souji nodded, "I'm glad." He stood up from the couch and said to his cousin, "Make sure you pack for tomorrow."

    "Okay…," Nanako smiled. She asked, "Have you packed?"

    Souji shook his head. It was the one thing he needed to get to before tomorrow afternoon when the two of them would head to the Amagi Inn. He would have an interesting surprise waiting for Yukiko… with him inviting Kanji and all. Kanji would probably scare the hell out of everyone, considering the way he dressed… not to mention his appearance. Well… it was not a complete surprise because he called ahead to the inn so there would not be a mix-up in rooms.

    "It's what I'm about to do," Souji told Nanako.

    Souji got rid of Nanako eventually so he could start packing. The thing was, he had completely forgotten about throwing things into a bag until he had mentioned it to Nanako. He walked upstairs and grabbed the same duffel bag that he had brought with him to Inaba and placed it on the couch he had always used for reading. If he was going to spend a day or two at the inn, he would not need at a lot of stuff… but Souji placed anything he thought he might need. A couple of changes of clothes would probably suffice, plus some toiletries.

    Just in case anyone is really shy… I better pack swim trunks.

    Souji was eating dinner with Nanako, unfortunately processed crap today, when Dojima came home. He looked disheveled and ragged… probably because he had not been home for two or so days. Souji's uncle with graying hair and now half-unknotted tie. He walked to the table in the living room where Nanako and Souji were eating dinner. He looked slightly apologetic, but Souji had no plans to forgive him. Any person who abandoned his daughter all the time for work without spending any time with her was completely unacceptable.

    "Nanako, I'm sorry," Dojima said.

    "Umm…," Nanako did not seem how to respond.

    "Is work that important, Dojima?" Souji asked.

    "Big bro!" Nanako seemed surprised by Souji's question.

    "Why don't you pay attention to her?" Souji asked.

    "Don't ask me that sort of question," Dojima seemed annoyed, "I have my reasons for being busy."

    "I see work is more important than your own daughter," Souji muttered.

    Dojima exclaimed, "Souji!"

    Souji all but spit through his teeth in disgust and left the table, half of his dinner untouched. Ignoring Nanako's protests of asking Souji to stay, Souji was already heading up the stairs. Souji entered his room as angry as he had ever been. It just frustrated him to no end to see how worthless Nanako seemed to be in Dojima's eyes. Through Souji's door, he could hear a very flustered and upset Nanako running upstairs. There had obviously been more words exchanged between father and daughter.

    She seemed to stop by Souji's room and whispered by the door, "Big bro…"

    Does she even matter to him? Is the only point of having her around is take care of the housework?

    Souji struggled to sleep that night, and when he slept… his dreams were fitful and disturbing. It was probably for a multitude of reasons… the upcoming stay at the inn where he would be flirted with by Yukiko, the treatment of his cousin by his uncle, and his inability to take care of people. Souji awoke in the middle of a dream… one of fog and despair where he failed his best friend because he was not good enough for him or her. His best friend was cloaked in shadow and Souji could not tell who it was…

    Souji headed downstairs after dressing and popping his collar. Souji stifled his yawn when he saw Dojima, not Nanako, attempting to make breakfast.

    I'm surprised the house hasn't burned down yet.

    In fact, halfway through Dojima's process of attempting to make eggs… the stovetop started smoking. After Souji's uncle removed the smoking pans and put the burnt food in the sink, he poured coffee into a mug and placed it in front of Souji.

    Dojima sighed as he said to Souji, "Nanako said that she is going with you to the Amagi Inn for a day or two."

    "We were invited by Yukiko, the manager's daughter," Souji explained.

    "The innkeeper's daughter…," Dojima said, "I see."

    Is there a problem? He's probably still pissed about last night.

    "I'll be watching over Nanako, don't worry," Souji told his uncle.

    Dojima looked… he looked distraught. It was as if Souji was taking an indirect shot at his ability to take care of his daughter. He was not amused by Souji's actions last night, and he might have been ashamed by his own as well. Ashamed… not by the ones he took last night, but by his past actions of who knows how long.

    There was a prolonged silence, in which Souji took a few long draughts from the coffee. He had his fill of caffeine, so the only thing that was left for him to do before he headed off to the Amagi Inn was to maybe pick up another book and find Little sis.

    As Souji stood up from the wooden table near the kitchen and was about to walk away, Dojima paused before saying to his nephew, "Souji…" Souji turned as Dojima continued, "Take care of Nanako and tell her… I'm sorry... sorry for everything."

    Souji nodded, "I will."

    Souji left his temporary home with a feeling that Dojima was finally realizing the consequences of his actions; that he was slowly losing his daughter. The only person that was left to take care of Nanako was Souji, and if Dojima's nephew wasn't there… who knows what would have happened to his daughter.

    Souji made his walk to the Southern Shopping District and to the Yomenaido Bookstore. He needed a new book; it was in case he became bored while staying at the inn. Souji had finished every book he had brought or bought during his stay in Inaba, so he was scouring the stand for something to take. Luckily, he found another book about that hapless fool who could never do anything for himself. It was about the same fool who needed a girl to help him get anything done.

    Sounds familiar in a way…

    Souji paid for the book; they overcharged for everything in this damn city. He bet even that blacksmith would steal your money for those fake weapons he sold. After lightening his wallet a little bit, but adding a book; Souji had to find his cousin. There was one place he thought to look. Souji had visited with Nanako there on a weekend once before because she said it was important to her. It was important to her… her family.

    Souji heard the rush of water flowing down the Samegawa River as he headed down the floodplains. The wind was blowing slightly as the leaves wavered slightly in the breeze. As Souji passed the covered benches and table, he made a beeline path towards the small girl sitting underneath the shelter. The silver-haired young man sighed and wiped his forehead of the sweat that had formed from standing out in the hot sun as he came upon the girl; the pink tank top and lighter-colored skirt was matched with the undone brown pigtails of Souji's Little sis. Her head was down and she looked depressed.

    Nanako…

    As Souji sat down besides her, he said, "Little sis… I've been looking for you."

    "Big bro…," Nanako acknowledged Souji's presence, "How did you know where I was?"

    "This place is special to you," Souji explained.

    Nanako opened her eyes. Souji could see that tears had formed in the brown orbs. She said to him, "How come you know where to find me, but dad doesn't?"

    I need to lie… shit…

    "Your dad was worried about you, he sent me to find you," Souji said.

    "He didn't know that I was here, did he!" Nanako's tears were falling now.

    "That is not true, Little sis…," Souji told her.

    Nanako retorted, "I don't believe you. Dad doesn't want me around."

    "Nanako…," Souji called her by her real name.

    Nanako turned to him; she looked straight at her cousin. "What is it?"

    Souji had to figure out from what little Dojima said… what he felt about his daughter.

    He really loves her… I guess… I hope… I better give him a fiftieth chance.

    "You are all he has. He needs you," Souji said, "Even though he's not around, knowing that he can come home to you… it means everything to him."

    "Big bro…," Nanako's tears were streaming down her face as she hugged her cousin.

    It took a minute for Souji to calm his cousin down. He waited while Nanako was ready to speak again, to let her wipe her tears and speak.

    "Are you okay, Little sis?" Souji had thought about abandoning the nickname he had for his cousin for his worries of her.

    "Big bro…," Nanako said with a red tinge on her cheeks, "I love you, Big bro."

    Souji smiled as Nanako grabbed his arm and righted herself as he stood up. She held on for a few meters or so as they began to walk back towards home.

    Arriving at the residence, the only person happier than the two of them to see Nanako come home was Dojima, who was beyond overjoyed to see her. Souji just left father and daughter to talk and went upstairs to get his bag.

    A few minutes later… Nanako came running upstairs with a smile on her face. Souji could not help but form a small smile as well as he walked down with his duffel bag. Souji was followed shortly by Nanako with a small, cute, and pink backpack.

    She must use it on trips or something.

    "Let's go, Big bro!" she said to her cousin as she followed him down the stairs. Her mood had improved greatly since he had found her at Samegawa.

    If I had not had that conversation with her… and whatever her dad spoke about with her; I would swear she was bipolar.

    When the two reached the bottom of the steps, Dojima was waiting for him. He said to Nanako and Souji, "Be careful… take care of yourselves."

    Souji nodded and Nanako responded, "I will, Dad!"

    Nanako and Souji walked away from Dojima's white home and the Residential District of Inaba. They were walking through the Shopping District and to the bus station that would take them to the Amagi Inn. Souji looked over at his cousin as she got on the bus. She looked excited about spending time at the inn, a far cry from her emotional turmoil earlier that day. Souji was not sure he was quite as excited, but… as long as Nanako was excited about staying there.

    If she's happy… then I'm happy.

    Souji was the first to step off the red bus and to see a very large three-story old-fashioned style inn. It looked quaint on the outside and Souji could not even imagine what the place looked like on the inside. Souji and Nanako looked at each other, Souji nodded and they headed towards large oak doors that made up the entrance. Waiting for them at the entrance was not Yukiko, but the tall, lanky but muscular young man who had saved Souji from those couple of jackasses a day ago.

    "Yo!" the boy with the slicked-back hair called out.

    Souji made a small waving motion in return, "Yo…"

    Kanji looked down from Souji and noticed the girl who had put her hair back in brown pigtails with pink ribbons while on the bus. He asked Souji, "Is this your sister or something?"

    "Well… she's my cousin, but…," Souji started, "She's my Little sis."

    Nanako finished, "He's my Big bro!"

    "What's your name?" Kanji asked.

    Souji was a bit surprised that a man wearing a black tank top with black jeans, bleached hair, not to mention a couple tattoos on his arms; they did not seem to scare Nanako at all.

    "Nanako," she said to Kanji.

    "Nice to meet you, Nanako-chan," Kanji told her.

    Well… if I hadn't met him beforehand, I would have considered that beyond weird.

    "So… should we head inside?" Souji said idly.

    The three of them walked through those large doors into the mezzanine. The lobby looked nothing like the quaint appearance of the outside of the inn. There was modern beige carpeting, lighting, and a large big screen TV for viewing the news and other related events. The mountings on the walls were impressive to all of them. The stairs leading up to the second floor was carpeted as well. Souji was sure the third floor was as well. This little inn was nicer than he expected.

    Souji was looking for the front desk and maybe Yukiko as well. For the sake, of figuring out what was going on today; he would like to find his classmate soon. What he did not expect to find at the front desk was someone who looked very similar to Yukiko, just older.

    Is this Yukiko's mother?

    Souji walked up to the concierge, next to who he believed was Yukiko's mom and said, "Souji Seta, checking in with Nanako Dojima and Kanji Tatsumi."

    "Seta?" the concierge began looking at a list set beneath him. Going down the list, he stopped three-quarters the way down, "Seta, group of three. I have you staying with Kanji Tatsumi and Yosuke Hanamura in room 201. Nanako Dojima is with Chie Satonaka and Yukiko Amagi in room 301."

    Souji nodded, "I understand." It was an expected room assignment. He was not planning on staying with Chie or Yukiko during this little trip.

    Souji re-adjusted his duffel bag as the concierge readied his paperwork. He had noticed that the woman he believed was Yukiko's mother was staring at him. Yukiko had to have told her about him. The staring was annoying him. That's when the same woman took the paperwork from the guy at the front desk and walked around the counter towards him. She said to him, "You're Yukiko's friend, right? I'm her mother."

    "I guess so," Souji responded, giving a short bow, "My name is Souji Seta."

    "It's a pleasure," Yukiko's mother said; "She speaks very highly of you, Souji."

    "Well, thank you," Souji said as he nodded again and left her side.

    Souji turned back and looked at his cousin and the "biker gang" member. They were waiting for his return. Readjusting his duffel bag again, Souji said to the two of them, "I have our key," he looked exclusively at Nanako, "I believe my friend already has your key. She has long black hair and she's probably dressed in red."

    As Nanako nodded in confirmation, Kanji asked Souji, "Hey Senpai, what's our room number?"

    "201…," Souji told him, "I think we should drop our stuff off and see if any of the others have arrived. I'm sure Yukiko is here, but besides her, I don't know."

    After that, Souji, Nanako, and Kanji began their trip up the stairs to the second floor. Souji would take a passing glance at where the hot springs lay, but he just shook his head before turning his back around so he would not trip.

    The room Souji and Kanji were apparently staying at was the closest to the stairs, to the left. Nanako's room was exactly one floor above them, so when Souji reached his room with Kanji, the silver-haired boy said to his cousin, "Your room is on 301. I'll go with you to introduce you to some of my other friends." He turned to Kanji and said to him while un-shouldering his duffle bag, "Could you take in my luggage?"

    "Sure, Senpai," Kanji agreed, but he did sound a little apprehensive.

    Kanji slid open the door to their room, another beige-walled room that was rather extravagant for three people to stay. The table in the center was meant for at least five or six, and there were just as many blue futons around the edge of the room. It was way too big and way too nice of a room for Souji, Kanji, and the yet to arrive Yosuke. Souji, however, barely glanced at his room before he started walking with Nanako up to the third floor.

    When they reached room 301, Souji had Nanako knock on the divider at the sliding door. He did not want to walk in on Chie or Yukiko changing. He had civility and was not going to do something foolish. So, as Nanako waited for the door to open, Souji turned away from 301.

    Nanako opened the door to find a girl with long black hair in a short black skirt and black blouse and a girl with brown hair in a bowl cut in very short jean shorts and a green tank top.

    The girl with the long black hair, seeing Souji standing behind Nanako, smiled and called out, "Souji-kun! You're here!"

    Hearing Yukiko's voice made Souji turn towards her.

    Surely she's decent if she's calling for me… hopefully.

    "Hello, Yukiko," Souji responded.

    "Souji-kun, you're early!" Yukiko's smile grew wider. She looked from Souji to Nanako, "Is this your cousin?"

    "I'm Nanako," Nanako waved.

    Chie, who was in the background, stepped in front of Yukiko and said, "So you're the Nanako-chan that Souji was talking about."

    Nanako smiled and said to the tomboy, "Yep! He's my Big bro!"

    "Big bro, huh?" Chie chuckled, "He does look like a good Big bro." She had to resist the urge to punch Souji on the shoulder.

    Souji nodded, "She's my Little sis, alright."

    That would probably hurt like hell.

    Chie looked just as happy to see Souji as Yukiko did as both high school girls gazed upon Nanako and Souji. Souji was unsure of how to feel about the whole idea.

    "Souji-kun…," Yukiko told Souji, "We'll watch over your cousin."

    Souji looked at Nanako, a little apprehensive as well. "Are you going to be okay?" Souji asked.

    "I'll be okay," Nanako told Souji.

    Souji nodded as Nanako walked into the room, joining Chie and Yukiko. Yukiko called out to Souji, who was starting to walk away from the three of them, "Dinner is in a few hours, Souji-kun…"

    "Alright, see you then," Souji replied.

    Souji heard Chie, Yukiko, and Nanako talking about him as he headed down the stairs. Souji was unsure of the exact subjects of their conversation, but he was sure they were probing Nanako with questions about him.

    When Souji returned to 201, Yosuke had arrived at the room and was staring down Kanji. As Souji entered the room, both the fluffy-haired young man and slick-haired young man turned their gaze towards the silver-haired young man.

    Yosuke, clad in red pants and red and white t-shirt questioned, "Hey! What is this gang member doing here!"

    Kanji retorted, "I keep telling you! I'm not a gang member!"

    "I come in here and find you with tattoos and bleached hair and expect you not be a gang-banger?" Yosuke argues.

    "A gang-banger!" Kanji exclaimed.

    Kanji looked angry, but Souji tried to dispel the situation. Souji said to Yosuke, "He's no gang member, Yosuke."

    "What do you mean, partner?" Yosuke questioned.

    "This guy…," Souji gestured towards Kanji, "He saved me from bullies that tried to attack me. There is no proof that he is actually a gang member."

    "Who the hell are you?" Yosuke muttered.

    "My name is Kanji," the blond-haired young man introduced himself.

    Yosuke huffed. He obviously was unsure about the whole situation of having Kanji stay with them.

    "Let's get along, okay?" Souji said, "We're roommates at least today and maybe tomorrow, too."

    "So, Senpai…," Kanji ignored Yosuke, "When's dinner?"

    "It's in a couple hours," Souji told him.

    Souji looked at his duffel bag, the black bag of Kanji's, and the red bag of Yosuke's all strewn about the floor. They had settled in, at least.

    The three of them contemplated heading down to the hot springs before dinner, but they decided against it. It was too early to wash the sweat off their bodies, for one. The other reason was because it the women's turn to use the hot springs, anyways.

    I doubt that Chie or Yukiko would be in there.

    The three of them spent their time conversing about their various activities of the day or, in Souji's case, he began reading his new book. A few hours later, Yosuke was surprised by a phone call and only when Kanji and Souji both yelled at him did he pick up the phone.

    "Umm… hello?" Yosuke said tentatively.

    He listened to what the caller had to say and responded, "Okay… okay… thank you."

    Yosuke put down the rotary phone and looked at the others; he said to them, "Dinner is ready."

    Souji stood up and put down his book. He looked from Yosuke to Kanji, "Should we go, then?"

    "Where are we going?" Kanji looked confused.

    "Apparently…," Yosuke explained, "They want us to go to the third floor to eat with the girls."

    "And how did you already know?" Souji was questioned by Kanji.

    Souji answered, "It's my intuition… that Yukiko would want us to come up there."

    That statement made Yosuke chuckle as he walked past the boy with the popped collar.

    "What?" Kanji looked confused as they all put some semblance of footwear back on and then headed up the stairs.

    Room 301 was already open and Yukiko, Chie, and Nanako were waiting for the boys when they came for dinner. Their table was filled with regional, yet rustic cuisine that… excited Souji for a change. Souji could tell that the Amagi Inn did not buy all of their supplies from Junes.

    I highly doubt I will be poisoned and die from this meal. I don't think Yukiko made it. Thank God!

    Souji took a spot across from where Yosuke and Chie would eat. He had to wonder if they would kill each other during the meal. Nanako was to his left, while thankfully… Kanji took the spot to his right. That meant Yukiko was left to the head of the table.

    Yosuke, between a bite of food, said to Nanako, "So, you're the Nanako-chan Souji is always talking about."

    Chie hit him over the head, "Don't talk with your mouth full!"

    Yukiko started chuckling, which caused both Souji and Chie to shake their heads.

    Nanako nodded, respectively not speaking at the moment because her mouth was full of food, but Chie said, "She's a great kid. She's so nice."

    There was not really a lot of conversation during dinner. It was mainly because they were busy eating. After dinner, Nanako said to Souji, "We're going to the hot springs, Big bro."

    "Oh really?" Souji asked.

    "Yeah!" Nanako smiled.

    Chie nodded in agreement, "We're heading to the hot springs." She looked to her left, at Yosuke, and said, "You better not try and peek."

    "You would dare and accuse me of trying to do that?" Yosuke looked affronted.

    Souji chuckled as Yosuke and Chie started bickering again. Kanji just looked confused at how the two of them could be fighting so much. He asked Souji, "So… are they dating or something?"

    When the two of them heard that, both Chie and Yosuke exclaimed, "No!"

    One of these days…

    Regardless of the fact that the girls were heading to the hot springs first, the boys decided to put on yukata and wait for their turns. The prospect of relaxing in a hot spring did sound pretty nice, though. The hot water working its magic on his stressed-out shoulders; it sounded great.

    "Hey, Kanji!" Yosuke suddenly called out from one corner of the room.

    "What, Senpai?" Kanji asked. Souji had told Kanji that Yosuke was his classmate.

    "You go to our school, right?" Yosuke questioned, "How come you're never there?"

    "It's 'cause I don't feel like going," Kanji explained, "There's no good reason."

    "Don't you wanna go to meet some girls?" Yosuke asked. He looked at Souji, "You have to admit, there are a lot of cute girls at school…" Yosuke began idly naming girls, "Yukiko, Ai…"

    How long till he names Rise?

    As Yosuke said, "Even Risette went to Yasogami for a while."

    "I just don't really care about meeting girls, Senpai," Kanji told Yosuke.

    "Yes, Risette being there was the best… Say what!" Yosuke looked shocked.

    I noticed he never mentioned Chie… what a dumbass. She's cute, but he's an ass.

    "You're not interested in meeting girls!" Yosuke continued.

    "So…?" Kanji looked frustrated, "They're annoying… They don't accept me."

    "Don't accept you?" Souji asked, "Why?"

    "It's cause… I like to sew and do other arts and crafts," Kanji said very reluctantly.

    Yosuke burst out laughing, "You like to sew!"

    "Shut up, Senpai!" Kanji yelled.

    "Who cares, Yosuke…?" Souji said, "It doesn't matter what Kanji's hobbies are."

    "Senpai…," Kanji looked rather happy that Souji supported him.

    "Yeesh…," Yosuke muttered. He sighed, "This place is one wacky sausage fest. Come on Kanji, I'll strip you of that 'I'm not interested' crap. Why don't you go spy on the girls at the hot spring?"

    "I don't really feel like it," Kanji responded.

    "I guess you're not much of a man, are you Kanji?" Yosuke teased.

    Kanji looked disrespected. "I'm a man!" he proclaimed.

    "Go prove yourself then!" Yosuke told him.

    "Alright!" Kanji yelled, standing up, and rushing out of the room. He barely remembered to open the sliding door.

    "Holy shit… he really did it," Yosuke muttered.

    "You pushed him too far," Souji told Yosuke, "What did you expect to happen?"

    "I know, but…," Yosuke suddenly stopped talking.

    Shit… if he's running down to the hot springs.

    "Yosuke! We need to stop Kanji!" Souji exclaimed.

    Nanako is down there. I don't want her to be scarred for life.

    For that reason, Souji ran out of the room and towards the stairs. Yosuke was on his tail. He hoped that his reason for following was for the same reason that his was. He had developed somewhat of a rapport as well with Nanako over dinner and Souji hoped that Yosuke understood the situation.

    The changing room was full of steam, and yet… there was still no sign of Kanji. In fact, Souji had lost all sight of the muscular guy completely. He was moving around the rows of lockers, searching for a person he could not find.

    Where the hell is he?

    He did not want to actually have to run into the actual hot springs, but when a scream came from the springs… Souji raced into the springs. He wanted to keep his eyes closed so he would not see anything, but…

    In order not to hit anything… or fall into the water, Souji opened his eyes slightly. The only thing Souji saw was a bucket flying past a flabbergasted Kanji at high speeds. When Souji woke up, he was back in room 201, being watched over by Yosuke and Kanji. Kanji had a bruise on his head. His head hurt. Actually, his whole body hurt; he must have fallen when hit by the bucket.

    "Dude!" Yosuke said, "You took a bucket straight to the head. Kanji was only grazed by one."

    "That was crazy," Kanji said, "Even the girls were worried for you after smacking in you the head."

    "After they had changed, of course," Yosuke smirked.

    Oh darn…

    "Your cousin was really worried," Yosuke continued, "She really likes you, you know?"

    Souji nodded, "Yeah… she's great."

    "You're one hell of a trooper, Senpai," Kanji said, "I'm glad you came after me… I mean… that could have been me on the floor, right now."

    Yosuke tapped Kanji on the shoulder and said sarcastically, "I know… it's so great to see Souji on his back, unconscious."

    "Is there a hole in my head or something?" Souji questioned.

    Yosuke chuckled, "No… your forehead is just really red. I'm sure it'll disappear in a couple of hours."

    "Good…," Souji said with a yawn. He felt exhausted for some reason.

    "Chie must have really knocked the shit out of you," Kanji said, noticing Souji's yawn.

    The two mainly uninjured boys looked at Souji, "So, Souji… we're heading to the springs. Do you think you can join us?" Yosuke asked.

    Souji wanted to get up… he knew that the hot water would do wonders for his sore body. But… he did not think he would be able to make it there without collapsing. It would be so hard for him to make it there.

    Souji said reluctantly, "I'm sorry, but I think I'll just rest instead."

    Yosuke stood up and walked over to the door. "We'll see you in a few," he said.

    Souji relaxed in his futon. He knew he felt a little unclean, but what was he going to do about it? This was certainly not in his routine… getting hit by a bucket in the Amagi Inn. The whole trip was outside his routine… something to do. Even if he was trying to dodge contact with Yukiko, somewhat… it was nice to go outside his normal activities.

    I wonder if Yosuke will feel awkward in the springs.

    Souji awoke to a dark room. He had fallen asleep with the lights on… he was not going to wait for Yosuke and Kanji, and he did not feel like grabbing his book. His body, even his forehead, felt a lot better than when he woke the first time. The sleep must have done a lot of good.

    He turned his head to see that Yosuke and Kanji were sleeping.

    Lucky bastards… they get to sleep after relaxing in the nice… hot… water.

    Souji decided that it might be best to just go back to sleep. He might as well… everyone else was already asleep. All of the pain might be gone, but… he could probably head into the springs before the others woke up.

    What the hell!

    Souji was startled by a knock on the dividers of the sliding doors. Looking again at Kanji and Yosuke, neither of them moved a muscle. Kanji muttered a few incomprehensible words, but did not wake up. Souji looked at his watch…

    11p.m., shit… Who's bugging me at this hour? Yukiko? Chie? If it's Nanako… okay… If it's someone else though.

    Souji slipped out of the futon and wrapped his yukata around his body. He cursed softly as he maneuvered around the room because he hit his leg on the corner of the table. It was too dark to walk; the only illumination coming from the light outside the room. Souji hoped that the sudden flash of light when he opened the door would not wake up his two roommates, either. The person knocked again, and Souji was getting frustrated.

    Whoever is behind this door is going to get an earful… unless it's Nanako… or if the person is dying.

    Before the person could knock again, Souji slid open the door. As the door opened, Souji was hit by a red blur wearing the Amagi Inn-provided yukata.

    You have to be kidding me.
     
  7. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Chapter 14


    Thoughts

    Souji opened the sliding door of his room 201 in the Amagi Inn, only to be hit by a pile of long dark red hair.

    No way…

    Souji's arms were being pinned to his side as he made eye contact with the dark brown eyes of Rise Kujikawa. He could see… feel her bright smile even though he was in darkness. Her red hair was not in ponytails. Instead, it was down, long past her shoulders, and it was in curls. Rise Kujikawa had appeared in the Amagi Inn and somehow, found Souji Seta in his room.

    "Souji-kun!" Rise exclaimed.

    Shit… Should I get mad at her for barging in here?

    "Rise-chan, you're killing me…," Souji choked out, "I… can't breath."

    "Oh…," Rise released Souji from her death grip, "I'm so sorry…"

    "Rise… there are people sleeping in here," Souji said, keeping his voice down.

    Rise put her head down, "I'm sorry Souji… I'm just excited. I missed you."

    Souji held his hands up in front of his body. He said, "It's okay…"

    He stepped into the hallway and Rise turned so she could see him. He really wanted to get a better look at her. He really had no idea what she was doing here, and he wanted to know. Souji closed the door behind him so they could have a real conversation.

    "Now… we can talk," Souji said.

    "Souji-kun…," Rise smiled.

    Souji could tell she was happy… bubbly even. He needed to ask, "Why are you here, Rise-chan?"

    "I'm here to shoot a commercial," Rise said, "A commercial for Quelorie Magic."

    Oh good god…

    "At a hot springs?" Souji tried to hide his distaste of that drink.

    Let's think about this… they're shooting a commercial in a hot springs?

    "They wanted to take their commercials in a new direction," Rise explained.

    Souji asked a question he… had to ask, "Why these hot springs… the hot springs at the Amagi Inn?"

    "My grandmother lives here, you know… so I can visit her while we shoot a commercial or two," Rise explained.

    So she's headed out to Marukyu…

    Rise continued, twiddling her thumbs…, "Well, I wanted to visit my friend."

    "That's nice of you," Souji smiled.

    That made Rise smile, but Souji asked, "How did you know I was in that room?"

    Rise looked a little embarrassed as she admitted, "I may have… asked one of those guys at the desk if you were staying here." She held up a pen, "I may have signed a few autographs."

    That's a little scary. Bribing people now… only a few autographs?

    "What if I had not have been there?" Souji asked.

    "Umm… I'd be a little depressed that I'd have to wait to see my friend," Rise admitted. She still looked a little nervous. She asked idly, "Is Nanako-chan here, too?"

    "She's staying in a room on the third floor with two classmates of mine," Souji said, "301…"

    Rise smiled, "I'm in 303… I can say hi to her later."

    I'm sure Yukiko would just love seeing you, Rise-chan.

    "Maybe later," Souji said. He had more questions for Rise, but this question…

    Rise seemed to notice Souji's tension, so she said to him, "Souji-kun, you look so uneasy." She asked, "What's wrong?" Souji could tell that she wanted to hug him again.

    "They are having you film a commercial in a hot springs. Don't you think that's a little overkill?" Souji asked, "I mean… you're at a... hot… springs…"

    Rise chuckled and her smile grew wider, "Souji-kun… you didn't think I'd be shooting in the nude, did you?"

    Souji did not say anything, but Rise could tell he was thinking, "You are at a hot springs…"

    Rise put her left hand on the edge of her yukata and pulled back just enough for Souji to see a swimsuit strap. She was chuckling the whole time she did this. "You're so silly," She joked with Souji.

    "You could have just told me straight away," Souji pretended to act hurt.

    "It's more fun to tease you," Rise smiled. She liked to smile at Souji.

    Exactly why it was a bad reason for her to show up.

    It was another reason why it was a shock for Souji when Rise grabbed hold of his arm and said to him, "You didn't happen to bring swim trunks, did you… Souji-kun?"

    Souji looked at Rise sideways, "Why…?"

    "We can use you in the commercial!" Rise exclaimed.

    You got to be kidding me… I don't want to be in a Quelorie Magic commercial. I don't want to be exploited with Rise as she's being used as a sex symbol.

    Souji expressed his insecurities, but Rise was not going to have any of it, "Come on, Souji-kun!" She gave him big puppy dog-like eyes, "Do it for me, please?"

    "They're just objectifying you," Souji said, crossing his arms.

    Rise began to pout, "That's why I want you there. I won't feel as bad if you're there."

    Souji muttered under his breath, "I have a feeling that it may be counter-intuitive if I do this."

    "So, you're not going to help me?" Rise asked. A small frown formed on her face and her eyes rounded more than usual.

    Souji sighed at the sight of Rise like this, "Okay… but you'll have to give me a minute to get changed."

    "I told the crew to wait thirty minutes for me to convince you once we found out you were here," Rise winked.

    Souji had taken one step back, he had not yet turned around, but he said, "You knew the whole time that I was going to agree to this."

    Rise just smiled and winked at him again. It left Souji grumbling as he headed back to 201 and carefully opened the sliding door. He had a hard task ahead of him. He needed to figure out how to reach his swim trunks without waking up Yosuke or Kanji. Souji used the light from his cell phone as he started to maneuver his way around the large table, the futons, and the luggage.

    Cell phones… the perfect flashlights.

    Souji found his black duffel bag in-between his other two roommates' luggage. Pushing them to the side and unzipping the bag, he dug through the small amount of clothes and toiletries and found the black pair of swim trunks he had bought during his stay in Inaba.

    I never thought I would have a use for this thing in an instance like this.

    He was not exactly sure if he was putting them on the right way, or if he was putting them on backwards… Souji would deal with that later. He undid his hakama…

    Souji was careful as he maneuvered back around the table. He held his breath as he brushed up against Yosuke's futon. Souji thought he might have woken up the fluffy brown-haired roommate, but… Yosuke kept on snoring. With a sigh of relief, Souji snuck out of the room.

    Apparently, Rise had headed towards the springs and was waiting for him? Hopefully? Souji could not handle any more surprises from anyone else. If he was ambushed by Yukiko on his way here… he would go crazy and run out of the Inn. He had really mixed feelings as he started walking down the stairs and past the front desk.

    Why the hell am I doing this? Oh yeah, I know… one reason. Rise asked me to… no, she puppy dog-eyed me to. Damn her… and her damn puppy dog eyes… I guess I did miss her enough to do this for her.

    As Souji drew closer to the springs and weaved his way through the locker rooms; he started finding cords and what he expected was camera equipment. He only hoped that what Rise told him was not a complete lie. He did not want it to be more risqué than it already was. It was not up to him, though. It would be up to those crazy bastards behind the cameras.

    Souji found himself, as he stepped out into the large springs, in a mess of large video cameras and other lights. There were a lot of guys standing around, adjusting various pieces of equipment. There were a few people chatting away, probably giving directions about the impending commercial. Souji did not really care about that. He was only looking for Rise so he could talk to someone till he could get this over with.

    "Souji-kun!" Souji heard Rise's voice from the left side of the springs.

    Souji turned his head and then his body to see the person that dragged him into this torturous affair.

    Yosuke was right… Rise really does have long legs.

    As she walked around the rocky outcropping that surrounded the springs, Souji could see her that she was wearing a white bikini that left far less to the imagination than the previous Quelorie Magic commercials. Souji did his best to keep his gray-colored eyes up on her own brown orbs. Souji's struggles to keep his eyes up were noticed by the red-haired girl, and that caused a smile from the young idol.

    At least I haven't been hit by a bucket yet.

    "You are so cute, Souji-kun," Rise's smile was growing.

    "Anyways…," Souji muttered, "I showed up, like I said I would."

    Rise seemed to be sizing Souji up, "I didn't know you were so muscular, Souji-kun."

    He didn't consider himself muscular; he just did not consider himself chubby or overweight. Souji did not know where Rise was getting these compliments from. Maybe it was the basketball?

    A voice from behind broke up the pair's conversation, "Risette! We need to get started here!"

    Rise called back in return, "Coming!" She said to Souji with her cheery smile, "Gotta get ready…"

    Rise turned around and headed towards a short, kind of chubby man with thick glasses. He seemed to be the director of the shoot. He was giving directions to Rise as soon as she came close to him. It had kind of pissed Souji off… that he saw a lot of leering eyes following Rise as she had walked towards the director. It disgusted Souji that they would look at his friend like that.

    His frustration of seeing that was broken when a tall man with parted black hair and dark, inky eyes asked, "Are you the guy Rise was talking about?"

    Souji was a bit startled as he responded, "I guess so… I'm Souji."

    The tall man nodded and said, "I figured as much, Souji-san. The director wants you to go towards the middle of the springs. As far as you can go before you have to tread water."

    Souji sighed. He was not sure how this was going to work. "If that's what you want," Souji shrugged. This was all for Rise… otherwise, he would not do it.

    Souji looked about as he stepped into the hot water. It was refreshing to finally get into the water… he just wished he could dip his forehead underneath. It would probably start hurting again tomorrow morning. He could not see Rise in the water, or around the edge. She kept disappearing, and he had no idea what the hell the commercial was about. The steam would probably blur the whole damn thing anyways…

    The director, the chubby guy, was behind the biggest camera now. He called out from behind the camera towards Souji, "Hey! New guy! You don't really have to do much of anything… We just want you to stand there and smirk at the camera."

    Smirk?

    Souji gave a small practice smirk worthy of Rise towards the camera. It caused both the director and his assistant to say, "That's good. When the red light comes on… make sure you're smirking…"

    No touch-up or anything? I guess I don't matter enough. Then again, Rise didn't have any makeup on when he saw her either. Huh...

    He thought there was going to be a cue before the red light came on, and it came from the director. It came in the form of him holding up three fingers, lowering to two, and then to one.

    Here goes nothing.

    The red light flashed and the right side of Souji's mouth curved up slightly. He was extremely startled when Rise burst out of the water to Souji's left, holding a can of that disastrous Queloric Magic in her left hand.

    Holy shit…

    Souji could hear the can being opened as she took a drink of the diet whatever it was. The water was dripping off the can as she was taking a swig of it. The look of a sopping wet Rise in a small-ish bikini must be intoxicating… that's exactly what the agency must have been aiming for.

    Rise had moved the can away from her mouth and started talking to the camera, "Even an idol has to keep a trim figure… especially if she wants to stay on top. I drink Quelorie Magic to slim down and be able to eat what I want."

    Rise's right arm went around his shoulder blades as she placed her head as close as possible on his left shoulder, which surprised him for a moment. Even though Souji was surprised, he almost instinctively put his left arm around Rise's soft, bare waist. It made Rise's smile grow.

    Rise continued her dialogue with that showbiz smile, but her eyes were closed, "How do you think I'm able to be with guys like him?"

    What a way to lower a girl's self-esteem, but with a commercial like this.

    The director made a motion and the red light went off. Immediately, Souji released his grip on Rise. The director's smile was evident as he said, "A little improv… but I liked your work you two." The director continued, "I don't know… maybe you should work together some more."

    The assistant added, "We'll add the commercialized voice later."

    Souji closed his eyes as he thought about doing more commercials where he had to watch his friend being exploited. He didn't think he wanted to be involved in them.

    Rise had grasped Souji's arm and looked at Souji sideways. Souji only glanced at her out of the corner of his eye as she said, "I told you this was a good idea. They love you."

    "Ehh…," Souji didn't want to say anything.

    "Okay… that's a wrap. Shut it down for today," the director said, which caused Rise to release her grip and head for the edge of the springs. When she stepped out, she was immediately handed a towel by someone who, to Souji's discontent, took a moment to stare straight down first.

    He's probably twelve years older than her… perv…

    When Souji stepped out, there was no one to hand him a towel. He was not the star; more so, Souji did not have breasts for people to stare at either. Maybe if he could find some girl to hand him a towel so he would not be randomly searching for one.

    He had given up his search and was going to the towel rack near his entrance when a young woman who was short in stature and wore thin glasses handed him a towel. She had a bob cut, but she looked incredibly cute. She could not have been a few years older than Souji. If her hair was purple she would have looked like…

    "She loves you, you know," the girl said to Souji while handing him a towel.

    It took a moment to register in Souji's mind what the girl had said as he began drying off. When it finally hit, "What…?"

    "You don't notice it?" the girl raised an eyebrow, "Or… do you not want to notice it?"

    Souji responded, "I don't see what you are seeing."

    What is with everyone thinking there is this love connection between us?

    "Wait…," Souji held up his hands, "Who are you?"

    "Oh… of course," the young woman nodded and then explained herself, "I'm an anthropology student that is working with… studying the effects that Risette has on older men through her modeling, TV, and commercial shoots."

    Oh… She would have enough to write a dissertation with all of the information Rise could provide.

    The anthropology student gave her own small smile, "But it seems you have your own effects on women, Souji-kun."

    "I don't see it," Souji shrugged.

    "Well… take a look," the anthropology student motioned towards Rise, who was talking to the director. As Souji glanced idly over at the young idol that now had a towel on her hair as well, the intern said to Souji, "Pay attention… see how she glances in your direction."

    As soon as the black-haired girl finished her phrase, Rise glanced over in Souji's direction for just a moment before turning back to the director.

    Souji focused on the anthropology student and said, "Okay… so she looked at me. What does that mean? I still don't believe you about what you said."

    "It means… that no matter what she has to discuss with the director… she wants to talk to you. You are the most important person to her," the young woman explained.

    "Sure… if that's what you believe," Souji closed his eyes.

    "I started researching about Rise when she came back to her work," the young woman said to Souji, "She seemed happy, definitely happier than she looked when she left… at least according to TV. It just looked like something was wrong. But… when the decision went through to come back to Inaba… Rise lit up like I had never seen her before. She was so cheerful. At first, I thought it was to see her grandmother again. No… it was because of you."

    Souji ran a hand through his wet hair. Everyone liked to dump something on him. This was too much… Souji did not know what to think.

    The girl took out her notebook and began jotting down a few notes, "Maybe… I should change my topic." She looked like she was going to giggle as she said, "You two are much more interesting subjects than perverted old men." She became business-like again, "Rise's coming this way, so I better get to work… so much to do."

    The girl turned and walked away from the steamy springs, so Souji swiveled back to where Rise was talking to the director. He found Rise had finished her discussion with her boss and was headed straight to her friend.

    "Souji-kun!" Rise exclaimed as she came up to Souji, "I'm sorry…"

    Souji responded, "About what…?"

    "I didn't really explain anything, the crew didn't really explain anything before the commercial started," Rise explained, as she moved closer to him. Souji could feel the steam from the springs rising between them. Rise continued, "You had no idea what was going to happen."

    Tell me about it.

    "Well, it's over now," Souji shrugged, "Don't worry about it…"

    Rise looked disheartened, "I don't believe you, Souji-kun…"

    Souji shook his head, "I told you… don't worry about it."

    It actually did kind of bother me.

    "Come on, everyone! Wrap time!" the director called out.

    Rise grabbed Souji's arm. She looked annoyed, "Let's go…"

    He barely had the time to grab his own hakama as she dragged him towards the exit of the springs. By the time they had exited the locker room, he was harried and out of breath. Rise had rushed him out of there at nearly breakneck speeds.

    Souji looked at Rise… she looked a little tired as well. He asked her, "Are you okay?"

    Rise muttered, "Sorry…"

    "About what?" Souji said, dislodging his arm so he could massage it. His arm hurt from being pulled around.

    "After we finish the shoots, they always have a wrap party where they drink and do other silly things," Rise explained. She continued with a frown, "They never invite me, saying I'm just a kid."

    "That's no fun," Souji responded.

    I have a feeling that a tipsy Rise would be a bad thing though.

    Rise wasn't finished as she said to Souji, "Though… I heard some of the girls working with the agency that they were going to invite you to the wrap party." She looked miserable, "I hope you aren't mad at me for pulling you away."

    I guess that anthropologist person was right.

    "I'm not much of a drinker," Souji comforted Rise, "I think I will be okay."

    "Well… you were talking to Ayame-san," Rise looked unsure, "She looked happy talking to you."

    "Was she the girl with the short hair and the glasses?" Souji questioned.

    Rise nodded and Souji put his thumb and forefinger on his nose. Souji sighed, "She was explaining her work to me."

    When Rise did not look very convinced and he could not convince her, Souji had to be the one to drag her away from the locker rooms and towards the front desk. A very large TV was placed nearby; it looked like it could swallow someone whole.

    "Come on, Rise-chan," Souji told her, "Let's just go back and not worry about it."

    Rise looked frustrated, but nodded. She listened to Souji's plea.

    Souji tightened the knot on his hakama as he took a single step up the stairs. He had to admit the truth to her, "Nanako found this great birthday gift that both she and I thought we should buy for you. I couldn't afford it, though."

    Rise was standing at the foot of the stairs as she listened to Souji's statement. She responded, "At least you remembered my birthday."

    "I didn't want to send you a card. I didn't think you would see it," Souji said.

    Rise shook her head, "I wouldn't have. I signed one card and that's the only one I saw."

    "I just wish I could have bought you that gift," Souji shrugged, "I think I disappointed Nanako even more than myself."

    A small smile appeared on Rise's face for the first time since the end of the commercial. She said to Souji, "You'll just have to find something to give me."

    Oh dear…

    Souji and Rise made their way to 201. Souji was planning to finally get some restful sleep, but… he was unsure how to end this little conversation and event. He knew it would not end easily.

    Rise looked at Souji, her face was still had some discontent on it. She said to him, "We should have our own little party."

    "Hmm?" Souji focused his attention right on Rise's dark brown eyes.

    The mood around her lightened a little as she reiterated, "Our own wrap party, Souji-kun."

    Souji gave a light chuckle, "What would we need for it?"

    "I don't know," Rise shrugged, "That's why you're here."

    If you want to have fun… what would we need?

    "We need shaving cream and a felt pen," Souji told Rise.

    "Shaving cream?" Rise looked confused… She put on a smirk, "What do you need it for?"

    "Get that out of your mind," Souji said as he then explained, "I'm talking about messing with my roommates, Yosuke and Kanji."

    She frowned, "Aww…" She continued, "Well… I'll go up to my room and get some shaving cream. A felt pen, kinda like the ones in signing autographs with?"

    Souji nodded, "That's what I meant."

    Rise waved him off and set off for 303. It seemed like there was so much drama surrounding Rise wherever she went. It would probably be a thousand times calmer once she left, but it so much more boring as well.

    At least I know I'll be public enemy #1 again once they see me in a commercial with Rise again. Especially with her arm around me and mine around her… At least I won't be seen kissing her or something like that.

    Rise came back down the stairs a couple minutes later with her hair still wrapped in a towel. She handed Souji the autograph pen and a can of pink shaving cream. In her other hand was a can of juice drink.

    Pink… heh.

    Rise opened up her juice drink and asked, "Okay… so now what?"

    Souji slowly slid open the door to room 201 and said, "We have some fun."

    Souji flipped open his black cell phone to illuminate his way into the room. The idea of an unknown action seemed to excite Rise as she smiled and flipped open her pink cell phone while sliding the door close behind them.

    Let's get Kanji first…

    Souji motioned to Rise as he gave her the shaving cream to hold for a moment. The two made their way to the second-closest futon to the sliding door, both of them being careful not to bump into the table and wake either Yosuke or Kanji. Rise had no idea what was going on, but she was excited now.

    Souji looked upon the shock-blond gang-like member named Kanji. He was sleeping soundly, but his feet were sticking out over the edge. Not running into the long table made for ten was one thing, but not tripping over the gang-banger was another completely different matter.

    "He looks scary," Rise said to Souji, looking at Kanji with her pink cell phone.

    "He saved me from some bullies," Souji smiled.

    Rise smiled back, "And we're messing with him?"

    Souji opened the felt pen and bent down so he was right over Kanji's face. He faced Kanji and slowly wrote the words 'biker chick' on Kanji's forehead. Souji had to resist the urge to laugh at what he wrote.

    "Biker Chick?" Rise chuckled.

    Souji held back his own chuckle, "It's complicated."

    "Okay, okay…," Rise said, "What are we doing to your other friend? Does it involve the shaving cream?"

    Souji nodded and took the shaving cream from Rise after capping the felt pen. After handing the felt pen back to Rise, Souji maneuvered back around Kanji and the table towards the person closest to the door.

    "This is that one guy who tried to ask me out, right?" Rise questioned.

    "I guess you're right," Souji responded, remembering Yosuke's attempt a while back.

    "Have fun…," Rise's mood became mischievous.

    Souji set down his cell phone near Yosuke so he could see him. When Rise did the same, Souji pulled out a feather and popped the top off the pink can of shaving cream. He went down to Yosuke's face level and started spraying shaving cream into his right hand.

    "Oh… I know what you're doing," Rise said.

    Rise smiled at Souji and Rise smiled back. Souji began tickling Yosuke's face with the feather. At first, it caused Yosuke to twitch slightly. A moment later, Souji moved the feather and his hand back as Yosuke moved his right hand and slapped the shaving cream onto his face.

    Rise could not help but to laugh this time. Souji tried to quiet her, but he was unable to. She just would not stop laughing about seeing Yosuke put shaving cream on his face.

    "My turn now…," Rise said to Souji, telling him to change positions so that she could have a turn at making Yosuke look foolish.

    Five minutes later, Souji and Rise left room 201. Yosuke was now completely covered in shaving cream. Once they had closed the door on Souji's room, Rise burst out laughing. Souji could not help but to join her.

    Rise said to Souji, as the two stood across from 201, "Thanks… it was so much fun. If we hadn't done this…"

    Souji felt himself being enveloped in Rise's arms. She had hugged him again and he could feel her warmth against his. He always felt weird when Souji was hugged by Rise like this.

    I guess she needed this.

    "This was better than a wrap party," Rise told him, releasing him from the hug.

    "I'm glad you're okay," Souji said.

    Rise looked like she was going to turn away to go, but before she did, she told Souji with a smile, "Remember… you still have to find something for me for my birthday."

    To think… she was forlorn about an hour ago…

    Souji sighed…
     
  8. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Chapter 15

    Sadly, I do not own Persona…



    Thoughts


    Rise and the rest of her film crew had arrived late in the night, and by the time Souji woke up in the morning; she was already gone. Souji went up to room 303 to try and give her pink cell phone she had forgotten to take back with her, but no one answered. He could understand why she left the Amagi Inn so early… it was to bring as little attention as possible to herself. Souji had no idea if Rise had left Inaba yet, but… it would make sense if she did. Besides, he would not want a repeat of her last time in this city. There was so much drama. Souji thought Rise was staying longer, but it may be in her best interests to leave early.

    My head hurts… though it might be partially due to that bucket.

    Souji wanted to look at a mirror. He bet he actually looked awful, and it made him wonder the director did not use make up on him last night. Souji thought he knew though.

    To make Rise look better…

    There was probably a huge bump on his forehead and Souji felt his head. Sure enough, a bump had formed. At least, Rise had not mentioned anything… at least if it was there last night.

    Even that unfortunate annoyance of having a bump on his head did not dissuade his amusement on seeing both Yosuke awake with shaving cream on his face, and Kanji with 'biker chick' on his face. A full range of emotions came out from between the two of them.

    When Yosuke sat up… he felt something weird on his face so he touched his left cheek and asked no one in particular when he removed a little bit of shaving cream, "What the hell?"

    Souji was smirking as Kanji started laughing at him. Kanji had sat up as well as he told Yosuke, "Dude… your whole face is covered in shaving cream."

    "You're kidding me, right?" Yosuke asked, but still started moving his hand over his face. He found shaving cream over all of his orifices. He yelled, "Damn it! What is going on here!"

    "I guess someone snuck into our room and put shaving cream on your face," Souji said, now chuckling.

    Yosuke glared at Souji and turned towards Kanji. It was then he noticed the words that were written on the gang-banger's face. All of Yosuke's anger dissipated and he burst out laughing. Kanji looked confused.

    "What's so funny?" Kanji asked. When Yosuke didn't answer, instead only continued to laugh… Kanji turned to Souji. Souji was laughing as well. "Dammit! What's so funny!"

    Yosuke finally managed to speak his mind, "Kanji… someone came in and wrote something on your face."

    Oddly enough, Kanji had a hand-mirror in his own duffel bag. Souji would have to borrow it later. Kanji checked his face for what had been written on his large face. When the blong-haired boy saw that the words 'biker chick' had been written… steam began to pour out of Kanji's ears. All the while, Souji and Yosuke were holding their sides, laughing to death.

    "This isn't funny, Senpai!" Kanji yelled, throwing the mirror to the ground. The shards of metal from the hand-mirror scattered among the carpet.

    I was going to use that…

    "Alright, alright…," Souji tried to stop laughing, but it was hard.

    Yosuke was struggling to stop as well, but still managed to say while sitting on his futon, "Well… who did this to us?"

    The three of them began pondering who did it. Souji wondered how long it would take the pair to figure out it was Rise and Souji… well only him. He did all the work, Rise just watched and provided the equipment… an accessory to his work then.

    "I wonder why Souji wasn't attacked, ya know?" Kanji muttered to them.

    "Yeah… Souji did not have anything on his face," Yosuke realized.

    This was dangerous. They had figured out the obvious… far too quickly. Souji was sitting down with the two of them, but he needed to save his ass… so he stood up and said, "I do have a bucket-sized bump on my head."

    "Oh yeah…," Yosuke confirmed, "You were hit on the head with a bucket by the girls." He thought for a second and asked, "You think… the girls did it to us?"

    "You saying Yukiko-senpai and Chie-senpai did this shit to us!" Kanji asked.

    Yosuke explained, "Well… maybe they felt like Souji had been punished enough with the bucket. Yukiko wouldn't do anything more to Souji, anyways." Souji rolled his eyes, and then Yosuke continued, "This could be punishment for trying to sneak into the springs."

    "Did they even see us, though?" Kanji questioned. He said, "I thought they only saw Souji. That's why they threw the bucket at him."

    "They must have known he was chasing after you or something," Yosuke said.

    "So… it was Yukiko-senpai," Kanji said to himself. He rubbed his fists together and stood up.

    "And Chie…," Yosuke added.

    "It certainly could be," Souji tried to spread the seeds of accusation with Yosuke and Kanji.

    They both stood up and made as if they were headed towards the sliding door. That was when Souji stopped them. He said to the pair of angry roommates, "You might want to get dressed first."

    Yosuke and Kanji looked at each other. They were definitely not dressed to go gallivanting on a raid against a pair of potential marauders. They shook their heads in agreement. Yosuke turned his head towards Souji and said to him, "Thanks…"

    I guess Yosuke and Kanji did not even wonder why I was already dressed. Morons…

    While Yosuke and Kanji were hastily throwing on clothes, Souji was trying to fix his hair. He was having issues without the help of an available mirror. He began searching for another one, hidden behind a closet or something. Souji gave up after a while, his search proving futile. The mirror was probably right in front of him, but he was too stupid to see it. He decided to let his hair be for now. When Yosuke and Kanji ran into the girls' room, he was sure there would be plenty of rooms.

    Even Little Sis…

    He didn't think about Nanako before making that claim. The other boys did not mention her when they were accusing the girls. They must have thought that a girl like Nanako would never do something as dastardly as a shaving cream attack.

    Souji watched Kanji and Yosuke storm out of the room, headed for room 301. Kanji was wiping on his forehead, fruitlessly trying to remove the words placed on them as he went up the stairs with the fluffy-haired young man. Souji hung back and shut the sliding door that they had left open as lazily headed up the stairs that they had climbed up so quickly. He had a small chuckle at his deviousness for he had escaped suspicion for a while. Souji stopped a few steps from the top of the third floor, and for good reason. The room 301 was right next to the stairwell. The sliding door was closed, but Souji could hear the shouting of Yosuke and Chie from his location well enough.

    "What do you mean we did this to your face!" Chie was yelling, "I didn't attack you with shaving cream!"

    "Don't deny it…," Yosuke accused her, "You came in the dead of the night and sprayed shaving cream all over my face."

    "That makes no sense at all," Chie said.

    "Snrk…," Yukiko was starting to laugh and that caused Chie to turn her head.

    Yukiko pointed at Kanji. Chie looked at Kanji's forehead and Chie started laughing as Yukiko could not contain her laughter any longer.

    "Yukiko-senpai!" Kanji yelled, "It's not funny!"

    Kanji was yelling at all three of them as even Yosuke began laughing again. Souji let out a chuckle from the top of the stairs, but it looked like Kanji could not hear him from here.

    Eventually, the three had stopped laughing and the yells between Chie and Yosuke began anew. Souji shook his head; they would be at this for a while longer.

    Eventually, the door slid open. At first, Souji thought it might be one of his classmates, or Kanji. Yet, when the person who stepped out was barely past his waist and was wearing a pink backpack, Souji exhaled his held breath. It was Nanako, his Little sis, not Chie or Yosuke.

    The girl with short brown pigtails smiled upon seeing her Big bro, but still looked concerned. Souji could not blame her. Nanako was probably wondering what crazy thing had happened to him and who Souji was going to blame for his misfortunes. Yet, Nanako could see no remnants of shaving cream on Souji's face, or markings on his forehead. The only thing she could see was the large red marking from the bucket that had hit him last night that was forming into a nice bump.

    Souji broke the ice as the young girl with a pink tank top and white skirt smiled at Souji, "Little Sis..."

    Nanako did look a little worried as she asked a question, "Are you okay, Big bro?"

    Souji knew she saw his injury and was concerned about the hit sustained from the accidental foray into the springs. He replied, "I'll be fine."

    She replied cheerfully, "Okay…"

    "Are you tired of their arguing?" Souji asked, referring to Chie, Yosuke, and the others.

    Nanako nodded and said, "It's too loud." At that moment, a crash was heard. Something must have been broken by the incessant quarrelling.

    "There's too much drama around them," Souji nodded.

    So, Souji began walking with Nanako back down to 201 where he slid open the sliding door. He maneuvered around Yosuke's and Kanji's duffel and proceeded to grab his own bag. Souji shut the sliding door behind him as he walked away from 201. He would possibly make breakfast with Nanako when they got home because neither of them was staying here.

    As Nanako walked down with Souji to the front desk, she asked, "Did you do those things to your friends?"

    My Little sis is too smart…

    Souji smiled and responded, "How'd you figure that out?"

    "Chie-san and Yukiko-san were with me the whole time last night," Nanako explained.

    Souji nodded. "Yeah… I am the one who wrote on Kanji's forehead and let Yosuke put shaving cream on his face."

    "That wasn't very nice, Big bro," Nanako chided him.

    "It is a long story," Souji tried to explain his reasoning; "The main idea behind it was to cheer up Rise-chan."

    "Rise-chan!" Nanako's ears perked up upon hearing the idol's name.

    "She came late last night to shoot a commercial," Souji said, "We held a wrap party after the shoot." Souji explained, "She left this morning, before I got up."

    Nanako looked disappointed that she had no chance to see the red-haired idol while she was at the Amagi Inn. Nanako asked her cousin, "Were you in the commercial, Big bro?"

    Souji nodded and Nanako looked a little jealous at his opportunity.

    Their discussions included Rise as they left the Amagi Inn. Souji wondered if Yukiko and the others would be annoyed that he left early, but he did not really care at that moment. He only came because Nanako could come along with him. If Nanako did not want to stay any longer; Souji did not want to stay any longer. It was as simple as that.

    And back… to my normalcy.

    Normalcy in the Dojima household, especially in the summer, meant boredom to Souji Seta. He spent the next couple of days wandering Inaba, earning pocket money by translating, and spending time with his Little sis. In other words, Souji was back to his normal routine. In other words, it was… boring.

    Souji had even tried conversing with Dojima a few times during the past couple of days, no matter how futile those attempts were. Those two days of Souji trying to speak to his uncle were excruciating. His uncle was far too busy to speak with him; it was like talking to a rock.

    The god damn newspaper is more important to him than his daughter or his nephew. No wonder Nanako is so annoyed with him and will probably ask for emancipation in a few years. She can take better care of herself than he can.

    He just could not shake the thought in his mind that life might be more interesting if he was doing something else… with someone. The most interesting part of the year so far was… when he and Rise were pretending to go out, despite of all of the drama involved with the situation.

    I don't really miss all of the time around her, do I?

    Souji fell asleep while reading the second night back home from the inn. Even with sleep overtaking him while reading his new novella, it was fitful and he woke exhausted. Souji did not bother heading downstairs straight away when he dressed that morning. He just opened his book again and tried to comprehend the words that were placed on the pages before him. Unfortunately, he was far too tired to make sense of what the moronic teacher was trying to do now in his book.

    Is he trying to get laid or something?

    Souji was nodding off again when a loud noise permeated throughout the home. Souji may have been half-asleep in mid-morning, but… it was not hard to recognize Nanako's voice. It was what Nanako said that brought shivers up his spine.

    "Rise-chan!" Souji heard Nanako say from downstairs. To his horror, he heard, "Are you here to see Big bro?"

    A tentative voice, yet still affirmative responded, "Maybe…"

    Souji could hear Nanako giggling from downstairs. She asked Rise, "Do you want some breakfast?"

    "You can make breakfast, Nanako-chan?" Rise responded cheerfully.

    Souji, meanwhile, had closed his book and placed it on the table. Rise had come to his house, and he was not really sure why. He finally put on a new white polo shirt and proceeded to pop the collar afterwards. It did feel nice to put on a fresh shirt. Souji did not head down, however. He just sat back down on the couch and shut out the conversations that were going on below.

    What does Rise want now? What does she want enough to come all the way to my house?

    Souji stood up and was headed towards his door, his intent was to try and clear his head by splashing his face with cool water. About two steps from the doorknob, the door opened, and in burst the reason for Souji's stress and cracks in his demeanor. It was the only thing that disrupted his boring life, though, as the red-headed idol appeared in front of him. Rise had her hands behind her, one hand had a half-eaten piece of toast in it… the other; Souji did not know what she was holding in that hand. The headache still there from his lack of sleep, Souji squinted to get a good look at Rise.

    Souji saw a girl that was dressed to seduce someone… at least she looked more sensually dressed than she usually did. She was wearing a very short white skirt. It was something that made Souji think.

    Yosuke would be drooling about those long legs right about now. He'd be doing that if he ever saw her in a swimsuit. He'd be so jealous if he was awake last night, and if he is here right now.

    The very light blue tank top that Rise was wearing showed a lot of her midriff. It was really short, and it was considerably tight.

    Damn… did she buy these clothes when she was eight? No, I bet the agency bought them for her.

    Souji stared at her dark red hair. Just like the last time he saw her, it was not in ponytails, but it was down in soft curls. In Souji's opinion, it looked much, much better.

    It probably takes a hell of a long time to set though.

    Souji was startled when Rise pulled the piece of toast from behind her back. Before she took a bite, she said, "Your cousin makes good breakfast."

    She must have had some of Nanako's eggs beforehand and the toast is just more mobile.

    "She'll be glad to hear that," Souji said as Rise began eating the piece of toast.

    Rise smiled at Souji's comment as she finished her breakfast. Souji had to ask, "What are you doing in my room? As a matter of fact… what are you doing in the Residential District?"

    "To see you," Rise explained, "I told you that you have to do something for me for my birthday."

    Souji shook his head. He should have just kept his mouth shut about that locket.

    Rise's smile was telling that it was going to be trouble as Souji asked, "What am I supposed to do?"

    Rise's smiled widened, "You… have to take me on a real date."

    Souji's eyes widened this time around.

    She has to be kidding me. What the hell is she thinking!

    Rise must have expected the shock from Souji because Rise chuckled as she said, "I have something for you."

    Souji got to see what the other object behind Rise's back was as she handed a magazine-like object to the silver-haired young man standing just inside his room.

    "What the hell is this!" Souji asked, placing it at eye level.

    On the cover was a picture of Rise modeling in very tight jeans, a white sleeveless shirt that did not leave much to the imagination due to its tightness, a leather vest, and a cowboy hat. She had a playful smile to go with her long red hair and dark brown eyes.

    "A never-released edition," Rise said, "Something a lot of people would pay a lot of money for."

    Souji suddenly realized what he had. He said, still a little out of it, "This is a pin-up book… your pin-up book." Souji was a little scared to look at anymore to see what she was showing to his agency.

    Rise nodded, "You like it?" She warned, "Don't tell anyone I gave it to you. My agency would be so pissed if they knew I just did that."

    Souji was not really sure what to say, "Uhh… thanks." He continued, "So… if I'm taking you on a date… where do you want to go?"

    Rise looked like she was thinking for a moment. Souji looked worried as to what Rise might have him take her. Rise sat down on Souji's couch for a moment before saying to the silver-haired young man, "How about… we finish that date that we never finished?"

    "The one to Okina City?" Souji questioned.

    Rise nodded, "Yep…"

    "Are we going on another shopping spree?" Souji asked.

    Rise kept her eyes fixed on Souji and said with that fixed smile, "I don't know… maybe I should let you take me somewhere in Okina."

    Souji sighed, "Well… we need to leave this room to go, don't we?"

    This was going to be so tedious… but… I owe her as much.

    Rise stood up, and grabbed hold of his arm as they headed down the stairs. He barely had time to grab his wallet, which was still full of the money from when he had expected to buy Rise's gift the last time. Nanako was waiting for them in the living room when the two of them reached the bottom of the stairs. Nanako's smile at Souji was telling him something akin to, "I told you so…"

    I wonder if people are going to recognize Rise again and it's going to cause another god damn firestorm.

    Souji made sure Rise was not holding his arm as they left the Dojima Residence and left the Residential District. They would need to take the bus, so the pair of them headed to the South Shopping District next to the Moei Gas Station. In the three minutes that Rise and Souji had to wait for the bus, Rise placed her head on Souji's shoulder.

    This is just like when Rise first came here.

    Souji would not let Rise grab his hand when the bus arrived. He knew she wanted to, but he did not want a repeat of last time Souji pretended to be with Rise. Unfortunately, that did not stop her from laying her head on Souji's shoulder while they sat on the back of the bus. They could not sit anywhere else; it was far too crowded, and they risked being noticed if they sat anywhere else.

    Souji sighed. It was silly to relive all of these same memories of paparazzi and photographers all over again.

    Rise had closed her eyes as they passed street after street. She asked, "Souji-kun? Do you like me with my hair down?"

    Souji put his hand on his chin. He closed his eyes for a second to picture Rise with her hair in pigtails, and her hair down and in curls. It only took a second for Souji to decide. He responded, "I like your hair down. It's cute."

    Souji could tell Rise was smiling, but he wanted to sigh as she snuggled a little deeper into his shoulder. He did not really mind Rise being on his shoulder; he just… hated controversy. If he did not fear hurting Rise's reputation, he would admit that it was kind of nice to have Rise around.

    Souji shook Rise when they arrived at the station to Okina City. She was a little groggy when he led her down the escalator to the shopping area of the mini-city. People came to Okina for the shopping first, and not much else. Shopping… Souji's natural enemy.

    Looks like I have to figure out what to do while I'm here now… Please no one recognize Rise while I'm here.

    Rise brushed back her hair as she blinked her eyes. They were standing in the middle of the plaza, near a few stores that the two of them visited a couple of months ago. Souji was not sure where to take her, so she let Rise lead the way. It was not a very stereotypical masculine thing to do in many cases, but… what else could Souji do?

    Souji started to regret his decision to let Rise choose where to travel within Okina. It was mainly watching her meander around a store, pick out a piece of clothes, and then try it on. The only good point… he got to see her try it on and model it for her.

    At least she has not bought anything yet.

    Rise exited the dressing room wearing a long yellow sundress. She looked really pretty in it. Rise smiled so much more than she did when she first came here. It just complimented her dress perfectly.

    The red-haired idol spun around, letting the yellow dress flow around her ankles, and asked Souji, "What do you think?"

    "You look really pretty," Souji responded truthfully.

    Rise could not help but to wrap her arms around Souji's neck. He had to dislodge her before the salesman came around. It was far too close a call.

    As the salesman came up to Rise, obviously happy to have her in his store, and believing that Souji was just some guy to carry her bags… he asked in awe of her presence, "What do you think, Rise-san?"

    "I love it," Rise smiled, "I'll take it…"

    "I'm glad. I'll be waiting at the front desk," the salesman said.

    As Rise turned around to go back to the dressing room to change out of the dress, the salesman stared at the retreating idol. The guy had been staring at her ever since she had entered, with her short skirt and tight shirt. Souji knew that the guy did not want to leave either, and that's why Souji glared at him. When Rise came out of the dressing room with the yellow dress, she pulled out her plastic card, which really surprised Souji. He thought he would be paying for this.

    What's going on?

    When Rise did not hand the bag to Souji after she bought it, the salesman looked confused. Yet, Rise only smiled at the guy working at the store. She said, "I can't go shopping with a friend?"

    Souji was not sure if he should ask about it when they came out of the store, but he said, "That dress was expensive. Are you sure you didn't want me to pay for it?"

    Rise shook her head, "No, no… this wasn't the thing you wanted to buy me for my birthday, right?"

    Souji's heart dropped. For one moment, he had completely forgotten about that. He sighed as he thought about that gold locket. He still did not have enough money to buy it. Rise saw his disillusionment.

    Rise told Souji, "Why don't you take me to the place where the thing you wanted to get is?"

    Souji nodded and led Rise towards Croco Fur. Halfway there, Souji stopped to Rise's confusion, at an ice cream stand.

    "Do you want some?" Souji asked, still not very excited about the prospect of showing her something he could not afford.

    Rise would not say it, but she loved ice cream. She nodded happily, "I'd love to have some ice cream."

    "What kind?" Souji asked.

    "I love chocolate ice cream," Rise responded.

    Souji ended up buying two cones of chocolate ice cream because he was partial to chocolate as well. They had to eat quickly before it melted. He was not much in the mood to eat ice cream with her, but… maybe it would make her feel better considering he could not buy her what she wanted.

    If only Nanako didn't pick it out… It is a really pretty locket, but… still… damn.

    He nearly cursed in surprise when Rise placed remnants of chocolate ice cream on Souji's nose. Her cheery smile belied any worries on the idol's mind. Souji tried to smile as he wiped off the chocolate, and then proceeded to place chocolate on Rise's nose as well. They finished their ice cream before they entered Croco Fur. Souji was sure the workers would not like the pair of them getting ice cream on the purses, fur coats, and display cases. Souji gave an uneasy smile to Rise's cheery grin as they threw away their napkins… Souji opened the door.

    "Ooh…," Rise was surprised by the variety of goods as soon as they entered the store. Souji let her go browse the place at her own free will because he was in no hurry to face her either. The only surprise to him was that it was a male salesperson at the front today who kept his eyes trained on Rise. Souji just stuck to the back wall, relaxed, and closed his eyes to try and prevent the impending headache.

    Eventually, Rise stopped perusing the purses and fancy scarves, and went back to drag Souji to the display cases full of pretty and expensive jewelry. As both of them stood over the cases, the idol asked the silver-haired boy, "Which one is it?"

    Please have been sold…

    To Souji's dismay, the golden locket was still sitting there in all of its shining glory. What was worse was that the price had gone up by a thousand yen. Souji could do nothing but point at the heart-shaped locket in front of him.

    At least she looks happy at seeing it.

    Indeed, when Rise saw the locket, she was excited. It looked like Nanako had made a good choice… except that Nanako chose something Souji could not buy for Rise.

    "That's so pretty, Souji-kun," Rise said, before asking, "How did you find this?"

    "Nanako picked it out," Souji explained. He was not going to lie.

    Rise chuckled, "Nanako has good taste."

    "No clue what I would have chosen if it was me," Souji shook his head.

    "I'm sure it would still have been great," Rise reassured him.

    "I don't have enough money for this locket, though," Souji hung his head.

    Rise looked at Souji, to the salesperson who was giving the pair an odd look, and back to Souji. Rise's smile turned from cheery to mischievous, "Give me your wallet and I'll get it at the right price."

    The look on Souji's face turned from depressed to one who was horrified. He had no idea what Rise might do to lower the price of that locket. Even if he did this, it was a blow to his pride, plus he did not want Rise to objectify herself.

    Rise whispered into Souji's ear, "Trust me, Souji-kun."

    Souji sighed. He had to listen, he had to trust Rise. She knew what she was doing, hopefully and Souji had to trust that. That's why Souji silently handed over his wallet to Rise and walked out of the store in complete silence.

    God help her…

    Souji was getting a few weird looks from couples as they passed a lone young man standing outside a shop that catered most of their goods to females. Souji felt anxious waiting for her. The unknown was bothering him… just wondering what was going on was unnerving. It was nearly five minutes until Rise came out, holding a small bag with the Croco Fur label on it.

    She's back… but it took so long…

    Souji gazed up at her face, trying to see if her hair was disheveled at all. Rise gazed right back at him and held the bag in both of her hands in front of her waist.

    "Sorry…," Rise said with a small smile, "The guy did not know how to count."

    Souji sighed. Rise could see he looked uneasy about the situation. She said, "Don't worry about it. All I did was give him my cell number."

    Even with Rise's proclamation, Souji did not feel that much better. He just felt… bad that he could not provide for his friend. There was nothing he could say to her and nothing she could possibly say to her to make him feel better about it.

    Rise seemed to know that Souji was still depressed. "Souji-kun…," she said softly. She reached into the bag and first gave Souji back his wallet, which felt very light to the silver-haired young man. Souji tried to smile to Rise at the fact there was a little money left in his wallet, but he could not. Rise followed by taking out a small velvet-like box from her Croco Fur bag and then slipping the bag on her wrist. As she opened the box… laid the locket that tormented Souji since he first laid eyes on it. The idol unhooked the heart-shaped locket and turned it around as she placed it in Souji's hands. She seemed to be waiting for Souji to place the piece of jewelry around his neck, but Souji took a second to look at it. It was really beautiful, but only one thing would make it more so. Souji sighed as he reached around Rise's neck and attached the clasp of the locket. Rise gave a small smile to him as she straightened out the locket with her hand.

    As Rise felt the locket around her neck, Souji took a step back. This gesture was to make him feel better. He looked up when Rise took his hands in her own hands.

    Her hands are so smooth.

    She removed her right hand and pushed away Souji's left hand as she interlocked her fingers with Souji's in the other. Rise began to walk along with Souji, and he decided to follow. Souji did not really know where they where they were headed in Okina, but he did not really care anymore.

    Souji was not really looking forward or focusing on any one single thing, but he could feel people starting to stare at the pair of them. It was obvious why people were looking at the two. For the first time since Rise left to return to modeling, they were holding hands. This was supposed to be a real date, though, but… he was not sure if it really was one.

    "Souji-kun!" Souji turned as Rise pointed towards a somewhat-tall and wide blue booth covered by blue curtains. On the side, it said 'Pictures!' and a little dispenser where money was put in and you pictures were taken out afterwards was underneath. Rise started to drag him towards the place.

    Souji sighed. At that moment, a high school boy and girl around Souji's age came out from behind the curtains. Both were beet red as they exited and tried to rearrange their hair. They barely remembered to pick up their photos, if they took any.

    I guess they were engaging in activities other than taking pictures in that booth.

    The girl was giggling, but when she looked up and saw Rise in her view… she stopped. She nudged the boy, who looked at Rise; his jaw dropped. The boy looked like he wanted to take a round with Rise in the blue booth. Luckily, the girl saw the boy's face and dragged him of Rise's sight.

    "Well…," Rise turned her head to look at Souji after the pair left their sight, "Should we go?"

    "I don't know…," Souji said reluctantly.

    Rise grabbed hold of Souji's left arm and said, "The fact that you wanted to buy this for me… touches me more than anything else someone could do for me."

    So… Nanako finding the locket combined with me wanting to buy it? I don't know…

    Souji stopped resisting and allowed Rise to pull him all the way to the photo booth. About a meter and a half away, Rise stopped and released Souji from her death grip. She opened her small white purse and pulled out a small wallet. From there, she took out a hundred yen note and placed it in the machine. Rise said to Souji, "Let's go, Souji-kun!"

    Souji still felt a little uneasy as Rise pushed back the blue curtains and gestured for Souji to stand on the right side of the booth. Souji could still sense the pungent perfume of the girl who had been there before. It was a lot stronger and less fragrant than what Rise was wearing. Rise entered and stood to the left of Souji, and stood right by him as she placed her shopping bags underneath the blue bench. "Are you ready, Souji-kun?"

    "Umm...," Souji had no idea what pose he was supposed to take, "Where…?"

    Before Souji knew it, Rise was on Souji's shoulder and he only had one second to wrap his arm around her waist and smile before the camera inside the booth went off.

    "Geez…," Souji muttered after the picture flashed.

    "Three more…," Rise smiled at Souji.

    Rise took her head off of Souji's shoulder, but instead focused her shoulder against Souji's own. Souji's and Rise's smile was smaller this time as the camera flashed in front of them.

    As they broke contact, Rise said to the silver-haired young man, "Funny pose this time, Souji-kun!"

    Souji screwed up his eyes and stuck up his middle and forefinger over Rise's head. Rise did similar motions at the same time.

    "Sit down, Souji-kun…," Rise told him.

    "Okay…," Souji said and sat on the bench behind him. Suddenly, Rise sat in-between his legs and wrapped his arms around her stomach. As she lay back, she put her head by Souji's right ear… almost touching it.

    What's she getting at? But… her skin is really soft.

    Souji and Rise released themselves from each other after the final picture flashed. Rise looked excited to see the pictures because she wanted them for the locket. Rise almost dashed out of the booth to check the pictures. When they came out, she grabbed them and looked at them, gazing up and down.

    Rise squealed in delight, "They're great!" She dragged Souji to look at them.

    Souji gazed upon the third one. The 'funny pose' was good. The 'last pose' was…

    Why… Why did I let her put us in that position? I know why…

    "I need to shrink the pictures," Rise smiled, "My agency can help me out with that."

    Rise put the pictures in the Croco Fur bag and put that bag in the larger bag. Rise felt Souji grasp her left hand as they left the photo booth. Souji was done with Okina. He had enough of Okina for as long as possible. The only way he would go back… is if Rise begged him to…

    Rise…

    Souji and Rise got on the bus stop, but Souji was not sure if Rise realized that they were holding hands. If she did, she was probably happy that they were. If they were not holding hands at the moment, she would probably try and force Souji to hold hands. They headed to the back of the bus again, but people on the bus were staring at them this time. There was one big thing that Rise did not realize… they were not headed back to the Shopping District.

    The silence is nice…

    "Souji-kun… are we at the…?" Rise started to say before Souji finished.

    Souji nodded, "Yes… we're at the edge of town."

    They had stepped off the bus; Rise had fallen asleep on Souji's shoulder… again. Only when Souji shook Rise awake and they walked off the bus did she notice where they were.

    Souji felt Rise grasp his hand as he headed towards an oak tree. He sat down and put his back against the tree. Souji sighed as he relaxed against the tree; he was exhausted. Like before, he felt Rise sit in-between him and put his arms around her waist.

    I don't know why… it feels nice, but it just does.

    Souji wanted to close his eyes… and he could not keep them from shutting. At least he stopped himself from falling asleep for the moment. Rise asked, "Do you know what my biggest mistake was when I left to be an idol again?"

    "What is it, Rise-chan?" Souji responded. Souji could tell her eyes were closed.

    Rise answered, "It was… not telling those paparazzi how I really felt."

    Souji had to ask, "Can you… Can you now?"

    Rise sighed, "Souji-kun… I don't know. I… I really…. Damn it! How come I can't say it when it really matters!"

    Rise is cursing?

    "Souji-kun…," Rise continued, "I love you."

    That was not so bad… now was it?

    Souji could not fight the urge to sleep anymore. He felt himself slip into unconsciousness.

    An hour later, Souji woke up with his hands still around Rise's waist.

    So soft…

    He shook Rise awake before they walked back towards the bus station. The ride back… was the slowest possible, at least to the pair sitting in the back of the bus. To the girl with her head on the young man's shoulder, the ride should never end. When they finally reached the stop, it was where the two were full of lament as they walked back towards Marukyu.

    The two reached Marukyu and for the first time all day, Rise frowned. She looked sincerely sad. Souji knew why…

    After this… who knows when she can come back?

    Souji was wrong, but Nanako was right. He was annoyed that he could not afford the money to buy that locket for Rise, but he enjoyed the time with her… even if it was in Okina. There was nothing he could do, but… suffer by denying the truth.

    Souji stood face-to-face with Rise, her long red hair flowing down her body. Souji wrapped her arms around Rise's waist, while Rise's went around his shoulders. They edged closer and closer until their lips touched… softly, ever so softly. What was for a minute felt like an eternity.

    When their lips broke, Rise backed her face away for a moment to say to him, "I don't care what anyone will say about me this time."

    Their lips touched again, a little harder, but still… a soft kiss.

    This time, after they broke… they detached from each other completely. It was the end… the last time they would see each other. Souji closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Maybe… it would calm himself down.

    Rise said softly, "I don't know when I'll be back, but… I will see you on Christmas Eve."

    Souji kept his eyes shut as she walked away and entered Marukyu Tofu.

    Christmas, huh?