"I can't believe you would do that!"
"You were practically on top of her, Yamato Ishida! How could you?"
"How could I what? I'm not allowed to talk to any other girls?"
"Oooh!" A fierce smack set my cheek on fire. "You'd better treat my best friend better than that, or I won't go so easy on you next time, you jerk!"
I glared at the dark-haired girl. "You have no idea how glad I am that Sora's got more sense than you. I'd go crazy if I was dating your brand of lunatic!" Damn, that slap had hurt.
"I'm telling you right now, Yamato…"
"Ashley." Finally! That calm voice was music to my ears. "How many times have I told you to stop harassing my boyfriend?"
"But Sora! He was practically making out with that bimbo right in front of me!" Ashley crossed her arms over her chest and made a 'hmmph' noise.
Sora looked at me quizzically. I sighed. "That 'bimbo'," I explained, giving Ashley an evil glare, "was Mimi. And she had just got here from America an hour ago."
"Mimi's here?" Sora's eyes lit up. "Oh… Ashley, you don't need to worry. Mimi is an old friend of mine - she wouldn't think of going after my boyfriend. And you know Yamato wouldn't cheat on me."
"Thank you." I smirked at Ashley, who scowled.
"Well, when this big hot-shot rock star player is caught with his hand up some groupie's shirt, you know where to find me!" She sniffed, and, with a final glare for me, stalked off.
"Finally!" I muttered.
Sora sighed. "I'm sorry about Ashley, Yamato. You know how she is."
"I know. Too well." I shrugged. "So, what did you want me to talk about. It seemed pretty urgent when you were asking me to meet you here."
"Yes…" Sora bit her lip. "I'll get right to the point." She looked up at me. "I think we should see other people."
I stared at her for a minute. "You… what?" I couldn't quite process that, for some reason. "Are you breaking up with me?"
She took a deep breath. "Yes. That's right. I'm really sorry, Yamato…"
"Hold on a second!" I interrupted. I still couldn't believe this was happening. "Why? I thought we were doing pretty well with our relationship. What's the problem?"
"It's just… I don’t know." Sora looked down. "I'd kind of like to… date other guys. You know? I mean, we're only fifteen years old. Besides, there doesn't seem to be a lot of… well, you know… chemistry… between us."
I opened my mouth to reply to that one, then shut it right away. That was true… But then, I hadn't cared much. Somehow it had always seemed right to have the perfect pretty girlfriend I could hug and kiss a few times without it meaning much. I guess it hadn't to Sora. Which made sense.
"Besides, Yamato," she was saying. "I really think the both of us need to try new things - like dating new people. You know?"
"Have you got someone in mind?" I had to know.
"No, not really." She bit her lip again. "But I know there are a few people who might be interested."
"Know what you mean," I said, thinking about the groupies who gathered at some of my concerts.
"Yamato, can I give you some advice?" She had that worried look on her face that told me she was going to go all Crest-of-Love again. "It's probably not a good idea to date an obsessed fan. Some of them are a little crazy."
"Or, I could date someone who wasn't interested in me just because I'm in a band." I might have said that a bit rudely. But I was irritated because she'd broken up with me - which hurt my ego - and then she had to be so nice about it. "There are plenty of people who just want to date me for me, you know."
"Well, obviously, Yamato!" She grinned.
The confident way she said that somehow just made me totally come unglued. Now, she was being really nice, and taking all of my crap really well, but it made me mad anyway. "I'll bet you ten dollars that I'll get into a relationship before you do - and not with an obsessed fan," I challenged.
She blinked. "Um… Yamato…?"
"What's the matter?" I added. "It's just a harmless bet - no big deal."
"Well…" She looked hesitant. "If it's just a harmless bet…"
"True. In fact, let's not bet money." I then made the stupidest mistake I'd ever made in my life. "Whoever loses just has to date one of the winner's friends for at least a week." One of the guys in my band had been in awe of Sora since we first started dating. "And, to make sure the winner is really in a real relationship, it has to last for a week without showing signs of falling apart."
She gave me a funny look. "Uh… sure, that's fine with me. I think Ashley has a crush on you herself, anyway."
I repressed a shudder. Fate worse than death…
"Well, if that's the bet, it sounds okay." She smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow, Yamato." And she walked off.
I stayed where I was. Damnit, I'm screwed!
"Yes! I am the man!" Taichi thrust both hands up into the air, one still clutching the game controls. "Oh yeah! I'll bet you didn't even see that one coming, did you, Yama?"
Taichi was the only one allowed to call me that.
"I've got other things on my mind right now, Tai," I told him flatly. Sora's break-up speech was still playing in my head. It was a real blow to my self-esteem. I might've been cool, but sometimes, I was probably a cold-hearted bastard.
That didn't help my mood.
"What's the matter, lover-boy?" Taichi scooted over and gave me his best impression of a sultry look. On him, it looked more like he was some kind of crazy stalker. "Were you trying your best not to picture me naked? I'm doing the opposite with you, you know."
Taichi's bi-sexual. He won't let me forget it. His limit is fifty come-ons per day. And that's the minimum limit.
"Stop that," I said, almost as a reflex. "I already told you, Sora broke up with me earlier."
"Are you still hung up on that?" He shrugged. "Go find yourself another girl. There have to be over a million who want to date you." His grin turned evil again. "Or are you finally ready to take your true place as my love toy?"
"I said stop it."
"I can't help it, it's you." He ducked as I swung a fist at him. "All right, all right, don't get excited. Look, I’m sorry Sora broke up with you, but it's not a huge deal. I mean, it's not like you were in love with her. Come on, you guys were practically a 'show' couple."
"It's not the break up." I sighed. "I got irritated and made a stupid bet with her. Now I'm probably going to end up dating her friend Ashley for a week."
"Ashley 'the Mouth' Morrison?" Taichi started to laugh. "Oh man! You're in for one hell of a week! I'll be there to poke you with a stick when you keel over, though!"
"Shut up." I frowned. "I'm having enough trouble with this as it is."
Taichi casually stretched out an arm to snag the popcorn bowl. Objectively speaking, he wasn't bad looking, actually - all golden-brown skin and slim muscles. "What was the bet?"
I shook my head. "It was stupid."
"Try me." He shoveled a handful of popcorn into his mouth. That was Taichi; all grace.
"Whoever gets into a real relationship first wins," I explained.
"So what? Grab a groupie and fake a love-fest."
"It's not that easy." I crossed my arms and glared at him. "I actually have to stay with this person for a week, and it can't show any signs of ending any time soon. How the hell am I going to manage that?"
Taichi shook his head. "You're screwed," he commented.
"Thanks a lot."
"Dude, how'd you let Sora talk you into this one, anyway?"
"She didn't." I looked away from him. "I suggested it."
Taichi stared at me for a moment. "You're dumber than people think I am," he told me, finally.
"If you're not going to help me, then shut up and let me think," I said irritably. "I really don't want to get stuck with Ashley for a whole week. I'd do anything to get out of that."
Taichi's brown eyes got a look that made me nervous. His lips quirked up in a little smirk. "Anything?"
"This is a bad idea."
"No it's not. It's perfect. Follow my lead."
Before I could say anything, Taichi was sauntering off to where Sora, Mimi, and Ashley were sitting at a booth, eating hamburgers and fries and laughing about something. They looked up when he set both hands down on the table. "Hey girls, how's it going?"
"Taichi!" Mimi jumped up and immediately enveloped him in a hug. "Oh, it's been forever! The two of us just have to get together for lunch some time and talk about old times! I want to hear everything that's been happening to you!"
"Er… sounds great." Taichi gave her a pat on the back, then pried her arms off and sat her back down. "Good to see you again, Mimi."
"You too!" she chirped, not seeming at all put out by the way he'd received her hug.
"Yama and I have something to tell you," he continued, as if none of that had even happened. "Get over here, dude!" he called back to me. "I was just about to tell Sora and Mimi the good news!"
Still feeling apprehensive, but not able to do anything about it, I walked over.
"I heard about that bet between you and Sora." Ashley gave me a predatory look. "But you're a little behind, Yamato. Those guys in the other booth seemed very interested in her."
Sora sighed, and she and Mimi glanced at each other.
"Oh, he's not behind." Taichi smirked. "Actually, you're a little behind, see, because Yama's already got a special someone." He seemed to take a vindictive pleasure in seeing her face fall. I did, too, actually.
"Who?" she demanded. Sora and Mimi both looked interested.
"Is it someone I know?" Sora asked curiously.
"Someone standing right here!" Taichi confidently slid an arm around my waist and leaned onto my shoulder, grinning like the cat who'd gotten into the cream. "I think there was something about Yama that none of you girls knew before."
The look on Ashley's face instantly made the whole charade worth it.
"Taichi!" Sora looked as if she'd just been pleasantly surprised. "Well, this is great!"
"Oh, I knew it!" Mimi squealed, jumping up again to hug us both tightly. "You two were meant for each other!"
I frowned. What did she mean by…?
"Heh heh heh… oh yeah. We are." Taichi covered my suspicious silence. "And don’t we look cute together?" He hugged my waist and gave the girls a huge smile.
Ashley glared daggers at him.
"We're just perfect together, I guess." I looped an arm around his shoulders. "I just couldn't see it, because I never looked, you know." That made sense. Good one, Yamato.
"Then it is a good thing we broke up!" Sora smiled at me. "I'm so glad you two finally realized this. Mimi's been telling me for ages that you two were meant to be."
I glanced at Mimi. She actually thought that before we started this fake dating thing…?
"Well, we gotta go! First date, you know!" Taichi pushed me away from the booth. "See you girls later!" Once we were far enough away, he grinned at me. "Man, that was a close one! Do you know how many times you almost gave us away? You need to work on your acting skills, Yama!"
"Did you hear what she said?" I frowned. "Mimi thought that we - "
"So what?" Taichi shrugs, interrupting me. "Maybe she reads a lot of Shounen-Ai manga. Who cares, as long as you win the bet, right?"
That made sense. I nodded. "Yeah, right."
"Good." Taichi lets go of me and walks ahead. "Let's head back over to my place and play some video games. If they phone, we'll say we were making out."
I shake my head. "You're such a moron."
Still, for some reason the idea of making out with Tai wasn't grossing me out like it should've. Maybe it was the whole idea of 'dating' him that was going to my head. I tried to forget it.
"But - "
"What part of 'no way' don't you understand?" Taichi scowled, crossing his arms. "You didn't say anything about going to your concert and sitting with the obsessed fans, pretending to be one of them! I'm not a groupie!"
"I didn't say you had to sit with the obsessed fans." I tried to placate him. "Sit with Sora and Mimi; they're going too. Anyway, the ticket's free. You can't go wrong there." I held up the ticket.
"Front row, Yama!" He scowled, snatching it from my hand. "This is in the front row! All the lunatics will be sitting there, screaming your name and demanding that you marry them someday and make their whacked-out fantasies come true. They'll eat me alive!"
"Look, Sora used to sit there all the time, and nothing ever happened to her," I reasoned. "It's going to seem suspicious if you don't. You don't want me to end up dating Ashley, do you?"
"No, I guess not." He shook his head. "Fine, fine, but you owe me one. Don't forget it, Ishida!"
We were two days into our 'relationship'. And apparently we were just in time, because Ashley had triumphantly announced that Sora had gotten involved with someone just the day after Taichi and I had announced that we were dating. I still hadn't found out who.
"You're taking me out on Friday night," Taichi told me, grinning wickedly. "And you're paying for my food, no matter what I eat. That'll be your punishment." He rubbed his stomach. "Better start saving."
"Fine with me." I winced, despite my words. Dinner with Taichi would clean me out for sure. He could pack food away like anything, and I still had no idea where he put it all. He was a rail. "Are you coming over after the concert?"
"Why not?" He shrugged carelessly. "We can watch old horror movies and laugh at their lameness."
"Great." I smiled. "I'll see you then."
"Where are you going?"
"I have to be there early." I raised an eyebrow. "I'm performing, remember?"
"Oh yeah." He hesitated for a minute. "Want me to come along now?"
I frowned. "How come?"
Taichi shrugged. "Well, we're supposed to be dating, so it'd seem okay, right?" He grinned, and offered his arm. "Here, I'll escort you."
"I'm impressed." The words were dry, but I took the offered arm anyway. "Taichi the gentleman. Who would've thought? I still don't see it."
"Oh, be quiet."
I laughed. It was a nice moment. Why didn't I ever have moments like these with Sora?
"Not too shabby." Taichi sat on the floor in front of my TV, but his attention wasn't on the scene from 'Poltergeist II' that was playing. "You know, with a little more practice on that guitar, you might someday have as many admirers as I do."
"You mean zero?" I sat down beside him, with the popcorn and remote. "No thanks. I'll stay where I am."
"Ouch. That one hurt." Taichi leaned over and snatched the remote. "Turn this crap off, and let's watch something real. Like 'The Exorcist'." He grinned wickedly. "That movie almost made my mom scream."
"Hey!" I tried to grab back the remote, but he held it away from me. "It's my house; I hold the remote! Hand it over!"
"Not a chance, Ishida! Come and get it!" He tried to roll up to his feet, but I grabbed him around the waist and wrestled him back down, grabbing for the remote that he was waving around just out of my reach.
I'm still not sure what happened then. Maybe it was because we were supposed to be 'dating' or maybe it was a fluke accident. Whatever it was, somewhere in the middle of the fight, my lips wound up meshed on top of his.
I backed off.
Taichi blinked at me.
"Gotcha!" I took advantage of his surprise to grab the remote, and smirked at him like nothing had happened. "Thank you, Tai. Nice of you to give me my remote back when I asked for it."
He sat up and made a face at me. "Fine, fine, have it. Not like I really wanted it, anyway." He stole the popcorn bowl.
I pushed the incident to the back of my mind. But I didn't forget it. Taichi's lips had been even softer than Sora's, and they'd tasted like orange soda.
Taichi swallowed the last of his steak, and sighed, leaning back. "Mmm… good appetizer. So where's the main course?"
"Spare my poor wallet," I joked. Still, I couldn't help wincing at the thought of how much dinner was going to cost me. Ouch. I watched Taichi as he smiled across the table at me. Worth it, though. The thought snuck into my head, and I couldn't even consider how wrong it should've been until a few minutes after I'd thought it.
Hey, it's not like you're really dating him. It's just to win the bet, remember? I frowned. And that kiss was just an accident…
"What's the matter, Yama?" Taichi waved a hand in front of my face. "You look like you're a million miles away. What's up?"
"Nothing," I lied. After almost a week of dating him, I'd gotten used to the moments when we'd just walked up and taken each other's hands, or having Taichi casually slip an arm around my shoulders. It was nice - familiar. Somehow, it hadn't seemed awkward or fake. I was… well, kind of sorry that it was going to end. I'd never had a girlfriend who made me feel so welcome in her company.
Maybe I should ask him out for real. I wondered if Taichi would like that idea at all. Sure, he was always coming on to me, but I had no way of knowing if he was being sincere, or if it was all a big joke because I was the one guy he wouldn't ever date.
How did someone go about asking their best friend on a date?
Especially when you were pretending to date them already.
"Hey, come on! I'm not that dense!" Taichi leaned back in his seat and tried to raise one eyebrow like I did sometimes. The result made me smile. "Something's gotta be up, or you wouldn't keep drifting off into angst space all the time. C'mon, tell me!"
"Never mind." I looked up, just as the waiter came by with our check. "Let's get going."
I walked him home. It was only a few blocks, so it was no big deal. It might have just been an unconscious movement, but he took my hand as we went. I didn't tell him he had; he didn't seem to notice. No sense pointing it out.
Neither of us noticed that we had a girl-shaped shadow stalking behind us.
"Well, here we are." Taichi let go of my hand, walking up to his apartment and digging into his pocket for the key. "Thanks for dinner, Yama. I always appreciate free food."
"No problem." I made a sour face. "And now that you've bankrupted me for the next month, you're going to have to treat me to ice cream tomorrow night."
"Deal." He grinned. "So, now, how about a goodnight kiss, huh?"
I made an impulse decision. "Okay." Then, before he could react, I leaned over and kissed him.
It was nice. Taichi was too shocked to pull back or break it off in any way, so his mouth was soft and unresisting. I took advantage of that for the thirty seconds I had, getting a feel for how he tasted. It was even better than the first time.
"Mmph!" Finally, he backed off, eyes wide. "I wasn't actually serious!" he gasped out, staring at me in astonishment.
I couldn't help it; I smirked at him. "Maybe not," I agreed, "but I am." And I kissed him again.
This time he was ready for it, so I was just waiting for him to pull back and gape at me some more. Instead, he surprised me by sliding his arms around my waist and pulling himself closer, leaning into the kiss.
I pulled back instead. "Taichi…" I gasped out, shocked. Okay, so I hadn't exactly expected him to return any of this…
"What?" He grinned, enjoying my amazement. "Didn't I always say you were too sexy for your own good?" Without saying more, he leaned up and started kissing me again. Still a little bemused, I kissed back. It felt great.
"So you'll go out with me for real this time?" I asked, when we broke apart.
"Hell, yeah!" He was beaming. "I've been waiting forever for you to ask me that! You know, I thought that pretending to date you for a week was the only way I'd get to actually - "
"Pretending to date?" Both of us spun around at the voice.
Ashley stood there, with dark clothes on, looking like a cat who'd just found a pound of cream and several canaries. "You two were just faking it all along, weren't you?" she gloated.
I glanced at Taichi. "No, I - "
"Don’t even try to deny it, Yamato!" Ashley looked elated. "I can't wait to tell Sora - you've lost the bet for sure this time! I'll see you next Saturday night, and you're definitely paying." She laughed, and turned to run off.
I stared after her. "Damn it!"
"Wow." Taichi leaned against the wall, looking a little stunned. "That sucks."
"Yeah. That sucks." I smashed my fist into the railing. "Damn it, that's a whole week wasted! I can't believe this!"
"Wasted?" Taichi's eyes narrowed.
"I just lost the bet!" I exploded, still not thinking clearly. I can't believe I have to date her for a week. "I'm going to be stuck with that hag for a week now! We did all that dating crap for nothing!"
"Nothing?" He pushed himself away from the wall suddenly and glared at me. "What do you mean, nothing? What about tonight?"
I don't know what I was thinking then. "Who cares about tonight if I lost the damn bet!?"
"Geez, Yama." The sudden switch to a cold conversational tone snapped me to attention again. Taichi smiled humorlessly at me. "People say I'm stupid and all, but nobody's ever said that you're really stupid!" He stalked into the apartment building and let the door shut in my face before I could answer.
I stared after him. What did I just do? My words came back to me then. No… How could I have said that?
Great. I'd lost the bet, and I'd destroyed my first real relationship.
I was an idiot.
"Why on earth would you say that?" Mimi demanded.
"I don't know." I slumped down onto the couch, holding the phone to my ear and staring dully at nothing. "I was upset."
"You are such a jerk!" she snapped.
"I know," I answered. You think I haven't been telling myself that same thing for the past day and a half? Taichi wasn't even talking to me. "But I still miss him. It's like part of me's missing when he's not here."
I didn't even care that I'd said that out loud instead of just thinking it. I missed Taichi.
"Oh Yamato…" Mimi sighed. "You are just going to have to go all out to get him back."
"I can't." I groaned, remembering. "I have to date Ashley for a week." That was, in my mind, my punishment for treating Taichi so badly. He deserved the best, and he got a cold jerk like me. That just wasn't right.
"Says who?" she demanded.
"Sora and I had a bet," I reminded her. "Remember?"
"Oh, right." She giggled a little. "Oh well."
"Oh well?" I repeated. "My life is over! Tai's never going to speak to me again! And I have to date a little blabbermouth who will make my life a living hell for one whole week! And all you can say is 'oh well'?"
"You worry too much, Yamato," she told me cheerfully. "Oops, Sora's home! Gotta run! Oh, she says to tell you that your first date for that week will be Monday night, and it'll be a double date with her. Ta ta!"
"Wait - " I was too late. The dial tone sung in my ear. Typical Mimi. I sighed, and hung up, then went back to staring moodily at the wall.
Not only had I blown it, but everyone was laughing at me for it. Great.
I slid into the seat across from Sora. "Hey."
"Hi." She smiled. Over the candlelight set out on the table, she looked fairly pretty. Not that I cared. "I hope you have money with you, Yamato. Your date is going to be expensive."
I sighed, thinking of Ashley's gloating face. Good God…no… I'd have to spend a week with that. "I know, I know. Where's your date, anyway?" I wasn't about to ask after mine.
"Not here yet." Sora shrugged. "And don't worry, Yamato." She smiled, a hint of mischief in her eyes. "You aren't dating Ashley tonight. I'm not that cruel."
"Thank god!" I sank back into my seat a little, feeling one of my problems ease itself off of my shoulders. "Sora, you have no idea how grateful I am! Would you like me to kiss your feet to show you?"
She laughed. "Thanks, but I'll pass."
Before I could say anything else, Mimi walked up to the table. She was wearing a nice little light-green dress that looked very flattering on her, and her hair was done up nicely. "Hi guys! Sorry if I'm a bit late."
I managed a smile. "Hi Mimi." Then I looked to Sora for an explanation. "Am I supposed to be dating Mimi this week?"
The girls looked at each other, and burst out laughing. I stared at them, perplexed. "What's so funny?"
Sora giggled. "Mimi is my date, Yamato."
"Your…?" I stopped, and stared as Mimi set one hand on top of Sora's and smiled brightly at me. "You mean you two are…?"
"Dating. Yes." Sora grinned. "Mimi is the person I've been seeing for the past week. And I'm sorry you lost the bet, Yamato, but I'm not about to drop her just to make you feel better. She's important to me."
I regained my composure somewhat. "When did this happen?"
"I… well…" Sora looked a little sheepish. "I realized it right before I broke up with you. But I didn't want to say anything then, or even right after, because I was afraid that you'd think…" She stopped.
"That I turned you off men," I finished for her. Suddenly, I felt extremely selfish. "That wasn't what I'd meant to do to you… when I started dating Taichi, I mean."
"I know." She smiled at me. "Mimi and I had both hoped that you two would find each other. She knew a long time before I did, you know. She told me about you two."
I looked at Mimi, who shrugged. "It just seemed right," she explained, still in that bright, careless tone.
I concluded that there was a lot more to Mimi than met the eye. As Sora probably knew already.
"So who's my date?" I asked.
Warm hands covered my eyes. "Guess who?" a familiar voice teased.
"Taichi!" I spun around, breaking from his light hold, and faced that gorgeous, grinning face. "I thought... I thought you didn't want to talk to me any more!"
He shrugged. "Well, I forgive you now. After all, you are an idiot when it comes to this stuff. And Mimi told me you felt sorry for it."
Was Mimi some kind of saint? I was seriously beginning to consider that possibility.
Pushing that thought aside, I stepped around the chair and brushed his hair out of his face, hardly believing that he was actually there. "Taichi…"
"Hey." His grin turned lopsided. "I really like you. Enough so that I'll give you another chance when you say something stupid. I'm just hoping you'll cut me the same slack."
"Deal." I leaned forward and kissed him. "Thank you, Tai."
"No problem." His eyes sparkled, wicked, and he leaned his forehead against mine. "Now buy me dinner and we'll call it even."
"I'll remember this the next time you say something stupid," I promised.
Even Sora and Mimi laughed at that one.
Taichi grinned, and sat down. "But you owe me a favor - next time I make a stupid bet. Even if you were the best guy I ever pretended to date."
I smiled back. "Agreed."
I still think I got the best of that deal.
Especially since Taichi technically owes me a dinner for every stupid thing he says.