"I can't believe she took it."
I watched Taichi blankly for a moment, but my older friend was staring mournfully off into space and seemed in no mood to elaborate on this odd statement. A glance at Yamato yielded no positive results either; the blond just shrugged at me.
So… after a moment of complete silence, I couldn't help but give in. "What are you talking about?" I asked, sitting up a bit from where I was leaning against the wall behind Taichi's bed.
The sigh that came from the brunet's mouth truly carried the weight of much suffering - or so he'd like us to believe. "Sora has the journal I got for my birthday last month."
Yamato raised an eyebrow at him, not bothering to move from his current position of lounging against the foot of the bunk. "So?"
"So it's got really personal stuff in it, and she's planning on using it to blackmail me." Taichi frowned. "Actually, she's not even going as far as blackmailing. She just wants to make copies and give them out to everyone else so I can be humiliated."
The music star snickered. "And just what did you do to Sora that pissed her off so much?"
Taichi muttered something under his breath, too quietly to be heard. The words 'lemon juice' and 'face cream' were the only two audible ones - but I had a strong suspicion it was probably safer that way.
I tried without much success to keep a smile off my face. "How did she get your journal, anyway?" I asked, not too phased by his obvious frustration.
Taichi stopped pacing long enough to look over at me. "She didn't have to - Hikari did it for her." He let out a long, annoyed breath. "That is the last time I leave anything important buried under only two layers of clothing in the closet!"
"Leaving anything in the closet at all is a mistake," Yamato replied, sagely. "That's always the first place they look."
"Perhaps you should keep your journal on the computer," I suggested. "I could set it up so you'd have complete security. Of course," I had to add a moment later, with a bit more apprehension now that the full implications of that offer had hit me, "that would mean you'd probably have to call me over every time you tried to access it…"
The older boy peered at me, seeming to forget his problem for the moment. "Would you actually come over every time if I did?"
Yamato spared me from having to answer that. "So is this why you called us over and spent the past twenty minutes pacing around your room without telling us anything?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Because Sora swiped your journal? What could you have said in it that's got you so worried?"
"You know…" Taichi gave him significant sort of look. "Stuff."
Yamato frowned for a moment, then seemed to come to a realization. "Ohhh…"
They had lost me with that. "Huh?"
"Yeah. Anyway…" The brunet divided his attention between the two of us, ignoring my confusion. "We have to get it back. The three of us. So I've come up with a really good plan that I think could help us out, and that's why I called you over."
"Hm." I nodded slowly, putting aside the curiosity that little exchange had caused. "That seems logical. But, if you've already got such a good plan in mind, why were you so worried when we first arrived?"
"Well…" Taichi graced us with a sheepish sort of grin, scratching the back of his head. "That would be over how I'm going to get you two to go along with my brilliant idea."
"Aw, come on… it's no big deal!"
"Not a chance."
"Hey, Koushiro agrees with me, right?"
I turned. The younger boy was still gaping at Taichi, his mouth moving silently. "You are not only delusional, you're trying to include others in your insanity." I shook my head at him. "Goodbye, Taichi. I'll pretend I was never here, and you never suggested… that… and we'll see each other in school tomorrow. Cool?"
Then I patted him on the shoulder, and headed for the door.
He blocked my way stubbornly. "Give me one good reason why you can't go along with my idea?"
I raised an eyebrow at him. "I'll give you three. One: you're insane. Two: what you're suggesting is social suicide if we're caught. And three… you're insane. Enjoy yourself, Taichi - I'm off to rejoin the community of rational human beings."
"Wait!" Taichi grabbed my shoulder, and met my cool gaze squarely. "There's got to be something that'll get you to - " He broke off, blinked, and then grinned suddenly. "I'll let you read it."
I hadn't been expecting that… "You'll what?"
"Let you read it." He was still grinning. "You know - the journal. Admit it, Yamato, you're dying to find out what I've got in there that I'm so worried about Sora getting her paws on. If you help me get it back, you'll get a chance to find out."
All right… I knew what was in that journal. I knew why Taichi didn't want it spread around. I knew why it had a very good chance of ruining his life if Sora started giving out copies. I didn't need to be told the answers to those burning questions.
But I only knew in theory. I hadn't actually seen this destructive material.
And it would definitely make for a perfect blackmail, if I ever wanted something from Taichi in the future.
"I might be willing to go along with this," I said after a moment, keeping my voice cool. A slow smirk was tugging my lips upward. "But I have to get a photocopy for myself."
"What!?" Taichi exploded, incredulously. "No way!"
I reached past him for the door handle.
"Okay, okay, deal!"
I pulled my hand back and smirked at him again. "Always a pleasure doing business with you, Taichi."
It was going to be an interesting evening.
"I can't believe I'm doing this." Koushiro's voice was wry. "Remind me again why I agreed."
I grinned at him. "Because I'm your friend? And deep down you know this is a brilliant idea and are willing to go along with it?"
He straightened the crimson-haired wig we'd just dug out of my mother's closet, and gave me a meaningful look. "I think it's more likely that I'm too curious for my own good, and I want to be there to see what happens when this fails miserably."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence." I paused in my search through Mom's wardrobe, and pushed a strand of amazingly realistic-feeling hair out of his face, grinning at his surprised expression. "It's great to know you'll always have friends beside you in your time of great need."
He sighed and rolled his eyes upward, managing to look totally cute in the exasperated pose. "I don't look all that feminine, Taichi."
"Well, neither do I, but at least I'm trying." I pulled out a light blue tank top, considered it for a moment, and tossed it onto the pile of 'possibilities'. "Anyway, it's not just Sora's slumber party - it's also a welcome back for Mimi. There's going to be at least two dozen girls in that house. No one's going to notice if we're not perfectly girly."
"I guess not." Koushiro frowned at the clothing. "None of this is going to fit me, Taichi."
"You can borrow Hikari's stuff," I told him in response, shrugging. "I have go through her drawers for stuff to put our fake chests in, anyway."
"You mean…" He let that trail off, eyes widening in sudden horror. "Oh, no. That's going too far. There's no way I'm wearing a girl's - "
"Well, you wouldn't look much like a girl without a chest." Truthfully, I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect, either. But if I let Sora keep that journal, she'd make copies and give them all out… and eventually, it would get back to the one person I didn't want to ever read the things I'd wrote about him…
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered again.
I couldn't help but grin. "Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? I mean, I'm obviously a few bricks short of a load, but you're the one going along with me, aren't you?"
Koushiro grimaced. "Don't remind me."
Even under that ugly wig, he looked great. At least if we failed miserably and suffered the ultimate humiliation at the hands of evil, conniving females, I was still going to get to dress him up in girls' clothes, and I'd be holding onto that memory for the rest of my life.
Which might not turn out to be such a long time.
"I think that's enough," I said, tossing another skirt onto the pile. "Let's get our hair all girly and wait for Yamato. Then we can go dig around in Hikari's clothing, too."
He sighed again. "I really can't believe I'm doing this."
Daisuke shifted restlessly on my mom's armchair, slouching even further into the cushion. "Is it just me, or have our Friday nights gotten really, really boring?"
"It's not just you," I agreed, glancing wryly at the TV. The best program we could find on at the time was a sitcom about two girls trying to set their male friend up with a variety of other females, not knowing that he was secretly in love with one of them.
It was not my idea of quality entertainment, that's for sure.
"I could be studying right now," Iori complained, returning from the kitchen with a glass of water in one hand and a bowl of corn chips in the other. "I've got a test on Monday, you know. We could at least go somewhere other than Takeru's or Daisuke's apartment for a change." He sat down beside me on the couch and glanced around at the others.
"Are there any good movies playing?" Ken asked hopefully, from the other chair. He didn't seem any fonder of the program than I was.
"Just one," I answered him. "And we went to see it last week."
Daisuke scowled. "The one day a week all four of us get together, and there's nothing to do!" He let out a frustrated breath. "There's gotta be something out there…"
"Not unless you want to put on high heels and head over to Sora's house." I shook my head. "That's where Hikari and Miyako are tonight. Apparently they're throwing a welcome-back slumber party for Mimi since she's moving back to Japan again."
"I think I heard about that," Iori admitted, setting the chips on my lap and taking a small handful for himself. He took a sip of water and leaned back, sighing. The bangs he'd been growing out recently fluffed out in a very cute manner.
One day, I was just going to ravish him, and then we'd see what happened.
"I don't think that's going to help us much," Ken said - but across from him, Daisuke looked thoughtful.
"When's this party at, anyway?"
"Seven, I think." I grinned at him. "Why? Are you getting urges to put on make-up and sit around with a bunch of giggling girls talking about boys and hairstyles?"
"What!? No way!" He sat up a bit more, and looked around at us. "I was just thinking, what if we crashed the party? You know, like guys do in the comic books when girls are having slumber parties?"
Ken blinked. "What on earth would we do there?"
"I dunno… make some noise, put on some music…" Daisuke shrugged, then grinned. "Anyway, what's a welcome back party if some of your friends aren't invited - right?"
I had to admit, he did have a point…
"I'm sure it's not possible to spend an entire evening talking about hair, clothes, and boys," Ken added, smiling across the room at Daisuke. "If you're going, I'll come along."
Big surprise there…
Iori regarded the two of them with what probably would've been incredulous disbelief if he hadn't already spent a few years in the company of Daisuke, and - during the course of that friendship - heard far, far worse. "There is no way I'm crashing a girls' slumber party."
And another big surprise.
But I wasn't about to spend my evening watching re-runs or old movies. "I'm in," I agreed, shrugging. Iori gave me the sort of look that one would use to ask 'you too?' without actually saying the words.
I smiled at him. He could be so cute when he thought we were all acting like morons.
Then again, cute was his natural state.
"Don't worry so much, Iori." Daisuke waved a careless hand at the younger boy - then grinned. "I think I know a way you can help us out, without having to crash the party at all."
The look on Iori's face in response to that statement was understandably apprehensive.
I kept smiling. This was definitely going to be interesting
That was not me in the mirror.
"Hey, we did a pretty good job, huh?"
It couldn't be me. I stared at the reflection in horror. Standing in front of me, with wide eyes and a grimace, was a red-haired girl showing off long hair and straight hips, in a lime-green tank top and flared jeans with flowers printed at the bottom.
"Taichi, you've just stripped me of my basic human dignities."
"Don’t be silly." He grinned, hands on his hips as he regarded the mirror reflection. "Girls look like this all the time, and you don't see them complaining about dignity, do you?"
"I am not a girl," I reminded him, flatly. His reflection stood next to the pathetic image of mine, the bright smile a stark contrast to my dismayed expression. No wig ever made could have fit over Taichi's hair, so he'd just pulled it all back and tied it with a hair elastic - leaving wisps of it sticking out at strange angles. You could see the outline of Hikari's… ergh, bra… under his mother's red baby T-shirt, stuffed with half-filled water balloons so no one would notice that the three of us were flatter than pancakes. And he was actually wearing a skirt - a long, loose jean-material thing.
If I weren't looking even more feminine than he was at the moment, I would've laughed.
"Neither am I, and you don’t hear me complaining."
I frowned at him. "Well, I'm not the one who is so desperate to get his journal back, am I? What exactly did you write in there that you're so anxious to keep out of the public eye?"
"Just… never mind!" Was it me, or was he actually blushing? Now that was certainly curious… "It's personal stuff, and I don't want people reading it. That's all."
"You're going to let Yamato read it," I reminded him. "Which really doesn't seem fair, when you think about it. I'm helping you out here at least as much as he is. Why can't I read it, too?"
"Er… that's because… Hey, is Yamato still in the bathroom?" He retreated a few steps and looked at the closed door a few feet away. "What's taking him so long, anyway? He's almost like a real girl, spending over an hour getting ready!"
I rolled my eyes upward and sighed.
Why was I doing this?
Because Taichi asked you to, the traitorous little voice at the back of my head reminded me, and you'll go along with anything he says, because all he has to do is give you one of those unintentionally sexy smiles, and you are stripped of all free will.
I stared gloomily at my reflection. It wasn't like I actually had a chance, either.
"I heard that, Yagami," Yamato said, opening the bathroom door and stepping out to join us. "Don't forget who's doing you the favor here. I could just leave, you know."
"Dressed like that?" Taichi grinned.
He definitely had a point. Yamato had taken a twenty-minute shower just to get the gel out of his hair, and then he had taken command of the curling iron - flatly refusing Taichi's offer to help him with it. Which was probably a wise decision, knowing Taichi. What emerged from the bathroom now was a girl with chin-length blonde hair, curled up at the ends and held back prettily with barrettes. He was wearing a blue cropped T-shirt and low-riding girls' jeans.
I suddenly did not feel so bad for looking as feminine as I did.
"Your hair is just lovely, Yamato," Taichi gushed in a mockingly high-pitched voice.
Yamato raised an eyebrow at him. "Wish I could say the same."
"Well, we're not running for best dressed." He grinned again, and looked from Yamato to me. "I think we're about done, huh? Time to go crash a party!"
"Uh… Taichi?" Yamato glanced at the entranceway. "What were you planning to have us do for shoes?"
I never should have answered the door. Really. I should've pretended I wasn't home, or acted like I didn't hear, or… something. But I should not have put my books aside and gotten up to respond to the doorbell.
Then again, how could I have known what was waiting for me there?
"Hey Jyou! How's it going?"
I was hearing Taichi's voice… but I was seeing a strange girl with a ponytail and an oddly familiar face. She was carrying a bundle of some sort under her arm. "Uhhhh… hello?"
"Don't you recognize me?" Again with Taichi's voice. He sounded pretty pleased with himself too. I blinked again, realizing that the strange girl's mouth was moving as the voice came at me.
Wait… That means…
"Pretty good disguise, huh?" That was definitely Taichi's grin. "Hey, I was wondering if you could do me a favor tonight - if you're not too busy, that is…"
"You're dressed like a girl!" I blurted out, still not quite over my shock.
"You noticed." He didn't seem too phased. "Listen… Yamato, Koushiro, and I are going to try and sneak into Sora's house during that party she's having, and we need you to give us a distraction later on so we can sneak back out. Okay?"
I recovered somewhat - enough to be wary, anyway. "Wait just a minute. What sort of distraction are you talking about here?"
"This." He held out the bundle. "It's a pizza delivery outfit," he explained, as I gingerly took it from him. "I borrowed it from one of the guys on my soccer team - he's tall, so it'll probably fit you okay. All you have to do is pretend you're delivering pizza, and if they doubt you, just say you got the wrong house."
"Are you kidding me?" I gawked at him. "Does it look like I'm running a pizza shop? Where am I supposed to get something to deliver?"
"Just go look around - someone's bound to have one." He shrugged, then glanced at his watch. "Crap - I have to go. Listen, stop by Sora's house around eight or so, all right? If you have to buy a pizza, I'll pay you back later." The last bit, he yelled over his shoulder as he hurried down the hall. "Thanks, Jyou!"
"But… But Taichi, I'm - " And… he was gone. "Broke," I finished, in a resigned tone, and glanced down at the uniform in my hands with a sigh.
So much for a quiet evening of study.
"There's a flaw in your plan."
I frowned. "There is not."
"Yes there is," Yamato insisted, giving me one of his best condescending looks and then turning back toward Sora's front door. "Don't you think it's going to look pretty strange if Sora and Mimi don't know who we are? This isn't an open house party, you know…"
"When are you going to learn to trust me?" I grinned at him. "There's going to be more than thirty girls in that house - you think they're all going to be clustered together? All we have to do is tell Sora we're Mimi's friends and tell Mimi we're Sora's friends, and then try to blend in and act like we belong. It'll be perfect."
"Define 'perfect'," Koushiro said flatly.
"You in that cute wig," I told him, and took in his answering blush with a great deal of satisfaction. He looked too good when he was flustered.
Although I had to admit, I definitely preferred him as a guy. Koushiro with a chest and girls' clothes was just not the same.
"Well…" Yamato rolled his eyes upward. "If we're going to do this, we'd better go now - before we lose our nerve and go do something safer. Like trying to pick up strange guys in singles bars."
I snickered at that, and went up the front steps to ring the doorbell.
We were lucky it was reasonably dark, because Sora answered the door. She gave us only a brief, curious look. "Are you some of Mimi's friends?"
"That's right." I forced my voice into a high-pitched mockery I'd been practicing almost all afternoon. "We're not late, are we?"
Beside me, Yamato was biting his lip, but I could hear muffled half-snickering noises coming from him anyway.
"Not at all." Sora smiled, and moved aside to let us in. "Make yourselves at home - just don't go into the room on the far right upstairs - that's my mother's room, and it's off limits for tonight."
"Oh, we won't," Yamato chirped out, in a decent imitation of my fake voice. I tried not to look guilty. If it came down to it, I'd look anywhere for that journal - and he knew it.
Sora nodded, smiled at us again, and wandered off toward the kitchen - where about five girls were bustling around, scarfing down most of what was in the fridge.
And they say guys eat a lot.
"Taichi…" Koushiro whispered, leaning toward me. "What are we supposed to do now?"
"Just… mingle, I guess." To tell the truth, I hadn't planned much for after we got in the house… I just had a vague idea that we'd go wandering around looking to see where Sora might have hidden my journal. "We'd better split up."
"Are you insane?" Yamato hissed, giving me an incredulous look. "You want us to go out and face the wolves alone? That's like contemplating suicide!"
"Well, we'll find it faster that way," I replied, trying to herd them away from the door. "We can meet up after - "
"Hey, don't I know you?"
The three of us whipped around at the same time.
"Koki, right?" The friendly-looking brunette girl had fixed her attention on Yamato, and was smiling away. Was that a good sign? Maybe she was trying to confuse us… "I'm Ami - from Biology class, remember?"
"Oh… uh… of course!" Yamato pasted a big fake smile on his face, and forced his voice into the high-pitched mockery again. "How's it going?"
"Great! But you know, we're doing all kinds of wacky things to each other's nails in the sitting room!" She grabbed his wrist, beaming. "Come and join us - we don’t bite." With another smile for Koushiro and me, she added, "You guys can come too, if you want."
"Uh… I have to go to the bathroom first," I backed out, deliberately not looking at the desperate expression on Yamato's face. "Maybe later?"
"I think I saw a friend of mine heading upstairs," Koushiro added, smiling weakly.
"Oh, all right." She nodded brightly, and turned back the way she'd come, dragging the unlucky blond after her. "See you around! Come on, Koki, this'll be fun!"
Yamato shot the two of us a thoroughly dirty look over his shoulder.
Well… better him than me.
"Let's go upstairs," I suggested.
Koushiro nodded, shuddering a little as he glanced in the direction of the sitting room. "That’s a very good idea," he agreed fervently.
I was going to kill Taichi.
And then I'd tear up his remains and cook them in a stew and force Koushiro to eat it for going along with him.
That was only if I decided to let the two of them off easy, too.
"I love your shirt!" one of Ami's friends told me, in between blowing on her randomly-colored nails. "Where did you get it?"
From Taichi's mother's closet? I forced a smile. "It was a present."
"Well, it'd go great with a nice soft pink shade," another girl spoke up. She opened one of the make-up bags on the floor beside her, and held up several bottles. "One of these would work, right? Or maybe all of them…"
He'd suffer for a week before I let him die, too.
"Sit down, Koki!" another one of Ami's friends moved aside so I could take her place on the couch. "Let Ashika do your nails for you - she's really good at it."
"I've just practiced a lot," the girl now sitting beside me said modestly. "Here, hold out your hands."
It took a lot of effort not to run screaming in fear. But somehow I managed.
"I'll file and shape them for you, too," Ashika offered, looking closely at my hands. "Trust me, you won't recognize your fingers when I'm done here."
Inwardly, I cringed.
I happen to like my fingers…
"We'll find a matching lipstick when you're done," another overly-helpful friend added. "We could even find a blue eyeliner to bring out your eyes."
Two weeks. Definitely two weeks.
"Find a pizza - hah!" I rested my head against the wall of the pizza restaurant, wishing Taichi was there so I could shake him. "You can't just find a pizza!"
I had been to three pizza places already, and I hadn't even been able to find an unmolested pizza box.
This was not fair at all.
I pounded a fist into the wall. "Argh!"
"Um… are you okay?"
I looked up. Some girl was hovering just a short ways away, obviously a little frightened by my crazy behavior, and giving me a very odd look.
And holding a pizza box.
"Fine, thanks." I tried to smile at her. This could be my chance… "Say, are you using that box at all?"
She blinked in response. "Uh… to carry my pizza, yes."
"No, I mean when you're done." I took a few steps toward her. "I mean, if you finish eating that, you won't need the box any more, right? You think maybe you could give it to me? I really need that pizza box!"
The girl squeaked, quickly backing up as I came nearer. "Er - um - I have to go!" she squawked out, and turned to run away from me very quickly.
I glanced at my watch. Just about seven-thirty.
Days like these, it probably isn't even worth it to leave the house…
I glanced cautiously into Sora's room - and quickly backed off.
But not soon enough. "Hey! Who's that?"
Oh, crap… Taichi had abandoned me to go snooping around in Sora's mother's room - and I didn't have enough time to run away before a group of crazy females descended on me.
"Hi there!" I froze with my back to the coming hoard. That was a familiar voice…
"I don't recognize you… so you're probably one of Sora's friends, right?" Mimi's distinctive inane giggle followed that. She bounced over in front of me. "I'm Mimi - nice to meet you."
"Er… yes." I made my voice high and squeaky, and tried to think of a way out of this situation. "Uh… Yoriko," I introduced myself, coming up with a name on the spot - and tried to smile.
I'm sure I didn't manage much of one, but she didn't seem to care. "You look awfully familiar," she said, placing one finger to her lips as she gazed at me thoughtfully.
My blood ran cold for a moment. "I… uh… well…"
"She's probably in Tennis Club with Sora," one of her friends suggested, unintentionally coming to my aid. "Right?"
"Oh… yeah." I nodded fervently - then quickly reached up to make sure my wig didn't get crooked. I was uncomfortably conscious of the water balloons strapped to my skin by Taichi's sister's bra. "That's it."
This was without a doubt the scariest experience of my life.
And it was only getting worse… "You have beautiful skin!" another girl gushed, clasping her hands together under her chin. "It's like peaches and cream! I'm so jealous - how did you get it to look so nice?"
Mimi smiled. "Well, she obviously uses a lot of beauty care products - don't you?"
"Oh yeah." I nodded again, keeping my hand on top of my head this time. "All the time. Couldn’t live without them." I try to imitate her giggle, but it comes out sort of high-pitched and strangled-sounding.
This is not a promising situation…
"But you're not wearing any make-up!" the first girl protests, peering closely at me. "You'd look even prettier with some mascara and eyeliner - and maybe a little blush, too, don't you think so, Mimi?"
"Oh, yes!" My friend clapped her hands together eagerly. "You know what this means, don't you, girls?"
"Make-over!" they chorused.
I pressed myself back against the wall and wished desperately for the floor to swallow me up.
I will get you for this, Taichi…
It was nice to be so completely safe.
Well… not completely, but relatively, at least. No one was going to be coming into Sora's mother's room - not after she'd told everyone at the door that it was off-limits. So I was unlikely to be caught, ambushed, or dragged off to participate in any girly stuff.
Yamato and Koushiro were probably going to roast me over a slow fire when this was all over, though.
I checked under the mattress. No luck.
All right… Now, if I were Sora and I knew I'd be looking for my journal, where would I hide it?
It would probably be somewhere I either wouldn't think of looking for it, or somewhere I wouldn't want to look for it. And she probably wouldn't hide it in her own room, or in any place where some girl at the party might find it.
So it almost had to be in her mother's room.
I checked under the pillows. Nothing.
This was aggravating…
I sat down for a moment, considering my options. Yamato was getting his nails painted - and Koushiro had almost definitely been ambushed by then. No one would get far on their own in a house full of girls. It would probably look suspicious if I went in and asked to consult with them, and I doubted they'd want to talk to me at the moment, anyway - unless I was telling them it was time to leave.
So… I had to figure this out on my own.
And I had to do it before Sora decided to check and make sure no one was messing up her mom's room.
I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes to eight. Jyou was going to be there soon, too…
I had to do this, and fast!
The closet yielded no positive results. I was starting to get desperate.
He can't see what I wrote… Even thinking about it, I grimaced. I'd lose a really good friend, and everyone would know why because they'd all read the same thing he had. That journal's gotta be here somewhere!
That's when it hit me.
I shut the closet door, and regarded the white wooden set of drawers. Sora wanted the journal in a place I'd never look for it… and the last thing I'd ever want to do was go through her mother's underwear.
In fact, I was almost considering giving up and letting her keep it.
Then I imagined what it'd be like to walk through the hall at school while people hooted and quoted my private thoughts at me, and decided I could put up with the underwear.
I opened the drawer, and reached inside bravely.
Success! I pulled my hand back, brushing a stray pair of underpants off my familiar journal. Take that, Sora! I thought to myself, smirking. I opened the cover to make sure it was mine.
Yup. Definitely mine. I made a quick mental note to tear out the first page before letting Yamato read it, and tucked it into my skirt, against the small of my back and under my shirt.
Hopefully no one would notice.
"What are they doing in there?" Daisuke poked me impatiently.
"I'll tell you, if you'll leave me alone and let me watch," I told him, turning long enough to offer one of my brother's famous condescending looks before ducking back under the edge of the curtain and trying to look into the room without being spotted.
"Come over here for a while, Daisuke," Ken suggested, leaning against the side of Sora's house.
"If you two are making out when I turn around, I'm out," I warn them, not bothering to turn this time. "Voyeurism is not my idea of a fun and exciting pastime."
"You're just jealous," Daisuke shot back, and I heard him moving away from me.
"Jealous of what? Your hormones? You can keep them," I told him, trying to peer around the edge of the windowsill. This was actually pretty tricky… I couldn't see much yet.
"No, because me and Ken are together, and you haven't got anywhere with Iori," he pointed out, smugly. "It'll take you a million years at the rate you're going."
"No it won't," I assured him. When the right time came, I was definitely going to ravish Iori. I just… had to wait for the right time, that was all. "But this will, if you keep interrupting me."
"Whatever. Just hurry up and look in. Sheesh!"
I smiled to myself, and peeked around the sill.
"There's Hikari…" The girl seemed to be joining a small group huddled around the couch. "I think they're doing each others' nails or something - anyway, she just walked up and now she's watching."
"Girl stuff." Daisuke snorted. "Good thing we're about to liven things up."
"I don't think they're going to see it that way," I replied. There was a blonde girl in there who looked really familiar… but I couldn't figure out where I'd seen her before.
"That's all I could see," I reported, backing away from the window. "When and how do you want to make our move?"
"Shouldn't we wait until Iori gets there?" Ken answered.
"Naw, we can go in before him." Daisuke shrugged, and grinned. "What time is it?"
I checked. "Five minutes to eight."
"Well, Iori will come in about five minutes after eight, right?" He didn't wait for an answer. "So hopefully he'll distract them after we get in there, and then we can take over!"
"Take over?" Ken's expression was blank.
I shook my head. Daisuke's organization plans on this expedition were a little vague to begin with… but the chaos was bound to be fun. "Whatever you say, Daisuke. So how about eight o'clock, then?"
He grinned, excitement visible on his face even in the poor lighting. "Right!"
"Okay, all done!" Those had to be the most relief-inducing - or the most terrifying - words I'd ever heard in my life. My hands were released, and I pulled them back before any more damage could be done.
My nails had been filed into short, feminine oval-shapes, and coated in various shades of pink, then covered with gloss and sparkles.
It was truly a sad sight to behold.
"No problem!" Ashika beamed at me, then looked around eagerly. "So, who's next?"
"Oh, me!" I glanced up, startled. When had Hikari joined the group of tormenters? It didn't really matter at the moment, though… I gladly moved out of the way so she could take my place in the seat of extreme evil.
Why any sensible human being would subject his or herself to… that… I had no idea.
It was time to find either Taichi or Koushiro, get that stupid journal, and get the hell out of this hell hole.
And then beat the crap out of both of them for abandoning me.
"Where are you going, Koki?" Ami asked, as I carefully stepped around the group of sitting girls.
"Just to the bathroom." I did my best to smile at her, though I might've sported more of a grimace than anything. "I'll be right back - okay?"
"Okay." She nodded, and turned back to watch her friend mangle Hikari's nails.
Don't hold your breath. I hurried around the corner and made my escape up the stairs.
Free at last!
Now… how was I going to find Taichi and Koushiro in the middle of a house full of girls without giving away the fact that I was looking for Taichi and Koushiro?
"Wait! Please come back! I need that pizza box!"
The elderly couple I was chasing all but jumped in their car, and the engine roared to life. The woman behind the wheel floored it, and they were out of sight before I could contemplate jumping on the back of the vehicle to try and get the pizza box.
"Not again!" I groaned and sank to the ground. Who would've thought people over seventy could run so fast? "This is impossible!"
So far, about fifteen people had run away from me, five had threatened to call the cops, and seven had thrown rocks at me until I ran away myself.
All in all… the evening was a pretty big failure.
I glanced at my watch. Five minutes to eight.
It was too late to try and steal pizza boxes any more - I'd just have to go try to provide a distraction without one. Otherwise I was going to be late.
You owe me for this, Taichi…
I held onto my wig with both hands, almost ripping the hair out of it, and fought the urge to whimper.
This evening would live on in my nightmares for years to come - I was sure of it.
I sank further against the vacuum cleaner in the closet, and tried to push the memory of Mimi's ministrations out of my mind. I couldn't even begin to identify the various substances that had been applied to my face.
I probably didn't even look like the same person any more.
Someone reached the top of the stairs, and started slowly down the hall.
Not again! My heart pounded against my chest. I risked a glance out through the crack in the door, trying to make sure that whoever the girl was, she wasn't coming toward my hiding place.
If I never came into contact with another girl again as long as I lived, I would consider myself fortunate beyond belief.
Luck was with me, apparently. The 'girl' outside was a familiar blond with very disgruntled-looking blue eyes. I opened the closet door a crack and gestured to him. "Yamato!"
"Koushiro?" He hurried over to the door - and his eyes went wide as he looked at my face. "What the hell happened to you!?"
"I'd prefer not to talk about it," I told him, in a pained voice. I was already scarred for life without having to relive the experience.
"Does it in any way explain why you're hiding in a closet?"
"Yes," I told him, shortly. "It does. And there is no way I'm coming out of this closet again unless we are leaving this house and never coming back.
Yamato gave me a skeptical look. "Don't you think that's a little - ?"
"I'll go find her, Ami!" someone called, and the sound of footsteps thumping up the stairs came from behind him. "Hey, Koki?" the girl called up. "Mimi's going to give us all facials now! Come on!"
"Move over," Yamato ordered abruptly, and joined me in the closet.
I shut the door to Sora's mom's room carefully behind me - and just in time, because a girl came around the corner from the direction of the stairs, looking around in a puzzled manner.
"Hi there!" I kept my back to her, forcing my voice into a higher pitch again.
"Oh, hi!" She seemed a bit startled. "I thought everyone was downstairs - Mimi's giving people facials, you know."
"Er… yeah. Right. I'm on my way." I smiled weakly at her. "Have you seen Ya - uhh, Koki around anywhere?" I asked, remembering at the last second what they'd called Yamato.
"I'm looking for her, actually," she replied. "She came up here, but I have no idea where she went."
"Oh." Yamato was upstairs… Maybe he knew where Koushiro was. Then we could all get the hell out of here. "Well, I'll look for her if you want. I have to… uh… tell her something, anyway."
The girl hesitated. "Are you sure?"
"Oh yeah." I waved a hand at her and faked a high-pitched giggle that really didn't sound all that great. "You go enjoy the facials. We'll be down before you know it!"
"All right then." She turned to hurry back down the stairs. "Thanks!"
"That was close," I muttered, then glanced around. Now to find Yamato…
"Koki?" I lowered my voice a little. "Yamato?" Then… "Koushiro?"
As I rounded the corner, the closet beside me opened up, and two sets of hands yanked me inside.
"Quiet!" Yamato hissed as I let out a startled yelp. He was glaring at me - even with his face in the shadows, I could tell he was. "You had better have found that journal of yours, because whether you have or haven't, we're getting the hell out of this torture chamber!"
"I found it," I reported, very relieved that I had.
"Good," Koushiro muttered from my other side. I glanced over at him, and did a double take. There wasn't much light coming in from the partly-opened door, but I could definitely see something different about him. His cheeks had been colored, his lips were a pink-red shade that was definitely not natural, and his eyes had been coated with mascara and painted with that stuff girls use on the lids.
I couldn't help it. I slapped a hand to my mouth, but the snickers escaped anyway.
"You'll be paying for this, Yagami," he warned me, in a very un-Koushiro-like tone.
"And that's only when I'm through with you," Yamato added, fixing me with a cold-eyed glare.
"Yeah, I know." I shrugged, and grinned at them. "But hey, you have to admit, the plan's gone off without a hitch. Right?"
"What plan?" Sora's voice said suddenly, and the closet door swung open behind me.
This was not good.
Actually, that was an understatement. This was really fucking bad.
"Oh… the plan?" Taichi's voice squawked; he flinched back from Sora as if she were emitting rays of pure satanic evil when in actuality she was only staring at us suspiciously.
Which was probably worse.
"Well… you see… the plan was… that is… I mean…"
Koushiro saved him. "It's a surprise for Mimi!" he chimed in. "We didn't want to let anyone know beforehand, or they might let it slip, and then she won't be very surprised, will she?"
Sora did not look convinced. "Why are you hiding in our broom closet?"
"Oh yeah… about that…" Taichi twisted a little to look at us.
"What's this?" she cried, reaching for a solid-looking spot at Taichi's back.
"Oh, screw it…" Abruptly, Taichi stopped forcing his voice into the high-pitched squeak. He spun again and shoved Sora away from the closet door. With a surprised yelp, she fell backwards on her butt.
Taichi darted out of the closet and made a run for the stairs - and all Koushiro and I could do was follow him.
"TAICHI YAGAMI!" Sora bellowed after him. "YOU GET BACK HERE!"
From downstairs, there was an outbreak of female voices responding to that.
"What's he doing here!?"
"I thought we weren't having any boys over!"
"We aren't!" Mimi's prominent voice cut through the noise. "Quick - don't let him get away!"
And a whole rush of crazy females swarmed to the foot of the stairs, blocking our pathway to freedom.
This was not good.
Even Taichi couldn't fight his way through that many girls - not even with the desperation he'd accumulated during this entire sorry event. We were pulled into the mob and surrounded, instantly forming ourselves into a circle with our backs to each other.
If I was going to die, I was going to die fighting, damnit!
I never did get the chance, though, because at that point, the window in the room all the girls had just come out of burst open, and Daisuke, Ken, and Takeru jumped inside.
"Time to party!" Daisuke cheered.
"Uh… what's going on?" Ken stared at the group of girls surrounding us - all of whom seemed about as confused as he did. "Is this some weird female ritual that guys aren't supposed to know about?"
The girls looked at each other, then at him. No one said anything.
"What are you three doing here?" I blurted out, unable to keep silent any more.
Takeru gaped at me. "Y-Yamato?" he stammered, incredulously.
"Yamato!?" Sora repeated, no less astonished.
"Yamato!?" several girls in the crowd chorused.
"This is exactly what I was afraid might happen," Koushiro said, in a resigned tone.
The three younger boys were still staring at us, dumbfounded.
Taichi scratched the back of his head, sheepishly. "Heh heh… guess our secret's out, huh? Oh well - we almost got away with it, anyway."
I could've cheerfully strangled him, right then and there.
The doorbell rang.
"I'll… I'll get it," Sora said, in a strange tone of voice. She inched her way through the crowd, pausing only long enough to give the three of us another glance and then shaking her head and moving on.
"Uhh…" Jyou fiddled with his hat nervously. "Pizza delivery?"
"Hey, I didn't know Jyou worked for a pizza place!" Mimi blinked.
"You don't even have a pizza," Sora accused him.
"I can't help it! I couldn’t find one!" Jyou looked about ready to break down. "No one would even give me the box for their pizza, and I didn't have any money to buy one of my own…"
Sora sighed. "You might as well come in," she told him, in a resigned tone.
"Uh… excuse me?" Daisuke raised his hand a little as Jyou stumbled inside, like he was asking permission to speak in class. "Can someone tell me why Taichi, Yamato, and Koushiro are dressed up like girls?"
I was actually wondering that myself. "Guys?"
Taichi, Yamato, and Koushiro glanced at each other.
"Don't look at me," my brother said, tucking his hands into his pockets and managing to look disturbingly feminine. "This wasn't my idea. In fact, I had to be bribed."
"It wasn't anything I came up with, either," Koushiro added. He looked really freaky with carefully applied make-up all over his face. I wondered what the story behind that was… "However, I don't have a legitimate excuse, as Yamato does," he added, rolling his eyes upward in resignation. "Which is really making me question my sanity."
"Too much time staring at computers," Daisuke agreed, nodding sagely.
I looked at Taichi. Should've guessed, huh? "So this was all Taichi's idea?"
He grinned sheepishly. "Well - "
Another knock at the door interrupted him.
"Just a minute, Taichi," Sora said, and moved to answer it.
The door opened to reveal Iori's familiar figure, still clad in the same clothing he'd left my apartment in. The 'why am I here?' expression on his face was easily explained: tacked to his shirt was a piece of lined paper on which was printed "Chinese Food Delivery Guy" in blue pencil crayon.
"Chinese food delivery," he muttered almost inaudibly, glaring around the room at anyone in his line of vision.
"I told you this wouldn't work," Iori told Daisuke, still scowling. He ran a hand through his bangs, pushing them away from his forehead, and tried to recover what dignity he could in a completely ridiculous situation.
I couldn't help myself at that point. "Well, I'd say it's the right time now."
Then I shoved through the girls blocking my path, tackled an unsuspecting and alarmed Iori, and proceeded to catch his lips in a particularly fierce kiss - while pushing him to the grass by Sora's front walk and proceeding to get good and started on ravishing him.
And the best part was, he didn't seem to mind at all.
Score one for Takeru…
"Well… that was unexpected."
Yamato shrugged. "I saw it coming," he said, calmly, as if his younger brother hadn't just attacked his friend - so to speak. "I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner, really."
"How cute!" Mimi gushed. Several girls voiced their agreement with squeals and giggles.
At least the audience was supportive.
"Okay then." Sora closed the door - ignoring the disappointed cries from several corners. "Now that that's over with…"
The crowd turned to look my way again.
"Yeah, I'll admit it." I nodded, looking back around at everyone in the room. "This was all my idea. But I had to do it - Sora stole my journal, and she was going to make copies for everyone at school to ruin my life!"
That got me some sympathy.
"And most of you were in the lunchroom when he earned himself that punishment," Sora said wryly, crossing her arms over her chest meaningfully.
There were some nods, and murmurs of agreement.
"Hey, I already dressed up like a girl!" I protested. "How much more can you punish me? Besides, I've got my journal back now, and there's no way I'm letting her take it again!" I pulled the book out from its hiding place and held it against me, protectively.
Sora nodded slowly. "Yeah, you're right… But that doesn't matter," she added, with a small smile. "Because I've already made all the copies I need."
"Wha…? No!" I held up a hand as she opened a drawer in the shelves lining the hallway before the kitchen and pulled out a thin booklet of photocopy paper. "Wait…!"
"Mimi," Sora said calmly, "now."
"Right." The pink-haired girl pointed in my direction as I whirled around to face her. "Get him, girls!"
And before I could move, at least a dozen girls jumped in my direction, holding me in place.
Wha… but… this… this can't be happening!
"No, wait! Sora, don't! Let's talk this over! Don't - don't - " One of the girls clamped a hand over my mouth.
This had to be illegal somehow…
"Not to worry, Taichi," Sora told me, that deceptively innocent little smile still gracing her lips. "I wouldn't spread this around to the whole school. Just to the one person who really does need to know."
And she walked through the crowd of girls and handed the photocopy to Koushiro.
My eyes just about bulged out of my head. No…
The redhead stared at her in confusion for a moment, then gingerly took the paper. "Why are you giving this to me?" he asked warily.
I fought against my captors, but it was no good.
"Go ahead and read it," Yamato told him, shrugging. "You'll probably find it even more fascinating than I would." He turned and grinned at me. "Consider this moment your repayment for the manicure, Taichi."
I could've killed him. Literally.
Why the hell was everyone against me on this!?
Unfortunately for me, resistance to curiosity had never been one of Koushiro's strong points. He bent his head, hair from that crazy wig falling forever to block his face from the side view I had of it, and started reading.
No… don't… I strained forward desperately, watching him with wide eyes and making muffled noises against whoever's hand was firmly clamped over my mouth.
Don't read it…
It was less than a minute later when we all got the reaction we were waiting for.
"You dreamed of doing what!?"
Mimi started giggling like crazy.
She was going to be next after Yamato and Sora. And I wasn't bluffing, either.
"Wait a minute - 'grabbed Koushiro's…' what!?" He pushed back his hair and gawked up at me. "And - Koushiro!? You mean… you mean… me!?"
I looked away. Seeing his reaction to what I'd written about him was not high on my list of things I would've liked to do in the near future. 'Run away to Hong Kong and spend the rest of my days as a monk' was actually considerably higher.
"Dude, how many other Koushiros do you think he knows? Hey, and can I see that when you're done?"
Even Daisuke was against me!
"Nobody is going to be seeing this!" Koushiro snapped at him. I could almost see his ears going bright red. "Excepting myself and Taichi, of course," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"I saw it already," Sora reminded him.
"And me!" Mimi chimed in.
"Me too!" Hikari added.
Was there anyone who hadn't seen it?
"Never mind that," Koushiro said impatiently. Get out of my way, Yamato - Taichi and I really need to talk about this."
I winced. Here it comes…
Most of the girls let me go as he pushed through them to get to me. I didn't bother running - it was really too late for that - but I didn't look up at him either. I was about to lose one of my best friends… and all because I had the nerve to fall for him.
What a joke, huh? Hah hah.
"Taichi…" Koushiro began, with some uncertainty in his voice. Then he stopped and let out a short, frustrated sigh. "Now this really isn't getting me anywhere… let's try a more practical approach…"
And he leaned up, tipped up my chin, and kissed me square on the mouth.
My mind halted in mid-worry.
He's… Koushiro is… My eyes went as wide as they could go.
Koushiro was kissing me!
Around us, the girls abruptly burst into a round of loud cheering, catcalls, and applause.
"Take this to mean I feel much the same way," Koushiro said, smiling radiantly at me when we broke apart. His lipstick was smudged, his wig was skewed, and his mascara was smeared by barely-held-in tears.
He looked absolutely fantastic.
I wrapped my arms around his waste and leaned down to kiss him again before he could change his mind and get away from me.
"You're ruining all my hard work!" Mimi complained.
"You know what we should be thankful for?"
I glanced sideways at my friend - boyfriend, I should say - and shook my head. "Aside from the fact that we're together now?"
"Yeah, besides that." He nodded, sliding an arm around my shoulders lazily as the commercial on TV promised us the whitest teeth ever with their new strips.
"Aside from the fact that my brother's found someone to suck face with, thereby preventing me from ever visiting my mother's apartment unannounced?" Yamato shook his head.
"I did not see that coming," I added. "Takeru and Iori? It seems strange - but not really, when you think about it. I never would've predicted it."
"I would've - but he's my brother, after all."
"Besides that, too," Taichi said, in answer to Yamato's first question.
The blond smirked at us. "Aside from the fact that I got my hands on some really interesting erotic literature? Not to mention blackmail material on you both."
"Like I care any more," my boyfriend shot back.
"Well, Koushiro does, and that's good enough for both of you, isn't it?"
Taichi glanced at me. I smiled.
"Aw, crap… anyway, besides that."
"The fact that Jyou wasn't arrested for trying to steal innocent people's pizza boxes?" I suggested.
"Nope." Taichi grinned wickedly. "You guys give up?"
Yamato and I exchanged glances.
"I'll bite," the blond said, nodding. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"The fact," Taichi began, leaning forward so he could look at the both of us, "that Hikari forgot her camera at home last night."
He had a point. I opened my mouth to tell him so, but never got the chance.
"Although it would've been nice to have something to remember it all by," he went on, cutting me off before I could say anything. "After all, we need make three pretty hot chicks, wouldn't you guys - ?"
I smacked across the back of his head with a pillow at the same time as Yamato threw a set of sneakers at him.
Some things just couldn't be changed - Taichi Yagami among them.