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Not Every Road is Smooth

Hey guys. You may have noticed that it's been pretty quiet here. Yeah ... this year wasn't a winner for me. On November 19th, I officially gave up. Sorry for not posting before now, but I've been working on other things ... >.> I feel a teensy bit bad, but at the same time, I don't. For the first time, NaNo felt like a chore rather than like an exercise or something mentally beneficial. I was having a really hard time at work, and then to have to come home and work on something I didn't feel was turning out and that I was actually coming to hate just wasn't something I could push through. So yeah, threw in the towel.

I think the biggest problem with this story is that I didn't plan the characters well enough. They didn't seem like real people to me and they weren't easy to write at all. Several of them were even starting to feel like rehashes of characters I'd written before, and I really didn't want that. Also, writing about romance and awakening sexual awareness is hard. I really think I need some more practice at it. Maybe if I can get Kite fixed up I can use that as a stomping ground for such things. I really don't want to be a sucky romance writer. My biggest regret on dropping BLT for right now is I never did get around to writing Desi, the adorable trans Latina that popped into my head one night and was going to be a major feature in the second half of the story. Someday, I'll have to pick this up again so I can write her.

So, to sum up, before attempting BLT again (which, if I did, I would probably scrap the whole thing and start over from scratch):

1. Develop characters
2. Practice developing romance, rather than just skipping to the porn.

Anyway, I'm going to post what I DID have written here for your perusal (yes, including that little porn snippet) but I warn you, there won't be any context for several of the parts because for the first time, I worked on this NaNo entirely out of order in order to attempt to save it several times. The bits and pieces ARE arranged according to timeline at least ... I think. Also, some parts may be redundant due to rewriting or me realizing something wasn't working and not wanting to abandon the wordcount. So yeah, if you want to muddle through this unformatted, incomplete mess, feel free. Maybe you can pick out more positive things about it and make me like it better. Thanks for all your support again this year.

EDIT: Dang ... like last time, I'm trying to post too much at once, so there will be another post following this one with the remainder of the content.

BLT - B.izarre L.ove T.riangle Day 5-19:
The Dark Ladies Down the Hall, “Didn’t You Say We Should Get To Know Each Other Honestly?”, various other bits and pieces Part a

The Dark Ladies Down the Hall

Ruka had to remind himself a few times that he had been in a girl’s room before so that he wouldn’t be nervous about stepping into Tamera’s. Granted, he had only ever been in his sister’s room but it was still a girl’s room …
Not a normal girl’s room either … but still!
Regardless, he took a deep breath and followed her in.
The room was the same size as the one he shared with Brennan, but it was significantly more cramped. The beds were bunked and shoved against one wall. The other wall was stuffed with a slumping bookshelf laden with more literature than it should really be holding, and a TV surrounded by game systems.
Many, many game systems.
Several posters lined the walls: FF, Kingdom Hearts, a cute one of the Princess Zelda, Soul Edge. There were some figurines on one of the desks as well.
One bed was done up with a heavy magenta coverlet that looked velvety, and the other was draped with a purple quilt … and another girl. Tamera’s roommate was lying on her stomach on the top bunk, her feet swinging back and forth in the air as she turned the pages of a book. She didn’t look up immediately at their entrance due to the headphones in her ears, but Tamera paused right away.
“Sorry Melissa, you aren’t studying, right?” she said.
The girl pulled out her headphones and peered down at them. For a moment, Ruka was vaguely reminded of his sister.
“No, was just reading,” said Melissa. She closed the book and nudged it aside, resting her chin on her arms as she leaned over the edge of the bed. “This the exchange student? Hey.”
Ruka nodded.
“I’m Ruka Takahashi and I’m living down the hall. It’s good to meet you,” he said.
“I’m Melissa. Hope you like video games because that’s what she dragged you in here for,” she muttered into her arms.
Ruka blinked and then returned his attention to the game systems. She had just about every one available, lined up alongside each other. Some were still in boxes, others were in cases and the Wii in particular seemed to have been used just that morning. His wandering eye caught that one shelf of the bookshelf was entirely devoted to video games, packed into thin cases to make room for as many as possible.
“These … are all yours, Tamera?” he said, his voice tinged with a little awe.
“Yeah, but, I mean, you don’t have to play if you don’t want to, I really did just want to show you my room and introduce you to Melissa. Since we’re going to be in and out of each other’s rooms all the time after all,” said Tamera
“Really? That’s really okay?” said Ruka. He was unable to keep the eagerness out of his voice.
Melissa’s eyes, oddly, narrowed at him. He swallowed hard.
“Of course it’s okay. Everyone else is. You’re part of the group now,” said Tamera.
Ruka smiled nervously and sat down in a chair situated just inside the doorway.
“Your room really is very nice. Very cute. Do you like all of those games?” said Ruka, shaking his head toward the posters.
“I do! All of them and more! But the one I love most right now is Kami-links,” said Tamera, clasping her hands together gleefully.
“Kami-links?” said Ruka. This was one he hadn’t heard of.
“It’s pretty new, so if you don’t play games you probably haven’t heard of it, but it’s an adventure RPG. It's filled with love and betrayal and questions about free will. The characters are awesome! So many different types to choose from!"
Her enthusiasm was catching and Ruka found himself grinning again before he knew it.
There was a shifting sound from the upper bunk and Ruka's eyes darted there nervously. Melissa had gone back to her book and rolled over to face the wall. He hoped she was just concentrating and wasn't actually angry with him for being there.
"If you would like," he said to Tamera after a moment, "I wouldn't mind playing with you. Kami-links?"
"Oh, well, I'm in the middle of a storyline in that one," Tamera said, "but I have just about everything else in the world. I'm sure we can find something to play together."
After a few minutes of deliberation, the two of them settled on Soul Calibur, a fighting game. Ruka had never been very good at fighting games, but Tamera had been so excited that he had relented without resistance.
The two of them sat on the floor in front of the TV and Ruka watched as Tamera set up the game. She advised him very throughly on what character to select, picked their stage and the match began.
And suddenly, a change came over Tamera. She, without any remorse or cuteness, proceeded to gleefully and smugly hand him his ass. The bout didn't last more than a minute. Ruka knew he was inexperienced ... but ... but ...
She turned to look at his jaw hanging slack and laughed.
"Let's do that again!" she shouted.
Ruka's head lolled forward in reluctant agreement. Even if she had become a demon, he couldn't say no to her.
The rest of the evening was devoured by Tamera. She beat him again and again using different characters and techniques. Eventually, she had a small amount of mercy on him and had him play against Melissa instead. The two of them were much more evenly matched, both being button mashers that occasionally stumbled upon correct techniques (and then promptly forgot them again afterward).
Tamera cheered for them both about equally (though she did tend to cheer for whoever was winning at the time), so Ruka felt a little more heartened again. It wasn’t a deathblow to his masculinity to be beaten at video games, but his pride was still prone to bruising. Besides, Tamera was cute again when she was cheering.
But really, what had that been?
When the three of them were lounging about tiredly at last, having hit the limit of staring at a screen, Tamera rolled over suddenly on her bed and looked at him.
“Sorry about earlier,” she said. “Did I make you uncomfortable?”
“Eh?” said Ruka.
“I get really competitive when I play video games,” she said, “like, really competitive. You had to have noticed.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” said Ruka. “I’m not very good at games, and it made me happy to see you enjoying yourself so much.”
Even if it had been scary.
“My brother says I’m scary,” said Tamera, flexing her fingers like talons in her bed covers.
“Oh, it’s … I think it’s good to be passionate about something,” said Ruka hastily. “It’s part of who you are.”
Tamera giggled.
“Thanks. Say, Ruka, what are you passionate about?”
Ruka blinked.
“International relations … I suppose,” said Ruka.
Tamera shook her head.
“I didn’t mean your major. Like, you’re not good at video games, but what hobby like that do you have?”
Another direct hit from Tamera’s corner. What was he supposed to answer now?
“Brennan was making you watch that drill show … do you like anime then?” she continued.
“Well … I … yeeees,” Ruka eked out reluctantly.
“I like video games better, but I’ve watched a few things. What do you like, huh?” said Tamera.
Ruka glanced all around, desperate for an escape. He couldn’t take any more blows to his pride that night. He just couldn’t …
Rescue came in the form of Brennan, who appeared in the doorway, leaning against it heavily like he was exhausted. Which, in fact, he probably was. Classes had been long that day and then he had also gone to his part-time job.
“Hey guys,” he said quietly.
“Hey dummy,” said Tamera.
“Did you work hard, Brennan?” said Ruka.
“Yo,” said Melissa, having to look up from her book again.
“Whoa, too much from all corners after a work shift. I can’t take it,” said Brennan.
Tamera laughed.
“You can’t take three greetings at once? What did they have you doing, running laps around the store?”
“So what if they did?” said Brennan, then “You better not have brought Ruka over here just to kick his ass at games.”
“He said he wanted to play!”
Brennan crossed his arms.
“Then why does he look like he’s been raked across the coals?”
“That is not how you use that,” said Tamera.
“But that’s what he looks like,” said Brennan.
“She’s right you know,” said Melissa.
“You stay out of this,” said Brennan.
“I did say I wanted to play,” said Ruka, putting out his hands, placating. “There is no need to fight.”
Tamera giggled again.
“We’re not really fighting,” she said. “We’re just being siblings. Don’t you ever fight with your sister?”
Ruka considered that for a moment, surprised.
“No …” he said. “I think if I tried to fight with her, she would punch me. It would be ‘good night.’”
“Man, the two of you really must be different if that’s the case. I can’t see you hitting anyone,” said Brennan.
“Ah, no. No, I don’t think so,” said Ruka.
Melissa sat straight up, causing everyone in the room to look at her.
"Heading to the showers," she announced. She jumped right down from her bunk, causing a tremendous crash, and scooped up her basket of toiletries and ducked out of the room.
Ruka frowned.
"I think I made her angry ... somehow," he said.
"Melissa's just a little temperamental, but she's actually really kind," said Tamera. "You'll get to know her and you'll see."
"Of course," said Ruka, giving her a smile.
"The key with Melissa is just to not take things personally," said Brennan.
He stretched hard, his lanky arms above his head, before waving sleepily.
"I'm getting ready for bed," he said.
Ruka got up from the floor.
"I should as well so I don't keep you awake," he said.
"Okay, see you in the bathroom in a few," said Brennan.
Ruka turned to Tamera in the doorway, giving her a shy smile.
"Playing together was fun. We should do it again."
"Yup!" said Tamera. "We have to get you better at them so you're actually a challenge!"
Rather than wilting this time Ruka's smile just softened.
"Mm. Goodnight."
The door shut behind him, Ruka went to get his own toiletries and night clothes. As he headed to the men's bathroom from his and Brennan's room, he passed Melissa in the hallway. He gave her a nod and she seemingly ignored him, her eyes fixed to the floor. But then, just as he was about to step into the bathroom, she spoke.
He turned back, only to nearly jump out of his skin at finding Melissa invading his personal space. She pinned him to the door, hands on either side of his shoulders, and glared into his face.
"I've heard about what you exchange boys do to girls on these trips," she said, her lower voice rough with a snarl. "Tamera is really precious to me, and if I find out you're fucking around with her, I'll make you regret it. And trust me; there is no way I wouldn't find out. Everyone knows everything about each other around here. Got it?"
Ruka, paralyzed with fear, could only nod. He felt like his head had gone white inside, perhaps to match his face.
Melissa pulled back with a final glare and simply walked away, her basket still dangling in her hand. Belatedly, Ruka realized that her hair wasn't even wet and she had no towel.
Had she been waiting out here ... just to corner him?
A shiver ran through his body.
He quickly washed up and changed for the night. When he was done, he cautiously opened the door to the bathroom and glanced up and down the hallway, making sure she wasn’t still laying in wait for him. The coast looked clear, so he skittered back to his room as quickly as he could.
Brennan was already in bed when he came in.
“Can you hit the lights, man? Sorry I can’t stay awake tonight; it was a long day,” he said.
“Indeed it was,” Ruka said quietly. He flicked the switch just inside the door.
“Goodnight,” said Brennan. He rolled over and shifted, making himself comfortable for the night with a soft sigh.
Ruka remained by the door. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep for a while, not with Melissa’s words still ringing in his ears. He waited until he heard Brennan’s breathing even out, then slowly crept over to his computer and woke it up. He took a seat and hesitantly typed out an email to his sister that read:
Today I played video games in Tamera-san’s room. As I thought, I’m still no good at them. I’ll have to practice hard so that we can play together more. She really likes her games. She has FF and Soul Edge posters as well.
I also met Tamera-san’s roommate.
Melissa-san is really scary.
He didn’t know what else to say, so he pressed “send.”
The reply was prompt, meaning on the other side of the world, Rika was at her computer, just like he was. He smiled at the thought, until he read her reply, which was simply thus:
Is she a beauty too?
This time, Ruka pounded out a reply:
That isn’t the point, Nee-san!
At his angry keyboard tapping, Brennan rolled over and muttered something. Terrified he might wake him up, Ruka hastily shut his keyboard and shuffled over to his bed, getting in and pulling the covers over his head.
Really, Rika was just no help sometimes.

“Didn’t You Say We Should Get To Know Each Other Honestly?”

Ruka knew he should have been on guard, he really did. Unfortunately, a week of classes and the exchange program buzzing about the welcome party that would occur that day, their first Friday there, were enough to weaken his defenses.
The alarms should have sounded in his head that very afternoon in fact, but he was too distracted to even consider the possibility that Rika was about to make herself even less helpful.
“Hey Ruka,” said Brennan as the exchange student returned to his dorm room after classes.
“No part-time today?” said Ruka.
“Nope. Thank god. I want to go to the party after all. I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Brennan.
Ruka grinned and set his book bag down on his bed and went to flip open his laptop. He still had to get back at his sister for that email exchange earlier in the week. It was true that he and Rika never fought … physically. Email was quickly becoming another matter altogether. However, before he could, Brennan snapped his fingers loudly.
“That’s right, I knew I had something to tell you,” he said. “There’s a package down at the front desk for you. Apparently it’s huge. Must have cost a fortune to ship from Japan. Do you think it might be a care package from your parents?”
“A care package from my parents … hmm, I wonder,” said Ruka. He blinked in puzzlement. “They haven’t said that they sent anything.”
“They aren’t the sort to surprise, I’m guessing?” said Brennan.
Ruka shook his head.
“Well come on, man,” said Brennan, scooting back his desk chair and getting up. “Let’s go down to the front desk and get it. I’m dying of curiosity.”
Ruka was curious himself, so he nodded and let them both out, heading down the stairs to the ground floor, where his group leader Lucia was sitting, working the front desk with her customary smile.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” she said melodiously. “Ah, are you here for the mystery package?”
“That’s right, come on, get it out, I want to see what it is,” said Brennan.
“Ah, if it isn’t too much trouble …” said Ruka.
“It’s no trouble at all!” said Lucia. “If you don’t mind waiting one moment …”
“Not at all!” said Ruka. Their excitement was a little catching.
She carefully checked off that he had picked up the package on the list kept at the desk and set it aside. Then, she pushed open the divider between the desk and them and used one foot to nudge a sizable box through.
Ruka’s eyes got big.
“Whoa …” said Brennan.
“Rika Takahashi is your sister, correct?” said Lucia.
“Yes,” said Ruka, staring at the return address. “But why would she send something like this … unless …”
And that’s when all the color drained out of his face. He forgot for a moment that the people around him most likely couldn’t understand him and started muttering in Japanese.
“She wouldn’t dare. How could she? Something like this … how could she do something like this?”
Lucia and Brennan both stared at him, watching him shake. Lucia put a hand to her cheek in concern.
“Is everything all right, Ruka?” she said.
He remembered they were there and glanced at them like he was seeing them for the first time that day.
“Yes … everything’s all right. Eh … how much … would it cost … to send this back?” he asked.
“Hmm … well, I don’t really know,” said Lucia, tilting her head, considering. “We aren’t connected to the post office after all. We just sign for student mail.”
“Come on, Ruka, how could it be something so bad that you want to send it back?” said Brennan.
“It’s … I … I just …” said Ruka. He wilted, knowing he was going to have to surrender at some point. “I’ll take the box back to my room then. I apologize for troubling you with something so large.”
“It’s really no trouble,” said Lucia, her smile reemerging. “Please do enjoy your package!”
“Of course …” said Ruka reluctantly, still staring at it in dismay.
“Come on,” said Brennan. “I’ll help you get it back up there. It looks heavy. We gotta get it open if it really is something that terrible, right? Dispose of it?”
“Dispose …?” said Ruka. He didn’t want anyone to know what was inside, but more than that, he didn’t simply want these things thrown out.
“No!” he said, horrified.
“Don’t want to get rid of it?” said Brennan.
“No, I can’t! It’s …”
“Then it’s settled,” said Brennan. “Let’s get it upstairs.”
Between the two of them, they carried the box back to their room. A bit of a ruckus was, unfortunately, made getting it through the door, which prompted the door to Tamera’s room to crack open as she peeped out. After a moment, she opened the door completely and stepped out.
“What do you boys got there?” she said.
Ruka wished he could just disappear, right then and there.
Brennan helpfully answered for him.
“Ruka got a package from Japan. Apparently, it’s something horrifying.”
“Na--!” said Ruka, choking on the Japanese in his throat. He wouldn’t understand anyway and besides, he didn’t want to shout at his new friends. Not really. Even if they were unintentionally assisting his sister with her evil machinations.
“Horrifying?” said Tamera. Her eyes were glowing with curiosity and Ruka felt himself wobble inside again. Why did she have to be so cute and why did he have to be so weak against it!? He could feel his emotional stability crumbling.
“You should have seen his face when Lucia said it was from his sister,” said Brennan.
“Brennan, please,” said Ruka, begging for some small mercy.
“Can I come in too? I want to see,” said Tamera, practically bouncing down the hallway.
That’s it; I’m done for, Ruka thought.
The three of stood around the box in the room, and before Ruka could protest any further, Brennan had produced a pocket knife and was cutting through the packing tape.
“Ah, careful, please!”
“It’s all good, there’s lots of material in here to pad things …” said Brennan, already sifting through said material.
The first thing he pulled out may have possibly been the worst one. Ruka wanted to faint. He wanted to faint just to get away from this. What did they call that? A flight response …?
Tamera was the first one to say anything.
“Oh, I remember Sailor Moon! I watched it when it was on TV … but it hasn’t been for a long time. And I’ve never read the manga!”
She stole the volume from her brother.
Brennan gave Ruka a look and then went back to digging in the box. As he did, volume after volume emerged: FuruBa and ParaKiss and several of Arinacchi’s works and KareKano and HanaKimi and a few CLAMP manga and Rose of Versailles and To My Dear Brother and The Glass Mask and Aim for the Ace … the first volumes of a good deal of his personal collection had been sent.
“Whoa, so many,” said Brennan. “Are these all yours?”
“I don’t even know some of these! Well, that’s not terribly surprising, but … I guess what I should say is that I didn’t know there were this many. These are girls’ comics right? Shoujo manga?” said Tamera.
Ruka was down on the ground now, leaning back against the door, looking disconsolate.
“Yes … yes they are … the first volumes of my collection. So … you know now …”
“This is what was so terrible?” said Brennan. “What’s wrong with liking manga?”
“But they’re girls’ comics! Boys aren’t supposed to like them. But I really do,” said Ruka.
Brennan gave him a look again, his straightforward one that would book no argument.
“Didn’t you say we should get to know each other honestly?”
“I … I did …” said Ruka.
Brennan puffed out a laugh and shook his head.
“I thought it was kind of funny that you talked like that, but it’s because of these, isn’t it? Hehe.”
Ruka covered his ears in horror.
“Please don’t say things like that!”
He glanced over at Tamera to see if she had any thoughts on the matter, and jumped when he saw her absorbed in the volumes instead.
“Hmm,” she was muttering to herself, “I still can’t read very much … but I think I get the gist, yeah.” She looked up at him and beamed. “I think I want to read more manga now, after seeing these. Some of these look like they’re really good! And … there’s like … Ahaha, the way the boys look at each other in this one …!”
“Oh no, not again,” said Brennan.
“Eh? What do you mean?” said Ruka.
“Oh, you know … intense feelings between boys … or girls, like this one!” she said, excitedly holding up another volume. “Those are the best … Oh, oh, oh, is this one … it is! Ouran! I know this one! I watched the anime!”
“That’s what I mean,” said Brennan, pointing at his sister. “She loves that stuff.”
“You mean … she’s …” said Ruka, his voice lowering to a conspiratorial whisper.
“Mm hmm, she’s that kind of fangirl,” said Brennan.
“I … see …” said Ruka.
One might be inclined to say that wasn’t terribly cute either, but Ruka couldn’t really point fingers. After all, those were his volumes she was reading, and while he didn’t actively seek such stories on that subject alone, it was somewhat a staple of the shoujo genre. It couldn’t really be helped. And, after so much time, it didn’t really bother him. Or rather, it had never really bothered him. That wasn’t something he would readily admit out loud, but he wouldn’t deny it if asked.
Tamera seemed completely oblivious to their whispering, and in fact was wiggling with delight over the Ouran volume. Yes, this was cute again, and Ruka could feel his smile returning.
“If you like … you can borrow it,” he said.
“Really? I can’t read it very well but I want to try,” said Tamera.
“Please, help yourself,” said Ruka. He turned to Brennan. “You as well. Please, if you wish.”
Brennan looked at the pile of volumes and nodded consideringly.
“I might check out a few … like this one,” he said, sifting through the pile and picking out one of the CLAMP manga. “I’ve heard there’s a lot of action in this one.”
“Actually, they have a mecha manga …” said Ruka, digging around a bit and coming up with the first volume of it.
“Whoa, seriously? I’ll look at this one for sure. The designs are really interesting,” said Brennan.
Ruka nodded.
“They have a battle doll series as well. I didn’t collect that one, but I’m certain we could find it.”
“Yeah, sure, maybe,” said Brennan.
“So this is your hobby? This is what you like?” said Tamera, finally tearing herself away from Ouran.
“Yes … I’ve been collecting these for a long time,” said Ruka.
“Then we all know each other’s hobbies now. Now we can share them! We don’t have to hide anything,” said Tamera.
Ruka took in her words and relaxed. Everything was still fine, wasn’t it? They hadn’t rejected him. He really could just be himself around him. The thought was very … comforting.
In fact, they wound up spending the rest of the afternoon sitting around looking at his tankoubon. When it was finally time for an early dinner, they all went together, took over a table and had the liveliest conversation Ruka had ever had in his life. There was just so much to share, so many places where their interests intersected, that there was no end to the connections they could make.
After dinner, they waited around outside the meal hall, enjoying the crisp fall evening and watching squirrels cavort between the trees on one of the common grounds. They were small and black and Tamera called them “ninja.” Before long, the exchange students and other student volunteers began filtering in to the nearby common building, some carrying sound equipment, others pushing carts filled with supplies and a few even shepherding a large cake through the doors. It wouldn’t be long before the party started.
The three of them continued to hover around. After a while, Tamera whipped out her phone and texted someone and a few minutes later, Melissa showed up, waving casually. Tamera hopped up from her seat and ran over to meet her, gripping her arm happily and dragging her over to them. Ruka regarded her nervously for a moment, but she barely nodded at him and her expression remained neutral, so he realized he probably had nothing to fear … for now.
Well, he had nothing to fear anyway! He would never, ever do anything to her that would hurt her. What sort of person did Melissa think he was, anyway? And what did she mean by what exchange students did to girls on these trips? He didn’t understand, but he didn’t dare ask. Either way, even though she was there now, he eventually relaxed.
Brennan finally stood up.
“Tired of waiting, let’s go in! Maybe they need some help setting up or something,” he said.
Inside, the sound system was being tested and the last of the refreshments and cups and such were being set out. Just after they entered, a flood of people joined them. The students’ roommates, teachers, tutors and friends they had made were all arriving right on time, looking forward to a warm welcome party.
The little group joined everyone in gathering in front of the stage that had been set up. Before too long, a man hopped up onto it from within the crowd and took up the mic. A little cheer went up from some of the female exchange students (or maybe just some of the female students in general, since the man did appear to be pretty popular, regardless). Ruka recognized him as Ryan Nakaji, an American of Japanese descent who was fairly young and quite handsome and was the one in charge of the exchange program at West University. He grinned and held up his hands for silence, every gesture far too charismatic for its own good. Rather than accomplishing silence, they only prompted more cheery noise. Ruka glanced around and could see some of the other exchange boys in the room giving him very carefully neutral looks, or … just looking flat-out annoyed. Tamera seemed to have notice as well, and giggled.
“Well, hello, everyone,” said Nakaji, finally having managed to get the volume level down enough to speak.
“Oh great, a speech,” Melissa muttered, mostly to herself. She pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and started messing with it instead of listening. Tamera glanced at her, then at Ruka and shrugged.
“Thank you all for coming tonight,” continued Nakaji. “Exchange students, this is the night where we welcome you to our country, to this school and to the community of students that it houses. We are truly honored by your presence and we could not be more pleased to have you. For the next six months, we will do everything in our power to see to it that this exchange is the most amazing experience you could possibly wish for. You will learn much, do much and, well, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the copious photos you’ll probably take.”
With perfect timing, one student raised his cellphone and took a picture. The crowed tittered with laughter and Nakaji gestured to him in acknowledgement, and then continued:
“I see plenty of those involved in this cultural exchange program are able to be here with us. Whether you’re a roommate who has opened your home away from home to someone even further from friends and family, a group leader who diligently cares for your students’ well beings or a volunteer eager for cultural exchange, your efforts will shape the experiences of our new friends. We thank you for your efforts. This night is for everyone here, so please enjoy yourselves. Well, that’s enough out of me, let’s get started!”
Applause and cheers broke out as the crowd began to spread out to the tables that had been set up, some with the refreshments and others with projects and presentations put together by some of the exchange students in the party planning group. As he and Tamera and Brennan began walking around to look at everything, Naomi Satoh, a girl from one of his classes came out from behind her table and bounced on her heels in front of him.
“Takahashiiii,” she said to him in Japanese, putting a little nasal lilt to his name, “why didn’t you do anything for the party? You should have come and planned with us!”
“Ah, sorry,” he replied, putting up his hands to jokingly fend her off, “I’ve been taking my time settling in here. It’s a lot to take in, you know?”
“That’s stingy, going at your own pace like that,” said Satoh with a little laugh to soften the jab, “We really could have used some of that legendary Takahashi perfection. Everyone that went to high school with you two was saying that your sister could have put this party together with one finger,” she raised a pinky to emphasize her point, “but that you’re a mystery when it comes to that sort of thing, and you were in the ‘go-home-early’ club and such.” She poked a finger in his face and grinned. “Are the two of you really that different? Or are you just hiding it?”
“Well, I wonder …” said Ruka. He glanced around for a way to escape and fortunately for him, at that moment, Lucia was waving at him eagerly. He told Satoh he would see her later and headed over to where Lucia was at another of the tables.
“Good evening!” she said brightly, polite as ever. Ruka had noticed that the way she spoke was completely unlike the casual, slang-peppered conversation of Tamera and Brennan. He nodded in greeting.
“Good evening. Everyone worked really hard, didn’t they?” he said.
Lucia nodded back and held a slip of paper out. He took it curiously and turned it over and over to see what it was.
“A lottery ticket?” he said.
“That is correct,” said Lucia. “There are all sorts of really good prizes too! All of the group leaders got together to gather them. It’s our ‘Get to Know Bellup’ project.”
“That sounds fun,” said Ruka. “Do I keep this?”
“You write your name on this half, and then we do … this!” she said, animatedly ripping the ticket in half, “and then the half with your name and this number on it goes into the drawing drum. That half remains in your possession. Don’t lose it now!”
Ruka laughed.
“You’re very excited. They really must be wonderful prizes.”
“They are! There are tickets to the art theatre and coupons for the gourmet ice cream place and gift cards to the music and used bookstore, so many wonderful things,” said Lucia.
“I haven’t been into town yet,” said Ruka sheepishly. “Only to the mall when we picked up supplies.”
“This is why I have arranged for a group outing this Sunday, if you are feeling up to it. So hopefully you’ll win something so you can spend it freely.”
“Going out this Sunday would be wonderful!” said Ruka.
“Then, be certain to invite your friends as well,” said Lucia. “By the way, what was in that tremendous box from earlier?”
Oh no, he needed an escape again. This time, Brennan was kind enough to come to his rescue.
“Well hello again Lucia, fancy meeting you here,” he said.
“Hello Brennan. Please take a lottery ticket. You might win something to spend on Sunday as well,” said Lucia.
“Lucia says that we will go into town on Sunday. You should come as well,” said Ruka.
“I work part of the day on Sunday, but maybe I can join you in the middle,” said Brennan.
“That’s too bad,” said Ruka. “I hope you can.”
“I’ll do my best to get out of there!” said Brennan. He took his lottery ticket, filled it out, and put the requisite half in the drum.
“Good luck!” said Lucia and then she turned back to Ruka. “I am very sorry that you were interrupted earlier, but what was in the box again?”
“Eh … it was …” said Ruka haltingly.
“Oh, it was a really elaborate care package from his sister,” said Brennan. “She was worried he was homesick, so she sent some stuff to make him more comfortable.”
“My, that’s so wonderful!” said Lucia, clasping her hands to her cheeks in joy. “Your sister sounds like she understands the big sister touch quite well!”
If only she knew, thought Ruka.
“Are you a sister as well, Lucia?” he asked.
“I am! Well, he’s my adopted brother, but family is family,” said Lucia. “He will be attending West University next year.”
“That’s wonderful,” said Ruka, giving her a smile. “I’m not certain what I would do without my sister. She has always supported me.”
“That’s what big siblings do,” said Lucia.
“Yeah, that’s right, isn’t it?” said Brennan.
“What’s right?” said Tamera, coming up behind them.
“That because I’m your big brother, I get to do this!”
Brennan reached out a hand and promptly thoroughly ruffled Tamera’s hair.
“Hey hey hey stop it!” she yelled until she got away. She pouted at him, one ponytail askew, and then stuck her tongue out.
“Jerk, I’m gonna get you back later. Guess I’ll catch up to you after I fix this. Jerk. Damnit, rrugh …”
She continued to mutter as she headed out into the foyer to find a restroom.
“She gets super-mad when I mess up her pigtails,” said Brennan. “I’m going to pay for that later.”
Ruka shook his head sheepishly. He couldn’t help himself. He thought she was cute even when she was pouting. Especially when she was pouting. He’d never dare make her pout himself, but he was sure Brennan would help with that.
While they waited for her to return, Brennan dragged Ruka around to some of the other tables, getting drinks and finally arriving where the cake was being served. It was a tremendous sheet deal and large squares of it had been sliced out and were lined up on plates.
“Come on Ruka you gotta have some cake,” said Brennan, shoveling a plate into Ruka’s hand. Ruka didn’t really care for sweet things, but he felt it would be impolite to refuse, so he shrugged and took up a fork, scooped out a bite and put it in his mouth. The moment he did, it was like a sickeningly saccharine shock ran down his spine and he almost bit his tongue, he tensed up that quickly.
He must have made a horrible face, because Brennan was staring at him with some concern.
“You okay man?”
He swallowed the bite anyway, not wanting to spit it out in front of how many people, and took a breath to settle his stomach.
“Ruka?” said Brennan.
“I’m sorry, but it’s too sweet,” said Ruka. The frosting and been thick and cloying and smelled overwhelmingly of fake vanilla. Absolutely disgusting to his pallet.
“Really?” said Brennan, popping a bite into his own mouth and chewing thoughtfully. “It’s a little dry, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Huh, sorry man.”
“There is no need to apologize,” said Ruka. “Eh, Japanese cake is different.”
“I’ve had cake from an Asian bakery before,” said Brennan. “I think I know what you mean and yeah, this is different. The frosting was really light and whipped. Tamera really likes the fruit cakes from there.”
“They have a bakery like that in this town?” said Ruka.
“A small one, connected to a grocery and Chinese restaurant. That’s where Tamera works, actually.”
And speaking of Tamera …
Ruka could only watch in fascination as she suddenly came flying from out of nowhere and latched onto her brother’s back, wrapping her arms around his throat and tugging backwards. Brennan made a strangled noise and nearly fell over backwards.
“Not around the throat, not around the throat!” he gasped out.
“This is my vengeance! If I had the arm strength, I’d crush you like Sophitia!”
“Oh god no,” said Brennan.
Tamera finally had mercy and let him go, but she nudged him with her foot as she did.
“That’s just part of it. The revenge for messing with my ponytails continues later.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Were you talking about the Kowloon Garden?” said Tamera.
“Brennan was telling me about your job,” said Brennan.
Tamera giggled sheepishly.
“It’s not terribly interesting.”
“Are you, perhaps, a waitress?” said Ruka. He couldn’t help it again, and his mind ran away with him, imagining her in an adorable apron.
“No, just a dishwasher, but I get a share of the tips. It makes for pretty good book-cost coverage and pocket money when they’ve all been bought.”
“I was telling Ruka about the cakes there,” said Brennan.
“Oh, do you want cake from there? It’s a little expensive but I can get a discount!” said Tamera. “It’s really good. They use fresh seasonal fruit!”
“Ah, that’s not necessary. May I treat instead?” said Ruka. “It would be my pleasure.”
“Oh, if you want, sure,” said Tamera. “You guys should come sometime while I’m on shift. On slow nights, I get bored.”
“Would that really be all right?” said Ruka.
“Sure,” said Brennan. “I got eat there some nights anyway. I mean, the meal hall is fine and all, but sometimes I just gotta have something different.”
“Then, let’s do it!” said Ruka. “Are you working tomorrow night?”
“I work every Saturday night,” said Tamera. “It’s the busiest night of the week usually. And I had to ask for tonight off.”
Ruka turned to Brennan.
“And you?”
“I’m midshift tomorrow, so the evening is no problem,” said Brennan.
“I’m looking forward to it then!” said Ruka.
The stage filled with some members of the choir club from their university in Japan and they sang traditional songs like “Red Dragonfly.” And then, even though it was totally out of season, they performed summer folkdances like Soran Bushi. Everyone in the audience laughed and clapped along.
Origami was made, lottery prizes were won and the evening wound down with more singing. Finally, Nakaji addressed everyone again to say good night and the party planners went about tearing things down. The three of them decided to stay and help (especially because by now Ruka, so by the time everyone left the common center, it was a few minutes to midnight.
“Man I know I work tomorrow, but I’m too wound up. I can’t sleep now!” said Brennan.
“It is a day off tomorrow, after all,” said Ruka.
Tamera threw a hand in the air.
“Let’s take the DDR mats down to the common area and play until we drop!”
Before long, Ruka, Brennan, Tamera, Melissa, Lucia and a few other exchange students were crowding the common area on the first floor of the dorm building, stomping away at the dance pads. Ruka and Brennan weren’t very good, but Tamera and Melissa tore up the game like it was nobody’s business.
“That’s because I train,” said Tamera before guzzling down tremendous gulps of water. “You’d be better if you trained too, Brennan,” she sassed.
“Sorry, I’d rather save my reflexes for the spring,” said Brennan.
“Do you play a sport?” said Ruka.
“You bet, I love me some baseball,” said Brennan.
“Oh, baseball is wonderful!” said Ruka.
“I’ve heard Japanese people really love their baseball,” said Tamera. “Is that true?”
“Yes, they can be very passionate about it,” said Ruka.
“And what about you?” said Brennan.
“I’ve been to a few games, but I don’t know if I would call it a passion. But, I’m not against it,” said Ruka.
Tamera laughed.
“That was kind of a lukewarm response,” she said.
Ruka waved his hands frantically.
“But, I would like to see you play, Brennan!”
Now it was Brennan’s turn to laugh, and he slapped his knee.
“I’m done for this year, unfortunately,” said Brennan. “And you’ll be going home before I do play, but maybe we can find some way that you can watch me.”
Ruka nodded eagerly.
They continued playing for several more hours, and when they finally returned to their dorm room around 3am, there was an email from his sister already waiting for Ruka. It read:
Did you get the package? I saved for quite a while to send it to you. It wasn’t cheap. I’ll bill you later. I thought maybe you would be lonely without them.
Ruka slammed his computer shut and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

Sunday dawned bright, clear and cold. Ruka had slept through Brennan preparing for work and barely woke up when his alarm went off. It was only his first weekend here and he was already exhausted. He sat up in bed, giving his cheeks a firm slap to wake himself up, then climbed out of bed, grabbed his toiletries and headed for the bathroom.
As he was making his way there, he passed Melissa in the hallway again and immediately stiffened. She looked up from the book she was carrying and quirked an eyebrow.
Ruka shook his head.
She gave him a nodded and headed back into her and Tamera’s room. Inside, he caught a glimpse of Tamera seated on the floor, leaning from side to side as she mashed away at buttons on the controller of one of her systems. She shouted at something and then the door shut. Ruka covered his mouth with a hand and laughed, then continued to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
As he washed his face, he finally woke up a bit more, and cheered up over the fact that today, they were going into the downtown of the little city that was home to the university. It meant more time with Tamera (and hopefully Brennan could join them later as well) and he had a coupon for ice cream to spend. With the sun shining outside, it was shaping up to look like a fantastic day.
He headed back to his room and got dressed in jeans and a nice shirt and a West University hoodie he’d bought at the campus store. Then, he gathered up everything he would need for the day, carefully tucking the coupon away in the front pocket of his hoodie so he wouldn’t forget where it was, and then headed out into the hallway, where Tamera and Melissa … oh no Melissa … were waiting.
“Good morning, Ruka,” chirped Tamera. She bounced on her heels a few times, apparently still wound up from having been already playing games so early in the morning.
Melissa just nodded him again, and then turned and headed for the stairs. Everyone who was attending was supposed to meet Lucia down in the entryway, so thus, they were off. They fell into step behind Melissa and Tamera gave him an excited grin.
“You’re going to love Ducky’s Ice Cream, seriously. They have so many interesting flavors! I love the Rose one!”
“That does sound unique,” said Ruka, smiling back. Everything about her cheeriness was absolutely infectious.
Lucia also greeted them with a smile like always, along with the rest of her group of exchange students and any number of roommates and classmates that had been invited along. Everyone was in high spirits, looking forward to a gorgeous day in Bellup.
While they waited for one or two more people to show up, Ruka took out his cellphone and snapped a picture of Tamera and Melissa. Tamera noticed just before he did and tugged on Melissa’s arm, making her look up with a confused blink. The picture itself turned out adorable, with Tamera making a peace sign while hanging off of her friend, but Ruka almost couldn’t enjoy it because of Melissa’s suddenly grumpy expression. However, she apparently had decided not to blame him, because she turned her ire on Tamera instead.
“Hey, you know I hate pictures,” said Melissa.
“Don’t care; I’m sure it’s adorable. Ruka, show me.”
Ruka wasn’t certain if he should wilt under Melissa’s stare or give in to Tamera’s whims, but in the end, the picture was displayed. Tamera took his phone from him so she could show Melissa better and Melissa made a grumping noise.
“Fine, I guess it isn’t that bad.”
“Yay, a picture of Melissa at college finally exists,” said Tamera. “She hadn’t had one taken of her since she got here, except for like one by her parents, and I didn’t even get to see it.”
“I told you, I don’t like it,” said Melissa.
“But how else are we supposed to remember our first year of college together if we don’t take any pictures?” said Tamera.
“Too sentimental,” snipped Melissa.
“You bet,” said Tamera. “My mom said these could be some of the most fun years of our lives. I wanna look back on this as best I can!”
“We’ve only been here a few weeks, stop talking like it’s over already,” said Melissa.
To Ruka’s surprise, Melissa smiled slightly. He hadn’t seen her do so since meeting her. She gave Tamera a shove and crossed her arms, and now Ruka could tell she was only feigning irritation so no one could see that she was about to start laughing. Tamera seemed to catch the hint though and turned her attention back to Ruka.
“Send me a copy of that, okay?”
“Of course!”
The remainder of the group assembled, and Lucia led all of them out the door and down to the street where they would be catching the bus.
“When it’s warmer, I am certain that we could simply make the walk,” said Lucia. “It isn’t very long; about 20 minutes. But since it is a little chilly today, I thought we could take transit down there.”
There were some rumblings of agreements from the crowd. It would still be much warmer than it was in Japan in early October than it was right now in Bellup, and some of the exchange students were quite thoroughly bundled up and looking forward to the bus ride.
It didn’t take long for one to pull up, and everyone filtered on, swiping their transit cards before spreading out to find seats. Ruka took one to himself and Tamera and Melissa flopped into the ones in front of him. The bus pulled away with a roar.
Ruka watched the buildings and trees around them go by silently as they left the campus. Tamera was chattering animatedly to Melissa, but keeping her voice low. Melissa's face remained blank while listening to her, but Ruka felt like he could see a great deal of interest in her eyes, her attention was just that focused. A part of him wondered what could possibly be up with her ...
The bus began halting and moving again as it passed by stops on the way to the downtown. Ruka spaced out for a few minutes, absently watching the small houses and apartments go by. He was dragged back to consciousness abruptly by a burst of laughter from Tamera.
"I'm right!" she said, "You'll see! I bet he never gets married because Chiron is the only one for him."
...Ah, she was in fujoshi-mode.
Melissa muttered something quietly and Tamera laughed again.
"No way, no way! There's no way he'd be a monk!"
Ruka grinned and puffed out a laugh. Melissa looked him and he froze immediately. She shrugged and reached down to gather up her things. The bus finally reached one of the corners on Main Street, and everyone stood up at once.
The downtown was as nice as everyone said it was. There were leisurely traffic circles filled with parking spots, and charming little shops and cafes surrounded each one. Many of the stores were second-hand or consignment and has many odd and old items in them. It was only a few blocks or so, but they were crammed to the edges of the pavement with fascinating places.
“Now, everyone is free to do as they like! If it makes you more comfortable, you may stay with me, or you may stay with your friends and roommates. You can catch a bus back to the school at any time. Also, feel free to eat where you want, but if you would like to join me, I highly recommend the Fiamma pizza place,” said Lucia.
Tamera lit up at the mention and grabbed both Ruka and Melissa this time.
“Guys, guys, we have to eat there,” she said.
“I’m up for it,” said Melissa.
“Is their pizza good?” said Ruka, though he already knew the answer if Tamera was insisting on it that enthusiastically.
“I don’t know what pizza is like in Japan, but even not knowing that, I can say that this is the best pizza in the world!” said Tamera.
“That’s impressive,” said Ruka. “I would like to eat with you there. Then I could look forward to telling my sister I ate the best pizza in the world.”
“Damn straight you sure could!” said Tamera. “Let’s go!”
They, Lucia and a group of a few others walked up the steps of a small, raised restaurant and went in. Everything inside was warm and wood-paneled, except the chairs which were made of bright silver artsy metal. One wall was lined with their wine selection and another was taken up by a marble counter where the pizzas were being made right in front of customers. Behind that, their wood-fire ovens glowed cheerily as they worked.
It was just before lunchtime on a Sunday so it was hardly crowded at all. The woman who sat each group was cheerful and seemed glad to see such a large number of people show up when they had been slow. He nodded to her thankfully as she handed him a menu, and he opened it curiously.
“Ruka,” said Tamera, and he glanced up at her.
“What is it?”
“Well, I don’t know what Japanese pizza is like, but some of these pizzas are kind of different. Not in a bad way though, but they aren’t what you would get at a run-of-the-mill pizza place. Also, they’re kind of expensive. But it’s worth it, trust me!”
Ruka looked at the menu again, a puzzled look pinching his face.
It was Tamera’s turn to look puzzled, so Ruka tilted his menu so he could point.
“This is how much pizza costs in Japan at a lot of places. Especially that one there,” he said, tapping one labeled as their Greek pizza. It cost $25 for a large. That was about how much the one his sister had ordered as a present before he had left for the U.S.
“What? Really? Seriously? Um, maji?” said Tamera.
Ruka laughed and nodded, returning to his menu eagerly.
“Oh, they have one here with shrimp on it! That’s good, I want that one,” he said.
“They have shrimp on pizza in Japan too?” said Tamera.
“Yes. They have shrimp and something like this salmon would not be unusual either. They also have squid and mochi and …” he paused to squint at the menu, “do none of these have corn on them?”
“That’s a favorite in Japan. These potato ones would be normal as well.”
“Wow,” said Tamera. “All these are considered gourmet pizzas. We’ll have to get pizza from Pizza Time or something so you can really see what American pizza is like! Japanese people are real gourmets if they eat like this all the time!”
“I wonder …” said Ruka with a chuckle.
The three of them each did the lunch deal, which resulted in three personal sized pizzas being brought out, along with a spicy tomato soup and Tamera insisted they all get the rosemary lemonade, which smelled like medicine to Ruka but he indulged her anyway.
“This is something different from Japan,” he said. “There may be places that do this, but most don’t offer ‘personal size’ like this.”
“Hahaha! Finally, you can experience something different!” said Tamera triumphantly.
Ruka glanced back and forth between their pizzas curiously, wondering what sort of thing each of them had gotten. Tamera noticed and gestured to her food helpfully.
"I got the Sofia!" said Tamera. "Ham and onions and rosemary and pepper. It's my favorite."
"Ham, eh? That sounds tasty as well," said Ruka, and then turned his attention hopefully to Melissa.
She stared at him a minute before shrugging, which seemed to have become her default gesture when it came to dealing with him.
"Mine's vegetarian. Curried vegetables."
“That’s another thing we have in Japan,” said Ruka.
“Huh, that so,” said Melissa evenly. He felt a little triumphant. They’d had a conversation!
Ruka picked up one of the small triangles of his and eagerly crunched into it. In most cases, he preferred a little more cheese on his pizza, but he could live with less cheese because the pesto sauce and shrimp were just too delicious. He felt a little shiver run through him.
"Uwah, uma'!" he said in Japanese, forgetting himself for a moment, "kore, maji de, umai yo!"
Tamera and Melissa were watching him, and Tamera laughed.
"You're really enjoying it, huh? See, I told you! Oishii desu."
Ruka couldn't have been happier in that moment. Tamera was so cute when she drew out the end of "desu" and he really was eating the best pizza in the world. He was even happy to slurp down the spicy soup, which wasn't entirely to his taste, but was definitely warming on the cold day.
They reluctantly finished up and Tamera promised that she would bring him there again. Melissa seemed amused by his attachment to the pizza and only watched him with blessedly neutral looks. Perhaps she has just been in a bad mood that first day? There was no way of knowing and he certainly wasn't going to ask.
Being full of pizza, they decided to wander and look in the shops for a bit before heading over to Ducky's Ice Cream. This time, Melissa took charge and dragged all of them into one of the used bookstores. Ruka and Tamera were a little bored, not finding too much that interested them, but Tamera was determined that Melissa should get to spend as much time in there as she wanted and Ruka really had no problem with that. They poked amongst the shelves together, pointing out odds and ends to each other. At last, Melissa headed to the register with an armful of books and paid. They were all things Ruka had never heard of, but the covers were all fantastic, with dragons and castles and warriors on them.
“Hehe, Melissa’s a fantasy nut,” said Tamera.
“I wouldn’t say ‘nut,’” muttered Melissa.
“And now we know Melissa’s hobby, yes?” said Ruka. He took a deep breath and smiled at her.
She frowned in return. Maybe he’d gone too far? But then her frown turned into a smirk.
“Don’t get too excited there, Sailor Scout.”
“Eh …? Sailor …”
“Melissa! One, they’re called ‘senshi’ in Japan, and two, I told you not to pick on him about that!” said Tamera.
Oh god. She was talking about his Sailormoon manga! Ruka froze, reeling from the revelation.
“Oh Ruka it’s okay, I only told Melissa. We tell each other everything, so … yeah, but don’t worry, she won’t tell anyone else,” said Tamera.
Ruka forced himself to relax again. It was only Melissa after all … even she would have found out eventually … because she had already said that she could find out anything …
“Ahaha,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s all right.”
“Who else would I tell anyway?” said Melissa. “You like what you like. Whatever.”
And that was that.
One of the other stores they wandered into was filled with glass art. If there hadn’t been price tags on everything, Ruka might have thought they had wandered into a museum instead. Everything inside was colorful and graceful and so very fragile-looking. One case was filled with glass orbs that had had color sculpted into them in just such a way that they resembled each of the planets and various astronomical phenomena, including comets and black holes. Resting on the floor in one corner was a swan with a crown adorning her head. Ruka felt himself smile in spite of himself as he knelt down to get a better look at it.
“Do you like that one?” said Tamera, crouching down next to him and hugging her knees to her chest.
“Yes, I do,” said Ruka. “It reminds me of a story I saw on TV when I was 10.”
“Really? An anime?” said Tamera.
Ruka twitched.
“Yes … but, it was different from the ones you may have watched. I haven’t thought about it since then, but I think a small part of it stayed with me.”

“I can tell,” said Tamera. “I haven’t seen you smile like that yet.”
“Like someone who’s remembering something really precious.”
Ruka felt his face heat up.
“Do you remember what it was called?” said Tamera. “Aww, I wanna see it now.”
“Maybe I can find it when we return home this evening,” said Ruka.
Just as that sentence left his mouth, he felt a large hand clamp down on his head. He jumped about 10 feet in the air, along with Tamera next to him, who let out a little yell. They both spun awkwardly on their rears and found themselves looking up at Brennan, who was standing over them triumphantly.
“My work here is done,” he said and then proceeded to walk away.
It took Tamera about 10 seconds to recover, but when she did, she leapt up and went right after him.
“Hey you, come back here!” she said.
“That’s enough of that!” said the shop owner. “You’re going to break something. All of you, out!”
And so, they were thrown out of the glass shop.
“Nice job, Brennan,” said Tamera. “And Ruka was looking at something in there too!”
“You’re the one who jumped and ran,” said Brennan. “All I did was touch you.”
“But Ruka …!”
“Tamera, it’s okay,” said Ruka, putting out hands to try and calm the situation. “I probably could not afford it anyway, and if I could, where would I put it?”
“ …good point,” said Tamera. “You just looked so happy though.” She pouted.
The pout was better than the swan.
Now that Brennan had joined them, they all decided to head over to Ducky’s for ice cream at last.
“Because I have a coupon, please let me pay for everyone. Consider it a present,” said Ruka, puffing up a little with pride at the thought that he could treat his friends.
“Well, when you put it like that, I guess we can’t refuse,” said Melissa before anyone could protest. She edged her way up to the counter and ordered the most expensive thing on the menu: a gourmet sundae with rich chocolate ice cream and caramel sauce.
Tamera cheerfully ordered the unusual rose and lilac ice cream.
“It tastes like a garden!” she said, holding out a spoonful for him to try. With a sigh, he took it from her. As much as he enjoyed the idea of being fed by her, that was too overt for public, really. And Melissa was giving him a look again. He stuck the spoon in his mouth and was immediately struck by the flavor. It did, in fact, taste just like flowers. It reminded him of the rose tea his sister had served once.
“It’s unique,” he said.
“That’s why I like it here,” said Tamera.
Brennan ordered a ridiculously thick and sweet-looking peanut butter cup ice cream that was, again, far too much for Ruka to handle.
“Your loss,” said Brennan, sucking down his cone.
Ruka hated to do what was probably expected of him, but after trying Brennan’s ice cream and seeing Melissa’s, he didn’t want to take any risks. Besides, he hadn’t had any green tea since coming here and was missing it a bit, so he was soon enjoying a sizable scoop of their made-in-store matcha ice cream. It was perfectly sweet and bitter at the same time and made Ruka a little homesick with its taste.
“It’s too bad you missed out on the pizza earlier,” said Tamera. “Ruka was being really adorable.”
“What? Over pizza?” said Brennan.
Tamera nodded, and Ruka could feel his cheeks flaming again. It was a little humiliating to be called adorable over something like that, but at the same time, it was a compliment from Tamera, so a part of him was eating it up.
“We have to order from Pizza Time sometime so he can see what real American pizza is like. He said in Japan, shrimp is normal!”
Brennan laughed and patted Ruka on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, we’ll show you some good, cheap, greasy pizza made just for college students. Better than what they serve in the dining hall even,” he said.
“But, Fiamma Pizza was very good, really,” said Ruka. “I want to eat their shrimp pizza again as soon as possible.”
“All the more reason for us to come down here again,” said Tamera. “You know we will.”