Chapter 37: Challenge of Friendship

 

******

What more can I want in life? Somehow, I don¡¯t know why, I was chosen to be a girl different from any other girl. I have special powers, face hardships that no one else has to face, dream nightmares which turn into reality. Still, I need to be strong, even if the world turns upside down. Yet, I am just a fifteen-year-old girl who is uncertain and only desires the rainbow¡¯s end, like any other person. In the night, I sometimes feel lonely and lost. It is like running through a maze, searching for someone, holding back tears.  Each day is an adventure, an obstacle, a new sunrise. Still, even if I am not perfect, I will always strive. Because I am Kinomoto Sakura, Mistress of the Sakura Cards and a Card Captor in the new era of the Chosen Ones.

******

Towards the end of summer vacation...

 

¡°Sakura! I can¡¯t believe you didn¡¯t win the Best Couple Contest! After all you went through! And you were in the finalists! I can¡¯t believe¡¦¡± Meirin ranted into the telephone from Hong Kong.

Stuffing her fingers into her ears, Sakura handed the phone to Syaoran. ¡°She¡¯s still ranting about it.¡±

¡°Still?¡± Syaoran asked in disbelief, reluctantly taking the phone, bracing himself to Meirin¡¯s angry chatter.

Sakura¡¯s handphone rang. Her second instinct told her to brace herself. ¡°Hello?¡±

¡°Sakura?¡± Touya asked, the line slightly crackling from the long distance phone call from England.

¡°Onii-chan! It¡¯s so good to hear from you! How are you these days? Is the work hard there?¡± Sakura exclaimed, overjoyed to hear from her brother.

¡°I¡¯m fine, kaijou. Well, seems like you¡¯re fine. I can¡¯t talk for long because I have an exam to study for. My semester here is almost complete. I think Yukito and I¡¯ll be back before next month,¡± Touya said.

¡°Really? That¡¯s great! Otou-san said that his seminar tour was really successful and after his final seminar held in New York, he will be able to come home again also.¡±

¡°Sorry squirt. You¡¯ve been alone for months¡¦ I hope it was okay all by yourself,¡± Touya said softly.

¡°I¡¯m fine. You know me. And it was a good experience,¡± Sakura informed him brightly.

¡°Uh¡¦ I know this is random¡¦ But by any chance, were you on TV over vacation?¡± Touya asked hesitantly.

¡°Hoe? Ah ha ha¡¦ Noooo¡¦ Why should I?¡± Sakura asked innocently, sweat-dropping heavily

¡°Ah, I must have been mistaken. I was switching through the channels in cable TV and I thought I saw a girl who looked like you. Of course! Haha.  Why would little monster be one TV? But I swear, she looked exactly like you. And there was a boy that had brown hair that looked exactly like the Brat¡¦¡±

¡°Hehe¡¦ You must have been mistaken.¡±

¡°Yeah. And, I¡¯m just wondering, why don¡¯t you ever get the house phone?¡± Touya questioned after a second thought.

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura panicked. Then, holding a plastic bag to the phone receiver, she began to rustle it. ¡°Oh dear! I think the phone connection¡¯s bad. There¡¯s static! I can¡¯t hear you anymore! Ahh! The line got disconnected!¡± She placed switched off the phone, sighing in relief.

¡°Nice,¡± Syaoran commented, staring at her since he had finished his phone call with Meirin.

¡°Well, she can¡¯t exactly tell him, ¡®Sorry, I didn¡¯t get the phone because I¡¯m staying over at the apartment of the person you hate the most because of some complicated affairs involving the Dark Ones and our ancestors,¡¯ can I?¡± Kero-chan protested in Sakura¡¯s defense.

¡°No¡¦ I guess not.¡± Syaoran dropped his head.

 

Summer vacation had flown by quickly, and now, there were only a two days left before school started again. Ever since they returned to Tomoeda from the seaside town of Kusakou, days passed by smoothly with the greatest obstacle being finishing the summer assignments.

¡°You better start on you summer homework, instead of sitting around and watching TV and reading mangas the whole vacation. You¡¯re wasting the Saturday morning,¡± Syaoran commented to Sakura, who sat on the floor with a bowl of ripe, juicy crimson cherries and a volume of Fushigi Yuugi manga in her hand.

Tossing the cherry stem into another bowl, Sakura commented, ¡°You¡¯re beginning to sound like onii-chan. And you didn¡¯t start in you homework either.¡±

¡°I can finish it easily in one day. You can¡¯t,¡± Syaoran replied in what Sakura would call a smug tone.

In return, the puppy, which originally had been the Wolf card, jumped onto Syaoran and barked at him. Syaoran groaned.

¡°I¡¯ll help you with your homework again!¡± Kero-chan suggested, emerging from the refrigerator with the last slice of Syaoran¡¯s special homemade chocolate cake.

¡°No thank you,¡± Sakura replied politely. The last time she had trusted Kero with her math problem, she found out that Kero knew less about math than herself. A lot less.

 

The difference from before and after the summer vacation was the addition of two new members to the Li apartment. First was Kero-chan, back from the England trip (more likely sent back because of his uselessness.) Technically, he was to watch over Tanaka Miho, who came back to Japan for the first time since her house burned down and Mizuki Kaho took her to England. However, Miho was staying over at Tomoyo¡¯s big house until Eriol returned to Japan. The second new member was the new puppy which Sakura often lapsed into calling ¡®Wolfie-chan,¡¯ or worse, ¡®Syao-chan.¡¯ Syaoran, on good days would call the puppy ¡®Eagle¡¯ or ¡®Vega,¡¯ its given name (named after his former dog.) But usually, he stuck to calling the puppy ¡°It¡± or ¡°The Dog.¡± Though technically, Wolfie-chan was a card, it grew so used to being around all the time, that everyone forgot that it was indeed a Sakura Card, not a real dog.  

 

¡°I remember Touya onii-chan and the Snow Bunny (Yukito) used to help you with your summer homework,¡± Kero-chan said, hovering over the manga Sakura was reading. Over the summer, he had found a new hobby of reading shoujo manga due to the fact that Syaoran didn¡¯t have any video games in his house.

¡°Yukito-san?¡± Syaoran asked, ears perking. He furrowed his eyebrows together. He blurted out loud, ¡°If you need help with the math packet, you can ask me. I¡¯ll help.¡±

¡°Huh? Thanks.¡± Sakura grinned. ¡°I¡¯ll help you with the Japanese stuff, if you need it. Hey, do you want to start on it now? We can start on homework early for a change.¡±

On a side note Kero-chan mumbled, ¡°If you call two days before school starts early.¡±

//RING//RING//

¡°What¡¯s with the telephone today?¡± Sakura asked, rolling over to reach for the house phone. ¡°¡¯lo?¡±

¡°Is Li Syaoran there?¡± came a girl¡¯s voice, a voice Sakura had grown very wary of.

Erika?! ¡±Eek! No! Wrong phone number!¡± Sakura slammed the phone down. She had almost been caught answering Syaoran¡¯s phone for the second time! If Erika, the biggest blabbermouth found out, it would be all over the school in no time and her reputation would be ruined.

The phone rang a second time. She handed it to Syaoran. ¡°You get it.¡±

¡°Hello? Li Syaoran speaking,¡± Syaoran said, picking up the phone.

¡°Syaoran? It¡¯s me, Erika. Strange. I swear, I called the same number a moment ago and a strange girl answered it. This isn¡¯t the first time either.¡±

¡°Yeah, it¡¯s strange,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Wait, how do you know my phone number, anyway?¡±

¡°You told me, remember? Last winter,¡± Erika told him. ¡°Anyway, I called up some other people in Star-Crossed. And we all agreed that we should meet up and have another practice before school starts again. After all, the production date is coming up and the teachers expect us to be near perfect. We want to hold it at your house.¡±

¡°What?¡± Syaoran exclaimed, glancing sideways at Sakura. ¡°Ah, I don¡¯t think it¡¯s a good idea. Can¡¯t we hold it somewhere else?¡±

¡°No¡¦ We held it at my house, Tomoyo¡¯s before and Aki¡¯s house before. And Sakura¡¯s not answering the phone, so, it has to be your house,¡± Erika stated.

¡°But—¡°

¡°Okay, Eron, me, Tomoyo, Takashi, Aki and I¡¯ll be over at your apartment by 11 AM, okay? It¡¯s 10 right now.¡± Without further ado, Erika hung up the phone.

¡°WHAT!?¡± Groaning, Syaoran informed Sakura, ¡°They¡¯re all coming over. In one hour for the musical practice.¡±

¡°HOE-E!¡± Sakura stared around the apartment in horror. It was a mess. Her stuff—girl¡¯s stuff lay around everywhere, from her sandals by the doorway, Japanese teen magazines scattered on the kitchen table, shoujo manga on the floor, teen flick videos stacked up next to the VCR, stuffed dolls and the remnants of sewing kits, her clothes hanging on the chairs, not to mention Kero-chan and Wolfie-chan running about everywhere.

¡°We have to get rid of your stuff in one hour and clean up the house and make it look like only I live here,¡± Syaoran stated, crossing his arms. ¡°We will not have anyone suspect that you¡¯re living here with me. Not with the biggest blabbermouths, Aki and Erika coming over.¡±

******

 

¡°C¡¯mon. We¡¯re going to Syaoran¡¯s house,¡± Erika whined, trying to drag Eron out of bed.

¡°Go,¡± Eron mumbled, turning over on his bed. ¡°Stop bothering me.¡±

¡°It¡¯s a practice for the musical. All the main characters are meeting up. Onii-chaaaan¡¦ Wake up¡¦ Please?¡± Erika begged, blinking with round eyes. She walked up to the window and drew the curtains, letting sunshine pour into the dark room.

Unlike one would expect, Chng Eron¡¯s room was quite simple and toned down, probably the plainest in the house. Erika fingered the mahogany wood desk by the wall, in which Eron rarely studied in. There were many nifty things kept in the drawers however. Tentatively, she opened the top drawer. When Eron and Erika had came to the neighborhood a little less than a year go, one of the first dark forces they had called upon was the Veil. It was used to keep them protected from Sakura and Syaoran¡¯s knowledge, to keep them. A strand of hair from each of them was used as a focus. ¡°It¡¯s not here!¡± she exclaimed.

¡°What¡¯s not there?¡± Eron mumbled.

¡°The Veil,¡± Erika replied, frantically searching in the drawers. ¡°What are we supposed to do? We¡¯re not supposed to let that dark force out! What if¡¦ what if Syaoran and Sakura find out about us?¡± Laughing, she shrugged. ¡°Well, Sakura-chan is so dense, I¡¯m pretty sure she won¡¯t be a problem, but¡¦¡±

¡°Those two are a lot smarter than you think they are,¡± Eron murmured softly, as if remembering the conversation he overhead at the sea trip.

¡°What?¡± Erika bent over.

¡°Never mind.¡±

¡°Well, if you don¡¯t have anything sensible to say, get out of bed,¡± Erika said, hands on hips.

¡°Oh fine.¡± Eron rolled out of bed, grumbling. He stared at the mirror. Great, for the first time he could admit he wasn¡¯t looking his best. Ever since that incident at the beach side, when his power backfired on him, he had been considerably weaker and unmotivated. The Wave had broken free of him and he couldn¡¯t locate it for the moment. With shaking fingers, he pointed at the full mirror. After a moment of hesitation, the glass trembled then shattered into pieces. Carefully, he stepped back to avoid being cut.

¡°You¡¯re in a destructive mood today,¡± Erika commented.

¡°Not particularly,¡° Eron replied, reflecting back to the dozens of wine glasses he had broken in the past. Their housekeeper had given up in despair. ¡°Who¡¯s coming again?¡±

¡°Let¡¯s see. Aki. Tomoyo. Oh, and I think Miho¡¯s coming too because she wants to watch¡¦¡±

¡°Tanaka Miho,¡± Eron murmured, stroking his chin. ¡°Daughter of Mizuki Miara.¡± Some fire came back to his luminous gold flecked eyes and his lips curved into a smile for the first time in days.

Emerging from her closet with a pile of clothes, Erika commented ¡°Do you think I should wear this white skirt or this blue one?¡± 

Laughing, Eron replied, ¡°Well, I look good in everything, and you¡¯re my twin so anything will do.¡±

¡°Full of narcissism, aren¡¯t you? Well, good to see you motivated again,¡± Erika said, half in relief. It ruined her mood when Eron was in bad temper.

¡°Of course. Was I ever unmotivated?¡± Then, Eron snapped his fingers and the broken glass fit back into place and the mirror was as good as new. Grinning at his reflection, he replied, ¡°I¡¯m back to normal.¡±

******

 

Meanwhile, Sakura and Syaoran frantically ran around the house, trying to put things in order. Wolfie-chan was not helping, running all over the place. Kero-chan¡¯s idea of helping was flying around, shouting ridiculous things like, ¡°You forgot Sakura¡¯s cheerleading pompoms! No, the magazines on the floor. Oh! The laundry basket, the laundry basket! Wait, you dropped Sakura¡¯s manga! Ooh! It¡¯s Peach Girl! Kairi¡¯s cool man!¡±

¡°What should I do with your stuff?¡± Syaoran asked, holding an armful of Sakura¡¯s various utensils.

¡°Just dump it into my room and remember to lock the door when the others come,¡± Sakura replied, running back from the shoe cabinet, removing all her shoes and throwing them into her room without a second thought. ¡°Wait, I forgot! The bathroom!¡±

 

//Ding Dong/

¡°Oh no, they¡¯re here!¡± Sakura, Syaoran, and Kero-chan exclaimed in unison.

¡°Quick, Kero-chan, go into my room and don¡¯t come out—don¡¯t make a sound.¡±

¡°But—¡° Kero-chan protested.

¡°Here!¡± Sakura handed him a handful of snacks. ¡°Now, go in.¡±

¡°We¡¯re coming in!¡± Came a voice from outside. ¡°The door¡¯s unlocked.

Tomoyo, Miho, Eron, Erika, Aki, and Takashi filed into the house. ¡°Hello Li-kun!¡±

¡°Uh¡¦ Hi¡¦¡± Syaoran said, sweat-dropping. He was still wearing his basketball jersey and an oversized pair of shorts that he had slept in. Nonetheless, in the girl¡¯s opinion, he looked cute with his slightly tousled hair.

¡°Sakura! You¡¯re here too, already? I couldn¡¯t contact you a while ago. I thought you were busy and couldn¡¯t come!¡± Erika exclaimed.

¡°I called Sakura-chan a while ago through her handphone¡¦ She was just out grocery shopping and she wasn¡¯t busy, so I told her about the practice,¡± Tomoyo explained quickly, coming to Sakura¡¯s rescue. Sakura shot her an appreciative look. Who could ask for a better friend 

"Uh¡¦ I love your outfit, Sakura,¡± Erika commented, holding back a snicker.

¡°Hoe-e.¡± Sakura stared at herself in the hallway mirror. Because of the hectic state of cleaning up the house, she had forgotten to change also. She was wearing Syaoran¡¯s oversized white t-shirt, which had somehow found its way into her closet over an unmatching long summer skirt which she had knotted up to one side to form some sort of a short skirt for easier movement around the house. Her hair was merely a messily tied ponytail at the top of her head.

Remembering his manners, Syaoran said, ¡°You guys can sit on the couch in the living room. Do you want tea? Or icy lemonade? Sorry. My air-conditioner broke down ages ago, so it¡¯s rather hot and stuffy in here.¡±

Syaoran and Sakura sweat-dropped. Nobody was listening to them.

¡°Wow, I¡¯ve never been to a guy¡¯s apartment before, someone who lives all by himself,¡± Miho commented, wandering into other sections of the house.

¡°Syaoran¡¯s so neat,¡± Erika commented. ¡°Not that I¡¯m surprised. This apartment is pretty big for someone to live by themselves.¡±

¡°Don¡¯t you get lonely?¡± Takashi asked.

Sniffing the house, Aki commented, ¡°Mmm¡¦ it smells nice here¡¦ Like girl¡¯s perfume.¡±

Everyone eyed Syaoran suspiciously at this.

¡°Ah¡¦ It¡¯s just the new air-freshener I used,¡± Syaoran explained. He glared at Sakura sideways. Yesterday, she had smashed a bottle of perfume on the living room floor and the smell still hadn¡¯t faded away.

¡°Arf! Arf!¡± Wolfie-chan jumped up from underneath the couch onto Syaoran¡¯s lap.

¡°You have a dog?¡± Miho asked, squealing. ¡°How adorable!¡±

Syaoran was about to retort that it was Sakura¡¯s, but he caught himself in time. ¡°I have a dog? Ah, yes! Yes I have a dog.¡±

¡°I thought you hated dogs,¡± Eron commented dryly.

¡°No, I absolutely adore dogs,¡± Syaoran said, forcing a smile and petting the puppy. ¡°Eagle is a great pet!¡± The puppy snapped at his finger with its teeth.

¡°It looks awfully like Sakura¡¯s Wolfie-chan,¡± Miho commented. ¡°And you hated Wolfie-chan.¡±

¡°What are you talking about? Look at Eagle¡¯s eyes, nose, ears, color! It¡¯s all different!¡± Syaoran protested. 

"It's the same," everyone replied.

¡°Ah, why don¡¯t we start practice?¡± Sakura suggested, before Syaoran was completely cornered.

¡°I have to go to the bathroom,¡± Miho stated.

¡°You¡¯re not even in the production,¡± Erika remarked. ¡°Why are you here, anyway?¡±

¡°I want to watch. I¡¯ve never been in a school production before. I think it¡¯s awfully interesting. Romeo and Juliet! How romantic!¡± Miho sighed. Then she headed off towards the bathroom.

¡°Wait! Not that room!¡± Syaoran exclaimed, as Miho tried to open Sakura¡¯s closed room door.

¡°Why?¡± Miho peered over Syaroan¡¯s shoulders as he tried to block the room.

¡°The bathroom¡¯s over there!¡±

¡°I know, but why can¡¯t I go in here?¡± Miho insisted. ¡°Is that room special?¡±

¡°Ah, you really don¡¯t want to go in there¡¦¡± Syaoran said. ¡°It¡¯s a mess. It¡¯s just a storage room.¡±

Unconvinced, Miho headed to the bathroom. After fifteen minutes, she came out again. ¡°You know, there¡¯s two of everything in the bathroom. Two toothbrushes, two toothpastes, two brushes¡¦¡±

¡°Oops!¡± Oh no! Because things were so chaotic, Sakura had forgotten to clean the bathroom! She couldn¡¯t meet Syaoran¡¯s eyes.

¡°Oh, I just like to keep an extra thing handy,¡± Syaoran replied, calmly sipping his tea.

¡°There¡¯s a hair dryer and curling iron, also. Are they yours?¡± Miho continued.

¡°Why¡¦ Yes,¡± Syaoran replied forcedly. ¡°For my—hair.¡±

¡°Ooh, that¡¯s why you have such nice glossy hair,¡± Erika concluded.

¡°But I didn¡¯t know you used peaches and cream bubble bath, Syaoran,¡± Miho continued.

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran sputtered out the green tea that he had been drinking. Gaining composure, he said, ¡°Haha¡¦ It¡¯s good for your skin, I heard. And it smells really nice,¡± Syaoran said. What had he just said right now? Yes, that¡¯s what Sakura had told him when he complained about the fruity smell in the bathroom. But now, his image was completely ruined.

¡°Ho ho ho!¡± Tomoyo laughed. ¡°I recorded your words on video-camera!¡±

¡°What a scream,¡± Aki commented. ¡°I¡¯ll make sure to put that in the school newspaper. Li-san¡¯s beauty advice: Peaches and cream bubble bath is good for your skin and smells re-al nice.¡±

Slamming the tea cup down on the table, Syaoran announced, ¡°Let¡¯s get to work.¡±

¡°Hey, look! Why are there girl¡¯s clothes in the laundry basket?¡± Aki asked, as he sauntered over to the corner.

¡°I told you to check the laundry basket,¡± Sakura hissed through her teeth.

¡°There are?¡± Syaoran asked, trying to sound surprised. He racked his brains for another excuse. Let¡¯s see¡¦ that manga that Sakura had been reading¡¦ There was a cross-dresser in it. Nuriko. No way! He could never say he was a cross-dresser! How humiliating.

¡°Not only that, but girl¡¯s underclothes, too,¡± Aki added, peering into the basket. He whistled, ¡°Li-kun, I never knew¡¦¡±

¡°Shut up. My neighbor¡¯s laundry machine broke down, so she asked if I could so some laundry for her while it gets fixed,¡± Syaoran said in a final tone, ending the conversation before Takashi could come up with one of his wild stories again.

¡°Aw¡¦¡± Aki and Takashi both seemed disappointed at the boring explanation.

¡°I¡¯m hungry,¡± Miho stated.

¡°Yeah, I can¡¯t do anything more without having lunch,¡± Erika added.

¡°Okay, let¡¯s order pizza then,¡± Syaoran said, reaching for the phone. ¡°I¡¯ll pay.¡±

¡°Not pizza,¡± Aki groaned. ¡°It¡¯s so low-class.¡±

¡°Fine. Let¡¯s go out and I¡¯ll treat you to a restaurant of your choice,¡± Syaoran said generously.

¡°No. Let¡¯s stay home and you show us your famous cooking skills,¡± Erika said.

¡°Yeah! I want Chinese dishes!¡± Miho exclaimed.

¡°I want pasta,¡± Aki stated.

¡°I want cake,¡± Takashi added.

¡°I don¡¯t feel liking cooking,¡± Syaoran said, his patience at its end.

¡°Please!¡± Everyone stared at him with big round eyes.

¡°Oh fine. Don¡¯t look at me like that.¡± Standing up, Syaoran walked to the kitchen. ¡°It¡¯ll take a while, so just rest and make yourself at home. But not too much at home.¡±

He fumbled around for his apron.

¡°Are you looking for this?¡± Miho asked, holding up a lacy pink apron with a teddy bear on front 

¡°Aww¡¦ how cute~¡± Erika said, clasping her hands together.

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran gawked at it. The apron Sakura made in home economics. ¡°No¡¦ I was just finding the frying pan, which should be¡¦ here.¡± No, the frying pan wasn¡¯t there. Sakura had kitchen duty that morning and she had placed everything out of their usual places.

Jumping up, Sakura exclaimed, ¡°Ah, I think the fry pan is here!¡± She slipped the frying pan out of the cabinet.

¡°Oh! Of course!¡± Syaoran mentally knocked himself in the head for not looking there.

Soon, he was enwrapped in cooking. Oftentimes, however, Sakura had to ¡°come to the rescue¡± when he couldn¡¯t find various utensils in his own kitchen.

¡°Sakura knows your kitchen better than yourself,¡± Erika commented.

¡°Ah, it¡¯s just because that¡¯s where I keep them back at home, and most kitchens are similar,¡± Sakura tried to explain

¡°Now, where¡¯s the spoons?¡± Syaoran mumbled, fumbling through various drawers.

¡°The third drawer,¡± Sakura told him. ¡°I mean, I think. That¡¯s where I keep it at home.¡±

¡°Found it!¡± Syaoran was busy checking various steaming pots and dishes.

¡°Drat, we¡¯re out of eggs,¡± Syaoran said, sticking his head into the refrigerator. ¡°Comes from baking so many cakes for stuffed animal.

¡°I got eggs yesterday. They¡¯re in the way top,¡± Sakura pointed out, before she thought about it and saw the strange glances everyone was giving at each other.

¡°Oh yeah, thanks¡¦¡± Syaoran said, retrieving the eggs and not noticing the slip.

¡°Sakura, where¡¯d¡¯you put the extra dishes?¡± Syaoran asked, as he busily stir-fried beef and vegetables in the huge frying pan.

¡°How should I know?¡± Sakura asked, trying to warn Syaoran with eye signals. He was too busy cooking.

¡°You did the dishes last night—oh!¡± Syaoran finally caught on. ¡°Oh, yeah. How can you know? Ha ha¡¦ Stupid of me to ask. 

Sniffing the air, Aki commented, ¡°You know, I smell something burning.¡±

¡°Syaoran! You forgot the cake!¡± Sakura exclaimed, running up to the oven and turning it off. With a cooking glove, she opened the smoking oven and took out a cake. ¡°Thank goodness. It¡¯s just browned a little and still edible.¡±

¡°Don¡¯t they seem like a married couple?¡± Miho commented.

¡°Ho ho¡¦ They do, don¡¯t they?¡± Tomoyo asked. She alone knew the secret and was enjoying the comedy immensely.

¡°Shut up!¡± Syaoran and Sakura said together.

Finally, lunch was ready and everyone was amazed by the steaming dishes set on the table, ranging from a scrumptious beef and crispy vegetable stir fry, seafood chow mien with savory noodles, little dumplings, steaming crab meat soup, fried rice, fettucine ala Carbonara (pasta in Aki¡¯s request,) and a moist, light pound cake for desert (Takashi¡¯s request.) A strange combination, but everything was delicious.  

¡°You¡¯re amazing, Syaoran!¡± Erika exclaimed, after they¡¯d all eaten everything to the last scrap up.

¡°You know, you seem to really enjoy cooking though,¡± Sakura commented.

¡°I do,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°I rarely had spare time, but the times I did, I liked watching Wei, our house butler, cook. My mother used to tell me how my father used to be a master at cooking Chinese dishes and no one could produce the same unique taste as him. Ever since then, when I did have spare time, I tried to learn from Wei. And cooking became one of my hobbies.¡±

¡°I think guys who are good at cooking are just so romantic!¡± Erika sighed.

¡°Maybe because you can¡¯t cook for life, yourself, so your future husband will have to do all the cooking,¡± Eron said dryly.

 

Overall, they didn¡¯t do much practicing for the musical at all, even after lunch.

¡°I¡¯m dead. I don¡¯t know a single line,¡± Aki groaned, staring at his script.

¡°I haven¡¯t even read the script until the end,¡± Erika stated. ¡°It doesn¡¯t matter, though. My character, Rosaline, comes out in the first few acts more frequently.¡±

¡°The teacher told us to have everything memorized when school starts again,¡± Takashi sighed. ¡°Romeo and Juliet have the most lines to memorize though. How¡¯s things coming?¡±

Sakura stammered, ¡°Ah, just so and so.¡± Actually, though she tried to sound nonchalant, she slaved for hours memorizing her lines and comprehending her part. She knew that the only way she made the re-auditions for Juliet was through her endless determination and effort. And she had to keep it up to meet up with everyone¡¯s standards, and especially not disappoint herself. It was the same for Syaoran, though she did not know. This was the first time since elementary that he participated in such a thing.

¡°Hmm¡¦ That¡¯s strange,¡± Miho commented. ¡°This script is really weird¡¦ It¡¯s more different from Shakespeare¡¯s Romeo and Juliet than I expected.¡±

¡°Really?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°I didn¡¯t notice a difference.¡± The others agreed.

¡°Have you guys ever read Shakespeare?¡± Miho asked.

They all shook their heads except Tomoyo.

¡°I read only parts of it,¡± Sakura replied.

¡°Well, I know what I¡¯m talking about since we studied Shakespeare back when I was in England, and the whole play is weird and the ending is weird too,¡± Miho stated. ¡°Completely different from Shakespeare¡¯s version.¡±

¡°That¡¯s on purpose, I think. Star-Crossed is an adaptation of Shakespeare¡¯s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°And it was actually written by students from our school, years ago.¡±

¡°Really?¡± they exclaimed. ¡°Who?¡±

¡°I mean to say this before but never got the chance. I did some background research and I found out. It was written years ago by Mizuki Miara, your mother, Miho, when she was a student. With the help of Tanaka-san, your father,¡± Tomoyo said.

Miho was startled.

Tomoyo continued, ¡°And the music scores to this musical was written by Li Ryuuren and Amamiya Nadeshiko.¡±

¡°What?¡± Her mother and Syaoran¡¯s father wrote the music to the musical? Sakura stared at the music scores fondly. There had been something haunting about the songs.

¡°It was a major masterpiece and the four creators of this musical were awarded many honors. It was one of the school¡¯s goals to be able to produce it someday. However, years passed and there was little motivation and potential shown from the student body. And years passed and the legend was gradually forgotten. Last winter, I was searching through my house attic and I found the musical script and scores. And I brought it the music teacher, who thought it was a great idea and saw plenty of skill and potential from the students. So, we are going to produce now the best production ever in the town of Tomoeda!¡± Tomoyo stated.

¡°Hey, what is this?¡± Aki asked, holding up a baton. He was the only one who had not been uninterested in the story.

¡°Isn¡¯t that a cheerleading baton?¡± Erika said. ¡°What¡¯s that doing in Syaoran¡¯s house.¡±

Sakura¡¯s face flamed red.

¡°No, of course it¡¯s not a cheerleading baton!¡± Syaoran stated. ¡°It¡¯s a staff. Used for martial arts. See?¡± He did a series of complex staff moves using the ridiculous cheerleading baton and everyone clapped in the end.

¡°Wow, Syaoran¡¯s room is so neat and tidy!¡± Miho exclaimed from the other side of the house. ¡°Hey what¡¯s that funny thing on the wall?¡±

¡°Are girls this nosy?¡± Syaoran mumbled, quickly dropping the baton and running to his room.

The ¡°funny thing¡± was the embroidery of the wolf that Sakura had made for him for Christmas. And the Dark Ones had stolen it to create the dark force, the Wolf. After the Wolf had been sealed into a card, the embroidery returned to its original state, except that it was torn, dirtied, and ripped in several places.

The day after they returned from the Best Couple Contest and the beach, Sakura had found Syaoran intently sewing something. ¡°What are you doing?¡± she asked
Quickly, he jumped, hiding something behind his back. Slyly, she slipped it out of his hands. It touched her to find that it was the wolf embroidery that she made him for Christmas. It had been practically ruined during the battle with the Wolf, but Syaoran had washed it clean of mud and dirt, and patiently tried to mend the tears. It was impossible to improve it, yet Sakura warmed to Syaoran¡¯s sweet gesture. ¡°You¡¯re trying to mend this? Just throw it away; it¡¯s ripped beyond repair. I¡¯ll make you another one if you like it that much, though I doubt you do.¡±

¡°But I like this one,¡± Syaoran replied, stubbornly working at mending the tear right across the center of the piece with a needle and white thread.

After mending it, Syaoran had hung it back on his bedroom wall, heedless of its sorry state.

 

¡°So, why do you have this strange embroidery up on your wall, anyway?¡± Miho asked. ¡°I can give you a better thing to hang up.¡±

¡°No thank you. That embroidery is special. I don¡¯t know how to put it but it gives me a sense of protection,¡± Syaoran said.

¡°Is it because Sakura made it for you?¡± Tomoyo asked blinking her violet eyes innocently.

¡°You know, it¡¯s already evening. You guys should be going on home now,¡± Syaoran stated abruptly, practically kicking everyone out of the house. ¡°Hope you had a good time. Come visit again!¡± Secretly, he hoped none of them would return.

After slamming the door shut after them, Syaoran plopped down on the couch, sighing in relief. Sakura had already toppled flat back on the floor.

******

The next day¡¦

¡°Finished!¡± Sakura exclaimed, setting down her pencil. She had finished the last journal entry, and finished all her summer homework at exactly 10:00 PM, Sunday evening. ¡°School¡¯s tomorrow. Too bad vacation ended so quickly.¡±

¡°Well, at least we had a pretty¡¦ err¡¦ exciting summer,¡± Syaoran replied.

Switching on the TV, Sakura sighed ruefully. Then, she frowned, turning up the volume. ¡°Now, why is Kaitou Magician on the news again? I hope he¡¯s not getting into anymore trouble.¡±

The news reporter said, ¡°Over the past few weeks, the police have received several reports that the notorious thief, Kaitou Magician has returned the items that he has stolen in the past year to their respective owners. Earlier this summer, Kinomoto Fujishinto of the great Hoshi Enterprise had filed a high charge against this thief for stealing a priceless heirloom, the Mirror the Truth. Mysteriously, Kinomoto-san has dropped the charges few weeks ago. However, Kaitou Magician has still not returned the Mirror of Truth, nor the sapphire ring which has been stolen from the famous artist Shing-san, in New York, despite the fact that he returned all the other items. We are yet confused as to why this World Top 20 wanted thief has returned all the other priceless items he has stolen, including diamond necklaces, ruby earrings, expensive paintings, and sapphire rings. One thing for sure is that this is a thief who surpasses the skill and knowledge of the whole Tokyo police force and lives up to his name as a mysterious thief who conjured out of darkness like a magician.¡±

¡°Ha ha¡¦ Maybe he turned over a new leaf,¡± Kero-chan commented.

¡°You wish,¡± Syaoran replied dryly. ¡°Kaitou Magician is a thief and always will remain a thief.¡±

¡°Let¡¯s sleep early; we have school tomorrow,¡± Sakura said in a motherly way. ¡°You too, Kero-chan. Starting from tomorrow, you¡¯re going on a diet.¡±

¡°It¡¯s only a little past 10 though,¡± Kero-chan protested.

¡°See, look at Wolfie-chan. He¡¯s already asleep,¡± Sakura stated, pointing at the puppy who had cuddled on a mat and fallen asleep.

¡°I¡¯m starting to really hate that puppy thing,¡± Kero muttered.

¡°You too?¡± Syaoran asked, holding out his hand. ¡°Hey friend, we finally agree on something!¡±

******

 

¡°HOEEEEEE!!! First day of school and I¡¯m going to be late again!¡± Sakura shrieked, running around the house frantically in search of her school uniform, collecting her bag and summer homework, and trying to find the other side of her knee socks.

¡°Another typical day,¡± Kero-chan murmured sleepily, wakened by Sakura¡¯s shriek

Meanwhile, Syaoran calmly flipped hotcakes in the kitchen. He was fully dressed in his uniform, his crisp white shirt neatly buttoned with the top two loose, and his pants freshly ironed. ¡°Here, have breakfast. Hotcakes, your favorite."

¡°What are you talking about? We¡¯re late for the first day of school back from summer vacation!¡± Sakura said, unable to resist taking a bite of the hotcake, drizzling with syrup and melting in her mouth.

¡°Oh. I set the clock thirty minutes early. So that we wouldn¡¯t be late for school.¡±

¡°What?¡± Sakura dropped all her things at once, groaning. ¡°I don¡¯t know whether to be relieved or angry at you. Well, I can have breakfast for a change.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan! How¡¯d¡¯you spend your summer!¡± Naoko greeted as they met at the school gates. ¡°I saw you on TV over the summer! Everyone else too. It was so cool!¡±

Soon, Sakura and her friends fell into girl¡¯s gossips, exchanging summer vacation stories, and catching up on all the news.

¡°I think there¡¯s a new student,¡± Naoko continued, as she was always the first one to find out.

¡°Really?¡± Rika asked.

¡°He seemed like some kind of gangster guy or something,¡± Naoko added, trembling not from fear but from thrill. ¡°Straight out of the movies.¡±

¡°Ha ha¡¦ You always like to exaggerate,¡± Sakura laughed. Then, she noticed that there was silence in the hallways, which was highly unusual, and everyone¡¯s head turned towards the other direction. Slowly, Sakura turned her head, following the direction of everyone¡¯s gaze.

A pair of black shoes could be seen. The lean person walked slowly, almost sauntered down the hall, towards Class 3-2. He wasn¡¯t dressed in the school uniform; instead, he was dressed in black from head to toe. On his head, he had plunked a black baseball cap, making his face hard to see. Some of the younger students cowered and bowed their heads. Many girls however, swooned. They had ridiculous notions about tough guys being romantic.

¡°Oh no,¡± Syaoran uttered.

¡°Why, it¡¯s Sakura, isn¡¯t it? Sakura-chan!¡± the person called, waving his hand ridiculously, breaking his intimidating image. ¡°Wow, are you in Class 3-2, also? Cool, I¡¯m in the same class as you!¡±

¡°¡¦ Kaitou Magician?¡± Sakura stated in disbelief.

¡°Shh¡¦ That¡¯s my alias. Now, simply call me¡¦ Wait a second. ¡° Kaitou Magician, not in his mysterious thief mode but in his care-free teenage boy mode, fumbled in his bag for his student ID card. ¡°Oh, call me Mizuki Kai from now on. Mizuki is my sir name and Kai is my given name.¡±

¡°Mizuki Kai?¡± Syaoran asked, raising an eyebrow. Sakura dragged him and Kaitou Magician into a quiet corner.

¡°I like that new name, don¡¯t you? I was trying to find a name close to ¡°Kaitou Magician¡± since I¡¯m so used to being called that. Originally, I was trying to be Kai Magiki, but then the school administration secretary misheard it and registered me Mizuki, a far more common name. Well, it¡¯s the name I¡¯m stuck with, and it¡¯s okay. Kai Mizuki. Kaitou Magician. Good enough, right?¡± Kai, as he will be called from now on, shrugged.

¡°Hehe¡¦ Kaitou Magician, but¡¦¡± Sakura trailed off.

¡°Uh uh uh.¡± Kaitou shook his forefinger. ¡°From now on, I am Mizuki Kai. I don¡¯t like formalities so you don¡¯t have to call me Mizuki-san. You can simply call me Kai-kun. Or if you prefer to old traditions, Kaitou-kun.¡±

¡°And, what exactly are you doing here?¡± Syaoran demanded.

¡°What do you think? Getting my education of course!¡± Kai said as if offended by the question.

¡°You?!¡± Sakura and Syaoran guffawed.

¡°Anyway, aren¡¯t you supposed to be in a higher grade? Supposedly, in Seijou High, not Seijou Junior High?¡± Syaoran continued.

¡°Well, yeah. I¡¯m supposed to be in one grader higher. But, I couldn¡¯t produce transcripts from my other school, because I haven¡¯t gone to school in a while, so they had to flunk me down one grade. How awful to be with little kids,¡± Kai said, actually not sounding dismayed at all. In fact, Sakura and Syaoran suspected that Kai had made sure that he was put in the same grade as them even thought it meant being put one grade lower.

¡°Hey, class is starting!¡± Naoko called out. She ogled Kaitou Magician, now his name being Kai. ¡°New friend, Sakura-chan?¡±

¡°Well¡¦ I guess you can put it that way,¡± Sakura said. At least there wasn¡¯t the danger of this new student glaring her down.

 

Soon, everybody was gathered in their usual seats in class. Their homeroom teacher announced, ¡°Well, students, hope you all enjoyed your summer holidays. It¡¯s good to see most of you turned in your summer assignments. Now, I am happy to introduce to you a new classmate, transferred from¡¦¡± The teacher squinted at the profile sheet. ¡°Well, never mind, we can ask him when he comes. Mizuki-san, you may enter.¡±

Slowly, Kai entered the classroom. His hands were in his pockets, and he had forgotten to remove his hat and sunglasses.

¡°This is our classes new transfer student, Mizuki Kai. I hope all of you make him feel welcome,¡± the teacher continued, rather surprised by Kai¡¯s first appearance. ¡°Ah, Mizuki-san, you may write your name on the board.¡±

Obediently, Kai took a chalk in his lean and graceful hand and in flourishing script, began to write, ¡°Kaitou Magi—¡° Then he stopped mid-track, sweat-dropping.

¡°Fool!¡± Syaoran bent over to whisper to Sakura, who sat in front of him. ¡°He was trying to write his Kaitou Magician signature out of habit.¡±

Glancing around surreptitiously to check if no one saw what he wrote, Kai quickly wiped off the letters on the board with the palm of his hand. How careless! He almost wrote Kaitou Magician¡¯s key signature, the one he used in messages to the police and people he stole from. Quickly, he rewrote his name in clumsy Japanese on the board. ¡®Mizuki Kai.¡¯ Hmm¡¦ I rather like my new name, he thought. Hope I don¡¯t have trouble remembering it like my last one.

¡°Well, Mizuki-san, welcome to Seijou Junior High. I¡¯m sure you¡¯ll enjoy the courses here and work very hard. (Kai looked slightly pale at this.) You may sit in the empty chair beside Syaoran (the one Meirin sat in before she moved back to Hong Kong,,¡± the teacher informed.

¡°Yessir!¡± Kai replied, still smiling. The teacher wondered if this new young man was making fun of him or genuinely happy.

Clearing his throat, the teacher said, ¡°Now, class will begin. And Mizuki-san?¡±

¡°Yessir?¡±

¡°Please get yourself a school uniform. And the proper books and equipment.¡±

¡°Yessir.¡± When Kai found out that there was gum stuck to the bottom of his desk, he cursed. As the class stared at him, shocked, he sweat-dropped. ¡°My bad¡¦ 

Now that he was going to school again, he better watch out for his naughty mouth. And try to adapt to these little junior high students¡¯ ways.

******

 

¡°I can¡¯t believe it, I just can¡¯t,¡± Syaoran stated that evening, slamming down his pencil onto the table. It was Sakura and his daily routine to go to school in the morning, meet up together after their sports activities and sometimes after school rehearsals, return home, sometimes buy groceries, take turns to cook dinner and clean up, and finally sit down together in the living room and do their homework. That is, when there wasn¡¯t a dark force lurking around.

¡°What?¡± Sakura asked, busily sewing a flowery dress for home economics. Syaoran didn¡¯t have a sewing machine, so she had to do it by hand.

¡°Now, what is Kaitou Magician doing here in Tomoeda, not to mention, going to our school, our grade? There must be a reason. He must be plotting something,¡± Syaoran concluded.

Shrugging, Sakura said, ¡°Or maybe his intent is pure and he just wants to live a normal life.¡±

¡°You think that everyone is good,¡± Kero-chan muttered, munching on a bag of chips.

¡°Not really. But, I think one can¡¯t just help trusting Kaitou-kun,¡± Sakura replied.

¡°That¡¯s what scares me more,¡± Syaoran said. He tried to focus back to his essay, then demanded, ¡°Now, who is playing music so loudly at this time of the night?¡±

Heavy J-Rock music vibrated through the apartment walls.

¡°Sounds like it¡¯s coming from next doors. I¡¯ll go an ask them to turn the volume down,¡± Sakura suggested, standing up.

¡°I don¡¯t have any neighbors, as far as I know of,¡± Syaoran said. He stood up, too, walking out to the hallway. The music was even louder.

¡°It¡¯s coming from next doors,¡± Sakura said, staring at the door. Hesitantly, she rang the doorbell. No one answered. She rung it several times. Then, she began banging on the door.

//Creak//

The door automatically opened and Sakura toppled over right inside.

¡°Intruder! Intruder!¡± a white parrot squawked, fluttering over Sakura¡¯s head.

¡°Now, where have I seen this bird before?¡± Syaoran asked, holding the parrot still by its tail.

¡°Let go! Let go!¡± the parrot protested, its voice drowned by the music blasting out from the background.

Sakura and Syaoran stared at each other. ¡°Of course! Kaitou Magician¡¯s bird!¡±

¡°Good to see you two!¡± came a familiar voice. An elegantly shaped chair turned around to face the door. Kai sat in it, with a silver remote control made to fit in his hand. He pressed a button on it and the door closed behind them.

¡°What are you doing here?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°WHAT? I can¡¯t hear you!¡± Kai shouted over the music.

¡°TURN DOWN THE VOLUME!¡± Sakura shouted back.

¡°OH!¡± He pressed another button on his remote control and the volume decreased, slightly. Then he grinned. ¡°I guess you have many questions and accusations. Before jumping into any conclusions, I¡¯ll explain. First of all, yes, I am living here. This is my home from now on.¡±

¡°Here? In this apartment?¡± Sakura squeaked. ¡°Our next door neighbor?¡±

¡°Uh-huh. And it makes sense for next door neighbors to be good friends.¡±

¡°Great,¡± Syaoran muttered. ¡°I¡¯m living next to a thief. Not just a thief, a World Top 20 Most Wanted Criminal.¡±

¡°Which brings me to my second point,¡± Kai stated. ¡°I came here pure of intent. I have reformed. Basically, I quit my occupation as a thief, the mysterious Kaitou Magician. He exists no longer, as far as I¡¯m concerned. I want to continue on as a normal teen student and live out the rest of my adolescent years normally.¡±

Sakura and Syaoran stared at each other sideways, smothering a smile. It just didn¡¯t sound right coming from Kaitou Magician. ¡°How can we believe you?¡± Kero-chan demanded.

¡°Kero-chan! I told you never to come out!¡± Sakura scolded.

¡°It¡¯s all right. It¡¯s not like we¡¯re strangers or anything,¡± Kai shrugged. ¡°And I understand your suspicion of me. But, watch me, and you will have no reason to be wary. Plus, I have to return these.¡± From his pocket, he drew out two objects, and handed it to them.

It was the diamond necklace and the sapphire ring, two of the Great Five Treasures. ¡°See, I promised I would return it,¡± Kai said proudly.

¡°Ah, thanks,¡± Sakura said, slipping Syaoran¡¯s Christmas present around her neck. Her favorite necklace. She thought she would never see it again.

¡°What did you do with these, anyway?¡± Syaoran asked cautiously examining the ring to ensure it wasn¡¯t fake.

¡°Ah, my own things,¡± Kai replied. ¡°Gosh, I¡¯m hungry. Haven¡¯t had dinner yet. Do you guys some food, too?¡±

¡°Actually, I¡¯m kinda hungry again,¡± Sakura admitted. It was midnight, and she had dinner at six.

Kai pressed another button on his slender remote control and the pot on the oven in the kitchen began boiling. ¡°I¡¯m hot.¡± He pressed a blue button, and immediately, cool air conditioning flowed into the room. ¡°Hey, do you want to watch TV? Gosh, it¡¯s been ages since I watched. A large screen on the wall turned on with a flick of his remote control. ¡°Cool, I¡¯m on TV!¡± he said. ¡°Look! I¡¯ve been removed from the World 20 Most Wanted Thieves list! I¡¯m only in the Top 100 now! Well, I haven¡¯t stolen anything for months now, since that bastard Kinomoto, excuse me Sakura, forgot he was your grandfather.¡±

Sakura noted that Kai¡¯s carefree manner seemed to reflect how little pressure and stress he had after much hardships. She was genuinely glad to see how Kai seemed¡¦ well, almost normal. She examined the boiling pot, then wrinkled her nose. ¡°What¡¯s this supposed to be?¡±

¡°My dinner, what else?¡± Kai replied, offended.

 ¡°Looks more like the remains of animal waste,¡± Kero muttered, for the first time looking at food with detest.

 ¡°Okay, I can¡¯t cook for life, got a problem with that, stuffed animal?¡± Kai demanded, pretending to be offended. ¡°Well, I eat anything, any chance I can. I¡¯ve starved before and I take food as it comes, not for the taste or looks, but for the sake of living. Back in my thief days, I couldn¡¯t go to restaurants, even in disguise because I was scared I might be recognized it I went in public too often. I usually couldn¡¯t have food delivery because my living quarters were a secret, and I usually didn¡¯t have time to eat, anyway. The only thing I know how to cooks is ramen.¡±

 ¡°You can¡¯t call making ramen cooking. All you do is pour water in and boil,¡± Sakura pointed out.

 ¡°Exactly,¡± Kai replied. Then, he blinked prettily, though everyone else couldn¡¯t see it because he was still wearing sunglasses. ¡°Of course, I have such kind, nice, talented neighbors who will feed a poor starving next door neighbor some delicious homemade food.

 ¡°Of course. Come over any time,¡± Sakura said simultaneously, while Syaoran replied, ¡°No way.¡±

 ¡°Good!¡± Kai pressed another button on his remote control and automatically, the pot tipped over and tipped its content into the trash can.

 ¡°What is that remote control thing?¡± Sakura asked curiously.

 ¡°Oh. It was just an idea I always wanted to try out before if I ever found a proper place to stay in. All the electronics in the house are connected and controlled by one remote control. It¡¯s really convenient you know.¡± Kai examined the remote control proudly. ¡°Several companies want to buy my patent design for quite a lot of money, but I didn¡¯t sell it to them. It¡¯s not like they¡¯ll be able to reproduce it, even if I do given them the design layout and the program,¡±

 ¡°Seems like laziness to me,¡± Syaoran muttered.

 ¡°I want that remote control,¡± Kero-chan stated.

¡°Well, I¡¯m tired. We should go to sleep early since we have school tomorrow,¡± Kai stated. ¡°Hmm¡¦ I didn¡¯t finish the interior design of my bedroom yet. I¡¯ll just sleep here.¡± The back of his chair sank back a 180 degrees and Kai lay down comfortably. From a shelf, his parrot carried a light blanket in its beak and gently covered Kai with it. Fondly, Kai patted his pet.

 ¡°Good night, master! Bonne nuit!¡± the parrot squawked, settling at the head of the chair/bed.

Next, Kai pressed his remote control three more times, and his personalized computer, designed by himself turned off along with the TV screen. Finally, the lights turned off except on lamp in the corner shaped like a dolphin and made out of platinum with sapphire eyes. However, he left the music on.

 ¡°You know, Kai seems pretty talented enough. If he wanted to be rich, I think he had other options than stealing. I wonder why he became a thief,¡± Sakura murmured, heading towards the door to return next doors to their house. ¡°I saw we give him a chance and trust him.¡± She turned pale as she tried the doorknob. ¡°Hey, we¡¯re locked in!¡±

 ¡°Shoot. Kai and his stupid remote control program,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Wake up! Let us out!¡±

 ¡°Shut up! Can¡¯t you see master¡¯s sleeping?¡± the parrot asked.

 ¡°I never liked that stupid feather ball,¡± Syaoran muttered. ¡°That parrot makes the puppy look like a noble beast in comparison.¡±

 ¡°The question I wanted to ask Kai was ¡®why?¡¯ Why did he change all of a sudden?¡± Sakura murmured.

 ******

 

The next day..,

 ¡°Why do we have to wake him up also?¡± Syaoran demanded.

 ¡°Cuz we live in the same apartment and he¡¯s our next door neighbor!¡± Sakura replied. Funny enough, Kai¡¯s door was unlocked from the outside, and they barged in. ¡°Wake up!¡±

 Surprisingly, Kai was wide awake and stood in front of his mirror, carefully spiking each strand of his hair with gel. He had highlight streaks of his hair a light golden color. ¡°Do you like this color? I was trying to dye it electric blue, because I thought that would be interesting, but I like this color better. I usually didn¡¯t die my hair a light color because it stands out too much in the dark.¡±

 Forgetting to be amused by the fact Kai had actually put together pieces of the Seijou Junior High uniform, Sakura stated, ¡°Hurry, we¡¯re going to be late!¡± She literally dragged him out of the apartment.

 ¡°How are we going to get to school by eight?¡± Sakura panicked, checking her watch. ¡°Now, where did Kaitou-kun go again? I don¡¯t want him to get expelled within his first month in school.¡±

 ¡°Maybe his first week then,¡± Syaoran said dryly. ¡°Hurry, we¡¯re even later than usual.¡±

 ¡°That¡¯s no problem for me,¡± Kai stated, emerging on his shiny, impressive black motorcycle.

 Sakura¡¯s mouth dropped. ¡°You¡¯re going to ride that to school?¡±

 ¡°Why not? Want a lift?¡± Kai asked.

 ¡°No thank you,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Don¡¯t you wear a helmet?¡±

¡±Me? Of course not,¡± Kai replied. Then, he zoomed off, leaving Sakura and Syaoran baffled. Needless to say, Kai arrived on time while Sakura and Syaoran received a tardy.

 

Having Mizuki Kai in class was certainly interesting and amusing. Sakura still failed to think of him as ¡®Mizuki Kai,¡¯ mainly because she knew so many other Mizukis, and she usually stuck to her old nickname ¡°Kaitou-kun,¡± which raised much confusion among their classmates.

 ¡°Why do you keep calling Mizuki-san, ¡®Kaitou-kun?¡¯¡± Naoko asked. ¡°Mysterious thief-kun? That¡¯s weird.¡±

 ¡°Ha ha ha! Inside joke!¡± Kai explained, sweat-dropping.

 Most girls, even the quietest, shyest ones found Kai fascinating and Kai struck conversations easily. But most of them still felt a little awe for Kai, especially the younger students,

 By this time, the students were clearly split. Either they hated Kai, especially some of the school bullies, or they really liked him and admired him. The division was quite distinct.

Kai and Syaoran constantly argued, but Sakura knew that Syaoran liked Kai better than either Eron or Eriol, She could identify the difference between friends who fight a lot and cool hostility and distance.

¡°The best place to punch someone is in the stomach!¡± Syaoran stated.

 ¡°No, it¡¯s the face!¡± Kai retorted. ¡°Here, I¡¯ll demonstrate.¡±

 Those two often were involved in fights, though not too serious since they both were skilled in defending themselves.

 ¡°Okay, I¡¯m wrong! Truce!¡± Kai would complain, groaning and clutching his stomach after becoming a victim of Syaoran¡¯s lightening punch.

 

¡°Class is starting,¡± their prim math teacher stated one day during the first week of school back from summer break. Readjusting her glasses, she stared at Kai with disdain. ¡°Mizuki-san, why aren¡¯t you wearing your school uniform?¡±

 ¡°Eh? I am wearing it!¡± Kai retorted. He stood up and spun around. His usual code of black was broken since he actually wore the white shirt of the Seijou Junior High uniform. However, he wore it unbuttoned, like a flannel, and underneath he had a black t-shirt. The uniform pants were black, anyway, but he wore his slightly baggier than most boys. His necktie was nowhere to be seen.

 ¡°I don¡¯t call simply draping on the school shirt wearing the uniform,¡± the teacher said prissily. ¡°Button up your shirt at once!¡±

 Grumpily, Kai buttoned up a part of the uniform shirt, still leaving the top ones unbuttoned.

 ¡°And your posture is awful. Stand up straight! You¡¯re going to get a crooked spine!¡± the teacher stated.

 ¡°Yes m¡¯am!¡± Kai stood up straight like a military school student. The class snickered.

 ¡°Where may I ask, is your necktie?¡± the teacher continued.

 ¡°That thing?!¡± Kai ejaculated, as if offended. ¡°At home. Used it to gag Kero-chan because he talked too much.¡±

 ¡°Next time, wear it,¡± the teacher said through gritted teeth.

 ¡°If I can find it,¡± Kai replied doubtfully. ¡°And if I know how to tie it.¡±

 That was bad enough, but then, it also happened that he had highlighted his hair a lighter, brighter color than anyone in the class, including Aki, and wore it spiked in a striking way. When he stared at someone over the bridge of his sunglasses, which he wore everyday, with the few strands of extra bleached strands of hair falling over his forehead he made an imposing figure. It looked as if he stepped straight out of some city ally, and even the teacher felt slightly cautious around him. That day, to annoy the teacher more, Kai had worn three earrings in his left ear and two in his right. First set of earrings was the dare-devil silver fang ones, his personal favorite, the second set were small hoops, and the third one in his left ear was a shiny periwinkle colored stud.

 ¡°What kind of male student wears earrings?¡± the teacher scolded. ¡°Remove them at once! And your hair! Disgraceful! Do you think you are some kind of teen J-Pop idol that comes on TV for silly girls to swoon over?¡±

 ¡°No¡¦ I¡¯m ten times more famous than Japanese idols,¡± Kai muttered under his breath.

 ¡°And why may I ask, Mizuki-san, are you wearing sunglasses indoors? Take them off!! It¡¯s against dress code.¡±

 Innocently, he said, ¡°But I can¡¯t see without them? You see, they have prescription in them, and I¡¯ll be blind as a bat without them.¡±

 ¡°Then, get clear lenses, not black ones,¡± the teacher replied, stiffly.

 Compared to the usual pitch-black sunglasses he wore, Kai was wearing lighter colored lenses than usual, though.

 Putting on a tragic face Kai said, ¡°I¡¦ I don¡¯t even eat well at home¡¦ I don¡¯t think I can afford new glasses, m¡¯am.¡±

 ¡°What a good actor,¡± Tomoyo murmured. It was an accepted fact that thieves had plenty of money to spare.

 ¡°Then, sell your expensive looking locket, maybe,¡± the teacher replied, unmoved.

 Pensively, Kai fingered his locket. He tucked it underneath his shirt. Sakura wondered what Kai¡¯s eyes would have looked like, under his sunglasses. Then, she saw the corner of his lips curving in a wicked grin. ¡°Oh dear! There¡¯s a bee in your hair, sensei!¡±

 ¡°Where?¡± A huge yellow and black bee was perched on tip of her head, buzzing. The math teacher began shrieking, running around the classroom.

 ¡°You¡¯re not supposed to move, or else the bee will sting,¡± Takashi called out.

 ¡°Should we squash it?¡± another student asked.

 ¡°I¡¯ll pour water over it!¡± Aki suggested.

 ¡°Stay calm, all of you! Now, don¡¯t move, it¡¯s all fine!¡± the teacher still pranced, panicking.

 Then, the principal entered the classroom. ¡°What is all this chaos, sensei?¡±

 ¡°T-there¡¯s a bee in my hair!¡± the teacher shrieked.

 Calmly, the principal reached out and picked up the bee ¡°This isn¡¯t alive. See? It¡¯s made out of rubber. One of your students have been playing a trick on you, sensei. I am thoroughly disappointed by your lack of calmness and dignity.¡± The principal walked out of the room, disgusted.

 ¡°Oops¡¦ caught,¡± Kai muttered.

 The math teacher fumed, glaring at Kai. ¡°You did it! Don¡¯t deny it. I know you did.¡±

 ¡°No, sensei!¡± Kai said in his most innocent voice. ¡°Don¡¯t you know one is innocent until proven guilty? Unless someone or yourself saw me put the bee in your head, which is impossible because I never approached closer than one meter to you, then you cannot accuse me.¡±

 ¡°What do you know about law and trials? Now sit back down in your chair and cause no more disruptions,¡± the teacher ordered, blushing hard.

 ¡°A lot more than you do, since it was often a matter of life and death for me,¡± Kai said under his breath.

 ¡°Well, we wasted enough time, class. Mizuki-san, solve the next problem. Mizuki-san? Mizuki Kai!¡± To her exasperation, Kai was staring out the window, completely ignoring her.

 ¡°Stupid, it¡¯s you!¡± Syaoran nudged.

 ¡°Crap! I completely forgot my new name!¡± Kai said. ¡°Yes sensei!¡± He bolted up.

 ¡°I said, if the police have a brand new equipment which can immobilize whatever person it shoots and they are 50 meters away from the foot of a 300m building, at what angle would the police have to aim it to shoot a thief on top of the building?¡± the teacher questioned.

 ¡°Zero,¡± Kai replied, crossing his arms.

 ¡°Wrong, Mizuki-san. It¡¯s fundamental trigonometry. Use your brains.¡±

 ¡°Well, think practically. What kind of fool of a thief would be shot at a distance of 304 meters away from the police?¡± Kai demanded. ¡°Of course no matter what angle the police shoot at with their brand new equipment, they¡¯ll miss the thief.¡±

 Sakura silently wondered if Kai was either really smart or really dumb. Yet, he had calculated the hypotenuse of the triangle, which was the distance from the police to the top of the building in his head, without a calculator!

 With gritted teeth, the teacher requested, ¡°Li-san, please come up to the chalkboard and show Mizuki-san how to solve this problem properly.¡±

 Sighing, Syaoran walked up to the chalkboard to answer the trigonometric question to the teacher¡¯s satisfaction. Kai stuck his tongue out at his as Syaoran took the chalk in his hands and correctly wrote the answer.

 At that moment, the class felt a slight tremor. The flower vase slightly rattled and several pencils rolled off the desks onto the floor. Syaoran was focusing so hard, the white chalk he was holding in his hand crumbled into powder.

 ¡°An earthquake?¡± Rika exclaimed.

 ¡°I hope there isn¡¯t more following,¡± Takashi commented.

 ******

 

¡°Now, there is less than a month before the final production date! Buckle up! We must work hard and practice, practice, practice till perfection!¡± the director sensei of Star-Crossed shouted across the auditorium.

¡°What is Star-Crossed?¡± Kai asked curiously, still tagging behind Sakura and Syaoran, as he had done for the entire week.

¡°It¡¯s our school¡¯s major musical production. It¡¯s roughly based on William Shakespeare¡¯s Romeo and Juliet,¡± Tomoyo replied.

 ¡°And Tomoyo-chan¡¯s the student director and in charge of managing almost everything,¡± Sakura added.

 ¡°Stay and watch,¡± many people suggested.

 ¡°Hmm¡¦ Sounds a little too corny for my liking,¡± Kai commented. ¡°I don¡¯t like mushy mushy romantic stuff and Shakespearean poetic language.¡±

¡°Syaoran! You¡¯re the leading figure, Romeo right?¡± Miho squealed, barging into the old theater. ¡°I want to be in the production, too!¡±

 ¡°It¡¯s a little too late for that,¡± Erika stated, flipping back her hair and holding a crumpled script in her hand. ¡°Auditions were months ago.¡±

 ¡°Actually,¡± Tomoyo pondered. ¡°If you¡¯re willing to work hard, I can give you the narrator role in the play. Originally, I¡¯m supposed to be narrator, but I¡¯m busy enough managing costumes, the chorus, the setting, and overall management. Besides, you have a nice voice and plenty of confidence.¡±

 ¡°Really?!¡± Miho exclaimed. ¡°Thanks!!!¡±

 As Eriol had suggested her to, Miho had enrolled in Seijou Junior High. She was in one grade lower than Sakura, Syaoran, Tomoyo, and the rest, being a year younger, so they only saw her in between breaks. Currently, Miho was staying at Tomoyo¡¯s house. Often these days Sakura found that it was hard to spend time with Tomoyo since they were both so busy, especially with the musical coming up and Tomoyo having to look after Miho.

 ¡°There¡¯s plenty of room for you to join in too, Mizuki-kun,¡± Tomoyo added.

 ¡°I¡¯ll consider it,¡± Kai replied, yawning.

¡°Oh, Miho-chan, have you met Mizuki Kai yet?¡± Sakura asked. In a belated introduction, she stated, ¡°Miho, this is Mizuki Kai in class 3-2, same as me, and Kai, this is Tanaka Miho in class 2-1, transferred from England.¡±

 ¡°Nice to meet you, Mizuki-san,¡± Miho said politely.

 ¡°You too, Tanaka-san,¡± Kai replied,

 ¡°Get on with practice!¡± the teacher called, clapping his hand. ¡°Kinomoto, Li, swordfight!¡±

 Half-heartedly, Sakura and Syaoran picked up the wooden sticks used as swords and began Act 1.  Accidentally, she knocked Syaoran¡¯s sword out of his hand.

 ¡°Wait, you¡¯re supposed to fight back, Li, not stand their motionless,¡± the teacher called out from sidestage.¡±

 Frowning, Syaoran stared up at the ceiling. His amber brown eyes widened. ¡°Everyone! Off the stage, now!¡± There was no mistake in his voice and his tone made everyone obey at once.

 ¡°Look!¡± Miho pointed to the ceiling of the theater, her knees buckling.

 The huge chandelier part of the set, attached to the top to the stage was shaking unsteadily held by only few strands of rope. Many people stood immobilized.

 ¡°Quick, move!¡± There were just too many people on the stage, panicking and locked into space. There was to time to think as the immense chandelier dangled dangerously above their head. Syaoran grabbed the people nearest to him, dragging them off the stage, followed by Sakura.

 One person remained on the stage, absorbed in fiddling with the microphones.

 ¡°Kai, move!¡± Sakura shouted.

 Startled, Kai stared up at the chandelier crashing down onto the stage. Seconds before his skull was crushed, he deftly leaped away. In the process, his sunglasses were knocked off, yet still, he landed off stage on his feet with perfect coordination. When several shards of glass flew out to the frightened people, he caught them all with his bare hand, even the tiniest chip of glass.

 In a shaky voice, the teacher in charge said, ¡°W-well, that was a close call. Thank goodness no one was hurt. This period is canceled. Everyone¡¯s free to go. The mess will be cleaned up.¡±

 ¡°The curse of the Ghost of the Old Theater,¡± someone murmured.

 ¡°The person who died here more than twenty years ago is getting revenge for disturbing its peace,¡± another person added.

 ¡°Nonsense,¡± the teacher reassured, though he sounded unsure, himself. ¡°It¡¯s only stories.¡±

 Though most people left, Sakura, Syaoran, Kai, and Tomoyo stayed to examine the scene.

 ¡°I¡¯m pretty sure that the old chandelier was loosened because of the slight earthquake earlier today,¡± Sakura commented.

¡°Actually, that chandelier is new. It was installed for the ball scene in Star-Crossed,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°There is no reason for it to be unstable.¡±

¡°That¡¯s right. This was intentional, ¡° Syaoran said, picking up the ropes that held the prop chandelier into place at the ceiling of the stage. ¡°See how the end of the rope is smooth, as if it was cut? If it was because the rope was old and an accident, the end should be frayed.¡±

 ¡°But who would so such a thing?¡± Tomoyo asked, eyes round.

 ¡°Look.  Here¡¯s a knife!¡± Sakura exclaimed, picking up an object hidden underneath piles of boxes.

 Carefully, Sakura examined the silver hilted knife. There was a symbol with a crescent moon and a rose engraved in it.  

 ¡°Isn¡¯t that the Kaitou Magician¡¯s symbol?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 Turning pale, Kai stammered, ¡°But it isn¡¯t mine! I swear, I didn¡¯t do it!¡±

 ¡°Don¡¯t worry; we¡¯re not accusing you,¡± Sakura said. She knelt over and picked up his sunglasses, which had been knocked off him. Luckily, they were unbroken and only slightly scratched. One thing for sure was that she knew that Kai had lied when he told the teacher that his eyesight was poor and that he couldn¡¯t see without glasses. Even when his sunglasses were knocked off, Kai had caught small bits of glass with his hand to prevent people from being cut, which only proved that he had beyond perfect vision. Then why did he always wear sunglasses?

 ******

 

¡°No, I  haven¡¯t thought of a riddle yet, so stop bothering me,¡± Sakura stated to the Riddle, who she learned was a mischievous, trouble-loving dark force. ¡°I can¡¯t wait till I can seal you.¡±

 ¡°I would look closely around you if I were you,¡± the Riddle stated furtively. ¡°People aren¡¯t as they seem to be. And words are poisonous.¡±

Then, it disappeared.

 

Feeling she needed a breath of fresh air, she walked up the apartment roof, late that afternoon. ¡°What are you doing up here, on the roof of the apartment?¡± Sakura asked. Syaoran was staying after school for an extra soccer practice for the game coming up.

 ¡°I¡¯m not stupid enough to crash a chandelier over my own head, you know,¡± Kai said.

 ¡°I know. Someone was probably trying to frame you today. Someone who knows your real identity,¡± Sakura reassured.

 ¡°But how many people know that I am Kaitou Magician? Only you, Syaoran, Kero-chan, Meirin, and Tomoyo. That¡¯s about it,¡± Kai said, frowning. ¡°I sense something bad is going to happen.¡± He didn¡¯t tell her that from his instincts, he was pretty sure some turmoil awaited Sakura.

 ¡°I was always curious. What kind of special powers do you have?¡± Sakura asked.

 ¡°Well, my powers are pretty limited,¡± Kai replied. ¡°I¡¯m not too sure about it myself. But I use the Power of the Wind. And I can sense something¡¯s going wrong just by the feel of the wind. It proved handy many times when I was a thief.¡±

 ¡°Do you like Meirin-chan?¡± Sakura asked suddenly.

 Jumping, Kai said, ¡°What?!"

¡°She called me few minutes ago, asking if you were here.¡± Sakura refrained from telling Kai Meirin¡¯s exact words which were, ¡°Not that I care or anything, but Kaitou Magician has no one better to look after him and I just want you to watch out for him and make sure he doesn¡¯t get into trouble.¡± Hiding a smile, Sakura added, ¡°Meirin-chan said that beneath the tough exterior, you were a good person.¡±

 ¡°Really?¡± Kai asked, eagerly. Embarrassed by his interest, he cleared his throat he and said, ¡°Is that so?¡± Unable to hide his curiosity, he added, ¡°What else did she say about me?¡±

 *****

 

¡°No, you don¡¯t throw the ball clear over the backboard, Mizuki-san,¡± the PE teacher patiently explained. ¡°You take the ball and aim it for the backboard so that it will fall into the hoop.¡± The teacher demonstrated for the fifth time as Kai made another air ball.

 ¡°Where is he from? Some backcountry place with no basketball?¡± Miho whispered to Syaoran. Physical Educations was the only class she shared with the third graders. ¡°I never saw anyone miss more shots before in my life!¡±

 Lazily, Kai spun the basketball at the tip of his finger. With a final spin, the ball turned into a dove. Everyone clapped in awe.

 ¡°Kinomoto-san, please demonstrate to Mizuki-san how to do a lay-up,¡± the teacher said.

 Taking the basketball in her hand, Sakura did a lay up. Rather amused, she remembered the time when Eriol and Syaoran had to compete against each other in basketball back in fifth grade. Eriol had wisely advised Syaoran to concentrate more.

 Despite the fact that Eriol had been her ¡°enemy¡± he had been a good person after all. Maybe a little eccentric, but otherwise completely perfect. The only person who was so perfect was Tomoyo, though even she had her eccentric side. She wondered what the Riddle meant by looking closely around her.

 ¡°Sakura watch out!¡± someone called.

 //THUD//

Sakura slipped on a soapy puddle on the glossy wooden gym floor and landed on her bottom. The whole class, including the teacher laughed. The only person not laughing was Syaoran. Her ears turned red. ¡°Hoe-e¡¦ I¡¯m so clumsy!¡±

 

 When PE class ended, the girls and boys headed to the locker rooms to change.

 As Sakura opened her locker, she frowned. Her things seemed to be disarranged. This wasn¡¯t the first time someone meddled with her stuff, either. Carefully, she examined her clothes. Her school uniform was slashed in pieces into an unmendable state.

 ¡°Look what someone did to my uniform,¡± Sakura told Tomoyo.

 ¡°Oh dear! Who would do something like that?¡± Tomoyo asked, violet eyes rounded. ¡°Now you¡¯ll have to go around in you gym clothes for the whole day.¡±

 Dumping her ruined uniform into the trashcan, Sakura had an uneasy feeling growing stronger in her.

******

 

¡°Lucky, you¡¯re skipping two days of school?¡± Sakura asked the next day to Syaoran, who was already changed into his navy blue and white trimmed soccer uniform.

 ¡°Yeah, we have a game with several regional schools, at Eitokou Junior High,¡± Syaoran replied.

 Narrowing her eyes, Sakura asked, ¡°Now, why are you skipping classes again, Kaitou-kun?¡±

 ¡°I¡¯m the soccer manager,¡± Kai replied, plunking a black Nike baseball cap on his head.

 ¡°Since when?¡± Syaoran asked, raising an eyebrow.

 ¡°Since yesterday,¡± Kai replied smugly. "When I learned we get to miss school."

 

¡°Naoko-chan!¡± Sakura exclaimed, as she caught up with her friend at the school gates. Ignoring her, Naoko walked briskly ahead. Maybe Naoko didn¡¯t here her.

 It felt rather lonely walking up to her class by herself. People seemed to be avoiding her that morning. Ever since the bad things that happened to her yesterday, she felt slightly troubled. As she entered class 3-2, everyone hushed up. It was as if they had been talking about her.

 ¡°So, why aren¡¯t you coming with Li-san today?¡± a girl in her class asked.

 ¡°What do you mean?¡± Sakura stammered.

 ¡°Don¡¯t play innocent. We all see you come to school with him every morning and go home together,¡± another girl added.

 ¡°Poor Li-san. He¡¯s too good for you, you know. One of the hottest guys in school, and you snagged him.¡±

¡°Yeah, and that¡¯s bad enough. What¡¯s with hanging all over Mizuki-san just because he¡¯s a new hot transfer student?¡±

In outrage at the misunderstanding, Sakura exclaimed, ¡°What are you talking about?! I—¡°

¡°But worse, we know you have a thing for Chang-san, also,¡± another girl stated. ¡°So, who do you like best?¡±

 Trembling, Sakura gripped her bag tightly till her knuckles turned white. How did her name get linked with Eron¡¯s? She waited for all the girls to laugh and say that they were joking. Desperately, she gazed around to her close friends. Naoko, Rika, Chiharu. They all looked away and avoided eye contact. Tomoyo was not in class yet.

 

The rest of the day was not much better. Someone snuck ants into her lunch, spilled paint over her sketchbook, and tore her homework into pieces. Luckily, Star-Crossed practices were postponed for a few days since the broken chandelier was still being cleaned up and many of the production members were away for the soccer game; she couldn¡¯t have stood on stage with everyone pointing at her and badmouthing her. Though she tried to play deaf, she couldn¡¯t ignore the things people called her behind her back and to her face. Worse, she had no idea who would spread such dirty rumors about her over night. In ways, she suspected Erika, since she had played nasty tricks on her. Yet, it couldn¡¯t be her since she wasn¡¯t at school today.

 By the end of the day, rumors went around that Sakura was staying at Syaoran¡¯s apartment.

 

As if that day wasn¡¯t bad enough, the next one was worse. She had squabbles and girl fights before, yet never had she been so ostracized and the center of gossip before. Though she had always heard of outcasts in school, yet she had never thought she might become one. Early in the morning, someone tripped her as she walked into the classroom and skinned her knee. Someone else stole her entire bag, so that she had no supplies for school, nor any of her homework. She was awarded with after school cleaning duty. During lunchtime, she hid in the library to avoid contact with people. Why, why were people doing this to her? Even Tomoyo seemed to be avoiding her, her best friend who had always been there for her. Of course, the rumors were bad, but¡¦ Did none of her close friends have faith in her and less in frivolous rumors?

 ¡°You know, I wouldn¡¯t have thought that of Sakura,¡± Naoko said, sitting down on a table in the library.

 ¡°I know. We¡¯ve known her since elementary, and I always thought that she was a nice person,¡± Rika said. ¡°But I guess people change.¡±

 ¡°How can she jump from guy to guy?¡± another girl added. ¡°I heard that she begged Eron to go out with her, then after a while dumped him to go out with Syaoran.¡±

 ¡°Oh, remember last winter? Eron went to the Winter Wonderland with Tomoyo; they made a good couple. And Sakura went with no one. Isn¡¯t it strange how Eron and Tomoyo are not going out? Sakura must have been jealous of her best friend and intervened.¡±

 ¡°Yeah, and Erika and Syaoran were getting along really also, and then I bet Sakura broke them up, also. Some nerve she had to enter the Best Couple Contest with Syaoran! And she stated that they weren¡¯t a couple on national TV!¡±

 ¡°I heard that the new transfer student, Mizuki Kai was her ex, and she¡¯s into him, also.¡±

 Sakura couldn¡¯t bear it anymore. For total strangers to gossip about her was bad enough, but her close friends, also? Bolting out of her chair, she ran out of the library, ignoring the looks everyone gave each other. Her hands were trembling. Who would spread such untruths about her?

On her way out, she bumped into Chiharu.

 ¡°Watch where you¡¯re going,¡± Chiharu snapped. Then she added, ¡°Sakura-chan.¡±

 Saying her name gave Sakura hope. ¡°Chiharu-chan¡¦ You don¡¯t believe in any of the rumors, do you?¡±

 Eyes turning cold, Chiharu stated, ¡°I heard you made fun of Takashi and me behind my back¡¦ And all the while, I thought you were so nice and supportive.¡±

¡°That¡¯s not true! Who did you here that from?¡± Sakura demanded

 ¡°I¡¯m sorry Sakura¡¦ I really like you, but I know that the person I heard it from never lies, so¡¦¡± Chiharu briskly turned around.

¡¡

 In disbelief, Sakura ran towards the bathroom, trying to run away from the hostile glares.

 ¡°Poor Sakura-chan,¡± Erika sympathized, stepping out of the girl¡¯s bathroom stall. ¡°Where have all your friends gone?¡±

 Sharply, Sakura asked, ¡°Was it you then who spread the rumors?¡±

 ¡°What do you take me for?¡± Erika exclaimed.

 ¡°You¡¯ve tricked me before,¡± Sakura said cooly. ¡°You have fun watching me suffer.¡±

 ¡°You can¡¯t jump into conclusions just from past experience,¡± Erika chided. ¡°Anyway, why would I spread rumors to dishonor my own twin and my darling Li Syaoran by linking your name with it?¡±

 ¡°Then who¡¯s doing this to me?¡± Sakura demanded.

 ¡°Well, why don¡¯t you look closer around you?¡± Erika asked, smoothing back her violet hair. ¡°Say for example, your best friend? Isn¡¯t it strange how the person who is supposed to stick up for you during hard times is nowhere to be seen? ¡±

 ¡°What? You can¡¯t be saying¡¦¡± It couldn¡¯t possibly be. Shaking her head, Sakura ran towards the music room.

 

Panting, she stepped into the room where Tomoyo was practicing on her own for choir. ¡°Tomoyo-chan?¡±

 ¡°Yes, Sakura-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked in a light voice, turning around from the music stand.

 A sense of relief sank down Sakura. Of course Tomoyo wouldn¡¯t do such a thing. She was her best friend who had always stood by her side, no matter what and kept her deepest secrets. Erika must have been lying. ¡°You believe in me, right, Tomoyo-chan?¡±

 ¡°Of course I do,¡± Tomoyo said, smiling. ¡°Of course I believe that you did every single thing that the rumors say.¡± Her voice was icy.

 The words stung Sakura like sharp blades and a icy sensation trickled down her spine. It was worse than all the resentment from everyone else put together. ¡°Tomoyo¡¦ you¡¯re just joking right? Say you are. I trust you more than anyone else. You¡¯re my best friend. Please, say something to me.¡±

 ¡°I¡¯ll say something,¡± Tomoyo said coldly. ¡°Kinomoto Sakura, you make me sick. I¡¯ve only been nice to you on the outside, all this time, but inside, I loathed you. Trust? Well, you¡¯ve trusted the wrong person. I never trusted you. And a good best friend you¡¯ve been to me. What have you ever done for me? You get all the good things and I always had to step into the background and cheer on you? Well, I¡¯m tired of that now.¡±

 Sinking to her knees, Sakura whispered, ¡°No. Not Tomoyo-chan. You¡¯re my best friend. You¡¯re lying to me. Because though I might not have done much for you, you must still know how much I treasured my dearest friend. There must be some misunderstanding¡¦ The rumors¡¦¡±

 ¡°There is no misunderstanding. I started the rumors, stupid,¡± Tomoyo stated with a cruel smile curved on her beautiful lips. The smile was ten times worse than a glare.

¡°I don¡¯t care if you did. But I do care about my best friend. Tomoyo-chan.¡± Sakura reached out to grab Tomoyo¡¯s hand.

 Angrily, Tomoyo slapped Sakura¡¯s hand away and knocked her to the floor. Startled, Sakura stared up at Tomoyo; Tomoyo never used violence.

 ¡°Oh dear. Let me help you up,¡± Tomoyo said. With her pale hand, she gripped Sakura¡¯s hand, and dug her nails deep into Sakura¡¯s palms.

Sakura was numb to the pain as the sense of unbelievable reality swept over her.

 ¡°I¡¯ve been exceedingly nice to you, Kinomoto Sakura, but that is going to change now,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°Number one. I¡¯ve caused all the accidents in the past few days, including the chandelier one, and your days in school will continue to be miserable. Number two. Everyone in school hates you and the rumors are the true you, which was revealed to them by me. Number three. I¡¯m tired of watching people be nice to you and I¡¯ll make sure that even Syaoran ends up loathing you.¡±

 ¡°This is my problem,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Please don¡¯t bring Syaoran into this!¡±

 ¡°Why?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°Oh, guess what he told me last winter. He told me that the reason he returned to Japan was not for you. You still seem to think that I still like her, that he¡¯s why I returned to Japan. And that he has no feelings for you.¡±

 ¡°W-why are you telling me all this?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°It¡¯s nothing new you know.¡±

 ¡°Well, I didn¡¯t tell you until now, but he told me all this before he ever confronted to you. Syaoran always turned to me first, ever before he talked to you. He always confided everything to me.¡±

 ¡°You¡¯re a really nice person and someone who will always lend an ear to people¡¯s problems and give good advise, so I don¡¯t blame him,¡± Sakura replied softly.

 ¡°You keep on avoiding the facts. Do you think you can run away from the truth forever?¡± Tomoyo questioned.

 ¡°The simple truth. I like him. I like him more than I can bear at times,¡± Sakura said in a cracked voice. ¡°But, there¡¯s life. And there¡¯s what he told me last winter. He still didn¡¯t tell me why he returned to Japan, but I figure he will. I won¡¯t ask. After all, I can¡¯t have everything go my way.¡° A determined look came in her emerald eyes.

 

¡°Wow, we won all the games!¡± Kai exclaimed, running down the school hallway to catch up with Syaoran, his duffle bag hung over one shoulder. ¡°Too bad we have to come back to school.¡±

 The two-day tournament at Eitokou Junior High had ended with the Seijou Junior High Soccer Team¡¯s victory, and the soccer players plus manager had returned to Seijou Junior High that afternoon.

 Frowning, Syaoran halted in front of the music room, the door slightly ajar. He could hear a girl¡¯s voice inside.

 

¡°I appreciate all that Syaoran has done for me,¡± Sakura continued. ¡°Protect me, watch for my back, let me stay at my house when it was dangerous to be on my own. And most of all, being a great trustworthy friend. However I think a friend¡¯s all we can ever be with this situation, and I¡¯m willing to accept that. Nothing more. And I¡¯m sure he won¡¯t find a problem with that, either. After all, it will make both of us more comfortable that way. If we¡¯re anything more than the current relationship, I¡¯m pretty sure that I will feel at unease. There, I¡¯ve told you my true feelings, Tomoyo-chan.¡±

 In return, Tomoyo smiled. She glimpsed someone walk away from the doorway.

 

¡°Uh oh,¡± Kai murmured as Syaoran briskly headed away from the music room. ¡°Didn¡¯t your mama tell you not to eavesdrop? You don¡¯t gain anything from it.¡±

 ¡°Funny thing to hear from a thief,¡± Syaoran said, entering another music room and slamming the door behind him. Sinking down on the piano bench, he began to absent-mindedly strum a fast-paced tune from Star-Crossed on the piano, in fact one of his solo pieces. He made more mistakes than usual and hardly caring about the sound he produced.

 ******

 

¡°Is something wrong with her?¡± Kai whispered to Syaoran that evening. They were in the living room. Sakura had locked herself in her bedroom ever since they returned back from school.

 Shaking his head, Syaoran set a tray with her dinner in front of her closed room and called, ¡°Hey, I left your dinner outside, if you decide you¡¯re hungry.¡±

 ¡°Thanks, but no thanks,¡± came a muffled voice from inside.

 ¡°Female mystery,¡± Kai muttered. ¡°I just don¡¯t understand girls.¡±

 ¡°Neither do I,¡± Syaoran replied, frowning. ¡°Sakura, are you okay? Come out!¡±

 Opening her room door in exasperation, Sakura demanded, ¡°What? I¡¯m just tired, that¡¯s all!¡±

 Surprised to see that Sakura looked fine, Syaoran stammered, ¡°Y-you¡¯re fine?¡±

 Grinning energetically, Sakura replied, ¡°Of course I am! What do you take me for?¡±

 ¡°Good, for a second, I was afraid that you missed us soccer guys so much for the past two days and pined away,¡± Kai joked.

 ¡°Haha¡¦ You wish. Well, early g¡¯nite!¡± Sakura gently shut the door again and fell back into her bed, removing her forced smile.

 Staring at the shut door, Kai laughed, ¡°Wow, she¡¯s fine¡¦ For a while, I was really worried.¡±

 With a grave expression, Syaoran shook his head. Sakura could fool most people, but he wasn¡¯t most people.

 

¡°Did something happen at school, Sakura-chan?¡± Kero-chan asked, choking because Sakura was hugging him so tight as she lay back on her bed. Any other time, Kero-chan would have protested. But this time, he knew it was wiser to let her alone.

 Various memories of Tomoyo-chan flitted back into Sakura¡¯s mind.

 ¡°You can trust me with your secret, Card Captor Sakura!¡± ¡°From now, on, I¡¯m going to videotape your adventures!¡± ¡°Sakura-chan, you look so cute in that outfit I made you!¡± ¡°Of course I understand you. I¡¯m your best friend, Sakura-chan!¡±

 ¡°Tomoyo-chan,¡± Sakura whispered, falling back onto her bed. Though she spent a sleepless night, in between, she had the continuous old nightmares. But this time, she was calling out for anyone to come, but as she tried to call out for the people she loved, she couldn¡¯t see anything. A beautiful, fairy-like girl holding a long, translucent scarf around Sakura¡¯s eyes laughed. She could hear Tomoyo¡¯s pretty tingling laughter also, and a black formless figure was behind Tomoyo. As Sakura tried to reach out, her body began to freeze from feet up until she became a solid statue, immobile. The ground beneath her trembled, and split open. And she began falling into it, backwards, everyone standing above her and staring at her with cold eyes. Worse, she even knew it was a dream, yet it wasn¡¯t much different from reality.

 

¡°Sakura, get up,¡± Syaoran stated, barging into her room the next morning.

 ¡°I¡¯m not going to school,¡± Sakura said into her pillow. Every hour in school these days was a perpetual nightmare.

 ¡°Yes you are. Now, get up. Here¡¯s your uniform,¡± Syaoran said, taking her wrist and pulling her up.

 Flinching, Sakura stifled a groan.

 Frowning, Syaoran took her head and spread out her palm. With gentle fingers, he traced the wounds on her hand. ¡°Who did this?¡±

 ¡°It¡¯s just a scratch.¡±

 ¡°These are fingernail marks. Who did this to you? Presumably, it¡¯s not Wolfie-chan,¡± Syaoran said sternly. ¡°It can get infected, you know. What happened?¡±

 ¡°It¡¯s nothing.¡± Refusing to state that it was Tomoyo that injured her, Sakura snatched her hand away. Crossly, she snapped, ¡°I told you not to enter my room without permission.¡±

 ¡°I knocked. You ignored me,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Well, change. Breakfast is ready.¡±

 Reluctantly, Sakura slipped in her spare uniform, the other one having been trashed few days ago. Slowly, she sank on a stool in front of the bureau and stared at the mirror. Her eyes were bloodshot, though she had not shed a single drop of tear. It must be from consecutive sleepless nights. Carefully, she picked up her brush. Her hand hurt when she picked up the brush and dragged it through her tangled hair.

 ¡°You¡¯re still not ready?¡± Syaoran asked. He handed Sakura a bowl of cream of wheat with honey and raisons on top. A soothing and nutritious combination for someone who had eaten scantily for the past few days. ¡°I swear, you can¡¯t manage anything without me. How can you not eat properly for two days just because I¡¯m away?¡± Giving no chance for her to reply, he placed the bowl and spoon in her hand and commanded, ¡°Eat this.¡±

 Meanwhile, picking up the brush that Sakura had been holding, Syaoran gently began to brush her silky golden brown hair.

 ¡°What are you doing?¡± Sakura demanded. ¡°I can brush my own hair.¡±

 ¡°Do you want me to feed you? Eat,¡± he replied. Fiddling through Sakura¡¯s drawer, he drew out a forest green colored ribbon, which she had bought over the vacation and tied up Sakura¡¯s hair with it. ¡°There!¡±

 The addition of the pretty ribbon lighted up Sakura¡¯s face, making her eyes sparkle, and she was impressed at how well he had done her hair. Noticing the strange look cast at him, Syaoran explained, ¡°Well, I have four sisters who make me do strange things, so¡¦ Ahem. Well, looks like you¡¯re finished with breakfast. We have ten minutes to get to school. I¡¯ll stop by the pharmacy later on and buy some ointment for those fingernail wounds. You don¡¯t have to look at me with those big round eyes. It¡¯s all right.¡± Carefully, he placed his hands on her shoulders. ¡°Now look in the mirror. What do you see?¡±

 A pathetic girl. A girl who is so confused and lost. A girl who is ashamed to show her face to anyone, she said in her mind.

 ¡°No. I see a strong, determined, caring girl who can make a difference in this world. I see a girl who is able to overcome any and all hardships. And yet, I still see a naïve yet wise fifteen year old girl who needs friend to lean on and trust. Sakura, if something¡¯s wrong, and you feel you have no one to confide to, remember, I am there for you. You can count on me. I won¡¯t go anywhere. I promise,¡± Syaoran murmured.

 At this, Sakura¡¯s eyes blurred. Then, she mustered her first smile in days. ¡°Syaoran¡¦¡± Turning around she said, ¡°I¡¯m sorry for snapping at you earlier.¡±

 ¡°It¡¯s okay. I¡¯m not a morning person either,¡± Syaoran replied kindly.

 I can¡¯t stand this. I can¡¯t stand all this craziness anymore. I can¡¯t stand him being so kind to me. I don¡¯t deserve his kindness. I love him so much, it hurts. Yet, nothing good can be brought from loving him. Sakura bolted out of the room, mumbling,  ¡°Well, I¡¯ll go first. I have to see the teacher before school starts.¡±

¡°Wait, you have to take the umbrella! It¡¯s going to rain today!¡± Syaoran sighed at the shut door. ¡°Can¡¯t you talk to me about what¡¯s wrong?! I can¡¯t stand watching you like this.¡±

 ******

 

¡°Li-san, I feel so bad for you!¡±

 ¡° What do you see in a girl such as Kinomoto Sakura?¡±

 ¡°She¡¯s a low-class girl; you shouldn¡¯t associate with her!¡±

 

These were the gossips that greeted Syaoran that day at school. Having been away because of the soccer tournament, he had been unaware of all the rumors that had been circulating in the past few days. Now, he began to have a grasp of what was happening.

 The noisy chatter of the girls, and some of the guys who had just returned from the soccer game filled the room with the name ¡°Kinomoto Sakura¡± popping up frequently. Finally, Syaoran couldn¡¯t stand it anymore. Slamming his fists on the desk, he stood up and shouted, ¡°Damn it! Shut up, all of you. What right do you guys have to talk crap about an innocent person who half of you hardly even know personally. Did she ever do anything to you? You¡¯re all pathetic, being fed lies about someone else and enjoying criticizing when some of you are no better than scum.¡±

 Everyone stopped their loud chattering and hung their heads ashamed. All of them respected Syaoran¡¯s words, and it was so rare that they saw him so angry. This made them more wary, and they no longer gossiped out loud, though they continued in quiet, discreet manners.

 A guy who had never talked to Syaoran had the nerve to ask, ¡°Hey, why is Kinomoto living with you?¡±

 ¡°Says who?¡± Syaoran replied coldly.

 ¡°Why¡¦¡± the guy looked baffled. ¡°Says everyone. And she¡¯s two-timing, also, with several guys.¡±

 //BAM//

 In one punch, Syaoran sent the guy sprawling on the floor. Most students learned to keep a respectable distance from Syaoran.

 ¡°Don¡¯t use violence,¡± Sakura said quietly, who had been playing invisible at the back of the classroom. ¡°If you think you¡¯re doing this for me, you¡¯re not. You¡¯re just making things worse. This is my matter. I can handle it on my own.¡±

 ¡°What, do you want me to just sit back and watch? Watch so-called friends talk shit about you when they have no right to?¡± Syaoran demanded hotly.

 ¡°Yes,¡± Sakura replied, sighing as she found yet another homework assignment was missing from her bag. ¡°If I don¡¯t make a fuss about it, I hope it will just die out.¡±

 ¡°And, who exactly started all these rumors about you?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°You must know.¡±

 Turning away, Sakura shook her head and ran out of the classroom, almost knocking over the teacher.

 Glaring at Kai, Syaoran stated, ¡°Don¡¯t just sit back and smile like that! Are you actually enjoying all this? Watching Sakura being the target of idle gossip?¡±

 Removing the smirk from his face as he saw Syaoran¡¯s scariest death-glare, Kai replied, ¡°Yes, I am enjoying the petty childishness of teenagers. Funny how even as adults, they won¡¯t change. As adults, dirty rumors are called ¡®scandals¡¯ and can completely ruin a person¡¯s life. But no, I don¡¯t enjoy watching Sakura suffer. I¡¯m disgusted at the people in this school.¡±

 ¡°Well then, use your excellent spying skills as a thief. Find out who started all this,¡± Syaoran said.

 ¡°Why don¡¯t you do the dirty work yourself?¡± Kai asked, fiddling with a loose button on his shirt, leaning back in his chair and feet on the table.

 ¡°I would, but I think I will throw up if I talk to anymore of these people,¡± Syaoran replied.

 ¡°Leave it to me then. I¡¯ll find out in five minutes,¡± Kai said, standing up. ¡°So, what do you want me to use to find out info? Violence, hypnosis, bribe, charm, or seduction?¡±

¡°Whichever way you prefer,¡± Syaoran said, sweat-dropping. ¡°Nothing too bloody or criminal-like though.¡±

 ¡°Don¡¯t worry,¡± Kai answered, cracking his neck.

 

Ten minutes later, Kai came back, rather proud of himself. ¡°I found out who started the rumors. It¡¯s Daidouji Tomoyo.¡±

 ¡°Haha. Funny. Go back and do it correctly this time,¡± Syaoran said.

 ¡°I¡¯m not lying. My sources are correct. Everyone stated it was Tomoyo.I was surprised but it must be true.¡±

 ¡°That¡¯s crazy. Tomoyo¡¯s Sakura¡¯s best friend. She is definitely out of question and the last one who would talk behind Sakura¡¯s back,¡± Syaoran stated.

 ¡°I¡¯m glad you have such a high opinion of me, Syaoran-kun,¡± came a laughing voice behind him.

 ¡°Tomoyo. Exactly the person I wanted to talk to. You better explain everything,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Now, what exactly went on in this school while I was away for the soccer tournament?¡±

 ¡°Do you want to go outside and talk?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 

 Silently, Syoaran followed Tomoyo to outside the school building.

 ¡°So, what made you so positive that I am innocent?¡± Tomoyo asked, feeling the breeze run through her unbound long violet hair.

 ¡°Well, you are, aren¡¯t you?¡± Syaoran asked.

¡°Yes. I am innocent,¡± Tomoyo replied, casting down her bluish-purple eyes. ¡°All of us are innocent because we are all victims of Sakura.¡±

 ¡°What are you talking about?¡± Syaoran questioned, frowning.

 ¡°What do we gain from supporting Sakura? Take a look at yourself, Syaoran-kun. What¡¯s happened to you so far? You failed to become Clow Card Master because of Sakura. And yet, you still faithfully came back to Japan. Why do you help Sakura? It¡¯s not likely that you will gain in the end. Every new Dark Force she conquers, she becomes more powerful, even if it is you who does all the dirty work. And you only earn more disgrace from your family for not carrying the Li honor. In the end, she may indeed become the most powerful magician in the world. And then, where will you stand? Will she take a second glance at you?¡±

 Standing back and staring at the sky in a pensive manner, Tomoyo stated, ¡°It¡¯s a scary, cold world, isn¡¯t it? Strange how people can change so easily. Strange how people are blind to the actuality of this grim, harsh life. Sakura told me that she wanted to carry her relationship with you no further, even though she might have been suggesting otherwise. Isn¡¯t that so fickle? She¡¯s been using you all this time, to help her gain more cards and save her back. And all this while, she feels uncomfortable around you and trusts you no further than tomorrow. It¡¯s the same for me. She can have her faithful friend cheering on her from the background, but she gives not a second thought to me.¡±

 Syaoran laughed out loud, startling Tomoyo. Then, he stared straight at her in the eye and said, ¡°You know, all the things you¡¯ve said so far are unforgivable, if you weren¡¯t being controlled by a Dark Force.¡±

 ¡°You¡¯re wrong. This is all that I¡¯ve felt deep in my heart, all along,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°Be truthful. Haven¡¯t you even thought about the same thing too, yourself? ¡±

 ¡°Maybe I have,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°But the fact is, I don¡¯t care if the truth is she is using me. I don¡¯t care if I gain nothing. I¡¯ve don¡¯t care if my name is disgraced. And I don¡¯t care if she wants nothing of me. Yet, I know I will still keep my honor to her as a friend and never will I betray her.¡±

 ¡°Why?¡± Tomoyo asked, stunned.

 ¡°You must be stupid to ask,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°You know better than anyone else the devotion and bond of friendship. It¡¯s deeper than words, actions, or death. It¡¯s a contract more powerful than any magical spell on this earth.¡±

 ¡°It¡¯s easy to say big words, yet hard to keep them,¡± Tomoyo said, icily. ¡°You¡¯re going to end up breaking them too.¡±

 ¡°Tomoyo, come back. I know you are probably one of the nicest, most caring, and intelligent persons I have ever known. You¡¯re worth a hundred me, considering how you¡¯ve always been there for Sakura. And I know beneath the control of the Phantom, you¡¯re still the same, kind person who treasures friendship. This isn¡¯t for me. It¡¯s for your best friend, Sakura.¡±

 ¡°You must be the stupid one,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°Don¡¯t you understand? You doing gain anything from stubbornly defending Sakura. Is she grateful? Not likely. Will she spend a second thought for you when you¡¯re in trouble? Probably not. People with power will always have their way in the end.¡±

 ¡°It just doesn¡¯t work like that, though,¡± Syaoran said, staring up at the overcast sky. ¡°You forget, I¡¯m a person with power, and still things don¡¯t turn out my way. Sometimes wish I was just a normal person.¡±

 ¡°It¡¯s no fun being normal, I tell you, just watching,¡± Tomoyo replied.

¡°Eriol is a person with great power, too. When he was Clow Reed, he was the most powerful magician in the world, but he was unhappy about this, so he reincarnated himself and split his power,¡± Syaoran commented.

 ¡°So? Why are you bringing him up all of a sudden?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 ¡°In character, you two are very similar. Tell me, Tomoyo. I know it¡¯s not power you want. Nor do you hate Sakura. Then, what is it you want?¡±

 ¡°Do you even know what you want?¡± Tomoyo said, smiling sadly.

¡°No, I don¡¯t, that¡¯s why I¡¯m asking,¡± Syaoran replied.

 ¡°Well, all I want is someone to care for me the most in the world and always be there for me. My father left me when I was a child. My mother is too busy with her company. And Sakura-chan is too busy with her own hectic life and you to notice me. I¡¯m always smiling and composed, so no one every suspected how I truly felt inside.¡± As if ashamed for revealing this much, Tomoyo¡¯s eyes hardened, as if the darkness inside her was wringing her.

 ¡°So, you still don¡¯t care, even after all I told you? You¡¯ll still stay faithful to Sakura?¡± Tomoyo demanded. ¡°Not even if I tell you things will never work out between you and Sakura?¡±

 ¡°I do care,¡± Syaoran replied, beginning to walk away, back into the school. ¡°But that doesn¡¯t change me from who I am, and what I will do.¡± He held stuffed his trembling hands in his pocket and kept his walking pace staid.

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan!¡± Sakura exclaimed panting. ¡°I finally found you!¡±

 ¡°I want nothing from you,¡± Tomoyo said coldly.

 ¡°I just came to say, I don¡¯t care if you hate me, or distrust me, or even want to never see me again. But I¡¯m still you friend, so you can come back to me anytime,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I thought about it, and I can¡¯ t just push away all these years of friendship with you since childhood. We were the best of friends and understood each other like no one else could.¡±

 Tomoyo¡¯s beautiful violet eyes softened. She took Sakura¡¯s hand and stared at the red nail marks on her palm. ¡°I made these yesterday, didn¡¯t I?¡± Then, she dug her fingernails into the same spot again. ¡°Wounded again over scars. Doesn¡¯t it hurt?¡±

 ¡°Hurt me if that makes you feel better,¡± Sakura replied.

 ¡°Get lost,¡± Tomoyo said, her eyes having a frosty emptiness in them. She flung the remnants of her juice can at Sakura, and walked away. The school bell rang. They had missed last period.

 As Syaoran has warned earlier, it began to rain, and Sakura didn¡¯t have an umbrella. She remembered the days when Tomoyo and she had lent each other umbrellas, slept over at each other¡¯s houses, waited for each other after school to go to an ice cream store or visit a pretty accessory place.

 Slowly, Sakura walked out of the school gates, shoved by people excited that school was over. She welcomed the rain, the cool wetness streaming down her hair and seeping through her school uniform. Yet, soon, she found that she was shivering from cold and was heading the wrong direction from Syaoran¡¯s apartment.

 The Dark Ones were making the right move. They had gone one step above. And as they has predicted, the betrayal of her best friend hurt her more than being pelted by rocks, whipped by lashes, or being frightened by haunting skulls and ghouls.

 

¡¡

 ¡°If you catch a cold, I won¡¯t be responsible for it,¡± came a light, teasing, yet warm voice from behind her. A dark green umbrella was held over her head, shielding her from the rain. For the first time, she realized how hard it must have been raining. It was a rainy summer.

 ¡°I had a hard time finding you. You¡¯re in the completely wrong direction from home.¡±

 Still not turning around, Sakura murmured, ¡°I never asked you to come fine me.¡±

 ¡°Well, you never asked me to stop worrying about you,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°You don¡¯t have to hide anything from me¡¦ Ah¡¦ I found out.¡± Little did she know to what extent he did. He had been sent to the principal¡¯s office for punching that guy at school. And it had taken him great courage to go face Sakura again, even though he was pretty sure what her response would be. And as he had suspected, he was unwanted.

¡°I told you not to meddle into my business,¡± Sakura tried to say coolly, yet she couldn¡¯t hide the tremor in her voice.

 ¡°It¡¯s my business also. Anyway, Tomoyo is my friend as well as yours. You know all this is because of a Dark Force. Maybe the Phantom. It controlled her father before,¡± Syaoran said.

 ¡°Yet, don¡¯t you see? All the things she said. They¡¯re the dark, deep feelings she had in her heart,¡± Sakura said bitterly. ¡°And I admit. She¡¯s done more for me than I can ever repay her with. She gave me unwavering and dependable friendship all these years, and yet, she was the victim of Clow Cards, and I couldn¡¯t even be by her side because I had no idea about her father, Daidouji-san, head of the Tokyo Police Force. I¡¯ve always looked at Tomoyo as being perfect. But beneath the perfect girl I took for granted, there was hurt, loneliness, and fear, like any other person.¡± She finally turned around to face Syaoran. ¡°And being the slow person I am, I couldn¡¯t be there and comfort her. If a Dark Force is controlling her, its all my fault.¡±

 Slowly, Syaoran reached out and cupped her cheeks with a gentle hands. ¡°Friendship doesn¡¯t work like that. It¡¯s not a matter of giving and taking, or repaying each other. It¡¯s there, bound by and invisible thread. I see that you¡¯re crying, yet you have no tears in your eyes. All this isn¡¯t your fault. If you have to blame someone, it¡¯s the Dark One¡¯s fault.¡±

 He stared down with brilliant amber eyes, which seemed to penetrate her soul. His large hand felt so warm against her cold, wet face. ¡°Syaoran¡¦ I¡¦¡± How could she explain to him? How she wanted to tell him that despite all her harsh words, she didn¡¯t mean any of them.

 ¡°I understand everything, so don¡¯t say a word.¡± Dropping the umbrella, he wrapped his strong arms around her, and let her lean her head against his shoulder. One hand was tangled in her wet hair, stroking her head to soothe her.

 ¡°Funny, you said the same thing to me before,¡± Sakura murmured. ¡°The day Yukito-san rejected me. Do you remember? I guess it¡¯s another one of my silly childhood memories.¡±

 ¡°Did I ever tell you? I was really sad then because you were sad. But at the same time, I was happy, very happy that I was the first one you turned to when you could no longer hold back your tears.¡±

 ¡°I¡¯m getting you all wet,¡± Sakura said, realizing that her sopping wet clothes was wetting Syaoran¡¯s as well.

 Tightening his arms around her, he replied, ¡°It doesn¡¯t matter. I¡¯m already wet because of the rain.¡±

 ¡°How come you still trust me after all those rumors at school?¡± Sakura asked after a while, her voice muffled in Syaoran¡¯s shirt. 

 ¡°What kind of guy do you take me for?¡± Syaoran asked, as if offended. Laughing on a side note, "And those people are so stupid. How can you be cheating on me when you're not even going out with me? Now, don¡¯t worry. We¡¯ll get Tomoyo back to normal. And everything will be all right.¡±

 ¡°Yes. Thing¡¯s will turn out fine. But I¡¯ll never be able to attack Tomoyo-chan, even to bring out the Dark Force,¡± Sakura said.

 ¡°You won¡¯t have to. The Dark Force probably will come out on its own.¡±

 ¡°And I¡¯ll have Tomoyo back,¡± Sakura whispered. ¡°And then, I¡¯ll tell her everything I¡¯ve ever wanted to say to her and show her how grateful I was for having her as my best friend.¡±

 And I¡¯m so grateful to have you here, sheltered by your arms. I wouldn¡¯t have been able to stand up and face the day without you, Syaoran. Yet, I don¡¯t know the words to say. It would be so easy if I can just tell you I love you, yet it¡¯s not as simple as that. More than anything, I want to hear those words from your lips, but as I told Tomoyo, I won¡¯t ask for anything more than this. After all, doesn¡¯t friendship last longer than love? And I won¡¯t be able to bare it if the Dark Ones turn Syaoran on me. Like they changed Tomoyo.

 ¡°You know, the Phantom tried to possess me once,¡± Syaoran commented.

 ¡°When?¡±

 ¡°During summer vacation when we were in Tokyo, escaping from the police.¡±

 ¡°And what happened?¡± Sakura asked quietly.

 ¡°I wouldn¡¯t let it control me,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°And it went away.¡±

 ¡°Really?¡± Sakura was impressed. ¡°You could resist the power of the Phantom? I wonder how.¡±

 ¡°I think because I knew if the Phantom possessed me, I knew I might do something regrettable to you,¡± Syaoran concluded. ¡°And I would hate myself if I did so.¡±

 This made Sakura smile. Then she bit her lips. Maybe now or never. Hiding her face in Syaoran¡¯s chest, she said, ¡°You know Syaoran? I think I¡¯m in lov—¡°

 At that moment, a bus screeched in front of them as they stood on the street and splashed mud over the two. ¡°¡¦e with you.¡±

They tried to jump back to avoid the mud shower, but it was too late.

 

Laughing, Syaoran said, ¡°Well, we better go back home and change. I don¡¯t know about myself, but you look like you rolled in a swamp.¡± Taking a handkerchief, surprisingly still dry, from his pocket, he wiped Sakura¡¯s face with it. ¡°Now, what were you saying again?¡±

 But the magic moment had passed. It had not been the right time. Maybe the time would never come. Yet¡¦

 ¡°I¡¯ll beat the Dark Force and return Tomoyo to normal, no matter what it costs me,¡± Sakura asserted as she ran ahead, trying to prevent Syaoran from glimpsing the scared look on her face, contradicting to her hardy words.

 ¡°No, what did you say before?¡± Syaoran murmured, sighing at Sakura¡¯s lithe figure running down the street. He always ended up staring at her back. Yet, she had seemed so vulnerable and sad when he held her tightly in his arms. One thing for sure, he¡¯ll make sure the Dark Force in Tomoyo will be conquered to make Sakura happy. And for Tomoyo¡¯s sake, also. Tomoyo deserved the best, for she was a one of a kind girl.

 

******

 

¡°I like arriving on rainy days,¡± a teenage boy with midnight blue eyes and neatly parted black hair stated, picking up his suitcase and walking outside the Japan airport.

¡°A pessimistic person, aren¡¯t you?¡± a black cat-like beast with butterfly wings asked, popping his head out from the boy¡¯s coat pocket.

 A blast of rain greeted them as they stepped outside. Rather annoyed, the boy found his glass flecked with water droplets and it fogged up due to the temperature difference from inside and outside.

 ¡°You look ridiculous,¡± the stuffed-animal like creature commented. ¡°Do you still like rain?¡±

 ¡°Shh¡¦ Suppi-chan. People can here you. It feels good to be back in Japan after let¡¯s see¡¦ four years? Hope to enjoy this time as much as my last stay.¡±

 ¡°Do you think that Nakuru will be fine by herself in England

¡°I hope so. Anyway, she will come back to Japan with Sakura¡¯s brother and Yue pretty soon.¡± Frowning, the boy then murmured, ¡°It¡¯s a pity that there is already enough trouble already without me interfering. Well, let¡¯s see what happens.¡±

 

¡¡

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

¡¡

Wish-chan: Well, another LONG chapter... It's the first chapter I'm writing from my new computers... Hehe... Anyway, it starts out pretty light and digresses into deeper things... Hehe... Poor Sakura-chan. And Poor Tomoyo-chan. I really like Tomoyo a lot, seriously. She's the best friend anyone can have... Yet, one can't always be so perfect. Anyway. Haha... I have an obsession with rain... Oh yeah, Kaitou-kun is back. You probably knew he wouldn't stay away for long. He's just Kai from now on, people who had a hard time remembering his name. hmm... I better name his parrot, also. People who are waiting for the Star-Crossed chapter, I think it will come in Chapter 39... and it will probably be more than one chapter... And, things are gonna get more tense from now on... Sorry for taking so long! I will continue writing New Trials even if nobody reads it, until I finish it... You know, this is the longest I've ever persisted on a project... It's really sad that I don't have enough time and that I can't write as fast as I can think ideas... Then, people wouldn't have to wait for a month for updates.. Haha... well, till next chapter then.

Here is a picture of Kaitou Magician in one of his escapades... I think it's my favorite one of him so far and I spent lots of time on it. I seem to have so many pics of him, but that is #1 his pictures were the only ones available when I had access to a scanner and #2. Out of my characters, I found he was one of the hardest to picture, so I had to continuously draw him to picture him in my mind. Kaitou Magician with Cloak.