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THE KISS THAT NEVER WAS: Part 9
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THE KISS THAT NEVER WAS
Part 9: Chapters 50 to 55
(MF, Mf, humor, rom, fanfic, harem, OM, OF, slow, no sex)
Written by Spacer X (paul_t_22@yahoo.com)

Chapter Fifty: Dancin' Fool

Keitaro was dangerously full of himself. He'd woken up very early, too excited to sleep after an incredible night of lovemaking with Mitsune. He walked out of his hotel room with the driving beat of the Bee Gee's disco hit "Stayin' Alive" pounding in his head. He quietly sang to himself, "You can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a ladies' man, no time to talk..." He strutted his way down the hill to the teahouse for breakfast, singing the song the whole way. Normally he was very self-conscious about dancing, but the way he was feeling that morning, he didn't care.

He had good reasons to feel full of himself, and he enumerated them in his head. Why, may I ask, am I such a great guy? Well you may ask, Mr. Urashima. Last night, for starters. First, I defuse a difficult situation with Suu not through any help by Mitsune, but through my own wit, thank you very much. Then, later on, I made love with the incomparable, aforementioned Mitsune. And how we made love! When I look back to our first or even second time together, it's kind of embarrassing, now that I think about it. I was such a schmo that she actually had to plug my nose so I wouldn't practically bleed to death! Ha! Whereas, last night, I'm starting to get some style! Yeah! He punched a fist into the air to emphasize the word "style," and then again with the "yeah."

But that's not all. Nooooo siree! Not only is Mitsune making love to me, but both Motoko and Mutsumi wish they were. That day at the nude beach - man! That memory cannot be topped! And Suu, she wants me! So does Shinobu! I'm bad! I'm nationwide! I'm unstoppable! Heh-heh-heh! Practically every sentence was now emphasized with additional thrusts of his arms in the air, mimicking the gesture made famous by John Travolta in his white disco suit. He continued on in this manner all the way to the teahouse. For someone who was supposedly so cool, he in fact looked quite silly.

Just before stepping into the teahouse, he actually paid enough attention to the world around him to take a good look down the beach. He noticed that the Suu's pavilion from the night before was completely gone. Huh. That must have been only a couple hundred meters from here, but there's no sign of it whatsoever. It's just like it was a dream. But that's just like my life. A wonderful dream. A real waking dream!

He stepped into the teahouse and said a very cheery "Good Morning!" to Haruka. She was the only one there already, and had been watching him come across the beach through a window.

She smiled nicely, walked up to him, and then thwacked him hard on the head with her elbow.

"Hey! What was that for? For once I didn't say anything objectionable to you at all!" He rubbed his suddenly pounding head.

"That was because you're acting like such a boob. If you're going to be like this all day, tell me now so I can put myself out of my misery."

"What? What did I do?"

"Keitaro, if the dictionary had an illustration next to the word 'smug,' it would be the look on your face right now." His smile collapsed straight off of his head.

She went on, "I generally try to stay out of your life and just let things run their own course. But as your aunt, I feel obliged to speak up, because everyone else is so directly involved in your romance games that they can't be objective. I'm the only one in a position to see objectively.

"I know enough of what's going on, though I don't know everything. Now that Naru is out of the picture, every single woman from the Hinata Inn is falling over you. So now you're strutting around like a peacock because all of the sudden you think you're God's gift to women. And from one perspective, that's true. But take a step back, and look at it from another point of view."

There was some concern on his face, but he still didn't really understand. "What? Everything is going great. My life has never been better. I'm the envy of any guy in Japan."

"Yeah, but ask yourself: why do you have some many wonderful women chasing after you? Is it that you're really so amazing? Or is a lot of it just plain luck; that you're the manager of a woman's dormitory containing a remarkable number of unattached, extraordinary women? How would you fare if you were coming into Toudai in the next few weeks just like any other freshman, and wanted to get a date? What would you do?"

He started confidently, "Well, I'd probably..." His voice trailed off into silence. More abashed, he confessed, "I probably wouldn't get a date. I don't really know how to meet people very well."

"Keep that in mind," Haruka continued, as she stubbed her cigarette into an ashtray. "And another thing. You have five women who think they're in love with you. Probably six still, counting Naru. Do you expect to have a harem of multiple wives, or mistresses, or something like that?"

"No! Of course not."

"Then consider. You're going to end up with one woman, Keitaro. One. The others are going to be crushed. Devastated, maybe. You're having fun now, but later the chickens will come home to roost. If you pick, say, Mutsumi, how do you think Motoko will feel? Will she flee the Hinata Inn, never to be seen again? How will Shinobu take it? You'll break her fragile little heart. Pick anyone, and the consequences will be enormous."

Keitaro's mouth hung open. "Holy..." He just gazed off, like he'd been struck stupid. "I... I just didn't think..."

"That's right. You haven't been thinking. You've been so busy having fun that of course you haven't thought. That's why I have to have this talk to you. Because I don't want to see those lovely women get hurt. You hold their hearts in your hands. You shouldn't be cocky - you should be careful."

His face was lined with worry now, and the strutting fool of a few minutes ago was long gone. "Oh my gosh! You're so right. I can be such an idiot sometimes!" He slapped the palm of his hand against his forehead. "What am I going to do? There's no way out! Every direction leads to lots of pain."

Haruka stood over him now, arms folded. "Don't get too panicky either. I'm not trying to completely deflate your ego; I just want to bring you back down to Earth. I only hope you'll keep things in perspective. Remember that you're a very, very lucky guy, not some super stud. And yes, you have many great qualities. Your grandma is very proud of you. Your parents are proud of you. I'm proud of you. You've accomplished a lot getting into Toudai, and any of these women should be very proud to be your girlfriend. Use your qualities to act responsibly, and don't just let your libido control what you do."

That suddenly reminded him of the previous night with Suu (though simultaneously he now didn't want to be reminded of what he did with Mitsune a short time after). "Haruka, I'm already trying. You should have seen what happened last night! There was a red moon and Suu transformed. She plied me with aphrodisiac and did everything to seduce me, but I resisted! I resisted! I knew it wasn't right. And a similar thing happened with Shinobu just the other day."

Haruka laughed. "That's good. You stopped yourself from sleeping with a fifteen year old, a girl six years younger than you. And a sixteen year old too. Next thing you're going to tell me is that you've resolved not to sleep with Sara."

Keitaro turned really red. He thought his resistance to Suu was a great display of wisdom and willpower, but now he felt ashamed that he was ever tempted in the first place.

Haruka saw that in his face. "Look, I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm belittling that. And I was trying to make a joke about Sara, but it came out all wrong. I know things are more complicated than when it comes to Suu. Much more complicated. For one thing, when she came onto you, she wasn't really fifteen. What you did was a good start. I'm going to keep breaking my own rule here and offer some more advice, and then I'll leave you alone. Learn from your experience with Narusegawa. Don't drag this out for seemingly years and years. I don't think any of us want to go through that again. Figure out what you want and who you want, and make your choice. The sooner that happens, the easier you can let the others down, and the less painful it will be for everyone. Did you do that with Suu last night? Did you make clear that she shouldn't be attracted to you? Did you let her down easy without hurting her feelings too much?"

"Um, well I..."

Keitaro was saved from answering the question because Seta and Sara were approaching the teahouse. Others were in the distance, arriving too. Haruka withdrew from Keitaro and headed towards the new guests. "Sorry for being such a cold shower. I know I'm not your mother - maybe I'm out of line for being so bold."

"No! No!" He waved his arms in a frantic but sincere gesture. "Thank you! I really appreciate it."

Seta and Sara were practically at the threshold to the teahouse now. Before they could enter and say hello, Keitaro fled across the teahouse and out another door, and headed off alone onto the beach.

Chapter Fifty-One: From the Mouths of Babes

Keitaro shuffled along the ocean shore, his head drooping way down. He was a man of emotional extremes. As happy as he was a few minutes ago, he was that sad now, and then some.

Haruka is so right! I'm just so glad Seta and Sara walked in when they did, so I didn't have to answer her questions about Suu. No, I didn't really make it clear she shouldn't be attracted to me. Yes, I scared her to death, but for all I know she'll just conclude she gave me too much aphrodisiac and try again tonight. And I don't even know if I hurt her feelings or not. That's how much of an idiotic, insensitive boob I am. Dammit!

He sighed very heavily. He looked up and back towards the teahouse, and realized, This is more or less exactly where Suu's pavilion was. There's not even an indentation in the sand that would indicate it was here just hours ago. That makes me feel like I'm hallucinating things. <Sigh>

Today's a rest day, and really our last one, since we've got a full day of practice tomorrow and then the play in the evening, finally. And then home. Haruka's running the play like a tight ship, I'll give her credit for that. He hung is head down woefully again.

So today should be a day of fun. I kind of wish she would have let me prance around like an idiot for the rest of the day, and THEN broken my illusions. Now I'm just going to mope.

"Rrraaarrrgghhh!!!" Something attacked him from behind. It was Sara: she jumped at his back and managed to latch her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. Keitaro didn't react at first, but then he slowly fell forward and his face slammed into the sand.

Sara hopped off, and stood back, trying to figure him out. She turned him over. "Hey, Mr. Dodo Brain, do you give up that easily? What a wimp!" She playfully kicked him.

He lay on the ground, face up now, and stared up in the sky like he was a corpse with its eyes still open. "Please, Sara. Don't call me names, okay? I'm having a bad day."

"A bad day? It's not even seven in the morning yet! Come on, get up, you, you ... zombie!" She pulled at his arm, but it was like pulling at a wet noodle. She gave up and it flopped back to the ground. His glasses and face were covered with sand.

She sat down next to him with more concern. "What's wrong? Looks like you really have the blues."

He sighed again. "Yeah, I do. I'm probably being too dramatic about it, as usual, but I was really flying high, and then I got my wings clipped. Rightly so. Now I'm worried about all kinds of stuff."

"What kinds of stuff? Maybe I can help."

"Romantic stuff." He was going to add, "You wouldn't understand," but then he realized how condescending that sounded. Then it occurred to him , I've been so full of my romantic successes lately, I've been treating Sara condescendingly. Shinobu and Suu, too. Mostly I've just been ignoring them. What a jerk I am!

"Oh," she replied. "Hmm. ... I don't know a lot about that. But I can tell it really hurts." She picked his limp arm up again and this time just held his hand in her two small hands. He saw this for what it was: a very heartfelt gesture of support. He was deeply moved.

He stirred for the first time, and sat up on her elbows, finally looking Sara in the eyes.

Encouraged, she squeezed his hand and continued, "I don't know romance, but I do know that when I'm bummed out, I turn to you crazy weirdoes to make me feel better. It's no good just getting down on yourself."

Keitaro let go of her hands, sat fully upright, and wiped his glasses off. She's really right. She's a lot smarter than me, when it comes right down to it. Where would I be without friends like her? And Aunt Haruka? I really owe her a big one for today. I have to get off of my duff and engage with people. My problem is, I just sit around and stew in my juices too much.

"You're right, Sara. Seta's got a smart daughter. I've got an idea. Why don't we go windsurfing? You, me, Shinobu, and Suu; just as soon as the rental store opens. Then when we tire of that we can make that sand castle I was threatening to help with the other day. I'd really like that."

"Okay!" Sara said brightly, happy to see him reviving. "Threatening is right! You're probably a danger to sand castle makers everywhere."

He smiled a wan smile. "We'll see. Just one favor to ask, though. Could you get me some breakfast, and bring it to me here? We could eat breakfast together, out here on the edge of the water. I just don't want to deal with running into certain people right now."

Chapter Fifty-Two: Brotherly Love

Windsurfing with Suu, Shinobu, and Sara was a huge relief for Keitaro. Battling the waves and trying to stay upright drove all thought of his romantic difficulties out of his mind. Building the sand castle was a great occasion to reaffirm bonds with the younger girls that he'd been neglecting too much for weeks now.

It was quite strange for him though to sit there and make a sand castle with Suu. Looking at her one-piece bathing suit, the lack of her bodily development was obvious, especially in the breasts. And with a ponytail and her childlike demeanor, she seemed more like Sara than anyone. As he dripped drops of sand onto a sand castle tower, he fell deeply into his own thoughts. I cannot believe I came thiiiis close to having sex with Suu last night! That seems even more unreal that the mysterious pavilion. I feel like a dirty ... cradle robber! Although I have to keep in mind Suu is not your typical fifteen year-old. In fact, she's just about the most ageless person I've ever met. On one hand, she can act like a five year old at times, but on the other hand she can run mental circles around PhDs. He sighed. I really need to talk to her and get this all straightened out.

The windsurfing and castle making consumed the whole morning. When they broke for lunch, Keitaro hung back with Suu so they could talk. They moved off the beach and sat on a bench under some trees near a wide boardwalk, because they were getting too much sun (especially Keitaro, already red from his nude beach experience).

Keitaro started first. "Suu, I really want to apologize for last night..."

"Last night? What last night? I don't remember anything." She wore a playful yet clueless face.

"Suu, come on, let's not play games. I know you remember. Let's not make any judgments. Last night was what it was. Let's acknowledge it, and learn and grow from it." Suu didn't say anything, but from her face he saw she understood.

He grew more serious. "So you're interested in me romantically. I pretty much knew that already. I had too much of the potion, and so nothing happened. Maybe that was for the best."

"Maybe," Suu replied, but Keitaro could see from her face that she didn't really mean it. She was still determined to get him.

"Okay. Let me be more honest. That monster I turned into? That was all an act. I did have a lot of the aphrodisiac, but I could still control myself fine. I thought putting on that act was the least awkward way out of a bad situation."

"You!" She was really surprised. "You nearly scared me to death!" She rained a flurry of punches on him, but they weren't meant to hurt him so much as serve as a release for her frustrations.

He grabbed her and held her as a gesture of closeness, but also as a way to stop the punches. "Suu, you're really special to me. But I'm not the one for you. It sounds like maybe your brother is. But you can't just use me as a substitute for him. I have a lot of things going on in my life right now. Did you notice this morning that even though we were having fun, there's something hanging over my head?" She was glumly silent, so he pressed on. "Yes, I had sex with Mitsune, but sex isn't just a game. It's part of a complicated relationship I have with her. It's not something you can just force on people. I know you have all kinds of incredible abilities, but you can't just force someone to love you or make love to you. It has to happen naturally."

Suu had been fairly poker faced, but all of the sudden she started to cry. "But Keitaro! Those are my feelings! I like you so much! I want to be warm and cuddly with you! You're one of a kind. I can't imagine making love to anyone but you!"

"Your brother..." he started to say, but she cut him off.

"You remind me of my brother, and I like you for that. But he also reminds me of you, and that's part of the reason why I like him! You're not just a substitute for him; that's not what I meant!"

He tried another tack. "Suu, you're really special to me, too. But we're not meant for each other. Deep down, you know it. You're going to be a princess on the other side of the world, and some sort of rich, powerful inventor. I'm going in a completely different direction. We're ages apart from each other, too. You always, always get what you want. You're so talented, you only have to desire something and you can make it work or materialize. But it's not like that with people. Sometimes the best thing you could want from someone else is wishing them happiness with someone else, instead of possessing them like another wonderful invention."

She heard his words, but she continued to cry, now into his shoulder. "No! Don't be like this! Don't say that! Keitaro, I love you!" She looked up into his face, more hopefully now. "I know I'm too young, but I can change that. I can age, and not just for a red moon. I can stay that way. I want to be a woman, just like Mitsune."

Keitaro asked, "And what do you think Mitsune wants? I'll bet if you asked her, she'd say she wants nothing more than to be fifteen again. When you're a kid, all you want to do is get older, and when you're an adult, all you want to do is get younger. Nobody's ever happy about their age. I dunno, maybe someone is for five minutes when they're eighteen. I'm already feeling nostalgic for being younger."

"But Keitaro, that's what I want! Sometimes I feel like an older woman trapped in this tiny body. I want to get out!"

"And if you're smart, you won't. Look, this is a really tough time for me right now; the toughest of my life. I didn't realize just what was happening until this morning, but now I do. If you really love me, there's nothing I'd want more than if you stop pursuing me romantically and just love me as a friend. I've been on an emotional roller coaster. I could really use a good friend where I don't have to worry about the romance. If you try another red moon seduction tonight, I think I'm going to literally lose my mind."

She leaned into him. Suddenly, her face was inches from his. "I just want to kiss you. Why should that create so much trouble and pain?"

Keitaro became acutely aware of the fact that he was sitting on a bench right next to a busy boardwalk, with a fifteen year-old girl's lips inches from his own. People were pausing to stare as they walked by. He wanted to get out of that embarrassing predicament as fast as possible.

He pushed her slightly away, and avoided a direct answer to her question. "I want you to promise me something. Promise me you won't try to seduce me any more. Please respect my feelings and don't try to force what you want onto me."

"I'm sorry." She was no longer crying, but still sad. Suddenly, a devious thought popped into her head. "If I promise that, will you do something for me?"

"What?"

"Will you be my first kiss? That's what I really want. Maybe I'm too young to make love. But there's no one I want more for a first kiss than you. You're so kind and understanding, and I feel so comfortable with you..."

Keitaro fiddled with his glasses and considered that idea. "Okay, I'll make you a deal. If you can convince me, and really truly convince yourself, you're no longer attracted to me romantically, and you don't desire me in that way in any way, then and only then I'll kiss you."

"But that's a contradiction!" she correctly pointed out.

"I know. But there's a difference between really truly wanting somebody, and just enjoying a kiss with them. I know it doesn't make a lot of sense, and it may be a really stupid idea, but it just feels right to me. It feels like a good compromise."

"Are we talking a real kiss? A deep, give-it-your-all kiss?"

"Yeah. But just one, and that's it. Forever."

"Alright. I accept!" She hugged him tightly, happy for the moment. "I completely hate you now since you just rejected me. So let's kiss!" She puckered her lips and leaned in to his face again.

He smiled, scooting away down the bench again. "No. Nice try. The sooner you can convince me your romantic feelings are gone, the sooner we can kiss. I think that'll take a long time. You can start by not trying to seduce me again tonight."

"Darn! I had a big scheme worked out already." She fell back into gloom.

He couldn't help but laugh. "That doesn't surprise me. Someday you're going to make your brother or somebody really happy, because you never do anything half way." He stood up. "Now let's get back to the teahouse so you can start actively hating me in front of everyone."

A smile at that comment briefly crossed her face, but the sadness returned again, and she remained sitting. "You go ahead. I'm going to sit here and watch the people go by. I'll be okay."

Keitaro let her be, and walked off. She was hurting badly, very badly, but she didn't try to analyze her feelings, or ruminate on the situation. Instead, when she had a problem the way she dealt with her feelings was to bury them with new activity. She was a never-stopping dynamo of action. The first words to cross through her brain when he left were: Alright. I've lost the battle but not the war. The plans for Operation: First Kiss are now going to commence!

Chapter Fifty-Three: Broken Promises

As Keitaro walked down the boardwalk back to the teahouse, he pondered to himself, Was that good or bad? Did I say the right things? I probably could have done better. For one thing, I wasn't completely honest. Like I didn't tell her that the aphrodisiac really worked. Man, did it ever work! It wasn't so noticeable when I was with Suu, but later with Mitsune the effect just kept on going and going. Practically half the night! It's a good thing I left Suu when I did, because the potion just seemed to get stronger and stronger with time. If the makers of Viagra ever get their hands on this stuff...

But anyways, I wasn't completely honest, even if I had good reasons to fudge things a little. And it really wasn't fair of me to tell her I knew her feelings better than she did. But I'm just so desperate to reduce the dimensions of my romantic problem. There's no way I can handle three women interested in me at the same time, much less five or six! I have a feeling that my dumb kiss compromise idea is going to bite me on the rear further down the line. <Sigh>

Back at the teahouse, Keitaro found himself eating lunch with just Mutsumi. Looking at her sitting across from him put his mind at ease. She's just so at peace with herself and at peace with the world. I feel so good, so content, being around her!

But his ease was soon shattered.

Near the end of their meal, Mutsumi noted, "Kei-kun, only two more days here at the beach. Soon we'll be back in Tokyo."

"Yes. It seems like time has flown by so fast," he replied.

"I know a lot has been happening here, but do you still mean to keep your promise?"

"My promise? What promise?" He was genuinely confused.

"Don't tell me you don't remember! You know: your promise that you'd stay true and not fool around with anyone here at the beach, and that once we got back, we'd start officially dating."

"Oh, THAT promise!" He put on a showy smile even as he nervously scratched the back of his head. Inwardly, he fretted, Oh no, what am I going to do? I've been blocking that out of my mind, just like how I've been blocking thoughts of the probable consequences on the women I don't choose. Am I really that committed to her already? And I've already broken the first part of the promise into pieces by sleeping with Mitsune! Twice in the past couple of days! I can't keep lying to everybody. I have to be brutally honest, or the heartache and misunderstanding will just multiply later!

"Um, Mutsumi, I have to admit something. I haven't been entirely free of fooling around this last week. Mitsune and I... Well, we... Well, you know..."

Mutsumi put her hand over her mouth, which was making a perfectly shaped "O." After an uncomfortable pause, she said sadly, "I see."

Neither Keitaro nor Mutsumi noticed, but Motoko was sitting right behind them, eating her meal alone. She was alone on purpose, so she could focus her attention on eavesdropping on their conversation. When she overheard Mutsumi explain Keitaro's promise, she calmly got up, put her plate of food away, and walked out of the teahouse. She not only heard Keitaro's promise to Mutsumi, but as she was leaving she caught Keitaro confess that he was still making love to Mitsune. Motoko definitely couldn't stand to hear any more. As soon as she was safely clear of the teahouse doorway, she burst into tears and ran down the beach, crying all the way.

Meanwhile, there was another, even longer uncomfortable pause between Keitaro and Mutsumi after she said, "I see." Belatedly realizing other people sitting around them might hear what was turning into an unexpectedly personal conversation, Keitaro suggested, "Why don't we, uh, walk outside for a minute and continue talking there?"

So they went out onto the busy beach. They wandered between clumps of people lying on sand as they made their way towards the water. Motoko was already long gone.

Mutsumi seemed sad, but resigned. She said, "I don't care about you and Mitsune, because you don't have strong feelings for her, do you? Isn't it just a purely physical thing between you two?"

Keitaro thought about that. I like her a lot, but I don't love her. Not in that way. "Yes. I think so. ... Yes."

Mutsumi took Keitaro's hand in her own. "I know how scheming Mitsune is, and how new and exciting physical love must be to you. It must be really hard to resist. But I also know that once you have a formal girlfriend, you'll be fiercely loyal to her. That's the kind of person you are."

"You think so?" he asked, doubting himself. "I'm touched by your confidence in me. I'm not sure if I'm such a good guy, actually. I'm feeling pretty down about myself today."

"I noticed." They walked with their arms around each other's shoulders. "But I'm here for you. Once we get back, everything will be different, and better. ... Frankly, I'm much more worried about Motoko-chan. The three of us had a lot of fun on the nude beach the other day, but I also saw how you look at her. It's not just a lustful look; it's a deep, caring look too. I told you this already, but I worry that you love her more than me, and that I'm going to end up 'the other woman,' just like with Naru."

He sighed a very heavy sigh. "You're right. I have to be honest to my feelings. But it's not that I love her more than you, it's that I can't make up my mind. If you and I started dating when we got back, I'd always be looking over my shoulder at Motoko, wondering about the path not taken, haunted that maybe I didn't make the right decision."

By this point they had reached the water's edge, and they stopped and faced each other, once again hand in hand. He continued, "I know I made a promise that we'd date, and I'd like to keep that promise. I'm excited at the idea. Very excited. But what if, for a while, we try open dating? Test the waters, and be allowed to see other people? A lot of people our age do that kind of thing. I think I spoke rashly making that promise before, because my heart is not made up."

Mutsumi stared at him for a long time, looking deeply into his eyes, searching to read his emotions. Finally, she said, "I see. I should have known. If I'm going to win my place in your heart, it's not going to be as easy as just holding you to your promise. I'll have to overcome your feelings for Motoko, and maybe Mitsune too. That's not a quick or easy thing, because they're both such lovely people."

She paused again, and looked at him with intense concern. "Okay. So be it. We can try your idea for a time. Otherwise you will be haunted, and never fully committed. But don't take too long! I feel so unsettled too. I'm so worried about you. Worried about you and Motoko. Worried about you and Mitsune. I could already tell you've been sleeping with her lately. I'm at least glad you had the honesty to admit it when I brought it up."

Keitaro hugged Mutsumi tight. "Thank you for understanding! You're just so nice; so accepting and caring! You're too good for me. I feel like such a loser today. It's like every time I try to be nice to one person, I end up hurting someone else. But you understand everything. And I'm so sorry! So very sorry about everything!"

As an afterthought, he added, "With Mitsune, it's not just that I can't control my urges, though that's part of it. It's like there's something more going on there. Like a form of communication or something."

Mutsumi's eyes opened wide at hearing that. "That's what worries me!"

He kissed her on the forehead, but she didn't kiss back. They soon said goodbye, and Keitaro decided to take a long walk alone. He was emotionally exhausted than physically exhausted but too wound up to sleep. He just wanted the day to be over already.

Chapter Fifty-Four: Nothing Left to Lose

After hearing Mutsumi and Keitaro speak, Motoko ran straight to her hotel room. She grasped her sword and slashed it through the air, desperately wanting to cut something or someone. Even as she cried, she fumed with a diffuse anger, at herself as much as anyone.

But her small room on the third floor of the hotel couldn't contain her restless spirit. She went out into the hallway and paced up and down it endlessly, sword slashing through the air. One random guest started to enter the third floor from the elevator, saw Motoko, and rapidly closed the elevator door.

Impulsively, Motoko stopped at Mitsune's door, at the end of the hall from hers, and pounded upon it. "Come out! Come out now!"

To her surprise, Mitsune did come to the door. Motoko was almost certain that Mitsune was off someplace else since it was early afternoon, and just wanted to beat on Mitsune's door to let her feelings out. But Mitsune had just settled down for a nap. She'd rushed to the door wearing only a towel loosely held in front of her, afraid there was something dangerous, like a fire. Mitsune's eyes looked even more closed than they usually did, since she was just waking up. But they opened completely wide as she fully digested Motoko's presence.

Motoko glowered at her and swept into the room. "YOU!" she cried out. "It's your fault as much as anybody's!" She stood apart from Mitsune, but the pointed sword covered most of the distance between them.

"What?" Mitsune asked in utter confusion. "What did I do?"

"You built my hopes up! Made me think I had a chance with him! Liar! No chance! I have no chance!"

"Put that thing down before you hurt somebody. Probably me. Your training is supposed to allow you to control your emotions, so calm down!"

Motoko reluctantly put the sword down on a table. She'd felt comfortable with the sword in her hand and felt naked without it. She felt even more naked since she was wearing a bikini and didn't even have a sheath to put the sword in. She used some breathing techniques to calm down.

"Now tell me just what happened," Mitsune said calmly. Motoko explained the whole situation.

As Motoko talked, her anger came back, but this time directed at Keitaro. Yet when she got to the end where he confessed to having slept with Mitsune, Motoko's wrath turned to the friend in front of her. She pounded Mitsune like a drum with her fists, but the blows were soft and short, more like the wailing arms of a petulant and crying baby than an attempt to do harm.

Finally all of Motoko's energy drained out of her, and she just sat silent. Mitsune embraced her, even though her towel had fallen off by this time. They didn't care about such trivial things as nakedness at this point.

Mitsune tried to make Motoko feel better. Now that she could get a word in edgewise, she commented, "Just a minute. Did you hear Keitaro actually agree that he would be dating Mutsumi? Or did he try not to answer?"

"I guess the lying, cheating, perverted scum was too busy drowning in the bile of his lies and broken promises to quickly answer." Needless to say, Motoko's vocal tone was beyond bitter.

"So you don't really know what's going on between them, do you?"

"No, but I do know you're sleeping with him, still!"

"But that's a good thing!" Mitsune said with a positive smile. "If he were as serious about Mutsumi as you think, why would he still be sleeping with me? It shows he's confused and indecisive. Typical Keitaro."

"Hey! Stop trying to make me feel better with your twisted logic. I give up. First, I'm going to kill him, for seeing me walk around naked all day. Then, I'm going to pick up the pieces and kill him again for pretending to be a wonderful guy when his heart is really filled with blackness. Then..."

"Oh come on," Mitsune said, giggling a bit. "'Heart is filled with blackness'? Isn't that just a little bit melodramatic?"

Motoko rolled her eyes in frustration at being chided, but conceded the point.

Mitsune pressed on. "You know that song, what it is called... Oh yeah. 'Me and Bobby McGee'?"

"No. I'm not much for Western music."

"Well, in that song, there's the line, 'Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.' Think about that. If you're so convinced that you've lost to Mutsumi, then what do you have to lose? Why not just completely throw yourself out there, and give it all you've got? If you lose, you were going to lose anyways. And if you don't try, then you'll always wonder if maybe you would have done something else, things might have been different." She looked at Motoko's still smoldering eyes and added, "That is, if you're still interested in him."

"A big if!" Motoko said in a huff. She separated herself from Mitsune's hug and folded her arms under her bikini top, staring away defiantly.

"Well, are you still interested in him or not? Because if you're not, you should be the one giving me the advice. I'm still going to pursue him until the bitter end. I don't care about the odds. I'm going to keep trying."

Motoko was glad she was looking away already as she forced herself to say, "You know the answer. I must be certifiably insane. The shame of the family!"

"Don't say that. Your sister likes him and even tried to force you two to marry. Besides, your cause is not lost. Do you have any idea how he looks at you? I wish he looked at me like that. You're definitely still in the running, so just relax. Go all out. Like you've got nothing left to lose."

Motoko turned around and looked at Mitsune. Realizing the other girl was still naked, she quickly turned back and thrust her arms high in the air in a gesture of frustration, like she was imploring God for a favor. "What can I do? I am who I am, and I'm not Mutsumi. Maybe it's for the best, anyway. Maybe he would be bad for me in the long run. Maybe I'm meant just to run the dojo, and live alone for the rest of my life."

Mitsune picked up her fallen towel and wrapped it firmly around herself. Then she walked across the room and opened a drawer. She pulled out a red bikini. She held it up. "I bought this for you recently. I want you to wear it."

"But I'm already wearing a bikini. Even as we speak, to my continual shame."

Mitsune wagged a finger playfully. "That's the kind of attitude I don't want to hear. Technically, you're wearing a bikini, in that your bathing suit is a two-piece. But it's black and so conservatively cut. It's like a ninja bikini."

"Hey! Black is my favorite color!"

"And you'll look good in some things black, like a strapless dress. But try this on. This'll turn his head for sure, and make him forget all about her."

Motoko took the red bikini and held it up. It was more of a thong than a bikini, covering virtually nothing in the back. "But, but ... that's almost the same as being nude! It makes even the one you wear look old-fashioned!"

"Where's your nothing left to lose attitude? I didn't take you for a quitter."

Motoko gave Mitsune an exasperated look. "Arrgh. What difference does it make. Like a bikini is going to decide the issue." But she went to the bathroom to change.

Motoko left a short while later, after yet more encouraging talk from Mitsune. She felt a lot better, and left with more resolve.

Mitsune lay back on her bed and wondered. What am I DOING? I think I'm living vicariously through Motoko, in a strange way. Like that advice I gave her: act like you have nothing left to lose. Why aren't I doing that with myself? I'm holding back. Not sexually, that's for damn sure, but emotionally. I like to help Motoko because she's the opposite of me: she's so emotional and lets you know how she feels, even though it's usually unintentionally and against her will. Whereas nobody knows how I really feel. Nobody.

She wallowed in self-pity until she cried herself back to sleep. She was completely drained, as if she'd given all of her energy and optimism to Motoko and had none left for herself.

Chapter Fifty-Five: Desperate Times

Later that afternoon a much calmer Motoko ran into Keitaro. He was just sitting around the beach teahouse, looking glum. She commented that he must be getting rusty on his kendo practice because he hadn't been regularly practicing since they'd arrived at the beach. That wasn't exactly true, as she'd been practicing with him on sword parts for the play, but it made a good excuse for them to do something together. They held an impromptu practice inside a remote grove of trees just off of the beach.

Motoko was in her natural element, and loved every moment. So did Keitaro. They were clicking in every way: not just their practice moves, which were going flawlessly, but they just seemed to be in perfect harmony about everything, giddy at each other's presence. Motoko remembered why she loved him so much in the first place, flaws and all, and redoubled her desire to win him.

Throwing caution to the wind, she practiced in her new, skimpy, red bikini, and saw that in fact it really did affect the way he looked at her. He also practiced in nothing but his bathing suit. Frequently they ended their skirmishes pressed against each other, their sweaty skin rubbing and faces blushing. On several occasions their mouths drew close and Motoko thought for sure they would kiss. But then one or the other would suddenly remember they were in a semi-public place, and pull back. But the sensations and temptations were glorious.

The practice ended all too soon, and they parted. Her giddiness fled as quickly as it had come, and Motoko was left feeling very alone. Though her desperate resolve remained, it didn't stop her earlier doubts from resurfacing. She wandered the beach boardwalk listlessly, dressed in nothing but her thong-like bikini and carrying the sheathed sword for comfort. Her athletic and shapely body drew whistles and stares everywhere she went, and even more so because of the red bikini. But she was more used to such attention now after so many days at the beach.

Fairly far down the beach, she ran across Suu in the parking lot just next to the boardwalk. Motoko was very puzzled at Suu, because she saw her was transferring all kinds of things from a dumpster-sized container into a large van. Motoko walked right up to Suu and said hello.

Suu clearly wasn't too excited about seeing a familiar face. She seemed very secretive, but reluctantly let Motoko look into the container. It was filled with all of the things Suu had put into the open pavilion she'd set up for Keitaro the night before. Now that she'd promised to Keitaro not to tempt him anymore, she had no more use for these things. No more use in the near future anyways - she was far from certain she wouldn't try something similar at some later date.

Motoko, though, didn't know anything about what had transpired on the beach between Suu and Keitaro. She poked through Suu's possessions, asking her what this was, where that came from, and so on. It was more interesting than wandering about aimlessly while being spied by too many leering eyes.

Motoko eventually noticed a whole bunch of bottles. She could see the bottles contained a wide variety of drinks. Feeling suddenly thirsty, she asked if she could drink from one.

She was quite surprised at Suu's reaction. First, a loud "No!" and then a contrite, guilty look. Yet still a firm no.

Motoko easily put two and two together. The full, red moon last night; all this stuff she's got here, like some kind of portable sultan's palace. That must be more of that aphrodisiac everyone's been talking about!

That stuff has been sitting in the refrigerator at the Hinata Inn for too many days, tempting us all. And now, here it is again. Mitsune, you told me I should throw caution to the wind, and just go for it. Well, I'm going to go for it!

Suu was carrying loads to and from the van. Since Motoko was over a meter away from the love potion bottles, Suu wasn't too concerned about Motoko stealing any of them, as she figured she would notice if Motoko walked clear around the container to reach them. But she didn't count on Motoko's sword. With Suu's back turned, Motoko quickly unsheathed her sword, knocked a bottle up into the air with a quick flick of the sword's tip, and then caught the bottom of the bottle in the air with her sword and let it slide down the sword and into her hands. The bottle was safely behind her back within seconds.

Motoko soon excused herself and made her way back to her room. She felt guilty from stealing, not to mention more moral qualms about the particular item she was stealing, but she was also tremendously excited and nervous at the prospects the stolen item offered . I don't have the romantic confidence to just go and throw myself at Keitaro. This love potion is my last chance; not to give some to him, but to give some to myself, and see if he's really interested in me. And with the play happening tomorrow on our last night here, my only chance is to use it tonight!

NOTE: Thanks to the reformatting of Sam.I.am.

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