Life was busy for Seijou Junior High students, especially Sakura’s grade. Along with school work, after school music and sports practices, and ‘Star-Crossed’ musical rehearsals, they also had to prepare for the Spring Carnival.
“This year, we would be a little unique,” Tereda-sensei had said. “We’re going to hold something like a Circus Carnival. Magicians, acrobats, clowns… Plus, we are raising money for the children’s hospital, therefore this a very important cause. I hope that everyone would be willing to help and participate to their fullest potential. It is going to be hard work, I know, since it overlaps with so many other things such as the musical, but I know our grade can pull it through fine.”
There was another buzz of excitement through the class. It seemed that these days, nothing was calm and organized. Everyone eagerly looked at the slip of paper that their teacher was handing out, telling each of their roles.
“Hoe-e, I’m an acrobat,” Sakura said, staring at a slip of paper that their teacher gave her.
“So am I,” Meirin said.
“I’m sure you two will pull together something marvelous,” Naoko said. Sakura and Meirin were one of the best gymnasts in their school. “I’m just a popcorn seller. I’m glad though. No extra stress. You know I’m awful at PE.”
“What is this? I don’t want to be a magician!” Syaoran said.
“Do you want to switch with me?” Takashi asked brightly, holding his paper up.
“What are you?”
Everyone laughed. Chiharu commented, “Fits you perfectly!”
“Well, what are you?” Takashi asked.
Slowly, Chiharu unfolded her slip of paper. “A… Clown?”
There was more giggling. “Are you a magician, too? How romantic!” Erika exclaimed, peering over Syaoran’s shoulder. “Do you know any tricks? I think Eron got the magician part, also. I’m a ringmaster.”
Soon, they found out that Eron, Syaoran, and Tomaki (who everyone called “Aki-kun” for short) were chosen to be magicians, possibly one of the challenging yet interesting roles in the Circus. They had to learn sleight of hand, coordinate with pigeons, cards, flowers, and numerous tricks to amuse the audience.
In a look that asked, ‘you mean I have to work with him?’ Syaoran drooped his head down. It was enough trouble facing Eron during class time, soccer practice, and musical rehearsals. Great, even the Spring Circus Carnival…
Even though it was hard work for everyone, the Circus kept everyone amused during the tedious school day, especially since many girls were jittery before White Day, wondering if the boy of their dreams would give them a white rose.
To practice, Sakura and Meirin pranced down the hallways, turning cartwheels and flips to the awe of many not so athletic students. Takashi amused everyone with his arduous training as a clown by picking up a pencil, eraser, ruler, calculator, and pencil sharpener to juggle them and catch them with deftly one hand. For the first time in his life, he had to actually practice tediously and patiently at something, refusing to give up. This time, he couldn’t slip away with his wicked tongue. However, Chiharu struggled to juggle even two objects.
Meanwhile, Eron charmed all the girls with his smooth little tricks. “Didn’t wash your ear today?” he asked, pulling a coin out of Tomoyo’s ear.” Eron was best with flower tricks, and many girls flipped head over heels when he produced a rose out of apparently nowhere. At this Syaoran scowled, staring at a pile of magic trick books on his table. He refused to look at them because he believed that magicians just used illusions and trickery.
“Wow, Eron-kun! That’s marvelous!” Sakura held a fragrant white rose in rapture, which Eron had pulled apparently out of her hair. “How pretty!”
Rubbing his chin, Syaoran thought, then again, maybe I better start learning those tricks also.
“Do you really think that she would like these?” Syaoran asked eagerly, holding up a box of lemon drop candies, wrapped in silvery white paper.
“YES,” Meirin replied for the tenth time. Sometimes, Syaoran was like a little boy. They were shopping for White Day presents for their friends. “While you’re at it, get a white rose.”
“Why? I like peonies better.”
“Believe me. You want to.” Meirin sighed. Syaoran still didn’t figure out the school tradition.
Then, a dark frown appeared on Syaoran’s face. He remembered how Sakura had given Eron the chocolates on Valentine’s Day…
“Hey, Li-kun, are you getting presents, too?” Takashi asked. He was holding a large box with ribbons in his hands.
“Yeah. Who’d’you get that for?”
“Chiharu.” Smiling, Takashi said, “We had a little argument, and she’s not talking to me right now. But Kinomoto-san told me it’s nice to know that you have a friend that appreciates you and that gifts there to give you security and gratitude. I argue with Chiharu all the time, but I think that’s the fun of it. Making up later on.”
“Sakura told you that?”
“At this rate, Kero-chan’s going to turn into a pig!” Sakura exclaimed. With sweets from Valentine’s day and White Day as well, Kero-chan would be able to eat non-stop for several months. There was a slight disappointment stirring inside since she hadn’t seen someone the whole day.
“Well, as long as he’s able to fly…” Tomoyo said, sorting out her boxes of candy.
“Sakura-chan, did you see the school newspaper?” Chiharu exclaimed, as she entered class. She was holding their school newspaper up for them to see. “Look at this picture!”
Tomoyo peered at it. ‘Valentines Day and White Day School Tradition… Students enjoy exchanging sweets and roses in sign of liking…’ She gasped at the black and white picture with the article. It was Syaoran handing a bouquet of white roses to Erika!
Sakura’s mouth dropped.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY GIVING THOSE ROSES TO ERIKA?” Meirin shouted later on, ready to strangle Syaoran.
Syaoran stared back at her blankly, as if she’d gone mad. “What roses?”
Meirin held out the school newspaper. “This! There’s no use in denying! I have proof! Look at what’s in our newspaper!”
Carefully, he studied the picture. He looked greatly puzzled. Then he said, “Oh! That!”
“What do you mean by oh, that?”
Shaking his head, Syaoran said, “This guy I know from soccer asked me to give them to Erika. So I gave it to her, saying it’s from that guy. I guess the school newspaper crew took a photo at that moment. I didn’t know.”
“You mean, you don’t like Erika?” Meirin’s mouth dropped, her amber-reddish eyes round.
“Why would I like her?” The puzzled look on Syaoran’s face made Meirin sweat-drop. “Oh by the way, did you see Sakura? I still couldn’t find her to give her the candy and roses.” Absentmindedly, Syaoran walked away, staring blissfully into the small white rose buds.
“Oh no,” groaned Meirin.
Then Syaoran glimpsed someone with a white
ribbon tying her braided golden brown hair. He tried to call out her name
but someone else did first.
“Sakura-san! There you are.” Eron proceeded in walking beside Sakura. “Did you receive many gifts today?”
Smiling sadly, Sakura said, “Well…” Not from…
“I know! I haven’t given you a present yet!” Eron playfully drew out a white stuffed bunny, which was holding onto a basket of candies and handed it to Sakura.
“For me! Thank you! This is so cute! But…”
“Ah, don’t thank me. I just remembered you liked bunnies. Plus, I don’t like seeing you with a sad face, Sakura. I want you to smile for me, just for me.”
As she clutched onto the soft doll, the bittersweet fragrance of a white rose tied around the bunnies’ neck reached to her nose. What did the rose mean? Then, a disappointment swelled inside her as the day slipped away with no signs of Syaoran. Eron was sweet… but Syaoran was Syaoran
“Did you give it to her?” Meirin asked, sitting beside Syaoran in the bench at King Penguin Park.
“Give what?” Syaoran was intent in carving a wooden block with his pocketknife. Wood shavings were scattered at his feet.
“I guess you didn’t.” Meirin sighed, fingering the edges of her black hair. “What are you making?”
“Don’t know.” Wincing as he sliced his finger, Syaoran asked, “Why’d’you follow me here?”
“Just. Did you see the doll that Eron gave Sakura?”
“Yeah. It was nice.”
“Oh. You saw it… So. You don’t mind?”
“Why would I mind? Is it any of my business?”
“You’re so blunt, Li Syaoran.”
“Sorry, but I can’t help it.” But, Meirin
didn’t escape noticing Syaoran’s hands tremble just the slightest bit,
as if holding onto a sigh, which would blow days, weeks, months away.
“Good evening!” Sakura laid out the table setting for dinner, since it was her duty. There was a pretty view from the Kinomoto’s kitchen of the blooming sakura blossoms outside, illuminated in the early dusky evening sky. Already, spring was coming. In the flurry of school, musical rehearsals, after school sports practice, and preparation for the Spring Circus Carnival, she hadn’t noticed how the days had past by. Setting down bowls of fluffy white rice, Sakura said, “Onii-chan! Don’t you take my fried shrimps today. They’re my favorite.”
In his teasing tone, Touya tossed his brownish coal black hair and commented, “Considering I’m going to be gone for a semester, you should be nicer to your older brother.”
“Humph! I’ll be glad when you’re gone.” Then Sakura glanced down. Oh yeah. For several months now, Touya had been preparing to spend a semester away from Japan, in England. Yukito-san and Touya had been considering the college exchange student program for a while now. Till today, Sakura hadn’t realized that they were really serious about it. Of course, Fujitaka had reluctantly given permission because he felt studying abroad would be a good experience for Touya. After all, it was only for a few months. Folding her arms, she asked, “Well, when are you going, then?”
“In two weeks.”
“TWO WEEKS!” Sakura’s eyes popped out. It was so much sooner than she had ever expected!
“Why, kaijou? Is it not early enough for you? Don’t tell me you’re disappointed.”
“N-no. It’s just rather sudden. I thought you’d give at least a month’s warning.”
“Well, I’ve been preparing for several months now with Yuki.”
“Oh.” Why do I feel so disappointed? It’s not as if this is something sudden. “I wonder why father’s not home yet. He seemed really excited about something this morning.”
As if on cue, Fujitaka entered the house. “Good evening, Touya-san, Sakura-san.” He smiled at the picture of Nadeshiko dressed in a fluttering lavender dress with flower petals blowing around her on the kitchen counter.
“You seem happy about something, Father,” Touya commented, pouring cool ice tea for everyone.
“Ah, actually.” Fujitaka adjusted his glasses then began. “Well, I received a really honored position at the Seijou University Board, and I was voted as the representative to lecture in universities throughout Japan. It’s a really important job, and I’ll be visiting and talking in schools all over Japan for a semester.”
“That’s great!” His children exclaimed. It was evident that Fujitaka was excited at such a great opportunity. It was always his dream to lecture all over the world. This was a great chance.
“So, when are you going?” Touya asked.
“In around two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” echoed Touya and Sakura.
“Yes. Is there a problem?” Fujitaka looked up curiously.
“No, it’s just,” Touya stammered. “Never mind. I can postpone it. This is more important."
Then, Fujitaka remembered. “Oh, you were spending a semester away in London! How could I forget? Never mind me. Go on with your trip. You spent many months working hard to prepare. There are many university professors willing to take my place.”
“No, no. You can go on the lecturing tour. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can always postpone spending a semester away,” Touya reassured.
Patting her foot impatiently, Sakura stated, “Wait, I don’t see what the problem is. Both of you can go on your trips!”
“But you’ll be all by yourself, kaijou, at home. We can’t just leave you,” Touya protested.
Holding her head up high, Sakura replied, “I’m fifteen now. I’m a young adult, and will be in high school next year. I can manage on my own, fine. I’ve been taking care of the family for years now. I’m the lady of the family! So, have fun and don’t worry about me.”
“But,” Fujitaka stroked his chin, staring critically and proudly at his mature daughter. It seemed so little ago when she was a baby in her crib, with Nadeshiko reading a bedtime story to her.
“I can stay over at Tomoyo’s, plus we have plenty of neighbors. I’ll be fine on my own.”
Ruffling Sakura’s hair and turning to his father, Touya commented, “Well, she has us, doesn’t she? I’ll worry, but if it’s the monster, she’ll be fine.”
Fujitaka nodded, and Sakura smiled, giving a three way hug to her family. As she buried her nose into her father’s crisp shirt, she wondered what it will be like without her father and brother. She didn’t want to even think how lonely she’ll be.
“That’s rather a big commitment. Staying home alone. How did your brother every agree to it?” Kero-chan asked, digging into a bag of chips. Yue gazed at him disdainfully. Sakura had been surprised when Yukito had come over to her house that day, when Touya was out. It turned out that Yue had something important to say to her.
Shrugging Sakura said, “Maybe he finally realizes that I’m responsible enough.”
Frowning, Kero-chan said, “Well, if I were him, I will be worrying hard, too. Who’s going to look after you? The brat? I don’t think so.”
“I don’t need anyone looking after me.”
“That’s why I worry even more.” Kero folded his arms, flapping his wings. “Even I won’t be here to watch out for you. Nor Yue.”
In shock, she asked, “Why? Are you going somewhere, too?”
“Oh. Well, Yue and I agreed that we might be able to find something more about the past in London. It’s pretty peaceful here, and you and the Brat can handle most things fine. In England, Eriol, Mizuki-sensei, and Miho agreed to join with us to decipher some sort of sense out of the current situation. The sooner we get going, the faster we can all return to our normal lives.” For a second, Kero-chan paused and crossed his arms. “So, I’m going to London with Yukito.”
“WHAT?!” Sakura rolled off her bed. Events were passing by in a flurry. She had at least been counting on company from her stuffed doll friend. Now, even Kero-chan would be gone.
“It won’t be for long. I’ll return as soon as I find something important,” Kero-chan reassured. “Also, we’ll be trying to find a cure for Miho’s mother, Miara Tanaka. We all trust you, Sakura-chan, so do your job well as Card Mistress.”
“Watch out for strangers, and always be wary,” Yue commented. Then he half turned his head arrogantly, as if embarrassed to show any concern.
“Okay.” Sakura gazed at Yue’s silvery violet eyes gratefully.
Then, squeezing Kero-chan into a tight hug, Sakura said, “Okay. You can trust me here. I’ll manage fine by myself. You must come back soon, though.”
“Hey! I can’t breathe!”
“Otousan, do you need any help packing?” Sakura stood by the doorway in the morning, two weeks later, holding a picture of her mother.
“No, Sakura-san. I’m finished with the last minute packing. Is your brother finished? I’m taking him and Yukito-san to the airport.”
“Yes.” Handing the picture over, Sakura said, “Here.” Then she frowned. The lacy Victorian style white dress that Nadeshiko was wearing looked like the one she had worn in the picture with Li Ryuuren, the one Syaoran found in Shing’s album in New York. The one that looked like a wedding dress. On her fourth finger was the star sapphire ring, and she was holding a long stemmed lily.
Taking the picture, Fujitaka kissed the glossy surface and slipped it into his briefcase.
“You loved mother very much.” Does he know about her past?
Slowly smiling ruefully, Fujitaka said, “And I still love her with all my heart.”
A slow twang rippled in her, and Sakura asked, “Was she your first and only love?”
At first, Fujitaka stared at Sakura with surprise at the depth of her questions. Then he replied after a while. “No. She wasn’t.”
For a while, Sakura was dumbfounded. In ways, she couldn’t imagine Nadeshiko and Fujitaka in any other way of life. Yet, there was Li Ryuuren. Thinking about it, there was so little she knew about her father, or her mother.
Playing with her luck, Sakura commented innocently, “Wow, that dress Mother’s wearing in that picture looks like a wedding dress. How pretty. She looks around my age in this picture. When is it?”
“This? Oh, I remember. She was in a major school production. I can’t remember what it was called.”
“School production? Mother?” At this, she was shocked.
“Amazing, isn’t it? She always told me she had the worst case of stage-fright and clumsiness. Yet, she pulled through fine in the end as the beautiful protagonist. Too bad I couldn’t see it. But it was before I was teaching in this neighborhood.”
“O-oh. Did you know Mother really well when you first met?”
In a mysterious way, he replied, “I didn’t know much about her. The only thing I can say is I understood her. Maybe that doesn’t count much, but I always knew she was the one meant for me.” There was an inner warmth in his deep voice.
Quietly, Sakura asked, “Were you her first and only love, then?”
Once more, Fujitaka looked startled. Then, smiling he replied. “No, I knew I wasn’t her only one, ever since I first met her. She had already lost all her girlish love, gone through heartache, and hardships. We weren’t each other’s first love. She knew nothing about my past life, and me, nothing about hers. Both our childhood loves were longs gone by. Yet, all we knew is that we gave our full mature adult love to each other and we were fully content with that. When she married me, she had already told me that she we would only have approximately ten years together. It was fine with me because they were the most beautiful years of my life.”
“You knew that she would die early? And you still married her?” Overwhelmed by everything that her father had told her, Sakura gulped. So many things that she didn’t know about her father… Really, what kind of a man was he beneath his perfectly controlled exterior? Was there sorrow or rue in knowing that he hadn’t been his wife’s only love? Confusion about the past? Or peaceful serenity to leave behind what’s gone and live in the present?
My brother would be on the plane, and
my father would be on the train by now. Sakura walked over to a large
oak tree on the school campus during break. Under the shadow, someone was
carving away at something with a sharp knife. The movement of the person’s
sinuous long fingers were brisk, yet graceful as wood shavings gathered
on his uniform pants. On one side was tossed various little miniature wood
carvings of animals such as birds, dogs, and cats. However, they looked
hastily done and unfinished. He was too busy to brush them off, as he was
working on something else.
“What are you making?” Sakura leaned over the tree trunk.
“Eh?” Jumping Syaoran stammered, “Nothing!” Unsuccessfully, Syaoran attempted to cover up the mess and shoved the thing he was making under his bag.
Once more, Sakura sighed. It seemed as if ever since the White Day incident, he had been avoiding her. She considered telling Syaoran that Kero-chan and Yue went to England to do some background research, but decided against it. Or maybe, was she jealous? Jealous of what? Of who? Chang Erika. With overcast emerald eyes, Sakura stared at Syaoran. Did he like Erika? After all, Erika was pretty, funny, popular, and Syaoran spent a lot of time with her because they both were leading role in the musical.
After a while, Syaoran looked up from his work and asked, “Sakura?” Then, he tilted his head. She was there a second ago.
“Bad timing is the problem,” Tomoyo told Meirin, who flopped back on the couch, referring to the occurrences lately. The old crew had gathered after school, just for the sake of it. Tomoyo’s room was large and roomy, much to Meirin’s satisfaction. Tomoyo was busily adding touches to Sakura’s new battle outfit.
“I’ve finally come to a conclusion,” Meirin stated firmly. “Syaoran has a split personality. That must be it.”
Everyone sweat-dropped. If Kero-chan was there, he would have commented, “I always knew that the brat was a psycho.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Sakura said, crossing her legs and browsing through a magazine. It seemed strange to think that at home, there was no one in; her father, brother, Yukito-san, and Kero-chan all left that morning. She hadn’t told anyone about being home alone, yet. She could tell them later; she would ask Tomoyo if she could stay at her house for a few weeks. Hmm… Split personality. Maybe that’s why Syaoran always hits hot and cold, seems so nice, then so distant. No one had told her about the school newspaper misunderstanding yet.
Meirin bit her lips. She knew more than Sakura, yet she didn’t want to tell that girl. Sakura was the main opponent between her and Syaoran. Now, she realized that it was impossible to hate Sakura, yet she still held the tiniest grudge. Except, Syaoran had been acting so strange lately.
“Who has a split personality?” Syaoran asked, entering Tomoyo’s living room.
Everyone stared at him with stony eyes.
Baffled and pointing at himself, Syaoran stammered, “M-me-me?! W-why?”
Saving Syaoran from further pressings Sakura exclaimed, “Oh yeah. You know what? That picture you found in Shing-san’s album?”
Syaoran nodded. He kept it in a drawer in his bedroom. Probably, it was the only picture he had of his father.
“I think I know what it is!”
“You do?” Syaoran bolted up, his heart racing. “Is it… is it…”
“No.” Sakura shook her head furiously. How awful to jump into conclusions. Thank god it wasn’t what they had suspected it to be. “No, it was when my mother was in her school production, and that white dress was her costume for it.”
“School production?” At that moment, Sonomi Daidouji, Tomoyo’s mother had entered the room with a plateful of cookies. “I remember how Nadeshiko-chan was adorable as the lead female character! When she was on stage, she charmed the audience just like that, with her angelic smile.” Sonomi snapped. On a side note she added, “That is, when she didn’t trip over the props or forget her lines. Yet she really was a marvel. The grandest production ever, in our generation, where the whole of Tomoeda neighborhood participated. I was her personal manager!”
“Wow? She played the main role?” Tomoyo turned star eyed. “Who played the male main role, Mother?
“Oh, I don’t remember. I just remember how lovely Nadeshiko looked in that pretty white dress she wore!” Sonomi looked raptured. At that moment, her handphone rang. “Oh, darn it. Just when I was trying to…” Flicking out her elite handphone, she said, “Hello? Daidouji Sonomi speaking….. What? Daidouji-san?” Nodding her head in excuse, she walked off too her private bedroom, her eyes wide in shock.
Daidouji-san!? Sakura glanced at Tomoyo’s shocked blue-violet eyes. Till today, she had never stopped to think about Tomoyo’s family. Of course, there was Sonomi, Tomoyo’s mother. Yet, had she ever wondered about where her best friend’s father was? Maybe Sakura had assumed that he was dead, like her father was dead. But maybe, Daidouji-san was alive, living elsewhere, without his wife and daughter. Why? It wasn’t really any of her business, but still, Tomoyo was a precious best friend to her.
Quietly, Sakura, Meirin, and Syaoran excused
themselves, wishing to leave Tomoyo in peace, who seemed rather distant.
When everyone left, Tomoyo went to her drawer and dug out a picture frame from under a pile of clothes. Her hands shook as she could hear her mother screaming into the phone from the next door room. Slowly, she ran her white finger across the cold glass of the frame, over a smiling man, standing next to a tall woman with a stylish short hair cut. The dark haired man was holding a small, laughing child on his shoulder. A slow tear plopped onto the photo… “Otou-san…”
“What, you’re staying home alone?!” Meirin was aghast when she learned about the news as they walked home from Tomoyo’s house. “Even the stuffed animal’s gone! How lonely you must be by yourself!”
“He he…” Sakura sweat dropped. “They only left this morning. Plus, oniichan would never leave off with his lecture. You should see the list of emergency phone call numbers and duties he left for me. Eriol contacted, saying he’ll look after Kero-chan and Yue. Of course, Yue would be no problem, but I worry about Kero-chan. I hope he doesn’t get side tracked there and sticks to work. It’s finally a chance to work out the past, though. Eriol-kun has been on the track to find out the hidden Five Force Legend, with Mizuki-sensei.”
“Wow, but all by yourself… My mother wouldn’t have let me stay here in Japan if Syaoran wasn’t here.”
“Actually, I told oniichan that Tomoyo wouldn’t mind having me stay with her for a month or two while they were away…” Casting her eyes down, Sakura said, “But I’m not too sure now. I don’t want to bother the Daidouji’s or anything with my problems.”
“Yeah, I don’t exactly understand what happened today, but it sounded pretty serious. Tomoyo’s father…” Meirin slipped her arm into Syaoran’s and said to Sakura, “Well, if you have any problems, contact us, okay!”
“Don’t go out at nighttime, either,” Syaoran added after a while. “And keep your doors and windows locked.”
“Hey, isn’t your way over there?” Sakura asked, pointing to a road that they passed by.
Eyeing Syaoran, Meirin replied, “We’ll take the long way home, and drop you off at your house. So that Syaoran would have peace in heart without worrying whether you got home safely.”
Laughing Sakura replied, “I’ve walked this road a million times! I can go home by myself.”
“No, Meirin’s right. It’s no problem going this way,” Syaoran interrupted.
As they came up to her house Sakura waved good-bye. “Bye!”
At the last second, Syaoran added, “Bye!”
Sakura smiled and shouted, “Good night, Syaoran-kun! Meirin-chan! Thanks for walking me home!”
“Are you?” Meirin asked as she washed the dishes at their home.
“Am I what?” Syaoran asked, wiping a plate. Rather subdued and quiet, he seemed deeply intent, thinking.
“A split personality.”
“W-what gave you that idea?” Syaoran jumped, almost dropping a cup.
“Well, there’s this really nice, warm caring side with you, and then, there is his cold, don’t-bother-me, icy self. It seems like you’re struggling with two minds, each telling you to do something different. And maybe you don’t know it, but you’re breaking under the strain.”
Each word seemed to jolt some familiar pain into Syaoran. He sank down onto a chair, burying his sweating head into his palms.
“Has it to do with Sakura? Are you trying to hide something from her, denying yourself of the truth? What are you trying to get at Li Syaoran?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t wanna live this way any more.” His voice was scratchy, barely above a whisper. “I’m living my life blind.”
That night, Li Meirin lay awake in her bed, staring up at her ceiling. I just don’t wanna live this way, anymore. Sitting up from her bed, she slid her feet into her warm slippers, walking up to her dressing table. With trembling hands, she reached for her brush in the stark dark. From a dim light in the room across the hallway, she could tell that Syaoran wasn’t sleeping. Why did she like him so much? No matter how many times she tried to stop, she knew it was impossible. Yet, yet she wanted to stop. She knew that he would never think of her anything more than his cousin and friend. Only if she knew what he was thinking in the depth of his heart. There was a shadowed, haunted look in Syaoran’s eyes in the darkest of nights, when he thought no one was looking. What internal struggle was he going under?
Strange. Did she hear something outside? Tentatively, Meirin walked out of her apartment. A rustling at the side of her head sounded. Quickly, she took a Chinese marshal arts stance. With the speed of lightening, a colorful streak wove around her. Stumbling, Meirin stepped back.
“W-who’s there!” She called out into the chilly night air. Out of midair, a white painted clown face with a tri-color, three-cornered jester’s hat emerged, grinning.
“Meirin. Meirin. Wake up. Are you all right?”
Blinking several times, Meirin gazed up into warm amber brown eyes. “Syaoran?”
“Thank god. You’re all right. What happened? I felt some strange power outside, and I found you lying on the side walk.” Tucking Meirin into her own warm, cozy bed, Syaoran brought in a steaming mug of hot tea.
As he was about to leave, Meirin reached out. “Don’t leave. Stay with me.” She drank the sweet, soothing tea.
Raising his dark brown eyebrow, Syaoran answered, “Sure, if you want me to.”
“Is there another power out there?”
“You better tell Sakura then.”
“You’re worried out of your wits about Sakura, aren’t you?”
“Wh-who says I am?” Syaoran stammered.
“It’s written all over your face.” Sitting up, Meirin said, “Well, I don’t blame you. It’s not exactly safe for a young girl to be home all alone in an empty house, and…”
“Stop. It.” Syaoran sighed. He stared at the photograph of his father and Nadeshiko-san. They were smiling blissfully. “Meirin?”
“Go back to Hong Kong. Go back home.”
Angrily, Meirin stood up. “What are you talking about? This is my home now! I’m not going back to Hong Kong, and that’s final. Is it because you think I’m no help and always get in the way? Well, I’ll prove to you that I can help!”
“It’s not like that.” Syaoran stared into Meirin’s bright ruby amber eyes. “Please, go back to Hong Kong. You’ll be safer there. It’s the best for you. Of course I like having you here, but I’m scared Meirin. I have no control over myself and what happens around me. I feel like I’m living in a maze, and I’m running through a haze, a nasty illusion. Everyday, I wonder if I’m only a puppet, controlled by a greater force. I wonder, what am I here for, what was I born to this world for.”
“Stop talking like that Syaoran! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Meirin stared at him with tears rolling down her cheek. “I’m staying, and that’s final!”
Patting Meirin’s back, he whispered, “I’m sorry. You can do whatever you want to. I don’t blame you for not understanding me. I don’t understand myself completely. I just don’t want someone innocent to be in danger, that’s all.”
“Tell me Syaoran. What are you so scared of?”
Hesitating, Syaoran looked away. Hoarsely, he replied, “The truth. I’m scared about the real reason and motive behind all this crazy hallucinations. After I found my father’s burnt diary, I wondered what happened between him and Nadeshiko-san. What happened so bad enough, that he gave up everything and returned back to Hong Kong? I spent nights researching, and trying to decipher his old documents. And I learned. I learned that the Dark Ones had told him a terrible secret. They had shown him the true actuality. Something dreadful enough for him to give up his love and break all ties with Nadeshiko-san. And the dreadful thing was, he knew that what he did had to be done. Because that was the reality of life. That was his fate and destiny.”
Sinking back onto the bed, Meirin said, “God, is that why…” She was unable to continue. So, does he have some feelings for Sakura after all? Is he afraid to do anything because he’s afraid he’ll hurt her, just like Ryuuren hurt Nadeshiko? Was that why he was acting so strangely for the past months? “Does Sakura know about all this, too?”
“Well, she’s smart enough to figure out that something had happened back then. Even I don’t know exactly.” Syaoran leaned against the wall in Meirin’s room. Suddenly, he felt a great burden lifted from his shoulders, to actually be able to talk to someone about his worries. “Sorry I’m telling you about all this. Didn’t mean to stress you.”
“No. I’m glad you told me. I think I can understand your actions better now. You’re only a teenage boy… You should be able to live like one.”
Clumsily, Sakura drew a five-pointed star beneath the words printed, the Five Force Magicians in her notebook. At one edge she wrote Amamiya. Her mother’s line of blood. On the next one, she wrote Li. Syaoran and his father’s ancestry. Then, she wrote, Reed. The English bloodline of Clow Reed. For the fourth point, she scribbled, the Mysterious Dark Ones. Biting the tip of her pen, she placed a question mark next to the last point of the star. Who was the last of the five original Great Ones?
Staying home alone was ten times worse than she imagined. Often, she lay awake in the night, afraid to go asleep, alone. Getting up for school in the mornings was a nightmare. Cleaning the house, washing the dishes, keeping track of daily household chores and affairs, and keeping up with school all on her own was monstrous. Plus, she had many worries as Card Mistress.
“Sakura-chan! Hurry! You’re gonna be late for the meeting for the Circus Carnival!” Chiharu called out.
“Coming!” Folding her notebook, Sakura walked outside to the field. Her stomach rumbled. Thinking about it, she had starved since yesterday lunch. When she returned home, she had been too tired to make dinner. Especially since it was just herself, not for her brother or father. And that morning, she woke up late again and was tardy for class.
Many students were practicing their stunts for the Carnival. Brightly, she spotted someone. “Tomoyo-chan!”
“Hello!” Though Tomoyo looked slightly paler than usual, with dark circles under her eyes, she still managed to smile.
Concerned, Sakura asked, “Are you okay? I was worried…”
“I’m fine. My father…” Tomoyo’s voice broke off, then she continued, “My father wanted to take me back to his house in Tokyo. But I didn’t want to go. Mother wouldn’t have let go of me, anyway.”
“Oh.” Sakura felt she was useless to her friend. “I’m sorry Tomoyo-chan.”
“Because when I’m in trouble, you can always help me, but now that you have worries, I’m not much help.”
“No, you’re wrong. I feel much better just talking to you. Come, let’s make you a pretty outfit to wear for the Circus! With lots of sequins and layers of sashes!”
“Hoe!” No matter what troubles and hardships
Tomoyo went under, she was always strong and bright. She wanted to be like
that too. Then, furrowing her eyebrows, Sakura swerved around, just in
time to hear a student’s shriek. A girl in class 3-3 slipped from the parallel
bars and fell heavily onto her side. The girl had been training in gymnastics
since she was 6, so this was rather queer. An itchy sense of aura flew
through Sakura, and she could clearly see a gangly looking force that looked
like a clown, with a three cornered joker’s hat. It had coated the parallel
bars with oil, so that the girl slipped.
The next few consecutive days, there were more accidents during the preparations for Seijou Junior High Circus. In the most recent and serious accident, a boy had been carried on an ambulance to the hospital with a broken arm.
“I’ve got to stop that Force! It’s completely ruining everything for us, and harming innocent students!” Sakura slammed her fist down onto her desk. “I’m doing it tonight!”
“Tonight?” Meirin asked.
At that moment, Takashi walked up to them and interrupted. “Just a friendly advise, but I don’t advise going out at night time, especially these days.”
“Why, Yamazaki-kun?” Sakura questioned, preparing for another long story.
“Because of the Kaitou Magician.”
“Kaitou Magician?” Sakura looked puzzled at Chiharu, wondering if it was another one of Takashi’s lies.
Instead, Chiharu replied, “You mean, you didn’t hear about the Kaitou Magician, the Thief of the Night and Magician of the Dark?”
“Hoe-e. I was too busy to watch the news these days.”
Naoko added, “Everyone knows about the
phenomenal Kaitou Magician! He’s on the news, internationally! See, he
was in the papers just this morning for stealing a priceless 14 carat diamond
necklace from the museum!” She held out that morning’s newspaper. “He was
almost caught in New York, but escaped. Before, he that he was seen in
Europe. They call him a Magician because he slips away unnoticed and appears
like a magician, full of charisma and elegance, everything planned his
way. Whatever he steals, everything always goes to his plan. And no one
can ever catch him, not even the most famous detectives! Plus, no one understands
the Kaitou’s schemes. A genius he would have been.”
Soon, all the girls ever talked about was “Kaitou Magician,” who had been causing ruckus in Tokyo recently, and was headline news.
“All this fuss over a thief?” Syaoran asked in disbelief as Meirin clasped her hands romantically.
“He’s handsome and mysterious!” Meirin retorted.
“Have you ever seen him?”
“No. But look at his picture in the newspaper!” A black silhouette of the back of a young man, with a cape flowing from his back was captured in a blur.
“So dashing and romantic,” Chiharu agreed.
“He’s a thief,” Sakura pointed out. Then she shivered. She didn’t like the idea of being home alone with a Force out there, as well as a Thief.
Dressed in her gym clothes, she started stretching for her routine with Meirin. They really matched each other in skill, and they were practicing hard for the Circus. She didn’t like the way that Erika pranced around saying that since she was ringmaster, she was in charge. Carefully, she turned a cartwheel on the balancing beam. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Syaoran punch Eron while they were practicing some card magic. Syaoran kept on dropping the card from his sleeve and Eron laughed at him. Great. Syaoran finally lost his temper. Then, she turned quick, consecutive back flips, feeling the familiar firmness of her arms. From her upside down position, she saw the grinning clown face of Joker, peering at her.
Watching in slow motion, Meirin saw Sakura’s unbalance and called out, “Sakura-chan, watch out!”
It was too late. On the last turn, Sakura felt her left arm slip from the firm beam and as she jumped down from beam, her right leg landed in an awkward angle, and buckled under her weight. Wincing in pain, she crumpled to the mattress, grasping her right ankle.
Immediately, a crowd of her friends gathered around her. Pushing Syaoran to get to Sakura first, Eron immediately knelt beside her and asked, “Are you okay? Should I carry you to the nurse?”
Gritting her teeth to stand up, Sakura replied, “I’m all right. Just a little… fall.” She knew that if she was sent to the nurse, she would have to lye down and have her foot bandaged. She would never be able to catch the Force that night. Gratefully, she leaned against Eron, who supported her up with his strong arms. Laughing lightly to cheer up her worried friends after all the accidents that had occurred recently, she stated, “How clumsy of me to fall off the balancing beam again!” Not that she had ever fallen off before.
Then, she noticed that Syaoran stared at her, off from the corner. Slowly, he shook his head. He saw through her pretense. If there was one person she couldn’t hide from, it was Syaoran. He always seemed to know her better than anyone else.
“Are you sure you want to stay? I can catch the Force by myself,” Sakura said as Tomoyo and she sat by their school steps that night, waiting for the Joker to appear once more.
“Are you kidding? Miss out an opportunity to record you after so long? Too bad I couldn’t bring a better battle outfit.” With starry eyes, Tomoyo clutched her video camera in rapture. Sakura was dressed in a short sleeved light green chiffon dress with a skirt, which floated around her like a cloud. A ribbon of the same material was tied around her head and accented her eye color. Luckily these days, Tomoyo seemed to have developed her style more and drew more to the simple but pretty designs. “Oh yeah, is your ankle okay? I heard you sprained it during practice.”
“It was nothing,” Sakura shrugged it off. With trembling fingers, she was clasping onto her crystal necklace, revealed by the scooped neckline of her dress. Whenever she held it with her hand, it radiated a warm, soothing feeling in her, making her feel calmer. Was it because he had given it to her? Yet, she couldn’t hide from Tomoyo that she was undergoing great pain and throbbing as her ankle swelled underneath her boots. Cool perspiration formed as she gritted her teeth from moaning. If I was at home, otousan would tuck me in bed and oniichan would make me warm honey milk. No. No one’s at home now. And I’m not going to bother Tomoyo with my troubles, either. She has enough of her own. Poor Tomoyo-chan. She looks thinner and less energetic than usual. After all, her own father… “Wait, did you hear a noise?” Sakura tried to stand up, then felt her knees buckle again. Her right leg was so stiff, she could hardly move it.
“When’s it coming? We’ve been waiting here for ages!” Meirin complained in her loud, nagging voice as she came to the spot that Sakura and Tomoyo were standing at. Both Syaoran and she were wearing their Chinese battle outfit apparels.
“You shouldn’t have followed,” Syaoran replied, fiddling with his lasin board. “I don’t think it’s going to come out tonight. You girls should just go home. I’ll stay and watch out just in case.”
“No. I’m staying here,” Sakura said stubbornly.
“Really?” Syaoran gave a look that bore right through her. “You can’t even stand up or use your foot. I advise you go home and put some ice on it and lie down before it gets worse and you can’t walk.”
“I’m fine,” Sakura protested, struggling to balance on her left foot. Even the tiniest movement of her right foot etched ripping pain through her ligaments. She could feel it swell inside her shoes.
Seeing that Sakura was about to retort something, Meirin interrupted, “Oh, he’s just worried, that’s all. Right Syaoran?”
“Wait. Do you hear something?” Tomoyo asked suddenly.
“It sounds like… police sirens?” Sakura frowned. Tomoeda was a relatively peaceful neighborhood.
“It’s heading this way!” Meirin exclaimed.
“We better run away. We don’t want to be found like this, here,” Syaoran stated. They hurried to the Seijou Junior High School back gate, while Sakura limped. The sirens sounded nearer to the campus. ”Hurry. Here, lean against my arm.”
“I’m fine.” Yet, Sakura stumbled as she tried to walk, right into Syaoran’s arms. Her face turned a flaming red.
“Here, we’ll help you. Stop acting so stubborn.”
When Sakura hesitated, Syaoran took one arm, while Tomoyo balanced the
other. At that moment, they saw a black shadow cast over them. Slowly,
their eyes traced upwards. They saw the silhouette of a lean young man,
with a long cloak swirling around him as he stood on the rooftop of the
school. It was impossible to see his face, whether it was masked or not,
but it seemed as if he was smiling. From his position, he jumped down to
a lower building, just a few meters from where they were standing. It seemed
as if he were sizing the whole situation with one even gaze. His bright,
keen eyes flickered at them for a moment, then focused on Sakura. Carefully,
he scanned her up and down. By that time, the police sirens were nearly
right below him. With a flick of his hands, he drew out a silver chain.
Sakura and Syaoran were close enough to see that on the chain was a ring.
A sapphire ring. It was the star sapphire ring, last robbed at Shing-san’s
mansion. As the voices of the police rang out through the school, the mysterious
young man turned a back flip and with the swish of his black cloak, disappeared.
“Catch him! Catch the Kaitou Magician!”
“He disappeared again!” The police forces were frantic.
“Fools! Not again! We almost had him this
time! Register the back up forces. Call Station 5. NOW!”
“So that’s the Kaitou Magician,” Meirin whispered in awe.
“I can see why they call him a magician.” Sakura wondered why he had the star sapphire ring, though. Had she seen correctly?
Sakura groaned as she leaned against her room doorway. She had barely reached home using the Fly card. Barely. Her ankle felt as it were on fire. Her loose shirt clung to her because of sweat, and her skirt had wrinkles it them because she couldn’t sit still. Her foot had continue swelling and she couldn’t take off her shoes now. Syaoran had said something about bandaging her foot and putting ice on it. Too bad, she didn’t feel like moving. They hadn’t been able to catch the Force that night. But they had seen the Kaitou Magician. And for some strange reason, he had that ring. Did she see it wrong? She couldn’t observe it clearly, but she knew that it had to be the star sapphire ring. No other gem would have sparkled so brightly, with the gleaming star reflection in the middle.
Wait. I feel something strange. She didn’t bother to grope for the light switches. “Release.” Holding her staff in her hand, she limped to the second floor hallway. Her head felt feverish and unstable and each step was like a biting knife slashing up her foot. A tall, gangly figure with a red, yellow, and blue tri-pointed hat was standing at the end of the hallway, juggling colorful round balls. The Joker grinned up at Sakura with its painted face and slowly walked towards her. “No. Don’t come near me! Leave me alone!” Without balance, Sakura stumbled back to the stairway. As the Joker motioned nearer towards her, Sakura tripped and rolled off the top of the second floor stairs.
A little while later, she lay in a crumpled
heap at the bottom of the staircase, clutching her right ankle with one
hand and her necklace with the other. Deliriously, she groaned, “Syaoran…”
before everything swirled around her unrecognizably into a twirl of red,
yellow, and blue.
“Sakura!” Syaoran bolted up from the living room couch. He was sweating hard and had felt a jolt through his body.
“Eh? Sakura? What’s wrong?” Meirin asked, yawning from another couch. They had been watching TV when they got back home, after eating hot noodles. Then apparently they had dozed off. The TV was still on.
“One’o’clock news. The notorious Kaitou Magician has been spotted again earlier this evening, near to school campus grounds of Seijou Junior High. Apparently, this time, he hasn’t stolen anything yet. We caution, keep all doors shut and be cautious. We advise it best to stay in groups, rather than staying alone…” Syaoran switched off the TV, then ran out of the apartment door, sword in his hand.
“Wait, where are you going?” Meirin chased after him.
“Why did we come to Sakura’s house? She’s probably sleeping right now…” Meirin rubbed her arms. Early spring or not, it was cold in the nighttime, especially after midnight. Meirin peered into the house window. Could she see a dim outline of someone lying on the floor?
“Wait, what are you do—“ Meirin was cut off.
Bracing himself, Syaoran had slammed into
the kitchen window and Meirin was greeted with a shatter of glass shards.
She shielded her face with her arms.
“Here, drink the herb tea. It’s supposed to soothe you and relieve pain.” Meirin held out a steaming mug.
Blinking, Sakura hoisted herself against soft pillows. Sunlight pored through the flowery curtains. Draped over her clothes was an overlarge blue nightgown. Her clumsily bandaged right foot was propped up on several cushions. The bed with the light blue colored blanket was cozy and warm.
Helping Sakura sit up on the bed, leaning against the pillows, Meirin asked, “What happened? You know how shocked Syaoran and I were? Good thing we got there early… Who knows what would have happened?”
Stretching, Sakura shook her head. “Why am I here?” Then, flashes of that night came back to her. “Wait… I remember my sprained ankle was hurting… Then, I felt a power in the hallway. I saw the Joker coming towards me, and I stepped back, sliding off the staircase. My whole body felt crushed… I felt dizzy and unconscious. I don’t know why, but I think I called for Syaoran… Strange. Then, I heard a crashing noise and the shattering of the glass window; someone had leapt through it… Then, everything went black.”
“Silly, that was Syaoran! He ran over to your house!”
“He must have heard you call him.” I wonder how… Maybe mind to mind telepathy. “Exactly how close are you two? He seems to always know what’s happening to you. That’s some major connection.” Wryly, Meirin wondered how Sakura would feel if she had knew what Meirin had seen that night. After leaping through the window, Syaoran ran over to where Sakura lay, unconscious by the staircase. When he saw the Joker, he had blasted out so much power, that a hole was made in the kitchen wall. The Joker, as if scared, had disappeared. Apparently, it was a force that only liked playing and nasty tricks, yet cowered from combating. Then, Syaoran had carefully covered up Sakura with his jacket, and carried her on his back all the way to the apartment. Meirin wished that Syaoran would handle her with the same gentleness that he handled Sakura, as he lay her on the guest bedroom, and looked after her foot. All night, he wiped the sweat off Sakura’s brows and cast warding charms to ease the pain of the foot. And Sakura didn’t even know about it! That exasperated Meirin more than anything else. “Drink the tea. It’s good for you. It has Syaoran’s special healing herbs in it.”
Obediently, Sakura drank it. Then she made a face. “It tastes horrible! But since it’s good for me… Wait, where’s Syaoran-kun?”
“He’s sleeping in his room probably. He stayed up the whole night, looking after you. You had some nasty bruises from the fall.”
“I’m sorry. I’m causing so much trouble.” Sakura looked down into the empty mug.
“Don’t worry. I was sleeping through the night. Syaoran did all the work.”
“Still, I’m sorry.” Yet, Sakura somehow felt relieved, safe, and sheltered to be with Meirin… and Syaoran. Even if she didn’t want to become a burden to others, she didn’t know what would have happened if Syaoran hadn’t come…
“Oh! I hear pots boiling in the kitchen! Syaoran must be up.” Meirin fastened a ribbon to each of the buns on the side of her head.
“Here’s breakfast,” Syaoran said, as he entered the room with a tray.
“For me?” Sakura squeaked, her green eyes round.
Nodding, Syaoran helped lay the tray on her lap. Steaming porridge never looked so scrumptious before to Sakura. Her stomach rumbled as she devoured the food in a matter of minutes. Then she blushed to see that Syaoran and Meirin stared at her with awe. “Sorry. I didn’t have anything for two days.”
“Stop apologizing. And not eating anything for two days is just plain stupid.” However Syaoran continued to refill the bowl, until he was satisfied that Sakura had enough.
Looking up with mistily, Sakura said, “Thanks. I really appreciate all this.”
Turning red Syaoran mumbled, “It’s all right.”
“Well,” Sakura tried to stand up after her breakfast. “I better go home now.” As she stood on her right foot, she collapsed again.
“Stupid! You can’t go anywhere with that foot! I’ve tried to heal it, but I haven’t got to healing serious sprains yet in my studies, so I can just try to ease the pain.” Stubbornly, Syaoran forced her back into bed. Reluctantly, Sakura sighed in relief and lay back down.”
“I think the best thing for you to do it stay with us,” Meirin proposed. “There’s plenty of room here. You can use this room. And there’s no reason for you to stay home alone when you can stay with us.”
“But—“ Sakura protested.
“Anyway, Syaoran kinda messed up your house, so it will take some time to repair it.” Meirin giggled, thinking about the scorched living room floor, shattered window, hole in the kitchen wall, broken stair…
So, that’s how Sakura ended up staying
at the Li’s for the time being.
Wish-chan: So, Sakura-chan comes to live with the Li's! Isn't it sudden that everyone leaves in the family? Actually, it isn't. It was planned for months... Oh no! What will we ever do w/out Touya, Fujitaka, Yukito, AND Kero-chan? He he... Sakura will manage fine... Ahem... You can look forward to the next chapters. And more S+S to come... (He he, how long have I been promising this. But I do plan to carry this out. *_*)
Comments welcomed and cherished at email@example.com.
The fastests access to newest chapters and CCS odds and ends is at my homopage www.geocities.com/wishluv. Fanart up!