More Than Just A Friend

By Julie Farel

The Magic Club meeting was supposed to begin at 7:30 Thursday evening at the Kitanohashi High School, but when Aburatsubo arrived he couldn't seem to find any of the other members, and the door seemed to be locked. He prided himself on, amongst other things, always being punctual, especially when it came to anything where he got to spend some time with his Takeo-kun. The hallways of the high school were dark except for the emergency lights that shone a soft, blue haze. The custodian didn't seem to want to turn on the regular lights as he really didn't like having to work overtime! Some of the other club rooms had meetings going on: Miyama, of course, had a noisy Manga Club meeting going on next door. Aburatsubo didn't like Miyama, and the feeling was mutual. He didn't have any real gripe about her. It's just that she was so "pushy". He didn't care for her style of dress - he would never be that obvious - but he did like her choice of perfume. She certainly smelled a lot nicer than she actually was. Maybe he was more sensitive to sweeter things. Regardless, he tried to steer clear of her whenever possible.

Aburatsubo noticed other clubs were already beginning their monthly evening meetings and stopped in the middle of the hallway. He was getting worried. He put his hand on one hip and scratched his head in wonder with the other. Aikawa-chan was always late so that wasn't so strange. And usually Sawanoguchi-kun showed up with Nankatomi-kun. But they should have shown up by now. And where the heck was Takeo-kun? He practically lived at the Magic Club room. "Oh well," he thought. "I'll just try the club door one more time before I hunt down the custodian."

As Aburatsubo stepped back to try the door once more, he thought he heard voices coming from inside. He couldn't quite hear what was being said or how many people were there, but he was sure he heard giggling. Then he heard a lot of rustling, something falling, more giggling, and then silence. His curiosity got the better of him and, instead of knocking, he quietly slid the door open just a crack. Aburatsubo was not prepared for what he saw.

The room was dark except for a lit candle that was on the desk, setting the room off in a romantic sort of glow. Some magic books lay on the floor, and Aburatsubo could just make out two figures - who appeared to be locked in a very passionate embrace! When his eyes adjusted to the dim light as he peered through the cracked doorway, he realized just who the couple was. Sawanoguchi had her arms around the neck of, and was kissing - Takeo-kun! And Takeo-kun was enjoying it!! Aburatsubo's mouth dropped open with a gasp. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. His beloved Takeo-kun - kissing a girl! And Sawanoguchi, no less. He felt his chest tighten as he silently slid the door closed. His mind suddenly became clouded and he closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands. This wasn't happening...

Nanaka had been running a little late, so when Sae stopped by her house on the way to the evening club meeting, she told her to go ahead and that she'd catch up as soon as she could. Nanaka finished putting a few overnight things in her backpack. She was going to spend the night at her best friend's house since the meeting was on a school night and it might run late. Sae had arrived at school to find Takeo setting up for the meeting. While she helped him hang some posters around the room, she started to fall off the step ladder, and Takeo caught her. Holding Sae in his arms was more than his hormones could handle and he leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. Sae was startled by this very forward advance, but since she had a crush on Takeo for some time - and the kiss felt so nice - she let her hormones take control, too, and one thing led to another.

As Nanaka rounded the hallway leading to the Magic Club room she was practically run over by Aburatsubo. He didn't even see her as he mumbled a choked "Gomen nasai!" and she landed against the wall with a soft thud. As she watched him run through the double doors leading to the outside she couldn't imagine what had gotten him so upset. He was the most polite boy at school. Aburatsubo often held the door for her or Sae when they passed each other in halls, or gave up his seat in the lunchroom if it was crowded. That is, only on the days he wasn't eating lunch with Takeo. Then a bomb could go off and he wouldn't hear it due to his hanging on every word uttered by his friend. Something very upsetting must have happened for Aburatsubo to actually bump into her and not stop.

Nanaka approached the Magic Club room and slid the door open. She had been looking back over her shoulder when she walked in on Takeo and Sae, still kissing. Her mouth dropped open with a gasp, too, and the sound startled the kissing pair. Takeo immediately blushed a darker red than he was (if that was possible) and Sae quickly began brushing her school uniform back into place. They hadn't gotten any further than kissing, and perhaps that was all that going to happen tonight. Hormones can only take you so far when you are as na‘ve as Takeo and Sae were when it came to the opposite sex. Takeo started to mumble his apologizes and Sae cast her eyes down to the floor around Nanaka's feet.

"We...uhm...we were just hanging posters, and...uhm...ahh...well, we wondered where everyone else was...and...uhm...Good! You're here. Now we can start our meeting." Takeo said as he tried to recover himself. "As soon as Aburatsubo gets here we can begin."

It suddenly became very clear to Nanaka why Aburatsubo had acted the way he had. He must have arrived and found Takeo and Sae in the same "condition" as she did. Nanaka glanced back at the door and closed her eyes. "Oh, no." she thought to herself. "He must feel terrible!"

"Nanaka, are you alright?" Sae asked softly as she touched her friend on the arm. "I'm really sorry," Sae whispered. "We didn't plan for this to happen. It just...well..."

"That's okay" Nanaka replied, her face softening into a smile. "I understand."

"Nothing really happened," Takeo said, straightening up, and putting his arm lightly around Sae's shoulders. "I have too much respect for Sae and the Magic Club to have allowed anything improper to take place here." Takeo was being a bit too formal, and Sae and Nanaka looked at each and giggled.

"Well, I don't know what's keeping Aburatsubo so we might as well get started," Takeo said, as he resumed his role as leader of the Magic Club. He began picking up the books he and Sae had knocked over during their "moment" and went about teaching the girls a new trick he wanted them all to learn. The meeting didn't last very long, though, because Aburatsubo was also supposed to teach them a new trick. But since Takeo figured Aburatsubo was a no-show, he concluded the meeting early.

Sae and Nanaka walked to Sae's house in tense silence. Sae was still upset that Nanaka had stumbled in on her and was feeling very guilty. Her cheeks were red as she looked at her feet as they led her home. Nanaka could only think about Aburatsubo. She had had a crush on him for a long time even though she had come to realize that he had a crush on Takeo. She was still trying to sort our her feelings when they stopped in front of Sae's house. Then, Nanaka spoke.

"Sae, do you trust me?" Nanaka asked her childhood friend.

"What a strange thing to ask, Nanaka," Sae replied, "of course, I trust you. You're my best friend. Why?"

"I need you to totally trust me, Sae. If my mom calls your house tonight for any reason, would you just tell her I'm asleep already?" Nanaka looked very serious as she held her friend's hands in her own. "I have some place I have to go and can't stay at your house tonight." Sae looked as her friend's face and smiled.

"Hai. But promise to tell me everything tomorrow, ne?" she said, and then she and Nanaka hugged goodnight. Nanaka turned and waved as she ran down the street and disappeared from sight.

"It's a good thing I forgot to tell my mom that she was staying over," Sae thought as she climbed the stairs in front of her house and went in, wondering if her friend would truly be alright.

Nanaka had been to Aburatsubo's house only one other time and remembered that he lived just a short ways from Sae's. She came upon the well-kept lawn with it's fussy statues and birdbaths and smiled to herself at how much a person's house says about someone. She hoped that Aburatsubo's parents would remember her as she knocked on the front door.

"Hai? Oh, konbanwa, Nanaka-chan. It's nice to see you again," Aburatsubo's mother said as she answered the door, wiping her hands on the pretty flowered apron covering her dress. Aburatsubo had the same beautiful face as his mother and had her red hair and green eyes, as well. She wasn't very tall and she was a little "round" but she was wonderfully sweet (just like him, Nanaka thought). His father, who was taller and quite handsome, had been reading the evening paper, and rose from his chair in the living room as Nanaka was led in. Nanaka made a polite bow as they exchanged greetings. After the usual questions about how her family was doing and if she'd like anything to eat, she apologized for the lateness of her visit and wondered if Aburatsubo was home. His father resumed his paper reading as his mother took Nanaka by the hand.

"Hai, he's upstairs in his room, but I don't think he's feeling well," his mother replied, her voice full of concern. "He came home earlier than we expected from his club meeting and told us he had a bad headache and was going to bed early. I offered to make him some tea but he said he didn't want any. Maybe you could get him to drink a little, Nanaka. I have it all ready." She gave Nanaka a small tray from the kitchen. On it was a cup of tea and a few cookies.

"I'll have to remember he likes chocolate chip cookies" she thought to herself as she quietly carried the tray upstairs. The house was very small and only had two bedrooms. She glanced around and saw his parent's room, again delightfully neat and pretty, so she figured the room at the end of the hall was Aburatsubo's. She knocked softly and let herself in, closing the door behind her. Meanwhile, downstairs, Aburatsubo's parents were whispering to each other. As his mother giggled behind her hands, his father said softly "Well, it's about time!"

In keeping with his family's tastes, Nanaka could tell Aburatsubo's room was very neat and quite nice, even with the lights off. She noticed that he had a lot of plants around the room, several near the one large window over his desk. He had a lot of books, many about magic and science, some books about plants and animals, and some more books about drawing and architecture. With the seashell nightlight glowing on the far wall, Nanaka could see that the colors of his room were very subtle, lots of earth tones that mixed very nicely with the plants. In the corner opposite his bed, he saw his magic club cape folded neatly over the back of a chair. On the wall there were photographs of the magic club doing this and that, but then she noticed a few photo's scattered on the floor, which seemed very out of character for Aburatsubo being so neat. Some of them appeared to be torn in half, some even into several pieces. She noticed those were photo's of certain club members. Nanaka was about to pick up one of the torn photographs when she was startled by a soft sniffle. She saw Aburatsubo, still in his school uniform, curled up in a ball on his futon and she felt her cheeks flush a little. She walked silently over to his desk and set the tray down, pulling the stool out from underneath. She sat down near his bed and cleared her throat.

"I said I have a headache, kassan." Aburatsubo said, his voice muffled slightly by his pillow. "I don't want anything right now, dozo." And he sniffed again.

"Your mother thought I might get you to eat something. She's worried about you," Nanaka said gently. "And so am I."

Aburatsubo lifted his head and Nanaka could see that he had been crying. Tracks of spent tears were on his cheeks and his eyes were glimmering in the darkened room lit only by the nightlight. He quickly took the back of his hand and wiped his face, sniffling.

"Why are you here?" he asked her, sounding a little annoyed at the intrusion. "I thought you'd be at the meeting, with..." he paused. "...I... thought you'd be there," he said as he closed his eyes, trying not to remember what had passed a few hours ago.

"I was," Nanaka began. "We...that is me and Sae...and Takeo...wondered why you didn't show up." She said, trying to act very matter-of-factly. It wasn't working.

"I told you. I have a headache and didn't feel like going tonight," Aburatsubo said, trying to sound convincing. He rolled over onto his back and put his arm over his eyes and sighed.

After a long silence, Nanaka finally got up enough courage to speak. "I saw what you saw, Ayanojou-kun" she whispered as she stared down at the floor. "I knew you were upset because you didn't know it was me you almost knocked over when you ran away." She looked over at Aburatsubo. "They didn't mean to hurt you. It just happened."

"I don't know what you're talking about..." Aburatsubo said, trying to keep his voice from cracking, without much success.

Nanaka stood up and walked over to the futon and sat down very close to Aburatsubo. She then reached forward and took the arm that wasn't over his eyes and held it in her hands.

"Ayanojou-kun," she said softly as she rubbed his hand. "I know you like Takeo-kun. I've seen how you act when he's around you." Then, after a pause, "It's the same way Sae acts when she's near him..." then she whispered "and it's how act when I'm around you."

In the darkened room Nanaka could see Aburatsubo's chin start to quiver as he tried to stifle a sob. He rolled onto his side so he was facing her and inhaled sharply, as though it was painful to breath. His hands grasped tightly at his quilt as new tears flooded his eyes. His face was full of pain as Nanaka frowned, tilting her head to see him better. She began to stroke his long red hair, pushing the unruly strands out of the way. He reached forward and took her other hand into his, letting her fingers lace with his own.

"Why does it have to be like this?" he choked, as he began to cry. Nanaka leaned forward and held him close as he sobbed into his pillow. She rubbed soothing circles on his back as she rested her chin on his shoulder, feeling his labored breathing.

Nanaka placed her hand under his chin and lifted his face so he would have to look at her. "Maybe we don't get to chose who we fall in love with. We can't make someone love us, no matter how hard we try."

"Gomen, Nanaka," Aburatsubo started to say as another tear rolled down his cheek. "I didn't mean..." He knew how she felt about him. If anyone in the world should understand what he was feeling, he realized it would be her.

"That's okay." Nanaka said with a sad smile. "That's why I'm here." And then she did something she NEVER thought she would do - she kissed him on the lips, sweetly and softly.

"Nanaka, I..." Aburatsubo gasped, looking into Nanaka's eyes.

"I'm not asking you for anything, Ayanajou." Nanaka said as she caressed his cheek, her thumb wiping away a tear. "I just want to help you." Then, feeling herself suddenly get very warm, she turned and lay down next to Aburatsubo, facing him. "I want you to try something," she said. Aburatsubo sniffled and swallowed hard the lump that was in his throat. "I want you to close your eyes and pretend you are kissing Takeo..."

"Nanaka, I don't think..." Aburatsubo began but Nanaka shushed him by placing her finger on his lips.

"You might feel better," she said softly (*I know I will!* she thought)

Aburatsubo closed his eyes and with his left hand began caressing Nanaka's face as his lips met hers. Nanaka felt a jolt of electricity run through her body as she let herself mold next to him. His kiss got more passionate and his body seemed to relax. But after a moment, she felt his chin begin to quiver again, and he broke the kiss with a sob. Nanaka then took her right hand and gently guided his face closer to hers as she began softly kissing his face. She kissed his forehead, his eyebrows, his wet lashes...he sighed a jagged breath and opened his eyes.

"It didn't work," he whispered. "I can only see you."

Nanaka continued to gently assault his face with kisses. "Do you want me to stop?" she whispered as she kissed him on the nose.

Aburatsubo reached up and put his hand on her cheek and looked deeply into her eyes.

"'t stop..." his voice barely audible. She smiled as she felt tears fill her own eyes and continued kissing him. He gave a sigh and let himself be kissed. When her mouth found his, this time his response was different. This time he wanted to kiss her, too. They let themselves explore each other's mouths: the tip of her tongue just touching his lower lip, he responding by slipping his into her mouth slightly. Their contented moans and sighs told each other this was very nice. As they felt themselves becoming aroused they both knew they'd better stop. This was as far as they needed to go.

Nanaka snuggled up close to Aburatsubo, enjoying the feel of his arms around her, how he felt and how he smelled. Aburatsubo held her close, letting his cheek rest against her forehead. Before they knew it, they had fallen asleep.

Aburatsubo's mother had wondered what was going on since Nanaka had gone upstairs with the tea quite some time ago. As she crept silently up to his door, she looked in and saw the two friends, sleeping in each other's arms, fully dressed and on top of the quilt on his futon. His mother covered her mouth to keep from giggling out loud and closed the door. She ran back downstairs to tell her husband what she had seen and it was followed by "Well, it's about time!"

As the light of dawn slipped quietly in through his window, Aburatsubo stirred slowly awake. He looked down to see a sleeping Nanaka still in his arms and he smiled. "Nanaka-chan," he said softly in her ear. "Nanaka-chan, it's time to get up."

"Mmmm...just a few more minutes....." Nanaka said, as she hugged Aburatsubo a little closer, thinking he was the large stuffed penguin she often slept with. When she heard a heartbeat her eyes popped open and she looked up to see Aburatsubo smiling down at her. "Oh, my God..." she whispered. "We fell asleep!"

"I think it's okay since we're both still dressed and on TOP of my covers..." Aburatsubo said with a twinkle in his eye. "Maybe we could start a scandal at school. What do you think, Nanaka-chan?"

Nanaka reached up, gently caressed his cheek and smiled. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked, her eyebrows knitting together as she studied his face. Aburatsubo gave a big sigh, then kissed her on the forehead.

"Hai. I'll be okay." They both began to rise and brush themselves off. Their uniforms were hopelessly wrinkled, looking just like they had been slept in. "It's gonna take me a while, though."

"What are you going to say to Takeo when you see him today?" Nanaka asked as she followed him quietly downstairs, in case his parents weren't awake yet.

"I don't know," he said, as he stopped on the stairs. He looked back at Nanaka and gave what she read as a sad smile. "I don't know."

When they got to the kitchen, his mother and father were already there, having breakfast. His mom was wearing the same flowered apron - different dress, though - and his dad was reading the morning paper as he drank his tea.

"Oh, good! You're awake," his mother said sweetly as she continued to set the table for four. "I hope you like muffins with your tea."

"Mrs. Aburatsubo-san, gomen. I had no idea I would fall asleep. I guess I was very tired." Nanaka tried to apologize.

"Nanaka-chan, you are a good girl. And I trust my son. I believe you," she said with a wink as the tea-kettle broke the awkwardness with its annoying whistle. "Now sit down and have some breakfast. Later I'll iron those uniforms for you two!"

As they walked together to school, Aburatsubo carried Nanaka's books for her. She couldn't remember touching the ground but she knew somehow her feet carried her along the sidewalk. She found herself talking about everything under the sun to Aburatsubo and he was telling her all about his plans for college, what he planned to become, all the things friends talk about. When she spotted Sae waiting for her at their entrance, she gathered her books from Aburatsubo and thanked him.

"What are you going to say to Sae this morning?" Aburatsubo asked Nanaka softly. She turned and smiled at him. "I don't know. I'll think of something." Then she added, "But I'm not worried, though, because I have a friend who will be there for me."

"More than just a friend," Aburatsubo said with a smile as he touched her on the shoulder.

"More than just a friend," she repeated, and she ran ahead to join up with Sae.

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