Author: Kitty Neko
Series: Card Captor Sakura
Summary: Summer is a time for fun, laughter, and romance. Sakura has had fun and laughter, but now it’s time for romance. There’s only one problem; her best friend likes the same guy. Okay, so that’s not the ONLY problem… AU
Disclaimer: I do not own Card Captor Sakura. I am not making any money off of this story.
“What crawled up his butt and died?” Touya asked in Syaoran’s wake. That was the burning question on everyone’s mind. It seemed like pretty much every time Sakura entered a room these days, he would leave in a huff. This time he left a pile of unfinished party decorations on the patio floor.
Sakura simply shrugged her shoulders. She was in no mood to make lame excuses to her brother. Touya must have sensed that because he didn’t say anything else.
Instead of messing Syaoran’s pile up like her hands were itching to do, Sakura set her own pile of decorations on the table and started setting them up. Ever since he had turned his back to her after her first kiss with Eriol she had vowed to be more mature than him. That was all good in theory, but each day he made it increasingly difficult.
It wasn’t that he was exactly doing anything; it was more what he wasn’t doing. He wouldn’t talk to her unless absolutely necessary, nor would he look at her. The tension was so high in their house her father even seemed to notice it. In an effort to get away from it all, Sakura had been spending just about every day at Eriol’s house.
She would get up early every morning, get dressed, get fast food for breakfast, and then head to her boyfriend’s house. Because of this she hadn’t seen much of her mother either and was unsure whether or not Nadesico was still getting drunk in the morning. She wasn’t sure if she really even wanted to know.
Her family was concerned that she was never home, but she told them she just didn’t feel like spending her whole summer cooped up. When they asked where she went all the time, she told them she was with Tomoyo, Meiling, and Eriol. It wasn’t a flat out lie, but she was stretching the truth a little bit. She had been to see Tomoyo a couple of times and played tennis against Meiling once, but that was it. She may or may not have led her parents to believe that she was with the girls more than Eriol.
Her home life may have been a mess but her relationship with Eriol was progressing smoothly. He seemed thrilled that they were spending so much time together, even if he remained in the dark as to the real reason why. They would go out on actual dates sometimes, but most of the time they just hung out at his house, watching television, playing games, or just talking.
Being at his house so often, Sakura had naturally met Eriol’s parents. Eriol’s father was a tall handsome man who didn’t ever say much to Sakura. He was an accountant who worked during the day so she only saw him in the evenings anyways. Eriol’s mother, Keiko, was an elementary school teacher so she had the summer off, save for a few summer school classes she taught in the morning. Keiko had the look of a woman who used to be attractive but had let herself go in recent years and it had all gone to her hips and thighs.
Sakura wasn’t really too sure how she felt about Eriol’s mother. She seemed nice enough, but every now and then she would say something that rubbed Sakura the wrong way. Sakura just chalked it up to her being oversensitive because of her problems with her family.
Eriol’s sister Nakuru would emerge from her dark bedroom at about 1:00 in the afternoon, looking like death. She would usually lounge around for a while before getting dressed and meeting up with friends or going on dates.
Because his family was constantly coming and going, Eriol and Sakura were rarely left alone in the house together. However, when they were they wasted no time in practicing their make out techniques. Sakura had the feeling she had become an expert kisser. Still, Eriol never tried to push for more than kissing and a little bit of light groping. It was a relief, in a way.
“Are you ever going to tell me what’s bugging you?” Touya asked.
Sakura briefly considered lying and saying that there was nothing wrong, but that thought went out the window quickly. “Maybe if I was on my death bed.” Sakura caught her brother’s eye and winked. “But probably not.”
Touya shook his head at her and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘stubborn jackass’ but she chose to ignore it.
She wasn’t looking forward to this Fourth of July party one tiny little bit. She tried to get out of it numerous times but her mother was having none of it. According to her, it was a family event and Sakura was a part of that family whether she liked it or not. At the moment the feeling was ‘or not’.
“I got sparklers!” Nadesico announced as she swung the door open holding a plastic bag. She had just returned from grocery shopping for party food and supplies.
“Shall I give you a cookie?” Sakura grumbled, feeling irritation prickle just at the sight of her mother. It wasn’t something she wanted to feel, but it was there all the same. Everything about her mother was just bugging her lately.
“Still Mary Sunshine today, I see,” Nadesico commented and flopped down on a lawn chair. Touya smiled slightly at her comment, probably secretly agreeing. Nadesico set the bag down on the table, messing up Sakura’s pile of decorations in the process. Sakura’s skin crawled. “Are you nervous about your boyfriend meeting your family today or something?”
“Hardly,” Sakura scoffed. It was very doubtful that her family wouldn’t like him as far as she was concerned. Eriol was an expert charmer, after all. “I just don’t see the point of sparklers. It’s not like there are any small children coming to this thing.”
“Because it’s a tradition – you have to have sparklers on the Fourth of July,” Nadesico stated like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Whatever you say, mommy dearest,” Sakura said, and made to leave. She didn’t want to spend any more time around that woman than was absolutely necessary. Sakura kind of marveled at the intense emotion of dislike she was having for her mother. She knew it must be some sort of misdirected anger, but it certainly felt real enough.
“Hey, wait!” Nadesico said suddenly.
Sakura stopped in her tracks. “What?”
“I forgot to get citronella candles! Would you mind going to the grocery store for me?” Nadesico batted her eyes sweetly. “I just got back from the store, after all. I don’t want to go back but I don’t think our guests would appreciate getting eaten alive by bugs.”
Sakura stared at her mother for a second and was about to reply when the door opened and Syaoran poked his head out.
“I’m going to run out and get some more ice. Did anyone need anything?” he asked, seemingly directing this question more towards Touya and Nadesico than to Sakura.
“Oh goody,” Sakura said anyways, before Nadesico suggested that they go to the store together. “That means you can get the candles while you’re at it.”
She then proceeded to brush past him, hitting his shoulder hard enough to make him take a half step backwards. She thought about hiding out in her room until the party started, but dismissed it quickly. The last thing she needed was her mother bitching about how she never carried her own weight. Mind made up, she walked into the kitchen to help her father with the food preparations.
“Hey, Sweetie, how’s it going?” Fujitaka said upon her entrance. He was unpacking the groceries Nadesico had just bought.
“It’s going,” Sakura answered, still feeling drained. All the repressed anger was really wearing her out. She needed some sort of release.
“Something wrong?” he asked, concern in his voice.
“No, not really. I’m just tired.” Sakura lied.
“That’s good.” He paused as if unsure whether he should say what he was thinking. “You know, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“And what is that?” Sakura moved to the counter and starting pulling hotdog buns out of the bags.
“Have you noticed that Syaoran has been acting a little… off lately?”
“Dad,” Sakura said and waited until her father was looking at her directly. “It’s kinda hard to miss.”
Fujitaka laughed at her bluntness. “Yea, I guess so. I just was wondering if he said anything to you about what was wrong with him.”
“Of course not,” Sakura said, trying to keep the venom out of her voice. “It’s not like we’re close or anything.”
“True.” Fujitaka still looked a bit troubled. He had his full focus on his daughter – his eyes seemed to blaze into her. “I have a theory about what’s bothering him though.”
“Oh?” Sakura was trying really hard not to sound too interested. Had her father actually figured out what was going on with her and Syaoran? She kept most of her attention on the task of unloading the groceries. Her pulse was pounding in her veins.
“Well, his mother and step-father are coming tonight,” Fujitaka said and Sakura let the tension flow out of her bones. Her secret was still safe.
“You remember that they are having problems, right?” Her dad waited until she nodded to continue. “I realized that he hasn’t seen them in a while. He must be worried that things aren’t getting better.”
That could certainly be part of it, Sakura thought. But she was sure that there must have been something else poking that stick up his butt. He wouldn’t be being such a jerk to her if that was the only thing bothering him. She had been wondering for some time now if he had seen her kiss Eriol. If that was the case, it would certainly explain his extreme coolness towards her.
“It’s possible,” Sakura muttered, hoping that her father would drop it. She didn’t feel like talking about Syaoran right now.
“If you could do me a favor…” Fujitaka trailed off, as if unsure whether he should finish.
“Go easy on him?”
Sakura froze with a package of hotdog buns halfway out of the shopping bag. Did she hear him right? “Come again?”
“Go easy on him. He’s going through a rough time right now and he really doesn’t need to deal with your usual attitude with him, you know?”
Sakura couldn’t believe her ears. Did her father even realize what he was saying? HER attitude? She wasn’t doing anything to Syaoran these days! He was the one giving her the silent treatment, not the other way around.
Besides, hadn’t she had a similar conversation with her father not too long ago about her mother? Why was it that every time someone was going through something rough, her told HER to go easier on them? He said it like she was the root of everyone’s unhappiness or something.
Anger churned in her stomach, a sick bubbling that made her think she might vomit.
What about her problems? She was a human with problems, just like Syaoran and her mother. Plus, it wasn’t like she was acting exactly like her usual self. Why wasn’t he paying more attention to her? Why wasn’t he telling anyone to go easier on her? She knew they were selfish thoughts, but that didn’t make them go away.
Her throat burned and for one terrifying second she thought she would cry. She hated crying in front of people – it made her feel weak and vulnerable.
Sakura took a breath and just like that, the emotions seemed to vanish – or at least squashed enough to ignore. She felt nothing except a dull ache in her belly.
“Uh, yea, I’ll go easy on him,” Sakura said and set the buns on the table. “I’m a lot more tired than I thought. I think I’m going to take a nap now before the party.”
“Okay, Sweetie,” Fujitaka said and went back to the task at hand.
Sakura left the kitchen and went up the stairs, through the hallway and into her room. She kicked off her shoes and crawled into her bed, pulling the covers up to her chin. She just wanted to sleep now.
“Sakura? Wake up! Do you plan on sleeping though the party?”
If only, Sakura thought darkly.
“Well, fine. Be that way.” Tomoyo sighed dramatically and flopped down onto the bed, jostling Sakura. “But your boyfriend is already here and talking to your parents…” There was still no response from Sakura. “…and your brother.”
“What?” Sakura asked and sat up so fast her head spun. “Argh, that wasn’t smart.”
Tomoyo giggled. “He seems nice enough. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“So you met him already?” Sakura asked while trying to get her bearings. Her room was glowing slightly since the sun was just barely beginning to set and her eyes were having a bit of trouble adjusting.
“Yup. Cute if you like the glasses type,” Tomoyo said, offhandedly. “He’s just your type.”
Sakura decided not to take that as an insult and dragged her butt out of bed. That nap was just what the doctor ordered! She was feeling much better now – not all weepy. She still felt a little tired and there was a knot in her stomach but that was probably just because she hadn’t eaten anything since lunch.
She quickly changed out of her wrinkled clothes and ran a brush through her hair and was ready to go. Tomoyo eyed her plain shorts and t-shirt a bit disapprovingly. She herself was wearing a cute little yellow summer dress.
“What?” Sakura asked, not being able to resist the jibe. “I don’t have anyone to impress. I already have a boyfriend, remember?” Plus, it was kind of a family event. That might be wrong. Of course, it wasn’t like her track record was completely clean.
Tomoyo was unfazed. “I will soon if everything goes according to plan.”
“Nothing extravagant. Just a simple seduction.” Tomoyo ginned wickedly and leaned forward so that her chest was pressed front and center.
“That’s nice.” Sakura yawned. She just couldn’t summon the energy to care – even if it was talk about seducing her cousin and ex… well, not exactly ex-boyfriend but it was ex-something.
Thankfully, she was saved from having to say more by her brother.
“Sakura! Get down here already!” His booming voice called up to her room.
“I’m coming!” Sakura shouted back and motioned for Tomoyo to follow her as she left the room.
The two of them descended the stairs and joined the group of her family plus Eriol. Sakura felt a great surge of relief when Eriol met her eyes and smiled. Somehow, just seeing him was able to lift her spirits – he was her comfort zone.
“Oh good,” Nadesico said when she saw Sakura. “Now we can go turn on the grill.”
“You mean you’re going to watch Dad light the grill?” Sakura asked, unable to help herself. Fujitaka chuckled slightly, but it didn’t quite reach his face.
“Yes,” Nadesico stated unabashed and then said to Eriol, “It was nice to meet you. You kids have fun!” And she walked away arm in arm with her husband.
The four of them were left there to stare at each other, each one unsure of what to say. Sakura looked uncomfortable, Tomoyo looked bored, Touya was obviously sizing Eriol up, and Eriol was just smiling pleasantly at all of them.
“Well…” Sakura started awkwardly. She fell silent when she realized she had absolutely nothing else to say.
“Where’s Syaoran?” Tomoyo asked suddenly.
“That’s a good question,” Touya muttered. “He might be in his room.”
“That’s not fair!” Sakura cried. “He can’t get to hide out during this party when you guys wouldn’t let me.”
“Aw, you weren’t looking forward to it?” Eriol asked, although he already knew the answer. She had been complaining about it for a while now after all.
“No,” Sakura said dryly.
“I guess I’ll go get him,” Touya said, seemingly put out.
Tomoyo perked up considerably. “I’ll do it!”
Touya raised his eyebrows at her and glanced at Sakura. Sakura made extra sure that her face gave away nothing. “If you insist.”
Tomoyo practically bound up the stairs.
“Let’s go outside,” Sakura said, pretty sure that she didn’t want to be there when Syaoran left his room.
“You two go ahead,” Touya said. “I’m going to call Yukito and make sure he’s on his way.”
Eriol waited until they were alone to say anything to her. “Your family seems nice.”
“Just wait,” Sakura said sourly. “It won’t take long for them to show their true colors.”
The two of them went outside to sit on the patio and watch Sakura’s dad fight with the grill. Tomoyo and Syaoran joined them soon afterwards, Syaoran looking put out. He met Sakura’s eye for the first time in over a week and Sakura really wished he hadn’t. It was like he was trying to convey a silent message and she seriously doubted it was anything nice.
Sakura was immensely grateful for Tomoyo’s talkative streak. It kept her from having to say too much and soon enough more guests began to trickle in. The party was practically in full swing by the time Sakura’s final guest arrived.
“Hey! Meiling’s here,” Syaoran said suddenly, cutting Tomoyo off in the middle of her sentence. She seemed irritated but twisted around in her seat to see the newcomer just the same.
Meiling smiled when she saw them and walked over. She had chosen to wear her hair down and had on blue shorts and a red and white tank top.
“You look very festive,” Sakura said when Meiling made it to their table.
“Naturally.” Meiling winked and then turned towards Tomoyo. “I don’t think we’ve met yet. I’m Meiling.”
Tomoyo’s voice and face were friendly enough, but something seemed off to Sakura. She just couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.
“Shove over Syaoran,” Meiling said bossily.
Syaoran raised his eyebrow skeptically. “And just why would I do that?”
“There are no more chairs and I feel weird being the only one standing,” Meiling said simply and gave him the shooing motion with her hands.
“There’s always the floor,” Tomoyo suggested in a deceptively sweet voice.
Sensing that nothing good could come from the way Tomoyo and Meiling were staring each other down, Sakura jumped to her feet. “You can take my chair. I don’t mind standing,” She said quickly.
“You don’t have to do that,” Meiling said sincerely, in a lot less bossy tone. “I don’t want to take your chair and make you stand.”
“So it doesn’t matter if I have to stand?” Syaoran asked.
“It’s really okay,” Sakura said. “I’m already standing now anyways.”
“Yea, don’t worry about it Meiling. Sakura can just share my chair,” Eriol piped up and wrapped his arms around Sakura’s waist, pulling her onto his lap.
All the blood rushed to Sakura’s cheeks. She was pretty sure she had never been this uncomfortable in her life. Not in a literal sense of course, but the look that on Syaoran’s face made her want to curl up in a ball and die. Meiling looked taken aback for a second but she recovered quickly.
“Well, it’s all settled then!” She said and sat in Sakura’s vacated chair.
Tomoyo simply smiled at the couple. “Well, aren’t you two cute?”
“Thank you.” Eriol just kept on grinning. Meanwhile, Sakura was trying very hard to stay still on his lap. She was uncomfortable and worried about if she was putting too much weight on his legs but was also reluctant to squirm around lest she feel… anything. At that thought, she subtly nudged her rear end closer to Eriol’s knees.
“Hey, Sakura, what’s up with your Dad’s apron?” Tomoyo suddenly asked. Sakura was glad for the change in topic.
Sakura turned her attention to where her father was standing next to the grill with a spatula in hand and wearing his favorite “kick the cook” apron.
“Oh.” Sakura laughed. “My mom made that for him after he gave us all food poisoning with his cooking.”
Everyone’s face fell.
Sakura quickly backtracked when she realized that probably wasn’t a good story to tell when the said ‘poisoner’ was about to be cooking everyone’s dinner.
“But don’t worry – that was years and years ago!” Sakura laughed in an attempt to lighten the mood, but it just came out awkward. Sakura caught Syaoran’s snort of laughter and couldn’t help the amusement that crept across her face. He caught her looking at him and quickly wiped the smile off his face. Sakura mentally sighed. “Anyways, enough about that. Let’s bring up a new topic!”
“That sounds like a plan.” Meiling smiled brightly. “So let’s talk about your pool.”
“My pool?” Sakura echoed and looked at the body of water in the yard. That was a really random thing to bring up, but she supposed it had some relevance. The sun was almost completely set, so they had turned on the underwater pool lights to make it glow, making the pool the visual focus of the party.
“Yes, it’s very nice. Do you go swimming a lot?”
“Not very much anymore. I’m not really home during the day,” Sakura said truthfully. She felt Eriol’s right hand come up and rest lightly on her waist. Outwardly, her attention was on the conversation but internally her attention had zeroed in on his hand.
“What about at night?” Meiling asked. Eriol began to rub a light circle with his index finger so Sakura wasn’t paying attention to the second part of Meiling’s question. “Have you ever gone skinny dipping?”
“Sometimes,” Sakura answered absent mindedly. Eriol’s fingers halted their movement. Meiling’s laughter and the others’ stunned silence jerked her back into reality. Tomoyo looked surprised, Eriol looked amused, but it was at Syaoran’s enormous eyes that she began to feel like she was missing something. “Hold it. What did I just agree to doing?”
“Skinny dipping,” Tomoyo reiterated for her.
“Oh!” Sakura felt the mortification begin to creep in. “No no no. I misunderstood the question. I’ve never been skinny dipping!”
“Oh really?” Meiling sounded a bit disappointed. “That’s a shame. If I had a pool in my backyard that’s the first thing I would do.”
“I’ve never really thought about it,” Sakura said truthfully.
“You will now. Some night when you are the only one home you will creep out here, strip down, and jump in!” Meiling exclaimed. Sakura laughed. She seriously doubted she would ever do something like that.
Normally, this would be the time that Syaoran would speak up and say ‘You better hope no one is around to see that. You don’t want to scar them for life!’ or something of the sort. He would probably have been more original, but the point was that he remained silent. He didn’t even care to make fun of her any more. It was a strangely disheartening thought.
“Isn’t that your mom?” Eriol piped up, his question directed at Syaoran. Syaoran perked up when he noticed the woman Eriol was talking about.
“It sure is.”
To Sakura’s great relief, Syaoran’s step-father was there as well. Without even realizing it, she had been very worried that there would be some sort of big scene today. There had been a serious concern that Syaoran’s parents might not show up together, it was good that they did. It looked as if they were patching things up nicely, if their body language was anything to go by. It was beginning to seem like the night might go on without any major drama.
“I’m going to go say hi,” Syaoran muttered and took off. Sakura had half a mind to do the same, but changed her mind. The three of them probably needed some time alone together.
Syaoran leaving was good for two reasons; it gave Sakura a chance to relax and… Sakura got her own seat!
Sakura hopped off of Eriol’s lap, immediately missing his warmth yet not missing his knobby knees. Eriol laughed at her. “I take it your throne was a tad bit uncomfortable?”
“Just a little bit,” Sakura acknowledged. “You’re too bony.”
“I bet he is,” Meiling said suggestively. The rest of the table stared at her; slack jawed, until Eriol burst out laughing. Sakura grinned, but Tomoyo rolled her eyes.
“Nice.” Eriol choked out between his laughter. “Very ladylike.”
“I think the food is ready,” Tomoyo observed, putting a halt to all conversation. They were hungry and quickly went to get food. A line had already built up around the grill and by the time the small group had fixed their plates, some of the older guests had taken their table.
“Damn old people,” Sakura grouched, trying to get comfortable on her piece of cement while shaking off the ants that were attacking her.
“Yea,” Meiling added. “Their bones are already achy. They might as well sit on the floor!”
“At least they have margaritas to numb the pain,” Sakura mentioned, noting the mixed drinks that her mother was passing out like candy. At least she wasn’t stingy with her booze, Sakura thought wryly.
The night wore on and the group finished their food, Syaoran rejoining them at some point. Things were going pretty smoothly and Sakura would have been relaxed if it hadn’t been for her mother. Sakura was watching Nadesico from her peripheral vision and it seemed her mother was well on her way to a killer hangover. At least her father was there to take care of her. Sakura sighed.
“Do you mind if I use your restroom?” Meiling asked suddenly, looking a bit sheepish.
“Nope, you have to hold it!” Sakura joked. Meiling glared in good humor and Sakura continued. “There’s one on the first floor off of the hallway, and if that one’s being used there’s another on the second floor.”
“Thanks,” Meiling said and left, walking a bit funny after sitting on the cement for so long.
Eriol stretched his legs out, bumping Sakura with his foot. “Hmm, my legs are cramping up. Maybe we should get up and actually do something?” he suggested.
“I guess.” Sakura really wondered what else there was to do. “My mom bought sparklers. We could do that I suppose.”
“Sounds like a plan. Come on, Syaoran. Let’s go get the sparklers!” Eriol said while getting on his feet.
Syaoran’s eyes bugged out at him. “I don’t remember volunteering for that.”
Eriol gave him a small smile. “It’s the gentlemanly thing to do. You’re not going to?”
“Whatever,” Syaoran said and got up. “Although I don’t need lessons in that department from you.”
The two of them walked away in search of sparklers, leaving Sakura and Tomoyo alone for the second time that day.
Tomoyo groaned and pulled at the hem of her dress. “This sucks. I’m not having any opportunity to be alone with Syaoran and put the plan into action.”
“What about when you woke him up?” Sakura asked, genuinely curious.
“Once he saw it was me who was there to get him he practically flew out of the room,” Tomoyo answered and heaved a sigh.
Sakura thought momentarily about clueing Tomoyo in on what that kind of elusive behavior meant, but discarded it immediately. Who was she to squash a girl’s dreams? “So I take it that means you’re not having any fun?”
“I didn’t say that,” Tomoyo assured her. “I’m just a bit frustrated with the situation. Your little friend isn’t helping things either.”
“Eriol?” Sakura was confused as to what Eriol had to do with anything.
“No,” Tomoyo elaborated. “Meiling.”
“Meiling? What about her?”
Tomoyo furrowed her brows at Sakura. “You honestly don’t know? She’s a big flirt with the way she talks. I’m surprised that it doesn’t bother you. She’s like that with Syaoran, but it really seems directed towards Eriol.”
“What are you talking about?” Sakura tried to think back to the day’s events but was having a hard time.
“You really didn’t notice the look on her face when Eriol pulled you onto his lap? I thought she was going to stop breathing.”
Sakura had noticed, but hadn’t considered it that extreme. “She just seemed a little surprised. I can’t blame her, I was too.”
Tomoyo pursed her lips. “Sure, but there’s also the way she bosses Syaoran around pretending to be all cutesy and always manages to make the conversation have some sort of a sexual undertone. The way she talks makes her out to be a cheap whore.”
“I’m not a cheap whore.” Sakura jerked around to see Meiling had returned from the bathroom at the worst possible moment. “Just a regular one.”
She had made a joke, but the humor didn’t quite reach her eyes. A wry smile twisted at the corner of her lips.
“Don’t worry about it, Sakura,” Meiling interrupted her apology. “You weren’t the one who said it.” She was staring Tomoyo in the eyes, who seemed bemused and not at all sorry.
“Woah, what did we miss?” Eriol asked, looking wary as he and Syaoran approached. They looked around at the group of girls.
“Nothing important,” Meiling said simply and snatched a sparkler from Syaoran. “Let’s light these bitches already!”
Sakura was uncomfortable to the point of sweating but she had absolutely no idea what to do about the situation. She was a bit surprised that Meiling was still hanging around, but eventually came to the conclusion that Meiling would see leaving as a sort of retreat or surrender to Tomoyo. And she would have none of that.
Meiling and Tomoyo were pretending that nothing out of the ordinary had happened but there was still a sense of unease about the group. The boys noticed it but had enough tact to stay out of girl squabbles. Sakura wished desperately that she could do the same, but there was no denying that she was already involved.
It didn’t seem like Meiling blamed her for anything, but Sakura still felt awkward with her. It was like everything had changed. The knot in Sakura’s stomach tightened more. She didn’t want this. The whole thing was putting her on edge and making her snappy.
“Sakura!” Fujitaka called from where he was passing out drinks and Nadesico was sitting around and drinking them. Sakura walked over to them, glad to leave her group even if it was only for a few moments.
“Would you mind going inside and getting the other bottle of tequila?” He asked, a smile on his face.
“What happened to the other two?” Sakura joked, trying to lighten her mood. “Did mom polish them off?”
The smile promptly disappeared from Fujitaka’s face. “That’s not funny,” he said, his voice dangerously low. It was a tone Sakura had never heard from him in all of her seventeen years, not even when she was five years old and had used his work papers to make deformed paper dolls. All of the humor was gone from his face and Sakura finally noticed how worn out he looked. He met her eyes and she couldn’t break the gaze.
“I’ve tried to tell this to you nicely but you just don’t get it. I don’t know what makes you think any of your crap is helpful, but you need to stop it. Now.”
Sakura didn’t know what to say and wasn’t sure she would be able to if she did. Her throat was clogged by a lump and her blood felt ice cold. She could feel her face heating up from embarrassment and shame. She jerked her head in a nod to let him know she got it. Her neck was stiff.
“Good. Now, are you going to get the tequila like I asked?”
Sakura thought she was going to vomit when she opened her mouth to respond but instead choked out, “I-I don’t know where it is.”
“You should have just said so. Syaoran!” The sudden loudness in her dad’s voice as he called for Syaoran made Sakura flinch.
“Yea?” Syaoran called back.
“Do you know where the tequila is?” Fujitaka asked.
“Would you mind going to get it?”
“Not at all,” Syaoran replied and made his way to the house. Tomoyo was hot on his heels. The pair of them walked by Sakura but Syaoran didn’t even glance at her. However, Tomoyo caught her eye and winked before following Syaoran inside.
Fujitaka went back to serving drinks and Sakura made a hasty retreat. She didn’t want to go back to Eriol and Meiling yet, but she also didn’t know where to go. It seemed like there were people everywhere and she didn’t want to talk to any of them. What she wanted to do was go up to her room and disappear. She couldn’t though. It would be too weird since her guests were still there. She would just have to avoid anyone who would actually talk to her; she didn’t think she would be able to in her current state. That worked for a little while at least.
“There you are,” Eriol said, appearing from a crowd of guests and startling Sakura. “We were wondering where you disappeared to. Meiling’s looking for you too.” He got a good look at her face and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Sakura answered quickly. “I’m just not feeling well, that’s all.”
“Are you sure? I-”
“I’m sure,” Sakura cut in. She didn’t want him to ask. She was dangerously close to tears as it was and didn’t want to think about it and be pushed over the edge. What she really needed was some time to collect herself. “I’m going to use the restroom. I’ll be back.”
“Okay,” Eriol said slowly, not sounding sure at all but let her go just the same. Sakura was relieved.
Sakura gave herself a little mental pep talk as she walked through the yard and approached the house. She would go inside and splash some cold water on her face and then not think about anything for the rest of the night. She could do it. It was nothing.
Just as that particular thought was over, Sakura opened the door to the house and came face to face with Syaoran. She was just going to walk by him and continue with the plan, but he grabbed her upper arm and pulled her inside, shutting the door.
“Syaoran, I really don’t need this right now,” Sakura pleaded
He ignored it as if she hadn’t said anything and when she noticed how furious he was, she had to wonder if he had even heard her at all. “What’s the big idea?”
“What are you talking about?” Sakura asked, resigned to her fate that this was to be the worst day ever.
“I’m talking about you siccing Tomoyo on me!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sakura made an attempt at playing stupid, and promptly regretted it. Syaoran’s glare virtually pinned her to the wall.
“She practically mauled me in the kitchen! When I finally got her to stop and asked what she thought she was doing, she said that you set this whole thing up!”
Sakura could feel a migraine forming. “I did no such thing.” Syaoran scoffed out of skepticism. “Not exactly.”
“Then explain it to me ‘exactly’.”
“It’s not as bad as you’re trying to make it out to be.” Sakura relented and just decided to tell him the truth. “She’s been trying to get me to set you two up for a while now and I just said that this party would be a good opportunity for her to make a move.”
“What is wrong with you?” Syaoran fumed.
Sakura could feel the strain of the day wearing on her. She was in no mood to coddle him or his feelings at the moment. If anything, she wanted to be brutal so he would go away and leave her alone. “I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not like you’re dating anyone else.”
In the silence, Sakura couldn’t help but look up at his face. She really wished she hadn’t. The hurt there was almost unbearable to look at. “You’re a really cruel person,” he said.
“Yea,” Sakura said back. They stood like that, two people frozen in a moment that both of them would rather erase from their memories forever.
“Am I interrupting something?” Meiling asked, uncharacteristically timid. Her voice startled them from their private hell.
“No,” Syaoran said. “I was just leaving.”
There was silence in his wake. Meiling slid her eyes over to Sakura and studied her face. “Sorry about that, but Eriol wanted me to check on you. He said you weren’t feeling well. Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” Sakura said, forcing cheer into her voice. She did it rather well, all things considered. “You know how Syaoran is. He’s always booty hurt about something!” She added a little laugh.
“Yea, I guess,” Meiling said slowly.
“Anyway, I’m going to go to the bathroom now,” Sakura said and walked to the first floor bathroom at as normal a pace as she could muster. It was occupied so she climbed the stairs and went into the second story one. It was blissfully empty.
Sakura turned the tap on to cold water and cupped her hands under the flow and quickly splashed the water on her face. It was freezing, a bit of a shock and somehow refreshing at the same time. Just what she needed. She was feeling better already.
The hand towel was missing so she just had to let it air dry. The water dripping down her neck and under her shirt, she looked at her reflection and was reminded of the camping trip after she had broken things off with Syaoran.
And suddenly she was overcome with uncontrollable sobs.
They came from nowhere. One second she was fine and the next tears were streaming down her face. She couldn’t stop them. Then she couldn’t breathe and began sobbing loudly. Afraid that someone would hear her, Sakura stuffed her fist in her mouth to muffle her sobs. The sound was quieted, but the actual sobs only got worse. She crumpled in on herself and fell to the floor.
As she feared, someone heard her because the door swung open. Sakura didn’t dare look to see who it was. She was appalled at herself and so overcome with sadness that she couldn’t stop and knew she must look pathetic. She didn’t want anyone to see her like that. She’d always felt that way about crying.
The door closed and the lock clicked before the person fell to her knees and wrapped feminine arms around Sakura’s shaking frame. Sakura looked up in shock, not expecting that at all.
Meiling’s normally fierce eyes met hers, this time filled with something Sakura couldn’t name. The tears had stopped momentarily, but wasted no more time in ravaging Sakura’s small body. Sakura looked to the side out of shame but Meiling only pulled her closer to her soft chest, smothering her in the embrace.
Sakura gave in, grateful for the comfort and responded by wrapping her arms around the other girl. And that was how she stayed, sobbing into a girl’s chest who she barely knew. The weirdest part was that after a while, Meiling started to cry right along with her.
“Wow, that’s pretty messed up,” Meiling said and dabbed at the corner of he eyes with a tissue. Sakura had just finished spilling her heart and soul to Meiling. She wasn’t sure why she did it, but she told her everything, not leaving out any of the gory details.
Now that she had done it, Sakura was having second thoughts. She kind of wondered if that was what it felt like to have sex with a guy you barely know, after the fact when the adrenaline was gone – exposed and vulnerable.
Really, what did she know about Meiling? This probably ranked high on the stupidest things she had ever done. She had told her everything about Syaoran and Meiling was someone who was close to Eriol! She would have no one to blame but herself if Meiling told him.
“That about sums it up,” Sakura answered, her voice scratchy from the effort of crying. “But why were you crying?”
Meiling appeared a bit sheepish. “Sympathy tears? I always hate watching people cry. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say empathy tears.”
“What do you mean?”
Meiling seemed hesitant at first but sighed; giving in. “I guess it’s only fair. You just bared your heart to me after all.”
Now Sakura was dying of curiosity. “What is it?”
Meiling took a deep breath to steel herself for what she was about to say. “I always get like this when Eriol gets a new girlfriend he seems serious about.”
There. It had been said. There was no taking it back.
“So you… like him?” Sakura asked timidly.
“Yea, long story short anyways.” Meiling smiled ruefully to herself before realizing how she must have sounded. “But don’t worry, he’s not interested in me like that in the slightest. He’s made that very clear. Painfully so, even. I know where I stand. I’m no threat to you.”
“Why do you stay around him then?” Sakura couldn’t help but ask.
Meiling chuckled a little. “I dunno. I must be masochistic or something. But I just can’t make myself cut ties with him. Not even when I convinced myself I was over him and gave my virginity to this loser guy I work with.”
Sakura didn’t know what to say to that. That was a startling revelation from someone she wasn’t even really close to. It made her realize just how personal of stuff she had just revealed to Meiling as well.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Occupied!” Meiling called out, just as she had the previous times it had happened.
The person on the other side of the door sighed. “Hurry!” The voice was unfamiliar, probably one of Sakura’s relatives.
Meiling rolled her eyes, annoyed at the person’s tenacity. “I’m constipated!” she yelled back, making Sakura snort in laughter. “It’s going to be a while!”
The person left grumbling, and Meiling looked smug. However, she quickly got back to business. “At any rate,” she began. “We can save my sob story for some other time. Right now, you are the person with the bigger problems.”
“Well, gee, you really know how to make a gal feel better,” Sakura teased.
“I’m going to tell you this because I like you,” Meiling said, sobering Sakura up right away. “I’m not going to pretend like I have a clue what you should do about your parents, but I can help you out with your boy trouble.”
“Oh?” Sakura was a tad afraid.
“You need to be straight with Syaoran,” Meiling said simply. “That’s it. There’s no way around it. If you don’t, you are only going to hurt him, you, and eventually Eriol.”
“You make it sound easy.”
“I didn’t say it would be easy.” Meiling looked at her seriously. “But that’s the best advice I can give you. Just tell him what you told me and I think he will understand. I’m not even part of all this and I understand. I think you should have more faith in him.”
“I really wish I could.” Sakura sounded miserable even to herself.
“You said you really want to be with Eriol, but there’s still part of you that wants Syaoran.”
Sakura cringed at hearing her own words repeated back to her. “I know. I’m horrible.”
“No you’re not,” Meiling assured her, and placed her hand on Sakura’s shoulder. “There’s no rule that you can only feel that way about one person at a time. It sucks but that’s life. The real problem here is that you need to make up your mind and then be clear about your intentions.”
Meiling made to stand up and Sakura grabbed onto her shorts. “Where are you going?”
“To lie to everyone that you’re sick and going to bed. That way they don’t see you. Your face looks like someone used it as a punching bag.”
“Gee, thanks,” Sakura muttered.
“No problem,” Meiling said and dragged Sakura to her feet as well. “I promise you that I won’t tell anyone about this. But remember what I told you. I really think it would do you good to at least get that taken care of.”
“Thanks,” Sakura said again, this time meaning it.
“Oh, and Sakura?” Meiling paused, her hand on the door knob. She twisted around to look at the green eyed girl. “If you ever need to talk to someone, I’m always available.”
Sakura was on the verge of thanking her again, but Meiling had opened the door to reveal Syaoran standing on the other side. Both girls started out of shock.
“How long have you been standing there?” Meiling demanded.
“I just got here,” Syaoran answered, his eyebrows furrowed. Annoyance turned to alarm when he got a good look at Sakura. “What’s going on?”
Sakura made eye contact with Meiling and gathered her strength. “It’s a long story.”
“Sakura, you’ve been crying.” Syaoran stated the obvious.
“Yeah, and I’ll tell you all about it. Later.” Syaoran looked like he was going to protest. Sakura beat him to the punch. “Come by my room after the party is over and everyone’s gone to bed. We’ll talk then.”
Syaoran looked confused but nodded in acknowledgement.
“I’m going to bed now,” Sakura said and walked by both of them. As she did, Meiling patted her back as a form of encouragement. Sakura smiled. It seemed she had finally found someone she could talk to.
Sakura stared at her ceiling in the darkness listening to the sounds of night. The party was long over and then she’d heard her family move around before going to bed. Her brother poked his head in at one point to check on her but she played possum and he left.
It was really late now and while she’d been in and out of sleep she was having a hard time going back now that she knew it was about time Syaoran appeared. That was assuming of course that he hadn’t passed out.
Just as that particular thought crossed her mind, her bedroom door creaked open. Syaoran stuck his head through and whispered, “You awake?”
“Yup,” Sakura answered, just as quiet.
Syaoran nodded and came in the room the rest of the way, shutting the door behind him. He stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do. Sakura sat up and turned her lamp on to the lowest glow. Soft yellow light filled the room and she got a good look at him.
He looked the same as always. Perfect. And even now all she wanted to do was throw him down on the bed and have her way with him. Those kinds of thoughts scared her. That wasn’t love.
Sakura swallowed the lump in her throat and patted the bed next to her for him to sit down on. He moved towards her and did, sitting so that he was perpendicular to her.
“Are you feeling better now?” He asked at length.
“Yes.” Sakura picked at her thumb nail, unsure of how to start. “I guess I just need to spit this out.”
Syaoran nodded, not looking at her.
“Syaoran…” Sakura steeled herself, reminding her of her resolve earlier that day. “I have chosen Eriol and I’m going to stick to that decision.”
Syaoran grunted, still not looking at her. “You wanted me to come here to tell me that?”
“And to tell you why,” Sakura continued, trying to rip the proverbial Band-Aid off as quickly as possible. “Because I think I might really love him. And it’s not that I don’t love you in a way, but it’s different.”
“Different?” Syaoran asked quietly.
“Yea. When I’m with him I feel comfortable and happy and in control. But when I’m with you it’s the opposite.” Sakura stared at her hands, talking quickly. “I don’t trust myself around you. I feel jittery all the time and it kind of hurts. I always want to kiss you and touch you and God only knows what else and I don’t like it.”
Syaoran turned around and raised an eyebrow at her. Sakura had the decency to blush and look away. “Okay, so maybe I like it too much. That’s the problem.” She let out a huge sigh. “I know I’ve said this before, but that just seems like lust to me, not love.”
“And maybe that wouldn’t be a problem under normal circumstances, but we’re cousins. Even if it’s not by blood, we are still cousins. This would affect our family.” Sakura desperately wanted him to understand, just like Meiling said he would. “Maybe they wouldn’t mind if we were really in love, but come on! We’re 17 for crying out loud. Can you honestly tell me that you’re 100 percent sure what we feel isn’t just lust?”
“I don’t think it’s just lust. I really care about you,” Syaoran murmured, but not exactly answering her question.
“And I care about you too,” Sakura agreed. “But what happens if this doesn’t work out? We would still have to see each other at family gatherings. This doesn’t just involve us. Your parents are having a hard time as it is, without us adding to it. And my mother hasn’t been doing so hot lately either. I think the best thing to do is for us to stop while we’re ahead and don’t hate each other.” When Syaoran didn’t say anything Sakura couldn’t stop herself from asking. “You don’t hate me already, do you?”
Syaoran sighed deeply and twisted his body around so that he was facing her. “Of course not.” He rolled his eyes heavenward. “Idiot.”
Relief swept through Sakura’s body. “Good.”
Syaoran shifted his weight on the bed, moving closer to her. “Are you absolutely sure about all this?”
“Because this is it. If you tell me the one you want is Eriol, I will back off. I promise. But for me to do that, I can’t hold on to this. I have to move on and we will just be like normal cousins. I’ll date other girls. Can you handle that?”
Sakura’s heart squeezed, with him looking intently into her eyes like that. “Yes. I’m sure,” she finally said.
“Okay then.” Syaoran lowered his head so that his hair was covering his eyes. Not being able to see his face clearly made Sakura nervous. And for good reason. When he looked up, there was intensity there. “Can I have a goodbye kiss?”
Sakura’s breath caught and she didn’t know what to do. Agree? Tell him to get the hell out of her room? Throw her arms around him? Scream? Die? She couldn’t do any of that. So she didn’t do anything.
Syaoran seemed to take her lack of a response as an affirmative because he braced his left hand on the other side of her legs so that he was leaning over her. He moved towards her, neither of them looking away or even breathing it seemed. He was so close. Time seemed to stand still except he was still creeping closer. Their breath mingled. Sakura’s heart was pounding so hard it was echoing in her skull. She couldn’t take it. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Nothing happened for a long time. Syaoran didn’t move away or get any closer, but she could still feel him there. She was too terrified to look. Seconds ticked by feeling like minutes until Syaoran finally moved and Sakura felt his soft lips press against her forehead.
It was brief, but the feeling lingered even as Syaoran moved away and got off the bed. Sakura opened her eyes and watched him walk to her door. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob and looked to the side.
“Sorry,” he said quietly. “That was stupid of me. I think maybe you’re right about all this.” He turned and gave her a big smile that almost seemed sad but she could have just been imagining things. “Normal cousins from now on, right?”
Syaoran turned around and walked out the door, closing it with a small click that seemed much louder to Sakura than it should have and also very final.
To Be Continued.