The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate

by Crawlspace

 

~ Chapter 3:  Finding Out, part 1 ~

 

 

            Makoto dried her eyes on her sleeve one last time and stood unsteadily.  Her voice just a bit shaky, she said, “I need to get ready for school.  Gonna be late if I don’t hurry.”

 

            Before she could walk away, Ami’s hand grabbed Makoto’s wrist.

 

            “Ami,” said Makoto very quietly without turning around.  “I can’t do this right now.  Please.”

 

            Ami slowly released Makoto’s wrist.  “Do you want me to wait for you?”

 

            “No.  I’ll see you at school.”

 

            Makoto could feel Ami at her back.  The other girl’s voice seemed unnaturally quiet when she said, “You’ve been avoiding us.  Promise you won’t do that anymore.  We need to talk.”

 

            “Later.  I promise,” answered Makoto.

 

            “Will you be at lunch?”

 

            Makoto shook her head.  “I can’t.”

 

            “Mako-chan…”

 

            Finally turning to face Ami, Makoto said, “Don’t tell them.  We’ll talk after school.  Minako has play practice.  Usagi and Rei always sneak in to watch.  Meet me in the gym then.”

 

            Ami nodded her agreement.

 

            “All right,” said Makoto.  “You need to get going or you’ll be late, too.”  With that she turned and left Ami standing alone in the bathroom.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Ami was in a slight daze as she hurried to catch up to her friends.  Makoto was pregnant, which obviously answered the question of what happened with Yuu.  With this new development, that all important question seemed so insignificant, regardless of how closely it was all connected.

 

            “Hi, Ami!”  Minako’s greeting pulled Ami out of her thoughts.  “We were just about to give up on you.”

 

            “I stopped to check on Makoto,” said Ami by way of explanation.

 

            “Is she feeling better?” asked Usagi.  The blonde then grimaced.  “You should have seen it last night.  I swear she turned green right before…”

 

            “Spare us the details, Odango,” interrupted Rei.  “How’s she doing, Ami?  Is everything okay?”

 

            The double meaning in Rei’s question was clear to Ami.  She answered, hoping but not entirely believing what she was saying.  “She’s fine.  Everything’s okay, she’s just running a little behind this morning.  She said she’d see us at school.”

 

            Usagi moved so she was in front of her friends.  Walking backwards so she could face them, she said, “You know, Mako-chan’s been acting funny lately.  I bet she found someone who’s just like her old sempai.”

 

            Ami cringed at Usagi’s words.  She was saved from anyone noticing as Usagi tripped, stumbled, and fell on her rear.

 

            The burst of tears and ear-piercing wail from their would-be princess set the girls on autopilot.  Rei set about teasing the blonde for her clumsiness while at the same time very carefully helping her up.  Minako countered Rei’s teasing with plies of the sweets she had hidden in her school bag.  Ami went into doctor mode, examining Usagi briefly for any cuts or bruises.

 

            Ami gingerly turned over Usagi’s palm.  When Usagi saw the small scrape there, rather then getting more upset, she grinned.

 

            “See, Rei,” said the vindicated blonde.  “You were mean and called me a baby.  But I really did get hurt, didn’t I, Ami?”

 

            Ami smiled indulgently.  “Yes, you did.  Does it hurt very much?”

 

            “Yes,” answered Usagi, her eyes getting a bit teary.

 

            “When we get to school, I’ll bandage it for you if you like.”

 

            Usagi nodded.  “Thank you, Ami.”

 

            “Well, this is my stop,” said Rei as they came to her turn-off.  She handed Usagi the bag she’d been carrying for her since her fall.  “Here you go, Usagi.  I hope your hand feels better.”

 

            “Thanks, Rei,” answered Usagi.  As an afterthought she blew a raspberry at her friend.

 

            Rei returned the gesture, then turned to Minako.  With a few whispered words of affection and a quick kiss, the two said good-bye to each other.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Minako and Ami were already seated at their usual lunch table when Usagi came running up to them.  This in and of itself wouldn’t have gotten much of a reaction, both girls being very familiar with Usagi’s attitudes about lunch period and food in general.  What did get their attention was the worried look on the blonde’s face and the lack of food in her hands.

 

            “Do you know where Mako-chan is?” asked Usagi in a near panic.  “I checked the nurse’s office as soon as I heard, but the nurse said she’d already gone back to class, and I can’t find her anywhere.”

 

            Ami’s first thought was, Oh God, they know.

 

            Minako looked at Usagi with a mix of concern and confusion.  “What happened that she had to go to the nurse’s office?”

 

            “You mean you haven’t heard?”

 

            Minako shook her head.

 

            Usagi leaned in a bit closer to the girls.  Naru told me Mako-chan passed out during phys ed.”

 

            “Is she all right?” asked Ami.

 

            “I don’t know,” answered Usagi.  “The nurse only said she went back to class, so she must be okay, right?  But I can’t find her to make sure.”

 

            “We should look for her,” said Minako.  Split up and call in when we find her?”

 

            The other two nodded.  Lunch forgotten, the three girls went in search of their friend.  Just as they parted, Ami was certain she heard Minako mutter something about this becoming a habit. 


*            *            *

 

            Ami hurried quietly through the library, checking the aisles for Makoto’s familiar form.  There were only so many places the girl could have gone in the middle of the day, and they were short on time to spend searching.

 

            Concluding that Makoto wasn’t here, Ami decided to head for the cafeteria.  Maybe she’d changed her mind about lunch and had gone there looking for her friends.

 

            The cafeteria was in sight when Ami’s communicator beeped.  She quickly silenced it and moved someplace private to answer the call.

 

            Minako’s face appeared on the viewscreen.  “I found her, guys,” she said. “She’s at the benches by the tennis courts.”

 

            “Have you talked to her yet?” asked Ami.

 

            “No.  I was waiting for you guys to get here.”

 

            “Be right there,” answered Usagi.  “Don’t let her get away.”

 

            Communications closed, Ami hurried out of the building.

 

            When she got to the tennis courts, Minako and Usagi were crowded around Makoto.  Usagi was sitting next to her, a hand on her forehead.

 

            “Maybe you have a fever,” Ami heard Usagi say as she got closer to them.  “You shouldn’t have come to school today, Mako-chan.  You’re still sick.”

 

            Makoto moved Usagi’s hand away from her.  Forcing a smile, she said, “I’m not sick, Usagi.  Everything’s fine.”

 

            “People who are fine don’t pass out in the middle of a soccer game,” said Minako.

 

            “For the millionth time, I didn’t pass out,” said Makoto, her frustration with the matter beginning to show.

 

            “Then what did happen?” asked Ami.

 

            “I got a little dizzy is all,” answered Makoto.  “I was in a rush this morning and didn’t have time to eat.  And I didn’t really eat yesterday because of how I felt.”

 

            Usagi grimaced at her memories from the previous night.  “I still think you look a little pale.  Maybe you should go home early.”

 

            Makoto shook her head.  “Can’t.  I have a math test seventh period.  Besides, we have a meeting tonight, and I really need Ami’s help with my trig.”

 

            Minako looked thoughtful for a moment.  Then she said, “I agree with Usagi, believe it or not.  Ami?”

 

            All three looked to her for an answer.  They would do what she suggested, she realized.  As much as she wanted to tell Makoto to go home and rest, Ami felt she would miss the opportunity to talk with her if she did.  Right now that seemed more important.

 

            “I think she can make it through the rest of the day,” answered Ami after a moment of thought.  “As long as she feels okay now and doesn’t push herself too much.”

 

            Makoto chuckled.  “Not a problem there.  I bet I can even catch a nap during Watashi-sensei’s history lecture.”

 

            The concern was still evident on Usagi’s face.  And while Minako didn’t seem at all convinced at Ami’s assessment, she didn’t argue about it.  The decision was made, but none of them looked comfortable with it.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Makoto dribbled the basketball a few times as she stood at the foul line.  She took aim, threw the ball at the hoop, then frowned as it hit the rim and bounced back to her.

 

            Footsteps made her pause in her next attempt.  The person behind her stood silent as she took a deep breath, then threw the ball once again.  This time it bounced off the backboard and rolled off to the side.

 

            Finally, Makoto turned to face Ami.  “My aim’s off,” she said with a shrug.

 

            Ami just stood there silently.

 

            Makoto sighed and went to sit on the bleachers.  She began to speak, and after several seconds, Ami moved to sit beside her.

 

            “You know,” said Makoto, “I’ve had that test since Sunday.  I’d get up in the morning and wind up just staring at the box.  I kept thinking that if I waited just one more day…”  She leaned forward, arms resting on her knees, staring at her sneakers rather then the girl next to her.  “I don’t know what to say to you, Ami.  I don’t know what to say to any of you.”

 

            “I know about Yuu.”

 

            Makoto’s head snapped around.  Ami looked almost as surprised for having said it as she did for having heard it.

 

            “How?” asked Makoto.

 

            “I heard him talking with his friends.  He’s in my class, you know.”

 

            Makoto nodded.  “I was hoping no one would find out.”

 

            “You’re not going to be able to hide it forever.  Unless…”

 

            It took Makoto a second, but when she understood what Ami was asking, she said, “No.  Not that.  I don’t think I could live with it.”

 

            “What are you going to do, then?” asked Ami.

 

            “Don’t know.  I haven’t really thought that far ahead.  Right now I’m just trying to figure out how to tell the others.”

 

            Ami placed a hand on top of Makoto’s.  “Just tell them.  They’ll understand.”

 

            Makoto looked into Ami’s eyes, trying to gauge what she was seeing without her own emotions getting in the way.  It didn’t usually work, but she needed to see Ami’s eyes when she said what she was going to next.

 

            “I didn’t want to be alone,” said Makoto quietly.  “It hasn’t been that bad since my parents, and there he was, wanting to be with me.  I’d known him for all of three days; it was the only way he’d stay.  I knew it was a mistake, but I didn’t want him to leave.  I thought if I let him, he would stay just a while longer.  But that’s not how it works.  I should have learned that lesson after the first time.”

 

            Makoto looked away from Ami.  There was a difference in the girl’s grip on her hands, and she had seen the shift in emotion in Ami’s eyes.  She didn’t blame her.

 

            “Do you understand now?” asked Makoto.  “I can’t tell Usagi something like that, and you know she’ll ask.  She was so concerned about me earlier and she tried so hard to help me last night.  She’s got such a kind heart, always worried about her friends.  She sees us as these perfect people who can do no wrong.  I can’t bear to see the disappointment in her eyes.  It’s bad enough seeing it in yours.”

 

            Realizing how her grip had tightened on Makoto’s hands, Ami let go of the girl.  For a second she hesitated, hand halfway to its intended target.  Then she swallowed the worst of her emotions and let her fingers rest on Makoto’s cheek.

 

            Gently turning Makoto to face her, Ami looked back into the other girl’s eyes.  “I’m not ashamed of you,” she said quietly.  “I’m worried about you because I can tell you’re hurting.  I admit I was a bit thrown by all of this, but I still feel exactly the same about you as I did last week or last year.”  Ami smiled and carefully wiped away the tear that was running down Makoto’s cheek.  “The others will feel the same way, Mako-chan.”

 

            For just this once, Makoto decided to let down the wall that kept out all her dreams and fantasies.  She heard in Ami’s voice and words what she wanted to hear, regardless of what context they had been given in.  Reaching forward, she pulled Ami to her.  The hug was awkward because of the angle they were sitting at, but Ami didn’t pull away.  After a second’s hesitation, she even returned the hug.

 

            Just like she’d done with Ami’s words, Makoto allowed herself to feel what she most wanted.  In this one moment, she was being held by someone who loved her the way she wanted to be loved.

 

            A throat being cleared got the girls’ attention and they pulled apart.

 

            The basketball coach wore a cocky grin as she said, “Take it somewhere else, ladies.  Practice is about to start.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            The little girl stood at the auditorium doors, a huge grin on her face.  She had come to watch the blonde girl during practice every day this week.  So far this was her favorite part of the play.

 

            The blonde, whose name on stage was Gisette, sighed.  Her manner suggested she wished nothing more than for the boy talking to her to go away.  The girl then shrugged resignedly and turned to face the boy.

 

            “My life is a salad bowl,” said Gisette, “and I seem to be the onions.”

 

            The boy, Gabriel, smirked at her.  “You do have a way of making people cry.”

 

            Gisette perched on the edge of her writing desk.  “Only when cut into, my dear Gabriel.  And then, only the very weak of heart.”

 

            Gabriel’s humor was high as he asked, “And I, my lovely Gisette?  What am I in the salad bowl of your life?”

 

            As the line was delivered, the child glared at the two girls who were giggling quietly in the back row as Gisette regarded Gabriel for several seconds.

 

            “You are the garlic,” Gisette finally announced.  “Tolerable only in small doses and apt to leave a foul sort of aftertaste.”

 

            Gabriel’s smile dulled somewhat as he moved closer to Gisette.  “The lady wounds, or at least attempts to.  But may I point out that if we are what you say, then you and I are the perfect match.”

 

            “Shoot him down, girl,” whispered the dark haired onlooker.  Her blonde companion put a hand to her mouth to try and hide her laughter.

 

            “I think not,” said Gisette, standing to her full height and staring straight on at Gabriel.  “I have no desire to be doubly repulsed.  And let’s not forget your wife – the perfect cherry tomato.”

 

            The blonde in the audience looked scandalized.  “I knew it!  The cad!”

 

            Another round of giggles erupted from the girls, who were both still oblivious to the death stares being shot at them from the partially opened doorway.

 

            On stage, Gabriel laughed heartily at Gisette.  “Is that what she is?” he asked.

 

            Mmmmm… Round and brightly colored, the perfect showpiece of any salad.  But let’s face it, when you get right down to it, there isn’t much substance to be found within.”

 

            “Too true,” answered Gabriel with a sad shake of his head.  “But dare I ask, Gisette, what does that make your husband?”

 

            Gisette snorted derisively.  “My husband is a day old slice of bread lying comfortably on a pretty china plate watching the salad and waiting for someone to liven his life by applying a pat of butter or smear of jam.  No, Gabriel, my husband is no cherry tomato.  But my husband he is and I won’t be changing that any time soon.”

 

            The dark haired girl nudged the blonde.  “Hear that?  I’m moldy bread and she still loves me just the way I am.”

 

            The blonde nodded.  “Especially with jam.”

 

            The dark haired girl had a huge smile on her face.  The child knew she was going to make a comment about the one on stage liking strawberry best.  Yet, just as the words were about to be said, the dark haired girl paused.  The smile left her face and she turned to the doorway.

 

            Uh oh, thought the little girl.  Looks like it’s time for me to leave.

 

            The door closed quickly as the child bolted down the hallway toward the exit.  She was almost there when two girls suddenly appeared in her way.  She skidded to a halt, barely able to keep from running into them.

 

            The taller of the two yelled at her to watch where she was going.  The little girl didn’t respond, though, just maneuvered around them and out the doorway.

 

 

            Rei came hurrying out of the auditorium, Usagi at her heels.  “Where did she go?” she called to Ami and Makoto when she saw them standing in the hall.

 

            “Who?” asked Ami.

 

            “That kid,” answered Rei.  “She had dark hair and some sort of weird headband or something on her head.”

 

            “She ran out the door,” answered Makoto.  “She was moving like the devil was at her heels.  Guess this explains why.”

 

            “Why were you looking for her?” asked Ami.

 

            “I wasn’t.  Not really.”  Rei frowned and shook her head.  “It was nothing.”

 

            “Are you sure?” Makoto asked.  “We could go look for her.”

 

            “No,” answered Rei.  “She was just an annoying kid.  Nothing to worry about.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Kaya made a few more notes in the margin of the paper in front of her, then closed the file.  With a weary sigh, she removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose.  She enjoyed her side projects.  However, she did not enjoy the paperwork that accompanied them.

 

            A light knock on the open study door caught her attention, and she looked up to see Ami waiting on her.

 

            “Goodnight, Mom,” said Ami.  “I’m going up to bed now.”

 

            Kaya smiled and motioned to her daughter.  “Come kiss your mother goodnight.”

 

            Ami walked over to her and bent down, Kaya placing a light kiss on her forehead.  “Sweet dreams, sweetheart.”

 

            “You, too, Mom,” answered Ami. Noticing the stack of files and papers scattered on the desk, she added, “Don’t stay up too late with all of this.  You’ve been working hard, and you need some sleep.”

 

            Kaya chuckled.  “I think that’s supposed to be my line.”

 

 

            Ami turned from her stomach to her side, twisting her sheets around her legs in the process.  After a short struggle and several annoyed kicks, the sheets joined the comforter on the floor.

 

            Now on her back, Ami blinked up at her ceiling.  She was tired, but couldn’t fall asleep.  Not permanently, anyway.  She was sure she had drifted off a few times.  Yet, each time her mind would seem to latch on to some new thought and pull her into consciousness.  She was tired of thinking.  All she wanted now was sleep.

 

            Finally, she just gave up.  It would be time to get up for school soon anyway, so she got out of bed and pulled on her robe, then headed downstairs to get breakfast.

 

            The house was still dark, and as Ami walked to the kitchen, she noticed the light on in her mother’s study.  Peeking her head in the doorway, Ami saw Kaya asleep on the small couch in the room.  Her glasses were sitting at an odd angle on her face and her feet were propped up on the arm of the couch.  On her chest was a closed folder, her hand still holding it loosely.

 

            Ami smiled at the familiar sight, finding comfort in knowing some things would never change.

 

            And you always worry about me working too hard, thought Ami as she entered the room.

 

            She first went over to the end table that sat next to the couch.  Ami picked up the travel alarm that rested there and made sure it was set to the usual time.  She gave a small nod when the clock showed 5:30 am.  That would give her mother about an hour more of sleep.

 

            After putting the clock down, Ami moved over to the desk.  She meant only to turn the desk light off, but as she reached for the switch, her arm bumped an over-balanced pencil holder that was sitting precariously on a stack of notepads and medical journals.

 

            Ami made a grab for the pencil holder, catching it and managing to keep all of its contents intact.  When she’d reached for it, however, her hip had gone forward and clipped the stack of paper, knocking it off center.  While her position against the desk had kept most of it from falling, a few of the notepads slid past her and landed with a thwack! on the hardwood floor.

 

            Ami quickly set the pencil holder down and righted the pile of paper.  She turned to the couch, ready to apologize for disturbing her mother’s rest.  The apology died on her lips, though, as she saw Kaya still sleeping soundly.

 

            With a sigh of relief, Ami bent to pick up what she had knocked to the floor.  She wasn’t afraid her mother would be upset with her.  In all honesty, she couldn’t remember her mother ever being truly angry with her for anything.  The relief she felt came more from knowing she hadn’t taken away the sleep her mother so needed.

 

            Ami stood and placed the notepads on her mother’s desk.  No, her mother had never been angry at her.  Because Ami had never given her reason to be.  She never lied, or cheated, or broke any of the rules.  Well, except for those few occasions where Senshi duty required it.  For some reason, those instances seemed to be simply overlooked.  A small favor from Fate, perhaps, to make things a bit easier.

 

            “Easier,” murmured Ami as she ran a finger along the top of the small notepad that sat on top of the pile.  She could feel the raised print of her mother’s name and title on the pad of her fingertip.

 

            Without allowing herself to think about it, Ami tore the first few pages off her mother’s prescription pad and quickly left the room.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            “I don’t want you taking phys ed anymore,” said Ami.  “Not after what happened yesterday.”

 

            Makoto stared at the paper Ami held out to her.  They were standing in Makoto’s apartment an hour before school was to start.  For the second day in a row, Ami had surprised her with an early visit.  Under better circumstances, Makoto would have been glad for her friend’s newfound habit.

 

            “What is it?” asked Makoto.

 

            “An excuse.  A temporary one, at least,” answered Ami.

 

            Makoto took the paper and read the brief note.  Her eyes darkened with the sudden anger she felt.  “I told you not to tell anyone.  Why did you tell your mom?”

 

            “I didn’t.”

 

            “That’s her signature!”

 

            “No, it’s not,” said Ami, quietly bowing her head.  “It’s mine.”

 

            “Oh.”  Makoto’s anger died out as Ami tried to hide her eyes.  Deception wasn’t something Ami was comfortable with and it showed.  “I can’t take this,” said Makoto with a shake of her head.  She tried to hand the note back to Ami.

 

            Ami refused to take it back.  “You have to, Mako-chan.  Until you go to a doctor, it’s the only way to keep you out of that class.”

 

            “I don’t need to be kept out of that class.  You don’t have to worry about me.”  Makoto put a hand on Ami’s shoulder so the girl would look back up at her.  “It’s nice that you’re trying to take care of me, but I don’t want you compromising yourself to do it.  I promise I’ll be careful.”

 

            “Like you were yesterday?” asked Ami.  She looked at Makoto and tried to sound firm.  This was necessary for her friend.  She herself was irrelevant.  “You push yourself too hard, Mako-chan.  You may not mean to, but you do and you will.  Pushing yourself that extra bit physically is how you deal with stress.”

 

            Makoto grinned.  “And I suppose next you’re going to tell me I’m under a great deal of stress?”

 

            Ami nodded.

 

            “All right,” relented Makoto.

 

            “As I said,” continued Ami, “it’s only temporary.  It’s authentic enough and shouldn’t be questioned, but you need to see a real doctor.  You also need to consider telling the others.  The longer you put it off the harder it will be.  Not to mention, you risk them finding out some other way.”

 

            “I’ve been thinking about that a bit, actually.”  Makoto turned towards the kitchen.  “Do you mind coming in here for a few?”

 

            Ami followed Makoto into the kitchen.  She took a seat on one of the barstools as Makoto opened the refrigerator.

 

            “I noticed these last night,” said Makoto.  She pulled out two of the pudding cups.  “I’m going to have to find a way to thank my snack fairy.”

 

            Makoto sat next to Ami at the breakfast counter and put one of the cups and a spoon in front of her.  Ami declined the offer, resisting the urge to point out vanilla pudding wasn’t a proper breakfast.

 

            Makoto shrugged.  “More for me.  Anyway,” she continued between spoonfuls, “about telling the others.  I was thinking about waiting until after Minako’s play.  That way, I won’t be taking away any of her spotlight.  Plus, it gives me some time to figure out what I’m going to say.”

 

            “Makes sense.  And the doctor?”

 

            “You’re not going to let that part go, are you?”  Makoto sighed.  “Look, Ami, it’s been a long time since I went to a doctor, so I don’t really have one.  Aside from that, I’ve never been to… one of THOSE doctors before.  I’m not looking forward to it.”

 

            Ami could see the slight blush rising to Makoto’s cheeks.  She was about to respond when the clock on the wall chimed at half past the hour.

 

            “Damn,” said Makoto.  “Come on, we have to hurry.  The principal said if I’m late one more time this term, I’m going to be spending my afternoons making up for it in detention.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Rei sat quietly in front of the fire.  Eyes closed, her breathing controlled, she tried to concentrate on what the flames were trying to show her.

 

            After a time, the shape of the fire began to change.  The feel of it became different, losing some of the warmth Rei always associated with the sacred flame.  Around it now, she could see a stone hearth that stretched across a stone wall.  The wall took on more form, becoming a room fashioned from cold stone.

 

            Along the walls were windows of dark stained glass which blocked any sunlight from entering the room.  Around the windows were curtains of sheer dark blue.  The material was the same as that which formed a canopy around the large bed that dominated the room.

 

            On the bed was a quilt of deep blue with intricate gold stitching.  A pile of pillows at the headboard had the same stitchwork decorating them.  And right in the middle of the pile of pillows slept a dark tabby cat.

 

            The feeling Rei had been trying to grasp heightened at the sight of the little cat.  It wasn’t so much a sense of evil, and dread was too strong a word.  Trouble was the only thing she could think of, and a certainty that something was going to happen.

 

            Rei looked around at the shelves of knick-knacks and ornaments that decorated the room.  Most of the objects seemed to be made of either glass or crystal.  The one that caught her eye, though, was a golden statue of a cat that sat on a shelf over the fireplace.  As she stared at it, the cat defied its place in the order of things by standing and stretching.  Gold flakes rained down to the carpet as the cat shook itself.

 

            The now sandy-furred cat jumped down from the shelf, moving to where Rei would have been had she truly been standing in the room.  Firelight glinting off its shiny red collar, the cat circled her several times, regarding her curiously with its blue eyes.

 

            Finally coming to rest behind her, the cat rose and placed its front paws on Rei’s shoulder.  Purring, it nuzzled against her neck.  Just as Rei’s senses were registering how soft the cat’s fur felt, she was overwhelmed with a new sensation.  The cat was sucking on her earlobe.

 

            Rei snapped back to herself just as a hand was working its way inside the front of her dogi.  She grabbed at the hand, stopping its progress.

 

            “Welcome back,” whispered Minako into the ear she had been favoring.  She sat back from Rei and smiled at the miko.  “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

 

            Rei blinked at Minako a few times before her mind fully focused.  Finally, she said, “I thought your mom said you couldn’t stay tonight.”

 

            “Daddy changed her mind.”  Minako smirked.  “They’ve been fighting all afternoon.  I think they want some time to make up without having to worry about me hearing.”

 

            “That was more information than I needed,” said Rei with a grimace.

 

            Minako laughed.  “Sorry.  Allow me to make it up to you.”

 

            Minako leaned forward and pressed her lips gently to Rei’s.  When she felt the other girl begin to respond, Minako put her hands on Rei’s shoulders and carefully pushed her onto her back.

 

            After several minutes, the girls broke the kiss, both breathing hard.  Minako stared down at Rei, her finger toying with the dark, sweaty bangs that covered Rei’s forehead.  She idly wondered how long Rei had been in front of the fire this evening.

 

            “Actually,” started Minako quietly, “there was something I wanted to talk to you about.”

 

            Rei refocused at the sudden seriousness in Minako’s voice.  She took her hands from Minako’s hips and put them behind her head.  “What is it?”

 

            Minako rolled off of Rei and lay beside her on the floor, hands under her head imitating Rei.  “Makoto and Ami,” she began, “they’re hiding something from us.  I’m not buying the whole anemia story.  Ami couldn’t even look us in the eye when they were telling it to us at school.”

 

            “I thought it sounded a little strange when I heard it from Usagi.  But I just chalked that up to it coming from Usagi,” replied Rei.  “Any ideas?”

 

            “No.  And I’m not even sure she’s lying.  The truth is, I’m afraid Mako-chan is sugarcoating whatever’s wrong.  And if it’s really serious, we’re going to find out when it’s too late.”

 

            Rei chuckled lightly.  “You’re not beginning to believe Usagi’s theory that Makoto is really dying, are you?  Because even Usagi is over that now.”

 

            Minako frowned and shook her head.  “That isn’t what I mean.”  She looked over at Rei.  “All of you are my responsibility.  If we have to go into battle and she isn’t up to a fight, I need to know.  That way, I can be sure we’re prepared.”  Minako lifted her fingers to gently caress Rei’s cheek.  “Otherwise, someone might get hurt.”

 

            Rei took the hand that was against her cheek.  She brought it to her lips and kissed the palm, then the inside of the wrist.  She heard Minako sigh, and moved over the girl in a reverse of their earlier position.

 

            Rei leaned in close and kissed Minako’s forehead.  She then pulled back enough so she could look into her eyes.  “If it were truly serious, Mako-chan would tell us.  As for whatever secret they may have, for right now let’s just let them have it.”  Rei smiled.  “We all have our secrets, after all.”

 

            “Just until I graduate, Rei,” said Minako more seriously than Rei wanted her at the moment.  “I’ll tell them then.  I promise.”

 

            “I know, Mina.”  Rei bent to nuzzle Minako’s neck, kissing her way back up to the girl’s soft lips.  She felt Minako relax beneath her and lost herself in the sensation.

 

            Everything was going perfectly right up until the door slid open and a teapot crashed against the floor.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Ami put a hand to her mouth to hide her yawn.  It was out of reflex rather than politeness, seeing as how she was the only passenger on the bus.  The 1:00 am route tended to be pretty light on riders.

 

            Ami leaned her head against the window and tried to keep from falling asleep.  She was thinking maybe it would have been better to stay the night at Makoto’s after all.  But two nights in a row seemed to be pushing it, especially since she’d told her mother she would be home.

 

            The bus came to her stop.  As Ami gathered her things to get off, she looked at her watch.  She felt like she needed more sleep than she was going to get for school tomorrow, but she hadn’t wanted to leave Makoto’s any sooner.  Coming home to an empty house was never something she looked forward to.

 

            Things had gone well with Makoto’s fake medical condition.  Things seemed to be going smoothly for everyone.  Then something happened with Rei and her grandfather sometime Saturday night.  She had shown up on Makoto’s doorstep, sleeping bag and Minako in tow.  The two of them had spent the night on Makoto’s floor.  Rei never said what exactly happened, only that they needed to move the study meetings somewhere else for a while.

 

            Makoto’s apartment was nominated for the week.  Since she couldn’t find a good reason not to agree, the group started meeting there last night.  Not that it had been a real meeting.  Minako’s play, “The Shop Keeper,” was opening, and the girls had used the apartment solely as a meeting point on the way to the school.

 

            Usagi, Makoto, and Ami had met Rei at the auditorium.  They watched the play, and when Minako came out for her bow at the end, all four were on their feet and cheering.  It was a rare thing for a second year student to get the leading role, and they were going to give their friend all the attention she deserved.

 

            Afterward, they had stopped for ice cream, the four girls each chipping in to treat Minako.  When Usagi’s sundae was placed in front of her, Makoto’s eyes lit up.  The thing was twice as big as her double scoop, covered in chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and cherries, with chocolate covered Oreo’s decorating the sides.

 

            Before the waitress could get away, Makoto caught her and pointed to Usagi.  “Could I have one of those, too?  But with peanut butter ice cream instead.  The vanilla kind.”

 

            The waitress nodded.

 

            Makoto thanked her, then turned back to her fudge swirl double.  “What’s wrong?” she asked when she noticed the others all staring at her and Usagi protectively holding her sundae close to her.

 

            “That’s an awful lot of ice cream, Mako-chan,” said Rei.  “Trying to out-eat Usagi isn’t a great idea.”

 

            “Leave the poor anemic girl alone, will ya,” said Makoto.  “Anyway, it’ll help build up my blood count.”

 

            “Your blood count isn’t what’s going to get built up if you keep eating like that,” laughed Minako.

 

            Makoto stuck her tongue out at the blonde.

 

            Rei was right, Ami thought.  It wasn’t a good idea to try to outdo Usagi.  Ami could tell the moment Makoto’s indulgence turned on her.  All in all, she was amazed Makoto made it back to her apartment building, even if she didn’t make it to her apartment before it all came up.

 

            And Ami had stayed.  She had changed from her uniform at Makoto’s earlier, so she was covered for school this morning.  Makoto gave her a t-shirt to sleep in, and Ami had briefly hoped she would forget to ask for it back.  Maybe she could offer to wash it and then accidentally forget to return it…

 

            That little fantasy aside, tonight’s meeting couldn’t really be called a meeting, either.  Rei had left a half hour into it; she planned on being there each night Minako was on stage.  The half hour she had been there was occupied with finalizing the plans for the surprise closing-night party they were having for Minako.

 

            Ami hadn’t lasted much longer than Rei.  She had cram school to get to.  As could be expected, Ami’s absence pretty much killed the study part of the meeting.

 

            When her classes were over, Ami decided to stop back by Makoto’s.  Usagi was still there, saying her parents didn’t expect her home until nine, so she and Makoto had made a cherry pie to kill some time.

 

            “She fell asleep about a half hour ago,” said Usagi, pointing to the couch.  “She looked like she was getting really tired, so I washed the dishes for her.  I ate most of the pie, anyway, so it was only fair.”

 

            After Ami and Usagi said good-bye, Ami decided to stay for just a bit longer.  So she curled up in a chair with her book and watched her friend sleep.

 

            Now here she was, struggling with her house keys, after declining Makoto’s offer to spend the night.  Ami finally got the door open and dropped her books in the foyer.  All she wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep like the dead.

 

            “Ami.”

 

            Oh, no.  She isn’t supposed to be home.

 

            “Could you come in here, please.  It wasn’t a question, Ami could tell by the tone of her mother’s voice.  It wasn’t one she heard often, and it was never directed at her.

 

            Ami walked slowly into the living room, not knowing entirely what to expect.  “Mom?”

 

            Kaya removed her glasses and set the papers she was reading on the ottoman of the chair she sat in.  “You’re home a bit late, aren’t you?  Cram school got over at eight, and I was under the impression that you would be coming home right afterward.  Or did I misunderstand something you told me?”

 

            Ami’s eyes were on the floor as she mumbled out, “No, ma’am.”

 

            “Where were you?”

 

            “At Makoto’s.”

 

            Kaya nodded.  She was expecting that answer.  She could understand Ami wanting to spend time with her girlfriend, but she was going to expect her to be honest about it.  And after the call she got this afternoon, she needed to know what was going on.

 

            “I don’t have a problem with you wanting to spend time with your friend,” said Kaya, wishing Ami would look up at her.  “However, I would rather you just stay the night than have you walking around alone this time of the night.  I also don’t expect you to lie to me about where you’re going to be.  Believe it or not, Ami, I do have some idea about what’s going on in your life, even if I’m not here as much as either of us would like.”

 

            “I know, Mom,” answered Ami quietly.  She glanced up at her mother.  What she saw wasn’t as bad as she feared.  But she could tell her mother was waiting for something more.

 

            After a significant pause, Kaya finally asked, “Do you have anything you’d like to add?”

 

            Ami thought perhaps her mother would like her to promise it would never happen again.  But seeing as how she was being chastised for lying, adding one more to the pile seemed like a bad idea.  “No, ma’am,” said Ami with a shake of her head.

 

            Kaya sighed.  Then she got up and began to pace.  Ami knew right then that she had given the wrong answer.

 

            “As I was saying,” began Kaya, her words sounding as measured as her strides, “I don’t want you out this late at night by yourself, especially on school nights.  The world’s a dangerous place, Ami.  You never know what kind of people you’ll run into when no one is looking.”

 

            Kaya motioned for Ami to sit.  Ami did as instructed.

 

            “At work,” continued Kaya, “we have all sorts of safeguards in place just because of those kinds of people.  Some of them seem ridiculous on the surface, but really do have a point to them.  For instance,” here Kaya waved her hand as if she were just pulling the example from thin air, “they make us keep count of the number of pages on our prescription pads.”

 

            Ami’s reaction was minute, but Kaya saw it just the same.  That bit of panic in her daughter’s stance told her some of what she needed to know.  Yet Ami remained silent, so she continued.

 

            “That can be a tricky thing, mind you,” went on Kaya.  “Things can get pretty hectic in the ER, and it’s easy to lose count once in a while.  I’ve come up short once or twice myself.”

 

            Kaya went back to her chair and sat.  “The ER can be a crazy place.  So much so, that some people just get to the point where they can’t take it anymore.  I knew this one woman a few years back.  She was a very good nurse, but she just got to the point where she needed a less stressful job.”  Kaya chuckled.  “Imagine her thinking high schoolers would be less stressful.

 

            “Anyway, I got a call from her today.  We’ve kept in touch, you see.  It seems one of my patients is a student at the high school where she works.  She was hoping I could enlighten her to the seriousness of the girl’s condition.”

 

            A choked sob from Ami cut Kaya off.  Her heart broke at seeing her little girl cry, but things had gotten serious.  She needed information if she was going to help at all.

 

            “You know what I’m asking you, Ami,” said Kaya firmly, but not unkindly.  “You’ve involved me in something without my permission and I want to know what’s going on.”

 

            “She’s pregnant,” said Ami quietly.

 

            Kaya felt that if she hadn’t been sitting right then she would have fallen.  “Excuse me?”

 

            “She’s pregnant,” repeated Ami a little louder this time.   “She just found out, and she refuses to go see a doctor.  But she pushes herself too hard physically.  It’s how she is.  There was an incident in gym class the other day, and I needed to get her out before she did something stupid.”

 

            “Hold on a second, Ami,” said Kaya.  She rubbed at her eyes for a moment, trying to get rid of the feeling of having the floor pulled out from under her.  “We are talking about Makoto, right?”

 

            Ami nodded.  She wiped at her cheeks and sniffled.

 

            Kaya tried to refocus.  “What about the father?  Her boyfriend?” she asked uncertainly.

 

            “No,” answered Ami, “he isn’t.”

 

            Kaya frowned at a new thought.  “Was it consensual?”

 

            Ami nodded.  “It’s not something she’s proud of, and she hasn’t told him.  I don’t think it would matter if she did.  He isn’t the type to stay.”

 

            “I’m at a loss right now, Ami,” admitted Kaya.  “This is so far from anything I was expecting to hear.”  Kaya took a deep breath and released it, pushing aside the doubt she felt and coming to a decision.  “While I can understand you wanting to help her, I can’t just overlook how you went about it.  For the rest of the week, the only two places you’ll be going are school and home.  If I find out you’ve gone anywhere else, we’re going to be having another conversation like this one.  Am I making myself clear?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            “Ami, look at me.”  Kaya leaned forward in her chair, her expression soft.  “I don’t want you to think you have to hide things from me.  If you ever need help, come to me and tell me.”

 

            Ami smiled weakly and nodded.

 

            “All right, it’s late.  Get to bed.”

 

            Ami stood and headed for the hall.  At the entryway she hesitated for a moment, then went back to her mother.  As she bent for a hug, Ami whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

 

            Kaya held her daughter tightly.  “I love you, too, sweetheart.”

 

            Ami released her mother from the embrace and headed to her room.  As she disappeared up the stairs, Kaya was left to wonder how well she knew her daughter after all.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Kaya poked at her salad with her fork.  “So obviously it isn’t what I thought it was,” she finished explaining to the man sitting across from her.

 

            Ken couldn’t help but grin.  “Kaya, you are the only woman I know who could be disappointed to find out her daughter isn’t sneaking out to have sex with her girlfriend.”

 

            Kaya frowned.  “That has nothing to do with it.  Not entirely, anyway.  Besides, I like this girl.  She would have been good for Ami.”

 

            “Are you sure?”  Ken put up his hands defensively at the look Kaya shot him.  “I’m just saying maybe you don’t know this girl as well as you think.”

 

            “I know my daughter’s friends,” said Kaya defensively.  “I may not be soccer mom of the year, but neither did I just hand Ami a credit card and turn her loose on the streets.  And I do listen when she talks to me.  When we were away, every other sentence from Ami had something to do with Makoto, and I don’t even think she realized it.  While it’s been a few decades, I do remember what it was like to be young and in love for the first time.  I thought that’s what I was seeing in her.”

 

            “Maybe you are,” speculated Ken.  Kaya tilted her head quizzically, so he continued.  “The first time I fell in love, it was with the girlfriend of the school’s ace pitcher.  She was completely unobtainable, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about her all the time.”

 

            “I’d rather I was wrong about her being in love,” said Kaya, “than to have her in love with someone who won’t love her back.  I remember what that was like, too.”

 

            Ken reached across the table and put a hand over Kaya’s, giving it a brief squeeze.  Kaya smiled at the gesture.

 

            “Regardless of how deep it runs,” continued Kaya, “Makoto is Ami’s best friend, and she wants to help her.”

 

            “What about her family?”

 

            “She hasn’t got any,” answered Kaya.  “She basically raised herself.  When I stop to really think about it, I’m amazed something like this didn’t happen sooner.”

 

            “What are you planning on doing?”

 

            “There isn’t really much I can do.  There is this one thing, though.”  Kaya put on a smile that was solely for Ken.  “Makoto has been reluctant to see an OB.  And I’d really like for her to be treated by someone who will handle the situation with a bit of tact.”

 

            “I have some time open on Friday,” said Ken with a grin.  “If you can get her to call the office this afternoon, I’ll make sure they know where to schedule her.”

 

            “I was hoping you would say that.”  Then Kaya frowned.  “Except, what’s your schedule like on Saturday?”

 

            “Why?”

 

            Kaya looked down at her salad and idly pushed a few pieces of lettuce around.  “I’m guessing Ami’s going to want to go with her, but I grounded her until Saturday.”

 

            Ken chuckled.  “I was wondering how you handled that.”

 

            “It was too harsh, wasn’t it?”  Kaya sighed.  “I had to do something.  I swear the last time I had to discipline Ami for anything was when she was four.  Grounding her was the only thing I could think of.”

 

            “You grounded her for three days, Kaya.  That isn’t harsh.  If it had been one of mine, they’d have been grounded for a month.”  Ken favored Kaya with a reassuring smile.  His eyes held hers and she smiled back.

 

            The moment was broken by a high-pitched beep.  Ken pulled out his beeper.  “The Ogawa baby,” he said.  “Guess this means lunch is over.  I’ll talk to my receptionist and see what she can juggle around for Saturday.”

 

            With a quick kiss, the two said goodbye.  Kaya gathered the remains of her lunch and disposed of them.  She then headed home to try and get some sleep before she had to go on shift later tonight.

 

 

            When Ami got home from school that afternoon, she found a note from her mother.

 

                        You get one phone call this afternoon.  Make it count.

                                    Saatchi Ken – OB/GYN

                                    03-2845-3209

                                    Sometime Saturday

 

                        PS – Wake me at five and we’ll have dinner together.

                                                            Love, Mom