It’s Just Pretend – Chapter Three
by Dreams in Pink
|← Chapter Two||Chapter Four →|
Too impatient to wait for the elevator, Mamoru trudged up the stairs to his apartment. His emotions were rampant, his thoughts ran wild, and despite the intense reaction to Usagi’s news, a small part of him continuously insisted that it didn’t bother him at all. As he opened the door a feeling of peace passed over him; it was good to be home. He removed his shoes, carefully aligning them side by side, and hung his olive jacket neatly on the coat rack. Shuffling through the mail he had grabbed on his way in, a golden tinted envelope caught his eye. He knew what it was – another invitation to yet another fundraising event.
When he had turned eighteen Mamoru gained access to one third of the substantial inheritance that his parents had left him, making him a prime candidate on any fundraiser’s list. His parents’ generous contributions to local charities only drove more invitations to his door. This particular one was for a banquet in which the proceeds would be donated to local orphanages. He fell onto the couch with a cumbersome sigh; he knew he had to attend. While it was not a memory he liked to delve into, he was grateful for the care and support he had received from the orphanage at the time of his parent’s deaths.
Flipping on the television, Mamoru let his body sink into the soft cushions. He had piles to homework to complete, yet felt utterly exhausted and could barely keep his eyes fixed on the screen. Needing something to elevate his mood, he ransacked the drawer of the coffee table, eventually pulling out a box of chocolate covered almonds. ‘God, I’m such a woman‘, he thought, popping them one by one into his mouth, savouring the sweet chocolate coating. Mamoru cringed as he was interrupted by the screeching scream of the telephone echoing through his apartment.
“Hello?” He answered, irritation laced in his voice.
“Mamoru?” A feminine voice replied.
“Yeah, who is this?” He sat up, furrowing his brow.
“It’s me! I can’t believe you don’t recognize my voice,” the woman on the other end giggled, “It hasn’t been that long,” she stated playfully, Mamoru grimacing with recognition.
“Hanako, what do you want?” He glanced at the invitation that he had tossed on the table, and shook his head; he knew exactly what she wanted.
“Well, I heard that there’s a fundraiser coming up in a few weeks…”
“And you thought we could go together?” They’d be attending such functions as friends shortly after her mother, a professor of Mamoru’s, introduced them. He knew from the outset that Hanako was merely going in attempts to bag herself a rich husband, and he had made it clear to her on more than one occasion he was completely uninterested in any of her advances. However, to each the other was merely a means to an end. Hanako was able to attend by accompanying Mamoru, and Mamoru didn’t have to show up alone.
“Precisely.” When he didn’t respond she added suggestively, “I’ll make it worth your while?” She heard him sigh on the other end, and although she always made the offer, knew he would never take her up on it. She couldn’t deny that Mamoru was indeed a very attractive man. With still no reply, she asked, “Are you already going with someone else?”
“No,” he replied flatly, and for once he wished he was. Hanako provided good company for keeping up appearances, but she was hardly a woman he wanted to spend extended periods of time with.
“So…?” She persisted.
“Yeah, whatever. Might as well, right?”
“Great! I have to run, but we can discuss details later,” she bubbled and Mamoru frowned.
“Okay. Bye,” he quickly hung up, not waiting for a reply. Glad to be alone again, he felt his muscles relax and he released a heavy breath. Staring mindlessly at the television, Mamoru’s mind flitted back to Usagi. He had two inner forces that were constantly at war; his head, which always lead him to the most logical answer, and his heart, which thrived on deception. It had been one hell of a day and he was more than ready for it to end. With a shake of his head to clear his thoughts, he made his way to bed.
The next morning found Mamoru standing in his kitchen, the refreshing sunlit air flickering through the thick blinds and nipping at his exposed skin. His hands worked adeptly with the ingredients set in front of him; he patted and pressed the rice, moulding it into the perfect onigiri, smoothing the seaweed overtop. He was merely going through the motions as his mind drifted to all that had happened the day before. With the news that she had a boyfriend, he seriously debated whether he would follow his regular weekday routine and intentionally bump into her. However, after much consideration Mamoru felt that he owed it to himself – no, not himself; he felt that he owed it to Usagi to catch a glimpse of this so-called boyfriend just to see how he measured up. After all, she would have to meet him at some point during the day, right?
Usagi’s day started off like any other – late. She was startled from her sleep by the shrill nagging of her alarm clock only to be met by its fuzzy, red numbers glaring at her. Her head pounded from a night of fitful sleep and she wanted nothing more than to crawl back under the covers and disappear for the day. If she could just slip through school unnoticed she would be home free for the weekend, able to lock herself away, and hide from the her prying friend’s never ending questions. Throwing herself together, Usagi scurried out the door, leaving her homemade lunch forgotten on the table.
Just on time, the blonde came wheeling around the corner, face flushed, gripping tightly onto her bag. Her eyes went wide with shock as she felt her delicate frame colliding with what felt like a sturdy, brick wall. The familiar feeling of the cold concrete against her skin caused her to growl in irritation.
“Not again!” She shouted, shooting daggers at her blockade ”Seriously, Mamoru-baka. Don’t you have anything better to do in the morning!?” He stood there motionless, towering over the girl who was in a heap on the pavement. Usagi scrambled to collect her things, shoving them back into her bag, papers crinkling; she really needed to start closing it. “Where’s my lunch?” Her eyes frantically searched the ground, she opened her bag rifling through to no avail.
”Well Odango, with an appetite like yours I wouldn’t be surprised if it was gone already,” he joked, and while he truthfully only meant it as one, he immediately wished he’d said nothing instead.
”Mamoru, I don’t need this right now.” She wondered where the Mamoru from yesterday was, as her heart sped up at the memory of his gentle touch. Her attention was diverted to her belongings, “I don’t even have any money to buy lunch,” she panicked, rooting through her empty wallet as her eyes began to well. Without warning, her body shook and tears of frustration began to fall. The embarrassment of crying swelled on her face, and her cheeks flushed pink. Mamoru remained silent, watching the emotions play across her porcelain face. When she had calmed down, she glanced up at him. “What, no insult? Aren’t you going to call me a crybaby?”
”Usagi…” Feeling guilty, his entire stature shrank. He extended his hand to help her up, yet she only looked at him with disgust. She didn’t want his pity and with every effort to keep her pride intact, Usagi wiped her tears and struggled to her feet.
“Wait,” he called, grabbing her wrist as she turned to walk away. “Take this,” he handed her a lunch box that he had pulled from his briefcase. Usagi stared at it hesitantly. “I mean it. I wouldn’t want you starving all day. Can you imagine eight hours without food? You could die,” he insisted, his lips spreading into a captivating grin.
“Thank you,” she stated meekly, continuing to eye him suspiciously as she dropped the box into her schoolbag. ‘Should I eat it? Maybe it’s contaminated…‘ she thought grimly.
“I’m not always a bad guy. It’s not poisoned,” he chuckled as Usagi’s face turned a brilliant red. Had he read her mind?
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, a slight yet genuine smile gracing her face.
“You’d better get going,” Mamoru said, tapping at his watch. She nodded, and thanked him in what she figured was the most appropriate way; she stepped closer and wrapped her arms around him in an appreciative hug.
“Thanks again,” her voice was barely a whisper, and although he tried, Mamoru found himself unable to move.
“You’re welcome,” he stammered, relishing in the feeling of her body pressed against his.
“Bye Mamoru!” Usagi called over her shoulder, as she took off down the sidewalk, blonde pigtails flailing behind her. As soon as she knew he was out of sight, she stopped, placing her hands on her knees to catch her breath. Her cheeks burned as she scolded herself. If they were supposed to be enemies, why did that feel so right?
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
The Crown Arcade was filled with the usual after school rush, the games beeping away as student’s pushed and pulled at their buttons. Mamoru headed over with much reservation, yet knowing he owed Motoki an apology.
“Hey Mamoru, you want the usual?” The blonde greeted, in his usual perky tone.
“Yeah, thanks,” he nodded and settled into a seat as Motoki placed a hot cup of coffee in front of him. An awkward silence passed between the two, “Hey, Motoki?”
“I know Mamoru,” he cut him off as he knew the one thing Chiba Mamoru could never do well was apologize. “There’s something actually kinda funny about that…” he began, and although he had promised Usagi he wouldn’t share her secret, the match-maker in him figured this was the perfect time for Mamoru to make his move.
“What is it?” Before Motoki could continue, Minako, Ami and Makoto sauntered into the arcade, arms linked and giggling furiously. Freeing herself, Minako bounded over to the counter as her two companions settled in a nearby booth, “Hi Motoki! Hi Mamoru!”
“Hey Minako! Can I get you girls something?” Motoki asked, pulling the notepad from the front of his apron.
“You bet! I’ll have… a vanilla milkshake, Makoto wants a melon soda and Ami just wants water. We’re going to split a plate of fries too,” she ordered each item with the shake of her finger.
“I’ll bring them over when they’re ready,” he smiled.
“Great! Thanks!” Spinning on her heel, Minako skipped back to the booth.
“So?” Mamoru watched his friend with a raised brow.
“Never mind, I’ll tell you later,” Motoki muttered, knowing the girls – Usagi’s friends – were just an ear shot away. Mamoru shrugged, taking a sip of his coffee and unfolding his newspaper.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
“Rei!” The three girls called, seeing their friend trot through the sliding doors.
“Sorry I couldn’t make it yesterday,” she said, sliding into the booth beside the brunette.
“That’s okay,” Makoto smiled, “You didn’t miss much. Usagi didn’t even make it.”
“Did Usagi get another detention today?” Rei wondered, noticing she wasn’t there.
“Yeah, but you’ll never guess what else she has,” Minako grinned, blue eyes sparkling with excitement.
“A BOYFRIEND!” The blonde yelled, causing nearby patrons to turn their heads with questioning glances. Slightly embarrassed at the extra attention, Ami slunk down in her seat.
“Seriously!? Who is he?” Like her friends, Rei too was hurt that Usagi failed to tell her the news.
“No one knows, she’s been keeping it a secret and she won’t tell us anything,” Ami reported, with a shrug.
“So I guess you girls haven’t heard any news on him?” Motoki interrupted, carefully placing their order on the table.
“Not a thing,” Makoto shook her head in disappointment.
“Except you’ll never guess how sweet he is!” Minako gushed. “He made her lunch!” Overhearing Minako’s proclamation, and the girl’s squeals of delight, Mamoru strained to listen.
“He what?” The apron clad man asked bemused, was Usagi really going that far with her charade?
“Yeah, you should have seen it!”
“You could tell it wasn’t one of her regular lunches from her mom,” the smalt haired bookworm stated knowingly.
“It looked delicious,” Makoto’s amber tinted eyes grew wide with the memory, “And he put two of these ridiculously expensive truffles in!” Mamoru nearly choked on his coffee, growing more suspicious of this so-called boyfriend.
“Which means he must be rich,” Minako interjected.
“Do you think we know him?” Ami mused, turning the possible bachelors over in her mind.
“When are we meeting him? Does she really think she can keep him hidden forever?” Rei’s impatience shone through, as the questions flew from her mouth.
“Well, we’re going to the autumn festival tomorrow, she said he could probably make it. Naru and Umino are going too,” Minako said thoughtfully, twirling a piece of sun washed hair around her finger.
“Damn! I wish I could be there!” Rei pounded her fist on the table, “I have to help at the shrine this weekend,” she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I can’t go either, I promised I’d visit my grandmother,” Ami chimed regretfully.
“You’ll have to report back to us,” Rei ordered, Minako and Makoto giving her a salute in response. Mamoru mulled over this newfound information. Every beep the door made to signal someone new had arrived made his head pop up, as if he were a puppet on a string. His curiosity piqued; why on earth would Usagi lie about that lunch? As his head sprung up once again, he noticed a trail of golden pigtails go flying past the door.
“Hey, I gotta run.” Throwing some change on the counter, Mamoru took off leaving a bewildered Motoki watching after him.
“Usagi!” He shouted after her, causing her to stop dead in her tracks; she’d been spotted. Her head dropped in defeat as she slowly turned around.
“Mamoru?” Usagi felt a tiny breath of relief pass through her lips as she realized it wasn’t one of the girls. Although she had promised to meet up with them after school, she was hardly in the mood for their interrogation. Not only had she not found someone to help with her charade, Mamoru’s sudden change of attitude was casing her heart to flutter – against her will – every time she thought about him.
“How was lunch?” He asked casually, raking a hand through his raven locks.
“Amazing! I’ll give you your box back, I just wanted to wash it first,” she beamed, which in turn caused Mamoru to smile. “Thanks again.”
“So I heard something kind of… interesting,” he started, unsure of how to proceed.
“Seems like everyone’s talking about this boyfriend of yours,” he paused. Usagi grimaced covering her face with her hand, in hopes that when she removed it, he would be gone. “Odango?”
”Yeah…” She mentally cursed; no such luck.
”And then there was something I didn’t quite understand…” he continued, and she braced herself for the oncoming insult. She really didn’t expect him to stay nice forever, did she? “How is it that my lunch, ended up being from your boyfriend? I know you want me and all but – ” he was waiting for her to interrupt with a witty reply, but instead watched the colour drain from her face, “what’s wrong?”
”I never told them it was from my boyfriend. They just assumed,” Usagi gritted, her jaw clenched tightly with embarrassment and irritation.
”And you didn’t correct them?” He was beginning to almost feel flattered.
”Well, it’s complicated,” she said, frowning as her gaze dropped to the ground.
”So you are seeing someone?”
”That’s complicated too.”
”How? Did he do something to hurt you? Are you okay?” He stepped closer, placing a strong hand on her shoulder.
”Why do you care?” She snapped, immediately aware of how close they were standing.
”I’m just trying to help,” he explained, taken aback by her sudden change of tone.
”Just doing your good deed for the day?” She shrugged his hand off her shoulder.
”Come on, Usagi,” he stared at her momentarily, begging for a second chance. “Look, I’m making an effort here to show you I’m not a jerk. I even used your name.”
”Why?” She asked in hopes that the topic of her boyfriend would dwindle away.
”Don’t change the subject,” he had used that trick too many times for fall for it.
”You’re infuriating,” she pouted, creating a deep crease in her brow.
”Yet, charming,” he added, with a becoming smile.
”Whatever.” Usagi rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll tell you, but on two conditions. One, you can’t tell anyone. And two, no laughing.” She couldn’t understand why she had chosen to tell Mamoru her story, but something inside urged her to do so.
”Deal,” he said, extending his hand for her to shake, which she accepted with a snort.
”Well the other day…” Usagi raced through the events at record speed, Mamoru listening intently and groaning at what a fool he had made of himself. With no idea how to react, he acted upon instinct and laughed. “You promised!” Usagi cried, suddenly feeling mortified at her confession.
“I’m sorry, it’s just so…” he stopped, thousands of words popping into his head, ‘Perfect? Ironic? Ridiculous?’, yet he couldn’t find the right one.
“What, unbelievable that anyone would want to date me?” She spat defensively, glaring at him.
“Hey, stop that. That’s not what I was going to say,” he replied sincerely. It finally occurred to him how Usagi took everything to heart. His jokes, their banter… did she really think that’s what he thought of her?
“Well what then?” She asked haughtily, hands on her hips.
“It’s very … you.” Usagi raised an eyebrow, unimpressed with the response.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t worry, it’s a good thing,” he grinned, which only caused Usagi to shake her head with a huff. As Mamoru saw it, she was trapped in this ridiculous situation to spare someone’s feelings, which was something only Usagi would get herself into.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she whined, tiredly rubbing her face.
“I thought the plan was to find a boyfriend.”
“Yeah… and I’m sure you can imagine how well that’s working out for me,” she bit, disappointment showing on her face as she kicked the ground.
“I’ll do it,” he offered, his voice so soft that he was unsure if he had said it out loud. He cleared his throat, “I’ll do it, if you need someone to,” he stated again, this time making sure he was heard. Usagi’s only reply was to stare at him, mouth agape.
After what seemed to be an eternity of silence she spoke, “You don’t have to do this just to prove to me you’re not a jerk.”
“Why do you want to do this?” He had asked himself the same question, but he couldn’t bring himself to give her the same answer.
“Because I need a favour too…” he concluded that the only way to get her to agree, would be convincing her he was getting something in return.
“What is it?” She asked flatly, knowing that there had to be a catch.
“I need a date.”
“YOU?” She gawked incredulously.
“Yes, me. It’s for a fundraiser that’s taking place in a few weeks.” The prospect of going with Usagi instead of Hanako seemed far more promising; maybe he would actually enjoy himself.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling me that you, the infamous Chiba Mamoru, can’t get a girl to go with you to some fundraiser?” She asked in disbelief. She could name twenty girls just off the top of her head that would die for a chance to go anywhere with him.
“I don’t want any girl to go with me. I want you to go with me. I need someone who won’t make me look bad,” he explained, praying she’d buy his excuse. “There’s free food,” he added, appealing to her insatiable appetite.
“Fine. But there are a few rules,” she said sternly, “No backing out. This has to last until the Halloween dance,” she watched as he nodded in agreement, “You can’t see anyone else while you’re with me, this has to look real,” he couldn’t help but chuckle at her serious demeanour, “and no more calling me Odango,” her eyes narrowed.
“What am I supposed to call you?”
“Ugh, this isn’t going to work,” she threw her hands up with frustration, shaking her head.
“I’m kidding! Relax. You have yourself a deal,” he said, making a point to look her directly in the eye.
“Okay…” she suddenly felt nervous, “It’s a deal then,” she held out her hand for him to seal the pact. He moved closer, his masculine scent intoxicating her senses.
“You don’t shake hands with your boyfriend,” he whispered huskily, leaning in to lay a gentle kiss on her quivering lips. Shell shocked, Usagi didn’t dare move. Without a word, Mamoru winked and turned to head home.
“Pick me up at nine tomorrow,” Usagi called after him, receiving a wave in response. As she watched him walk away, she pressed her fingers to her lips. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea afterall…
|← Chapter Two||Chapter Four →|