A brief and meaningless encounter lets Hojo flex his cieling fan.
"...and then Mr. Masashi made him do the assignment /anyway,/" Hojo finished with a chuckle.
"I can't believe I missed it!" Kagome fumed. "Everyone else gets to have so much fun!"
/And who'd ever think that I'd be saying that about math class? /Kagome mused. She would never get to be a teenager like this, and from what she read, heard and saw on TV, that was the best and most fun part of life. Even if she was supposed to spend most of it studying, that was all part of the plan and the promise. The schemes, the days, the summers... Kagome would spend all of it chasing demons and death. She'd never have the teachers to laugh about or the stories to tell ...at least none of the stories that wouldn't get her locked up, anyway.
Hojo nodded sympathetically. "It's must be tough, having to go through what you're going through," he said slowly. "I just want to say, Kagome, that I know I can't be there with you for it or help you with any of it, but I really... I guess I just admire you, Kagome. For not giving up."
Kagome looked down at the half-melted ice in her ginger ale, hiding a smile and a blush. Hojo thought he was talking about her illnesses, but...
She couldn't help it. It felt good.
"Really! And I wish I were as good of a listener as you are, Kagome. My stories are all so boring!"
"Not to me they're not!" she answered far too quickly.
/Eeep! /Kagome felt her face get hot. /I shouldn't have said it like that! /"Um, no! I didn't mean it-!"
"I mean, I did mean it, but I don't mean... Um... "
Hojo gave her a sympathetic, half-knowing look.
I can't figure out what to say! Now he's REALLY going to think I meant it like that!
"You don't have to be embarrassed, Kagome."
"Oh no," Kagome pressed both hands to her cheeks, "I really do."
"Well I think you're too hard on yourself," Hojo remarked. "But anyway, I've been really selfish, and we've only got so much time until my coach gets here. What about you?" he enthused. "I know you're stuck at home a lot, but I'd love to listen to whatever you've got to say."
Kagome froze in place. "Well, I-" her mind blanked as she stared up into that perfect, open smile. "Umm... I-"
"Hey, watch it!"
"Ooof!" She suddenly found herself on all fours on the walkway.
"Kagome!" exclaimed Hojo. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah..." She twisted around and saw a boy about Hojo's age, carrying a duffel and a half-empty cup of soda that matched the fizzy stain spreading across her shirt.
"Watch where you're going, you dumb clumsy bitch!" he sneered.
Hojo shook his head, offering Kagome a hand. "Are you alright?" he asked again as he helped her up. "That fall didn't make your scoliosis act up again, did it?"
"Uh..." Kagome's cheeks reddened. "It was just a little spill, Hojo..."
"Hm," the other boy snorted, squinting down into the soda cup. He gave the contents a disgusted swirl and then tossed the whole thing into one of the flower beds.
"You know," Hojo's voice had an odd calmness to it. "You really shouldn't litter."
The cola boy's eyebrows shot up right into his spiky hair.
"/And/ you should apologize to Kagome," Hojo finished, folding his arms.
"She bumped into me, asshole!" he gave Hojo a one-handed shove to the chest and a strong, thick leer. "I hope she's not that clumsy when she's /reinstalling your ceiling fan./"
Kagome blinked. When I'm who on the what now?
"I'll do you a favor pretend I didn't hear that last part," Hojo intoned as he took a step closer to the cola boy, "and no she didn't. And she's not the sort to touch anyone's ceiling fan until at least the fifth date!"
"You calling me a liar, pretty boy?"
"Whoa, whoa!" Kagome suddenly realized what was going on. With a speed born from long practice, Kagome stepped between the two posturing adolescents. "It's okay, Hojo, really!"
Oooh, she mourned inwardly. I thought I left stuff like this behind in the feudal era!
"No it's not, Kagome. This young man should apologize for knocking you down."
"What if I don't feel like apologizing, /Hojo?/" the cola boy sneered over Kagome's shoulder.
"Then I'd say you were being rude."
"Yeah," he sneered again, "what's a skinny little mama's boy like you gonna do about it?"
Kagome changed tactics, pulling hard on Hojo's arm. "Really," she said. "Come on. I don't care!"
"I'm sorry, Kagome," said Hojo, "but I care." He turned back to the sneering cola boy. "You look like you'd be in my weight division, so if it's a fight you want, then I'll see you inside. I prefer to meet people in the ring on more friendly terms, but this is the only way to teach you a lesson, then let's do it like civilized men."
The tall boy gave a snort. "You think you can beat me in the ring, dillweed?" He jabbed a thumb at his chest, "Do you know who I am?"
"Sure I do," said Hojo. "You're the guy who's just insulted a good friend of mine. And yes, I do think I can beat you in the ring."
The cola boy laughed, showing the fillings in his molars. Evidently this kid with a spiky haircut, slight-to-decent-build, and the standard-issue scattering of acne thought of himself as a fighter. Kagome looked him over again., from his pristine brand-name sneakers to his artfully shredded T-shirt Well... she thought. I guess he looks a LITTLE tough... But in the feudal era, even farm boys who'd never seen a sword had great muscles. In the fuedal era, Inuyasha and Kouga would have had this kid for a chew toy. Hojo and the cola boy were just little kids playing dress-up.
"If I win, you have to apologize to Kagome!"
"Okay," replied the cola boy, "and when I win, you're going to get the ass-kicking of your life. Look for me in the ring," he told Hojo, "I'm number thirty-four. You can count that high, can't you?"
"May the best man win," Hojo called back as the other boy ambled off. He shook his head, "I'm sorry you had to see that Kagome. You see, this is a violent sport, and it sometimes attracts people who really don't understand proper codes of conduct," he sighed. "I hope he didn't frighten you."
Kagome blinked. Frightened?
"Not at all," she said. "In fact, it's refreshing to see someone act like a gentleman for a change."
"But Hojo, you really shouldn't feel like you have to fight for me." There are enough people who do that. "What do I care if some big baby doesn't want to admit-"
Kagome turned as someone called her name from across the square. She shaded her eyes and waved happily as she caught sight of her friends.
"There they are!" Hojo said brightly. "Look, I know this is terribly rude of me, but would you mind if I ran off now? My coach is late and I really have to register."
"Of course!" she answered. "I'll see you from the audience. Good luck in the tournament!"
Hojo beamed. "Thanks, Kagome! You're the best!"
Before she could do anything, before she could even blink, Hojo leaned down and kissed her cheek.
Kagome could hear her friends squeal from thirty feet as the boy ran off.
A button clattered against the stinking hot pavement as Inuyasha yanked the map out of this stupid thin haori.
The stones burned his feet, the hat itched his ears, and he probably looked like an idiot in these flimsy human rags.
He didn't see a bridge anywhere!!
Inuyasha growled loudly, twisting the map in his hands. "That stupid girl is in so much trouble when I catch up with her!!"
drf24 @ columbia.edu