My fingers curled uncontrollably around the piece of paper – its color a perfect match to the hated woman’s hair and long nails. Kiri, Naruto’s secretary, always liked to play with small, stupid, annoying details like that. I hurled the note into the sink with a growl and stalked off to the shower to clean myself up. I nearly burned my skin off with scalding water when I forgot to adjust the temperature. By the time I’d washed the dirt from my skin, however, I’d managed to calm myself down a bit.
The mantra I kept repeating to myself was ‘one last time, one last time, one last time’ to remind myself she’d be leaving soon. I’d honestly thought she would already be gone, but I had either miscounted the days or she had extended her stay, the witch.
I spent more time getting ready than I usually did, just so I wouldn’t feel like a dump next to her sculpted, flawlessly dressed form. As I walked out the door, with a lid firmly keeping my annoyance in check, I was proud at how calm I seemed. Kiri let me into the Inn and motioned to where was supposed to go. The room I stepped into was quite large – big enough to seat fifty people comfortably, with a long buffet along the wall that smelled so delicious that my mouth watered. At the end of the room was a semi-circle of floor to ceiling windows that displayed the surrounding woods beautifully. If the sun had been out, the scene would have been even more picturesque.
Fai stood next to the entrance, her back to me. Her tinkle of laughter made my skin crawl and with a grimace, I moved to the windows where I’d be as far away from her as the room would allow. I didn’t see Naruto, which relieved me. At least the time she’d use to slather all over him would be cut short.
The room filled up rather quickly. Ino was annoyingly cheerful when she arrived, but she did manage to keep my attention from drifting to the redhead. When Naruto did finally arrive, we were taking our seats at the long dinner table. He flashed me a quick smile that made my stomach flip before he sat down next to Fai. During the first course, I managed to keep up and participate in the conversation with those around me.
I was distracted mid-sentence, however, during the serving of the entrée when Naruto’s burst of laughter filled the room, making my cheeks heat involuntarily. Ino sent me an odd look and had to give a rough nudge so I’d continue talking.
I moved to speak, but the words died a swift death in my mouth when I heard Fai utter, “I’m trying to convince Hokage-sama to be one of the few to escort me home.” She turned her beguiling gaze to him, her lashes fluttering. “I just know you’d love it.” Even from my place at the other end of the table, I could catch the intimate heat in her gaze. I expected Naruto to at least seem a little uncomfortable, but he merely smiled innocently and reached over to place a hand on her shoulder. He was either the densest man in the universe when it came to recognizing solicitations, or very skilled at acting like he was the densest man in the universe.
“So kind of you, Fai. But, I just can’t leave,” he replied.
Fai visibly deflated. If I hadn’t hated her so much, I might felt sorry for her. Instead, I felt like celebrating Naruto’s ability to push her away. But, then every cell in my body froze as I watched her slide her hand underneath the table. From Naruto’s mildly surprised expression, I’d have to surmise she had placed her hand on his knee – thankfully nothing incredibly indecent. However, it still felt as if the room was suddenly smaller, too hot, too bright, too everything.
Jealousy was evil monster whose claws I had managed to stay relatively free of until recently. Sure, I’d felt green with envy before, and Ino and I had had our spats, but this was nothing compared to that. Those deadly claws twisted in my chest now, making it hard to even breathe.
I turned my gaze to the white, lacy tablecloth to reel back some composure. I mumbled a hasty excuse to Ino as I shoved back from the table. I could feel the surprised gaze of some guests on my back as I hurried out of the room. It wasn’t until I stepped outside, and my vision began to gray around the edges that I realized I was holding my breath. I sucked in a deep breath of the night air as I walked away from the Inn, not caring which direction I went.
As my eyes scanned the night shrouded forest, I felt the tenacious grip of jealousy slip slowly away, my mind calmed by the solitude. With a tumultuous sigh, I moved forward through the trees, allowing the blackness to form a welcome shield around me. With each step, I moved farther away from the root of my anger, away from the source of my tension. My indignation began to wither, and gradually, those overwhelming feelings melted into a puddle of mush. And in the end, I just felt utterly retarded and childish.
When would I ever grow up? I felt like I was a teenager again, in the midst if my first soul-searching crush. Everything shouldn’t have to revolve around Naruto; I shouldn’t feel as if I’m about to explode in anger whenever my enemy did something I didn’t approve of or like. And why was I even thinking of Fai as my enemy?
Like the thirteen-year-old my brain thought I was, I suddenly flashed back to that manicured hand running across Naruto’s bare arm, and involuntary clenched my teeth.
I blinked and cleared my thoughts. Boy, I sure was getting nowhere fast. Why did I always end up thinking circles around myself, not focusing on what I needed to be agonizing about. Fai should be the least of my worries. Was I going to do this with every woman who showed Naruto the smallest amount of affection?
But, the most important question I needed to ask myself was what I planned on doing with my feelings. When did I plan on telling him how I felt?
I snorted as I sat down on a fallen log and turned my gaze to the sky. I wondered how many years that would take me? Two? Ten? Fifty?
I sighed warily and muttered, “I need a new brain.”
It was ridiculous how close I came to screaming. Some ninja I am.
With my heart thundering in my chest, I turned to glare at Naruto’s chipper face and hissed, “Why don’t you just stab me with a kunai?”
His expression slacked into adorable confusion. “What?”
“You scared the crap out of me. If you plan on murdering me, do it quick instead of making my heart do somersaults. Idiot!”
He was smiling by the time I finished, amused at my irritation. “Sorry,” he replied softly as he sank down beside me on the log.
I turned my gaze away from his searching eyes, and glared at the sky.
“Why’d you leave?” I asked.
“Why’d you leave?” he retorted. I could hear the smile in his words.
“It was just…really…stuffy,” I managed lamely.
He made a sound of understanding deep in his throat, and said, “I was just bored.”
I snorted in response, and couldn’t help the quirking of my lips. I was about to ask about what exactly he thought was so boring when he made a sound of disappointment, and murmured, “I don’t see it.”
I slid him a wary glance. “What?”
“There are too many clouds.”
I looked up at the blackness, noticing for the first time that the stars were completely hidden. I could just barely make out the hazy grayness of the hovering clouds. “What exactly don’t you see?” I questioned, curious.
“The Mighty Frog.”
He said it so matter-of-factly that I had hard time trying to keep the urge to laugh at bay.
“There’s no frog up there, Naruto.”
“Oh, yes, there is.”
“No, there isn’t.”
He made an odd noise in the back of his throat, and slid his fingers around my forearm to make me look at him. “It has this huge tongue sticking out of its mouth, and it takes up like a fourth of the sky. It’s impossible not to see it, Sakura-chan.”
“Did you make him up yourself?”
He nudged my side and frowned. “Of course not. Jiraiya showed him to me years ago.”
I sputtered with laughter. “I should have known.”
He grinned bemusedly at me. “You still don’t believe me?”
I shook my head with a wide smile.
“If the clouds weren’t there, I’d happily show you.”
“I know you would.”