Chapter 1: Prologue: Aina’s Resolve
“Aina . . .” Iori’s voice sailed into Aina’s ears, carried by the gentle sea breeze. The tender way he said her name grabbed her attention, forcing her eyes to his.
The moment was surreal as they both were standing in Grand Blue’s dock, face to face only a few feet apart. On the horizon the sunset bled an orange glow, casting their twin shadows towards the sea.
His gaze upon her was unusually warm, heating her cheeks with a crimson hue. Hearing him call her ‘Aina’ made her blush worse.
Iori continued, holding out an instant lotto ticket. “Would you like to go to Okinawa with me?”
The question left her confused, and she was unable to reply. Of course she wants to go with him. But Aina knew already who Iori had chosen to bring on the trip. “Just the two of us,” she recalled Iori saying to Chisa with a beaming smile. And she had heard just as surely, just as clearly, Chisa’s reply: “I’m okay with that.”
So why is Iori asking me this now?
All sorts of questions were swimming around in her head. Did Chisa change her mind about the trip? That being one. Did Iori break up with her, or did she break up with him? Wait, were they even dating? Was she just a substitute for Chisa, a stand-in? There is nothing wrong with that, is there? A familiar panic-stricken voice detached her from her thoughts.
“Aina, look out!”
Speaking of the devil, Aina twirled to see Chisa running towards them, frantically waiving her arm for them to get out of the way. Ahead of Chisa, a dozen diving cylinders was dangerously barreling down the dock at breakneck speed, threatening to run her and Iori over.
Horrified, Aina quickly turned to Iori, ready to shove him out of harm’s way. But he was gone, as though he had never been there at all.
Surprise at his sudden disappearance froze Aina in place. Before she knew it, a wayward cylinder had flung her small frame to the side like a bowling ball hitting a pin. The force threw her from the narrow dock and into the lukewarm orange-tinted sea.
Almost like Alice down the rabbit hole, Aina was plunged into a strange but familiar world. Right before her eyes laid an underwater spectacle of marine plants, corals and colorful fishes. A sea turtle of a species she did not recognize swam past, mere inches from her nose. Tiny bubbles escaped her lips as she gasped in awe.
Then Aina began to sink. She watched as the hue around her shifted from late afternoon light to total, complete darkness. By now fear should have overwhelmed her, but she made no attempt to resist the invisible force dragging her. In truth, she had allowed herself to be whisked away, hoping Iori would come for her just as quickly as he vanished.
But no one came. Aina’s palms had already wrinkled and still she remained alone. Finally, she had enough. It dawned on her: brooding in the suspended reality of the ocean will get her nowhere. With a resolute shake of her head, she made a silent promise to herself.
Just then, an illuminated circle mysteriously opened above Aina. Faint light filtered in, taking a long, straight, tunnel-like shape. Like moth to a flame, her curiosity was peaked. She cannot help but wonder what surprise awaits her at the end.
I will not lose Iori to anyone. No one can come between us.
Satisfied with her new-found resolve, Aina swam up towards the light and out of her dream.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1: Ordinary Day at School
Izu University, located in the coastal town of its namesake, was home to a wide variety of students. Among its roster, there was that bishounen hardcore otaku type (Imamura Kouhei), self-proclaimed playboy type (Nojima Hajime), flirty boyfriend type (Mitarai Yuu), perpetual/lifelong virgin type (Yamamoto Shinichirou), brawny but inconspicuous type (Fujiwara Kenta), devious overthinker type (Kitahara Iori) and that smart and reserved campus crush type (Kotegawa Chisa). Now, put them together in one class and what have you got?
“Shitty students!” Assistant Professor Ushironomiya screamed with all his being as he pounded his fist on the table. “You are all worthless, the lot of you. You fuckers better do something about those lousy reports or I’ll shove them up your asses!” With that he scurried furiously out of the classroom, slamming the door behind him.
For a brief instant, there was dead silence. Then came a collective sigh of relief and the rustling scrape of papers being shuffled.
“Goddamn assistant professor!” Hajime exclaimed as he closed his book shut. “And here I thought he would never stop.”
Yuu stood up, adjusting his clothing and brushing his hair back from his forehead. “Don’t I know it,” he mumbled. “I'm just glad that's over. I have a hot date coming—” He stopped himself, realizing his blunder. Murderous eyes were now glaring at him. All his self-preserving instincts screamed ‘bail out fast’ and he knew better than to doubt them. “Oops, gotta run,” he said before making a beeline to the door.
“He fled!” Shinichirou announced. “Come on, let’s throw that arrogant bastard in the sea!”
“Right behind you,” Hajime said, quickly producing a lariat.
“Whatever.” Kouhei rose from his seat and stretched. “Your interests in 3D girls are just so weird.”
Hajime and Shinichirou scowled at him. “You have no business calling us weird, you lolicon!”
Kouhei brushed the derogatory term off easily. “Fine, make yourselves look like a fool. I’m outta here.”
“Suit yourself.” Shinichirou shrugged. “I guess it’s gonna be just the four of us, then, who’ll enjoy the trip to heaven,” he said, looking over to Kenta, Hajime and Iori.
“Right, heh-heh,” Kenta said, a DVD in his hand. “Your virgin eyes are gonna pop out of their sockets when you see this stunner of a babe."
Iori, who had been glued to his phone, glanced up to his seatmate. “Where’re you going?”
Kouhei pointed to his watch. “Rarako-tan’s on air in 30 minutes. They’re gonna show the first episode of the season,” he said in a louder than usual voice.
“You wouldn't miss it for the world, huh, Kouhei?” Iori sighed, smirking.
Kouhei felt the sarcasm in his tone. “Shouldn’t you be someplace else, Kitahara?”
Iori’s smirk faded instantly. “Shut it, asshole, you’re gonna blow my cover!” His voice was almost a whisper.
But Hajime and Shinichirou caught on. “Hmm, do you wanna share something with us, Kitahara-kun?”
Iori eyed the grinning pair. Like hell he can tell them that Chisa had asked him to go shopping with her after school. Heaven knows what they will do to him when they hear about it. He turned to Kouhei.
“Psst! You remember the thing we talked about earlier?” Iori whispered to the blond.
“You asked for help to get past these fools, right?” Kouhei replied, also in a whisper.
In sudden realization, Iori motioned to the super-deformed magical girl printed on Kouhei’s shirt. “Are you crazy? Your big idea of getting us out of here is through a loli? You think they’ll buy that shit?”
“Depends on you.” Kouhei shrugged.
“Dammit!” Iori cursed under his breath. He should have known it would come down to this. He checked his phone for time. 15 quick minutes had already gone by since class ended. Chisa is probably outside school waiting for him now. He has got to ditch this hellhole before she starts looking around.
“Now spill it, Kitahara,” Hajime urged. “Tell us what sort of perverse shit’s going through your sick mind right now.”
Shinichirou cracked his knuckles. “I hope you're not thinking of going on a date with Kotegawa-san later.”
Damn, he’s sharp! Iori commented to himself. It won't be long before the cat is out of the bag. As much as he hated the idea, he’ll have to go along with Kouhei on this one.
“Actually,” Iori started slowly, trying to sound as convincing as possible. “I’ve just awaken an interest in 2”—he coughed—“D.”
“Wassat you say?” Shinichirou asked.
Iori cleared his throat. “ImgonnawatchlolitoonswithKouhei . . . so I’ll have to take a rain check on that DVD."
Hajime and Shinichirou looked at him with a mix of shock and disgust.
“You heard the man,” Kouhei interjected. “Now if you’ll excuse us—”
“WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS GOING ON HERE!?” Hajime and Shinichirou were not having any of it.
“Oh, nothing, nothing really,” Iori said, waving off the question.
Hajime, surprisingly quick on his feet, grabbed him by the collar. “Don’t mess with us you fucker!” he yelled. “You wouldn't miss the chance to watch porn if your life depended on it!”
Kenta, who had been busy ogling the ‘stunner of a babe’, suddenly had a worried look on his face. “What’s going on, Kitahara?”
“If you want to keep it to yourself, just tell us,” Shinichirou said calmly. “We won't bother you with it anymore.”
Hajime patted Iori’s shoulders and smiled indulgently. “You bastard, we’re all friends here, aren’t we?
“Don't be a stranger now, Kitahara,” Kenta added.
Iori, quite teary eyed by now, was left speechless by their words. “You guys . . .”
They were interrupted by a voice behind them.
“What are you still doing here?” It was Chisa. For a moment, Hajime and Shinichirou looked at her confused.
Finally, Kenta asked. “Do you need anything, Kotegawa-san?”
Chisa gazed down, slightly embarrassed. “Well, actually”—she hesitated for a second—“I’m going out with Iori.”
The collective gasps and jaw drops of the students who remained in the classroom were followed by a brief moment of silence. Then chaos ensued.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: Cross-dress Mixer (Part 1)
“You know you could have phrased it better,” Iori said to Chisa as they walked down the narrow street leading into the shopping district. Dazzling lamps illuminated the rows of restaurants, cafes and bars, and the innocuous passerby who frequently walked along the road.
“Sorry.” Chisa looked down, clearly uncomfortable and feeling guilty as hell.
For some insane reason, Iori felt the urge to comfort her, to tell her there's no harm done and to wrap his arm around her shoulder. That last thought though sounded like it came from a suicidal person who says he is seeking death. Thus, he settled instead on folding his arms behind his head.
“When they hit you, did they hurt you?” Chisa asked.
That question came out of nowhere, knocking Iori off guard. “What do you—”
But before he could finish, she was suddenly there, in front of him, face to face. He stopped in his tracks.
“Come here for a second,” she ordered softly.
Iori gave her a puzzled look, at least until Chisa cupped his face in her hands, pulling it closer to her own. Her warmth permeated his body like a rush of sea waves.
Carefully, she studied him. Her eyes traced his facial features, taking in his cheeks, forehead, nose and lips, until they were looking at each other again. Their eyes lingered for a moment before Chisa pulled away and abruptly released him.
“Good, nothing seems to be misplaced.” She flashed him a playful smile. “Other than the usual of course.”
Iori grinned at her in return. “And here I thought you’re gonna kiss me,” he teased, expecting a witty comeback. Instead, he received a larger-than-usual serving of Chisa-styled insults.
“Idiot. Stupid. Jerk.”
They started walking again. For a moment, Iori thought she was angry. She can get annoyed at the littlest of things. But then she asked him, “Why are the boys at the university so riled up? Why should they care if we were going out together?”
Iori felt his eyebrows curling together and his mouth falling open. Chisa was being more talkative than usual, and that surprised him. He was also unsure how to answer, if he even understood her correctly. He wondered what ‘going out’ means to her. She was being vague again, and that frustrated him enough that he let her questions linger a couple seconds.
Finally, he said, “You really don't know, don't you?”
“The idea of you and I going out . . . as a couple. It doesn't sit right with them.”
“Imagine the campus stunner falling for the lowly pervert. It doesn't make sense right? They think I'm . . . just not worth your time.” Iori chuckled slightly. “They were even sure that I had you hypnotized.”
Chisa shared his amusement. A light giggle escaped her lips, which lifted with a smile. “They sure got you all figured out, don’t they?” she said, giggling some more. Then she stopped, allowing him to get three steps ahead of her. “But you know what? That’s not something for them to decide.”
Iori also stopped walking and stood in place. He felt that indeed there was something bothering Chisa tonight, and before he could turn around to ask her, he heard the most unbelievable, unimaginable question.
“Hey, why don’t we make it official?”
If anyone saw Iori right now, they would liken him to a fish, opening and closing its lips silently. The crimson blush creeping across his cheeks, on the other hand, would indicate that he was just embarrassed and utterly shocked.
Hesitating somewhat, he turned slowly and faced Chisa. The look that settled on her face couldn’t have mirrored his own reaction any better.
“I said, why don’t we make the story official?” the lady seated at the alfresco diner beside them practically screamed at her phone, drawing attention from everyone within earshot.
Briefly, they looked at each other with amusement before Iori doubled back, bursting into laughter. Chisa couldn’t hold it, she burst in laughter herself. Then they both laughed again. They had not laughed like that in a long time.
When they were almost at the shopping center, and the crowd became thicker, Iori could not help to notice that too many eyes were openly checking Chisa out. At one point, he even caught a teenage boy staring at her intently from head to toe, licking his lips lewdly. He snarled at him like a rabid dog and walked closer to her. Chisa, on the other hand, remained oblivious as ever.
‘Purely’ out of curiosity, he peeked at his side. He slowly surveyed her, taking in all the details, from her slender legs to her short brown hair, her brown eyes and her ample lips. Meanwhile, he felt excitement stirring in his chest and his face getting slightly warm, dead giveaways that he liked what he saw. He was beginning to understand why the boys at the university were crazy for her. But if one would ask him, he would say that her best asset had to be her spectacular a—
“Ass,” Chisa said.
“So—sorry?” Iori wondered if she had caught him staring at her bum.
She sighed in frustration. “I was asking if you want pizzas for dinner. Were you even listening to me?”
“Oh, yes, pizza’s fine,” he managed to say under her icy glare. He had almost slipped ‘your’ into his sentence.
It was almost seven in the evening when they reached the shopping center. They ordered their food and drinks from a nearby pizza parlor and seated themselves next to a window.
“This tastes great,” Iori said as he chewed on his pizza, cheese dribbling down his chin. He looked across the table. “Wanna try?” He waved the half-bitten slice in front of Chisa.
Without warning, she took a quick, small bite, surprising Iori.
“Whoa, look who’s hungry.” he chortled.
She also raised her slice to the air. “Now it’s your turn.”
He arched an eyebrow at her.
“Why what's the matter?” Chisa asked.
She’s definitely acting weird, Iori thought as he fixed his eyes on the dangling uneaten slice. But he can’t say that he doesn’t like the Chisa now. He was just glad she was finally starting to loosen up.
With a playful grin, he grabbed Chisa’s wrist and shoved half of her pizza into his mouth.
After finishing his last bite, Iori wiped his chin and said, “On the way, I saw the poster of a new diving shop that’s just opened a couple of days ago. You wanna check it out first?”
Chisa placed her pizza back on the plate and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Iori, you see, I have a different thing in mind.”
“Oh, I thought we’re gonna buy stuff for our trip to Okinawa. Well, let’s do it some other time then.” He laid back on his seat as he finished his sentence. “So, what do you wanna do today?”
“I’d like to buy a new dress for tonight.”
“Right now?” Iori gave out a light chuckle. “All right, I can wait somewhere else If you want.”
“No, Iori, you don’t understand,” she said, shaking her head. “The dress . . . the dress is not for me, it’s for you.”
He lurched forward on his chair. “Huh? What the heck do I need a dress for?”
“Actually . . . we’re going to a mixer tonight,” Chisa finally revealed. “And you’re coming in as a girl.”
For a moment Iori sat speechless, searching for the perfect words to convey his sentiments. He drew a deep breath.
“WHAT IN ACTUAL F—”
TO BE CONTINUED.