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"Are you ready, Naru-san?"
"Yes, Sanjouin-san!" Naru took up her position again, ready to receive Masato's serve. There was a loud "whack!" then the ball was on her side of the court almost before she could see it. It bounced, she ran hard to hit it, but it sailed over her racket. "Sorry!" she said. This was the tenth serve in a row she had missed.
"It's all right. We'll try again in a moment. Go drink some water first."
Naru walked over to the shaded bench that held her sports bag and water bottle, and took several deep swallows from the bottle. Their tennis lessons might only be a cover for her helping Masato-san, but he seemed to be taking them seriously enough. Her friend Rui, the up-and-coming young tennis champion, had given her regular lessons over the years, but Naru felt like a complete beginner against Masato-san. She wondered why she had never heard of him playing professionally, he was that good.
She also wondered why Usagi had reacted so strangely when Naru told her why she couldn't go for ice cream or to the Crown Arcade after school today.
"You're WHAT?" Usagi demanded, her face turning red. Naru thought that steam was going to come out of her ears.
"I'm having a tennis lesson after school with Sanjouin Masato-san. He offered to give me some free lessons, as a favor to Rui-chan."
"But - but -" Usagi spluttered. She took a deep breath. "How do you know what he's really after?"
Naru knew what Usagi meant. "Usagi, do you honestly think I'm that kind of girl? Or that I'm that naive?"
"No," Usagi said, though she still sounded skeptical.
"Sanjouin-san is a perfect gentleman. And anyway, he's so old, at least twenty-four or twenty-five."
"That," Usagi muttered, "is part of the problem."
Naru ignored her.
Now, on the tennis courts, Naru watched Masato-san and thought about Usagi's insinuations. It was ridiculous, of course. This afternoon he hadn't talked about anything but tennis, not even the things she was helping him with. Last night, when they were alone together and he could have tried anything he wanted, he had been such a gentleman, and so kind, except for the misunderstanding over her identity.
Although she couldn't deny that it would be nice to kiss him. A sudden warmth burned in Naru's cheeks. She shouldn't think about things like that. It really wasn't decent for a girl her age. Naru poured water onto her white towel and dabbed at her flushed, sweaty face, than drank some more.
"Naru-chan," Masato said close behind her.
Shivers ran up and down her back at the way he said her name, as though it was a secret word that only he knew. She turned and smiled up at him, trying to push aside her thoughts about kissing him.
He smiled back. "Ready for a few more serves?"
"Sure!" She followed him back out onto the court. It was hard work, taking a tennis lesson from Sanjouin Masato-san, and her arms and legs ached. But at least he wasn't going too easy on her; at least he was taking her seriously and not treating her like a little kid.
She didn't hit a single one of the last half-dozen serves, but he complimented her on her improving speed and form. Glowing from the praise, the exercise, and the time spent with Masato-san, Naru returned to the bench and got ready to leave. Masato-san came over and stood beside her while she wiped off her racket and zipped it up in its case. He put his hands in the pockets of his crisp white shorts, and asked as casually as if he were commenting on the weather, "Have you learned anything yet?"
"No," Naru said, trying to remember if maybe she was forgetting or overlooking something. "It's only been one day, though. I'm sure that if Sailor Moon is one of the girls at my school, she keeps it pretty secret. Otherwise everyone would be gossiping about it. Especially if Umino-kun ever found out!" She laughed.
Masato's eyes narrowed slightly. "Umino-kun?"
He wasn't -he couldn't be jealous, could he? How weird would that be? "A boy at my school. He's such a geek it isn't even funny. Plus he spies on people all the time and he likes to gossip, to show off how much he knows. Mostly he likes my friend Usagi but sometimes I think he has a crush on me. Oh, that reminds me - you should have seen Usagi when I told her I couldn't go to the Crown Arcade with her after school today because I was having a tennis lesson with you. She turned all red and I thought her head was going to explode. It was funny. I wonder what her problem is?"
"Doubtless she thinks my motives are less than gentlemanly," Masato said. "It doesn't matter what she thinks, though. This Umino boy, you say he spies on people?"
"Mmm-hmm," Naru replied as she finished packing her bag.
"Maybe you could use him as a source, if you can avoid letting him know what you're doing."
"Okay. But that means I'd have to talk to him privately, and that might give him the wrong idea. He might think I have a crush on him."
"That wouldn't do at all," Masato said, a bit too seriously. No way, he couldn't possibly be jealous, Naru thought. He continued, "Just use your best judgment, then."
"Okay. Have you found out anything?"
He shrugged. He had a pale yellow sweater draped over his shoulders, over the white cotton, collarless, half-unbuttoned shirt he was wearing. He was way too handsome for one person, Naru thought. "I've got a lead I'm going to be tracing down the next few nights," he said. "I'll let you know if I get anywhere with it."
"Okay." Naru glanced at her watch. It was almost time for the next bus to stop in front of the tennis club. "Have to go now! I'll see you here on Sunday. Thanks, Masato-san, for the lesson!"
"Call me if anything comes up before then."
Naru nodded. She had written his phone number on a page in the middle of her diary, where no one would find it and even if they did they wouldn't know whose number it was. "I will. Bye!"
Naru left the courts and ran for the bus, intensely aware of his gaze on her back.
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Umino-kun. Nephrite wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. He didn't want Naru's loyalties towards him to be divided by a liking for one of the boys at her school. On the other hand, if he encouraged her to get closer to the boy, maybe she could find out more through him.
No. Nephrite was surprised at the vehemence of his own objection to the plan. He puzzled over this; the girl and this boy she had mentioned were tools, valuable resources; why was he so opposed to exploiting them fully?
It came back to his original thought. He didn't want her loyalties to be divided. If it came to a choice between him and someone else, he wanted her firmly on his side. A servant with divided loyalties was useless, or worse than useless. A servant with divided loyalties could become a traitor.
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return to Index / go to Chapter 4
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury