'Thank you for your custom! Please come again!'
As the doors of the family restaurant closed behind them, five teenage girls stepped out into the hazy afternoon sunshine that warmed the streets of Tokyo. In their casual summer clothes, they looked like any other group of friends on a weekend shopping expedition, but their reason for visiting the capital was far more important than anything that could be found in a department store or trendy new boutique.
The Ryuumonbuchi High School Mahjong Club, winners of Nagano Prefecture's high school women's mahjong tournament, were in Tokyo for the 70th Inter High School Mahjong Championships.
Of the 52 schools from across Japan that had won the right to compete in the women's division of the championships, Ryuumonbuchi High School had attracted more than its fair share of attention from the Japanese mahjong community. Their five-person mahjong club -- all of whom were first years, and none of whom had previous national-level experience -- had decisively defeated the powerhouse team from their prefecture's reigning champion, Kazekoshi All Girls' School. Not even Kazekoshi's top players, five strong competitors hand-picked from the dozens of girls in their school's nationally ranked club, had been able to keep the newcomers at bay.
Ryuumonbuchi's unexpected victory sparked a heated debate in the online forums and chat rooms frequented by mahjong amateurs and pros alike. Some argued that Kazekoshi's coach was ultimately responsible for her team's poor performance. Others suggested that Kazekoshi's players had become overconfident after their club's long winning streak, and foolishly underestimated the threat posed by the less-experienced Ryuumonbuchi. But those who studied the play records claimed that Ryuumonbuchi had done more than simply take advantage of the other teams' mistakes: the final scores showed that they had targeted their opponents with ruthless precision, well beyond what one might expect from a club of first-time players from an exclusive but mostly unknown private high school. Speculation led to gossip and gossip led to rumours, and before long a handful of forum posters were swearing that they knew for a fact that one of the Ryuumonbuchi girls belonged to a powerful yakuza family, and was used to gambling for much higher stakes than point sticks. Few people actually paid attention to that kind of wild talk, but everyone who was interested in the discussion agreed that Ryuumonbuchi was a team to watch at the nationals.
While the online fanbase swapped theories and invented their own version of events, the professional mahjong magazines took a more rational approach to the story. Weekly Mahjong Today, hoping to collect material for an article to run in the issue before the tournament, even sent a reporter to interview the Ryuumonbuchi team. But the only club member that the reporter was able to speak with was club president Ryuumonbuchi Touka, the daughter of the principal of Ryuumonbuchi High School -- and her interview did not lend itself to being reproduced in print.
'Truly, I am certain that we will stand out even more brightly and brilliantly on the national stage!' Ryuumonbuchi Touka had declared at the conclusion of the interview. 'Any and all challengers should beware the Ryuumonbuchi name, for at the nationals we shall show no mercy to those who dare to oppose us!'
(The unfortunate reporter subsequently spent the entire train ride back to Tokyo with her head in her hands, for that statement had been one of the Ryuumonbuchi club president's least outrageous comments.)
In the end, even Weekly Mahjong Today had to make do with what little material it already had, and settled for an overview of Ryuumonbuchi's upset victory and short profiles of the club members. Inoue Jun, tall and confident, who had a knack for timing her plays in a way that rattled even the most unflappable opponents. Sawamura Tomoki, a quiet, calculating player with impeccable defence. Deft-fingered Kunihiro Hajime, quick to draw and quick to strike when an opponent left an opening in her play. The supremely confident Ryuumonbuchi Touka, of course. And their enigmatic final player, Amae Koromo, who had so thoroughly dominated the table during her matches that she had been named the prefectural team tournament's Most Valuable Player.
The magazine article on Ryuumonbuchi decided to play up the air of mystery surrounding Amae Koromo, partly because it made for a good story but mostly because there was next to no information on her. No press statements, no clear photographs, nothing but the prefectural tournament's official play records and various rumours circulating on the Internet. With so little to go on, it only made sense to depict her as Ryuumonbuchi's secret weapon: unknown, unpredictable, and seemingly unstoppable.
It was possibly for the best that the long-suffering Weekly Mahjong Today reporter would never know that Ryuumonbuchi's unstoppable secret weapon was at that moment using both hands to wave bye-bye to the family restaurant where she and her teammates had just finished eating lunch.
'Ko-ro-mo!' Touka dragged out her cousin's name, impatience increasing with each syllable. 'Are you coming?'
'Coming!' Koromo gave the restaurant a final wave and whirled around, her long hair flying about her face. She bounced towards the others like a child playing a very enthusiastic game of hopscotch, and landed with both feet right in front of Touka.
'We can go now, Touka,' she said, looking up expectantly.
Jun turned a snicker into a series of coughs. Tomoki silently took out a packet of tissues and held it out to her. Touka was radiating almost visible waves of irritation, so Hajime decided to step in and salvage the conversation.
'How was your hamburger and fried shrimp platter, Koromo?' she asked. She already knew the answer; Koromo had eaten every bite of it.
'It was delicious!' Koromo beamed. 'Thank you for asking for more tartar sauce for me, Hajime.'
Hajime smiled, ignoring the sudden tightness in the back of her throat. For all the money that Koromo and Touka's family had, it was often strange to see how unsophisticated they could be about the everyday things that Hajime took for granted. She found it sad that sometimes it took so little to make Koromo happy -- it was hardly a rare act of kindness to request a little bowl of extra tartar sauce for a cheap family restaurant meal. (Though it had also kept Touka from making a scene, and that alone was worth any effort.)
'I'm just glad I could help,' she said. 'It looked like very good tartar sauce, too.'
'It was!' Koromo skipped off down the street, singing to herself. 'Tar-tar sauce, just for me, tar-tar sauce....'
'Koromo, don't get too far ahead of us!' Touka called out. She hurried after her cousin, and Hajime, Jun, and Tomoki followed.
Once they had caught up with Koromo, they slowed their pace to a leisurely walk. Summer afternoons in downtown Tokyo were a good deal hotter than those in Nagano, and they all felt full and sluggish from their lunch.
'Ugh, that was a lot of food.' Jun took off her cap and used it to fan herself. 'I shouldn't have had the curry -- it's too heavy for a day like today.'
'My spaghetti was pretty good,' said Hajime. 'Was your meal all right, Touka?'
'A family restaurant would hardly have been my first choice, but the fare was quite adequate.' It was as near as Touka would come to admitting that she'd actually enjoyed her soup and salad. 'Though now that we have sated our appetites, we ought to return to the hotel. I would like to freshen up a bit before our car arrives to take us to this afternoon's engagement.'
'Wait, what?' Jun said, frowning. 'Since when do we have an "engagement"? I thought we didn't have anything scheduled until the start of the tournament tomorrow!'
'Surely I mentioned that we have an engagement in Bunkyou this afternoon?' Touka looked to their most organised member for confirmation. 'Tomoki?'
Tomoki's netbook was in her hand before any of them could blink. A few quick taps on the keyboard, and she nodded once, sunlight glinting off her glasses. 'It is on the calendar. Entered last Saturday at ten-thirty-two AM.'
Jun made a face, and folded her arms across her chest. 'Well, I don't remember hearing about it,' she said as Tomoki put her computer away. 'Even if it is on the calendar.'
'Be that as it may,' Touka said, holding up a warning finger, 'our presence in Tokyo requires that I at least carry out this obligation.'
'What is it?' said Hajime, her stomach churning a little at Touka's use of the word obligation. 'Another magazine interview?'
'Far more important!' Touka struck a dramatic pose, one hand pressed to her chest and the other flung out grandly to the side. 'In honour of our mahjong club's victory at the prefectural level, we have been invited for an afternoon of relaxation and entertainment hosted by the son of the chairman of the Suoh Corporation!'
'The Suoh Corporation?' The name didn't mean anything to Hajime, but if Touka was inclined to brag about it then the company clearly had a good deal of clout in her circles. 'They're doing this for us?'
Tomoki resettled her glasses on the bridge of her nose. 'No expenses spared.'
'So instead of chilling out at the hotel, we're supposed to go make small talk with some salaryman over tea cakes and finger sandwiches?' Jun rolled her eyes. 'Sheesh. Just how I wanted to spend the rest of the day.'
'The chairman's son,' Touka said haughtily, 'is a second-year student at one of the most prestigious private high schools in Tokyo. He is only a little older than we are -- hardly a "salaryman", as you so crudely put it.'
'Our age, is he?' Jun's expression turned sly. 'Are you sure you haven't been set up on an omiai, Touka? It's a little early for your father to start thinking about marrying you off.'
'Wh-wh-what?!' Touka spluttered, flushing scarlet, but lost no time in recovering her composure. 'How preposterous! My father has a long-standing business relationship with the Suoh family, and as his daughter it is vital that I uphold the prestige of the Ryuumonbuchi name in both professional and personal matters.' She glared at Jun -- and even though Jun was at least a head taller, Touka still managed to give the impression of looking down her nose at the other girl. 'You are, of course, free to decline, but it would reflect poorly on the reputation of our school if we did not accept such a gracious offer of hospitality.'
Hajime, as usual, had to be the peacemaker. 'Come on, it might be fun,' she said to Jun. 'It's not like we had any specific plans, and we'll still have time to see the city after the tournament's over.'
Jun looked skeptical, but it was increasingly clear that she was fighting a losing battle. Tomoki was walking quietly beside them, neither supporting nor countering her protests, and Koromo was wandering a few feet ahead, lost in a post-lunch reverie of dreamy satisfaction with a world that contained such delicacies as fried shrimp and hamburger platters. Between Hajime's hopeful smile and Touka's imperious stare, there was nothing for her to do but sigh and pull her cap down over her eyes.
'Fine, fine, you don't have to twist my arm,' she muttered. 'We're not supposed to get all dolled up for this, are we?'
'Formal attire is not required,' Tomoki said tonelessly.
'Thank goodness,' said Hajime under her breath. Touka and Koromo's sundresses and Tomoki's skirt were nice enough, and Jun could get away with dressing like a guy most of the time, but the only truly formal outfits Hajime had brought to Tokyo were her school dress and her maid uniform. Even though she would have changed into either of them if Touka asked her to, it was nice to wear normal clothes once in a while, especially in the summer.
'Our current clothing should suffice.' Touka cast a disdainful glance at Jun's T-shirt and cuffed trousers. 'For the most part.'
Jun shrugged. 'If you say so,' she said, and deliberately cracked her knuckles loudly enough to make Touka wince. 'So, what's involved in this promised afternoon of relaxation and entertainment? Manicures and magic tricks?'
At the mention of 'magic tricks', Hajime scowled and aimed a kick at Jun's ankle, dodging to avoid a retaliatory elbow that barely missed her head.
Touka paid no attention to the scuffle going on all of two feet away from her. 'I have the invitation letter here somewhere -- ah, here it is!' From the pocket of her sundress, she produced a cream-coloured envelope with a red wax seal and drew out a card embossed with a formal coat of arms. 'It says, We humbly request the favour of your presence, and hope that you will graciously permit our members to provide a few hours of divertissement to refresh both body and mind before your triumphant debut at the national championships. Your obedient servant, Suoh Tamaki -- President, Ouran High School Host Club.'
Jun and Hajime, still eyeing each other for opportunities to land a blow, both stumbled and nearly collided with one another. Jun, who had longer legs, regained her balance first, while the less-lucky Hajime only just managed to grab a nearby crosswalk pole to stop herself from ending up face down on the pavement. Touka and Tomoki stopped short, and even Koromo came hurrying back to see what had happened.
'Honestly, what on earth is the matter with you two?' Touka planted one hand on her hip and glowered at them. 'I hope you won't be like this for the rest of the day.'
Clinging to the crosswalk pole, Hajime was too preoccupied with trying to get her feet back under her to reply. Jun, however, had recovered enough to turn to Touka and say, in a slightly hoarse voice:
'Ouran High School...Host Club, you said?'
Touka looked at the invitation again. 'Ouran High School is known for the high calibre of its student body, drawn from many of the nation’s most prominent families. It would only make sense for it to have a club devoted to hosting events for distinguished visitors, one that allows its members to develop the skills needed to succeed in any social setting.' She slipped the card back into its envelope, obviously pleased. 'Such refinement would only be expected of a first-rate Tokyo high school!'
Hajime finally managed to stand up and let go of the pole. 'Touka, that's not what -- ' she began, desperately, but Touka wasn't listening.
'It does seem a bit strange, though.' Touka rubbed her chin thoughtfully. 'The invitation gives no indication as to what sort of divertissement they have planned for us.'
Koromo's eyes lit up. 'Maybe it's a surprise!' she said, bobbing up and down on her toes.
Hajime tried again, waving her hands in a feeble attempt to get Touka's attention. 'R-really, Touka, it might not be such a good ide -- '
Before she could finish, a heavy hand came down on her shoulder, gripping it so tightly that Hajime lost the breath she needed to complete the sentence.
'Kunihiro,' said a low voice in her ear, 'are you telling me that you don't want to see the look on Touka's face when she finds out what a host club is?'
Hajime turned her head a fraction of an inch, just enough to glance at Jun out of the corner of her eye. Jun's grin was positively wolfish, with a glee that Hajime seldom saw away from a mahjong table. On the other side of Touka, Tomoki's expression was as unreadable as usual, but Hajime thought that the light reflecting off her glasses seemed somewhat...mischievous.
This is a train wreck waiting to happen, Hajime wanted to say. There is no possible way that this will end well, and Touka is probably going to kill someone, and we'll all end up playing mahjong with the yakuza in prison instead of going to the tournament tomorrow. But in spite of the despairing thoughts running through her head and the sense of doom settling like a lead weight in her chest, what actually came out of her mouth sounded surprisingly cheerful -- especially to her own ears:
'Then we shouldn't keep them waiting, should we?'
Fujioka Haruhi was beyond ready for it to be summer break.
There was only one week left in the Ouran spring term, and her preparations for the upcoming summer holiday were almost complete. She had a half-packed suitcase (waiting for a final load of laundry to dry), a train ticket to Karuizawa (in spite of her protests, her father had insisted on paying extra for her to take the shinkansen instead of transferring between trains and buses), directions from the train station to Misuzu-san's guesthouse (less than half an hour's walk), and a studying plan all worked out so she could do her part-time job and still complete her summer homework. It might mean more than a few early mornings and late nights, but the work would not be any more difficult or tiring than the housework she was used to doing at home. The whole thing was even a little exciting -- living away from home, and working at her first real part-time summer job, just like a normal high school girl --
'Haru-hiiiiiii! When you're finished slicing that cheesecake, could you fetch the tape? Someone's had another accident with the glitter.'
'Don't look at us like that!'
'Yeah, we weren't the last ones to use it! Someone forgot to put the cap on properly!'
Haruhi sighed and set the cake knife down. Normal high school girl...yeah, right. 'I'll be right there, Tamaki-senpai!'
It was the third time she had had to de-glitter the Hitachiin twins in the past week and a half, so she was able to let her mind wander back to thoughts of summer as she helped the sulky, silver-spangled Hikaru and Kaoru clean off their clothes with the sticky side of a long roll of packaging tape.
Part of her felt guilty for not letting the rest of the Host Club know about her summer plans. It had been easy to turn down their repeated invitations to join them on whatever exotic holidays they were planning this year. She didn't have a passport, for one thing. She didn't know how to ride or ski or sail, or do any of the things that most of her classmates seemed to be planning to do on their summer travels. Most of all -- and this was the thought that truly strengthened her resolve -- she didn't want to be dragged along like a pet that couldn't be left behind when its owners went out of town. She knew that the Host Club didn't think of her that way, but that was how she felt, and even if she couldn't be entirely honest with them she could at least be honest with herself.
She'd been able to dodge their questions and evade their offers, but the whole thing still felt strangely wrong. Disloyal, almost. Yet she knew that if she even hinted at what she would be doing they would find some way to get involved, and she didn't want Misuzu-san to have to deal with...well, with the Ouran High School Host Club.
The de-glittering process was nearly complete when the quiet buzz of a mobile phone caught everyone's attention. Kyouya whipped out his phone and answered it before it could ring a second time.
'Yes? I see. Yes, thank you.' He ended the call, and looked over at Tamaki. 'The ladies from Ryuumonbuchi High School have just left their hotel in Nihonbashi, and should be here within half an hour.'
'Excellent!' Tamaki clapped his hands twice, like a kindergarten teacher at the front of a classroom. 'Gather round, everyone -- Mommy and I want to talk to you.'
The twins were about as glitter-free as they were likely to be, so Haruhi carefully collected the used packaging tape and took it over to the large porcelain jar that doubled as a non-burnable trash container. (It never ceased to amuse her that even Ouran's waste disposal bins looked like priceless museum pieces.) She checked her clothes one last time for stray sparkles before tossing the tape into the jar and replacing the lid. As she headed back to rejoin the others, she saw that Honey and Mori had joined the twins in the centre of the music room where Tamaki and Kyouya were waiting.
Tamaki smiled beatifically at her as she approached. 'Now that you've all been good enough to come in on a free weekend, I can finally share more information about the special event planned for today. We have out-of-town guests to entertain.'
'Guests?' said Haruhi. 'Not clients?'
'A small distinction, made just for today.' Tamaki reached out and playfully tapped Haruhi on the tip of her nose. 'Don't worry, dearest daughter -- this afternoon's work will count toward your quota.'
'I wasn't worrying about that, Tamaki-senpai,' Haruhi muttered, rubbing her nose. 'I just wondered why you're making a distinction.'
'These ladies are not like our regular clientele,' Tamaki replied. 'They're from a different school in another city, and visiting Tokyo for -- well, I'll let Kyouya tell you all about them, since he's been taking care of most of the arrangements.'
Kyouya stepped forward, clipboard in hand. 'Our guests are five ladies from Ryuumonbuchi High School, a private high school in -- '
'Ryuumonbuchi?' Hikaru said suddenly. 'Like the property developer?'
'...yes, that Ryuumonbuchi,' Kyouya said, looking at Hikaru over the top of his glasses with undisguised surprise. 'He happens to be chairman of the scho -- '
'Hey, wait a minute,' Kaoru interrupted, cutting Kyouya off in mid-word as he turned to his brother. 'How do you know this Ryuumonbuchi guy?'
'Father was in talks to buy one of his buildings. Or maybe sell one of ours.' Hikaru scratched his head. 'There was a building involved somehow.'
'I don't remember hearing about that.'
'What? Come on, we totally eavesdropped on that late-night phone call -- '
'Hikaru! Kaoru!' Tamaki said sternly. 'Let Mommy continue now.'
'As I was about to say,' Kyouya said, as the twins hung their heads in chastised silence, 'these five ladies from Ryuumonbuchi High School are in Tokyo for the week to participate in the national high school women's mahjong team tournament, which begins tomorrow morning. We issued an invitation for them to visit Ouran and be entertained by the Host Club this afternoon, and they accepted.'
'The Ryuumonbuchi mahjong club president is the daughter of the school's principal, and the granddaughter of its founder,' Tamaki explained. 'What better way to spread the fame of our club than to entertain such distinguished guests during their stay in our fair city?'
Haruhi privately doubted that fame was the appropriate word to use, but she knew better than to say so aloud. 'Is there anything we should know about them?'
'I took the liberty of collecting some background material on our guests.' Kyouya held out his clipboard, displaying a stack of papers at least an inch thick. 'You may find it enlightening, or at the very least informative.'
With their usual lack of propriety, the twins clambered over each other (and Haruhi) to get a better look at the clipboard.
'Jeez, Kyouya-senpai,' Kaoru said, shaking his head, 'where'd you get all this?'
Hikaru prodded the stack of papers with a finger. 'And how long did it take you to put it together?'
'I made a few enquiries.' In Kyouya-speak, they knew, that meant that he had mostly stopped short of consulting police records. 'And it didn't take long.'
'Honey wants to see!' Sitting on Mori's shoulders, Honey leaned forward, resting his elbows on top of Mori's head and propping his chin on his hands. 'Read it to me, Takashi!'
Kyouya held out the clipboard to Mori, who took it and held it up so that Honey could follow along as he read aloud in his usual placid monotone. 'Ryuumonbuchi High School Mahjong Club. President: Touka Ryuumonbuchi. Representing: Nagano Prefecture.'
Haruhi stifled a gasp. 'W-wait...they're from Nagano?' But that's where Karuizawa is...where Misuzu-san's guesthouse is...oh, please tell me this is a coincidence....
One of Kyouya's eyebrows arched slightly at Haruhi's reaction, but he merely replied, 'Their school is representing Nagano Prefecture in the women's team tournament. It appears that they defeated the reigning prefectural champion, Kazekoshi All Girls' School -- which according to my information was quite a feat for their first time participating.'
'Oh...I see.' Just coincidence, then. Haruhi hoped that she didn't look as relieved as she sounded. 'They're not going to expect us to play, are they?'
'These ladies are here to relax before the tournament,' Tamaki said firmly. 'We won't offer mahjong unless they specifically ask for it.' A thought seemed to strike him, and he pressed a finger to his cheek and tilted his head to one side, regarding Haruhi contemplatively. 'You don't happen to play, do you, oh darling daughter of mine?'
Haruhi shook her head quickly, vehemently, before Tamaki could get any dangerous ideas. ''Not at all! I mean, I've seen other people play -- the arcade near my old school had one of those big mahjong video game machines right at the entrance -- but I've never played myself. I wouldn't know where to begin.'
'I see.' If Tamaki was disappointed, he didn't show it. 'Well, as I said, we won't offer mahjong unless they ask for it.'
'Don't you think they look like nice people, Takashi?' Honey looked down at his cousin. 'And there's seven of us and five of them, so we won't have to worry about any of them being lonely!'
Mori gave a brief nod of apparent agreement and held the clipboard out to Kyouya -- only to have it intercepted by the twins, who immediately huddled over it and began to flip the pages.
Kaoru was the first to comment. 'Hey, look, Haruhi -- they're our age!'
'They're all first years?' Hikaru said, as Haruhi wandered over to look at the clipboard with them. 'Must be a brand-new club.'
'Or a very selective one,' Kyouya remarked, taking out his phone and flicking it open. 'Ryuumonbuchi Touka appears to have personally recruited the other three players on her team -- none of them had been planning to attend Ryuumonbuchi High School until quite recently. And she and Amae Koromo are first cousins.'
The twins were flipping through the clipboard so quickly that Haruhi could only get a glimpse of the names and accompanying photographs of the Ryuumonbuchi team. 'Ryuumonbuchi Touka, Kunihiro Hajime, Inoue Jun, Sawamura Tomoki...wait, why are there are only four pictures?'
'There were no photographs of Amae Koromo. None that I could locate, that is.' Kyouya sounded slightly put out, both at the thought that his research efforts had not been entirely successful and that Haruhi had been the one to point it out.
Before either Haruhi or the twins could reply, Tamaki sailed forward and plucked the clipboard out of their hands. He began to turn the pages with a jaunty air, but within moments he was frowning, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was reading. 'Kyouya, what is this? Everything that's in here is...it's boring!'
Kyouya paused in the middle of entering a message into his phone. 'Do you think so? Though I'm hardly an expert on the game, I found most of the material quite interesting. On page eight, for instance, is a professional's analysis of Inoue Jun's playing style -- '
'That's not what I mean!' Tamaki let the pages of the clipboard fall back into place, and turned the full force of his frustrated glare on Kyouya. 'Your research is impeccable, as always, but playing styles and school attendance records are not what we need to know! How can we as a Host Club tailor our hosting style to fulfill the desires of our honored guests if we don't know the first thing about their hopes? Their dreams? Their fiery ambitions? The deep and burning, wild and yearning passions that stir their maiden hearts?'
'Considering why they're in Tokyo,' Kyouya murmured, more to himself than to Tamaki, 'I suspect that "mahjong" would be reasonably near the top of that list.'
His cool response only seemed to frustrate Tamaki even more. 'But we don't even know what kind of cosplay they might like!'
'I don't deal in speculation. That's your department.' Kyouya's phone chirped quietly once again, and he closed it with a snap. 'And since they appear to be ten minutes away from the main gates, I'll just double-check to ensure that security knows where to direct their car.' He swept the clipboard out of Tamaki's hands and made a casual but purposeful exit though the door leading out to the main corridor.
'Why, you unhelpful...' Tamaki fumed at Kyouya's retreating back, then spun around on his heel, deliberately turning his back to the door. 'Never mind! Hikaru! Kaoru!'
The twins snapped to attention, saluting in perfect unison. 'Yes, milord!'
Tamaki held up a clenched fist, his eyes blazing with determination. 'Our theme for this afternoon will be....'
'Will be....' The twins copied his movements, fists raised and eyes afire.
There was a tense, expectant pause -- and then Tamaki let his arm drop to his side.
'It's no good,' he moaned. His shoulders slumped. 'I'm not feeling inspired at all.'
'Not feeling inspired?' Hikaru said, aghast.
'At all?' said Kaoru, equally horrified.
'I say we give them cake!' Honey piped up from his perch on Mori's shoulders. 'Everybody likes cake!'
Haruhi, concerned that Tamaki was about to curl up in a darkened corner with only mushrooms for company, finally ventured into the conversation. 'Is there some reason why we can't just offer tea and light refreshments like we usually do, and see if there's anything they might like to do?' she asked. 'Walk on the grounds, or sit by the pool, or tour the school? It's the weekend, after all; we're the only ones here. And however they want to relax, we can entertain them.'
As her words sank in, the look of despair vanished from Tamaki's face -- and he sprang at her with a happy cry, his eyes liquid with joyful tears.
'Brilliant!' He grabbed her hands and whirled her around, almost sending her flying across the room, before pulling her close and crushing her to his chest. 'Simply brilliant! Just what I'd expect of our very own natural type.'
'Mm-hm!' the twins chorused, nodding in complete agreement. 'Just what we'd expect of a natural type!'
'Okay, okay!' Haruhi managed to extricate herself from Tamaki's fervent clasp. 'You keep calling me that, Tamaki-senpai, and I still don't think I really get what it means.'
'Never mind that now!' Tamaki spread his arms wide, his confidence fully restored. 'It's time to greet our guests with the best show of those qualities that make us world-renowned hosts!' He pointed at each club member in turn. 'Twins, be at your most impishly charming! Honey-senpai, prepare to eat plenty of cake! Mori-senpai, radiate strong and silent Japanese masculinity with every fibre of your being! Kyouya...is not here right now, but I'm sure that he'll do whatever it is he does that makes the ladies swoon! And my brilliant Haruhi -- ' He paused, and grinned. 'Oh, I have plans for you.'
As if on cue, the music room door opened and Kyouya stuck his head into the room. 'If you're going to escort them to the club room,' he said to Tamaki, 'then I suggest you head for the front entrance now. Their car is arriving.'
'Excellent!' Tamaki shot his cuffs, adjusted the knot of his necktie, and strode towards the door. 'I shall return. Places, everyone!'
As Tamaki departed, Kyouya slipped into the room. He waited until the door clicked shut before looking over at the rather rumpled Haruhi. 'Should I even ask?'
Haruhi ran a hand through her hair, trying to smooth it down. 'Probably not.'
'Tama-chan said that he has plans for Haru-chan!' Honey said gleefully, and vaulted over Mori's shoulders to land with easy grace next to Haruhi, right in the spot that Tamaki had just vacated. 'Right, Haru-chan?'
Kyouya bowed his head. 'My condolences,' he said, in a tone of voice that would have been more appropriate for addressing the chief mourner at a funeral.
'It's all right.' Haruhi managed a smile. 'As long as our guests enjoy themselves today, I don't mind.'
But summer break, she thought, really can't come fast enough.