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I made it halfway across the courtyard before I realized I was still wearing my school slippers. No lie. I had to turn around and slink all the way back to the genkan, the stifled laughs from my classmates trailing me as I mustered what slippered dignity I could.
God, way to scream foreigner. You'd think after a couple of weeks I'd have the routine down, but no. I'd gone into that mode again, the one where I forgot everything for a minute and walked dazed through the sounds of the Japanese being spoken around me, not fully comprehending that it wasn't English, that I was on the other side of the world, that Mom was
I looked up to see Yuki running toward me, breaking from a group of girls who stopped chatting, staring at us. Their stares weren't unfriendlythey just weren't exactly subtle. I guess that's expected when you're the only Amerika-jin in the school.
Yuki grabbed my arms with her slender fingers. "You do not want to go in there," she said in English, motioning at the school entrance behind us.
"Um, I kind of have to," I answered in broken Japanese. Forget English, Diane had said. It's the easiest way to get fluent faster. It's easier to forget everything, I guess. Forget I ever had any other kind of life.
Yuki shook her head, so I pointed at my slippered feet. "You still shouldn't," she said, this time in Japanese. I liked that about Yukishe knew I was trying. She didn't insist on English like some of the other kids. "There's an ugly breakup going on in the genkan. Really, really awkward."
"What am I supposed to do, wait?" I said. "I'll just be in and out, ten seconds." I held out my fingers for emphasis.
"Trust me," she said, "you don't want to get in the middle of this."
I peeked around her shoulder, but I couldn't see anything through the glass. I tapped the toe of my slipper on the ground; it felt so flimsy.
"Some big shot?" I said in English, and Yuki cocked her head to the side. "You know, a daiji na hito or something?" If Yuki was worried, it was probably gossip-worthy.
She leaned in conspiratorially. "Yuu Tomohiro," she whispered. In Japan, everyone went by their last names first. "He's fighting with Myu."
Yuki's friends giggled behind us. Had they been eavesdropping the whole time?
"Myu, his girlfriend," she said.
"No, I know Myu. The other one," I said.
"Yuu Tomohiro?" Yuki said, her arms waving wildly as if that would jog a memory I didn't have. "Top of the kendo team? They let him get away with almost anything. You don't want to draw his attention, trust me. He has this cold stare. I dunno he seems dangerous."
"So, what, he's going to stare me down?"
Yuki rolled her eyes. "You don't get it. He's unpredictable. You don't want to make enemies with a third year in your first two weeks, do you?"
I bit my lip, trying to peer through the glass door again. I didn't need more attention, that's for sure. I just wanted to blend in, get my homework done and drift through school until Nan and Gramps could take me in. But I also didn't want to stand in the courtyard in a pair of slippers, stuck for who knows how long. Anyway, it's not like they could make my life a living hell if I left Japan, and it would all be sorted out soon, right? This wasn't where Mom intended me to end up. I knew that.
"I'm going in," I said.
"You're crazy," Yuki said, but her eyes shone with excitement.
"They don't scare me."
Yuki raised her fists up to her chin. "Faito," she said. Fight. In her most encouraging, you-can-do-it voice.
I grinned a little, then stepped toward the door. Even from outside I could hear the muffled yelling. When it died down for a minute, I took my chance.
Just in and out. I'm in slippers, for god's sake. They're not even going to hear me.
I pulled open the door and let it close quietly behind me before I stepped onto the raised wooden floor. My heartbeat pounded in my ears. The yelling was still muffled, and I realized the couple were on the other side of the sliding door into the school. Perfectno way they'd see me now.
I snuck between the rows and rows of shoe cubbies looking for mine. It wasn't hard to findit was the only one with a pair of leather shoes sticking out approximately a mile, surrounded by the neatly tucked-away slippers in everyone else's boxes. We all wore slippers in the school to keep it clean, but they weren't your typical cozy bedroom slippers. They were more like papery white f lats. Japan had slippers for everythingschool, house, toilet room, you name it.
I reached for my shoes as Myu's high and whiny voice echoed from the hallway behind the sliding door. Rolling my eyes, I pulled off the first slipper and then the other, clunking my shoes onto the floor and sliding my feet in.
And then the door slid open with a crash.
I crouched down, jolted by the footsteps stomping toward me. I did not want in on this performance.
"Matte!" Myu shouted, followed by a flurry of shuffling footsteps. "Wait!"
I glanced at the door to the courtyardtoo far to make it without being seen. And just by trying to plan my escape route, I'd waited too long. If she saw me now, the way I was pressed against the wall all spylike, she'd think I was eavesdropping, and I didn't need rumors circulating about me. I was already a gaijin, an outsiderI didn't need to be a weirdo, too.
"Oi," said a second, annoyed voice. It was deep and richmust be Yuu Tomohiro, dangerous kendo star. He didn't sound that dangerous. In fact, he sounded pretty disinterested. Cold, like Yuki had said.
Myu rapidly churned out Japanese words I didn't know. I caught a particle here and a past tense there, but let's face it I'd only been in the country for a little more than a month and studying for five. I'd crammed all the Japanese I could, but I realized the minute I was on the plane that it had all been useless if I wanted to have a real conversation. At least I could name just about all the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store.
Great plan there. Real useful. Things had improved since I arrived, but still, talking to Yuki or taking notes in class was not the same as following the high-pitched babbling of a major social breakup like this one. That was hard enough in English. I could really only make out the most important detail, which was that she was seriously pissed. You didn't need much vocab to tell.
I peeked around the wall of cubbies, hugging the wooden frame so I wouldn't be seen. Yuu Tomohiro had stopped in his tracks, his back to me and his head tilted back, staring up at her. Myu's long legs made her school uniform look scandalously short, her kneesocks slumped in coils around her ankles. She clutched a black book at the top of the steps, her nails painted neatly in pinks and glittery silver.
"What is this? What is it?" she said over and over, waving the book in Yuu's face.
Hmm I thought. A notebook?
Yuu Tomohiro shrugged and climbed the steps back up to the sliding door. He reached for the notebook, but Myu whisked it behind her. He sighed as he leaned back against the opened door, his slipper pressing against the wooden frame.
"Well?" Myu said.
"What's it look like?" he said. "A notebook."
I rolled my eyes, even though my answer had been pretty much the same.
"Baka ja nai no?" Myu shrieked at him.
He was taller than her, but not when he slouched like that against the wall. And the more she fumed at him, the farther he seemed to slouch into the door. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his navy blue school blazer and tilted his head down, like he couldn't stand to even look at her or something. His copper hair, too bright to be natural, flipped in every direction like he hadn't taken the time to brush it, and he'd grown his bangs longthe way he was staring at the floor made the tips of them brush against his eyelashes.
I felt the heat rise up my neck. Yuki had not warned me he was so, well, pretty. Okay, gorgeous. I almost expected sparkles and rainbows to burst out of the walls anime-style, except his lips were turned in a smirk, and the way he crumpled against the wall exuded a smug superiority.
It was obvious Myu got the message. She looked absolutely livid.
"You think I'm stupid?" she said again. "Or are you?"
"Does it matter?"
What the heck had I walked into?
I couldn't tear my eyes away. Myu's face was puffy and pink, and every now and then her words got all choked up in her throat. She threw a string of questions into the air and they hung there with no reply. She became more frantic, the silence more tense.
What the hell did he do?
Cheat on her, maybe. That was the obvious answer or she wouldn't be so pissed. And he had no reply for it, because really, what could he say?
Yuu Tomohiro shook his head, the copper strands dancing around, and his head suddenly twisted to the cubbies beside me.
I shrunk flat against the wall, squeezing my eyes shut and praying he didn't see me. Myu had stopped ranting and a thick silence fell over the genkan.
"Is someone there?" she said.
Oh, craphe had seen me. It was all over. I'd forever be the gaijin who has no life and eavesdrops on bad breakups to sate my emo side.
"No one," he said, but it sounded off.
I couldn't bear it and I peeked around the cubby wall. Yuu was looking away. So he hadn't seen me after all. Thank godI could go back to just being the Slipper Slinker.
Myu's eyes puffed up and overflowed, the tears streaming down her cheeks. "So it's really true," she said. "She's pregnant."
Oh my god. What is this? Who are these people?
"Sou mitai," Tomohiro smirked, which was way too casual a yes. A response like that was downright cruel. Even I knew that.
Myu's glittery fingernails tightened around the book. She raised it high above her shoulders, the loose papers inside it slipping until it was a mess of corners.
Then she hurled the book at the floor.
The notebook exploded with pages as it trailed down, the papers catching in the air and filling the room like rain. They twirled and twisted as they came down, white edges framing thick lines of black ink and charcoal. They fluttered down to the floor like cherry petals.
One of the drawings fell in front of me, tapping gently against the end of my shoe as it came to a rest.
"What the hell?" Yuu shouted, picking up the book from the floor.
"What did it all mean, then?" she whispered. "What was I to you?"
Yuu straightened to his full height and tilted his chin back until his gleaming dark eyes gazed straight into hers. He took two swaggering steps toward her, bending forward until their lips almost met. Myu's eyes widened.
He stood silently for a moment. Then he looked to the side, and I saw a pained look in his eyes. He breathed heavily, his cheeks pink, his eyes glossy. So he did have feelings after all, the beast. He started to reach for her chin with his fingers. And then his hand suddenly dropped into his pocket and he laughed.
"Betsu ni," he said in a velvet voice. Nothing special.
You're lying, I thought. Why are you lying?
But Myu looked like she'd been punched in the gut. And even with the cultural barriers that stood in my way, it was clear to me that he'd just discounted all her suffering, her feelingsthe whole relationship. He looked like he didn't give a shit, and that's pretty much what he'd said.
Myu's face turned a deep crimson, and her black hair clung to the sides of her snot-streaked face. Her hands squeezed into fists at her sides. Her gaze of hope turned cold and listless, like a mirror of Yuu's face.
And then Myu lifted her hand and slugged him right in the jaw. She hit him so hard his face twisted to the left.
He lifted his hand to rub his cheek, and as he raised his eyes, they locked with mine.
His gaze burned into me and I couldn't move. Heat flooded my cheeks, and shame tingled down my neck.
I couldn't look away. I stared at him with my mouth open.
But he didn't call me out. He lifted his head, flicked his gaze back to Myu and pretended I didn't exist. I let out a shaky breath.
"Saitei," she spat, and I heard footsteps. After a moment, the door to the hallway slid shut.
I let out a breath.
Well, that was today's dose of awkward.
I looked down at the paper, still touching the tip of my shoe. I reached for it, flipping the page over to look.
A girl lay back on a bench, roughly sketched in scrawls of ink as she looked out over the moat of Sunpu Park. She wore a school uniform, a tartan skirt clinging to her crossed legs. Little tufts of grass and flowers tangled with the bench legs, which had to be creative licenseit was still too cold for blooms.
The girl was beautiful, in her crudely outlined way, with a lick of hair stuck to the back of her neck, her elbow resting against the top of the bench and her hand behind her head. She looked out at the moat of Sunpu Park, the sunlight sparkling off the dark water.
A pregnant bump of stomach curved under her blouse.
The other girl.
A queasy feeling started to twist in my stomach, like motion sickness.
And then the sketched girl on the bench turned her head, and her inky eyes glared straight into mine. A chill shuddered through me. Oh my god. She's looking at me.
A hand snatched the paper out of mine. I looked up, my mind reeling, straight into the face of Yuu Tomohiro.
He slammed the page facedown on top of the pile of drawings he'd collected. He stood too close, so that he hovered over me.
"Did you draw that?" I whispered in English. He didn't answer, staring hard at me. His cheek burned red and puffy where Myu had hit him.
I stared back. "Did you draw it?"
He smirked. "Kankenai darou!"
I looked at him blankly, and he sneered.
"Don't you speak Japanese?" he said. I felt my cheeks flush with shame. He looked like he'd settled some sort of battle in his mind, and he turned, walking slowly away.
"She moved," I blurted out.
He stumbled, just a little, but kept walking.
But I saw him stumble. And I saw the drawing look at me.
Didn't I? My stomach churned. That was impossible, wasn't it?
He went up the stairs, clutching the papers to his chest.
"She moved!" I said again, hesitant.
"I don't speak English," he said and slammed the door. It slid into the wall so hard it bounced back a little. I saw his shadow against the frosted glass of the door as he walked away.
Something oozed through the bottom of the sliding door, sluggish like dark blood. Did Myu hit him that hard?
The liquid dripped down the stairs, and after a moment of panic, I realized it was ink, not blood. From the drawings she'd thrown, maybe, or a cartridge of ink he'd kept inside the notebook.
I stood for a minute watching it drip, thinking of the burning eyes of the girl staring at me, the same flame in Yuu's eyes.
Had Myu seen it, too? Would anyone believe me? I wasn't even sure what the heck I'd seen.
It couldn't be real. I was too tired, overwhelmed in a country where I struggled to even communicate. That was the only answer.
I hurried toward the front door and out into the fresh spring air. Yuki and her friends had already vanished. I checked my watchmust be for a club practice. Fine. I was too jittery to talk about what I'd seen anyway. I ran across the courtyard, sans slippers this time, through the gate of Suntaba School and toward the weaving pathways of Sunpu Park.
Harlequin; July 2013
384 pages; ISBN 9781460315231
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Author: Amanda Sun
384 pages; ISBN 9781460315231
, or download in
Author: Amanda Sun
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