My Crush Is A Nekomata: Chapter 3- I’m So Furtunate

Maneki’s POV

The next morning, I stepped out into the morning sunlight and practically bounded down the road. I spent the morning avoiding Taro as best as I could, but I wasn’t all that successful. I remembered the way that he glared at me from the kitchen when I came out of my room in my uniform and realized that maybe I was ready to leave because of him. Either that, or I hoped to see Ryoko and Harumi and catch up with them faster.

I made it to the train tracks and stopped. I looked around but I didn’t see anyone.

Did I miss them? I lifted my hand to shield my eyes from the sun. I felt my brows furrow together as I searched.

“Nekomura?” I turned around as soon as I heard Ryoko’s voice. As it turns out, she was just a little bit behind me, but Harumi was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Harumi?” I asked. Ryoko shrugged as she finally made her way over to me.

“She’s probably running a little late. It happens sometimes.”

“Oh, okay. Should we wait for her?”

“Nah, if we do that then we’ll all be late. Let’s just go.”

“Okay.” Ryoko and I both turned around and crossed the tracks together. At first, we were both silent and I felt my face begin to burn a little. How could I have been so excited to see someone and yet have nothing to say to them? I was thinking this right when Ryoko tried to make conversation with me.

“So, how was seeing your brother yesterday?” I looked down at the ground and my happiness faded a little as I began to remember what happened the night before. I shook my head, almost hoping that it would rid myself of the memory.

“It was fine,” I replied.

“Well, that’s good.” We were quiet for a second and I hoped that she would change the subject. She must have noticed, because that’s exactly what she did.

“Do you like to read?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m actually really into fantasy stories.”

“Really? Me too!” I looked up to see that she was smiling at me and that her eyes were practically sparkling. “You know, I work at a bookstore. Would you like for me to grab some of the new releases for you?”

“Sure! That’d be awesome, thank you.”

“Of course. Oh, and you can borrow some of my books if you want to. I have tons of recommendations!” We continued chatting like that for the rest of the walk to school. The whole time, I couldn’t help but think that this must be what friendships feel like.

Harumi just barely managed to make it to class on time, but other than that school went smoothly. Well, other than how long the day felt. The hours seemed to drag by as I waited for lunch. Once the bell finally rang, I got up from my seat and headed straight to Harumi and Ryoko. We then headed to the hang-out spot together. Ryoko made it to her usual spot when she began to talk again.

“I wish my dad would get off my back,” she said with a sigh. She dropped her bag on the ground and sat down beside it. Harumi took her usual seat on one of the steps and began to rummage through her bag like last time. This time, I didn’t hesitate to sit with them and chose the spot beside Ryoko again.

“About what this time?” Harumi groaned, digging through her bag.

“College, again.”

“You still haven’t talked to him?”

“I haven’t been able to.”

“Ryoko, you don’t want to go to college?” Ryoko looked over at me and she must have noticed the surprise on my face because she shook her head.

“I already have a job that I really like, so I don’t see the point. Besides, I’m average at best when it comes to school stuff.”

“So your parents pressure you?”

“Mainly my dad,” Ryoko admitted. “My mom doesn’t really seem to care, but I haven’t been able to tell either of them.”

“My family is the opposite,” I replied. I remembered what happened with Taro again and lowered my gaze. “If anything, it seems like some of them are against it,” I added in a quiet mumble.

“You guys are lucky.” Ryoko laughed. “You and Harumi don’t have any pressure. It must be nice.” I tilted my head as I watched Ryoko search through her bag for her lunch. I felt my lips press together into a thin line as I bit my tongue.

Am I, though? I would say that the pressure is just on the other side.

When I finally made it home, I barely had the courage to go inside. I stood on the doorstep, staring at the door as I clutched the strap of my bag. I could see some light coming through the wooden slats on the top part of the door, but none of the windows were lit up yet. I took in a deep breath and let it out when I finally pushed the door open.

I stepped into the entryway and looked into the living room. It was dim despite one of the lights being on and I spotted my mom and Taro sitting across from each other at the table, drinking tea. It was clear that no one else had made it home yet. They both looked at me when I walked in.

“I’m home,” I said quietly.

“Welcome back,” my mom chimed. “Why don’t you come here and have some tea? Taro has something to share.” I began to pull my bow out of my hair and adjusted my bag on my shoulder, trying to ignore anxiety.

“What is it?” Taro looked down at his lap and his ears partially folded back.

“I had to resign from my job,” he admitted in a low voice, “so I’m moving back in and I’m going to be working with Dad.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be. It could easily happen to you, even if you decide that you want to be like them.” Now it was my turn to fold my ears back. “Honestly, you’d probably be better off—”

“Shut up!” I yelled. “Just leave it alone!”


“No,” I shouted, cutting off my mom. “I am doing my best. At least I am trying to do better than this.” I motioned to the room around me as my tails freed themselves from where they were hidden under my skirt and flicked back and forth. My eyes narrowed as I specifically glared at Taro. “I am trying to do something to pull us out of this, like you did. Or, at least I thought you did.” My eyes stung as tears began to well up in them. I turned and ran for my room.

“Maneki, wait!”

I didn’t stop. I went straight to my room and slammed the door behind me.

Ryoko’s POV

I shoved the box full of books across the hardwood floor as my eyes scanned the bookshelves. I was at work in a small bookstore that was about fifteen minutes away from my school. The sun outside had already started to set and it was getting closer to closing time, so the bookshop was basically empty and I had time to step away from the register and restock the shelves.

Let’s see . . . where does this one go again?

I looked down at the cover of the book at the top of the stack and then looked toward the front of the store, watching the street through the large windows. There were a few people walking on the sidewalk and they looked like dark silhouettes against the rays of gold, pink, and purple. The lights outside were finally on, illuminating the road. I was about to look away when I saw a familiar dark blue car zoom by. I immediately recognized it as my dad’s. I let out a sigh and turned back to my work.

The truth was, my dad didn’t like that I worked at a bookstore. He saw it as a waste of my time since my family was able to afford things comfortably, but I liked having my own money. My mom was kind enough to talk him into letting me keep this job while I was still going to high school, but if he had his way, I would be at home studying instead.

You don’t really know what I want.

“Hey, Okazaki.” I was snapped back to reality when I heard a voice call out to me. That was when I realized that my brows were furrowed together and I was frowning. I straightened out and tried my best to relax my face as I looked over at the origin of the voice.


“Are you okay?” It was my boss, Mr. Ito. He had an eyebrow raised at me from behind his thick glasses. “You seem troubled.”

“I’m fine,” I answered with an awkward laugh. I scratched the back of my neck.

Was I that obvious? Mr. Ito just shrugged and turned to walk away.

“There’s some extra food in the back room if you want some before you go home. Your shift is ending soon, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Thank you, boss.” He waved his hand at me as if he were dismissing my thanks and headed toward the cash register. I looked back down at the box of books and sighed.

Just don’t think about it.

My Crush Is A Nekomata- Chapter 2: Looks Like What The Cat Dragged In

Maneki’s POV

“I’m heading out now,” I called over my shoulder as I slipped on my shoes. I was standing in the doorway, watching my mom as she pulled some bento boxes out of the refrigerator. She placed two on the table in front of my younger brothers, Jun and Ken, who were still eating their breakfast. The twins gave her matching smiles and each muttered a quick “thank you” as they finished their food. She then met me by the door.

“Take care,” she chimed, handing me my own bento box. “You almost forgot this.”

“Oh, thanks!” I took it with both hands and gingerly put it in my school bag.

“Make sure to come home right away after school,” my mom continued. “Taro should be here by the time you get back.”

“All right. I’ll be back soon.” I stepped outside and before I closed the door behind me, I caught a glimpse of Jun and Ken waving at me. I waved back before the door blocked my view.

I stepped out onto the street and looked back at the house. The wooden lattices that covered the windows were beginning to splinter and crack and the shingles on the roof were either missing, broken, or covered in dirt. Even the walls on the second story of the building were becoming discolored with dark streaks running down them.

I’ll be somewhere better someday, I thought as I turned my back to it, beginning my walk to school.

Ever since I was little, I walked to and from school alone, which was fine since our neighborhood was quiet and relatively safe. I never even walked with my siblings since they all went to different schools than me. Taro, my older brother, attended the same high school as me, but he was so much older than me that he graduated before I even started my first year, so I never had anyone to walk with me. At least Jun and Ken got to walk together. I felt my envy of them begin to grow as I crossed the train tracks. That was when I spotted Ryoko and Iwamoto walking ahead of me. They were chatting with each other, smiling and laughing as they strolled down the street.

Do we live in the same neighborhood? I pondered this for a moment, then reached up to adjust my bow as my eyes focused on Ryoko. It had been about a week since she found out about my ears and, as far as I knew, she hadn’t told anyone. Even Iwamoto seemed oblivious. I was watching them from a distance and walking along when Ryoko happened to glance over her shoulder and see me.

“Hey, Nekomura!”

Both girls stopped and turned to face me. I froze and for a moment I wished I were a shadow so I could sink into the ground.

“Good morning,” I greeted them quietly. They briefly said it back before Ryoko continued the conversation.

“Do you want to walk with us?” she asked. I felt my cheeks begin to burn a little as they both stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. Iwamoto must have noticed my hesitation because she spoke up next.

“Don’t worry, I won’t bite.” I then noticed that they were both smiling at me.

“Sure,” I finally answered. They waited while I caught up to them and we continued on our way together. They resumed their conversation almost immediately as I walked between them, my eyes downcast.

“Nekomura, what did you do this past weekend?” I lifted my gaze to see that Ryoko was looking down at me.

At that moment, she looked so pretty. Her brown eyes turned an amber color against the sunlight and the front of her matching hair framed her face perfectly. I didn’t notice until then that she was actually a bit taller than me and that she had a small beauty mark under her left eye. I couldn’t help but compare myself to her at that time. Then, another thought arose in my mind.

Why does she want to talk to me? Doesn’t she think I’m a freak?

“I, um, hung out with my younger brothers and cooked with my mom.” A smile crossed Ryoko’s face and I quickly looked away, trying to find something else to focus on.

“Ah, so you have younger siblings too?” Iwamoto chimed in. “I have a younger sister.”

“I’m an only child,” Ryoko added.

“I see.”

Why are you being so kind to me?

We parted ways after we made it to our classroom, but I saw them again as soon as math class ended. Lunch had just begun and I was leaving the classroom when I spotted them standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall as they chatted. I went to walk by them, but stopped when I heard Ryoko’s voice.

“Hey, Nekomura!”

I turned and saw both of them looking at me, smiling. I waved feebly and the same sinking feeling that I had that morning came back as they walked over to me.

“Is something wrong?” Ryoko asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you want to have lunch with us?” Iwamoto offered, tilting her head.

“I’m not sure,” I replied hesitantly, looking down at the floor. “I should probably catch up on some homework . . .”

“Then we can do it together,” Ryoko cheered. “The place where we have lunch is pretty quiet.” She stared at me expectantly, her eyes practically shining, and I felt my face begin to burn again.

“Okay,” I finally answered, giving in.

Ryoko and Iwamoto led me to their usual hang-out spot, which was toward the back of the school. It was on the steps at the back of the gym and it overlooked the track. I was surprised to see that there were actually some students running laps and I concluded that they were probably from the track team. Iwamoto sat down on one of the steps and began to dig through her bag as Ryoko took what I assumed to be her regular spot by the back door. I stood there, clutching the strap of my bag and watching them silently.

“Hey, why dontcha come sit down?” I jumped a little at the sound of Iwamoto’s voice. I nodded.

“Okay.” I did as she asked and sat down beside Ryoko. I had opened my bag and was looking for my bento box when Iwamoto’s arm jutted out toward me.

“Here.” I looked up, startled, to see that she was trying to hand me a water bottle.

“Oh, thank you, Iwamoto.”

“Just call me Harumi.”

“Okay then. Thanks, Harumi.” She giggled and smiled at me and went back to searching through her bag.

“Hey, Ryoko! Heads up!” And without warning, she flung another water bottle straight at Ryoko’s head. To my surprise, the taller girl caught it.

“Thanks!” Ryoko set it down on the ground and pulled a plastic bag out of her backpack. “Nekomura, did you forget your lunch?”

“No, I’ve got it right here.” I pulled out my bento box and set it down on the concrete. Ryoko and Harumi stared in amazement when I took the lid off, revealing all of the food that my mom made for me.

“Woah, did you cook that?” Harumi asked, hints of awe in her voice.

“No, my mom made it for me. She likes to meal prep and make lunches for me and my brothers. Saves money.”

“Lucky,” Ryoko groaned. “All I have is stuff from the konbini.” She emptied the contents of her plastic bag onto the ground, showing that her entire lunch was basically prepackaged snacks. One in particular caught my eye.

“Is that dorayaki?” I asked, pointing to one of the snacks. Ryoko nodded. “I’ll share some of my bento with you if you’ll split that with me.”

“Okay.” Ryoko grinned as she opened the package and ripped the treat in half. I noticed that she handed me the bigger half, but I didn’t say anything about it. “I’ll have some of your chicken then.”


Lunch continued on like that where we traded food and chatted about random things. Over the course of the lunch period, I learned that Harumi was from a relatively well-off family and that Ryoko’s wasn’t far behind hers. They also lived in different neighborhoods and I was surprised to find that Ryoko lived the closest to me.

“So, where do you live?” she asked me.

“Ah, nowhere in particular.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harumi mumbled, taking another bite of her sandwich. I laughed it off.

“Actually, I don’t think I live that far from you, Ryoko.”



“Maybe you can walk home with us then,” Harumi suggested, “since we’re all heading in the same direction until we get to the train tracks anyway.”

“I can’t today. I have to get home early to see my brother. This is the first time that he’s been home in a few years.”

“Yeah, I can’t either,” Ryoko admitted, scratching the back of her neck. “I have work today, so I’ll be heading in the other direction after school.”

“Oh, I see. I’ve been ditched,” Harumi joked and the three of us laughed. I went to take another bite of my food when the bell rang.

“Time to get to class.” Ryoko stood up and stretched, then bent over and began collecting all of her food and trash. “We should do this again sometime.”

“Yeah,” I replied, closing my bento box. I realized that I didn’t work on my homework, but then another thought drifted into my head.

That was actually kinda fun.

As soon as school ended for the day, I hurried home. Along the way, I began to remember the last time that I had seen Taro.

It wasn’t long after he had graduated high school himself. He was standing outside of our house beside his clunky, old truck with all of his belongings packed away in boxes and loaded into its bed. Jun, Ken, and I were there with him, crying as he hugged us goodbye. We knew that he was going to be moving to Yokohama, but it didn’t feel real until he was actually leaving.

“It’s all right.” He chuckled as he held us close and rubbed my back. “I’ll come back to visit, I promise.”

I still remember the way he smiled when he looked down at me, his ears hidden underneath a snapback hat. His orange hair shimmered in the spring sunlight and his eyes looked calm and caring, but they had an energy I had never seen in them before. He had been waiting for this move for over a year. After he left, he never came home to visit. Over the past two years, he was absent for every holiday and event imaginable since he was always so busy with work.

That is, until now.

I made it to the front porch to see that Taro was already there. He was facing the door, so he didn’t see me right away, and I noticed that he was wearing a long-sleeve shirt with some baggy pants. He was holding his hat loosely in his fingers instead of wearing it so his ears were visible. They still stood upright like I remembered, but now the fur on them seemed scruffy rather than smooth. I stopped walking and he turned his head to look at me from over his shoulder. His eyes narrowed when he saw me and that was when I noticed the dark circles underneath them.

“So, you’re still trying to be like them.” His eyes wandered down to my shoes, then back up to my face. “Might as well give up now.”


“You look ridiculous. Humans aren’t as accepting as you might think.”

I felt my split tail drop down from where I had wrapped it around my waist. I gripped the hem of my skirt as I looked down at the ground.

What the hell is he talking about?

“Look, school isn’t going to get you anywhere. Trust me.” He turned back around and opened the door to head inside. I pulled the ribbon out of my hair, touched my ears, and followed him silently.

What has gotten into him?

My Crush Is A Nekomata- Chapter 1: The Cat Is Out of The Bag

Ryoko’s POV

“Hey, stop,” a high-pitched voice yelped. “Don’t touch me!” I barely heard her over the sound of basketballs crashing against the gym’s floor, but I was close enough to the opened door to faintly make out what was being said. I let the ball that I was dribbling bounce to a stop and roll away from me to the nearest corner of the room as I turned my head to listen.

“Why do you always wear stuff like this?”

It was another girl’s voice. I crept across the hardwood floor and over to the door before I poked my head out of the doorway. I was just in time to see a short girl being surrounded by two upperclassmen. I watched silently as the shorter girl stepped back, her back meeting the wall of the next building over. Her long, blonde hair, which was tipped with red, was draped over her shoulders and her blue eyes widened as the two older girls stepped closer, staring at the neat bow atop her head.

“Some little hair clips would look a lot cuter,” one of them reasoned.

“Yeah,” the one who had spoken before agreed. “That bow is too big and it’s plain.”

The shorter girl’s hands trembled as she reached up to touch the ribbon.

“But I like my bow.”

“Well, at least try some of these out.” The second girl pulled a clip out of her own hair and began to reach for the shorter one. “Here, take that off and I’ll let you borrow mine.”

As soon as the older girl’s fingers pinched the corner of her bow, the shorter girl yelped again. That was when I stepped out of the gym.

“Hey!” All three of the girls jumped and turned to look at me. The one who had grabbed onto the girl’s bow immediately withdrew her hand, leaving it hovering in the air with its fingers spread wide in shock. Even though she had let go, I wasn’t finished.

“She said to leave her alone,” I growled. “Didn’t your parents teach you not to touch people?”

“Well, I—” The two upperclassmen exchanged frantic glances, then stepped away from the shorter girl. My glare sharpened as I said my next words.

“Get lost.” They both nodded and fled back to the gym, leaving the shorter girl and me behind. Ryoko watched as she reached up with shaky hands to readjust her bow. “Are you okay?”

She looked over at me and this was when I realized that they were in the same grade. We were both dressed in the same uniform with green skirts and ties that all first-year students wore at our school, the only difference being the blonde’s hair accessory. When our eyes met, I also noticed that some tears had welled up at her lower eyelids and that her cheeks were red, but she nodded anyway.

“Thank you,” she replied, nearly whispering. She tugged at the hem of her skirt and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

She’s actually really cute.

“What’s your name?”

“Nekomura,” she answered. She smiled at me briefly before the sound of the gym teacher’s whistle pierced the air. We both looked in the direction of the sound.

“We should probably get back to class.” I nodded and we walked back into the gym.

I wasn’t sure if it was the look in Nekomura’s eyes when she thanked me, or the uniqueness of her hair, but something kept me thinking about her. However, I didn’t talk to her again until nearly two years later, when we were in our final year of high school. That was when I learned Nekomura’s secret.

For some context, my name is Ryoko Okazaki. I was never particularly good at sports, but my grades were decent and I was quite the bookworm. I only had one real friend at that point in my high school days, Harumi Iwamoto, and she was hanging out with me right before my second encounter with Nekomura.

It was nearing the end of lunch on a sunny afternoon in April. School had started only a few weeks ago and Harumi and I were at our usual hang-out spot; the back of the main school building with a perfect view of the track and the grove of trees gathered beyond its chain link border. Harumi, who was sitting on the ground next to me, finished scooping her last bite of rice into her mouth as I rummaged through my schoolbag.

“Damn, I forgot to bring some change again.” I let out a sigh and leaned back, my head resting against a concrete wall.

“What were you planning on getting?”

“A drink or something.”

While I was staring up at the sky, I failed to notice Harumi unzipping a pocket on her own bag. I looked over when she held out a small coin pouch to me. I raised an eyebrow at Harumi as she shoved it into my hand.

“Go to the cafeteria then. They just restocked the vending machine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Go ahead,” she said with a nod.

“Thanks.” I stood and was about to leave when an idea popped into her head. “Do you want me to get you something while I’m there?”

Harumi pursed her gloss-covered lips as she thought for a moment. She ran her fingers through her dark, wavy hair.

“Sure. A coffee or something. Take the back way, since there isn’t much time left ’til class.”

“All right, I’ll be right back.”

The back way to the cafeteria looped around one of the back corners of the school and skipped the courtyard entirely. This would have normally saved me a few minutes if she hadn’t caught a glimpse of Nekomura along the way.

I had nearly made it to the cafeteria when I saw the shorter blonde standing alone in an empty hallway.

Maybe this is why I haven’t seen her around much, I wondered. I had never seen her much around school after I first met her. I reasoned that she probably ate her lunch alone, away from everyone else. I would, too, if people harassed me for the way I dressed like they did to her. I could have said hi and waved when I saw her, but for some reason, I didn’t. Instead, I hid around the corner and watched as she stared at her reflection in a pocket mirror in her palm. Little wrinkles formed between her eyebrows as she fidgeted with her hairbow, a plain one that was similar to what she was wearing when we first met.

Huh, I didn’t think she was so invested in her looks.

But in the next moment, I came to understand why, because she untied the ribbon and revealed two triangular ears that were hidden underneath.

At first, all I could do was stare as she rubbed one of them gingerly with her fingertips. They resembled the ears of a cat since they were covered in soft-looking fur and everything. They even matched her hair color perfectly and were tipped with red. The inside of them were pink with tufts of fur sprouting up from their bases. I didn’t realize that they were real until one of them twitched on its own.

The sole of my shoe made a scratching sound against the pavement as I turned to leave and one of her ears snapped toward my direction. The next thing I knew, Maneki was staring at me with wide, light blue eyes.

“Wait a second!” she cried, rushing toward me. I was frozen in place for a second and all I could do was raise my hand to point at her.

“Those things are real,” I stated bluntly. I know, not one of my brightest moments. She stopped in front of me, already panicking.

“Please don’t tell anyone!” she pleaded, her voice wavering. “I’ll do anything, just don’t say anything. If this gets out, I’ll be screwed!” I looked from her ears, which were now folded against her head, to her face. Tears were already escaping her eyes and I noticed that she was gripping the hem of her skirt again as she stared up at me.

“I won’t.”

“Really?” Her ears sprung back up, but the tears didn’t stop.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s not really my place to tell anyone—”

“You promise?” She leaned in closer to me and I could see down into the canals of her ears. There was no faking that.

“I promise.”

She stepped back and let out a sigh before wiping away her tears. She sniffled and her eyes narrowed a little as soon as she finished drying them. “You look familiar,” she began.

“Oh, um, we met when those two girls were trying to take off your bow in our first year.”

“Ah, that’s right. I remember.” She reached up to touch one of her ears, then looked down at the ribbon that was still in her hand. “I should probably put this back on.” I nodded silently and watched as she looped the ribbon around her ears and fastened it to her hair as a bow. She took out her pocket mirror again to double-check it.

“They’re covered.”

She let out another sigh of relief and returned the mirror to her bag. She turned her attention back to me.

“So, what are you doing all the way back here? It’s usually empty.”

“I was heading to the vending machines,” I answered, holding up Harumi’s coin pouch.

“Oh, you’re running out of time”—her voice was cut off by the sound of the school bell’s chiming—“then. Sorry about that.”

“It’s all right. I should probably head to class.”

“Which class do you have?”



“Mrs. Honda.”

“Really? Me too.”

“You do?” I tried to remember if I had seen her in class before, but nothing came to mind. She must have seen my confusion because she spoke up again.

“Yeah, I just sit in the back,” she explained. “Out of sight, out of mind, you know?”

I nodded, unsure of what to say next. She wasn’t wrong, especially since I hadn’t noticed her there before.

“Come on, we don’t want to be late.”

Maneki’s POV

Ryoko and I made it to class before the second bell had a chance to ring. Most of the other students were already inside the classroom, crowding around desks in clusters and chatting with their friends, but there was one girl who was standing by the doorway. I noticed that she perked up a little the moment her gaze fell on Ryoko.

“Hey, where’d you go?” she asked. “I was waiting for you.”

“Sorry, I ran into Nekomura by the cafeteria,” Ryoko admitted, scratching the back of her neck. “I didn’t get a chance to get anything from the vending machine.”

Well, she’s not lying, I thought as she handed the coin pouch that she was carrying back to the girl. Ryoko then looked back at me.

“Oh, Nekomura, you haven’t met Iwamoto, have you?”

“No.” Before Ryoko could introduce me to her friend, the bell rang to signal the beginning of class.

“I’ll introduce you two later,” Ryoko promised, walking toward the door. “I’ll see you later.”

“Right . . .” My voice trailed off as I followed them into the classroom. As soon as the bell rang, all of the other students wandered over to their desks. Ryoko and Iwamoto took their own seats at the edge of the class near the door as I headed toward mine at the back corner of the room. At least when I sat back there, I was out of sight and out of mind to most. I couldn’t help but watch the two of them as class began, noting the contrast between them.

They both had brown hair, but Ryoko’s was short and tomboyish. Iwamoto’s, on the other hand, was slightly darker, long, and wavy. Another difference between the two of them was that Iwamoto wore some makeup while Ryoko didn’t. I never would have assumed that they were friends if I hadn’t seen it myself with the way they passed notes to each other and always paired up for group work. But my main focus was on Ryoko.

I wonder if she’ll keep my ears a secret. This thought passed through my mind every time I looked her way. About halfway through class, I shook my head and rested my forehead against my palm. It’s out of my control now. It can’t be helped.

At the end of class, Ryoko and Iwamoto left without giving me a second glance. I watched them head down the hall, laughing together at a joke that I couldn’t hear. It felt like my heart was sinking into the pit of my stomach.

I hope she doesn’t tell anyone.

Ryoko’s POV

School ended a little past 3:00 and Harumi and I started the trek back home as usual. We took our time, so the sun had started to lower in the pale blue sky and the birds were singing shrilly, offering their melodies to the approaching sunset. I walked silently, looking around and taking it all in. We were almost to the halfway point to my house when Harumi struck up a conversation.

“Are you going to sign up for any clubs this year?”

“No, I don’t really want to,” I admitted, my gaze drifting downward to meet the pavement.

“Oh, are you becoming lazy now?” Harumi teased. She nudged me with her elbow and I chuckled a little.

“Nah, I just want to spend more time at work.”

“I see . . .” The conversation died out when we made it to the train tracks, which marked the halfway point to my house. This was where our paths split.

“All right, I’m gonna hustle home now. See you tomorrow!”


We waved at each other and she ran off ahead. Then I was alone with my thoughts. As I walked along, the memory of my first meeting with Maneki ran through my head again. I brushed my hair a little with my fingers and realized that it must have hurt when the girl grabbed onto her bow.

She probably grabbed her ear with it.

“I’m home,” I called, pushing the front door open. I was stepping out of my shoes and into some slippers when my mom appeared in the entryway to the living room, which was down the hall from where I was.

“Welcome back,” she said, but my eyes almost passed through her. I stared into the room behind her, finding no one else home.

“Dad’s not back yet?”

My mom frowned and shook her head as she crossed her arms. “Not yet, but he’s on his way. He said he would be back by dinner.”

“Okay, I’m gonna go get changed then.”

“All right. Dinner will be done in a few minutes.”

And, as usual, we parted ways. She left for the kitchen as I headed up the stairs. On the way up, my eyes scanned the photos that were hung up on the walls, even though I had seen them at least a million times. Most of them were of me with a few pictures featuring my parents too. It was always just the three of us since I was an only child. The most recent one had all three of us and was hung next to my bedroom door. I glanced at it when I made it to the top step and remembered that it was from my first day of high school. It was also a little while after my dad started his new job, which was a bit farther from home.

My bedroom door was to the left when I stepped off of the top step and when I opened it my eyes immediately went to Sushi, who was swimming in the glass bowl on top of my dresser. I thought it was a miracle that I had managed to keep a goldfish alive for more than three years, but I did everything that I needed to. I closed the door behind me and sprinkled some food in his bowl. I watched with a smile as he gulped it down as quickly as he could. I opened the drawers to my dresser as my mind returned to Maneki.

I wonder if her family is like mine. I picked out a shirt and caught another glimpse of Sushi while I was taking off my school uniform. Do cat people keep pets? Is that even ethical?

I was pulled away from my thoughts when my mom shouted for me downstairs.

“Coming!” I pulled on a pair of shorts and left the room, making my way downstairs. When I reached the bottom, I saw my dad stepping out of his shoes. “Welcome back,” I said with a smile.

“Hey, Ryoko. Studying hard?”

Ugh, this again.

“I guess so.”

“Have you picked out a college yet?” he asked. I froze at the question and when I didn’t answer my father let out a sigh. “I’ll take that as a no. You’re already in your third year, so you should be thinking about this. I’m sure most of your classmates have already picked out theirs.”

“I’ll start looking,” I lied. “Dinner should be ready.”