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