Hours passed, then days. Leaves fell and seasons changed. It was during an autumn rain-shower when Tsukushi Arisa first picked up a shivering-to-the-bone stray cat by the name Rei. And he was surprised that Arisa had that strange, supernatural ability to communicate with animals and plants as well as humans.
Now, it was a cold summer night and the pair was just about to get ready to turn in for the night.
"Rei, could you push the door for me?" said Arisa as she entered her room with an armful of newly dry-cleaned clothes and a small basket of yarn.
Can't you just kick it yourself? The stubborn cat protested from his already comfortable position on the queen-sized bed.
Arisa put down her clothes on the built-in seat on her window and narrowed her eyes at the black cat.
"Rei," she began as a warning.
Rei hurriedly leaped off the bed and pushed the door closed.
Sheesh, why do you always have to look at me like that?
Arisa giggled and pulled down an ironing board from within a cabinet, "Because it works on you," and she began ironing her week's load of clothes.
The black cat stood over the basket near the girl's feet.
Hmm… Arisa… Do you think, maybe, I could-?
But Arisa giggled before Rei could finish, "Of course I'll give you yarn…" And she tossed a ball of yellow yarn onto the bed. Rei tumbled after it and began clawing at it playfully.
The black-haired girl stared at the innocent cat for a moment before she turned back to her ironing.
As though feeling her gaze, Rei suddenly stopped, and kept the ball in place with one paw.
Arisa, why do you do this?
"Hmm?" beautiful blue eyes turned to him and said, "Because I never wanted to leave Japan. I know that you know my story already, so there's no use in telling you again…"
Well, of course, Rei knew! It was one of the first things the duo ever talked about: Tsukushi Maria, Arisa's mother, was divorced with her father, Arato Ryuuki. The former stayed in Malaysia with her new spouse and the latter in Australia. And when Arisa was asked to choose, she said she'd rather stay in Japan. Both parents willingly respected her decision and took care of her from afar, sending money, gifts and such. But after a few years, she got to know her new little sister, on her father's side, and little brother, on her mother's side.
The story he heard after that was about how she found out she could speak to nature. It was as though Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth, showered her blessing upon Arisa for it was as though she was the direct link of the goddess. The winds told her tales, trees bent as though to embrace her and most animals come to her to ask if they could aid her in her daily tasks. But she slowly learned to detach from relying on nature too much but instead be the one to help them out.
Which is why she is very independent now, began Rei.
"What did you say?" asked Arisa curiously as she finished the last of her laundry.
It's nothing, Arisa, said the cheeky cat, grinning slightly.
Arisa shook her head, her short black hair waving lightly. She finished ironing the last of her clothes, then joined Rei on her bed, scratching him lightly on the back of the head.
Aaah… Um… Arisa?
The black-haired girl said a soft answer of, "Hmm?"
Am I any help to you?
Curiously, Arisa then took the cat and raised him by his forelimbs that his amber eyes met her pale blue ones.
"Why would you ask that to me, Rei?" she demanded softly from the cat in her hands.
Rei tore his gaze away, You know… Am I a burden to you? Did you ever think that I just make your life-
But he was silenced when Arisa kissed him on the nose.
"You know, somehow, I like you better when you go all sensitive like this," she said to him with a bright smile on her face.
The black cat scowled and wriggled free of Arisa's hands and sat primly on the bed before her, Here I go worrying about you and you, in turn, make fun of me?!
Arisa giggled, "I'm not making fun of you," she gently stroked the fur on his head. Then when she came to his collar, she traced up front to the golden bell.
"I guess it's not yet time," she whispered to the cat.
Rei rolled his eyes. Arisa… I think it'll never ring. Why did you even believe that guy who said that only when the cat wishes for something, it will ring?
She remained smiling, "Because I just do," she said simply, "I mean, what's three wishes?"
Rei pushed his ball of yarn off the bed and he heard it make a loud THUD somewhere. He'll be looking for that sometime the next day. Then, he watched as Arisa began tucking the covers over herself and, when she was done, he began lying down on the space right beside her. But just before he tucked his head under his paws, Rei thought of something.
I just want her to have her wish come true. What can I do to be able to that?
Arisa woke up the next day groggily. She felt the weight on her bed double but she didn't mind it and went straight to the bathroom. However, when she went back to her room to wake up the sleeping black cat, she instead found a teen-aged boy, about seventeen, sleeping on the side of the bed on which the Rei had slept in… And he was top-naked, except for a pair of black, knee-length trousers.
She couldn't help but scream.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?!" she looked around, "Where the hell is Rei?!"
Surprised, the boy shot up the bed and stared at Arisa as though she was insane. But when he got onto his feet and stood up, finding himself taller than the girl, he realized the situation he was in and the gravity of it all.
"Arisa… Arisa… please calm down…"
Arisa's heart began pumping, "How do you know my name?"
He couldn't think of an answer.
"I… I am the one in that bell of your cat!"
With the contorted eyebrows, he knew she would believe slowly.
"Wait… How do you know Rei?" she asked breathlessly, "Who are you?!"
"Actually, I am R-Shiroi," he quickly added. I shouldn't say my real name!
"Shiroi?" Arisa repeated.
Shiroi nodded, "I know that you speak the tongue of nature, and I know that you keep that cat beloved and I come to test you…" he began, taking out a necklace that had a bell very similar to the one on Rei's collar, "And I had to exchange my position with him so he had to temporarily be gone whilst I stay…" She'll definitely begin believing… Go on… He added to encourage himself.
Arisa raised an eyebrow but nodded, "Okay then…" she paused and took a rough look at him, "Do you want me to get you a shirt?
Rei was frustrated. Not only had he lied to Arisa, telling her that he was 'Shiroi' but he was now another extra burden to her. Oh good Lord! What selfishness has he done now?
"Shiroi? Are you done?"
He faced the mirror again. He didn't look too bad – for a human, that is: he had a handsome face, with short black hair and mesmerizing amber eyes. His gaze was tantalizing and intimidating but when he smiled at himself, he liked the expression on his face.
"Done," he said and he opened the door of Arisa's room. She had gotten him a black button-down shirt and a pair of jeans from a factory-priced shop near their house.
Arisa looked up at him and blushed slightly, "Um… Wait for me." She said and bustled into her room without another word, leaving Shiroi outside the door.
He had been surprised at that: Arisa had looked up at him.
That day was nothing like any day he had imagined with Arisa.
Since she brought him everywhere she went, except school, he found himself in the bank at first. He was surprised that she laid out a special account for him, as Rei though, and she opened it for him.
"I don't think Rei would mind if I borrow some of the money I kept in here for him…" she said to him.
"You kept money for m-I mean your cat?" he asked her, mildly amused.
Arisa nodded, "Yes," she replied softly, "Half my savings I lay down for him – he's been an important addition to my life and he's always worried so much for me… It's the least I could do for such loyalty…" She dusted off her knee length, black-and-white dress before checking the number being called.
Shiroi couldn't help but smile.
"How much do you want me to take, Shiroi?" she asked him as they approached a teller.
Then, he had an excellent idea.
"Enough for a day out," he said firmly.
Arisa blinked twice in disbelief, "You… You want to take me out?"
"L-like on a date?"
Shiroi flushed crimson, but grinned.
"Only if you want to call it that," he whispered into her ear as the teller began to ask Arisa questions.
Afterwards, they had an early lunch at a fine-dining restaurant, where they ate heartily and conversed as though they knew each other longer than Arisa had thought. Then, they headed for an amusement park. As they walked around, she couldn't restrain her curiosity:
The black-haired boy turned to her, with his amber eyes staring kindly at her.
"Yes?" he began.
Arisa considered for a moment, "Why are you doing this?"
Shiroi's heart skipped a beat. Should I answer honestly? Ah, what the hell!
"Because you deserve it," he replied softly, turning to her and taking her hand, "I know of what you've done for a lot of people, really… So, for just this once, allow me to make you happy,"
Arisa blushed, but smiled widely.
And the rest of the day, was spent just as Shiroi said: Arisa could not keep the smile off her face. She was brought to the ice cream parlor in the amusement park and given her favorite flavor of ice cream, she was given a white-tiger stuffed toy from the shop and at sunset, they rode the Ferris Wheel, and they stopped at the top.
Shiroi smiled: Arisa was sitting right in front of him, smiling at the sunset, embracing the stuffed animal he had given her.
"Are you happy?"
His voice made her snap out of her stance. She continued smiling.
"I couldn't have asked for anything else," she whispered, blushing slightly and looking down at her knees.
But Shiroi held her by the chin and slowly lifted her head up, "I'm glad to hear it,"
She blushed furiously but then the Ferris Wheel began moving again and they began the descent.
They ate pizza that night and Arisa was gladly welcoming Shiroi to sleep with her.
"I don't mind, really," she said.
Although reluctant, Shiroi agreed.
And when they were both warmly tucked under the sheets, Arisa embraced his arm. She yawned, but didn't let go. In fact, she embraced his arm tighter, curling up beside him.
"Thank you, Shiroi, for the day,"
"Don't thank me, Arisa," he said to her, "You're the one who's always been there for everyone," And for me, Arisa, he added in his head.
Slowly, she moved into his arms, and her hand found its way to his chest. "But you've just given me my special wish,"
"I know, Arisa," he whispered, knowing she was getting sleepy, "But good night… And good bye…"
He kissed her on the forehead as she began dozing off.
The last thing Arisa remembered was a light ringing of a bell.
When she woke up to the Sunday sun, Arisa found nobody else on her bed. Instead, she found her dear, beloved cat.
Good morning, Arisa. He said softly.
"Rei?" she said groggily. She thought for a while, "Where's Shiroi?"
Rei's heart skipped a beat, Who?
Arisa sat up. Then she remembered:
"…I had to exchange my position with him so he had to temporarily be gone while I stay…"
She smiled, "At least I have Rei back…"
EH? You mean you didn't miss me… AT ALL?! But deep inside, Rei was nearly laughing at how he feigned his inner happiness.
"Rei!" Arisa said exasperatedly, but her smile didn't fade.
After that day, everything went back to how the duo was before the 'Shiroi Incident'. They would go around town together, Rei following Arisa's steps and seemingly meowing when she talks to him, but he really responds. But Rei knew Arisa was never the same. She was happier, and she treated herself well. And she also made sure Rei felt happy – even though merely being with her actually made the black cat happy already. Hours passed again, then days. Leaves fell, and seasons changed. It was spring, and about to be summer, almost one year since Rei appeared to Arisa as Shiroi. But it wasn't until one day, early in the morning, when the sun wasn't up yet, Rei smelled the worst thing:
"Eh?" Arisa whispered in her sleep.
Rei put up his head and his eyes widened: the room was burning.
Arisa! Arisa! Arisa wake up!
But she was still in deep slumber. Then Rei remembered the tiny, golden bell.
Please, golden bell! Ring for me this time! I wish I can save Arisa!
All of a sudden, a light ringing of the bell woke up Arisa, and she felt a heavy weight on the bed beside her. Rei had just transformed again.
"Arisa! Arisa! Wake up!"
Just as screams were heard somewhere on the street, Arisa got up abruptly and found a top-naked Shiroi again in the room.
"Arisa! We need to go!" he shouted, and he pointed on the burning door.
But Arisa was stunned: everything given to her, everything she owned, and it was all going to burn down.
And she was made to grab something near the burning door but Shiroi pulled her towards the window.
"We have to jump before the fire reaches the stove!" he shouted.
Arisa looked down. They were on the second floor of the building. But Shiroi was sure they could live. However, just when Arisa had embraced him and they were about to jump, something exploded from behind them, throwing them both out the window.
They both landed on the hard pavement across the street. He looked at himself and found that he was completely fine, A cat has nine lives? Some of their neighbors were out of their houses already and seemed safe but when Shiroi got up and looked at Arisa, he found her in a pool of her own blood.
"Arisa! Arisa! Wake up!"
And he ran towards her, cradling her in his arms.
Arisa coughed. Her eyes opened half-way and she looked up at Shiroi.
"Rei? What happened?"
Rei gasped, "You knew?" he croaked.
"I've always known," she whispered. She closed her eyes, "Am I going to die?"
"No, of course not!" he shouted at her, tears brimming in his eyes, "You can't! I can't live without you!"
Just then, they both heard it: the sound of ringing bells. That gave Rei the idea.
"O, golden bell, I wish she had remaining life,"
Black cat… You can only give to your own level of animal. Giving to a higher form of animal will need you to give all of them…
"I don't care, then give it all for her…"
"Rei, what are you sayi-"
But he cut her off with a soft kiss on the lips.
"Goodbye Arisa. I've always loved you."
Is my command.
And there was a jingling of bells and Rei was a cat again.
Arisa sat up. She was drenched in her blood, but she didn't feel any part of her body excruciatingly painful unlike a few minutes back. Then, she remembered.
She held the black cat in her arms but he remained limp.
"Rei! Now isn't the time for jokes!" she shouted but she got no response.
She listened for his heartbeat but she didn't find it. Her tears began flowing down her cheeks.
"Oh Rei!" she cried, rubbing her face against the face of the black cat as the firefighters rescued the apartment she lived in, "I love you too… I always have…"
She cried some more.
"And I'll always love you, Rei,"
And she carried his lifeless form in her arms delicately, planting a soft kiss on his nose, which did not show anymore signs of life.
"And I'm so sorry."
Then, she heard the faint ringing of the bell again.
I… I am too Arisa. I guess I'll be waiting for you here.