Chapter 1

I looked around nervously. It was my first day, and as a result I pretty much knew no one. There had been a few people I had met at a meeting for transfer students and their parents, but since I was the odd one out, I didn't really with anyone bond all that much.

Of course, it didn't help at all that I was an American, now attending a Japanese high school. I had just moved here, and had been put into the third year, which here is the last year of high school since they have three years of both middle school and high school.

I moved here two months ago, with my mother. She had gotten a management position for a small firm that worked internationally. My father lived separately from us, but not because of any relationship problems. It's just that the company he works for is currently based in Greece, after they shut down the America branch due to lack of funding.

I know pretty fluent Japanese, and I can understand pretty much anything that's said to me, unless it's something unique to one of the random dialects. My nanny is a native Japanese speaker, so she taught me while I was growing up. Looking back, I am super happy I learned that way, and refreshed my memory with online classes, instead of just taking classes in school back home. My nanny had actually come with us, and was currently employed as a sort of tutor/housekeeper. She helps keep the house neat, though now that I'm seventeen I do that fairly well on my own. She's mostly with us because she likes us so much, and because she's worried I might have trouble settling in to life in Japan.

Honestly, I'm a little worried about that myself. Like I mentioned earlier, I don't know anyone here, and while that'd be a barrier for any kid back home who was transferring to a new school, it was something of a bigger deal when you weren't even a native of the country you were going to school in.

I was currently at my school, and I was going to the main office to check in. I was wearing the school uniform, with the addition of some shorts underneath, because I was never a big mini-skirt person back home in the States, and preferences like that don't just change after a plane flight over the ocean. It had taken me the full two months to even consider wearing the little plaid thing at all, even with shorts underneath. I still couldn't believe the school I was attending had short skirts instead of the longer ones in all the brochures. The rest of my outfit consisted of a white button up blouse that had a dark green tie that matched the dark green and black plaid skirt. I also had a blazer that was dark green, with the school's emblem on the chest pocket. It was currently folded inside my school bag, since I hadn't really felt like wearing it. It made me feel too much like a rich prep-school kid.

I entered the office hesitantly. I could talk to people easily if I wanted, but my nerves right now were so bad, I might open my mouth to say "Nice to meet you, I'm Tessa" and end up stammering something unintelligible.

Oh yes, to spare you the trouble of constant Japanese with my translations, all you're getting for my conversations is the English, unless there's something unique. Trust me, it's a lot easier this way.

I went up to the desk.

"Um, excuse me?"

The receptionist looked up. "Oh! Good morning. How can I help you?"

"I'm Tessa Williams. I'm a transfer student. I was told to check in here before school starts?"

"Ah, yes, of course. Nice to meet you, Tessa-san"

Just so you know, '-san' is a polite suffix when you say someone's name. There are others, which I'll explain as you hear them.

I bowed politely. "Nice to meet you"

"Now, let's see……..ah, here you are." She handed over a slip of paper. "This is the room you'll be going to. I hope someone explained the way we do classes here?"

I nodded. "Yes" My nanny, Aki, had explained. They have just one classroom they stay in, and the teachers rotate through the rooms, teaching their class subject.

"Your homeroom teacher is Kiyama-sensei. She's very sweet, and she also teaches English, so I'm sure you'll get along well. Your other teachers are Washida-sensei, for mathematics and Fuyuki-sensei for history and culture. There are a few other teachers of various subjects that you may come across, but those are your main subjects for the moment."

"Thank you very much" I said, bowing again.

"You're very welcome. Do your best!"

I nodded, trying to smile enthusiastically.

I shivered as I exited the office. A thick fog had settled in, making the air chilly. I still didn't want to put on the blazer, and instead decided to locate my designated room as quickly as possibly. I'd acquired a map of the school at the transfer student meeting, and studied it for a few moments, trying to get my bearings.

I spotted my room, 3-A, on the map right away, but it took me a few minutes to locate it on the campus. Eventually I found it, and took a deep breath. While I stood there nervously, I observed that, for some reason beyond my understanding, the building for my class was set slightly apart from the others. I looked around, and then with some surprise noticed that the other buildings for senior class (classes B through F, since they classify with letters here. You know, Year 1, Class C, or something similar. A student is in the same letter class all the way through school, with the only thing changing being the number designating the grade level.) were also set apart.

I started slightly when a group of five chattering girls entered the 3-A building, completely oblivious to me. In their midst, I spotted another of the transfer students, Miyaki, who had transferred from a school in Tokyo that was downsizing its class sizes as a result of severe budget cuts. She appeared to fit right in with the girls she was with. I felt a small pang of jealously. I swallowed after a second, and followed after then, my stomach fluttering horribly.

I entered into the class room behind the girls, and hesitated when I saw the large classroom with it desks that had unattached chairs. I realized it would be the little differences that might overwhelm me. They were small, subtle things which could easily could be overlooked, but were glaringly obvious to someone like me, who was almost on the outlook for them.

I was on the verge of turning and fleeing the room when I was shoved from behind by some other students coming in. I stumbled sideways, barely catching myself on a desk to avoid completely falling over. I still ended up hitting my knee pretty hard on one of the metal desk legs, and a sharp pain shot down to my foot. I turned around as quickly as I could to see who shoved me.

I saw four kids, all rough-looking boys with slightly tattered uniforms and shadowy stubble. Back home in California, I would have scowled and scolded them, but here I was out of my safety zone of self-assuredness and as a result I could only stare, unable to rebuke them.

"What are you looking at?" one of them demanded of me, glaring.

I flinched. You shouldn't push people around, I wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come out. I swallowed once, but my words were stuck in my throat. They wouldn't come out.

"Oh, what's this? Takaguchi?" another one of the boys asked of his glaring friend, looking over at me.

"That new girl. The American. She won't speak."

"You probably terrified her, Taka." He laughed unpleasantly. His other friends followed suit, though the first one, Takaguchi only continued to leer at me.

I shifted uncomfortably. I began to edge away, surreptitiously looking for a teacher in the room, though as I expected there wasn't one yet, since class hadn't started.

"Wait a moment" Takaguchi said suddenly, grabbing my arm as I tried to get away. "Why don't you come sit with us? We'll take good care of you."

"N-no thank you" I stammered.

"Ah! So you can talk. Well, let's go. Come on"

I tried to pull away. "Please let go."

"Very good manners." Takaguchi's friend observed with amusement. "Won't help you any here though."

I tried to squirm away, unsuccessfully.

"Where do you think you'll be running off to?"

I avoided looking at any of them, beginning to feel my heart rate climb. I had to get away from them.

"Let her go."

The attention of the four thugs was immediately diverted, as if I were no longer anywhere as important as the distraction. Curious despite everything, I managed to twist my head around to find the source of the new voice.

It was another male student, but he looked much more reputable than these four who were accosting me, though he was flanked by a few companions as well, four others who were ranged behind him, two of which were on top of desks.

I could tell at once that these two groups were at odds with one another, and wondered why on earth I'd landed in the middle of such a thing on my first day.

"What do you want, Kitaki?" Takaguchi demanded, scowling.

Kitaki looked at him calmly, and it was at this particular moment when my brain decided to start absorbing his appearance. He was hair that was a little long, but soft looking. Some of it fell into his face, but not very far, just enough to give him that casually stylish look. He was wearing the blazer of the boys' uniform, which for whatever reason is black (doesn't seem fair to me, since I have to wear forest green, but I suppose it's alright since they still have the school's emblem stitched on their coats), but underneath wore a regular T-shirt, which I knew was some sort of rule-breaker since we're supposed to adhere to uniform standards, and they're told to wear a white dress shirt.

"I told you already." Kitaki said casually. "Let her go."

"Why should I?" Takaguchi asked, grinning gruesomely. "What does it matter to you either way?"

"She's just some girl." his friend added, smirking.

One of Kitaki's friends stepped forward, and almost immediately the other two of Takaguchi's lackeys came closer up behind their leader. I couldn't help but try to pull away from this brute again.

"Hey, look here, Kumoda. She does seem to want to get away, huh?" Takaguchi said to his friend, the sneering one, as I struggled. They both laughed, but I noticed Kitaki's expression become slightly shadowed, and his friends tensed slightly, as if they were thinking of jumping at the other boys.

"Takaguchi," Kitaki said quietly "Let her go. Now."

The thug laughed again, and made to grab my other wrist with his free hand, but before he did so, one of Kitaki's friends, one with longer hair, but fluffy so that it didn't appear longer than an upturned shoulder length, grabbed his wrist and held it firm.

I took this opportunity to yank my other arm out of Takaguchi's grasp. The force with which I tugged took him by surprise, and startled he released me more quickly than I had expected, causing me to stumble back slightly. I was prevented from toppling over by a gentle but firm hand to my back, and looking over my shoulder I saw that it was the one with fluffed looking hair, who seemed to have released Takaguchi after I'd pulled away from his grasp.

"Why don't you come back here with us?" he said quietly, nodding towards the back of the class room.

I looked around anxiously, still slightly panicked. I'd rather just find a teacher and start crying, maybe even get transferred to another room. But I caught the eye of Kitaki, and decided to follow him to the back of the room, while Takaguchi and his gang went to the opposite side of the room, far to the front and to the left, where they sat down and glowered at Kitaki and his friends. I couldn't help but shiver.

"You're safe now. He shouldn't bother you again" Kitaki said quietly, not looking at me. He had sat down at his desk, and was starting at the scribbles on the black board.

I darted a glance at him after his fluffy-haired friend had shown me to a seat. The arrangement of the seats in this class seemed to be according to the whims of the students, which made sense considering they were in this room for the entire day.

Kitaki and his friends had set up their desks in a row, with another desk at the left end of the row for me. I was sitting next to my fluffy-haired rescuer, and on the other side of him was Kitaki, and then three more lined up on Kitaki's other side.

I looked them over quickly, afraid to draw attention, but curious all the same.

The one sitting beside me noticed my look. I jumped a little in surprise and ducked my head, still jittery.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Yumegi Hakate" He introduced himself in the traditional Japanese manner, with last name first.

"Nice to meet you" I said nervously, daring another glance over.

He gave a small smile. "This is Kitaki Kashi." He tilted his head to indicate his friend, who nodded slightly. "The next one in line is Aburai Hikaru". This one waved cheerily at me, and I couldn't help but feel a little better as I noticed his easy smile and streaked hair. "On his other side is Tazuki Akira". He gave a half smile as I looked at him, and then looked down at a book on his desk. I noticed his pierced ears, and couldn't quell a small grin. "And finally, there's Danjiki Shimo" This boy was also very cheerful towards me, and waved as well. His hair was spiked slightly, but aside from that, and the T-shirt instead of dress shirt (which seemed to be a statement all five of them took part in) his appearance was more toned down than the others. Not including Hakate and Kashi, of course, who were very good-looking but otherwise somewhat blended in, which most likely was their intention.

"Nice to meet you." I said quietly. "I'm Tessa."

I was about to thank them for helping me when the bell suddenly tolled and our teacher came in.

"Good morning!" she said cheerfully. "I'm Kiyama, and I'll be your homeroom teacher this year. Pleased to meet you." She bowed down, and then bounced back up. Then she looked down at her clipboard.

"Oh, I see we have a transfer student from America. Tessa, stand please, and introduce yourself."

I went cold. I absolutely despised having to introduce myself in new places. If anyone cared enough to want to know my name, all they had to do was ask. I shouldn't have to tell a bunch of uncaring souls my name.

"I'm Tessa Williams. I lived in California. Nice to meet you." I bowed, my legs shaking.

"Thank you very much, Tessa! Now, let's see….we'll start the year with this questionnaire for you all to fill out. It's nothing much just a few questions to help me get to know you and…"

"You're a little hesitant to talk in any situation, it seems." Hakate said softly, as Kiyama-sensei passed out the papers.

I flinched slightly. "Uh…well…" I squirmed nervously.

"It's cute though" Kashi said casually, as though he were only mildly interested. He reached for the papers the teacher was handing him and passed them out to us remaining five in the row. "You're a bit like a little mouse. Very sweet, but a little jumpy. And quiet."

I blinked at him, my mind blank of any sort of coherent answer.

"Uh….okay then." I pulled my paper a little closer and looked over the first few questions.

What is your hometown? San Francisco.

Favorite food? Don't have one, really. Maybe fettuccini pasta.

Dream job? Uh……never thought about it. Probably a librarian.

What university are you hoping to attend? Well…I don't know any universities in Japan.

Goal for this school year: …..Not get into trouble. Try to fit in.

I set down my pencil, chewing my lip. Looking at my sporadic spastic answers, you'd think I was a total lunatic. I mean, there are written hesitations at the start of at least half the questions, and my answers are so random….The only thing I put down without over thinking was that I was from San Francisco.

I sighed. Try to fit in. Well, that was true. Fitting in had always been a challenge though. Even back home I'd been a good bit short on friends most days. I'd spent more time in the library or in the art room than with other kids. I've attributed this at the time to my peers lacking similar interests, but looking back I figure I just couldn't quite get on the same wavelength as anyone I'd met back home. They'd never really seen eye to eye with me.

I wondered whether I could make friends here. I fiddled nervously with my pencil, and started doodling in the margin of the page. I was working on adding detail to the second wing of a butterfly when the teacher called for the papers to be passed forward.

I couldn't help but bite my lip again as I looked down at my drawing, which I'd most likely never see again.

"That's very good" Hakate commented as I handed him my paper to pass forward with the others. "Do you like art?""Uh…yes! I love art, very much!" I was surprised by my own enthusiastic answer, which seemed to startle him as well. I just couldn't help it though. If there was one thing I liked most of all, it was art. I loved drawing, in particular, though painting was great as well.

"Alright, we'll be starting class soon, so get ready for English" Kiyama-sensei announced as the bell tolled again. Somehow the forty minutes of homeroom had already flown by.

Still, I perked up a the mention of English.

"I take it you won't be needing these lessons" Hakate said, looking amused.

I flushed. "No, but I'll like seeing it taught here. I never thought about it before."

Half an hour later, the class members are reviewing some new verb conjugations, and putting them into sentences she assigned them to write.

"To run…running…..what's the past tense?" Hakate asked, frustrated, scouring his notes. "She didn't tell us"

His friends muttered dejectedly. Kitaki flipped a page in his notebook.

"Ran" I supplied unexpectedly.

"Eh?" Shimo peered around the others to stare at me. "Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure." I pointed to a page in Hakate's notebook. "You see, here it says them all in sentences. 'I like to run. I went running.'. To put it in past tense it would be something like 'I ran yesterday'. See?"

They blinked at me.

"I'm from America. I've spoken English all my life" I said a bit crossly. "Stop staring like that"

I turned away, and proceed to scribble in my own English notebook, even though I really didn't need to. I started making a study guide of sorts, though, just out of boredom. I sighed. After ten verb conjugations I'd known since the age of six, I was losing interest. I didn't need to do this, so why bother? I could ace an English test here in my sleep. I started doodling again, but looked up when the teacher came over to look at the work my row mates had done.

"Good! You did it correctly! Some people think 'runned', which is wrong, of course. Well done!"

I smiled, and resumed doodling.

"Thanks for the help" Hakate whispered.

I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He was smiling slightly.

"You're very welcome."

From this point on, if one of them got stuck on a conjugation, they'd think over it for a minute, and then ask me. I'd answer immediately, with no hesitation, which they needed to find surprising, given my earlier avoidance to any sort of conversation.

The bell tolled for lunch, and soon students were standing up and leaving, since at this school you could eat outside if you wanted. And if you were an older student.

I closed my doodled-on notebook, and slipped it into my bag. I pulled out my water bottle and an apple and left the room. I wondered where I could sit without drawing any attention, and was about to make my way to a small shaded cement area underneath a large tree that had been planted in a small circle of dirt ( or maybe the tree was there first, which is more likely, I suppose).

"Hey! Wait a second!" a voice called. It sounded like Shimo's.

I turned slightly and saw Hakate jogging lightly towards me, with Kashi next to him and the others slightly behind.

"Nezumi-chan!" Hakate called.

I blinked. 'nezumi' means 'mouse' in Japanese. "I have a name." I said warily as he came and stood in front of me.

"We know. But Nezumi is cuter, and besides, doesn't it fit?"

I flushed slightly. "Well, yes…."

"You don't mind that much, do you?" Shimo asked.

I thought about it. "No, I don't mind. No one's ever gone to the trouble to give me a nickname before"

"Well, Nezumi-chan, we bothered to, and we were hoping we could bother you with something else"

"What is it?"

"We were hoping you'd hang out with us." Hikaru answered. "You're new, after all. It'd be good for you to have some friends, don't you think?"

"Friends?" I repeated in surprise. I was being invited to be friends with them.

"Unless you don't want to be friends with us" Kashi said casually. He was staring across the courtyard.

I looked over, and saw he was looking at Takaguchi and his crew, who were lounging on a low brick wall that served as a border for the field that was right there.

I looked back to Kashi. "I'd be more than happy to be your friend. I'm not the sort of person worth befriending though" I added.

"Don't be silly" he said quietly, glancing over. "You're interesting, and cute, and I expect you'll be quite talkative once you're not terrified of everything"

"I'm not scared!' I said heatedly. And I wasn't. Just intimidated.

"Fine, fine. Relax." he said calmly, looking away again.

I frowned slightly. "Why is Takaguchi so….." I struggled to think of the right word in Japanese. I couldn't even come up with it in English, much to my surprise. There just didn't seem to be a good word that covered everything. But my new companions understood what I was meaning to say.

"Taka has a grudge against everyone he can't scare into doing what he wants. He never succeeded in scaring us" Hakate gestured to himself and his four friends. "When you first came into the room today, he saw you as a new challenge, a new bit of entertainment. Scare the new foreign girl, make her obedient."

I scowled. "Thug"

They all laughed.

"What?" I demanded.

"You're a very astute mouse." Kashi said, smiling.

"He is a thug" Shimo said "And he enjoys terrorizing people. And he was quite angry when we stopped him from accosting you this morning."

"Thank you" I said gratefully.

"You'd have gotten out some how even if we hadn't intervened" Hikaru said confidently.

I bit my lip. "Very doubtful. I'm not very bold"

"You can be." Akira noted, grinning slightly.

"When I get angry, or flustered. Or if I really care." I hesitated. "I can't act like I normally would here"

"Why not?" Kashi asked quietly.

"It's not California. It's not San Francisco. I can't talk back to someone and tell them they're being inappropriate."

"Why? What's stopping you?"

I blinked. Good question. I didn't have a good answer. "I…I don't know." I stammered, unnerved.

Hakate patted me on the shoulder. "Don't worry over it. Now, how about we tell you about the other kids in class?"

"Um…..okay" I nodded.

So we spent our first lunch together with them telling me about the other class members. Who was the funniest, who was the most obnoxious, who never turned in their homework. They didn't know anything about Miyaki, so I told them what I knew about her from the transfer student meeting.

Eventually the bell rang, and we went back to class. The next session, history and culture, went quickly for me, and I don't find it a particularly memorable. The class after it though, math, I find absolutely traumatizing even in another country.

"And if you take the square root of x and multiple it by the tangent of line y you'll get the derivative of the function" Or maybe that's not what Washida-sensei said. It all gets really garbled for me. Math is and always has been my very worst subject. Something about my brain being too artistic and math being too logical, my mother's best friend, a psychologist, had told me. In any case, I wasn't understanding anything and I was starting to get the beginnings of a migraine headache.

"Are you alright, Nezumi-chan?" Shimo whispered down the row.

I looked up from where I'd rested my head in my arms. I blinked exhaustedly. "I don't really like math"

"It's the same in America as it is here" Hikaru pointed out.

"I didn't like it in America either." I answered. My head ached, and I rubbed my forehead.

"Nezumi-chan?" Hakate looked concerned.

"I'm fine. Just a headache."

"I can help you with your math later if you like." Akira volunteered.

I blinked wearily. "I don't want to trouble you."

"It's no trouble. How about…this weekend? At the library? Or we could go to your house. If your parents don't mind."

"I'm allowed to have people over so long as my mother's not home working. She's going to a meeting in Tokyo this weekend, though, so you can come over."

"Your father?"

"In Greece."

"Your parents don't mind you being by yourself?" Shimo asked in surprise.

"No. I was on my own a lot in California" I noticed their surprised looks. "Why are you all so amazed?"

"It's just that if we had a kid as cute as you, we'd never think of leaving her home alone." Kashi said absently as he copied down the newest math equation.

I blinked in confusion. "What?"

"Don't mind him. Here, you'd better write the problem down, Nezumi-chan"

"Oh, right."

The rest of the class passed pretty much in a blur. By the end of the day, my neck was tense and my headache was worse. As soon as class let out though, and they took me out into the fresh air, I felt better.

"I can't believe math makes you actually physically ill" Shimo commented. "You're so smart, I'm a bit surprised."

"Math doesn't mesh well with my other skills." I rebuked, rubbing my neck.

"Here" Hakate said unexpectedly, and starting rubbing my tense shoulders and neck. I tried to shy away at first, but then decided not to. "You shouldn't let one class subject get you worked up like this, you know" he added after moment.

"I know. But I'm just no good at it, even when I try really hard. Everything gets all mixed up when I try to do math. All I wind up doing is giving myself a headache."

"Hey! New girl!" a harsh voice called out from across the courtyard.

I immediately went cold and shrank away, leaning into Hakate, who at once put an arm across in front of me, keeping me close to him. Under normal circumstances and with any other guy, I would have minded that his arm was crossing my chest, but it was Hakate, and he was protecting me from the vicious thug named Takaguchi, so honestly, I couldn't have cared less if I tried.

"What now, Taka?" Kashi asked, his expression and his voice indifferent.

"Hand over that girl, and we'll let you go"

"You'll let us go?" Kashi asked, looking amused. "I don't see how you're keeping us from going anywhere as it is."

I suddenly felt a chill creep up my spine, and scooted slightly in Hakate's grip to look behind us, at which point I gave a little shout of alarm. But it was too late. Takaguchi's main lackey, Kumoda had snuck around behind us without any of our group noticing, and leapt at Hakate, tackling him to the ground.

I somehow got knocked over in the beginning of this brawl, despite Hakate releasing me right before he got hit and pushing me out of harm's way. I looked up from where I fell, and noticed Takaguchi almost right in front of me.

"Hello again, little girl" He jeered.

I felt my heart rate climb and looked around for someone to help. But all my new friends were busy enough themselves. Apparently Takaguchi had a couple friends in another class because my five friends were up against six others, not including Taka. Who seemed to be freakishly obsessed with me.

"I'm not finished with you yet, you know" He said in a mock pleasant voice.

"We never started anything" I said furiously, seething mad.

"Oh. You're speaking again! Very good. At this rate, we'll become very good friends" He reached for me.

"Stay away from me!' I shouted. This drew the attention of my friends, who suddenly became much more fierce in their fights. They seemed to be really worried about what Taka might try to do to me. Looking behind me, I saw that Kashi was almost about to get out of his fight and come over. Takaguchi obviously noticed this too, because he grabbed me by the elbow and started dragging me up off the ground.

"Come on!" he snarled.

"Let me go!' I shouted, angry and frustrated. I couldn't be this weak. No thug was going to drag me away from my friends. "Let go!" I tore myself away from him, and then he shoved me, sending me sprawling to the ground.

"Tessa!" I heard my friends shouting my actual name, which surprised me.

"Aw, how sweet. But they won't be able to help you." He made to grab me again, this time with both hands to prevent my getting away.

"I can help myself!" I shouted furiously, and brought my right leg up and kicked him on the stomach, hard. Thank goodness I wore shorts.

He doubled over, and I scooted backwards on the pavement. Then I flipped over and looked back at where my friends were. I saw Hakate drop whoever he'd been fighting in the group. I got up and scampered over to him, latching on to his arm while Kashi went to stand over a gasping Takaguchi.

"I warned you earlier to let her go. I thought you'd know better than to try to take her again." Kashi was speaking very coolly, and his expression was almost entirely calm and indifferent, but his eyes were so frighteningly irritated and annoyed, even angry, that I felt a little intimidated by him, and he wasn't even talking to me. I glanced down to see Taka's facial expression, but the only look on his face was one of anger and hate. It made me shiver, and Hakate extracted his arm from my grasp and put it around me. Still needing something to cling to, I wrapped my arms around his waist instead. He didn't seem to mind.

After another moment of silence, Kashi left Takaguchi on the ground and rejoined us. He looked me over, and then knelt down. He reached out a hand and lightly touched my right knee, which had gotten badly scraped when I'd fallen again.

"Does it hurt?" he asked, a flicker of concern in his eyes.

"No." I said. "I'm fine"

"You're sure?"

I nodded.

He stood back up. "Well, in that case, we'd better get going."

"What about Takaguchi?" I asked. "Are we just leaving him? What if he tells someone?"

"He won't say a word." Shimo replied, smirking. "He just got knocked down in a fight by a little foreign girl."

"I'm not little" I said, scowling. "I'm five two."

"Sure."

"I am!"

I glared at Akira who was laughing. Hakate ruffled my loose hair affectionately. I had taken it out of the long ponytail during math in the hopes it would lessen my headache. Now my hair fell long and loose in a slightly wavy brown mass. I have a lot of hair. I have to brush it often, otherwise it gets tangled and it takes forever to unknot it. I usually wear it tied back to avoid such things.

Kashi led us off the school campus and to a gaming arcade that had a snack bar. Hakate and Kashi proceeded to play fuse ball and I was surprised by Kashi's playfully competitive nature, which emerged as he spent time doing fun things with his friends. At one point Shimo and I played five matches. Since I'm not particularly skilled at fuse ball I lost all the matches but one. And that one honestly was entirely lucky. I had just been madly spinning every bar I could, and somehow the ball went in to score for me.

After almost an hour of this sort of thing, it was getting a little late, since we hadn't left school for a little while because of the Takaguchi incident. Looking at a clock, I noticed that it was almost five thirty.

My mother was out of town, so it didn't really matter what time I got home, but I couldn't help but want to be home before it was completely dark out.

"Um….I'm sorry, but I need to go home." I said apologetically once Hakate and Akira had concluded a fierce fuse ball battle.

"That's fine. We were just thinking about wrapping it up now anyway" Hikaru replied.

"We can walk you home if you like."

"Oh, well…That's alright. I'm sure I can find my way on the trains somehow."

"Don't be silly." Kashi said. "Hakate and I will take you home safely. The rest of you should head for home too. Don't worry; we'll get her home alright."

I bid goodnight to the other three as we parted ways, and watched them go off in separate directions. Akira headed for a bus station while Hikaru jogged off in a northerly direction, and Shimo followed road signs to a train station.

"Don't you two need to get home, too?" I asked curiously as we started walking down the street, looking over at Hakate.

"You're inquisitive like a mouse too" He commented, and lightly tapped my nose.

I sneezed.

"To answer your question, yes we have to go home." Kashi said. "But more important is getting you home safe and sound."

"If anything happened to you, we'd feel bad" Hakate added.

"Why? I mean, if I'm stupid enough to walk up cheerfully to a murderer on my way home, I deserve to get killed"

Hakate snorted. "I didn't quite look at it in that way before"

Kashi smiled faintly. "Neither did I. But in any case, it does get dark quickly, and I'd worry if you went home by yourself. Possible criminals aside, you're new to town, and you might get lost. And who knows what sort of mischief you'd get into then."

"Mischief?" I repeated, sounding mock offended.

His eyes sparkled.

After another half hour of walking, we were at my home, a large apartment on the third floor of the building that I technically shared with my mother, but since she was almost never there, it was almost as though I'd been emancipated. And the apartment was very spacious; it took up almost two thirds of the floor, the only other thing on the third floor being a hallway from the stairs and elevator and a custodial closet. So I suppose it's much more of an apartment suite than a regular apartment.

"Thanks for taking me home" I said gratefully as I lingered outside the apartment building's lobby door. "It was no big deal. We might very well do this every day, just to keep you out of trouble." Kashi gave a half-smile.

I flushed. "Well, thanks, anyways, whatever the reason."

Hakate smiled and waved a bit. "Good night, Nezumi-chan."

"Good night!" I replied. "Good night, Kitaki-kun!" I added to Kashi.

"Just Kashi." he answered. "And good night."

I smiled.

"Oh! Nezumi-chan!" Hakate said suddenly as I turned to go.

"Yes?" I turned back.

"Here's my cell phone number. Call if you need anything. Anytime." He came up and handed me a slip of paper. "Kashi's number is underneath, so you can call him too, if you need to."

"You don't mind?" I asked, surprised.

"Not at all. If you need help, you should have someone you can call."

I thought for a minute, and pulled a scrap of paper out of my pocket and scribbled on it, the same thing twice, once on each half of the scrap. I tore it in half, and handed one to Hakate and one to Kashi.

"That's my number. It's for the new phone I just got two months ago. You're welcome to call me anytime, too." I flushed. "Good night"

"Good night"

"See you tomorrow"

I turned and dashed inside the lobby, and the lightly jobbed up the stairs to the third floor, whereupon I unlocked my door and went inside, carefully locking and chaining the door behind me.

I made myself a microwaveable ramen dinner pack and then collapsed on the couch in the living room. I snatched my cell phone off the coffee table and added Kashi and Hakate into my contacts list, which had previously consisted only of my mother, my father, Aki, and the transfer student help line.

I turned the TV on and peeled off the lid of my ramen meal. I was about to start eating when my phone buzzed. I grabbed it, and opened it to see a text message.

I assume you made it inside safely. -Kashi

I smiled, and sent a response. Of course. Nothing dangerous here. As far as I know, anyway.

A few seconds later. I just wanted to make sure. See you in the morning.

Okay. Thanks. Good night.

Maybe I had found a place to fit in after all. And it had only been my first day. I wondered what tomorrow would bring.