Chapter 2

I blinked sleepily as I stared at the TV. According to the news broadcast I was watching, it was seven in the morning. I had just woken up and was slowly munching on a bowl of cereal as I listened to reporters chattering about various things. I was so drowsy my brain couldn't even fully process all the Japanese.

Apparently the various activities of the day before had left me a little more tired than I'd expected. I had gone to sleep at nine and everything too.

I finished my breakfast and followed it up with a small soda in the hopes the caffeine would jumpstart my brain into some sort of state of moderate alertness. I looked at the clock one more time and then set my bowl and spoon into the sink to be washed later, when I returned home.

I drained the rest of my small soda bottle in one go and tossed it into the recycling bin. That's another different system here. There's trash, recycling, and then another category of 'burnable'. I'm still getting used to it, since my whole life there's only ever been 'throw this out' or 'recycle this'.

I left the kitchen and went into my room, where I found my school uniform, which I'd washed last night. I was lucky enough to have both a washer and a dryer, since most people had only a washer, and had to hang their clothes up on clothes lines to dry. And since I needed to wear this uniform everyday, I was glad to be able to wash it as often as I needed. Along with other clothes and things of course. I don't waste water.

I slipped on my white blouse, buttoning it up carefully. Then I slipped on my dark green tie and fidgeted with it until it looked just right. I then picked up the dark green blazer and wrinkled my nose. It was a great blazer, to be sure, but the color put me off a bit. Not that I don't like green. It's actually my favorite color, but I just think black or dark blue would be a better color for a school blazer. Then again, the boys have a black blazer. I sighed, and then folded it up and gently slipped it into my school bag ( a shoulder messengers bag). Then I put on a pair of black sports shorts. It was the only adjustment I had the nerve to do with the uniform, wearing shorts under the small plaid skirt.

Then I brushed my hair until it was light and smooth. I was just setting my brush down and reaching for a hair band when I heard a knock on the door. I scuttled across the house and opened the door, and smiled happily.

"Good morning!" my nanny, Aki, said cheerfully.

"Good morning!" I answered. "How are you?"

"Very well, thank you. And you?"

"Good." I responded, closing the door behind here.

"How was your first day?"

I paused. "Well….I made some good friends."

"Really? That's amazing! Good job!"

"Thanks." I remembered something. "Oh, Aki-san?"

"Yes?"

"Did my mother call you at all?"

"She did, but it was only to remind me that she wouldn't be back until next Monday, and to check in on you a few times to see how you were doing" Noticing my disappointed look, she continued. "She's just so busy, Tessa."

"I know" I said, making my voice sound cheerful. "It's perfectly fine. I don't mind."

"Now, I'll be here almost all day, stocking up your food supply and such. Do you want me to do any laundry?"

"No, that's alright. I like doing it. Could you maybe buy me some fresh celery when you go to the market though?"

"Of course, dear. I know how much you like snacking, and healthy foods are always better"

I flushed. Back home I'd gotten into a bad habit of constantly munching on various snack foods. My worst habit had been the sour cream and onion potato chips, which I had kicked after three months of nonstop purchases of large bags of them. I had since promised myself to try to maintain a healthier range of snack items. Aki heartily supported this change, and always recommended some sort of fruit or vegetable to me.

I looked at my slim wristwatch, which my mother had mailed me as a souvenir from where she was up north. I hadn't worn it the previous day because I'd been so nervous about my first day of school I'd left it sitting on the kitchen counter top after I'd eaten a quick breakfast of cottage cheese and toast.

The watch was very nice. Thin black band with round silver face and numbers in Vivaldi script. Looking at it now, I realized it was seven thirty, and as such I had to start walking to school. It was fifteen minute walk away, and I didn't want to chance getting there just as the bell ring, running the risk of being marked late by an uncaring teacher. Which Kiyama-sensei wasn't, from what I could tell, but still.

"I'm going now" I announced, heading for the door.

"Take care!" Aki called after me as I left.

I walked to school in a state of hyper-alertness. I had been walking for ten minutes and could see the school campus entrance up the street a short way when I noticed two boys crossing the street together, barely glancing up the road to check for cars.

I recognized them immediately. Kashi and Hakate. Two of my new friends. They'd helped me out f that dangerous fix yesterday and I couldn't be more grateful if I tried. They'd most likely done the equivalent of saving my entire school experience here. If that first day had played out in any other way, I might have just gone crying home and become a total shut-in. As it was, things had turned out very well.

Hakate noticed me now, and waved.

"Nezumi-chan! Good morning!"

"Good morning." I answered, waving a bit and quickening my pace a bit so I could meet them at the sidewalk before the school gates.

Hakate, Kashi, and their friends call me 'Nezumi' which means 'mouse'. The don't mean it in a bad way, mind you. They're really sweet about it. Hakate is the most openly affectionate towards me, and I've only known him for a day. He treats me sort of like a little sister, which may sound odd since we're in the same grade, and therefore about the same age, but I suppose it fits. Besides, he says he doesn't mind being a sort of brother figure for me. Not that I'd asked him if he minded. He'd just sort of randomly said that last night at the game arcade when I'd apologized to clinging to him after round two of Takaguchi. I'm not sure what my status with Kashi is. He's very aloof sometimes, but he's a lot of fun to hang out with outside of school. The others too. Shimo's very energetic, and he gets along really well with me, which I'm glad for, because I can't just latch on Hakate for the rest of year or scamper behind Kashi in the hopes he'll fend of the thugs at our school. It wouldn't be fair to either of them.

I joined them and we entered school. We went to the classroom and sat down in our seats, despite the fact class hadn't started yet. That's another thing in Japan that's different. When the bell rings, you're expected to be in class, waiting for the teacher, instead of getting a bell to tell you to go to class.

After a moment Shimo came in, followed my Hikaru ands Akira. There were a couple other students too, Miyaki-of-Tokyo and two of her friends from yesterday, but they took no notice of us aside from whispering about the good looks of Kashi. Which is perfectly fine, he's very good-looking. But you'd think they could be more subtle about it. I frowned.

"A bit disgusting, isn't it?" Shimo asked, coming over to perch on my desk.

"Hm?" I looked up.

"How they giggle and whisper. And how horribly obvious it is."

I laughed. "It is a bit much. Though kids did that where I come from too."

"Have you?"

"Have I what?" I asked curiously, tilting my head up.

"Fawned and giggled over a boy?"

"Who do you take me for?" I asked, putting a hand to my heart as though wounded. He laughed. "No, I haven't" I continued after a second. "it never really seemed…very…profitable."

"Profitable?" Akira repeated, coming over.

"Well, people in general don't really seem to care much about me, so why should I bother thinking about fluffy things like that?"

"Fluffy." Shimo echoed, and then started laughing again.

"Stop laughing at me!" I said, embarrassed. I lightly pushed him off my desk. He slid off, still chuckling. I sighed, but then couldn't help smiling a bit. I can't genuinely be angry with any of them for any longer than about half a minute. I just like them too much, and they're too good-natured towards me and my oddness.

The door slid open and three more students came in, causing my smile to freeze. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. It was Takaguchi's friends, and even though he was nowhere to be seen, they were more than enough on their own to churn my stomach and make me ill.

Shimo noticed my new dark expression and looked over his shoulder. "Oh, right. I'd forgotten. I told my father about what happened yesterday, and Taka's been suspended pending investigation."

"What?" I asked, startled. "Your father?"

"He's on the board of school directors for this district" he answered casually.

"Am I in trouble too?" I asked, suddenly frightened.

Shimo looked down at me in surprise. "Don't be ridiculous. Taka came after you. Besides, this isn't the first time he's gotten into trouble like this. It's clear he's the offending party."

"Maybe they'll finally expel him" Hikaru said absently, pulling out a homework sheet he hadn't quite finished yet. Luckily it wasn't due until tomorrow.

"Expel him?" I asked.

"I doubt it." Kashi commented. "His mother's got pretty heavy influences on the board. Regardless of your father's presence, Shimo, if she presses them to not expel him, he'll be back here in no time."

I swallowed. "His mother?"

"She funds a lot of school projects" Hakate explained to me. "He's been getting into trouble ever since middle school, but his mother puts so much money into school funds, they won't want to risk her stopping the cash flow."

"So they'll let him back in" I finished slowly. I slumped down over my desk.

"Nezumi-chan?" Akira said, surprised by my sudden mood deflation.

I stared over at Takaguchi's three friends, who were shooting me venomous looks. I can't blame them, really. It could be interpreted by a biased person that this whole mess was my fault.

"Don't worry about him. Or any of them." Kashi said quietly. He was looking at the three remaining thugs, with a carefully calculating expression. "We can protect you from them."

I looked over at him, and I knew my expression was both pouting and apologetic.

"It's really no trouble" Kashi said absently. "And it's not your fault. This would've happened eventually to some other person, even if you hadn't been here."

"It was only a matter of time before he did something incredibly stupid." Akira told me reassuringly.

I shifted in my seat again, still a little upset. I decided to put it out of my mind for now though, and reached for my school bag, and started pulling out my binder.

It slipped from my hand and fell to the floor behind my chair, scattering papers, when I saw Kumoda, one of Taka's lackeys start making his way over to us.

"You caused us some trouble, little girl." He said as he stopped a few feet in front of us. He looked pretty angry, and I felt a small twinge of alarm in my stomach. But then I couldn't quell the surge of irritation. He reminded me of the less-pleasant human specimens back home, because there are thugs everywhere in the world, unfortunately. A few of the ones back home had been a little like this. Felt entitled, and when they deemed you to have slighted them would fly into a rage, or similarly became vengeful towards whoever they thought was to blame.

"Say something, little girl!" he snarled at me, drawing the attention of Miyaki and her two friends, who were the only other students in the room aside form the thugs.

"Who do you think you are?" I burst out angrily, shooting up out of my seat. I felt my friends' looks of surprise, followed by Hakate rising slowly to his feet as well. Shimo was perched on Akira's desk, carefully observing while Akira and Hikaru had put down their book and homework respectively.

"Oh, so bold now, aren't you?" he sneered and reached to grab me. I slapped his hand away, and he retreated a step, staring at the red splotch on his hand. I hadn't softened the slap at all, and I couldn't help but feel a little pleased as I saw him look at me with shocked eyes.

"As you can see, Tessa can look after herself quite well. But she's also with us, so I suggest you let this go. At the very least until Taka gets un-suspended." Kashi said aloofly. "If you pursue her, you'll be worse off at the end of it."

I glanced over at Hakate nervously. He nodded reassuringly.

Kumoda seemed to have been snapped out of whatever thug-trance had been on him, and hurriedly returned to his seat, with his friends shooting us dark looks.

I started shaking and nearly fell back into my own seat.

"Nezumi-chan?" Akira asked, concerned.

"I can't believe I hit him" I said in a mortified whisper.

"You only slapped him a bit" Kashi amended quietly.

"His hand was red!" I countered."He had it coming" Hikaru supplied. "Trying to grab you like that."

"I shouldn't have hit him" I said worriedly, chewing my lip. "I'll get into trouble."

"Nezumi-chan, you need to stop worrying. You won't get into trouble for defending yourself."

I continued to fret, twisting my hands together.

"If it makes you feel better, I'll tell my father what happened." Shimo said, as he went over to my binder and picked up the papers that had come out..

"What?" I asked, frightened.

"He's on our side. He knows Taka's friends are just as much a nuisance as he is. My father can make sure that even if Kumoda's parents file a complaint, it won't reflect badly on you." He noticed my hesitation. "I promise, it's won't look bad for you."

"Okay. Thank you." I rearranged the papers in the binder, sorting them out carefully.

"Your drawings are very good" Shimo said unexpectedly. "Have you ever considered being an artist for a career?"

"Oh, no. I don't think so. I'm not really good enough, and besides, artists need to do commissioned artwork sometimes, and I don't think I could do that."

"We can help you practice."

"Huh?"

"Draw me a frog"

"A…frog?"

"Yeah."

"Um….why?"

"Because I want to have a sketch of a frog. In exchange I'll give you….."

"A chance to help you study up on English" I said suddenly. "You need someone to help you, right?"

He smiled. "I'd like that, but isn't that you doing all the work, drawing and tutoring?"

"Drawing isn't work, and I'd like to help you guys with your English studies. "

"Okay then."

The bell tolled, and homeroom started, during which I wrote up a list of new vocabulary Kiyama-sensei had given out yesterday, along with definitions and little sketches of each term to the side. After I did a list of thirty terms, I did it all again four more times. I noticed that the pictures were a little different each time, but that was alright.

After I finished the study sheets I passed them down the row, and they each took one.

"You drew little pictures" Hakate said in amusement. "Very cute"

"Don't tease me" I responded, before pulling out a single sheet of sketch paper and outlining a frog shape. I was just starting to add main features (eyes, the smiling mouth. The little nose slits.) when the bell rang and English class started. I could risk not paying attention in this class, but out of respect for Kiyama-sensei I always listened and did the class work she gave us. But the time allotted to studying new verb conjugations or vocabulary was entirely wasted on me, and as a result I spent my time today helping my friends work their way through some new adjectives.

At the end of the class they had a relatively good grasp on it, and our next lesson, history, started with the entrance of the teacher. I had to take detailed notes for this because I knew almost none of it. At the end of the class, I had four pages, front and back, about the Edo era, which I'd have to study when I got home.

As we transitioned to the next class, and the next teacher came into the room, I couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive. Math was my worst subject by far. In this class I struggled to try to keep up with the problems on the board, but couldn't prevent the onslaught of a headache, at which point Akira started writing little in-depth explanations for the problems on scraps of paper that he passed to me. I gratefully copied them into my notes, and proceeded to partially block out the teacher's voice.

At the end of that class, the day was almost over, making it just about four in the afternoon. I rubbed my eyes as Washida-sensei wrote tonight's homework assignment on the board. Twelve problems from one chapter in the textbook, fourteen problems from another. I sighed and buried my head in my arms.

"It's not so bad" Akira said encouragingly after the bell rang and people started leaving the room.

I blinked exhaustedly. "Not for you, maybe. But I doubt I can get one of these problems right, let alone twenty-eight of them."

"You just need to look over your notes a little more."

"I could spend ten years staring at them, and it wouldn't make a difference."

"Come on, Nezumi-chan, cheer up" Hikaru said, smiling at me. "Just work a little harder on math, and I'm sure you'll do fine"

"You could study math during the English classes" Kashi offered.

"Oh. That's a good idea" I said appreciatively.

He smiled slightly.

"So, Nezumi-chan, what should we do?" Hakate asked suddenly.

"What?" I asked, confused.

"For fun." Shimo explained

"Uh….I don't know. What do you normally do?"

"The arcade, mostly. Sometimes bowling."

"I haven't been bowling for a while."

"You bowled back home?" Hikaru asked in surprise.

"Just a couple times, with my dad before he moved. And once on a class field trip."

"Were you any good?" Kashi asked.

I blushed. "Not really. I was too nervous to concentrate most of the time."

"Well, we can go for bowling if you think you'll enjoy yourself."

"Okay!" I said enthusiastically. I had only known them for these two days, but I enjoyed spending time with these guys. Honestly, if they'd decided to go cliff jumping, I would have gone along. Just because they're fun to be around.

"How long can you stay out tonight, Tessa?" Kashi asked me as we walked along the sidewalk.

"Well, I'm not sure. Maybe I'd better call Aki-san."

"Aki-san?"

"She's…my…well, she's my nanny. But not so much anymore. She's more of a family friend. She looks after me, sort of, when my mom's not around."

"Does your mother travel often?"

"I guess so. I never really notice though. She's been like that since I little."

"Don't you mind?"

"Not really."

"Hm."

"What?"

"Nothing. Don't you need to call?"

"Oh! Right." I took out my cell phone and dialed Aki's number.

"Hello?"

"Aki-san? This is Tessa."

"Oh, Tessa! Good afternoon. How are you?"

"I'm good. How are you?"

"Fine."

"I'm glad. Oh, I wondering if there's a certain time I'm supposed to be home? Did my mother tell you anything about that?"

"Hmm…well, no, dear, she didn't. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I was planning to hang out with my friends for a while. I probably won't be back for a little while."

"I don't think it should be a problem, Tessa. You have your cell phone. I can call you if there's an emergency. I'm not expecting your mother to call, so…there you go."

"Okay. Thank you very much Aki-san!"

"Don't mention it, dear. But I'm on my way out to the market now, and I'm hoping to drop the groceries off and then go home, so I won't be here when you get back. And I won't be stopping by for a few more days. Will you be alright?"

"Yes, I'll be fine. Thank you!"

"Alright, dear. Goodbye."

"Goodbye!" I clicked my phone shut, and turned back to Kashi. "Everything's fine. It won't be a problem." I smiled happily. "Aki-san is really a great person"

"She does sound very kind." Kashi agreed. "And it sounds like she cares about you a lot"

I was about to answer when suddenly Shimo called back to us. "Hey, look, we're almost there, Nezumi-chan! Let's hurry!"

I looked to where he was pointing and saw a large building with a neon sign announces its status as bowling alley. I couldn't help but smile.

"They have good smoothies here" Kashi said unexpectedly.

I must've given him an odd look, because when he saw my expression he smiled.

"I'll buy you one" he promised.

"Uh, no, I….that's okay…you don't have to…" I trailed off as he clearly wasn't paying attention to what I was saying now, as he walked forward in front of the others and pulled out his wallet.

Kashi single-handedly paid for our bowling lanes, and also offered to pay for everyone's snacks and drinks. I couldn't believe he was so generous.

"Don't worry." he said when he saw my wide eyes. "I don't normally buy my friends everything so thoroughly, but it's your first night here, so I want you to enjoy yourself. And they have more fun when they don't have to pay, as well." he added, laughing.

I grinned. Seeing Kashi outside of school was really great. At school or in conflicts he was always sort of aloof, and not really there. He answered and spoke absently, as though his thoughts were elsewhere, or he didn't particularly care. But when hanging around with his friends he joked and teased and acted normal. It was really interesting.

"What flavor?" he asked me now.

"Hm?"

"For your smoothie." He explained, waving at me to follow him.

I trailed after him, taking in the atmosphere of happy playful energy that permeated the bowling alley.

We stopped at a snack booth.

"There," he said, pointing to a menu that appeared to be just to a wide variety of smoothies. "Pick one."

"Wow. There's a lot." I said, staring.

"May I help you?" a cheerful vendor asked, coming up to the counter.

"Um…" I hesitated. I hurriedly looked over the menu. "Well….."

"So indecisive" Kashi laughed.

"Shush." I waved him into silence, and he subsided, chuckling to himself.

I turned back to the vendor. "May I have the strawberry kiwi please?"

"Of course. It costs nine hundred seventy yen."

"Sorry" I say to Kashi as he hands over the money. " I can pay for it myself, if you want"

"Stop that. I said I'd buy you a smoothie." He tossed a carefree smile in my direction and I laughed.

"Here you are." the vendor said, handing the smoothie to Kashi, who promptly passed it off to me.

"Thank you very much." I said, smiling at the woman behind the counter. She bowed politely, and then Kashi led me away, back to our lanes.

As we walked I sipped on the smoothie.

"Is it good?" Kashi asked casually.

"It's fantastic! I love it!" I said enthusiastically.

He appraised my expression with a quick look, and then burst out laughing.

"What is it?" I demanded.

"You're so excited about everything new that you try." He answered breathlessly, still laughing slightly.

"Is it that entertaining to watch me?" I asked, frowning a little.

"It's interesting. You're very cute."

I blinked. Not quite the answer I had expected to hear. "Uh, well…"

"Kashi! Nezumi-chan!" Shimo called. "Hurry up."

"Come on" Kashi said, taking my elbow lightly.

We jogged back to our lanes.

"What is it?" Kashi asked.

"It's your turn on our side. And it's Nezumi-chan's turn for their side."

Kashi smiled, and then retrieved his bowling ball from the line-up. I set my smoothie down and scampered over to fetch mine, which was relatively light when compared to theirs.

On my lane, the team consisted of me, Shimo, and Hakate, while Kashi's team had Kashi, Hikaru, and Akira. I was incredibly nervous about bowling. I mean, I hadn't done this in ages, and besides, I was a girl. Hence the lighter bowling ball. Lack of muscle mass comparatively.

I swallowed.

"Go, Nezumi-chan!" Shimo cheered.

"Do your best!" Hakate encouraged.

I managed some facial expression that was something of a smile and something of a pained look. I pulled my arm back, and heaved the ball.

It rolled firmly down the middle, knocking over all the pins.

I gaped at the end of lane. How the heck had that happened?

"Well done, Nezumi-chan!"

I blinked, and retreated back to the bench, grabbing my smoothie.

Hakate smiled "You still have another throw you know."

I nodded distractedly.

"You alright?"

"Uh…..what just happened?"

He looked confused. "What do you mean?"

"Just now. When I threw the bowling ball."

He looked over my shocked expression, and laughed. "You got a full score. You pulled us up to tie with Kashi and the others" he added, grinning.

I looked over, and saw Kashi do his first throw. It rolled easily, knocking down all the pins but two.

"Why didn't he go at the same time?" I asked curiously.

"I expect he wanted to watch you" Hakate answered, sounding amused.

"Eh?"

"You're cute." He said offhandedly. "And you looked really serious about the bowling once you weren't jittery anymore"

I smiled. "Now I just have to go through the whole process again."

He laughed. "So, stand up. Let's get your ball" He retrieved it from the machine, and handed it to me. I hefted it slightly, then walked back over to our lane.

This time I focused entirely on the bowling, skipping the worrying completely. I heaved the ball, and it hit all the pins but one. I scowled.

"Darn." I muttered as I sat back down, sipping on my smoothie.

"You did great, Nezumi-chan!" Shimo said, bouncing over to sit next to me while Hakate did his turn.

"Not really"

"I'm serious! That was amazing!"

"Thanks." I said, smiling.

The night passed easily, as we bowled talked, and ate. For dinner we had pizza and salads. Hakate had teased me as I nibbled on a huge leaf of lettuce. Kashi had laughed and then handed me another once I'd finished, asking me to do it again.

"You're very cute" was the only explanation I could get out of him. I had scowled and opted for a slice of cucumber instead, causing them all to laugh. Kashi smiled at when I glared at him, and I more or less relented, finishing my cucumber and eating the gifted lettuce.

In short, we had a great evening. I really wished it could have gone on forever. But, unfortunately, life doesn't work that way, and it was soon almost ten o'clock at night.

"Well, I need to go home." Hikaru said once we're settled the bowling contest. Kashi's team had won, since one of Shimo's balls had gone in the gutter, and Kashi had suddenly started hitting all strikes, looking very pleased the entire time. Akira and Shimo had responded that they had to get going too, and surprisingly quickly, it was just me with Hakata and Kashi. I wondered if it would always be like this at the ends of our outings, just me and them.

"Shall we take you home then?" Kashi said.

"Uh, yeah, I guess so. Though I really can make it by myself." I added, frowning slightly.

"I don't want to risk it" Kashi commented. "You'd be surprised the kinds of people hang out in these streets during the night"

"It's pretty much the same as back home." I argued, but without any serious enthusiasm. There was still the glaringly obvious fact that I wasn't back home in San Francisco, and I did have to be more careful here.

Kashi noticed my lack of argumentative passion and gave me a knowing look. I stuck my tongue out at him, and he smiled. Hakate chuckled, and ruffled my hair. I'd decided to wear it out after school, since it was better for the headaches that were there at the end of the day, and also just because it felt nice. The guys also seemed to like it.

We were rounding the corner onto the road where my apartment building is, when I heard a scream. It came from in front of the apartment complex, and I felt a sharp spike of alarm. From here it looked like there was a thug attacking a woman, who had fallen onto the sidewalk. I unlatched myself Hakate and started jogging over, an upsetting feeling causing my heart beat erratically.

I heard Hakate and Kashi follow me, and they were taller, so they were about to catch up, when suddenly they stopped moving forward altogether. A second later, I froze, for a different reason.

The woman on the sidewalk was one I knew. It was Aki.

And the thug towering above her was Takaguchi. My mind reeled. I dimly noted that Taka was the reason Kashi and Hakate had stopped. It was probably a shock, not just seeing him when we expected to not have to deal with him for a bit, but also seeing him in front of my apartment building. I had stopped because my close family friend, my caretaker, was lying on the ground at his feet.

A small part of my mind observed the small convenience store bag that had tumbled form her arms when she'd fallen. Broken celery stalks poked out of the top.

Another part registered that Takaguchi was shouting something at her, at the closest passerby ran into the apartment lobby, to tell the receptionist, who was also a sort of pseudo-doorman. Though clearly not one who took literally the idea of guarding the door. But my mind ignored these useless observations, and instead took a moment to figure out what Taka was shouting at Aki.

"I know that girl lives here! Where is she?!"

"No…please….I….don't know…"

Poor Aki. My Aki. Sweet Aki, who'd never hurt anyone in he entire life, as far as I knew. Gentle, kind, affectionate. Caring. On the ground because of this thug.

I felt my eyebrows come down in what no doubt was some sort of dangerous looking scowl or angry expression. My heart was not even, but really pounding. I felt an overwhelming urge to smash something. I decided to start first on Taka.

"Hey!" I shouted angrily. "Over here!"

Taka looked up, surprised, and an expression of fury crossed his face before he started walking over.

I felt Kashi and Hakate give little startled jumps.

"What're you doing?" Kashi whispered urgently in my ear.

I didn't answer. Hakate grabbed my elbow, trying to shake me out of my angry trance.

"Let go." I said angrily, pulling my arm out of his grasp. "I need to settle this."

"The police will take care of it. We need to get you out of here." Hakate answered, looking both concerned for me and injured about my yanking away.

"That's Aki!" I exploded, alarming them with my ferocity. "My caretaker! He's hurt her trying to get to me! I'm not letting him get away with it!" I spun away from them and was about to stride forward to attempt some sort of retribution when I felt them grab me again.

"Will you get off me?" I asked, upset. "What's the big problem?"

"We can't let you get hurt, Tessa" Hakate said, "and besides, isn't it better to look after Aki than get yourself into trouble fighting?"

I struggled, but with minimal effort. His argument was valid. And my vengeful adrenaline surge was ebbing now, diminishing down into nothing. I began to feel alarmed. Taka was still coming, after all.

Kashi seemed to notice my sudden shift of priorities, and immediately put an arm around my waist, pulling me around behind him, protectively. Hakate planted himself firmly in front of the two of us, looking as though Taka would have to kill him to get through. I felt concerned.

"It'll all be fine" Kashi said reassuringly.

He was right, of course. Within a few moments, before Taka had even had time to throw a single punch, a police car had pulled up, and three officers had jumped out, grabbing Takaguchi and arresting him for assault. I felt a sort of chilling numbness. What if it had been me he had gotten to, instead of Aki? Or if it had still been her, but we'd stayed out later than we had? Would one of us still be breathing?

"Are you Tessa Williams?" an officer asked, holding a notepad.

I didn't notice. The only thing my brain was absorbing was the detail of Aki's injuries as they loaded her into an ambulance. Her lip was bleeding and swollen, and there was a jagged cut above one of her eyebrows. One of her cheeks was badly swollen and already starting to bruise. I felt my stomach clench with fear. Poor Aki. This was all my fault.

"Excuse me, but are you Tessa Williams?" the officer asked again, sounding impatient now.

"Yes, she is" Kashi answered for me. "I'm sorry, but she's had a bit of a shock. That was her family friend who was attacked. So I'm sorry, but now's no the best time for this." He sounded protective as he said this, and there was definitely a faint frown as he looked at the officer who seemed intent only on gathering the information.

"Is your mother Maria Williams home?"

I blinked, unable to comprehend anything in my current state. It was like my mind had vaulted between too many extremes and needed to reboot. Seriously, the only words I got out of that were 'okaa-san', meaning mother and 'desu ka', the ending question-ness of what he said.

"Not here" I mumbled, figuring that would cover just about anything.

"Where is she?" he pressed.

I only shook my head, unable to form any sort of answer. I leaned my head into Hakate's chest, and he put his arms around me.

"Her mother's out of town right now. Up north somewhere."

"Where, exactly?"

"We don't know."

"Is there anyone else at home right now?"

"No. It's only Tessa-chan. And Aki-san."

Aki. My mind flickered to life. I turned to look up at Hakate. "I want to go see Aki"

"We need to take you down to the police station first. To get your statement." The officer interrupted.

"Later." I said, frowning.

"No, I'm afraid we'll have to go now."

"Well, I'm afraid I'm not going to come with you." I stared at him levelly. He clearly thought I had some part to play in this. I could tell from the way he eyes looked haughty, and from the set of his lips, almost in a smirk.

He reminded me of a campus guard back home from during middle school days. I had been going to a private school, and there had been a rash of thefts. As a silent and moody loner, I had been singled out as the culprit and they had all assumed I had done it. Which I hadn't, but I could clearly remember the looks they had all had one their faces, my teachers, the assistant principals, even the other students. And that one guard had been the one to question me about my relationships to other students. He had seemed very sure of himself, as he asked me almost rhetorical questions about my closeness to the other students. As if he knew the answers, and was just waiting for a torrent of tears accompanying a confession.

Being just a child then, I had remained silently terrified until my mother arrived and scolded the entire school staff for their assumptions. The true culprit turned out to be one of the in-crowd, a girl named Bridget who had kleptomania. But here and now was different. I had to go get to Aki, and this uncaring officer was not getting in my way.

"I'll have my mother call the station later on" I said dismissively, in a cool voice.

"Now, wait a moment" he said, surprised as I suddenly walked past him.

"I'm very sorry, but I have to go to the hospital." I turned around and looked him straight in the eyes. "I promise my mother will contact the police station soon. May I please go to the hospital to visit my friend?"

The officer seemed to realize I really wasn't going to let him push me around. He hesitated, and the nodded. "Later, then."

I nodded.

"What's fastest way to get to the hospital?" I asked Hakate over my shoulder.

"There's a train leaving the station in two minutes that stops right near there."

"Good." I broke into a sprint.