Love²
by C.M. Lacey

Chapter One.

The bumpy country road did nothing to upset the sleep of sixteen year old Ichiro Chiba. As the small rusty bus jostled it's passengers back and forth while it drove, Ichiro slept on. Anyone who rode this bus as frequently as the locals would have done the same. He would only wake when all would become still and the familiar hiss of the squeaky breaks signaled for him to wake up when it made it's complete stop.

The truth of the matter was that Ichiro was used to this bus and this country road, having lived his whole life in the small rural town of Kōyajo. Located in Wakayama Prefecture (just south of Osaka), Kōyajo was a small lazy community not known for anything, other than being about a two hour drive from the more popular city of Osaka. Other than that, the town barely had enough population to function, about 5,000 people give or take. The only reason to live in Kōyajo was because they already lived there. A number of people commuted to bigger areas for jobs, while the rest ran the markets, schools, and various town specific jobs.

Hearing the high pitched groan of the buss lurching to a stop, Ichiro's head popped up, and his eyes opened. Lazily, he and the half a dozen or so local people stood up and shambled their way off the bus. Many of them were carting huge bags of things, while Ichiro just had a backpack slung over his back. Stepping off at the bus stop, he got out of the way so the vehicle could continue on it's journey to the next out of the way district. Once it left, he and his fellows separated and started walking to their various final destinations.

If there was one thing that all locals in Kōyajo experienced together, it was traveling on foot. While there were roads and cars, most places were assessable by walking or riding a bicycle. Ichiro lived on the outskirts of town, so he tended to ride a bike to and from school (or various other locations). Because the community was so small, he could leave his bike in the care of a school mate when he needed to abandoned it to go on bus trips and not worry about it being stolen. He did just that the previous Friday, and now Ichiro was collecting it.

As usual, when he arrived in front of the Yanami's home, his bicycle was leaning against the inside fence. His best friend Katsuji lived inside, and had always looked out for his bike when he left it there. He went inside the fence towards his bicycle, picked it up, then climbed on top. Then, without any further delay he rolled out the gate and took off down the road.

It was about a fifteen minute drive to his home from Katsuji's house, but Ichiro didn't mind. The air was it's usual humidity, but there was a breeze blowing along with the air that came rushing into him from riding a bike. The twilight hours in spring was probably the perfect time in Kōyajo to be outside.

Ichiro's mind was on other things as he drove home, thinking about his recent visit to his grandfather's home in Osaka. However as he rolled towards his driveway, he noticed something at is neighbor's house that took his mind off his trip: a moving van. Pulling into his driveway, his head was turned towards the truck, staring at it with curiosity. Usually when a local saw one of these, it was because someone was moving away.

The duplex he lived in always had a vacant neighbor house. No one had ever lived there, not that he could remember. It wasn't that the home connected to his was undesirable (the landlord always made a fuss in maintaining it, and even paid Ichiro to mow it's lawn during the summer), it was that Kōyajo was undesirable. Yet there was a moving van... something so unheard of in Kōyajo that it surprised Ichiro to take pause.

Stepping into his house, he kicked off his shoes by the door, and shut the front door. His parents voices came from inside the dining room, so that's where he headed. Walking over to the table, he gave a wave, then without words pointed towards the front door, indicating to the mystery in the next house over.

"New neighbors." His father told him unnecessarily. Ichiro gathered that much. "Just bought the house a few days ago. Moved in from Osaka."

"Why'd they come here?" Ichiro asked.

His mother answered him. "From what I gather, the Fujinos just wanted to live away from big cities. Apparently they've lived abroad for a good amount of time, but the husband was originally from this area and missed living here. I don't remember him when I was younger, but that doesn't mean he didn't live nearby. He said he has some relatives here, and wanted to settle down to a more quieter life. Through some family connections, they bought Kitamura's Convenient Store, and it seems they are planning on running it from now on."

"I see." Ichiro understood. "Well then... I guess we have some new neighbors."

"They seem like nice people... strange, but nice." The father added.

"Strange?"

"Well the wife is American, and he's been living in the States for all this time, so he's picked up some western habits." The father elaborated. "Still, both of them seem enthusiastic to be living here. It must have been a dream of theirs to come back home."

"Right." Ichiro shrugged. "Well, I need to get ready for bed. School starts tomorrow-"

"About that." His mother cut in. "The Fujinos have a daughter. She's your age and will be going to the same school as you are. I thought it would be nice if you helped her out until she figures things out."

"Oh." Ichiro was taken aback at that. They wanted him to show a foreign girl around? "Uh, okay?"

"Great. Tomorrow morning I want you to meet her at her home, take her to school, then show her around." His mother kept on him. "She's very lovely, but I'm sure all of this is completely new and scary to her."

"Okay, I got it." Ichiro stressed again, then thought of something. "She... She does speak Japanese, right?"

"Fluently." His father relieved that fear. "There's an accent, but it's not so bad that I couldn't understand her."

Sighing a bit of a relief on that front, Ichiro nodded his head. "Alright then..."

After saying his goodnights, he wandered upstairs and went to his room. Unsnapping his backpack, he let it fall to the floor, then kicked it towards the closet. Inwardly he was stressing out a bit about showing this girl around. Other than Shion Mita, his other best friend, he hadn't really connected with too many girls. Ordinarily he was clever and witty, but when he got around girls he seemed to lose confidence and became shy. If Shion hadn't been a childhood friend like Katsuji was, he'd probably have an issue talking with her as well.

Flopping back first on his bed, he looked at the ceiling and dreaded the next day. It would be the start of 2nd year, so first day jitters were enough to deal with. However, showing a foreign girl around just multiplied that pressure up to eleven. Not only was she a girl, not only was she new, but she also would be a beacon for nearly every curious student to hoard around. It wasn't often Kasaka High School got a transfer student, let alone ones from other countries. How was he going to cope with all that?

Groaning, he sat up, rubbed his shaggy hair a few times, then stood up. He wandered over to his desk by the window and casually looked out. Because it was a duplex, his window faced directly into the window of the bedroom on the other end of the house. Ordinarily it was empty, and usually too dark to see into at this time of day. However the bedroom light was on now and he could see a stack of boxes and some furniture clearly inside.

He remembered when he was younger that he, Shion, and Katsuji would open his window, climb onto the roof, walk over to the other house, open that bedroom's window, and go inside. The empty house would then become a secret playground for the three, that room especially. Since they become older (and had been caught doing this a few too many times) they started crossing over to the other house less and less. Now, it seemed, those days were over. Someone lived there now. Their secret playground was no longer available anymore.

He looked into the room for a moment, then turned away and went for his closet. Grabbing pajamas, he left for a shower. Bathing took his mind off of the pressures he'd have to endure the next day. However the warm water could only soothe him for so long. He'd have to face his problems and just get over it. He decided there was no reason to stress out over something he couldn't change and just suck it up and deal with it. It was all well and good to think these things, but actually doing it might prove to be a challenge.

Changing into his pajamas, he exited the bathroom and returned back to his room. He was just about to sit in front of his desk to play around on his computer when his wandering gaze out the window caught his attention. Standing in front of the window was the neighbor girl. She had a towel over her body, as she clearly had also just came from a shower. Their eyes connected in that semi-trance when spotting a person one didn't expect to see.

She was gorgeous. Her eyes were a vivid hazel color that ventured into green territory. While they weren't westernized, her eyes did seem larger but still kept her father's elongated shape. Her long hair was a natural milk-chocolate brown color, looking darker because it was semi-wet from her shower. Her skin color was light golden tone, while her nose and lips were small in a typical japanese beauty. Her body seemed to follow this same trend, being more of he petite variety, though her bust ranged in a more medium range.

He he was staring at her, she was staring back at him with equal curiousity. Then all at once, both of them realized that they were peering into a strangers rooms. Visibly blushing, the girl reached one arm over the top of her towel and pressed it against her chest. With her other hand, she raised it and gave a shy wave. Not knowing what to do, he waved back at her. She gave an embarrassed laugh, then pantomimed shooting herself in the side of the head. Even in this situation, that was funny. He laughed at it.

Biting her bottom lip, she pointed into her room, out of frame, then retreated from view. She had left in a jogging motion, bouncing as she exited his sight. His eyes lingered on her empty room for a moment, then he forced himself to pull his gaze away. His mind was both a buzz with excitement but also numb as well. He hadn't counted on the girl being Hollywood beautiful. He would have thought that might be something his parents would have mentioned. It really shook him.

Pulling his blinds down his window, Ichiro felt that for the time being he'd had to be more careful. He couldn't just look out his window anymore, especially if she didn't have any curtains yet. Still his mind wandered to that perfect form that he saw in a towel. What if she hadn't been wearing anything? Even though he considered himself a gentleman, the primitive part of his mind would have loved to see that.

"Damn it." He swore to himself.

Still his heart raced as the mental image of her almost nudity kept flashing in his mind. It wouldn't be a stretch to think that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in real life. She couldn't be real. Even with her hair wet and pulled back, with no make-up or any kind of enhancements, she was a goddess. Was he thinking this way because he had seen her in a towel? No, that couldn't be it. While he did find her body attractive, he was more drawn to her face, especially those eyes. The more he thought about them, the more green they seemed to be. To be sure it was just the lighting, or his imagination making them more vivid than they really were, but those eyes seemed to draw him in.

"Calm down..." Ichiro murmured to himself, trying to shake himself out of this haze he was in.

He couldn't be acting like this in the morning when he had to meet her. He didn't want her to think of him as some peering pervert. Then again, how they met didn't help matters. He was looking into her room while she was practically naked. No doubt she was embarrassed about that. How could she forgive him for being so immoral?

Not knowing what to feel, he fell into his computer-chair, and opened up his laptop. He needed to get his mind off that creature who had both invaded his secret playground and his mind. She was just a girl... a normal girl. That was all. Even while he tried to talk himself out of this, he knew he was lying. That girl was not normal.

An instant message chimed and popped up, snapping Ichiro from his thoughts.

"Hey, took you long enough." It read. The sender was Katsuji. "How was Osaka?"

Osaka? What was Katsuji talking about? Ichiro couldn't understand how his friend could be talking about that when there was a drop-dead gorgeous girl undressing next door. Then again, Katsuji didn't know that. How could he?

"Gramps is fine. He just want me to help with some spring cleaning." Ichiro found himself typing.

"I could have tagged along. Today was boring." Katsuji typed. "Shion-chan was busy, and I've been avoiding Mayu-chan."

In the dim recesses of his mind, he remembered that Katsuji had been dating the previous year's class representative Mayumi Ishikawa. Out of the girls in their class, she was Shion's friend, and had gotten to know him through her. They had started dating towards the end of the 1st year, though both Ichiro and Shion thought it was a bad idea. She was more into him than he was into her, so Shion predicted that the relationship would end quickly. Somehow it had lasted throughout spring break until this weekend.

"So you and Mayu-chan are over?"

"I had to end it, dude." Katsuji told him. "I could tell she was really starting to fall for me."

"Why didn't you give her a chance? She was nice enough."

"She's just not the one." Katsuji responded.

"She and every other girl in the class..." Ichiro retorted.

It was true. Around Middle School Katsuji had grown quite handsome, and as a result had become popular with girls. He had dated nearly every pretty girl in their middle school and high school classes. While he was a serial dater, he also hadn't taken any of these relationships seriously. They'd go out, have some fun, and once it seemed like the girl was starting to fall for him, he'd dump them. It baffled Ichiro as to why he kept circulating through the girls like that. Some of them he had been a couple with more than once. Why he couldn't be satisfied was beyond Ichiro's understanding.

"I'm just looking for a girl I can have fun with. Mayu-chan said she understood that." Katsuji explained himself, even if he didn't have too. "Like the others, she started to want more than I'm willing to give. So we broke up."

"Someday this casual dating of yours is going to bite you in the ass." Ichiro responded slightly bitterly. "Soon no one will date you.. or else you'll dump the love of your life and won't be able to get her back."

"Maybe you're right... but I doubt Mayu-chan's my future wife."

"Why not?"

"Because she isn't."

Katsuji was his best friend in the world, but in this front Ichiro really hated him. Mayumi was a really sweet girl. Since she was friends with Shion, Ichiro had gotten to know her as well. Like almost every girl Katsuji dated, she was always doing her best to be the perfect girlfriend for him. She got along with his friends and was a fun loving person, but she also was the considerate lover as well. More than once he had seem them kiss, but she also would do cute things like make him lunch. Mayumi wasn't alone in this treatment, others had done this as well. But every single girl he dumped. If even one of those girls had treated Ichiro that way, he'd be the happiest boy in the world.

Still, knowing all this didn't change Katsuji's attitude. No matter what Ichiro or Shion said to straighten him out, he wouldn't listen. He was tired of having this conversation with him over and over, so Ichiro dropped it. Instead he switched to talking about his new neighbors and the start of the new school year. While he did mention the pretty girl next door, he didn't go into detail. Doing so might re-open those thoughts he was having. He couldn't afford to act weird around her tomorrow morning. He didn't want her to think he was a freak.