Chapter 4:

Fighting Like Cats & Dogs

My Crush Is A Nekomata

Ryoko’s POVBookmark here

The next time I saw Maneki was the next morning when Harumi and I were walking to school. I stared up at the bright blue sky, which was dotted with fluffy clouds, as I wondered where she could be. I had kept an eye out for her up until that point, but she was nowhere to be found yet. Harumi must have noticed my worry because she began looking around too.Bookmark here

“Oh hey, there she is!” I looked over to see Harumi pointing back behind us, further down the road. Maneki was there, walking along silently, her eyes focused on the ground. I tilted my head as I watched her for a moment. I could tell that her ears were trying to fold themselves back, but the bow in her hair wouldn’t let them.Bookmark here

Something’s wrong.Bookmark here

I turned around and began running toward Maneki. She looked up at the last moment and her blue eyes widened when she saw me.Bookmark here

“Hey, we were wondering where you were. Is everything okay?” Maneki looked back down again. Her bow twitched as her ears shifted underneath it.Bookmark here

“It’ll be fine. I don’t really want to talk about it.”Bookmark here

“Do you want to walk with us this morning?” She adjusted her bag’s strap on her shoulder as she shrugged.Bookmark here

“I guess so.”Bookmark here

I felt my brows furrow a little at her response, but I turned before she could see it.Bookmark here

“Okay, let’s catch up to Harumi then.” We walked ahead and I realized that Harumi had stopped and waited for us. When we made it to her, we began walking together with Maneki in between us. Harumi and I exchanged confused glances over the shorter girl’s head before Harumi spoke up.Bookmark here

“So, anything new going on with you guys?”Bookmark here

“Not really,” Maneki replied quietly. She was still staring at the ground. Harumi and I looked at each other again. I then looked down at the top of Maneki’s head, my eyes focusing on her bow as worry began to cloud my mind.Bookmark here

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We made it to class on time and Maneki walked off ahead of us to her desk without a word. Harumi and I watched silently as she sat down, slouching in her seat and resting her chin on her palm as she looked out the window. She didn’t bother to pull out her textbook or notebook, she just stared at the leaves shaking in the breeze outside. I turned to Harumi and put a hand on her shoulder. I leaned in close to her ear.Bookmark here

“I have an idea. Follow me.”Bookmark here

As soon as I explained, we set my plan into action. Harumi and I walked right by our spots and headed for the empty desks around Maneki’s seat. I sat down in the one beside her while Harumi claimed the one in front of me. When Maneki heard the sound of the chairs’ legs scraping against the floor, she looked toward us. Her eyes widened immediately and I could see that she was perking up a little. But instead of saying anything, she just looked toward the window again. I tilted my head and looked to Harumi to find her looking back at me and shrugging.Bookmark here

I guess it can’t be helped.Bookmark here

Class went on like usual and Maneki eventually pulled out her book and notes and began to take notes like usual. As soon as the bell rang, she looked over at us and finally said something.Bookmark here

“I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” She got up and left, leaving Harumi and me puzzled to say the least.Bookmark here

“I wonder what’s up with her,” I began, staring toward the doorway.Bookmark here

“You can always ask her on the way home. I won’t be any help because I have an appointment after school and my mom is picking me up.”Bookmark here

“I have work too,” I groaned. “But . . . maybe I can figure something out. Cover me while I get my phone, okay? I need to text my boss.”Bookmark here

“Okay, do what you need to.”Bookmark here

I slouched behind Harumi and pulled my phone out of my bag. I kept the volume muted and typed out a quick message. I sent it off and hid my phone in the bottom of my bag again.Bookmark here

“All right, that should work.” Harumi grinned and gave me a thumbs up.Bookmark here

“Keep me updated.” She turned back around and rummaged through her bag for her notes for the next class. I looked at Maneki’s seat as I wondered if my plan would work.Bookmark here

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Luckily, my boss accepted my request to start my shift a little later that day. My weekday shifts were somewhat slow anyway, so it didn’t bother him. As soon as the last bell rang, Harumi clapped me on the shoulder and ran off, eager to ride home in a car for once. That just left Maneki and me.Bookmark here

“Do you want to walk with me today?” I asked. She seemed to think about it for a moment before nodding.Bookmark here

Our walk home began as silent as our morning was. I would ask some questions and would get the vaguest answers imaginable. That was when I decided to pull out some of the snacks that I had saved for work.Bookmark here

“Do you want some dorayaki? I accidentally packed an extra.” I held the package out to her and she stared at it for a moment. The part about it being an extra was a lie and for a second I was worried that she could tell.Bookmark here

“Sure,” she answered quietly. She glanced up at me, then took the snack out of my hand. She ripped open the package as I began to feel some sort of relief.Bookmark here

At least she answered me.Bookmark here

“Today’s been a weird day, huh?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I guess so,” Maneki admitted with a sigh. “Why’d Harumi run off like that earlier?”Bookmark here

“Oh, she had an appointment today.”Bookmark here

“Ah, okay.” We both fell silent again. I pulled my phone out of my blazer pocket and checked the time. I only had 20 minutes left to get to work. I shut off the screen and took in a deep breath.Bookmark here

It’s now or never.Bookmark here

“Nekomura, you know you can tell me if something’s going on, right?” We both stopped as soon as I said those words. Maneki was standing in front of me now, her mouth open as she held her half-eaten dorayaki in her hands. I continued. “I’ll listen and try to help if I can, but please don’t leave me in the dark like this. I don’t like seeing you sad.” That was when she sniffled and I realized that there were tears in her eyes. “Are you okay?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m all right.” She wiped at her eyes with her sleeve and the dorayaki wrapper crinkled in her hand. “I’m sorry for making you worry. I’ve been dealing with some family issues.”Bookmark here

“You can talk to me about it if you want to,” I suggested. “I won’t tell anyone.”Bookmark here

“It’s nothing,” she replied. “It’s just that one of my family members doesn’t really agree with what I’m doing. He’s been trying to tell me what to do without considering what I want.” As she said those words, an image of my dad’s face flitted through my mind.Bookmark here

Just like me, I realized. Without thinking, I pulled the shorter girl into a hug. I held her close for a moment. I didn’t even realize what I had done until Maneki spoke up, her face pressed against my chest.Bookmark here

“R-Ryoko?”Bookmark here

“Ah, I’m sorry!” I let her go and stepped back. She clutched her dorayaki to her chest and looked down at the ground. I was staring at her when an alarm went off on my phone. I pulled it out of my pocket and dismissed it before looking back at Maneki.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, but I have to go. I have work today but I wanted to walk with you to see if you’re okay. Be safe, all right?”Bookmark here

“Okay,” she replied quietly. I turned and was about to run off back toward the school when a question popped up in my mind.Bookmark here

“Hey, is it okay if I call you Maneki instead of Nekomura? You always call me Ryoko.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I do?” She lifted her head to look at me. Her eyes were wide and her face was turning red. “I’m sorry!”Bookmark here

“No, it’s fine,” I assured her. “I like it, actually. So, can I call you Maneki?” She clutched the hem of her skirt with her free hand, embarrassment written on her face. She didn’t say anything back and nodded instead. I smiled. “All right, see you later, Maneki-chan!” And without waiting to see her reaction, I turned around and ran off as I tried to convince myself that my heart was pounding because I was anxious about being late to work.Bookmark here

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Maneki’s POVBookmark here

I finished the walk back home as I tried to calm my pounding heart. My cheeks were still burning when I made it to the front door, but the feeling quickly dissipated when I actually opened it.Bookmark here

“I’m home,” I said quietly, my eyes immediately meeting Taro’s. We stared at each other for a moment and I realized that no one else was in the room. “Where is everyone?”Bookmark here

“Dad’s working a little late, Mom’s in the kitchen, and Jun and Ken should be on their way home from school. What took you so long?” I felt my face begin to burn again as I remembered Ryoko hugging me. I slouched a little and shifted my bag’s strap off of my shoulder.Bookmark here

“I was with a friend.”Bookmark here

“But I thought you had no friends.” I glared at him as he seemed to consider something for a moment. “Or, maybe you might as well not have friends if they are only human.”Bookmark here

“Shut up!” I snapped. “What is your problem with humans? My friends haven’t done anything.”Bookmark here

“Maneki! Taro!” My mom finally emerged from the kitchen and her eyes narrowed as she glared at us. “What is going on with you two?”Bookmark here

“He’s being a jerk!” I shouted, pointing at my older brother.Bookmark here

“Only because she’s being childish,” Taro grumbled, crossing his arms.Bookmark here

“Enough, both of you!” All three of us fell silent as I felt my body begin to tremble with anger. I clenched my teeth and my fists before I finally spoke again.Bookmark here

“I’m going to get good grades and get into a prestigious college. You can’t stop me. You’ll see.” My mom looked toward Taro with an eyebrow raised, but I didn’t wait to hear what she had to say. I turned around and stormed to my room.Bookmark here

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