Chapter 5:

Staying Pawsitive

My Crush Is A Nekomata

Ryoko’s POVBookmark here

“So, Ryoko, how have classes been going?” I lifted my gaze up from the eggs on my plate to look at my dad, who was sitting across the table from me. It was one of his rare days off from work and he decided to spend it relaxing at home. Unfortunately, that also meant that I had to see him before heading out for school. He looked at me expectantly as I chewed and I realized that it was the first time that I had seen him in casual clothes in a while.Bookmark here

Really, right now? I swallowed.Bookmark here

“They’ve been fine,” I answered. I took another bite of my breakfast as he ran his fingers through his dark hair. He looked toward the calendar on the wall and continued talking.Bookmark here

“Exams should be coming up soon, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, they’re next week.” He nodded and looked away from the calendar, focusing on me again.Bookmark here

“I can’t wait to see your scores. I bet you’ll make it into the top five in your class.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know about that . . .” My voice trailed off when I noticed that he was staring at me coldly. His eyes narrowed.Bookmark here

“You haven’t been blowing off your studies, right?”Bookmark here

“Of course not,” I replied, looking back down at my food, “but I wanted to tell you—” That was when his phone began to ring, cutting me off. I stopped talking and he pulled his cell out of his pocket and looked at the screen.Bookmark here

“Oh, it’s a work call. I’ll be right back.” He got up from his seat as he answered it and stepped out of the room.Bookmark here

Of course, right when I’m about to say something. I let out an exasperated sigh and got up from my seat, pushing my chair back with my legs. I dropped the rest of my eggs in a plastic bag and sealed it after I put my plate in the sink. I took the bag with me as I headed for the front door.Bookmark here

I’ll just eat on the way.Bookmark here

I peered into the hallways to make sure that my dad wasn’t there, slipped on my shoes, and grabbed my bag. I headed out the door without saying a word.Bookmark here

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“Hey, exams are next week, aren’t they?” I slouched my shoulders when Harumi mentioned them. I walked along with her and Maneki as I ate my leftover breakfast. I was about to gripe at Harumi for bringing it up when I saw Maneki perk up a little from the corner of my eye.Bookmark here

Up until now, she had been quiet like the days before, but once Harumi mentioned something academic-related she finally looked up from the pavement.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, they are.” She looked up at me and smiled. Since my mouth was full, all I could do was smile back at her in response. That was when she realized that I was eating. “Ryoko, why are you eating right now? Won’t you get your uniform dirty?” I held up a finger as I motioned for her to give me a second to finish chewing. Then I was able to speak.Bookmark here

“I didn’t have enough time to eat at home,” I replied bluntly, “and if I don’t eat, I’ll just be hungry all day until lunch.”Bookmark here

“True.”Bookmark here

“Nah, you just love food,” Harumi teased, her mouth stretching into a grin. I nudged her shoulder with my elbow and she laughed. When I looked back over, Maneki had her hands up near her chest. They were clenched into fists and she was looking at the ground again.Bookmark here

“Are you okay?” I asked. She turned her gaze up toward me and smiled. It almost looked like her eyes had turned into a brighter color of blue. She nodded.Bookmark here

“I just hope that I do well on the tests.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, me too.” I turned my attention back to the road ahead as a thought popped into my mind.Bookmark here

Maybe my dad would get off my back if I did make it to the top five.Bookmark here

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When we got to class, Harumi and I took our new seats again next to Maneki. Once class was in session, Maneki and Harumi buckled down to take notes, but my focus wandered elsewhere. I tried not to make it so obvious that I wasn’t paying attention and pretended to read the textbook until some movement caught my attention from the corner of my eye.Bookmark here

It was Maneki since she was scribbling down notes on her paper. She bit her lip a little as she wrote and I couldn’t help but stare. She was so focused that it seemed like she wouldn’t look up even if the classroom was collapsing around her. That dedication and focus were exactly what a top student would need, not that I expected any less from her since she was determined to get into a good college.Bookmark here

In comparison, I was the average girl who got decent grades and was spending her time staring at someone else instead of working.Bookmark here

Maybe I’m not cut out for this, I thought to myself as I looked away. I rested my chin on my palm as I looked back down at my textbook, my eyes pretending to follow the lines. I have work today again.Bookmark here

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Maneki’s POVBookmark here

I stared at the plastic bag in my grasp as Ryoko, Harumi, and I exited the konbini. It was after school and we had met up to walk home together again, but this time Harumi asked if we could stop at the store on the way home. I looked over to see Ryoko wearing her work clothes, which consisted of black pants and a white button-up shirt. She had the collar slightly open, more than our uniforms would allow, and for some reason it made her look cool in a way. She pulled a blue popsicle out of the bag that she was carrying and stuffed the rest of the snacks that she bought into her school bag. Harumi was already wandering over toward a seating area nearby when Ryoko looked toward us.Bookmark here

“Are you sure that you guys want to sit and eat?” she asked. “I won’t be able to go much further if we do. I think I’m low on time.”Bookmark here

“It’ll be fine,” Harumi replied, sitting down on a bench. She patted the open spots on either side of her after she set her bag down in her lap. “Might as well eat something before you go, right?”Bookmark here

“I guess so.” Ryoko and I sat down on either side of Harumi and Ryoko opened the wrapper to her popsicle. Harumi was munching on an onigiri when she noticed what Ryoko was doing.Bookmark here

“You’re going to have a popsicle before you go to work? Will that be enough?” Ryoko pulled the frozen treat out of her mouth and raised an eyebrow at her.Bookmark here

“What else am I supposed to do with it? If I leave it in the bag it’ll melt before I get off work.”Bookmark here

“Ah, I guess you’re right.”Bookmark here

We were all laughing at Harumi’s airheadedness when Ryoko’s alarm went off. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and dismissed the shrill ringing. She slipped it into her bag before adjusting the strap on her shoulder.Bookmark here

“That’s my cue,” she said with a sigh. She stood up from her seat and lifted her hand as if to wave. “I’ve got to head off to work. See you guys.”Bookmark here

“All right, I’m going to go ahead, too,” I replied. “If I don’t get home soon, all of my popsicles will melt.” Ryoko nodded while Harumi began to protest.Bookmark here

“So you’re both ditching me?” she whined.Bookmark here

“Don’t be sad, you’ve got snacks!” Ryoko teased. Harumi crossed her arms, but the look on her face showed us that she wasn’t being serious. We laughed again and waved to each other and split off, Ryoko walking back toward the direction of the school while I ran down the road.Bookmark here

I made it home in what I thought was about ten minutes. As I was walking down the street, I rummaged through my bag to check the popsicles I had bought. They were starting to melt, but they were still cold to the touch. I had bought a pink one for myself, two orange ones for Jun and Ken, and—Bookmark here

“What took you so long?” I looked up from the frozen treats to see Taro standing in front of the door, his arms crossed.Bookmark here

“I got some stuff at the konbini with my friends,” I answered. Taro let out a frustrated sigh and turned toward the door.Bookmark here

“You’re wasting your time,” he mumbled. I felt my gaze sharpen into a glare as he reached for the door.Bookmark here

“You know what? Let’s make a deal.” He stopped at my words and looked over at me again, surprised.Bookmark here

“A deal?”Bookmark here

“If I score high on my exams, then you have to leave me alone about all of this. No more talking badly about my friends or being a jerk.” He tilted his head.Bookmark here

“And what do I get if you don’t?”Bookmark here

“Then . . .” I stopped and considered it for a moment. He spoke up again before I could say anything.Bookmark here

“How about this? If you don’t score in the top five, then you’ll quit pretending to be a human and start helping Mom and Dad instead.”Bookmark here

“The top five is too much.”Bookmark here

“It shouldn’t be if you’re really going to get into a prestigious college. You are in your last year, after all.”Bookmark here

I felt my brows furrow.Bookmark here

“Fine, deal.”Bookmark here

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For the rest of the week, I tried to focus and study as best as I could. I sifted through flashcards between classes and even stopped going to lunch with Ryoko and Harumi so I could study in the library instead. I reasoned that I would have plenty of time with them after exams if I passed, but I still missed it. I also stayed at school after class so that I could study longer without running the risk of dealing with Taro. So, the only time I had with Ryoko and Harumi was during our walks to school.Bookmark here

That is until Ryoko came into the library on Friday. I was sitting at a table, alone, with my nose buried so far into one of my textbooks that I didn’t even notice that she was there until she sat down in front of me. I lifted my head to see her smiling at me.Bookmark here

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked in a hushed voice.Bookmark here

“I came to check on you.” She looked at all of my notebooks and my stacks of textbooks. I still had a mechanical pencil in my hand and there were a few different colored highlighters scattered around the table. “I see you’ve been keeping yourself pretty busy.” I giggled and went to go back to taking notes. That was when Ryoko reached across the table and pinched the eraser of my pencil between her fingertips. I looked back up at her to see that her smile had turned into a look of concern.Bookmark here

“Maneki, I think you should take a break.”Bookmark here

“I can’t,” I whispered. Because then I won’t get to hang out with you again. I watched as Ryoko stood up again. She placed her palms on the table’s surface and leaned toward me as she stared me down.Bookmark here

“Just remember to take care of yourself. Studying isn’t everything and there’s no point to it if it forces you to always be alone. Academics alone can’t make you happy.” I stared at her as her words sunk in. She turned and walked away, leaving me stunned. I felt my face begin to burn.Bookmark here

No one ever told me to take breaks or to care for myself before. I watched in awe as she headed through the double doors and disappeared from my sight.Bookmark here

What is . . . this feeling?
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