It was hard to wake up the next morning, but as sunlight streamed into my eyes, I realized that I would not be getting anymore sleep. So disappointing.
I sat up and stretched my arms. Satisfying cracks echoed out as my bones popped. It felt really good, especially after the night I’d had.
After another second, I set my hands back down on the bed—or so I thought. When the left side of my bed suddenly moaned, I froze. I moved my hand across the object underneath my hand. More moans. Blinking several times, feeling a strange sense of detachment, I pulled back the covers of my bed.
Yūgure was sleeping in my bed.
She wasn’t wearing any clothes.
I must be still asleep.
Since I was clearly dreaming, I decided to take a shower; my hope was that it would wake me up from my dream. I climbed out of bed and wandered into the bathroom. I stripped off my clothes, turned the water onto its highest setting, and then stepped in as steam began to rise.
The hot shower was quite nice. I stood there with my hands pressed against the wall, eyes closed, letting the hot droplets splash against my back. Few things were better than this.
The shower did a good job of washing away some of my fatigue, though not all of it. When I judged that it was finally time to get out—I didn’t want to steal all the hot water—it was with great reluctance that I shut off the water and stepped out. After drying myself off, I grabbed the clothes I had slept in and got dressed.
Then I went back into the bedroom and over to my bed.
I want to check to see if Yūgure was still there.
Yep. She was still there.
I kept the covers over Yūgure as I contemplated the situation, though mostly I was just trying not to panic. My first idea was to scream, but if I did that, then Mihikaze and Donatello would wake up. I didn’t want that, especially since Yūgure had her tails and ears out. The best solution would be to get her out before those two wake up. The problem was how to go about doing that.
Naturally, I thought that waking her up would be the best course of action. In which case, I should shake her awake, have her get dressed, and make her leave before the other two wake up.
But what if they woke up as she was getting dressed? The last thing I wanted was for Yūgure to be seen naked. The idea of people leering at her made something unpleasant settle in my gut, but more than that, it could ruin her reputation. She would become known as the loose girl who slept with the yankee. I had to avoid that scenario at all cost!
What should I do?
A knock sounded at the door. Light and soft, it didn’t cause my two roommates to stir. I quietly walked to the door and opened it a crack.
Alicia was on the other side.
“Is Yūgure in there?” she asked immediately.
“Uh… yeah, she is.” I blinked several times. “How did you know?”
“She wasn’t in our room this morning,” Alicia muttered. “Anyway, could you let me in.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure.” I opened the door further, letting Alicia step into the room. Her eyes immediately zeroed in on the lump hidden underneath the blankets. “Please try not to make any noise. I don’t want my roommates waking up.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be quiet.”
Alicia walked over to bed, pulled back the covers, grabbed Yūgure by the ear, and yanked!
As Yūgure woke up with a start, her mouth opening to scream, Alicia clamped a hand over the girl’s mouth. The nekomata began to struggle, but that didn’t last before Alicia leaned over and seemed to whisper something in her ear. I couldn’t hear what was said. However, the next second, Alicia had grabbed Yūgure by the back of her neck as though she was a regular house cat and lifted her up.
I was so flabbergasted that I could do nothing but silently watch. Alicia walked out the door, told me that she would see me in a few minutes, and then left, closing the door behind her.
That had been the most surreal experience ever. Considering what happened last night, that was saying something.
Shaking my head, swinging droplets of water against the wall, I wandered to my bag and pulled out a spare change of clothes. We were told by Ms. Kanzaki to meet downstairs at seven. Well, it was around 6:34 now, which meant there was half an hour before we had to present ourselves in the lobby. That said, I didn’t really want to stay there.
Most of the clothes I had were bought for me by Alicia and Matilda. They had told me I needed more variety. The outfit I put on was one that Alicia had made me try out when we went shopping one time. It was a pair of jeans that were cut off at around the knees and a white shirt with a collar, with a earth tone vest thrown over it.
I took an elevator downstairs and walked into the lobby. No one was there at the moment, so I went over to a seat several meters from where we were technically supposed to meet everyone. Sitting down, I closed my eyes and tried not to think about how tired I still was.
There was a lot on my mind.
As the seconds ticked by, I realized that someone was watching me; there was a presence staring at my back. My first thought was to ignore it. I was pretty used to ignoring stares by this point. However, as the feeling of eyes persisted, I realized that whoever this person was, they likely didn’t mean harm.
I couldn’t sense any ill-will in their stare.
Looking around, I couldn’t find the person staring at me, not until I looked into a nearby window. They were reflected in it. I recognized her. It was Leonora. She was hiding behind a pillar, peeking at me, and making me realize that she must have hidden herself every time I turned around.
“It’s Leonora, right?” I said, turning around again. I couldn’t see her anymore. “Are you really going to keep hiding behind that pillar? Why don’t you come out and sit with me?”
Weeks ago, I never would have done something like this, but Alicia and Yūgure had given me more confidence in myself. I didn’t want to be the boy who kept using his fear of being rejected because I was a nephalem as an excuse. If I wanted people’s perception of me to change, the first thing that needed to change was me.
Moments after I spoke, Leonora slowly came out from behind the pillar. Her cheeks were red. I imagine she was embarrassed being caught spying on someone.
“Um… sorry about that,” she said, coming to stand several meters from me. “I didn’t mean to spy on you. I was just curious to know what you were doing?”
“I imagine I’m doing the same thing you are,” I responded.
“Ahahahaha! Yeah, probably,” she admitted, rubbing the back of her head.
“Why don’t you sit down?” I gestured to the seat opposite me. There was a glass table between me and it, so she should feel safer. “It’s gonna be awhile before everyone else comes down.”
As Leonora took a seat, I found myself suddenly curious. “You’re not from here, right?”
“No.” Leonora shook her head. “I’m from the Vatican.”
I raised an eyebrow. “As in the city-state that belongs to the Catholic Church inside of Italy?”
“That’s the one.” She nodded several times before her eyes inexplicably widened. Acting quickly, as though warding off a bug, she waved her hands furiously in front of her face. “Oh! But don’t worry! I’m not with the Catholic Church or anything!”
“Erm… I didn’t say anything about the Catholic Church.”
“Huh? Oh, that’s right. You didn’t. Ahahahahaha!” There was that laugh followed by her rubbing her head. It must have been a nervous habit. “It’s just, you know, when I say that I’m from the Vatican, everyone assumes I’m with the Church.”
“Well, you have to be Catholic to live there, right?” I asked.
“That’s—yes, you do, but it’s not really the same thing,” she said.
I got the feeling this was a touchy subject for her, so I changed the subject to something less potentially controversial.
“How do you like Japan so far?”
“Oh, I love it!” Leonora brightened quite literally. It was like her eyes had become glowing beacons. “It’s very different from what I’m used to. There’s so much culture here, and the people have been really nice to me… though they do seem a little reserved.”
I nodded. The people of Japan prided themselves on being polite and respectful, but polite and respectful often made them seem reserved. Well, that was what I had heard. Since most people avoided me like the plague, I had yet to experience Japanese politeness, which was weird since I had been born in Japan—at least, I think so.
As we spoke, Alicia and a pouting Yūgure came up to me. Both of them were dressed, Alicia in a pair of hip-hugging shorts and a red T-shirt, and Yūgure in shorts, black tights, and a white shirt with kitty ears.
“Leonora,” Alicia said, frowning just slightly as she sat down on my right. The couch was quite large, but she still chose to sit closer to me than I was comfortable with. “I hadn’t realized you’d woken up so early.”
“Uh… yeah,” Leonora started, “you woke up me when you walked out. It was close to the time we needed to wake up anyway, so I just came down here and ran into Jacob.”
“That’s nice,” Alicia said, smiling. “It’s also nice to see someone who is actually talking to Jacob.”
“Erm…” I began.
“Is it weird that I’m talking to him?” asked Leonora.
Yes. Yūgure held up her notepad.
“Not really,” Alicia said. “Some people just don’t like him because of his appearance. I’m merely happy that you can see past it.”
“Oh. Well, I am also foreign, you know,” Leonora said with a laugh. “Also, we have quite a few Americans living in the Vatican, so his appearance isn’t off-putting to me at all.”
Your brother doesn’t seem to like him, said the notepad that Yūgure held up.
“Ah. Well, Donatello isn’t really a people person,” Leonora said.
I zoned out as Alicia, Leonora, and Yūgure talked—well, sort of—and looked around as other students began to file in. A number of people looked our way. They, especially the boys, seemed quite shocked. Their expressions came complete with dropped jaws and wide eyes. They must have been shocked that another person was talking to me.
Students congregated into groups and spoke. A few sometimes glanced at us. I tried to ignore them. Minutes later, Ms. Kanzaki arrived and called us to attention.
“All right!” she began with a bark. “We’ll be having breakfast, and then after that, all of us are going to the beach!”
A great cheer went up as, apparently, just about everyone was ready to have some fun in the sun. I shared their enthusiasm.
Breakfast was finished quickly. I think everyone wanted to hurry up so they could play on the beach. It must have been torture to see that white sandy shore and those crashing blue waves and not do anything. Even I rushed to change into my swim trunks.
We had been told to just go ahead to the beach once changed, so that was where I went, doing my best to pretend I wasn’t practically running down the hall. I couldn’t stop the smile from stretching across my face as, upon realizing that the elevator was taking too long to reach me, I raced down the stairs instead.
I was going to play at the beach!
By the time I had rushed out the door and stepped onto the sand, my breathing had grown heavy. Even so, I raised my head and looked up.
It was beautiful. It was so beautiful. Breathtaking white sand and crystal clear water. There were people everything, playing, laughing, lounging, splashing in the water and building sand castles. I wanted to play, too. It was childish. I knew it was. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help these feelings.
I had never been able to play at the beach before…
“Jacob!” a voice called my name. Alicia.
I opened my mouth.
Alicia, Yūgure, and Leonora were present. They were wearing swimsuits. I had trouble breathing.
Alicia was wearing a simple black bikini, but while the design was simple, it somehow looked amazing on her. The black contrasted with her white skin. Because she had such a large chest, her breasts seemed to almost spill out of the top. I would have said it looked several sizes too small, but I honestly couldn’t find a reason to complain.
She was not the only one who looked alluring, though. Yūgure’s smaller, shorter stature meant that she couldn’t fill out a bikini, but the light blue and dark purple one-piece complimented her dusky skin tone. What’s more, now that I was really looking and not panicking, her muscles, which I hadn’t noticed before, stood out.
She had a really nice set of legs.
“You two… um, wow,” I said. I like to think my response was sublime. Other guys wouldn’t even have been able to speak.
Alicia grinned while Yūgure wore a small, satisfied smile.
“Like my swimsuit?” asked Alicia.
“Uh huh.” I nodded.
Yūgure held up a notepad. I had no idea where she pulled it from.
But you like mine better, right?
“Ah ha,” Alicia laughed. “I’m sorry, Yūgure, but while you look awfully cute, it’s clear who the victory is when it comes to filling out a swimsuit.”
Yūgure shook her head, scribbled in her notepad, and presented it to them.
True, and it’s not you.
Wanting to head off an argument, I turned to Leonora.
I wondered if the sweat that appeared on my brow was due to the heat or incredulity.
“That swimsuit… um, it looks interesting.”
What Leonora had chosen to wear was not a swimsuit. It was a full bodysuit that had more in common with a wetsuit. What’s more, she was wearing floatation devices on her arms, and had another one around her torso. She was even wearing a swimmer’s cap that was stuffed to the brim with her hair.
Leonora blushed beet red. “W-well, i-it’s a sin in the Catholic religion to show too much skin to people who aren’t you husband, a-and Donatello suggested that I wear this because it would help keep perverts away…”
“I’m really gonna have to say something to your brother,” Alicia said with a sigh. It seemed she and Yūgure were done arguing.
Shall we play? asked Yūgure.
Everyone else agreed, so the four of them went off toward the beach. The water was perfect as we ran into it. It was cool, and the waves splashed against my chest, and the sand underneath my feet was squishy. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect—until Yūgure splashed me in the face with a mouthful of water.
“Hahahaha!! Look at your face!” Leonora pointed at me while Alicia snickered behind her hand. I glared at the two, and then I glared at Yūgure, who wore that small smile of hers as though she were a cat who’d been given an entire tub of cream.
“That does it!”
A water fight broke out between the four of us, but it didn’t stay that way for long. Kaoru had, at some point, slipped herself into the group, though I had no idea when. It was like she had just magically appeared. I was surprised that she would involve herself with me, but thinking on it, I couldn’t remember her ever saying something bad or outright avoiding me. It had been more like she just wasn’t interested.
However, all good things come to an end, and that end came in the form of Donatello, who, I noticed, was also wearing a wetsuit.
“Leonora!” he barked. “What are you doing?! Get over here right now!”
After recovering from her wince, Leonora tossed us an apologetic smile. “Sorry, guys. Looks like I have to go.”
“You shouldn’t be apologizing,” Kaoru said, crossing her arms. “That jerk of a brother is the one who should be saying sorry.”
“I have to agree with Kaoru,” Alicia admitted. “He’s being awfully rude.”
Yūgure didn’t say anything, but she nodded along with everyone else.
“He has his reasons,” she said. “Anyway, I hope I get the chance to talk to you later.”
As everyone watched her go, I looked over at her brother, whose red face reminded me of a boiled lobster.
I couldn’t help think that there was more to Donatello’s anger than simple agitation.
Of course, the water that smacked me in the face drove all thoughts of the foreign transfer student from my mind.
I really did love the beach.