Jolting up from the sound of rattling chains, my eyes groggily took in the surrounding sights.
A cell? Why was I in a cell?
I was even wearing the black and white prison garb.
"So, you've come to, Inmates."
Movement was restrained by the shackles on my wrists and leg, but I managed a slow stumble to the bars of the cell.
"W-What's going on?" I asked, rubbing harshly at my eyes, willing some clarity into the situation.
The scene in front of me didn't make sense.
"The you in reality is currently fast asleep. You are only experiencing this as a dream." Came a soft chime.
Two girls in blue prison outfits stood guard in front of my cell and another. Stranger than the twins was the old man with an abnormally long nose, sitting at a desk and smiling like a maniac.
"Akira?!" I cried, pushing my face against the bars to catch sight of my own twin.
The effort was useless since I could only see in front of the cell. He had to be in the adjoining cell.
Our noise angered one of the girls. She slammed a baton on what had to be my brother's cell, shocking the two of us into horrified silence.
"You are in the presence of our master. Stand straight!" The baton then hovered threateningly over my cell next.
When I didn't give a response, the girl scoffed and turned her back to me.
"Welcome." The old man greeted in his deep voice. "I am…Igor. And this is my Velvet Room. I am delighted to make your acquaintances."
Neither of us responded, rendered speechless by the strangeness of everything.
"This place exits between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those who are bound by a 'contract' may enter." Igor continued speaking as if he wasn't expecting an answer from either of us. "I've summoned the both of you to speak about important matters. It involves your lives as well."
"Our lives?" We said at the same time like typical twins.
"Still, this is a surprise… Akira Kurusu. The state of this room reflects the state of your own heart. To think a prison would appear as such. You truly are a 'prisoner' of fate. In the near future, there is no mistake that ruin is awaiting you…"
I clunked my forehead on the bars.
Everything coming out of Igor's mouth made my head spin in the worst way and a headache was quickly forming. What did I do to deserve this?
Akira held up better than me from the onslaught of information, even asking for more verbatim. "Ruin?"
"I speak of the end to everything. However, there is a means to oppose such a fate. You must be 'rehabilitated' towards freedom…that is your only means to avoid ruin." Igor's too wide eyes locked onto me next, chuckle escaping out from his own private joke. "And you must help facilitate that 'rehabilitation'."
"Do the two of you have the resolve to challenge the distortion of the world?"
"Wait a minute! I don't understand anything." I interjected.
And on top of that, I wasn't taking orders from a stranger. Tried that recently and got royally screwed.
Igor ignored my outburst. "Allow me to observe the path of your rehabilitation."
The girls suddenly whirled around. Braids stared impassively at me while Buns smirked in the direction of my brother.
"Ah, pardon me for not introducing the others. To the right is Caroline, to the left is Justine. They serve as wardens here."
"Hmph, try and struggle as you like." Caroline with the buns, snorted.
"The duty of wardens is to protect inmates. We are also your collaborators…that is, if you two remain obedient." Justine with the braids, stated.
"I shall explain the roles of these two at another occasion." Igor drummed his fingers on the desk. "Now then, it seems the night is waning…it is almost time. Take the time to slowly come to understand this place. We will surely meet again, eventually…"
His eyes moved from one cell to another without blinking, an assessment on unwilling participants. Way to make me feel like cattle, creep.
The loudest ringing noise seemed to shake the area.
"What is that?!" I frantically looked for the source.
"Time's up. Now hurry up and go back to sleep, Inmates." Caroline tapped the baton on her shoulder.
Suddenly, I became fatigued, tilting back onto the bed.
My mind emptied, my limbs went numb and my ears still rung. Akira's name was on the tip of my tongue, but my mouth wouldn't move.
Everything returned to darkness.
Take your time
My eyes flew open and I rolled onto my side, grasping at my pounding heart. The urge to puke was strong but I held it at bay.
A dream, that had to be a dream!
A hand landed on my shoulder.
In a panic, I shoved the looming body away.
Peeking over the edge of the bed, I saw my brother sprawled out on the ground. Akira looked as sweaty and panicked as me.
We weren't in some funky prison, but our new living space in the attic of Cafe Leblanc.
"I had the craziest dream about an old man and a Velvet Room" I gulped, swiping curly black hair out of my eyes. "Tell me you did too!"
"I did…but maybe it was just a twin thing." He sat up, twirling a curl around his finger. "This wouldn't be the first time you and I had similar dreams… There's no way that could have been real."
"I-I guess…" I took a calming breath. "Y-Yeah, it must have been our nerves working against us."
My heartbeat slowed down to a normal pace and I could move again without the threat of bile coming up my throat.
"Anyway, we should get ready. Mr. Sakura will be here soon."
The time on my phone meant we had less than an hour to get ready.
"You can use the bathroom first." Akira stood up, wiping dust off his sweats.
Just watching him made me sneeze and before I lost my temper again about our accommodations, I retrieved my uniform from the shelf.
A nice bathroom with a shower and tub was something I took for granted. Never again would I whine about sharing that bathroom with my brother.
I'd take that over a sink and some soap.
If yesterday's reception from Mr. Sakura was anything to go by, then this school meeting was doomed to be agonizing. A bunch of pompous teachers were certainly going to make our lives hellish.
School was gonna be a nightmare!
"The bathroom's all yours, bro." I flopped onto the bed, idly humming a tune so I didn't lose my mind.
Akira sniggered. "Can you dress like you live in this century and not some play?"
I sent him a dirty look in reply.
The Shujin uniform was cute on its own –-in a macabre sort of way- but I had to add my own flare. Underneath my blazer was a lace shirt that tied into a ribbon at the collar and sleeves that ended in ruffles. Black tights covered my legs and brown heeled boots completed the look.
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, dear brother." I finished with an elegant bow, long hair tickling my nose.
Unfortunately, years later and I hadn't mastered the ways of curly hair. I did manage to pin most of it back with hairclips so only the manageable portion of bangs framed my eyes.
"You're so weird, sis. Sometimes I wonder how we're related." Akira passed me with a fond pat on the head.
"You love my weirdness!" I shouted down the stairs.
I giggled. We were both weird.
While he got dressed, I mindlessly played on my phone until an eerie app shaped like a red eyeball popped up in the middle of my screen.
"Is this a virus? I hope it isn't, I just got this phone."
The app was dragged into the trash and the phone rebooted.
"Texting your boyfriend already? Let the poor guy rest. He needs a break from your constant fangirling." My brother teased.
"Shut up." I tossed a pillow across the room, hitting Akira square in the face. "You're just jelly because I have a special someone and you don't."
He adjusted his absolutely unnecessary glasses. "Technically, you don't either. A childhood crush doesn't count. Especially when you two haven't seen each other for years."
"That's why they call it a long-distance relationship, dummy! I wouldn't expect a novice like you to understand matters of the heart." Now seemed like a good opportunity to get back at him for his earlier comment. "And can you dress like you live in this century? There's no style or personality to your uniform."
"I'm not trying to stand out. Mom and Dad were clear about us staying out of trouble."
And just like that the mood turned depressing. Our parents had become an unmentionable subject for me.
Unlike Akira, I didn't take their decision very well. Crying for hours and refusing to speak had been my rebuttal to the adult's sudden expulsion of their underage children.
They were enemies of the states now.
Our own parents refused to defend us! I didn't think it was possible to feel so betrayed!
Instead, they chose to get rid of their children like some dirty secret.
All because of that disgusting bastard! Everything was his fault!
"Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." Akira's apology snapped me out of my dark thoughts.
"Looks like you brats are up." Mr. Sakura's gravelly voice interrupted our conversation.
I whistled after spotting his old school outfit, pointedly looking between him and my brother. Akira understood the nonverbal slam I gave him and sighed lightly.
The man scoffed at me but the tips of his ear were red.
"Let's go introduce ourselves properly to the staff about the transfer. The school is in the Aoyama district. It'll cost a bit to ride the train there and the route transfers are a pain. I'll drive us there, but just for today."
"Onwards to hell." I muttered.
Akira bumped my shoulder with his as we followed our temporary guardian.
"Don't be pessimistic." He chided.
"Sheesh…men aren't usually allowed in my passenger seat so you're in the back, boy." Mr. Sakura announced.
That sterling optimism of my brother decreased a little and I snickered.
Maybe the old man could be fun.
Take your time
"Didn't I say school was going to be hell? The principal and those teachers hated us." I whined, not at all looking forward to the first day. "And I can't believe they put us in different homerooms! As if we're so dangerous we need to be separated!"
The idea of having to fend for myself in a new school hadn't been appealing. I had counted on at least having my brother with me to ward off crappy students that would no doubt hate our guts.
"It'll work out, sis. We can still have lunch together." My brother comforted me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder.
As always, Akira was the cool twin during the meeting. He handled the condescending adults with grace and a perfect smile of obedience.
Nothing got to him.
I didn't understand him at times. How he could weather it all with a smile?
The entire meeting, I wanted to smack that lard of a principal silly! Akira's homeroom teacher was just as bad, all lazy and insulting.
Talk about unprofessional.
My homeroom teacher wasn't that obnoxious. Mr. Hiruta seemed alright if a little eccentric from his outfit and quiet stare.
I nearly punched Akira in the gut when he whispered that Mr. Hiruta and I had similar taste in clothes. Our frilled shirts were nothing alike!
"Damn, to think there'd be that much traffic…what a waste of time." Mr. Sakura grumbled, shutting the door and placing his hat on the bar. "I wasn't able to open the cafe today…"
Akira and I looked at each other before coming to a unanimous decision. We both bowed to the man.
"We apologize for being an inconvenience."
Even though Mr. Sakura was abrasive, he was providing us shelter and food. That alone earned him some leeway.
Being a tad more submissive would be the polite, socially acceptable thing to do.
"Whatever." He sighed. "Just head upstairs. There's something I need to give you brats."
What would the mystery gift would be? He didn't like us so for sure, it wouldn't be anything nice.
My phone buzzed right as I sat down on the couch. Once unlocked, I checked my messages and smiled upon seeing the group message.
Future Hubby: How did the meeting go? Are the teachers giving either of you a hard time?
"Akira, check your phone." I began typing a reply to my longtime friend.
Homura Kurusu: It was awful. :( Everyone treats us like dirt. It's beyond aggravating! :( Worst of all, Akira and I don't even have the same homeroom teacher despite us being siblings. Aren't twins supposed to be in the same class?! Stupid record, it's all your fault!
Future Hubby: I'm sorry to hear that, Homura. This might be out of line, but in a way, I'm glad things turned out the way they did.
Homura Kurusu: ?
Big Brother: I second that.
I glanced up at Akira. The phone's buzz drew my attention back to the chat and from how ridiculous it was for him to be texting me when he was right next to me on the couch.
Future Hubby: Now, I have the opportunity to see both of you again. We've kept in touch but that only does so much. I'm looking forward to meeting up. Perhaps we could have lunch?
Homura Kurusu: So am I! I'm dying to see my favorite prince. TV doesn't do you justice. ;)
Big Brother: She really is. It's all Homu's talked about since we got here. It's almost kind of sad.
"What's sad is how immature you are!" I put Akira in a headlock.
He flailed in my grasp.
"Act your age, Akira Kurusu!"
"Says you! You're the queen of immaturity." He grunted.
Once free, my brother reached for my sides to tickle me. Our tussling got rougher as I tried to wrench off Akira's cheeks and he endeavored to puncture my sides.
"Talk about a gruesome accident…eighty people were involved." Mr. Sakura strolled into the room and froze, catching sight of us. "What are you two doing?"
"Wrestling." We answered in unison, slowly untangling from other.
Mr. Sakura scoffed. "Should a girl your age be wrestling? How tomboyish."
"Of course, I should." I huffed just as sarcastically. "How else am I supposed to fight off sexual predators?"
The barista was taken back by my blunt words, choking on air. Akira shook his head, coughing to get the man's attention.
"You had something for us, Mr. Sakura?"
"It's a diary. I only have one so you two will have to share. Make sure both of you write in it." He dug the object out of his pocket and tossed it onto the dresser. "You brats may be under probation, but there's no special limitations on what either of you do in particular. Besides following the law, that is. However, I'm obligated to report on both of you, which is why I'm having your daily activities recorded."
"Such a cheapskate." I mumbled.
Akira released a louder cough to cover up my comment. Mr. Sakura glared and was going to let me have it, but his phone rang.
While he occupied himself with his phone, I did the same.
Future Hubby: Haha. You two haven't changed. How about we meet up sometime this week? My workload is pretty light and I don't think I'll be swamped with homework yet.
Homura Kurusu: Sure. Let us know what day works for you. Akira and I don't have jobs to schedule around.
Homura Kurusu: Though we should look into getting jobs. We don't exactly have parents to depend on anymore.
Homura Kurusu: Ignore that, I pulled an Akira. Parents are a taboo subject for you too.
"Sis." Akira called, holding the diary out for me. "Anything you want to add?"
"Besides some snarky notations, not much." I accepted the notebook, claiming a colored pen from my backpack to add life to the dreary thing.
Akira wrote a dry, to-the-point summary of the day's events. I added hilarious commentary in the margins of the diary.
Take that officers!
"Is that your phone?" I questioned.
There was a ringing sound coming from somewhere.
"It's not my cell… I hear it coming from downstairs." Akira went to go investigate.
Done with the diary, I set it back on the dresser.
A shower was what I needed now but had to settle for the downstairs sink. There was no sign of my brother in the café and I stood there for a moment wondering if he dipped.
Running wasn't like him. He wouldn't ditch me….
The front door opened and Akira strolled in, confused by my put-out expression.
"Sakura forgot to flip the sign to closed." He explained. "Are you okay?"
I nodded, wiping all trace of a minor panic attack off my face.
"Don't use all the hot water."
"Maybe I will. That'd be good payback for you being a crap older twin."
"Such a petty little sister you are."
I winked before entering the bathroom. Memories of that night flooded my mind as the water ran.
That bastard of a man wouldn't leave the woman alone and Akira just couldn't walk away. Sometimes I wished my brother wasn't so kind.
He had all the right intentions and yet ended up with a record for assault. I ended up with a record for prostitution because I helped him…
Everyone started treating me like I was a whore after news of our arrest got out.
"The bathroom's all yours, bro."
"Homu?" He picked up on my bad mood asked again if I was alright.
"No, I'm pissed at the bald asshole that screwed up our lives!" I laid down on my bed, muffling my scream into the pillow.
"It's alright to be angry, but don't let it consume you. Things will get better...eventually."
"As you say, oh wise one."
Akira left it at that, giving me the space to sulk.
I took my phone off the charger and checked the messages. Mom and Dad had sent texts, reminding me to behave and get good grades.
Like they cared!
They were too busy getting divorced and lamenting over their wayward kids to give a real shit.
Nobody did it seemed.
After the incident, all the people I thought were my friends shut me out. They refused to respond to any of my texts. Those numbers were deleted without a second thought when we moved out.
When it really came down to it, I had two numbers in my contact list that mattered; my brother and my childhood friend. They were the only ones to stand by me.
Speaking of him, he'd sent me a message outside the group text.
Future Hubby: You don't ever have to censor yourself when speaking to me. If you don't tell me what's wrong, then I can't help you.
Future Hubby: Regarding your parents, I can't fathom how they've become such a negative part of your life. From what I recall, they were very affectionate with you and Akira. You all seemed happy together.
Future Hubby: What changed?
I remembered those days.
Mom and Dad were like the "It" couple of the neighborhood for the longest time. Then they got the surprise of parenthood.
We were their unexpected, but perfect twins…
Sometimes I wondered if I was the root of the problem. Two buns in the oven were a complete surprise for the happy couple.
Akira was the one they prepared for. I just happened to come out during the delivery, shocking my parents and baffling the doctors since all the scans only showed one child.
The ongoing joke was that I appeared magically in the world.
Homura Kurusu: I don't know what caused it. One day they just started arguing and then the next day and the next day until all they did was argue. I seriously hated going home to that. Most the arguments were about work, bills, and parenting.
Homura Kurusu: At least now I don't have to hear them shouting and breaking things.
I shouldn't tell him these things.
The home life was supposed to be private…but this was my best friend. I told him everything and he listened better than anyone else.
Future Hubby: Perhaps the space provided by your probation will cool the tension in your family. Or at least, I hope it will. It pains me to hear the two of you suffering like this.
Future Hubby: If you need anything at all, feel free to ask, Homura. I'll do my best to assist.
I smiled. Leave it to the Detective Prince to cheer me up.
Homura Kurusu: Anything?
Future Hubby: I have a feeling this might backfire, but yes, anything that is within my power to accomplish.
Homura Kurusu: Then I request a stuffed animal. ;) I'd feel a lot better if something cute were in this dusty attic.
"You're so transparent."
I screamed in fright.
My brother jerked back from reading over my shoulder, avoiding getting punched. He laughed, riling me up further.
"Stupid Akira, don't sneak up on me!"
"Either he's really oblivious or very polite. Which is worse I wonder? My brotherly instincts are confused on how to handle this infatuation of yours." I repeatedly pelted him with a pillow. "Alright, alright! I'll leave you alone."
The assault eased up a bit.
"Wait till you get a crush. I'm gonna tease you ten times as much." I promised with a final swing at his face.
Akira chuckled, flicking my nose as he sauntered back to his side of the room.
"We have to take the train to school so don't stay up all night texting. With all the accidents the timetables will be messed up."
The lights were turned off.
I groaned. "Can I skip school?"
Being a social outcast was an odd experience for me and one I wasn't liking.
"That was too quick of an answer."
"This year will fly by and then we'll be back home. Hang in until then, sis."
"I'll try…for you, Akira."
"Good. Now go to sleep."
I pulled the blanket over my head and checked my phone one last time.
Future Hubby: Oh, what a relief. I thought you might ask for something outrageous. Like the time you insisted I go beat up another kid because he threw your shoe into the fountain.
I had to stifle my laugh to prevent my brother from hearing.
Future Hubby: A stuffed animal is more manageable. Did you have a preference?
Homura Kurusu: Amazeme me with something you think suits me. ;)
Future Hubby: Very well. I'll steal your breath away with my selection.
My cheeks warmed and the blanket felt suffocating.
He really fit the bill as "Prince Charming". Reconnecting with my childhood crush would be interesting.