So, here I am with the last chapter. Hope you like it :) There are some OC's appearing in this chapter just because I couldn't figure out who would do the roles, almost all last names appearing in the text that you haven't heard of before are done by me and they don't mean anything special most of the time.

Disclaimer can be found in the previous chapter.

Now enjoy reading! Please review/report mistakes too :)


First day

"Monkey-san" was a strange person, so much that it was hard to stop staring at her.

"Ah! I'm bored!" she whined loudly fifteen minutes into class.

"Don't be loud, Monkey-san," the teacher, Makino-sensei, said without looking up, obviously used to it, and had given up all efforts to do something about it.

Monkey-san was at least obeying about not talking to me during class, and I made it a sport to not pay more attention to her than the teacher's introducing of next week's appointments. Makino-sensei would once in a while ask me if I understood or needed clarification, and I wondered if she was referring to the fact I was a foreigner or because I sat beside Monkey-san.

When the bell rang I was prepared to move, but Makino-san spoke up first.

"Before you leave, is anybody willing to save Lolonoa-san from being taken care of by Monkey-san?"

I blinked. Even when dressed in the wrong uniform and seemed to be about as smart as a log, Monkey-san didn't seem to be a person I needed to be saved from.

"She seems to fit with that lot," I heard another girl say clearly and I turned. She was wearing too much make-up, chest pushed up as much as possible, slender and beautiful. I suppose she was trying to make enemies or mark her position.

"Alvida's just a bitch. I hate her," Monkey-san stated just as clearly. I was witnessing the ranks play out right in front of me and I was caught in the middle.

Great.

"I get it," Makino-san cut in. "Get out of here now, and Monkey-san will take care of Lolonoa-san for today. But please don't drag her into trouble."

"Hai."

The straw hat girl took me by the hand and we were out of the room, followed by numerous curious and pitying stares. I had just fallen off the edge on the wrong side.

"Ore wa Monkey D. Ruby. Hajimemasta, yoroshiku(1)."

At least she was polite enough, though she had such strange names and addressing to herself using "ore".

"Lolonoa Zora desu. Hajimemasta, domu yoroshiku(2)."

"How polite you are! What's your next class? All of us have P.E for last hour."

What? No mentioning about my name? I blinked, and then fished out my schedule after freeing my hand. Monkey-san had a strong grip. "Um, biology, room A."

"Great! Sanji's in that class. I'll introduce you."

I didn't want that, but I needed the guidance to my next class, and Monkey-san knew the way around.

In the corridors I saw all sorts of students. There were some Goth kids in a corner, clowns in another (I had to stop and stare at that). The bitches moved in groups of three or four, the nerds stood with their heads close together, and the guys who thought they were hotter and better than others leaned against their lockers in groups, believing they looked cool.

"Oi, Rubber. Did you grow tired of screwing Kuroga and got him a new one?"

Without slowing her pace, Monkey-san hit the guy in the forehead with enough force to blow his head backwards and make a dent in the locker behind him. I decided to ignore that and concentrate on not being nervous about what the now unconscious guy had said. Monkey-san was not weak, that was for certain. Maybe I should ask her to break arms with me sometime.

"Sanji is Sanji," Monkey-san said. "He likes the girls, but he's really cool and a great cook." She turned and flashed another smile at me, adding; "That's what I think" without indicating that I had to feel the same.

I caught myself smiling right back and scolded my face.

"Hey, Sanji. I got a new friend!"

"Huh?"

The one who heeded the words was a tall, blond dude. I recognized him from this morning. And he threw himself my way.

"Ruffy! You brought me a real...!"

Womanizer! My foot shot up, connecting with the jaw of the female nightmare before I remembered I was wearing a skirt. I quickly brought my leg back down and pulled the material back in place. The guy, Sandi or whatever, was lying in the other end of the room. Way to break the ice. Now Monkey-san would get angry with me.

"Oh, ha-ha! Sanji was beaten!"

What? Laugher? I had just kicked her friend across the room, possibly giving him a concussion and breaking a few teeth, and she was laughing! This gal was bent on confusing me.

"Dammit." Sandi got to his feet, to my surprise looking like he was just fine. "You're in luck that I'm a gentleman. If you were a dude I'd kick you right back, breaking a few bones in the process."

"Oh yeah? I eat guys like you for breakfast."

Monkey-san was still laughing. Then the bell rang.

"See ya for lunch," Monkey-san called and rushed out. I and Sandi glared at each other until the teacher came in, a man who moved against the wall towards the front desk upon seeing us.

I was lucky to be paired up with another girl, Onawa Kaya, who at least looked sweet. For a Japanese woman she was very pale and fragile-looking, but with a strong will I realized. Kaya-san wouldn't bulge if she thought she was right and I wrong. She was very patient though, letting things take its time. I was nervous to cause an explosion.

"We have lunch now," Kaya-san told me when the bell rang. "There is the possibility to buy something in the cafeteria, if you'd like to eat with me."

"Thank you, but I have my own lunch box."

Kaya-san smiled and left. Monkey-san bounced in and went straight for her blond friend.

"Hey Sanji! I'm hungry! Where's my lunch."

"I have it right here."

"Great! Zora! Let's go out and eat."

I looked up, blinking. First day and invited like it was a given? This was certainly a first.

"Outside?"

"Yes. The weather is so nice today."

I knew that from this morning, and was about to accept the invitation when Monkey-san continued.

"And Sanji makes the best food."

"Thank you very much, but I have my own lunch."

"Let's go."

Grabbing my arm she dragged me through the corridors and out to the sun before I had really gathered myself. Makino-sensei had asked somebody to save me from Monkey-san, now I think I was starting to understand why; she didn't listen to turn-downs.

"Ruffy, over here."

Monkey-san stopped and gave me a moment to order myself up. Sandi was catching up with us, carrying himself with an ease and grace that made me feel clumsy, especially after being dragged after Monkey-san.

"Ruffy, you've caught someone."

"Yeah. This is Lolonoa Zora."

I turned my head towards another friend of Monkey-san's, I supposed he was.

The first thing I saw was an extraordinary long nose. This dude too locked dumb, but his eyes weren't as straightforward, or as bright, as Monkey-san's.

"Ah, okay." He smirked at me and puffed his chest out. "I'm the master of this school. The students are all my servants and bends to my every whim. They call me;" he posed "Usopp the mighty!"

"I'm starving. Let's eat." And I was once again dragged off after Monkey-san.

"Oi!"

"Who is that?" I asked, looking over my shoulder as the long nose and Sandi followed.

"Montana Usopp," Monkey-san said.

"A liar by choice?"

"Yup. The world's biggest liar."

We arrived to a set of stones, and Monkey-san immediately settled on the biggest one from where she had a view over everyone else. "Oi, Sanji! Lunch!"

"Don't yell, and don't eat everything in one bite again."

Sandi took out a box twice the size of my head and handed to Monkey-san who readily opened it.

"Curry! Itadakimasu!" she exclaimed and dug in with delighted sounds.

"Here you go, Usopp."

It seemed like Sandi was in charge of food for the whole group. I seated on one of the stones, with my normal-size lunchbox and enjoyed my onigiri with umebochi.

"Sanji, this is really good," Monkey-san complimented. "Hey, Zora, what are you eating?"

"Onigiri."

"Really? With umebochi?"

"Of course."

"Can I have one?"

"Don't take other's food," Sanji scolded.

"Ne, Zora-san. Did you start here today?" the long nosed guy asked.

"Yes."

"Zora's cool, she kicked Sanji across the classroom," Monkey-san said and I blushed.

"What!" Usopp squeaked and I awaited some comment on either my unladylike manners or if Sandi had seen my panties. "Sanji! Are you alright? You're still… intact right?"

"She kicked me in the face."

A muscle in my eyebrow twitched. "Oi. You think I'm the kind of bitch to use such cheap tricks?"

"You aren't?"

The muscle twitched again, twice. Long nose got the message and moved away, as far as he could without leaving the circle.

"Oh. Zora has a scary face," Monkey-san stated.

It was the first time in my life I had heard that line without judgement etched to it. I had to look up at the girl to make sure, but she was smiling down at me with the same look as earlier; straightforward. That warm, brown colour looked even brighter in the sun.

"Why are you wearing the boys' uniform?" I asked, surprising myself.

"This?"

Monkey-san stretched her legs out, looking at them as if she wondered about it herself. Then she put her feet down under her butt, leaning forward, bracing herself and setting the lunchbox aside in the same movement. Then she jumped, high, but landed softly, spinning around and bringing her leg up in a high whip-kick.

In front of me, it looked like Monkey-san started dancing, still with that wondering gaze as she followed her own movements, which sometimes involved raised legs or flip-overs. I could see why pants were to prefer. If Monkey-san had worn a skirt her panties would have been on public display.

"Like that," Monkey-san finished with a grin.

"But why would you dance in a skirt on the school grounds?"

"Huh? I don't dance."

I furrowed an eyebrow.

"Ruffy is a male's disgrace," Sandi said, and I wondered if he included himself in that statement.

"Why is that?"

"I don't know," the girl in question said with a troubled face.

"Ruffy is stronger than most guys in this school," Long nose explained. "She's a real monster, and has gained a lot of enemies here because of it."

I so wanted to say; "You know you just called your friend a monster, right?". That Monkey-san had enemies and was strong I had already experienced when she dragged me to biology and hit some idiot's head in.

"So the new kid has already settled in with the dolts," a voice sounded, gaining attention, not only from me and Monkey-san's friends.

"Oi, Alvida. Haven't you learnt your lesson yet?" Long nose called, from behind Monkey-san whom he seemed to be hiding behind. Monkey-san just stood there with that annoyingly dumb look on her face.

"I just think it's funny," the bitch answered, overly airy. "New kid is Rubber's first female friend ever. What happened, Rubber? You need a break from Kuroga?"

There it was again; the hint that Monkey-san and Sandi had it together. Or it was Sandi's womanizing and the fact Monkey-san hung around him that had started a rumour. I couldn't say I had paid much attention, but I hadn't picked up the "we're a couple" sparks between them that are so obvious between lovers, especially if one or both of them are jealous.

Monkey-san answered with silence, and I took another bite of my onigiri. I didn't have to get myself involved. I don't think I would ever get out if I got myself involved. But there was one thing.

"Are you finished eating?" I asked.

Monkey-san turned to me. "No, not yet. Why?"

"My next class is Japanese in room 1-B, and I want to be there on time."

"I have that class too. Just wait. I'll eat up and go with you."

Looking back at the bitch I sensed sparks. She was glaring at me with such fury that you could light a cigarette on her eyes. What was she mad at me for? Had she wanted Monkey-san's attention? Or Sandi's? But his attention she had. He couldn't take his eyes off her and he had a strange look on his face. An "I'm an idiot and I love her" face. I wanted to whack him over the head.

"I'm done!" Monkey-san announced and got down from the rock again. "Let's go Zora."

"I'm not done with you, Monkey D. Ruby!" the bitch screamed.

"Mata ne(3)!"

I was witnessing something very interesting with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had obviously made an enemy, but this time it wasn't entirely my fault. Had Makino-sensei known about this when she said I needed to be saved?

As I was once again dragged through the crowds of students there were more mumbles about. I was used to be stared at. I was used to be the object of attention. But I had never had strange rumours about me from day one. Monkey-san was turning out to be a bit more than I could handle.

But she ignored everything, and if she could, then so could I. It was only this first few days I would need her guidance around, then I would go back to my chosen solitude. The rumours would stop and I would have no enemies because of a strange girl with boys' uniform and a straw hat.

"Huh? Ruby-san, you're early today."

"I'm showing Zora around."

We were in the classroom and the one who had spoken was a plain-looking boy with round glasses and reddish hair. He was also the first one today I heard calling the girl by her first name.

"This is Coby," my dragger introduced him to me. "He's really smart. You can ask him anything."

"Nice to meet you. I'm Umimaru Coby," the boy said and reached out a hand.

I was looking at the hand before deciding politeness didn't cost me anything. "Lolonoa Zora."

Beside me Monkey-san smiled, and I wondered if it was pride I saw in the wake of it.

"We're doing Japanese literature right now and have just gotten started on poetry," Umimaru-kun informed me.

I didn't say anything, but I guess my face did.

"Lolonoa-san, you don't like poetry?"

"I never caught the charm of it."

"But poetry has always been of great importance to Japanese literature!"

"I shouldn't know about it. I'm not born here."

"Zora moved here from Russia," Monkey-san said, grinning like an idiot.

"Russia!"

"What the heck is so strange about that?" I hissed.

Umimaru-kun had a funny look on his face. I knew I was about to hear the prejudices about Russian people.

"But... Most people from overseas come from Korea, and doesn't Russians live like Eskimos; fishing, fighting bears and never goes to school?"

"…In what book have you read that?"

He blushed.

"That sounds like a really cool way of life. I wonder if I could defeat a bear."

I stared at Monkey-san.

"You know, the Russian bears are the world's biggest. You can't defeat one alone without a good gun and a perfect aim."

"Have you really fought bears?"

Why did she have to look so excited about something that barbaric? Umimaru-kun just looked horrified.

"Of course not. I've only ever seen one in a zoo, and that was in the west."

"Then, is it in Siberia they live like that?" Umimaru-kun asked curiously.

"No clue. Since there are towns and cities even up there, I suppose they don't."

The bell rang and people got seated. I noticed they were moving away from us. Eavesdroppers.

Monkey-san had a seat beside a slim girl with short, dark hair and glasses. The seat beside Coby was free he told me. I brought out the chair right before a voice stopped me.

"Hey, new girl."

I looked over my shoulder. The one who had spoken was some dude with a broken nose, long face and blond hair, hanging over his chair with a smug expression, looking like he was the most important person on the planet. A spoiled brat was my first impression.

"You look too fine to blend with Rubber and Smartass's crowd. Come sit with us instead."

"Us" involved what supposedly were the best-looking guys in this class, or school. Their eyes followed the lines of my body and legs. Among them were two girls that if possible would be green in the faces. They were so obviously jealous.

I pointedly sat down beside Monkey-san's friend.

"Oi! Who do you...?"

"Silence."

The teacher had walked in; another woman with authority it seemed. She set her bag down beside her desk and faced the class.

"We have a new student here. Can you please stand up."

As if I wasn't outstanding enough. I rose again.

"Lolonoa Zoro?"

"No. Lolonoa Zora."

"Can you read and write kanji fluently?"

"Mostly."

"Some Japanese relative?"

"Grandparents."

"How much do you know about Japanese poetry?"

"Nothing."

The teacher crocked a smile. "Good thing you sit beside Umimaru-kun then. I am Hina-sensei. From today on, Umimaru-kun will be responsible for explaining things and tell Lolonoa-san what we are doing. I also want you to help Lolonoa-san whenever she has trouble with the kanji."

"Hai."

"Good. You can sit, Lolonoa-san. Now, you lot. Last week I introduced you to the three main forms of Japanese poetry from the 19th century. What were those three called, Monkey-chan?"

"Waka, Haiku and Shi."

"It's wonderful to know it's possible to fill your empty head, Monkey-chan."

I didn't know what was up and down anymore. Monkey-san's friends called her a monster and the teachers addressed her using -chan and called her empty-headed. What was wrong with this place? And Monkey-san! Wasn't she hurt by all this? I don't know if she had heard Long Nose earlier, but he hadn't made an effort to deny his words, as if they were common knowledge.

"Ruby-san is really good," Coby whispered to me. "She's completely fearless. She doesn't care what people say about her, but she's always the first to react if anybody bad-mouths her friends."

I for myself was wondering if his words were to clear my confusion or stat his own feelings.

"One day… I'm going to be just like her. Ruby-san."

A boy with a girl as image? Monkey-san was really something. If nothing else, she would be a great challenge, entertainment, or troublemaker for me however long I would stay here.

I caught myself smiling again.

Hina-sensei forced us all to write Haiku; writing one line, cover it, passing it around until the third line was written, and then to read them out loud. Coby and I worked together. I learnt that Japanese verses were strict, and that Haiku was rough because of the three, five, three verse. Some ended up rather funny though.

After that experience Monkey-san showed me the way to domestic science – making me worried by calling it "Doom science". She was still dragging me by the hand, a habit of hers I figured.

In the classroom we were met by a pear turned upside down. The male teacher had the broadest shoulders and a just as broad a torso. He was bigger around his upper arms than a fat lady around the tights, but his hips were slim and his legs were pins. How those thin legs could carry the broad body was for me a mystery that would always stay unsolved.

He scratched his spiky hair upon seeing me.

"Nyuu? Ru-chan, what have you caught and brought?"

"Hatchan has a new student," Monkey-san said merrily. "Lolonoa Zora."

I hoped it was because "Hatchan" had a bad sight that he leaned way too far into my personal zone, staring at me while rubbing his round chin.

He straightened with a kind smile. "You look and smell like you've stood in a kitchen this morning."

A student jumped forward. "Hatchi-sensei! Since that's a friend of Rubber's they can team up so I can add to another group, right?"

"Nyuu? But then there will be a group of three. That's too much."

"There'd be a three group anyway!"

"You're just desperate to get away from Monkey-san."

Everybody turning to look at me had me realizing I had said one that one out loud. I cleared my throat.

"That's right!" the girl hurled my way. "That girl's a freak! Nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near her."

"Now, now, Mayu-chan. That's too much."

"You know it too, Hatchi-sensei! The truth is; you don't even want that freak to come to your classes, right?"

Don't ask me why, but in that moment I realized that Monkey-san labelling this class "Doom science" was because she couldn't cook, and that it was the reason for Sandi to make her lunchboxes. Now she stood there passive, steadily looking at the girl accusing her for being a freak. Her eyes were so strong. The girl wouldn't be able to win.

Well, I may not be the dream chef, but I am at least decent in the kitchen.

"It doesn't matter to me." I once again had total attention. "It doesn't matter to me if I work with somebody who can or can't cook. Aren't we here to learn?"

Monkey-san was the first to smile at me. The teacher was right behind.

"That's right. You are not obligated to know everything when you come here. I will teach you to do it right.

The other student glared at me. I had just stepped all over her I realized, and couldn't care less.

"Then Mayu-chan can group up with Agasawa-san and Tsumo-san in kitchen three. That leaves kitchen six to you and your new partner, Ru-chan."

"Thank you, Hatchan," Monkey-san beamed.

"Lolonoa Zoro, right?" the teacher asked me.

"Zora. There was a mistake in the papers."

"Is that so? Then Zora-chan it is."

Zora-chan huh? Oh well.

Today's menu was beet soup; "Borsht". It made me smile.

"What's funny?" Monkey-san asked.

"Is it a coincidence that we're cooking a Russian dish on my first day?"

"It's Russian?"

"Yes, but it doesn't matter much."

"Hmm? Okay. You made it before, right?"

"There's more than a hundred different ways to make it. I've only made it twice."

"A hundred? That's really cool!"

"Kitchen six, pay attention."

"Hai."

Hatchi-sensei gave us a very simple recipe. The worst that could happen was that the soup ended up tasteless or too spicy – though how a beet soup could be tasteless I wasn't sure.

Monkey-san hung over my shoulder for most of the time. Normally this would annoy me, but once I realized she waited for instructions I wasn't bothered anymore. She told me straight away she couldn't handle a knife at all, so I set her to watch the beets and peel vegetables. Since I already knew she had strong hands I let her use them instead of the knife to break the carrots. They wouldn't look that nice, but carrots would taste the same broken or cut.

You needed patience with Monkey-san though. She came up with the weirdest questions about some of the ingredients. Like "Can carrots taste like onions?" or "Does beets really make your skin change colour?" Me, being the talkative person I am, answered to the best of my abilities; "No" most of the time.

The soup was finished without accidents, and ours ended up better than "Mayu-chan's", if their faces were anything to go by. Monkey-san loudly announced how good the soup was, and the teacher, after tasting, rewarded us with his agreement.

"It's finally P.E!" my dragger shouted and bounced around. It was her favourite class, obviously. "Zora, are you any good at soccer?"

"I like basket ball better," I confessed. Monkey-san took her stuff from her locker and swung it over her shoulder.

"Then watch out for Sanji. He's the star of the soccer team. The other school teams call him Devil foot Sanji."

I wasn't interested in that guy. "You play?"

"Baseball, tennis and karate."

And two of three games are majorly men's sports, I thought. But Monkey-san was more manly than some men I've known.

"By the way, how did you know where that soup came from?" We had come outside and headed out of school grounds.

"I've been there."

"Where?"

"Russia, Stupid. I've been in Russia for the last two years."

"Really? For what?"

There goes. It wasn't really a secret anyway. "I'm actually born in the US. My mother died when I was eight, and my dad and I have been on the move ever since, always moving east, towards the sun."

"Is that so? Why didn't you just stay in US?"

"My dad. He's an author with a killer project going on. In every new place he will get a labour job, stay for as long as his co-workers can stand him, then we're off to the next place."

"Haa? Sounds though."

I didn't answer. Monkey-san's voice didn't hold any pity or the slightest bit sympathy. She might as well have stated the sky was blue.

"Where are we going?" I asked. There were other students wearing our uniform around so Monkey-san wasn't up to something, but I wanted the subject off myself.

"Our school has two gym teachers and both got married a week ago and they haven't come back from their honey moons yet, so we have P.E at our neighbour school."

Honey moons? "Did they get married to each other or…?"

"No, oh no. Those two hates each other."

"Ah."

"Here we are now."

I looked up at a well crafted iron gate. "Kokoro High". What was this, an all-girls school?

"Zora, hurry up!"

I realized I had stopped to stare at the name of the school and hurried after my guide. Around I saw a lot of girls in white and red uniforms, and a few guys too. So it wasn't an all-girls school.

"What's up with the name of this school?"

"The old geezer named it. Ask him."

"Which old geezer?"

"The Kokoro principal of course. But he's worse than Sanji."

"Which means…?"

"Sanji flirts first and touch when he's allowed."

We had now arrived to the dressing room. I hadn't known I would have P.E, so I stopped outside.

"Aren't you coming in?"

"I don't have any cloths with me."

"Oh. Wait, Bellemere must be around here."

She was off again, and this time I followed her on my own. Bellemere turned out to be a teacher.

"What's up, Ruby-chan? Shouldn't you hurry and change?"

"Zora doesn't have cloths."

The woman had brown eyes with a hint of red. Her hair was red too, like wine, shaved on both sides and pulled back in tails behind her head, one on top and one at the base of her neck.

"New kid?" she asked. I bowed slightly.

"This is her first day, and I want to have P.E together."

How to interpret that? It wouldn't be the last P.E lesson of the year, so we would surely have it together some other day.

"I see. We should have a spare uniform in the stock room. I'll go fetch one. Wait here for a moment please. Ruby-chan can go change."

"No! Not yet."

"Why not?" Monkey-san asked me, blinking.

"I… don't know the way back… to the dressing rooms."

"It's just over there," she said and pointed. It was easy to see. But still. This was so humiliating I hoped grandfather felt ashamed where he watched from Heaven.

"Stay anyway. Please?"

Bellemere returned and handed me a package. "I hope it's the right size. Now off. You're about to be late."

"Yosh. Let's get going." And Monkey-san was once again dragging me off. I could get used to it.

"Monkey-san, why do you want to have P.E with me?" I asked. The dressing room was almost empty when we arrived.

"Rubber. I heard from Laura we're going girls vs. boys today," a girl called on her way out.

"Great Nojiko! You're on my team, right?"

"I'm your ever loyal team-mate. See you outside."

"Hai."

Girls vs. boys, huh? I liked the sound of that. Monkey-san took off her straw hat and hung it on a hook. Her hair that I had thought was short as a boy's fell to her waist, black like darkness, and not very fine.

I stripped off my uniform with a shake of my head. It wasn't like me to stare so much at a girl. Not even a strange one.

"It's boring sitting on the edge watching others have all the fun."

I looked to her as she pulled her hair into a high ponytail. That was a statement straight from experience. "Why would you say that? I'm not you."

"No." Monkey-san smiled at me. "But being alone is just no fun."

This girl. I couldn't follow her way of thinking at all, so I just shook my head and smiled. I had kept my hair in a low ponytail and decided to make it a high one instead, not as hot in the neck.

The sports uniform was one size too small. Monkey-san openly laughed at me. "What a butt! The guys will drool over you."

"It's not funny!"

The door opened and Monkey-san's "ever loyal team-mate" poked her head in. "Rubber! You're late!"

"Crap! We're coming now."

We ran out, me caught in Monkey-san's hand, to a grass field where two large groups of people were waiting. In the middle stood a stern-looking man, feet apart and arms crossed over a broad chest. Your average gym-teacher, I suppose.

"Monkey D. Ruby. I am very disappointed in you."

"I'm sorry, Smoker-sensei. But Zora didn't want me to leave her."

At that I was once again the heart of attention. This Smoker-sensei had black eyes, and they stared down on me like the ones of a predator.

"New student?"

"Lolonoa Zora," I said.

The teacher snorted and motioned with his head for us to join the lines.

"Listen up! Today we are playing rounder minus bowler. On request it will be girls vs. boys. Since we are so many I want two groups of each gender. Now start with one leap around the arena."

I heard protests from some of the guys and most of the girls, but Monkey-san took off without a second thought and I was close on her heels.

"Ever played rounder?" Monkey-san asked me.

"Often enough, but the rules vary depending on where you are."

"You've been to many places, huh?"

"More than I can count."

"That's really cool. I want to see the world too!"

Talking while running and waving her arms didn't seem to bother this girl. I turned and started running backwards, feeling a slight protest in my left calf. I must have stretched inaccurately after running around town yesterday. I would have to do it properly later.

After the one leap, Smoker-sensei paired us up in groups of four and armed two of each group with a heavy ball. I had done this before; you throw the balls in the same direction around the group with different difficulties to it, like standing on one leg, throw it above head level etc. Then we got two more balls and got told to expand and shrink the circle, all the while throwing the balls in a steady pace.

That done, Smoker-sensei told us to form teams for the game.

"My team come over here!" Monkey-san called and dragged me along.

"Monkey-san, I can walk on my own you know."

She turned to look at me, surprise shining from her features, and then she realized she hadn't let go of me. She grinned.

"Sorry. You're just so easy to drag along."

With your strength anybody would be easy to drag along. Looking at my wrist there were red marks from her hand. I guess I should be happy my shoulder hadn't dislocated yet.

The teams were easily decided. Judging from looks, Monkey-san was good in sports. We were about ten girls in our team, facing the most evil-looking guys. One of them had the reddest nose I had ever seen. He must have all his blood vessels located there.

"Don't think you can still ride on former fame, Rubber-idiot. We've worked out a strategy to defeat you. Don't forget that we know the skills of all your team-mates."

"No you don't," she answered flatly.

"Don't be cocky! I've fought you since day one the past three years. We will defeat you today!"

"No you won't."

Somebody poked me in the side. The girl from before whispered to me.

"Are you any good?"

"Yes."

Monkey-san, having just taken another verbal hit, turned and leaned against my shoulder.

"No you don't."

The red-nose had obviously not paid any attention to which team I went to. Now all the guys were staring at me.

And broke down laughing.

"Green hair!"

"Her brain must be filled with moss!"

"The uniform... too small!"

"A moneyless tramp!"

The heat was growing in my face, not only from embarrassment. I started towards them, pulling up my sleeve.

"Wait until we're on the battle field," Monkey-san said as she held me back. I gritted my teeth.

"Can I go first?"

She nodded curtly, her eyes on the prey. I can't understand why, but this girl seemed to put absolute faith in me. If I hadn't been so furious I would have given it more thought.

Smoker-sensei called for attention and explained to rules.

"We will separate into both sides of the field, playing in different directions so we won't get confused about the balls. For the Out-team; one-handed catch; three points, two-handed; one point, out; two points. For the Inside-team; Home-run is five points, otherwise one point. I will oversee Monkey D. Ruby and Buggy the Clown. I've called Fullbody in to be the referee of the other team. To your positions! Monkey-team in and Buggy-team out."

Just the way I wanted it. From my bra I took out the black bandana I once got from my mother and tied it around my head. Monkey-san had promised I could go first and she handed me the ball and bat. I weighted them both in my hands. Breathed with the wind.

In front of me stood the enemy, snickering, pointing at me, every last one of them standing within twelve yards.

The whistle signalled game start.

I threw the ball as high in the air as I could, grabbed the bat with both hands and jumped after it. I could feel the ball. Feel the wind. Hear the hearts of the people below me.

"UUURRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Ball and bat met in a hard, merciless kiss that sent the ball flying high and far. Half a second and the ground returned. I left the bat and rounded the mark to my right. My only goal was to round all four marks.

"Stop her! Distract her! Buggy block wall!"

After the third mark a wall of four guys with their hands out to catch me stood in my way.

"Just try," I smirked, and leaped over them.

Cheers met me when I passed the last mark, but a look at the outer team told me they still hadn't found the ball, I took a chance with a second round.

"Go Zora! You're the best!"

That was Monkey-san's voice and I smirked again. Of course I am the best.

One mark. Two marks. There was once again a wall of guys, this time with their hands up in the air. I glanced between them. "Look out! Drop!"

They obeyed automatically. Of course. They were only underlings and obeying orders was second nature to them. I took a second leap over them.

"I have the ball! Catch that bitch!"

Third mark. Fourth and a double homerun! And I had just gotten started. The girls cheered. Smoker-sensei signed our points on his pad with a straight face.

Next up was Monkey-san. I realized I had planted the bat in the earth when she pulled it up with little effort.

She was smiling broadly, having fun.

That Buggy on the guy-team had fought with Monkey-san for three years showed in the clear strategic places his team took. Monkey-san, just like me, threw the ball high into the air and jumped after it. But instead of sending it upwards, she came on level with the ball and sent it forward in a parallel line to the ground, just out of reach for anyone on the ground. Some guys jumped onto the shoulders of others, and one of those got kissed by the ball when it hit his face.

Monkey-san was already around the second mark when I looked for her.

"Nobody's trying to stop her," I stated.

"Of course not," somebody answered in between cheers. "Standing in the way of a monster like Rubber is just plain stupid."

There it was again. Monster.

"Homerun!" Monkey-san shouted cheerily.

"Damn you, Hard-rubber! Just wait until we're in!"

"Anytime, Buggy."

The red nose of Buggy got even redder. He gritted his teeth and turned to his team. "They're fifteen points ahead. Now it's time for us to catch some balls! Four! Don't just stand there!"

The game continued. Only one other girl managed a homerun, with half a second credited. The teamwork on the guys' team meant; "follow Buggy's orders" and that was it. None of them seemed to have an own brain.

My turn. This time the outer team formed a fan shape from me and out, a good strategy to stop me from doing another double homerun.

I smirked. This was fun. I should thank Monkey-san.

"Go Zora! Do another double homerun for us!" the raven haired girl cheered.

"Leave it to me," I answered over my shoulder.

There was only one way to manage a double homerun again; send the ball higher, and run faster.

"Don't think we'll fall for your trick twice, moss-head," Red nose Buggy mocked me.

"Doesn't matter to me if you fall or not, Red-nose."

Buggy's face darkened. "DIE HARD, MOSS-HEAD!"

I threw the ball high and jumped after it again. Imagining that the bat was a sword I put my entire soul behind the swing.

The ground returned and I was off around the first mark, second mark, third mark. Homerun!

"The ball hasn't come down yet! Run for it, Zora!" Monkey-san shouted, jumping up and down with excitement.

No need to tell me twice. The outer team were all staring into the sky after the ball. I hoped the wind hadn't caught it so it flew in the wrong direction.

"I see the ball!" someone screamed and I leant forward to speed up. Third mark. I heard the ball hit the ground.

"I have it!"

"HOMERUN!"

The girls all cheered and patted my back.

"Monkey-san is last before the teams change place," Smoker-sensei called.

"Alright! Let me do this. Buggy! I'll do a Gem special just for you!"

Buggy paled, and then started screaming orders to his team who hurried into their positions.

I blinked. "Gem special?"

"It's Rubber's unbeatable marksman technique," the girl in front of me said, her voice tight with excitement. "I've only ever seen it once. Only a monster like Rubber can possibly do it."

I watched, more eagerly than I would ever admit, as Monkey-san grabbed the bat by the very end and balanced it on her palm. I stood at the end of the line behind her so it was impossible to see her eyes, but even I could see the edge of her smiling mouth.

Monkey-san threw the ball in the air and, much to my surprise, just knocked it higher with the fat end of the bat and then jumped after it, moving the bat to her left hand. She swung the bat around and I could hear she hit the ball, but it never flew away.

"HERE YOU GO, BUGGY! GEM SPECIAL!"

The ball was off. How, I couldn't tell, but off it was. In what direction, I couldn't tell either. One moment it was there, in the next it was somewhere else. In the middle of searching for the ball, Monkey-san crossed my sight, on her way past the third mark.

"Amazing."

"Told you so!"

"One!"

Monkey-san passed in front of me without stopping. Her speed was just as amazing as her attack. The outer team was having big troubles.

"How does she do it?"

"I have no idea," the girl in front of me said, her eyes wide as plates.

"She made the ball spin in different directions," the only other homerun girl explained. "Go Rubber!"

"Two!"

The ball was still moving around and Monkey-san didn't slow her pace.

"She says she calls it Gem special because she gives the ball edges, like a gem, and that is why it moves like that. The more hits she places on it the faster it moves."

The girl was around the third mark when I saw the ball fly straight up into the air. It seemed the attack was over because the ball fell towards the ground silently.

"And three! HOMERUN!"

We cheered. Me too.

"Bastard..." a voice growled. "Smoker! Why aren't you forbidding that attack?"

"Then I would have to forbid Four to play altogether."

"You don't! That attack isn't fair!"

"Since Four is on your team; yes, it is fair. And she only used it once."

"Of course! It's a hard attack. I can't do it all the time. It would be boring, and someone could learn how to catch the ball if I did it too often."

"Don't be so humble, Rubber!" the Nojiko girl exclaimed and roughly patted Monkey-san's back. "Just admit it; you're amazing."

"Of course I am. Never denied it."

"Shut up, hard-rubber! We're in now. Be prepared!"

"I'm always prepared, Tomato nose."

The red colour of the nose spread over all of Buggy's face.

"If Monkey-san is our team's ace, I suppose this Four guy is theirs?" I asked Nojiko as we moved to the outer field.

"Yes. See that egg shaped guy over there?"

I had noticed him before. A slowpoke if you asked me, with dark green hair (and they called me a moss-head!) and slow movements. How could he be dangerous?

"What's with him?"

"Don't let appearances fool you. He may be overall slow, but with a bat in his hand, not even Rubber stands much of a chance."

That said something. Gathering together all I had heard about Monkey-san in this one day, I had almost believed she was invincible. Obviously not. I would have to look out for this guy.

"Laura, you're our best ball-girl, so you stay inside the innings. You too, Lucy. Nojiko takes the first outer circle. Zora, I want you on the left flank, I take the right. Everybody else, spread. You know what to do."

Monkey-san wasn't bad for strategy, I supposed. Laura was the girl who had made a homerun besides me and Monkey-san, with pigtails and big lips. Not very attractive, but she had keen eyes.

"Here I go, Hard-rubber. Eat my dust!"

I braced myself for a fierce attack, but Nojiko jumped and caught the ball with one hand and threw it to Laura.

"Out!"

Looking to Monkey-san I saw she just stood there. I straightened up again, annoyed and embarrassed. If this was the team captain, how would the rest of the team be? I should keep an eye on team captain Monkey-san. She should know all the abilities of her enemies.

I was right. Until Four was handed the bat she didn't move an inch. These guys were really nothing to hang in my tree.

"Zora, look out. Four's attacks are brutal. Buggy's a rat in comparison."

"I heard that, Rubber bastard! Four! Aim for the moss-head!"

Now was the time to brace myself, and the moment Four got the ball in hand my vision of him as a total slowpoke did a 180 degrees turnaround. The ball flew with amazing speed, in the wrong direction if he was aiming for me, but then it turned in air. From the corner of my eye I saw Monkey-san running my way, but ignored it. I would catch that thing.

The ball landed nicely in my hand, but instead of stopping, the rotation accelerated and I was flying with the ball, hearing myself scream in pain. I landed painfully on my back.

"Zora!"

Monkey-san's voice. Crimson anger welled up inside me and I got to my feet, hurling the ball in Laura's direction.

Four hadn't passed the second mark yet.

"Out!"

"Zora. Your hands."

Looking down at them I quickly hid them from view. "Nothing much. I can manage."

Monkey-san wasn't convinced. The doubt was there, clear to see, but she wouldn't press. Biting down on her lip she returned to her spot. I heard Buggy laugh.

"Not so tough now, are we, Moss-head?"

"I didn't see you make a grand entrance!" I yelled back.

"What? Shitty head! I'm just getting started!"

"Then give me all you've got. I'm right here!"

There were two guys before Buggy and Monkey-san braced herself. The batter had the strangest hair I had ever seen. It looked like he had mouse ears on top of his head.

"That's Moji Nisawa," a girl close to me said. "He's one of Buggy's two arms."

I just snorted. I was prepared for anything by now.

The Ear-guy hit the ball and it landed nicely in the open palm of Monkey-san, who by the way was about six feet above ground level. From there she almost handed to ball over to the other girl, Lucy I think her name was.

"Out!"

"She's really something," I mumbled to myself.

"She's a monster," the girl near me said. "It's only during a game it's safe to go near her."

I glanced over my shoulder at the girl, some bitchy redhead clearly feeling only resentment towards Monkey-san.

Next batter was another strange-hair story. Long on one half of the head and shaved in stripes on the other, black it looked like. He shot the ball my way. Laura tried to catch it. When she missed I whipped my arm around and caught the ball one-handed. This one wouldn't start moving in my hand, so I threw the ball to Laura with a mirrored motion.

"Nice catch, Zora!"

I would have beckoned it if my hand hadn't stung to remind me of its state. Glancing down at them again I examined the burns. They wouldn't look pretty tomorrow.

Buggy was up next, and he used up all his might and power to send the ball flying as high as possible. It would be enough for a homerun!

"Zora! Send me up!"

Monkey-san was running towards me, eyes shining with determination. There was only one way to "send her up". I cupped my hands and saw Monkey-san's shoes flying. Her foot was cool in my hands and I sent her as high as I could in the general direction of where the ball was.

"NANI!" Buggy had stopped and stared. "That's cheating! Damn moss-head! Smoker!"

"Shouldn't you keep running?"

Monkey-san had reached the ball and threw it in Lucy's direction.

"Out!"

I hadn't kept count of the points, but our team was definitely in the lead. Monkey-san landed softly in the grass, even after falling from that height. Personally I could stretch to call her abnormal, but "monster" I just couldn't understand.

While the line of guys moved forwards, Monkey-san and I stood passive. All the while I felt the painful throbbing in my hands. Catching a Four ball again would be difficult, but damn it if I would louse to a guy. Not in this life.

"Four is last out before the game is finished," Smoker-san called.

I was prepared. If the ball came my way I would have to catch it with both hands or I would lose my grip.

"Four! Give them your worst killer shot!" Buggy yelled. I didn't like the sound of that at all. The last shot was bad, would this one be worse yet?

Four hit the ball faster than I could follow. It flew in a bow outside the lines towards the back. I started running, calculating the ball's course, when it suddenly changed direction, straight towards me.

Automatically jumping backwards my hands flew up to catch the projectile. I caught it, but it wouldn't stop. The ball, surrounded by my hands, continued its course, hitting my forehead with my own knuckles and there was no more ground. The ball spun in my hands, peeling the skin off. I bit the inside of my cheek. I wouldn't scream. It hurt, burnt, and my shoulders were about to dislocate, but I wouldn't scream!

My back scrapped against the ground and my shoes came off when I tried to put my heels down to stop myself. I could feel how the material of the uniform tore against the grass, and then my skin began to follow suit. How could the ball keep spinning when I squeezed as hard as I could with my hands?

Suddenly I was flying upwards, feeling how a muscle in my left shoulder blade strained. But the ball couldn't keep up with my weight and the earth's stronger gravitation. I was still in the air when I hurled the ball towards Laura.

"Out!"

Sounds were blurring around me. I couldn't hear them. The grass felt cool under my burning feet as I kneeled, hands closed to fists and pressed to my body. Damn, it hurt.

"Zora!"

"I'm fine. Just a little dizzy."

"You're not fine!" It was Monkey-san's face that met me when I was forced to look up. "You're in pain."

Not for the first time, I wanted to say. "What about the game?"

"You girl's won," said another, deeper voice behind me.

"Smoker-sensei."

"This will need treatment," the teacher stated and lifted me up to my feet. "Ruby, you get her shoes."

"Right away."

"But I'm fine!" I protested.

Instead of answering or denying, Smoker-sensei pulled out one of my hands from where I pressed it against my ribs. The palm was bleeding badly.

"And your back is in a similar condition. The uniform is ruined too."

"That's not my fault."

"This isn't about whose fault or right it is. You're wounded and I'm going to treat you, whether you like it or not."

"What should I do with the shoes?" Ruby asked and held up my shoes.

"Put them with her cloths and then you can head home."

"I can't go home!" Monkey-san protested. "I'm supposed to look after Zora."

"Then come to my office once you've dropped off the shoes."

That was agreeable in Monkey-san's mind, but not in mine.

"It's alright, Monkey-san. You can go home. I'll be fine on my own."

"No way." And that was it. Smoker-sensei took me to his office where he took out a first aid kit.

"I would take you to the nurse, but she's already gone home. Give me your hands."

My pride hurt, but I reached one hand forward and placed it in his bigger, demanding one, hissing from pain as he cleaned the wound with alcohol. It took my all willpower not to fist my hand.

"You're a tough one," Smoker-sensei stated calmly. "I've only ever seen Monkey D. Ruby display such recklessness."

"I just refuse to lose to guys," I hissed, and to my surprise, Smoker-sensei choked a laugh.

"She said the exact same thing. I've heard the only males who ever outmatched her were her brother and grandfather."

"Were?"

"Yes. There was a fire..."

"Smoker-sensei. How is it?"

Monkey-san stood in the door. I tried to fist my hand to hide the palms, but it didn't work. The teacher had without my notice finished wrapping up my first hand and reached for the second.

"Recall the first time you did this, Ruby-san."

"That was me, this is Zora."

"I'm no weakling," I hissed at the girl in the door, and then hissed again as the alcohol came in contact with my wounded flesh.

"You will have to do this again tonight after showering," Smoker-sensei ordered rather than stated. "I hope your parents won't sue the school for this."

"Enter the game, endure the game," I stated.

Smoker-sensei chuckled.

"Wow, you're so cool, Zora. Sanji's always scolding me for being reckless."

"Is he your brother or something?"

"No."

There was a sharp edge to her voice that ended all conversation.

"Let me see your back too," Smoker-sensei broke through my shock. I turned and took the shirt off.

"That must hurt," Monkey-san said right before the teacher added the alcohol.

"Now it does," I hissed between my teeth.

"You should let a pro look at this," Smoker-sensei said, and it wasn't a suggestion.

"I know a good doctor," Monkey-san spoke up willingly. "She's brutal, but certainly one of the best."

"Oh, that surely sounds reassuring," I said, hating the tension of my voice.

"Really! That's good to hear."

I had to look over my shoulder to make sure. That stupid girl really hadn't picked up on the sarcasm. Oh lord.

"There. This is the best I can do for now. Go home."

I put the shirt back on. "Arigatou, sensei."

"Sure."

Monkey-san took me back to the now empty dressing room. I hoped she would be good enough to show me back to Oda High so that I could find my way home. I had embarrassed myself enough for one day.

"What am I supposed to do with the uniform?" I asked as Monkey-san took off her shirt. She had a really slender body, but the lightly tanned skin had white shadows of scars.

"Yea, it's the wrong uniform, so I guess you'll have to return it next week."

"We only have P.E once a week?" I asked unbelievably. How was I supposed to keep myself trimmed without school P.E?

"It's Wednesday. The first lesson is on Mondays."

I sighed with relief and put on my skirt and socks. Maybe I should ask about after school activities.

"You're a swordsman, right?"

I looked up from buttoning up my shirt. "Eh?"

"The way you held the bat. It was the same way a swordsman would usually hold a sword."

"How do you know that?"

Monkey-san grinned proudly. "Mama is a world-class swords master and instructor."

I gaped at her grinning face. Who in hell would need to be saved from this girl when her mother was a world-class swords instructor? I would not try to avoid this girl anytime soon.

"Her classes are expensive though."

Shit. There's never a shortcut. "Are you a swordfighter too?"

"Me?" Monkey-san laughed like I had stated that green men do exist. "I told you I can't even handle a knife, much less a sword. I would end up cutting some of my own limbs off instead of my opponent's."

Was that really a laughing matter?

I put the bow in my bag and followed the oddball out.

"How long are you planning on sticking to me?" I asked, just to be sure. Friends one day don't automatically mean friends the next. But I had used a really irritated tone and hoped Monkey-san wouldn't be offended. Soothing people was not included in my book of abilities.

"I thought we could keep company home," she said like she hadn't noticed my irritation. I blinked.

"Do you know where I live?"

"No," she informed me flatly.

I wondered silently if that straightforward face was actually a result of simple-mindedness. "Then how can you say you're going to keep me company? What if we live in separate directions?"

The girl stared at me for a while, before hitting her fist in her palm. Obviously that was a thought that hadn't appeared in her head. Maybe the teachers weren't so far off the mark as I thought when they called her empty-headed.

"Just show me the way back to school and I'll make my way from there."

"Ah, okay. How long have you practiced with swords?"

I sighed. This oddball just didn't like the quiet, did she? "Since childhood. My grandmother stated she was a samurai daughter."

"WOW! That's so cool. Awesome! You've got the blood of a samurai?"

"How should I know? I was born in the modern world. My grandparents married only some years before WW2 and they somehow managed to escape to the US."

"That's still cool!"

I didn't see what was so cool about it, but perhaps this girl had been reading books of samurais and got a heroic picture of them.

"I'm no samurai. I don't fight for anybody else."

Monkey-san hummed, in a "is that so?" kind of way. Then she grinned again. "But Zora is still really cool."

We continued. The sun was shining gently, the wind brought a scent of salty sea and Monkey-san prattled on about this and that, in between asking me all sorts of strange questions. Normally I would get awfully annoyed, but Monkey-san weighted it up by never thinking less of me whatever I answered to her questions. Her face always lightened with a smile right after her "is that so?" humming. She was probably one of those few angels in the world, someone who saw the best in people and simply accepted the flaws. She wasn't without flaws herself, like in the kitchen.

I couldn't be sure though. I still didn't know the reason for the common resentment against her, or the reason behind the labelling of "monster".

Once we were back at the school and Monkey-san had turned towards where I supposed she lived, for the moment the same direction as I was heading to, I asked; "Are you befriending me to show-off?"

The raven-haired girl turned to be with the biggest eyes of surprise I had ever seen. "What?"

"You're strange, but it isn't the first time somebody have been friendly with me the first day, only to use my initial popularity for their own gain."

"What?" How could her eyes grow so large? "There are people like that? How creepy!"

"Don't avoid the question."

She stared at me for a second, and then she frowned. Her dumb face sharpened and her eyes saw straight through me. "Zora, haven't you listened to what people say about me?"

I broke eye contact. She didn't have to ask that.

"It doesn't matter what I do, and I don't really care what people think of me, but nobody will change their opinion just by who I become friends with."

I had insulted her. Really, positively offended her. Monkey-san was angry. Then her face split up in another bright grin. "Thinking about fitting into other people's image is just a nuisance anyway."

I blinked. This girl. She really was something. I just couldn't seem to grasp her. Oh well, what could you do against someone like that?

"Well, I'm going home," I told her and gave her shoulder a light squeeze. "See you tomorrow I guess."

"Yup. I'll be waiting."

And with that I was off running again. I concentrated on the landmarks and soon arrived to the new place. The door was unlocked.

"I'm home."

"Hey, Zora. Welcome back. How was your day?" dad called from his new office.

I met this girl wearing a straw hat and the boy's uniform, addressing to herself with "ore" that pulled me around the whole place and had a womanizing friend who people said she was screwing but he acted like her brother and she was called "monster" by her other friend and about everyone else. I ate lunch with them and some bitch started making really strange suggestions before I was dragged to Domestic where I had to pair up with this same girl with the straw hat because another girl called her a freak and accused the teacher for thinking the same. I had to borrow a too small uniform for P.E because this girl didn't want me to sit and watch and we played a the roughest game of rounder ever and now I have two skinned hands, wounded feet and a scratched back that the teacher said needed proper medical treatment. This straw hat girl then followed me back to school and proved that she wasn't as dumb as I had thought and told me she'll wait for me tomorrow.

"For a first day, just fine. What do you want for dinner?"


THE END

(1) I'm Monkey D. Ruby. First time meeting, nice to meet you. (Hajimemasta is a phrase you use only the first time you meet a person. Hajime means "begin" or "start")

(2) Lolonoa Zora desu. First time meeting, a pleasure to meet you. (desu and domu, if that is the right spelling, are just words for politeness. Zora is however a little distant when she doesn't say "watashi wa Lolonoa Zora")

(3) See you later.