"Welcome to the Neighborhood"

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"Oh honey!" my mother gushed as she sat down on my bloated trunk. I stop placing some of my clothes into a cardboard box and look at her. "Are you sure you don't want to come along?" She then hugs me, and I swear I couldn't breathe against her chest. "We could travel the world together! Just imagine all the things we will see, and all the people we will meet!"

"Mom," I shook my head and push her off me gently, "Traveling isn't my thing, I'd rather stay in Gaia."

Mom gave up and huffed. In a moment of tenderness, she pulled me close and stroked my short orange hair. "My baby, you're so grown up. Even though you're only 12… I'm going to ask again, are you sure you can handle being on your own?"

I hugged her tighter, relishing the protective feeling of her arms. I'm going to miss her so much, and at times I wish she would just cancel her whole trip and stay with me here in Durem. Then, maybe I wouldn't have to move. "Yes, I can handle it Mommy."

One more squeeze and she let me go. And just like that, she became her usual perky self. "Well, I guess we should finish packing! We have a big day tomorrow." She began shuffling around the small apartment as she talked; I returned to packing the rest of my stuff, which wasn't much to begin with.

"By the way," I commented, interrupting her humming, "Did you already enroll me in school?"

"Of course! What kind of mother would I be if I didn't?" She taped up the three boxes filled with our worldly possessions. "I enrolled you in Barton Academy – the best school in Barton. You know honey, they are known for their cute uniforms."

"Oh mom," I shook my head, "Uniforms aren't – ah, never mind," I said instead. Education, while important, wasn't something my mom really worked for. In Gaia, the legal age was 15, and once my mom was legal, she dropped out of school and married my dad. However, life wasn't that easy for her, and while we were never poverty-stricken, we were on the lower end of the economic class.

What my mom lacked in book smarts, she made up with street-smarts. She always told me 'why read about it in a book, when you could experience it yourself?' She loved to travel, and only settled down after Dad died and I was born. But now that I was older… it wouldn't be fair to keep a free spirit like her tied down to me.

I was snapped out of my thoughts when I heard something cluttering to the floor in our small kitchen. "Hey mom, what are you doing?"

She peeked her head out the kitchen and smiled. "I'm trying to look for the baking pan. You know how much Takeru loves my brownies, and I figured since he is going to look after you, I should bake him some."

"That's really sweet mom. The pan is under the sink, I haven't packed it yet." I went back to the work but then stopped, "Hey mom! Do we have anymore newspaper? I need some to cushion these vases."

"No, but check outside! I haven't seen today's paper."

I stood up from my crouched position and crossed the small living room that doubled as our bedroom. Opening the door, today's newspaper lay rolled up at the floor.

"Hmmm, 'Gino Gambino found by Ian and Sasha at the beach'," I read the headline, shrugging I closed the door and resumed my work.


My mom's old salmon-pink truck groaned to a stop in front of a modest two room cottage in a small town called Papillon, a suburb of Barton Town.

"This is it!" my mom exclaimed, clapping her hands as she gave me a huge smile.

I was really going to miss her…

"Takeru is still at work, but he said he'll stop by afterwards," she told me as she unpacked the boxes and trunks from the flat bed.

I carried one of the lighter boxes and followed her in.

Opening the door, the quaint little cottage seemed the right size for me; it was a good size room with a door leading to what I believed was the bedroom. The living room area could be split into a kitchen and a small den, but for right now was empty.

"Not too bad, huh?" My mom grinned, placing a hand on my shoulder.

I could only nod, still awe-struck at the idea that I will be living by myself for an indefinite time. Some doubts crept into me… Could I make it on my own?

"I set up your own bank account in Gambino, take some gold and buy some furniture and appliances, okay?"

I nodded again.

Just then, a honk came from outside. Through the open door, we both saw the cab drive up. This was it. My mom was going to leave. Taking my eyes off the cab, I laid them on my very beautiful mom. Just like me, she had bright orange hair and kind, pink eyes. My eyes watered as I realize I wouldn't see my mommy for a long time.

"Mom!" I sobbed as I ran towards her and wrapped my arms around her waist. "I'm going to miss you! Promise you will write to me about all your adventures."

"Oh Kachimo…" she whispered, petting my hair soothingly. "I promise. My little girl… You are so young, but so strong. I know you will do great things, don't be afraid my baby. You have a good head on your shoulders, and even though I'm leaving you, it won't be forever. I just… "

"It's okay Mom," I sniffed, rubbing at my runny nose. "I know why you have to leave, it's just… I'm going to miss you, and I'm scared."

"Oh baby, it's okay. You're going to be okay. You're smart, and talented, I know you will be fine on your own. And besides, you have Takeru to watch after you."

"But he's just a dumb boy, Mom," I mumbled into her shirt.

She chuckled and squeezed me tighter. "I love you Kachimo."

"I love you too Mom," I say back, hugging her tighter before I let her go. She kissed me on the cheek and walked towards the door.

"Don't eat anything questionable and if you're in any trouble, just call Takeru okay? I trust him to watch over you."

I nodded in confirmation as I watched her climb into the back of the Barton Cab. She shut the door and waved at me, mouthing another 'I love you'.

I managed a small wave as I mouthed it back. Bye Mom, I hope you can find your happiness again… I stood at the same spot, my eyes never leaving the yellow cab until it rounded the bend and out of my sight.

The birds chirped, and the insects buzzed, but to me it was silent. I was alone. I felt new tears form at the corner of my eyes as I realized that fact. I was alone.

"Hey there!" I heard a voice call out, cutting through the silence.

I looked around and spotted a blond haired man in a suit, carrying a cat… also wearing a suit? What?

"Umm, hi," I said meekly.

He smiled, placing the cat on the ground. "You must be the new girl. Hi, my name is Ian; I live just across the street, see? Right there," he said, pointing to a larger cottage-like house right across from my house.

"My name's Kachimo," I said, smiling up at him. He seemed nice enough, and since he was my neighbor, it didn't hurt to be friendly.

"And I'm Rufus," another voice introduced.

Huh? What? I stared suspiciously at the cat, licking his paw unassumingly. It couldn't be… I rationalized. Did that cat just talked?

But before I could ask Ian if he heard another voice, the cat spoke and stuck out its paw, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Wide eyed I crouched down and eyed the talking cat. I poked and prodded it – it had to be some kind of robot – one of those things from Akea that I heard about. Talking cats just didn't exist. Above me Ian just smirked, probably amused by my reaction.

"Hey watch it!" Rufus the Cat swiped at my hand as I let go of his tail.

I gasped, "You're real! You're a real, live, talking cat!" I exclaimed. Smiling really big, I picked up Rufus and hugged him. "How cute! I can't believe it! A real, live, talking cat! You're just soooo cute! I just want to hug you and love you and – "

"Okay, okay," Rufus said, using his paw to push some distance between us. "Yes, I'm a real, live, talking cat. Please put me down."

"Oh sorry," I replied, a little embarrassed at my actions. What could I say; I was a sucker for all things cute or weird. Rufus happened to be both.

"C'mon Rufus," Ian laughed, "It was just a hug."

Rufus 'hurumph' and stood on his hind legs, using his front paws to brush off imaginary dirt from his suit. He then sat down again and proceeded to lick his paw once more. Ian turned back towards me and saw the other boxes in the truck.

"Need help with those?" He asked.

I smiled really big and looked up at him, "Yes, please!" Those boxes were a bit heavy, and I honestly didn't want to wait until Takeru came home to help me.

He gave me funny look and blushed. Shaking his head, he patted me on the head and walked towards the boxes.

"Rufus and I will help you move in," he gave a small grunt, but managed to lift one of the boxes by himself.

I stared in awe at the kind man before me. I just met him, but he took time out of his life to come help me – me, a stranger. And… for an older man… he was kindda cute.

He caught me staring at him and smiled; I blushed at getting caught.

"Hey Kachimo," he said. I looked up to his handsome face. He smiled at me, and I swear, my heart could've stopped.

"Welcome to the neighborhood."