The wind blew a flutter of leaves into my bare room, sprinkling the green blades over the carpets and table. I blinked into the afternoon sun pooling through the open window. The streets were noisy with vendors and merchants selling goods. The air was a sickly mixture of the aroma of foods, sweat, and car exhaust. According to Mom, Tokyo had always smelled like this. I swept my eyes across my new room. It was nice; an already-set-up bed, a sliding closet, a personal bathroom and...boxes and boxes full of my things, with tiny leaves curled up across the cardboard.
Sighing, I sat down on the mattress. The move had been hard. Not as hard for me as for Mom, of course, but still. She knew this town. I didn't. But more importantly, she was fluent in Japanese. I wasn't. I opened my duffel bag and took out my journal. Okay, well, not really journal; I could never bring myself to write in it continuously like a diary. But I still called it a journal. It had my sketches, bits of writing, and story ideas in there. Flipping to the back, I stared at the photo taped onto the last page.
It was me, with Emily, Helen, and Serena, smiling from the branches of a willow tree. They had signed, Miss you lots already. Visit soon! –Emily, You're an amazing person. Luv ya! –Helen, and Call us! Talk to me the most, though. –Serena.
I smiled and put my book away again, except into the backpack already heavy with textbooks, leaning against my box of sheet music and trophies. I had flipped through the books yesterday around two in the morning due to my jet-lag, and discovered, with horror, everything was a year ahead of me (except for biology).
Light footsteps came up the stairs, and I gently pushed the notebook deeper into the pack, hiding it from sight. Just then, Amaya burst in and jumped onto my bed, bouncing up and down on her thin knees. "Chat-chan!" She cried, hugging my arm. "You've slept for so long, you missed breakfast and lunch." My Japanese was rusty, but I could still decipher most of what she was saying; enough, at least, to understand. I patted her head fondly. She called me Chat. But I only answered to it from Amaya, who couldn't say my full name. And, I thought it was a cute nickname.
My stomach rumbled at the thought of the missed meals. It was true; I had stumbled up the steps of my aunt's house yesterday in the afternoon after a fourteen hour plane ride. Aunt Honami had prepared an amazing dinner, but I was too tired to eat a bite. Amaya had taken me upstairs, practically dragging me by the hand and prattling all the way up in rapid-speed Japanese while Oishi lugged my suitcases up behind us.
"Oishi was going to show you to your school!" Amaya squealed. I blinked.
"But it's Saturday," I pointed out. Did I miss something? Was I late? Did Japanese people go to school on Saturdays too? Amaya laughed at the confused look on my face.
"No, no, he's going there today, and said he'd take you, too!" I shrugged. Well, alright. It was probably like a circle around the grounds, or just a general direction. Amaya smiled at me and ran back down the stairs. I closed the door and pulled some nice clothes out of my messy suitcase. That was nice of Oishi. But then again, he was that kind of person.
I sauntered down the stairs and into the kitchen. Auntie and Mom were in there cooking, while Oishi and Amaya downed boiled eggs, dry cereal, and orange juice. I raised an eyebrow. Odd combination. Sitting in the empty seat next to Oishi, I looked around. "Where's Uncle?"
"He's already at work." Oishi glanced at the clock. "And we should get going, too." I grabbed an egg and pulled on my sneakers. Oishi grabbed a duffel bag hanging in the closet next to the door, and we ran to catch a community bus.
"What are we doing today, Oishi?" He glanced at me.
"I'll show you how to get to school, then I have tennis practice, so you can just hang around until we're done." Ah. Right. I forgot that Oishi played tennis. Apparently, he was quite good, but I had never really seen him play before. I just nodded from the seat next to him. Oishi was the same as ever. Even his hair hadn't changed. That weird, silly hairstyle that always made me laugh when I saw it.
Soon enough, we jumped off in front of a giant school. Giant. Like, really big. Really, really big. Oishi saw my goggling eyes and laughed. "Very big?" I nodded and gulped, still staring up at the monstrous school. Too big. Suddenly, I felt puny. Very puny. Too puny.
The academy was made of red bricks, surrounded by a low wall and ringed with trees. The inner courtyard was made of little white tiles, green leaves sprinkling gently over them. To my right there was a nicely-trimmed field. To my left were a few sets of tennis courts. Oishi was already walking towards them, bag over shoulder, like it was the most casual thing in the world. I shivered then ran to catch up to my cousin.
We stopped at the edge of the first court, next to a small building that I supposed was the warm-up room. A long row of faucets spit water into a basin. The ground was dry. And the sounds of tennis surrounded me. I turned and looked into the courts behind me.
Boys, many boys, played, stretched, or lined the courts. They did swing exercises, picked up balls, or rallied between each other. I paled. So...many...people...Suddenly, I felt very conspicuous. I felt my loose dress hang off my wiry figure in an unflattering way, and I sensed the blood drain out of my face again as one of the boys looked curiously my way.
Oishi, however, seemed unconcerned. He grabbed my wrist. "Come! You can watch us practice today!" I tried to struggle, but I wasn't an athlete like Oishi. My tongue was heavy, so I couldn't protest. I could feel my body being dragged across the dirt.
Why did Oishi have to bring me here? He knew I wasn't one for introductions. He should know better than anyone else. I remembered that first time I met him when we were eight. I had asked why he had cut his hair so odd. Oishi hadn't talked to me for a while after that. I didn't want to meet Oishi's friends. But I could put up no resistance as I stumbled across the ground. And, to my horror, we soon stopped at the A courts, where guys with blue jackets and different uniforms played some epic tennis.
My eyes widened, momentarily shocking me out of my paralysis. They were absolutely amazing! I ran up to the fence and watched them play. How could they have such precise control, aim, and strength? How did they move across the courts so quickly? Why weren't they even sweating, despite the sun, the jackets, and all the running?
"Can you stay here until practice is over?" Oishi asked. I stared, still transfixed, but managed to nod. I felt him smile. He walked in and greeted two bystanders; an older woman with a pink sweat suit and ponytail, and a guy with Oishi's uniform. I assumed they were captains. I looked around for a place to sit, and ended up just leaning against the fencing, watching the boys play. Oishi did doubles with a loud boy with bright red hair. He jumped around a lot, and hit some amazing shots in the air.
On the other side of the net were two other guys, both about the same height. One had a patterned bandana around his head, and the other sported strange violet eyes that twinkled like he was always considering whether or not to stuff a firecracker down your pants. I cocked my head when they started yelling at each other. I caught the words idiot and careless, and smiled, because Oishi and his partner seemed so much better together.
On the far court, a boy with closed-eyes played against a guy with light brown hair. I blinked as he shouted various English phrases. "Burning! Oh my God! Great!" I smiled. In a way, he was passionate; to me, it was fascinating. Two players, however, stood aside. One, with glasses, kept flipping through a small notebook, eyes flicking from the pages to the match, writing down bits of information. The other, a white cap pulled over his eyes, had his hands in his pockets. I could tell he was watching the game, but shadows hid his eyes. But I could see his smile.
The practice ended a few hours later, when the sun was just a sliver in the horizon, but reds and yellows still blurred into the growing darkness. Oishi and the others unlatched the fence gate with a metallic grating that cut through my sensitive ears. They walked to the faucets, rinsing their heads in the water and wiping their sweaty faces with towels. No one seemed to notice me as I sat, shrinking up against the wall. Except the short one with the cap. I could tell he saw me, yet shadows hid his eyes. But I could still see his smile.
I watched as Oishi and the others disappeared into the warm-up room. They were changing. Standing up and stretching, I felt my legs shake and exercised my sleeping arms. I dusted off my turquoise dress and waited, leaning against a tennis court pole. They all came out at once, talking about the practice, families, and food. Oishi saw me first. He blinked like he had totally forgotten I was still here. Then, Oishi waved and jogged over.
"Hey, everyone!" Oishi called, gesturing them towards us. "There's someone I want you to meet!" I blinked and subconsciously made myself small. They stared at us. At me. Oishi didn't notice how uncomfortable I looked. "Everyone, this is Chatelaine, from America!" I felt them stare me down. My name suddenly sounded unnecessarily extravagant.
I mumbled a quiet hi in English at the ground. I could almost hear Oishi's thoughts next to my own, echoing each other. This is so awkward. This was one of those times when I half-expected a tumbleweed blow by. Just before I was about to ask Oishi if we could leave now, his Doubles partner sighed.
"Dang! Oishi has a pretty foreign girlfriend?" I blushed, because he had called me pretty, Oishi's girlfriend, and because he had used the d-word. I was really sensitive about that kind of thing. From all of that stress from today or the lack of sleep or jetlag, I don't know. But suddenly, I felt myself pop from all the pressure and ended up laughing. It felt good to laugh. I could still feel them looking at me. I told myself to stop, that they probably thought of me as a raving lunatic, but for some reason, that thought made me laugh even harder.
Suddenly, as quickly as I had burst, I clapped a hand over my mouth. "I...am so sorry." But I still laughed into my hand, and Oishi's face made me laugh even harder, then he started laughing because I was laughing and my stomach felt like it could burst. I stopped when Oishi did, and wondered what was so funny in the first place.
Everyone was staring. But, to my surprise, I didn't care. When I share a laugh with someone, I bond with them, and don't fear their company anymore. Oishi chuckled at his friends' faces; incredulous with hesitation and a look that said, I don't know this person. I smiled prettily at them.
"No, Eiji, this isn't my girlfriend," Oishi said. He looked at me, and started gesturing to each of his friends. "This is Inui." He was scribbling into notebook he had earlier. Inui's voice was surprisingly deep.
"I have some new data."
"This is Taka." The burning and great attitude was gone. He was now...quiet. Almost timid. Taka smiled sheepishly. "Fuji." His closed eyes grinned at me with his smile. He cocked his head slightly. I met his eyes and let a light smile play on my lips. "Eiji." Oishi's partner in Doubles. He grinned at me with a wink in his smile. "Kaidoh." He had taken off his bandana, and a loose sheet of hair covered his forehead. He looked better like this. "Momo." Mr. Violet Eyes grinned at me.
"Call me Momo-chan," he said, grinning. Chan...Japanese honorific used for endearment or for intimacy when used for male. I didn't blush. I just smiled back.
"Echizen." The tip of his dirty, white Fila cap lifted and a pair of rusty green eyes met my own. They were a drained color, yet still intense, like sunshine flooding through a light forest canopy sprayed bronze. Unlike mine, which were bright and emerald, but edged with a light brown that gradually blended into a glassy black.
"Hi, everyone." I smiled my most dazzling smile and curled a piece of hair out of my face. "I'm Chatelaine, from New Mexico, but you can call me Chat." I tilted my head in Eiji's direction. "And by the way, Oishi's my cousin." They could use Chat if they wanted to.
We exchanged some more small-talk and ended up home late. I skipped another dinner, my mental clock being frazzled from the jet-lag. Before closing my eyes, though, I thought about my day, about all the new people, about what I had said and done. I smiled. This year could be more fun than I had expected.