Silent Worlds: Book 1

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Hold On, What?

April 14th, 2010. Friday.

Just when Yakusoku was considering death by pillow suffocation, after having another sleepless night, he got up from bed and went downstairs to watch some television. He'd always wondered what came on in the wee hours of the night. This was as good a time as any to find out. Taking his blanket with him, wrapped around his head and shoulders like a cloak, he flopped onto the couch and grabbed the remote.

Turning on the cable box first, he made sure to mute it before turning on the television. He hated when the volume was left up on the TV; it would give him away for sure if his parents and brother heard it.

Thankfully, it was left just loud enough to be heard by someone who didn't plan on speaking while they watched. Flipping channels, he paused on a few shows and movies, then settled for a foreign film on one of the Hundreds channels. He could place the language as Korean, and smiled listening to them speak while he read the subtitles.

It seemed that a man had been stranded in the woods after a car accident, and was found by a young girl. Thinking he was rescued, he instead ended up being abducted and trapped inside their home to be groomed into a caretaker for them. It was weird to watch, almost chilling. Yakusoku was so enthralled in it that he didn't even notice when he fell asleep- he just tipped sideways and off he was in dreamland.

The dream he had was so strange. He was walking through the forest, just like the star of the movie... No, he wasn't walking, he was being dragged. By someone with a lot of strength. His weight was so miniscule in comparison, he was practically nothing but heels digging into soft damp earth. The only resistance he had was his heel scraping into the dirt. The legs of his jeans began to soak through from the damp forest floor- he could feel the moisture on his living skin!

Above him the sky was turning dark, as if the deeper in they went the less likely the sun would ever be seen. Eternal night was over the area. Beside him were children, standing in a row, pale and ghostly, mouthing something that he couldn't make out. After that he only saw darkness. Once the dark form dragged him to a cabin and closed the rickety wooden door... it was just black. Cold and black.

When Yakusoku woke up, he was struggling to breathe, having to cough out the held in breaths of little puffs from his mouth until he was able to take a normal breath in then out. Tugging his blanket tightly around his body, he returned his attention to the television. The clock on the DVR reads: 4:28 a.m. Thank goodness he woke up. He'd hate to have his mother or father find him downstairs on the couch.

When he was first brought into their home, they said that Yakusoku had sleepwalked on a few occasions. Sometimes he'd be perched somewhere in the house sleeping, or he'd be fully dressed and lying against the front door, sneakers on, a coat if he needed it. They once found him outside! It was dangerous. His mother said that his father had gone as far as turning the knob of the door around so they could lock him into his bedroom, but somehow the door had been unlocked, and he was, again, found downstairs.

It was pretty scary that all those precautions were taken to keep him put, and yet he'd still manage to get away. Back in the day, Yakusoku used to wonder where he'd intended to go? But as he grew older, the sleepwalking stopped. He figured it must have just been one of those things some children go through.

Gathering himself, he heads upstairs and into his bedroom; it's the first room right off the landing of the stairs. Another danger for a sleepwalker. Climbing into bed, he hoped that the effects of sleep: drowsiness and heavy limbs, he'd felt downstairs would remain with him as he curled up under the blanket like a child in a mother's lap. A smile on his face, he drifted off to sleep.

When morning came, he scrambled up the stairs after a delicious breakfast of two-cheese omelet with bacon and a side of toast, covered in butter and maple syrup. It's the only way he'll eat something as dry and boring as toast.

His father took his straight from the toaster and piled his breakfast on top, Ai loved blueberry jam, and his mother ate hers with butter only. Wiping crumbs from the corners of his mouth with his thumb, he climbed over his bed and picked up a can structured to a wench. The back of the can had a wire string stuck through it, which ran through the screen in the window. It lead across the street to Enid's house.

They came up with the idea after watching this old movie called 3 Ninjas. The star and his not-girlfriend-girlfriend had a system like this. The two thought it was impossible, but came to find out that it actually worked. It took some time to figure it out though- they'd used wire that was too thick; the cans were wrong at one point. Then finally they'd gotten it right, and after sending a football with a wire tied to it through the open window of his friends house, they strung it in and chatted away for hours, caller-minutes free. It was pretty handy in a pinch.

"Enid?" he called through his end. "Enid, you there?"

"I'm here. What's up for today?"

"Hanging out with my Dad, he's got work off. Wanna come with us?"

"Where to?"

"Library, Supermarket, I think I'm gonna get a new vid'..."

Cutting him off, the girl says. "I'll pass, you lost me at library. But have fun, I'll tell the guys you're not gonna be around."

"Why? What are you all doing?"

"Batting cages; Chester will go all training mode, the twins will be competing with one another, Sophie will do her nails- the usual."

"Oh, see you tomorrow then."

"No, not tomorrow. I've got a lesson with your mom, so I'll see you tonight."

"Okay. Later." He places a cap over the can- which belonged to a Pringles' chips- to maintain his privacy.

Climbing from his bed, he took a good shower and changed his clothes, then hurried downstairs where his father was just lacing up his sneakers. He smiled at his son, then asked if he was ready to go.

"Yeah, let me just..." he shoved a foot into the right shoe. "...get my sneakers on."

Reeve left the house, keys jingling as he pulled them from his pants pocket to open the car doors with the press of a button.

Tying his left shoe, Yakusoku looked into the kitchen and asked loudly enough to be heard by the addressed. "Do you wanna come with us, Ai?"

"No thanks, Mom and me are gonna learn a new brownie recipe- expect greatness brother, we're the best."

Yakusoku laughed at the statement. He could already taste the chocolatey goodness melting in his mouth as he closed the door behind him. Trotting to the car, he tugged the door open then climbed into the passenger's seat.

"How 'bout letting me drive home?" he asked, wiggling his brows.

"Hahaha not a chance, you're fourteen, you'll get us both killed."

"At least myself. I see the accident from an intersection on my side. I never do make good left turns."

His father laughed giving the boy a playful nudge. "I say we hit the library first, then shop, and look around that game store you wanted afterwards. Sound good?"

"Yeah." Buckling his seatbelt, he adjusted the belt across his chest until it sat comfortably, then messed with the radio until he found a good song to leave playing.

He'd never tell his friends that was a bookworm; it just didn't suit his personality, he figured. But in his heart, he was a slave to mystery novels and horror books; he believed that reading opened your mind and gave you something to think about. It honestly bothered him when glanced at a person and could just tell there was television static going on up there. Weird, huh?

Which was why you kept certain things to yourself. Secretly, he had always wanted to start a book club and discuss what was read, like he's seen on TV. But that wasn't gonna happen, unless he made some sub-friends who liked to read. Was something like that even possible? They talked to other people all the time, and he'd even met some of the other friends of his best friends, but it other friends outside of the five, hadn't happened for him yet. He wondered for a moment who would be a good choice?

The silver SUV rolled slowly over a speed bump at the library's parking entrance; and they luckily found a spot. Sometimes they'd have to settle for parking in the lot of the supermarket that was diagonally across the street from the library.

Climbing out of the car, Yakusoku closed his eyes and took a big whiff off air, knowing that his senses would fill with the familiar scent of the restaurant in front of the library. Delicious. Opening his eyes, he caught sight of a man exiting his beat-up car. The man's hand was down at his zipper, pulling it up.

'Euw.' Yakusoku thought before laughing to himself. He could only hope whatever book the guy had picked out didn't lead the man to doing whatever it was he had been doing in his car.

Following his father into the building, he instantly felt a wave of comfort wash over him. This was his shelter, his special place that he kept all for himself. Sure, his friends could easily come along with him, but they likely wouldn't unless they had a book report and went for that reason. But for him this wasn't a research center, this was second home. From the computer area, to the shelving system, the people blowing eraser shavings, or the loud kids playing hide-n-seek with anyone in sight. And that familiar smell of books. Walking past the checkout counter, which was right near the entrance, he headed for the back shelves where the books from his favorite author were placed.

He'd gone to her website a few days ago and found out that she had 3 more books published; Yakusoku was beside himself with joy! He only hoped that no one had checked them out already.

Yes! His hand practically flew to the hardback, slip-covered book and he pulled it from its place on the shelf. The other two weren't beside it. Rats. But this would do for now. Thumbing through it, he could felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He also felt a headache buzzing at the base of his skull. But, in comparison to his usual migraines, he could cruise through this with no problem. Turning from aisle, he had to stop his sudden pace before he smacked into...

"Maria? Hi. What are you doing here?" He asked, then laughed. "Duh, I mean, I didn't expect to see you here- or anyone my age for that matter. It's Saturday." He stressed the day of the week as if something were wrong with you for being at the library on such a monumental day of goofing off, for teens and kids alike.

Maria smiled shyly, her gaze lowered to the floor. "I love reading... for a girl like me, it's my best friend."

Yakusoku felt a sock in the face. He hated hearing things like that. He sort of lived in a bubble, where no one was in pain. And if they were, he'd do whatever it took to help them out of it. Which was why, all week at school, he'd been sitting with the girl and chatting with her, trying to break her out of her shell. So far, it seemed to be working. She even started conversation sometimes. He'll be back sitting with his friends, and she'll be sitting with her own new buds in no time.

"What have you got there?" he asked. The books had beautiful covers whatever they were.

"Oh. Louise Penny, she's my favorite."

Bewildered, he said. "Me too! In fact, I came for those exact books."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want them?" She held them out.

Yes he wanted them, he'd be lying if he said he didn't. "No, no... I can wait." So he lied, sue him.

"No. We can... I mean, if you want to, we can share them. Read them at lunch or... maybe I could come by your house?"

'Or maybe you could speed read and give them to me afterwards,' he thought absently.

He hated the idea of reading out loud, it took the visuals away. He liked to take his time reading to paint pictures with his mind. And yet he wanted a book club. He never said he wasn't a little complicated with his own personal desires. His mind was all over the place with most things, honestly. Aside from wanting to be a detective, he also wanted to be a novelist- in case the first dream didn't pan out. He even wrote short stories for the local newspaper. It was so cool to see his work published, even if the type wasn't his favorite, or his best. Someone obviously thought so, otherwise they wouldn't pick him every other week as the highlighted feature.

"Forget it," Maria whispered. "I'll just give them to you, and you can let me know when you're done."

"No. We can read together, its fine. We'll do it at lunch or something." He shrugged.

Walking through the aisle, he grabbed a couple mangas, then headed for the check-out. Setting the books down on the countertop, he dug in his back pocket for his library card, handing it to the clerk.

Looking over his shoulder to where Maria stood, he smiled and said, "Can you believe some guy was zipping up when he got out of his car?"

The two of them shared a laugh.

"So where are you heading after this?" he asked, trying to keep conversation going but also keeping it light so he wouldn't have to stay long.

He and his father had a full day of running errands planned, and though he had invited Enid it was mostly courtesy. He knew she wouldn't want to come, and honestly he didn't want her to come. He loved his alone time with his father.

"Are you gonna stick around here and start the book?"

"No. I figured I'd walk home."

"You walked?"

Maria nodded.

"Well, my dad can give you a ride home if you want? I'm sure he won't mind." Even as he said it he was punching himself. 'I really am a sucker for wounded birds. What's wrong with me?' He spotted his father heading towards him, a few books of his own in hand. "Dad," He called to him.

"Here you are," The clerk handed him his book, after sticking the return slip between the pages.

"Thank you." He said quickly, then walked behind Maria to where his father was standing. "Dad, can we give Maria a ride home? She walked here, and it'd suck to have to go all the way back on foot, ya know?"

"Maria?" His father asked.

"A friend from school," He jutted his thumb over his shoulder to the blonde girl.

"Sure. If she'd like."

"Thank you, Mr. Land." She said, grabbing her books up against her chest like a shield. "I don't mean to be a bother."

"It's no problem at all. Are you coming over for movie night?"

The boy's dual colored eyes widened in horror. How could his father ask something like that? Thankfully, though, Maria hadn't seen the expression. She'd have been hurt for sure. It was one thing to befriend someone and an entirely different thing to invite them into your usual group-activities. The others were going to skin him alive for this.

'Please say 'no', please say 'no',' he chanted over and over in his head.

Maria gave him a strange look, then smiled. "When is it?"

"End of the month, last day. They do it every month." His father stuffed a hand into his pocket, talking very casually. He was used to being "the cool dad" that all the kids could be comfortable around. Lifting his books from the counter, he walked to the door with the two teens in tow.

"I can't this month, I'm having a visit from my cousin."

"Oh well, bring him too."

Yakusoku gaped. This wasn't happening, this wasn't happening! Bad enough he invited someone his friends don't like, but then to invite a stranger along with her? Was his father suffering from heatstroke? No. It was April. Nothing but windy days and cloudy skies, so he was just insane.

"I don't think he'd like that. Maybe some other time," the girl replied.

It was as if Yakusoku was dying on the table and then, by the magic of medical science, he was breathing again. He almost laughed, relief washing over him. In fact, he did issue and accidental chuckle, earning a strange look from Maria and his father.

Pressing past the awkward moment with, "Huh, that's too bad." Reeve, thankfully, ended the conversation. "The car is right here. Yaku' are you alright, you look pale?"

"Huh?" His voice squeaked. "No. I'm good. Straight to your house, right Maria?"

"No. Let her come with us, she'd probably like some time alone with you." Reeve went on to say. He's really batting zero today with knowing what his son is thinking, isn't he? "You kids are always so close knit, I wonder if you'd be able to function with just one or two of you together?" He climbed into the car.

A mentally battered Yakusoku climbed into the car, Maria took the backseat. The car pulled out of the library lot then circled around the street to get to the supermarket across the way.


The three walked through the aisles of Bi-Lo, checking this item and that off the shopping list. And they had to pick up snacks for the kids' movie night. Yakusoku grabbed all his favorites and a few of Enid's. The others usually brought things with them because they wanted variety, but he and Enid always liked the same thing every time.

"You want something Maria?" Yakusoku asked.

Maria blushed; she looked as though she were ready to explode. "I thought you didn't want me to come?"

"When did I say that? And besides, even if you don't come you can still get a snack or something, our treat," he grinned handsomely causing the girl to blush further.

She fiddled with her fingernails. "Maybe, some chocolate covered pretzels?" her voice was clipped and quiet.

"I like the big soft ones, with nacho cheese," Yakusoku was saying. "They're really good, right?"

Nodding, though she'd never had any such thing, she followed her friend to the freezer section.

"They do look good." Reeve said, grabbing two bags, then a third.

"Oh, no, just the one will do."

"Nonsense, it's the weekend. Enjoy yourself, the third bag is for me." He winked at the girl.

He really can make you feel at home with his family. His dark brown hair with the peppered bits of gray strands, his rectangular glasses and thin face with the warm smile and kind personality. Mr. Land was a great guy.

After the purchases were paid for, the three got back into the car for the last two stops of the day. And since it was a little past lunch, they'd probably be stopping for Wendy's. Yakusoku could eat from that restaurant until he popped, and he'd still be stuffing his face. There was something about those squared burger patties. At this moment, they arrived at Walmart; Yakusoku went straight for the game section, Maria in tow. He looked over the selection and paused to watch a guy his age playing the new video game.

"This shit is awesome," the boy said to his audience. "And I'm only in the first half of the game!"

"What's going on?" Yakusoku asked with interest and an eye that wanted to grab the other controller.

While the boy explained the past few events the game character had been through, Maria took the time to study Yakusoku, who was now paying her no attention. She liked his black spiked up hair, his nose is adorable, and his teeth... when he smiled it was like walking in a dream, floating peacefully in the ocean or sky. His left canine stuck out a bit from the row which, odd as it sounded, made it look like he had a silver tooth capped over it, but she knew it was just from lighting hitting it weird. But still, it'd look handsome on him.

Now that she could pay attention, she also noticed that he was a couple inches shorter than her, but then she's always been taller than most girls in class- never boys, Yakusoku is the first. She wondered if...

"Badass, right?" the other boy brought her from her thoughts.

Yakusoku seemed to be frozen for the briefest second before he shook his head, and returned a smile to his face. It was weird, his headache pounded for a moment, he then felt sleepy, and then it all went away. It must have been from lack of sleep, up until last night. He was full of energy now. Opening the display case, he pulled out two games- one being the game that the boy was currently playing a demo of.

"You want anything?" He asked his friend.

"I don't play video games, sorry," she shakes her head.

"Don't be sorry because you don't like gaming, it's cool." Waving a hand over his shoulder telling her to follow him- as if he'd needed to, with the way she was puppying around him- he started away. "I wonder where my dad is?" he thought outloud.

"He's in the section with the pots and pans," replied the girl.

"Oh."

Walking around the store, he spotted his father right where Maria said he'd be. Reeve was looking over the cookware with hard consideration.

"You found what you need?" He glanced when he saw a shadow at his side.

"Yup. We don't have to go anywhere else."

"Great. I'm still looking so wander if you want and come back in a bit... then we'll get some lunch."

"Wanna look at the video cameras?" Yakusoku said as he left. He didn't care whether Maria was behind him or not, he was going.

The two teens walked through the store until they found electronics. No one else was playing by the cameras, as they normally would be, so they went right up to them; Yakusoku making faces, Maria watching the screen laughing at him. He flipped the bird to the camera then puffed out his cheeks.

Maria bravely stuck her tongue out but quickly pulled it back in blushing. But Yakusoku's laughter encouraged her that it was okay to look foolish sometimes, and so she put an 'L' on her forehead with her fingers.

"Man, I wish we could control this thing- then we could put ourselves in slow motion and do some phony spit-takes." He dreamed out loud.

"We can't touch the cameras?"

"Not that I know of." Checking his watch he lowered his hand. "My dad's probably done by now. We usually go to Wendy's for lunch, unless you like someplace else?" He walked slowly so he could keep his attention on her.

She loved the feeling. It was like that smile, that dual gaze, and his words were only for her. Beaming at her, like the sun. "No. Wendy's is fine."

"Great. If we get something different we can split it." Digging into his pocket he removed a pocket knife. "Don't worry, its clean."

"I wasn't worried."

But he hadn't really heard her, rushing on ahead to walk beside his father. Maybe someday it would be true, and all he was would be just for her. He wasn't dating anyone, not that she knew of. But with girls, you never could tell.

After lunch Maria was taken back to her home. She lived so far away from his house, it was a wonder they went to the same school. When the two day-trippers walked into the house, chocolate overwhelmed their senses instantly... and some other smell.

"Hey guys!" Ai called from the couch when the other half of his family rounded the stairs into view. "Lemon meringue brownies. It took two fails to get it right, and they'll be cool soon."

"But you can only have them after dinner," Quinn said with a suspicious show of chocolate between two teeth. "What'd you crazy kids get? Did you have a good time?" She patted the seat beside her for her husband to sit down. Yakusoku took the armchair.

"Oh we got great stuff. I got some rubber scrapers, a small pot, and a new ice tray. Since the other one is cracked."

"And I got my favorite new video game, and one I've never heard of... but it got rave reviews from a guy playing it at the store." Yakusoku included. "I only got one library book, though. But a girl I know has the other two, we're gonna read them together at school."

"Oooh, a girlfriend maybe?"

"Nooo. She's just a friend." He made sure to make that clear.

From what he'd seen on television, women were gone on romance, and would do anything to spy on some. He was not interested in anyone and probably wouldn't be until video games stopped giving him emotional and, what the hell, sometimes physical pleasure. But that's hand-wise. Sometimes he gets emotional ticks, that cause his hands to move like holding a controller or typing something. It's like drummers that always behave as though they have sticks in their hands.

"She's very shy and I thought maybe I could break her out of it, so that maybe she can make friends as good as mine on her own."

"My sweet boy," she reached across her husband's chest, to pat her son on the leg then went back to her place curled against her youngest son.

Ai was affectionate in every sense of the word, and didn't hesitate to curl up into you and treat you like a pillow. His whole family was his binky. He'd grow out of it, but for now it wasn't a bad thing. All of them turned their attention to the television where Spongebob was helping Mr. Krab's daughter Pearl change the restaurant to something more girly and teenager friendly.

Yakusoku had to take in the scene from the outside a moment. He wondered what made good people like them, what came from a good family like this. And strangely he wondered what kind of family made a shy girl like Maria? Would she be different if she were part of his family? Maybe, maybe not. He's lucky though, and he'd never change this for the world. Whatever happened between him and his real family that caused him to end up on the street, it was for the best. And he wished them nothing but happiness for him having it in return.


April 20th, Thursday.

Yakusoku decided to sit with his friends again at lunch. He'd been with Maria long enough; and he was starting to think they were mad at him. Or, maybe it was the fact that they kept glaring at him whenever he saw them in class. It wasn't a mean glare but more of an impatient one. So, he knew what he had to do, and took his seat beside Chester.

"Finally, hey buddy." He wrapped an arm around his male best friend, giving him a good jostle.

"Hey," he took the items he'd brought for lunch from the brown bag: a plastic wrapped brownie from dessert over the weekend, a banana, 2 club sandwiches, and a can of soda. "You guys have a good time at the cages?" he asked.

He would have asked on Monday or Tuesday, but he was absent.

"Not as good of time as you had over the weekend, according to Maria," said Sophie in a low, annoyed tone.

"So I hung out with Maria, it wasn't intentional. My dad invited her to come along with us while we ran errands. What's the big deal?"

Chester seemed almost giddy to fill his friend in on this. "The big deal iiiss that she's sweet on Yaku', and it's so stupid that you can't see that."

His brows furrowed in thought. "No she isn't."

"Newsflash, yeah she is," Enid said in a tone that was very unlike her. She was usually so easygoing. What was with this hard attitude all of a sudden?

"How do you know? Did she say anything about it?"

"Because when you weren't at school Monday and Tuesday, guess who was sniffing around our table asking where you were?" Enid paused for dramatics. "Maria!"

"Well, maybe she wanted to sit with me again."

"Yeah, and about that... you sat with her all last week- it's enough now! Who do you wanna hang out with more? Her or us?" Her eyes searched his face as she waited.

"You guys, of course."

"Then, please, clue her in."

Getting a bit annoyed himself, Yakusoku ground out. "I'm only trying to help her make her own friends, when that happens I'll be a thing of the past. Okay?" He tried to smile, but it looked more like a sneer. "And as far as this crush goes, she's just infatuated with me- if it's even true- because I'm being nice to her and she's not used to it. I've seen it. That's all it is." He shrugged.

"Uh huh... making friends, she's never gonna 'make friends', Yaku'." Chester took over. "Do you know what she did to 'make friends' the other day?"

"No. What?"

"She sat down with a group of girls- who mind you paid no attention to her, but she went on and moved her mouth like they were- yeah- the little weirdo was impersonating having conversations, just because we told her we didn't know where you were and we wanted her to get lost."

"I hope you didn't say that to her."

"He should have," mumbled Sophie, loud enough to be heard. "She only managed to sit with those other girls because we said that you wanted her to make her own friends, and that she damn sure needed to."

"I can't believe you guys."

And yet, he was disturbed and didn't need to have heard about Maria faking conversation with people because he'd wanted her to make her own friends.

"Guys, maybe we should just let her sit with us and be part of our group." He watched as Chester stood up while he'd been talking.

"Yaku', if we'd of known that you would have gotten around to asking that little weirdo to sit with us, we would never have let you talk to her in the first place." Patting the male on the head, he added, "She's been at this school in total for a month, and still you're the only one to speak to her. Doesn't that tell you something?"

"That the rest of the kids at this school are just as cruel as you all are," he laughed dryly. "She's just shy, you guys... you'd want the same thing done for you, if it were you in her situation."

The five of them looked as if something like that weren't even possible in pretend terms. Yakusoku spotted Maria; Chester's words came back to him, and he'd wished more than anything that Chester hadn't told him about her sitting with those other kids. But he had to be nice. It was what he would want done for him.

"Hey Maria, over here!"

The girl walked over, a smile on her usually frowning face. She really was coming out of her shell. "Hi."

"Hi. You remember the guys, right?"

"Yeah, hi." She waved. They ignored.

"Sit down."

He gestured to his seat; glaring at his friend when Maria sat down, and Chester jumped aside a country mile nearly landing on Meina's lap, while she was shoved violently into Enid. Annoyance flashed over Yakusoku's face, but he sat down beside Maria to sandwich her into the table and, with all his might, tried to be casual.

"So Ma-.."

The shy girl cut him off. "Where were you on Tuesday and Monday, I missed you."

"Out," Yakusoku replied.

He had nothing to explain to her about his whereabouts. She's not his wife and they're not dating. He owes her no explanation.

Wrapping her arms around him in a sideways hug, she said in a soft voice. "Well, I hope that you're feeling better." She smiled with all the warmth of the sun, her eyes closed in enraptured bliss.

Yakusoku looked around the table meeting the scrutinizing eyes of his best friends, all their eyes saying the same thing: We told you so.

So what, they were right. No need to look rub it in. Maybe he could detach her somehow- ditch her! There had to be some other kid in the same place as Maria. Then the two could cling to each other for dear life, and she could leave him and his friends alone.


"I think we're reading too much into all this," says Meina as they headed out of the building at the end of the day. "Maybe Yaku' is right, and Maria really is only stuck on him because he's the first and probably only person to approach her."

"It's no excuse, that creep's gotta go before she gets too comfortable," Enid snapped. "Think about it..."

And they all did. Each of them seeing a grim future with that weird, shy new girl- who even after months and years of being at the school would always be referred to as 'new girl'- and with no one but Yakusoku giving her the time of day, she would end up being around all of them just as much as they were around each other.

Enid shook the frightening thoughts away harder than anyone. Last thing she wanted was to see Maria pop up at one of their monthly movie nights, where they would sleep over at whomever's home they choose to have it in. She would be lying in her sleeping bag, awake, doing weird, shy girl things within it, her creepy eyes peering over at the Japanese American. And she would be thinking about Yakusoku as she did it.

"How are we gonna get rid of her?" Enid asked in all seriousness.

"Well," Sophie says in a voice that sounded very authoritative. "Yaku' seems to think that getting friends for her will help the situation, so we can scout around for some friends that will fit Maria's gross personality."

Meina rolled her eyes at Sophie's way of speaking. Just because you lower the word doesn't mean that you're not still being rude. "Anyway," she chimed in. "who have we seen that's... well, that's like her?"

They all looked up in thought. That was a good question. Who could top the weirdness of Maria Atkinson?

Yakusoku and Chester finally exited the building, having been in the cafeteria helping clean up. It was Chester's responsibility, since he was the one who'd done something stupid yesterday, and got put on this particularly gross duty. But as his friend, Yakusoku said he'd help to make the work of wiping down the tables, cleaning trays and things, and stacking the tables go a little faster.

The two dried their hands on dish towels, then gathered up their backpacks on the way out after Chester checked with the lunch people, assuring them that the chore was done. That's why he hated eating inside the cafeteria when outside you could practically do whatever. He'd only knocked over four kids with pre opened milk cartons. It was their own fault for opening their drink before they even found a table- call it his secret darkside.

Once outside they caught up with the girls, who were teetering on the verge of just leaving without them. But the six of them walked home together as usual. When they neared the twins home, a thought popped up in Enid's mind.

"But it is a good question, where were you Monday and Tuesday?" Enid asked. "You don't look sick." She felt his forehead to see if he were trying to be a trooper so he wouldn't miss too many days of school. Nope, just warm.

"I was at the hospital." He replied easily.

"Both days?" Meina's eyes went wide with shock. "Are you all right? Was it a surgery?"

Yakusoku shook his head. "No. Nothing like that. You know those nasty headaches I've been getting all the time, and the sleeplessness? I finally asked my dad about getting it looked at, and my mom took me to the hospital- the appointments were on separate days."

"What did the doctor say?" Massiel asked.

"He said that the headaches are probably caused by stress or something, because my scans came up clean." He shrugged. "He said that my sleeplessness could be explained the same way. It was ridiculous. Because if nothing is wrong with me, then I have to accept that I'm crazy."

"Or maybe you're actually asleep," Massiel said with eyes wide and fingers wriggling as though they're dream lines. "And all this is really just a dream."

Cocking a brow the Asian boy said in a flat tone. "I know I'm awake, Massi'."

The girl shrugged.

"Uh-oh, weird girl alert." Said Sophie whose gaze was over her shoulder.

They slowed to a stop then turned around, and sure enough there was Maria. It almost seemed that she was following them.

"She's not that bad," Yakusoku said slowly as if those words would help it sink in, and convince them that Maria was normal and great to be around. "Hey Maria over here!" he called to her.

Maria quickly hid behind a tree, waiting for a bit before she resigned herself to coming out of hiding. Walking over to them, she was about four feet away when she made a sharp turn and crossed the street, going back in the other direction. All they could do was stare.


Later that night Yakusoku and Ai had finished their homework, then the nightly routine of brushing their teeth and washing up. And were later in the midst of major gaming, in Ai's bedroom.

"Shoot shoot! Come on! I'm pressing the button!" Yakusoku shouted at the character who was being destroyed by Ai's.

"If you stop trying to do that one same attack, maybe you'd be doing a victory dance instead of me." Lowering his controller when the match was over, Ai began to do the chicken which broke off into the cabbage patch.

His older brother looked at him with mock disgust. Laughing, Yakusoku quieted and turned his head towards the door to where his mother sounded as though she'd been calling him for the last half hour.

"I'm coming!" he called down. "Don't start another fight until I get back," He got up from the floor traipsing out of the room, his socked feet thumping on the hardwood floor. "Yeah mom?" he asked when he was a stair left from being in the living room.

"Door kiddo," she said before returning to the kitchen, where she was on the phone with one of her girlfriends.

"Who is it?" he asked before pulling it open. He was sure no one was coming over tonight.

"Umm Maria Atkinson, I believe." Said his mother.

"Maria?" he said it as if he'd never even heard of the name before. "Wonder what she's doing here?"

Yakusoku had to shake his head as he felt a slight buzzing in the back of his skull. Great, another night of pain and tears. Pulling the door open, he asked, "What?" He massaged the back of his head.

"I hope this isn't a bad time," Her hands are clasped in front of her, head dipped. She almost started mumbling.

'Gee no,' thought the male. 'It's only nine o'clock, but you come on in- you live here.' Outloud he said. "No."

"Good. I mean, okay."

"What are you doing here?" After a second thought, he added, "How did you know where I live?"

"I followed you." She hadn't meant it to come out like it had but too late now.

He paused before saying. "...Yoou followed me?"

"I know, it's weird but... I wanted to thank you, for last weekend and for all the times you sat by me at lunch." She shrugged.

'And what's wrong with doing it at normal hours?' He thought, feeling uneasy and slightly annoyed.

"I know it's tough, and you probably wanna sit by your jerky friends-.."

"Maria, regardless of who they can be... you can't call my friends names."

"Right, I'm sorry." Swallowing a lump she added. "And I'm sorry, because I should have knocked sooner but... I didn't know what to say, and I was nervous." She seemed to be responding to an unsaid statement.

'Still weird- wait, what?' Asking out loud, he said. "What do you mean?"

"I came around eight but didn't knock..."

An awkward silence fell between them.

"Well, you're here," he said to break the ice. "Wanna come in?"

"No. No, I shouldn't. I have to go, but... can we maybe do it again sometime?"

"Sure," he said quickly. 'Shut up mouth!' Screamed his brain.

"Tomorrow?" She sounded hopeful.

"Not tomorrow, it's Chester's birthday, and we kinda have a thing going, but the day after for sure- I'll eat lunch with you."

"But the day after is Saturday."

"It sure is, bye Maria, see you in class." He closed the door before she could get another word out. That was a little too stalkerish for his taste. Heading back upstairs, he missed the girl peering into the home from the frosted panel beside the door. But she moved away when he was out of sight. 'Maybe I made a mistake befriending her,' He chewed on his bottom lip, a bad habit he'd adopted after he stopped chewing on his shirt collars as a young boy.

April 21rst, Friday.

Massiel was opening a small box containing eight individually sliced pieces of marble pound cake shaped like a loaf of bread. Meina produced a jar of chunky strawberry jam to top them with, and Sophie passed out the paper plates with little colorful balloons printed on them. They all stood up around the table.

"Alright, cellphones out," Sophie instructed.

They each opened their phone, which had a picture of a single, lit candle as the background.

"I could cry," said the birthday boy, wiping a fake tear.

"Aaand close." Enid flipped her phone shut and everyone followed.

It hurt him to do it, but Yakusoku couldn't help glancing over at Maria. She was sitting on the ground, all alone, in front of a tree looking down at her lap when secretly, he knew she was watching them.

"Damn guilt trips," Thought the charitable teen out loud.

Grabbing a wrapped piece of cake from the box, he scooped some jam onto the side of the plate and stood.

"Oh, proposing a toast?" Chester wondered.

"Naah, I'm gonna bring a piece over to Maria; I feel bad."

Baffled, Chester asked, "What for? She's not one of us, let her figure it out on her own."

"Figure what out? She just looks so damned lonely. Look at her!"

Cocking a brow, Chester said in a snide tone. "How does that help me care?"

Massiel laughed, reaching across the table to high-five the dirty blond.

Rolling his eyes, he replied. "Because she feels left out."

"Can't feel left out of something you were never really a part of," Meina said so blandly, it was as though she were saying "and if you spread the butter like this it won't rip the bread".

But coming from the sweet girl, that comment stung the most. From Chester, Massiel, and sometimes Sophie, it was expected, but he thought better of the good twin and it really hurt his image of her.

"I'm just gonna give her a piece of cake and come back. Not a big deal." He started away.

"Deeead man walking." Chester called to Yaku's back. "Hang out with her once, boo on us, hang out with her all week and you're gonna end up in a bodybag- smothered by love."

Seeing Yakusoku getting closer, the blonde girl instantly perked up. Looking at the plate when he knelt down beside her, she asked. "What's this?"

"Pound cake, it's for you."

"Chester doesn't mind?" She took the plate.

"Not at all!" he lied. "Here, I'll sit with you." He dropped down beside her.

Hesitantly, the girl unwrapped the cake, then picked a piece off, dunking it into the jam. "Mmm." A secret smile spread through her eyes when Yakusoku took a small piece.

"So tell me about yourself; I've been sitting with you all these times and don't really know that much personally." He swallowed his bite. "What was your old school like, do you have any brothers or sisters?"

"Well," She began softly. "No. But I have a cousin that I'm close to."

"That's cool. I don't know my real family so if I have cousins I'm blissfully unaware of it." He explained further by saying, "I'm adopted."

"Really?" she said as if it confirmed something she'd been wondering.

"Uh-huh."

"You're lucky then."

Yakusoku thought that was odd. "I think that you're the one that's lucky- don't get me wrong, I love the Land family, I consider them my real family. But sometimes I wonder about my real family."

"Not me. My mother hates me- thinks I'm a freak."

'Sensitive subject; I'd better change the topic,' he thought.

"And to answer the question of school, I was mostly alone..." There was a hard pause, then Maria said. "I'm different."

He could feel his mind buzzing again, tighter, sharper, like a rubber band being stretched to its limit.

"But we're the same, you know," she went on.

Swallowing hard, he stood up swaying to the point of having to place a hand on the tree. The world was blurry; his head hurt so bad. "I've gotta.." he muttered, or at least he thought he'd said something. "I feel kind of sick, I'm gonna go sit with the o- others."

Maria frowned, her ice colored eyes staring hard. "What's the matter?"

'I must be tired,' he thought. 'I heard her speak but... I didn't see her mouth move.' He rocked on his heels before slumping over onto her. Her high laughter filled his ears. The world around him blurred, but through it he saw... he saw those kids from that dream he'd had.

"Yaku'!? Yaku'!?" Maria shook him until his eyes opened. "Are you all right? You fell asleep instantaneously it was like... I've never seen anything like that." The girl's voice was panicked.

"I fell asleep?" he mumbled through the haze.

Had he fallen asleep? That had never happened before? Just passing out like that- no... no... he'd done it that one night before, when he was watching that movie. He'd just dropped off. What was going on with him? Was he losing his mind?

Before he could dig any further, he felt himself being lifted to his feet.

"What are you gonna live over here?" Enid asked, helping Chester steer Yakusoku back to their table. "The bell is about to ring."

Yakusoku heard Chester chime in when he pulled away from them. "Dude, why the hell were you laying on Maria's shoulder? You're not actually sweet on her, are you?"

"I just fell asleep, that's all."

"Fell asleep?" Chester looked baffled at that. "Why?"

Enid looked over her shoulder casting a nasty glare at Maria who, surprisingly, was glaring right back. When she noticed Enid staring, she twisted her face into a smile.

Later that afternoon Yakusoku, Enid, and Sophie were walking home together. Chester and the twins were still at school helping set up for the dinner banquet for the sports awards that night. They were only helping because their parents volunteered to help cook; the usual cafeteria cooks couldn't have been happier, because they were tired of the kids and parents complaining about the taste of the food being below their standards of taste when the meal was something other than pizza or grinders. But they'd like to see them make gourmet meals with such a small budget.

"You know, Yaku', you're lucky that I saved you when I did," Enid was said, with no hint of know-it-all in her tone. "What were you doing falling asleep on her shoulder like that? Are you insane?"

"No," replied the accused.

The girls looked at one another as if wishing the boy had said, "yes".

"So then it's true. You've fallen for her?" Sophie cocked an inquiring brow his way.

"Who said that?" snapped the only boy in the trio.

Sophie shrugged, not wanting to get her friend into trouble. Glaring, Yakusoku took a few steps ahead of the two and with a 'huff' in his gaze, he said tightly. "Tell Chester, and anyone else talking about it, that I do NOT like her that way. Got it!"

Again the girl shrugged.

"When you're the only one speaking to her, it's kind of hard to persuade the crowd of otherwise- I mean, dude, she's got no friends outside of you. I asked around today, and the other kids haven't even heard of her." Smiling her plain but pretty face, lit up. "But not to worry... because we, your best friends, plan on finding someone else for the 'wallflower-for-life' to hang on to."

Sarcastically he replied. "Gee, thanks."

"Uuh..." Enid pointed a finger ahead of them.

Sophie and Yakusoku looked in that direction, seeing Maria Atkinson, and she was looking right at them, waving.

'Oh come on! Being friendly is one thing, but dude, you're not my whole life.' He balked at the girl mentally. Feeling a pat on his shoulder, he turned his head.

"You're on your own, Yaku'," Sophie said.

"Yeah," added Enid, "she's all yours."

The two girls took hands and crossed the street immediately after. Before he could say, "wait" the blonde girl was nearly under his nose.

"Hi, Yakusoku... wanna walk home together?"

Resuming his walk, he replied with a knowing statement. "I didn't know you lived this way." He specifically knew where she lived because his father dropped her off that day.

"You know I don't... I don't know what it is about today but... I just wanna walk with you."

He shrugged nonchalantly.

They walked silently for a moment, then Maria took a breath to get her voice going. "...Can I hang out at your place when we get there? I won't eat anything, or impose in your personal space."

'What do you think you're doing now?' he rolled his eyes in wonder.

Just as he thought it, he mentally slapped himself for being rude. His friends' words WEre really getting to him. He noticed that Maria looked very hurt, almost as if she'd heard him.

'Hmhmhm,' He chuckled in his head. 'They really are getting to me; I feel like I have to explain to her that we're just friends so she doesn't get the wrong idea. Maria doesn't like me, they're nuts!' Turning his attention to her he began to say, "Hey Maria-"

But she cut him off, asking a question out of the blue. "So you're adopted... do you have any siblings?"

"Yeah, he's ten. His name is Ai."

"So your foster parents did that on purpose? Calling him, Ai, so it sounds like 'island' when you put it together, and you're Promise?"

Blinking, he asked, "You speak Japanese?"

"No, why?"

"Just... weird, that's all." He then thought. 'I never told her about that, so how does she...?'

"I spoke to Maina, she told me about it."

'Maina, of course.' That sounded like something the sweet girl would do, especially if she thought that he liked Maria, and they'd eventually have to accept her company.

"You mentioned before how you're all learning your native languages, is it fun?"

"Yeah."

"How far along are you?"

"I've been studying it since I was ten, so I'm alright," he felt embarrassed about it.

He hated being patted on the back exclusively- collectively, was fine. But when you zeroed in on him, it drove him nuts. Kind of like how he hated taking his clothes off.

"It's still a bit weird speaking it outright, though."

"I'm sure it is... You know, it might not feel as weird if you have someone to speak it with. I could learn with you; it could be our thing." She elbowed him good-naturedly.

As far as he was concerned he didn't wanna have 'a thing' with her. It was amazing how he went from wanting to befriend the girl- however slight- to being completely repulsed by her and wanting to get away. Or avoid her at all cost because people were starting to talk. He didn't realize how insecure he was over his image. Not good.

The boy slowed to a stop. "Oh..."

"What is it?"

"You probably can't come over today. There's a sports banquet tonight at school, my whole family is going, and we'll be showering and whatnot, so..." He saw the girl's posture sag. "I will hang out with you all Saturday, I swear, just not today. Sorry."

"It's okay."

Sighing in defeated agitation, he pulled out a notepad and wrote his number down. "Call me." He tore the sheet out of the pad. Raising a hand as though he were going to slap her, he pushed the paper firmly in her hand. "See ya."

Taking the folded paper, she says softly. "Thank you. Bye."

Yakusoku turned away and started down the street, hoping that Maria would turn and go to her own home.

The girl frowned and crumpled the paper in her hand. "Asshole."

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