The twins, Keisuke and Iroha entered Saga Nishi High School with other students studying them, keeping a careful eye on them as if they were waiting for the twins to make a false move. Their strong Japanese facial features with their natural green eyes attracted the most attention. They were escorted by their teachers to their respective classrooms. As they were siblings, they had to be put into separate classes.
Both of them introduced themselves after writing the kanji of their names on the board. They mentioned their hobbies and what clubs they wanted to join, Keisuke wanted to join soccer and Iroha wanted to join basketball. The one thing they didn’t mention was where they came from. It wasn’t that they were ashamed, they didn’t want the pity. They both decided to speak the Tokyo standard dialect to hide their Fukushima dialect. After their introduction, they were told to take their seats which both happened to be the corner seat in the back row next to the window.
Students in both classes stole glances and whispered as the homeroom teacher talked. Keisuke tuned it out as he focused on what his homeroom teacher was saying. Iroha acted like she was paying attention to her homeroom teacher but she focused on listening to her classmates. Some of the students closer to her whispered about her eyes but she did happen to catch others say Fukushima. She hoped being from Fukushima wouldn’t cause problems.
After the homeroom teacher finished and the bell rang, the students got up to do various things. The girl in front of Iroha turned around in her seat. She was one of the Japanese who had natural brown hair instead of the standard black. While brown was a normal hair color for Japanese, in some schools it was considered too different and students with brown hair had to dye it black. Iroha was thankful this wasn’t one of those schools as she and her brother both had brown hair that was lighter than the Japanese standard brown. She wondered if they would’ve made them wear black contacts to cover their green eyes. The girl kept her hair in a pony tail but allowed two locks of hair to run down the sides of her face that stopped at her chin.
“I’m Riri,” the girl said.
“You’re half aren’t you?”
Iroha nodded. “Yeah, my father is American.”
“That is so cool. You have the prettiest eyes.”
“Thanks. My brother has them too.”
“I bet your brother is handsome.”
Iroha shrugged. “I suppose. You’ll have to make that call yourself.”
“Where are you from?”
There it was. The question she didn’t want to answer but wasn’t going to lie about it either.”
“Mostly everything is north of Saga. Are you from Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Tokyo? I’ll say somewhere around Tokyo since you’re not speaking with a dialect.”
“I’m from north of Tokyo. Fukushima.”
“Does that mean you...”
“A refugee? Yeah I guess you could call me that.”
“No, I was going to ask if you could speak Tohoku dialect.”
Iroha felt her face warm up. She had assumed Riri was going to ask about the disaster but it had ended up being about something innocent like the incomprehensible Tohoku dialect. Anyone living outside of the Tohoku region did not understand the Tohoku dialect. It was like its own language.
“Yeah, I speak Tohoku dialect.”
“Wow, can you teach me a few words sometime? I’m really interested in learning about the other dialects of Japan.”
“You should talk to my dad. He wants to learn all the other dialects and then use them interchangeably.”
“I’ve had the same idea,” Riri said. “Sometimes I like to mix Saga dialect with Miyazaki dialect. It confuses people but it’s fun.”
“Are you from Miyazaki?”
Riri nodded. “Yeah, my family moved here last year from Misato. It’s a small town deep in the mountains. And when I say small I mean if you blink you’ll miss it.”
As she talked more with Riri, Iroha noticed something in the blooming sakura tree just outside her classroom. There was something black among the pink leaves with piercing unwavering eyes. It filled Iroha with dread. She returned her full attention to Riri and the dread lightened but there was still some in the back of her mind.
Keisuke walked out of school with some of his classmates who were also joining the soccer team. The first chance they got, those wanting to join the soccer team surrounded Keisuke wanting to know more about him and be his friend. None of them raised any red flags as they were also first years. Their interest seemed genuine. Keisuke was relieved that he wasn’t going to have a hard time making friends as he originally thought.
“What position did you play in junior high school?” one kid named Yuta asked.
“I was a forward.”
“Were you good?”
Keisuke smiled and shook his head. “No, I’m pretty mediocre actually. I just enjoy playing.”The group had started to turn in the direction of the moat before they realized Keisuke had stopped walking. He stood against the small tree that was on the edge of the sidewalk and flanked by bushes.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
“Is she cute?”
Keisuke laughed. “You’ll probably think she is.” As he talked with the others, a black paw from the bush right behind Keisuke reached for his ankle with its claws extended. Iroha and Riri approached them. The claw stopped just short of Keisuke’s achilles tendon. It could easily slice through the tendon and end the kid’s soccer playing days. However, with the arrival of the two girls, the black cat rethought its strategy.
“So this is your brother?” Riri asked. “He’s handsome.”
Keisuke was unprepared for Riri’s directness. He felt his face slightly warm up and he looked away. The other guys jumped in between him and the girls instantly grabbing and vying for the girls’ attention.
“I’m Uehara Shohei. I play soccer. They call me Showtime.”
“No they don’t,” another boy said. “I’m Hirata Ryota. I’m also on the soccer team.”
“I’m Goto Kodai,” the third said pushing the other two out of the way. “I play soccer too. Please come watch me.”
“His nickname is ‘Bardock’,” Hirata said.
“Why do they call him that?” Iroha asked.
Hirata went to answer but then stopped. He looked at Uehara who just shrugged. “Actually, I’m not sure. It’s just something we all call him.”
The two girls laughed. “We call him that too.” Bardock just shook his head as he stared at the other two boys with his hands on his hips.
That Friday evening after school, Riri came home with Iroha and Keisuke. Will and Chitose were happy to see their kids adjusting well and making friends so quickly. Keisuke retreated to his room to relax as the two girls occupied the living room. Being around Riri caused him to remain tense, especially seeing her in casual clothes. Once the door closed, he could breathe regularly again. Something outside his window caught his attention but he didn’t see anything in the darkness. He closed the curtain before dropping onto his bed with a sports magazine but thoughts of Riri kept him from focusing on the magazine.
After spying on Keisuke black cat jumped down to the veranda on the first floor to spy on the girls as they sat on the couch watching television. It watched them talk and laugh about things it didn’t understand. It was so focused on the girls that it was startled when Chitose suddenly appeared and opened the sliding door. Chitose took a step back and screamed when she saw a black cat hissing at her. It took a swipe at her face with its claws extended.
Chitose stumbled back to avoid the claws that seemed to stretch too far from the cat’s paw. Both Iroha and Riri rushed over to help and that’s when the cat jumped back into the darkness.
“What happened?” Iroha asked.
“A cat startled me took a swipe at me,” she said. “It’s weird because I’ve been seeing black cats wherever I go and it feels like they’re all watching me.”