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Ink

Paper Gods 1

by

Amanda Sun

Chapter 1

I made it halfway across the courtyard before I realized I was still wearing my school slippers. No lie. I had to turn around and slink all the way back to the genkan, the stifled laughs from my classmates trailing me as I mustered what slippered dignity I could.

God, way to scream foreigner. You’d think after a couple of weeks I’d have the routine down, but no. I’d gone into that mode again, the one where I forgot everything for a minute and walked dazed through the sounds of the Japanese being spoken around me, not fully comprehending that it wasn’t English, that I was on the other side of the world, that Mom was…

“Katie!”

I looked up to see Yuki running toward me, breaking from a group of girls who stopped chatting, staring at us. Their stares weren’t unfriendly—they just weren’t exactly subtle.

I guess that’s expected when you’re the only Amerika-jin in the school.

Yuki grabbed my arms with her slender fingers. “You do not want to go in there,” she said in English, motioning at the school entrance behind us.

“Um, I kind of have to,” I answered in broken Japanese.

Forget English, Diane had said. It’s the easiest way to get flu-ent faster. It’s easier to forget everything, I guess. Forget I ever had any other kind of life.

Yuki shook her head, so I pointed at my slippered feet.

“You still shouldn’t,” she said, this time in Japanese. I liked that about Yuki—she knew I was trying. She didn’t insist on English like some of the other kids. “There’s an ugly breakup going on in the genkan. Really, really awkward.”

“What am I supposed to do, wait?” I said. “I’ll just be in and out, ten seconds.” I held out my fingers for emphasis.

“Trust me,” she said, “you don’t want to get in the middle of this.”

I peeked around her shoulder, but I couldn’t see anything through the glass. I tapped the toe of my slipper on the ground; it felt so flimsy.

“Some big shot?” I said in English, and Yuki cocked her head to the side. “You know, a daiji na hito or something?” If Yuki was worried, it was probably gossip-worthy.

She leaned in conspiratorially. “Yuu Tomohiro,” she whispered. In Japan, everyone went by their last names first. “He’s fighting with Myu.”

“Who?”

Yuki’s friends giggled behind us. Had they been eavesdropping the whole time?

“Myu, his girlfriend,” she said.

“No, I know Myu. The other one,” I said.

“Yuu Tomohiro?” Yuki said, her arms waving wildly as if that would jog a memory I didn’t have. “Top of the kendo team? They let him get away with almost anything. You don’t want to draw his attention, trust me. He has this cold stare.

I dunno…he seems dangerous.”

“So, what, he’s going to stare me down?”

Yuki rolled her eyes. “You don’t get it. He’s unpredictable.

You don’t want to make enemies with a third year in your first two weeks, do you?”

I bit my lip, trying to peer through the glass door again.

I didn’t need more attention, that’s for sure. I just wanted to blend in, get my homework done and drift through school until Nan and Gramps could take me in. But I also didn’t want to stand in the courtyard in a pair of slippers, stuck for who knows how long. Anyway, it’s not like they could make my life a living hell if I left Japan, and it would all be sorted out soon, right? This wasn’t where Mom intended me to end up. I knew that.

“I’m going in,” I said.

“You’re crazy,” Yuki said, but her eyes shone with excitement.

“They don’t scare me.”

Yuki raised her fists up to her chin. “Faito,” she said. Fight.

In her most encouraging, you-can-do-it voice.

I grinned a little, then stepped toward the door. Even from outside I could hear the muffled yelling. When it died down for a minute, I took my chance.

Just in and out. I’m in slippers, for god’s sake. They’re not even going to hear me.

I pulled open the door and let it close quietly behind me before I stepped onto the raised wooden floor. My heartbeat pounded in my ears. The yelling was still muffled, and I realized the couple were on the other side of the sliding door into the school. Perfect—no way they’d see me now.

I snuck between the rows and rows of shoe cubbies looking for mine. It wasn’t hard to find—it was the only one with a pair of leather shoes sticking out approximately a mile, surrounded by the neatly tucked-away slippers in everyone else’s boxes. We all wore slippers in the school to keep it clean, but they weren’t your typical cozy bedroom slippers. They were more like papery white f lats. Japan had slippers for everything—school, house, toilet room, you name it.

I reached for my shoes as Myu’s high and whiny voice echoed from the hallway behind the sliding door. Rolling my eyes, I pulled off the first slipper and then the other, clunking my shoes onto the floor and sliding my feet in.

And then the door slid open with a crash.

I crouched down, jolted by the footsteps stomping toward me. I did not want in on this performance.

“Matte!” Myu shouted, followed by a flurry of shuffling footsteps. “Wait!”

I glanced at the door to the courtyard—too far to make it without being seen. And just by trying to plan my escape route, I’d waited too long. If she saw me now, the way I was pressed against the wall all spylike, she’d think I was eavesdropping, and I didn’t need rumors circulating about me. I was already a gaijin, an outsider—I didn’t need to be a weirdo, too.

“Oi,” said a second, annoyed voice. It was deep and rich—

must be Yuu Tomohiro, dangerous kendo star. He didn’t sound that dangerous. In fact, he sounded pretty disinterested. Cold, like Yuki had said.

Myu rapidly churned out Japanese words I didn’t know. I caught a particle here and a past tense there, but let’s face it—

I’d only been in the country for a little more than a month and studying for five. I’d crammed all the Japanese I could, but I realized the minute I was on the plane that it had all been useless if I wanted to have a real conversation. At least I could name just about all the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store.

Great plan there. Real useful. Things had improved since I arrived, but still, talking to Yuki or taking notes in class was not the same as following the high-pitched babbling of a major social breakup like this one. That was hard enough in English. I could really only make out the most important detail, which was that she was seriously pissed. You didn’t need much vocab to tell.

I peeked around the wall of cubbies, hugging the wooden frame so I wouldn’t be seen. Yuu Tomohiro had stopped in his tracks, his back to me and his head tilted back, staring up at her. Myu’s long legs made her school

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