As soon as Senda Sensei noticed Yuki’s absence in homeroom, Ami jumped up and said she’d go find her. Yuki wasn’t in the locker room. Ami ran outside to the equipment room. She paused, took a deep breath, opened the doors. The room was empty. Everything was in its proper place, like nothing had happened.
Ami wished with all her heart that nothing had.
She locked the doors, and concocted a vague excuse about Yuki having something at home that needed taking care of. Senda Sensei showed no desire to doubt her, especially when there wouldn’t be a parent helicoptering in to give him grief about whatever the errant student was actually up to.
Yuki’s “permanent record” cut her a lot of slack in the opposite direction. That’s the way she is. Yuki would cheerfully agree.
Ami wished she could say the same thing about herself—that her life could go back to the way it was before Yuki Yamakawa showed up. That was at the root of her anger. Yuki was change personified, a permanent threat to the status quo. Ami had been perfectly happy with the status quo.
Six hours later, after attending juku and listening with only half her mind, the events of that afternoon still made no sense. The status quo was nowhere in sight.
The scalding water of the o-furo roused from her tortured muscles and bones the thoughts she’d been harboring since that afternoon, the precise moment when Yuki figured out everything about her.
I’m sorry. I didn’t know.
“But now you do,” Ami said aloud. She lowered her chin to the surface of the water, the steam beading on her face. “You’ve known from the start.”
Ami didn’t. Yuki chattering on about foxes and wolves was her way of saying they were more like each other than anybody else. That strange awareness that awakened inside her—Yuki knew what it meant and how to interpret it. But aside from their shared strength and heightened senses, Ami couldn’t imagine what it was.
She’d always assumed she was a one-off and didn’t mind being one. But two was a crowd, and the way Yuki talked there must be more, Ami’s father among them. Was that why he left? So Ami would grow up “normal”? Not like Yuki. What if she was more like Yuki than she wanted to admit?
When Ami got out of the bath, her mother was still in the living room, absorbed in her spreadsheets.
“The o-furo’s free,” Ami said.
Her mother glanced up and smiled. “Thanks,” she said, and went back to her paperwork.
Watching from the hallway, Ami was struck by the realization that even if her mother became a civil servant to spite her family (an accusation she’d heard flung back and forth by relatives who thought she wasn’t listening), her mother liked what she did and was good at it. She’d made her choices and owned them. Ami wanted the courage to do the same with her own life.
“Ami, did you need something?”
With a small start, Ami realized she’d been standing there lost in her thoughts. “Um, you know, we’ve got this new transfer student at school.”
“Yeah, she has this mutation where the melanocytes in her hair roots don’t make any eumelanin.” In response to her mother’s bemused look, Ami said, “She’s got white hair.”
“She’s really good with dogs. And she’s really, um, strong—”
Her mother nodded with the appropriate show of attentiveness, though Ami didn’t miss how her eyes darted down and then up again. Ami knew exactly what she was thinking, because it was the same thing Ami thought whenever Yuki barged in and derailed her train of thought: How can I nicely tell you to go away so I can finish what I’m doing?
Ami said with a casual wave of her hand, “Naw, it’s not important. Just this weird friend I have at school. So what’s with all the overtime?”
“Oh, this—” With a self-effacing laugh, her mother surveyed the coffee table. She took a deep breath and let it out. “Wada-san seems to believe that property values are like price stickers at the convenience store. Slap on a bar code and that’s how much it’s worth. I would have expected the man to have a better grasp of real-world economics. And why is he getting so involved anyway?”
Ami was pretty sure her mother was asking herself that last question. Except the name sounded familiar. “Wada-san—isn’t he the guy who’s managing my trust fund?”
“Yes, but that’s nothing for you to worry about. Worry about your school work and entrance exams instead.”
There was her mother’s kind and reassuring smile. And now they were back on familiar parental ground.
“Yes, mother,” Ami answered with an exaggerated bow, like the dutiful daughter in a historical drama.
As she turned to leave, her mother added, “But don’t stay up too late.”
“You neither,” Ami called back, and ran noisily up the stairs to her room.
Considering the work her mother was putting into the project, there was more to this Wada-san business than she was letting on. There was certainly more to this Yuki business than Ami had let on. And yet without intending to, she had spoken the truth—Yuki was her friend. If Ami honestly wished to live her own life, true to her own self, all she had to do was ask.