Her name was Aika and Christian had been obsessed with her the moment she transferred to Willowbrook High. In the first week, he managed to hear every hint and rumour there was to know: her second name was Hisama, people were sure she’d moved straight from Japan, and she hadn’t spoken a word to anyone. In the beginning, students thought maybe Aika wasn’t great with English, but those looking to cheat in class saw she wrote fluently. In fact, she appeared to be some form of prodigy, always having the correct answers. During lunch hours Aika spent her time in the library with her head ducked down over a Japanese language novel, and she made a point of being in the classroom before anybody else. Her physical appearance only served to magnify these oddities; her skin was pale, and her long hair hung down to her waist. Kids took to calling her Samara like the girl from that creepy horror film, The Ring. Except never to her face. Strangely, in a school notorious for its bullies, Aika maintained a wall around herself.
Christian wasn’t as impervious. He was average in every way, often overlooked in favour of weaker targets, but he’d been in a few fights and girls laughed when he tried to speak to them. It hadn’t bothered him much, chicks acted stupidly anyway, gossiping and squealing. Before Aika arrived the year before, Christian didn’t think about how he still hadn’t had his first kiss. Now, after months of Aika, it was all that was ever on his mind.
Aika’s kiss would be soft, of course, and she’d blush, bringing blood to those snowy cheeks. Probably some of her hair would end up in their faces and Christian would laugh as she giggled. He’d brush the strands away to steal another kiss. More blushing would follow. Aika showed no outward sign of a personality at school, but Christian was convinced she was just shy. He’d looked online and found something about selective mutism. Some people wouldn’t or couldn’t talk in certain situations, and many spoke only around close family members or friends. That had to be what was going on with Aika.
Aika’s silence and fragility were what held Christian back from approaching her, of course. He didn’t want to scare her by forcing her into a conversation, so he simply made sure to sit as near as possible to her in class. There was no point in trying to get her to speak, and that was why Christian spied on her from between the bookshelves in the library. Eventually, she’d come out of her shell to somebody, but until then, Christian would pay close attention to her from afar. The ritual of following Aika home had begun a month ago.
Christian told himself it was innocent enough since Aika’s route to and from school converged with his own anyway. Her house was only a few streets in the opposite direction; it wasn’t like he was tailing her halfway across the city. And his only intention was to watch her out there on the street. It was a free country; he wasn’t hurting anybody, he’d never do anything to scare her. That wasn’t the same as stalking. Definitely not.
These were the thoughts circling Christian’s mind on that chilly afternoon. Resting his back against a tree near the school entrance, he stood waiting and arguing his point internally as usual. The howling of the other students as they shot out of the doors and into the streets or onto the bus had faded and only the moan of the wind remained. Everything around him, from the crumbling walls of the school to the overcast sky, seemed to stare back at him, accusation written on bricks and glass and clouds. Shaking himself, Christian shoved his hands into his jean pockets and glared straight ahead. What was wrong with taking a break? Okay, so he was waiting for Aika to leave the library before he moved but was it really that bad?
It had been a particularly frustrating day. Christian flunked his chemistry test, Jeff Roberts had kicked him down the last set of stairs to the cafeteria, and he’d overheard Megan Winchester snickering about how Christian would suit a trench coat because, quote, “BLAM!” The idiot Winchester bitch was completely delusional. He wouldn’t dream of shooting up the school; no way was he going to jail–or worse–for any of these mouth-breathers.
Christian’s mood was terrible, and he started to curse Aika for being so weird, so quiet, and for forcing him to wait out there like a moron. It wasn’t fair, and he knew it, but Christian let his mind switch from second-guessing his actions to bitter complaints about the girl he considered himself to be in love with. These thoughts were becoming increasingly irrational when the doors of the school pushed open, and Aika made her graceful descent down the steps, onto the main path.
Christian remained still, eyes fixed on Aika’s back, watching her hair swing from side to side. It was important to leave enough space between them for her not to notice him. Aika was never particularly aware of her surroundings, but Christian didn’t want to risk scaring her. She was probably the type to run from her own shadow. That serenity and distant air were defence mechanisms. He was sure of it.
A respectable distance established, Christian pushed off from the tree and began to follow in Aika’s footsteps. The residential areas around Willowbrook High were surprisingly relaxed in comparison with the school and it was rare to see many residents on the walk home. This afternoon it looked like there would be nobody at all and, for some reason, that was unsettling. Something about the atmosphere, the chill, the lack of birds, the empty road… It was weird. If at least one car pulled itself into a driveway, Christian might have been able to throw off the sensation of being watched. To avoid spooking himself completely, Christian fixed his attention on Aika.
The girl’s cuteness was undeniable. Aika was petite, easily one of the shortest girls in the school, and she moved like a dancer. She was exempt from gym class for some reason but she could probably put the rest of the school’s show-offs to shame. Watching her carefree traipsing, Christian pictured her in a gymnast’s tight leotard, mounting the box horse, holding herself expertly as she used her hands to cross it before dismounting perfectly. The imagery was enchanting, and the teenager snapped back to attention when he noticed he’d subconsciously picked up his pace.
Aika had reached the beginning of her street. Christian sighed. It was his cue to hang at the corner and pause until she’d walked past those few houses down to her own, disappearing between the hedges.
Except… Today it wasn’t enough. A tingling in his skin told him so, as did the pounding of his heart. As if to seal the deal, Aika stopped in front the gate to her garden. Christian was ready to collapse, positive she’d look his way. Aika merely tilted her head for a moment as though listening to the noiseless street. A strong gust of wind blew past, and she vanished, through the gate and out of sight.
It was wrong, Christian knew it as he walked down towards Aika’s house. He was taking things too far. But no, Christian only wanted to know more about her. That was fine; it meant he cared enough to work her out before getting close. Aika was obviously not a normal girl. Normal wouldn’t help. This was okay. It was alright. His intentions were well-meant. Christian peered through the gate at Aika’s home as his heart thundered in his rib cage and his throat dried up.
The building was a standard detached house, much like the others in the area, but it showed signs of neglect. Other homeowners were proud in this area, washing their windows, making sure the paint remained fresh, tending their gardens like they were going to be judged for a contest. Aika’s parents must not have cared for such pretence. Or maybe they couldn’t afford to. Paint was flaking from the brickwork, and tiles had fallen from the roof, the shattered pieces strewn carelessly. The garden was a muddle of tall dead grass overseen by a gigantic dead tree. Naked branches twisted away from the gnarled trunk and stabbed out towards the sky in a challenge to the sun.
Christian gently opened the gate and stepped into the garden. If her house was like this on the outside, what if it was worse inside? What if she was silent because her parents were cruel? Surely getting a glance inside to check was acceptable or even noble. If Aika was living in terrible conditions, then Christian could phone somebody about it or at least leave an anonymous note for the head master. Dead grass brushed across his legs as Christian envisioned himself bursting inside to grab the upheld wrist of a wrathful father. They were really strict in Japan, weren’t they? Christian would save Aika and she would be overjoyed to have someone see her pain. That was how it would be.
It was as he pinned himself against the side of the house that Christian began to hear singing from inside. Whoever it was, they had a young, feminine voice and were exceptionally talented. Surely it wasn’t Aika? The song was in Japanese, as far as Christian could tell, and it had a bittersweet quality to it that caused the heart to pang. Christian crept around the corner of the building and began peeking into windows. He’d been right in his assumption–the inside mimicked the outside. There were no carpets and the floorboards had seen better days. Newspaper and other debris scattered about the rooms and the furniture was probably picked up at the scrap yard. The contrast of the decayed sight and the sound of the singing was too much. He rubbed his eyes furiously.
As Christian neared the back of the house, the song grew louder, and the chill to the air was nearly painful. It was although the melody stirred up the frost of the season, the voice being the joy and the wind delivering the sorrow. If only he could understand the lyrics, Christian thought. There was something important about the message. Caught in this musing, Christian turned his head to inspect what he assumed would be the kitchen and found himself staring directly into the face of the singer. It was Aika. For a moment he was stuck in place, eyes wide and breath frozen. Aika stopped singing at the end of a line, not abruptly, not in shock. She merely returned his gaze, a hint of curiosity in her eyes.
Christian dropped down and crouched beneath the window. What was he doing? She was going to call the police. He was trespassing. He should leave. He–
Above Christian’s head, the window creaked open. A delicate arm dropped down from the sill and the fingers gave a mischievous wiggle. Once more Aika began to sing but this time… Well, it sounded like a coy serenade.
It was definitely getting colder out there in the garden. Christian stood up with difficulty and turned to Aika again, not knowing exactly how to act. Why wasn’t she angry or at least creeped out?
“Hello, Christian,” her smile was sweet and her voice was music even in speech, “Did you come to visit?”
She spoke! And she knew his name? Christian wasn’t sure which surprised him the most. In fact, he still wasn’t sure of anything. Around him, the wind continued to snap but for the time being, he seemed to have lost all his senses.
“Silly boy, did the kitty come and steal your tongue?” Aika giggled and Christian couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of the situation. He coughed and ruffled his hair. His hands were frigid.
“Uh… No tongue-stealing kitty, just… I’ve never heard you speak.”
“Ah but you have never even said hello!”
She had him there.
While guilt writhed inside his gut, Aika continued to smile at Christian, “You are cold, you should come in!”
A panic jumped up into Christian’s throat and his voice was strangled, “Ah, but are your parents home? Wouldn’t they be mad if a boy was in the house?”
“No, no, silly boy. No parents are going to get you in trouble. Come in through the back door. I will open it for you!”
Aika shut the window firmly and Christian could see her crossing the kitchen to open the door. This was like a dream but there was no way he was going to miss a chance to be close to his fascination. Christian stumbled as he half-ran to the door. When he reached it, Aika appeared again and stood aside to let him in.
The kitchen was dingy and dusty, with dirty plates piled on the counters. Again Christian felt a stab of sympathy. Or was it protectiveness?
Aika caught where his eyes travelled, “My apologies for the state of my home, I have not been tidying.”
“Yeah but doesn’t your Mum do any of it?” asked Christian. Now inside, he was beginning to feel some warmth returning to his skin. Aika’s presence added to his heating up. In response to his question, Aika tilted her head like a puppy. She was far too adorable to be real.
“My mother is not here anymore.” The reply was simple and devoid of emotion.
Even so, Christian began to mumble about how he was sorry he’d asked. This seemed to amuse Aika, “Oh, silly boy, are you not a worrier? You are so concerned about the poor quiet girl in the messy house, are you?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Christian fumbled, caught off-guard. Aika was bolder than he expected. Thankfully, it seemed that Aika was dropping her teasing act. She raised a hand and held it softly on his burning cheek.
“I know you have been wanting to talk to me for a while,” Christian could only nod in agreement with Aika, becoming lost in her eyes, absently noting that she wasn’t blinking, “So we have talked now. Be honest with me, is this as much as you wanted, to talk?”
There was no point in lying. Somehow Christian knew Aika would be able to tell. All this time he’d been spying on her, she’d noticed. She’d been waiting for him to have the courage to approach her himself. Still, Christian couldn’t make a sound and so settled for a shake of the head. Aika nodded slowly, her hair flowing with the movement.
“Of course. I am clever, you see.”
Saying this, Aika raised her other hand to hold Christian gently on his opposite cheek. The fury of his blush did not affect the coolness of her skin.
“I think that what you want is a kiss. If you say so, I will kiss you, because I have wanted to do that too, Christian.”
The boy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This was far more than he’d hoped for. This was crazy. It wasn’t real. There was no way. Standing in a rotten kitchen with the hands of the most gorgeous creature he’d ever set eyes on cradling his face…
“I… I would really, really, really like to kiss you, Aika, if that’s okay,” Christian said, wincing at how pathetic he sounded. Aika placed his hands around her waist before returning her own to his face. Her fingers snaked into his hair.
“No need to be bashful, silly boy,” she breathed. Before his eyes closed in anticipation, Christian was sure he’d seen a spark of something like hunger in Aika’s.
After a few tentative pecks, Aika drew him firmly to her, kissing greedily. Christian worried about whether he was doing it right as he felt her tongue against his. Then his hands fumbling up her back and Christian wondered at her intensity. Was she going to want more? He always carried a condom in his wallet, his Dad insisted on it. Was he ready for that?
In a second fire turned to ice. Aika’s body continued to press against him but Christian couldn’t move. He‘d never been so cold in his entire life. His mind panicked then slowed down. A mist slipped over him. Aika stepped back and with effort Christian forced his eyelids apart. There was blood smeared around her mouth. She’d bit him? Aika casually wiped at the mess on her face.
She shot an apologetic look at Christian and then shrugged, “I have never been elegant when eating.”
Christian’s vision faded and the last thing he heard was Aika’s gentle voice whispering, “It is the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”
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