“Hey, do you have a sister?” Aiko asked.
I stopped before the school’s front gate and turned to her. “Why do you ask?”
“I was passing by your house Sunday morning, and I saw a high school girl standing on your balcony.” She leaned toward me until I could smell her jasmine perfume. “Or maybe she spent the night?”
“No … that …”
She chuckled. “I’m just messing with you. It’s not like your parents would allow that.” She squinted at the sun, her manicured finger on her chin. “I wonder who she is, though.”
“You … got the wrong house.”
“Maybe.” Her eyes refocused on me. For the first time, their largeness made me shrink. “That girl really looked like you, though. She could have been your twin.”
“You know what they say: everyone has a twin somewhere.”
“Okay, I believe you. It’s not like you have a reason to hide a sister.”
“Yeah, why would I?”
Aiko skipped through the gate, swinging her pink handbag.
I didn’t follow her; I turned 180 degrees and darted back home.
When I arrived, Mom was still at her yoga class, Dad still at work. This was perfect. Because I needed to have a word with someone.
“One of my classmates saw you,” I blurted, storming into my bedroom. Mine and Tsuki’s.
Her reflection in the full-length mirror stared at me. “So?”
I opened my mouth but no words came out. On the way home, I’d been too busy panicking to arrange my thoughts. But now they formed a clear picture:
If I had a cute sister, I’d be fishing for chances to talk about her, brag about her, show her photos. But Tsuki — with narrow eyes, a prominent nose, a strong jawline, and broad shoulders, she didn’t fit the definition of cute.
These thoughts drowned me with guilt. Shame.
But I couldn’t stop having them.
“I’m sorry,” I said without daring to meet Tsuki’s eyes.
“Yeah, you should be,” she said wryly. “You forgot about our knock-first rule. What if I were changing?”
I smiled. But did she know about, or at least have an inkling of, my shameful fear? Maybe it’d always been taunting her in the back of her mind?
Of course, I didn’t dare ask her. So I apologized again and hurried out of my bedroom.
I would be late, but I still had time to get to school.
After the teacher finished scolding me and let me sit at my desk in the back, my phone vibrated in my trousers pocket. Holding it behind my desk, with the teacher’s voice muffled in the background, I checked the text message.
It was from Aiko. Why did you suddenly disappear?
My heart pounding, I glanced to the side, grasping for an excuse. I forgot a textbook.
Aiko tilted her head. I could have shared mine with you.
It didn’t occur to me. I hadn’t been thinking about textbooks at all.
Speaking of ideas, I’ve just had one. How about you show me your house? That way I won’t mistake it for another next time.
My heart accelerated even more. Did Aiko want to check my house? Or something else?
After school, we walked together to my house. It was okay. Aiko would just check its exterior.
“Your house is smaller than I thought!” she said, stepping back to have a better view.“
I nodded. “Because we’re only three people. Two rooms.”
“Speaking of which,” Aiko began with a toothy grin, “why don’t you show me yours? Since I’m already here?”
My armpits moistened. It was okay. Tsuki wasn’t at home.
After taking off our shoes, I led Aiko into my bedroom, where she looked around as if she were in a boring museum. “This looks like a typical boy’s bedroom.”
“What else did you expect?” With a ballet move, I slid Tsuki’s rabbit-patterned socks under the bed.
Aiko leaned toward the manga shelf and dragged out Lovely Complex. “You like shojo manga?”
Damn, I should’ve hidden those. “I like that manga’s comedy.” I let out an unconvincing laugh.
“It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with boys liking girl things.”
“But it’s … embarrassing?”
“Being embarrassed isn’t wrong. It’s part of life.” Aiko dropped her handbag on the floor and slithered toward me until I could see my reflection in her eyes. “Speaking of which, can I say something embarrassing?
I nodded, my cheeks heating up.
“I like you,” she said matter-of-factly, “maybe because I feel like you’re the same as me.”
“That’s not true,” I said, averting my face, trying to hide my blush. “You’re cute, petite, delicate … You’re the opposite of me.”
Aiko laughed as if I’d told a joke. “Maybe you can’t be the same as me.” She threw her arms around my neck. She was so close I could smell her cherry lip balm. “But you can become one with me.”
She tried to part my lips with her tongue, but I clammed them shut and pushed her away, leaving her standing there with glassy eyes.
“It’s because of her, right?” she said, the corner of her mouth dropping a bit.
I blinked at her, panting. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sure now. This is the house. But that girl isn’t your sister, right?”
Panic flooded me, but soon it became a small river. Still, it was far from serene.
“She’s not,” I found myself replying.
Aiko snatched her handbag and flung it over her shoulder. With a gleaming grin, she said, “Tell her I said hi.”
After she disappeared behind the door, I crumbled to my knees and clutched my head. For having rejected her. Disappointed her. Our relationship would be different from now on — if we still had one.
When my legs regained their strength, I tottered to the closet and pulled out the lockable storage box where Tsuki kept her clothes (sharing a room with me, she had little privacy but was serious about it). Unfortunately for her, I knew where she hid the key: under the box.
I pulled out her uniform and, after removing mine, put on each piece; I buttoned her white blouse, slid up her white-and-navy-blue plaid skirt, knotted her bow tie, and slipped into her navy blue blazer.
Then I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. I could pass for a high school girl. A hefty one. An ugly one.
With a long sigh, I peeled off Tsuki’s uniform and folded each piece carefully into the box. Then I locked it and hid the key under it.
Finally, I dressed in my school uniform — white shirt, white-and-navy-blue trousers, tie, and navy blue blazer — and darted out of my bedroom, my house. I’d catch up to Aiko if I hurried.