Yasu tapped her pencil repetitively on the desk. She stared at the blackboard with half-closed eyes. She forced her eyes open with her fingers at regular intervals.
Regret punctured her spirit as she compelled herself to stand up. “Why do I have to sort out all the paperwork in the mornings?” she grumbled.
She picked up a rolled-up newspaper and slammed it against a hapless student’s desk. “Why is your uniform incorrect?” she asked. “What would the teachers say about a tie like that?”
“Shut up, Demon Eyes!” the student snapped.
Yasu inhaled and exhaled slowly to prevent herself from defenestrating the boy. However, she vowed that, if anyone called attention to her frightening red eyes ever again, she would kill them.
Her homeroom teacher finally arrived, her hair dishevelled and a single book hanging by her fragile fingers. She put on a smile that, as if with a mind of its own, completely refused to make up for her deep, gravelly voice.
“Alright, little brats. We have a new brat for you all to befriend. What’s your name again?”
A tall, solid girl flipped her wavy black hair, interwoven with red streaks, back. She bit her full red lips and began scratching her scalp with sausagey fingers covered in black leather.
Yasu did what she did best. She looked up and down the girl’s figure, hunting for examples of incorrect uniform. The girl’s bow was untied and her sleeves were rolled up. Her skirt was shackled by multi-coloured belts and her charcoal knee-high socks were uneven.
“I’m Sora,” the girl said in a voice as sour as honey, as harsh as a pillow and as loud as a mouse’s squeak.
Yasu glared at a boy who snickered at Sora’s unfitting voice, though she herself struggled to hold back her small but incriminating laughter. She stood up.
“I will show you around,” she stated.
The teacher’s eyes widened. “Oh, this is Ms Hamasaki. She will… well, she just told you. Wait until lunchtime, Ms Hamasaki.” She scanned her class roll and pointed to an empty desk, her head still down. “Ms Mikami, sit next to the boy with the stupid spiky haircut. Don’t be alarmed if he starts talking about defeating aliens with weird hand movements.”
Mrs Inazuma was known for her quips, which were as precise and devastating as lightning. She was nicknamed ‘Mrs Raijin’ for this very reason, though not without protests that her surname was enough of a descriptor.
Sora sat in front of Yasu, drumming her own pencil against the desk. Yasu clenched both her teeth and her fists as Sora tapped the desk erratically.
‘You’d think a girl dressed like a punk rocker would have a sense of rhythm,’ Yasu thought.
The boys in the class whispered about Sora’s edgy looks and demeanour. After all, what kind of girl would wear those accessories and wear that cold frown?
Lunch arrived like a blessed angel, hearing the prayers of most of the students and ignoring those of Yasu’s.
However, one possibility gave Yasu hope. If anyone could get to know her without judging her for her eyes, it was Sora. And with one popular friend came the inevitable end of hatred towards Yasu.
“So, uh, let me show you around.” Sora nodded mutely. Yasu strolled through the halls, informing Sora about the history of the school like a museum tour guide.
She stopped at the school infirmary and entered it, Sora three steps behind her. She waved hello to the school doctor.
“Dr Motome, this is Sora Mikami. She’s new here.”
Dr Motome took off her glasses and smiled, placing the glasses on top of a pile of books. “I know,” she said. “I helped her this morning. She had the worst looking hands, let me tell you.”
Sora hid her gloved hands behind her back, her cheeks like little roses as she turned her eyes towards the ground.
Yasu twisted her head towards Sora, then at the doctor, then back at Sora. “What happened?”
When Sora kept as silent as an anechoic chamber, the doctor explained the situation. “She didn’t tell me how they got like that, but she had scratches all over her hands. She was at school bright and early, which surprised me. No offence, Ms Mikami.”
Sora’s head snapped up. “None taken.”
Possibilities churned inside Yasu’s head like snow in a snow globe. Perhaps Sora had gotten into a fight or had an abusive family member. Maybe she was bitten by her own attack dog or got angry at someone and punched a wall.
Yasu said goodbye to Dr Motome and led Sora outside, noticing a black and red motorcycle parked outside. Falling off a motorcycle was added to Yasu’s list of possibilities for what hurt Sora.
Wind became a baseball pitcher that threw a leaf into Sora’s face. Yasu braced herself for the curse words that were to follow but heard none.
Sora simply smiled and held the leaf, crimsoned with the season, to the sky. “I love Autumn,” she whispered just loud enough for Yasu to hear.
Yasu grinned, seizing the opportunity. “I know, right? The leaves are gorgeous and the wind is nice and cool.”
“The sky is always beautiful at this time of year. It’s so blue and the clouds look like they’re having conversations.”
Yasu frowned in confusion. “Are you a poet or something?”
Sora gulped and shook her head. “I… I could never write a poem if my life depended on it.”
“So what do you do?”
Sora raked her hair with her fingers. Her eyes were searching the ground for words again. “I… I just ride my motorbike around the hills. I can’t do much else.”
Yasu nodded in the understanding that her assumptions were correct. Sora lifted her own chin up and looked at Yasu with eyes that bubbled with excitement. “We could go riding, if you want. I want to check this town out.”
Yasu bit her lip. “I’m afraid I don’t have a bike.”
“You can ride my bike with me, if you… want…. I’m sorry. You barely know me.”
Yasu felt an instant need to protect this trembling little puppy with fat paws. She stepped closer to the girl and lightly tapped her arm.
“It’s okay. I have an idea. How about we get to know each other on the trip around the hills?”
Sora nodded her head, the corners of her lips caressing her eyes. “I’ll meet you after school on Friday.”
The next day Sora talked to no one and put on an air of superiority as if it was a coat. Yasu approached her but all of her words were met with no reply. However, she could somehow tell that the girl was listening as she talked about school and biology. Yasu’s spiels about how redwood trees were superior to momi firs, and how she would love to visit the United States just to see them for herself, usually resulted in groans and eye rolls, often accompanied by the words, “Shut up, Demon Eyes!”
A girl whose eyebrows were pencilled in an intimidating shape walked over to the two. “So, Sora, is it?” Sora nodded. “You can call me Miki. My friends and I were wondering if you’d like to join us.”
Sora’s voice was shockingly cool and smooth. “I’m already hanging out with Ms Hamasaki.”
Miki chuckled. “What does Demon Eyes here have what we don’t?”
“Demon Eyes? But her name is Yasu Hamasaki.”
“Well, yeah, but everyone here has nicknames. I’m Eyebrows and you’re Nico Robin. Have you seen One Piece?”
Sora glared at her. “Does Ms Hamasaki like her nickname?” She turned her head towards Yasu, who shook her head. “Then she shouldn’t be called that. Her name is Yasu Hamasaki.”
Miki shrugged but her eyes yearned for murder. She walked away from the pair. Yasu grinned.
“Thanks,” she said. Sora squeaked and looked away, refusing to speak any more. She rested her head on her desk, looking like a lion having a nap. Yasu pet her, combing her fingers through her hair. “So are we still going to ride around the hills?” Sora nodded.
Friday arrived so quickly that it was as if that day rode to Yasu on a motorcycle. She woke up uncharacteristically fresh-faced, her dream compelling her to smile.
She and Sora were riding around the hills on a cloud. The sky was tinged with pink and purple and pastel orange. For the first time in her life Yasu had let herself go and allowed her hair to flap in the wind like a flag. She had rested her head against Sora’s back, breathing in the girl’s cinnamon-laced hair.
Sora had parked the bike on the side of the road and thrown her legs to one side, looking up at the sky. She had held Yasu’s hand and rested her head on her shoulder.
“I… I think I love you already,” Sora had said, her voice flittering in the wind like leaves.
The more Yasu remembered her dream, the more confused she felt. Why did her mind decided to concoct a dream that used the word ‘love’ rather than ‘like’? Surely she was intelligent enough for her brain to make that distinction, even in her dreams, so why was that word used?
Yasu laughed at her own stupidity, muttering words of abuse under her breath. “Idiot. You’ve only just met her and now you’ve gone into lesbian mode. Great job, Yasu. What if she finds out and thinks you’re a creep?”
Everyone at school assumed that she felt no attraction to anyone; that she was in love with school rather than any person. Her parents held the same belief and were even proud enough for it. She couldn’t bear to tell them about her attraction to her old homeroom teacher, or the girl with the shiny hair at the convenience store, and she would never ever talk to them about her lingering feelings for the drug junkie who spent most of her time on the roof at school before graduating the previous year.
Yasu stood up and hurriedly changed, her mind slapping her thoughts away. She ran to school so fast that when she reached the gate she tripped over.
At first she felt nothing as her cheek pressed against the concrete. At the next moment, she howled in pain.
When she was unable to find words between her sobs, a boy picked her up and dashed to the infirmary. Sora was there, the doctor brushing her scarred hand with her fingers.
Yasu was laid onto the bed and smiled when she saw her new friend. “Why…” she swallowed her tears and was finally able to speak. “Why do you… have those scars?”
Sora released a high-pitched yelp as she stood up. “N-no reason.”
Yasu giggled as if she were intoxicated. “You haven’t been abused or anything, have you?”
“What? No! I… I just….” Her face looked just like a button used to sound an alarm. “Dogs don’t like me.”
Yasu peered at the rotting ceiling. “That’s good. Well, it’s not really good since animals are hurting you, but at least people are treating you okay.”
“What happened to you?”
“Oh. I tripped over. It’s silly, isn’t it? You know, I have a reason to be up this early, but what about you? You’re not part of any clubs, are you?”
Sora shook her head. “I like going to school early. It makes me feel prepared. Do you want a drink of water?” Yasu dismissively waved her hand. “I hope you’re still able to go riding with me this afternoon.”
“Good. Um, are you sure you’re okay? You’re acting strange. Um, I don’t mean that in an offensive way! You just seem… awfully calm.”
“I honestly don’t know what’s come over me.” Yasu pulled her eyes towards the girl who had haunted an otherwise simple and wonderful dream.
Yasu was as quiet as Sora during the school day, afraid her dream would spill into her words, so the two ate their food in silence. Throughout the duration of class time Sora tapped her desk with her pencil, but by this stage Yasu was used to and even welcomed it.
By the time Yasu had completed her duties as class representative, the sunset from her dream had surrounded her like a warm yet frightening blanket. Sora had patiently waited outside, picking her teeth and searching for an explanation for Yasu’s behaviour.
“Hi, Sora.” Yasu’s voice was her attempt at remaining calm. Sora’s eyes widened at the informal use of her name. “It’s, uh, really nice today, isn’t it? The sunset’s so… pretty.”
Sora shrugged with a smile on her face. She tossed a helmet to Yasu and geared herself up for the ride. She beckoned for her friend to join her on the motorcycle.
“Do you need my jacket? I think it’s going to get pretty cold today.”
“Don’t you need it?”
“I… I guess you’re right.”
Yasu shrieked when Sora sped the bike out of the school, tightening her arms’ grip around the girl’s waist. Sora’s hair did not carry the scent of cinnamon, but it did smell of chlorine.
‘No skills my ass,’ Yasu thought.
When the bike glided on the road, Yasu sighed. “See?” Sora asked. “It’s not that bad.”
As leaves flew into her hair, Yasu felt as if the goddess Akibimi had decided to punish her for sullying her season with a homoromantic dream.
Despite this thought, there was no denying that Yasu loved the feel of Sora’s large back pressed against her cheek, or the sweet, thrill-laden laugh that escaped Sora’s perfect lips.
“I wish autumn was all year round!” Sora cheered. “Can you see how awesome this sky is, Yasu? I feel so free!”
Yasu almost chuckled at her friend’s unusual behaviour. The thought that she only acted this way in front of her gave her comfort.
The next sensation was unexpected. She felt a bump against her, followed by the swerve of the motorcycle. She then felt the harsh reality of concrete.
“Oh my god, sorry!” a young, masculine voice, called out. “Are you two okay?”
Sora whimpered a yes. Yasu nodded and pushed herself up, her legs wobbling with pain. The next sight devastated her. The gas tank was scratched and the mirror was shattered.
“Why are you crying?” Sora asked as she stood up. “It’s my bike, not yours.” Her words are what made Yasu realise that tears were painting her face. Sora wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close. “It’s okay. I can buy more parts and fix it. It’ll be good as new.”
Yasu sniffled in Sora’s chest, realising how well-endowed her friend was. She punched herself in her mind, chastising herself for being so perverted.
Another voice slapped her ears. “Dude, I had no idea those two were lesbos!” Sora lightly pushed Yasu away. Yasu realised that the voice belonged to the boy who always called her ‘Demon Eyes’ whenever she told him to correct his uniform. He was sitting on his own motorcycle, wasting petrol.
“We’re not like that!” Sora spluttered. “We’re just friends and Yasu would never behave like that! She’s a good person!”
Yasu burst into tears yet again, Sora’s words bashing her heart. “How… could… you say… that?”
She wiped her eyes with her sleeve and ran along the pavement that encircled the hill. Sora followed her.
“What’s going on? You’re a what?”
Yasu kept as quiet as Harpocrates. Sora’s voice rang in her ears, clearly trying to be loud. “Come on, talk to me.”
Yasu froze. “I’m a bian,” she murmured.
“What? I can’t hear you.”
“I’m a BIAN! A lesbian! Just leave me alone and go hang out with some girl who only likes boys!”
“But… you’re so well behaved! How can someone who’s always telling people off have those feelings?”
“I’m a hypocrite, okay?”
Sora held out her hand. “Well, we can still be friends, right? I’ve been friends with worse.”
“Well, I know this girl who takes a lot of drugs. She works at the bakery.”
‘I want to be a baker when I get out of this stupid school,’ the drug junkie at her school once said. Yasu almost choked.
“What does she look like?”
“Well, she’s got this dyed blonde hair and these bright green eyes-”
“Can I go to that bakery with you some time?”
Sora nodded. She gave Yasu a quick embrace that made the latter almost liquefy in her arms.
The pair did not talk about sexualities for a few weeks. They just acted like normal, with Yasu going on rants about trees and Sora keenly listening as per usual. Sora stared at her with strangely warm eyes that also looked tormented.
Yasu was always too busy to go to the bakery before it closed, much to Sora’s disappointment. She had preparations to make to ensure that all of her classmates were ready for Sports Day. Some days Sora sat and watched her do work with an amused yet sympathetic smile.
One day Mrs Inazuma walked up to Yasu and ruffled her hair. “You work too much. Have a break.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Yasu asked.
“Hell if I know. Hang out with one of the other brats like a normal girl.”
Yasu finally agreed. She asked Sora if she could go to the bakery with her. Sora beamed and gave her a hug, but quickly pushed herself away.
“I’m sorry. Does that make you feel weird?”
“What are you talking about?”
Sora’s cheeks turned pink and she looked down, holding her schoolbag against her legs like a nervous first-grader.
“Well, you’re a… what do you call it? A bian?”
Yasu shook her head. “It’s fine.”
“Good. I want to show you my newly improved bike.” Sora took her hand and pulled her towards the carpark. “Tada!”
“Um… what’s different?”
Sora pouted. “Don’t you see that the paint’s a darker colour and I changed the mirror?”
“Uh, I guess so. You know more about bikes than me.”
Sora handed her a helmet and the two hopped onto the cycle. Yasu relished in the familiar feel of Sora’s back.
The bike swiftly reached the bakery. Sora almost leaped into the shop, Yasu giggling behind her.
Yasu’s throat tightened when she saw the drug-pockmarked face of Mizu. She felt as if she was drowning in memories, but she knew she had to see her again and receive some closure.
“How are you? I haven’t seen you in so long! It’s nice to-”
“Who are you?” Mizu asked. Yasu clenched her teeth in shock.
“I used to always hang out with you at school. It’s me, Yasu.”
“I’m sorry. My memory’s not what it used to be.”
Yasu’s face turned as white as a flag of surrender. “Oh. I see.” Sora turned to her, confusion acting like toothpicks prying her eyes wide open.
Yasu’s own eyes were shining with repressed tears. “Well, it was nice to see you again.” She turned and slowly, hesitantly walked out of the shop.
Sora grabbed her arm. “What’s going on?”
“I was so stupid. Why did I think she’d still care for me? Why did I think she’d love me back?”
“Wait… love, as in… love?” Sora’s voice was tinged with a bitterness Yasu did not understand. “Well, you don’t need her. You have m…”
Sora scratched her scalp. “Sorry. I’m being weird. Forget about it.”
She sat on her bike and asked her friend to join her. When Yasu wrapped her arms around her waist, Sora coughed.
The two rode in silence, Sora’s joy gone and replaced by, well, she was unsure what feeling replaced it, but she knew that she didn’t like it.
“How did you find out you were a bian?”
“Well, I just felt attracted to other girls.”
“So how did you realise you were attracted to them?”
“I just knew. My cheeks would heat up around them and I felt like if I said the wrong thing the ground would open up and swallow me. It’s a worrying feeling, but seeing the other person smile makes it worth it.”
Yasu gasped when the motorcycle stopped. Sora parked on the side of the road and jumped off the bike. She threw her helmet to the ground.
“What’s wrong with me?”
Yasu’s eyebrow rose. “Can I guess?”
Sora spun around. “Can I…” She pushed her palms against her eyes, her shyness getting the best of her. “Can I hug you? I want to figure something out.”
Yasu smiled in affirmation. Sora pulled her towards her and cried over her shoulder. “I knew something was wrong. I… I’ve only known you for about a month, but… I don’t know, I guess something happened.”
Yasu drew circles on her back with her fingers. “You can say it.”
“I… like you,” Sora said softly in her friend’s ear.
“Say it louder.”
“I like you.”
“I don’t think even bats can hear you. Come on.”
“I love you!” Sora sobbed. “I love you, I love you! Why? You’ve put all this ‘bian’ talk in my head and confused me!”
Yasu broke from the embrace. “Can I… kiss you?”
Sora gulped, her entire face red. “Is that… okay? I… I’ve never kissed a girl before.”
“Neither have I.”
Yasu’s heart felt more like a subwoofer than a heart as she slowly and awkwardly leaned towards Sora. She pressed her lips against hers and it didn’t take long for her to kiss her back.
They fumbled for a rhythm, Yasu remembering that her friend was horrible at keeping to a beat. Eventually the kiss was smooth and easy for them.
Sora ended the kiss. “That was… nice. Thank you. Um, are we going to bother telling everyone at school about this?”
“Not if you don’t want to. Then again, I’d like to show my first girlfriend off.”
Sora choked and looked away. “Shut up!”
Yasu sat on the gravel, her back resting against the motorcycle. When Sora joined her, Yasu wrapped her hand in hers. The shorter girl let her head fall onto the tall girl’s chlorine-hair-covered shoulder and closed her eyes.
“You’re so cute,” she told Sora, her heart steady as the light beyond her eyelids dimmed and the stars poked through the windy sky.
 ‘Hamasaki’ means ‘small beach peninsula’. Notice the difference between ‘Sora’ (sky) and Hamasaki’s association with the sea.
 ‘Mikami’ can have a character meaning ‘water’. Perhaps Sora’s surname is more similar to Yasu’s than expected
 Raijin is a Shinto god of lighting. ‘Inazuma’ means lightning.
 ‘Motome’ can mean ‘to desire care’
 Akibimi is the Japanese goddess of Autumn
 Harpocrates is the Greek god of silence
 Mizu is another water-based name.