Candice Winters is an up and coming writer who produces short stories while working on her undergraduate degree. If you enjoy this excerpt, you can find this and other of her works at https://www.wattpad.com/user/Water_Lily_Princess
The sky was dark with rain clouds and although the worst of the storm had passed, there was still a heavy drizzle that caused the drain pipes to overflow on the roof. The water poured from the drain pipes like a broken curtain over the sidewalk that crossed in front of the school. Students gathered under the long roof that extended from the door to the road and waited for their friends before braving the muggy weather. Their uniforms were as damp as their moods, their clothes drooping as lifelessly from their bodies as their smiles did from their faces. Walking out into the misty rain, they all looked as though they were heaving the wet rags on their arms and legs. The umbrellas resting on their shoulders looked heavy with water as they dripped onto the ground where their shoes sloshed through the puddles. The students stuck without umbrellas used newspapers or backpacks to cover their heads when they ran across the road. Students like Hana, who could barely carry their backpack as is, which was weighed down by extra books, and didn’t take a newspaper from the art room or had friends to lend their umbrella, stood alone under the roof, waiting out the rain.
Hana was one of the only boys left. He took a seat on the bench near the wall which was sheltered partly by the roof and partly by the row of trees beside it. The trees weren’t so tall. The other students made a game of it to touch the lowest branch and it was almost a right-of-passage if you could climb to it without getting caught by headmaster, whose office was in the nearest window and almost always open. Hana thought it was a bit childish but even he, as he sat there with plenty of time to himself to think, wondered if he could touch the lowest branch yet. It was his first year in middle school and it would be ‘cool’ if he could come back the next day, this early in the year, and boast about touching that branch first. He would surely be noticed, maybe even by that girl he met in Class 2B.
He blushed, the youthful adrenaline kicking to life in his heart as he battled with his options. It was like having those little voices on his shoulder, whispering hot lies into his ears.
They’ll all think you’re cool. She’ll think you’re cool.
He gulped, tempted to try it.
He stood up, fingers twitching on the straps of his backpack.
When he last checked, the office light was off, all he had to do was touch it.
Or climb it.
“If you’re going for the tree I would wait on that. Don’t worry, no one else is will get the glory first. I’ve been listening to the other kids and I haven’t heard anything about it since the year started. It was a big deal last year you know, I’m sure the message was passed to you seventh years. I’m in my ninth year. My name’s Mackenzie Watanabe by the way, what’s yours?”
Mackenzie had long, light coloured hair tied back and his eyes were blue. He looked like the typical ‘American’ Hana heard about, breaking school regulation with his hair length and his unbuttoned uniform. Any taller and he might have thought he actually was one, even with the proper accent. He looked strange but not any stranger than his name sounded.
“Mackenzie?” Hana tried to mimic how he said it but it came out like it had been grated.
“That’s right!” Mackenzie gave a hearty laugh, his shoulders bouncing. His wet uniform seemed weightless the way he effortlessly moved under them. He dug one hand in his pocket and held an umbrella out with the other. “It’s foreign. My dad is the headmaster and he lived overseas for a while. He liked the name but I don’t think he realised how much of a pain it would be for all my friends. He told me to go on ahead home, want me to walk you first? You don’t look like you have an umbrella and it’s typhoon season. It wouldn’t surprise me if the weather turned nasty here in about an hour or so. Here, let me walk you.”
Pushy like an American too, Hana thought as the umbrella handle was thrust into his face.
“What’s that look for?” Mackenzie asked, inspecting that twisted look of fear on Hana’s face as he pushed the umbrella handle down from his chin. “Is it the name still? What’s yours?”
“Hana Saito,” Hana said softly. Mackenzie had to lean in to hear him and Hana stepped aside.
“Hana, you said?” Mackenzie asked. “We both have odd names don’t we?”
“My parents wanted another girl,” Hana clarified. “It’s not like it’s uncommon.”
“Still…,” Mackenzie hummed and rolled the handle in his palm. “At least we have something we share right? That’s the first step to becoming friends.”
Hana could have thought of ninety-nine different ways of how to be cool to make friends. Meeting the son of the headmaster, an upperclassmen with a weird name, was not one of those ways. Touching the tree branch or even climbing the tree sounded cooler by far and it would have been much easier just to do that but since they started talking, the rain had pooled at the base of the tree. Hana stepped away from the deep puddle and crashed into Mackenzie, who caught him by the shoulders.
“You okay there?” Mackenzie asked casually as he stood Hana upright across from him and checked for any signs of injury. If Hana pretended he stepped on his ankle wrong and sprained it, it would have saved him a load of embarrassment, but he couldn’t think of the lie fast enough. Mackenzie was already looking passed him at the tree.
“If you want to climb it that badly, I could stand guard–”
“N-no! No, I don’t want to,” Hana sputtered.
“But you were looking at it again–”
“If you want to walk me home we should go now,” Hana said quickly, pointing at the mist cloud that sunk low on the road. “The rain looks like it’s letting up. I don’t want you to catch a cold for staying out in it when it gets worse.”
“I’m made of pure steele like the superhero!” Mackenzie laughed. “I’ll never get sick!”
That made Hana smile and he forgot about the flooded garden next to the school. Mackenzie held the umbrella between them and walked Hana out to the road, to the next sidewalk and toward the docks.
“This way you said?” he asked. Hana nodded quietly while they joined side-by-side on the sidewalk. Mackenzie was near the road and Hana walked along the edge of the path, beside the docks. He stared at the water as it knocked against the boats. Their ropes creaked when they yanked on the hooks. The rain picked up in the wind and slapped the boats until they banged against the docks. The umbrella in Mackenzie’s hand whipped inside out and flapped behind them.
“Hold on!” Mackenzie called, grabbing Hana by the arm to pull him from the edge while he fought with the umbrella. The wind settled and the umbrella fell and scraped the ground. Mackenzie turned it out.
“Sorry about that,” he chuckled. “Looks like the storm’s going to come rolling in soon. Are you alright? You look sick, you’re pale.”
Mackenzie moved in front of Hana and put their foreheads together to check his temperature, which to him, seemed on the higher side. Hana registered it only after he pulled away and smiled at him.
“We’ll get you home and I’ll make you something to eat. You look like you just sucked down all that sea water out there and the salt in the air isn’t helping, is it?”
Mackenzie grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him along, his other hand held the umbrella out in front of them to block them from the biting rain. His long hair had fallen out of it’s tie and stuck to the back of his neck where his wet collar sagged and sloped toward his shoulders. Hana stared at him and thought he heard him talking but couldn’t make out what he said with the wind howling around that wobbly umbrella. Some of the rain that caught on it’s folds splashed him and he ducked to save his eyes. The mist rose from the streets and raced beside them like large, white waves, curling in and pushing against them over and over again. Hana felt his feet dragging on the sidewalk as though he were wading knee-deep through a river. If Mackenzie hadn’t been holding onto him, pulling him forward, he would have been stranded by the storm.
“Almost there right?” Mackenzie asked, louder than before, snapping Hana from his daze.
“Almost,” Hana coughed as the rain pelted his tongue with it’s rusty flavour.
They reached the hill that lead to his house and Hana nodded his new friend in the right direction. He knew the streets by heart because he walked to and from school every day. As they weaved through the streets, the rain began to die out though Hana believe it was the houses that took the brunt of the torrent and it was them that waded through the aftermath. For a moment, when Hana looked away from the docks below and saw the back of Mackenzie’s head, he could have sworn that had been running from something. From the storm maybe? Had they run at all? They were already at his house, standing in front of the door while Hana fumbled for his keys but he didn’t remember how they got there. His ice cold fingers barely knew what they were doing as he twisted the key in the door.
They removed their shoes when they stepped inside. Mackenzie was the one who shut the door because Hana stood in the breezeway like a statue, trying to familiarise himself with the dark halls ahead of him.
“This has to be the right place,” Mackenzie muttered to himself. “The key worked….”
“Y-yeah, this is it,” Hana replied absent-mindedly, his fingers moving onto the buttons of his uniform jacket as though they had a mind of their own.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Mackenzie asked as he set his own jacket on the rack and offered to put Hana’s there too. Once they dried as best they could with the towels available, they hurried to the bedroom to change into some lounge clothes.
“You’ll have to b-borrow my sister’s things,” Hana said, holding out a pair of pink sweatpants to Mackenzie, who accepted them with a mischievous grin.
“They’ll fit you better than any of mine– hey!”
Mackenzie danced out of his uniform and hopped into the sweatpants with a shirt half over his head while he wriggled himself into the main hall.
“I’m getting you something to eat! You have a fever! Lie down already!” he called back to Hana, who stood with his dry clothes still in his hands, staring dumbly at the hall.
Hana, half dressed and about to put his shirt on, jumped and blushed to his ears when Mackenzie’s head popped in the doorway.
“What kind of ramen do you want? I can make eggs too. And do you like tea?”
Hana thought that if he stood there, glaring at Mackenzie, that the guy would take a hint and leave him to finish in peace. But that stupid boy couldn’t read the room and was more anxious for his answer than to pay attention to Hana’s disapproving brown eyes.
“Anything is fine,” Hana told him with a sigh as he pulled his shirt on. “I’m not picky.”
“Okay!” Mackenzie grinned at him, waved and went back to the kitchen. The clanking and the crashing made Hana flinch but if there’s anyone stupid enough to cheat fate and truly never get hurt, or sick, Hana placed a hefty bet on Mackenzie Watanabe.