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While The Mice Are Away

Guest Red Ranger 1

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Yep, I know, been a bit of a hiatus between stories.Been a bit short of inspiration, partly because I decided to let it come to me instead of going to search for it.Anyway, hope you like this.

Story Title: While the Mice are Away

Type of story: Long fic

Main Characters: Jai and Annie with a few others

BTTB rating: G/T

Genre: Drama, I guess.Or I could be really pretentious and call it a coming of age story.

Does story include spoilers: No.

Any warnings: Sexual content:Moderate references.Violence:Mild to moderate.Language:None.

Summary: Jannie in Japan!What exactly did they do for all those months?


Annie felt like she’d been sitting in front of the computer screen for hours.She’d carefully composed e-mails to Irene, to Geoff and to Ruby and posted them off.Which just left the one name highlighted on her mailing list.

She sighed and got up from the desk in the room she shared with Nina.She headed over to the window and looked out, marvelling at the view for what seemed like the hundredth time.She’d been told that Kawasaki was the ninth largest city in Japan but she had a hard time imagining eight cities bigger than this one.With a population of over a million, she had a feeling she’d seen more people in the last month than she had in the rest of her life, much of it spent on an isolated farm and the rest in the small town of Summer Bay. She’d been afraid at first that it would all be the same, an unchanging repetitive landscape, but the city complemented its high tower blocks with the more suburban area where her host family lived, with the mountains and with the Tama River that ran along the edge of the city.

A part of Annie wanted to stay here forever, to just soak in the wonder of being somewhere so different from what she was used to.And another part wanted to be at home, with all the people that she missed.

She went back to the computer and selected Romeo’s name from the contact list before beginning to type:

Hi, Romeo, it’s me.Just thought I’d let you know that I’m still here and I love it.Everything’s just so new and different and the people are really nice, my host family are really good to me.I miss home and everyone but I’m really glad I came here.Thanks so much for helping me make up my mind.I’ll see you in four months, I guess.Annie.

She read the brief message back, wondering if she should say anything else.Then she clicked “SEND”.

She was still staring at the screen a few seconds later when she heard the footsteps coming up the stairs and the call of “Ann-chan!”

Nina was the daughter of her host family, the same age as Annie and in classes with her at the exchange school.At first Annie had been worried that they wouldn’t hit it off, that they’d be too different, but they’d become good friends.Nina’s excellent English was one of the reasons she’d been selected for the exchange and, even though Annie’s Japanese would dazzle anyone back in Summer Bay, she knew she would never be in the same league.

“Ann-chan,”Nina repeated as she came into the room.She’d quickly adopted the use of “chan”, the traditional Jappanese term of affection, as a suffix to Annie’s name, although she at least managed to keep its use to a minimum.“Mother says dinner is ready.”

Annie smiled before turning off the computer.Dinner cooked by Nina’s mother was always something to smile about.“Coming.”

Jai had already eaten so his computer was still on.He’d just dashed off his regular e-mail to Miles, letting him know that he was still alive.Miles would probably send one back in due course saying the same thing. He checked over his contact list one more time, just to make sure there was no-one else to write to.Miles had told him not to contact Kirsty unless she contacted him, making it clear that he didn’t think that was likely, and so far that had proved true.He had contacted Xavier and Nicole a few times but the conversation tended to come back to Romeo and that was an elephant he was still ignoring for the moment.It seemed to work for him and Annie.

He sighed, thinking about Annie, as he did a bit more often that he should have done.They’d somehow got back to being friends and that seemed to be working.Anything more than that…well, trying was likely to drive her even further away.Being friends was better than what they’d had before.

Jai had his own room in the house.His host, Boshirou, was an only child.He was also painfully shy, even by Jai’s standards, not to mention a good head and shoulders shorter than him.He had that same outsider feel about him than Jai had had when he first came to live with Miles.And, he had to admit, still did sometimes.

He gave up trying to find someone to talk to on the world wide web and headed downstairs instead.He found Boshirou in the hall, wrapping a scarf around his neck, his coat already in place.“Are you going somewhere?”he asked.

Boshirou looked at him with a hint of distress.“I have flute practise.”

Jai winced slightly.He should have remembered Boshirou’s schedule, that he always had flute practise that evening.It was odd how he felt responsible for the other boy, even though they were the same age and Jai was supposed to be in the care of his family.Maybe it was because, aside from Annie, each of them seemed to be the only friend the other had.

“Sorry,”he told him.

Boshirou smiled broadly.“You can come?”

Jai hesitated.He’d accompanied Boshirou in the past but since he didn’t play an instrument himself, his participation largely extended to sitting to one side and making approving noises to the group.But then, he did have a faux pas to make up for.He put an arm round the other boy’s shoulder and steered him towards the door.“All right, Boshirou.You’ve got yourself a roadie.”

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Thank you for the nice comments, everyone, hopefully people will continue to read.


Annie had walked into school with Nina and two of her friends, Aki and Deiji, the three of them chattering to each other in Japanese as they went.Annie had only understood one word in three but she didn’t really mind.All of them had quickly accepted her into their group when she arrived and, given how worried she’d been about making friends, she was grateful for that.

“Hey, Annie!”a familiar voice called out, as Jai hurried towards her, his friend Boshirou just behind him as always.

“Hi,”Annie replied in turn, doing her best to hide her discomfort.Both of them were doing their best to cross the line from exes to friends but she still found it difficult at times.

Nina seemed to sense that they needed a bit of privacy.“See you inside,”she said quietly.

Annie smiled her thanks as Nina led Aki and Deiji into the school.She noticed Boshirou remained at Jai’s shoulder but oddly she didn’t really seem to notice his presence.Perhaps because he was always so quiet. “So, did you get up to anything last night?”she asked.

Jai shot a grin at Boshirou.“We had a bit of a music lesson,”he explained,“You?”

“I sent an e-mail to…to everyone in Summer Bay,”Annie hastily amended.

Jai nodded.“Yeah, I sent one to Miles.”

“Hey there, fellow English speakers!”called an annoyingly familiar voice.

Hugh was the school’s other exchange student.He was tall and blonde and would probably be considered good-looking.When Annie first saw him, he’d reminded her a little of Romeo but the comparison soon faded.Where Romeo could be cocky, Hugh was just arrogant.He came from Wallongong, about fifty miles away from Summer Bay, which he’d proudly announced was Kawasaki’s twin city.It seemed to be his only qualification for being there, since he’d shown very little interest or aptitude in learning Japanese.He was usually surrounded by a gaggle of Japanese boys, the tallest and sportiest in the class, and neither Annie nor Jai had ever quite managed to work out which one was from his host family.

Jai looked at Hugh with undisguised annoyance.“We were having a private conversation here.”

“Right, yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Private between the two of us?”

Annie sighed, aware that Jai had little hope of getting his point across.“Come on, let’s get to class.”

Annie, Jai and Hugh were the only students in the classroom.It wasn’t usually the case, although the three of them almost always sat near each other.Nina had been appointed an unofficial translator for them, answering any questions they had about what the teacher said.In this case though, the subject was Japanese language and, as the only students in the school who didn’t have it as a first language, they were being given the sole attention of their form tutor, Mrs.Hayashi.

At that moment though, it was Hugh that was getting the sole attention.He fidgeted slightly in his seat as the silence that had followed Mrs.Hayashi’s question in Japanese dragged on.

“Hugh?”she asked, gently but firmly.

“In a minute,”he assured her, not sounding very confident.

Annie was torn on whether to step in and help him.The kind part of her said she should, the fair part of her said he needed to answer himself.The fair part won out.

“Aren’t we meant to have a translator for this?”he asked at last.

Jai spoke before anyone else could.“It’s a Japanese lesson, you moron.You’re meant to translate.”

“That is enough, Jai,”Mrs.Hayashi snapped, still firm but significantly less gentle.She glanced back at Hugh.“If you don’t show any improvement soon, Hugh, I will have to recommend you have further lessons outside normal hours.And, Jai?Perhaps you could tell Hugh what his answer should have been.”

“Have you got any plans for the weekend?”Annie asked as they left the classroom.

“Do you really need to ask?”Jai replied.

Annie rolled her eyes.“That’s the part of Japanese culture you choose to explore?”

“Hey, it’s very educational!”

Before Annie could reply, Hugh grabbed hold of Jai’s shoulder and turned him round to face him.“What was all that about in there?”he demanded.

“Japanese lesson,”Jai replied scornfully,“I get that you’re having a bit of trouble with the concept but that was the idea in coming here.”

“Look, this trip is important to me,”Hugh insisted,“I can’t afford to mess it up and I can do without you making me look like a fool!”

“You seem to be doing a pretty good job of that yourself,”Jai retorted.

Hugh glared at him with barely concealed fury.“You just stay out of my way.”

Jai waited until Hugh had stormed out of earshot before muttering,“Idiot.”

Annie shot him a worried glance.She’d seen Jai like this with other boys before.And it tended to end in trouble.

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Thank you for all your comments.Disclaimer:I found it very hard finding Japanese translations in the Western alphabet so the use of words and phrases in this chapter may not be 100% accurate...


Jai looked at his reflection in the mirror and grinned, wondering how Annie would react if she saw him or indeed how most of the people in Summer Bay would react.It was, as Annie had said, an odd part of Japanese culture to focus on.But then, it was a boy thing.

Kawasaki had quite a thriving set of sports facilities, as well as, to Jai’s astonishment, a professional baseball team, something he hadn’t expeced to find outside the United States.But what Jai had decided to spend his allowance on was a replica shirt for Kawasaki Frontale, the city’s local football team.

Jai had been to a few games with Boshirou since he’d arrived but still wasn’t entirely sure how the Japanese league worked.From what he could gather, today’s game, against JEF United, was one of the last games in a season that most of their fans had found pretty average.In the end though, that wasn’t what mattered to him.It was the game itself that he enjoyed.

He heard a knock at the door before Boshirou appeared.“My father is ready to take us to the ground.”

Jai nodded.“Well, I guess I’m ready.”

Boshirou smiled at the sight of Jai in his Kawasaki shirt.“You look like a Japanese boy.”

“Thanks.I think.Do you reckon Juninho will be playing today?”

Boshirou shrugged.“Maybe.”

Jai sensed that the other boy wanted to say something else but was having difficulty working up the courage to do so.“Well, thank you for taking me to these games,”he said at last.

Boshirou shook his head quickly.“No, no.Thank you for taking me.”

Jai looked at him in confusion.“Don’t you go to the games normally?”

“Sometimes.Sometimes my father takes me but…he is busy a lot of time.Going alone, is not so much fun.”

Jai smiled at him sympathetically, putting an arm round his shoulder.“Come on.Let’s see if we can get kicked out for shouting too much.”

Annie breathed in the smell appreciatively as Nina’s mother placed her plate in front of her.Teriyaki chicken.When she’d first been presented with it, she’d been uncertain about the unfamiliar recipe but it had soon evolved into one of her favourite dishes, so much so that she’d asked to learn how to cook it herself, so she could share it with Irene and Geoff when she got home.And have some herself, just to be sociable…

“Gurache, Komano-san,”she thanked her host.“San” was the closest equivalent Japanese had to both mister and mrs.Annie found the neutral gender caused a lot of confusion when both Nina’s parents were in the same room but she was aware that talking informally towards an elder was frowned upon.

“You like?”Mrs.Komano asked as Annie tucked into the dish with enthusiasm.

“Meppou kekkou,”Annie assured her.

They ate in silence for a few moments before Mrs.Komano spoke again.“You like school?”

Annie searched her vocabulary for an appropriate response in Japanese but eventually gave up. “Everyone’s been very patient with me,”she said at last.

Mrs.Komano looked slightly confused and Nina hastily stepped in to offer a translation.Mrs.Komano smiled in understanding.“And you like..?”She struggled for a moment before turning to Nina.“Shounen?”

Annie recognised the word and suddenly felt uncomfortable.Nina looked at her with a smile.“She wants to know if you’ve met any boys you like.”

Annie shook her head.“I haven’t really noticed them.”

Nina looked at her sceptically.“I think they’ve noticed you…”

“Ninakos!”her mother snapped sharply before making a curt comment in Japanese.

Nina looked back at Annie.“Mother thinks I’ve embarrassed you.”

“It’s all right,”Annie assured her, concentrating very hard on her dish.

The two girls weren’t alone again until it was time for bed.Annie had just come through from freshening up when she found Nina sitting on the edge of the bed.“Did I embarrass you?”she asked.

“No,”Annie said quickly.The truth was she had seen boys looking at her.She wasn’t really sure how to react to it, her recent romantic history had been a bit too complicated for her liking.Plus there was the fact that she felt that none of them really liked her for her.In Japan she probably qualified as exotic, which was definitely a new experience for her.“I’m just not really looking for a boyfriend at the moment.”

“Is there something going on between you and Jai?”

Annie shook her head, sitting down on her own bed wearily.“We used to go out but we broke up months ago.I’ve got a boyfriend back in Australia.Sort of.”She wasn’t really sure how to characterise Romeo. They’d spent those few weeks before she left skirting around the issue without really getting anywhere but she felt that there was something there, an understanding between them.

Nina sighed.“You’re going to break a lot of hearts.Sure you don’t want me to find you a date?There’s that school dance next weekend, remember?”

Annie did remember, although she’d been trying to forget it.Trying to find herself a partner seemed to leave her with two options:asking a virtual stranger or asking Jai, with all the attendant baggage and complications.Letting Nina act as matchmaker would at least solve one problem…

“I’ll think about it,”she said at last.

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Thanks for your comments, hope you enjoy this one.


Jai somehow contrived to fall into step next to Annie as they exited the classroom the following day.“Did you have a good weekend?”he asked.

“It was okay,”Annie confirmed,“I went to a bar with Nina and the others.”

Jai grinned at her.“You’re turning into a rebel, aren’t you?”

Annie gave him an exasperated look.“We weren’t drinking!You have to be twenty over here, remember? How was your weekend?”

“We won 3-2.”

“Oh, good then?”

“Have you given any thought as to that dance at the end of the week?”

Annie bit her lip slightly, worried where the conversation was going.“What about it?”

“I mean, are you going?”

“Maybe.I was talking to Nina about it last night, there’s probably going to be a whole group of us going. You?”

“Yeah, yeah,”Jai confirmed,“Probably.”

Annie checked her watch.“I’m sorry but I’m meant to be meeting Nina for lunch.”

“Yeah, go ahead,”Jai told her.He watched her leave, focusing on her so much he didn’t realise Boshirou had come up behind him.

“You like Annie?”

“Yeah,”Jai sighed before catching himself,“I mean, yeah, she’s a friend.”

“You would like more than friends?”

Jai shook his head.“No, that tends to lead to embarrassment, broken friendships and us not speaking.”

“But maybe go to dance?As friends?”

Jai had been thinking about it but there were so many problems, the danger of taking it too far and overstepping the boundary Annie had drawn between them, the danger that the question itself was outside the boundary…“Maybe,”he said at last.

Annie found Nina sat at a table in the lunch hall with Aki, Daiji and a few of her other friends.Some of the girls had boyfriends with them but there was one boy that stood out, who seemed to be there on his own. “You know Dake, don’t you?”Nina asked as Annie sat down,“He’s in some of our classes.”

Annie nodded.“Gashi, Dake.”She was never entirely sure what the word meant but then the Japanese didn’t seem to have a word for “hello”.

Dake smiled back at her.“Hello, Annie.”

Annie suddenly heard the sound of a metaphorical pin dropping.She looked worriedly at Nina.“Um, can I talk to you?”She led Nina a short way from the table before nodding back in that direction.“Is he meant to be my date?”

“Well, yeah,”Nina confirmed,“Is there something wrong with him?”

Annie glanced back at Dake.He was about her height, he had pleasant features and a pleasant smile…She had to admit there wasn’t anything wrong with him.All the same…“I don’t really know him.”

“You won’t have to spend the whole night with him,”Nina pointed out,“We’ll all be going with you.It just means you’ve got someone to dance with if you want to.Just give it a go.”

Annie swallowed hard and let Nina lead her back to the table.She glanced across at Dake, who seemed to be looking at her hopefully, and fished around for an icebreaker.“So, Dake…do you like dancing?”

Jai once again found himself cursing the fact that circumstances dictated he had to sit near Hugh in most lessons.Sadly, the other boy seemed to have forgotten their argument of the previous week and was once more chatting away to him like they were friends.“You got a date for the dance yet?”

“No,”Jai admitted,“You?”

Hugh nodded.“I could see one of the beauties had her eye on me so I thought I’d put her out of her misery.”

“You’re a regular Good Samaritan, Hugh.”

“Mate, you’re really not getting the point of this trip.We’re like the mysterious strangers that have come to town, all the girls are going to be swooning at us.You need to get out there and ask someone.”

In retrospect, Jai had to admit the timing wasn’t great.But it was at that moment that she arrived at the classroom and took her seat near them.And that was why he found himself suddenly asking,“Annie?”

She looked at him curiously.“Yes, Jai?”

“Um, do you fancy going to the dance together?As friends, I mean.”

Annie looked suddenly awkward.“Actually, Nina’s arranged for me to go with one of her friends.Like I said, there’s a whole group of us going together so…”

“Yeah, yeah,”Jai agreed, doing his best to hide his embarrassment,“It was just an idea.”

The smirk on Hugh’s face didn’t improve his mood in any way.

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Must have taken some researching on Japan to have even attempted this, and then have those practicalities/background details blend into the story.

It did take some researching, yeah.And I have to keep looking other things up as I'm going along. I'm glad you think it's blended because there have been times when I've been worried it comes across as the author showing off his research.I did something similar with the first fiction I posted on here:Then, as now, my biggest fear is that someone who's actually been to Japan or Kawasaki will read this and go "It's not like that at all!"

Anyway, I'm glad that you and others are enjoying this and hope you continue to do so.


“What do you think?”Nina asked.

Annie examined her reflection in the mirror.Nina had persuaded her to do her long hair up in a bun, in the traditional Japanese style.It made her look different to how she normally did but she had to admit she quite liked the style.She wasn’t really convinced about the long dress she was wearing but maybe it would grow on her.“I look…older,”she said at last.

Nina smiled and patted her on the shoulders.“You are going to have the boys queuing up to ask you to dance.”

Annie shook her head decisively.“Uh-uh.You’ve already got me one date for the evening.”

“There’s going to be a lot of dances.”

“Are you selling tickets?”

“I’d make a lot of money if I did.”

Annie gave her an embarrassed smile.“All right, enough of the trying to make me blush.”

“Is Jai going to be there?”

If the question had been intended to put Annie at ease, it failed miserably.“I don’t know,”she admitted at last,“I’m not sure if he found anyone to go with.”

Jai had carefully sorted through the clothes he’d brought from Australia, selecting the ones that had been denoted “for best only” and making himself look as smart as he could.So it was a bit of a shock when he came downstairs to find Boshirou standing there in what he could only describe as a brightly-coloured, loose fitting smock.“Do I need to get changed?”he asked.

Boshirou seemed to consider the question for a while.“You look good,”he said at last.

“I’m not going to look out of place or anything?”

“You look good.”

Jai decided not to press the point.If he ended up surrounded by smock wearers, he probably wouldn’t attract any more attention than usual.“Okay.Thanks.”

“You want to go to dance?”

It was a question Jai had been asking himself for a several days.When he’d first mentioned it to Annie, he hadn’t been entirely sure but suddenly he’d found himself suggesting to Boshirou that they go together.He felt as though he had something to prove but he wasn’t sure who to:Annie?Hugh?Himself?

“Yeah, Boshirou,”he sighed,“Let’s go dance.”

Fortunately Boshirou’s reassurances had turned out to be correct.Neither of them looked out of place among a crowd who seemed to be wearing a combination of Western style clothes and traditional outfits. The music was as diverse as the people dancing to it, with Japanese folk songs being swapped for Western popular music at regular intervals.

Jai looked around the crowd of people dancing or sitting at tables, drinking and chatting.He picked out Hugh among the dancers, twirling his date around with great enthusiasm.Then his gaze settled on the table where a couple of students had been pressganged into serving drinks.“Let’s go over there,”he suggested.

As Jai and Boshirou headed away from the door, Annie and Nina came in behind them, with Aki, Deiji and some of their other girlfriends.Nina nodded towards the table where their dates for the evening were sitting.Dake spotted Annie and gave her a friendly wave.Nervously, she waved back.“Is it too late to back out?”she asked quietly

Nina took her arm.“You’ll enjoy yourself once you get going,”she assured her, leading her towards the table.

Dake was holding a white orchid in his hand, the stem trimmed almost to nothing, fiddling with it awkwardly.“This is for you,”he announced.

“Um, thank you,”Annie replied, not entirely sure what to do with the solitary flower.

She got her answer a few seconds later when Dake pinned the flower in her hair.He held out his hand to her.“Dance?”

Annie looked around for Nina but her friend was already deep in conversation with Piko, the tall, athletic boy who seemed to be serving as Hugh’s host.She turned back to Dake, who was looking at her in confusion, waiting for an answer, and took his hand.

Jai examined his beaker of coke carefully, unwelcome memories of another party he went to flashing through his head.“Are you sure it hasn’t been spiked?”he asked.The girl serving drinks looked at him confused.“Never mind.”

“Annie looks happy,”Boshirou commented.

Jai followed his gaze and saw Annie in the centre of the hall, gently dancing in time to the music.She was surrounded by people but her broad smile seemed to be reserved for the boy dancing opposite her.“Yeah, she does,”he conceeded.

“Jai,”interrupted a sudden, confident feminine voice.He looked round to see that Nina had come to stand beside him.She nodded over to a corner where Hugh, Piko and a group of other boys were standing together and joking about something.“I seem to have been abandoned.Do you want to dance?”

Jai glanced at Boshirou, remembering how much persuading his friend had needed to agree to come.He could hardly leave him to be a wallflower on his own.“I’m kind of…”

Nina glanced back at her table, noting the girls sat there on thoer own.“Deiji!”she called out and said something softly in Japanese.

Deiji came over to them and spoke to Boshirou.Jai didn’t understand the exact words but from the way Boshirou’s eyes widened at the girl, who was about three inches taller than him and definitely not wearing a smock, he managed to understand the gist.Boshirou looked enquiringly at Jai who gave him a nod of permission before Deiji led him over to the dance floor.

“Anything else?”Nina asked.

Jai smiled as he took her hand.“Nope.Nothing else.”But as they joined the dancing couples, he couldn’t resist shooting another look at Annie.

She didn’t look back.

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Thank you, everyone, again for your words of encouragement.


“He’s going to move in a minute,”Annie said quietly, more to convince herself than anything else.

“I don’t think he is,”Nina whispered back.

She’d spotted Dake waiting in the school yard when they were still quite a way from the school and had been telling herself ever since that he wasn’t waiting for her and that he’d be gone before they got to him. She was beginning to accept that Nina was right and he wouldn’t.

“Hello, Annie,”Dake greeted her as they reached him.

“Hello, Dake,”Annie responded politely before gesturing towards the building,“I, um, I need to get to class.”

“Yes.”Dake hesitated for a moment before asking,“Lunch?”

“Um, all right.Er, here?”Annie noticed his slightly confused expression and pointed to the spot where they were standing.

Dake smiled in understanding.“Ah!Here, lunch.See you.”

Annie waited until he’d left them before leaning back against the wall with a groan.Nina came to stand beside her.“I’m sorry, I thought I made it clear to him that you just needed a partner for the dance.”

“I know,”Annie sighed,“It’s just…I think I kind of gave him the wrong idea.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when your dad came to pick us up, I was saying goodbye to him and…I don’t know, I just thought it would be polite…”

Nina looked at her flustered friend with bemusement.“What did you do?”

“I…I kissed him on the cheek.”

Nina’s eyes widened in horror.“Annie!Don’t you know if you kiss a Japanese boy on the cheek that means you want to marry him?”

Annie’s expression matched hers.“Does it?”

“No.I’m just joking.”Nina smiled at Annie’s annoyed response.“He’s a nice boy, if you did want a boyfriend…”

“I know but…”Annie sighed.“The boy back home.”

“Your sort of boyfriend?”

“Yes.”Annie looked uncomfortable.“The one I spend most nights falling asleep thinking about…”She sighed.“Which means I have to let Dake down gently.”

“Bit hard when his English isn’t that good.”

“I know.So…I kinda need your help.”

“The dance was good the other night,”Jai remarked.He knew the remark sounded strange but Annie seemed distracted and he needed a way to start a conversation.

Annie nodded.“Yeah, I saw you there.”

“Did you?”Jai tried to keep the pleasure out of his voice.He hadn’t noticed Annie looking in his direction much at the time.

“Nina said you enjoyed the dancing.”

“Oh, yeah.”Jai had had a couple of dances with Nina but her date had soon realised he was in danger of being squeezed out and made it pretty clear he wanted Jai to move aside.“You looked like you were enjoying yourself with that boy.”

“Mmm, yeah.Like I said, Nina arranged it.”

At her desk nearby, Nina had been sorting out her pens and a notepad.She glanced across at Annie.“All right, I’m ready.”

Annie glanced at Jai.“Nina’s helping me with something, so…”

“Yeah, sure.”Jai took a step back, letting Annie move over to join her friend.

Unfortunately, the step took him closer to Hugh, who seemed to view it as an invitation to talk.“Man, you have totally missed the point of this trip, haven’t you?”

Jai glanced at him.“Huh?”

“You don’t travel thousands of miles to hook up with the girl from home!It’s about exploring new cultures, know what I mean?”

Jai sighed.“Hugh…don’t talk to me.”

“You sure he’ll understand it?”Annie asked as Nina pressed the letter into her hand.

“He’ll get the message,”Nina assured her,“Good luck.”

It had seemed like a simple plan.She’d asked Nina to write her a letter to Dake, explaining that she thought he was a nice boy but she wasn’t ready for a relationship.Which is how she’d ended up with a piece of paper covered in symbols that Annie didn’t even recognise as letters in her hand.Writing Japanese was even harder than speaking it.

But when she reached him, handing it over just seemed cold.“Dake…I need to talk to you,”she sighed.

Dake seemed to get some of the message.“Yes, Annie?”

“I…I like you but…I’m not after a boyfriend.”

The word seemed to cause his ears to prick up.“Boyfriend?”

“Yes…no!”Annie corrected him hastily.“No boyfriend!”

It didn’t seem to dampen his mood.Instead he pointed at her.“No boyfriend?”

Annie sighed and handed him the letter.

She waited until he’d read it and looked up at her before giving an awkward smile.“Sorry.”

He looked disappointed for a moment but then smiled.“Friends?”

She patted him on the arm.“Friends.”

Annie didn’t notice Jai standing at the other end of the courtyard, watching the conversation, too far away to hear.Jai himself was busy telling himself he wasn’t jealous.Well, okay, he was jealous but he recognised the pointlessness of being so.He and Annie weren’t together anymore.She’d chosen Romeo over him back home, just like she’d chosen Dexter before that.And if she chose to go out with another boy over here, then he’d deal with that.He was moving on.He was calm.

“See?She’s got the right idea.Getting cosy with the locals,”Hugh remarked, suddenly appearing at his side without warning.

Jai turned round and punched him in the chest.

The blow wasn’t enough to knock Hugh off his feet, just enough to send him staggering backwards.He took a step back towards Jai, an angry look on his face.“You starting something?”

Jai knew it wasn’t Hugh he was really angry with.At least, he knew that on one level.But that wasn’t the level that was responding to the aggravating taller boy who was suddenly in his face.“Yeah, what if I am?”

Hugh’s anger seemed about to boil over for a moment then he forced himself to remain calm.“Right, I punch you and get chucked off the exchange programme.Not gonna happen.”

“If that’s what you’re worried about, do it somewhere where no-one will see.”

Hugh thought for a moment.“Behind the old block?”

“Name the time.”

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“So it went well?”Nina asked, when they had a chance to catch up again at next recess.

“The letter helped,”Annie confirmed,“And I think it worked that I was there, that he could see that I liked him but didn’t want a relationship with him.”

“Heartbreaker,”Nina joked.

“Don’t,”Annie groaned,“This trip was meant to be about broadening my horizons, experiencing another culture.Not having to deal with boys liking me.”

“Talking of boys that like you…”Nina nodded across the courtyard.Jai was striding purposefully away from them, Boshirou scampering to keep up with him.

Annie looked at him curiously.She liked to think she knew Jai fairly well and there was something about his manner, about the way he was walking…Not to mention about the direction he was heading.“Isn’t he going towards that construction site?”

Nina checked, thinking.“Looks like it…”

Annie rushed after him, Nina only a second behind her.“Hey, Jai, where are you going?”

Jai didn’t falter, barely looking at her.“Just stay out of it, Annie.”

“He fights Hugh,”Boshirou explained.

“What?”Annie grabbed hold of Jai’s arm, forcing him to stop by virtue of the fact his only alternative was dragging her along with him.“Are you crazy?What for?”

“The guy just gets on my nerves.”

“That’s it?Jai, you could get thrown out of this school, thrown out of this country, put on the first plane back home!Just because he gets on your nerves?!”

“I’m not backing down,”Jai insisted stubbornly,“If I do, he’ll be worse than ever.”

Annie tried to sound calm and reasonable.“Look, let’s just walk back this way, forget this ever happened…”

Jai turned away from her and continued walking in the direction he’d been heading in before.

Annie exchanged a frustrated look with Nina and Boshirou before they headed after him.

“It’s not too late to back out,”Hugh offered.

Jai looked around.The school’s old block was in the middle of construction work, covered in scaffolding. It was out of use, hence no-one was around.Except for the crowd that had gathered around them, of course. He noticed Annie giving him that look of frustrated disapproval, the one she usually gave when he was doing something he probably should have thought a bit more about.

“I’m not backing out,”he insisted.

“Fine.”Hugh shrugged.“Give it your best shot.”

Jai waited a second and then flung a punch at him.Hugh dodged it and caught his arm, holding him in a lock.Jai managed to twist and break it but the action had brought them close together.They practically hugged each other, like boxers, raining punches on each other’s bodies that stung but did no real damage.

Annie found herself torn between concern for Jai and annoyance that he’d do something this stupid.She looked around at the other students.They were standing in a loose circle, watching the fight intently, but there was none of the cheering and barracking she usually saw when a fight was going on.Instead, there was a kind of bemused curiosity, as though this was a show that the visitors were putting on for them.

Jai and Hugh continued to stagger about in what was curiously akin to a rather violent dance.They collided with the scaffolding, causing it to vibrate.

On one of the upper levels, someone had left a pile of metal bars.The movement dislodged them, causing them to roll over the edge and topple towards the ground.Ironically, they missed Jai and Hugh, who had already moved on, but several hit the crowd of onlookers.Annie watched in horror as students were struck on arms or shoulders, giving out yelps of pain.One of them struck Boshirou a glancing blow on his head and he went down.

“Jai!”she shouted in alarm.

Jai turned at the voice, realising instantly from Annie’s tone that this was something serious.He saw Boshirou lying on the floor, out cold, a gash on his forehead.He ran and knelt by him, Annie doing the same.“Oh man,”he gasped in horror.

“Is he all right?”Annie asked worriedly.

“I don’t know.Are we meant to put pressure on the wound, stop it bleeding?”

“No.”Jai looked round at the voice.He hadn’t realised Hugh had followed him over.“You don’t get much bleeding from a head wound.We’re better off not touching him in case the skull’s fractured.”He thought for a moment.“We should keep him warm.”

Hugh shrugged off his jumper and placed it over Boshirou like a blanket.After a second, Jai did the same.

Annie looked at Nina.“We need to get him an ambulance.”

Nina looked around.“Kyukyusha!”she called.Several students took out mobile phones and started dialling a number.

Jai looked at Hugh and sighed.“No way are we going to be able to keep this quiet.”

Principal Akeda wasn’t a tall man.He was a few inches shorter than Jai, balding and slightly grey with a clipped moustache.But there was an air of authority about him which meant Jai and Hugh weren’t enjoying being in his office at all.

“The hospital say Boshirou will be all right,”he told them quietly,“He has a mild concussion and must spend the night there.A few other students have minor breaks and bruises.”He sat there in silence for a few moments, letting the news sink in, before he continued in the same mild tone,“I am uncertain what you are accustomed to but at this school there is a certain level of standard that all students are expected to adhere to.”

“We understand,”Hugh responded.

“We understand, sensei,”Jai added, using the traditional term of address for a teacher.It couldn’t hurt.

“You are both promising students,”Akeda observed,“Otherwise you would not have been selected for this programme.But you appear to lack the wisdom to appreciate the opportunity.”

Jai had a nervous feeling in his gut, Annie’s warnings of being sent home echoing in his mind.“We’ll… we’ll behave better from now on.”

Akeda considered the plea.“I am obliged to inform the exchange programme of this incident.However, I will also inform them I am happy for you to remain at this school.The final decision will be theirs.”He looked away from them, turning his attention to the papers on his desk.After a moment, he looked back. “You may go.”

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“I have received a telephone call from the exchange programme,”Akeda announced.Jai and Hugh looked at each other nervously, wondering why they’d been summoned back to the office.Was it to be told they were being sent home?“They have decided to place you both on probation.I will be giving them regular reports on your behaviour.I hope those reports will merely state that you have both behaved in an admirable fashion.”

“They will, sir,”Hugh confirmed.

“Yes, sir,”Jai added.

“Please proceed as quickly as possible to your class.”

The two boys waited until they were out of the door before breathing a mutual sigh of relief.“I thought we were finished there for sure,”Hugh sighed.

“Yeah,”Jai agreed.

“So, um, how’s your friend?”

“He’s going to be home later today.Got a few looks off his parents last night.”He glanced at the other boy, remembering something that had sparked his curiosity before.“How did you know all that stuff about head injuries?Did you learn how to patch them up after knocking them down?”

Hugh laughed slightly.“My dad’s a doctor.He made sure I learnt the basics.”

“Your dad’s a doctor?”Jai didn’t hide his surprise.Hugh hardly came across as the son of a professional.

“What, you think all doctors’ sons are geeks with specs?”

“Some of my best friends are geeks with specs,”Jai said tartly.

“Yeah and some of my best friends are basketball players,”Hugh retorted,“So what?”

“Is it because of your dad that you’re here?”Jai asked, quickly changing the subject.

“It was him that wanted me to apply for this exchange.Said it’d be a great opportunity for me.If I mess up…well, he’s not gonna be very happy.”

Jai considered this for a moment before checking his watch.“If we want that favourable report, we’d better get to class.”

Annie and Nina sat at their desks in their form room, watching in bemusement as Jai and Hugh entered the classroom, chattering away, and went to their seats without even looking at anyone else.“Yesterday they were hitting each other,”Nina noted,“Today, they’re suddenly best friends.”

“It’s what boys do,”Annie sighed,“At least, it’s what they do back home.”

Mrs.Hayashi entered and the class fell silent.She began talking but because it was in Japanese, Annie had a hard time understanding.She was listening hard, trying to piece the words she recognised together into something that made sense, when one word suddenly stood out.

She turned to Nina.“Did…did she say Tokyo?”

Nina nodded.“She said we’re having an outing there, next month.”

Annie had seen Tokyo.It was just across the bay from Kawasaki, on the other side of the Tama River.And it looked huge.Technically, it wasn’t a city at all, it was several cities, all making up one giant metropolis, over ten times the size of Kawasaki.She’d looked across the bay many times, wondering what it would be like to go there.

A broad smile spread across her face at the thought.

Annie came bounding into her room and headed for the computer, wanting to e-mail everyone back home with the news as soon as possible.She brought up her account and paused as she noticed a message in the inbox.Ruby.Curious, she opened it.

Hey, Annie.I’ve got some news for you.You know how I told you that me and Xavier broke up?Well, I’m seeing someone else now.It’s been going on for a few weeks now but I guess I didn’t want to jinx it by telling you too early.He’s a really nice guy, we get on really well, he’s been supportive about everything.

Annie realised what the next words were going to be just before she read them.

It’s Geoff.I know it’s weird, with him being your brother and everything, and I know he’s a bit older than me but I really like him and he’s been great with the diabetes and everything.I hope you understand that we wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t serious about each other and I really hope you can be happy for us.Hope to hear from you soon.

Annie closed the message and turned away from the computer, going over to the window.

Her best friend and her brother.Ruby hadn’t said how far they’d gone but given how far Geoff had gone with Claudia and Ruby had gone with Xavier she could guess.She didn’t know how to feel about that.She had to admit she’d been watching them those last few months, seeing how much they’d been changed by everything that had happened recently, by Belle dying, by Ruby finding out Charlie was her mother…

And what about her?Annie suspected that she’d changed as well.Either way, she knew that life in Summer Bay wouldn’t be the same anymore, with so many people gone and so many things different.At that moment, her old life had never seemed further away.

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Thanks again to everyone that's commented on this fic.


Annie sat on the bed, feeling more and more irritable by the minute.“Jai, what are you doing?”

It was December 25th.Christmas Day.At least, that was what Annie kept telling herself.Except it didn’t feel like Christmas.Sure, there was a Christmas tree in the front room downstairs and they’d all exchanged presents first thing in the morning.But then Nina had headed down the park with some friends and her parents had told her dinner would be in a few hours, as if that was it, Christmas was over.Technically the Japanese celebrated Christmas but since the official religion was Buddhism, rather than Christianity, they celebrated it the same way most people celebrated St.Valentine’s Day, stripped of all its Christian origins and used as an excuse to go out on a date.

She had a feeling Jai had noticed over the past few days just how depressed she was feeling about the whole prospect which was why he’d suggested they spend the day together.Annie had been grateful, realising he was the only person who stood even a chance of understanding what Christmas meant to her. He’d come round mid-morning and they’d headed up to her room after promising Nina’s parents that the door would be left open.And then she’d been left sitting there while Jai fiddled about with the computer for what seemed like hours, even though in reality it was only about ten minutes.

“Don’t worry I’ve nearly got it,”Jai told her.

Annie peered round him at the screen.He seemed to be trying to access some television transmission.“If there’s something you want to watch, there’s a television downstairs.”

“It’s not a Japanese programme,”Jai explained before the loading symbol finally appeared and he came to sit next to her.

The screen sprang into life and Annie’s eyes widened as she saw what it was:a live broadcast of a Christmas morning church service.She glanced at Jai who shrugged.“I figured it was what you’d normally do.”

Annie smiled at him and turned her attention back to the screen.The congregation were just starting to sing a Christmas carol and Annie automatically joined in.“Oh, come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant/ O come ye, o come ye, to Bethlehem…”She noticed Jai sitting silently next to her and nudged him.

“I don’t know the words,”he claimed quickly.

“They’re written along the bottom of the screen.”


Awkwardly, he joined in with her.“Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord…”

Jai reached into the carrier bag he’d brought with him and took out a clumsily wrapped parcel.“Merry Christmas.”

Annie took it with a smile and handed him a parcel of her own.“And the same to you.”

Jai ripped it open eagerly and his eyes lit up as he identified the box inside.“A mobile phone!”

“I figured you’d be into all those gadgets and stuff.”

“Annie, this is a Panasonic, with all the Digital TV and GPS and stuff!You can’t even get them outside Japan!”

Annie shrugged nonchalantly.“Good job we came here then.”

“Open yours.”

Annie tugged at the wrapping on the small box and lifted it open.“A dragonfly necklace!”

“Yeah, the lady in the shop said it was a symbol of power or joy or something.To be honest, I didn’t really understand the words.”

Annie placed it around her neck, fumbling slightly with the clasp.“How do I look?”

“Very Japanese.”

Annie looked at him with slight awkwardness as a thought occurred to her.“Do you have anywhere else to go?”

“Well, I asked Hugh if he wanted to do anything but he was meeting a girl.”

“The one he took to the dance?”

“Apparently not…And Boshirou and his parents invited me along for a round of golf but I decided it wasn’t really my thing.So, no.”

“Well…I could ask Nina’s parents if you could have dinner with us?”

Jai smiled.“Yeah, I’d like that, thanks.”

They’d excused themselves after the meal and headed back upstairs to make some phone calls, Annie from the land line in her room, Jai on his new mobile.“So how was Christmas on the beach?”Annie was asking.

Blowed if I know, love, I’ve been stuck in the Diner with Leah and Colleen all day,”Irene replied,“But everyone seemed to enjoy the Christmas dinner we put on so that’s good.How was your dinner?”

“Yeah, fine,”Annie replied breezily,“Nina’s parents cooked us a nice meal.”

Hang on, love, I think your brother wants to say a word.”

Hey, Ann,”Geoff greeted her a moment later.

“Geoff, hi!How was your day?”

Good, yeah, I went to the service this morning and then Ruby and I went down the beach.Actually, Ruby’s just here if you want…"

“Um, better not,”Annie interrupted quickly.She still hadn’t quite got used to the idea of Ruby being Geoff’s girlfriend and the conversation was bound to descend into awkwardness.“I’m using Mr and Mrs. Komano’s phone, I don’t want to be too long.Tell her I’ll e-mail her later.”

She ended the call and caught the tail end of Jai’s conversation.“Okay, Miles, I’ll talk to you soon.Give my love to Nicole and Mr.Stewart.Bye.”He glanced over at Annie, noticing her wistful look.“What are you thinking about?”

“I guess I’m just remembering all the Christmases I used to have with Geoff and Pop.When we used to go to the service at church and Pop used to wear his best suit.It was the only time I ever saw him look smart.”

“Then what did you do?”

“Um, Pop always used to kill one of the chickens for Christmas dinner.I wasn’t so keen on that part.What about you, what was Christmas like with your family?”

“I remember the last one,”Jai recalled,“When we spent Christmas Day round the pool and at a party on the beach and then we had that evening meal at the hotel, the four of us together.Next day they were all dead but…at least I can remember that.”

Annie just watched him for a moment as he lapsed into silence.She didn’t think she’d ever been more grateful that he was the one who’d come to Japan with her.It had been awkward at times but if it had been someone she didn’t know so well, the day would never have been as special.

He looked at her and smiled.“Meri Kurisumasu, Annie.”

“Meri Kurisumasu, Jai.”

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Thank you, everyone, for your comments.

Just got up to speed on this after a holiday, and a holiday away from computers, and I'm really liking it. Hope it is a really long fanfic.

Don't know if you saw the article, in the Australian Daily Telegraph, about H&A being 7's 'cash cow'. The amount of money the writers get for a '30 minute' episode (it's only 21 minutes really though) is eye watering. Ever thought of......

TV script writing?I entered a Casualty script competition once and got a letter back saying "The standard of entry was high and you weren't high enough."Can't see HA offering me a job somehow...

I don't seem to do really long fanfics unfortunately, I guess we're about two fifths of the way through.


Annie had been feeling giddy ever since they’d got there and the feeling was only increasing.Tokyo was big.If someone had told her it was the biggest city in the world, she wouldn’t have been surprised.For all she knew, it might have been.Their first stop had been at the Ueno Park and from there it had only been a short walk to their present location, the Tokyo National Museum.

Jai, Hugh, Nina and Boshirou were standing with Annie in one of the twenty-four rooms of one of the five buildings that made up the museum, the Japanese art exhibition.They had been allocated most of the morning for the exploration of the museum but in truth you could spend a whole day there and still not see everything.There were signs in English and Japanese, as well as Chinese, Korean, French, German and Spanish, which had helped dispel the fears of most of the non-Japanese speakers in the group.

“It’s big,”Jai said at last.

“It is big,”Boshirou agreed.

“Yeah, big,”Hugh echoed,“That’s the word I was looking for as well.”

Annie looked at them in exasperation.“Guys, this is culture!I mean…this stuff’s old.”

“Well, yeah, they only put old stuff in museums,”Jai agreed.

“No, I mean really old.”Annie went over to one of the exhibits and read the inscription.“Look, this is a pottery vessel from the Middle Jomon period:3,000 to 2,000 BC.”

Jai whistled.“Okay, that is old.”

“We’ve certainly got nothing like it at home,”Hugh agreed.

“You don’t have museums?”Nina asked.

“Yeah, we have museums,”Jai confirmed,“But…”

“Our ancestors only came to Australia in the 18th century,”Annie explained,“You get native art and stuff but…you’re connected to all this, this was your people.”

“I guess so,”Nina conceeded,“I don’t suppose we really think about it.”

“You should,”Annie told her,“I mean, being here…it’s like another world, a whole different culture.”

“You been reading the trip prospectus again?”Hugh asked.

Annie shot him an annoyed look.“Well, don’t you feel it?”

Hugh shrugged.“Yeah, it’s certainly different.”

Jai was looking through a guidebook.“There’s meant to be an exhibition on Japanning in the next room. It’s something to do with Asian lacquerwork.Anyone want to go and see what that actually means?”

Annie gave up.Trying to introduce the two boys to culture was obviously beyond her.“Okay, let’s take a look.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur.They visited Tokyo Tower, the orange and white Eiffel Tower-like structure that served as both a tourist attraction and a radio and television antenna.They took a ride on the city’s trams, they visited one of the many theatres.Now night had fallen but they were still standing by Tokyo Bay.

“Shouldn’t we have headed back before this?”Annie asked.She hadn’t really expected the trip to last so long.

“You can only see it at night,”Nina explained.

Annie was about to ask what she meant when she a series of lights came on across the bay and she gasped. The lights were playing across the surface of the massive suspension bridge that crossed the bay, bathing it in every colour imaginable, reds and yellows and blues and greens.

“I’ve got to admit,”Hugh conceeded,“that is pretty cool.”

“It’s the Rainbow Bridge,”Jai explained, still looking at the guidebook,“Officially known as the Port of Tokyo Connector Bridge, completed in 1993.It’s actually white, they turn on these three lamps at night, red, white and green, which give it that rainbow effect.”He noticed the bemused looks everyone was giving him and hastily put the guidebook away.“And yeah, it does look pretty cool.”

Annie wasn’t entirely sure how it happened but suddenly the rest of the group seemed to have moved away slightly.She and Jai were left standing alone near the water.“I’m really glad you’re here with me,”she told him.And she gently kissed him on the lips.

Jai was too stunned to respond or react.He just stood there, enjoying it while it lasted.

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