A knock on the front door at twelve o’clock on a Saturday has Sakura jumping off the couch and barking loudly. Sakura’s my gorgeous pup, a mix of a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Golden Retriever. I follow more lethargically, throwing my shirt back over my head, already dying from the California heat as I leave the cool air of the fan in my living room. I keep one hand gripping Sakura’s collar tightly as I open the door.
A mid-aged woman and man stand there, with warm smiles on their faces. A girl about my age stands with them, and her eyes light up when she sees Sakura.
“Good afternoon,” I greet them. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Oh, no, we just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.” The woman says, before offering me a tinfoil covered pan.
“Oh, thanks.” I blink, and look down at Sakura, who’s eagerly tugging at my arm to greet these new people. “Uh, would you like to come in for a little bit? I can get you guys something to drink.”
“That would be nice,” the woman smiles. “I’m Willow, and this is my husband, Reece. This is our daughter, Wren.” Wren waves, and I tilt my head in greeting, before stepping back to let them in. Willow sets the pan down on the small bureau by the door, and I slowly let go of Sakura’s collar.
“Sakura, furumau.” Sakura barks, and trots up to the trio, sniffing at them curiously. I take the pan, and lead them to our kitchen, where there’s two fans blowing cold air around.
“Ma, we should invest in fans.” Wren says. “Summers here are absolute hell.” I take out a pitcher of fresh lemonade, and pass a glass to each of them, pouring one for myself and Dad.
“Where’d you move from?” Reece asks, tilting his head curiously.
“I was in Germany before here.” I say. “What about you guys? Have you always lived here in California?” My awkward half German-half Japanese accent came out, and I felt myself flush a little bit. It wasn’t often that it happened, but when it did, it always threw me off.
“Nope, we lived in England.” Wren beams.
“Keanu? Who’s that?” I hear Dad’s voice from upstairs.
“They’re our neighbors. They wanted to just say hi and welcome us to the neighborhood. I offered them a drink, too.” I call, padding out of the kitchen to poke my head out to peer upstairs.
“That’s fine, I’ll be down in a moment. Make sure Sakura’s not stuffing her nose in places where it shouldn’t be.” Dad replies.
“Ich weiß, ich weiß.” I roll my eyes and turn back, offering a sheepish smile. “That was my Dad. He was working on moving things around upstairs.”
“Does he need help?” Reece asks.
“Uh, I’m not sure. I was helping before, but I took a break. He’s coming down soon, though. You could ask then?” Reece nods.
“Could I ask what language you were speaking at first to your dog? I recognized the German, since I’m half German myself.” Willow seems genuinely curious.
“Japanese.” I feel a little self-conscious, and I never really know how to respond when someone asks me how I know Japanese when my father is German. Well, I don’t know, maybe the fact that I look like an Asian?
“That’s a pretty language.” Wren pipes up. “I’d love to be able to speak and read fluent Japanese. It would help to actually understand some of the anime I watch. I hated the dubbed version and I’m too lazy to read the subtitles in English, so I just suffer.” An amused snort leaves my lips.
“I can try to teach you,” I offer. Wren perks up.
“Wren, you know that senior year is coming up. Watching anime and playing your Pokemon and Animal Crossing games all the time like you did this summer isn’t going to happen during the school year.” Willow chastised. Wren deflated, but I felt my ears perk up.
“You play Pokemon?” That’s the first thing out of my mouth, and I feel myself blush. Wren nods eagerly, and lifts an arm. I see a bracelet around her wrist, little metal Pokemon charms hanging off of it.
“Yep! You too?”
“He’s very close to having an obsession with it.” I whip my head up as Dad comes into the kitchen, dabbing at his face with a cloth. “Hello, I’m Heinrich, but you can call me Henry. This is my son, Keanu.”
“Hello, and welcome to sunny California!” Willow grins. “We brought over a strawberry shortcake for you guys as a welcome gift.”
“That’s very kind of you.” Dad looks a little taken aback. “Would you like anything else to drink? We’ve just moved in so we don’t have too much…”
“That’s fine, no worries.” Willow waves him off. “If you ever need help with anything, we’d be glad to lend a hand.” Dad shot me a look, as if begging me to help him out, but I shrug helplessly.
“Sorry, we’re not very used to having… a very friendly neighborhood.” Dad chuckles. “As the German stereotype goes…”
“My parents can be overbearing, but they mean well.” Wren whisper-hisses, and Willow shoots her daughter a look, to which Wren responds with a grin. “Oh, back to you.” She points to me, and I blink, startled. “Pokemon. Your dad just said that you’re basically obsessed?” I nod, sheepish. “I’m a pretty hardcore fan myself, so think you can beat me?”
“Can you recall each and every Pokemon’s name, typing and ability by their National Pokedex numbers from Kanto through Alola?” I ask, realizing how much of an actual nerd I am. Wren’s lips part.
“Oh my God, you are actually a nerd. You beat me.” I flush as the adults chuckle, and Sakura nudges my thigh with her nose, as if sensing my embarrassment.
“I can show you the collection of my stuff, if you want. We might have to go box digging, though.” I offer. “If… that’s alright with you.”
“That’s fine with me.” Wren claps her hands together, obviously excited. She glances at her parents, who glance at my Dad, who shrugs.
“Go ahead.” The two of us dart up the staircase, Sakura chasing after us with an eager bark.
“I can’t believe that my eighteen year old son is still obsessed with those games.” I hear Dad sigh from downstairs.
“Ditto,” comes Reece’s response. Wren and I share an eye roll before we duck into my box-filled room. I hadn’t gotten too far before giving up, but I had started to stick all of those glow in the dark stickers to my ceiling. You know, those stickers that everyone wanted when they were six. But, instead of stars and planets, my nerd and Pokemon obsessed ass got custom ones in the shape of Pokemon.
Wren seemed to love them, and she especially seemed to love my giant stuffed Bulbasaur. I was a little embarrassed, since no one but Dad had actually seen the extent of my Pokemon collection. My shelves were full of Pokemon manga and handwritten notes and strategy guides. Soon, little figurines would join them as soon as I found them in the hundreds of boxes in my room.
I knew that I had a bunch of posters and drawings of Pokemon in the boxes, and I let Wren wander around with my Bulbasaur in her arms, and I sat down awkwardly on my bed.
“Oh my gosh, this is like… a dream.” Wren turns to me, and the obvious adoration on her face at my collection has me flushing. “Does he have a name?” She asks, holding up the Bulbasaur.
“His name’s Bobsaur.” Wren blinks at me. “It’s how I spelled it as a kid, and it’s the oldest plushie that I have, so the name stuck.” I explain, and Wren grins.
“That’s adorable.” She sits down beside me, and examines the boxes. “Do you want help with some unboxing? I can help, and I’d love to see what other Pokemon related stuff you have, if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure thing, I could use some help.” The two of us get to work, and we find the box of the more delicate figurines, these ones made of glass. I’m so relieved that none of them broke. We carefully unwrap the bubble wrap and place them on my desk and bookshelves.
I have no idea how long we’re both up in my room, geeking out to Pokemon and just being plain nerds before Willow knocks on the door gently, saying that it’s time for them to go. I’m shocked that the sun is setting outside, meaning that it’s probably well past seven.
“Oh, we headed home for a little while when we heard that you seemed to be having a whale of a time unpacking the boxes.” Willow smiles. “I’m sure there’ll be time tomorrow for you guys to hang out. Do you have a phone so you two can exchange numbers?”
“I only have a flip phone,” I admit.
“That’s alright, I’ll just… throw a pinecone at your window sometime tomorrow.” Wren jerked her thumb towards my window. “My room’s right across the way.” I nod, and she grins. “Well, see you tomorrow, my fellow trainer.” I roll my eyes, bid her goodbye and thank Willow for the shortcake.
“It’s no problem. Welcome to the neighborhood.” She smiles, and waves, ushering Wren out the front door as the girl gets distracted by Sakura.
“You seemed to have fun.” Dad comments as I pad into the kitchen.
“I did. It was a little awkward at first, but… I just got comfortable at some point, and I didn’t even notice.” I admit. “It was nice, though. You know, to now have to worry about my social anxiety.”
“It did help that you could bond over something you both like.” Dad added, and I nod. He’s stirring something in a pot, and it smells like tomato sauce. My stomach growls, and I finally notice the schnitzel that are resting on a cooling rack. “It’s a ‘we made it’ dinner.” Dad says softly, and I feel my throat clog.
“I wish they were here with us.” I mumble. Dad wraps his arms around me in a tight hug.
“I do too, Keanu. I do too.”
Wren is a lot of fun to hang out with. She and I share a lot of similar personality characteristics, especially at school. We’re on the quieter side, preferring to stay away from the majority of the crowd. She hates following with what she calls the “in-crowd”. That was when I showed her one of my favorite bands, Three Days Grace, and their song “I Am An Outsider”, which lit another spark of friendship and connectivity between us.
She plays football, and the real football, not the cheap knockoff football Americans stole. We speak German together every now and then, and although her German isn’t perfect, she’s comfortable speaking it and I admire her for that. Even though I’m basically trilingual, I’m still so awkward when I speak one of the other languages I know.
“Keanu! Ich brauche deine Hilfe, komm hier her für eine Minute!” I groan, pushing myself up from my spot on the floor, where Wren and I were playing PokePark 2 together on the Wii. Dammit, it was a good game, and I didn’t care what anyone else said. I was a Pokemon nerd. Or, a Pokemon “Einstein” as Wren put it.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” I groan, and roll my shoulders back. Wren nods, and pauses the game, before she too stands up.
“I’ll come see if I can help too.” Wren suggests. I shrug, and we both head downstairs to the studio, where Dad’s struggling to get the couch over the rug.
“Oh Wren, could you help too?” Dad asks, setting the couch down with a huff. Wren nods, and she comes over to help pick up the other side of the couch with me and together the three of us shuffle awkwardly to place it. Sakura’s not much help, trying to jump onto the couch, and we manage to place it just as she hops onto it with a lazy yawn.
Wren and I stay down in the cool basement and help Dad out a little while longer before we hear the timer upstairs start ringing, signalling that the pizza has finished cooking.
“Dad, the pizza’s ready.” I call as I hurry up the stairs. Dad follows, with Wren and Sakura in tow. I wash my hands, and turn the timer off, sliding oven mitts on and opening the oven doors, setting the pizza on the stovetop. It smells incredible. Wren goes to save and turn off the Wii and television, and Dad gets some glasses of lemonade ready. Wren, Dad and I all worked together to make the pizza from scratch, and it was definitely worth it in the end.
“Are you guys ready for school to start next Monday?” Dad asks.
“Don’t remind me,” I whine, and Wren chuckles.
“I mean, at least you’ll be able to play baseball again,” Wren points out. Dad arches an eyebrow at me, and I scowl.
“We went out to do some sports too, Dad.” I grumble.
“Football is definitely not for Keanu.” Wren grins. “He nearly rammed headfirst into the goalpost.”
“I’m used to following a ball the size of a… well, baseball, in the air, not a giant ball that I’m supposed to not trip over with my feet.” I protest.
“I definitely have to see my son trying to dribble a soccer ball. You might have fast legs and great hand-eye coordination, but when it comes to feet-eye coordination, it’s practically non-existent.” Dad smirks. I wrinkle my nose.
“Can we stop talking about this,” I grumble. “There are more interesting things than Keanu’s horrific coordination with his feet.”
“What about the fact that Keanu talks in third person when he feels awkward?” Wren pipes up. I shoot her what I hope to be a deathly glare, but she merely laughs.