Author's Notes: I'll be honest, I'm not completely happy with this chapter, mostly because I've found that I'm shit at writing drama, or interpersonal drama anyway. It's not my best work and probably my least favourite chapter but it means I can change shit up and get back to the light-hearted shenanigans. (Also, I've half-wrote an alternate cut of this chapter where shit goes bananas. Real Shonen anime stuff. May throw it up at some point just for the craic)
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Altered Ego
It’s a few days before Rin is discharged from hospital. Emi, Ritsu and myself spend the most time with Rin, we even met her parents. They’re… nice. Not as eccentric as their daughter but still a little odd.
Our small group; consisting of Ritsu, Akio, Hanako, Molly and myself, are waiting in the main grounds when Emi, Rin and Mrs Ibarazaki arrive. I met Mrs Ibarazaki at the hospital too. She reminds me so much of Kyoko. So bubbly and charming and extremely maternal. It’s kind of a nice reminder of home…
“Hey, guys!” Emi waves enthusiastically, one arm around a hooded Rin. A chorus of welcome back’s call back and some hugs shared with Rin from the girls. They all have a good laugh at Rin’s newest addition to her wardrobe; my hoodie
. It’s comically large on her, easily twice her size. The hood shrouds her face save for a few strands of red hair and I look at the arms and accept that I will probably never wear it again.
“I’m never getting that hoodie back, am I?” I smile with a resigned tone and Rin shakes her head, the hood swaying back and forth in an exaggerated manner.
“I’ve already put knots in the arms.” Rin says in an oddly cheery tone, swinging her arms for emphasis. Everyone laughs while I shake my head with a smile.
“Okay, you can keep it for now. It’s too warm for me to wear it during summer anyway.” I say as Ritsu cups her hand in mine, holding me back for a second while the others walk towards the girls’ dorms.
“You’re going to get it back though, right?” She asks quietly.
“Eventually. Probably.” I chuckle. “Why?”
“I was… I was kinda hoping I’d be the first girl to wear it…” Oh
“Um, sure. As soon as I get it back, you’ve got first dibs.” I offer a reassuring smile. She accepts and jumps up to kiss me on the cheek before dragging me towards the dorms.
The atmosphere is jubilant, both because the airheaded artist back but just to be in each other’s company. Mrs Ibarazaki leaves, giving both her daughter and Rin a cuddle before waving goodbye to all of us.
“Your mum is so nice, Emi!” Molly exclaims.
“Kind of reminds me of your step-mother, Taro!” Ritsu bumps my shoulder and I smile with a nod. “Yup, definitely like Kyoko.”
“Awww, Taro! You’re blushing!” Emi leans forward with a teasing smile and I wave her off.
“What? It just makes me think of home is all!” I can feel my cheeks warm and Ritsu wrap her arms around my good arm.
“You’re such a softie!” Ritsu laughs and squeezes my arm. Molly gets up and collects the mugs of Miki, Emi, and herself.
“Anyone want a refill?” She calls out as she places the mugs on the kitchenette counter. A chorus of “Yes, please” is followed by Akio and Hanako getting up to help, collecting the rest of the mugs.
I look around the room at the motley band of friends and lovers gathered and feel a satisfied smile creep across my face.
“Hey, Nurse, Miss Tsunemori! What brings you… guys
…” I hear Akio call out to the school’s resident councillor and nurse before trailing off. There’s a domino chain of expressions changing as the trio enter the girls’ common room. The Nurse, Miss Tsunemori and Nomiya…
“Sorry to interrupt the festivities everyone.” Miss Tsunemori bows deeply, as does Nomiya. The Nurse manoeuvres around Nomiya’s bulk and walks over to us, nodding with a smile before kneeling next to Rin and talking to her in whispers. Emi moves in to be in on the conversation and I instinctively look around the room again to gauge everyone’s reactions.
They’re all watching me out of the corners of their eyes. Why? They should focus on him in case he tries something. But then, he wouldn’t in front of the Nurse and the Councillor, right? They’re good people, I know they are. What’s his game?
“Given the… events of the past week, the School Board thought it would be in everyone’s best interests to have an open dialogue about what transpired and take action from there. In that capacity, myself and the Nurse are here as mediators. Mr. Nomiya?” She speaks calmly and softly, though she’s probably doing so to keep us calm. The hairs on the back of my neck rise as Nomiya moves and Ritsu grips my arm tighter, shooting me a look that says “Wait.”
Nomiya takes a step forward, looking around the room before his eyes settle on Rin. I flinch and Ritsu again holds me firm. He closes his eyes and turns his head.
“I… am deeply
sorry, Miss Tezuka. I do not have the words to express that sentiment strongly enough.” He breathes a heavy sigh and looks at us all again.
“I have been dealing with many financial and deeply personal
issues of late and because of that; my duty to you, one of the students placed under my charge, was compromised.” Is that it? Is that the best you’ve got?
“It was irresponsible of me to put such an enormous task on your shoulders, Miss Tezuka. No, more
than irresponsible, it was selfish
and unbefitting of my role as a teacher…” His voice shakes and he brings a hand to his mouth.
“In all honesty, I… I used this exhibition as a distraction from my… My divorce.”
The words carry around the room and there are unsure looks between several of us but what I notice most is Ritsu’s reaction. I feel her whole body tense up through our bodily connection and her eyes go wide. She’s still raw from what’s happening with her parents. I… I’m conflicted. My issues with Nomiya are boiling to the surface but Ritsu needs me more. I try my best to push my anger down and close my eyes, wrapping my arm around Ritsu tight. Hold on to her. Don’t let her go. Focus on her.
“As such, with Miss Tezuka‘s permission, I will cancel the exhibition.” I hear the words but don’t see any reaction. Focus on Ritsu, she needs you.
“Very well, consider it done. And as for my position at this school… That will be for the Board to decide. I do not expect either forgiveness or leniency for my dereliction of duty. My actions were inexcusable and I can only express my deepest… and sincerest apologies. I am so very sorry, Miss Tezuka
…” The last half is spoken with a noticeable quiver in his voice and by the end is reduced to an ashamed whisper.
The room goes quiet and I finally open my eyes. Ritsu has her face buried in my chest. Everyone looks either uncomfortable or worried and Nomiya has tears running down his face. He quietly slinks out of the room without any further remarks and Miss Tsunemori gestures to the Nurse to follow him. He pats Rin on the head and does so.
Miss Tsunemori walks over to the kitchenette and helps Molly, Akio and Hanako finish everyone’s drinks. The room is deafly quiet and the earlier jubilant mood lies on the floor of the common room, if not dead then dying.
Miss Tsunemori approaches Ritsu and I with two steaming mugs and places them on the table in front of our sofa. She takes a seat next to Ritsu and pats her back gently.
“You seem quite affected by Mr. Nomiya’s announcement, Ritsu. Is there anything you’d like to talk to me about?” Her soft reassuring tone is perfect for this situation. Ritsu nods gently.
“Would you like to come talk to me now? We can use the admin office here, it’s not quite as comfortable as my office but it’ll probably be a lot less green.” She throws a knowing smile to me and I reciprocate.
“Does anybody else feel the need to have a chat with me?” She asks to the room as she and Ritsu get up. No one seems to. I touch Ritsu’s hand and give her a reassuring smile.
“I’ll be here when you get back.” She nods a little and walks with Miss Tsunemori to a door just the other side of the hall that leads into the common room.
“How’re you holding up, Rin?” I scoot to the edge of the sofa, leaning on my knees. She looks at me with her big green eyes and simply shrugs. Did she zone out and miss all that or does she just not care? Whatever. If she’s satisfied with that, fine. I rub my eyes and let out a groan before standing.
“Just going to grab some air.”
Not going to lie, I really did need this. The atmosphere in there was so thick, coupled with my own tsunami of thoughts, it was suffocating. Out here though, with the fresh breeze, the warm sun, the intermittent bird song… It’s calming. I hear the double doors swing open automatically and a familiar subdued tacking approach from behind me.
“Making sure I’m still here?” I ask to Akio, who sits on the stairs beside me.
“Making sure you didn’t anything stupid
. Like cave Nomiya’s face in.” He says plainly, without the usual joking tone he’d use with that kind of comment.
“You think I’d really do that?” I chuckle.
Okay. That was unusually stern.
“You’re a good guy, Taro but one of the worst things you do is hold grudges. Must be part of that whole hero persona you’ve been building. You might not see it but you get angry at the wrong people. Like that shit at the gallery. I get you were angry at finding Rin like that, that’s understandable but from what I can tell, that lady had no idea what was going on either. Not to mention I heard you attacked Maeda to find out where Rin was in the first place.”
“I barely touched him!” I protest and Akio just stares me down.
“And do you know how strong
you are? You could have seriously hurt him, man and what for?”
“Maeda’s a weasel! A despicable little brown-noser too stupid to see when he was betrayed by Nomiya. Ran straight back to him after his breakdown.” I explain and Akio laughs.
“Betrayed by Nomiya? Maeda had a breakdown? Jeezus, Taro, you are fucking dense.” He shakes his head. What the fuck does that mean?
“It was Maeda who pressured Nomiya into putting on that art exhibition here in our second year but he chickened out last minute because he got stage-fright. Hid in his room for two days. Nomiya had nothing to do with that.” What…
“But… He…” Is that true?
“Blamed Nomiya? Of course he did, he’s an asshole, but why would he stick around if he was hurt that bad?”
The realisation dawns on me and the cool breeze dies. My shoulders slump and I lower my head.
“There it is. You’ve been holding a grudge against Nomiya all this time because of a lie told by an arrogant prick and because you’re always so eager to play the hero, you took it personal. Quit the art club. And when Maeda went back to trying to be teacher’s pet; you started resenting him too.”
"…How?" Is all I can muster after the barrage of information. He just taps his nose.
"Investigative instinct. After I heard what happened from Miki, me and Hana went to check on him. Got him to tell us about your beef with him too. Can't believe you never even considered just talking
to him about it. But then, when you're angry, you tend to switch off your ears… Don't think I didn't notice you trying to block out Nomiya earlier. I know you were looking after Ritsu but you were also trying to ignore him." He's not wrong. When I found Akio in the city I was just humouring him until he passed out and I could take him home…
“…I’ve been a fucking retard.” I grimly admit.
“Yup. Pretty much.” He nods earnestly. Cheers, pal.
“I think I did the same thing with my Father… I held onto a lot of resentment against him but, in the end, he had a valid reason for being so distant.”
“You can be as blind as Lilly sometimes, wide-load.” He chuckles and I just sink lower. He places his hand on my shoulder and his tone becomes serious.
“I love you, man but take it from someone who knows stupid decisions intimately
… You need help with this attitude. You might end up hurting someone you care about one day.”
I close my eyes and think on what I’ve just heard. Okay, so I’ve been stupid. I’ll hold my hands up to that. I’m not perfect but now that I know that I can take things too far the wrong way, I can work on it. I’m fine. I can keep going and just avoid it happening again. I’ll be fine. Akio should know better really, I’ve helped him enough times… Ritsu needs me anyway, I need to get back in there for when she’s done with Miss Tsunemori. As quickly as I think of her, her words creep into my mind.
Exactly, and while aspiring to be a good person is an admirable trait to have, it can run the risk of becoming something dangerous. Starting to believe the people you help owe you something for your sacrifice, for example.
No, I’m not like that. I’ll… I’ll be fine. I can handle it. I’m the strong one here… I don’t need help. I don’t need to rely…
Self-less people rarely can and the stress often builds up until they simply... Snap. It’s hard to see your own limitations, especially in pursuit of a noble cause. Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, as the saying goes.
“God damn it
.” I quietly sigh and Akio tenses. I get up with a groan and walk back inside, patting Akio on the shoulder as I go. I give a reassuring smile to Molly, Hanako and Miki. Emi and Rin have disappeared. Emi’s pretty capable, so she can look after Rin. I pick up my luke-warm coffee and walk back towards the admin office and quietly wait on one of the chairs outside it. Akio sidles up to me.
“What are you doing?” A worried face if ever I saw one. Guess that’s how I’ve looked dealing with him before. Hm.
“I’m going to ask for help, even if my head is telling me not to.” I answer solemnly.
“Well I’ll be here if you ever need a shoulder to cry on.” He smirks, patting my arm.
“When did you become better at this than me?” I narrow my eyes as he walks back into the common room.
“When a goodie two-shoes decided to read me the riot act and put me back on the right path. Payback’s a bitch
a bitch.” I give an amused snort through my nose and he just winks.
Miss Tsunemori and Ritsu finally emerge from the admin office as I finish my coffee. Ritsu’s been crying. I wrap my arm around her instinctively and plant a kiss on her forehead. She smiles a little and it helps me with what I’m about to say.
“Miss Tsunemori, do you have some free time tomorrow?”