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Re: *Ch32 Updated 11/9* Precious Friendships (Shizune BE, Sisterhood plot)

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 4:56 am
by ShizuneFan2019
Chapter 35: Scartesian Coordinates

After writing everything I need on the board, I put down the white board pen, adjust my tie for I think the fourth time in fifteen minutes, take a deep breath, and turn around.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just remember to be friendly to the kids.”

“Sure. I will.”

Even though I’ve been a private tutor for two months already, I still feel nervous. This is the first day I’m holding a class in a tutorial center. The 10 o’clock class, which is the Mathematics class I sat through last week, is one of the classes of the tutor who resigned. Sitting at the back of the classroom is Alvin, the substitute last week, who will sit through today’s class to see if things are working fine.

There will be three students. I already met them last week. I hope they like me.

A flurry of knocks on the door tells me that a student, or more than one of them, has arrived. From the last class, I know that the three of them are good friends. Taking another deep breath and wishing myself good luck, I approach the door and open it.

“Hello. Welcome.”

It turns out all three students have arrived.

“Hi, Alvin-sensei (teacher Alvin)… oh…”

“Hey Makoto, you forgot? Today will be Teacher Nakai with you.”

“Oh. Hello, Nakai sensei.”

I smile gently at the little boy named Makoto.

“Hello, Makoto right?”

“Yeah.”

“And you? You’re Mitsugu, am I right?”

“I AM! Hi, Nakai-sensei!!”

This Mitsugu is very energetic, but not very good at schoolwork.

“And you’re Etsuko, right?”

The girl with ponytails known as Etsuko gives me a polite bow.

“Yes. Nice to meet you.”

“Nakai-sensei, we just call her Ecchan.”

Ecchan blushes a bit and smiles bashfully upon hearing her nickname.

Huh. I want to tell her that I’ve a similar nickname too. Maybe later.

“Alright, kids, please take your seats.”

Makoto, Mitsugu, and Ecchan sit together in a row.

“My name is Hisao Nakai. I’ll be your math teacher starting from this week.”

“Sensei! Did you comb your hair today? Why is there a bit of hair stuck out on the right side?”

Oh boy. This class is not gonna be easy. I can’t get angry though.

“This hair? It’s been sticking out for a long time. I can’t do anything about it, no matter I try.”

“Really? Can I try flattening it?”

“Uh… But aren’t we supposed to have a class?”

“Yup, but we wanna get to know the teacher first!”

I remember that Alvin also had a hard time with them last week.

“Alright, alright. See if you can flatten my hair. I doubt you can do it.”

“HERE I COME!!!”

Mitsugu, the energetic boy, immediately leaves his seat and runs at full speed towards me.

“Oh no!”

Afraid of being tackled at the front (like what Emi did to me last year), I instinctively move away, and Mitsugu falls on the ground after missing his “tackle”.

Oh no! I just dropped my student to the floor in my first day of class! I hurry over to him.

“Mitsugu, are you alright?”

“Awwww…”

It looks like he just scratched his elbow. Makoto, Ecchan, and Alvin come over.

“How are you?”

“I’m… fine…”

Ecchan folds her arms and stares daggers at Mitsugu.

“Told you not to act so rashly! You never listen.”

“Sorry…”

His scratched elbow is bleeding. I take out a bandage from my wallet. The last time I got to use this was three months ago on Hanako’s leg.

“Are you bleeding? Here, use this.”

I carefully rip open the package and apply the bandage at his elbow.

“Thank you sir.”

He gets up, wipes off the dust attached on his clothes, and scratches his head.

“Sorry, Ecchan. I won’t do that next time.”

“Hmph! How many times have I heard that statement already!”

“Hehehe…”

I suppose I need to apologize.

“Mitsugu-kun, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you fall down. I just moved away instinctively.”

“It’s okay, sir.”

If I don’t want to get tackled again, I need to tell them the truth. It’s been over a year since I had that accident, but I still feel uncomfortable telling others about my condition. But it’s probably easier to do it on kids.

“Uhm… I supposed I need to tell you all about this. I had a heart surgery a year ago, and it’s still kind of vulnerable now. That’s why I had to dodge from you. Please don’t tackle me again, or I’ll be in big trouble.”

“I see. Sorry sir.”

Ecchan raises her hand.

“Sir, did you say you had a surgery?”

“Yes.”

“My cousin had a surgery on her left foot last month. It left a big scar right there. Do you have a scar as well, sir?”

“Yes indeed, Ecchan.”

“D’you mind if you show us your scar? We’re curious!”

Oh boy. Seeing their sparkling eyes, somehow I find myself unable to reject the kids. I take a glance at Alvin, who is smiling all the time.

“Alright then.”

Making sure that my back faces the classroom door, I remove my tie and undo the buttons on my shirt, showing my chest to my students.

“Wow. So that’s what a scar looks like.”

I don’t like the idea of my scar being appreciated by a bunch of youngsters, but I don’t think there’s another choice.

“My cousin is actually very sad about her scar. I’ll tell her that she’s not the only one with scars.”

“That’s so kind of you, Ecchan.”

“Actually, he’s not the only one in this classroom either.”

Alvin-san, who’s been smiling all along, suddenly speaks up.

“Mr. Alvin?”

He proceeds to wrap up his sleeves and, surely enough, there’s a pretty long scar on his left arm.

“Wow. I didn’t know you have a scar as well.”

Mitsugu suddenly smiles wickedly.

“Hey, sir, why did you get this scar? Did you fight with the bad guys in the past?”

Alvin smiles.

“No, Mitsugu-kun. Sorry to disappoint you. One day I had a nasty fall in the rain when I was ten years old. I broke my arm, and this is the result.”

“I see.”

Makoto, who hasn’t said much since entering the classroom, seems to notice something on the board.

“Hey, sir, doesn’t your scar look like what’s written on the board?”

I turn around and realize that he’s right. Today we’re teaching Cartesian coordinates. The x- and y-axes do look like our scars. It seems like I just found a perfect way to divert their attention back to the class.

“Huh. I didn’t realize it. You’re right! That’s what we’re learning today! Let’s start our class right now then.”

***********************

“Made your decision already?”

“Uhm… I’ll have chicken rice with assorted vegetables, served with green tea.”

“Alright. Let’s go to the counter.”

Even though I only held two classes in the morning, I already feel completely drained. Luckily, it’s lunchtime, so I can take a short break. And today Alvin-san is kind enough to accompany me.

“You order first, Nakai-san.”

“Thanks. I’ll have pork ramen with assorted vegetables.”

“And I’ll have chicken rice with assorted vegetables. I’ll pay.”

“No. I should treat you today. It’s your first day working in the center! I’m your senior, so I kind of have to treat.”

“(Cashier) It’s 1450 yen in total.”

“But…”

“No worries. You can treat me later. Here’s 1000, here’s a 500 coin, and 50.”

“Er… Sir, this is a 100-yen coin, not 500-yen.”

“Oh. I made a mistake. Hold on… This one is 500. Huh. Don’t they look similar?”

No, they don’t. They’re of quite different colors.

“Errr… Well, here’s the change. 100 yen.”

“Thank you… Ah!”

Crap. He just dropped the coin on the floor.

“Where is it? Erm… Oh, it’s right there. Ah!”

“Ouch!”

“I’m… I’m sorry…”

It looks like he stepped the boy next in line on the foot while picking up his coin. The boy is visually annoyed.

“Be careful next time!”

“I will. I’m sorry…”

Embarrassed, we take the tickets and go pick up our food. We sit down opposite to each other in a corner of the restaurant.

“So, Nakai-san, how do you feel about work this morning?”

“Well, you can just call me Hisao.”

“Alright. Hisao-san then.”

Uh… Okay. Not the most common name I’ve heard (I think it has to do with him avoiding his surname), but it’s still way better than the nickname given by Misha and mom.

“And I’ll call you Alvin-san… oh, wait, I guess I’ve never addressed you in your surname.”

The boy from Hong Kong laughs at my strange comment.

“Still not used to it, huh? It’s okay. Alvin-san or just Alvin is fine. Doesn’t it feel strange for a Japanese to have a friend with a name in Katakana?”

Normally it would be, but coincidentally I do have a friend with a name in Katakana. (“Misha” is also Katakana, but it’s only a nickname.)

“I do have a friend from high school with a Katakana name. Her name is Lilly.”

“Really? There’s a female student in my university called Lilly as well. She’s a tall blonde, and she walks with a cane. She frequently appears in the English faculty.”

Wait! Does that mean…

“Hold on. What university are you studying in?”

“Kasshoku. In Chiba.”

“We’re in the same university then!”

“Really? So, is that the same Lilly we’re talking about here?”

“Must be. She’s in the English faculty too. She is a tall blonde with curly hair and blue eyes. She walks very gracefully.”

“I’m sure that’s the same girl. I don’t know about her. I just heard about her name.”

“What major are you in? And what year?”

“I study electronic engineering, second year.”

“Then how did you know about Lilly?”

“Besides engineering, I also love languages, so I applied for a linguistic class this semester as an elective. Since that class ends at noon, I often have lunch in the cafeteria over there. And every time I go there, I can see that Lilly girl surrounded by presumably her classmates, or boyfriends, I’m not sure. As you mentioned, she walks and talks with great elegance. I don’t know why she’s walking with a cane though.”

He apparently doesn’t know Lilly is blind yet.

“Well… I’m a good friend of her. I’m actually going to ask her for lunch this coming week. You can join if you want.”

“Sure. I’ve been having lunch with boys only for such a long time. You know, more than 90% of my classmates are boys.”

I can feel for you, Alvin. If I didn’t have Shizune with me, I probably would have ended up with the same fate.

“No problem. Let’s exchange phone numbers then. I didn’t know you’re in Kasshoku too.”

“Yes, I am. So, I assume you study science, then?”

“Yeah. So… my phone number is…”

We proceed to store each other’s phone numbers in our phonebooks.

“Great! Got it. By the way, can you speak English? I’ve heard that Hong Kong was once governed by the British.”

“Yes. I’m actually quite fluent, although after so many years in Japan, I might need to brush it up a little bit.”

“Lilly’s from Scotland. You can speak English with her.”

“Really? No wonder she’s tall and blonde. So she’s an international student?”

“No. Well… Maybe I’ll leave it to next week. You’ll know soon enough.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Oh, by the way, d’you know Shizune is also our school mate?”

“Shizune? You mean the girl who introduced you here?”

“Yeah. Shizune Hakamichi. She’s also my high school friend. She studies business.”

“I didn’t know. I thought you’re her boyfriend.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Hmm… That’s strange. I heard from the Director that you know sign language. If not for Shizune, why would you learn language? Do you have a family member who you can communicate only in sign?”

So that’s his thought process. He knows that I know sign language, and because of the fact that I am not deaf or mute, he deduced that I must be Shizune’s boyfriend. He’s almost correct. I have to appreciate his observation and analyzing skills.

“No. Well… You’re right. It’s true that I learned sign language because of Shizune. It’s… well… uhm… Anyway, it’s complicated.”

“I see. You do like Shizune, don’t you?”

Looks like he’s not dropping the subject. Why is he so curious?

“Uhm… (Sigh) I guess I can’t hide. You’re right.”

“I see. Well, to tell you the truth, I find her pretty attractive. But now that I know about you, I’m not going to get in your way.”

I see. That’s why he’s been persistent. That’s… fair.

“Alright then.”

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Huh? What question?”

“How was work today?”

Oh. He started lunch by asking me this question, and we diverted our attention towards many other topics.

“It’s been an eventful morning, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah. The students here are very inquisitive.”

“I didn’t know you have a scar too.”

“I guess we have another thing in common then, besides being in the same school.”

This boy is surely interesting.

“By the way, Alvin-san, I just realized you’re using your chopsticks upside down. You know, the thicker side should be up.”

“Oh!! Hahaha… Oh well, it’s fine. I don’t mind.”

“And why are you taking a fork with you? I don’t think you need it.”

“Uh… Oh! I thought I ordered ramen. Turns out I’m having rice as lunch today! Hahaha…”

You don’t eat ramen with fork either. He’s certainly the clumsiest, or funniest, boy I’ve ever seen.

Chapter 36: My Last Hope

Re: *Ch32 Updated 11/9* Precious Friendships (Shizune BE, Sisterhood plot)

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 4:57 am
by ShizuneFan2019
Chapter 36: My Last Hope

The door opens, and the middle-aged man comes in with a pile of papers.

I give him an intense stare. They must be what I think they are.

He sits down behind the computer, puts down his briefcase, sorts out his pile of papers, looks up, and turns on the microphone.

“Since most of you are already present, I am now distributing the test papers.”

I turn my eyes towards the one sitting next to me. In return, she glares at me with a pair of sharp eyes.

This is it, Akemi. I’m not losing to you!

“Hanako Muragami.”

After being in Kasshoku for more than two months, I found out that there are a lot of Hanako in this school. I already know two of them in my department. I heard that there’s a counselor in the Faculty of Journalism bearing this name, and she is currently dating a graduate student in our department. What’s her surname again? I can’t recall. Anyway, Hanako is certainly a common name in Japan.

Hanako Ikezawa, my former classmate. I didn’t come across her last week in the Yamaku Festival, but Hisao visited her that day. He revealed to me that she was in much better shape than on Graduation Day. I didn’t say goodbye to her when I left Yamaku. She was apparently very busy; the only time I managed to get a sight of her was the brief moment I was on the stage during the ceremony, and she was sitting very far behind. (Nevertheless, I was quite surprised she actually managed to attend the ceremony.) Hisao told me that he visited her later that day while I was chatting with the Student Council, and a miracle happened: She was accepted as a fourth year in Yamaku. She gets another chance to take the Entrance Exam of this school. If she gets accepted, there’ll be one more Hanako here.

Hisao and I still don’t know what happened to her on that Open Day. The only people who know about that accident, besides herself, are Naomi Inoue, my two cousins, and the school staff. Even though I’m the class representative, the staff refused to tell me anything other than that she was suffering from emotional problems, which wasn’t anything new as she had that issue since she first came to school. I was asked not to do anything about her latency in class (not that I could do anything anyway, as the person didn’t even show up). Inoue also had her lips sealed upon mentioning that accident, and I despise talking to my two lame relatives. So I never knew what happened to her. Anyway, the fact that she’s doing better is good news. I hope she can recover as soon as possible.

Why am I getting distracted? I’m in the middle of a contest with Akemi! I guess I do care about my classmates, even after we graduated. I was the Class Rep and Student Council President after all! *Adjust my glasses*

Speaking of Student Council…

“Akemi Watanabe.”

My train of thoughts towards the Student Council is interrupted by the professor calling my rival’s name. My best friend in Kasshoku (other than Hisao) nervously collects her paper. She immediately puts it onto the table, covers it with her left arm, and signs to me with her right hand.

[I’m not looking before you get your paper.]

[Fine.]

“Shizune Hakamichi.”

It’s my turn. I’m confident. I’m not losing!

I take my paper and copy what Akemi just did: Put it onto the table, cover it with my left arm, and sign to her with my right hand.

[Let’s turn it around together. On the count of three.]

[Got it.]

We both do the countdown with our spare hands. It must be quite an interesting sight to our fellow students.

[One!]

[Two!]

[Three!]

We turn our papers together. We both look at each other’s score, and I see an 89 on Akemi’s paper. Then we look at our own papers, and I see another 89 on my test paper. We both shake our heads in disbelief.

[It’s a tie!]

Well. Alright then. I didn’t lose. That’s the most important part.

We both smile at each other, and we shake hands to acknowledge our rival.

After distributing all the test papers, the middle-aged man returns to his seat and turns on the microphone again.

“The mean score of this test is 74, and the … is 10.”

Akemi pumps her fist upon this. I get her attention.

[Akemi, I didn’t catch that. What was 10?]

[The SD. Standard Deviation.]

[Oh, I see.]

[Don’t you know what that means?]

How can I forget about the topic that made me lose to Hisao in our first mock paper when we were preparing for the Center Test?

[Of course I know. So… I suppose we are more than one SD above the mean then.]

[That means we’re well in the top 16% of the students.]

[Great! We both did well!]

We shake hands again to celebrate our mini success in our first test in Kasshoku.

[Hey, Shizune, I’ve something to tell you.]

[What’s that?]

[After class.]

***********************

As I expected, it took the professor a whooping five minutes to calm down all the students before he can deliver his lecture of the day. Maybe he should have released the test scores at the end of the class…

On second thought, if he does do so, then nobody would really pay attention to his class because everyone would be either discussing the test or be worried about their scores. So I guess the five minutes was worth it after all.

Right after the professor finishes his lecture, Akemi signals for my attention.

[Let’s talk in the computer room.]

We pack up and exit the classroom along with the other classmates. We have Accounting class in one hour, so we go to the computer room to print out the notes.

[So, what’s that you want to talk about?]

[Um… Shizune, d’you know that all the clubs in Kasshoku will have elections in the coming September?]

As she mentions elections, my mind goes back to the Student Council thing I was thinking about before we received our test papers.

[Yes, I know.]

[I really want to become the president of the Sign Language Club. You’ve been a president before, so I want your advice. Do you think I can be the president?]

So she’s playing with the idea of becoming the president of the Sign Language Club. Interesting!

[Of course! You just asked the right person! *Adjust my glasses* You wanna be the president? It’s not gonna be easy. I can share my experience with you.]

[Alright. What advice do you have?]

[To become the president, you first need a vision.]

[Vision?]

[Correct. You know, things like goals, directions, and plans.]

[I never thought about that!]

[What? That’s too lame. You don’t just write some reports, give out some leaflets, plan a few events, and then call it a day. That’d be too incompetent, you know.]

[I mean, I don’t see why we cannot keep things simple. It’s not like our club has many members.]

[No! If you slack off, you’d lose all the budget, and the club would be taken over before you know it! You need to be ambitious! First, you need to set up the order by stating the ground rules and carefully putting them down in the rulebook. Then you have to plan a lot of activities and find many sponsors. You try to grab all the budget from the university and use every bit of money efficiently. After getting your hands on the large share of the budget, the next step is to make your club famous and beat all the other clubs in the university, and finally take over the clubs in other universities to dominate all the colleges in Japan.]

[…]

It might be too much for her.

[It sounds intimidating, but you do it a step at a time. The more experience you get, the better you perform. It’s not as bad as it seems.]

[Well, I don’t know, but I don’t like the idea of expanding our club at the expense of others.]

[It’s the university we’re talking about. You know, the miniature of the society. The world is cruel. If you don’t thrive to live, you’ll eventually perish.]

[I don’t think other clubs would like to dominate the Sign Language club. We’ve been in the club for two months, and I don’t see any fights going on.]

[Anything could happen. The world is very dynamic. Everything can change within seconds. We need to stay alert.]

[…]

[…]

Am I pushing a bit too far? I remember seeing a pair of similar faces when I briefed the new Student Council last year.

[I’ll think about it. I can’t totally agree with you, but a few points you just made are quite interesting. I like the idea of having a vision as the leader of a club, just like being a company’s CEO. You also reminded me of planning high-quality events in order to obtain budget from the school. I’ll think through everything tonight.]

[Good. Tell me your thoughts after that. I’m in the Sign Language Club after all.]

[So, how about you? Do you want to join any elections?]

Of course! The Sign Language Club is too small for me though. I want to aim big.

[I’m going for the Student Council.]

[For real? You’re trying to get into the Student Council? It’s the biggest club in the university!]

[Of course! I’m aiming big. Being the Student Council President gives me a lot of power. And a nice addition to my already well-established resume. In fact, some students are holding a meeting tonight to gather those interested in forming election teams, and I’m joining it.]

[Well, you had experience with this, so, wish you good luck.]

[Thanks.]

***********************

After making sure that I have taken all the necessary documents about applying for elections (they are outside of the office so that students can pick them up even after office hours), I put them into my bag and proceed to exit the administrative building. The meeting is in the building across the street. Looking at my watch, it’s 6:50pm, which is almost time for the meeting.

I smile. I love my gold wristwatch. The boy always says he wants to buy another one to match mine if he earns enough money. It’ll be nice if we go out together with a gold wristwatch on each of our right wrists.

I take the elevator to the ground floor. There are several tables and chairs on the sides of the lobby. There’s a small aisle on the left side; I wonder what it leads to. Out of curiosity, let’s explore it.

Turns out it only leads to an electricity room. But there’s a table outside of that room, and a vending machine next to it. A boy and a girl are playing shogi on the table. I wonder if they are our school’s staff.

Let’s go to the meeting.

***********************

“Sorry, my teammates don’t think you are a suitable member of our team.”

That’s another rejection.

The meeting is held in a big classroom, and there are around 80 participants. After an hour of discussions, most of them have either exited the venue or already formed teams to discuss their election strategies. I’m standing in the middle of the room, alone, with my documents on hand.

I prepared a lot for this meeting. I came up with concise goals, a draft of yearly plan, a budget plan, a list of necessary materials for the election, and a potential sponsor list. I introduced my work to the students in the room, trying to form a competitive team. I thought my attractive election package, combo-ed with my feminine beauty, would be a hot pick in the market. Instead, I’m now left completely alone. Around half of the students, after knowing that I’m deaf, outright refused to even take a look at my documents. Most of the remaining participants thought I was too aggressive and serious; they said they just wanted to have fun. I can’t believe such weaklings exist in this school. A couple of students showed a degree of interest, but ultimately chose to join their friends instead.

I wish there’s an option to run a Student Council alone. Unfortunately, the application forms I just grabbed from the admin building says the minimum size of a team is six, with ten being the recommended number. I can understand the policy. This is not Yamaku. In Yamaku we only had 300 students. Kasshoku has more than 5000 undergraduate students. Of course they need a much larger team size.

Even if I manage to pull Akemi and Hisao into my team, I still don’t have enough members to enter the election.

Staring at the floor, I’m feeling very disappointed right now. All my efforts are going to waste. It’s going to be hard for me to soak up this reality. I hate the fact that my superior abilities are severely limited by my one and only one weakness: My deafness.

I’m about to trash my documents when I sense somebody standing in front of me. I raise my head. In front of me is a slim girl with a similar height as mine.

“E-Excuse me?”

I nod.

“C-can you understand w-what I am s-saying?”

I nod.

“W-we heard about you and your plans f-from the other s-students. Are you trying to form a team?”

I nod again.

“W-we actually like your ideas a lot. C-can we join you as a team?”

This is the first time in the whole night someone invites me to a team. If it was an hour ago, I would have been picky. This timid girl who stutters like Hanako Ikezawa certainly wouldn’t come close to be my choice of partner. In the current situation, though, if I don’t at least try to talk to them, I won’t even have a Student Council to run.

I hesitate a little bit, reluctant to talk to this shy girl in front of me. On the other hand, I realize she is my last hope if I don’t want all my preparations to be completely nullified.

{We can discuss the details.}

The girl in front of me looks elated, and proceeds to wave her friends over. It turns out they are a group of seven. We sit down in a circle, and we introduce ourselves to each other. The shy girl who brought out the most of her courage to approach me is Sakura Yamaguchi, a first-year studying Mathematics.

They are actually two groups of friends, one from the science faculty, and one from engineering. They all have ambitions to run a successful Student Council, but they need a student from the business school to be their leader.

I hand my documents over for them to read. They seem to appreciate them. Within ten minutes, we agreed to form a team, with me as the leader.

“Thank you, Miss Hakamichi, for joining our team.”

{Sure, Yamaguchi. We have a lot to do in front of us, if we don’t want to delay everything until after the exams.}

We share the workload quickly and, as the new leader of the team, I take the initiative to treat them for drinks.

{Let’s go and have a drink. I’ll treat.}

The three boys in my team seem to be excited, but the four girls hurry to refuse.

“No, we should share the cost.”

I snap my fingers so hard that everybody flinches in surprise. I remember the same reaction from my two best friends back in Yamaku.

I then make a sign, and then write down the following on my notepad.

{This sign means “No arguing!”}

I grab my bag and get up, signaling the rest of my team to follow me.

I smile. Yup. This is your leader we’re talking about.

Let’s make ourselves the most competitive Student Council ever.

Chapter 37: Best Friends. Only.

Re: *Ch32 Updated 11/9* Precious Friendships (Shizune BE, Sisterhood plot)

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2020 4:58 am
by ShizuneFan2019
Chapter 37: Best Friends. Only.

“*Yawn* How’s the steak?”

“Gonna flip to the other side. Gimme a hand, will ya?”

“Which one?”

I roll my eyes on her.

“Isn’t it obvious? Do you really need to ask?”

She shrugs innocently.

“You never know.”

“Whatever. If you don’t help right now, we’re gonna serve him with charcoal.”

“Alright, alright.”

As she helps fixing the frying pan in place, I use the best of my “skills” to turn the steak over. It took me almost half a minute to do so. Luckily the other side has not become charcoal yet.

“I can’t believe you’re actually making your promise. I still think it’s a bad idea.”

“C’mon, baby! He saved me! This is the least I can do!”

“But you don’t repay him by showing off your horrible cooking skills.”

“Hey! It’s not that bad. We’re following the instructions after all!”

“Says the one who just burned a steak an hour ago.”

“Twas an accident, baby. The next two went smoothly, didn’t they?”

“*Yawn* Whatever. I’m going to check the soup.”

“Thanks!”

As the steak in front of me continues to sizzle, I can't help but keep thinking about my bold decision of inviting only the boy but not the girl. It’s probably too harsh to say she’s a party-pooper, but I really don’t want her to ruin this evening. Two weeks ago we spent almost a whole day travelling with her. She was just so out of place. I mean, what’s the problem with her? In the train ride, she was constantly trying to drag the boy to play board games with her. In the school, every time we wanted to go to a stall, she suggested going somewhere else. Luckily our guys are both pretty friendly; if they weren’t kind enough, I’m sure there’d be a fight. Sometimes I just can’t imagine how the boy is able to tolerate with that hot potato.

That said, she does have her positive side. That evening train was really crowded. If she didn’t book our seats in advance (we thought we could just walk in and buy our tickets), I don’t know when we would be returning home that night. She may not be sociable, but her foresight does deserve a praise.

Anyway, I don't wanna risk her spoiling our gathering tonight, so I decided to invite the boy only. I did ask him if this would put him at risk of her wrath, but he assured me that it wouldn’t.

I have to make this evening a success. I’m very much in debt of him, given how much he did for me.

“The soup tastes fine to me. Not sure how much he likes it though.”

“He’ll be fine. No worries. Remember, I asked him in advance.”

“*Yawn* How about the steak?”

“Almost done. I think it’s time for you to finish the onigiri. The seaweed is on the table. Don’t fall asleep.”

“I’ll try my best. I don’t know, the medicine’s effect seems to be fading.”

“Can you take another one?”

“Not in another two hours.”

Modafinil, a medicine that helps against narcolepsy, and probably the only one that has an effect on Suzu. It’s been rumored that this thing is abused elsewhere in Asia to become smarter. Not sure if it really boosts your brain power, but Suzu’s quite smart, so the medicine might have a part in it.

“You don’t wanna sleep in front of your guest. Take another one as soon as it’s allowed.”

“It’s YOUR guest, not mine!”

“C’mon! Don’t you also wanna have fun with him? By the way, it’s a rare chance, baby. You don’t get this very often.”

“What d’you mean?”

“What do I mean? C’mon baby! The boy's comin' over alone! Without that pesky girl tagging along! What would he think about you if you fall asleep during our gathering?”

My best friend comes over and punches me on my ribs.

“Ouch!”

“I’m saying this again. I. Am. Not. In. Love. With. Him!”

“Fine, fine, whatever. I really think you two are a great match.”

“Mind your own business. In fact, I think he might be after YOU instead.”

“Me? Hahaha… What a nonsense!”

She suddenly makes a serious face.

“I saw it. In the train.”

“In the train?”

“He was staring at you.”

“He was staring at my shirt, that’s the truth.”

“No. He’s staring at you, I’m confident. That is, until the pesky girl you just mentioned dragged his attention away.”

“Staring at me? I don't believe it. Doesn’t make any sense at all! Can’t think of anything I have that attracts him. You two, on the other hand, can talk about science and math and all those stuff.”

I turn off the flames as Suzu puts her hands on my shoulders, signaling me to face her directly.

“Miki, you might not know about it, but I’m pretty sure I know why he finds you attractive. It’s the way you’ve changed. You toughed out the Center Test and found a career path of your own. You demonstrated to him how persevering you are. I’ve never said this, but as your best friend, I’m very proud of you. The fact that he accepts your invitation means that he’s still open to any possibility, now that he’s free. If there’s a chance, now is, Miki.”

Wow. Never expect that from Suzu. This is awkward. How should I answer her?

“Uhm… Not that interested in relationships just yet. Err... Go do your onigiri, okay?”

“*Yawn* Alright. Think about it. Also, no medicine tonight.”

I take out the last piece of steak out of the three (we cooked them one by one), turn on the flames again to cook the vegetables, and start spacing out.

Me? With the boy? Never thought about it. I thought he was in the pesky girl’s bag already. Did he really stare at me? Is what Suzu just said the truth?

What should I do? I’ve never handled a relationship before. What’ll happen tonight? What’s the time right now? Can I cancel tonight’s gathering? Crap! I need time to think about it! Oh no! Please, don’t be true. Please, don’t fall in love with me. You’re in love with the former Student Council president, not me. Please…

***********************

Ding dong!

“Whoa!”

“I’ll open the door for you.”

“Thanks!”

Snapped out of my confusion, I realize that the vegetables are almost burned! I pour water into the frying pan at once, trying to salvage the food.

The heat cools down. Let’s check the veggies.

Phew. Most of them are intact. Only a few pieces are burned. I’ll throw them away.

“Hi Suzu, how’re you doing?”

“Great, thanks.”

I hear them high-fiving as I hurry to dispose of the burned lettuce.

“Did you make those onigiri? They look tasty.”

“Thanks.”

“Where’s Miki?”

“She’s in the kitchen.”

The door opens. (It's summer, so we turned on the air conditioner. We closed the doors in order to save electricity.)

“Hey, Miki! How’s it going?”

Oh no! Here he comes.

“H…H…Hi, Hisao!”

“Uh… What’s the matter?”

“Huh?”

“It’s me. Why are you so nervous?”

“I… I…”

“She’s embarrassed. She doesn’t want you to see her cooking.”

As Suzu tries to save me, I find myself standing still, not sure what to do.

“Ah, makes sense. The steak smells really good! You’re a great cook, girl!”

He gives me a thumbs-up as I “hurt myself in my confusion” again. (Or “immobilized by love”?!)

“You must be tired. Take a rest outside. I’ll finish it.”

Hisao grabs the spatula from me as Suzu takes my hand and leads me to the dining room, in front of the onigiri.

*Facepalm*

“(Whisper) Snap out! Just behave like yourself!”

“I’ll go to the restroom.”

“(Whisper) Be quick!”

I hurry to the restroom and wash my face, trying to soothe myself.

Calm down, Miki. Just pretend nothing’s happened. The fact is that nothing has happened, so no need to freak out.

Taking a couple of deep breaths, I exit the restroom and carefully walk towards the dining room.

“You okay, Miki?”

Calm down. Smile.

“Sorry about that, Hisao.”

“No worries. We’re close friends, aren’t we?”

He raises his hand high towards me.

Yes, we’re close friends after all. Friends, nothing more than that.

“Of course, boy.”

I exchange high-fives with him and gesture him to sit down opposite to us facing the table.

“Welcome to our little hiding place!”

“It’s your first time visiting us, isn’t it? *Yawn* I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, the medicine isn’t working too well tonight. She might fall asleep soon.”

“No worries, Suzu. To be honest, I’m a bit tired today as well, after all the tutorial classes. And yes, this is my first time being here. Oh, by the way, some apples for you two. You know, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

“Gee, thanks, Hisao. Breakfast for you, Suzu.”

“Thanks. How many classes did you have today?”

“Four. The students are so inquisitive. Today’s been a rough day.”

“Rough, tough, Jiggly… sorry.”

“…puff, huh. Do you know Jun Yamazaki? She’s a third year student in Yamaku right now.”

“Yamazaki? I heard about her. If my memory’s right, her bones are easily broken.”

“Yup. You should make friends with her. She’s a big fan of Pokemon.”

“Really? Geez, I didn’t know. How d’you know about her?”

“We met during…”

“You two, sorry to interrupt, but can we eat now? I’m kind of hungry.”

“Sorry, Suzu. Yeah, of course, I’m hungry too.”

I pick up the orange juice we prepared in advance.

“Let’s give Hisao a warm welcome, Suzu.”

“(Together) Cheers!”

“Here, Hisao, try out the onigiri.”

“Suzu spent a lot of time on it, Hisao.”

“Thanks a lot, Suzu. I appreciate it.”

“I didn’t do much. Miki did all the work. The steak, the vegetables, everything.”

“Mmm! The onigiri is so tasty!”

Suzu blushes a bit upon hearing his praise.

“Thanks, Hisao.”

“Huh. Actually I was kinda worried if you two would be fine. Turns out I was worrying too much.”

“Don’t underestimate us, boy.”

“Yeah. You know, I was sweating hard when you two were bantering in the train. I was really hoping you two don’t make an accident.”

“We’re doing just fine, you see.”

“There you go, Miki. By the way, the shirt Suzu’s wearing…”

“Hehe…”

He noticed. Yup. Brown shirt, a sleeping beauty in the middle. And, of course, I’m wearing my brown shirt with a runner.

“Uhm… Hey Suzu, you might not like what I say, but I think it suits you quite well.”

“Yes! Told ya, Suzu! I knew it’ll fit you.”

Suzu looks a bit annoyed.

“Oh no… You two are bullying me!”

“Sorry, sorry, Suzu. No, please don’t misunderstand. What I mean is, Suzu, it suits you because you’re at home right now. I’m not saying that you should wear it outdoors. Miki, can you make another shirt for her to go outdoors? I think just a little girl is fine. Maybe, like, playing with a ball, something like that?”

“Yeah! Miki! Hear that?”

“Alright, alright. Sure. I’ll make it my next assignment. Oh, I almost forgot.”

I go to the living room and pick up the two shirts.

“Here you go, boy. Your brown and dark blue shirts.”

“Wow! Thanks so much! I’ll treat you another day. Promise.”

“Thanks in advance!”

Hisao munches down his onigiri and proceeds to try out the steak. Looks like he’s enjoying it.

“By the way, is Suzu living here now?”

“Yes. I lived with my parents in April, but then I feel like I want to be as independent as possible, so I eventually moved to live with Miki. My parents are in the next building anyway, so they can cook for us and lend us a hand if needed.”

“Makes sense. But then, Miki, how are you managing to pay rent? Living in Tokyo isn’t cheap, even though your apartment’s pretty far away from the central district.”

“Dad’s helping out a bit. And I’m earning money too.”

“You too?”

“Yup. You inspired me. When I learned from you that you’re a librarian, I also wanted to earn money on my own. I’m now a part-time saleswoman in a boutique.”

“Huh. Suits you quite well. I think it helps you in your career.”

“It surely does. I get to know the owners of some boutiques, and I learned a lot from them. Like, how to open a shop, how to use capital efficiently, how to attract customers, how to hire assistants, things like that.”

“That’s great, Miki.”

Suddenly I feel Suzu touching my leg. What’s the matter?



Is he staring at me again?

Oh no, he might be.

She might be correct. It seems he’s looking at me intently.

No, I shouldn’t think too much about that.

Let’s change the topic.

“So… how ‘bout your students today? You said they’re tough to deal with.”

“Yeah. That Mitsugu’s so annoying. He’s always trying to flatten my hair.”

We both can’t help but laugh at this, Suzu even dropping her onigiri on the table.

“Sorry… I didn’t mean it… Yeah, kids can be a real pain to deal with.”

“Sigh… Anyway, I earn quite a bit of money from the classes, so I at least get some consolation. I hope I can get used to them soon.”

“I think you can. Well, you’ve got to try your best to adapt. After all, your goal is to become a science teacher.”

“Good point, Miki. It’s great that we’re both reaching out towards our career goals.”

“Indeed.”

“So, Suzu, d’you have any plans for the future?”

“Uhm… I haven’t thought much about it, but I think right now the best path for me seems to lie on the academic side.”

“You mean, a professor?”

“Hmm… I’m not sure if I can climb that high, but if I can’t, at least I want to be doing research work.”

“Interesting. So, contributing the society through inventions?”

“Something like that. Since my disability is quite serious, I cannot engage in highly physical work, nor can I work long hours. Researching seems good for me. If I get tired, I can freely go to sleep, and then when I wake up I can work again.”

“Flexible working hours. I agree with you, Suzu. Staying in a university seems to be the best choice for you.”

“Thanks. *Yawn* I’m going to study hard in order to earn my doctoral degree.”

“Are you okay? Can you stay awake for a bit longer? At least after the soup.”

“Bring me the soup, Miki. I don’t think I can hold on much longer.”

Even though her condition is serious, she hasn't given up on herself. She's trying hard to cope with it by learning the symptoms right before falling asleep and alerting others when her condition is about to be triggered. This is what the Nurse encouraged her to do before she left Yamaku. It looks like she’s been taking his advice quite well.

“Sure.”

I take the bowls, go to the pot, and return with three full bowls of Chinese soup. I learned the recipe from the internet. The combination of red and green carrots, and pork ribs is very common among the southern part of China. Since the ingredients are easy to get, and the preparations are pretty simple, I picked this soup to serve my guest.

“It smells really nice, Miki. What's this soup? Is it Chinese?”

“Yup. Carrots and pork ribs. Very famous in the southern part of China.”

“Southern part of China? Does it include Hong Kong?”

“Suzu, you're the best in geography. Is it?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I'm going to ask Alvin about it. He's my colleague in the tutorial school, and he's from Hong Kong.”

“Wow, really? Does he know Japanese?”

“He's fluent. We all call him A-ru-bin-san.”

“Interesting.”

Hisao takes a sip of his soup.

“Delicious! Nice job, Miki!”

“Yes! Told ya, Suzu. I know he'll like it.”

“Props to you.”

“Yeah. You asked me the other day whether I like Chinese soup. I said I don't mind. I didn't know it would be so good.”

“China has a lot of great soup recipes. We'll have to learn more of those.”

“Sure. Well, Miki, Suzu, I'll try to make one as well, and next time you two can come and visit me.”

“Great! I'm looking forward to it.”

We proceed to clean up all the food and the soup. It didn't take long before everything's wiped out.

“Thanks so much for the treat, girls. I'm so satisfied.”

“Glad you like it. Suzu, you had a great time?”

“Yes. *Yawn* I think I'm falling asleep in ten seconds.”

“Good night, Suzu. Thanks for the treat.”

“Good night, Suzu. I'll carry you to your bed.”

Ten seconds later, Suzu falls unconscious into my arms. I carry her on my back as Hisao opens the door to the bedrooms for me.

“Is it okay? She hasn't cleaned herself up yet.”

“No probs. She'll wake up at midnight and help herself.”

“Wow.”

“The left room is Suzu's. The right one’s mine.”

Hisao opens the door to Suzu’s room, and I put her down onto her own bed.

“I'm always surprised how you manage to carry a girl with you this often. Literally single-handedly too. You have excellent strength.”

“Practice makes perfect, boy. Don’t forget, I was a baseball player after all.”

We leave Suzu's room and close the door.

“So this is your room?”

“Yup. Come in.”

“Is it okay for me to enter a girl's room?”

“It's fine. There's really not much to see anyway.”

I open the door and turn on the lights.

“I don't decorate my room much. Again, there's really nothing to see.”

“Well, now you're in fashion design, maybe you can make some decorations.”

“You've got a point. I don't have much time though.”

“How much time do you work for the boutique?”

“Weekends, almost whole day. Weekdays, every Tuesday and Thursday night.”

“That's quite a lot of hours. Your schedule is as busy as mine, if not busier.”

“It's better to be busy than to be idle.”

Hisao chuckles.

“Can't believe this coming out from you, of all people.”

I turn around to face him.

“Thanks a lot for everything. I mean it.”

“You're welcome. Seeing you like this makes me really happy.”

I blush. I can't face him directly any more, so I turn away from him.

“What's that on the table?”

“On the table? Oh.”

I go to the table and pick up the photo frame.

“Me with my dad. In Osaka.”

“You're holding a Pikachu doll. You really love Pokemon, don't you?”

Pokemon. Brings back memories.

“It's very important to me.”

“Why?”

I pull out the drawer below the table and take out my Gameboy Color.

“This is the only game dad bought for me. After I won a baseball tournament.”

“There's a Pokemon game inside?”

“Yup. That, of course, happened before the accident.”

“Sorry about that.”

I shake my head.

“No worries. Then, that... happened. Mom left us. Dad's devastated. Playing Pokemon with one hand sucks. No more baseball either. I became a miserable person. That's until you showed up.”

“I didn't really do that much.”

“Help me say thanks to Shizune, will ya? She might not be the most sociable girl in the world, but she did encourage me to study and find my own goals. For two years.”

“I will. Don't worry.”

“Maybe I should've invited her along too. I hope I didn't make the wrong decision.”

“It's alright. I understand. You can treat her later. She's learning. Her friend Akemi is giving her a hard time. She'll eventually learn how to socialize. It just takes time.”

“Sometimes I wonder how you can put up with her.”

“Huh. It's... not as bad as it looks like.”

“And she's still holding you up.”

“It's okay. We made the promise, so I'm fine being just friends with her.”

We fall to a brief silence. I'm curious. Is he...?

“Have you thought about... you know...”

Oh no, I said it. I should not…

“What d'you mean?”

…but I really wanna know.

“I mean, there are so many girls around you. Like Suzu. Like Lilly Satou. Haven't you thought about them?”

“...”

“...”

“They're my friends all right. Very good friends. But no more than that.”

“I always think you and Suzu are a great pair. You two can talk about science and math and all those academics. But both of you have declined any feelings towards each other in front of me.”

“Yeah, we just don't find each other attractive, that's the issue.”

“Well, you have other choices out there.”

Hisao turns away from me and looks into distance.

“Emi... we talked for quite a bit in the Yamaku festival, but we aren't even friends yet. Hanako... It's true that I helped her a bunch, but I've no feelings towards her. Misha... She's in America, and... yeah, you already know everything.”

“I'm just thinking... is it really that worthwhile to wait a girl for so long just to give yourself a remote chance? You don’t know what will happen next year. And as you said, she still needs to learn how to socialize, which may take ages.”

Hisao falls silent for a while before replying.

“Well, that's the disability she has to deal with. Just like all of us. We're not much better anyway.”

“Even so…”

“...”

“...”

He turns back to face me directly.

“Miki, fashion design was indeed the right choice for you. Being a salesperson helps a lot as well. You’ve changed so much over the year. You’re so adorable now. For almost a whole year, I had been treating you as a boy. Now I have to start treating you as a girl. No, as a woman.”

That came so sudden that I don’t know how to respond. I can’t handle it. I can’t face him directly, so I look at the floor, but I know he’s staring at me.

Does he really like me?

But I don’t even know if I like him or not. What should I do now?

If he likes me, he’ll take the initiative. I’ll just wait.

We just stand here, completely silent, for minutes.

For a brief moment, I thought he was going to propose to me. But then he moves his eyes away from me.

“Shizune is a very special person to me. We have a lot in common. The time we spent together in the Student Council and the exam period was invaluable. We understand each other’s feelings. True, she’s sometimes a pain to deal with, but that’s no doubt part of her disability, while I also have my own condition to watch out for. If you look beyond her social issues, you can find a lot of positives in that little girl. She’s a real gem. That's why I like her.”

I’m pretty sure a lot just happened between the two of us. There’s very little doubt that he has a crush on me, which was really surprising but Suzu was smart enough to perceive it. But then he decided that Shizune’s probably the better choice for him.

As for myself, I don’t know. Everything came and went so sudden. I never thought somebody would even like me; I even tried to play matchmaker for Suzu. I didn’t prepare for any sort of relationship. But I think Hisao made the right choice. He’s much better off with the ex-President. Yeah, we do get along, but as he just said, the deaf girl is just so much better. She’s smart, she’s gorgeous and pretty, she’s a great leader, she has laid out plans for the future, she has a rich dad; even though she’s very pesky at times, I can’t deny that she is a real gem. I sincerely wish them happy together.

“You’re the only one in Yamaku who can call her a little girl. Good luck on capturing her heart, boy.”

“You helped out a bunch back then. Keep rooting for me, will ya?”

He raises his hand up high again.

“Sure.”

We exchange high-fives, virtually confirming to each other that we are best staying as friends.

“Best friends forever?”

“Best friends forever.”

Hisao seems to suddenly realize something, and he scratches his head.

“I think I just made things hard for myself. For a long time I thought Misha was my best friend. Now I want YOU to be my best friend. I can’t have two best friends at a time! What should I do? I don’t wanna dethrone either of you. Oh no.”

“You can have two best friends.”

“But that contradicts with the definition of ‘best’. You can only have one ‘best’.”

I chuckle on his silly grammatical trouble, and we both laugh.

“Yeah. It’s up to you to decide. I’ve no problems with having two best friends. Suzu and you.”

“Thanks a lot. I think I must go now. Help me say goodbye to Suzu, will ya?”

“Definitely. Remember, you promised to treat us later.”

“Sure. See you soon.”

He grabs his stuff, and I proceed to walk him downstairs. I return home and enter Suzu’s room. She’s still sleeping soundly.

“You’re right, Suzu. Nice observation.”

“zzz”

“But we’re best friends. Only.”

Chapter 38: A Tough Assignment