Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2153370-Lets-Enjoy-High-School
Rated: ASR · Novella · Drama · #2153370
Hanako and Ryouta are best friends. One day, the scholarship funds disappear.
CHAPTER 1: The One Who Wins
NOTE: (1) In Japan, people only use first names if they're very close friends. They usually attach a suffix to a name.
-san is used respectfully/when you don't know the person well. -kun is used casually and only on boy's names. -chan is used if you're close and on both boy's and girl's names. -sama is extremely respectful and hardly used. Senpai means "senior" and is used respectfully.
(2) In Japanese high school, they post a board of the top 100 students in exams. Getting on this list is really impressive, and if you're in the top 10 you have the opportunity to go to really good colleges.

In all my life, I’ve never seen such a proud-looking, annoying face. I glared at him from underneath my hoodie, looking at that glowing, gratified expression… seriously. What could be more annoying?
I was looking at him, but what was he looking at? The grade board. The cursed, terrible, detestable grade board. And so was everybody else. I was standing in a huge crowd of high schoolers, each one of them craning their heads up to try and see what place they landed in for the Semester 1 exams. It was a huge bustle of excited whispers, whoops, and people sobbing-everyone was pushing and pressing against me to get a better view. I stayed rooted in my spot, glaring at him.
Seriously. He was so annoying.
I didn’t even bother to check if I was listed in the top 100. I knew that, at best, I was in the bottom 500 of our school. Even though my dad is vice principal. I didn’t really need to get good grades, but apparently my dad thought I did, and I was not looking forward to facing him this afternoon. My gaze got even darker as I glared at Ryouta-but then his gaze shifted.
He saw me! I yanked down my hood quickly and began elbowing my way through the crowd of students-I passed by some girl wearing a death rendering amount of perfume-and finally escaped. Breathing a little harder, I leaned against the wall. He didn’t catch me staring, did he? My school uniform was not made of absorbent material, and I was a little sweaty from being in that huge crowd.
Suddenly someone yanked my hood off, grabbing some of my hair with it.
“Ow!” I yelled, before turning around-it was him. All smiley. He blinked at me innocently, before sweetly saying,
“Hey, Hanako.” Why the heck was he using my first name? I scowled. “Are you ignoring me, Hanako? Did you see the grade I got?”
I glowered at him, before rolling my eyes and saying,
“Yeah, I saw. Good for you, Mister Number One.”
He beamed at me, and drew himself up proudly. “I’ll become an engineer at this rate, you just wait.”
“Whatever. I’m sure you can go to Tokyo University, make millions of yen, and then get a super pretty girlfriend. I'm sooo happy for you."
I smoothed down my hair irritably, and then turned around and started walking towards the sunny doorway. He ran to catch up with me, ruffling my hair and messing it up again.
“You can act like you’re mad, but I know you’re secretly happy for me. Aren’t you? Aren’t you?”
I stopped, turning around to look at him. “Why do you keep repeating yourself?”
He smiled again. He was next to a window, and the sunshine dappled itself all over his face. It made him look so… weird. It looked super weird. Looking into my eyes, he said,
“Hanako. You know, when you wear your hair up like that... you look really similar to a samurai! It’s super cool!”
I sighed.
“Do you want to die, huh? Also, don’t call me by my name, okay, Nakayama-kun? Even if you’re…. over 1000 places higher than me by grade, I’m still two years older than you. So you have to call me senpai. Sen-pa-i.”
He swung his head back, closing his head back as if he was contemplating something. I crossed my arms, waiting.
Hopefully he would finally start to call me senpai. His eyes snapped open, and then he grinned.
“Let’s go get some chicken, Hanako!”

We munched on chicken hungrily. Most people weren’t inside of the school store, except for a couple people asleep by the windows. We sat at the best table-it was right next to the air conditioner. Straight across from us was the huge window that covered the entire wall. Outside, green trees filtered the sunlight softly, and a bunch of bright pink and purple flowers were growing in the flowerbeds. The cafeteria looked dingy next to the beautiful scenery outside-I would have to let Dad know so he could get somebody to clean it.
I grabbed the last chicken wing away from Ryouta.
“Hey! Why are you taking chicken away from the best student of the school? I need it to study well!”
I munched happily at him. “Ryouta-I mean, Nakamura-kun, I’m your senpai. You have to give me the last piece of chicken. Besides, you got the best grade in the school. You don’t have to study.”
He scrunched up his face at me, and then leaned back in his chair. I sighed happily, before sneaking a peek at him. He was looking out the window. I could just tell how happy he was-and even if he acted annoyed that I took the chicken, I knew he was in too good a mood to care. I smiled.
“Ryouta. Should we go celebrate after school? Since you got first place.”
“Really?! Woah, Hanako-senpai, thanks so much! I guess since you offered to pay, I’ll have to accept.”
“I didn’t mean that I’d pay, stupid. You-”
The bell rang, interrupting me. Before he could continue the conversation, I quickly wiped my hands on the napkin, and finished off the last sip of Coke. Then, pushing the tray towards him, I grabbed my bag and ran away. When I reached the doorway, I smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Thanks for cleaning up for me!”
The look on his face was just priceless. I escaped before he could say anything, and started walking briskly down the hall, grinning to myself. I knew that despite what I told him, Ryouta was still pretty cute. And I was happy that he got first place, too. He’d made me quiz him enough times that if he didn’t get first place, I’d demand to get my time back. And he wanted to be an engineer so badly, even though I didn’t really get why.
I reached my classroom, and I stopped in front of the door for a moment. Shutting my eyes, I ran my hand through my hair and tried to ignore the chatter of the students behind me.
It would be okay. I’d play the violin well, ignore everybody else, and it would all be fine. I’m strong-I act tough enough in front of Ryouta.
Right when I reached my hand out to push open the door, somebody else did before me, knocking my forward with the force of their body. I stumbled forward a couple of steps-slamming into a sobbing girl and knocking her over.
Everybody stared at me. All the people who were tuning their violins, rubbing resin on their bows, and tying up their hair stopped. Looking. My eyes went wide, and for a moment, I wanted desperately to run away-but then I looked down. The sobbing girl was Yamamori, sprawled out on the shiny wooden floor. Hastily, I smiled, and reached out a hand to help her up.
“I’m so sorry. I’m really sorry-I just stumbled. I’m sorry.” She looked at my hand, and then got up without taking it. I ignored that fact, and started dusting off her back (even though the floor was impeccable dust-free) but she just flinched away from me. Wiping her eyes, she glared at me and said,
“Wow. Thanks a lot, Ekubo-sama.” I flinched at hearing sama. She looked at me up and down, and said, “I know that I only ranked eighty on the exams, but at least I showed up on the chart. Some violinist you are. There’s no way any college will accept you if you fail every single class like an idiot.” Her words felt like they were cutting my ears. I bit my lip. Suddenly the only thing that I could look at was the floor-and I could see the faint reflection of my pinched up face in it.
Someone thumped my back, hard. I stumbled forward again, the breath knocked out of me. Everybody was staring at me, their eyes riveted on me… I could feel the hot tears welling up-my throat getting thicker and hurting-I blinked furiously.
“Oh, are you crying, Ekubo-sama? Should we get you some tissues?”
I wanted to leave. I really, really, wanted to leave.
“Ekubo-sama?” Through the hair that was falling in my face, protecting me like a wall, I could see her. She gently used one finger to tuck my hair behind my ear, and I repressed a shudder. Leaning in close, I could feel her hot breath on my ear-
“Ekubo-sama? Can you hear me?”
Then-lightning fast-I couldn’t even register it-
She punched me in the stomach, knocking all the breath out of me. I doubled up, and despite my efforts a couple of tears dripped down my face. I could feel all their eyes on me-like slime all over my body-
“What’s going on here? Ekubo-san? Are you alright?”
I couldn’t even look up, but I knew it was Asaki-sensei. There was no mistaking that high,
glamorous voice. I couldn’t lift my head, I could only look down at the ground, at the swirling grains of polished wood. Then Tanaka spoke, her voice impossibly sweet and concerned,
“Asaki-sensei! I think Ekubo-sama is having her… you know. Monthly girl problems. She looks like she’s in a lot of pain… maybe she should sit out this time?”
I could feel her finger digging into my arm, gripping my muscle hard. My heart thudded terribly, and more tears came out even when I tried to stop them-but this was the only way to fight back. This was the only way to win against her. My voice shaking, squeaking a little, I piped up.
“Um… Asaki-sensei, I am in a lot of pain-” Tanaka pinched me harder, causing one of the muscles in my arm to shift uncomfortably. “-but I think I’ll be fine if I take some medicine. And…” I looked up at Tanaka shakily. She looked like she was worriedly examining my face, her expression kind. "And... you don't have to call me with -sama, Tanaka. You know I don't really care about that stuff."
Tanaka smiled-eyes hard-but she stopped pinching my arm and dropped her hand. I almost let out a sigh of relief, but I didn’t. I kept it in and straightened up shakily. Asaki-sensei looked at me for a moment, but I knew that I was the first violin. They needed me for the practice.
“Fine.” She said. Then, turning to everyone, “All right, class, let’s start. Get in your places please.”
I scurried away to my violin, unzipping the case. I’d already tuned it, but I did a quick check on each of the strings. Then I rubbed some more resin all over the bow, and tied up my hair in a bun. I also wiped my eyes, trying to be as subtle as possible. Everybody else was preparing too, but I knew it. I knew they were all stealing glances at me-pitying me, thinking that I deserved it, or they were just observing something mildly interesting. A cowardly stupid girl who had been crying moments before.
Avoiding Tanaka’s gaze, I walked to the front of the group carefully. They were all sitting down on folded chairs, but I got to stand up. Asaki-sensei had told me that even when my legs ached and my arms shook, it was a privilege and an honor to stand. Now, in the front, it was natural for them all to be staring at me. It was normal to have the attention of every single person in the room.
I tried to ignore the feeling of dissection from their gaze, and looked forward. Ignoring Asaki-sensei in the corner, despite the bright pink dress she was the wearing and the fact she’d already started conducting. I looked resolutely at the whiteboard across from me, littered with the last class’s lesson and different posters about how to read music. Behind me, the violins had softly begun, their notes faint inside my ears. I rose the violin to my neck, while reading the poster on the left side of the room that was about time signatures.
With a sudden stroke, my note filled the air-I could feel the vibrato inside the body of the violin, running along my neck. It was full, it was rich, it was a good note. My eyes flicked to Asaki-sensei, and a small smile had spread across her face, and then I saw that she had put her left hand down. Behind me, the violins began to go faster, and then the only thing that I could see was the bridge, and my fingers flying across it.
A, E, F#, and then I had to do a vibrato-this part was hard, and I focused on it. There was a slight gap in between the notes, and my G was a little bit flat. I sucked in a breath and I could feel the music deflate, but then it picked up again when I began the next measure. It sounded so beautiful, but I could hardly hear the other violins-it was just mine.
I softened the sound a little bit-this was the sweet part. Every note in the music, no matter how fast or slow, glided across my bow and I could feel it in my violin, coursing through my body. My eyes flicked back and forth from my bridge to Asaki-sensei and her graceful, flowing movements. My fingers were a tiny bit stiff, and my legs were getting tired. But I was great. It was an honor, for me to have such tired legs. I knew it, and everybody behind me, including Tanaka, knew it too.
Every time outside of the music sheet, I would lose. But every time I stood here, and they all stood behind me-I was the one with a full view, I was the one who got to stand. Every time I stood here, I won.
The song finished.

CHAPTER 2: The Two's Relationship

NOTE: (1) In Japan, people only use first names if they're very close friends. They usually attach a suffix to a name.
-san is used respectfully/when you don't know the person well. -kun is used casually and only on boy's names. -chan is used if you're close and on both boy's and girl's names. -sama is extremely respectful and hardly used. Senpai means "senior" and is used respectfully.
(2) At the end of a class in Japan, the students stand and bow to pay respect to their teachers
The song finished. There was a delicious silence in the room-a triumphant feeling coursed through me .

My hand immediately started cramping up, and sweat was beaded all over my brow. For a moment, I was terrified that I’d gotten too caught up in the music, and I forgot to actually listen to it. But then Asaki-sensei gave me a tiny smile, and said.

“Good, Ekubo. Try not to go flat on your G again.”

I almost melted in happiness. Asaki-sensei rarely gave compliments to anybody, and if she did, it was always accompanied with at least two or three other criticisms. But she’d complimented me. And only criticized one tiny thing. I put my violin down, and it felt like I had just conquered the world. Even though behind me, I could feel the resentment of all the other students.

Asaki-sensei turned to look at everyone else.

“You guys were all right. But you still need to have perfect unison, and you have to keep up with Ekubo. Even if she’s the first violinist, you can’t rely on her. You have to be extra good to highlight her notes, alright?”

When I sneaked a peek behind, they were all giving me exasperated looks. One guy who looked like a transfer student-he had blonde hair-scowled at me and mouthed, “Go die.” I sorely wanted to toss a lighthearted smile at him, but I didn’t. I just pretended I didn’t notice, even though he’d already made sharp eye contact with me.

After that, Asaki-sensei made us do a bunch of exercises. That meant that I didn’t get to stand in front anymore. I had to go back to my place, a normal position that was in the second row on the right. Even though Tanaka was all the way on the other side of our group, I was still surrounded by enemies.

The person who always stood in front of me was a senpai named Smith Kiyo. She was half-Japanese, half-American, and she had blonde hair that waved all the way down to her waist. Today it was tied up in a high ponytail, showing the ivory nape of her neck-I could see why all the boys liked her. She looked like a model. Her legs were long, she was thin, and the brown and white uniform looked like it was from a magazine when she wore it. She would loosely tuck in the white collared shirt into the checked skirt, and she wore a bright red bowtie that was always a little undone.

Next to me was a boy named Yamashita. I was taller than him. He was a normal looking guy. The uniform always hung a little funny on him, and I think he always got his pants in one size too large. He had black hair that was almost too long for the dress code, but he usually pinned up his bangs with a bobby pin. Even though he looked like any other guy, he’d only been playing the violin for a couple months and could already use vibrato perfectly. I was a little jealous of him for that. It had taken me three years to be able to learn vibrato.

Behind me was another boy, and he was probably one of the best looking guys in the class. His name was Shirosaki something. He had light brown hair that was styled in perfect waves, and the uniform was practically transformed on his perfect body. He annoyed me. He was only playing violin because his parents were forcing him to, and he had this habit of just pressing a little bit too hard on the strings-it was only slight, but I could hear the screeching sound in my ear and it always distracted me. Asaki-sensei didn’t chew him out too much about it, but she never let him play in a concert.

It doesn’t matter what they looked like, or how good they were at playing the violin. They could’ve been completely different people-Smith-san could have pink hair and Yamashita could become a famous actor, for all I cared. It didn’t matter who they were.

They all hated me.

Smith-san would purposely step back too far while playing, getting in my space. It not only made her playing sound bad, but it made it impossible for me to see my fingers sometimes. Shirosaki would stick his foot out a little and step on the back of my heel, or give me a swift kick in the back of my knees so I’d lose my balance. Yamashita didn’t do anything; he only focused on playing.

Yamashita was the worst. He’d play a deep, rich, vibrato, and not even glance in my direction-his sounds were like ice. He must’ve hated me the most.

I ignored not being able to extend my arm. I ignored the screeching sound. I ignored getting kicked. I just played, focusing on having the most agile fingers, on hitting the note in just the right place, on keeping my grip on the bow just so. My eyes would only keenly watch Asaki-sensei and her every, tiniest movement. I was fine, until the class ended.

Asaki-sensei smiled as the bell rang, and announced,

“Good job today. Kiyo, you did fine. Yamashita, turn down the vibrato a bit.” (I couldn’t help throwing him a smug glance when he said that. Luckily he didn’t notice. Or he pretended not to.) “Stand!”

We all straightened up. My fingers felt so tired, the joints worn out. My arms were shaking a bit-I needed to do push ups or something. Professional violinists definitely practiced more than two hours at a time.


We bowed. Shirosaki stepped on my heels, and I ignored him. Was he seriously a middle schooler? Asaki-sensei left, the door shutting behind her with a definite slam.

I was left alone with a ticking time bomb. I could already feel them all turning towards me, I could feel Tanaka’s eyes boring into me. I rushed, eyes down, to the violin case next to me and started fumbling with the zipper. My hands were so tired after the practice, my nerves shaking through me, and I almost dropped the bow.

Since my hair was tied up, I had nothing to hide behind. The air conditioner blew coldly on my neck. In my peripherals, I saw Smith-san glaring at me. Hastily, I shoved my bow in the case and didn’t even bother to fasten the violin inside with the straps. I shut the case and zipped it halfway shut, before grabbing it and escaping-


I ignored it, I kept walking confidently towards the door, unaffected.

I wish. Instead, I stopped abruptly in my place, staring straight ahead at the sliding door. It was only a few feet away. I sorely regretted not taking my hair down as soon as we finished. Then I wouldn’t have to see all twenty of them. Not all of them were looking at me-some were, but most were going about their business, gently putting their violins away. But the silence while they did it told me that they were waiting for the entertainment.

Tanaka weaved her way out of the formation and walked up to me. I stared straight ahead.

“Ekubo-sama, do you really look down on us so much that you’d leave that quickly?”

I couldn’t even say no, I just looked straight ahead. Out of the small window in the doorway, I saw the other students walking through the hallways hurriedly, some clutching bread and drinks in their hands. That’s right. It was lunchtime. Upon the realization, my stomach growled loudly, even though I’d just had chicken with Ryouta a couple hours earlier.

The class giggled. Tanaka’s face broke out in a smile, the fuchsia lip tint bright against her white teeth.

“Ekubo-sama, you can’t be going hungry. Or, are you starving yourself? Anorexic?” She scoffed. “You know, you’re stick thin anyway. You look like an alien-maybe you could break really easily? Or fall down this easily?”

Her hand flashed and she yanked on my ponytail so hard my neck snapped back, and I stumbled and fell. Again, tears sprang to my eyes, and I felt like I couldn’t stop them. My hands were shaking even more now, and the rest of the class was totally silent. Not in that shocked way when some crazy drama is going on. It was a cold silence.

“Ekubo-sama, are you-”

Suddenly, the sliding door burst open.

“Yooo~, Han-chan. Let’s eattttttt, I’m super crazy hungry~.”

It was Ryouta, hands on either side of the door frame, looking like a five-year-old kid whining to his mom. He shut his mouth as soon as he clapped eyes on the room. He was looking at the rest of the class, who were still calmly going about their work. I stared at him, mouth open. Then I shut it.

His gaze slid to Tanaka-his eyes hardened-and then to me.

“What are you guys doing?”

His voice was sharp. I couldn’t look at him anymore, just at his feet.

Tanaka took a step in front of me, and said,

“None of your business.”

He let out a long, deep, sigh, and then, without saying anything at all, walked straight past me. He grabbed my violin-a little more roughly than I’d have liked-and slung my backpack over his shoulder. Then, shoving past Tanaka, his hand closed around my wrist and he yanked me up, then dragged me out of the room. I couldn’t look back, but I could imagine Tanaka watching me leave, face stony.

I stumbled along with Ryouta, through the hallways, past our classroom, past the cafeteria. I bumped into a couple of people but couldn’t even say, “Excuse me.” Then he pushed the doors open, and we were out on the lawn-some people were eating on the grass, and there was a soccer game going on. He kept walking purposefully, until we were behind the basketball court.

Nobody was there. The basketball court was on the edge of the school, so the wall of our school boundary was right behind it. A tree grew on the other side of the wall, its branches going onto our side and making it cool and dark. Ryouta stopped abruptly. We were both breathing heavily.

There were still tears in my eyes, and then he turned around, completely exasperated.

“Hanako! Those bastards, I’m gonna… I’d… break their violins! Stomp on their feet! And that freaking Tanaka, I just want to tear all her hair out!” He turned to face the wall, and kicked it a couple times, seething. Then he whirled around on me again, and cried,

“What are you doing? Huh? You should stay safe! They could’ve hurt your hands or hit you or something! Are you okay?”

I didn’t say anything. He groaned. “Hanako, answer me. You’re seriously so stupid-how could you get into these situations?! You need to… you need to stay safe. You should just have fun, and enjoy it, and not worry, and have fun.”
His voice got quieter, and he was staring at the ground. Then he glanced back at me, concerned.

My throat got suddenly thick, aching like it’d been shot.

Ryouta was just being so… prickly and annoying and mean and sweet. Everything became blurry-the back of the court, the wall, the leaves, Ryouta’s face. I couldn’t hold it back anymore, my eyes were hot.

I started crying. Ryouta sighed, not in a mean way or a tired-out way. He just sighed, and then squatted on the ground.

“Jeez, you’re such a crybaby, Hanako.” He grabbed my wrist and pulled me so I was sitting on the ground too, and then we both leaned against the wall of the basketball court. The grass was itchy on my bare legs. I could hear the squeak of the basketballer’s shoes as they played.

I couldn’t stop crying.

“Seriously, why do you always cry like this? Huh?” He patted my head, then took my ponytail out gently, so that I could hide from him. My hair fell around my face, safe and black and protective. I dropped my head between my knees, and sniffed loudly.

“Ryouta, you’re so mean.”

“Ha, well, you just have to put up with it.”

He was sitting with me here, in a remote place of the school, when he could be studying or playing with his other friends. I knew he had them. And he was an extrovert-so he liked being with people, and he’d just gotten first place so he’d probably want to celebrate instead of sitting here with me-I started crying again, and then crying more because I felt so bad for crying and worrying him.

“You should go back. You don’t need to stay here, I’ll be fine.” I was still crying, choking back sobs, staring down in the dark.

Something cold and heavy appeared on my head.

“Whatever. Drink this.”

I pushed my hair out of my face and looked up. It was Royal Milk Tea-had he bought it for me before he came to visit me in class? I opened it and gulped down half of the bottle in one go. Ryouta chuckled.

“When you go to college, you’ll be known as the Monster Drunk.” I laughed too, and hit him lightly on the shoulder, saying thickly,

“Hey, I’m crying. If you’re going to stay, you should at least be comforting.”

Ryouta flashed a wide grin at me.

“You’re not crying anymore, are you?”

He was right. My tears had stopped. I wiped my face with my sleeve, and smoothed down my hair. I felt so exhausted all of a sudden, and I leaned my head back against the wall.

“Guess it was ‘cause of the Milk Tea.”

He scoffed and leaned his head against the wall too. I looked up, at the shady leaves above me. Even though it was turning close to summer, it felt so cool. I could see some pinpricks of the bright sunlight through the leaves, and the sounds of the school around me were so peaceful. I never wanted to move.



“Thanks for taking care of me. I know I cry a lot.”

“Yeah, crybaby, you do. But, you’re gonna pay for my congratulations meal tonight, so I don’t care.”

The bell rang. I didn’t want to go back to my classroom. Most of my classmates didn’t hate me as much as the kids in the violin class, since they had no reason to be jealous of me, but some of the girls were annoyed that I hung out with Ryouta so much. And Smith-san was in the same class as me. So was Tanaka.

“Are you gonna be okay?”

I looked over at him. He wasn’t looking at me, his gaze fixated on the grass. He was fiddling with a piece of clover, tearing it apart in his fingers.

“I don't think so.” I said solemnly.

His eyebrows drew together, and he started tearing the clover apart more. I laughed and said,

“I mean, I’m gonna go broke soon if I keep paying for all your meals!”

CHAPTER 3: He Never Cries
“Okay, class, your homework for tomorrow is…”

The rest of the class groaned quietly as the teacher rummaged through his messy notes to find the homework. I knew everyone had been secretly hoping that he’d forget-he’d just come that month.

“Questions 9-15. And do the corrections for the test, please. Alright, stand.”

I shoved my notes aside, pushing out my chair and standing. There was a rustle of papers, the screeching of the chairs on the floor, as everybody else did too.


I bowed low, waiting the two seconds before looking up again. The teacher smiled and said,

“See you tomorrow, class.”

As soon as those four magical words were pronounced, the entire classroom exploded in chatter. People talked about where to go eat after school, the homework, or their extracurriculars. I just quietly packed up my things, my hands shaking slightly as I placed my math notebook in my backpack, then slung it over my shoulder.

For some reason, Tanaka never really tried anything in class. Maybe the occasional kick or jab, but nothing too bad. I let my hair fall down in my face as I shoved past some of the people in front of me (they were talking about going to see some new udon place) and out the door.

School was over!

It was that light feeling that came at the end of every day. The loud chatter in the school hallways, and the three o’clock sunshine streaming in from the windows. Another day in school finished. A lot had happened, too. Ryouta had placed Number One, Asaki-sensei complimented me, and Ryouta and I seemed to get a little closer. Tanaka wasn’t even in the picture anymore as I was washed away in the crowd of students, and then walked out of the school, through the winding paths, and out the front gate.

Ryouta wouldn’t be waiting for me since he had after-school college prep class. He wouldn’t be done until nine, so I was able to walk home by myself. I stopped at a Seven Eleven on the way and got some onigiri and Royal Milk Tea, sipping and munching on my way back home. Dad could’ve sent me his driver, but I preferred this way. It was less conspicuous.

My house was in a rich neighbourhood. I had the entire building for me and Dad-three stories, two master bedrooms, a garden, and much more. It looked like a geometric square. I liked how it looked a lot-like it was out of a magazine or something, but I hadn’t shown it to anyone yet. Ryouta hadn’t even seen it. I didn’t really know why, but it would be weird to show it to him. I felt like it’d make him realize just how rich I was… I didn’t like to think about his reaction then.

By the time I sat down in front of my desk, homework in front of me, I didn’t feel like doing it. The sun was shining outside, the air was warm, and I just felt happy. I left my homework and went over to my violin case, carefully unzipping it and wiping it down with a microfibre cloth. I didn’t have time to do so at the end of violin class.

My music stand was always adjusted perfectly, right outside my window. Today I moved it onto my balcony, and I could see the asphalt road through the leaves in the apple tree. I didn’t really want to practice the music for the concert, but I did anyway, and I went through all the scales and finger exercises. When I finished with all the lame stuff, I practiced a Chopin piece that I’d been working on for a couple of months. Each note resonated deep within my body. I cared for each sound, constantly adjusting my fingertips and pressure and vibrato, until-

My phone rang. I ran back into my room and paused to carefully place my violin back in its case, then answered.

“Ryouta? Are you ready?”

“Yep. I’ll be at the chicken place in around fifteen minutes.”

“Okay, see ya, loser.”

“Thanks for the chicken, crybaby.”

I hung up the phone, and then glanced out the window. It had already become dark outside-everything tinted a bluish gray. I was a bit sweaty after playing the violin for so long, but I just clipped my hair up and tossed on a light jacket. I was going to see Ryouta, I didn’t have to look fancy. After a moment, I decided to put on some lip tint.

I left a note for Dad on the way out. He probably was going to work late anyway.

The walk to the chicken place was peaceful. Other high school students who wore different uniforms were also walking in the same direction. The asphalt road, the small houses on either side, the notices put up on the wall about different cram schools-I liked walking here when I was alone.

I’d brought extra money so I could buy chicken for Ryouta, and maybe ice cream afterwards. I wanted to treat him since he’d placed number one on exams. And he’d helped me out so much during lunchtime-even if he called me a crybaby.

Well, it was true though, I was a crybaby. Maybe it was because Dad was never home, and I never saw Mom, but sometimes I just felt so unstable. Lately, even the smallest thing would make me cry-but Ryouta didn’t care. Sometimes I wished that I could do the same thing for him, and comfort him when he cried. I could buy him curry bread or chicken or something, and listen to his troubles.

But Ryouta never really cried. Did he? I tried to remember the last time he’d cried-once I’d accidentally hit him in the face with a door, and he teared up a little then. I suppressed a chuckle thinking about it. I’d totally just swung the door open and got him square in the nose, and he’d had to go to the hospital after that. I’d felt really bad about it until he’d forced me to carry his school bag for a month afterwards.

That didn’t really count, though. When was the last time Ryouta cried because he was happy, or sad? I stopped walking, and stared up at the dark night sky. Probably the last time it’d happened was when his parents died. I could remember that so clearly.

Everything, from getting a shrine, to the wake, to the funeral, to the cremation-it was only him. All alone, wearing his black t-shirt and track pants. I’d helped him put the shrine up, arrange the flowers. I’d watched them carefully fold the white kimono over his mother’s chest. When they cremated his parents, I couldn’t be there because my dad and I had to travel to Korea. When I came back, I visited his parents’ grave, and it was pitifully tiny. It made me think of my mother’s grave-how huge and grand it was, how much I liked to go there when I was little to talk to her, how everybody smiled and said I was lucky for my mother to have such a beautiful grave. But the grave for Ryouta’s parents was tiny. It only had their names, carefully etched into the stone.

But through all that, there was only one time when I saw him cry. It was during the wake. I could still smell the putrid incense, hear how the priest droned on and on, his tone never once changing. Even though twenty foldable chairs had been laid out-not even decorated-only two were occupied. One in the back, and one in the front. I sat in the back, and Ryouta was right next to where the priest stood. He couldn’t even afford to wear a suit.

All I could see was his hunched-up back. It shook so much. Beneath that monotone voice of the priest, I could hear his sobs.

I wished so much I had comforted him more back then, but I didn’t. All I did was clutch my condolence money tightly, nearly crumpling it up. I gave it to him, and then left him there. He’d only just graduated from elementary school, and he looked so tiny in front of his parents’ coffins.

After that, even when we went to visit their graves together, he never cried. Even when his new family said they couldn’t keep the shrine, he didn’t cry. Each time I didn’t say anything, afraid it would hurt him. I hoped that maybe just by being there, standing next to him, I might support him. It was pretty cowardly of me to do that.

Now he smiled a lot, always acting cheerful. He had so much pressure put on him, though-his foster family really only wanted him so he could do their work. I sighed, clutching the strap of my backpack. Ryouta really never cried-that had been almost five years ago. He was always the one helping me. That’s why, next time, I definitely wanted to help him out.

I reached the chicken place. It was a tiny shop on the side of the street, with plastic chairs and tables set up outside because there wasn’t enough space inside the building. But it had delicious Korean-style fried chicken, and they knew us so well they always gave us a discount. Ryouta was already sitting there, probably just back from cram school. He’d probably scold me for coming late, and I grinned.

“Ryouta! Sorry for making you wait.”

I collapsed down next to him, and he was sleeping with his face down on the table. I smiled at him, and said,

“Hey, wake up. Congratulations on getting number one, smarty pants!”

Suddenly, his body shook strangely. Something was wrong. He still didn’t answer, but he looked up, and I saw his face.

Ryouta was crying.

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