Hikaru blinked at Itsuo, confusion written all over her face.
"I, I mean, just to hang out...!" Itsuo quickly iterated, a faint blush crossing his otherwisely composed guise, "I was wondering if you wanted to try out the tennis club after school today, hahaha..."
"The tennis club...?" Hikaru repeated, still puzzled.
Fumiko glanced at the two of them from across her seat in front of Aya, and sighed disappointedly.
'Come on, Itsuo...' Fumiko was thinking. 'Be more direct! Hikaru's never going to get it if you're that subtle...'
"You know...?" Itsuo tried to break the tension with a laugh. "You were saying that you wanted to try out a sport the other day, so I thought you could give tennis a go! Also, since I used to play quite a bit back in Takayama, I thought that way I could also teach you hahaha...!"
"Oh, I remember," Hikaru laughed back in response, finally 'understanding' what Itsuo was talking about. "I guess that sounds fun--"
"Awesome, so it's settled then!" Itsuo quickly said, noticing that the rest of the classroom was listening intently to their conversation. "I have to run an errand for Hiroyuki sensei at lunch time, but let's go to the tennis club together after school!"
"U, um, I was going to say--"
"Thanks, Hikaru," Itsuo beamed, feeling his spirits lift up. "Will talk to you later!"
Hikaru tried to call out, raising a hand, but at that moment, the teacher entered the classroom and Itsuo, upon seeing this, hurriedly turned and returned to his desk.
"I, I was going to ask if Aya could come too..." Hikaru whispered to herself and sighed, as the teacher began the class.
Next to Hikaru and unbeknownst to her, Aya was clenching her teeh with a forced smile on her face, trying to keep up her image of gracefulness.
'Grrr... who does that jerk think he is?!' Aya grumbled inside her mind. 'He didn't even wait for Hikaru's response and just went off assuming that she was going to go! Dammit... Now Hikaru's definitely going to go because she won't want to leave him hanging...'
Aya continued thinking about Hikaru and Itsuo, wondering about how she could handle the situation but it was only making her more and more angry.
"Aya, could you show the class how to finish off this equation from where you left off last time?"
'Ah, maybe I should try to get a girl to seduce Itsuo... or I could try to blackmail him...' Aya clenched her teeth. 'But Hikaru won't like that... Argh! Does Itsuo really like Hikaru?'
'I shouldn't do anything that would make Hikaru sad...' Aya closed her eyes, her head resting on top of her hand. 'I've got to be a better person... what Hikaru said before about me was right... I need to be trying less selfish... Guuah! But that Itsuo really pisses me off!!'
"Aya, are you okay--"
"What?!" Aya snapped out loud, opening her eyes irritatedly to glance at the source of the distraction.
Abe-sensei stood in front of the classroom, blinking his eyes as though Aya had thrown sand into his face, and the rest of the classroom also stopped in dull disbelief.
"U, uhm..." Aya regained her sense of self and glanced around the silenced classroom that were all staring at her with wide eyes.
"A, Aya...?" Abe-sensei said. "Is everything okay...?"
"Sorry about that!" Aya laughed, putting on an embarrassed expression as she used the time spent laughing to think up of something on the spot. "I, it's just I have been unfortunately missing up on some sleep lately... since I've been trying to catch up on my studies after my trip to America..."
Aya could hear whispers going around the classroom.
"Ah, that's right..."
"Aya's been working so hard to keep up..."
"She had to go to America for her family's business, it's not her fault..."
"It must be tough being the sole heir of the Kuramoto name..."
The stunned faces around the classroom were gradually replaced with looks of sympathy and Abe-sensei coughed guiltily.
"No, it's alright, I should be the one apologising," Abe-sensei said, "I'm always getting you to show the class how to do the questions. I should be choosing someone else..."
"No, it's fine," Aya conjured up a smile, the one that would charm her way out of any obstacle, and walked up to the front of the classroom to solve the equation that Abe-sensei had just written down on the board.
'Ah, geez! What is wrong with me?!' Aya imagined her innerself rolling around on the ground embarrassed, as she continued writing neatly onto the board with a fixed smile. 'I'm Aya Kuramoto! Heir to the largest private fortune in the eastern hemisphere and the number 1 ranking honor student of the prestigious Hibiya High! How could I lose my composure like that just then...!'
"If you rearrange the equation like this..." Aya explained cooly with the rest of the classroom paying full attention.
"...and that's how you solve it," Aya said at the end of her explanation as she placed the marker back down at the bottom of the board. She turned around to face the class, retaining her perfect smile. "Does anyone have any questions?"
The classroom shook their heads in response and Abe-sensei clapped his hands together, pleased.
"Thank you Aya!" Abe-sensei said. "With an elaborate explanation like that, I'm sure you've covered any questions that anyone would of had."
"Please, Abe-sensei, that's too much praise for me."
Abe-sensei laughed. "You're always too humble, Aya. The reason I always pick you to come up to the board is because, to be frank, I think you explain things even better than me!"
"Really..." Aya laughed modestly, but she was soaking up the praise inside.
"It's not always the case that the students should learn from the teacher," Abe-sensei said, "teachers can benefit greatly from learning from their students too. Anyways, thank you for explaining the solution to that question. You can go back to your seat now."
Aya strolled pleasantly back to her seat, amidst the stares of admiration from around the classroom.
Sinking back into her seat, Aya breathed a quiet sigh to herself.
'I need to be more careful to not lose my composure like that... It's been happening way too much these days...'
The sound of the school bell rung across the classrooms and Abe-sensei turned around from the board to face the class, from the middle of writing the next exam date on the board.
"Please keep in mind the exam coming up this Friday, guys," Abe-sensei said. "Class 3-3 is steadily catching up to us and we don't want to lose our first place ranking, do we?"
The class was already shuffling for lunch, sighs going around the room, glad that they had made it to lunch due to the ramped up intensity of the lessons in preparation for the upcoming exam, so not many people were heeding Abe-sensei's words.
"That will be all for today." Abe-sensei said, understanding that most of the class was mentally fatigued, as he left the room.
Itsuo got out of his desk quickly too, heading out through the classroom door.
"Itsuo...!" Hikaru called out after him, but the chatters going around the room silenced the sound of her voice. Hurriedly, Hikaru got out of her desk to chase after him.
"H, Hikaru...!" Aya raised a hand in mid-air, but Hikaru had taken off already and Aya was left staring at the classroom door where Hikaru's figure had disappeared.
"Jeez...!" Aya grumbled to herself sinking low into her seat as she placed her face into her folded arms at the desk in front of her. "Why did Hikaru chase after him...?"
The noise and chatter of the lively classroom around Aya was just a faint backdrop to her as she dwelled over the situation with Itsuo and how she should deal with it.
"Ahh!" Aya let out a muffled cry into her arms, resisting the urge to scream out loud. "That Itsuo...!"
Aya raised her head up wearily to glance at the person standing in front of her desk.
Sana stared back at Aya with a worried look on her face, her delicate eyebrows knitted in concern.
"Are you okay...?" Sana asked.
"It's fine..." Aya forced a smile at Sana. "Just lack of sleep haha..."
"Okay..." Sana replied unsurely, then sat down in front of Aya at the desk she had moved over. "I guess America really tired you out, huh?"
"I guess so," Aya replied, watching as Sana pulled out her lunch from her bag. Then, Aya glanced around the classroom. "Where's Fumiko? Isn't she eating lunch with us today?"
"She is, but she said she had to sort out some freshmans first," Sana said, placing her lunchbox neatly on the desk, then waited for Aya to get her own lunch out. "Something about another student disrespecting one of her friends."
"Oh really..." Aya reached to her side and pulled her lunchbox out of her bag, placing it on the desk.
'That Fumiko is always going around getting herself involved with petty school drama,' Aya was thinking to herself disinterestedly. 'And she's always flaunting her friendship with me while at it...'
Aya breathed out a sigh. 'Ugh, whatever... I don't really care. I got more important things to worry about.'
Aya broke out of her thoughts, hearing Sana's voice.
"You've kind of changed, Aya..."
Aya blinked at Sana, confused.
"What do you mean?" Aya asked.
"It's just these days, you act sort of... well, different." Sana replied, lightly touching the top of the rice in her lunchbox with her chopsticks.
"Eh...?" Aya was caught off guard, but quickly poised herself with a casual sounding laugh. "What are you talking about, Sana? I'm just a bit tired after coming back from overseas..."
"They say when you're in love, you act differently." Sana said nonchalantly, and Aya almost choked on her tongue.
"Wh, what?! Me? In love?!" Aya's usual facade of cool calm collectedness fell into a flustered blush. "Hahaha, when would I even have the time for boys...? Please..."
Sana stared at Aya for a few seconds, having watched for her reaction before she made the statement, then stiffled a giggle as she lowered her gaze to pick up some rice with her chopsticks.
"Who knows," she said, then took a bite.
Aya watched Sana eat for a moment, as her brain started slowly working again.
'G, guah... I... I got played by Sana... How could that be...' Aya was thinking silently to herself. 'Does she know about me and Hikaru? There's no way, right...? I've taken precautions to avoid doing anything in front of people we know... but I guess I'm never thinking straight when I'm with Hikaru... It's not impossible that I might had let it slip on some occasions...'
"I guess it feels like... hmm..." Sana started speaking and Aya picked up some of her own food with her chopsticks to eat. "That you're more open, and more carefree."
"Really..." Aya mused, then took a bite of some pickled vegetables.
"And, sometimes more direct too," Sana said, then added in a laughing tone, "a bit unladylike even!"
"I, is that so...?" Aya laughed weakly with Sana, but was rolling around inside.
'Ahh! What is happening to me?!' Aya thought. 'I need to start shaping up how I'm acting at school! Luckily, it's only Sana telling me at the moment, but if I don't fix up how I'm acting...'
Sana nodded her head, then smiled at Aya.
"I like the current Aya."
Aya broke out of her thoughts, hearing that, and stared at Sana, surprised. Aya tried to think of something to say, but was at a loss of words.
"It feels more genuine," Sana added, then glanced down at her lunchbox as she picked up some more food, "it feels like I'm actually talking to you, Aya."
"Well, that's just what I think anyways," Sana glanced up, then tilted her head, sticking her tongue out in a timid, almost apologetic fashion, "please don't be upset about what I said, Aya."
Aya shook her head in response and smiled sincerely at Sana. "No... that was good, really, thank you, Sana. That was insightful to hear your thoughts..."
"I'm glad!" Sana said, breaking out into a wide smile, then resumed eating. "Do you remember that solution you showed the class in the morning?"
"What do you think about using the method of..."
Hikaru leaned a hand against the brick layered wall of the school building, feeling the warm sunlight hitting her face as she glanced up, her eyes searching the school courtyards for signs of a boy with chocolate-brown hair.
"Where did Itsuo go...?" Hikaru panted to herself, trying to catch her breath.
'If only this school wasn't so big...!' Hikaru thought. 'Back at my old school, the place was literally just one small building! I can't even count on two hands how many buildings Hibiya High has...'
"...you say before?"
"Huh?" Hikaru blinked a few times, as she heard the sound of voices nearby. She tried to listen more intently to make sure she wasn't hearing voices in her head.
"...you know who I am?"
"And why do I care?"
'Ek! It sounds like there's a fight going on...!' Hikaru thought to herself in a panic. 'S, should I go grab a teacher...? But what if there's nothing really going on...? I don't want to waste the teacher's time...'
Quietly, Hikaru shuffled closer to the source of the voices, noticing that it was coming from the back of the school building. Leaning past the corner of the wall, Hikaru saw a group of students gathered around, seemingly split into two separate groups and facing off against one another.
"Apologise to her!"
Someone in the front of the group towards Hikaru's side yelled at another person in the other group, and Hikaru felt her heart drop as she immediately recognised the sound of the familiar voice.
"F, Fumiko..." Hikaru muttered to herself in surprise.
'Is Fumiko getting into a fight?' Hikaru thought worriedly. 'What is going on here...? It's hard to see...'
"Why should I apologise?" A dark haired boy on the other group, glanced down at his nails disinterestedly. "She was the one that didn't abide by the class rules."
Behind Fumiko and being comforted by other people in the group, was a girl that was crying into one hand, the other hand holding down onto her school skirt that was torn severely, showing parts of her underwear. Despite her cheeks being pink from crying, Hikaru could make out a distinct redness on one side of her face that was swelling slightly.
"Do you know who she is? She's in our group!"
This time, it was Kenzou yelling at the dark haired boy. He was standing near the front with Fumiko, his fists shaking in anger.
Seeing that Kenzou was there, Hikaru glanced around at the other students standing behind Fumiko, spotting a worried looking Mika as one of the people consoling the crying girl. Hikaru could recognise some other students from their class too, standing amongst the group.
"Yeah, but she's in our class." The dark haired boy responded with a shrug. "And, when you're in class 3-3, you obey by our rules."
"You fucking brat..." Fumiko clenched her teeth in anger, glaring across at him with tense violet eyes. "What are these rules? I've never heard of such a thing!"
"I, I only... shared my n, n, notes... with my friend...!" The girl with the ripped shirt in Fumiko's group stammered between heavy sobs.
"You know the class rules, Tori." The dark haired boy said, glancing at the girl. "Don't pretend like you didn't know. Or, would you want me to slap you in the face again to remind you?"
"You bastard!" Kenzou stepped forward, and Fumiko stopped him with a raised hand.
"Your father is only the Minister of Agriculture, Hachiro..." Fumiko said to the dark haired boy. "What do you think gives you the right to talk down to us like this? I've never heard about these rules for class 3-3 before. If I tell my father about this--"
"You sure you want to do that, Fumiko?" Hachiro said, then motioned his head towards a pink haired girl with pouting lips that was standing next to him. "Kana, over here, is the daughter of the President of Amari Holdings."
"You know, I heard the JMC Network was still in talks to construct their new network infrastructure across Japan, since their old networks are so out of date," Hachiro feigned a sigh with a shrug of his shoulders, "it would be a shame if the biggest infrastructure company in Japan hands over the multi-billion dollar deal to the other smaller bidders, wouldn't it?"
"She wouldn't have the capability to make a decision like that..." Fumiko said, glancing at Kana, but her voice showed hints of uncertainty.
"No, you're right, she wouldn't." Hachiro said, "but, who knows what some bad words coming from the President's most loved daughter would do to affect the deal. Not to mention, I've heard recently that the government's been trying to pressure Amari Holdings to offer the deal to the smaller bidders to drive up market competition."
"So what do you say, Fumiko?" Hachiro smiled, and Kana remained silent by his side, glancing across her side with her arms crossed. "Shall you just let class 3-3 handle our own affairs, and you and your little friends can mind your own business?"
"Do you guys honestly think you can get away with this?" Mika shouted angrily from the back, holding onto the crying girl with her arms. "Did you forget that Aya Kuramoto is in our class too?"
Hearing her name, the students in the opposing group shifted uncomfortably and even Hachiro seemed a little hesitant.
"True..." Hachiro said. "If Aya gets involved, things could get troubling, but it seems she prefers to keep her way out of school politics..."
"Have you also forgotten that I'm her best friend?" Fumiko gritted her teeth.
Hachiro stared at Fumiko for a few seconds, then shook his head with a stiffled laugh.
"No one in the school has forgotten about the time that Aya basically ignored your existence for a week."
Fumiko moved forward, raising a fist to punch Hachiro in the face.
Seeing this, Hikaru gasped and moved out of her hiding spot to stop Fumiko.
Hikaru's voice was cut off by another voice, one seeming to possess the ability of demanding the attention of everyone around, and everyone froze, including Fumiko.
A girl dressed in the distinct Hibiya High school uniform stepped out from the other side of the school building, behind Hachiro's group and everyone turned their eyes towards her. Hikaru's heart leaped in her chest, seeing the girl.
'A, Aya...?' Hikaru thought.
Except it wasn't Aya.
The girl had black hair and was breathtakingly beautiful in all sense of the word, but that was where the similarities ended.
The girl glanced at Hikaru for a flicker of a second, a playful smile dancing across her face, and in that flicker of a second, Hikaru felt the girl's razor-sharp lapis eyes burning into the back of her skull, sending an uncomfortable shiver down her spine.
The girl moved her gaze onto Fumiko next as she approached, and Fumiko faltered backwards, shocking Hikaru as it was the first time that Hikaru had ever seen Fumiko back away from anyone other than Aya, and that was done moreso out of respect. This looked like it was almost as though Fumiko was afraid of the girl.
"Hello there, Fumiko,"
The girl said, but it almost sounded like she was singing. The girl was slightly taller than Aya with a slender body that was not as defined, but she still exhibited a tense aura as though the air around the students had suddenly been replaced by concrete. The girl leaned forward, her hands held behind her back, taking a closer look at Fumiko's face.
At that moment, Hikaru was certain that the girl was a mixture of Japanese and foreign blood -- probably European -- owing to her thin accentuated nose and sharp jawline. She had thought earlier that her lapis coloured eyes were contacts, but now it was clear they were authentic.
"What's wrong, Fumiko?" The girl asked, that same playful smile etched across her face, seemingly to be her natural expression. "Don't you remember me?"
Despite her half foreign features, the girl spoke perfect Japanese, each syllable enounced to impeccable clearness.
Fumiko took another step back, not letting her eyes off from the girl. Everyone around from both groups had now gone completely quiet and it seemed as though even the once lively school outside at lunch had gone quieter too.
"Risa Yukimoro..." Fumiko addressed the girl quietly, all signs of defiance she had shown earlier appeared to have melted off her face with the appearance of the girl. "What are you doing here...? I thought you stopped showing up to school..."
"My," Risa placed a stretched hand over her playful smile, showing delicately long fingers with nails that were manicured to perfection. "Is that how you address somebody that you haven't seen in a year?"
"Rude," Risa feigned a frown, acting disappointed. It seemed to Hikaru that Risa was treating the whole situation like a game. "I never did think much of you, Fumiko, but for you to forget the only child of the country's L.D.P. secretary general. That's truly unruly."
"I, I haven't forgotten you..." Fumiko grimaced. "Your father basically controls this whole country with his political and economic connections..."
Risa nodded encouragingly, with a smile, but the friendliness on her face seemed to all just be a terrifying charade, suppressing something much more sinister within.
"You were also a gifted child, having an IQ of over 200 according to the records..." Fumiko continued hesitantly. "However..." Fumiko stopped for a second, unsure of whether to go on with her next words.
"I was always second, wasn't I?" Risa continued on for Fumiko. "No matter how much I studied or what resources I used from my father's connection, there was always that one little obstacle above me, wasn't there?"
"Ah, the beloved number one ranked honour student of Hibiya High, the top scoring genius of the nationals, the pampered graceful princess hailing as the sole heir of the country's biggest banking conglomerate," Risa walked around Fumiko, her hands still held behind her back.
Risa stopped at her last words and suddenly, it felt like the air around them had grown colder for a second.
No one dared to move, and it seemed like even Risa's own class, standing behind her, was afraid of her.
Then, Risa glanced at Fumiko, the playful smile returning to her face and the tension in the air was gone, as though imaginary.
"Go on now," Risa said in a lighthearted tone, glancing around to everyone in Fumiko's group. "It's best you all go along your way."
At her words, everyone in the group started to turn and head the opposite direction.
Hikaru glanced around, stunned by their reactions.
When Fumiko turned around and saw Hikaru, she ran over, grabbing her by the arm.
"H, Hikaru...? What are you doing here?" Fumiko said quietly.
"I, I was looking for Itsuo..."
"Itsuo?" Fumiko shook her head. "Anyways, let's get out of here now..."
Risa called out to Hikaru and everyone froze in their spots. Fumiko and Hikaru slowly turned to glance at Risa.
"You're Hikaru, right?" Risa asked, smiling at Hikaru.
"Yes..." Hikaru responded, unsure how a girl she had never met before knew her name.
Risa walked up to Hikaru and Hikaru could feel Fumiko tensing up next to her.
Stopping in front of Hikaru, Hikaru shrunk back a little, afraid of what Risa might do.
Risa extended a hand out towards Hikaru.
"Let's be friends, okay?"
The smile on Risa's face was different this time. For the first time since her appearance, it appeared she was smiling genuinely and Hikaru could feel herself relaxing at Risa's smile.
But Hikaru's brain was telling her a different story to her heart, and Hikaru was torn between the dilemma of accepting or refusing Risa's seemingly random offer of friendship.
Hikaru raised a timid hand up, shaking Risa's hand. Risa's handshake was firm but gentle at the same time, and the skin of her hand felt both soft and cold in Hikaru's grasp.
She wasn't sure if she had done the right thing.
Risa released her hold of Hikaru's hand, then took a step back and the playfulness on her face was back again.
"Off you go now," Risa said chirpily and Hikaru felt Fumiko tugging on her firmly as she led her away.
"Tell Aya I said hi!"
Hikaru glanced back at Risa and saw her standing there, waving farewell at them with a smile.
Hikaru turned back to glance in front of her with Fumiko leading her back into the school building quietly, while Hikaru pondered quietly about who Risa was.