“Hello everyone! I hope we can all get along together and be friends!”
A new transfer student for Class 2-B? It’s already halfway through the second semester…
“My name is Shion Masaki.” she said, her voice about an octave higher than anyone I'd ever met.
She was a short, slender girl, with a bubbly personality and a prize winning smile. She had her hair tied up in an bright red ribbon, which adorably stuck over her head like a pair of bunny ears. Our school uniform seemed a bit baggy on her, so I couldn't tell what kind of body she had. It only bugged me because something about the whole ensemble made it seem like she could be mistaken for a doll or mannequin. What can I say, I've been fooled before. No matter what I noticed about her, I kept being drawn back to her smile. There was something off about it, in much the same way that there was something wrong with Yuki-san’s. This was rehearsed, but there was no sadness behind her eyes. What could she be hiding?
“Hey, that new girl seems kinda cute…”
“Dude, that girl’s been smiling non-stop…”
The class was restless at the sight of a new transfer student. It was odd for all of us, knowing that the year was nearly over. Why on earth would a student want to come to Kasumigaseki High anyways? Given the amount of weird people in this school, I really hope this girl turns out to be normal, but that smile seems to scream that my worst fears are about to be realized. For some reason, I had a strange feeling I’m going to have to deal with this person.
“Alright Shion, take the empty seat next to Yuki-san please.” said our teacher.
The new transfer student walked all the way to the back of the room and took her seat. Yuki-san wasn’t even paying attention to the commotion in the classroom. She hasn't moved an inch since the bell rang, and doesn't turn to greet our new classmate at all.
“Hello, it's nice to meet you! I hope we can be friends!” she said bluntly to Yuki-san, her mousey voice reverberating throughout the classroom. Everyone stopped what they were doing to listen intently to how this would end.
Who does this girl think she is!
I wanted to stand up and tell this guy to back off, but Yuki-san already made her move. She closes her book abruptly.
“Are you talking to me?” she asks, in the driest tone I’ve ever heard.
Yuki-san looks away from her, opening her book and going back to the page she’d left off. Just like that, the new transfer student had met the Ice Witch of Kasumigaseki High.
“Woah! She’s really cool!” Masaki-san says, turning to me with a thumbs up.
“Alright class, let’s begin today’s lesson.” said our teacher.
“R-Remember everyone, today is the big relay race!”
Class president was standing in front of Class 2-B, nervously fidgeting and blushing. She was giving out the morning announcements for today, trying her best not to stutter. Of course, this was all secretly an act. Tsubasa Takemi, the class president, was actually a detective in training, being trained by none other than Yuki-san’s brother Junpei.
My day of redemption had finally come. This was my chance to make up for failing so miserably last year. Since Mary was injured in this world, the race had been delayed until she got better, and she had announced today as the final day of her recovery. According to Akane, the relay race already happened in World A(kane), with Class 2-A blowing us out of the water. Yuki-san, who was sitting quietly in front of me, was our only hope. I still haven’t had an opportunity to speak with her since the night of the festival. I just don’t know what to say. When I arrived at school this morning, I ran into her near the front entrance. Yuki-san tugged her school bag tight, when I spotted Daisuke who was walking next to her. He couldn’t even look at me in the eye when he walked past me. Mary said hello to me, seemingly fully recovered. The school still had doubts about her readiness though.
“Class 2-A is handicapped, there’s no way we can lose!” rallied Renge-san, the Literature Club president.
It’s true that the Roadrunner was probably not at 100% like usual. If our class somehow won, it would mean bragging rights until next semester at least. But it didn’t matter at the end of the day; the school only cared about improving their reputation by having Mary, the state track champion.
“We have Yuki-san though. She managed to beat Mary the last time they met.” said an enthusiastic student.
The last time the two rivals raced it was mostly due to Mary underestimating Yuki-san. We were running laps as part of our physical assessment and Mary usually had the fastest completed time along with the other track members trailing behind. But Yuki-san suddenly dashed past the entire track team without as much as breaking a sweat. She finished so quickly that it almost broke Mary’s personal best. When I asked Akane if she remembered, she said it was “Because I hate running, so might as well get it done quickly eh Kazuki?”
That girl sometimes…
Our roster was pretty much settled except we were still debating on who would be the second runner. Class president would be the first person to run, then me as third, and finally Yuki-san as our last hope. Class president was going down the list of those who volunteered to run in the race, and was waiting on Renge-san if she would accept the position.
“I can’t run! All I do is read books all day!” said Renge-san, the Literature Club president.
The class unanimously agreed to her reasoning.
Makes sense I suppose.
“Uh!” All eyes looked towards the back of the class.
“I can run pretty fast too…” said a nervous Masaki-san.
To be honest, the new transfer student didn’t look fit at all. She was slim, and I could barely see any muscle tone on her whatsoever. Maybe we were just judging a book by its cover, since she probably had a lot of stamina given how loud she was during class. Masaki was always the first to answer every question our teacher asked, to the point where he started to ignore her.
“Hey, maybe she has a lot of energy since she wouldn’t shut-up during class?” argued one student.
“But she’s a girl!” said a rather chauvinistic student.
“You idiot, there’s already two girls on the team.” said a rather offended girl sitting next to him.
“L-Looks like we have no other choice…” said class president.
Then it was settled. Our roster was composed of me, Class President, the new transfer student, Yuki-san.
“W-We’re g-going to line up later this afternoon. D-Don’t be late everyone.” said class president.
All the second year classes lined up at their lanes for the big relay race. Across the field I could see the other classes, 2-C and 2-D. Compared to 2-A and 2-B, Class 2-C and 2-B were pretty “normal.” I think this year there was a bigger turn out, because of Mary’s injury being known around the community. I guess everyone wanted to show their support for the roadrunner. All eyes were on her today, who I could see was stretching her tiny legs and doing warm ups with the other members of Class 2-A. She then huddles with her track teammates Seiko Kamakura and Makoto Yamamoto, doing their pre-race ritual. Still, I wasn’t sure who their fourth member was. It wouldn’t matter though, since it was quite obvious how overpowered everyone from 2-A was.
Relax Kazuki…this is your moment of redemption!
I still couldn’t shake the butterflies in my stomach. I’ve never been this anxious before in my life. I follow Mary’s example and decide to stretch my legs and arms, something I haven’t done in a long time. But my mind was preoccupied with something else. This would be a great opportunity to talk to Yuki-san. After all, she is a team member right?
Maybe I should talk to Yuki-san…
“Your shoe’s untied Kaneshiro-san.”
I instantly recognized the cold voice as Yuki-san. I look down at my feet and notice the laces on my right shoe were loose.
“T-Thank you Yuki-san.” I said as I bent down to tie my shoe.
Yuki-san gives me a quaint smile, but then returned back to her pained emotionless expression. She was biting her lip, fidgeting with her arms ever so slightly. This was the same tell Akane had when she wanted to say something, but didn't. I just wanted to grab her hand like I would with Akane and ask what was wrong, but my own hands were trembling. I was feeling anxious, not because of the thought of almost making a fool out of myself in front of the whole school again, but because I was powerless to do anything for Yuki-san right now. She turns around and walks away from me. I reach out my hand towards her, but suddenly I feel a warm sensation on my shoulder.
“C-C’mon Kazuki-kun! You can do this!”
I turn around to see it’s Tsubasa Takemi, the class president. She had tied her hair up into a ponytail. The sudden touch of her hand and seeing her like this causes blood to rush towards my face. Class president notes this, and I could see the lenses of her glasses begin to fog from embarrassment. She was still acting as the meek class president.
“Thanks, Class President.”
She gives me a thumbs up and pats me on the shoulders.
“Try not to mess up again Kazuki-kun. Junpei-san is watching this time.” she whispered closely into my ear. “Worry about her later.”
She points towards the MC booth and I could see a familiar man in a black suit talking to Dr. Mori. Chills ran down my spine. From just one glance she could tell what was on my mind. She was really becoming a master of deduction, thanks to her eccentric mentor. Class president leaves me and goes towards the rest of Class 2-A in order to rally them for the race.
“Let’s try our best Kaz!” said a squeaky voice.
It was Shion Masaki, the new transfer student. She skips towards me in a playful manner. She was still wearing her rabbit ear-like ribbon, but this time she tied her hair into a ponytail. Masaki-san in her gym clothes was a bit tight, where I could see her chest was rather flat and straight.
“You too Masak-“
“Just call me Shion! We’re friends aren’t we?” she interrupts.
Well, I just met you like 3 hours ago, so not exactly...
“Of course, Shion.” I awkwardly correct myself.
We suddenly hear the loud screeching noise of static. I cover my ears with my hands but it does nothing. I look towards the direction of the sound and I see Dr. Mori holding a megaphone.
“Line up kids! If you’re not there in five minutes your class is disqualified!” she shouts through the megaphone.
Shion looks around to scope the competition. Immediately she points to Daisuke, who had just appeared from nowhere.
“He looks dangerous…” she says, as she gets behind me and hides.
I instinctively jerk myself away from her sudden movement, and sigh.
“He’s not like that.” I say to her.
“I’m not so sure…” she pouts.
Finally, Shion relents and starts walking to her designated spot in the race.
“By the way Kazuki…I’ve got a surprise for you if we win…tee-hee!” she teases.
Just focus on the race Kazuki…
I line up at my position. I was going to be third, near the end of the race. I look next to me, only to see my opponent was none other than Daisuke. His gaze was towards the ground, and he was already crouched down at the ready position. Daisuke was never the competitive type. In fact, he said he would never do “stupid relay races” again after middle school. That changed last year when Mary said she was going to be in the race. Daisuke immediately volunteered, but wasn’t chosen since we already had enough runners. I didn’t get it at the time, but now I did. He wasn’t racing for his own enjoyment, he was racing to get closer to Mary. Now, after what happened, his purpose here was lost, his motivations blurred. He volunteered for this before the festival ended, and now it seems he’d rather be anywhere else. I look around at my competition and see Mary in front, who was tapping the front of her left shoe on the ground. We manage to make eye-contact with one another, only for me to immediately look away.
It’s too awkward.
I see Yuki-san next to Mary, who was still standing quietly. She was turned away from Mary, and her head was tilted towards the sky. Our whole gang was in tatters, as we couldn’t find it in our hearts to look at each other. Something needs to be done. I hear a loud screeching noise again.
“On your marks kids!” said Dr. Mori on her megaphone.
She was giving us the first sign that the relay race was going to start. The runners for first leg of the race were getting ready, eagerly awaiting the shot of the starting pistol.
“Get ready…” as she raises her pistol towards the sky.
There is complete silence in the school. It’s like time has stopped.
I can see Seiko Kamakura of Class 2-A in the lead, followed by class 2-C and 2-D.
“We have the track star, Kamakura in the lead, but what’s this!?!”
Renge-san, the literature club president couldn’t race for our class, so she was instead chosen as the commentator for the relay race. She was perfect for the job since she was the director of the class play. I could hear audible gasps as I noticed Shion suddenly caught up to 2-A’s runner, leaving the other two classes in the dust early.
“New transfer student Shion Misaki is coming up right behind Kamakura! What an unexpected surprise!” said Renge-san.
Shion was now neck and neck with Kamakura, and they were both close to reaching their partners. Yamamoto was awaiting the baton pass from her teammate, as was class president, who had a look of determination.
“And off go the 2nd runners!”
Yamamoto grabs the baton perfectly and has a slight head start against class president. Class president takes off her glasses, and throws them on the ground. Shion finally reaches her end and class president goes off.
“What’s this?!? The meek class president has gone even further beyond!”
Class president explodes out of her position! I could see Yamamoto’s smug expression change from glee to fear. Everyone thought class president was weak and delicate like a flower, but that was all a lie. Tsubasa Takemi was just as capable as Yuki-san, due to all her detective training and chasing bad guys. There was no expression on her face as class president sped down her lane, moving closer and closer to Yamamoto like a missile.
“It’s like class president is the T-1K from the second ‘Exterminator’ movie!” said Renge-san.
I could see Daisuke anxiously awaiting Yamamoto’s baton pass.
“I’m going to beat you Kazuki.” he says to me.
Daisuke was serious. It was the first words he had said to me since the incident. My legs began to wobble; the words hit me like a brick. He had every right to vent out his frustrations at me, but I wasn’t going to take it anymore. If I was going to change anything, there was no time for me to be reluctant and indecisive.
It’s time to prove to Daisuke and everyone wrong!
My chest began to beat furiously, like an engine that was revving up to go.
“Get ready!” shouted class president. She was only a few meters away from me. Yamamoto was only in front of her by centimeters.
“It’s going to be a close one!” says Renge-san.
Yamamoto narrowly manages to pass her baton off the Daisuke, but class president closed the gap at the last second. Daisuke and I both run off at the same time.
“It’s Daisuke Akatsuka, aka Romeo from the school play vs Kazuki Kaneshiro! Can Kazuki redeem himself this year? Or will his dreams trip up?”
She really gives insightful commentary.
I start running as fast as I can. My breathing gets sporadic, with my lungs feeling like they were about to explode any second. It felt as if I was breathing through a tiny straw. My legs begin to feel the burn, and I start to feel my stamina diminish. All my effort seems to pay off, as Daisuke and I are practically neck and neck. Suddenly, Daisuke shouts as loud as he can and manages to step ahead of me!
I keep running and in the corner of my eye I see Yuki-san, waiting for me to hand the baton off to her. Mary was in the same position, with her determining to settle the score with her rival. I push forward and try to run even faster.
“It’s too close to call! It’ll all have to depend on the last leg of the race!” said Renge-san.
Yuki-san is within my arm’s reach. I have no time to see where Daisuke is. All I can focus on is handing off the baton to Yuki-san.
Get ready Yuki-san.
Yuki-san already knew what to do. With her hand laid out, I pass her the baton, and she speeds off. Immediately I could see Mary trailing one step behind her. I halt to a stop along with Daisuke, and the exhaustion kicks in. It feels like any moment I was going to cough up a lung or blood was going to come out. Sweat is pouring profusely down my face like waterfalls. I look to Daisuke, who seemed surprised that I managed to keep up with him.
“N…not…to…day…” I said to him with satisfaction.
I did it…
I feel my legs give out and I fall onto my back. I look upwards at the clear blue sky, and suddenly my vision changes. All I can see are stars, and gradually my field of vision shrinks until it’s like I’m looking through a tube, the sky going black around the bright white light in the distance, center stage.
My ears are ringing, and all I can hear are muffled shouts of what I think is my name. I feel the warm ground of the track beneath my head, as my eyes get heavier and heavier.
I’m feeling light-headed.
I open my eyes to see an unfamiliar ceiling.
“Kazuki? Are you awake?”
I weakly turn my head towards the voice, but a blinding light forces me to recoil. My vision gradually becomes clear, and a dark silhouette eventually forms the details of a worn white lab coat.
“Did you really have to shine that in my eyes?” I asked, more out of frustration than curiosity.
Dr. Mori turns off her pen light and puts it back into the breast pocket of her lab coat. She sits down on the stool next to me and skims through some papers on a clipboard.
“It turns out you passed out from dehydration.” she says. “You need to drink more water Kazuki…” she sighs.
My mind wanders as I try to piece together what happened. But, there was one thing on my mind that I needed to know.
“Who…won?” I asked.
Dr. Mori stands up and lightly taps my head with the clipboard.
“That’s what you care about right now? You just passed out from running a few measly meters!” she snapped.
I needed to know if my efforts were in vain. My pride as a man was on the line. Dr. Mori crosses her arms and gives a heavy sigh.
“Fine. Class 2-A won”
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs out of frustration, but I had no energy left. My efforts were for nothing. I guess Mary really was the Roadrunner of Kasumigaseki High. Although I matched Daisuke, it was like winning the battle but losing the war.
Did I redeem myself?
“You’re lucky though. The moment you fell over, Yuki-san and Daisuke came rushing to your side.” Dr. Mori explains to me.
“Yeah. I think Yuki-san was actually ahead of Mary if I recall. She could have won the race…” said Dr. Mori.
“What do you mean?!?” I asked.
I wasn’t sure if I was hearing her right. Dr. Mori gives a quick glance toward the hallway before answering my question.
“Yuki-san was just ahead of Mary Kaneko, only a few meters away from the finish line. But once she heard the commotion behind her and realized you had fallen, she dropped the baton and rushed over immediately.” said an annoyed Dr. Mori.
She was tired of having to repeat herself. I bring my hands up to my head when I suddenly feel a pounding headache.
It’s my fault we lost.
Dr. Mori grabs a juice box that was on the table and hands it to me.
“Just rest a little Kazuki, you’re tired. You should be proud, you did your best.”
I muster my energy upwards and can barely pierce my straw through the hole of the juice box.
“Drink up, you’re still dehydrated too.” she instructs me.
I take a few sips of the juice and it feels refreshing. I look up, only to finally see Yuki-san standing at the far end of the room in front of my bed the whole time. Her expression was a painful mixture of fear and relief. Her cheeks were bright red, just like her puffy, swollen eyes, all of which was made even more dramatically noticeable against the pale canvas of her skin. She had been standing there silently, quietly observing me. She hasn’t even changed out of her sweaty gym clothes.
She covers her mouth with her hands and quickly walks towards the door.
“Wait!” I shout at her, making her pause right before exiting the room.
“Thank you. I’m sorry for making everyone worried.”
Yuki-san stood still for a moment, until finally exiting the room. She closes the door behind her.
“She actually helped carry your unconscious body over here. Yuki-san had been waiting all this time for you to wake up.” said Dr. Mori.
I look down into my clammy hands. They were still red and covered with dirt from the relay race.
“Hard to see the Ice Witch of Kasumigaseki High tearing up when she saw you. You’re lucky to have friends like that Kazuki.” said Dr. Mori.
I grab my juice box and gulp it down quickly. I was just sucking on the straw to collapse the box out of anger, at this point.
“Your friends still care, even after what happened.”
I’m such an idiot.
My body was weary. Nothing seemed more pleasant to me than to drift off to World A(kane) again. My parents had to come get me from school. It was also the first time my parents met Dr. Mori too. They were surprised to see someone at a young age be stuck in a place like Kasumigaseki High. Of course, my dad almost got punched in the face when he jokingly said “You should get married soon before the cake spoils.” My mother reined in my dad, and shut down any further attempts at comedy. The two women got along really well.
I don’t get my dad sometimes…
Dad gave me another weird herbal drink he found while he was traveling upstate. Apparently it was supposed to revitalize your energy, but it felt like it was making me even more tired. I slump into my bed.
I just want today to end.
I stare into my ceiling and draw my attention to that random hole in the wall.
Maybe I should patch that up one day.
My phone had a notification. It’s Mary.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t visit you! Stupid trophy presentation and they forced me to go! I hope you’re feeling better Kazuki-kun! You had me worried dummy!!!! ” it read.
I better be careful with my words.
This was the first time she had technically said anything to me since the school festival incident. I can feel my anxiety building up, and my hands begin to get sweaty. I wanted to call it a night and leave her unread, but it would be rude of me if I just completely ignored her. Besides, it’s best I try to fix things. I just have to start talking.
Maybe we could all go back to the good old days.
I start texting away and settle on my reply.
“Thanks Mary. I’m sorry for making everyone worried. Congrats on winning again this year!”
“WHO CARES?!?” she texted back immediately.
She was still composing another message.
“I don’t care about winning Kazuki! What matters to me is that you’re okay.”
Dr. Mori’s right.
“Don’t make me worried like that again Kazuki…”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. If only Akane was here then maybe she could help me. I would never make her worry intentionally, but how am I supposed to know when things like this are going to happen? Either way, I don’t even know what to make of my friendship with her when she said things like this. Was it right of me to continue playing along? Should I just pretend that her confession never happened? I made a promise to pay attention to her feelings, and now I’ve gone and passed out at what should have been her triumphant return to the track.
Say something Kazuki!
“I’m sorry. You’ll never need to worry about me again. I promise.”
An emoji sticker of the Masked Avenger pops up from her.
“And promise me you’ll drink plenty of water too!” she continues.
If there’s anything I had learned about Mary, it was that she always had a way with the smaller details.
“I promise to drink plenty of water.” I responded. If only there was a way to convey sarcasm through text.
I couldn’t remember the last time she and I had a conversation like this. It was like we were back in the good old days, when things were simpler. It’s awkward between us, and it wasn’t something we could just ignore. Eventually, I just ran out of things to say to her. At least, things I was comfortable saying.
“Anyways! You’re probably really tired lol. Good night Kazuki-kun!” she texts. An emoji sticker of a yawning Masked Avenger popped up.
I might have to download this emoji pack…
“You too Mary.”
I close the door behind me.
I let out a heavy sigh as I finally feel relief.
I should have said something when he said “thank you.”
I just did not have the guts to say something to him.
I am pitiful.
I do not know what led me to be like that when he collapsed onto the ground. It felt like my heart stopped. I just did not know what I would do if something happened to Kazuki, let alone something like him dying for some stupid race.
But Kazuki is okay now.
I need to stop thinking about it.
“How is he?”
I open my eyes and turn my head to see Daisuke-kun leaning against the wall. He had been eagerly waiting outside the whole time.
“He is fine.” I said, quickly composing myself. "Just a bit of dehydration."
Daisuke’s expression changes from concern to relief.
“I’m an idiot. I got too carried away there." he says.
I was not sure of what happened between the two of them before the race started, but it pained me to see the two former best friends like this. I put my hand on his shoulder.
“It is not your fault Daisuke.” I say to console him.
Despite everything that happened, it was obvious that he did not have the right words to say to his former best friend. I was in the same situation, with the four of us unclear of our futures together. Mary-chan could not be with us due to her mandatory attendance of the awards ceremony.
Will Mary stop by soon?
“Mary’s probably fuming at the trophy presentation.” said Daisuke as he looks off into the distance. “It might take a while.”
“H-How did you know what I was thinking?” I said, flustered at his immaculate understanding on my thoughts.
Daisuke looks at me with a frown. It was still too soon to talk about what happened. Maybe I should not have mentioned her.
“I am sorry Dai-“
Before I could finish, we are interrupted by someone walking towards us. It was the new transfer student, Shion Masaki. She had changed out of her gym clothes and was back into the school uniform. It was odd to see her here, since most of the school was at the trophy presentation.
“Long time no see Daisuke-kun.” teased Masaki-san.
Daisuke walks past her, ignoring her to Masaki-san’s dismay.
“You’re so mean! Even after all we’ve been through!” as Masaki-san pouts childishly.
I catch up to Daisuke, with questions in mind.
“Do you know her?” I asked him quietly.
Daisuke hesistants for a moment. "No." he says coldly.
He is lying.
“Don’t worry about it Akane.”
It was obviously a lie. Was Shion Masaki a former lover of his? I wanted to press Daisuke more but it seemed like he was not in the mood to talk any further. Even if I was to ask him, I doubt he would give me the answers anyways. What kind of secret is he hiding from me? And why?
I thought we had a partnership.
We agreed not to use the word "relationship" to describe ourselves. After the play, we formed a mutual partnership. It was supposed to be two-ways, with each of us being able to confide in one another. For Mary and Kazuki's happiness together, we were willing to forsake our own happiness. They were meant to be together, and there was no way I could betray Mary for my own selfish desires. My chance for Kazuki had long passed.
What right do I have to be with him?
Daisuke was in the same position. This persona he created was just a way for him to cope with it. Deep down though, he was still the kind soul that I found comforting.
“Let’s go Akane.”
He reaches out to me, and our hands reluctantly interlock.