Taiyou glanced at the gate, holding his breath. When he confirm his mother was still there, he let out a sigh of relief.
“It’s gonna be super embarrassing,” the boy by his side said. Despite doing his best to avoid looking at the gate, Kazama-kun fixed his hair with a hand.
“I know, right?” Mitobe-kun ran a hand on his face. “I can’t believe this school does this. How old do they think we are?”
“Yeah…” Taiyou agreed with his friends, but he glanced at his mother again. She was talking with the other parents, but when she noticed her son was looking at her, she waved her hand with a smile.
“Look at them talking,” his friend spoke before Taiyou could say anything. He too was looking at the parents, shaking his head. “My mom talked all the way here about wanting to see how I was during class.”
“You too? Mom said if I somehow didn’t behave at like at home, it was some sort of blessing,” Mitobe-kun said and the three boys laughed. “She even combed my hair like this.” He pointed at his head, his hands eager to make it back like usual. “At least Teikou doesn’t have ties, otherwise she’d made me put it on all the way.”
Taiyou smiled with his friends’ conversation and added what his mom had said, getting some laughs out of them, but when he heard a phone ringing, he froze. The boy stopped smiling the moment he turned his head and saw his mom bowing her head to the other parents.
She walked away until she was out of earshot and brought the phone to her ear. Taiyou held his breath as he watched her ran the free hand on her forehead, shook her head and talked hurriedly. His mother nodded her head, turned the phone off and sighed. She stood several seconds with her eyes clothes and pressing her temple before walked back to the other parents. She said something and then bowed to them.
Mitobe-kun and Kazama-kun were still complaining about Parents’ Day, but their voices seemed far away to Taiyou. As his mother walked towards him in a hurry, he finally remembered to breathe, though slow and irregular. Just looking at her face, he already knew; something regarding work had come up and she would have to leave. Even with his legs stiffened, he forced himself to move and met his mom midway.
“I’m sorry,” she said, bringing her hands together and bowing her head. “This huge client lost half the flowers for a wedding because someone turned up the storage room air-condition and the flowers died. They begged us to come up with some and I need to go to work.
The boy suppressed the emotions from his face as he stared his mom. You promised… you promised, Taiyou wanted to say, wanted to scream, but held the words in his heart as he lowered his gaze. He took deep breaths and when he raised his head back, there was a forced smile on his lips. “It’s okay, mom,” he said, forcing the words out, holding the tears. “Your work is important. I understand.”
His mother pressed her lips and then smiled. “Thanks for being so understanding, Taiyou. I promise I’ll make it up to you,” she said, her phone ringing at the same time. She kissed Taiyou on the cheek before staring the screen and walking away. “I have the papers, but it’s at home… Fine, I’ll get it before heading to the office… yes…”
Taiyou watched as she waved him goodbye before disappearing at the gate.
“Your mom’s not staying?” His friends came to his side.
“You’re so luck,” Mitobe-kun said, putting both hands on the back of his head. “You won’t be forced to raise your hand when the teachers ask something ‘cause your mom’s watching.
“And hope the teacher doesn’t choose you,” Kazama-kun finished the sentence and they laughed.
“Yeah, lucky me.” Taiyou laughed with them, but didn’t meet their eyes. “I need to use the restroom,” he said suddenly and dashed before they could say anything else.
Taiyou did his best to ignore the first years and their parents while changing his shoes as fast as he could. He knew he shouldn’t; it was an unspoken rule at the school, and if he was caught, the teachers would scold him, but he still raced up the stairs. On the second floor, where the second year classrooms were, he wouldn’t find any parents.
Hoping he wouldn’t meet anyone he knew, he went to the bathroom. When he confirmed he was alone, Taiyou went to the stall furthest from the door and locked himself inside.
It’s okay… It's okay… I understand, he said to himself again and again. Ever since dad died, mom’s been working hard for both of us. Now all her hard work is finally paying off…I can’t be selfish, Taiyou thought, trying his hardest to hold the tears. Even though she promised… I can’t… be selfish… But no matter how much he breathed or clenched his jaw, they still fell.
Damn it… damn it… He ran his hands over his eyes and cheeks, but the tears didn’t stop. If someone sees this, weird rumors might spread… if they say something bad about mom… He felt a pang in his heart.
Taiyou gave up and waited until the tears stopped. When they finally dried, he got out of the stall and pulled his phone, checking the time. Almost fifteen minutes… I need to go. Homeroom is about to start, he thought, checking himself in the mirror. I can’t go back like this. Using his hands, Taiyou sprayed water on his face, enjoying the cold sensation against his cheeks.
As he washed himself, the picture of all the parents watching the class from the back popped in his mind. The thought of his mother not being there almost made him cry again, but this time he managed to hold the tears. I can’t go crying for something like this, he said to himself.
The boy took a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his uniform and dried his face. At least I look like usual, he thought, observing his reflection. Taiyou was about to put the piece of cloth back when his eyes caught the anime logo on the corner. Before he noticed, he had a smile while staring the logo and couldn’t help but remember.
On the few times they had gone jogging together, Tsukiko had pranked him. She offered to buy him a drink during their break, but Taiyou never suspected she would shake the can before handing it to him.
The beverage sprayed all over his face. Taiyou had no reaction while Tsukiko went between laughing and apologizing. When she finally stopped, she handed him her handkerchief. Later that day, he went to give it back to her after he washed it, but the girl said he could keep it. Think of me every time you use it, she said with a smile which made his cheeks red at the time.
Thinking of Tsukiko and her smile made his heart at ease. With his mood much better than when he locked himself in the stall, Taiyou got out of the bathroom and headed to his classroom.
He found his friends on the hallway. “Taiyou!” they said together when they saw him.
“What took you so long?” Mitobe-kun raced to him and asked. “We were starting to get worried.”
“Say for yourself. I said he went to celebrate,” Kazama-said with a smile. “Thanks for not rubbing in our faces.” They both laughed.
Despite himself, Taiyou chuckled and a tiny smile appeared on his lips. The three boys walked to their classes, but the moment they opened the door, they stopped talking. They had never seen the classroom in this heavy mood. Everyone was already in their seats, not chatting or running around like usual. They just stared the whiteboard, some blushing, others sweating, while the parents whispered about their own kids.
With everyone’s stare on them, the three boys went to their seats. Taiyou stared forward like everyone else and waited for Parents’ day to be over soon.
The door opened and the mood became heavier. The students sat straight while the teacher walked to his desk and placed his papers on it. Guess it was expected, Taiyou thought, a weak chuckle coming from his lips. Under the class representative’s order, the boy stood up along with his classmates, greeted the teacher and sat down again.
“Good morning everyone!” Kaminashi-sensei said in her usual high spirit. “As you all can see, today’s a special day. But even though your parents are watching, I want to show a normal day at school. Otherwise it wouldn’t have any meaning.”
Taiyou forced a yes with everyone else, his voice stuck in his throat. He lowered his head and stared his desk, breathing slowly. The door opened and closed one more time, but the boy didn’t bother enough to see who was the latecomer.
“Wow…” Taiyou heard Mitobe-kun’ voice. “She pretty… could she be someone’s mom?”
“Idiot,” Kazama-kun whispered. Taiyou lifted his eyes a bit. His friends stared at the back of the class and both had their cheeks red. “She’s too young to be a mom. She’s someone’s older sister, right, Taiyou?”
Holding the urge to sigh and ignore his friends, the boy turned his head. When he saw the girl who lived next door to him standing near the door talking with a mother, his heart stopped. Tsukiko looked around the class, and when she noticed him looking at her, she smiled at him.
Taiyou flushed and turned his head back right away. Why is she here? What’s she’s doing here? He asked himself, his heart pounding faster. He glanced back at her again. Tsukiko was still looking at him, her smile bigger. His cheeks became redder and he faced forward, trying his hardest to stop his urge to look at her and hoping no one would hear his heart.
“Hey, Taiyou, what’s wrong?” Mitobe-kun whispered to him. “Do you know that girl?”
The boy opened his mouth, but no sound came from him. It shouldn’t be hard to explain; he had mentioned Tsukiko to them on several occasions. In fact, they had mentioned that Taiyou talked about her too much once or twice. But even the boy himself had no idea why the girl was standing at the back along the other parents, and with his mind blank, it was hard to explain anything.
“So as I was saying,” the teacher went on as if nothing had interrupted her, sparing Taiyou from coming up with anything again. Thanks, Kaminashi-sensei, the boy thought in his mind. “Today’s to show the parents how you’re adapting to middle school, so please act like it’s a normal day.” She finished with a smile.
The students said yes in unison, but none of them had smiles as Kaminashi-sensei handed the printouts to the kids on the front row. When the paper reached him, Taiyou passed the rest to Mitobe-kun and read today’s schedule.
Despite the teacher saying it would be a regular school day, they wouldn’t have any classes after lunch, neither the last two classes before it. Instead of history, it was written meeting. Even though most of his friends were scared of what the teacher would say to their parents, Taiyou wasn’t. But mom’s not here… Suddenly he widened his eyes.
Is Tsukiko… gonna talk with Kaminashi-sensei instead of mom…? He wondered, glancing at the girl again. Part of him already knew the answer though. Why would she be here if not for that?
Before he could imagine how it would go, Kaminashi-sensei began her lesson. Taiyou’s mind was too far away to think about the numbers the teacher wrote on the whiteboard. “So anyone knows the answer?” Her excited voice brought the boy’s mind back. The teacher looking around the classroom, her eyes shining while looking for volunteers.
Taiyou looked up at the board and chuckled. I know that one, he thought, surprised with himself. Thanks to Sawako’s occasional help with his homework, the boy had even started learning ahead. I only know because Sawako gets too happy teaching math, he remembered her lessons, wincing.
He looked around the classroom. Over half the class had lifted their hands, but Taiyou could tell most had no confidence in answering right. Kazama-kun just stared at the board with sweat coming down his neck, nor daring to look at his mother. Taiyou glanced back at Mitobe-kun. His friend had his arm raised too, but his were eyes closed and he mumbled something that sounded a lot like not me, not me.
Turning his head back, Taiyou stared the board again, and before he realized it, he was raising a sweaty hand.
“Then, Taiyou-kun, please,” the teacher said, the relief on her face.
Even the teacher noticed most volunteered because of the parents, Taiyou realized, holding his urge to glance back at Tsukiko. Is she surprised? With deep breaths, he stood up from his seat and walked towards the board. With his legs stiff and with everyone’s eyes on him, never the short distance felt so long.
It’s okay, he said to himself. you know the answer… just do like Sawako taught… He breathed slowly as Kaminashi-sensei handed him the marker. Taiyou took it with shaky fingers and closed his eyes. He remembered Sawako lesson and when he opened his eyes again, his hand had stopped trembling. With a confident smile in his lips, the boy moved the marker, putting everything on his mind on the board.
“Excellent, Taiyou-kun,” Kaminashi-sensei said, beaming. Taiyou smiled back, handed her the marker back and walked to his desk.
Taiyou did his best to look only at the floor, but when he was about to seat, he couldn’t stop himself from glancing at Tsukiko. The girl smiled at him, the cute one that sometimes made his face hot. Before Taiyou realized it, he was smiling at her too, his heart beating faster, but he didn’t hate the feeling at all.
The rest of the morning went by so quickly Taiyou had barely noticed. Only when the bell rang and he looked down at his notes, the boy realized he didn’t remember writing down any of it. I’m gonna have to ask someone to explain it to me, he thought, sighing. The teacher gathered the papers, said the teacher in charge would come soon and then left to attend his own classroom. A few students raced to their parents, but most had no hurry to organize their bags and face them.
Taiyou took his time as well, but when there was nothing more on his desk to stall, he stood up. Tsukiko smiled at him and tilted her head to the door. The boy understood and went after her.
“That was amazing, Taiyou-kun,” she said and messed his hair the way she used to. Other parents and kids looked at him, but he didn’t mind. “I kinda suspected you were a good student, but I had no idea you’d even volunteer to answer a question. I always try to come up with an excuse when the teachers pick me,” she muttered the last part, averting her eyes.
“That was…” he trailed off, his cheeks a shade of red. Taiyou shook his head when he realized there was something more important. “Why are you here?”
“I met your mother after I got back from breakfast. She was rushing home all worried and upset,” Tsukiko said with a smile. “When I asked what was wrong, she said today was Parents’ Day, but something had come up at worked and she had to break the promise with you. So I said I could come and tell her everything. Besides, no one should be alone on a day like this,” she whispered the last part, her smile getting smaller.
Taiyou opened his mouth, but closed it the next second. Because of her mother, Tsukiko hates this kind of event… Even though she hates it, she’s here for me, he thought, raising his eyes to look at the girl twirling her hair with a finger. “Thank you,” he whispered. When Tsukiko heard his words, she beamed at him. That smile made his heart skip a beat. “It-it’s okay for you to be here? What about your school?” he added quickly to hide his embarrassment.
Tsukiko poked him on the cheek. “I know you had your head preoccupied with Parents’ day and all, but to not pay attention to what I said…” She shook her head, her face full of triumph.
The boy narrowed his eyes and forced his mind to work. Though it was true he thought about this day the entire week, he should remember the time they spent together. Since school term began, it had shortened considerably, and even though he cared about it a lot, it still took him a while to remember. “Ah, today’s your school’s anniversary…”
“Yep,” she said, clapping her hands together. “Since there’s no school for me today, it’s no trouble at all.” The girl beamed.
Taiyou opened his mouth, but then closed it, chuckling. “What coincidence,” he mumbled.
Tsukiko shook her finger. “It’s the inevitable masquerading as coincidence,” she said, suddenly serious. She kept her face straight, but it only lasted for a second and they both laughed at the same time.
“Kazama Kenichi-kun?” Kaminashi-sensei opened the door and called his friend’s name.
His teacher’s voice brought his attention back. Though Taiyou hadn’t noticed, the hallway was full now; the parent and student from every class were waiting for their turn to have the meeting with the teachers in charge.
Most students tried to hide how nervous they were. They talked and laughed, but even from distance, Taiyou could tell their minds weren’t there. Others seemed excited about the meeting. Some just closed their eyes and waited in silence.
Kazama-kun was one of them. He looked calm and walked beside his mother to the classroom when Kaminashi-sensei called his name. Taiyou could tell his friend was one of the most nervous there right away. He had the same expression during the first practice, the boy thought, remembering how clumsily he missed the ball right next to him.
Taiyou had no idea how much time had passed when the door opened again. While his mother thanked the teacher, Kazama-kun met his eyes. His friend nodded his head and flashed his confident smile before walking away with his mother.
“So nothing went wrong with your friend, huh?” Tsukiko asked by his side while the teacher called the next student.
“No,” Taiyou whispered as he watched Kazama-kun’ mother talking rather heatedly, thought he couldn’t hear it. “That was his I’m screwed smile.”
“Hum… What do you think the teacher said?”
“Maybe Kaminashi-sensei said he talks too much during class,” Taiyou said. “Or that he plays with a soccer ball everywhere. Or that he’s sometimes late to the first afternoon class because he plays too much.”
“hum…” Tsukiko mumbled again. “Could the teacher say the same things about you?”
“Maybe,” Taiyou answered before he noticed, still staring his friend’s back. He sensed Tsukiko looking at him and only then he realized what he had said. “No… I mean… I…” he trailed off under her sly smile.
“Fuyuzora Taiyou-kun?” Kaminashi-sensei suddenly call his name, turning her head around the hallway.
“Yes!” Taiyou said, his cheeks red.
She put a hand on his shoulder. When he looked up at her, her smile back to the normal one and it made him blush even more. “Let’s go.”
“Good morning,” Tsukiko said, bowing to the teacher the moment Kaminashi-sensei closed the door. “I’m—”
“You’re Aozora Tsukiko-chan, right?” The teacher replied before the girl could finish asking. The woman gestured to the two chairs in front of her desk.
Taiyou looked at Tsukiko. Though he would never say to her, her surprised face was cute. The boy widened his eyes with his own thought and sat down on the chair staring at the floor.
“Ah, yes.” Tsukiko recovered from her surprise. “How did—”
“Fuyuzora-san called me and explained what happened,” Kaminashi-sensei explained, sat on her seat and smiled to them both. “She apologized for the inconvenient and promised she’d come and meet me as soon as she can. You have a really caring mother, Taiyou-kun.”
Before he realized, the boy had a smile on his lips, his cheeks warm.
“Now that is out of the way,” Tsukiko said, putting a hand on his head. “Is there anything I should tell to his mother?
“Nothing in particular,” Kaminashi-sensei said. “Sometimes he talks in class, but no teacher complained about him. And from time to time, he comes late after lunch because he’s playing soccer with his friends. But other than that, the teachers say he’s a great student to have in class.”
Taiyou felt their gaze over him. He shrunk himself on the seat, not daring to look up at Tsukiko, though he could imagine what kind of face she was making without looking.
“That’s great!” she said. The boy could tell the relief in her voice was genuine, and looked up before he could stop himself. The gentle expression she had made his heart thump louder. “I was worried he’d have trouble making friends due to his shyness.”
“I had that worry at the beginning too, since he came from the countryside and all. But Taiyou-kun had no trouble making friends. Not only in class, but at the soccer club too. It may not look like it, but he’s popular.”
“He’s popular?” Tsukiko’s gentle expression turned into surprise. “I’d never expect it.”
“I told you I had friends,” Taiyou said. “You just don’t listen to me.”
“Oh, come on. You’re so shy and quiet there was no way I wouldn’t worry,” she said, smiling and blushing at the same time. “And you’re so polite I was afraid you wouldn’t fit in.”
“You make sound like I have no social skills,” he replied, sighing.
Kaminashi-sensei chuckled. Taiyou widened his eyes a bit and turned to his teacher. For a moment, he had forgotten about her and that they were on a meeting. “You two get along pretty well. How long do you two know each other?”
They exchanged looks.
“A few months,” she said. “Since March,” he answered at the same time.
“It’s amazing you’re this close in such short time,” Kaminashi-sensei said. “But seeing you two now makes me relief. That was the only concern amongst the teachers. Though they have nothing to complain about Taiyou-kun, most said that sometimes he doesn’t act like a kid. It’s almost as if he’s trying not bothering the people around him.”
Taiyou looked down, part of him afraid to see Tsukiko’s reaction for some reason. The girl placed an arm around him and pulled him closer. “He’s like that alright. Always thinking of others first. But he can be a kid when he wants to.” Her words made his cheek feel hot, and the warm coming from her felt nice.
Kaminashi-sensei smiled. “That great. Let’s see… is there anything else?” she asked herself, running through the pile of paper on the desk. “Ah, yes. The history teacher said, and I agree, that it’s a pleasure having Taiyou-kun in class. In history and in math, you seem to be ahead of the subject. Overall, Taiyou-kun is adapting very well to middle school.”
“I kinda expected something like that,” Tsukiko said after they said goodbye to the teacher and left the classroom. “But I’m really glad I confirm it. It put my worries at ease.” She placed her hand on his head and messed his hair. “And to think the teachers loved you.”
The hallway was still somewhat full with parents and students waiting for their turn. Some of his classmates looked at them and some girls even whispered amongst themselves, but it didn’t bother him. “Don’t make it sound like it’s something huge,” Taiyou said, blushing and looking away as they turned around the corner.
“It is. My teachers never had any compliment to say about me. Actually, they never had anything to complain either. I guess the only thing they could say is that I doze off too much,” she said, averting her eyes.
“For some reason, I don’t have any trouble imagining it,” he said and they both laughed.
“You’re making fun of me? Even though I came all the way here on my day off just for you?” Tsukiko pinched his cheek while walking. She pulled her hand and hummed happily, but turned back when Taiyou halted and held her dress. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re right. You came here just for me,” he whispered, not looking her in the eyes. “Thank you again.”
“Oh, come on,” she said, waving a hand to hide her red cheeks. “It wasn’t a big deal. Don’t go saying something embarrassing now…”
“It was a big deal to me. And especially since you hate this kind of event…”
They both fell in silence for a while. After sometime, Tsukiko forced him to look at her. “Yeah, I hate it. This kind of events were among the worst days in my life,” she whispered. Her words contain a sadness that filled him with guilt. Even without looking her in the eyes, he knew how much just saying it pained her. “But for you, I don’t mind doing this. In fact, this is the best memory I have in a Parents day. Thanks for this,” she said, wrapping him in her arms.
Before Taiyou could stop himself, the silent tears fell and he buried his face on her chest. This time it didn’t take as long to stop. When the boy leaned back, he hurriedly cleaned his face, looking around and hoping no one besides Tsukiko saw him crying. When he saw they were alone, he breathed out in relief and turned back to her.
“I’m sorry for messing your dress,” Taiyou said.
She flicked him on the forehead before he could react. “You don’t have to worry about something like this,” she said, suddenly serious. When he nodded, the girl smiled. “Good. Now I want you to promise me something.”
“What?” he asked, rubbing the place where she flicked him.
“You’ll never hide your true feelings from me,” she said and blushed the next moment. “In return, I’ll do the same.”
Slowly, he nodded his head. “Good.” She pulled her phone. “We still have some time before lunch. How about showing me your school?” She suggested with a huge smile, offering a hand. “I want to see where you work hard every day.”
Taiyou grabbed her hand without thinking twice. “Yeah. Let me show you where we practice,” he said, a smile on his lips too