“I don't understand why she hasn't responded. I mean, if she wasn't interested in the club she could just have said so.”
Club? Oh, it's you two! Kyoko looked at the backsides in front of her and closer to the gym hall. She was looking for somewhere to sit outside the cafeteria. Kuri-chan and Noriko-chan, no you prefer being called Nori-chan, were coming after her.
She found a bench wide enough to house three in the shade outside the school cafeteria. Both wings flanked the area and great canvas sails strung to the walls gave protection from both sun and rain.
“Sorry, but I gave her the letter, OK?” Matsumoto-san's back moved when he shrugged, and so did his short hair at the nape of his neck.
“My bad. I apologise. Should have handled that myself.”
Behind them Kyoko reddened. Please, don't let them know I'm here!
“Don't worry man. If I'd known she was worse than blondie I'd kept quiet. I decided to confess, so that's my fault, not yours.” It wasn't all that surprising that Matsumoto-san hated her.
They're talking about me. I'm embarrassed! I'm eavesdropping! What would father think if he knew?
“Disagree. I bet if I hadn't made you drag Christina into it things would have turned out better.” Hamarugen-san, because he was a name now and not merely 'the geek from 6:1', slapped his friend on the back.
Even sitting down he was very much the taller of the two, and Kyoko could, in a detached way, understand why she had been drawn to him first. But he had that awful hairdo glued to his head.
“Ko-chan, there you are. I thought we'd never find you. Look, there's...”
“Shush, quiet!” Kyoko hastily slapped her hand to her mouth and beckoned her friends to sit down in silence.
Kuri-chan gave her a startled look. Then she recognised the boys and nodded. Noriko-cha… Nori-chan took her seat in silence as well and gave both backsides in front of them a sullen stare.
Poor kid. You have it bad. I'm over him already, but you've got that bug real bad.
“Who cares? Maybe it's better this way. At least I know what she's like when things don't go her way,” Matsumoto-san said, and his voice turned hoarse.
That hurt, but she deserved it. She had behaved poorly.
Kuri-chan gave her a look full of questions. Kyoko nodded back. The two of them didn't need words to confirm something this obvious.
It felt a bit funny, sitting like this squeezed into the middle. To her left the amazingly tall and slender object of admiration she had made into her best friend. To her right the petite sister of the prince of Himekaizen Academy, and she was cute enough in her own way with her short haircut matching her small body. That left her, Kyoko, as the odd one out with her marginal overweight.
“Don't be like that. I'd be pissed off like hell if a girl made me look like Ryu's tool,” Hamarugen-san suggested in what was a poorly disguised attempt to put the blame on himself.
Nori-chan looked up, but Kyoko grabbed her hand to keep her silent. “Yes, that's why we just listen,” she whispered to Nori-chan.
We really are eavesdropping now. This is so improper, but I want to know.
“Yukio, I'm really, really sorry. I'll treat you Fridays for the rest of the month. And I'll try to find a way to patch things over.”
Yes, please do!
“You know, I'm not certain I can afford any more help from you.” Kyoko could almost hear Matsumoto-san grinning widely. Maybe he wasn't as angry as their conversation led her to believe.
“Man!” Hamarugen-san said, and they both laughed. “Coffee?”
“Yeah, with milk.”
Hamarugen-san handed a can over to his friend. Kyoko heard the metallic click when they opened a can each. Beside her Nori-chan stirred, but Kyoko shook her head. Just a little more.
“It's Matsumoto-san I'm interested in. I'm not looking at Hamarugen-san,” she whispered to Nori-chan. It was a minor bribe, and she felt ashamed for it. Still, it served its purpose, because Nori-chan calmed down somewhat. One rival less for you.
“Yukio, I'll handle her myself, OK?”
“Both guys yours?” Kuri-chan asked in her other ear. She mustn't have heard what Kyoko had just told Nori-chan.
“No, he's talking about you,” Kyoko explained silently.
“Me, handled? What the hell?”
“Wait!” Kyoko yanked her friend down.
“Thanks for small favours,” Matsumoto-san said. “How do you plan to do that?”
“Well, she kind of owes me.”
Beside her Kyoko felt Kuri-chan flare up into silent rage.
“I guess that's true,” Matsumoto-san agreed.
That didn't exactly calm Kuri-chan down, Kyoko noted to her consternation. She had to pull on her friends sleeve to calm her down.
“And you. She should be on her knees thanking you for your quick thinking.”
Kuri-chan should kneel down in gratitude to Matsumoto-san? How did that happen? Kuri-chan sat down again. Kyoko could feel her curiosity winning over her anger.
“You took all the flak. I just ran around telling people.” Matsumoto-san scratched his head as if listening to Hamarugen-san's praise embarrassed him.
“That's bull. You saw what happened. You acted on it. You even guessed about all that water and had them bring clothes. Damn, that makes you my hero.”
Kuri-chan gave Kyoko a hard stare, and Kyoko shrunk and pointed at Nori-chan.
“Yes, he did. He was off like lightning after you ran back to the locker room. To gather our class,” Nori-chan whispered. “He's your hero in the shadows if you go for that thing,” she finished and glared at Kyoko.
That stung. She and Nori-chan weren't on the best of terms with each other right now, even if they were still friends.
“What are you going to do?” Matsumoto-san asked.
“Well, if she hasn't read the letter I'll just have to ask her about the club.”
“Club?” Kuri-chan said.
That makes two of us.
“Club?” Nori-chan asked.
OK, three of us.
“I don't understand why she'd dislike a chance to speak that horrid language of yours. Oh, forget about the horrid part! Maybe she just has better taste than you?”
“Oh, shut it!”
“What club?” Kuri-chan asked loudly enough to turn heads around them. She obviously couldn't keep it in any more.
Both boys turned. Both boys grew tennis balls instead of eyes. Both boys dropped their jaws deep enough to make room for those tennis balls, and then some.
“You heard?” the comedy duo spoke as one.
“You weren't exactly discreet,” Kuri-chan said. “What club?”
“Eh, the one in the letter.”
“Oh, that one?”
Kyoko hid from the glare Kuri-chan gave her. Maybe tearing up the letter hadn't been so smart after all.
“Mind if we join you?” Hamarugen-san asked.
Matsumoto-san looked like his friend had suggested they seek the company of vipers.
“Be my guest.” Kuri-chan's words.
“Please.” Nori-chan's offer.
And they had spoken at the same time.
Kuri-chan and Nori-chan exchanged looks. Nori-chan's was less than friendly.
And you just gained a new rival. Sorry, but she's way more dangerous than I am. Nori-chan, I apologize, but you won't stand a chance if Kuri-chan joins the match.
Ahead of them sunlight and shadows played chase as the clouds above them ran over the sky. Kyoko reseated herself and made room with her legs to allow the two boys to join them.
Both of the boys took seats facing them. Matsumoto-san looked away. Kyoko did the same. This was, mildly put, awkward. He hates me. He's right in doing so. I'm awful.
“Club, shoot! I misplaced the letter before I could read it,” Kuri-chan lied.
Hamarugen-san explained. It took a long time.
“Why me?” Kuri-chan asked when he was finished.
“Not just why you, why all of you. You, I want for president.”
“I'll handle the real set-up, but it looks better if you're our official face.”
Kuri-chan snorted. “A little child wants me as a puppet? I think not.”
“A little child?” Now it was Hamarugen-san's time to snort.
“Look, I've done...”
“...this kind of job...”
“...since before you...”
“...needed that runny nose of yours...”
Whoa! School just got a new dynamic duo!
Matsumoto-san, Nori-chan and Kyoko stared dumbfounded at the duellists. So did quite a few of the other students around them as well.
“...that oversized attitude...”
They stared at each other. Then both of them burst out laughing.
Sorry, Nori-chan, but you're not even in the match any longer.
“Aww, look, this club is kinda important to me. You be president, and I'll do the vice presidency, OK?”
“As long as you don't try to micromanage me.”
“Sure, I won't.” Hamarugen-san looked strangely excited for just having been defeated.
“I'm your treasurer,” Nori-chan suddenly decided.
“Why, thank you!” Hamarugen-san threw a quick look at his friend, and Matsumoto-san nodded eagerly.
Matsumoto-san likes Nori-chan? Well, it's not like he has a reason to like me any longer. But I want to at least be friends with him, like he wanted when he confessed. “I'll be your secretary, scribe, whatever,” Kyoko volunteered.
“Ryu will be our mascot. He'll join or he'll sleep outdoors until summer break,” Nori-chan said gleefully.
“I guess it's settled then. I have a charter if...”
“What are we called?” Kuri-chan asked.
“Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club,” Matsumoto-san and Hamarugen-san answered in union, “if miss President agrees, of course,” Hamarugen-san added shamefacedly.
“Miss President agrees, and it's Christina, or Kuri-chan, whatever you prefer.”
“Christina, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Ulf, or Urufu if it's too hard to pronounce.” The last was added for the benefit of the rest of them.
“Call me Yu-kun, then. Club members shouldn't be so formal,” Matsumoto-san offered as an invitation.
Hamarugen-san rose and extended his right hand to Kuri-chan. “Christina, or in this case, miss President, should we go see the student council?”
“Uh? Yes, yes, of course.”
And with that the two of them left for the cafeteria. The remaining shrunken circle of three fidgeted uncomfortably.
Nori-chan, your love just left with the most attractive girl in school, Matsumoto-san likes you, and I, I think I'm falling for Matsumoto-san. What an utter mess!