Just prior to lunch break two days later the planned event went into action. Noriko wanted to make certain it went down to legend as well.
She slid open one of the doors to 7:2 while the class was still in session. What she was about to do should normally have guaranteed her a suspension, but this time the entire teaching staff knew what was about to happen beforehand, and with Principal Nakagawa's blessing things were about to explode.
It came at a personal price for her, but not one she found unacceptable.
“Sensei, I have an errand here,” she said.
He nodded and walked to the windows.
There were surprised gasps from the class.
Noriko walked up to the blackboard and faced the students. Nao-sempai rose from his seat. This was the agreed upon compromise to make certain he got off the hook as well.
“Noriko-chan, what a pleasant surprise,” he said as planned.
Her heart beat faster even though she knew what was coming. It wasn't just an act from his side, because he was truly aghast that his open interest in her had made her a target. She had to admire his bravery for coming up with this part of the madness.
You've been nothing but kind to me even though you know how I feel for Urufu, she thought, but it was time to repay his kindness with nothing but hard words once again. “Nao-sempai, you owe me for these,” Noriko said and dug up her slashed shoes from her bag and placed them on the teacher's desk. She waited for him to walk to her with a new pair and publicly give her the apology he never really owed her in the first place.
As he started walking the other door slid open as well. Noriko saw Yukio enter right on cue. Behind him students started filing inside, just as they did through the door from which she had entered.
Sixty students, including one of the third years who had assaulted Kuri. Principal Nakagawa had been adamant that she would take part, and both Kuri and Urufu agreed for some reason.
Noriko watched the stunned students in 7:2 twist and turn as their classroom was invaded. They stared at their teacher for help but none was coming. He just stared out the windows as if nothing untoward had happened.
Nao-sempai stood in front of her with her new shoes in his hands.
I don't want to do this any more. I know it's your idea and all, but you'll be the one hurt anyway. Noriko looked at him and forced down the tears that threatened to well up in her eyes. I have the best friends in the world. Do I really deserve you all? Suddenly her plan didn't seem so smart any longer.
Down, she had to look down on him when he suddenly prostrated himself on the floor with her shoes in his outstretched hands. That hadn't been part of the plan.
What are you doing? Not like this!
There were giggles, gasps and angry growls bouncing around in the classroom.
“My princess,” Nao-sempai began, and Noriko choked down a sob. “I humbly apologise for giving you grief. Please accept these as a small recompense for what I have cost you!”
Noriko had to get this over with as fast as possible. She had never wanted him to go this far. She quickly went to her knees, and as she did she heard Kuri draw for breath behind her.
“I accept your apology,” Noriko said. She choked down her emotions and took the shoes. Please stand up!
He rose to his knees and looked at her. “I have caused you pain when I wanted you to feel joy. I gave you grief when I wanted to give you my heart.” He stood and faced his class. “I love this girl, but her heart lies elsewhere. I want to go out with her but she already rejected me. If any of you hurt her you'll answer to me.”
There was no stopping the tears now. Noriko watched his back as he walked back to his desk. He was all blurry through her tears. Why did you have to go this far?
“Now if there are still some morons in this class...” Yukio began from the back of the classroom, just as they had planned it all along, but Noriko felt Kuri's hands on her shoulders, and through them she could feel how Kuri fervently shook her head.
Yukio fell silent.
What's going on? Noriko thought and wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve.
“Noriko, you have to answer him. Are you going to accept this?” Kuri said from behind her.
“Am I going to accept what?” Noriko looked at Nao-sempai. He sat by his desk again and gave her a smile filled with sadness... and hope? “Am I going to accept what Kuri?”
The hands on her shoulder tightened. “Look inside your shoes stupid!”
What? Noriko did as she had been told. “What!”
A pair of earrings, one in each shoe glimmered and glittered in the light. Two hearts with a white stone set in one and a red in the other. She took them out. They felt heavy in her hand. “Nao-sempai,” she said and looked across the classroom. “I can't… I couldn't possibly...” I can't hurt him any more. I won't! “I won't accept these without knowing why I would deserve such a gift.” What am I saying?
He rose again. “I think you know, but just leave them on my desk if you don't want them,” he said and walked for the door. She just had time to see his eyes shift with disappointment.
Is he crying?
A low murmur of surprise rose in the classroom. The earrings were large enough for all students to see what she had been given.
Just as he passed her Noriko's hands acted on their own. She reached out and pulled at the back of his shirt. He must have felt the tug, because he turned and looked at her. His eyes glimmered just like the earrings.
He's crying. I'll make it work. I have to. “Nao-sempai, I like you. Please go out with me!”
“Oh dear!” her brother said from where he stood by the blackboard.
Even the teacher turned and stared at the unexpected turn of events. She could see his reflection in the doors. Then she saw nothing at all, because her face was buried in Nao-sempai's shirt. His hands were on her back and she could feel his fingers, long and graceful like the rest of him.
Whatever comment her brother made was drowned in the shouts filling the room.
What am I doing? Noriko smiled through her tears. I promised I'd move on. I'll make this work. She moved her arms and held the small of his back. Nao-sempai was just too tall for her to reach any higher.
From the back of the classroom she heard Yukio shouting for silence. The second part of their plan was about to unfold, but she could just as well listen to it while embracing. It would be less embarrassing that way.
“Class 1:1,” Yukio said, and his voice was a mix of amusement and anger. “State your errand!”
“I'm Okamoto Akira. Anyone bullying Noriko-chan will answer to me.”
“Class 2:1. State your errand!”
“I'm Kimoshita Midori. Anyone bullying Noriko-chan will answer to me.”
“Class 3:1. State your errand!”
Over half her class had joined and the names kept rolling. “Anyone bullying Noriko-chan will answer to us,” thundered through the classroom. The implicit threat hadn't been lost on anyone.
The class rolls kept coming, and when Yukio began calling up the second years the mood had turned grim.
Nao-sempai never let go of her, not even when he answered for 7:2.
When the Suzuki third year finally answered the roll the class was thoroughly subdued.
The teacher looked at his class with open disgust in his eyes. “I think that concludes the lesson. Class dismissed!”