A feeling of impending doom clung to the school when Ryu arrived the first Monday after their midterm exams.
With exams over and done with the main dish on the rumour mill menu ought to have been the student council elections.
However, what most students spoke about was a disgusting rumour about Red Rose Academy and systematic rapes with racist overtones. It was the kind of rumour that needed to be quelled immediately, and Ryu was here to douse the flames with petrol. In case the rumours blew out of all proportions Principal Nakagawa had promised to step in and add dynamite to the fire.
After changing shoes by his locker Ryu walked past the wall where the top fifty students from each year were soon to be posted together with their results and headed for the stairwell to his wing.
He rushed to his classroom and during each and every break he joined the subdued conversations he heard and said all the wrong things. Before lunch was over the entire first year floor of the right wing rumbled with barely supressed indignation.
Just prior to class he checked his mailbox for more instructions from Kuri. There were none and he decided to move on his own. One email later he had suggested he'd honour his promise to attend a goukon. If he was honest with himself he had nothing against meeting Ai-chan again, and it was with a tinge of a bad conscience he planned to use her for spreading the rumours to Irishima high.
Like most of his classmates he went through the motions of attending class. This close to the exams most were more interested in the results than any topics covered by their teachers, and it seemed the teachers understood as well. Homeroom mostly consisted of selfstudying. Planning their participation in the annual marathon race took up a fair chunk as well. After that club hours, which he used to spread the rumours even further.
The next morning irritated conversations about Red Rose ran between the shoe lockers, and later the same day, in the cafeteria.
When it was time for club hours he made his excuses to Kuri and told her what he had planned for his karaoke session with a few guys and girls from Irishima high.
Ryu left school and headed for the same karaoke bar they used to celebrate their cultural festival a few weeks earlier. Had he been given a choise he'd preferred to meet at Stockholm Haven café, but for this kind of occasion a sterile karaoke room was the norm.
Ai-chan stood waiting for him inside the doors despite Ryu being close to half an hour early.
“Wakayama-san,” she greeted him.
Ryu shot her an exxagerated look of irritation. “Hasegawa-san, what a pleasant surprise,” he said and bowed formally.
Ai-chan blanched and took a step backwards. “Why so awkward?”
“How would I know Hasegawa-san. I'm at a loss for words Hasegawa-san.”
“If you stop being so stiff I'll do so as well. OK Ai-chan?”
She blushed and stammered. “Fine, whatever!”
“My name being?”
“Good. Now, why so early?”
Ai-chan took the opportunity to study her shoes and didn't answer, which made Ryu grin a little. When it came to reading the signals in the boy meets girl game he was an expert, something that made him never having had a girlfriend doubly amusing, Ryu mused.
“Waiting for someone?” Ryu teased.
“I'm waiting for you,” Ai-chan responded, and her eyes filled with determination.
“If you didn't get that I'm interested in you then you're denser than I thought.”
That bravado! I like it. But you really are rather nervous right now, aren't you? “No I got that message loud and clear during our festival,” he said and smiled. “You know, according to a friend I shouldn't be able to see that for another half a year or so.
“Sounds like your friend knows her shoujo manga,” Ai-chan said and grinned widely.
Ah, seems that joke helped with her nervousity. “It's a he, but otherwise you're correct.”
Ai-chan smirked and loked up at him. “So, you tricked me into a confession. What about you?”
“I'm interested,” Ryu admitted. “Would you go out with me?”
She nodded and smiled, but Ryu could see how she crabbed the counter behind her for support. Behind the counter a clerk grinned and gave him a thunbs up sign, and Ryu realised their conversation had been heard by everyone here.
“Ai-chan, we have an audience,” he said with what he hoped was a subdued voice.
She loked around and flared red in an instant.
Ryu listened to her outburst, but her expression conflicted with what she had just said.
“I guess I am,” he answered and took a step closer to her. “Feeling embarrased?”
“I am. Feeling embarrased that is. With all the people staring at us.”
He wasn't, really. Experience from years spent surrounded by adoring girls made him more or less immune to the discomfort that had Ai-chan's face all in flames. Getting his first girlfriend was a novel experience though.
“I didn't hear your reply,” he said as teasingly as he could.
“Your reply to where I say: I like you. Please go out with me!”
That line kept her face adorably coloured like a tomato and she stuttered what almost sounded like a positive reply. Around them guests arriving or leaving the place stood and gasped or grinned. A few girls giggled loudly and Ryu felt what a spectacular show he ran for his small audience.
“I can't hear you. Could you please repeat that?”
“Sorry, was that a yes or a no?”
“Idiot!” Ai-chan stared at her feet again. “Yes, please take good care of me.”
Ryu grinned and bent forward for a last tease. The topics during their stay here would be grimmer, so he wanted to extend the fun for as long as possible. “Ai-chan, why should I attend the goukon in the first place?”