“I knew your parents when they were students here.”
Students here? Yes, almost forgot that.
“They haven't told you yet?” Principal Nakagawa asked, as if he had read her thoughts. “You'll find them in the news club archives.” His face turned serious and sad. “I wish we could have done more for them,” and then he brightened “but I guess they turned out all-right in the end.”
She loved her parents. It made her warm inside knowing other people did as well.
“I was a teacher here during those days, and now I'm nearly done here.”
“Yes, I'm retiring.”
Things will change. The next principal will be, eh, less lenient I guess.
“Off with you. You don't want to miss class.”
Noriko bowed and made to leave the office.
“Give my regards to your parents,” Principal Nakagawa said just as she was about to close the door. “Tell them I'm sorry. I'll apologize properly at a later date.”
After he has retired. When he has severed his connections to the school. What's going on?
She quickly walked to her classroom. Thoughts of worry and wonder danced in her head all the way to her desk.
Inside her classroom the mood was different from the usual, had been so for a week now. Kuri was absent again.
One more month. Kuri, you can't afford staying away from here. But Noriko knew all too well by her friend never came to school. Breaking up with someone you love must hurt. Still, one more month until year's end. Those exams decided whether you passed the year or not, and Kuri wasn't exactly one of Himekaizen's best students.
Noriko threw a glance at Kyoko's seat. The two of them had grown closer in Kuri's absence. You know, you should run to Yukio more often. Much more often, and she would have, Noriko knew that, if it wasn't for 3:1 and 6:1 not being on the best of terms with each other.
In 3:1 Urufu was a loser who had done something bad enough to their celebrated beauty to force her to break up with him. In 6:1 Kuri was the bitch who played with and hurt their hero.
That was it, their hero. Noriko had missed out on what kind of reputation Urufu gained in his class after the cultural festival. They had experienced death among them as well, and only now she learned he'd been there, sitting in his hospital bed, comforting those who couldn't keep silent any longer.
That made Kuri the villain, and Kyoko was Kuri's best friend, and only after Urufu shouted at his own classmates did they agree that Kyoko wasn't bad for Yukio, Urufu's best friend.
When did things get this bad?
Some of that animosity even crept into the club, with the difference that there an overwhelming majority saw Kuri as the evil villain. Noriko could see why. With a third of the members former Red Rose middle schoolers, Urufu could do no wrong.
He tried, Noriko saw that. He told them Kuri hadn't done anything bad, and that she had problems of her own; the members gave him comforting claps on his back – girls even spontaneously hugged him, just like he and Kuri used to do, and they said how strong he was, what a kind and goodhearted man he was, and they despised Kuri even more.
It hurt. Kuri was a good friend, a broken friend who hurt more than Noriko could understand. It hurt, because Urufu hurt. It hurt, because all stacked together what had happened this far during their last term as freshmen made her look at Nao with new eyes.
He'd done nothing wrong neither, but his right choice made them spend time apart rather than together. She loved him, and wanted him for herself, but between studying for the exams, club hours, part time work, all too seldom did the few hours she had free coincide with his. The same way as she did, he studied, spent his club hours and worked his part time job. Difference being he spent very few club hours and an absolutely absurd amount of time modelling.
Noriko sighed and walked over to Kyoko's desk. Their teacher was late and Noriko wanted to know how things went down for Kuri's wingman, abandoned since a week. When she arrived she saw Kyoko with her nose into her phone.
Good girl! The rest of us try to be so smart, but you just solve your problems.
From this distance Noriko could see the phone vibrate when Yukio's mails reached it, and Kyoko didn't waste a second sending him a reply.
I'll leave you two alone. Seeing that made me happy.
A little lighter at heart Noriko took her seat and dug up the books for the class. Just as she was done the teacher walked in through the door opening.
The class representative rose.
The class rose.
The class bowed.
The class sat down again, and the lesson started.
Days grew into a pattern of classes only broken by lunch and club hours.
Noriko saw Yukio and Kyoko grow closer together, and she shared they joy. She saw her brother and Ai-chan playing their game, something that became harder as their exams loomed closer, and she saw Kuri return to class, a hollow shell of her former self.
Why anyone wanted to take photos of the girl was a mystery, and eventually Kuri told her they didn't. When she broke up with Urufu Vogue loosened their inhuman schedule a little. From what Noriko could see, their latest golden hen had been thoroughly potty-trained. She didn't as much as whisper a word of love about Urufu.
As for herself, she tried. Both of them tried. Nao used as much of his free time as possible to date her, but she could see in his haunted face how Vogue pulled in the reins whenever he spent too much time with her.
Days became a week, and one day, at the end of February, neither Yukio nor Kyoko showed up at club hours.