“GAHHHH!” Shiro jumped out of bed, pulling his pants on. He ran over to the sink and splashed some water on his face. His phone blinked with unread messages.
Are you awake?
Looks like someone slept in.
Morning. Nope. Right on the nose, as usual.
Shiro tucked his phone in his pocket and took the steps two at a time until he reached the bottom, ignoring the ache in his head.
“Oi! Isn’t this a bit much?” He heard his younger siblings in the kitchen.
“B-big brother needs his strength. It’s his third year.” His little sister Aya placed some heart-shaped carrots over the rice she’d stuffed in a container.
“You should let him starve,” Akio grabbed a mini sausage from Shiro’s lunchbox and tossed it in his mouth.
Shiro stepped out from the hallway and lifted his finger to his mouth, signaling Aya to keep quiet.
“Maybe then he will learn to wake up on time.”
“Who’s going to starve?” Shiro stood over his smug little brother and cracked his knuckles. The smirk left Akio’s face as soon as Shiro pressed his fists to his brother’s temples.
“Ow, ow, ow!” Akio freed himself from Shiro’s grasp and hid behind his twin. “Did you see what he did to me?!”
“Good Morning, big brother!” She greeted.
“Don’t ignore me, dammit!” Akio stomped his foot on the ground. “I’m supposed to be your favorite! We’re twins, you know!”
Aya shoved a fresh strawberry in Akio’s mouth and patted his head.
“Fine, take his side.” He turned toward the living room. His face was as red as the strawberry Aya shoved in his mouth.
He sulked at the doorway with his back turned to them.
“I made breakfast!” Aya hopped off her step-stool and untied her apron. She scanned the leftover food on the table. “It’s probably cold already.” She said, looking at her feet. “Sorry, we didn’t wait for you.” Her eyes avoided him.
Shiro patted her head and took a waffle from the table. He bit it in half, aware that Aya is watching him.
“It’s good!” He said as he bit the tasteless, gummy waffle. “Did you make these yourself?”
Her eyes lit up as he finished it off with a big bite. He reached for another, sensing she wasn’t entirely pleased.
“Go on. Ask him Aya.” Akio returned, nudging Aya forward.
Shiro swallowed the last bit of food and waited for his sister to speak.
“Erm, big brother… Do you think…” Aya squeezed a folder against her chest. “Can you help me with an assignment?”
“Assignment? School hasn’t started. How do you already have work?” Shiro held his hand out. “Give it here. Let’s have a look.”
Aya handed her brother the folder. “At orientation, they asked us to make something related to our hobbies. I wrote a story but…” Aya looked down at the ground as Shiro read through her work. “I got stuck-“
“Well, here’s the problem right here.” Shiro pulled a pencil from his bag. “There’s nothing pushing your hero forward.” He scribbled some notes on a fresh sheet of paper.
Aya watched quietly, her eyes never moving from his face. He could feel her staring at him, but he tried to ignore it. He felt his surroundings slip away. The words on the page invited Shiro to an unknown land. He felt jittery as he filled the gaps left in Aya’s writing. Before he knew it, he was lost in Aya’s world. He explored the characters and their missions, their flaws, and their strengths. For a moment, nothing else mattered.
He tried his best to adjust her manuscript only when necessary. He didn’t want to influence the world too much. This was Aya’s story, after all. And it was a damn good one. She was only nine, but she was creative. He could see her becoming a famous author one day.
Except that could never happen…
Shiro snapped back to reality. Aya hovered over him as he finished the last of his edits.
“That should do it.” Shiro handed his sister the folder, his headache returning. He took two painkillers from the cabinet and poured himself a glass of water.
“Did you work late again last night?” Akio questioned.
Shiro nodded, resting his head in his hands.
“Now that Mama and Papa are away, you can go easy on yourself!” Aya suggested.
“So, they left already?” Shiro peeked from under his hands.
“They didn’t tell you?” Akio furrowed his brows.
Shiro straightened out his posture. His youngest siblings kept their eyes on him, studying his expression.
“They’ll be back in time for your graduation. I’m sure of it!” Aya cheered.
As if that would matter to him. He had no intention of attending graduation. The sooner he could leave that school, the better.
Shiro checked his watch without acknowledging the comment. “We can still make it on time if we leave now.”
“Saito, catch!” Akio grabbed two of the lunchboxes off the counter and tossed one across the room, tying the other to his bookbag. Saito threw her hands up to catch it from the sofa and gave Akio a thumbs up.
“Are you skipping school on the first day?” he yelled toward the couch as if he didn’t give away her plans.
Shiro was in no mood for his rebellious sister. Saito had a lot of potential. she was a great student before their sister Kokoro moved to Germany with her new husband. Her recent rebellious streak is going to cost her a decent future.
And my freedom.
Now that their parents were away, Shiro was responsible for his siblings. He was already on a tight leash with his parents, he didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to himself.
Shiro stood over the sofa where his younger sister was lying, far too comfortable for a Monday morning.
“Big Sis!” Aya tried to warn her.
“Not a care in the world for the middle child.”
Saito was lying upside down on the couch, with her head hanging and her feet crossed over the headrest. Her eyes were closed and her foot was tapping to whatever music blasted through her headphones.
He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. She shrieked and flopped around like a fish out of water.
“You’re already in uniform. You might as well get your butt to class.” Shiro grabbed Saito’s shoes from the rack and walked out the door.
“Let’s go. We’re already late.” He called for the twins to follow.
“Put me down right now, Shiro!” Saito yelled as he locked the front door behind them.
“I will, once we’re on the bus.” He taunted.
He stuck his head out of the gates, checking to make sure there was no one around to hear his rebellious sister’s complaints.
Saito didn’t struggle for long. She calmed herself as soon as he turned the corner.
“Just as I thought. All bark and no bite, little Sis.” He teased.
She relaxed over his shoulder, accepting her fate. He’d be lying if he said this was effortless. He was doing his best to keep the girl steady, while his head was spinning like a top.
“Aren’t you taking this too far?” Akio had to jog to keep up the pace. Aya, not too far behind.
“Shouldn’t it be Saito’s decision whether she goes?” Akio huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.
Shiro ignored the question.
“After all, you got to choose.” Akio taunted him.
Shiro’s legs stop on their own.
Choose? Does he think I ruined my life on purpose? To dishonor my family? I didn’t choose this! SHE did! She was at fault!
Shiro kept his thoughts from showing on his face. At the very least, he was skilled at hiding his emotions.
He placed his sister on her feet, handing over her shoes.
“I’m going to be late for the next bus.” Shiro continued down the sidewalk. “Get yourselves to school.” He muttered, not bothering to wait for them.
X X X
Saito joined him on the bus, waving the twins off through the window. Their school was within walking distance of the bus stop. Saito watched as they made it past the crosswalk and didn’t take her seat until they were through the gates. It was hard to believe someone as irresponsible as her would have such protective instincts.
Shiro stood in silence, gripping the strap on the bus for balance. He was still dizzy and more than a little annoyed. Even though the seat next to his sister remained unoccupied, he wanted to keep his distance.
“At least you’ll make it on time.” He sighed, glancing at his watch for the hundredth time.
He waited for his sister to continue. The silence was long enough to be awkward. But then, Saito has always been a little difficult to talk to.
“Are you still mad?” She fiddled with her bracelet. “At what Akio said?”
“No.” He lied.
He was still upset, fuming even. But not at her, not even at Akio. Akio was a kid. He didn’t understand half the things he said. Even if he was a perceptive little runt.
He was upset with the only person there was to blame. It was her fault he had to be tough on his younger siblings. If only she hadn’t forced him to make that promise. Shiro was screaming inside. He gave up everything for that silly childhood promise.
And for what? She didn’t even-
“Why did you choose Bura Bura Academy?”
The question caught him off guard. He looked at his sister who stared at him with a blank expression.
“You were supposed to go to that school of technology, but chose a creative school against Papa’s wishes. You wanted to be a writer, yet you are majoring in business.”
Shiro didn’t respond. Even if he tried to explain, Saito wouldn’t understand. She was too little to remember. The only one besides his parents who knew of his current circumstances was Kokoro, and she was in Germany.
“Just seems counterproductive.” She shrugged.
“Was there a question somewhere in there?”
Saito peeked in her lunch box, snacking on some chocolate sticks that were inside. “Do you regret enrolling in an art school?”
Shiro looked toward the window at his own reflection, making sure that his expression matched his words. “I wouldn’t say that.” He glanced back at her, not wanting to elaborate. “Tell me,” Shiro said, wanting to change the subject. He took the empty seat next to his sister, “Why were you going to skip school?” He tried his best to sound like a concerned older brother.“You’ve always liked school. Why the change?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Shiro was confused by her answer. Saito rolled her eyes at him.
“When you told Father you wanted to go to an art school, I was impressed. I didn’t think you’d ever have it in you to deviate from the plan.” She spoke while chewing.
The plan. He echoed in his head.
“You were following your heart…I respected that.” She sounded disappointed.
“What’s that gotta do with you skipping out on the first day of school?” He fought the urge to squeeze her head like he’d done to Akio before. But he knew how that would look on a public bus.
“When has a war ever been won alone?”
“We’re not at war, I just changed my mind.”
“Oh yeah, then why did your face light up when you helped Aya with her story this morning?
“Wha- did you put her up to that?”
Of course she did. He answered himself in his head.
“We’ve been worried about you.”
“We?” He didn’t hide his surprise. So they have been talking about me. He had the feeling something was off for a while now. Kokoro even offered to pay for his trip to Germany so he can have time off. But he denied, he couldn’t put her out like that.
“All of us have, Aya, Aki, even Koko.”
“Duh, we’re your family dumbass.”
The bus reached Saito’s stop.
“Think about it.” She said as she gathered her things. “Besides,” she stretched her arms above her head, “you’re not cut out for programming, your last assignments were atrocious.”
“Have you been going through my computer?!” Shiro yelled to Saito who was already walking away.
She made a face through the window and stuck her tongue out at him.
“Well I’m sure mom will pick a nice-looking guy for you, I wouldn’t worry too much about your lack of personality!”
Shiro folded his arms over his chest.
Where does she get the nerve…
He glanced around at the few people on the bus who were staring at him after his outburst. He pulled his phone out and sank into the seat, distracting himself from the other passenger's giggles.
Though he had to admit Saito was right about one thing. He was a lousy programmer.
She was much more suited for it than he was. She helped him whenever she could but Shiro didn’t like taking advantage of her goodwill. Especially since he knew their father would never recognize Saito for her work. Their father held a traditional view.
Their mother was the exception. She was a doctor, but she’d gotten her career lined up before his parent's marriage. His parent's marriage was arranged by their grandparents. Just as Kokoro’s was. Just as his would be. Somewhere out there, he had a fiancé he’d never met.
His phone lit up in his hands. He’d almost forgotten he took it out of his pocket.
Sorry, didn’t mean to keep you up late.
No worries, it was my fault.
I’m the one who messed up the job.
Thanks for catching it though, couldn’t have done it without you.
Haha. it’s no problem, Ishida. That’s what I’m here for.
I wanted to ask you something personal.
If it’s okay?
What are your plans after graduation?
I mean, besides marrying my sister, lol.
About that. What’s she like?
Yeah, I should probably get an idea of her personality, for the marriage and all.
She’s…a little dull. No personality to speak of.
Just what you'd want in a wife, I guess.
Are you okay with that?
I mean, is that what you really want?
Shiro dropped his hand down to his lap.
What I want…
He stared out of the window as the trees flew by. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted anymore. If he was even capable of wanting anything at all.
Are you there?
Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.
Forget I asked.
It’s not that.
This is what I want.
Thanks for worrying about me, I’m getting to my stop.
X X X
Shiro practically sprinted to the class assignment list.
Even after his eventful morning, he still had three minutes to spare. If he could only find where he was supposed to go.
He quickly found the Third-year class assignments and skimmed through the list.
“Hamada, Ikeda...Ah, here it is.” Shiro spotted his name right in the middle of the list. “Ishida, Shiro class 2-D.” If he remembered correctly, Mr. Azuma and Mrs. Hanao were the third-year teachers this year.
Bura Bura wasn’t a normal high school by any means. The teachers rotated years at random. The Headmaster thought it helped keep the creativity alive for the students and the professors. It certainly kept things interesting.
Shiro prayed with all his might that he was assigned to Mrs. Hanao’s class. Azuma was a strict teacher. There’s no way he would let him off easy for his tardiness.
Shiro looked at his watch. “Two minutes left.” He swung his bag over his shoulder and took a running start.
He felt his body collide with something. He brushed himself off before realizing he had bumped into another student. Both of their bags fell to the ground, their notebooks scattered over the concrete.
“My apologies!” Shiro scooped up his things and the other person, a female student based on their uniform, did the same. “I didn’t want to be late for class. I wasn’t looking where I was going.” He jumped to his feet after pulling the girl up from the ground, never once looking her at her face. “Sorry, again!” he yelled, now running toward the entryway.
He could barely hear it over the first tardy bell.
“Shiro Ishida?” yelled a female voice.
That voice. It can’t be. Shiro turned his head slowly toward the person calling his name.
“Kei…ko?” He felt the acid in his stomach rise just saying the name. He‘d almost forgotten where he was.
For a moment, it didn’t really matter to him. They were just kids when she left. He couldn’t be sure what she looked like now.
But there she was. Her wavy, reddish hair was down to her lower back now. She still wore that dragonfly hair clip he gave her for her ninth birthday. Her eyes were darker than he remembered, bigger too. She still had the same birthmark under her right eye.
Of course, she does. Birthmarks don’t just go away, you idiot!
Shiro knew then that he must’ve still been dreaming. At the very least, this was some kind of trick his mind was playing. He wasn’t sure who the student he bumped into was, or if there was anyone there at all. All he could see was Keiko.
That dream must have impacted me more than I thought. He wasn’t sure what his face looked like.
Did he look surprised? Confused?
He spent years perfecting his fake smile. He couldn’t form a natural expression even if he wanted to. She stared at him quietly while he assessed her.
This can’t be real. I’m still dreaming. But why is she in uniform? He debated.
She wore a white button-down shirt with a black vest over it. Her black stockings reached halfway up her thighs. She had on the same red skirt all the female students at Bura Bura Academy wore.
No bow around her neck, though. But that wasn’t out of character for Keiko. No pins either.
Bura Bura had a three-year rule. You had to attend all three years of high school here. Transfers weren’t allowed. It was part of their creative journey as art students. In the Headmaster’s mind, at least. Learn from the past. Grow in the present. Create the future. Was his motto.
Shiro had always respected that about him. Even if he was a bit unorthodox. The headmaster was a foreigner. He was fascinated by Japanese culture. It wasn’t uncommon for foreigners to be enamored with Japan. Eventually, he went on to move here permanently and open the school. He played by his own rules.
It was faced with mixed reviews the first few years. But for the most part, people enjoyed the environment and tuition is affordable.
Not once did a student leave after being enrolled in their first year. This was the only reason Shiro still attended despite being offered a scholarship to the Tetsudori Institute of Science, where he was currently employed part-time.
He didn’t want to be the one to tarnish the school’s image. He knew how important a reputation was.
The three-year rule was unbendable.
This couldn’t be her. Keiko could never enroll here. He was both disappointed and relieved.
He had to give himself credit, though. For the most part, his mind got it right. What she’d look like if she had come to this school. What she would’ve sounded like if he got to see her grow into a teenage girl.
Shiro gripped the straps of his bag and turned away from the apparition. “You should get to class too,” he said to the girl he was sure was a hallucination.
He rushed toward the double door entrance, running to a class he was already late for.
Or maybe he was running away from a hallucination he no longer wanted to see.
Maybe both of those things.
He just… ran.
X X X
After he caught his breath, Shiro peeked over his shoulder at the stairway. “Whew, it was just in my head, after all.” He straightened himself out and put his hand on the classroom door. He was sure it would be fine if he slipped in now.
“Shiro, my darling!”
Goosebumps rushed over Shiro’s body. “Oh, no.” He wiggled the door handle, but it was locked. Dammit!
Shiro felt the impact of Masashi Toda’s body as they both fell to the ground.
“Shiro, baby!” The boy locked Shiro in an awkward embrace, not attempting to stand. “Are you avoiding me?” He almost sounded annoyed.
“Just… trying… to get to… class!” Shiro gasped for air under Masashi’s weight. “Get… off, Ma… sa… shi!”
The boy ignored Shiro’s pleas, whispering close enough in his ear to feel his breath on his neck. “Why did you leave the Writer’s Club, my darling?” It almost sounded threatening.
“Mr. President!” Another student stood over them.
Gorou Kawano pushed his tinted glasses up with his finger. “There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” The redheaded boy seemed unbothered by the scene. “We need you in the Clubroom. There are preparations to be made. He glared at Shiro accusingly, “Now that we are one member short.”
“Nice to see you too, Kawano.” Shiro felt a chill in the air. “Do you mind?” He tried breaking himself free from Masashi’s grasp.
“Ah, of course.” Gorou snapped his fingers.
The door behind them opened, and a girl stepped out. She was tall and had her hair braided and styled in a high ponytail. She was holding a book in her hands. Based on the single white pin on her vest, she must be a first year.
“Did you just come out of the supply closet?!” Masashi yelled.
“This is first year, Asuka Matsumura. The newest member of the writing club.” Gorou explained. “Now, if you’ll please escort the president back to the clubroom, we have business to attend to.”
“Wait, but Shiro!” Masashi pleaded.
Asuka placed her hand over Masashi’s shoulder and flicked him off with little effort. His body crashed into a wall with a loud thud that even made Shiro wince. But the boy jumped to his feet as if he didn’t feel a thing.
“I refuse to accept this!” Masashi pointed his finger at Shiro. The girl pulled on Masashi’s collar and dragged him away.
“Shiro my love! Shiroooo-” Masashi continued to struggle as the girl pulled him around the corner and out of sight.
“Many apologies, Ishida.” Gorou bowed. “I will take my leave.”
After a couple of steps, Gorou paused.
“I’m sure you have your reasons for leaving the Writer’s Club. I am sure you have a lot on your plate getting ready for graduation and preparing for your future. Though I may not understand your choice to disregard your incredible talent. I have always admired your skills as a writer.” Gorou glanced back at him with a pitiful expression. “Until we meet again.”
He stood there a few seconds after the altercation and another hand came down on his shoulder, pulling him into the classroom.
“Ishida!” yelled his angry professor.
“Mr. Azuma… I… uh…” Shiro stuttered, his classmates’ eyes all on him.
Hika - Saito T_T middle child struggles.