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Keiko rummaged through her locker. “Tsk! Where is it?” She tossed her textbooks aside in a panic. “Dammit!” She slammed her locker door shut and tossed her bag on a bench. She fished around with her hands, fighting the urge to turn it over and spill everything onto the floor. “It has to be here.”
Wait. Keiko gave up her fruitless search. What am I doing? I don’t need that book anymore…
She slid her hands out of her bag, accidentally dropping her pencil on the floor listening as it rolled away from her.
“Here. You dropped this.”
She reached out for the pencil only half hearing the boy. “Thanks.” She said without bothering to look up.
Why did I come here? Why did--
“I hope you find what you’re looking for, Ms. Matsuda.”
The voice made her freeze in place. She looked at the boy with wavy brown hair and burgundy glasses.
Shiro only smiled at her. A fake, distorted, infuriating smile. She nodded and watched as he walked away without looking back. The boy who ignored her existence on the first day of class. The one who had been her best friend as a child.
She clenched her fist around her pencil, breaking the weak wood in half. “That son of a— “
“Ms. Matsuda, inside!”
She heard her homeroom teacher call out. She half rolled her eyes and rushed to the door.
When she entered, she saw Shiro talking to the snobby girl from before, Makoto. She had hair the color of spinach pulled up in a curly mess on both sides of her head held up with blue ribbons.
Hmph… Keiko grew a little jealous. Until she noticed Shiro’s smile. That phony, disgusting smile.
Shiro, you damned idiot. She said to herself as she walked to her seat. How long do you expect to carry on like that?
X X X
On Monday, Keiko did her best to avoid Shiro’s attention. He was so cold toward her before. She wasn’t sure how to talk to him now. Keiko searched in the dark file room. If she couldn’t ask him directly, she would see for herself what he had accomplished in the last few years.
She used her cellphone to light the area. She found a cabinet for students applying for graduation and pulled it open. Keiko searched through the names until she reached the ‘I’s’.
“Ishida, Ishida...” She flipped through the files, looking for his name.
"Ha! Ishida, Shiro!” Keiko pulled out his file, having a look around.
The door was suddenly kicked open before she could read through it. She shoved the file in her school bag and hurried to the back of the room, hiding behind one of the filing cabinets.
“Let go of me, Gorou!” A round boy with brown shoulder-length hair held on to the door frame, fighting his way inside as a lanky redhead held him back.
“Get ahold of yourself, Club President!” The redheaded boy was dragged inside against his will.
“Tsk, those idiots are going to get themselves caught!” Keiko rolled her eyes at the boys, who were causing a scene. Now surrounded by school staff. She kept herself hidden behind the last row of cabinets, hoping no one would see.
“They aren’t the only ones.” The man’s voice sent shivers down her spine. She turned slowly to face the professor, who had clearly been napping in the back of the file room the entire time.
“H-how long have you been watching?” Keiko questioned, her voice shaking. The man towered over her, glaring at her with dead eyes, rubbing his bald head as if to smooth his non-existent hair.
“Mr. Naoki!” The boys said in unison.
Keiko clutched her bag as the man nudged her toward the door. She held her breath when the man glanced down at her bag. But he simply escorted the three out of the file room and sat them down at an empty table, shooing the rest of the staff who had walked over to see what had happened.
“Wait here.” He said as he walked toward the phone. Calling our teachers, no doubt.
Dammit… Keiko wondered who would come for her.
Her grouchy homeroom teacher, Mr. Azuma, who obviously hated her. Or her older brother Sosuke, who was a teacher here and helped her get enrolled.
She held her bag tightly to her chest. Neither of them sounded like good options. She had already caused a lot of trouble for both of them.
Sosuke deserved every damn ounce of it! Mr. Azuma though...
“Aw, man!” The chubby boy whined, bringing Keiko back to reality.
“Ms. Miyazaki is going to tear us a new one,” The boy complained, hiding his face in his hands.
“Us? I was trying to stop you!” Gorou replied. “I will take accountability for my part in this, but you must bear the burden as well, President Masashi Toda!” The redhead reminded her of a military man, the way he addressed his friend by his full name. His voice was authoritative and a little loud. He was tall and He had thick green frames that went nicely with his reddish-orange hair.
“If you had just helped me, we wouldn’t have gotten caught!” Masashi argued.
“The both of you got us caught.” She said, inviting herself into their conversation.
“Oh, yeah… Who the hell are you anyway?” Masashi turned his entire body to look at her.
Crap… I forgot I still have Shiro’s file with me. Keiko bit her lip, cursing herself. “I’m sorry, I just started at this school. I got lost going to the ladies’ room.” Keiko feigned innocence. Boys couldn’t resist a good damsel in distress.
“That won’t work on us, hussy.” Masashi squinted his eyes at the girl. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Can you believe this chick, Gor —"
“I humbly apologize for dragging you into this situation, Miss!” Gorou knelt in front of Keiko, making her more than a little uncomfortable. He took her hand in his and pulled her out of her seat. Before she knew it, she was hanging over the boy’s shoulder.
“H-hey! Wait a minute!” Keiko yelled, earning a few spectators among the staff.
“Please, allow me to assist you to the ladies’ room. It isn’t healthy to hold your bladder for such a long time.” The boy pushed his glasses up and positioned himself as if he were going to run the entire way.
“Kawano, Dear.” Said a soft voice in the distance.
Gorou went stiff. His grip on her softened and Keiko let herself down, brushing off her skirt.
“I thought we settled this, boys.” A woman walked toward them and caressed both boys' cheeks with each hand. She sounded like a disappointed mother.
“Right you are, Ms. Miyazaki. How can we atone for this grievance?” Gorou’s voice cracked for the first time since Keiko had met him. He bowed and bowed again. Ms. Miyazaki only smiled.
Keiko couldn’t get a good read on her. Her voice was small, and so was her body. But there was something in the surrounding air that made even her freeze in fear.
“We can’t just hand Shiro over to the Paint Club without a fight!” Masashi balled his fist as Ms. Miyazaki pulled him into an embrace.
“My dear sweet, passionate Masashi.” The small woman hugged the boy tighter. Masashi fell into her hug as she squeezed him tighter. He flinched and went limp in the teacher’s arms.
“W-what was the cracking sound?” Keiko felt the blood leave her face.
“Off you go, Kawano.” The scary woman waved the boy off. “Be a dear and tell Masashi’s teacher he fell ill and had to lie down in the nurse’s office.” She almost sounded concerned.
It was then that Keiko examined Ms. Miyazaki’s clothing. She wasn’t a teacher, but the school nurse. “Why is the nurse vouching for these two?” Keiko said, too loud for the woman to not have heard.
“E-er… Sorry, Ma’am. I didn’t mean to — “
“You can call me Ayame, Dear” The nurse smiled. “Yes, I am the school nurse, but I also act as the Writer’s Club Adviser,” Ayame said proudly, with Masashi still slumped over her. “Here at Bura Bura, even the staff is allowed some creative outlets. And these two are my precious club members. They took the loss of our Vice President very hard you see.”
“You mean Shiro?” Keiko instinctively put a hand on her chin. She hadn’t been able to look through his file yet. But this was good news. Shiro was working toward his dreams...
“He resigned this year.”
“He… quit?” Keiko didn’t hide her disappointment.
“Sit tight. Mr. Azuma will be here to collect you shortly.”
Masashi groaned something unintelligible. “I... hate Kei… hate you...” She thought she heard him say.
"Hahaha!” Ayame nudged Masashi in the gut repeatedly. “Come to me if you need anything, dear.” She walked away, practically gliding out the door. “Buh-bye!”
Just like Ayame said. Mr. Azuma came to get her after a few minutes. As expected, he was not happy.
“What were you thinking?” He scolded her as he took her school bag and lifted her to her feet by her arm. “Let’s go.”
“Wait.” She heard a familiar voice. It was the man who caught them.
“What’s up, Obara?”
She was taken aback by his casual tone. I guess outside of being a teacher, Mr. Azuma is just a man with a social life and friends like anyone else.
Hm. She was almost amused.
“Here, take this.” The teacher handed her a flyer.
“Paint Club?” She read the heading aloud.
“I’m the art teacher, Mr. Naoki. I double as the Paint Club sponsor. If you're interested, we are having our first meeting later today.” Mr. Naoki handed Keiko a pen. “If you don’t mind being delayed a few more minutes, Tetsuya?”
“You shameless bastard.” He said to his friend as Keiko filled out the form.
She couldn’t hide her smile at their interaction.
Keiko eyed her homeroom teacher. He held her bag flung over his back. His red button-down shirt was rolled up at the sleeves. He was actually quite muscular.
Tetsuya, huh...It suits him.
“Welcome to the Club, Ms. Matsuda.” He said taking the form from her and handing her a copy. He waved them off as Tetsuya escorted her back to class, though there were only a few minutes left of homeroom.
Tetsuya didn’t punish Keiko for the incident as she expected. He didn’t mention it at all on the quiet walk to class.
When they reached the classroom door, Keiko placed her hand on the handle, but a large hand came down over hers before she could turn it.
“Hey,” his voice almost sounded concerned.
Keiko turned to face him, but he didn’t meet her gaze.
“They’re used to you coming in late, so don’t worry about that. Just try to stay out of trouble from now on.” He removed his hand from hers and rubbed his neck.
Keiko’s mouth dropped open a little stunned. She didn’t know what to say so she just nodded in agreement.
They pushed the door open and got on with the day as if nothing happened.
Keiko kept her copy of the Paint Club registration form in her vest pocket. She’d signed up to the club out of fear Mr. Naoki might expose her for taking the file. She was sure he saw her. He must have kept quiet to get her to join his club.
She’d heard clubs were competitive around here. They encouraged students to join one or even create their own. She had thought about joining the culinary club, but with her current responsibilities, she could barely commit to coming to class on time, much less take on extracurricular activities.
She eyed Shiro. He was looking through his phone messages during Tetsuya’s lecture.
Well, look at you go. Are you a rebel now, Shiro?
He wasn’t the Shiro she knew anymore. The one who cried when others picked on him. Or needed her to hold his hand just to walk to class. Keiko didn’t know him at all anymore. At least not what he’s pretending to be. Shiro was still in there somewhere. She would go to the Paint Club meeting today and find out.
X X X
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Hana gripped her pencil bag, looking around the clubroom. She had never been to a creative club before. She had to remind herself that she was just here to oversee the collaboration between the paint club and the gardening club. She had no obligation to complete Paint Club tasks, but she would feel bad for not complying like everyone else.
“Ishimoto, you're here!” Makoto pulled Hana to the podium, where another student was taking notes.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Hamada.” Hana bowed. She turned to the person sitting beside them. “Good afternoon.”
The girl continued to write something on a notepad. Makoto grabbed a nearby clipboard and swung it at the student’s head.
“She said, good afternoon, Kaori!” Makoto tossed the clipboard on the girl’s lap.
“S-sorry! I-I’m Kaori Watanabe, The Paint Clubs Vice President.” The girl stood up from her chair and bowed apologetically. “I’ve been informed of the circumstances behind your enrollment so, no registration is needed. I hope you enjoy your visit. Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions.”
“N-no worries. I apologize for interrupting you. I-it’s my fault!” Hana felt guilty.
“P-please, don’t worry yourself, really it — “
“Alright, that’s enough now.” Makoto separated the two girls. “Geez, you two were cut from the same cloth.”
There was laughter coming from behind her, and Hana noticed the other four students. She hadn’t noticed them come in. She panicked as she looked around the room, searching for the familiar nest of brown hair and burgundy glasses. Lucky for her, Shiro was not there to see her embarrassing display.
Hana breathed a sigh of relief and took a seat near the front of the room.
“We can start the meeting in another five minutes while we wait for the rest of our clubmates. Mr. Naoki has informed me of a new recruit joining us today.” Makoto grinned proudly.
“We are getting a new member?” Shiro walked in during Makoto’s speech, resting his bag on the desk near Hana’s.
“That’s right.” Makoto gave him a thumbs up. “As you know, clubs can be competitive. With our newest member, that makes us a club of eight. So let’s give them a warm welcome and make sure they stick around, whoever they are.”
After some cheering, the club settled down and Shiro took his seat next to Hana and pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“H-hello, Ishida,” Hana said with a smile.
The boy’s eyes didn’t leave his phone. He didn’t acknowledge her at all.
“Umm… Hi, Ishida.” She repeated. Still no response.
She clasped her hands together under her desk. She forced her eyes down, not wanting to further embarrass herself.
I must have offended him. She scanned her memory for an interaction that would have upset him.
Hana’s hands came to her mouth. He told me not to call him Ishida. I ignored his wishes. Stupid girl! You can’t do anything right.
Hana felt a lump in her throat as the panic set in. Should I apologize? She squeezed her eyes shut. What do I do?
She heard the sound of a tin case being placed on the table. To her surprise, Shiro moved his desk closer to hers and placed a set of watercolor paints between them.
“You don’t have paints, right? Here, we can share mine.”
Before Hana could say anything, the door was thrown open. Hana saw a flash of red in her peripheral vision.
Shiro sank deeper into his chair and covered his face. Hana turned toward the front of the class and saw her. It was the girl she’d met at the library last week.
“What are you doing here?” yelled Makoto. “This room is for the Paint Club members; you need to leave.”
“Is that how you speak to all your club members?”
“You are not in this club. You probably can’t even paint!” Makoto huffed.
"What was that about being cut from the same cloth?” A boy joked. There was a rumble of laughter in the room that quickly subsided when Makoto glared at him.
The redhead waved a sheet of paper in front of Makoto’s face and Makoto snapped her fingers. Kaori rushed over and took the paper from the girl’s hands.
“Looks like everything’s in order.” Kaori pulls another sheet from her clipboard. “Here is the material list for the semester. Find an empty seat, Miss Matsuda.”
“Matsuda? But that’s…” Hana whispered.
“Watercolor?” Keiko took a seat near the door, far from the other club members.
“Is that a problem?” Makoto put her hands on her hips.
“Not at all,” replied Keiko. “Just a little… boring,” she said under her breath.
Hana could see Makoto’s distress and looked over at Kaori, pleading with her eyes.
“Right,” Kaori cleared her throat and taped something to the blackboard, “Now that everyone has arrived. Let us move on to the first order of business. The gardening club is in need of a promotional poster. Ishimoto, if you please,” Kaori called for Hana to come forward.
Makoto moved aside from the podium to make room for her. The Club Presi