Chapter 15: Himari’s Battle
It was dark. Everywhere she turned around was black. She could call out any word and it’ll echo back at her and fade away over time. How long has it been since she’s been stuck in this place? It felt like eons passed by and all she had done was walk around and end up in a familiar setting. She could’ve been anywhere else, doing anything else, but she just had to somehow be trapped in this never ending abyss.
Forget the fact that the setting was confusing, it was creepy as well! Even if she didn’t make a single peep, she would still hear faint voices. And everytime they appeared, she would chase after the source frantically only to run in circles, returning empty-handed; her progress of escaping remained stagnant. Exactly how much time had passed? Without knowing when, she got used to everything, and sprawled out on the dark floor. Her white dress also fell and created the image of large flower petals surrounding her. Her bare feet felt the cold floor then shrank back, retreating back to her side.
Then after a while her eyes drew to a close. Surprisingly, it was comfortable. Compared to reality, she didn’t have to worry about completing work and making sure things were turned in on time, nor did she have to carry the burdens that suppressed her daily. Not having to care about anything…was actually a nice and unfamiliar feeling.
‘But…it’s too quiet.’
With a silent gasp, and large eyes, she knew she messed up somewhere. The answers on her sheet weren't right! Well, this was a surprise. It wasn’t everyday that she would see herself slip up and make a wrong turn to land herself with incorrect answers. However, it wasn’t the right time to start pondering about the last time she messed up.
She quickly propped her elbow on the side of the desk, then raised a hand to her head, pulling her hair as a curtain to cover her paper. After making sure that he wasn’t sparing any glances at her, she quickly erased everything and redid the problems. This time—after many corrections and confirmations—the results were all correct.
Thankfully, everyone else had their noses stuck in their textbooks and was still left behind in her dust. She berated herself for quite a while inside her head. How could she make such a major mistake? It was such a simple problem as well. Just what she was thinking about?
Well…romance certainly played a huge role in her life. It has driven her crazy and off track. Just knowing that Tsukasa was sitting next to her already got her on her toes. She had to stifle yawns, and nail her neck so that her head faced the direction of the board without falling in the slightest. It was difficult to accurately portray the perfect image of a top student, but she put more effort into it than any other day. Her posture was poised, perfect, elegant, and stunning to the point where the teachers would walk in and see a halo above her head and rub their eyes.
But that attitude ended shortly.
Within five minutes, her dignified stance broke down and she grumbled under the amount of work that was placed in front of her. How could she survive one more second without Natsumi?
‘I’m dying under a mountain of work!’ She cried. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. How could she slack off in front of her crush?! If Natsumi was here, she would cover for her instantly, without a second of contemplation. But now, what was left to cover? It’d be strange that he hadn’t realized her struggles by now, especially since there were times where she exhaled loudly with exasperation, attracting all eyes in the room.
Just how much of her dignity remained?
In fact, it would’ve been better if Natsumi was present. It would just be like any other day, and she could do whatever she wanted without fear of judgment. But now she was walking on thin ice with her romance life on the line! She was pretty confident that she failed and left a bad impression upon him.
The bell rang loudly, and she was wiped out. Under that much stress, how could anyone relax?
‘Maybe I overreacted too much,’ she thought. Since Yuu was occupied and was playing the role of a nurse, lunch was not prepared these last few days. Unexpectedly, the number of days that Yuu and Natsumi were absent was the amount of days that Tsukasa sat next to her. The teachers never noticed it either, nor did anyone dare snitch. It could be that he pitied her and felt sympathy, but he would offer her candy every morning and chat with her until class started. If this was a dream, she wished she would forever drown in those moments and never open her eyes.
“Aikawa?” He turned to her, unwrapping his bento. “Do you not have lunch again?”
“Haha…yeah,” she replied and flashed a smile. “But it’s fine! I’ll just go to the cafeteria again…huh?”
Her wallet was empty. Vacant. Nothing. Her eyes popped out of her skull, her hands dug through every inch of the wallet to find that there was truly no money! Not even a single cent!!
She jolted and snapped her wallet shut. “N-nothing! Don’t worry about it, Tsukasa-kun. I-I’ll be heading to the cafeteria now to…to get something!”
Before he could say anything more, she escaped hurriedly, with only one thought in mind. She had to reach Sora! Ducking behind a wall, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed his number. It didn’t even take a few buzzes for him to reject the call.
“This–!” She was offended beyond words. “What–? H-how could he?!”
He tapped her shoulder, leaning against the window railing. “Aikawa?”
Her life flashed before her eyes and her phone was thrown into the air. He caught it just in time as she jumped up in fright. “T-Tsukasa-kun? W-what are you doing here?”
“That’s what I should be asking you. I thought you went to the cafeteria, so why are you hiding here?”
Just a glance at her face, one could deduce what happened. He cleared his throat and handed her the phone. “Truthfully, I was looking for you.”
“Y-yeah…I packed too much for lunch today and I thought that I’d share some with you.” He smiled. “O-oh, but I only thought of it because I really only know you. If you don’t mind…?”
How could she say no when he asked her so gently? She nodded without even knowing, enchanted. “O-of course! Sure! My pleasure!”
“Then…let’s head back.” Tsukasa reached for her hand. She froze at the gesture but carefully clamped her hand on his and was pulled through the window and into the hallway. They walked back to the classroom, their hands still clasped together, having no signs of breaking apart until they sat down. Tsukasa, belatedly realizing this, quickly released her with an apology. “S-sorry, I didn’t realize that I was still holding onto you.”
“N-no it’s fine!” She said, bashfully. Both of their faces flushed then they regained their senses and corrected their composure. “Thank you for the food!”
It hasn’t been long since she was rejected so casually. The memory was a blur, but the meaning was simple and harsh. She had no chance; it was futile to pursue such a hopeless love. But she couldn’t restrain her heart from pounding for him. Perhaps the days that he was gone was a blessing—an opportunity to forget such a person. But she could still taste the bitterness and the embarrassment she endured that day! How humiliating! She suddenly became a laughingstock to them!
Fortunately, the matter was not circulated and she was saved from shame.
The more she focused on the subject, the more she thought that they were silently warning her. Just like plucking a poisoned seed before it could blossom into a toxic flower. It couldn’t possibly be that they somehow found out about her deed! She left no traces behind…unless they were tipped? But who could’ve seen her place such an object?
‘I was so sure that there was no one around!’ Contemplating on the matter was no use. Why did it matter anyway? It was best to just give up. ‘But I still can’t forgive them! Such a nasty method!’
As if inviting her and crushing her hopes wasn’t enough. They just had to blatantly point out that her efforts will never pay off and act innocent.
However at that moment, she bumped into someone that she least desired to see.
She raised her head and her brows twitched. But considering her reputation, she had no choice but to flash a polite smile. “Aikawa-san, it’s been a while.”
Those words were clearly said through gritted teeth but she ignored the reluctance behind them and grinned. “Really? We’ve always been in the same class though?”
“True, but we don’t talk much during school though?”
They exchanged smiles. “Well, what are you up to, Aoko-san? Is the student council busy lately?”
“Yes, the cultural festival is coming up after all,” she replied with a sigh. “It would be nice to have a more productive team, pity that you rejected our offer to join the council.”
“Oh, no!” Himari waved her hand dismissively. “I wouldn’t dare dream of it. After all, aren’t the student council members extraordinary people? They’re practically in the position of a saint! I don’t enjoy that type of particular work. I’m a very bad person after all.”
Her smile faltered and her curved lips twitched. “...not at all! Many people say Aikawa-san is like a delicate angel who descended from the sky, blessing everyone with luck and boosting their morale. So how could you be a bad person?”
After roughly translating her words into sharp knives that are carved into: “ Angel? What a laugh! They don’t know how evil you are!”, Himari chuckled lightly.
“Please, you’re flattering me! If anything, people just don’t know how kind you are!”
She didn’t even need to think twice to know she definitely knew what she had done. “...you—”
Her words were cut short. Boisterous calls rang throughout the street and loud stomps headed their way. From the sound of the steps, they could tell that the owners of those feet were rowdy and no good. But who would’ve thought that they had to be dragged into trouble?
“Hey! Isn’t that Aoko?”
“You’re right!” Another person said. A raucous party entered. They circled around the two girls like wolves cornering prey.
“Aoko, it’s been a while hasn’t it?” Snide chuckles spread through the group of boys. “How have you been faring? Did you miss us?”
It was obvious that such a vulgar person was the leader of the whole gang. The other boys only encouraged his words and boosted his ego as he continued to spit out words of familiarity.
Aoko-san remained silent while Himari scrutinized the newcomers with detest.
“Oh? And who is this beauty?” They began to walk around Himari, examining her to their own leisure like she was a statue. One of them reached out to touch her hair but before they could even feel the tips, a fast blur knocked his hand away. Only she heard the tiny ‘clack’s’ that followed after the attack, like a small object was thrown. “Feisty!”
“Aoko, are you that happy to see us that you’re stunned speechless?” Laughter bursted and they took turns touching her and even pushing her around. She remained silent and allowed herself to be tossed around like a lifeless toy.
No matter how much grudge Himari had against her, she knew clearly that bullying a girl in such a method was wrong. Bullying girls using any method was wrong! It did seem hypocritical to her to save an enemy, but she couldn’t help but feel sympathy. Especially since those boys were just absolutely disgusting.
“Aoko-san, didn’t we have to go to the library?” Himari spoke up, and grabbed the other’s wrist tightly.
“Hey, where are you trying to run away to?” The leader said fiercely, and slapped Himari’s hand away. “We aren’t done talking to her yet.”
“Why should she even bother talking to slugs like you?” She sneered. That pricked them and they directed their full attention to her instead. She continued to raise her head high and rolled her hands into fists. “Besides, why are you targeting her? If she did anything wrong to you all before I bet you deserved it. If anything, it would’ve been better if she tried to wipe you all off the Earth. Such ugly people like you—as if having terrible looks wasn’t bad enough, you just had to be born with nasty personalities as well. It really suits you.”
That was the last straw. They had listened to her insults with faces about to burst. She was seized by her neck and slammed against the brick wall with such force! Ringing echoed throughout her head but she gritted her teeth and bit back her yell.
“You’re just a girl! Who do you think you are, talking to us like that?”
“Yeah! Shouldn’t you stay silent and stay in the kitchen?”
“What? Did I say anything wrong?” She mustered out a laugh and the most despiteful look she had. “Oh wait! I didn’t! Instead I missed something. Not only are you all ugly inside and out, you can’t get any girls I bet! Ha! Truly—ack!”
The leader of the pack didn’t hesitate to throw her against the wall again. Such display of viciousness, and on a girl at that! Veins popped from his forehead and he snarled at her while the rest of the boys copied him. They cracked their knuckles and cocked their heads with glares. She could slowly feel her feet leaving the ground and the hand wrapped around her neck growing tighter and tighter. Her piercing stare never left her face as her feet dangled and kicked. Her hands wrapped themselves around his arm, pushing him to put more force in his attack.
“Come…on…why don’t you…kill me…huh?” She bared her teeth, provoking him even more. “You…wimp! Ha…! A fool…can’t even…beat…a girl…ack! Agh!”
“Oh. I’ll. Give. You. What. You. Wished. For!” The pressure around her neck increased and she couldn’t help but dig her nails into his arm. He winced, but such an insult from a girl made him rage.
“Stop it.” A cool voice said.
“Huh?” He jeered at the sight of her menacing glare. His grip around her neck never loosened. “Or what? What can you do? Don’t forget, if it wasn’t for us, you would be dead already! So just shut up and lick our shoes like you’ve always done!”
“I said, stop it.” Aoko-san repeated, asserting more dominance. With a loud crack! He fell onto the floor, howling in pain, hugging his arm. Cold sweat rolled down his face and his eyes bulged. A ugly patch of red started to form in the middle of his arm. Or what appeared to be his arm.
His friends surrounded him with panic and terror. It all happened in an instant. Himari didn’t know whether to be startled or relieved that her neck was released.
“We need to get you treated, quick!”
“You…bastard! You…pretended…agh!...to be weak!” He yelled, biting down hard on his teeth. Cold eyes met his murderous ones and he was silenced with just one sweep.
“Scram,” she commanded. They froze, then rage broke out on their faces.
“How dare you tell us to scram!”
“Who do you think you are?!”
But those protests were quickly drowned out after seeing the miserable state their leader was in. They had no choice but to leave after declaring that they wouldn’t let such an incident slide without a rematch.
After seeing their retreating backs disappear, she turned to face Himari who knelt on the ground, gasping for air and coughing. “You…nevermind.”
She coughed then patted her chest lightly. “...Aoko-san, just who were those people?”
“Do you have any right to dig into my personal life?”
She couldn’t help but laugh weakly. “Well…if that’s how it is I won’t ask anymore.”
“...Shouldn’t you thank me for saving you?”
Himari gave her a weird look. “Thank you? Shouldn’t you be thanking me for trying to get you out of the situation?”
They both fell silent and began a stubborn match of death stare. It was a while until they snapped out of it, a draw, and Himari stood up and dusted herself off.
Before she walked away, she looked over her shoulder slightly and said, “Well, just so you know, you aren’t that bad of a person, Aoko-san.”
She scoffed at the unexpected words. “Same could be said to you.”