THE SHORT QUIZ ended without incident. The results were announced the very next day. Class D had previously sat all its exams while lacking any kind of cohesion, but we were so united this time that it felt almost too good to be true.
Putting aside the pairing system, having to create test questions, and the competition that was to come, the simplicity of these rules was a real godsend. It was simple now: take the test, achieve the necessary grade. We’d been doing the same thing over and over during the nine or so years we’d been in school anyway.
“The best part is that it looks like I didn’t need to get involved,” I muttered. I really was grateful for that.
“Well, I will now announce the pairings for the final exam,” said Chabashira-sensei.
The short quiz’s results were as follows: Horikita Suzune and Sudou Ken, Hirata Yousuke and Yamauchi Haruki, Kushida Kikyou and Ike Kanji, Yukimura Teruhiko and Inogashira Kokoro.
The pairs were almost perfectly in line with what we’d predicted. My partner was…Satou Maya.
“God really does have a bad sense of humor.”
How had it ended up like this? I couldn’t help but wonder. Satou noticed that she was paired with me, and looked in my direction with a smile. I raised my hand to let her know I’d noticed, too.
“It looks like Kouenji-kun acted just as we hoped he would this time.”
Kouenji was partners with Okiya. It seemed he’d gotten a sufficiently high score. Well, he’d scored highly on every test thus far, so it was more like business as usual. Kouenji crossed his arms, grinned, and let out a laugh.
“The results indicate that some among you understood this short quiz’s purpose,” said Chabashira-sensei, sounding quite impressed as she glanced over the list of partners. “Students were to be paired based on the difference in points, with the highest scorer partnered with the lowest, and so on. If students had the same scores, the pairings would have been determined at random. It’s probably not necessary for me to explain the system, but I thought I would anyway.”
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but knowing that we’d been right on the money was a relief. “There don’t appear to be any blatant problems with the pairings,” I said to Horikita.
“Yeah. Everything’s been going so smoothly it’s almost scary. But the real challenge starts now. How will we come up with our exam questions, and how will we overcome the final? You’re paired up with Satou-san. You should be fine.”
I hadn’t intentionally chosen Satou or anything like that, but those of us with middling scores had muddied the strategy a little. That was just statistics at work, and in a way, it was kind of convenient. Still, I wasn’t entirely safe—she might fail the exam. I needed to keep my scores high from this point onward.
“I’ll hold study groups until the final exam to raise our class’s average scores,” Horikita said. “If Hirata-kun and Kushida-san agree, I’d like to hold two study sessions per day. There will be a two-hour session beginning at 4 p.m., right after classes end, until 6 p.m. The other two-hour session will be held from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. We’ll each lead a session in turn. I’ll be counting on you, Hirata-kun,” said Horikita.
“Because of my club activities, I’ll take the second study group. Let’s all work together and do our best,” Hirata replied.
Things were certainly moving forward. More people could tutor the study group now, so we were able to utilize this kind of strategy.
Horikita and Hirata discussed the study sessions’ format until they nailed down the finer details. Horikita would handle the first session, while Hirata volunteered to take the second. That way, they could support the entire study group and provide guidance to the more anxious students at the same time. Kushida would attend both sessions and adopt a unique role, tutoring the students who were worried about whether they could reach fifty points.
There were quite a few girls who scored around this middle range, including Onodera and Ichihashi. That being said, this plan wasn’t free of problems. Compared to the first-semester study group, significantly more students wanted a tutor, and only three could handle being tutors. Naturally, the more students there were per teacher, the lower the quality of instruction would be. When lunch came, Horikita met with Hirata and Sudou.
“Dang it! Suzune’s not leading the second group? There goes my motivation, man.” Sudou couldn’t attend the first session due to his club activities, and was clearly unhappy to miss Horikita. Then again, the old Sudou probably would’ve lashed out by now.
“No matter who’s teaching, it’ll bother me if you don’t try. Okay?” said Horikita.
“Okay. We’re a team, after all,” he replied. Horikita had excellent control over the untamed stallion that was Sudou. Bravo.
“Your efforts reflect on me,” she added. “I’d appreciate it if you understand that. Besides, I’ll try to make appearances at the evening sessions as often as I can.”
Horikita laid out the finishing touches to her request, raising Sudou’s motivation sky-high.
“Yeah! All right, I’m ready for this! I’m countin’ on you, Hirata.”
“Likewise. Let’s do our best together, Sudou-kun.”
Now that he was partnered up with Horikita, he was really fired up. Just then, however, an interloper came onto the scene.
“Excuse me, may I talk to you?” Miyake Akito asked, approaching Horikita. I hadn’t ever really spoken to him before. He looked apologetic.
“What’s the matter, Miyake-kun?” asked Horikita.
Miyake was with Hasebe, a beautiful girl who was a frequent topic of discussion amongst the boys. These two normally kept quiet and rarely interacted with anyone. It was unexpected for them to approach Horikita.
“Wait, you two are paired together for the final exam, right?” asked Hirata, creating an opening for conversation.
“Well, yes. We’re partners, but we’re equally good and bad at all the same subjects. We’re a little nervous about how we’ll perform in the final, so we wanted to ask for your advice.”
Miyake handed Hirata their completed answer sheets for both the short test and the midterm. Their scores on the short test stood in stark contrast, with Miyake getting seventy-nine points and Hasebe getting one point, as intended. This was the product of Horikita’s plan to pair the high and low scorers together. However, their midterm scores were sixty-five and sixty-three, respectively. There was almost no difference in academic ability between them. They were both exceptionally average, but they’d still been split between the upper and lower groups.
At first glance, it looked as though they could probably score high enough to pass the final, but there was a problem. Miyake and Hasebe got the exact same kinds of questions wrong. They were equally bad at all the same subjects. To pass, they needed a score of at least sixty points for every subject. This would be a perilous bridge to cross.
“I see,” said Hirata. “This is a little unexpected. Let’s make sure to check the other pairs later.”
“I’m sorry to bother you, Hirata, really,” replied Miyake. “I’m always causing trouble for you, between the cruise ship and the sports festival.”
That made me think back to the sports festival. I could only vaguely recall the situation at this point, but Miyake withdrew from the final relay because he hurt his leg. It looked like he moved without any problems now, so his injury must have completely healed.
“Please, don’t apologize,” said Hirata. “If I had trouble, I’m sure you’d do the same for me.”
The answers that Miyake and Hasebe got right and wrong on their sheets were extraordinarily similar. In fact, they were so similar you might think the same person took both tests. Even if it was possible for someone to adjust their scores, not every matchup would be perfect. Having an irregular pair like this was unavoidable.
“This is really unfortunate,” added Miyake. “I don’t want to complicate your plans or mess up the study groups.”
You could tell that the two were by no means unintelligent. They were different from Sudou and the rest, who struggled with studying. The problem was that these two were too similar. Because of that, group tutoring was going to be insufficient. One-on-one tutoring was necessary.
“Kushida-san, could I ask you to take on additional students? These two should have a pretty strong foundation that won’t bring down the group’s overall cohesion,” said Horikita.
“Sure,” replied Kushida. “If you’re all right with that, Miyake-kun and Hasebe-san, I’ll do it.”
Miyake didn’t appear to accept or reject Kushida’s offer, but Hasebe spoke up. “I’m going to pass, I think. I don’t get along too well with Ichihashi-san and the others.” Fortunately, Ichihashi and the other girls weren’t in the classroom and didn’t hear that remark. “Besides, I’m not really good at studying in a group with a lot of people.”
It seemed Miyake was the one who had wanted to come to Hirata for help, while Hasebe hadn’t been too keen on it. I’d thought it would be the other way around.
“But the two of you have trouble with the same subjects. If you take the final exam as is, even if you clear the overall score requirement, you might score under sixty points somewhere,” Horikita said.
“Yeah, I know,” replied Hasebe. She averted her eyes from Horikita and started walking away.
“Where are you going?”
“Miyacchi, I’m sorry to have wasted your time, but I guess this just isn’t the right fit for me,” said Hasebe. With that, she left the classroom.
“Sorry, Horikita,” Miyake muttered.
“I don’t mind. Well, even if it’s just you, would you mind studying with Kushida-san?” asked Horikita. If Miyake improved his weakest subjects, he could effectively cover for Hasebe, too.
“I’ll pass. I don’t really feel like I could study with a group of just girls. I’ll try and do it on my own,” he replied. He got up, grabbed his bag, and left.
Horikita couldn’t force anyone to study. If a student didn’t participate of their own free will, it would be nearly impossible to get any results. It would probably lower the serious students’ morale to boot.
“What now?” asked Hirata. “I think we should follow up with those two.”
“Yeah. If only we had another tutor,” said Horikita.
She glanced at me, so with my own eyes, I sent her a message saying “absolutely not.” Putting aside whether I could even do the tutoring, I wasn’t sure I could communicate with Miyake and Hasebe. Well, at least they would disregard my existence after this point.
“I’ll see if I can make time,” Horikita muttered. After giving it some thought, she’d concluded that she just had to take it upon herself.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’ll overwork yourself. If you do that, you won’t be an effective tutor. Besides, Horikita-san, you also have to create Class C’s test problems,” said Hirata.
“But what other choice do I have?”
She’d responded bluntly under the assumption that there was no one else for the job. While Hirata could advise her not to, he couldn’t force her. Evidently, Horikita would take on Miyake and Hasebe, and that would be that.
“In that case, I’ll take care of tutoring them,” said Yukimura, inserting himself casually into our conversation.
“We’d be glad to have you aboard, Yukimura-kun. You’re diligent and academically gifted. But are you all right with this? I thought you didn’t really like this kind of thing?”
“If I don’t help out where I can, we won’t be able to pass the test,” Yukimura said. “Same goes for you, Horikita. You can’t do everything yourself.”
Yukimura might’ve chosen to intervene because he’d seen Horikita change since the sports festival.
“There’s just one problem. I can teach Miyake and Hasebe how to study, but I’m not friendly with them. After seeing what happened here earlier, I get the feeling that talking to them will be tricky. I was hoping you could do the work of convincing them to study with me.”
So, he had a condition. Well, it was a small price to pay, under the circumstances. Horikita was overjoyed. Yukimura was like the cavalry in a movie—the sort who arrives in the nick of time, charging over the hill to save the cornered protagonists.
“Got it. I’ll think of something,” Horikita promised. Yukimura left the classroom, and she turned to me. “Is it okay to be optimistic for now?”
“Not necessarily. Think about it: you don’t know how to talk to those two, either,” I told her.
“Hirata-kun, do you think Miyake and Hasebe will listen to Yukimura-kun?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. All three of them are loners,” said Hirata. “It’ll all come down to whether they can see eye to eye with Yukimura. It might make them a little anxious.”
Horikita turned to me after a moment of thought. “Hey, Ayanokouji-kun. Would you manage Yukimura-kun and the others?”
“You were Yukimura-kun’s roommate on the cruise ship, so I thought you might have broken the ice with him. Miyake-kun and Hasebe-san could be difficult, but with you as the middleman, I think it’ll be easier for us to communicate with them,” said Horikita.
Well, it was probably as good a plan as we had. No one else here would be able to act as the go-between for Horikita. Still, why me? I’d been happy not getting involved for once.
“You don’t seem pleased with this. Are you unwilling to cooperate with me? All you need to do is help corral them into studying with Yukimura. I didn’t say I wanted you to teach them.” Although that was true, just managing Miyake and Hasebe likely wouldn’t be an easy task. “Can I count on you?” Horikita asked.
Her request was morphing into a threat. All I could do was nod. If I accepted, she could save face, and the plan was pretty low risk. I just didn’t want to have to do anything truly exhausting, like tutoring or preparing test questions.
“I’ll do what I can.” I sighed, but made sure that Horikita didn’t notice.