AFTER I SEPARATED from the other three members of the group and returned to my dorm, I immediately contacted Horikita for instructions. I told her all about what Yukimura had said.
“This is good. We’ll definitely want to test the school,” she said. “Hirata and I are already making progress coming up with questions to use against Class C, but I’d like to know just how far we can go. I’ll be sure to fill you in. I’m glad that everything seems to be going well, but are we really sure that Kaneda-kun will be the person in Class C creating questions?”
“There’s no way to be sure,” I replied. “But trying to anticipate the kinds of questions Kaneda would come up with is certainly one way we can handle these study sessions. It’s not the worst, right?”
“I suppose. If we imagine that this test will be full of difficult questions, we might need to try to get eighty or ninety points,” said Horikita.
If this exam ended up being far more difficult than anything the school itself would have created, there would probably be a limit to how many points we could get.
“By the way, how did the study group go, if you don’t mind my asking?”
There really wasn’t any reason for me to hide it, so I filled her in, though I did exaggerate a little. I tried to make it sound as though I’d managed to make friends. Horikita didn’t touch on that subject at all. She only cared about Hasebe and Miyake’s academic abilities.
“I doubt they’re doing it on purpose, but it’s quite the coincidence,” she mused.
It wasn’t unusual for people’s strengths and weaknesses to overlap, but this degree of similarity was uncanny.
“I know, right? For the time being, I’ll see what I can do. They seem easy enough to supervise, anyway,” I said.
“Thank you. Also, there’s one more thing. On the days when Yukimura-kun’s study group doesn’t meet, would you please come to mine?”
“That’s not what we agreed.”
“It’s still within our terms. You don’t have to tutor. I just want you to manage everyone,” Horikita replied.
The word “manage” was vague, so vague that I had absolutely no clue what she meant. I understood it as much as I understood the expression “more than friends, less than lovers.” Which was to say, not at all.
“What do you mean, ‘manage’?” I asked.
She sighed heavily.
“Too many people need tutoring, compared to the number who can teach. I can’t keep my eye on everyone, no matter how hard I try. I’d like you to make sure everybody studies properly,” said Horikita.
“The teachers manage to teach dozens of students all by themselves, right?”
“At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, it’s not as though even our teachers can watch everyone by themselves. That’s why you have some students, like Ike-kun, who fall behind. It’d happen regardless of whether we have surveillance cameras—which we do. Even if they fool the teacher into thinking they understood, in the end, they struggle to keep up,” said Horikita.
I’d thought my argument was swift and decisive, but she had managed to topple it in one fell swoop.
“Yukimura-kun isn’t accustomed to tutoring, and I’m having trouble with the sheer number of people I have to teach. Ike-kun and Yamauchi-kun are especially problematic. They have shorter attention spans than a kindergartener.”
Ike and Yamauchi were attending the study sessions, but they were apparently just goofing off and doing whatever they wanted.
“It’s okay if I don’t go to the night sessions, right?”
“That’s fine. The nighttime study sessions are significantly better than the daytime ones, anyway, though some of the girls in that group can be troublesome,” said Horikita.
I guessed that some girls only showed up at the sessions to be around Hirata and didn’t mind that Karuizawa was there. I didn’t see the harm in those girls chatting with a hot guy like him. Surely it wouldn’t be so bad if the ladies’ man controlled by Karuizawa happened to become more popular in Class D. Regardless, that had to be an interesting dynamic.
I realized that Horikita didn’t mention Sudou among those causing issues. “Has Sudou been behaving?”
“Yes. He’s taking this seriously, though he still hasn’t reached junior high level yet.”
Subjects aside, it seemed as though he was really trying his best to improve his attitude.
“I’m counting on you.” I still didn’t have a good feeling about this. “Oh, yeah. While we’re on the subject of the study groups, what about Kushida?”
“What do you mean?”
“Has nothing changed with her?”
“Of course not. I do think that she’ll help. She also promised to attend the study sessions every day,” said Horikita.
That wasn’t quite what I was asking. But I supposed that, as far as Horikita was concerned, there wasn’t much to worry over. After all, it was just the very first day of the study sessions. There wasn’t much opportunity for her to investigate further. From my point of view, though, we simply couldn’t kick back and casually watch this problem develop.
“Have you started creating test questions?”
“Of course I have. Mine, Hirata-kun’s, and Yukimura-kun’s will form the fundamental basis. I wanted more people to help, but the more classmates I involve, the greater the risk that the problems will leak to Class C,” said Horikita.
She was exactly right. The questions and the accompanying answers were the key components of Class D’s defense. Even if we tried our hardest to study and come up with a way to attack, we wouldn’t stand a chance if Class C conquered those. We can’t allow our test questions to leak, by any means. We also needed to consider that we might run into someone snooping for information.
“It’d certainly be difficult to rule out any possibility of leaks if we factored in Kushida. Wait, aren’t you and her both participating in the evening study sessions? I mean, it’d be hard for you to discuss things with Hirata if you didn’t.”
“Yes, you’re right. She can’t just act freely, however. As long as we don’t ask for her help with the test questions, it should be okay.”
This chat about Kushida and what she might do next was pure speculation on both our parts. “Our test questions and answers are Class D’s lifeline. If that information leaks, we’re doomed,” I said.
Setting her desire to make an ally out of Kushida aside, she needed to focus on the topic of leaks. We couldn’t just ignore the potential dangers.
“I’ll keep things locked down. But that alone won’t solve the issue, will it?”
“I’m not worried about the ‘creating questions’ part. If anything, I fear what comes after we submit them to the school. If you give the final questions and answers to Chabashira-sensei the day before the test, then they’ll be out there, ready to be stolen,” I told Horikita.
Kushida had employed a similar tactic with the participation table during the sports festival. It was more than likely that Ryuuen would make a similar request of her again.
“So, the only way we can deal with this is by talking it out with Kushida,” said Horikita.
“But what do we do if she leaks our questions to Class C?” I countered.
“I don’t want to think about it,” she said.
“You have to. This is about all of Class D. No matter how much we study or improve, if our opponents get a hundred points across the board, we have no hope of winning,” I told her. If Class C memorized all our answers, defeat was certain.
“I see what you’re saying, and I understand your anxiety. But I’m dealing with it. It’s already past ten o’clock. I’d like to come up with at least one more question before I go to bed, so is it okay if we stop here?”
I agreed, and she hung up. My phone’s battery was low, so I plugged it in to the outlet on my bedframe to charge.
We were now facing an ordeal like that of the sports festival. Just like our participation table, the questions we’d craft for the final exam were our lifeline. Surely Ryuuen and Kushida would come up with two different strategies this time around.
Horikita said she was working on countermeasures, but I didn’t know how well they’d go. I wasn’t criticizing her strategy to persuade Kushida directly, but rather, didn’t have much to say about it. If I had to bring Kushida over to my side, I’d threaten her like Karuizawa. No—I’d probably need to do something far worse to make Kushida surrender to me. However, I didn’t know the details of Kushida’s past, and she might not fold under pressure.
“What should I do?” I muttered.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a solution. Then, I received an email from Ryuuen.
After the sports festival, I’d asked Manabe and her friends for Ryuuen’s email address and sent him a message. I hadn’t received a response until now.
What are you?
That was the entire message.
“Another meaningless email…”
I wasn’t nice enough to answer him, and besides, he couldn’t trace my email. It was a dummy account. He should’ve known that, so I figured he was playing games.
I decided to go to sleep.