“THAT REMINDS ME. There’s a guy named Yoshimoto-kun in Class C, right? Do you know him, Miyacchi?”
“Yoshimoto Kousetsu? Yeah, he’s in the archery club.”
“Yeah, yeah. That guy. I heard that he started going out with a second-year. You know about that?” Hasebe, tired of studying, started to gossip.
“Nope. But, come to think of it, he’s been in a real hurry to leave as soon as club ends lately. That must be why.”
If you were an adult in your thirties, an age difference of a year or two didn’t matter much. For high school students, though, trying to date someone even one grade above you was tricky. At least, I was fairly sure that was how things worked. I was still a budding teen myself, after all.
“It seems as if Yoshimoto-kun’s really into it. He said they’re going to get married someday. Jeez, guys are morons, aren’t they?” Hasebe and Miyake’s conversation completely derailed their focus.
“Talk about the future later, no matter who’s dating whom. First, get your work done,” said Yukimura.
“I know, I know. We’re just taking a short break,” said Hasebe. She didn’t seem to care what Yukimura said.
“Yes. Very short.”
“Wow, okay, I feel those sarcastic vibes. I’m gonna get a refill.”
“You’re having even more sugar? Your coffee’s so ridiculously sweet, I’m shocked you can drink it,” said Miyake.
“Well, I struggle to understand why anyone would drink their coffee black.” Hasebe started to get up, but stumbled slightly over the backpack she’d placed at her feet. “Whoa!”
She dropped her empty cup. My eyes followed it as it rolled along the ground, until it stopped rolling by a particular student’s feet.
“Ah, sorr—” Hasebe started to apologize. However, the student’s foot crushed the cup.
“My, you seem to be enjoying yourselves. Mind if we join?” asked Ryuuen.
“What are you…?” Steeling herself, Hasebe glared at the Class C guys. An understandable reaction. Ryuuen, the one who’d crushed the cup underfoot, had a smug grin on his face. Ishizaki, Komiya, and Kondou, the evergreen trio of goons, stood behind him.
There was also one girl with them whom we hadn’t seen before. She stood next to Ishizaki, and appeared extremely calm, her face devoid of emotion.
“Hey!” said Hasebe. “Why’d you stomp on my cup like that?”
“It rolled up to my feet, so I thought you were throwing it away. I stomped it to save you the trouble,” said Ryuuen.
He kicked the crushed cup back toward Hasebe, laughing. A little of the remaining liquid poured out of a hole in the side and splashed onto the ground.
Miyake slowly stood. “Hey, Ryuuen. I’ve been dying to say this: knock it off.”
“Oh? And whom exactly do you think you’re speaking to, buddy?” Ishizaki grabbed Miyake by his collar.
“I wasn’t talking to you. Lackeys should mind their own business, Ishizaki,” said Miyake, shaking off his grip.
“Bastard!” shouted Ishizaki, attracting other patrons’ attention.
Surprisingly, that outburst enraged Ryuuen most of all. “Shut up. Are you really trying to throw down, Ishizaki?”
“S-sorry. Miyake was getting full of himself, so I—”
“Reckless idiots amuse me, but I need you to behave yourself for now.”
Ryuuen was right to rein in Ishizaki. There weren’t just first-year students around here. Senior students, store clerks, and several surveillance cameras surrounded us. Nothing went unseen here, and if Class C started trouble, they would pay for it. Any testimonies from the onlookers or recordings would make sure of that.
“I have no business with you. I’m interested in those two,” said Ryuuen to Miyake, glancing at Yukimura and me. “Did you receive my gift?”
Naturally, Yukimura was bewildered. “What in the world are you talking about?”
Ryuuen looked to me. Without a doubt, the “gift” was the email he’d sent me the other day, the one that said, What are you?
“Who knows?” I feigned ignorance. Ryuuen’s methods were heavy-handed. I wouldn’t dig my own grave by answering his questions. Even if he tried to arouse suspicion, he couldn’t claim anything definite. No matter how far he tried to take this, it was shrouded in a degree of secrecy.
“So, how about it? Did you catch something, Hiyori?” Ryuuen glanced at the girl with him.
“‘How about it?’ I can’t say anything at this stage,” she replied.
A lot of the students working under Ryuuen were terrified of him, but this Hiyori was completely calm. She kept looking back and forth between Yukimura and me, though her eyes weren’t entirely focused. What in the world was Ryuuen planning?
“Both their faces are weak. I’ll probably forget them immediately,” she added.
“Heh heh, come now. These are our future friends, after all.”
“Yukimura-san, Ayanokouji-kun, Kouenji-kun. Who was the other guy?” she asked.
“It was Hirata.”
“Yes, that’s right. Hirata-san. Why are faces and names so hard to remember?” Hiyori was a complete mystery. I was concerned that Ishizaki was being this polite around her. I’d definitely seen her face before; she was in Class C.
“It looks like the only one you’ll remember is Kouenji.”
“Well, he’s unique,” she replied.
So, Ryuuen suspected Hirata and Kouenji as well. Though Kouenji was far from a team player, it was only natural that Ryuuen was cautious of his talent. That said, I had a hunch that Ryuuen would never consider Kouenji a suspect if he knew what a natural-born weirdo Kouenji really was.
“What the hell do you want, Ryuuen?” asked Miyake aggressively. “We’re busy. If you’ve got something to say, say it.”
“Nothing. I just came to say hello. But I’ll tell you something. We’ll be seeing you again real soon,” said Ryuuen.
“What does that mean?”
Ignoring Miyake, Ryuuen left with his lackeys in tow. At his departure, the café immediately grew lively again as everyone went back to their studies.
However, Hiyori remained, still watching us. We couldn’t concentrate under these circumstances.
Hasebe spoke up. “What is it? You’re getting in the way of our studies,” she grumbled.
“Just wait,” replied Hiyori.
“Huh? Look, I’m telling you that you’re distracting us, so just go away. Understand?” said Hasebe, in a bad mood now that Ryuuen had crushed her cup.
When Hasebe demanded that she leave, Hiyori responded with an odd smile. She grabbed her bag from the floor and walked over to the cash register.
“What was that about?” asked Hasebe.
“Who knows? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” said Yukimura.
Yukimura clearly couldn’t fathom Hiyori’s actions. After mulling it over, he’d decided to forego any conclusions and just ignore the matter entirely.
“That’s Shiina Hiyori from Class C. I’ve seen her before,” said Miyake.
Hiyori placed an order at the register, then returned with two cups.
“Please accept this,” she said.
“What are you up to?” asked Hasebe. “Why are you giving this to me?”
“It’s quite all right. You needn’t be so wary of me. I saw what happened, and it’s quite clear that Ryuuen-kun has gone too far. Please allow me to apologize on Class C’s behalf. I went ahead and took the liberty of adding some sugar. Do you mind?” said Hiyori.
“Adding some…hmm? Wow, this is tasty! It’s exactly the same as what I was just drinking!” exclaimed Hasebe.
“I noticed that a lot of sugar had collected at the bottom of the cup Ryuuen crushed, so I assumed that you liked your coffee sweet. I’m glad to see I wasn’t mistaken,” said Hiyori.
“It tastes like you put in the exact amount of sugar I did. Coincidence?” asked Hasebe.
“I used the amount of undissolved sugar to estimate how much you put in at first,” replied Hiyori.
“Huuuuh?! You can do that?!”
“I suppose it could come as a surprise. Despite how I may look, I’m actually quite perceptive.” Hiyori fixed her gaze on Yukimura, then me, and then Miyake. “You’re holding a study session, aren’t you?”
“Girls like you just totally sap my energy,” grumbled Hasebe.
Hasebe’s anger had cooled, replaced with bewilderment at Hiyori’s quick thinking. Yukimura hurriedly closed everyone’s notebooks to prevent her from seeing the contents.
“Do you happen to think that I’m a spy?” asked Hiyori.
“Uh, yeah. We definitely think you’re a spy.”
“I wouldn’t, if I were you. I generally keep my distance from Ryuuen-kun.”
“Wait a minute. Didn’t Ryuuen-kun just call you by your first name?”
“I insisted that he let me accompany them to see you. Class D interests me.”
The rest of the study group tilted their heads in apparent confusion, unable to understand Hiyori’s words or intentions. I imitated them, cocking my head to the right as I pretended that I didn’t realize what was going on either.
“You don’t know?” asked Hiyori. “It’s all anyone in Class C talks about right now. They say a master tactician’s hiding in Class D, disguising his or her true identity. Apparently, this tactician has contributed significantly to Class D’s successes, from the island test to the cruise ship and sports festival. You really don’t know?”
Hasebe, Yukimura, and Miyake almost had question marks floating above their heads. No one in Class D had noticed this yet, of course.
“I honestly have no clue what you’re talking about,” said Yukimura. “Do you mean Horikita?”
“Yeah. The only person I can think of is Horikita-san,” Miyake agreed.
“It’s not Horikita Suzune-san,” said Hiyori flatly. “Ayanokouji-san, you spend a great deal of time with Horikita-san, right?”
“Not so much recently, but I’ve probably spent more time with her than with others,” I replied.
“You do sit right next to her, don’t you?”
Hasebe and Miyake backed me up. “But there’s no one smarter than Horikita-san is.”
“Yeah. She comes up with all Class D’s strategies.”
I didn’t need to confirm or deny whether the two of us spent a lot of time together. It was important that I appeared like a typical Class D student right now.
“I see,” said Hiyori. “You all feel the same, is that it?”
“Can you please stop interrupting our study session with this nonsense?” muttered Yukimura. He couldn’t bear losing any more study time to this peculiar conversation.
“I apologize. I’m disturbing your studies, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you’re exactly right. You are,” said Yukimura.
“You don’t have to be so harsh, Yukimuu,” Hasebe said.
“If you’re fine with failing and getting kicked out of school, go ahead and chat with her. I’ll head back,” said Yukimura.
“I-I’m sorry, really. Please forgive me. I’d like you to keep tutoring me,” said Hasebe. She bowed her head.
“Good. If you want to talk about these weird things, do it after the test,” Yukimura said sharply.
Hiyori stood up from her seat, looking apologetic. “I’m very sorry. You’re right, it’d be a real risk not to take this test seriously,” she said.
Was that a dig at the bad students? Although I got the impression that Hiyori was naturally rather aloof, I wasn’t certain whether she could be trusted or not.
“Let’s pick this up again after the final exam’s over. It shouldn’t be too late by then.” Hiyori picked up her cup and made to go, most likely back to her dorm.
“Thank you for the coffee. It was yummy,” said Hasebe.
“No problem at all. Goodbye,” said Hiyori.
With that, she left alone after showing up with Ryuuen. She might have come here as part of Ryuuen’s plan to trap me, but I couldn’t be too careful. I decided to investigate Hiyori.