THERE WERE MANY SHOPS in the Keyaki Mall. Most were establishments people frequented daily, like supermarkets, but there were specialty shops as well. For example, there were stations that helped deal with any electric, gas, or water utilities problems you might have, and a delivery service that brought items from the convenience store to your room. There was also a dry cleaner’s that a salaryman would probably use frequently, but students at this school didn’t need as often. Unless you happened to get a blazer dirty, of course.
It was past eight o’clock on Thursday night, and our test was next week. It was closing time for the shops, so everyone from Class D gathered in a karaoke room. You could hold a meeting there without having to worry about anyone overhearing. Although it probably would have been best to do this in someone’s room, none of us wanted to. Incidentally, Hirata and the others were also participating for a change. He and Horikita had acted quickly, adding him into their group at the start of preparations for the final exam, and now here he was at this final meeting.
“Hey, is it okay if I sing?”
“Wait, Karuizawa-san. We didn’t meet here to have fun,” said Hirata.
“Even though we came all this way, and there’s karaoke right here?”
“We came because you said that you didn’t want to use the dorms to study.”
We didn’t know where people might be listening or watching from when we were in the café or in the cafeteria on campus.
“Yeah, fine. But, come on, isn’t it kinda stupid to go all the way out to a place that has karaoke and not sing?”
“Just enjoy the food and drinks and deal with it,” said Horikita. Karuizawa had already put in an order. There was a bunch of junk food on the table, like French fries, plus the drink she’d gotten for herself.
“Then let’s sing a duet together after the meeting’s over, Yousuke-kun.”
“Sure,” said Hirata. “It’ll be nice to relax afterward.”
“I agree,” replied Karuizawa. “I do want to make sure we discuss this test, but it’s been quite a while since I could do karaoke.”
Hirata and Kushida had agreed with Horikita and Karuizawa, respectively, in order to find a point of compromise.
“Okay, I’m going to start,” said Horikita, ignoring Karuizawa. “First, our study sessions. To be perfectly honest, I think the results have been fantastic. The boys were imbeciles at first, so I was worried, but fortunately, they studied hard. Thanks to that, they should be able to manage during the final exam.”
“It’s like an English dictionary is just flying out of my mouth all the time, dude!” said Sudou. He was trying to show off, but the way he expressed it was way too abstract.
“Sudou-kun has improved significantly compared to where he started. His concentration, in particular, got better by leaps and bounds. However, Sudou, don’t forget that your basic abilities are still inferior to a first-year junior high school student’s,” said Horikita.
“I studied this hard, and I’m still only at a first-year junior high level?” replied Sudou despairingly.
“Considering that you began at an elementary school level, that’s amazing,” said Horikita.
“H-Horikita-san, don’t you think that’s going a little too far?” Hirata asked.
“He didn’t even know that the mathematical constant pi existed until recently,” Horikita countered.
Dang. To think Sudou had lived this long without knowing what pi was.
“Huh? That’s so stupid!” said Karuizawa. Even though Karuizawa wasn’t very studious herself, she was certainly better than that.
“Shut up, Karuizawa. You probably don’t even know it either,” said Sudou.
“No, no, no, I do. Even I know pi is 3.14,” said Karuizawa. Our conversation was rapidly devolving. Everyone involved would end up with a headache.
“Please stop,” Yukimura said. “I can see exactly where you’re all at academically. Horikita, is Sudou really going to be okay?”
“Like I said, his fundamental scholastic abilities are low. But if we just focus on the things a first-year, second-semester high school student needs to know, then I think so. He definitely shouldn’t expect to fail this exam. What about you, Yukimura-kun? Did you manage to resolve Hasebe-san and Miyake-kun’s issues?” asked Horikita.
“Of course. Ayanokouji watched everything closely, so he can back me up on that. Right?” Keisei asked me.
“I don’t think there was a better method we could’ve gone with. I’m not worried about anyone,” I replied.
“I’m glad. I’d absolutely hate to lose anybody from Class D,” said Kushida.
“Yeah. But are we really going to do okay?” said Karuizawa. She still seemed unsettled. “Look, I hate the idea of having fewer classmates. But this test always gets someone kicked out, right? So, like, there’s no guarantee Sudou-kun and I won’t fail, right?”
“Well, I can’t guarantee that,” Kushida said. “But…”
“Then don’t act like it’s a done deal.”
The somewhat relaxed atmosphere became tense.
“You know, Kushida-san, I kinda feel as if you’ve been paying us lip service for a while now,” said Karuizawa.
“R-really? But I just want everyone to pass,” said Kushida.
“Man, it sure must be nice. Being smart, I mean. You don’t have any idea what’s gonna happen to me,” snapped Karuizawa.
“It’s okay, Karuizawa-san. You studied hard in your group,” Hirata reassured her. She still didn’t seem convinced, however.
“Kushida-san, I’ve wanted to say this to you for a while now. Don’t you think you’re taking this goody two-shoes act a bit too far?”
“Uh…r-really?” stammered Kushida.
“Can you please calm down, Karuizawa-san? We’re in the middle of discussing our final exam. Don’t waste our time,” said Horikita.
“Be quiet, Horikita-san. Hey, Kushida-san. Are you making fun of me in your head right now? Thinking about how stupid I am?” asked Karuizawa.
“I wouldn’t do something like that,” said Kushida.
“Then don’t patronize me. Tests are always hard for me, no matter how many I take. Are you going to be responsible if I fail?” asked Karuizawa.
This was getting absurd. Karuizawa’s inexplicable anger baffled not just Kushida, but everyone else. It seemed Karuizawa found her outward virtues insulting. Then, in a move no one saw coming, Karuizawa picked up her glass of grape juice and dumped it over Kushida. The juice soaked into Kushida’s blazer.
“Karuizawa-san!” Hirata grabbed Karuizawa’s hand, which still held the cup. “You can’t do this. That’s not okay.”
“B-but… Are you saying I’m in the wrong here?” asked Karuizawa.
“Sorry, but yes, Karuizawa-san. Kushida-san hasn’t done anything bad to you,” said Horikita. Even she, locked in a cold war with Kushida, couldn’t defend this.
“I’m fine, really. I don’t mind. Please don’t blame Karuizawa-san, okay?” said Kushida.
“No. That’s unacceptable. Karuizawa is at fault here,” said Keisei matter-of-factly.
Naturally, everyone here was treating Karuizawa as the villain. Anyone would think that Karuizawa was in the wrong because of her self-absorbed comments. Her actions weren’t exactly out of character, though.
“Oh, sure. I’m the bad guy. Kushida-san is the class’s favorite, after all,” said Karuizawa. She turned toward me, as if I were her last hope. “Hey, Ayanokouji-kun. Whose side are you on?”
“Whose side am I on? There are no sides. You’re in the wrong, Karuizawa,” I told her.
“I knew it. Everyone is my enemy,” said Karuizawa. She got up and grabbed her bag without a word of apology.
“Karuizawa-san. If you leave now, you’ll regret it later. I don’t want that,” said Hirata.
“So, what do you want me to do, then?” barked Karuizawa.
“First, apologize to Kushida-san. That’s the most important thing,” said Hirata.
Karuizawa wouldn’t even listen to her supposed boyfriend. She stood her ground. “So, even though I don’t think I did anything wrong, I have to apologize?” she asked.
“You have to talk to her,” said Hirata.
Karuizawa stood completely still and silent for a moment. Then, slowly, she spoke. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s completely all right. I should’ve been more understanding of how you felt, Karuizawa-san,” said Kushida. She could have been angry, under the circumstances, but forgiveness came easily from her lips.
Karuizawa looked guilty as she sat back down next to Hirata. “I guess I lost my cool. Sorry,” she said again. Kushida responded with a gracious smile.
“Thank you.” Hirata patted his chest and let out a sigh of relief. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that everything was settled.
“Kushida-san, do you have a spare blazer to wear tomorrow? Will you be okay?” asked Horikita.
“Ah, no. My first blazer got damaged, so this was the only one I had left,” said Kushida.
The school had provided us with two blazers each when we first arrived, but accidents happened, and students could simply outgrow their uniforms. A store in the Keyaki Mall specialized in student uniforms. However, it took time and cost many points to tailor clothing.
“Ain’t there a dry cleaner and a laundromat? I could bring your blazer in with some of my sweaty basketball clothes. If I take them in today, you should get the blazer back first thing tomorrow morning,” said Sudou.
“I didn’t know there was a dry cleaner,” replied Kushida. “That sounds like a good solution.”
Thanks to Sudou, we were on our way to resolving the issue. Then, Karuizawa contributed in her own way.
“Well, it’s not exactly an apology, but at least let me cover your cleaning fee,” said Karuizawa.
“Really, don’t worry about it,” said Kushida.
“I’d feel too guilty if I didn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Please let me do this much,” said Karuizawa, and so, she paid the fee.