Takashi could almost hear them talking the closer he got to school. Every uniform he passed gave him a second look. No one spoke to him, however, for which he was indeed thankful.
Another thing he was thankful for was that he didn’t run into Miyamoto. He absolutely did not want to see her in any shape nor form, for any reason whatsoever. And if he could see her first, then he would duck into cover somewhere until she was gone.
He made his way to his locker and deposited his things, keeping only the book he needed for his first class. He checked his watch and saw that he had time yet, so he headed for the school infirmary.
Shizuka was already at work, writing a report about a sick student she had dealt with the day before. He knocked on her door and she looked up, then smiled broadly as she recognized him. He stepped inside at her wave and was soon enveloped in a hug most every boy in school would kill for.
“Hello, Komuro-kun,” she smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m sore, Shizuka-sensei but otherwise I think I’m okay,” he promised. “I wanted to stop by and thank you for everything you did yesterday. Saya told me how you reported to the doctor for me and made sure they knew everything they needed. I really appreciate that.”
“Oh, that’s just my job, Komuro-kun, but you’re welcome!” she beamed.
“Oh, and I met a friend of yours yesterday, too,” he added. “A police officer named-”
“Rika!” Shizuka beamed and Takashi nodded.
“That was her. She was very nice.”
“I told her you gave me a scare the other day, but I didn’t tell her anything about what had happened,” Shizuka said seriously.
“It’s okay,” Takashi shrugged. “She knows all about it now. Anyway, I wanted to thank you, Sensei. I really do thank you for taking such good care of me.”
“I was happy to do so, Komuro-kun,” she promised. “Now, if you have any trouble today, you come and see me straight away. Understand?”
“I will,” he promised and departed, heading back the way he came. As he approached his first class he was surprised to see Saya waiting in the hall.
“There you are baka!” she perked up when she saw him. “Where have you been?”
“I was thanking Shizuka-sensei for everything she did for me the other day,” he told her. “Is something wrong?”
“No, I was just afraid you hadn’t made it,” Saya admitted.
“I would have called you, Saya,” he told her gently and she flushed in pleasure at the idea that she would rate such a call rather than be left wondering.
“Well, let’s get to class,” she ordered.
“Maybe we hadn’t ought to go in together, Saya,” he said softly. “It mi-”
“Ashamed of me, Takashi?” she smiled, turning his own words against him.
“Never,” he told her so earnestly that she was blushing head to toe. “I was going to say it might make people talk. I don’t want your name getting dragged into this. Especially not after all you’ve done.”
“Let me worry about that,” she told him flatly. “Come on,” she grabbed his sleeve and pulled him. He followed her, shaking his head.
Class hadn’t started so everyone was gathered in groups, talking. Talk died down as they walked in and everyone looked their way. Takashi had prepared for this, however, and waited only a few seconds before grinning and saying;
“What? You guys never seen a guy who got the shit beat out of him before?”
There was silence for a few seconds but then the entire room erupted in laughter and everyone gathered toward him and Saya, offering welcome back greetings and asking how he was. He shook hands with a few, dodged a few back slaps, and finally made his way to his seat. As he settled in, Saya looked over at him from her desk and grinned.
“Very slick,” she murmured.
“Yeah, well,” he rubbed his hand on his shirt. “I have my moments.”
“You sure do,” she nodded as the teacher entered. “You sure do.”
Saya usually ate her lunch in the library, so they parted ways for lunch, Takashi taking his to the roof as usual, only to find that it was secured, access no longer available. Frowning, he started back down, happening to see Morita and Khota sitting on the ground outside. He joined them two minutes later.
“Dude!” Morita saw him as he walked up. “Come join us chickens,” he grinned.
“Hey, man,” Takashi smiled. “What’s doing? How are you guys?”
“How are we?” Khota snorted. “Man, how are you? You’re the one that was rushed to the hospital.”
“Ah, it was looked worse than it was,” he assured them. “Seriously, it did. Remember how when I vomited my lunch back up there was blood in it?” They nodded. “Well, turns out my throat was bleeding from the food I’d hurled. Made my throat swell too, and that’s what made me pass out. Once they got that under control, I was good to go.”
“We were a little worried when you didn’t show up yesterday,” Khota told him. “And then Saya didn’t show up and that made us think something was really wrong.”
“I’m sorry, man,” Takashi said, meaning it. “Look, here’s my cell number,” he offered, handing over a card with his name, number and e-mail that he kept to give to classmates. “Next time, God forbid there is one, you can call me. I’m really sorry.”
“Ah, he might have been worried, but I knew Takagi-san was taking care of you,” Morita said, grinning. “I bet she looks really hot in a nurse’s uniform.”
“Dude, what the hell you talking about?” Takashi frowned.
“You’re telling me she wasn’t nursing you, then?” Morita pressed.
“She and her mother offered to take me home from the hospital so my mom wouldn’t miss work,” Takashi told him, skirting around the truth. “And look, Morita, don’t be spreading stuff like that, all right? It’s not cool man. Not about Saya, and especially not with all this crap that’s around me right now, okay?”
Morita blinked at that.
“Ah, yeah, sure, Takashi,” he agreed. “Dude, you know I was just talking to you, man. I know you and Takagi-san go way back, anyway. That was cool of her mom, too,” he added.
“It really helped my mom out,” Takashi nodded. “It was bad enough that she had to leave work early because I flaked out like that.”
“Man, that wasn’t flaking out,” Khota said and Morita agreed. “You were stone cold out of it, dude.”
“And look, Takashi,” Morita grew serious. “I won’t kid you about Saya, but you gotta know after she faced off against Miyamoto in the plaza over you, other people are talking.”
“What?” Takashi looked at him. “What the hell?”
“After you. . .oh, man,” Morita slapped his forehead.
“You were out already,” Khota filled him in. “When you hit the ground, Miyamoto-senpai started toward you but Takagi-san stepped between you and forced Miyamoto away. She looked like a honey badger facing down a grizzly bear,” Khota sounded impressed and complimentary.
“I don’t know that she would appreciate that comparison,” Takashi said diplomatically.
“It’s a compliment,” Khota assured him. “A badger isn’t a tenth the size of a grizzly but will back one down almost every time. That’s what Saya reminded me of. A honey badger on the war path.”
“Anyway dude,” Morita cut in. “Just so you know, like I said. Others are talking. But we got your back. You want we can tell them what she did?”
“No,” Takashi shook his head. “That’s for you two alone to know. No one else. I don’t care for anyone knowing, but it’s not their business, that’s all.”
“True that,” Morita nodded. “So, let me tell you what happened yesterday, then, while you were not being nursed back to health by one of the five hottest girls in school. A guy from the track team got caught . . . .”
Takashi listened with half his attention while inwardly he smiled just a little. Saya had already stood down Miyamoto over him. That was why she was so unconcerned about creating talk.
And Morita needed to update his list. Saya was by far the prettiest girl in school. Not just one of five.
“Why didn’t you tell me you faced off Miyamoto when I passed out?” he asked her during the break between classes that afternoon.
“Ho-how do you know?” she demanded, then frowned. “Morita, no doubt.”
“He told me because he wanted me to know others were talking, Saya. Not spreading rumors. He wanted to rib me about you not being her yesterday either, saying you were nursing me back to health. I told him not to be saying stuff like that, it wasn’t cool. He promised he wouldn’t but then told me about others, and described what happened.”
“Well, there you go,” Saya looked embarrassed. “It was no big deal.”
“You impressed Khota bigtime,” Takashi smiled. “He compared you to a honey badger standing up to a grizzly. Said you were just as tough as they were.”
“Honey badger, huh?” Saya mused thoughtfully, surprising Takashi, who had expected her to explode at the comparison.
“C’mon, my little honey badger,” he grinned, pulling her sleeve playfully. “We’re going to be late for history.”
Each class had been different, but enough people from the first class we usually in each one so that Takashi didn’t have to repeat his show the rest of the day. The tension broken by his self-deprecating humor, no one bothered to give him much of a hard time about the incident, and he managed to keep deflecting questions about Saya back on himself. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, always so careful to protect her and her reputation. It made her feel warm and flushed that he would look after her like that.
“Remember,” the history teacher announced just as the final bell rang for the day. “Term paper subjects due for review next Wednesday!”
“We need to decide what we’re going to do,” Saya told him as they walked out of class. “Want to come over tomorrow and we can talk about it? Maybe do some rough work on it? Kill some zombies,” she grinned at him and Takashi laughed.
“Sure, that sounds like a fun date.”
He said it before he realized it and didn’t mean it, but once the word was out, it was out. Saya froze for an instant, but recovered nicely she thought.
“Well, okay then. How about I send the car for you?”
“I’ll get my mom to drop me, or I’ll take the bus, Saya,” Takashi told her. “I can find my way there.”
“It’s easier to send the car,” she said evasively, and Takashi could tell there was something bothering her.
“What is it?” he asked. She looked around carefully to make sure no one was listening.
“It’s easier to get through the gate in one of our cars,” she told him quietly. “Otherwise it can be a hassle.”
“Oh,” Takashi saw her point. “Well, okay then. I’ll be ready about ten. That sound okay?”
“Perfect,” she nodded.
“Your dad going to be home tomorrow?” he asked suddenly and she looked at him, puzzled.
“He may be,” she nodded carefully. “I think my mom has something going this weekend. If she does then he’ll try to be there for her.”
“Okay,” Takashi nodded, giving away nothing. “My dad won’t be home for another week or so, I think,” he told her, covering his tracks. “There’s your car, Honey Badger,” he told her softly as they walked across the plaza.
“Quiet, baka!” she hissed, but grinned at him. It was obvious she enjoyed the nickname.
“See you tomorrow,” Takashi told her as she walked to the car and got in. Once she was gone, he started on his way home. He made a decision as he made the trip, resolve having firmed up nicely by the time he reached home.
He had a lot to do this afternoon. And he would need some help.
“Takashi, what are you looking for?” Nobiki demanded as she drove him to a third shopping center that evening.
“I need just the right flowers, and just the right chocolate,” he told her. “I already told her what I would do when I decided to act. If I don’t do it, then I’m either a liar, or decided she wasn’t good enough for what I had planned, or something else,” he sighed.
“Well, what kind of flowers,” she asked. “If you mess around much longer most of the florists will be closed.”
“I’ll get something at the next one,” he promised. “I’ll just pick something nice, whatever it is.”
Ten minutes later he was looking at the perfect thing; one dozen long stemmed pink roses.
“It’s perfect,” he smiled.
“It’s expensive,” his mother noted.
“I don’t care,” he told her, and he didn’t. He had plenty of money for this. He hadn’t spent his money foolishly in weeks. Allowance and odd jobs add up in a hurry when you aren’t running around tossing money at junk. He took the flowers carefully to the car and set them so they would sit upright, going so far as to strap a seat belt around them.
“Now what?” his mother asked, pretending to be exasperated, when what she actually was came closer to being thrilled.
“I need chocolate,” he reminded her.
“I happen to know just the place,” she assured him. It took twenty minutes in increasingly bad traffic, but soon they were in front of a small candy store that carried Lady Godiva chocolate.
“Wow,” Takashi exclaimed as they walked inside.
“Hello!” the woman behind the counter called. “What can we help you with today?”
“We need the perfect chocolate for a very proper teenage girlfriend,” Nobiki replied with a grin. “I was actually thinking about truffles,” she added.
“Oh, that is perfect!” the woman nodded. “Come, let us see!” she guided them to the right area.
“These are very popular with almost everyone, regardless of age,” she promised. “They are very rich, however, so I usually recommend no more than three per person in a gift box.”
“What’s a gift box?” Takashi asked. The woman produced a small, beautifully decorated tin with a hinged lid.
“Designer tins to hold succulent morsels for the most important morsels, yes?” she smiled.
“Then help me fill it,” he told her. “What do you suggest. Both of you,” he looked at his mother.
“Me?” she feigned shock.
“Yes, you,” he sighed.
Between them, he managed to fill the tiny tin in a few minutes, each ‘morsel’ separated by a silky paper that would keep the different candies from rubbing together. Paying for them, he suddenly asked for three more truffles, adding them to the price. Once he had finished, he took the small bag and handed the three additional truffles to his mother.
“What?” she was stunned.
“Thank you,” he said earnestly. “For everything.”
“Oh, my boy,” her eyes teared and she hugged him carefully so as not to hurt his back.
“Let’s go home, mom.”