Three weeks passed. Three weeks in which Takashi buckled down and studied, applying himself in a way that he had not since he’d started in high school. His grades began to improve immediately and Saya expressed her surprise at how Takashi seemed to be keeping his word about that.
“I told you,” he shrugged one day after school as he walked her to where her car was waiting. “I told you I was done slacking and I meant it. I don’t blame you for doubting it though,” he admitted. “It’s not like I ever gave you any reason to believe me.”
“All right!” Saya stopped short, turning to face him. “That’s it, Takashi. I want to know what has happened to you and I want to know right now!” she demanded, heedless of the looks she was drawing. Takashi glanced around them, noting several people, mostly classmates, had stopped to look at the pair.
“Do you really want to do this out here, where people can see and hear?” he asked her.
“I’m not moving from this spot until you level with me, and you aren’t either!” Saya snapped back, ignoring the presence of others around them. “Start talking.”
“Fine,” he nodded, shifting his book bag on his shoulder. “I was done with Rei before she decided to tell me she had been ‘dating’ Hisashi,” he said quietly and was delighted to see the pinkette’s eyebrows raise at that. “I’d taken her crap for months. She refused to tell me what was wrong, but wasn’t hesitant about telling me that I was at least partly to blame and lambasting me for it pretty much every day. The only reason I held on so long was because I had made her a promise.”
“A stupid pinky promise made ten years ago!” Saya frowned, crossing her arms.
“Yes,” Takashi nodded. “It was silly. But it was still a promise, and promises are supposed to mean something. No matter what age they’re made. I’d like to think that I’m honorable enough to keep a promise I make, regardless of the circumstances.”
Saya’s face softened at that. Being raised the daughter of a man to whom honor was one of the single most important things in the world, she did understand that sentiment. She might not always agree with it, but she understood it.
“Anyway,” Takashi went on. “Once she dumped me for my best friend, that freed me from that promise and let me. . .let me think about pursuing something that I been wanting to do for a long time. Someone that I wanted to pursue I guess I should say,” he amended.
“You were thinking about another girl?” she all but demanded.
“Thinking, yes,” he nodded. “But that was all. Honor demanded that I not do anything about it, for a number of reasons. First, because of my own honor, like I said. I know it was just a silly kid’s promise, but it was a promise. Secondly, because the girl I had started thinking about wouldn’t go in for me approaching her while I was still with Rei, or if I had dumped Rei to pursue her. She’s just not that kind of girl. She’s honorable as well, and something like that would be completely beneath her, and rightly so.”
“Really,” Saya mused thoughtfully.
“And second, this girl wouldn’t tolerate my ‘slacking’ as you call it,” he grinned. “She wouldn’t consider looking at a guy who wasn’t doing his best in school or anything else he was doing. She’s not a snob,” he clarified. “She’s just someone who believes in giving it her all, and would demand the same of anyone who wanted to spend time with her. So long as I’m doing the best I can do, that would, I think, be more than enough for her regardless of how well I ended up doing.”
“Well, she sounds like an improvement over Miyamoto, that’s for sure,” Saya sniffed. She had never liked Rei and had never made a secret of that fact.
“Like night and day,” Takashi said seriously. “I honestly don’t know why I never saw it before, Saya. Blind, I guess?”
“More like stupid, probably,” Saya snorted. “Well, I admit, I’m relieved,” she told him, though she seemed a touch let down it seemed. She started back toward where her car would be waiting. “I didn’t know what to think at first. I was surprised, to be honest, expecting you to be pouting or sulking over Miyamoto. When that didn’t seem to be the case, I thought it was denial. After this long I was starting to think maybe, just maybe, you were serious about turning over a new leaf.”
“You can’t believe how serious, I promise,” he told her sincerely. “But you’ll see. I’m doing better and I’ll keep doing better. Because this girl? She’s worth it. She’s worth a dozen Rei Miyamotos. A hundred of her, even. She’s worth whatever effort I have to put into this to be worthy of her attention.”
“And what will you do if she rejects you?” Saya demanded. “Will I find you back on that staircase, moping again?”
“No, you won’t,” Takashi shook his head. “If she rejects me, then I’ll just try harder. I’ll keep trying until she’s married, or until she sees that I’m serious and that I won’t stop trying to be worthy of her attention or her time.” Saya stopped walking again, looking at him in surprise.
“Wow,” she said finally, almost stunned. “You sound really serious, Takashi.”
“I am really serious, Saya,” he nodded.
“Does this girl even know you exist?” she asked with a smirk.
“She does,” he said evenly. “I don’t know just exactly what her opinion of me is at the moment, at least not when it comes to this, but. . .I’m not ready to make that jump yet, either. I’m not . . . I haven’t finished remaking myself. When I’m satisfied that I’ve done all that I can do, then I’ll show up at her door one day with flowers in one hand and chocolate in the other and ask her parents for permission to ask her out on a date.”
“The old fashioned way,” Saya grinned in approval. “Even my father would approve of that,” she laughed. “I’m sure yours would be proud of you,” she added.
“I’m not doing it for them, but I would hope so, yes,” he told her as the two started walking again. “The only person I’m trying to impress is her. I hope I can impress her parents, of course, since winning them over would be important, but unless and until I can get her approval, her parents approval won’t matter. If I can get hers, then I’ll worry about her parents. I’ll prove to them that I’m worthy of dating their daughter, assuming she thinks so to start with.”
“Takashi, I don’t know what’s happened to you, but I am really impressed,” Saya told him. “I mean it,” she added when he looked at her. “Whoever this girl is, I hope she knows how lucky she is. Can I give you a ride?” she asked as her driver opened the back door.
“No, I’m going to walk, I think,” he smiled. “It’s a nice day.”
“See you tomorrow then,” she smiled again and got into the car. He waved to her as the car pulled away, then walked toward home, smiling to himself.
Whoever this girl is, I hope she knows how lucky she is. Her words rang in his ears.
“So do I, Saya,” he said softly into the wind. “I hope she thinks so, too.”
Takashi was on the roof eating his lunch when Hisashi came to see him. Takashi was sitting with several friends, including Morita and a new guy named Khota Hirano, and didn’t notice Hisashi until he cleared his throat to get attention. Everyone turned to look at him and the gray haired teen seemed to flinch at the attention.
“Uh, Takashi, I was wondering if I could talk to you,” Hisashi said when no one that was seated spoke first.
“Sure, what is it?” Takashi said amiably, mostly for show. The last thing he wanted was to talk to his ‘old buddy’ Hisasahi. But he was not going to start any trouble, or get into any either. Those days were gone.
“Ah, I was hoping we could talk privately,” Hisashi countered.
“Not right now, I’m with my friends,” Takashi shook his head. “Maybe some other time.” With that he turned back to Morita, who had been in the middle of telling a joke.
“And?” Takashi prompted when Morita didn’t start back.
“Oh, well, anyway,” Morita got back into it. “So the guy, he’s still trying to hook up, right? Only the barmaid is busy so it’s getting harder and harder to catch her attention or even get her to his table. So he decides-”
“Takashi, it’s important,” Hisashi cut in, his voice taking on an edge. “I really think we should talk.”
“Whatever it is, it will have to wait, Hisashi,” Takashi shook his head, taking another bite from his lunch. “I’m eating lunch and talking to my friends. Like I said, maybe some other time, okay?” He kept his voice reasonable. He was almost sure how this was going to go, but he was not going to be made out to be the bad guy in this. Not after all he had endured with Rei for the sake of a promise that meant nothing to her.
“I insist,” Hisashi ground out.
“You don’t get to insist to me, Hisashi,” Takashi said flatly. “Not anymore. We aren’t friends anymore. You saw to that yourself. You betrayed me, not the other way around. I told you I’m busy. Maybe we can talk some other time, but not now. Probably not later today, either. Now, you can stay here or go, it doesn’t matter. Roof is community property so far as I know. But you and I got nothing to talk about.”
Hisashi’s face had gone redder and redder as Takashi had spoken. By the time Takashi had finished, Hisashi’s hands were balled into fists at his sides and his teeth were grinding so hard the other boys could hear it.
“Get up,” Hisashi told him, but Takashi shook his head.
“No,” he replied simply. “Whatever your problem is, Hisashi, it’s your problem, not mine. I’m not getting up and I’m not going anywhere with you. Like I said, those days are gone. Go spend your lunch with your girlfriend, not with me.”
“Takashi I won’t say it again,” Hisashi growled.
“Good,” Takashi nodded and then deliberately turned back to Morita.
“Go on, man,” he urged, even as the others looked apprehensive. “What did he do? I mean he obviously didn’t take no for an answer, right?”
He felt the blow coming but didn’t flinch. Hisashi’s fist hit him just behind the ear and knocked Takashi on his side. His ears ringing, Takashi covered his head with his hands, having half expected this. Hisashi and Rei had become increasingly angry at him over the last two months despite the fact that he had not said anything at all about either of them. Had very deliberately been avoiding the conversations that others had tried to start with him in fact. He was determined to stay out of trouble if for no other reason than Saya would have a fit if he got into a fight or did anything else to bring attention to himself.
He caught another blow, this time to his lower back and grunted in pain. When he rolled onto his back because of the blow, Hisashi hit him in the stomach and it was the next best thing to a Heimlich maneuver. Takashi’s lunch came rolling back up and he only just got onto his side to clear his mouth. Apparently this made Hisashi stop as he saw Takashi gasping for air.
“I didn’t do anything!” he cried, raising his hands as he realized what he had done. “You saw it!”
“Dude, we saw you hit him from behind,” Morita told him, even as Hirano tried to help Takashi who was gagging now, unable to breathe.
“This wasn’t on me,” Hisashi shook his head. “He shouldn’t have been running his mouth!”
“About what? He hasn’t said anything about you!” another boy demanded, removing his shirt to try and wipe away the vomit, now coated in blood, and help Khota with helping Takashi start breathing again. “Someone get a teacher, I think he’s. . .he’s not breathing!”
Takashi was only dimly aware of that, as the world was growing black around him. He could feel someone slapping his back and hear his name being called in the distance. His last thought was that he hoped Saya wouldn’t be mad at him since this wasn’t his fault. He had tried to stay out of . . . trou. . .b. . . .
Takashi came to kicking and thrashing, his last conscious memory having been one of choking to death. He was dimly aware that he was in the school infirmary and that an immense pair of breasts that could only belong to Shizuka Marikawa were right in his face.
“Easy, Komuro-kun,” the nurse soothed him. “You’re okay, now. Easy,” she repeated as she worked to calm him.
“Can’t. . . .breathe!” he gasped before he realized that he could in fact breathe, after all.
“Yes you can,” she told him, not surprised by his statement. “You’re all right, Komuro-kun. You’re in my office. Two of your friends brought you here after whatever happened to you on the roof.”
“I. . .I choked on my lunch,” Takashi said at the last minute. He was not, not, not going to get in trouble. Everything he’d done so far to impress Saya would be completely undone if he got in trouble for fighting.
“Komuro-kun,” Shizuka looked at him knowingly. “Your regurgitation might have been the result of choking, but the knot behind your ear, the bruises on your stomach, back and ribs, and the blood I found were not.”
“B. . .blood?” Takashi was surprised at that. What blood? Hisashi you asshole. You better hope Saya never tells me there’s no chance for me because if she does, I’m going to run over your ass with a bus!
“Yes, blood,” she nodded. “Are you being bullied?” she asked, concerned.
“What? No!” Takashi sputtered. Bullied? Good grief, did he look like a wimp?
“Are you afraid to tell me what happened then?” she pressed.
“I’m afraid of getting in trouble,” he said evenly. “I can’t afford to get kicked out of school.”
“Are your grades suffering?” she asked. Behind him Takashi heard the door open.
“No,” he shook his head. “I’m. . .I’m trying to impress a girl with my maturity. If I’m going around fighting all the time, that’s not going to happen. My grades have been improving of late because I’ve been working harder and screwing off less. But I’m trying to stay out of trouble, Shizuka-sensei. I’ve gone out of my way to stay-”
“What did you do, baka!” Saya’s voice cracked across the room like a whip as she made her way to where he was sitting up on the bed.
“I choked on my lunch, Saya,” he told her levelly. “That’s all.”
“You expect me to believe that?” she demanded, arms crossing beneath her breasts in what Takashi had come to think of as Saya’s ‘power stance’.
“I’m hoping you will,” he nodded earnestly. “I swear to you I am not causing any trouble.”
“Rumor has it you and Hisashi were into it over Rei!” she almost bellowed.
“Is that what he wanted?” Takashi said before he thought, and Saya blinked. Shizuka was faster.
“So Hisashi-san did attack you on the roof, Komuro-kun?” she jumped on this new kernel of information.
“I didn’t say that,” Takashi shook his head.
“Takashi if you’re afraid of Hisashi-” she began only to be cut off by Saya’s harsh laughter.
“Takashi? Afraid? Of Igou Hisashi?” she was laughing harder with each sentence. “You’ll have to do better than that, Sensei.”
“Bullying is not a laughing matter, Takagi-san,” Marikawa said firmly. “Takashi was injured pretty severely.”
“What?” Saya’s humor evaporated in an instant. “What happened to you, Takashi?” she demanded. “You better start talking, and I mean you better tell her every, last, detail,” her stabbing finger emphasized the last three words each time.
“I’ve already told her-”
“The truth, Takashi!” Saya demanded, now in his face.
“You’re really pretty when you’re mad, you know that?” he said suddenly, before he thought. “Well, you’re always pretty, so I guess I should say ‘even’ when you’re mad,” he amended.
“B-b-baka!” she slapped his arm as she sputtered, red-faced. Behind her Shizuka raised a hand to cover her smile as she realized all at once who Takashi was trying to impress. “Stop that foolishness and tell her what she wants to know!” she ordered.
“Fine, but remember that I was on my best behavior,” he told her firmly and she snorted, though still distracted by his declaration that she was pretty, ‘even’ when she was mad.
Of course the principal called the police, even after Takashi begged him not to. It turned out they didn’t even need Takashi’s side of the story. Morita, Khota and three others had been on the roof when Hisashi had lost his cool and attacked Komuro and had already told the principal what they had seen and, more damning, what they had heard.
“Komuro-kun,” Tadashi Miyamoto said evenly as Takashi took a seat in the principal’s office. “I have contacted your parents, your mother at least, and she has given me permission to speak with you. Are you willing to speak to me about this?”
“Am I in trouble?” Takashi asked, determined that he was not going to be punished for nothing.
“Not that I can see,” Inspector Miyamoto’s voice and face both screamed his reluctance to admit that. “Thus far this looks like a simple case. If it stays that way, then I will have to recuse myself from it since. . .well,” he didn’t finish and Takashi nodded.
“I have interviewed the witnesses, Komuro-san,” the principal said from his seat. “Five of them who swear you did nothing wrong and did your best in fact to avoid a confrontation. That you were struck from behind after refusing to give in to provocation.”
“That makes it sound worse than it is,” Takashi said, wincing as he moved and felt his bruises all over again.
“Komuro-kun, I need to know why Hisashi did this,” Miyamoto told him flatly.
“You’ll have to ask him, sir,” Takashi answered truthfully. “He came to me and wanted to ‘talk’. In private. I refused, though I did so politely. I was eating lunch with my friends and didn’t want to stop to talk to him, since I didn’t feel he and I had anything to say to each other. I’m sure you know why.”
“Why would he hit you, then?” Miyamoto was obviously looking for some reason to vindicate Hisashi, even at Takashi’s expense. Too bad, oba-san, Takashi didn’t say aloud. He liked the Miyamoto’s, Rei not withstanding. But this wasn’t his fault and he wasn’t going to pay for it just to make them feel better.
“You will have to ask him, Miyamoto-dono,” Takashi repeated. “I never saw it coming,” he admitted. “I can’t even tell you definitely that it was Hisashi who did it, since I wasn’t looking when the blow came, I was talking to Morita. He was telling one of his silly jokes he’s famous for,” he tried to smile but it hurt so he stopped.
“Ah, yes,” the principal frowned slightly. “Morita-san is quite fond of off-color material, let us say,” he told Miyamoto.
“That does match what the others have said,” Miyamoto sighed. “I will have to turn this over to someone else at this point, Hitatani-san,” he informed the principal. “Hisashi Igou dates my daughter, and Takashi Komuro once did. I cannot continue this investigation knowing that the two of them were involved in it. I will have another officer sent straight away.”
“Very well,” the principal nodded, standing. “Hisashi has been taken from the school grounds by a patrol officer, anyway. Takashi, are you able to return to class?”
“Yes, sensei,” Takashi nodded, standing carefully.
“Then if Marikawa-sensei releases you to do so, you may. If you have any difficulty, return to her at once without delay.”
“Hai,” Takashi bowed slightly to both men and departed, returning to the infirmary. He was not surprised to see Saya still there.
“Well?” she demanded.
“Well, what?” he asked.
“I saw Miyamoto’s father earlier,” Saya told him. “Was he the one who responded?”
“Yes,” he sighed, rubbing the side of his head. “Once he discovered that it had been me and Hisashi, he told the principal that he couldn’t continue to deal with the issue and would send another officer over to investigate,” he said glumly, sitting down on the bed again.
“Shizuka-sensei, the principal said I could return to class so long as you released me, but I should come back to you at once if I had difficulty.”
“I think you’re okay to go back to class,” she smiled. “Takagi-san, will you be where you can keep an eye on Komuro-kun while he’s in class?” she asked carefully. “If he has any trouble I’ll need someone to call me at once.”
“All our classes are together,” she nodded. “Always have been for that matter,” she added.
“Then please do so for me,” Shizuka asked her. “Call me at once if he looks sleepy.”
“He always looks sleepy, Marikawa-sensei,” Saya sighed, rolling her eyes.
“I do not,” Takashi replied.
“If he looks as if he’s struggling to stay conscious, or loses consciousness, then,” Shizuka smiled again.
“Saya, don’t say it,” Takashi told her when she started to reply again. Saya snorted but nodded and helped him off the table.
“Come on, baka,” she ordered. “We’re already late.”
“Thank you, Shizuka-sensei,” Takashi said over his shoulder.
“You’re welcome, Komuro-kun,” she smiled again and waved. She wondered if Takagi had any idea the lengths that young man was willing to go to prove himself to her.
“So what were you fighting about?” Saya asked casually.
“I wasn’t fighting,” he told her. “Hisashi hit me from behind. He had wanted to ‘talk in private’ and I didn’t think we had anything to say to each other, so I refused. I was kicking back with Morita and Khota and a couple other guys, just having lunch-”
“With that bunch of losers?” Saya cut in.
“Look, I know they might not be on your invite list, Saya, but that doesn’t make them bad guys. Morita’s tastes are questionable I grant you, but Khota and he apparently got me breathing again and one of the other guys, Imamura I guess, even sacrificed his shirt to try and clear the vom-er, mess away and help me breathe again. So while they might not be A-list invitees, they are definitely my friends. And I might add that every one of them stepped up and told the unvarnished and complete truth about what happened.”
“Well,” she almost sounded reluctant to believe anything good about them.
“Anyway, I didn’t want to go, but I did agree that we might talk later on. I didn’t really want to, but. . .I figured there was no point in starting trouble. So, he decides to ‘insist’. I told him feel free, but I wasn’t going to do it, and then ignored him. Again, determined to stay out of trouble,” he emphasized.
“And?” she prompted when he paused.
“He hit me from behind,” Takashi told her. “Truth is I was almost expecting it. I don’t know why, but I was. Funny thing is, before he and Rei started going out behind my back there is no way you could have convinced me he would ever do that to me. I gotta admit Saya, I thought I knew him better than that.”
“I thought he was your friend too,” she admitted. “Takashi, I owe you an apology,” she said.
“What? What for?”
“For not believing you,” she said quietly. “When I heard what happened, all I heard was ‘fight’. I was so sure you had been up to your old tricks that I stormed into the infirmary fully expecting to see. . .well, anything except what I found,” she admitted. “So I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he told her easily. “I haven’t had long enough yet to prove myself, so why wouldn’t you expect it? Don’t worry about it, Saya.”
“Thank you,” she told him. “I won’t doubt you again,” she promised.
“Don’t say that until you know for sure,” he told her, smiling. “I really am trying, but I’m not going to give Hisashi another chance to hit me from behind. That shit hurts. Next time I’ll watch him until he’s gone and if he takes a swing at me I’ll be swinging back.”
“There’s no reason not to protect yourself,” she agreed as they reached their classroom. “And I was impressed that you tried to cover it up even when you weren’t in the wrong,” she admitted. “You even tried to keep the principal from calling the police.”
“I didn’t see the need for it,” he said truthfully. “I still don’t.”
“Well, it’s done now,” she put a hand on the door but didn’t open it. “You had better prepare yourself, though,” she warned. “Miyamoto is beside herself after seeing Hisashi carted off campus.”
“Carted off?” Takashi frowned. “I thought he was sent home.”
“He was taken away in a police car,” she shook her head. “I don’t know if they took him home or charged him. I’m sure Miyamoto’s father tried to keep him from being charged if he could, but. . .anyway, just so you know.”
“Thanks,” he told her. She nodded once more and then opened the door. They caused a minor stir walking in as class had already started, but no one really looked at him too strangely.
“Dude, you okay?” Morita asked as he took a seat.
“I think so,” he winced as he sat down. “Just sore. What did I miss?”
“Paper projects,” Morita sighed. “You are the luckiest bastard I have ever seen, Takashi,” he added.
Before Morita could reply, the teacher spoke.
“Mister Komuro, so glad you could join us. You as well, Miss Takagi. As you were both absent when I assigned writing partners, the two of you will be working together on your history paper for this term. You may select your own subjects, so long as you submit them for approval by next Wednesday.”
Saya turned to glare at him.
“You better not hold me back,” she warned him quietly.
“I swear I won’t,” he promised, so earnestly that she lost her glare and her face reddened. She turned around so fast that her hair whipped him in the face.
“Luckiest bastard I have ever seen,” Morita repeated just loud enough for him to hear. Takashi had to fight during the rest of the class to keep a smile off his face. Hisashi had helped him again without even meaning to.
The backstabbing prick.