Cherry Blossoms

By Mrs. Strata

The sweet autumn air slowly tossed a few leaves in a tree about, until they loosened and fell to the ground. The wind picked up, making them swirl into delicate patterns. Suddenly the silence of this peaceful morning was broken.

"Ken-TO! Give me back my books!" Cye reached out to grab them away, but Kento, being only an inch or two taller, held them out of his grasp. "Kento! This isn't fair!" Kento only laughed, the wind catching the open jacket of his school uniform, the bright orange shirt underneath fluttering.

The rest of the group didn't seem to mind the fight as they walked to school. Rowen, only a few steps ahead of Cye and Kento, stared into the trees, thinking about the day's work already. The first two buttons on his uniform and white shirt were unbuttoned and his sleeves rolled up in his usual, relaxed manner. Ryo walked in front of Rowen, laughing at the two friends fighting. His uniform was also unbuttoned, but unlike Rowen, his sleeves were down. Sage walked behind Cye, his outfit neatly buttoned all the way to the top and pressed smooth. He, after all, was looking forward to certain attributes another year of school held. Mainly, girls.

"Kento, I need those books!" Cye hollered again.

"All you have to do is get them," Kento taunted.

"Come on you two," said Rowen. "lf you continue to bicker like this, you're never going to make it through the school year."

Kento brought down his arm and handed Cye his books. The distant sound of the school's chimes could be heard and the five snapped their heads toward its dreadful noise.

"We're going to be late!" Ryo yelled.

They sprinted towards a large, brick building which read in bold letters; "Sakura No Han`a High School". They raced up the steps in time to be swept into a crowd of other kids, all rushing to get to their classes.

"Ryo! Ryo!" a voice called. Ryo turned around and smiled.

"Hey Yukio, what's up?"

"Ryo, we need to work on your campaign for student body. I heard Mihoko's got his started already."

Ryo frowned. "All right. How 'bout this afternoon?"

"Fine with me. Come on, we should get to class."

Ryo nodded and waved to the guys, who waved back and headed in a separate direction. Ryo did not have the same first period as the other four, and the next time they would see each other together again was lunch.

"Sage!" A dark haired girl rushed up to him, hugging his arm. "It's so good to have you back! We've all missed you soooo much!"

"Hello. Ayako" Sage tossed his head a little, trying to keep the golden strands out of his eyes.

Ayako sighed. "I just love it when you do that."

Two more girls joined her, all talking with Sage in high-pitched, giggly voices.

Rowen, Cye, and Kento, exchanged a three way glance. Nothing new here. Sage was still the

biggest flirt, not to mention hottest item, with every girl in school.

"Come on Sage, class is starting." Rowen grabbed his best friend's arm and pulled him away from the dismayed girls. "You can 'chat up' some more girls later." Sage followed with little protest, straightening out his sleeve before taking his seat. The class eventually quieted as the teacher, an older man with thick glasses and a plain outfit, entered the room.

"Good morning students," he said in a monotone voice.

"Good morning sensei Kaga!" the students chorused.

"Before we begin today's lesson, I want to remind you all to be at the auditorium by ten sharp tomorrow. We will be introducing two new students to Han`a High at this time."

"Yes, sensei," the class said again.

"Very good. Now on to the lesson. Today we will be studying the advance methods of calculus. Open your books to page three and look at the problem in the upper left hand corner..."

Kento rolled his eyes as the lesson started. Reaching into his desk, he pulled out a piece of note paper and wrote something on it. He tapped Cye on the shoulder and passed him the note. Cye frowned and tried to tuck the note away before he was caught.

"Mr. Mori."

Too late.

"Yes, sensei Kaga?"

"Obviously you are much more interested in passing notes than in the lesson, therefore, why don't you bring your enticing piece forward and read it to all of us, that we can enjoy it as well?"

Cye's face flushed with color. "But, but, sensei I-" The stern look he received from the teacher told him that he had better get up NOW. After a backwards scowl at Kento, Cye got to his feet and slowly made his way to the front of the room. He caught the sympathetic glances of Rowen and Sage, before unfolding the note.

"'Cye," he began, "'what do you think the new students will be? Boy or girl? I hope it's girls, 'cause we could definitely use some new babes. Kento."' The class snickered and giggled among themselves.

"So, Mr. Huang you would like to know about our new students, would you?" Cye saw the hard stare shift from him to Kento. He tried to take his seat, but the teacher grasped his arm.

"Um, yes sir," Kento said, sitting up.

"Well, I'm sure you and Mr. Mori will have plenty of time to discuss it after school while you clean the classroom."

Cye groaned and the teacher finally released him. He returned to his seat after another angry look at Kento.

"Now back to the problem we were discussing before our interruption. I'm sure I had at least one student who was listening to me." Rowen buried his head in his book as he felt everyone stare at him. Nothing new here either. His over intelligence made him a target for much praise by teachers - and jealousy from students. "Rowen, could you give me the formula for problem number seven?"

"Yes sensei, the answer is s = 14t."

"Very well done. Perhaps we could all learn from our prize student, ne class?"

"Yes, sensei," this answer was muttered and Rowen received more nasty looks.

"Now, we will continue with our lessons..."

"Rowen! Hey, Rowen!" Kento sat facing Rowen at the lunch table, trying to get him to stop reading the book he was holding. "Ro-wen!" He knocked the book with his hand, causing it to bump Rowen in the face. Rowen finally looked up and frowned.

"What is it Kento?"

"You gonna eat your fries?"

"No, you can have them."

"Great! Hey, what is it you're reading anyway?"

"Our English book. I want to make sure I understand everything."

Kento rolled his eyes. "Is that all you ever think about? School? Why the hell should you worry? You have an I.Q. of 250."

"That doesn't mean I can't study. Besides, I'll need it when it comes time to take the entrance examinations."

"That's two years from now."

"But I want to get into Tokyo University. The sooner I start the better."

"Yeah, okay," Kento sighed. The others smiled. They knew Tokyo University was the most prestigious - and difficult - college to get into. And they also knew that Rowen could make it in even if he stopped studying now.

"Hey, guys, guess what I found out," Ryo cried suddenly, remembering a conversation he'd had with Yukio earlier that day. "The new students are two girls."

"Really?!" Kento yelled. "Wonderful! More babes!"

"Ah, but you forget about the teenage Casanova of Han`a High," interrupted Rowen with a smile, looking at Sage. "Do you think you can compete with him?"

"He's just soooo cute! !" Cye chuckled, imitating the girls who'd stopped them earlier that day.

"Very funny guys," Sage grumped. "You're all just jealous. Besides, I'm not really interested in any new students."

"They could be really ugly," Rowen pointed out thoughtfully, before turning back to his book.

"Impossible," said Kento.

"Well, we'll know tomorrow." The table was silent for a while as the five ate. Kento was the first to break it again.

"Hey, you guys, after Cye and I finish, do you want to go somewhere to eat?"

"Can't," Rowen replied. "I have juku after school."

"So do I," Sage said.

"Geesh, do you guys ever stop with this studying crap? What about you Ryo?"

"Sure, I'll come. I'll be waiting for you guys in the library. I was supposed to talk with Yukio there."

"Good. At least someone at this table knows how to have fun."

"I know how to have fun!" Rowen protested.

"Right. If it wasn't for us dragging you places, you'd spend all your time with your nose buried in a school book."

"That's not true! Is it guys?"

"Uh, well, you do spend a lot of time reading," Ryo said carefully. At Rowen's crestfallen look, he quickly added, "but I'm sure you'd go out and do things if we weren't around."

"Like what?" challenged Kento. "Spend more time at the library?"

"Oh, yeah?" Rowen tried to look angry, but was having a hard time doing so. "Well, when I'm at TU and you're a ronin, trying for your third year in a row to get into some unknown college, we'll see who studied too hard!"

"Hey, I do well in school!"

"Yeah, only 'cause I'm helping you," Cye interjected.

"Guys, come on, this is kind of a stupid thing to be fighting over isn't it?" Ryo asked. No one had time to answer, because the bell sounded again and they leapt from their seats to get to their classes.

"That is all for today class, you are dismissed." The teacher turned around and began erasing the lessons of the day off the board as the students eagerly left their last class of the day. Rowen gathered up his books and stuck them in his case before heading out the door.

"Rowen!" Sage called, stopping him. "Hey, you coming with me to juku?"

"Sure. I just have to put some stuff away."

"I found out from sensei Fumio that I'll have the locker right next to one of the new students. Just what I need. I'll probably have to show them around too."

"Well, you could always get someone else to do it."

Sage shrugged. "I don't know. Oh, damn, I forgot my notes from English. I'll be right back." He left for his locker and opened it quickly.

"Saagggee!" Ayako ran up to him, along with three of her friends. Sage closed the locker and smiled.

"Hello girls."

"Sage, We're going out to eat. Please say you'll come with us!"

"I'm afraid I can't today, I have juku. But how about tomorrow?"

"Oh, that would be wonderful l"

Rowen closed his locker and rolled his eyes, watching Sage flirt with the group of girls. He pitied the new students, knowing they would probably be just like these four. "Sage," he called, walking towards the doors.

Sage followed Rowen. "See ya later girls," he winked. The girls sighed and giggled again. Once outside Rowen waited for a few moments before asking the question that had been plaguing him since lunch.

"Why aren't you interested in the new students?"

Sage looked surprised by the quick and curt way in which Rowen had asked his question.

"Maybe because there's no real challenge in it anymore."

Rowen raised an eyebrow. "No challenge? Really? And how do you know that these new girls will fall at your feet?" Sage gave Rowen a cockeyed smile. "Okay, okay, ask a stupid question," sighed Rowen.

Sage's smile widened. "So," he began, changing the subject, "what are you planning on doing this weekend?" Rowen's face darkened and Sage knew instantly he'd picked a bad subject.

"I have to stay with my dad and his girlfriend this weekend." Rowen had put extra emphasis on the word "girlfriend", nearly spitting it out. Sage winced and bit his lip. He wished he could say something, but he knew there was nothing that would make Rowen feel better. His parents' divorce five years earlier had been messy and painful, leaving him shattered. Although the guys teased him about spending too much time with his school work, they all knew the real reason he immersed himself in his studies. The two walked in silence, until Rowen sighed and looked up, managing a half smile.

"So, what about you? What will you being doing?"

"Dad's got a student Saturday, so I'll have to find something to do in town, I guess. Maybe the guys have something planned."

"I wish I could join you." They came to a crossroad and both boys stopped. The sun was already beginning to set, casting brilliant fiery colors into the sky. "I'll see you tomorrow," Rowen said, heading off down the street.

"Ja mata!" Sage called, walking another way.

Rowen made his way down the street slowly, his head bent to the ground. The sun sat lower in the sky now and his shadow played tag with the many other shadows on the building walls. Rowen turned down a narrow, dingy road, passing many run-down apartments before coming to the one he called home. He took a key out of his pocket, stopping to watch to kids play in the street before opening the door and stepping inside. He tried to close the door behind him, but found it was stuck again. In frustration he gave it a hard kick. The door flew shut with a loud slam. "I thought the landlord was supposed to fix that," he muttered, crossing the tiny living room and entering the even smaller kitchen. On the table sat a note. Rowen picked it up as he sat his case on the floor.

"Rowen," it read, "I will work late again tonight. Love Mother."

Rowen sat down and sighed. During the divorce, both his parents had fought for custody of him. But in the end, his mother gave up everything; the large house, sports car, a plush life, and money, just to keep him. Now she spent 18 hours a day in some factory, making only enough to support her and her son. Rowen hated not seeing her and when he did, seeing the factory slowly killing her. He had tried more than once to get to her to agree to let him drop out of school and go to work, but she wouldn't hear of it.

He got up and went through the cupboards, grabbing some rice crackers, before heading back to his bedroom to begin studying.

Another thing he felt guilty about. The apartment had only one bedroom-if it could be called that - and his mother had given it to him. She slept on the couch when she was actually home to sleep. But she had insisted Rowen have a room to work in. "After all," she joked to him when they'd moved in, "I need you to get a good education so you can support me in old age." To Rowen it wasn't a joke.

"I will take care of you Mom," he vowed, tightly setting his jaw and sitting at his desk. He opened his lessons and began to work.

Ding! The clock in the living room chimed and Rowen glanced up from his book. 10:00?! Have I really been at this so long? he wondered. He stood up and stretched. Shoving aside the plate he'd eatendinner on, he closed his book and put it away with the others. Dressing in his PJ's, he climbed in bed and took"A Tale of Two Cities" off the night stand. Just inside the cover was a picture. Rowen took it out and stared atit sadly. It was one of him and his family, when he was only four. They all looked so happy... Rowensometimes wished that he could trade all his intelligence, for just one happy memory of his family. But thatwas impossible. The only things Rowen remembered were the fights...

"Why do you keep coming home late every night?" Masumi Hashiba demanded angrily. "I call the office and you're not there. I want to know where you are going! "

"It's none of your damn business, woman!" her husband, Taro spat. "You should not ask such

questions! "

"I will ask all the questions I want! You will not keep leaving me here to raise Rowen while you run around town! "

"The boy is your responsibility! And I happen to be working to support you, you ungrateful witch!"

Masumi had heard enough. She picked up a bookend and hurled it at her husband, just missing his head. "Got to hell! " she screamed.

In response, her husband slapped her across the face.

The two continued to argue, unaware of their son, huddled on the floor of his room, trying desperately to block out the fight...

Rowen snapped back into reality, glancing at the picture again. Only then did he realize he had been crying. Hastily brushing away the tears with his sleeve, and wiping off the few that fallen onto the photo, he tucked the picture back in its place. Flipping to his favorite chapter, he began reading. Soon afterwards, sleep found him and his eyes closed, the book tipping from his limp fingers.

Masumi walked into the house, tired and hungry. She grabbed a quick bite of cold chicken, and then went into the living room. She noticed Rowen's lamp on. What is he still doing up? she wondered, turning into the bedroom. She saw Rowen curled up in bed, his favorite book lying next to him. Her heart melted at the scene and it seemed as if her aching muscles ceased to ache. She walked over to the bed and pulled the covers up to Rowen's shoulders, and at the same time slipping the book away from his grasp. She gave him a soft kiss, ever so careful not to wake him. "Good night my taisetsu na," she whispered, turning out the light.