I raised an eyebrow as Naomi bounced over to sit across from me with her bento, placing a bookmark in my novel and setting it neatly aside as I asked, "For what?"
Naomi rolled her eyes. "For getting the high score on the math test, duh! Didn't you know?"
I hadn't known, and didn't much care, so I shrugged and shook my head, cracking open my own bento and picking up my chopsticks while Naomi sighed in disbelief. "I can't believe you weren't even paying attention. Didn't you at least wonder why Yamada's been glaring at you all morning?"
"He has?" I chewed on a fried shrimp and cast a half-curious glance at the top student in class, Daisuke Yamada. Naomi was right, he did seem to be glaring in our direction, though when he caught me looking he flushed and he turned to flip through his math textbook with renewed vigor.
"Huh." I shrugged again and turned back to my food. "Doesn't matter. He'll beat me on the next one."
Naomi, who'd been preparing to take a bite of pickled vegetables, dropped her food. "What? Why?"
I shot Naomi an exasperated look, because I had explained this more than once. "Because he's going to study very hard to beat me. I never considered it a competition in the first place, and am not going to waste precious hours of my time on gaining a few percentage points."
Naomi put her chopsticks down and gazed thoughtfully at me, as she did every time I expressed apathy for test results and academic rankings, before sighing dramatically. "You could beat him on every test and be at the top of the class if you just tried a little more, couldn't you?"
I shrugged again, as my mouth was mouth full of food. "Probably, yeah," I mumbled around another shrimp. "But that would require effort."
I was one of the lucky few who could excel in school with minimal effort. Unlike Yamada, who studied for hours to turn good grades into the best grade, I was perfectly satisfied with "good enough" and didn't spend any more time than I had to with my head in a textbook. I'd explained this to Naomi before, but she still had trouble wrapping her head around the idea that I could succeed without really trying.
I, on the other hand, had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that anyone should have to work so hard to succeed in school. Math was easy. And so was science, and language, and history. The continued disbelief from Naomi and my other classmates made me wonder what it was like in their heads, not to understand things that came so easily to me.
Naomi let the subject drop with a shake of her head and a final, speculative glance in Yamada's direction, before launching into a long monologue about her day so far, what she'd done yesterday evening, how obnoxious homework was, and how much she hated her brat of a little brother.
This was why I liked Naomi. She talked a lot, loudly, and with an abundance of opinions. Her exuberance rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and was helped not at all by the fact that she was only half-Japanese, with an American father and the surname Ryan.
I didn't give a shit about any of that, which is why we made such good friends. Naomi was always honest and optimistic, and she did enough talking for the both of us, which suited me just fine. I was happy to let her talk and only chip in with a word or two when appropriate.
I'd finished my lunch by the time Naomi had eaten half of hers, and when she stopped to take a hasty bite I spoke up.
"We're still on for the movie after school, right?"
A new horror movie had been released last weekend. Naomi was the type to scream at scary movies and I was the type to laugh, but we enjoyed watching them together whenever a new film came out.
Naomi's face turned sheepish at the question, though, and my shoulders drooped in disappointment even before she spoke. "I'm sorrrrrry!" Naomi whined, "But I forgot it's my parents' anniversary today! They're going out for the night and I have to stay home to watch Kenji." She pushed her lip out in an exaggerated pout, widened her eyes, and clasped her hands together as if in prayer. "Forgive me?"
I couldn't hold back a smile at her absurd face, and Naomi beamed when I chuckled, knowing I wasn't angry. It looked like I'd get to finish reading the novel I was in the middle of today after all. "Next week, then?"
"Next week for sure!"
Neither of us knew it then, but it was a promise I'd be forced to break.
I tried to run.
It had never failed me before. I'd been running track at school for five years, and even won a few competitions. I may not have been the strongest, or even the fastest, but I'd never worried overmuch about walking home after dark. I was always confident that she could outrun anyone who meant her harm.
I was wrong.
It was broad daylight, and I was walking home from school. With no movie to go to, I cut through the park, same as every other day. I'd done it a hundred times, and it was routine. Safe.
So I wasn't paying enough attention to the rustling of leaves that signaled the attackers leaving the treeline. I didn't notice the quick footsteps approaching me until too late. I heard the quick footsteps closing in on me at the last second and started to run on pure instinct, but not quickly enough. I didn't even see who attacked me, it happened so fast. I only felt the forceful shove to my back that drove me to the ground, the gravel digging into my bare knees and palms, and the sharp sting of the needle as it pierced my shoulder.
When I woke, strapped to a cold metal table under blaring lights, I panicked at first. I screamed obscenities. I demanded to be released. I pleaded to know who had done this to me. I writhed in my restraints, trying to wiggle free, but all I earned myself were raw, bleeding wrists and and aching neck.
But after a few hours the panic was too exhausting to sustain, and eventually I fell silent and still, staring at the bright, humming light overhead as I pondered my situation.
I dreamed up several theories, lying there on the table. My best guess was that I'd been abducted for my organs. I was strapped to what I was pretty sure was a medical gurney, judging by the cool metal, giving this explanation the highest credibility in my view. My other theories were a serial killer—possible, but in my opinion less likely than the black market organ trade—and some sort of yakuza blackmail.
I didn't have much faith in the last theory, despite the fact that the yakuza would be much less likely to actually kill me than the first two options. This didn't seem like their style. Anyway, my parents were respectable, but not particularly wealthy. They would never get mixed up in the yakuza on their own, and they weren't rich enough to be targets for ransom.
The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that I would be killed for my organs. I wondered if it was even worth it to start screaming again. Surely they'd have a soundproof room set up for this sort of thing. My best hope would be to convince whoever had taken me that they could make more money through ransom than by killing me, but I didn't have much faith in the tactic. My family had some money, sure, but I'm sure whatever price it would take for me to be released unscathed would be far more than my parents could ever pay.
Further, if they let me go, I could talk. If I could talk, I might help the police find them. My silence about my abduction would be priceless.
So I was going to die.
This realization set the panic off again and I resumed my struggle for a while, until my wrists were red and purple with bruises and blood and my voice cracked and withered from the screaming. Slowly, my struggles ceased, and I started to resign myself to my likely fate.
My mind was consumed with morbid questions. How would they do it? Would it hurt? Would it take very long?
I had never thought about my own death before, beyond a vague hope that I would die peacefully, in my sleep, after a long and happy life. A peaceful death, far in the future.
Now it was imminent, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. What would it feel like, to die? What would happen to me, after? Would I go to heaven? To hell? Or would I just cease to exist?
The longer I lay there, staring tearfully into the fluorescent lights, the more certain I was that I was going to die. I was going to die before I could graduate high school. Before I had my first drink. Before I had sex, got married.
I was going to die. I was sure of it.
And as it turned out, I was right.