April 12th, 20XX
The ringing of my alarm startled me awake. I blinked slowly, wondering why it was so dark… and then I remembered. Makoto!
I leapt out of bed and rushed through my morning preparations. I was surprised to find Sakura-san already in the café when I hurried down the stairs — and from the expression on his face, he wasn't expecting to see me up this early, either.
"Whoa, what's the rush?" Sakura-san peered at me over his glasses. "Being at school early won't wipe away your tardiness yesterday, you know."
"I-I know that, Sakura-san." I ducked my head. "B-But, I made a friend yesterday, and she offered to help make sure I wouldn't get lost on my way today…"
"You were lost yesterday?" Sakura-san palmed his face. "I guess a country girl like you wouldn't be used to the city, huh… I probably should have taken you on the subway the other day." He frowned. "Why would your friend be up this early? Are you sure you're not being set up for something?"
"S-She's on the student council, and she's very nice." I nudged the floor with my toe, shrinking into myself. Makoto wouldn't set me up, right…? "She needs to be at school early for that… I-I'm sure she meant it when she offered to help…"
Sakura-san paused for a moment. "You made friends with a member of the student council after being late on your first day?" He shook his head. "Well, at least you're not getting mixed in with a bad crowd… A girl like that can probably keep you on the straight-and-narrow. Here." He set a plate of curry down on the counter. "Eat up."
"T-Thank you, Sakura-san!" Curry again…? Well, I supposed it probably wouldn't hurt me.
I ended up being even earlier than Makoto had asked, arriving at the station a full hour and a half before classes were supposed to begin. I hesitated — should I message her, or wait another fifteen minutes? She probably wasn't here yet… I stared at my phone.
My head snapped up.
"You're early!" Her eyes were wide.
"S-So are you." I ducked my head.
"Well…" Makoto rubbed her ear. "I didn't know if your train would be early, or late, and I didn't want to miss you…"
"I-I didn't want to risk being late," I admitted.
Makoto laughed. "It's only a five minute walk to the school, Hikage. It would have been fine if you were a little late."
"O-Oh." My face fell.
"Hey — I'm not mad at you." Makoto nudged my shoulder. "We were both just a little too careful."
"Y-Yeah." I smiled.
We walked outside and were greeted with a heavier rain than yesterday. I moved my hand to my bag, then winced. I had been in such a hurry that I hadn't thought to grab my umbrella before I left Leblanc, and there was no time for me to go back. Maybe there was a stand in the station that sold umbrellas — we probably had time for me to run to one, if it wasn't busy.
"Um," I began.
"What's wrong?" Makoto looked at my face, then down at my hands. Her eyes widened. "Oh, did you forget your umbrella?"
"…Yeah." I gave her a sheepish smile. "Um, do you think they sell them inside…?"
"There's no need for something like that," Makoto laughed. "We can share mine. Here." She unfolded a dark blue umbrella. "We'll have to squeeze in a little, but I think we should both fit. It's okay if we get a little damp as long as our books stay dry, right?"
I nodded. "Thank you!"
Like Makoto had said, the walk to the school was short. The rain slowed us down, but not so much that it was any kind of a problem.
…I was deliriously happy, though. Sharing an umbrella with a friend… I never thought I'd get to do something like that. It was a common kind of scene in the few shows that I'd watched, and I'd always envied the characters who seemed to do it so casually. I'd never thought I'd have the chance to try it out for myself, and I couldn't quite suppress my smile.
…I was also glad that it was dark enough to make my red cheeks difficult to spot — Makoto's smile when I squeezed in under the umbrella with her was really cute.
"Well, here we are." Makoto folded away the umbrella once we were under the school's overhang. "The student council room is up on the third floor — I'll be the only one in right now, so if you want to sit in there with me and read while I work, you're welcome to do so."
"I brought a book." I nodded. "Are you sure that's okay?"
"Of course! There aren't any rules against it." Makoto smiled at me as she led the way up the stairs. "The student council room is always open to the student populace."
The room turned out to be a lot smaller than I had expected. Makoto and I settled down into chairs at the large table that dominated the center of the room, and I pulled out my book while she grabbed a binder from a shelf.
Makoto caught my curious look. "This is the club book," she explained. "I'm doing some preliminary work for determining how budgets will be set based on last year's numbers. Normally it would be the treasurer's job, but she's sick and I was treasurer last year, so…"
"I see." I nodded. "I-I'll try not to bother you, then."
"Don't worry about it." She smiled again. "But if I finish up early, we can talk for a while, so…"
I smiled back and cracked open my book.
"And… done!" Makoto looked up at the clock. "It looks like we've still got a little while. We were rather early, weren't we?"
I checked the clock, too. Almost twenty minutes left before class! "Yeah, we were." I couldn't help but smile a little. "We can probably be a little bit later tomorrow, huh?"
"I think you're right." Makoto smiled back. "What were you reading?"
"Oh, um…" I handed the book to her. "It's called Masks..."
"Oh, it's by Fumiko Enchi!" Makoto flipped through the first few pages. "I'd heard of this, but I've never read it. Would you mind if I borrowed it after you're done?"
"Of course you can!" I accepted the book back and tucked it into my bag.
"Thanks! I've been looking for more novels to read."
"I know that feeling. After a while, it feels like you're just not finding anything new…"
"Yeah." Makoto shook her head, frowning. "It's so frustrating!"
I nodded in agreement. "Um… would you mind telling me a little bit about the school?"
"Of course. Is there anything specific that you'd like to know?"
"Maybe… about the teachers?"
"Okay." Makoto closed her eyes and put her hand on her chin. "Let's see… Our homeroom teacher is Ishikawa-sensei. He teaches history and he's strict, but fair. As long as you do your best, he'll treat you well." She opened her eyes again and quirked her lips into a smile. "I probably don't need to tell you that, though, right?"
"No, you don't," I agreed, hesitantly smiling back. "He was very kind yesterday. I-I should probably thank him for that…"
"Don't. He won't appreciate that." Makoto chuckled. "He likes it when people think of him as meaner than he really is."
"Okay." I thought of Sakura-san. He was like that too, wasn't he?
"For math, we've got…"
I listened intently as Makoto listed off teachers, committing her words to memory. I wanted to make a good impression on all of them, so every little bit would help.
"And then there's Kamoshida-sensei, for P.E." Makoto looked troubled. "I…" She trailed off. "…I don't know what to think of him, to be honest. He's a good teacher, if nothing else."
"Y-You don't?" That was very different from Sakamoto-san.
Makoto shook her head. "I've never seen any evidence that he's anything but a good teacher, and nobody has anything but good things to say about him. But there are a handful of rumors that he uses corporal punishment on the volleyball teams…" She rubbed her chin. "I don't want to believe the rumors, and I asked around about it — the volleyball players were all very vehement in their denials, and their defense of him seemed sincere." Makoto shrugged weakly. "Still, the rumors are very persistent, so… there's a small part of me that still doubts him. But, I mean, you're proof that rumors aren't always true, aren't you?"
I flinched, and her eyes widened.
"I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean—"
"N-No, you're right." I shook my head. "I just…" I rubbed at my eyes. "I just want to have a normal school life."
Makoto put her hand on my shoulder. "You'll have one. We'll make sure of it together, okay?"
I tilted my head back up to look at her and tried to smile. "Thank you."
"We're friends, aren't we?"
I got through the day's classes without any real difficulty. Shujin didn't seem that much harder than my old school, but it was still early in the year. A prep school was bound to rocket up in difficulty.
"I'm sorry, but I've got some meetings this afternoon." Makoto frowned as we left the classroom. "I'll be tied up until the evening… You'll be fine getting back to the platform on your own again, right?"
"Yes, I had no trouble yesterday." I smiled at her. "Even I can't really miss all those students going in the same direction."
"I would hope not!" She laughed. "I really am sorry that I'm so busy after classes… It should calm down a little before long — it's always worst at the beginning and end of the year."
"It's okay." I nodded. "I just hope it doesn't tire you out too much."
"I'm used to it." Makoto sighed. "It was the same when I was treasurer last year." She smiled at me. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay? Let's try not to be quite so early this time."
"Okay." I grinned at her, and found myself pulled into a quick hug.
I was still smiling when I walked out the door.
Author's Note: I'm really sorry for the delay! I had a sequence of especially bad days last week, but thankfully I didn't end up in the hospital again. I'm planning to go for a chapter every three days at this point, though that time scale may go up or down a little depending on how much time I have for typing and editing.