Birman stalked down the hallway, her heels clicking sharply upon the shining, snow-laden floor. She paused for a moment to readjust the mountain of papers in her arms and then continued on her way, humming 'Jingle Bells' under her breath.
"Good morning Birman!" a cheerful voice called out.
Manx, a fellow teacher at Weiss Kreuz elementary school, was leaning against the doorframe to her classroom, dressed in a loud Christmas-themed red dress. "It finally snowed!"
Birman nodded, smiling. "The snow's beautiful, isn't it? And just awful to drive in."
Manx laughed. "So true! Hey, do you think you could watch my kids for a few minutes before the bell rings? I have some work to do down at the office."
Birman rolled her eyes. It was no secret that the red-haired primary teacher had a huge crush on Takatori Persia, the school's principal. "You mean like flirting with Persia?"
Manx blushed. "Birman!"
"Well it's not like it's any great secret," Birman remarked, snickering. "What with the way you're always ogling him."
"I'm stealing your parking spot tomorrow!" Manx snapped and stalked out of the classroom.
Birman smirked to herself as she stepped into the bright primary classroom and lay down her papers upon a table filled with modeling clay and paints.
"Miss Birman, Miss Birman!" a distressed voice cried out. A tiny, blue-haired girl clutching a stuffed rabbit ran up to her. "Mrs. Bunny fell down in the snow and now she's all wet!"
Birman gently took the sopping animal from the little girl. "Now Tot, why don't we lay Mrs. Bunny down on the heater right here? She can have a little nap and by the time recess comes around, she'll be nice and dry."
Tot watched anxiously as Birman put the bunny on the radiator. "Are you sure about this, Miss Birman? Mrs. Bunny doesn't like to be left alone. She gets scared when I'm not holding her paw."
"I'm sure she'll be fine," Birman reassured the girl. "It's Christmas time, remember? Santa will be watching over her."
A huge smile spilled over Tot's face. "Christmas!" she cried joyously. "I want Santa to bring me a pink umbrella this year!"
A hand tugged at Birman's skirt. "Miss Birman?"
Birman looked down into a pair of wide eyes. "Yes, Sakura?"
"Can I have some purple paint?"
"Not right now honey. Painting time comes later."
"But I don't *want* to paint with it," Sakura cried. "I just want to dye my hair purple!"
Birman arched an eyebrow. "Now why would you want to dye your hair purple?"
"I want to be like Aya!"
Birman glanced across the room where the purple-haired girl was coloring with Asuka. "Your hair is lovely like it is, Sakura."
Sakura pouted. "But Ran won't like me unless I look like Aya!"
"If you want a boy to like you than you have to be as beautiful as me!" a smug voice piped up. Schoen patted her wavy blond hair and added, "I'm going to be a model when I grow up because I'm beautiful."
Sakura brightened. "I'm going to marry Ran when I grow up!"
"He'll never marry you," Schoen sniffed disdainfully. "You're as ugly as a skunk!"
Sakura started to cry.
"Schoen, that wasn't very nice!" Birman snapped.
Schoen shrugged and tossed her hair. "My mommy told me that I wasn't allowed to lie."
Hell rushed into the classroom, trailing her wet schoolbag behind her. "I memorized up to Unnilhexium in the periodic table of elements!"
Birman felt a headache coming on.
"And I stayed up 'til TEN O'CLOCK watching the soccer game!" six-year old Hidaka Ken bragged. "It was awesome! Italy kicked Brazil's butt. I watched the whole thing and I didn't even feel sleepy once!"
"Yeah, so what?" seven-year old Bradley Crawford shot back. "I stayed up with my dad watching 60 minutes and Business Venture until TWELVE O'CLOCK! And then I checked my stocks in the paper and my holdings rose $23.59 in shares!"
Ken stared at blankly at the dark-haired boy clad in an impeccable cream-colored suit. "You're weird," he finally said.
Bradley sniffed petulantly and resumed reading 'The Wall Street Journal'. "And you're uncouth."
Ken opened his mouth to shout back but he didn't know what 'uncouth' meant.
"I can't find my sharpener!" little Nagi wailed, pewter eyes misting up. "It's my new 'The Cat Burglar' sharpener that my mommy gave me for my birthday!" The small boy began to cry.
Schulderich snorted as he brushed his hair. "Shut up crybaby."
"Don't tell him to shut up, you big meanie!" Omi cried, glaring at the redhead. He sat down beside his best friend and gently put his arm around the weeping boy. "Don't cry, Nagi. You can use my sharpener until we find yours."
Nagi sniffed, watery eyes hopeful. "Really?"
Omi smiled and nodded. "Really. I'll ask Yohji to help us."
"Help with what?" Yohji whispered, looking around. He was partially hidden behind Miss Birman's coat rack, clad in his customary navy blue trench coat and black detective hat. Yohji liked to solve mysteries and he wanted to be a detective when he grew up.
"You moron," Schulderich snapped as he began to fix the bandana in his hair. "Everyone can see you behind that coat rack."
"Someone stole my 'The Cat Burglar' sharpener!" Nagi bawled in despair.
Yohji bounded to the table that Omi and Nagi shared. "Describe it to me," he ordered, pulling out a raggedy notepad and a pencil.
"HEY YOHJI!" Ken yelled. "Did I tell you that I stayed up 'til-"
"Not now Ken!" Yohji interrupted impatiently. "I'm on a case!" He frowned as he chewed on the tip of his pencil. "How do you spell 'sharpener'?"
Ken was crestfallen until he saw his best friend Ran stomp into the room. "Hey Ran!" he called excitedly, running up to his best friend. "Guess what I did...hey you're all wet!"
"That stupid Takatori Reiiji splashed me and Aya-chan in his car when we were walking to school!" Ran narrowed his violet eyes and scowled. "I yelled 'Shi-ne Takatori' and threw a snowball at his ugly car but he was driving too fast. But next time, I'll really get him!"
Takatori Reiji was the principal at Schwartz junior high school and he was also Ran's next-door neighbor. Ran hated him because he was mean and nasty and always pinched Ran's imouto, Aya-chan's cheeks. Ran was very protective of his imouto.
Ken for his part, didn't really like Aya-chan. Aya-chan always followed him around and was always trying to get him to play tea-party and dress-up and other girly games. She even once kissed him on the cheek when Ran wasn't looking and it had been gross! Ken was sure that she gave him cooties.
"Hey, I know!" Ken burst out, an idea coming to his head. "Let's order a extra large pizza with anchovies to his house in the middle of the night!"
Ran managed a tiny smile.
Ken grabbed Ran's hand and dragged him to their desk. "Say, did I tell you that I stayed up 'til TEN O'CLOCK last night?!"
"...and it was as big as my finger at least," Nagi described. He stopped for a moment. "Or maybe it was as big as my thumb. I can't really 'member all that good. But for sure it was yellow. Or was it green?"
"I thought your sharpener was blue," Omi said.
"How do you spell 'finger'?" Yohji wondered.
"Why do you have to write everything down?" Bradley asked, peering curiously over his newspaper at them. "Why don't you just start looking for it?"
"I have to keep a detailed record of all my cases," Yohji retorted, looking indignant. "It's what all good detectives do."
"You aren't a good detective," Schulderich sneered. "You're just a dumb idiot who likes to wear a dress."
Yohji's eyes narrowed behind his black sunglasses. "It's a trench coat!" he yelled. "And I am *so* going to be a detective when I grow up!"
"No you're not," Schulderich shot back. "You can't spell and you're too dumb."
Bradley rolled his eyes and pushed up his glasses. His comrades were so barbarically primitive at times. He turned back to the business section of the newspaper. He didn't want to associate with such Neanderthals.
Nagi watched with big eyes as the two older boys yelled at each other. He hid behind Omi. "They're scary," he whispered fearfully.
"Hey shut up!" Omi cried over the noise of Yohji and Schulderich arguing and Ken enthusiastically retelling the events of last night's soccer game to Ran. "You're upsetting Nagi!"
Schulderich glared at them. "Well Nagi's just a whiny, little sissy!"
Blue eyes widened. "No he isn't!"
"No he isn't," Schulderich mimicked. "Who are you, his girlfriend?"
"I am not a whiny, little sissy," Nagi whimpered, hurt welling up in his huge, grey eyes.
"Yeah, well you know what you are?" Yohji yelled, his little face scrunched up and red with anger. "Schulderich, you're AN A*S*S!!!!!"
A deathly silence descended upon Miss Birman's first grade classroom. Everyone stared at Yohji with dinner plate eyes.
Yohji clamped a hand over his mouth, shocked at what he'd just said.
"You said the A-word," Bradley breathed in awe.
Ken tugged on Ran's sleeve. "Yohji said the A-word!" he exclaimed, bouncing up and down in his chair. "Did ya hear that Ran? Huh, huh, did ya, did ya? He said the A-word right out-loud!"
"I'm telling Miss Birman on you!" Schulderich cried. "She'll give you a detention for a month!"
"Well, you were acting like the A-word!" Omi fumed. "You deserved it! And furthermore, your hair is ugly!"
Jade eyes widened. "It is not!" Schulderich screamed. "Take that back!"
"Hey Nagi, is that your sharpener?" Ran asked in a calm voice.
Nagi jumped to his feet. "Where?"
Everyone followed Ran's finger. In walked seven-year old Farfarello, his soggy black snowsuit making puddles upon the floor. In one mittened-hand was clutched Nagi's 'The Cat Burglar' sharpener.
"Hey, that's Nagi's sharpener!" Omi shouted. "Give it back to him!"
Farfarello began to strip out of his wet winter clothing. "No."
Schulderich smirked. No one liked Farfarello except for him. He and Farfarello were best friends. Together they were the bosses of the schoolyard. "I dare you to take it back, baby-Nagi," he taunted.
Nagi was very scared of Farfarello. "But my mommy gave me that sharpener for my birthday," he wailed, his chin trembling. "It's mine!"
"Hey, you solved the mystery of the missing sharpener, Ran!" Yohji cried, his astonishment at having said the A-word now gone. "You wanna be my detective partner? We could solve all the mysteries in the whole school!"
Ran thought about it. "Can Ken come too? Me and him do everything together."
Yohji looked at the loud-mouthed, hyper, clumsy boy and shook his head. "Maybe I just better work alone. Ken's way too loud to be a detective."
Farfarello stared at Nagi, looking especially frightening with his new black eye-patch. Slowly, he shoved his finger in the sharpener. "This is mine now," he bit out, his voice squeaky.
"It's Nagi's fair and square!" Ken hollered, leaping to his feet. In the process, he accidentally stepped on one of his untied shoelaces and stumbled. Ran, who was used to Ken's floundering ways, grabbed his arm before he could fall. Ken, undeterred, merely continued. "You stole it, ya dumb pirate!"
"He's not a pirate, you clumsy freak!" Schulderich bellowed.
Ran glowered. "Don't call Ken a clumsy freak!" he snapped.
Farfarello sucked on his newly-sharpened, bleeding finger. "Shut up, Hidaka."
"No, you shut up!" Ken shrieked. "You crazy, one-eyed thief!"
"Your shoes are on the wrong feet," Farfarello calmly pointed out.
Ken looked down at his grubby sneakers.
"Ha ha, he made ya look!" Schulderich crowed smugly.
"Are you gonna take that Ken?" Yohji demanded.
With a war-cry worthy of Tarzan, Ken hurled himself onto Farfarello. Both boys began to scuffle.
With all the shouting and fighting, no one heard the bell ring. Well except for Bradley but he was too engrossed in reading about internet marketing to pay any attention. And no one noticed Miss Birman come into the room.