7. WORTHLESS

As much as Kagura wanted to spend time at the beach, her natural habitat, she knew that her chances of post-high school education were going to plummet down the drain if her English grade didn't go up. As much as she loathed the language, she was very cognizant of the fact that a bad English score would mean lots of trouble down the line. So when Tomo invited herself over to Chiyo's summer home for another vacation, Kagura was fine with it, as long as there was also work being done. She really, really needed the break, but also the time to study.

"Yeah, I agree with Chiyo here," she had said. "I'm fine with the trip, as long as we have study sessions."

"Riiiiiiiight," Tomo said with a shit-eating grin that screamed I'm gonna fill someone's socks with mustard. "'Study sessions'."

That being said, she was really looking forward to the trip. And what's more, Kaorin would be joining them this time! Finally! The poor girl had missed out on their last two trips, so it would be nice to have her along this time. She'd been trying to ask Kaorin out on a date for literally months. The dance the previous year had given her a taste of what Sakaki was missing out on, and she liked it. Unfortunately for Kagura, Kaorin seemed mostly preoccupied with Sakaki when they grouped up at Chiyo's house, and she knew better than to ride with Yukari. So she resigned herself to be very, intimately close to Yomi for the ride to the beach; Chiyo had already stolen one of the window seats.

About half an hour later, and all three were asleep, and her mind drifted back to junior high school.

Kagura was a lonely kid, with few, if any, friends. Her family's poverty precluded her from engaging in most of the activities and experiences of her peers, and she was a particularly ripe target for cruel pranks. A particular favorite of theirs was permanently burned into her brain. You see, Kagura was young when she realized she wasn't into men, and rumors spread fast in a junior high school. About once or twice a month, the following scenario would play out.

She'd be walking from class to class, her mind wandering, when a girl from another class would come up to her. It was always an extremely cute girl, her seifuku slightly rumpled, her arms pushing her chest together, a hand slightly teasing a glimpse of thigh, and a wicked smile on her face. Kagura was an easy girl to entrance.

"Hey Kagura, wanna go out on a date with me?" To which our girl would enthusiastically say yes, only to be disappointed when she was left at the altar on date night. Every single time. The next time she saw the girl, the girl would run off to her gaggle of friends, who would point and laugh at Kagura. "So worthless!" they would guffaw. "Who's that desperate and stupid?" And she would cry herself to sleep that night.

"GYAH!" Kagura yelled, waking up with a start. "Jesus, Kagura, you okay?" Yomi asked. You gave us quite the scare."

"Yeah, just...a bad dream." And she went to looking outside the window. They were almost there.


"Hey Kagura, can you help me with this?" Tomo asked. "Sure!" she replied, before blanching. It was an English problem.

"Uh...er...um..."

Tomo huffed. "Ugh, if you can't help, just say so. Don't waste my time."

"Hey, I'm trying! Don't...don't talk to me like that, it hurts."

"Look, I'm trying to get this done so I can go have fun. I don't need worthless help."

Kagura started to cry. "So I'm worthless to you now?"

"No, I just need help with this problem so I can go out!"

"You hate me! I knew it!"

"Woah, Gura, I-"

Kagura crumpled into a ball and cried harder.

She felt someone gently pick her up and hold her. Expecting it to be Tomo, she said, "Leave me alone. Don't touch me." Instead, she saw the unexpectedly kind face of her English teacher.

"You are not worthless."

"I feel like I am."

"You aren't. Not to me."

"I don't care. I don't want to be worthless to Tomo."

"You aren't!" shouted the spiky-haired girl. "I never said-" She quieted after Yukari gave her a glare.

"I don't want to be worthless, I don't want to be a burden..." And Kagura buried herself into Yukari even more.

A calmer Tomo said, "I...I'm sorry, Gura." Now it was her turn to hold Kagura.

"You still called me a dumbass," Kagura sniffled.

"I'm a dumbass too, dumbass," Tomo said.

"And I'm a dumbass too!" Osaka called out from...somewhere. Not sure where.

"Yes, yes, you're all dumbass kids," Yukari said. "But you're my dumbass kids."


8. MORE THAN SHE SEEMS

"Yukariiiii, come to bed, it's a school night," Nyamo mewled.

"Can't."

"What's going on?"

"Solving a problem. Or at least trying to."

"I'm sure it can wait until tomorrow. Now come here, I want to snuggle before I pass out."

"But you don't need to be awake for me to hold you."

"Eh heh, true, but um..."

"Oh. You meant that kind of 'snuggle'."

"Mhm."

"Tempting, sweetie, but this is a serious problem."

"I'll wear the leather..."

"Done and done," Yukari said, sprinting into the bedroom and slamming the door shut.

On the table was a cumulative grading sheet. At the very bottom, by a country mile, read:

AYUMU KASUGA- 27/100


The next day, she was prepared to put her experiment into action. She had come up with it over breakfast with Nyamo's help, after telling her her hypothesis. Five minutes before class started, her subject came in and made herself comfortable. Right on time. As she began teaching the day's lesson, she noticed Osaka pay attention at first, but soon, her eyes glazed over, and she began to nod off.

Mmmmmmhm, Yukari thought.

"So instead of solving the problems in the book," she said, "I would like you to try to write a short essay on a topic of your choice in English. Or you can do the book assignment. Your choice. I don't really care."

There were murmurs of worry and excitement.

"But do we know enough English to do an essay?" Yomi asked.

"Don't worry, this assignment isn't graded." Well, for one person, it is.

The next day, she only got one essay. Everyone else had done the book assignment. She smiled. Everything was going according to plan. So far.


"Yukariiiii, come to bed," Nyamo mewled.

"Can't."

"What's going on?"

"I'm grading homework! Not that you'd know anything about that."

"Hey!"

Yukari came across her one essayist. In a simple yet florid script was written, AYUMU KASUGA.

Osaka had written her essay on some sort of philosophical concept that Yukari had no idea about. What was more important here is that her sentence structure was impeccable, and her sentences clear. Her writing style was violently anti-academic, eschewing paragraph structures for her own argument style that more resembled a traditional approach to argument, like a Socratic dialectic, than a lecture-based approach.

Yukari smiled as she wrote a big 100 on top of the paper.

"Coming!" she said, putting it on top of the pile.


Osaka was dreading the results of her homework. She'd chosen the essay, but was terrified that she'd messed up horribly. So when Yukari started passing back homework, she tensed up as the teacher handed her her paper back with a big smile. But it was a knowing, friendly smile, not a cruel one that she wore when she was about to prank someone.

There, at the top of her essay, was a 100 score.

She had no idea how to react. She'd never gotten above a 60 on anything before. She just kind of stared at it, the paper wilting lifelessly in her hands.

"Miss Osaka," said Chiyo cheerfully, "how did you d-" She stopped as soon as she saw the score, and smiled. "Miss Osaka, that's wonderful!" she said quietly, trying not to draw unwanted attention to her. "How do you feel?"

"I..." Osaka stumbled. "I don' know."

"Well, let's hope you keep up that energy through the next couple of months! Maybe your English grade will improve!"

For the next couple of weeks, Osaka was given this special form of assignment. Instead of rote memorization problems and notes, she was given an essay format assignment, and displayed her progress in conversation with Yukari.

"Miss Yukari?" Osaka asked one afternoon. "Why did you start givin' me these special assignments?"

"Because your brain works differently from the others, Osaka," Yukari said gently. "You're really good at riddles and other abstract things, so I thought a more free-form approach would help you. I know you're smart. I just wanted to give you a push."

"Th-thank you. I...I really like writing about philosophy and stuff. Nobody really cares about the things I'm interested in, so writing about them for you makes me feel like someone does."

"Oh, Osaka," Yukari said, holding her student. "It's hard for me to understand sometimes, but I can still tell that you're really interested in these things. Have you considered going into philosophy in college?"

"No, but maybe I should."

"Well, if you salvage your English grade, I'm sure some college would love to have you!"

"Thank you, Miss Yukari." And her space cadet wandered off home.


"I feel like queen of the world!" Yukari said as she flopped into bed that night.

"Yeah? What did you do today?" asked Nyamo as she combed out her hair.

"I'm gonna make a C student out of Osaka."

"Only a C student, eh?"

"Her grade is so poor right now that she can probably manage a 77 at best at this point, but if I'd figured this out at the beginning of the school year, she'd have an A! I know she would!"

"Wow, sweetie, I'm really proud of you!"

And as Yukari fell asleep, Osaka's words about how she felt like someone cared about her and her interests played in her head on an endless loop.


9. IT'S NOT GOODBYE

"Well, this is it," Yukari said. "The final night."

"A shame Kaorin couldn't be here," Sakaki and Kagura said mournfully.

"Yeah, she's...away," Tomo said. "You'll see her next summer, though."

"And how would you know that?" asked Kagura, suspicious.

"I swore I wouldn't tell anyone!"

Sakaki and Kagura made disgruntled noises, but they turned their attentions back to Yukari.

"What's everyone's college plans?" she asked.

"University of Southern California!" Chiyo said happily.

"All of us are staying local, I think," Yomi said. "Tomo and I are going to different schools, but we'll be living together."

"Veterinary school," said Sakaki.

"I'm studyin' philosophy and workin' at a bookstore in one of the central districts!" said Osaka excitedly. "An' Chiyo will get to stay with me on her summers off!"

"I'm going for a degree in psychology!" Kagura cheered. "And I'm staying with Tomo! Her and Yomi's new apartment is close by to where I can do a lot of mass work."

"What's Kaorin's college plan, I wonder?" Chiyo asked.

"Eh heh..." Tomo said. "Well, I know she went north. I think she's going into planetary science. I don't know where she is, though." And I want it to stay that way, she thought. The less people know her whereabouts, the better.

"Well..." Yukari said, her voice cracking. "I guess this is it, then."

"What are you talking about, Miss Yukari?" Chiyo asked. "I'm the only one super far away. Everyone else will get to see each other every day, or at least almost every day."

"I meant this is it, for me."

Silence.

"I have a new homeroom class this year. But it doesn't feel the same. The days feel copy/pasted over each other. I see friendships blossom, rivalries bloom, love erupt. And yet it lacks...it lacks you guys."

Sniffle.

"I...I didn't know I could feel this way," she continued. "The year I got you, I thought my life was over. I was single, living with my mom, spending too much on sake and mail-order beef. I didn't even really feel like I existed. I just kind of...floated from one reality to the next, the days blurring together, the hours feeling the same. Teaching didn't bring me life anymore. I was already kinda on the outs with the administration, so I figured I'd just get fired and find a new path in life, or just wither away and die. Either option was a possibility at that point.

And then, I met you. And at first, you were just more brats to keep in line. But as I got to know you, and interact with you, and help you...I suddenly started feeling different. You didn't feel like students. I started to care for you, love you, want the best for you. You felt like my children. My children, you gave me new life. It feels different now without you, but I don't actively wish to die anymore before I go to bed. I have a wonderful wife, a life for myself, and it's all thanks to you."

She smiled through the tears. "And...I just want you all to know...that I love you."


As they returned from Chiyo's summer home, she gave them all hugs as they went on their separate ways.

The girls all turned and gave their sensei one last bow.

She turned to Nyamo, tears streaming down her face, and held her tight.


Author's Endnote: and that's that for that drabble collection! I recently overhauled my profile, so give that a look for info about my published fics, fics I'm working on, upcoming fics, my fancanon, my faves, and more!