The First Time
Notes: A repost of a fic I wrote about five years ago. This is an expanded version of Episode .5, drawing from fansubs and scanlations, since it was written prior to the anime/manga's licensing.
As you move through the school years, it is a natural thing to feel the flow of time. People enter and leave your life like images no more substantial than a shadow, and we change. When I came to high school, I was chosen as the representative of the incoming class. This was a great honor; it meant that of all the new freshmen, I had scored the highest on the entrance exams.
That had not been a surprise to me. I had always been at the top of the class. What did surprise me were the eventual repercussions... but I was much too nervous that day to pay much attention to the other students. Perhaps if I had, I might have had a little forewarning about how much my life was going to change.
"Ne, ne..." a female voice whispered as I went to my shoebox to change into indoor shoes. "Did you hear? Miyazawa Yukino is going here!"
"Really?" another answered eagerly. "That's such a relief! I was wondering how I'd pass math without her help... But why didn't she go to a private school?"
"No idea," a third voice said. "I suppose she's the class representative, though. She deserves it, and she'll really impress the upperclassmen..."
"No! She scored second," the first female said, sounding slightly scandalized.
"Really? I bet it was some pencil-necked geek who got it -- too bad." I smiled to myself at being called a pencil-necked geek. "Miyazawa would have done a great job," the second one said, oblivious to my eavesdropping.
"She does a great job at anything she does," the first one said. "I want to be like her."
The others agreed. That was the first time I ever heard of Miyazawa Yukino. Still, in the frantic pace of that day, I quickly pushed the incident to the back of my mind. My life might have been a lot easier if I hadn't.
After the welcoming ceremony, we headed to our classrooms. The first day was the usual get-to-know-you period, which in my case had just become superfluous. Everyone in school knew my face now, and from the murmurs that had arisen when I had stood, I would be receiving the same treatment I always had previously. Mentally I started tallying the committees I would end up on with an internal sigh.
The door to Class A stood open, and I was last to arrive, since I had been meeting with some of my senpai. The room hushed as I entered, then Kawashima-sensei smiled at me. "Ah, Arima-kun. Your seat is there." He pointed, giving me a moment to situate myself. "We're glad to have you here," he said warmly.
I fought to keep a blush from overcoming my face, with mixed success. "Thank you, sir."
The eyes of the entire class were on me. I suppose the romantic thing would be for me to say that I noticed Miyazawa's attention then, but that wouldn't be true. It would be two days before she stood out in my mind, in math class.
Kawashima-sensei had just placed a complex problem on the board and asked for a volunteer to solve it. I started to raise my hand, knowing most of my classmates would avoid the public trial like the plague, but to my surprise, a slender hand rose first, causing me to hesitate.
"Miyazawa-san," Kawashima-sensei said, holding out a piece of chalk.
The girl stood gracefully. She moved fluidly and her light hair swayed against her cheekbones as she strode forward to take the chalk before confidently turning to the board. There was no hesitation in her as she wrote out the solution. Her handwriting was elegant and precise, and she didn't bother with a calculator as she labeled the theorems she used to come to the accurate answer. The class watched in awe as she made it easy enough for anyone to grasp. Finally she set the chalk down and waited for the verdict.
"That was splendidly done, Miyazawa-san," the teacher congratulated her.
"Thank you," she answered, her voice sweet and melodic as a well-tune harp. She turned toward the class and her eyes seemed to settle on me for a second. They were brown. A very light, pretty brown, and seemed very self-assured. For a moment I thought I saw a hint of challenge in them, but it was gone too suddenly for me to be sure of. I decided I must have imaged it -- after all, what could a sweet girl like Miyazawa be challenging me about?
Little did I know...
We elected class representatives later that week -- or, should I say, Miyazawa and I were dragooned into it. We accepted it graciously, and arranged to meet after class on Saturday (our half-day of school) to begin our duties.
As the last bell rang, the other students sprang for the door, eager to embrace their freedom. Miyazawa remained in her seat, writing. I rose and walked over to her. "Are you ready to go over the plans for this year?" I asked.
She glanced up at me, giving a charming smile that warmed something deep inside of me. "Just a moment. I need to finish organizing my notes. It's more efficient to take a moment after class than to spend fifteen at home trying to straighten things out."
"You're so conscientious," I said. I usually didn't bother. I was one of those naturally gifted students who relied on my astonishing memory retention rather than notes. Miyazawa looked like she was far more organized than I was.
"Thank you," she said politely, tugging a few strands of stray hair behind her right ear. She finished quickly and shut her notebook before producing an empty one and flipping to a blank page. "I'll keep notes," she volunteered.
"No problem. I talked to Kawashima-sensei and he says that the student government here has a lot of responsibility." She looked down at her paper. "After next week, we're going to be in charge of assigning the classroom clean up, flower duty, and making sure our class has representatives on each committee. Then we have to work on the class trip, school festival..." She kept listing our responsibilities, and I nodded thoughtfully, watching how she ticked off points on her slender fingers.
I waited until she had completed the list before speaking. "Do you want to do sign-up sheets or should we assign duties?" I asked.
She looked thoughtful. "Sign-up sheets would give people more choice in their duties, but it'd make more work for us, and it'd be more inclined to unfairness. A rotating schedule might be the best thing to do. If someone doesn't like, say, flower duty, they can trade with a friend when it's their turn."
"Or do it anyway," I said. "We all have to do things we don't like."
"Arima-kun has things he doesn't like?" Miyazawa asked in surprised. "That seems surprising to me. I would have thought he liked everything he did."
I laughed, I couldn't help myself. "Hardly. What about you, Miyazawa-san?"
She tapped her pen thoughtfully against her chin. "I like everything I do!" she said cheerily. "I have to, otherwise I'd go crazy! If I'm able to like what I'm doing, then everything is a lot more fun!"
The smile that lit her lips turned her from merely pretty into someone who was beautiful. My breath caught.
I envied her confidence and pleasure in life.
I blinked for a second to dismiss the thought. There was no reason for me to envy anyone. I was first in the class, a respected student, and one of the school's premier kendoists. Everything I did was perfect; I made sure of that. Still, Miyazawa was the same, and she seemed to enjoy it.
Was I missing something?
She didn't notice my contemplative moment. Her hands were drawing out a pen (the messy kind- thick ink that was nearly impossible to keep from splattering) and a sheet of efficient looking notepaper. "How should we organize this schedule? I don't like alphabetical... it always sticks the kids with the A names in the front..." she gave a grin to me.
The fact had never bothered me, as I was always assigned extra work and I hadn't noticed, but I supposed she was right. "Reverse it then?" I suggested.
She shook her head, and a stray wisp of hair fell it her eyes. I placed my hands squarely on the desk to resist the temptation to brush it out of her way, a sensation I was unfamiliar with. "No, people do that pretty often in an attempt to be fair." She tapped the back of her pen against her chin before neatly drawing a chart, her freehand lines looking as though they'd been drawn with a ruler. Predictably enough, she didn't smudge her ink at all.
Everything about Miyazawa Yukino was perfect.
She wrote down all the duties and corresponding weeks, and created the spot for five rotating teams. "We'll have people sign up in groups. That way they can work with friends. We'll assign teams to different tasks and they can fight it out among themselves. You and I can mediate if it becomes a problem."
"I thought you didn't want to make this too complicated?" I asked, curiously. That stray strand of hair was still there, tempting me.
"We have to show we trust our classmates... and we're high school students now. We can handle this ourselves." She finished the lines and looked down at them. "Did I miss anything?"
The sheet was flawless as I examined it. "It's perfect."
She seemed to glow under my praise for a second before a blush crept up her cheeks.
That was the first time I spoke to Miyazawa.
She was perfect.
To my slight surprise, there was little fighting over the assignments of groups. Miyazawa wisely said that we should wait till last to fill any blanks, and that worked fairly well. Most of the girls would have wanted to be with us, and by not choosing until last, Miyazawa and I headed off an argument right then and there. The few times arguments looked imminent, Miyazawa calmed them by offering to listen to both parties complaints and then making a judgement. Strangely, no one wanted to look childish in front of her, so the fights fizzled away.
I liked that. For once I wasn't the one who was acting as the mediator. It was a relief. Despite my popularity, I was at heart an introvert. Having someone else to carry the burden was a novel experience I found I could enjoy. I smiled at her as she collected the completed list and handed it to me to check. "I don't see any problems. We'll appoint a group leader, and they can sort out the problems." She wrote down her name in one of the blank spaces, and filled my name in the other without reading over which students were in the groups first.
"We should lead our groups," I said. "Otherwise there would be authority problems."
Predictably enough, the groups that had us as members were the ones that functioned the best. Miyazawa's gentle guidance was welcome by all our classmates, and her hands seemed able to turn to any task, and make it turn out perfectly. I began to value her, for she always seemed to be on top of things, even when I couldn't be. Kendo was taking up more time than I would have liked, but I was doing well at it.
I did well at everything, though.
Miyazawa had the air of older sister to her, and people respected her. I noticed how she always seemed to be in the right place at the right time for whenever she was needed. Her grades were stellar, and a part of me wondered which of us would hold the first rank in class. I wasn't sure if that bothered me or not. She was worthy competition, and I found myself actually working harder then was customary for myself, determined to prove that I was, indeed, who I seemed to be.
Meeting Miyazawa made me realize that they were truly perfect people in the world; it was as though she held up a mirror for me to see myself. I was afraid to look into it.
Kendo was where I knew I had no competition. Even my sempai were unable to touch me when I truly brought my focus to bear. They didn't understand why I was not more proud of my accomplishments in the dojo.
They didn't understand that violence was as natural to me as breathing. My triumph was of a more personal nature, keeping the temper I had never seen, but felt brim below the surface. Between matches, I would often touch the pleats of my hakama, hoping that through some weird form of osmosis, the virtues they represented would truly become mine.
Still, balancing my duties was sometimes trying, and occasionally I'd need to take some time to myself, to recuperate. It was draining, at times, to be perfect. It was one of those days early in the term that I found the sakura grove.
That early day in April, I managed to elude my usual followers, claiming I had some reading to do -- which was true, but it wasn't reading for school. My father had given me a copy of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, and I was looking forward to some time alone to read it. I liked poetry, though I had little talent at writing it.
With my bento in one hand, and my book in the other, I took off across the campus, and amazingly, I managed to avoid people. I didn't have a particular direction, so I let my feet take me where they wood. And that's where I found myself in the sakura grove, all the way across the river.
The trees were all in bloom, their pale pink blossoms scenting the air with the unique fragrance that so many people associated with the Orient. I stared up at the branches, marveling at the brief beauty that was so fragile, and so much a part of my culture. I shut my eyes and inhaled the rich aroma, and let it carry me away.
This was the perfect place for lunch.
I sat down and ate leisurely, flipping through the poems at random, puzzling over the phrases, and murmuring the ones that really struck me aloud. I smiled over a few, but most of them were melancholy. Leaning against the trunk of the largest tree, I set the book down and fell down into the fragrant grass. If there was a heaven, I would wager it looked very much like that sakura grove did that day.
The time past quickly, and at some point I fell asleep. It was just so peaceful, and I believe I could have slept for an entire day, if I hadn't heard the chime of the fifth period bells.
"Shoot! Fifth period!" I murmured to myself, grabbing the jacket I had shucked off at some point. I raced towards the building, but I knew that I would be late to the science lecture, hardly the impression I wanted to make. "I'm sorry," I apologized, and explained what had happened, knowing it wasn't likely to pass muster. It was the first time I was in trouble in ages, but I still felt ashamed.
My parents would be disappointed.
The teacher wasn't pleased with me. "You'll do the cleaning up after class," he informed me, whacking me upside the head with a thick file of folders as a reprimand, informing me that this wasn't the behavior he had been expecting from the representative of my class. I really couldn't blame him, and my face flushed a brilliant red as my classmates laughed. There's always a joy in seeing one of the perfect students make a mistake, no matter how much you may admire them.
I started to put my jacket on, but the rich blackness of the fabric brought out the pale pink petals which still clung to me. "Oh, wow, Arima-kun! Cherry blossoms!" one of my classmates exclaimed.
I smiled at him, though I didn't really feel it. My lunch had been one of those few private times I could steal for myself, and I resented their intrusion into it. I decided to make the best of it, since I knew that they wouldn't leave me alone. After all, it was part of being who I was- people wanted to be part of me, and have me with them always. I explained where I had been, and two of my classmates nearly started crying. "You should've invited us along!" they chastised me.
"Sorry, sorry," I apologized, waving my hands defensively and smiling, even though I didn't feel an ounce of regret. I had enjoyed my time alone.
"Then how about we have a flower viewing with the class?"
"Let's go all out!"
"Oh, good idea!"
"And bring sweets and stuff!"
I listened to them ramble for a minute, a stone weighing my stomach down. It seemed that no place I had could be truly private. Sooner or later, it was invaded by others, seeking to share in the glow they thought they perceived from me. I knew what was coming, and sure enough...
"Hey, Arima! You come along, too!"
I gave the gracious smile they expected of me. "Yeah, sure," I agreed easily enough.
"If Arima-kun is going, then so am I!" I heard a girl squeal, and soon enough, all the girls were clamoring to join our expedition, which I assumed had been the other boys' plan. Girls tended to follow me wherever I went, and that made other guys want to be around me. I hated it, since it made me feel like a thing, rather than a person.
Still, I maintained the smile they expected of me.
The final bell came soon enough, and I headed to the science lab for clean up duty. I nodded at people on the way, but I noticed that no one was eager to help me with my punishment, not that I minded. I was amused, though. Fair-weather friends... it seemed the school was full of them.
I rolled up my sleeves and turned to the sink full of used lab equipment. Cleaning the science lab wasn't anyone's favorite duty. It required attention and precision, and slovenliness wasn't tolerated in the least. At the beginning of term, the sensei had given lectures about reagents being left in the bottom of beakers, and the damage that it could cause -- and the cost of replacement that students would be expected to pay.
I had never broken one, but my friends had broken everything from stirrers to Bunsen burners, though I had no idea how they had managed that. Still, no matter how careful I was, the beakers and vials rattled as I shifted them in the sink, cleaning them in the sudsy liquid.
I heard the door open, but I ignored it, assuming it was a student who had forgotten something, or the sensei. To my intense surprise, a light feminine voice came from behind me. "Arima-kun!" I turned to see Miyazawa Yukino standing there, barrettes in her reddish brown hair and a pleasant expression on her pretty face. She had set her schoolbag down on the lab table, and seemed ready to stay for a while. "Oh, you don't have to do that!" she informed me. "I have cleaning duty today."
"Miyazawa-san," I said with a smile. I knew that she has seen my assignment, so it was no mistake on her part showing up. But it was very like her. She took her responsibilities seriously, and I felt a warmth spread through me. "That's okay, I brought this on myself," I said softly. A part of me didn't want her to leave, so I decided to ask her for a favor. "Maybe you could put them on the shelf for me?" It wasn't that much, but it would keep her there. It was the first time I actually sought another's company. I didn't recognize why at the time, though.
Strangely, Miyazawa's presence didn't bother me the way the others did. Perhaps it was because of the entire school, she was the only one who didn't need to hold into me in an attempt to become a part of me. She had her own radiance; she didn't need mine.
Her dark eyes were serious as they met my own. "Okay," she said dubiously, "but I still feel bad about it," she confessed.
Most students in her position would have rejoiced over their luck at getting out of the onerous chore, but that wasn't Miyazawa's way. She would have done it for me, and helped me escape my punishment, however deserved it might have been.
I finished the washing as quickly as I could, and Miyazawa patiently waited for me, every now and then glancing at a pile of papers that she had left outside of her bag. As I wiped my hands dry, she reached out and picked them up, glancing over them. I admired her profile briefly, before turning my attention to the work she held. I recognized them almost immediately as the student council work we were to share, and offered to take half.
She seemed slightly embarrassed. "Uh... but.. I already did it myself, so..."
I felt myself almost gurgle in shock before I blurted, "WHAT? All of it? Yourself?" She flushed slightly, and I realized my attitude had been insulting. I wasn't used to other people carrying the load with me, and even though I had seen that Miyazawa was a competent person, I hadn't internalized that yet.
"Yes, I had some time, so..." she trailed off, looking at me directly. It was refreshing how she did that -- most girls just simpered or blushed. Miyazawa had a direct gaze.
Now I felt embarrassed about neglecting my duties, the first time I ever remember that happening. "I'm sorry," I apologized. "I couldn't come this morning because of club activities."
"Oh, no," Miyazawa said. "That's okay. Besides, you helped me clean up." She tilted her head charmingly and gave me a beatific smile. "Thank you."
I was startled when I felt my heart beat loudly, before I returned it -- a genuine smile. It was my first real smile of that day.
I thought about Miyazawa most of the evening, and I think I dreamed about her, though I don't recall what those dreams were. I think I was glad that was the case. It was one of those dreams that adolescent males are plagued with, and I was well-overdue for a fantasy or two about a classmate. And by choosing Miyazawa, I had proven that I was perfectly ordinary guy, when it came down to the baser instincts.
Miyazawa was the prettiest girl in class, after all.
I met her outside the shoeboxes. She was holding her outdoor shoes in one hand, and rummaging through her box with another. I noticed how she pulled out two love letters, looked at them for a second, before I opened my own. To my relief, today was one of those rare days when I didn't have any inside waiting for me. I looked at her as she blushed at me slightly. "Admirers?" I inquired.
"You should know," she teased me playfully. "Maybe one of these was put into my box by mistake?" she suggested.
"Um. I doubt it..." I said, though it was a possibility. When I had been in junior high, it had happened about four times -- misdirected love letters. The result of one of the incidents had been downright hilarious, but once the poor girl had been so humiliated she had transferred schools.
The human heart is a funny thing.
With a sigh, she pulled on her indoor shoes onto her feet before turning to the letters with slightly tired eyes. She opened one, read it quickly, then opened the other. Miyazawa looked thoughtful for a minute before she opened a day planner and scribbled a few notes in it. I wanted to ask her who they were from, but I knew it was none of my business.
I wanted to take them out of her hands and shred them to pieces.
I was startled by the urge. I barely knew her.
She gave me a smile. "Do you know Enomoto-kun?" she asked.
I blinked. "Isn't he in class D?" I asked.
Miyazawa frowned thoughtfully. "I think so. I just can't place the face to the name," she confessed, and then she looked guilty. "I'm supposed to meet him at lunch."
I almost offered to go with her.
Miyazawa could handle herself. She gave me a smile. "Chiyako-san still isn't dating anyone, is she?"
"Not that I know of." A week ago Asano Chiyako had given me a love note, and as far as I knew, she still hadn't recovered from my gentle rejection enough to pursue another boy.
"Hmm... I think she'd get along nicely with Tamura-kun. Maybe I should redirect his attention that way," she mused aloud, tapping her pen against her chin.
"Redirect?" I echoed.
She nodded. "I really don't think Tamara-kun and I'd make a good couple- but he and Chiyako-san have a lot in common, and she's desperate for a date."
I smiled at her. It had never occurred to me to redirect the attention of my admirers, but Miyazawa was a lot more considerate than I was. I usually just tried to turn girls (and the occasional guy) down as gently as possible; Miyazawa tried to do something constructive. I really liked that. It was something to consider in the future, though I doubted I'd have much luck as a matchmaker. "Ready to go to class?" I asked.
"Hmm?" she said, slightly distracted as she put the love notes safely in her bag.
"Since we're both heading that way, I thought we could walk together?" I offered.
"Oh, sure," she said, shutting her shoebox and rising to her feet in one lithe movement.
We walked down the hallway, and I was more aware than ever of the stares that were following me... but these stares were different. They were speculative. I could hear the whispers.
"Ne, ne... are Miyazawa-san and Arima-kun dating?"
"Aren't they a great looking couple?"
"If Miyazawa-san starts dating Arima-kun, there's no hope for the rest of us..."
"They look perfect..."
We arrived at our room after talking about inconsequential things, and she thanked me for the escort before quickly heading to her desk to review her notes before class. She was such conscientious student.
I sat down at my own desk, and glanced across at her. The guys who usually hung around me materialized, waiting for me to say something. Unlike usual, I voiced my actual thoughts, rather then censoring myself. "Miyazawa-san sure is great," I said admiringly. "She seems good and I can't find any faults with her," I confessed. I had spent the entire night before thinking about her, wondering why I was becoming obsessed, and came to the conclusion that it was because she was everything I wanted.
The thing I sought most of all.
"Incredible that such a person exists," I mused, almost whispering.
I had almost forgotten my audience.
Two of them looked at me with disbelief and no small amount of disgust. "HUH?" They pouted, actually pouted.
"What are you saying, Arima?" the first one asked.
"It's like you're describing about yourself," the second one echoed.
"Huh?" I said. I had been thinking of Miyazawa, not myself. I did not see myself as perfect, merely as someone who worked hard to maintain a good image and good relations.
They immediately started to tick off the qualities I worked so hard to present to the world.
"You topped the entrance exam!"
"You're great at sports!"
"Your personality is good!"
"In all, you're the most popular person in class!"
"YOU'RE PERFECT, AREN'T YOU?" they yelled, uncaring of the attention they were attracting.
"Eh?" I said, because I was unable to think of anything saner to say. The last thing I wanted was for this uncomfortable spotlight to be shined on me. I didn't want people to examine me too closely for fear they would see the emptiness and darkness within.
One of them started yanking out his hair, and I fleetingly wondered if he was going to give himself bald patches. "How can you be impressed by somebody else?" he yelled, spinning around comedically
The other looked at me like he thought I was nuts. "Didn't you know that everybody in this school knows about you, Arima?" he asked my solicitously, the way he would have ask a man in his dotage.
"R-really?" I stammered. I didn't like all this attention, though it was what I was used to. I could feel Miyazawa's eyes on me from across the room, and I wished I could explain to her that I wasn't asking for this. I doubted that she would approve- Miyazawa didn't strike me as the type who would approve of this sort of foolishness.
"Like a perfect match for Miyazawa-san!" the first one declared. I could hear the hearts in his voice, and I prayed to whatever deity was listening that Miyazawa hadn't heard him. From the tense set of her shoulders, I was willing to wager the family business she had.
"You got that right!" the second agreed loudly, and I wished for some pit to open under my feet and swallow me.
No such luck.
They continued, unaware of my fervent desire for some natural disaster to strike. "I like Miyazawa-san!"
Then I felt it. The darkness stirred within me, and I gripped the desk tightly.
Dammit, she wasn't theirs.
They had no right to embarrass her that way. I could see the heavy blush on her cheeks, and I knew that she could hear everything.
Those damn idiots.
One of them hit me upside the head playfully, and it distracted me from my brief surge of anger. "Hey, all the girls are going for you!"
"Damn you!" the other teased.
"Haven't any confessed yet?" the first wanted to know, and again that blush covered my cheeks.
I remained quiet, just smiling at them. It really was none of their business who had confessed their heart to me, and I wasn't about to betray those girls. It took a lot of courage to share your feelings, and I respected them.
"Argh, dammit!" the first one swore at me. "I really should be upset at you!"
I blinked in surprise as the second one chimed in, speaking to the first. "But it's like you can't dislike Arima."
"You're not as bad as another boy, you're really incredible!" The first one assured me.
My smile became more genuine, but the tension in Miyazawa's slender body bothered me. I would have been embarrassed to hear myself spoken of in such a fashion, and I couldn't blame her.
Still, when I saw her after school that day and tried to apologize, she shrugged it off. "Miyazawa-san?" I called, trying to get her attention.
She was seated at her desk, organizing her notes as was her habit immediately after class. I straddled the seat in front of her desk, so I could face her. "I just wanted to apologize for this morning..." I began.
She was silent for a minute before she capped the messy pen she preferred and looked up at me. "It's okay," she assured me, before giving me the gentle smile I had come to expect from her. "I'm used to it. Didn't you see the love letters I got this morning?" she asked.
"Yes, but..." I began. I really wanted to apologize to her.
She reached out and touched my hand briefly, her smile unflagging. "It's really okay," she assured me. "It's flattering to be liked, I guess," she said, though her tone wasn't entirely sure.
"Do you ever accept any of the invitations?" I blurted out suddenly.
She blinked at me, before a secretive smile found her lips. "Do you?" she retorted.
"Neither do I," she said softly.
"Why not?" I asked.
She looked thoughtful as she packed her bag. "There's a few reasons, but I suppose the main one is because the boys who ask me aren't really interested in Miyazawa Yukino. They just want to make their friends jealous."
"You really believe that?" I asked in disbelief. I was surprised that she was so cynical.
Her smile faded from her lips. "Sometimes. People always want what others covet," she said. "What about you?
I wanted to deny her logic, but I couldn't. None of the girls who asked me out knew who I was -- they were just interested in me because of my looks or my class ranking. "I haven't accepted anyone, either," I admitted.
"See?" she said, rising to her feet. "Anyway, don't you have practice today?" she asked.
I glanced at my watched. "I have about fifteen minutes," I lied. In reality, I already should be there, but the Kendo captain would give me a little slack. "How did you know?"
"Well, I was hoping to meet with you today for the student council work, but that won't work."
"I can help tomorrow," I said hurriedly. I didn't want Miyazawa carrying all the work. There was a lot of it, especially since the Student Council assigned extra to our class, since I had been the Class Representative, and Miyazawa had entered as the Number 2 student.
"But..." she began to protest.
"Really! Tomorrow, after class, we'll do it together!" I said, grabbing my bag and disappearing before she could argue.
Tomorrow couldn't come soon enough, for me.
That night I dreamt again.
Miyazawa and I had a mountain of paper work to be done.
For some reason, the brilliant minds of the Student Council had given us twenty copies of ten-page forms to be filled out -- by hand. It would have made more sense to fill in most of the similarities before photocopying, but the Student Council Secretary had never been the sensible sort.
So we had two hundred pages of forms to fill in, many of them with differences so minute that only the trained eye would catch it. It was tedious work, but I was glad to be sharing it with Miyazawa, even though I knew she would gladly do it on her own. She was considerate like that. I appreciated it.
Her hand writing was as neat as ever as she began to fill in her half, and I made a point to be just as neat. There was something about her that drove me. I noticed how she flipped through the papers quickly, setting them down neatly so they could dry. She was still using the messy pen, rather than the ballpoint that would have been more practical.
I liked that about her. It was elegant.
Finally we were done with the monotonous task. It had only taken an hour. Miyazawa rose to her feet and organized the stack, the papers rustling as she did so. "Well, then. Twenty copies of each of these," she stated. She sounded satisfied.
I heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm exhausted," I admitted, wanting to talk to her, but unable to think of a subject.
She gave my a sympathetic smile. "It must be terrible for you, Arima-kun."
It made me smile at her in return. Only Miyazawa would have empathy for someone like me, when she had such burdens of her own. "What about you, Miyazawa-san?" I asked, wanting to know about her. I really didn't know that much about her. "Aren't you busy with council work and studies?"
"Well, sort of," she admitted. "But I don't think about it much anymore. Besides, I've always been doing this stuff, so I'm used to it."
I knew the feeling. "So you're the council president type, too, Miyazawa-san," I said. I would have wagered anything that she had been the Student Council President in Junior High, like I had. "How can people tell?" I wondered. "It's like you're always fated to be selected for these things," I joked, though underlying it was a slight dash of frustration. Miyazawa merely smiled and said nothing, and I wondered how this girl, who on the surface was so similar to me, managed to be so different underneath. "Was Hokuei your first choice, Miyazawa-san?" I asked. I wanted to know how she had ended up coming here.
"Yes," she said simply.
"Why?" I said, then felt pressed to offer more explanation for my nosiness. "I mean, aren't you really intelligent? I'd've thought you could have applied to your choice of private schools, or something..."
Her face became tranquil. "Well, I have two younger siblings... and besides... " she said, and a smile lit her pretty features, "I've decided not to invest any money in my studies. I want to minimize the financial burden on my parents, and maximize my studies relative to that."
It startled me.
I had never really considered her motivations, but she was such a caring daughter and a determined person. If anyone could get the most out of the public school system, it would be Miyazawa. It made me feel guilty for coming to Hokuei -- if I wasn't there, then Miyazawa would shine, unopposed.
The way she deserved to.
She didn't seem to notice my distraction. "Studying with that in mind hardens my will!" she informed me cheerfully. "It's really interesting to study when you have a goal."
I had never thought of my studies as interesting, merely as something expected of me. "So mature," I whispered.
"Well, I think this because we're not very wealthy," she said, and she was not envious of me, although she had to know that my family owned a hospital. "If we had money to spare, I would have wanted to go to a private school," she confessed, "since it seems like fun!" She went on to describe the advantages, before turning the table on me. "What about Arima-kun?" she asked.
I was used to people asking me questions, but usually there was some ulterior motive behind them. Miyazawa was genuinely curious, and I doubted it was because of a romantic interest in me. "Your parents run a hospital, right? I think it's strange that someone like you comes to a public school."
Miyazawa was the first one who told me that to my face.
Normally someone of my background and abilities would have gone to a prestigious private school.
But I have chosen not to.
My motives, though, were nowhere near as noble as hers, as I had no clue had to voice them. "Yeah... me too. I have the same reasons as you, I guess," I said.
It was the truth, in a way.
I didn't want to be a burden to my family.
They had done enough for me.
"I guess we're both just stingy!" she declared. Miyazawa started giggling... and then exploded into laughter, a genuine sound that made me join in. Her clear eyes shocked me, and I noticed, for the first time, that the woman who stood beside me had no uncertainties.
I wanted that.
She chose everything for herself, and had her own way of life.
She lived without shame or fear.
It was totally unlike my usual self- just her profile at that moment, how it left an impression.
I wanted to know her.
I watched her leave, after giving me a graceful wave. I stood for a second, before leaning against the desk. I needed the support to collect myself. The last week I had found myself fascinated by her, but... today...
I had realized it.
I wanted to know what she was thinking.
I wanted to ask her about various things.
Did she ever have worries or uncertainties, too?
Did she feel like she was carrying isolation?
I wanted to know...
...more. And more.
The next day I opened my shoebox to find one of those dreaded love letters.
I hated receiving them, for unlike Miyazawa, I couldn't deal with them gracefully. All I could do was turn them down, and try to make the lame excuse that I wanted to focus on my studies or something.
There was ice within my soul, ice that no ordinary girl could melt.
Their feelings of adoration couldn't reach mine, and while I knew I should feel horrid for breaking their hearts, all I felt was empty. There was an isolation around me, as always.
I took the letter out, noting the familiar hearts on it. It asked for me to meet them after school, by the row of cherry trees.
I resented that.
I had come to think of the cherry trees as my special place, my place of peace in school.
It was an intrusion.
Still, I put the letter into my book bag, as Miyazawa had done to her own a few days before, and pushed it to the back of my mind. Classes went as usual, and all too soon, the final bell rang, letting me know that I had a meeting to attend.
I waved off the usual invitations to join my classmates in their after school pursuits, and headed for the sakura grove. I wasn't particularly concerned by who had invited me. I didn't really care. All I was thinking was what excuse I should use this time. Schoolwork? Kendo? Student Council?
I saw a girl's silhouette leaning against a tree, and this was when I made my first mistake.
"Um..." I said, trying to get her attention. She spun around, startled. It was like a scene from a dream.
The flower petals fell around us, and their sweet perfume filled the air, making me feel alive with their heady fragrance. The light pink of their blossoms brought out the startled blush of the girl's cheeks, and the girl's wide eyes transfixed me.
One thought hit me like a ten-ton weight: Miyazawa-san likes me?!
Joy flowed through me, genuine, unadulterated joy. It was something I had not known before, and it was a feeling I wished I could grab and hold onto forever.
A deep flush worked its way onto my face. I had been preparing to reject the girl's feelings, but I didn't want to reject Miyazawa. I started to stammer, but was interrupted.
"Excuse me," a quiet voice said from behind, and I spun around, to face another of my insipid admirers. "I'm sorry for making you wait."
Miyazawa seemed to come to life, and the moment was broken. "Oh, were you meeting someone?" she asked. "I'm sorry, I just wanted to look at the cherry blossoms."
I watched in disbelief as she walked off, leaving me besides the girl whose name I never did learn. I had been wrong. The letter hadn't been from Miyazawa -- and I deeply regretted that fact.
And that was the first time I knew I was in love.