A frown on her lips, Hayate stared morosely at the window beside her, watching the heavy sheet of rain pour down from the gloomy sky. Somehow, bad weather managed to make everything else so dreary – and it didn't help that Signum had insisted on walking her into the school today.
"…What's her problem, anyway? It's not like I was asking anything personal."
"I know! She never talks to anyone."
Hayate pretended that she was still watching the school grounds as she eavesdropped on her neighbours. The group of girls were gossiping in hushed whispers, and it didn't take a genius to figure out who they were complaining about. In only a short week, the transfer student had managed to build up a negative reputation among her classmates, coming off aloof and haughty. Hayate couldn't blame anyone, really, considering that the girl had been extremely antisocial, ignoring anyone who didn't approach her, and casually brushing off anyone that did. She'd experienced that attitude plenty herself, and for all she knew, Reinforce really was just a stuck-up little girl. However, with a tight grip on her pencil and irritated scowl on her lips, the brunette clearly didn't share her classmates' opinions.
Sneaking a quick glance at the silver-haired enigma, she watched as girl scribbled away on her notepad, oblivious to the frosty atmosphere being directed towards her. No matter how hard Hayate tried, she just couldn't bring herself to believe that the girl really meant any ill-will. How she was so certain of that? She had no idea, since she barely knew anything about the transfer student. There was just something about her new classmate that made Hayate want to learn more about her, ever since they'd first met a week ago…
The middle schooler's thoughts were scattered as desks and chairs all scraped at once, as the homeroom teacher stepped into the classroom. Straightening in attention, Hayate forced her gaze to the front of the room as the class representative called out the morning greeting.
Chapter 4 – Always a First Step
Running, Reinforce turned her head to the side, seeing the orange ball sailing through the air, aimed a few steps ahead of her. Stretching out with her right hand, she managed to snag the basketball from the air, pulling it towards her as she braced the catch with her left. Planting her feet, she saw that her blocker was several steps behind, thanks to her longer strides, and she had a clear shot at the hoop. Bending her knees slightly, she jumped, pushing forward with her hands to shoot in a smooth, high arc – but could only watch helplessly as the ball rebounded off the rim, bouncing back out of bounds.
Disappointed, Reinforce stopped to catch her breath as the other team ran to grab the ball. PE class was almost over, by her best guess, and she'd spent almost the entire period running back and forth across the court. She wasn't out of shape by any means, but wasn't athletic either. It also didn't help that she was several inches taller than most of the other girls, because then the natural assumption seemed to be that she was better in physical activities than everyone else was.
"Nice hustle, girls!" the teacher called out, and then motioned for the game to resume. The ball was quickly thrown back into play, and the silver-haired girl found herself hurrying across the court once again.
When the period had finally finished, Reinforce dragged herself to the changing room with the rest of girls. Lunch break was fortunately next, and she'd managed to work up an appetite after running back and forth across the gym. Hurrying to change back into her uniform, she was a bit surprised when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Turning her head, she was met with an overly perky, smiling girl who was practically bouncing on her heels, her long ponytail swaying from the motion.
"You were pretty good out there!" the girl stated enthusiastically, with a cute and squeaky voice.
"Um, I wasn't really," Reinforce answered, wincing slightly, and tried to hurry as she finished changing.
"Ever think about joining a sports club?" the classmate inquired, "I think a lot of them would be happy to have you. The basketball club is obvious, of course -"
"Sports aren't really my thing," she answered vaguely, trying to interrupt the girl's flow. Unfortunately, it didn't work to well.
"- but I think you'd do well in the volleyball club, too. Or there's the track club, since you're pretty fast. Yeah, you know, I think the track club would really suit you!"
Managing to pull on the rest of her uniform, a tad sloppily, Reinforce tried her best to brush the overly bubbly girl off without being rude.
"Um, no thanks, I'm not really interested in clubs," she said, walking out of the changing room. Her classmate was irritatingly persistent though, keeping in step right beside her.
"Don't say that!" the girl said in a playful reprimand, "I know that it's tough being new, but if you push forward with a positive attitude, you'll be having fun in no time! If you just jump right in, pretty soon you'll be surrounded with friends! Now, I know it's late in the year, but plenty of clubs are still open for members to -"
"Excuse me," Reinforce said suddenly, stopping at the first doorway that she spotted, "I have something to do…I hope you don't mind if I…"
"Oh, go ahead!" her classmate replied, beaming, "I'll wait for you back at the classroom."
"Oh….right…" the silver-haired girl mumbled. The other girl wasn't moving, and seemed keen on watching her right until she was out of sight. Reluctantly, Reinforce, opened the door and walked inside, swiftly shutting it behind her. Luckily for her, the room she'd just barged into was the library, saving her from any awkward explanations. Since it was lunchtime, the entire room was completely empty…well, almost.
"Running away from rabid fan girls already?" came a teasing voice, and the silver-haired girl squeaked in surprise, spinning on her heels to find the source. When she spotted the familiar short brown hair, knowing blue eyes and light, playful smirk, Reinforce wasn't sure if she was relieved or even more apprehensive.
"Um…hi," she said awkwardly, trying to regain her composure, "I was just -"
"Hiding from Rena-chan?" Hayate finished, seeming amused. Seated at a table, she was halfway through a rather thick novel, and looked fairly settled in, with an unopened boxed-lunch on the tabletop beside her. "She can be a little enthusiastic when she gets her mind set on something."
"I…suppose," Reinforce answered, "What are you doing here?"
"Reading a book," the brunette answered, stating the obvious, but went on to elaborate. "I'm excused from PE, so I usually come here."
"Oh, right," the transfer student answered lamely. When she thought about, the girl had always been absent from the class, but she hadn't paid much attention to it. "Well…I should probably go -"
"The library's quite empty during lunch," the brunette cut in, "If you don't mind putting up with me, of course."
"I wasn't…" the transfer student started, but trailed off as the other girl gave her a knowing smile, "I suppose I could…um...take a look around."
"I recommend the fantasy section, we have an excellent selection," Hayate supplied knowledgably, seeming much perkier.
"Right…thank you," Reinforce mumbled, and awkwardly walked toward the nearest bookshelf. The girl in the wheelchair seemed content with that, delving into her novel once again.
Walking through the aisle, the silver-haired girl browsed through the shelves, the books barely getting a glance as her mind was elsewhere. What was she even doing, staying here? After all, she was the one who had told the other girl to stop trying to get close to her. It was the same thing she'd always done, the same promise she'd always made to herself. Yet here she was, edging closer to the very rules that she'd made. Maybe it was that old photo album that she'd stumbled across on the weekend. It had certainly brought up some memories – not that they were unwelcome, just that they were an unneeded reminder.
"Find anything?" her classmate's asked, her voice floating through the room.
Stopping her wandering, Reinforce glanced at the closest book to her, noting that she'd gone through a number of shelves without a single title even registering. She wasn't even sure what section she'd drifted into.
"Maybe," she said ambiguously, not wanting to be impolite with silence. Pulling a book randomly off the shelves, the best she could tell was that it was a classic Japanese novel. It seemed vaguely interesting, but not enough for her to read through it.
"Well, I'm sure there's at least one book. I don't think anything here will be too hard to read – if it's you, of course."
Reinforce felt a faint blush creeping onto her cheeks as she remembered her slip-up from the previous week. She was glad that other girl wasn't in sight, especially since Hayate seemed to enjoy making her flustered. She was already starting to regret staying in the library.
"Speaking of that, how did you get so good at Japanese?" the girl asked, still calling out from her table. The transfer student wasn't sure how to answer that question, and wasn't entirely sure that she wanted too, either. It wasn't very easy to answer, and would inevitably lead to more questions that she didn't want asked. Rather than step out of her comfort zone, she chose to remain silent, resuming her wandering of the shelves.
"Are you there?" Hayate called out again, her voice more tentative. Sighing lightly, Reinforce slowly walked out from the aisle and took a look at her classmate, who seemed much more insecure than she had a few minutes ago, fidgeting where she sat in her wheelchair.
"I…" the silver-haired girl started, hesitating a little when the other girl looked on hopefully, "I should probably go now. Thank you."
Slowly walking away, she neared the doorway, reaching out to grab the door handle when Hayate spoke softly.
"Could you at least tell me…why?"
Turning her head, Reinforce hesitated for a brief moment. The question was vague, but she understood the meaning behind it, and once again was at loss, unsure how to respond.
"I mean, it's just that…well…" the brunette uncharacteristically struggled with her words, perhaps trying to describe her curiosity to herself as well. "You just seem…lonely."
As she settled for the simple explanation, she gave an imploring look, her expression showing her desire for answers much more than her words had. Looking away, the silver-haired girl looked down at her hand resting on the doorknob.
"It's just…easier this way," she murmured, not looking up. "In a few months, maybe a year, I'll be leaving again, and this way there doesn't have to be any goodbyes. A month ago, I was in America, a year before that was Portugal, before that was Russia, and -"
"Really?!" Hayate cut in, her voice full of energy. Reinforce finally moved her eyes back up, surprised at the reaction, and saw the brunette practically jumping in her seat, her face filled with delight and wonder. The silver-haired girl was taken aback, never imagining the girl could be so ecstatic.
"You've really been to all those – what's Europe li - I mean, have you been to any other – but I mean, that's – and have you seen –" her classmate was tripping over her words, unable to contain her excitement.
Reinforce realized that she had begun smiling as well: the girl's bubbly stammering was completely infectious. It suddenly occurred to her, that every time she was around this girl, it somehow always managed to turn out like this. Despite her best efforts, Hayate always seemed to make her lower her guard.