For Little Donkey. Best wishes until your next birthday, mate.
On her eighth birthday, Ritsu comes shortly before noon to play.
"Hey hey," she exclaims as soon as she stops bouncing on the balls of her feet waiting for the door to open. And then, after a pause: "Why're you all dressed up?"
Mio looks down at the handmade and expensive dark blue kimono and then back at Ritsu's inquisitive face.
"My mom gave it to me," she explains. "It's my birthday today."
"Whaaaa?" Mio cringes back at Ritsu's noise of disbelief, reflexively swinging the glass screen door a little more closed. Unfortunately, being made of glass, Ritsu stares at her right through it. "It's your birthday today and you didn't tell me?"
Ritsu pouts at Mio, "I even invited you to my birthday party."
Before Mio can even think of apologizing, Ritsu's sullenness disappears and her face lights up in childish glee.
"Stay here, okay?" She motions with her hands, "Don't move—I'll be right back."
Mio closes the door on Ritsu's scampering footsteps and wonders if she can find a good hiding spot in twenty minutes.
Ritsu is back in ten.
"Did—you—know?" she asks between puffs, her breath misting in the chilly air. "I can get here in five minutes if I run."
She grabs Mio's wrist and pulls it toward herself. She shoves something into her open palm and simultaneously curls Mio's fingers around the object. It feels slick and warm. Ritsu beams happily.
"It's your birthday present! Go on," she chirps. "Open it!"
Mio looks from Ritsu to her closed hand and slowly loosens her fingers to stare at the five-yen coin nestled in her palm.
Ritsu seems disappointed in the lack of a reaction. "Hey, don't you like it?"
"Thanks?" she tries.
The brunette huffs impatiently and snatches it back from her and dangles it by the yellow ribbon threaded through the hole in the center.
"It's not a regular five-yen coin," she says, affecting a haughty air, as if Mio is stupid. "It's as old as I am, and it's my lucky coin. See? That number there's the year it was made."
Mio does not mention the fact that she is much better with numbers than Ritsu.
Finally stepping inside and letting the door swing shut behind her, she drops it back into Mio's hand. "Anyway, it's most definitely lucky, so take good care of it! But don't spend it on accident," she advises. "I did that to my first two lucky coins. That's why this one's got a ribbon."
The birthday girl cannot think of a good use for a five-yen coin that she cannot spend. "Are you sure you don't want to keep it then?"
"Uh uh," Ritsu shakes her head emphatically, her messy hair swinging into her round cheeks. "It's your birthday, and that's my present. Besides, you need luck more than me!"
They stay inside for most of the day. Mio shares her cake—a chocolate one from the shop across the station—with Ritsu, who eats it so quickly Mio feels a little sick. They are watching cartoons on television when Mio's mother wishes her daughter another happy birthday and gives her a kiss before leaving for work. During the entire program with cheerfully drawn animals and absolutely no slapstick humor (Ritsu relents because it is Mio's birthday), her friend is completely distracted.
Ritsu's eyes are sporadically drawn to the dark shimmer of Mio's garment. Like her hair, she thinks before cocking her head at the pattern of waves rolling through the deep blue sea of cloth—silver white stitches of foaming froth.
The whisper of her small stubby digit against the silk as she traces the crests and troughs indiscriminately makes Mio want to squirm. But she doesn't. She tolerates it magnanimously. After all, Ritsu's birthday present is in her hand and the other girl is, for once, being deliberately careful.
Afterwards, Ritsu—having sat still for too long and now a bundle of energy—insists on going out to the park. So Mio bundles up in her winter clothes and they leave the house at dusk. Upon arriving, Ritsu targets the shoreline of the small pond immediately, looking for stones to skip. Feeling sorry for the hapless ducks, Mio carefully leads them out of Ritsu's firing range with crumbs of bread. She is kneeling at the edge of the pond, smiling at the small, fussing birds and watching them peck at the food when Ritsu starts talking.
"I haven't got a lot of time left," she says glumly.
"Time for what?" Mio asks, thinking that the year has just only begun, and that there is time enough for anything.
"For practicing." Ritsu's first stone jumps once on the water before sinking with a small plunk. "Soon this pond and all the other ones are gonna freeze. And then there won't be any place left for skipping stones."
The ducks are successfully saved and all the bread is gone, so Mio sits down next to Ritsu's sneakers. The owner of the shoes looks down at her, pausing in the gathering of pebbles.
"I've gotta beat my dad's record," she explains, tossing a reject stone over her shoulder—too heavy. "For number of skips." She doesn't even pick up the next rock because it's not flat enough.
"If I can beat him," she continues, toeing some rocks to the side, thinking they are hiding their better-shaped allies beneath, "he'll give me anything I want."
Her eyes are wide as she looks to her dark-haired friend. "Anything. Anything, he said."
"Anything!" she exclaims, twirling in a sloppy circle with her arms thrown above her head as if to indicate the world and everything it. The ducks take flight at the extravagant gesture.
After a moment of silent contemplation, she drops her arms and Mio chooses a stone from the ground for her.
"What do you think," Ritsu's voice sounds hushed now that the calls of the ducks have faded, "I should ask for?"
Her father had taught her all the skills important for excelling at elementary school life: how to throw and catch, how to kick a ball, how to skip stones, and how to shoot marbles.
Ritsu's father had never taught her how to deal with shy, pretty girls like Akiyama Mio.
On that day, when she sees Mio shoulder her backpack and walk away down the sidewalk, she scrambles to her feet without taking her shot, elbowing the boy next to her in the ribs in her haste.
"Hey! You can't leave!" he whines. He gestures to the ring scribbled in the dirt encircling a fair number of colored glass spheres, "You can't call quitsies! Else you lose the ones you've got in the ring."
"Sure, whatever," Ritsu says, scooping up the marbles at her knees. "You can keep them," she waves dismissively towards the center of the circle and her abandoned marbles. "I'll win them back tomorrow."
Because spending time with Mio is infinitely better than winning marbles from the wimpy boys in her class who can't even pull off a backspin shot. Not only is Mio the prettiest girl in the grade, but she is also the most fun because of her hilarious reactions to Ritsu's antics.
"Mio-chan!" Ritsu is strolling after her, shoving marbles into her pants pockets. "Wait up!"
The other girl characteristically freezes upon hearing the call. Her right foot is even a few centimeters above the ground as she stops. She doesn't turn around because it's unnecessary—Tainaka Ritsu's voice is distinctive and unmistakable. Besides, no one else really talks to her, so who else would yell her name out so loudly?
So Mio stands, one foot in the air, and wavers, while Ritsu gradually approaches closer. Finally making her decision, the black-haired girl takes her foot and presses it down onto its own shadow. She does not turn. She stares at the small pink bow on her shoe and she listens to her pursuer.
But Ritsu is faster, so it doesn't matter really, because she can and will always be able to catch Mio.
Ritsu comes up alongside her, flashes a brilliant smile at Mio's stoic face, and they step off together.
Of course, they do not stay side by side for long. Ritsu is unsatisfied with the steady tempo of their walking and takes to skipping forward, running small circles around her friend, and lagging behind to study discarded garbage on the sidewalk.
The third time she scampers to catch up with Mio, Ritsu strikes up a conversation by waving a small steel ball in her face. Its surface is scuffed and scratched from years of use—she inherited it from her father—and collisions with other marbles.
"Like it? It's my taw."
At Mio's confused expression she explains further, "This is the marble I shoot with. I knock the other marbles outta the ring and I get to keep them. Do you know how to play marbles, Mio-chan?"
The next day, she drags Mio along with her to the game. The boys spend the entire time staring at Mio while Mio stares at the bright glass balls and rolls the one Ritsu gives her in her hands. In fact, they spend so much time staring at her that their shots are even worse than usual, and they don't notice when Ritsu takes her second shot without holding her knuckles all the way down on the dirt the way the rules dictate. They stare at her not so much because of her pretty hair and nice sundress, but because she's a girl. Never mind the fact that they see Ritsu nearly everyday—Tainaka, as far as they are concerned, is one of them—Akiyama Mio is a girl. Girls play on that side of the playground, with the brightly colored chalk and the hopscotch and the neon jump ropes. They think she is a lady, but they are chubby-faced boys whose baby teeth are still falling out, and they haven't a faintest idea what a lady is.
Ritsu is a natural opportunist. She shoots twice in a row, unties someone's shoes, and swipes the bright blue marble that belongs to the boy on her right. He doesn't even notice. She sneaks a glance and everyone is preoccupied with her friend. Smugly, she drops the marble into his upturned hat on the dirt. Ritsu takes the game by storm—even more so than usual—and her loot for the day bulges in her pocket. She realizes soon that she needn't have bothered, as her playmates are too happy to offer Mio their remaining marbles as love tokens before they leave.
But the object of their affections only demurs, shrinking away shyly. The only marble she keeps—black with a corkscrew pattern of red— is the one she had from the beginning. Disappointed, they all still rise to see her off. One of them trips over his shoelaces. Another finds his own marble hitting him on the head.
Mio does not notice their embarrassing clumsiness. In fact, good or bad, she does not notice them at all.
The boys all secretly loathe Tainaku Ritsu a little more after that day.
She despises the fourth—the unlucky character—of her name. Hates writing it, especially. It is the result of a childhood of poor fine motor skills and too many strokes. She also hates what it means, what it represents—it is her name, but not like her at all, and it was all her parents' fault, so they must be fittingly punished. Therefore, Ritsu is a wild, troublesome child. Laws, regulations, statutes—she spends most of her childhood in a rampage against her name. A perpetual contest, as if to see which of them would break first.
But Ritsu thinks that Mio has a nice name. Too many strokes and radicals, for sure, but it is elegant and fitting, and what do stroke numbers matter, when it's not Ritsu who has to trace them out painstakingly?
In fact, she likes the second character of Mio's name the best—simplest to write, it only has three strokes (she is still a little jealous). It means "mountain."
Mio has both fire and water in her name, separated by these three simple lines. Three movements to build a mountain. Fire on the left, water on the right, a mountain in between. She peers at Mio and wonders where the water and fire are hidden. She imagines that she can see the mountains already; they are hard to miss, after all. There is something cold, lonely, and awe-inspiring to Mio, something not unlike the snowy crags. She cannot articulate any of this, but the feeling resides within, and she is ruminating—
"Ritsu, are you done yet?" Mio asks.
"Huh? No, wait." Ritsu slides her eyes away and to Mio's answer on the paper.
They are doing math homework together in Mio's room. Or rather, Mio is solving the problems and Ritsu is fumbling along, trying to understand some of the concepts and copying the other's answers when that fails.
And she thought maths was bad in elementary school. Middle school arithmetic is a perversion. The teachers are trying to convince her that math is literature and art simultaneously. There are things called "graphs" and each "equation" has a corresponding picture. Pictures and letters. For numbers.
It's all messed up.
She remarks as such to Mio, who only responds, "Yes, but did you at least get the right answer?"
"Noo," looking at the correct answer makes her morose. "How comes yours looks like a 'u' and mine's a 'v'? !"
"Wow," Mio says.
"I know, right? This doesn't make sense—"
"I didn't know you actually paid enough attention to learn the full English alphabet."
Ritsu violently stabs the open textbook with one indignant finger. "I know 'x' and 'y,' don't I?" she snarls at the math equation that taunts her with its letters. "Did you think I learned the alphabet backwards?"
"Ritsu, you can't just connect the dots any way you like," she is sighing, neck turned to see the other girl's wobbly lines. "Weren't you paying attention? The independent variable in this function is squared. It has to be a parabola. It's only going to look like that," Mio points at Ritsu's 'v', "if there's an absolute value in the equation."
"Which is another reason why you shouldn't just do the bare minimum of three points. If you'd plotted more, it would have been quite obvious it was parabolic." Mio is using her detached teacher-voice by this point.
Ritsu rips up her paper and starts over again.
She is penning her name across the top of the page for the third time when she suddenly remembers her previous thoughts. Mio may be the mountain, but she is nothing but the plain, and not cultivated at all as that first character suggests as she glares down at it.
She will burn that detestable name with the fire from her eyes. The field will be scorched and the well will dry up and there will be a flaming pit—
Mio speaks. "I'm running out of graph paper because of you, Ritsu."
Ritsu stops because she suddenly realizes what the odd nagging feeling is.
Mio hasn't called her "Ricchan" for the past two days. Though not a first, the dropping of the suffix has never been consistent. She looks sharply up at Mio, who is watching her, chin propped on a hand.
"What?" Mio glances at the three characters on the page. "Forget how to write your own name, Ritsu?"
She sticks out her tongue. "No."
She writes to prove her wrong.
And suddenly, suffering through those nine lines isn't quite so terrible anymore.
For Azusa, time spent with Yui is like time spent on the beach—all exhilaration and excitement with sand in uncomfortable places, daylong and thoughtless gamboling ending in sweet exhaustion and sunburns at dusk. Being with Mio feels like midmorning on a cool autumn day with only small breezes and the fallen leaves underfoot to share the feeling of inexplicable and subtle satisfaction.
Yui… Yui gives. She gives her hugs and pet names and a lot of anxiety. There is so much to take that Azusa is not sure what to give to her fellow guitarist. She doesn't even know what she wants when it comes to Yui.
Her relationship with Mio is simpler in theory and therefore that much more difficult in practice. Azusa wants recognition from the bassist, wants encouragement and criticism, and more than anything else, she wants to prove herself.
And right now she is proving herself to be an anxious underclassman that is barely avoiding stumbling over her own words.
"My parents know a left-handed guitarist. He, um… comes to their concerts sometimes. And, well, you should come to one sometime too, Mio-senpai, if you have time. I can get you in for free since they're, well, my parents."
"Wha—? Really? Oh, but I couldn't, Azusa. I'd feel bad about not paying, especially since they're so popular."
"O-oh, it's no trouble, really!"
"But wouldn't you rather invite Yui? She might be able to learn something from the musical experience. I know getting four people in would be too much trouble…"
"Oh. Well…" and she looks embarrassed and a little shy. "It's just… I kind of wanted you to come, Mio-senpai." There's a barely noticeable emphasis on the second person pronoun.
And they pause outside the door of the club and Azusa is smiling, all timid hope written over her face. Mio reaches out and agrees silently as she pats the younger girl's head.
The doors are suddenly flung open.
Mio snatches her hand back in surprise and they both turn to see Sawako-sensei looking too pleased and too innocent, and Ritsu beaming from next to her. And there's a rustle of cloth between them, and then they see cat ears and frills, and a tail.
"If we run…" Mio starts, looking at the objects as a condemned prisoner might regard the gallows.
"…In opposite directions," Azusa continues, nodding grimly.
"One of us might get away."
And they're off.
Azusa sprints down the stairs, her hand squeaking against the brass turtle's shell on the stairwell turn as she whips in a half circle, the flight of steps decreasing by two's in her hurry. She is catching her breath in the far corner of the girl's bathroom, by classroom 2A, when the door swings open and Ritsu nonchalantly strolls in.
"Come quietly," the drummer declares in true dramatic style, leaning against the door, "and I'll talk Sawa-chan into dropping the tail."
Azusa huffs, deliberates, finally relents and goes with the club president.
"Why did you come after me?" she wants to know, thinking that even if she is easy prey, there should be little reason for Ritsu to prefer her to Mio for her daily amusements.
"What's that? Are you complaining?" Ritsu jostles her slightly. "You should be thankful. Sawa-chan is a lot scarier than I am."
"I guess…" the younger student cranes her head a bit, but only catches a glance of Ritsu's bangs.
"And Sawa-chan has these crazy moves! She can sprint in high heels and do a midair dive-flip-roll!"
"It's the truth!" People are staring at the duo as they make their way back to the third floor. Ritsu has decided there is only one proper way to march a captured prisoner of war to the prison—in a headlock.
The music room is ominously silent as drummer and guitarist stand outside. Ritsu does not relinquish her hold as she stares through the glazed glass and battles with herself.
It is not the question she wants to ask, but: "Hey, why do you think I'm sketchy?"
Headlock, coercion, scandalous outfits, scheming with an unreliable teacher… Azusa wishes she could somehow capture this moment and shove it in her face.
"I… I can't answer that, Ritsu-senpai…"
The brunette has an uncharacteristic expression on her face. It might even be a pout, but Azusa cannot tell for sure since her head is currently at an awkward angle.
"But even if you're sketchy, Mio-senpai likes you, so I guess you can't be that bad."
"What's that mean? !"
"Uh, nothing! Just… that, Mio-senpai seems like the kind of person who would be afraid of sketchy people."
Right. Of course.
"It wasn't that bad."
The wailing does not diminish in the slightest.
"Really. It's nothing to be upset about. Geez, I bet everybody thinks you did it on purpose! … …Mio. …Oy, Mio. HEY! I can't concentrate if you're making such a racket!"
At least the sobbing dies down, but Mio's still curled up on her bed rocking back and forth in despair, muttering choked words to herself. Ritsu rolls her eyes and turns to her advanced algebra book.
But it looks like gibberish. "Mio, come help me with this."
Ritsu crouches next to Mio, and can make out her mumblings, barely. It's a repeated mantra, panicked and despairing, consisting of "no one will marry me now," and "panties."
The drummer contemplates leaving the broken girl alone long enough until she fixes herself, but finding that Mio's immobilizing self-pity to be detrimental to her schoolwork, Ritsu decides that now is the time for desperate measures.
"Mio," she intones solemnly and places her hands flat on the covers of the bed to lend more credence to her declaration, "if nobody marries you, then I will."
Mio looks up at Ritsu's grin, her eyes wide and still sparkling with tears. Rtisu nods encouragingly, pleased with her success.
She figures she can push her luck a little. "But only if you learn how to make tea like Mugi and buy me pastries all the time."
Mio is silent long enough that Ritsu, hopeful, starts nudging her math textbook into view. She pats her hand reassuringly and tries for her most comforting expression while Mio stares at her for three measures of their heartbeats in common time. And then she opens her mouth and lets out her loudest wail yet. Ritsu's eyebrow twitches down in irritation.
"Uwah! No! That's no good at all! I can't be married to you! You're messy, lazy, forgetful, and irresponsible!"
Ritsu sighs, "And you say these things as if you haven't put with me for years."
Mio sobs in desperation and feeling more exasperated than slighted, Ritsu picks up a discarded manga and pushes her textbook out of the way. There really is no point in studying when Mio is like this.
Ritsu is quite immune to Mio's aesthetics. It's probably something like desensitization, she wagers, since she's seen her just about everyday since elementary school. She has moved past being charmed speechless by random bouts of cuteness, and has long since begun exploiting Mio's looks for her own benefit, although to questionable success. It's only when Mio is exceptionally adorable or when Ritsu has been caught unawares does she find herself hopelessly ensnared. And sometimes, when Mio is just too Mio, she can't quite help it.
And as for Mio herself, she doesn't have quite enough self-confidence to be properly shallow, and she wonders if it's just in Mio's nature to finds things cute to less extremes as most girls, because she doesn't fawn the way Yui and Mugi do, and it's a small point of pride for Ritsu that Mio has only ever used "-chan" with her name, and that stopped at the beginning of middle school.
Ritsu, elbows raised and fingers laced behind her head, sees her across the street, back from some errand probably, though she's empty-handed. Her instinct is to cross the street and throw her arm around Mio's shoulder hard enough to knock her off balance. But today, maybe she'll sneak up behind her and scare her. That, Ritsu thinks to herself with a smirk, would be a good laugh.
And she's taken one step off the curb when Mio pauses, and turns around inexplicably. There is no car horn, no barking dog, no call of her name, so Ritsu has no idea what Mio looks back for. Maybe she heard something, because Mio is always hearing things Ritsu can't—those silent melodies that she isn't privy to.
Mio steps back, her foot crossing the midline of her body, and she turns, but it's really a dancer's pirouette, with the weight of the rotation on the ball of one foot and the way her body torques with an effortless grace. It's twilight and the embers of the sun cast streaks of gold in her long hair as it whips, in a perfect arc, behind her. Her face is calm, her eyes serene. The dark curtain of her hair settles softly against the back of her school jacket. Ritsu has that same jacket. In fact, she's wearing it now, but they couldn't be more different. Mio looks windward, and the breeze ruffles her pleated skirt gently in appreciation. Ritsu feels the air, stale and dead, around herself. The angles of her face are perfect in the gathering dusk; the shadow slants across her body and the darkness only adds to the effect. Mio is all poise and elegance. And it's been awhile since her breath has been taken away like this.
And it's so… so clichéd.
But leave it to Mio to be able to make a cliché look classic.
Mio doesn't see her. Of course not.
For no reason whatsoever, Ritsu remembers—because she has realized it long ago, and has most definitely accepted it—she'll never be as smart as Mio, nor as beautiful, nor as tall. Is it wrong that the last one bothers her most?
There's a ghost of a smile on her face and Mio closes her eyes, turns again, and continues down the sidewalk.
And of all the smiles Mio has given her—and Ritsu, no doubt, has seen more of them than anyone else, of this she is sure— this is not one of them either.
Ritsu retracts that step, her heel clipping on the dry asphalt, and stands on this side of the street. She turns around too, her hair too short to flip.
It's one of those days. She wakes to her brother's shout and not her alarm.
"Nee-chan!" he calls from a floor below, "You're not up yet? You're going to be late!"
When Ritsu bolts out of the door five minutes later, taking the bus is not an option. Dashing down the sidewalk instead, she hurriedly pulls a hand through her hair before slipping on her headband. Her hurried sprint is only halted by a legion of cars at the pedestrian crossing. Catching her breath, she checks the time on her phone.
Her only warning is a peal of thunder before the rain comes. The droplets cascade off the plastic of her cell phone as the backlight dims. She closes it and drops it back into her schoolbag. If she's not late, she'll be wet. Of all the days, today, when she is supposed to present her project with Yui and Mugi. She dully holds the bag over her head as the sign changes. Pausing at the other side of the walk, she hears her things clatter inside the waterproof nylon as she shifts her grip to hold the bag more closely over her head, already feeling the back of her hair dripping water onto her neck. Staring ahead as if gauging distance, Ritsu briefly contemplates dashing the rest of the way to the school, but puddles are already forming in the downpour. There's a fair bit of distance to the school yet, and if she runs, the muddy water will splash onto her socks. She doesn't feel like being lectured again today, what with the teachers already giving her enough trouble with not buttoning her jacket.
Thinking of the jacket gives her an idea: if she can keep it dry, she can probably wear it over her shirt and look a little more presentable. She reaches the park and her tardiness is confirmed by the lone person sitting on a bench instead of the usual obediently trudging hordes of students. Ritsu pulls off the jacket of her school uniform and unzips her bag. An arc of lightning streaks across the sky, her hand jumps, and the jacket splashes into the mud.
When she was young, Ritsu had once stayed up past her bedtime with her ear against a door and listened as her father and uncle got supremely drunk with their friends. Because of this, she knows a lot of curse words. She could probably have the foulest mouth of anyone in her class. Now, looking at the rapidly soaking garment, she doesn't know where to start. She's so absorbed she doesn't even notice the person on the bench stand and walk over. The words reach her at the same moment she realizes she can no longer feel the rain pelting on her bare arms.
"I thought you'd forget an umbrella."
She turns and blinks the water out of her eyes.
Mio is standing next to her, closer than usual because the umbrella won't accommodate them otherwise.
Her friend's eyes blink once as they travel over her wet form and then she looks away, into the sky, as if she'd like to count the raindrops. Some of Mio's simple calmness manages to seep into Ritsu and she feels a little better because Mio is with her and Mio is never late. She snags the article from the ground and doesn't ask for how long or why Mio waits.
They walk briskly in silence and it feels like night with the clouds and shadows and the absence of the sun. Under the umbrella now, she drips dry rather pathetically and the wind is cruel as it whips through her blouse. She manages to bump into Mio in her attempts at huddling under the umbrella, but perhaps the other girl realizes it hasn't been a good morning, and says nothing of it.
Mio glances over at her for the first time when Ritsu tries to wring out her garment unsuccessfully just as the school comes into view. "If the stains don't come out after the first time you wash it, you should probably send it out to be cleaned."
The drummer makes a noise like weary anger in the back of her throat as they reach the school and scrubs her cold forearm across her face, slicking off the rain. Mio stops by the entrance to close her umbrella with a click. Watching the raindrops tumble through the air as Mio shakes them out with a flick of her wrist, Ritsu wonders morosely if the teacher will comment on her appearance and attire. She hopes they won't be docked points off their presentation. They reach the lockers, and there are still a few students loitering for the last few moments before the bell. Ritsu shoves the dirtied piece of clothing to the back of her locker with more force than necessary and tosses her shoes in afterward without looking. She clambers into her indoor shoes gracelessly, and is hopping on one foot, trying to pull out the folded heel of the left one when a rustle of dark blue at the corner of her eye causes her to realize that Mio is still standing next to her.
"Here," she says.
Ritsu stares blankly and Mio rolls her eyes. It's a small one done more out of habit than exasperation. She agitates the jacket hanging from two fingers in front of her impatiently.
"Take it. I have an extra in my locker."
Ritsu puts her foot down and the shoe finally slips on properly. She takes it, her fingers fisting the back of the cloth. Mio lets her hand fall and it crumples.
"Hurry up and go."
Tripping up the stairs as she pulls it on, Ritsu shrugs her shoulders in order to make her right arm go in the sleeve. She's not used to nicely laundered, ironed, and folded jackets. Her own are always slightly wrinkled, loose, and floppy. She reaches the top of the steps as she smoothes down the collar, but pauses. Baffled, she looks right and left, and then back down below.
There's no one else around.
She shivers and presses the cloth, still warm, to her arms, rubbing down the goose bumps on her skin. She is still as the last remnants of water drip off her hair onto the polished wood. There is a far off rumble as the rain continues its soft staccato beat on the windowpane. Ritsu pulls up the lapel of the jacket and turns her head to the side, her nose barely brushing the fabric. She exhales softly, and lets it fall back into place, understanding where the wandering scent comes from.
So… the second season of K-On! came out and finished before I got the third chapter done. And not on the 14th. I feel the shame. Really. You can put down those rocks now…
A special thanks to everyone who has stayed with the story for this long. Hopefully it was worth it. Until the next update, then.