One of the most popular girls at Hikari's new school is a slender, mysterious beauty named Makoto. What does she do with her popularity? How does she effect the others around her?
This story is told not from Ito's viewpoint, nor Makoto's, but that of a new student - one who isn't in on any of the series' big secrets. This story should fit smoothly into the "canonical" W Juliet storyline, sometime during Makoto's first year at the school. Hikari, the narrator, is never seen in the manga, but it is a big school, after all.
"Class, I'm sure most of you have noticed our new student. Her name is Sasaki Hikari, and she's just transferred here from the Kyoiku School for the Disabled."
"Hajimemashite; yoroshiku onegai shimasu," I said - pleased to meet you, please treat me kindly - it's a stock phrase, something most people say without thinking about. Looking around fearfully at my new classmates, though, I meant it quite literally. Please treat me kindly. I was the first disabled student to enroll in this regular school, and I'd been told more than once that it was a bad idea - that they wouldn't know what to do with me, that they'd be cruel. Still...
"Hajimemashite, Hikari-san", the class singsonged out following Yoshida-Sensei's lead. Dozens of faces focused on me - mostly at my wheelchair or my legs instead of my face, but at least they seemed curious instead of disgusted or hostile. I hoped they would stay that way.
"Class, I hope you have your presentations ready. Sasaki-san, since you obviously haven't had the time to prepare a report, please take notes and submit a written summary of any three of the presentations by the end of the week. Arai-san, your report is first."
A broad-shouldered boy with glasses jumped up from the row beside me and stepped forward. The impression of athleticism was spoiled when he tripped over his own feet and fumbled his papers, spilling them onto the floor. As he knelt to gather them, I scooped up the ones I could reach and handed them to him; he looked up at me with such sudden gratitude and excitement and nervousness that his eyes shone like beacons behind the little round lenses.
The boy made it to the podium, cleared his throat shyly, introduced himself - Arai Kazuhiro - and launched into a presentation about the geology of Mount Fuji. I saw eyes rolling around the classroom and could almost hear the thought go through the other students' minds: what a nerd. Kazuhiro, though, quickly warmed up, his nervousness replaced with excitement as he enthusiastically talked about metamorphic rocks and lava tubes, basalts and andesites. His animation, his zeal, was such a contrast to the bored cynicism in the room that I couldn't help be fascinated.
One girl, though, gave him her attention - one girl besides me, that is - and she was the next one called to present. "Amano-san, you are next."
The attentive girl stood to her impressive height, long blonde hair swirling all around her. As she walked smoothly to the front of the room, a complete hush fell over the students. Bodies shifted from lazy slouches to forward-leaning attentiveness - especially among the boys. She began to speak on the history of Kabuki theater. My attention wavered from her topic as I studied the girl herself. Her voice was smooth, her gestures poised, her sentences perfectly-formed. Tall, slender, graceful, elegant, beautiful, and the center of everyone's admiration - this Amano Makoto was everything I was not, everything I would never be. I almost wanted to resent her, but there was something too gentle and exquisite about her to dislike.
Kazuhiro's eyes were riveted on Makoto, too. I frowned. Well, I could not blame him.
More presentations followed, and the class was dismissed. As students stuffed books and notes into backpacks, I swallowed down nervousness and called out, "Kazuhiro-san?" The boy looked up.
"I really liked your presentation. It was wonderful."
A lovely smile broke over Kazuhiro's face. "Thank you! I love geology. It's my favorite subject. Well, after zoology. And physics, of course. But - oh, I'm sorry, I have to go. Welcome to our school. Until later - " and he scurried off, dropping and re-gathering his books as he made for the door.
Well, then, I thought as I wheeled out the room at the tail of the serpent of students. Maybe I'll have a friend here.
In the hallway, I fumbled open my little map of the school. "3-2", I mumbled, and looked around at the signs protruding above doorways.
The tall girl from class appeared beside me. "Hikari-san, do you need some help finding your way? I just transferred here myself a couple months ago - I know what it's like to be new."
"Oh! Thank you! I think my next class is two floors up, basically straight above us... there isn't an elevator at this end of the building, is there?"
"I'm afraid not," Makoto said.
I bit my lip unhappily. "It will take me so long to make it to the elevator at the other end of the building... I hate coming in late, it's so embarrassing..."
"Well, may I carry you upstairs, then?" Makoto suggested cheerfully.
"Oh, no! You couldn't - I'm much too heavy."
Makoto's kindly smile turned up into a wry grin. "Don't worry. I'm a lot stronger than I look." And, suddenly, her arms were under me and she was lifting me from my chair. She held me up as comfortably as you'd hold a doll and looked around at the cloud of boys who hovered vaguely near her. "Excuse me, Daisuke-san, could you follow us up the stairs with Hikari-san's wheelchair?"
The boy nodded eagerly, seeming delighted at the honor of doing Makoto a favor. He began fussing with my chair as Makoto carried me into the stairwell. "You need to push down on the levers behind the front wheels", I called out as Makoto ascended with me.
I wrapped my arms around her neck to hold on as she climbed, her shoes clacking neatly on each step. She smelled floral - faint perfume, or perhaps scented soap - and her body moved with ease and grace. I've been carried around by my parents and by more nurses than I can count, but nobody ever made it seem as easy as Makoto did; my weight didn't unbalance her at all, and her breathing didn't even speed up.
Makoto paused at the top of the stairs, still holding me while we waited for Daisuke to arrive with my wheelchair. A boy in the hallway with a messy shock of glossy dark hair called out, "Mako-", then stopped suddenly, staring at me in Makoto's arms.
"Ito", cooed Makoto, but the boy flattened his open mouth into a frown, balled his hands into fists, wheeled around, and marched quickly away. "Ito?", called Makoto as the boy stomped off.
"I - um - I'm sorry", I stammered. "Was that your boyfriend?"
Makoto looked down at me, and for the first time her air of perfect compusure vanished. Her eyes went wide and a blush spread up her face so fierce that I could feel heat emanating from her skin. "N - no - uh, hah, no, of course not. Ito is a girl."
"A girl? Oh, um, I'm sorry. Why does she dress that way, then?"
Daisuke finally arrived with my chair, and Makoto eased me down into it. "Well, she has her own reasons. Maybe the best thing is for you to make friends with her and ask her yourself. It would be worth your while. She makes a wonderful friend."
"I guess I'll do that. If you like her, she must be all right. Thank you so much for helping me, Makoto-san. You're very kind. Thank you, too, Daisuke-san."
Makoto put her hand on my shoulder and smiled. "It made me happy to help you. Shall we do this again tomorrow?"
I nodded happily. Two friends, then. This school is turning out all right after all.
I looked out over the crowded cafeteria. Lunchtime, the most socially stressful part of the day. Which table would they let me sit at? With the extra space my wheelchair took up, anybody who wanted to snub me would have the most innocent excuse: "We don't have room for you here".
I peered through the sea of heads, vaguely hoping to spot Kazuhiro's face, but couldn't pick him out. Then I saw Makoto stand up from a crowded table and came my way.
"Hikari-san, would you like to come sit with us? We'd like to get to know you."
I almost melted in relief as Makoto wheeled me toward her table. Murmurs came up from a table we passed - "Look, what's Makoto doing with the cripple?" I steeled myself to ignore them, but Makoto glared sharply at a girl sitting there. "Her legs don't work, but her ears work just fine, and so do mine. Be polite." Everyone at the table looked stunned and sat silent as we continued on.
"C'mon, everybody, make room for Hikari. Hikari, meet the drama club." A dozen or so girls shuffled their chairs and plates while introducing themselves; I'd never remember them all, but it was just nice to have people acting so friendly.
"Hi, Hikari. I'm Miura Ito," said the short-haired not-a-boy from that morning. She thrust out a hand and gave a vigorous handshake. Looking at her up close, I could tell she was a girl, but her mannerisms sure didn't clarify the matter. "I'm sorry I was so rude this morning. Makoto and I had, um, a misunderstanding. But we figured it out." She and Makoto exchanged a mysterious grin.
"Why did you come here from the disabled school, Hikari?" asked a girl whose name I couldn't remember.
This answer I'd rehearsed a thousand times. "I didn't like the school for the disabled. They don't try very hard to teach you; they assume that you won't be able to do anything important with your life. I want to learn science, though, lots of science - I'm going to be an astronomer." Instead of noises of disbelief, they made impressed-sounding "oohs". These people are nice. I wonder if I could be in the drama club, too - but how many roles can there be for girls in wheelchairs?
After that I mostly just listened as the drama club buzzed about their plays and a million other things. There was some speculation about who Makoto should take for a boyfriend - this seemed to be a favorite topic of everybody except Ito and Makoto herself ("I don't want a boyfriend, I prefer to spend time with my friends.") Strange world - Makoto could have any boy she wanted, and she didn't want any of them. I only wanted one...
Ito talked boisterously, laughed loudly, spread out her elbows, and shoveled food into her mouth like coal into a steam boiler. She brushed stray rice grains forcefully from her face with her sleeve and they flew everywhere. Meanwhile, Makoto sat primly, spoke softly, and ate delicately, handling her chopsticks as precisely as a geisha. You'd think a tomboy like Ito and a girl as feminine as Makoto wouldn't even like each other, but you could tell they were best friends - the way they smiled at each other, laughed together at private jokes that even the other drama kids didn't seem to get, and left hand-in-hand when lunch was over. What an odd pair.
The first day was over, and just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I spotted Kazuhiro, the geology boy, as I wheeled out the front door. Well, why not? Hasn't it been a really good day, after all? I pushed my chair toward him and called out, "Kazuhiro-san?"
He looked up from the book he was reading and - yes, he smiled, he really smiled at me. "Hikari-san! I hope you have had a good first day."
"I did, I really did," I said as I wheeled up to him. "Um - I hope you don't mind talking about your assignment more, but - I was wondering about what you said about eruption frequency. I was thinking, doesn't the government have some sort of volcano monitors in place?"
He didn't mind, that's for sure. His face lit up and he started talking about seismic monitoring, but then a pretty girl I didn't know appeared and interrupted him. "Oh, Kazuhiro-san, that is so nice of you, talking to the crippled girl. You're so generous. But remember, I need you to tutor me tonight."
Kazuhiro looked uncertain. "Ah, Hikari-san, this is Kamiko-san. I have helped her with her mathematics homework sometimes."
"Yes, and you're soooo smart," the girl purred. She put her hands behind her back and crouched slightly, looking up at him through her eyelashes, swinging her knees back and forth, making her skirt flare out. "I don't know what I'd do without you. Please, I really need help getting ready for a test next week." She took Kazuhiro by the elbow and began to pull him away down the sidewalk.
Kazuhiro flicked his eyes between Kamiko and me as he was dragged into the distance, looking bewildered. "I'm - uh - yes - uh - Hikari-san, I'm sorry, I need to go - I hope to talk to you later - "
I waved goodbye, not knowing what else to do. I hope so, too.
"Hikari-san, you're wearing mascara!" said a girl named Miho.
I blushed. "It's not very good, though. I tried but - oh, I don't know. I'm not very good. I wish I could - " I turned to Makoto, sitting at my left at the lunch table. "I wish I could do it like you - your makeup is so perfect, you don't even notice it's there unless you think about it, but you look like a movie star..."
She didn't blush; she just smiled and tilted her head slightly. "Thank you, that's very sweet of you to say. My sister is a professional makeup artist, and she taught me how."
"You're so lucky!" cried Miho. "It's not fair - you're so pretty already, Makoto! You don't need any more advantages!"
"There's nothing magic about it," said Makoto. "I just had someone to teach me, and I learned. I could teach you the same things, if you want, Hikari-san."
"What do you want to wear makeup for anyway?" asked Ito. "What's the point? If somebody doesn't like you without makeup, but they like you with it, then they don't even like the real you anyway."
"It has no use for some people", Makoto said, waving a hand in acknowledgement at Ito. "But, for some of us, it can be important. I... well, without makeup, I'd hardly know who I am." She looked back at Ito with a smirk, who answered with a big grin: another private joke of theirs, I supposed.
"The important thing about makeup isn't how it looks from the outside, but how it makes you feel. If you think the makeup is pretty but you're not, then it won't do any good. But, if wearing it helps you understand and believe that you are already beautiful, then it can help the beauty shine out of you so other people can see it, too."
"Ha ha! Makoto-san is Oprah!", laughed Miho.
"So I don't know if you should wear makeup or not", Makoto finished. "But I'll help teach you if you want to learn."
"You look very pretty today, Hikari-san", Makoto said the next day as she wheeled me toward the lunch table.
"Well, I ought to, with as long as you spent last night teaching me! We must have wiped my face clean and started over fifty times."
"And that's why you look so nice today. Practice is everything. Now, I think I see an opportunity..." She abruptly turned me toward a different table, one full of boys - and Arai Kazuhiro.
"Wait - " I protested. "I don't - "
But she was already pushing me into an open space right next to Kazuhiro. "Excuse me!", she said. "Do you boys mind if Hikari-san and I sit with you today?" She gave them a winning smile, and jaws fell open around the table.
Kazuhiro smiled at me. "Hi!" he said. "It's nice to see you, Hikari-san!"
A bubble seemed to grow up around Kazuhiro and me, cutting off the rest of the world. The chatter of the other boys trying to impress Makoto was like a buzzing of distant bugs, and we were all alone. It was a nice feeling. We talked about astronomy and physics, books and classes, his family and my family. Makoto eventually had to nudge my shoulder and point out that lunch was over and everyone was leaving.
I turned from my locker to find my way blocked by a girl scowling down at me, her arms crossed across her chest.
"Um, hi... I'm Sasaki Hikari - oh, you're Kamiko-san, Kazuhiro-san's math... friend."
"I know who you are, Sasaki-san, and I know what you're doing. I'm not going to let you get away with it."
"What I'm doing?"
"You are using Kazuhiro-san's pity for you to try to get close to him. You're all wrong for him "
I was not ready for an argument like this. I stammered, looking for words. "Kazuhiro-san likes me."
"No, he pities you. It's different. He's a nice boy, and he thinks it's his duty to be nice to you because you're a cripple. You are taking advantage of his niceness when you know perfectly well that you're not worthy of him."
"What - I - "
"We're not children here, Sasaki-san. It's time for Kazuhiro-san to think about his future. He's a very smart man. He is going to be very successful and well-paid. He will need a wife who can make a proper family for him. Can you, Sasaki-san? Can you raise children for him? Can you teach his children to walk - from your wheelchair? No, Sasaki-san, he deserves a real woman - a whole woman. Everyone knows that, except you, it seems."
I could feel tears forming in my eyes. I covered them with my hands so she wouldn't see them.
"Leave Kazuhiro-san alone. Just because your life is going nowhere doesn't give you the right to drag him down with you."
When I came out of school that day, Kazuhiro was already talking to Kamiko. He waved at me, then she took his arm and said something to him. They talked for a moment, then he pulled away and came to me.
"Hi, Kazuhiro... don't you need to tutor Kamiko today?"
He looked annoyed. "I'm not going to tutor her anymore. I don't like... the things she says."
But the things she says to him are true. He is a nice boy, and I'm a cripple, and he doesn't want her to say that because he pities me.
"I... I'm sorry, Kazuhiro-san, but I need to go. I beg your pardon..." I turned away from him and started down the sidewalk.
I pushed on my wheels more forcefully, my face burning, tears starting to flow.
I was making my way down the hallway when suddenly I came up short, stopped by something.
"Hey, look, everybody, I caught a big one!" boasted Kamiko. She was holding onto a loose strap from behind my chair. I tried to squirm around to grab the strap and pull it from her hand, but I couldn't twist around well enough to get a good grip on it.
"Ooh, this one's a fighter!" The girls around her giggled.
"Stop it, Kamiko-san", I said. Then, lower: "I'm not going to see Kazuhiro anymore. You can leave me alone."
"But you're so much fun, Hikari. Why shouldn't we be able to play with you? I think I aiiiEEEEEEEEE!"
The strap was released, and I spun my chair around to see Ito dragging Kamiko away by her ponytail. "Stop it!" she screamed. "You're hurting me!"
"Hurting you?" Ito let go of Kamiko's hair and spun her around to face her. "No, I'm not hurting you. `Hurting you` is what I'm going to do the next time you pick on Hikari-san. Got that?"
"Are you threatening me?" Kamiko tried to sound indignant, but her voice was shaky and high, and it came out more like a squeak.
Ito lunged forward as fast as a snake, grabbed Kamiko by her collar, and yanked her face to within a centimeter of her oncoming fist. Face and fist both stopped an instant short of collision, and there was a breathless moment before Ito spoke.
"Yes, Kamiko-san. I am threatening you."
She shoved Kamiko roughly away. The girl stumbled a few steps, then ran away down the hallway. Her comerades followed, throwing frightened glances back at Ito.
Ito stood, feet wide apart, fists on her hips, and smiled. "That was FUN! Too bad she didn't put up a fight. She should learn some karate." She clapped me chummily on the shoulder as she passed. "See you at lunch today, Hikari?"
I couldn't help looking around for Kazuhiro after school that day, even though I knew I wouldn't go to him if he was there. Instead, I saw Makoto waving at me. She came toward me with a triumphant-looking smile. "Hikari-san!" she sang out. "I have something for you."
"Oh, uh... hi, Makoto-san... what is it?"
"Guess where Kazuhishu School is going on their class trip next week?" When I looked blank, she said, "The Museum of Natural History!"
"Oh, wow. Lucky for them."
"Mm-hmm. And not just them. It turns out that they've got a little room to spare on their buses... enough for two more students. Here's the phone number of Kohiru-Sensei, the teacher in charge of the trip." She handed me a slip of paper.
"Huh? How did you?"
"The drama club did a guest performance at Kazuhishu School a while ago, and I made some contacts there. I talked to them, and managed to persuade them that the extra space should not go to waste." Her eyelashes fluttered as if in demonstration of her persuasiveness. "I also got permission for your absence from your teachers... and Kazuhiro's."
"Well, of course! I said they had room for two. What could be more natural than to send our two budding scientists to the science museum?"
"I - uh - ah - Makoto, I - "
"The trip is next Wednesday."
"I can't, Makoto. I'm sorry. Thank you for doing so much, though. Kazuhiro could go."
Her air of triumphant mischief vanished, and her lips pursed in frustration. "Hikari, what is going on? You've been acting so lifeless and sad these last few days. And now you don't want to spend a whole day with Kazuhiro? Did he say something bad to you?"
"He didn't, but... Makoto, can't you see? He could have lots of girls. Why would he want to be with a crippled girl like me?"
Her expression turned more serious than I'd ever seen her. "I think that's up to Kazuhiro to decide."
"He only talks to me out of pity, you know. You probably do, too."
"What? Where did - Hikari, where did you get that idea? That's not fair, not fair to me."
"Then what? Why have you been so nice to me? You've been bending over backwards to take care of me."
Makoto looked stunned. "It's called friendship, Hikari. Friends like being nice to each other. It makes them happy. Haven't you had any friends before? Where... what made you so suspicious?"
"Well... Kamiko said..."
"Ah. Kamiko. Ito was saying how much she wanted to break that stupid cow's nose. I'll tell her to go ahead."
"No, wait! Um... you really don't just feel sorry for me?"
"Hikari, who are you going to believe, me or Kamiko? What has she done to earn your trust?"
She crouched down and took both my hands in hers. "I'm an actress, Hikari, but I'm not that good. I don't pretend to like people when I don't like them. I've really enjoyed helping you be happy here. I am not going to let evil lies by Kamiko ruin that."
"Okay, but... about Kazuhiro... what if we fell in love and wanted to get married and have children? How could I be a mother like this?"
Makoto bit her lip and was silent for a moment. "Hikari, can I tell you a secret?" She looked over both shoulders. Almost all the students had dispersed to their homes or clubs by now. She leaned in close.
"There is somebody I love", she said.
I gasped. "You have a boyfriend?"
She hesitated. "Somebody who I have to keep secret, and it seems like there are so many barriers in our way, sometimes I don't know how we will ever have a future together. But we will. We will because I love... this person... and together, we will find a way to be together."
"I don't know if you and Kazuhiro will fall in love with each other. But if you do - then it's the most wonderful thing in the world. There may be sacrifices, but you will be happy to make them. You will find ways to do whatever you need to do, and what you'll find that there isn't anything you need as much as you need each other. Because that's how much love is worth. Giving up on it before it even starts would be... the worst thing you could possibly do. To you and Kazuhiro. Promise me you won't do that."
I was silent, stunned by her intensity.
She smiled. "Well, OK, that's a little much to take in all at once. So for now..." she tapped the paper with the phone number. "Promise me you'll ask Kazuhiro to come to the museum with you."
"I... uh..." Something about the power of her presence, her deep eyes locked earnestly onto mine, washed away doubts about her and Kazuhiro, and even about myself. "Okay. I'll ask."
She beamed. "Good. Then the rest is up to him and you." She straightened up, smoothed down her dress, and spotted Ito across the street. "Time for me to go." She ran off, her hair and dress streaming out behind her, and waved as she took Ito's hand. "I'll see you tomorrow!"
"Bye, Makoto! Thank you!"
Every school has its good parts and its bad parts. For me, one of the best parts of my new school is my friend, Amano Makoto.
I, of course, do not own W Juliet, Makoto, Ito, or a flying pony. Emura, if you should ever read this and want to draw a new W Juliet chapter based on it, I would be beyond delighted. You have my full and unrestricted permission to use it in any way.