A mother drove her daughter on her first day of school in Shibuya National High School with the windows rolled down. The sky a perfect, cloudless blue. Her daughter was wearing her favorite t-shirt—sleeveless, white eyelet lace; her carry-on item was a parka.
She loved Shibuya. She loved the sun and blistering heat. She loved the vigorous, sprawling city.
"Zoe," her mom said to her, "Have fun at school."
Her mom looks like her, except with the short hair and laugh lines. She felt a spasm of panic as she stared at her wide, childlike eyes.
"Bye Mom," Zoe waved. "Tell Dad Good luck at work."
"I'll tell you everything later," she insisted.
They hugged tightly for a minute and then Mrs. Orimoto got on the van, and she was gone.
"Can I help you?" Zoe turned around and fixed her eye on a red-haired teenager, wearing a purple t-shirt. She and her best friend squeezed each other in a long second.
"I've missed you so much, Ashley!" Zoe sighed.
"So am I."
"How was your summer?" Zoe asked.
Ashley and Zoe walked along together while sharing their summer stories.
"Kind of boring but fine. Thanks for asking. Tell me everything what happened in your summer. Found any love partner?" Zoe stared at Ashley with a weird look.
"You know that I'm not interested with boys." Zoe laughed.
"Oh C'mon, its senior year! All you do all day night long is study. Someone has to teach you how to have fun." Ashley scolded Zoe.
"I'm not like you, boy crazy! I don't even know how you do it." Zoe joked.
"Yeah, very funny."
A few walks later, the girls made their classroom. The classroom was small. There were two girls, one a porcelain-colored blonde, the other also pale, with light brown hair.
A tall, balding, man whose desk had a nameplate identifying him as Mr. Mason. Mr. Mason gawked at Zoe—not an encouraging response—and of course Zoe flushed tomato red. But at least Zoe sent her to an empty desk at the back. It wasn't harder for her old classmates to stare at her in the back, but somehow they managed. She kept her eyes down on the reading list the teacher had given her. She'd already read everything.
When the bell rang, a nasal buzzing sound.
A bandana boy and hair blue talked to Zoe. "Hey Ash! Zoe!"
"Koji," Everyone within a three-seat radius turned to look at them.
"What is our next class?" he asked.
Zoe checked in her bag. "Um, Government, in building six."
"Wow…this school's really big."
"So, we made it! Senior Year!" Koji spread his hands.
Zoe studied Koji's face apprehensively, she sighed. It looked like clouds and a sense of humor didn't mix.
The three walked back around the cafeteria building by gym. Koji walked Ashley right to the door, though it was clearly marked.
Ashley smiled vaguely and went inside.
The rest of the morning passed in about the same fashion. Their Trigonometry teacher, Mr. Varner, who the whole senior class would have hated anyway just because of the subject he taught, which made them all stand in front of the class and introduce themselves. They all stammered and blushed.
Ashley sat next to Zoe in both Trig and Spanish, and she walked with her to the cafeteria for lunch. They smiled and nodded as they prattled about teachers and classes.
They sat at the end of a full table with several of their old friends. They all seemed impressed. The boy, Koji waved at Ashley from across the room.
Three boys joined Zoe and Ashley. Of the three boys, one was big named JP with orange hair. Another was Koji's twin brother named Koichi. The last and not the least was Takuya, tanned skin with brown hair.
"Who are they?" Zoe joked to her other best friend, Jane, a tomboyish girl with a brown hair and tanned skin.
As Jane looked up to see who Zoe meant—though already knowing, probably, from her tone—suddenly they all look at Zoe and laughed. Takuya looked at Jane for just a fraction of a second, and then his chocolate eyes flickered to Zoe's.
Takuya looked away quickly, more quickly that Zoe could, though in the flash of embarrassment Zoe dropped her eyes at once. In that brief flash of a glance, his face held nothing of interest—it was as if she called his name, and he'd looked up in involuntary response, already having decided not to answer.
Jane giggled in embarrassment, looking at the table like Zoe did.
"Is it me? Or is Zoe actually not the Fun Sucker type?" JP questioned.
"Since when did you make fun of anybody?" Takuya said as he sat beside Zoe.
"Five seconds ago, I kind of took Ash's suggestion. But since I've made you guys laugh, I'm done with it." Zoe finished her soda.
Zoe glanced sideways at Koji, who was looking at his tray now, picking a gable pieces with long pale fingers. His mouth was moving very quickly, his perfect lips were barely opening. The others watched Zoe.
"Aaacheezy!!!" Ashley sneezed on purpose.
Zoe turned away quickly. She bit her lip to hide her smile. Then she glanced at Koji again, but she thought his cheek appeared lifted, as if her were smiling, too.
Zoe sat at the table with Ashley and her friends longer that she would have if they'd been sitting alone. Zoe was anxious not to be late for class on her first day. Zoe thought she was alone but she was wrong.
"Zoe?" A familiar voice called out her name.
"Koji? Uhm, what are you still doing here?" Zoe sounded nervous.
"I could ask you the same thing."
"Well, I'm really not in the mood to go to class early." Zoe answered. "You?"
"I need to talk to you."
"Okay, we could talk about it while we're walking to class together. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Well, this girl—"
"You're still in love with Ashley, aren't you?" Zoe snapped.
There was a dead silence.
"She's really pretty isn't she?" Koji looked at her. "I mean her hair, her eyes and her smile." Zoe smiled.
"Can you do me a favor?"
"Can you get me and Ashley together?"
Zoe gulped. "I do my best for you and you can do the rest for her. Deal?" Koji and Zoe shook hands.
When they entered the classroom, Koji want to sit at a black-topped lab table exactly like the ones Zoe was used filled but one. Next to the center aisle, Zoe recognized Takuya Kanbara by his hair, sitting next to that single open seat.
The teacher suddenly went rigid in his seat. He stared at Zoe again, meeting her eyes with the strangest expression on his face—it was a hostile, furious. She looked away quickly, shocked, going red again. She stumbled over a book in the walkway and had to catch myself on the edge of a table. The girls in front laughed.
Mr. Banner signed Zoe's slip and handed me a book with no nonsense about introductions. Zoe could tell they were getting along. Of course, he had no choice but to send Zoe to the one open seat in the middle of the room. Zoe kept her eyes to Takuya as she went to sit by him, bewildered by the wide smile he'd given Zoe.
"Looks like you're stuck here with me." Takuya insulted.
"Very funny. You're not stupid enough to know that are you?" Zoe fought back.
Zoe looked up as she set her book o the table and took her seat; she saw his posture change from the corner of her eye. Takuya was leaning away from her, sitting on the extreme edge of his chair and averting his face like he smelled something bad. Inconspicuously, Zoe sniffed her hair. It smelled like strawberries, the scent of her favorite shampoo. It seemed an innocent enough odor. Zoe stared at Koji for a long minute.
"I don't know why many girls are having a crush on Koji." Takuya broke Zoe's train of thought.
"Can't you see? Koji's gorgeous." Zoe whispered.
"Oh c'mon Zoe, get over him. You've been crushing on him since we're in grade five." Takuya murmured.
Zoe has a big crush on Koji since she's in the elementary. And Takuya is the only person who knew that.
"Until now you haven't told him you like him?!" Takuya sighed.
"Oh just shut up." Zoe almost screamed.
Mr. Banner stared at her on his seat. "Ms. Orimoto! Will you keep it down from there?"
"Yes, Mr. Banner." Zoe smiled broadly.
"I'm shutting up." Takuya chuckled quietly while Zoe ignored him.
Unfortunately the lecture was on cellular anatomy, something Zoe had already studied. She took notes carefully anyway, always looking at Koji.
She couldn't stop herself from peeking occasionally to Koji. During the whole class, Takuya never relaxed his stiff position on the edge of his chair, sitting as far as possible.
"Can you do me one little thing?" Takuya asked.
"Name it." Zoe kept her ears open.
"Now until the end of the class, will you please stop looking at Koji?" Takuya requested. "Because it's really driving me crazy."
"Let me think…no can't do." Zoe snapped.
"Ugh…you're crazy about him I'm telling you."
At that moment, the bell rang loudly; making Takuya and Zoe jump, and Takuya and Zoe was out of their seat.
"Next stop, gym." Koichi raised his hands.
They all seemed thrilled.
Takuya, Koji, JP, Koichi, Zoe, Ashley and Jane walked to class together; they were all chatting—while Zoe's all very quiet.
"You know, if I were you I would stab Koji with a pencil." Takuya whispered at Zoe's ears then laughed.
Zoe punched Takuya's arm hard but it was nothing to him.
"Next time, use a bat." Takuya joked.
"Oh, Mommy, look at Takuya. He's so in pain!" Zoe now punched Takuya in the face which made Takuya fall down and the others stop walking to their next class.
Takuya stood up quickly still with a wide smile.
"If you ever insult me, I'll make sure I'm gonna kick your face left and right until you get to the hospital!" Zoe shouted. Takuya was frozen. The boys stayed with him while the girls decided to get there already.
"You deserve that Takuya." Koichi hi-5 with his twin brother.
"That what you get for insulting Zoe." JP joked.
"I think I'm in love." Takuya spoke softly.
"You're joking, right?" Koji widened his eyes.
"Of course I'm joking! Me? Having a crush with Zoe? Never. Not in my entire life." And so the boys continued to their next class.
The Gym Teacher, Coach Clapp, gave her students their uniforms.
Zoe watched four volleyball games running simultaneously. Remembering how many injuries she had sustained—and inflicted—playing volleyball, she felt faintly nauseated.
The final bell rang at last. Zoe walked slowly to the office to return her paperwork.
When the gang met each other again outside the building they talked about their first day of school and said goodbyes already. Zoe, Ashley and Jane walked home together.
While they're walking home, they're talking about the boys. "I wonder if Koji's a great kisser." Ashley marveled. Jane and Zoe were shocked.
"Ashley just said what?!" Jane repeated.
"Ashley? Koji? Well, that's something new." Zoe and Jane laughed while Ashley didn't.
They stopped laughing. "That's not a joke, is it?" Jane questioned.
"May I ask Zoe this time? Admit it Zoe, you like Koji." Ashley almost screamed.
Zoe stayed silent.
"Aha! I knew it! Looking at him all the time." Jane snapped.
"He's been my crush ever since we're in grade five, okay?" Zoe slipped her tongue.
"Don't worry guys, your secret's safe with me." Jane said.
After a few minutes Zoe finally made home. Nobody was home yet so Zoe went back to her room. Lied down on her bed and thought about her first day. And started palnning to help Koji to get together with Ashley.