EPILOGUE

The time was 1:00 AM. Chikako was standing in her room at her home. The lights were out and the only light came from the night outside. The window was slightly open, and she could feel the fresh night air where she stood, looking up at the stars in the sky.

She was happy.

Her parents had been delighted when they saw her running up to them. They had held her in their arms and cried along with her. They did not feel the slightest anger. They had only been worried sick about her disappearance and her strange behaviour. Chikako had apologized for everything she had ever done to them, and they had assured her that there was nothing to apologize for. They loved her no matter what and would always do.

Her little brother was sleeping when she had come back. When her parents had gone out to search for her, her mother had called up her sister to come and tend for Shigeru while she and her husband were out of the house. Chikako had wanted to wake him up immediately to apologize for her rude behaviour, but her parents had convinced her to wait until morning. She desperately wanted to say how sorry she was for hurting her only brother, and how much she really loved him.

Chikako left the window and sat down on her bed. Her parents had cleaned up the mess she had made in her room. They had removed all the glass shards and broken items. She felt like an idiot for doing such a childish thing, and for all the trouble her parents had to go through.

Everything was crystal clear now. She finally knew who she was. And she had finally shown her classmates and her teacher her true self. With this harmony she now felt inside of her, and with all things of the past year put in perspective, it was hard to understand that she had behaved the way she had. It almost felt like the past days had been a bad dream and that she was now awake for the first time.

She had been a bitch. A complete bitch. She had been no better than any other bully at school. She had done things she thought she would never be capable of doing. Now that she felt nothing but deep love and a strong friendship with her classmates, the memories of what she had done made her feel filthy. It felt a bit like having blood on the hands. Blood that could never be washed away.

She had enjoyed seeing Yoshikawa getting beaten up by Anko and other people in school...Why had she felt that way? How could she have felt happy seeing a defenseless person getting terrorized? She had been a victim of this form of terrorism herself long ago! And she had even done her fair share of bullying as well...against Tomoko...One of the kindest and most caring people on the planet. That's exactly what she had done: bullying. She had bullied Tomoko. Before, she had not admitted to herself that it was bullying in its purest form, but now she saw everything for what it really was. And the truth was that she had participated in that sadistic game with all her heart. And then it was Fujiyoshi and that money theft she had participated in...God...she had helped stealing all the money her classmates had gathered up. She had STOLEN money from her own classmates! Chikako swallowed. She knew very well that she did not deserve the forgiveness and love she got from her friends. She could only thank the gods for being so lucky that her classmates had welcomed her back.

Chikako had never been interested in high ideals and all those old quotes and phrases of wisdom that such idealistic people kept babbling about. But at this moment, there was one quote she remembered. One quote that summed up everything about her character:

'To be able to love someone, you must first learn to love yourself.'

It was so true. Ever since she had been a little child, she had never loved herself. The older she had become, the more she had begun hating who she was. These negative feelings had consumed more and more of her soul, and eventually, she had not been able to keep them inside. She had begun projecting them on people around her. After going around for so long being completely powerless, she had begun to crave power over others. More and more power, only to fill the empty hole inside of her. Every time someone around her had taken a fall, she had felt a slight moment of satisfaction. For a tiny, short moment, she had felt strong and victorious. But those moments had never lasted long, and soon she had gone back to her ordinary state. It was like a drug addict, taking that killing poison over and over again just to get that short moment of happiness, only to fall back down into the same old miserable state as soon as the high was over.

For the first time in years, maybe even for the first time in her life, she felt complete. There was no more pain and rage inside her. No feelings of self hate. No desperate lies she kept repeating to herself to cover up for all the mistreatment she had received. Not anymore. Now, she felt strong, proud and happy. And most of all, she felt loved. Loved by her classmates, loved by her family...loved by herself.

Chikako stood up. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. As the night air filled her lungs, she felt confidence and self control flow in her veins. She tied her fists and made a decision.

'I am going to apologize to them. All of them. I will give an honest and heartful apology to the ones I've hurt. This will be the last thing I do. From thereafter, I will never look back again. I will love myself and never hurt myself again. And I will spend the rest of my school days with my classmates. The ones I love.'

She had done many bad things to them, and she wanted to show them that she was ready to take responsibility for doing all those things. Sure, she could go on blaming the circumstances if she wanted to. She could put all blame on Miyabi's manipulative ways and try to swear herself free of any responsibility. But she would never do that again. No matter the circumstances, in the end, everything was her own doing. She had done the actions, and she had to stand up and confess them.

She had never felt this way before. Back then, she had only apologized to someone when she was ordered to do so by a teacher, her parents or by Miyabi. This time, however, she wanted to apologize by her own free will just because she cared about her friends.

Onizuka had always told them about the importance of taking responsibility for one's actions. But equally as much had he stressed the importance of moving on and leaving the past behind once you had been forgiven. And this was something that Chikako had decided to do.

Chikako smiled to herself. Onizuka...he had finally defeated her. She had always hated his idealism, his unorthodox pedagogical methods and his dumbfound optimism. But she could not deny that somehow, it worked. Somehow, he was able to reach out to people. And once you got an Onizuka treatment, you came out as a new person. She had been deeply afraid seeing her classmates getting worked upon one by one, and how much they had changed after Onizuka was done with them. In the longest, she had resisted his ways of teaching and views of life. She had sworn to herself never to accept Onizuka or to be subject of his little operations, but now it had happened. Now she had been put through the Onizuka Car Wash just like her classmates, and wow...did it feel good. She had come out as a new human being. Now she felt nothing but a deep admiration and respect for him.

Happy with this new decision in her life, Chikako took up some photographs that had been taken at the exhibition event. She turned on the small lamp standing by her bed and looked at the photos. She grinned widely when she saw herself dressed up as Arale, and how happy she looked together with her classmates.

Chikako looked at her own face in the photos. She could not help letting out a few giggles. She actually looked quite cute. Now that she felt confident in herself, she could see that she didn't look that bad. She was cute, but not like Miyabi, Tomoko or any of those fashionable girls. No, she looked cute in some dumb kind of way. Like a nerdy girl who enjoys life so much that the joy itself makes her face sweet.

From here, it could only get better. Tomorrow, she would join the manga club in her school. She would begin drawing again and read comics. She would use all her spare time drawing, reading, watching movies...and enjoying life. She wanted to pursue her attempt of making a career as a manga artist. She already had a lot of plans of stories and characters. She even had ideas for costumes and themes for the next cosplay event. She was not really good at making clothes, but maybe she could get some help from some good designers? And about the manga club, maybe she could get Saeko to join as well? She did not know whether Saeko liked manga or not, but one could always ask. With enough persuasion, maybe she would accept? Chikako was surprised of her own confidence. Only a day ago, she would never have dared to do something like that.

Chikako put the photographs away. She turned off the light and lay down in bed. She stared up in the roof. Just a few weeks ago, she had been lying like this in a bed at Okinawa, going through the misery in her life. Now that misery was no more. She was extremely tired after the long day, and she had school tomorrow early in the morning. She wanted to fall asleep...but something kept nagging at the back of her mind.

Miyabi...

The image of Miyabi in the classroom had stuck in Chikako's head. At that time, she had been so paralyzed by her mere presence that she had not reflected upon how ghastly her appearance had been. But now when she lay here all happy and relaxed, she began going through the scenes from today once again.

Miyabi had looked like a mess. She had dyed her hair all blue. She had never before gone to such lengths to express her negative feelings. And the rest of her had looked awful as well. Her pale face, her dead eyes, her weight loss...even her behaviour had changed extremely. Chikako had seen many kinds of feelings in Miyabi's face over the times. But she had never seen her so hateful. So vengeful. So evil. Every single thing she had done, from ripping apart the photographs to humiliating Chikako in the yard, had she done with such immense hate. Chikako remembered Miyabi's eyes back then. When Miyabi had said to her all those horrible things, it had looked like she really meant it. Like she really wanted to throw Chikako down in hell with her own hands. Miyabi had been mean many other times to many other people, but such a hateful gaze had never been there before.

Chikako knew very well that she had all right in the world to throw Miyabi out of her life forever. No one would blame her for that. Miyabi had betrayed her and humiliated her, and Chikako had tried her best to talk to her about it and make up, but without success. That's all someone could ask for, right?

Right...?

Chikako kept staring in the roof.

Somehow, she could not forget Miyabi's tensed eyes. They had been filled with hate, that was true, but there had also been something else... In her eyes, Chikako had seen pain. Torment. Confusion. And fear. Lots of fear. Miyabi had never had pure fear in her eyes before.

Earlier, when Chikako had been too busy feeling sorry for herself, she had never tried to see things from another person's perspective. But now, something had woken up inside of her. Even though she tried to ignore the feeling, she couldn't do it. It stuck with her. It formed questions in her head that refused to go away.

'How is Miyabi feeling, really? Is she really alright? Is she really fine?'

Chikako could not understand why she felt this way. She had all good reasons to never care for Miyabi again. But she could not let go. This was definitely not her old underdog feelings coming back. She was sure of this. This was something new. Something she had rarely felt before. It was...it was empathy, wasn't it?

So...not only confidence and self respect had come to her since the Onizuka project. Now she also wanted to make people feel better. Chikako had never known she had the possibility to have such feelings. She was amazed by her new way of thinking. It was surprising how much easier everything became once you had learnt to love yourself.

Miyabi probably felt like shit at the moment. Come to think about it, she had been all alone at home while all her former friends - no, in fact ALL third graders of the school - had enjoyed themselves in Okinawa. Coming back to the same old classroom, seeing that everyone had changed so much and had become such good friends, must have felt horrible. Miyabi must have felt like no one loved her anymore. That she was the loneliest person in the whole world...and if there was someone who knew what evil things a person could do when it felt lonely and afraid, it was Chikako.

Chikako had been there herself. She had despised herself and everyone around her, and she had seen what things it had made her do against others. It was surprising how evil human beings could become when they felt miserable...and how quickly they could turn sweet again once they got back on track.

Chikako had decided. She would give Miyabi a second chance. She would try to make contact with her again at a good opportunity, and see how she really felt inside. Then, if they could make up, maybe she could forgive Miyabi for the things she had done, and maybe they could be friends again. She felt that this was the only right thing to do. Her classmates had given her a hand and helped her back again, despite all the bad things she had done. It was only right that she did the same thing to someone else.

Satisfied with this decision, Chikako closed her eyes. After a few moments, she fell into a deep sleep. The best sleep she had had in almost ten years.

THE END