Automated disclaimer: Suing me will get you zero satisfaction.
Warning: No beta. Grammar-nazis read at your own risk...
Chapter 1: Boys will be Girls
Yankumi dialed Seinen Gakuen, her eyes fixed on the clock, watching the minute hand slowly inch towards 12. It was nearing five in the afternoon and even the school cleaners had gone home already. She hoped someone in the Seinen administration office would still be around—
"Seinen Gakuen gozaimasu." A soft voice answered right as Yankumi nearly delayed her call by hanging up. The woman on the line panted as if she had already been out the door when the phone rang.
Yankumi exhaled gratefully in relief and perched herself against the edge of her desk, picturing her colleagues by the hierarchical formation of their desks. Yankumi was new so she was near the front next to the office lady... "Thank you. I am a high school teacher and I was hoping to quickly check the status for a transfer student. According to our records, the student has not yet fully enrolled."
"Alright. Just a moment." The woman's voice disappeared for a moment. Yankumi could hear gentle shuffling in the background. "Student's name please?"
"Tsukino, please." Yankumi replied, swaying on her feet.
"Tsukino…eh…you do have a first name?"
"Yes, Kumiko." Yankumi answered, mindlessly.
"Kumiko?" The woman repeated, her intonation rising in confusion.
Yankumi realized her mistake, nearly losing her balance as she straightened up suddenly. "Pardon! I meant the student's first name is Haruhi."
"Haruhi? Chotto, isn't that's a girl's name…" The woman murmured thoughtfully into the receiver.
The teacher shook her head and stammered. "I-I-I've only got part of the name. Someone wrote it ineligibly, they must have used strange kanji." Yankumi wasn't satisfied with her explanation; it made her sound like an illiterate buffoon.
"Eh…come to think of it…we do have a Tsukino, Haruhiro. Could that be who you're looking for?"
"Ah! Haruhiro! I can read it now! Sahhhh, I was wondering why someone named Haruhi would be transferring to an all boys' school." She cleared her throat from the strained high pitched she forced for her voice.
"Sahhh, neh?" The woman agreed, ambiguous from her tone if she really believed Yankumi or not. "Tsukino, Haruhiro, hmmm no, he has not fully enrolled yet. He hasn't shown up for school yet despite classes starting today."
Tsukino, Haruhiro."Ah, I understand now. Thank you so much for your time."
"Quick question, which school did you say you were from?" The woman asked and Yankumi turned as white as a sheet. "Sahhh." Yankumi racked her brain, trying to think of a co-ed school or another all boys' school. Her face contorted painfully with closed eyes, and then desperately, she smashed the phone into the holder, effectively ending the call.
"Off the hook for now." She exhaled in relief. She felt bad for rudely ending the call…but she couldn't risk her plan backfiring so soon after initiating it.
She was left alone in silence for a moment, posed with awkwardly over the phone receiver.
The telephone rang under her hand, piercing the silence of the teacher's office like a knife through warm butter. She cringed as a chill ran down her spine—what if someone came in to answer? Her palm was glued against the receiver as if she was frightened to accidentally answer. "Yabai! Dangerous! Last-call return!" She whimpered. She peered around the teacher's office desperately, her pigtails hitting against the edge of her glasses. Without another course of action, she slowly, shamefully tiptoed out as the phone continued to ring without answer.
Yankumi meandered down the residential street, admiring the large gardens behind the tall gates connected to sun yellow brick walls. "What a nice area, sah..." She stared in awe the immaculate, tree-decorated streets, hearing the rush of a train zipping by in the distance.
The sun was settling in the west, coloring the whole sky a deep smoky orange. Though Yankumi couldn't hold back the thought that the color was aided by the urban pollution…
"Tsukino…Tsukino…" She searched for the family residence earnestly, figuring it should be one of the few houses ahead.
Right as she spotted the characters '月野' on the gate, her feet stopped when she heard tense voices.
"He's not here. His father won't allow it."
"If Haruhi is home, tell h—"
"He's not, Fuyue…I'm sorry but please do not ever speak to my son again. You've caused enough trouble."
Yankumi hopped out of the way as the front door shut and furious steps pounded against the walkway. The gate swung opened brutally, nearly hitting Yankumi as the teenager kicked it with astounding power.
The teacher tried to make herself look as small as possible so she wouldn't be accused of eavesdropping, however she slowly peeked open her eyes when no impact came. With baited breath, she recognized the teenager from before.
Her expression, unlike before when it was emotional as a sheet of paper, displayed scorn as sharp as a blade. The frustrated teen ran a restless hand through her long hair as the style blew into disarray from the breeze. She heaved deep breaths, panting from emotional exertion. She pushed back against the brick gate, tipping her head down in disappointment.
Yankumi compared her first sighting the teenager to the angry girl in front of her. "Ueno."
The teenager's blue eyes swiftly turned to Yankumi. The teacher felt a wave of shivers in her bones.
Yankumi could see the girl taking in her appearance from head to toes and watched as her brows rose from recognition. "You… you were sitting in the teacher's office at Aojou."
If there was ever an appropriate time for an introduction in such a situation, Yankumi was going to take it. "Pardon, I'm Yamaguchi, Kumiko. 3-D teacher at Aojou gakuen. Nice to meet you, Ueno." Despite the cold and shivers, Yamaguchi was firm in her stance and greeting.
Yankumi saw Ueno's muscles tighten tensely when the teacher uttered her name.
"Don't waste your pleasantries on me. I sure as hell won't waste them on you." The girl retorted thickly in contempt that Yankumi gulped in spite of herself. She had dealt with Yakuza thugs her whole life so she was surprised that such talk from a young girl could make her uneasy.
Firm again, Yankumi tried again for an answer. "As your homeroom teacher, I wish to know why you dropped out on the first day of your final year?"
Fuyue scoffed in disbelief, stuffing her hands into her vest pockets. How weird was this nerd, from her jersey to her dumb glasses? "You are not my teacher, what do you care, you hag?" Swiftly, she trudged away in direction of the train station.
"I wish to know!" Yankumi exclaimed clearly and sternly.
Slowly the teenager approached her, sizing up Yankumi. Though similar in size and in the face of an authority figure, the girl bared no fear. The blue iris of her eyes appeared cloudy, as if fueled by her anger. Fuyue stood so close to Yankumi she could see her reflection in her glasses. "Kan-ke-nai. Doesn't concern you." She slowly and bitterly uttered each syllable for emphasis.
With that, the teenager sorely bumped Yankumi in the shoulder as she continued towards the station tracks. Yankumi turned back, watching the girl's long, firm strides, her dark hair hitting like threads against the back of her vest.
Yankumi wrapped her arms around herself as a strong frosty wind blew through her clothes and against her skin. It was a shock to her system as the whole day had been so lovely and warm. Though it was April, had winter's frigid temperatures returned?
The orange in the sky had dwindled into a mere line against the progressively blacker sky. Yankumi gazed at the night sky, remembering how once, in the country side, she had seen so many stars. It was rare to see them in Tokyo. Stars were a natural luxury saved only for the driest winter nights.
She sat on the edge of the street in between two cars, partly for the break in the wind and partly not to draw too much attention. She didn't want homeowners to question why a woman sat in the cold outside their homes for hours and possibly phone the police.
By then the street lights were flickering on, one by one and in the distance a dog was barking as the occasional passersby or car. Yankumi flipping her wrist to check her watch, wondering how much longer she could wait?
A slow set of steps caught her attention as a figure's shadow stretched across the pavement. The figure was tallish in the distance, clad in a dark uniform. Yankumi could tell it was a boy's school uniform by the trousers and long heavy buttoned top. When she recognized it as Seinen's style, she stood up.
"Excuse me, Tsukino?" Yankumi softly uttered, hoping the figure hadn't been put off by her sudden appearance.
The student paused while twisting the clasp on the creaky gate of the Tsukino house. Yankumi saw the young person's head slightly nudge in her direction, but instead of acknowledging her properly, the figure struggled to open the gate. One of the hinges was broken.
Yankumi reluctantly crossed the street, not letting her time spent waiting go in vain. "I'm a teacher at Aojou. I'm deeply sorry for bothering you at this time, but do you have a moment, Tsukino?"
The teenager shut the gate with difficulty then turned away from Yankumi to hop up the walkway, while fishing for keys in his blazer pocket.
"Tsukino!" Yankumi called out to the boy in the dark school uniform at the gate. The boy didn't glance back, reaching forward with a key to unlock the house door. Yankumi bit her lip, quickly calculating the risk and potential consequences of her next plunge. "Please talk to me, HARUHI!" She called out desperately, slightly panting from rushing and pressing herself against the gate.
Through the bars, Yankumi watched the teenager slowly replaced the door key back into his blazer pocket. He turned and he saw the pigtailed teacher with glasses.
Yankumi could recognize the vulnerable look on the teenager's face from the student file. It was like night and day. The teenager ahead of her was a far cry from the student in the picture. Instead of a cute blue uniform with a bowtie, the student was clad in an all black uniform with the Seinen emblem buttons. The student's hair was cut much shorter and dyed several shades darker, judging by the monotone hue.
If not for the square face, pronounced features and fragile-looking eyes, Yankumi would have concluded that she had met the wrong student.
"Please, Haruhi. I am the new 3-D teacher for Aojou Gakuen. I have some very important things to ask you." Yankumi asked again, softly.
Haruhi swallowed indecisively, staring forlornly. Despite the darkness, Yankumi saw the concession in his features as he sighed.
Haruhi had asked, politely Yankumi noticed, that they talk away from the station and down another street where his father wouldn't spot them. They found a secluded spot away from the street lights and flow of traffic, around the corner of the brick wall.
"I am Yamaguchi, Kumiko, homeroom teacher of 3-D at Aojou Gakuen. Regards." She greeted.
He bowed. "Kind regards." He cleared his throat, his tone sounded forced and hollow, deeper than it was supposed to sound. "Watashi I-err- Boku I am Tsukino, Haruhi—err, Haruhiro." He quickly amended his name while mixing the usual boy's honorfic boku and and the girl's watashi.
Yankumi inhaled deeply, mentally preparing herself for the delicate yet imperative discussion. "Earlier… you responded to Haruhi…a girl's name."
The gears in Haruhiro's head spun at maximum, however he failed to compose an easy explanation.
Though Yankumi needed an explanation, she wasn't willing to force him to answer. "I suppose, Haruhi and Haruhiro are similar enough that it can be easily mistaken. Just one character in difference." Yankumi sighed with a cheery tone, offering Haruhiro some ease from pressure. She hadn't given up yet. "Please pardon my intrusion upon your evening. I know you probably wanted to go straight home and relax after a long day at school."
Haruhiro bit his lip and consciously rubbed the back of his neck. "Yep, it was quite a long day." He didn't lie. It had been a long day spent avoiding school and everyone he knew.
"Sahhh, but I am not your teacher. The reason for my visit tonight is to ask about someone you know, Ueno, Fuyue."
Haruhiro turned his chin to Yankumi, mouth rounded, obviously concerned. "Is she alright? Is she hurt?"
Yankumi shook her head. "Nothing like that. She dropped out of school this morning." The teacher said simply, pausing when Haruhiro breathed in intensely and thoughtfully. "Because Aojou faculty wishes for me to have nothing to do with either of you and because Ueno is not exactly happy to speak with anyone from Aojou, I figured you would talk. Why would your friend drop out?"
Haruhiro chewed on his nail, pondering. "We're not…on the best of terms at the moment."
Yankumi pointed behind her towards his house. "She was here earlier, speaking to your parent. It did not go well."
"I believe that." Haruhiro snickered humorlessly.
"Why would she drop out?"
"Why would one student dropping out matter to you?" He asked, attempting to be accusing, yet his naturally warm voice betrayed him.
"Even though she dropped out, I consider myself Ueno's homeroom teacher because if not for her drop out request, she would be sitting in my homeroom class. I would be the person to guide her through her schoolwork and through crosswords in life. I wish I had known about this situation and her drop out plans so that I could have spoken with her. I would have tried wholeheartedly to change her mind. I think school is worthwhile for anyone, even if the system has been hard on them before for being 'too rough around the edges'. I want nothing more than for all of my students to graduate together." Yankumi answered sincerely, pressing a palm over her beating heart as if to swear by her words.
I want nothing more than for all of my students to graduate together. Haruhiro felt pangs in his chest from those words. Why would a teacher say those things? Why would she wait in the cold evening waiting for his return just to talk to him about Fuyue dropping out? Unless she really cared…
Yankumi didn't repeat her question, allowing her words to slowly marinate. If he still wouldn't answer then so be it.
Haruhiro shut his eyes momentarily, to gather himself. Originally he hadn't wished to talk about Haruhi/Haruhiro but for his friend's sake, it was a sacrifice he needed to make. "It was fault she dropped out. She's furious about what happened."
Yankumi shook her head. "What happened?"
"You don't know? I thought someone had told you and you were meaning avoiding it to ask about Fuyue."
Yankumi shook her head. "I just started Aojou today. All I know is that Ueno and Tsukino bring up unease from my colleagues, especially the Principal. I'm sorry if this brings up painful memories."
"Painful, yet necessary to explain. To explain things in the best way…I was born in the wrong body." He said so simply, almost casually but Yankumi was aware that his statement was one of the deepest confessions someone could express.
"I was born Haruhiro but…I always felt like a girl. Like being born a boy was a birth defect. A mistake" He drew out the 'ro' in his name as if unaccustomed. "Growing up, Fuyue was my best friend. She was the first person I came out to as a transgender. She was actually the one who insisted that I come out to my parents. She really pushed me to do it and without her support, I would have crumbled from my parents' grief. As brutal as she can act sometimes, she really does care."
"That was back in middle school. Coming out was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was nervous about going to school as the real yet new me, a girl, when my classmates had only known me as a boy. Fuyue suggested applying together to an all girls' school so that I would be more comfortable."
"Did Aojou know or did they have any problems with your application?" Yankumi asked curiously, wondering how a school could not notice a student complete all of her education as a boy then completing high school as a girl?
"Aojou's administration did not check my legal gender. They probably never thought to look for inconsistencies in gender from middle school records and a high school application. Fuyue and I had only gone to co-ed schools." Haruhiro shrugged. "I never thought it would work but Fuyue made sure I applied. We were both accepted by Aojou, my parents gave me more grief"—Yankumi was saddened by the forced smile he had—"but overall, I was happy with my decision."
"Did anyone ever notice?" Yankumi pondered aloud, imagining her days as a high school student and if she theoretically would have been able to hide her gender from her fellow classmates if necessary?
Suddenly Haruhiro grinned sincerely as if remembering something wonderful. "Fuyue was amazing over the years—more than I can ever express. Like a bodyguard, she always made sure I could find a secluded bathroom or spot in the locker room to change without the other girls or teachers noticing." He laughed despite Yankumi's presence. Yankumi noticed how his pitch rose genuinely, without any forced deepening of his voice. He noticed too-he cleared his throat, effectively squashing Haruhi. "We had many almost-disasters, but Fuyue so clever, she would always maneuver us out of catastrophe. Once she pressed the fire alarm when she spotted a group of teachers walking near where I was changing."
"Eh! That's illegal!" Yankumi scolded but Haruhiro continued laughing for another moment, not caring about using a manly tone.
"Things were like that for the first two years." Haruhiro slowly calmed down but grew somber.
"Were? What changed?" Yankumi carefully asked, crossing her arms against the chilly breeze.
Haruhiro stroked his jaw and tipped his head down, staring at his shoes. "One idle day, we were shopping when former male classmates recognized her and then me. They pummeled me and Fuyue when she got involved…one of their rings gave me this"—he trailed his thumb over a maroon scar just under his chin. "With strength I never imagined she had, Fuyue fought them off. However, both schools got involved. Word got out that I was transgendered. Suddenly the focus changed from the boys instigating the fight to why is there a…boy at an all girls' school? One guess as to who got punished…"
"Eh? Just like that?" Yankumi's eyes widened.
Haruhiro was thankful for her revulsion—he didn't know if he could handle another self righteous teacher automatically siding with the administration… "We were threatened with expulsion but since we had never been in trouble before we were told that if we wrote apologies, we wouldn't be expelled. Fuyue was nearly too stubborn, but I begged with every bit of my being. You must graduate, I got down to my knees once to beg and she stomped away. Still, after that, she agree, albeit reluctantly. After we wrote out apologies, suddenly they informed me that I needed to 'transfer' or be expelled."
"Eh?! Excuse me but what sort of a choice is that?" Yankumi's tone rose sharply but she excused herself and calmed her voice.
"That's what Fuyue said—a bit differently but essentially the same. She told me she felt cheated as if the rug had been pulled away from underneath her. She vowed to drop out if they forced me to transfer for legally being a boy, but I got angry with her. You must graduate.If I transfer, I'll still graduate. Fuyue didn't relent this time. Aojou was wrong, wrong to abandon one of their students, she cried. We haven't spoken since earlier this year, since she shouted that at me in front of Aojou's administrators."
Yankumi was silent for a long time, gazing solemnly at the orangey haze then up at the black sky. She was sympathetic for the school's difficult position but, if she had been there, she was certain of which side she would have stuck by. If Aojou hadn't betrayed Haruhi, she would have been in Yankumi's homeroom, with Fuyue.
"So, now you're at Seinen. I checked the school records and I know you haven't attended yet."
Haruhiro open his mouth to utter but merely mumbled a noise, knowing it was futile to lie.
"Are the boys who assault you Seinen students? Are they why you have gone back to school yet?"
Haruhiro ran a hand through his hair repeatedly at the ends, missing his longer, lighter hair. "Ehn. They are Seinen students and that incident wasn't the last time they have bullied me. I'm terrified of them but frankly, the worst thing is that they're forcing me to be a boy. I wore this uniform today and felt trapped. I was taking the supplements before but since this incident, my dad has stopped them. 'This is a sign that this girl-nonsense needs to end.'" He muttered bitterly, choking on his own words. "If nothing happens, I will mature into man, Fuyue and I will never speak again and she will never graduate."
Yankumi had been so absorbed by Haruhi's words that she felt detached from her own body. She peered up into the polluted sky, but she was humbled by what she saw. Splendor glowing stubbornly and impossibly through the murkiness and haze. The teacher smiled, optimistic and energetic with resolve. Armed without a plan other than the immense desire to make one, Yankumi bowed her head. "Wakatta. I understand. Thank you for your time and words."
Haruhiro wasn't quick enough to reply before Yankumi broke into a run. As the odd, nerdy-looking, blue jersey-clad teacher grow smaller in the distance, Haruhi gazed up at the sky. Her sorrow melted away upon discovery of a few twinkling stars.
Phew! I hope I handled that well. Concrit would be very much appreciated, flames not so much...so please refrain from bashing your fists angrily onto the keyboard...