Chapter 1 – Group Work

It was April, already one month into their third and final year.

The teacher walked into class with a big smile on his face. Students started to question their teacher's new appearance. It was rumored to be wary of him when he had a smile. That usually meant a new "bright idea" that wasn't always so great.

"All right all right," he began, grinning from ear to ear. "I just finished my International Master's program and had a great idea!"

The students groaned. "Now, now, I think this will be a fine idea. It's something I first heard about in American Graduate Programs. And now it's starting to catch on in Europe and Asia in Graduate Studies programs; it's not a bad idea to try it out on the young!"

The students looked skeptical. "I'm going to break you up into teams… they're called 'cohorts.' You will operate in this 'cohort' when assigned group work."

"Group?"

"Yup. Throughout your life you'll have to work with other people. And I'm not talking about student council, sports, clubs, the school festival… I mean, when it matters… when your grades depend on it, like in university… or when your paycheck depends on it… like at work."

The students moaned.

"And there's more," he beamed even more, if that was possible. This caused the students to cringe in fear. "Just like in the real world, you may not always be able to pick who you work with."

"AWWWWWWWWWWW!"

"Don't worry, I'm not assigning you to groups. But there are rules. Since this class has 30 students… you'll be in groups of three." The teacher turned to the board and began writing the rules.

"Rule 1: Must have one person you do not know. Basically, you can't be in a group with your best friends.

"Rule 2: Conversely, you can have one person you know.

"Rule 3: You must have at least one guy and one girl."

The teacher stepped back and looked at his writing, please. He looked at his watch. "Oh, and seeing as how we have an uneven amount of girl and guys, the first group to come to me for the exception gets it. Everyone else will have to fend for themselves. Oh, and you have 2 minutes, starting now."

Shun immediately looked at Yuuta who smiled and then stared out the window…or rather, towards Rina Takahashi. She turned her head, looked at him, blushed, turned away, and then smiled.

Why does she always do that? Why doesn't she ever smile at me?

"Pssst…Yuuta…" Shun whispered urgently.

Yuuta looked back at Shun who was pointing at the seat in front of him. Yuuta looked toward Rina again, but saw her friend dragging a boy toward their desks. She'll never initiate will she? Annoyed, he looked back at Shun and nodded.

[poking]

"Um…excuse me…" Shun said in his sing songy way.

She turned around and smiled.

"Um… Akemi, do you want to be in our group," he asked almost embarrassed as he pointed at Yuuta.

She bit her lip as she looked down… "Um…I…"

"THIRTY SECONDS!"

"Please!" Shun pleaded looking around at the groups missing a 3rd. He didn't mind getting paired up with a girl he didn't really know, but he would rather it not be a complete stranger. At least Akemi seemed nice and polite. She also made good grades.

"Okay."

Shun quickly wrote down her name on a piece of paper and held it up for the teacher to collect as he walked past.

"Shun, Yuuta, can I talk to you during break about this?"

But before she could respond, the teacher broke up the chatter to discuss the first group project.


[bell ringing]

Instinctively, Shun and Yuuta got up to run out of class and meet up with the rest of the group for lunch on the roof top.

"Yuu-" she called, but Yuuta quickly slipped out of the room. "Err… Shun?"

"Hrm?"

"Umm…about the group…"

"Oh, we're going to have lunch, why don't you come with us?" Akemi hesitated. "Oh, you're having lunch with your friends?"

"I… um…"

"Hrm?" He said, smiling.

"Umm…okay…" she grabbed her bento. "Are you sure it's okay?"

Shun smiled, "Of course it is. We'll be working together right?"


"What you brought another person to our lunch?" Kaname added, already irritated from his class this morning.

"Kaname! Why do you have to be so mea?" Shun looked over his shoulder at Akemi, "It's okay, really." Misunderstanding her hesitation to be discomfort around boys (and not Kaname's comment), he added "See, there's another girl here."

Akemi sat beside Shun but he was instantly absorbed into conversation with Mary. Chizuru, being jealous, kept poking Mary while she talked to Shun. And Kaname, irritated with the noise, hit Chizuru and told him to stop being such a chatty monkey.

Akemi took it in, and then turned to Yuuta. Oh, his hair looks different. "Umm, Yuuta…about the group. I wanted to let you know that it might be a bit difficult to coordinate."

He didn't turn to address her. Instead, he just kept eating with a bland expression on his face.

"Umm. Is that okay?" She was starting to feel very uncomfortable with the silence.

Somehow, still irritated, Kaname spoke up. "You're wasting your time. You should just eat your food."

Akemi felt hurt and the hurt she felt when she first walked on the rooftop was slowly starting to turn into irritation. She hadn't eaten, Shun didn't even address her, and now Yuuta was acting like he didn't even know her. "About the group…" she tried again, voice slightly raised.

Finally he looked at her, his parted hair falling in his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Her confused expression was too obvious for anyone to miss.

"Oh, umm, sorry Akemi. This is Yuuki," Shun explained. Akemi finally had Shun's attention and began trying to explain her situation. Just then, Yuuta walked in.

"Oi! Oi!" Chizuru piped up. Yuuki instantly pulled Yuuta's jacket, forcing him to sit between Kaname and Yuuki. Chizuru leaned forward, "So, were you with Takahashi-chan?" Yuuta gave a non-committal shrug as he started eating his bento.

"Are things getting better," Kaname asked.

Yuuta was about to say something when Chizuru addressed Akemi, "They used to go out!" Chizuru poked her with his chop stick. "Huh? I'm sorry, what," she said, breaking away from her conversation with Shun.

"Are you doing a group project too," Yuuta loudly asks Kaname.

The friends begin discussing group projects (in general) when Shun, finally, returns the conversation back to Akemi. (Or at least the applicable parties.) "I'm sorry, you were saying you needed to tell Yuuta and I something?"

Akemi nodded, relived that this would all be over soon. "My weekends are almost always unavailable. So most group work will need to be done during the week."

"What, do you work long hours or something," Chizuru asked.

Akemi nodded. "Yes, I have a part time job."

Chizuru laughed, "Shouldn't a girl like you be focusing on studies. You know this is our final year in high school. We need to get into a good college. You should be focusing on getting good grades for university entrance exams."

"Are you stupid," Kaname said without looking up from his food. "She's in the top 10 of our graduating class."

"Huh? You know," she asked shocked.

"Oh, Kaname-kun is in the student council."

"Where do you work," Mary asked, finally speaking to Akemi. (She was a little jealous that Shun and Akemi would be working together.)

Akemi smiled and imply said "It's a secret."

Of course, this caused the group to wonder. Most of them (mainly Chizuru) got the wrong idea. While they pondered aloud, Akemi took the opportunity to eat the rest of her lunch. The bell should be ringing soon. I can finally get out of here…

"How much do you work?" Chizuru said, trying to get more information out of her to see if his theory was right.

"About twenty four hours Friday to Sunday."

"Why," Mary asked.

Akemi looks uncomfortable at the questioning. Shun, being one of the most aware of the group, scolded them. "You guys! You just met her and you're asking her such personal things."

"But why should a high school student have to work that much!" Chizuru retorted.

Akemi noticed that this was going to start another argument within the group. "Tuition," she blurted out without really thinking.

"Isn't that what parents are for," Kaname asked carelessly.

"Are you saving up for something," Mary asked, hoping to help.

Akemi's face went red as her breathing became slightly labored.

[thwack]

"Look, Yuuki, it stuck," Yuuta said, pointing across from him to Chizuru. "These types of food stick easily."

"Why did you throw food at me!?"

Akemi's breathing went back to normal, thankful that this group seemed to be easily distracted.


The bell signaling the end of the day finally rang. Most students nearly cheered in joy, completely over the incessant talk of cohort and adult life. Shun saw Akemi slip out of her seat quickly to pack up.

"Umm, Akemi…"

She turned and smiled. "Yes Shun?"

"Do you think we should exchange numbers? You know, to help us coordinate better," he asked as he pulled out his cell phone.

"Oh, that is a good idea…but I forgot my cell phone at home today. Would you mind writing it down on this?"

Turning away from watching Rina, Yuuta waits as Shun finishes writing his information. "What if you lose the paper?"

"Oh, that won't happen. It can't. I just moved so I won't be able to figure out how to get home. And I can't call for help since I forgot my phone."

Yuuta looked at Shun – Are you sure she can be trusted? She seems like a clumsy girl.

Yuuuuttaa… Shun's eyes seem to plead as he hands Yuuta the paper.

Yuuta write his information down, and then flipped the page over, curious about what was written. Yuuta was slightly shocked looking at the map, but shrugged and scribbled something down quickly and handed it back to Akemi.

"Thanks for being so understanding about my schedule."

"Sure."

"I'll see you tomorrow," she bowed quickly as she slipped out the door.

"H…hi, Yuuta."

He turned and saw Rina standing near him. "Hi."

"A…are you in group with Akemi," she asked, avoiding eye contact, words nearly faded by the end.

He nodded. "Yours?"

"Oh a friend of mine and a boy she likes." Her eyes went wide and her hands flew over her mouth. "I mean…"

It must be nice. He thought as he watched Rina's friend and her crush talk.

He thought back to last year, when Rina suggested they break up because she didn't want to push her feelings onto him. But they still spoke. He would approach her, speak with her, he even looked for her occasionally during breaks. But she still … not avoided him … but didn't seem to try much. Last year she cried when she heard her friends talking about her behind her back. Rina and Yuuta spent the afternoon talking about how changing a little bit over time was good. How it could bring people together. With her friends, Rina made progress, but with Yuuta, they weren't much closer than they were last year.

He liked her, but she never seemed to reciprocate or initiate. If she was, the progress was miniscule. It was frustrating. He thought about talking to Yuuki, but without even asking Yuuki said he should move on. Actually he said something like, "You can't change the direction of the sun or make it move any faster no matter how hard you pull. But if you keep trying to force it to change, you'll miss other things happening around you." I think he was reading Animeja …

Yuuki wanted to talk to Shun, but he was completely oblivious to Mary's feelings for him. Chizuru, while he admitted his feelings for Mary, he didn't trust to keep quiet. And Kaname was completely clueless about Hisako's feelings.

Yes, Yuuki cared for Rina, but maybe that's all it was now. Fondness for someone you had feelings for rather than feelings for that person. Who knows?

"Umm…well bye," Rina waved as she left to meet her friend.

"Yuuta, are you ready for the tea ceremony club?" Shun looked at his watch, "You guys seemed like you were talking a lot."

"Hrm?" He shrugged. Honestly, he was thinking so much about him and Rina that he forgot to listen to what she was saying.