To Heart- Prologue TL (2/2)

Continues Where I left off in the last post, from 11:30 – End.

The highschool we attend is at the top of a high-scaling slope. Walking at such a steep incline so early in the morning is rough. But still, owing to that, this urban area is spacious, and while the scenery is quite nice, I close my eyes for a second. I see the elegant figure of another student on the slope. The pink uniform the girls wear is particularly noticeable, regardless of distance.

It looks like we are in with the last batch of late students. Blending in with a group gives me room to relax. I break from my jog and switch back to a normal walking pace. I settle down after a breath, and look backwards. About ten seconds later, Akari finally catches up.

“…Haa, haa.” Akari shrugs, painfully.

“I think we’re home free to the finish line. We’ll be fine so long as we stay mixed in with this group of kids.”

“…Y-Yeah… Haa, haa.”

“……”

“…Haa, haa.”

“……”

…Haa, haa.”

“Sheesh, someone’s out of shape!”

…Uggh.”

Coming up the slope, Akari pointed at something ahead of us and said, “Hey, Shiho-chan. Isn’t that Shiho over there?”

As I look, yes, I do see that familiar person from behind. It’s an associate of mine from middle school, that much I’m sure of. Still, I’d rather disregard Shiho for now. My complexion and my voice are normal now, but that might fluctuate if I have to interact with Shiho. It’s not that things go downhill quick with her. I just lack the mental capacity to keep up with her at the moment. So far, she’s yet to notice us. If we keep this pace…

“Shiho!~”

“……” That’s all my mind could muster. I stopped shortly after Akari yelled out.

“Oh! YOO-HOO!!! Good morning, Akari!!!” Shiho said as she turned around. Then, she turned her attention to me. “Wait, Hiro?!”

My expression immediately froze.

“Hold on… No way!!! Are you LATE FOR CLASS?!”

“Late? What do you mean? Check your watch. We still have plenty of time.”

“Oh, so we do! How funny!!! But what if your clock is actually behind?! HMM?!”

“Geez.”

“After all, everyone used to call you the great Tardius Slaximus, remember?”

“The only person who ever called me that was you!”

“Oh, you sure about that?”

The only girl who can get so on peoples’ nerves this early in the morning is Nagaoka Shiho. Given our inseperable relationship since middle school, it feels like she always says something like this to me when we meet. Thanks to her, the pointless quarrels we get into year after year will never die. You could say she is an evil influence who threatens what could have been a peaceful school life.

“Well, I’ll have you know, I haven’t been late to class once since school started, and that’s a fact.”

“SERIOUSLY?! Ahaha! If you’re that serious about being on time, then you can call me this school’s toppiest top model student!”

“Pfft, don’t make me laugh! The day you are declared a model student is the day this entire country collapses, no less the school.”

“You watch your mouth!”

“Now, now, you two…” Akari split us up just in the nick of time.

This order of events is all too familiar from our middle school days. While both Shiho and Akari are polar opposites in hobbies and demeanor, these two get along strangely well from time to time. Shiho and I mysterious get along too, and have always been close buds since middle school. Well, if you consider the North Pole and the South Pole “close”.

DING-DONG-DANG-DONG.

At that moment, the school bells chimed. Actually, that bell is the five minute warning before they close the front gate.

“See? Now look at us! If you make me late, I’m gonna…”

“You’re gonna what? Keep flapping your facehole?”

“This isn’t important! Let’s hurry!”

We make it to the school gate. It isn’t closed yet.

“And where are you going, Dipstick?!”

“Wait, Hiroyuki-chan!” I hear two concerned voices call out behind me.

“Hey, you! If we don’t hurry, the teacher’s going to lock us out!”

While the two slowpokes call out to me, I slip through the gate, but then- Ope!

“Aah!”

“……”

Oblivious to what’s in front of me, I crash into a girl walking dead ahead. The girl alone is quite light. Instead of crashing into her, it feels more like I steamroll her to the ground. The girl goes down without a lick of resistance. She falls onto her backside.

“I-I’m so sorry! Are you okay?!” In any case, I apologize. Oh boy, did I blow it this time! The satchel she was holding had flung out of her hands. “I-I’m so sorry. I got way ahead of myself back there.”

I approach the girl, scratching the back of my head.

“……”

The first thing I notice is her mesmerizing black hair. I can see sunshine jumping around, sparkling over the loose waves of her long, flowing locks.

“…Ah.”

There’s something bewitching about her. Something I haven’t seen in another female student before. She carries with her a more grown-up atmosphere.

Is she…a senior?

“……” The girl, collapsed, stares blankly, as if not understanding me.

“Sorry. You’re not hurt, are you?” I crouch over and ask her.

“……” But she does nothing. She stares at my face, and doesn’t move.

“Umm, hello?”

“……” She casts a silent gaze.

“W-What’s wrong?”

“…………”I don’t quite understand what’s going on, but we stare at each other for some time. “…………”

“Hm… This is an unusual way to meet new people…accidentally. What were you doing hanging around the school gate at this point in the morning?

“Regardless, we should be more careful.”

As I speak, I reach out my hand. “……”

The girl stares at me and my hand. However, she makes no effort to take hold of it.

“You won’t take my hand?”

“……”

I offer my hand once more. This time, she merely stares at my face. What’s with this weirdo?

“Here, take it!” Inviting her in a stronger tone than I did before, the girl finally nods and follows along. She slowly grasps my hand. I pull her by the hand and help her to her feet.

“I’m sorry. Really. You’re not hurt are you?”

“……”

Even as I ask, the girl does not answer. Never opening her mouth, she continues to stare at my face.

W-What is it? Something on my face?”

“……”

S-She’s an odd one, isn’t she? Suddenly, I see her skirt flutter. Specks of dirt trickle from it.

“Ah, your skirt got dirty.”

I point to the spot.

“……”

Even as she stares ominously at me, she should dust off her skirt before class. I point again.

“See? There. It’s dirty.”

“……”

“Um, hello. Are you listening?”

“……” Zero reaction.

“Argh, that’s it! This is going to drive me crazy!” Pat, pat. Irritated as can be, I gently brush the dirt off the side of her skirt.

“And here’s your satchel!”

“……”

I also pick up the bag and hand it to her. “So, are you angry?

You’re so angry you can’t speak, huh…”

Just as I ask that, she shakes her head no.

“Eh? You’re not angry at all?”

A pause. She nods. “……”

If the bumpee says she isn’t angry, that’s enough, right?

Hiroyuki-chan. We have to hurry!” In this moment, Akari’s voice rings out to me.

“Oh, yeah. Homeroom’s starting soon. You don’t want to be late, you know? Sorry for the trouble. Bye!”

“…”

As I raise one hand, I turn around to with my back to her. Pretending not to see her, I realize she’s standing in the same place.

When I change shoes and move up the corridor…

Hiroyuki-chan. Were you or Kurusugawa-san hurt when you fell down?” Akari asked.

“Wait, Kurusugawa?”

“Yeah. The person you bumped into just now.”

“That girl’s last name is Kurusugawa?”

“Oh, wait. Hiroyuki-chan, you don’t know Kurusugawa-sempai?”

“Never met her. Actually, this is the first I’ve even heard of her. Kurusugawa, is it? That’s kind of an odd name.”

“Ah! Ha! Ha! It’s illegal how ignorant you are, Hiro!” Noisy One, stage left. “A student at our high school doesn’t know of Kurusugawa Serika, the princess to end all princesses?”

“No one asked you!”

“Aww, you could have said it nicer… And here I thought your pitiful butt wanted to learn a thing or two about Serika.”

“You’re really itching to tell us, aren’t you? Your eyes are gleaming.”

“Well, sharing such vast wealth of knowledge with students in a non-discriminant fashion is my calling.” Some calling that is. “If there’s anything you want to know, feel free to ask me! The Shiho-chan Network is the hotspot for all the latest gossip you so desire!”

“Okay, okay…” Stupefied, I bowed my head to her service.

“M’kay, so… You might have heard the name “Kurusugawa” from Kurusugawa Electrics or Kurusugawa Metalworks. Kurusugawa Bank, maybe? Do you know of THE Kurusugawa Group?”

“Well duh. Even I know about them— Wait, she’s not related to THEM, is she?!”

“Sure enough. Be it on TV or radio, the Kurusugawa Group name is crazy commercialized. The president of said group, whoever he is, is actually Serika-san’s real dad! Crazy, right?”

“Whoa!”

“What do you think happens when the girl you threw to the ground earlier was none other than the crowned princess of the business world? Hmm?”

“…W-what do you mean?”

“Huehuehue! I mean, men in black suits could be coming for your head by the end of the night! Shouldn’t you be scared?” Shiho closed her eyes and snickered, going “Tee-hee-hee!”

“…D-don’t say something so terrifying! That’s nothing to joke about!”

“…Whatever the case, whenever I see her, I find her beautiful, don’t you?” Akari stepped in, trying to end the disturbing half of the conversation. “I find her a truly beautiful person. I just adore that black hair of hers!”

“Yeah, but she’s also a pretty out-there little lady. Compared to the next student, she’s a hard nut to crack.”

“I can see that.”

“…Now, I shouldn’t say this too loudly, but…” Upon saying that, she side-eyed our surroundings and lowered her voice to a whisper. “I’m told the princess is a total weirdo.”

“A weirdo?”

I only heard this from another 2nd year, but apparently, that girl has had a suspicious triste with the occult.”

“The occult?”

“Ghosts, black magic… That kind of stuff. I don’t really really know the Culture Department all that well, but isn’t there an Occultic Studies club too?”

“Yeah, there is.”

“As I understand it, Serika’s a member too. So, she really is out-there. Her hobbies are pretty different from your average person.”

“It’s certainly a much better hobby than gossiping, if you can even call that a ‘hobby’.”

“Hey, what does that mean?!”

“Well, Hiroyuki-chan, here you go!” Akari speaks up as we stopped in front of Classroom A.

“Ah…”

I am in Class A, while Akari and Shiho are in Class C. So, this is my stop.

“Study hard, Hiro. If you do nothing but sleep all day in class, you’ll be the only 2nd year left behind!”

“Hey, don’t throw me on your ‘Top 10 Most Likely To Fail’ list just yet. You should be less worried about others and WAY more concerned for yourself!”

“W-What are you saying?!”

DING-DONG-DANG-DONG.

“Come on, Shiho. Homeroom’s starting!”

“Grr! I’ll remember that one, Hiro!!!” Shiho lays out a farewell threat before leaving to Classroom C with Akari.

“Alright now…” Seeing the bundle of noise off once and for all, I enter my classroom. The teacher has yet to show up. The classroom is a lively arena. Our homeroom teacher is somewhat careless in structure, and is often late for homeroom. Today, that’s what I call my saving grace. I make my way to me seat when–

“‘Hi there! Good morning’, Hiroyuki!” A cheerful voice catches me off guard. When I turn around, I see the glowing smile of Miyauchi Lemmy, from my same class.

“Hey there, Lemmy. ‘Good morning’!” I respond to her in poor English and smile.

This is the ever-cheerful Lemmy. She’s half-Japanese, and was raised in America. To see someone with such bright blonde hair in a sailor uniform is quite a sight in this classroom. While Lemmy is the only one, she does give our classroom some much-needed international flair.

“The teacher’s not hear yet, but you’re late too. You need to come to class a lot earlier!”

“Yeah, you got me on that one, but I had a bit of an accident this morning.”

“An ‘accident’?”

“Yeah, I ran into a little mishap on my way here. Crashed into someone out front as I was running in.”

You had a head-on collision?! Hiroyuki, you were hit by a car?!”

“No, no! Another person! I crashed into another person!”

“Oh, you scared me for a second!” Lemmy breathed deeply.

“Well, the impact wasn’t too crazy. Neither of us were hurt, but it did put me behind schedule.”

“…Hiroyuki, you’re an ‘unlucky’ one.”

“Nah. The way I see it, I’d say I was the lucky one. Thing is, the one I ran into was actually a really pretty senior.”

“Oh? So as long as the other person is attractice, running over someone is a sign of good luck here?”

“Well… That makes it sound like some soap opera-esque romantic encounter, I dunno…”

“…So, running people over is ‘romantic’?” I see. That is certainly so! I see now…” Lemmy nods at her own, questionable comprehension. “But, you have to be careful. Maybe you weren’t injured today, but what if you get hurt next time?”

“Why, are you worried about me?”

“Of course I am! I am your ‘classmate’, remember?” Lemmy says this with a smile, then makes her leave.

“Classmate”, huh… I don’t always understand her pronunciations, and while Lemmy says some weird things, she tends to misinterpret what the Japanese classmates are saying. But for some reason, that fills me with deeper feelings of fellowship with the girl. Be that as it may, Lemmy can’t speak Japanese fluently to save her life. From what I hear, her mother is Japanese, but has always enjoyed living in America. That said, I also heard Lemmy came to stay in Japan from time to time while growing up. I do speak a bit intimately of Lemmy, but actually, she and I aren’t all that close. Lemmy, as friendly as she is, has no qualms about talking to people casually. In Lemmy’s eyes, I’m still just another one of her “classmates”.

I take my chair, and just as I sit myself down–

“Morning, Hiroyuki!” The voice calling out to me is my second childhood friend next to Akari, Masashi Sato.

“Hey.” I answer back with a smile.

With a cute face often mistaken for that of a young girl’s, Masashi is a cheerful kid with a great personality.

Furthermore, he holds the tasty title of “Most promising rookie” in the school’s soccer club. He’s well-liked by everyone in class.

I’ve known him ever since kindergarten, so he’s more of a little brother to me. Actually, Akari, Masashi and I have all been like siblings to one another ever since we were kids. Age-wise, I’d be a big brother, Akari would be the middle sister, and Masashi would be our baby brother. Obviously it doesn’t affect our relationship, but because Masashi has been so busy with club activities lately, we haven’t been able to hang out. Even still, we’re more than just ordinary friends.

“Here. Thanks for letting me borrow this.” Masashi speaks to me, holding out a CD. It’s a CD cover I remember well. This is the CD he borrowed from me.

“Oh, I forgot I lent that one out. Did you like it?”

“Yeah, it has some nice vibes. I listened to it a good 5 times.”

“I really enjoyed tracks 2 and 3.”

“Yeah, same! Along with that last song.”

“Oh, that one was great too!”

“Oh, that reminds me. There was another CD I wanted to borrow from Shiho, but she said to ask you first. You wouldn’t mind a little subleasing, would you?”

Of course. It’s 100 yen a night.”

Childhood friends: Akari, Masashi, and me. And then, come middle school, Shiho joined the mix. We’re all familiar faces now. In autumn of our 3rd year in junior high, we all decided to go to the same high school. I was falling really hard behind, when Shiho, who was even further back, pressured my to fight to the finish, and somehow, we all succeeded. Then, we all faced our senior year of high school head-on. And now, our time as first years is almost up. It all went by so quickly.

Rattle, rattle. At that moment, the door opened, and in came our homeroom teacher.

“Morning, everyone! Time to take your seats. I’m taking attendance!”

“Anyway, I’ll ask Shiho about that CD again.”

Masashi spoke before returning to his seat. And with that, homeroom began.

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