Exams came and went as spring began its shift into summer. As soon as I made it to school on the day that the scores were released, I headed to the board in the hallway that displayed my class’s ranking. My eyes scanned it, desperately searching for my last name.
Nekomura, Nekomura, Nekomura . . .
Then I finally found it. My eyes drifted toward the ranking printed beside my name and the weight of the world fell off of my shoulders. At the edge of the board, right next to my name, was the number five.
I let out a sigh and smiled as I backed out of the forming crowd.
I did it. My chest felt warm and fuzzy when I thought about telling Ryoko and Harumi, and also getting Taro off my back. I was about to go look for the other girls when Ryoko spoke up from behind me.
“What did you score?” she asked. I jumped, startled, and turned around to see both Ryoko and Harumi standing behind me. I could barely hold in my excitement as I told them the news.
“I got number five!” I cheered, jumping with excitement as I held up the same number of fingers.
“Good job,” Ryoko replied with a smile. She then looked toward the board and her expression quickly changed. She frowned for a split second, then she went back to normal. I was wondering if it was just my imagination when Harumi spoke up, also looking at the board.
“Eh, I’m in the middle like usual.”
I wasn’t really paying attention to her and was instead watching Ryoko. She looked down at me, realizing that I was staring, and smiled again.
“You did great. Congrats.”
“Thank you,” I replied quietly. My face began to burn again.
“I’m buying you guys ice cream to celebrate!” Harumi blurted, pulling us both into a hug. “Both of my buddies made it into the top ten. I’m so proud!”
Ryoko reacted like that to being in the top ten?
Harumi began to drag us along as she and Ryoko argued about it not being a big deal. Meanwhile, my eyes were zeroing in on where Ryoko’s name was on the board. She was number six.
After school, Ryoko, Harumi, and I stopped by the konbini on the way home to celebrate our passing scores. Harumi paid for all of us as she promised and made sure that I got the biggest popsicle since I got the highest score. I never thought that she would be so supportive, especially since she was so laid-back about her own grades, but it was a pleasant surprise to me. We were walking down the street together after we finished our treats when Harumi spoke up.
“You know, summer break is coming up soon.”
I realized that she was right. It was already early in July and the temperature outside had become significantly hotter and more humid over the past month. I wiped a little bit of sweat from my forehead and I wondered where the nice days from spring went as I looked over to Harumi. She was now looking over at Ryoko and me with a wide grin.
“We should plan something.”
“Sure, sounds like fun,” Ryoko agreed. Harumi turned around and began walking backwards ahead of us.
“We’ll talk about it later, I’ve got to run home. See you guys tomorrow!”
“Bye!” She turned away from us again and ran off as Ryoko and I waved. When Harumi was out of sight, I stopped walking. When Ryoko noticed, she did the same and turned to look at me since she was a few steps ahead. I felt my face burn a little when our eyes met.
“I’m sorry that I was so distant before exams,” I said, bowing my head as I apologized.
“It’s all right,” Ryoko replied. I lifted my head and saw that she was smiling. “I mean, you want to get into a good college, right?”
“Well, that’s not the only reason why I did it,” I admitted. “You remember when I told you that I was having an issue with a family member?”
“Well, it was my older brother. He wanted me to quit school and stop being around humans if I couldn’t make it into the top five.” I waited for a second for Ryoko to say something back, but she didn’t, so I continued. “Thank you for coming and talking to me the other day. You’re right, studying isn’t everything, but I needed to try my hardest. If I didn’t, I may have lost you.”
Why did I say that?
We were both silent for a moment and the tension around us grew so thick that you could almost cut it with a knife. I wasn’t sure what to say or do after that, so I got the idea to just run away.
“Ah, I’ve got to get home!” I cried, pretending to look at my phone. “See you tomorrow!” And with that, I turned and ran, trying not to think about what I had said.
Because I ran so quickly, I made it home in only seven minutes. I was about to fling the front door open when Taro opened it from the inside.
“I did it,” I shouted, interrupting him. He stared at me with wide eyes as I slouched, breathing heavily. I didn’t realize how tiring the run was. I began to untangle the ribbon on my ears as he tilted his head.
“I ranked number five . . . in my class,” I stated, still trying to catch my breath. “So you can’t be . . . a jerk to me anymore.”
“Huh?” I looked up at him, trying to straighten out as best as I could.
“I saw how hard you studied over the week, so I can’t say that I’m surprised. Are you sure that this is really what you want, though?” I nodded as energetically as I could. “Okay, then I guess I can’t argue with that.” For the first time since he had left, Taro smiled at me. At that moment, I realized that the world around me had grown dark and Taro was almost completely illuminated by the light coming from the living room. He stepped aside and moved his arms in a motion to invite me in. Instead, I rushed over and hugged him, nearly knocking him over. He laughed as I buried my face into his chest. He ruffled the hair between my ears and hugged me back.
“Just be careful, okay? Not everyone is nice.”
“I will and I know.” We let go of each other and Taro gestured toward the kitchen.
“Let’s go tell Mom.” I nodded eagerly and we headed inside, racing to the kitchen like when we were kids after I finished slipping out of my shoes.
I entered my room with a sigh and dropped my bag on the floor. I closed the door behind me and took a few steps to my bed before I flopped down. My cheeks were still burning as I remembered what Maneki told me and I was grateful that I had managed to avoid my parents when I walked through the front door. I knew they would be asking me a million questions if they saw me like this since I was flustered, to say the least.
I had a crush on Maneki since I helped her during our first year of high school. She always seemed unapproachable and quiet, so I mostly left her alone and I figured I’d be better off not interacting with her. At least that way I wasn’t at risk of telling her how I felt. I assumed that I would just get over her, but . . .
I felt my chest tighten and I rolled onto my side. I hadn’t gotten over her at all. This stupid, useless crush that I had held onto for the past two years was still there, pulling me toward her. I remembered the look on her face when she last spoke to me as I hugged my pillow to my chest.
I wish I could have told her how I feel. I want to.
That was when I remembered my last relationship and I felt my feet begin to tingle as if they were cold. The feeling traveled upward until I was completely enveloped in what I could only describe as numbness.
I shouldn’t. Besides, she’s close to being the top of our class. She deserves better than me. If we got together, I’d only hold her back.
The following school day, everything went as it normally did. Class ended for the day and Ryoko, Harumi, and I all stood up from our seats. Before I could say anything, Ryoko slipped the strap of her bag onto her shoulder and turned for the door.
“I have work today, so I’m going to go ahead.”
“All right, see yah!” Harumi replied with a wave. Ryoko smiled at us and turned and left. After she was gone, I looked back to Harumi.
“Actually, there’s something I’ve got to do, too. Are you okay walking home alone?” I asked. She tilted her head and pouted a little.
“Awww, you guys are no fun. Well, I guess I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow!” I got up and rushed for the door, leaving Harumi and our remaining classmates behind. I could almost feel some people staring at me as I went, but I didn’t care. I wanted to catch up to Ryoko.
I finally did when I made it outside. She was approaching the school’s gates when I made it out the front doors. The cicadas were practically screaming in the summer afternoon heat and I felt sweat beading on my forehead. I breathed heavily since I ran down the stairs and watched as she walked ahead of me, her short hair and the collar of her uniform shirt rustling in the breeze. I swallowed the knot in my throat and I could barely hear myself over the pounding of my heart as I yelled out to her.
She stopped mid-step and turned to look at me, as did several other students. I hurried over to her and some people stared, but I ignored it. When I finally made it to her, I noticed that there was a concerned look on Ryoko’s face. When I looked at her, everything else seemed to disappear.
“Is something wrong?” she asked. I shook my head.
“No, I just have a question.”
“Um . . . I’m in a bit of a hurry. What is it?”
“Ah, sorry! I’ll make it quick. One of the gardens near my house is having a hydrangea-viewing event. I wanted to know if you want to go with me.”
“Hydrangeas?” The taller brunette wondered aloud, holding her chin as she seemed to consider it. “Oh yeah, I guess those are in season now. When is it?”
“This Saturday,” I answered.
“That’s perfect, actually. I’m free that day.” I could barely contain my excitement. I pumped my fists in the air and grinned from ear to ear as I cheered.
“Awesome! Should I give you my phone number so we can set up a meetup time and place?”
“Sure.” We both pulled out our phones and held them close to each other. They both pinged as we swapped contact information. I looked down at mine for a moment, then looked back at Ryoko as she tucked her own phone into her pocket. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later.”
“Okay!” And with that, she turned around and began walking away. I watched as she rounded the corner and disappeared from view. I looked down at her name on my phone.I swear, I’m going to tell you how I feel.