“I swear the numbers keep increasing every time,” one of my classmates whispered to his friends as we made our way towards the field. “It’s all because of HIM, but not that I’m complaining or anything.” He grinned.
They turned to glance at me, but quickly averted their eyes again as soon as our eyes met.
Not understanding what they were talking about, I followed their gaze and saw a group of girls squealing behind the fence, which separated the opposite genders. They always gathered around to watch the baseball games that we played during sports lessons.
Ignoring them, I grabbed a bat and stood in my position as I waited for the others impatiently.
I had no intention of interacting with anyone here.
“O-okay… Ready!” The pitcher called out with the ball in his hand. He looked scared to throw the ball at me. I sighed and stared at him, mentally demanding him to hurry up and pitch the ball towards me already.
Suddenly, someone walked into the game and forcefully grabbed the ball out of the pitcher’s hand.
I lifted an eyebrow, wondering what he was doing at school.
“I’ll take over.” Ryouta tossed the ball up and caught it again with a single hand as he grinned widely.
“Who is he?” Some of the guys asked each other in confusion.
“Ryouta?!” Our class president called out while pointing her finger at him in bewilderment, “I’ve been trying to find you for so long! Why haven’t you been coming to school?! ” She shouted.
“Huh?!” Everyone blinked.
“Wait t-this guy is a student at our school?” The pitcher stammered as he looked at Ryouta again.
Ryouta shoved him out of his way and got into position to throw the ball at me, “Better yet, I’m your classmate.”
The pitcher’s jaw dropped in shock.
Nobody knew about Ryouta because he had been skipping class since day one. Only the class president Maki… or was it Mani? Whatever her name was, she had been trying to track him down since the beginning of the year, but she never tried to search for him in the area we lived in.
Ryouta pitched the ball almost at the speed of lightning, but I had waited for that ball for too long to miss it.
I swung my bat forwards and hit the ball with a loud ‘CLANK’, sending it flying somewhere into the far distance. I sprinted around all the bases in the midst of all the shrieking that was coming from behind the fence.
“Dude! That was a home run!!!” The other guys in my team shouted, throwing their fists in the air in excitement.
With the back of my hand, I brushed the damp hair strands out of my eyes as I walked past the girls, gradually getting irritated with all the noise. I glared at them slightly, silencing them immediately.
“He’s scary after all…” One of the girls shivered as she backed away from the fence.
“He’s damn cool!” Another one melted, “But… only from a distance. I wouldn’t dare to go near him.”
I was getting more and more annoyed. My ears have always been more sensitive than they are for other people, but that hadn’t always proven to be a good thing.
I heard footsteps behind me, but carried on walking knowing that it was Ryouta. He was close at my heels. “Kentaro! Oi, Kentaro!” he called out, “Kentaro! Kentaro!”
“I heard you the first time!” I said as I stopped walking.
He cleared his throat, “I wanted to ask you something about yesterday…”
I waited but he didn’t proceed with his sentence, so I continued walking back towards the school building. Thinking of a way to be constantly by Ayano’s side without making her suspicious was already difficult enough. I didn’t need loud shrieking girls and a persistent stalker to help me suffer a headache.
Ryouta gave up on following me any further, but I knew he would try again later.
As soon as I reached the entrance door, I heard a faint rustling and laughter. The noises were coming from behind the corner of the building.
I slowly walked around the corner and stood still as soon as I found Ayano squatting down in front of a little girl. She looked like she was around 5 years old and had the same brown hair as Ayano, except it was curly.
Ayano was smiling gleefully at the girl while she patted her on the head and accepted a few wrapped candies that she offered to her. Their resemblance was making it difficult to avoid the thought.
Were they siblings?
“Mi-chan, you should get going now. Mom must be waiting in the car…” Ayano said, still smiling.
“Why won’t you come to see mom too?” The little girl asked.
“I will do, but maybe later. I’m a little busy right now.” Ayano answered, looking at the ground. I could tell she had no intention of doing so.
“No ‘buts’, off you go now! If you stay any longer mom might not bring you to see me again!” Ayano gasped dramatically and laughed when the little girl giggled in return.
“Bye bye!” The girl kissed Ayano on the cheek and waved her goodbye before she disappeared around the other side of the building with tiny footsteps.
“Bye bye…” Ayano said quietly. Her expression had changed as soon as the girl had left. She looked so solemn that it was evident that the bright smile she had been wearing a while ago was a façade.
She sighed and got up. As soon as she turned around, she froze.
I could’ve easily hidden behind the wall… but I was too curious to let this slide.
“W-what are you doing here?” Ayano asked with wide eyes.
“Eavesdropping,” I answered, “Kind of.”
“Pretty honest, aren’t you?” Ayano laughed lightly, looking away.
“That little girl…” I mused.
“She’s my little sister, Mika.” Ayano confirmed my thoughts, “She comes to see me now and then.”
“I thought you said you left your family…” I narrowed my eyes, wondering if she had lied to me.
Ayano lowered her head, “I didn’t leave them because I wanted to.”
She started walking past me, obviously not wanting to tell me more about it. But I stepped in front of her, blocking her way, “I don’t understand. Why did you leave them then?”
“They had a lot of expectations,” Ayano said softly, “I couldn’t meet them no matter how hard I tried. And it all fell apart due to one incident that happened a year ago.”
I frowned, “What…incident?”
“It wasn’t my fault… it was a huge misunderstanding, but no one believed me.” She avoided the question, “And in the end my dad asked me to leave the house. He didn’t want my little sister to take after me. But my mom still allows her to see me occasionally, although she doesn’t come to see me herself.” She laughed mockingly.
I remained silent, slightly surprised that she even told me all these things. She seemed to realise that too and looked at me just as taken aback by her own words.
“Sorry! I should get back to my lesson!” She looked away and tried to run past me.
“Hey wait!” I called out even though I was sure she wouldn’t stop. But she did.
I still had to ask her about Akira… and tell her a few things about him too. I couldn’t find a way to stay close by her side to protect her without telling her the truth.
“I need to talk to you about something.” I went straight to the point.
She turned around suddenly, looking confusingly hesitant, “Me too!” She blurted before I could finish what I had wanted to say. “I need your help!!”
“Help?” I raised my brows, “With your family?”
“No no! Forget everything I just said to you…” She quickly waved her hands with an awkward expression. “This is something else! I heard about it earlier from Mari…” She fidgeted with her fingers.
“Our class president,” Ayano answered.
“Oh her…What did she say?” I frowned, expecting her to recite one of the rumours people have spread about me.
“She told me you always get the highest grades in class! Is that true?” She turned herself fully towards me with eager eyes.
“Huh? I don’t know… I’ve never compared.” I blinked and then shook my head, trying to get us back to my topic. “Look! I need to tell you-“
“Can you tutor me?” She interrupted me once again, throwing me off guard with her random request.
“I didn’t know how to ask but…I want to get into the best medical school, Taigou University! I need to get into that one no matter what! But my grades are… pretty bad.” She explained, “So can you help me study to pass the entrance exams?”
“Did hiring a professional tutor not ever cross your mind?” I asked.
“I’m not as rich as I used to be…” She answered, “I think you’d know why.”
I blinked, still unsure of how to react to her unexpected request. But a new thought came into my mind. Perhaps, she didn’t need to know that she was in danger after all…
“Fine… but only if you’re prepared to return the favour.”