Yuki Yamakawa stayed on her side of the room for the rest of the afternoon.
The regular three o’clock homeroom class meeting was devoted to a discussion of the upcoming school festival. The discussion, as always, was dominated by Harumi Itsuki, the class president, and her clique of fangirls.
Dominate away, was Ami’s attitude. She found the entirety of high school politics dreadfully tedious.
Yuki stayed out of it as well. Ami expected her to wade into the thick of things. Instead she looked on with an air of detached amusement, a bored Border Collie observing a bunch of grazing sheep.
Despite it being her first day, Yuki pitched in afterwards with the cleaning chores, accepting without protest the onerous job of rearranging the desks. She was strong, stacking desks on top of each other and carrying them around with barely an exaggerated grunt.
Ami washed the blackboards, cleaned the chalk trays—nothing so modern as whiteboards at this school—leaned out the window and pounded the erasers together. But not too hard. She put as much effort into hiding her true strength as she did disguising her true hair color.
The students who hadn’t already snuck off dispersed for club activities. Ami slipped away without the sheep dog chasing her down. She had Aikido class that afternoon, followed by biology and chemistry juku, then her pre-vet study course into the early evening.
In a smug moment, she doubted a girl like Yuki Yamakawa had any goals on her horizon past turning eighteen and getting out of school.
Ami reached the main gate and instinctively realized that something was out of place. What quickly became apparent—the Mercedes coupe parked next to the curb like a block of buffed obsidian.
Especially in inclement weather, it was not unusual for anxious parents to send a driver around to pick up their well-bred daughters. Though usually in stately automobiles driven by stately old men.
The man leaning against the side of the Mercedes had on a black Armani jacket and slacks, white shirt, no tie. His eyes were shaded by aviator sunglasses. A gold pin glimmered on his lapel. The lapel pin—a sunflower with a set of silver scales in the center—was worn by lawyers admitted to the bar. And the bar was set so high in Japan that lawyers showed it off like a sheriff’s badge in old American Westerns.
He lounged there, utterly cool beneath the sweltering September sun.
Ami couldn’t imagine what he was doing there. So her thoughts defaulted to “compensated dating,” high school girls “going out” with wealthy older men. Everybody knew such things must be going on right beneath their noses.
A girl like Yuki Yamakawa was a prime candidate.
No matter how slanderous, it was such a delicious assumption that Ami paused in the shade of an overhanging tree. She wasn’t alone. The students streaming through the gate suddenly had nothing better to do right then. They and Ami waited, an audience eagerly hoping to see their worst suspicions confirmed.
The sharp-dressed man got out his phone a second time. Ah, his date was late. Here was a man who didn’t like to be kept waiting. Neither did Ami. This little melodrama had better come to a quick conclusion or she was going to miss her train.
His thumb played across the slick surface. He pressed send and tucked the phone away.
“Who is that?” a girl’s voice asked.
Not taking her eyes off him, Ami craned her ears for the answer. What she got in return was a startled murmur.
Vice-principal Hasegawa walked through the gates. Everybody on the sidewalk leaned forward for a better view of the confrontation. This reality show kept getting better and better.
The man took off his sunglasses. They both bowed—not too formally. They both straightened and smiled. They knew each other. Perhaps they were friends or old college classmates.
Hasegawa Sensei said, “Matsudaira-san assures me his daughter will impart to the school—how did he put it—a certain iconoclastic charm. Hopefully she’ll learn to fit in because of that rather than in spite of it.”
Nothing more than an impromptu parent-teacher conference. What a let-down. The disappointed crowd dispersed like a spent breeze.
Ami stood there a little while longer, her head cocked to the side in puzzlement. Matsudaira wasn’t a name tossed around lightly. Was Hasegawa Sensei referring to Yuki? Ami shook her head. No, that simply wasn’t possible.
She shrugged and continued down the street to the subway station. There were plenty of places in this world where Yuki Yamakawa wasn’t the first and last thought on everybody’s mind.