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“Damn it, I’m still here,” I murmured, still present in this twisted reality.
Felicity still slept, muttering incoherent words. I wondered how long this would drag on. A sudden realization hit me. What if I were condemned here for the rest of my life as punishment for failing as a hero?
“Morning Yuki. Man, my head kinda hurts,” Felicity greeted me.
I ate breakfast downstairs and wondered if Zhuyu would show up. Mom already left for work, leaving behind breakfast for Felicity and me on thte table.
“Yuki, you’re different than usual,” Felicity observed.
“What do you mean?” I questioned, choking on my sip of water.
“Just something is off, like you’re not yourself. Probably overthinking it,” Felicity answered.
We headed outside after finishing our food, heading toward the transit station. Zhuyu was nowhere in sight. Felicity noticed me looking around and smiled.
“Long isn’t here this morning,” Felicity remarked.
“At least I’m not late today,” I ignored her comment.
Zhuyu stood at the platform, staring out at the train tracks. Felicity grabbed him by the shoulder, scolding him. He gave a sheepish smile, shaking his head.
“How could you let a beautiful girl like Yuki be alone this morning? What were you thinking, Long?” Felicity demanded an answer.
“Sorry about that, Yuki. I woke up late today,” Zhuyu disclosed.
“You wake up late? The person who’s always early!” Felicity pressed him for more details.
“Yeah, shouldn’t have watched those last two episodes of anime, pretty bad idea,” Zhuyu admitted.
“You and Jin are so stupid. Why can’t you…,” Felicity lectured, droning on for three stops.
“Konoe, I get it. I’ll call Yuki next time when I can’t make it,” the man conceded, a tired expression on his face.
“I’m amazed how well you took that speech,” I whispered to Zhuyu.
“Hey, don’t let him off the hook so easily, Yuki. You have to take control,” Felicity overheard me, wagging her finger at him.
“Yuki, can you meet me at the usual place after school? There’s something I want to talk about,” Zhuyu requested.
“The usual place?” I repeated, confused.
“Yeah, the cooking clubroom on the fourth floor. Sorry, someone’s calling me,” Zhuyu answered, walking aside to take the phone call.
“Oh, is that a date?” Felicity stared at me with a knowing look.
“No,” I denied.
“That’s no fun,” Felicity said, pouting.
“Konoe-chan with little Yuki, what a refreshing sight,” Kyoi declared, walking up to us with a grin.
Felicity pulled back at the woman’s appearance. Even here, the two woman weren’t the best of friends. I couldn’t blame Felicity since Kyoi wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. Nothing personal against her of course.
“Neesan, you shouldn’t pick on Yuki like that,” Kyoi’s relative admonished.
“But it’s the only enjoyment I have since entering college. Messing with Long doesn’t cut it,” Kyoi responded.
“Sorry about my sister. I hope she isn’t causing you any trouble,” Kyoi’s sibling apologized, giving a low bow.
“Of course not,” Felicity remarked with a small amount of sarcasm.
“Oh, you’re here too, Yue,” Zhuyu said, rejoining us.
Yue, the character for moon, if I wasn’t mistaken. A contrast to her sister, who carried the phoenix namesake.
“Oh, Long-niisan, good morning,” Yue greeted him.
“Morning, Yue. Konoe, Jin said he can’t make it to our chem study session later. He wants to reschedule for tomorrow,” Zhuyu revealed.
“Do you know what he has to do? Why didn’t he just tell me directly?” Felicity hurled questions at Zhuyu.
“You can call him and ask. Yuki, feeling better today? No headaches or anything like that?” Zhuyu turned his attention to me.
“Nope, I’m feeling great. Nothing wrong,” I answered.
“Good. Feng-senpai, did you plan this out? Your classes don’t even start this early,” Zhuyu accused Kyoi.
“I simply have something to do this morning,” Kyoi dismissed his claim.
“About what we talked about yesterday, it’s done. Kuan’s making adjustments,” Zhuyu updated her.
“Perfect,” Kyoi said, a satisfactory expression on her face.
It was finally our stop and we all went our separate ways. Felicity dashed off to something cross country related. Yue accompanied me to class while Zhuyu went up to the third year classrooms.
“Yuki, your complexion looks a lot better,” Yue noticed.
“Yeah, getting enough sleep helped. I wish Konoe didn’t stay over last night though,” I remarked.
“Kaisi-senpai is quite excitable so I understand why. She doesn’t like Feng-nee though. Do you know what happened between them?” Yue questioned as we neared the classroom.
“I have a general idea. It’s probably related to your sister’s personality,” I answered, opening the door for Yue.
“Neesan can be quite evil sometimes, so if that makes Konoe-senpai angry, then it’s understandable,” Yue agreed, taking her seat.
“Morning, everyone. There’s an assembly, something about safety protocols and all that other fancy c**p. Anyways, there’s no homeroom and instead you get a fun assembly. Let’s get going,” Old Stone announced five minutes before the bell rang for first period.
When the bell finally rang, Old Stone headed toward the door, but someone burst in at the last moment.
“Oh, perfect timing. Now the other teachers can’t get on my case about not having all my students. Don’t apologize, it’s not worth your breath,” Old Stone said to the late student.
The student nodded. Old Stone walked out, motioning for us to follow. Everyone filed behind him. An assembly, huh? How exciting…. not really. Yue and I chatted during the walk there. Our teacher didn’t care about our chatter, only warning us when it became too loud.
“Oh man, that was way too close. I’m glad Stone-sensei is our homeroom teacher,” the late student spoke to me.
“Kana, have you ever gotten here on time?” Yue responded.
“I have, on the first day, Yuki remembers, right?” Kana glanced at me.
“Yeah,” I lied.
Old Stone led us to the auditorium and we sat in the back. There were fancy, rotating light fixtures on the ceiling and seats with comfortable back rests. The lights were focused on a woman standing behind a podium. She wore a track suit, a very strange attire for an assembly. With a reality this nice, there must be some quirkiness to balance things out.
“I heard one of your kids is always late and you don’t do anything. If I was the homeroom teacher…,” one of the teachers ripped Old Stone.
“That student is ranked number five on exams for her year. I don’t give a c**p if she’s late. It only pisses me off if she shows up with five minutes of class left. At that point, you might well as not attend,” Old Stone shut down his colleague, shrugging his shoulders.
“Stone’s right. The kids in his class are always tops in exams. Zhuyu, Kisai, and Kaisi are a few examples from last year,” another teacher chimed in.
Despite his lack of care, he was a solid educator. More students filed in and the assembly started.
“We’re all tired and the principal can’t attend. Luckily, since he isn’t around, so I get to do whatever. Start the video,” she directed, her tone flat, but not void of emotion.
A projector screen slid down. Damn it. It was a terrible video discussing school safety with stiff actors and unrealistic situations which never occurred in an actual school setting.
“Shoulda skipped class,” Kana whispered, a disappointed look on her face.
“Hey, you shouldn’t do that, but you’re right. This video is terrible,” Yue agreed with her assessment.
“I wish we actually had class,” I lamented.
“That’s taking it a bit too far, Yuki. Although, Stone-sensei probably would have given out readings, so class is better,” Kana eventually agreed.
The video finally ended and I checked the time. Only twenty minutes passed.
“We were suppose to talk about, but screw it, no one cares. Go back to your classrooms and do self-study. Just don’t let students skip. Goodbye,” the woman announced and dashed off the stage.
“You heard the lady, let’s get back to class,” Old Stone announced.
“You can’t do this ! I don’t have my lesson plan ready yet!” the teacher, who insulted Old Stone, protested with vigor.
“She’s already gone. You know she wouldn’t listen anyways,” another teacher instructed.
Back in the classroom, Old Stone wrote up our assigned reading and then “self-study” on the board, informing us he would return before first period ended. I dug through my desk and found the course book.
“I really should have skipped,” Kana murmured, opening up her book.
I saw a large number of bookmarks in her book and stickies pasted on various pages. Guess she really was a good student. Yue wasn’t bad either, jotting down notes. Reading the first page, I recognized the passages right away.
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“Hey, did Long-senpai tell you about the meeting after school?” Kana questioned me, sitting next to me as people moved around to chat.
“Yeah, why?” I nodded, surprised Kana knew.
“Good, I just wanted to make sure it was today,” Kana explained.
“Right,” I said, not sure what her connection was to everyone.
As promised, Old Stone returned two minutes before first period ended. He reminded us about the homework for tonight before leaving. Tess walked in, carrying a folder in her right hand, probably containing our homework assignments.
“Homework assignments have been graded. I’ve also attached the test you took last time. First up is…,” Tess announced, calling up students to the front.
Tess finally called my name, placing the papers in my hand without a comment. This freaked me out. Why was I so invested in a grade that wouldn’t matter? I checked the score and saw a 97. Of course you would Tess.
“Today’s topic covers …. turn to page 97. Kyoi, please read from the middle,” Tess directed, holding the book by its spine.
Throughout class, Tess flipped the pages without using her hand. She shook the book slightly and the pages turned. Damn, I was more focused on that than the actual topic. Not that it mattered much since this was just review for me. Finally, it was lunchtime, and I realized there was no packed lunch box in my bag. Zhuyu entered my classroom, placing a lunch box down on my desk.
“I heard from Konoe you didn’t pack lunch. Here you go,” he said.
“Long-niisan, what about me? I don’t get one, how mean,” Yue chirped from the background.
“You’re not going to eat?” I asked.
“Oh, I have a sandwich. Share some with Yue too. I don’t know if one person can finish it,” Zhuyu replied, exiting the classroom with a wave.
“Give me some too, Yuki. I’m hungry!” Kana demanded, pulling up a chair next to my desk.
“Just get over here,” I ordered.
We pushed desks together and I inspected the contents. Squid rings, baby octopus, peeled shrimp, fish fillets, and even mussel meat. Heavy on the seafood, but I didn’t mind. Kana stared at the food, salivating.
“Long-niisan really went overboard. There’s no way he made this for himself,” Yue said, taking out a pair of chopsticks from her bag.
It was a crazy, but maybe Zhuyu brought daily lunchboxes, and he rotated who received them every day. Implausible but crazy enough to happen.
“Tasty as always. You can always count on Long-senpai to make something good. Yuki, you’re not bad yourself either. You should cook more often,” Kana advised, scooping a few of the items into a bowl and ate them with delight
“You’re right. Long-niisan’s cooking is as solid as ever. Kana, calm down, you’ll leave Yuki with no food at this rate,” Yue scolded Kana.
“I can’t help it. It’s too good and I didn’t eat breakfast this morning,” Kana responded, pausing only a few seconds before eating again.
Did Yue and Kana replace Yuka and Chihiro? It was an adequate enough replacement considering how well we got along. I finally took a bite and it was delicious. So many surprises in this reality. This was just a pleasant dream so I would make the most of it.
“I wonder what Long-niisan wants to talk about later. He isn’t the type to set up meetings,” Yue wondered as she picked up a squid ring.
“It’s probably nothing too important. If it was, I’m sure he wouldn’t do it at school,” I said.
“I’ll be there too so Yuki has nothing to worry about. If anything, you should be more concerned Feng-senpai will steal Long-senpai away from Yuki,” Kana remarked, pointing at me.
“Huh? Neesan wouldn’t do something like that…. okay, maybe she would. But I’m sure she would give Yuki a chance,” Yue pointed out.
“Yuki, you’re spacing off again. The lunch period is about to end,” Yue reminded, pointing at the clock.
“Oh, let’s put the desk back,” I said, packing up the lunch box.
The rest of the school day passed by and I yawned after sixth period finally ended. I walked up the set of stairs and bumped into someone familiar.
“Oh, Yuki, heading to the meeting too?” Jen asked, picking up the book I knocked to the floor.
“Sorry about that, Je-, Yi-senpai. Yeah, let’s go together,” I apologized.
“Sure. I heard from Darryl you weren’t feeling too well yesterday. Everything better today?” Jen inquired.
“Yeah, definitely am. How are you and Darryl-senpai?” I asked.
“We went to see a movie on the weekend. Yuki, you usually don’t talk about that kind of stuff,” Jen remarked, turning around to face me.
“Just curious. You have any idea what the meeting is about?” I questioned.
“No, Darryl just told me Long wanted to talk. I’m not exactly sure about what. I thought you might know since you’re close to him,” Jen replied, shaking her head.
“Here it is,” I said, tapping the nameplate.
“I go up here all the time and still don’t know all the rooms,” Jen said with a laugh.
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