After many days of rain, the sun finally showed its face one June morning. Muddy puddles in the street reflected its rays like little mirrors. Shirasagi Yumiko narrowed her eyes a little bit and gazed at the three-story school building. It shimmered a bit like a mirage, wrapped in the haze created by water vapor evaporating from the ground.
Her long, slender limbs made her seem appropriate for her name; “Shirasagi” meant "White Heron." Her inquisitive red-brown eyes reflected her keen intellect. Her well-shaped nose rounded out the qualities of her natural beauty. However, it could be argued that her propensity for mischief kept her from being as mature as the average high school senior.
Yumiko's transfer to Jusho High had been quite sudden. Two months ago, her father, who worked for a major electronics firm, had been transferred from the branch office in Sapporo to the main office in Tokyo. As the daughter of a salaryman, Yumiko had gotten used to frequent moves, but this was a bad time for a major change--next spring she would be taking her college entrance examinations. She had wanted to spend her last year of high school with the friends she had made, and it was hard to give that up. After a lot of indecision and hard thought, the family had decided to move together, mostly on her mother's insistence that "it's too dangerous for either you or your father to live alone." Two days after having transferred, Yumiko started to regret giving in to her mother.
"I don't like the mood here."
Yumiko's admission test had demonstrated that her abilities put her in the top tier of the gifted class. Her parents were quite relieved and happy at her scores, but Yumiko felt that this school had an unnatural coldness that she could reach out and touch. Her former school in Sapporo had also been quite a prestigious institution, but there was no sort of artificial separation between "gifted" and "general" classes, and the students there just seemed to enjoy their life as high school students more.
In stark contrast, the students of Jusho High had the air of old hermits who had altogether given up on life. The gifted class simply went through the curriculum like machines being programmed to pass their college entrance exams. Even though the general class had its share of bright and talented students, many of them had lost their motivation because of the way that they were passed over by the administration in favor of the students in the gifted class. Everyone knew their place in the school, and nobody attempted to break that mold.
Come to think of it, excluding her general introduction to the class, she hadn't spoken a word yet. As she had never been the quiet type, that alone was tough for Yumiko to stand. However, she didn't feel any real hostility toward herself from the faculty or students. The entire class was eerily silent, as if they were being awkwardly suppressed by some sort of invisible force. During free periods, not a single one of Yumiko's classmates had said so much as a word to her.
"If you're too popular right from the beginning, people will start to keep an eye on you, and you don't want that!" That was what her mother had laughingly said when Yumiko mentioned the issue to her and, joke or not, the comment had hurt her pride.
Inside the school courtyard, the opening bell rang.
Drawing in a deep breath and summoning her willpower, Yumiko slowly walked toward the school building.
The first hour of the day was Classical Japanese class.
Ohara-sensei-sensei was quite a beauty. She wasn't wearing much in the way of makeup (probably due to work regulations), but her height, style, and face (attractive even to the eyes of other women) were such so that she could easily make it as a model. But the dull, toneless voice she read the text, combined with the monotonous translate-classical-to-colloquial manner in which she conducted the class, could hardly be called attractive, even as insincere flattery. Yumiko had been desperately suppressing yawns all class long.
"In the Ise Monogatari, there is a tanka poem: 'In the Uzu Mountains of Suruga, I will not meet you in reality or in a dream.' In the past it has come up three times in Keio University's entrance exam, and also in Waseda University's exam, so you should memorize it..." Ignoring all cultural significance of the poem, Ohara-sensei started talking about entrance exams.
So much for romance and mystique of the Ise Monogatari. Ariwara Narihira must be rolling over in his grave.
Downright irritated by the class and on the brink of being overcome by drowsiness, Yumiko noticed a rhythmical sound behind her, like a plastic sheet being tapped. Turning her head, she saw a handsome male student diagonally behind her to the right, typing on a handheld computer that sat atop his desk. She recalled his name: Nakajima Akemi. Yumiko had been introduced to him along with all the other students the day before, but their names and faces had all gotten so mixed up she couldn't clearly remember everyone. Nakajima's profile and name were both rather feminine, so his image had stuck in her head, although he had completely ignored her when she had initially bowed her head in greeting.
Well, he's pretty obviously ignoring class. He's got guts!
For whatever reason, Yumiko felt some affinity for this particular classmate.
It doesn't look like he's playing a game. Is he writing a program or something?
As if taking a break, Nakajima stretched his back and looked up slightly. His almond eyes looked around, and unexpectedly his gaze met Yumiko's.
After his successful test of the demon summoning program, it seemed as if Nakajima's nature had changed at the very roots. Or perhaps his formerly sealed-off demonic nature had been released and had consumed the old Nakajima? Two months ago, his handsome face had only shown weakness, but now it emanated a powerful aura of pure ego. But what surprised Yumiko when their gaze met was not his powerful presence, but rather something else.
I didn't realize it yesterday, but I think I've seen this guy somewhere before--like from a long time ago. Geez, I wonder why that is? A wave of emotion like awe coursed through Yumiko's body.
Despite Yumiko's stare, Nakajima displayed no interest in her and returned to rhythmically typing on his keyboard. As if staring into a deep ravine, Yumiko was struck with a strange sense of loss.
"Shirasagi-san, what are you looking at?"
Ohara-sensei's somewhat irritated voice pulled Yumiko back to reality. Looking forward, she noticed the tanka poem written on the blackboard in white chalk had been annotated with red and yellow markings.
"What does the 'utsutsu' in this tanka indicate? Explain."
Yumiko felt the gaze of all the students in the class fall on her, testing her. The dull sound of Nakajima typing monotonously (and flagrantly!) on the keyboard was the only sound in the room.
"Yes, ma'am. It indicates the name of the place, Uzu, and the meaning of the word 'utsutsu' itself, which is 'reality.'" Yumiko's voice sounded slightly nervous, but Ohara-sensei's question was an extremely easy one, especially for someone aiming to become a literary historian.
"I see you've studied well, Shirasagi-san. But sometimes what I'm saying will come in handy too."
Ohara-sensei’s expression softened a bit with her sarcastic warning. The momentary tension in the classroom dissipated and, pulled in by Ohara-sensei's smile, the male students all grinned. Yumiko got the sense that the entire class was mocking her.
The class bell rang.
"Excuse me, sensei," Nakajima called out to the teacher, stopping her just as she was about to leave. Ohara-sensei turned around, her eyes clearly full of apprehension.
Yumiko sensed an unusual relationship between the two.
Sensei is afraid of Nakajima?
"Sensei, you're coming tonight like we planned, right?" Nakajima stayed seated at his desk, idly playing with the keys on his handheld computer.
Ohara-sensei's face seemed to turn slightly red.
"Hai… I'll see you in the CAI room..." she replied delicately. Nakajima smiled, nodded, and waved to her.
Yumiko gaped at the two in surprise; Nakajima's behavior seemed as if he was saying ‘Good girl, now go away.’ But this strange relationship between teacher and student didn't seem to bother her classmates in the least as they indifferently prepared for their next class.
Overcome with curiosity, Yumiko waited for Ohara-sensei to leave the classroom before walking over to Nakajima's desk.
"Hey, Nakajima..." Yumiko spoke to him, not really sure of what she was going to say.
Nakajima looked up at her dubiously. Being watched by those eyes full of a strange devilishness, Yumiko was struck once again by a strange sense of déjà vu.
I can't shake the feeling I've met you somewhere before. Why? While that was what Yumiko really wanted to ask, that kind of question would probably just confuse him. Yumiko struggled to try and figure out what to do with this new, strange sensation.
"You know..." Nakajima opened his mouth and spoke as if teasing a small child. "I think you'd be better off staying away from me."
With that response, Yumiko was unprepared with what to say next. At a seat further back, a stern, tough-looking male student's expression and hand movements signaled to Yumiko that she should probably leave Nakajima alone.
The classroom bell rang. The physics teacher for the second hour of class had at some point entered the room and was already standing at the head of the class.
Returning to her seat and enduring the thoughts and feelings welling up from the depths of her soul, Yumiko bit down on her lower lip.
You can go ahead and ignore me if you want. I want to know what's up with you, and it's my right to try and find out!