Zealous yells rose up from the school grounds as the baseball fanatics held a practice match, and joyful laughter resounded all the way from the pool as a group of girls enjoyed themselves splashing water at each other. The background noise was accompanied by the never-ceasing chirping of cicadas from the copse in the backyard.
It was summer outside the classroom. It was summer indeed. Summer had the world in its grip.
The springtime of our life? Why, no, we could clearly rename it to the summertime of our life.
As a natural consequence, summer also had my classroom in its iron grip, warming up the air to a stifling sauna. We were nothing but helpless servants in the face of the overwhelming power of our lord and master.
I raised my head at a funereal pace and fixed my vacant gaze on the blazing fire ball reigning over the sky. I slowly opened my mouth to speak.
“…Could you turn it down a bit?”
Frankly, I couldn’t stand summer. And if there was anything that I loathed, it was the midsummer sun. If I were a hero and the sun a demon king, then I would be gathering my comrades and launching my crusade as we speak.
“You’re incredibly cute when behaving like a child, Nonomiya-kun!” the girl beside me giggled while pretending to be paying attention to the notifications from the committee. I quickly turned around to scowl at her, only to find myself forgetting my counter out of sheer astonishment.
Every single one of the roughly thirty students, who had gathered from all grades for the regular student council meeting, was drenched in sweat, had their uniform stick to their skin, and was desperately trying to keep their consciousness from vaporizing. But her? Her uniform and hair were in perfect order, and naturally there wasn’t even a drop of perspiration on her face. She looked as cool and refreshed as if she lived in another world.
“It seems that even the midsummer sun is powerless against Youko Tsukimori and her heart of ice.”
“You’re absolutely right. Everyone knows that only a prince’s ‘tender kiss’ can melt a frozen heart,” she replied, deflecting my sarcastic remark with the greatest of ease, and flashed a smile as she sneaked her hand on my thigh, hidden under the desk. “My prince!”
I was getting a headache, and that was certainly not only because of the heat. Dizzy for various reasons, I could only manage a “…Give me a break” as I brushed Tsukimori’s hand away.
Either she enjoyed the look of disgust on people’s faces or had the abnormal trait of drawing immense enjoyment from being treated coldly; Youko Tsukimori wasn’t disheartened by my rejection. Quite the contrary, she happily narrowed her eyes and said, “Meanie!”
Ever since that midnight rendezvous at the park, she had become more and more obtrusive as the temperature rose. If there was a difference between the temperature and her behavior, then it was the fact that it was highly unlikely for her to cool off come winter.
Without saying another word, I let out a deep sigh that conveyed my annoyance.
Before long, the meeting ended. Youko Tsukimori stood up and her fellow class representatives started to gather around her without delay. That was her fate as the most popular person at this school.
Since I was reasonable enough not to concern myself with others’ fates, I left her behind without hesitation and walked out of the room.
“I am sorry, but I have to go to work,” she suddenly apologized to her admirers in a polite yet slightly rushed manner and trotted over to me. She then gave me a smile and said, “Let’s go, Nonomiya-kun.”
After positioning herself by my side as if it was the most natural thing to do, she wrapped her little finger around mine so that the bystanders would not notice a thing.
Seeing how thoroughly she enjoyed our secret relationship, the thought of how much her behavior would escalate by winter sent a cold shiver down my spine.
We continued arguing back and forth as we walked through the empty corridor toward our classroom.
“…Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you under a spell that keeps you from walking straight if you don’t lean against someone?” I sighed.
“Feeling shy? There’s no need to be – no one is watching!”
“Shy? Do I look shy to you?”
“Flushed cheeks, heavy breathing … have I got you aroused?”
“I’m just hot! Get off me already! If my head looks red right now, then it’s because of anger!” I retorted and pushed her away. However, she immediately jumped back and paid me back by clinging to me even tighter.
And thus, a meaningless cycle of pushing and clinging was set off and continued repeating itself while growing fiercer and fiercer as we walked through the corridor.
Oh boy, what am I doing … as if it wasn’t hot enough already, I thought to myself, noticing that I was drenched in sweat because of our little fight. The fact that there was not a drop of sweat on her face was fueling my irritation and kept me from stopping.
In the end, it was Tsukimori who put an end to our futile fight.
All of a sudden, she stopped. She took a few steps from me and put on her usual smile. There was no trace of the childish behavior anymore. Instead, there was Youko Tsukimori, the girl everyone admired.
I quickly straightened up as well and cautiously followed her glance with my eyes. At the end of the corridor, which was bathing in the light of the setting sun, I could make out the slender silhouette of a person.
As we proceeded through the corridor, the silhouette slowly drew nearer to us. The sharp footfalls hitting the linoleum floor easily gave aways the identity of the approaching person.
As I had expected, it was none other than the fine arts instructor Misaki Takaoka.
Every student at Senkou High could immediately recognize her by her footfalls. Misaki. There was only one teacher who wore stilettos at this school, and that was Misaki Takaoka.
She didn’t look like a teacher at all. If anything, her outward appearance made her look like the college girl next door. Apart from her stilettos, she also wore a short skin-tight skirt and an oversized shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and in her ears she had a pair of large earrings. However she didn’t wear much in the way of makeup and didn’t seem to use any special hair treatment either. To top it all off, it seemed like she was too lazy to wear bras.
The reason why I described her as the “college girl next door” was because she wasn’t just pretty, but also let you take a glimpse at her lifestyle with her getup.
Needless to say, Misaki Takaoka was very popular among Kamogawa and the male bunch that were true to their instincts. The decadent atmosphere surrounding her was unique and somehow distorted and, spiced up with the contrast to her job as a teacher, charmed whoever looked at her.
You usually make yourself enemies among the same sex when you dress up so sexy, but curiously, her bold atmosphere stroke a chord with the girls at school.
That said, as a teacher she was clearly a misfit and stepped out of line. Our strict vice-principal would frequently criticize her for being a bad example for us students.
As we passed by Misaki Takaoka, Tsukimori greeted her with nod. Suddenly, the stilettos stopped hitting the floor.
“Hey there, I’ve been meaning to ask this for some time now, but…”
Misaki Takaoka was our class’s instructor in fine arts, so we knew each other. However, she had never gotten in touch with us outside classes.
“…Are you dating each other?”
She closely glanced at the two of us while narrowing her somewhat drooping eyes, brimming with unconcealed curiosity.
She really doesn’t wear a bra… I suddenly realized as her charming cleavage, exposed by the two open buttons of her shirt, caught my eye.
“Do we look like a couple?” Youko Tsukimori responded with a friendly smile. Unlike me, she didn’t bat an eye and was perfectly calm.
“Yeah,” Misaki Takaoka nodded without missing a beat.
She was so assertive, in fact, that it dawned on me with horror that she might have witnessed our “fight” a few moments ago. Without knowing the circumstances, it might have looked a bit like two lovers flirting.
On the other hand, there was no way that Youko Tsukimori would accidentally let someone get on to her “secret.” Because of that I was horribly confused as to why Misaki Takaoka had come to that conclusion.
“My! In that case I should feel honored,” Tsukimori said.
“Oh, I didn’t know that you had such a high opinion of Nonomiya-kun.”
“Huhu, Nonomiya-kun is actually quite popular, but I suppose you didn’t know that,” Tsukimori countered with giggle.
“Really? Well, he’s fairly good looking and doesn’t seem too clingy. I like that.”
“My”, “oh”, “huhu”, “really”… Even though their exchange of words was as peaceful as it gets at first glance, my throat was as dry as sandpaper. I couldn’t shake off the notion that I was watching a fierce cat-and-mouse game.
While I had become used to Tsukimori’s unfathomable personality, I also sensed a similar kind of obscurity in this fine arts instructor.
Simply put, what was this schemer up to?
“Ah, right, Tsukimori-san! I heard your parents passed away…?”
Something in her words caught my attention, but I couldn’t quite point out what it was. Tsukimori paused for a moment, apparently feeling the same, and replied slightly delayed, “…Yes.”
“Oh dear…! You must have gone through tough times, then, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose so … It was not easy.”
Misaki Takaoka may look like a minx, but she was still a teacher; there was nothing wrong with her offering her condolences to a student. The problem was her timing.
While slowly brushing up her hair, she started to smile.
“But you look totally fine now.”
Tsukimori’s parents had passed away at the end of May and it was the end of July now, shortly before our summer holidays. Two months had passed since. Because of other interesting topics like the Big Senkou Conference, her incidence had since disappeared into oblivion.
“Goes to show why you’re respected by students and teachers alike. Impressing … A normal girl your age wouldn’t be so calm after losing her parents.” With these words, she looked over to me for some reason. “Don’t you agree, Nonomiya-kun?”
I ground my back teeth for an instant and replied with a boring answer in a boring tone, “I’m afraid I can’t judge over that.”
“You are overestimating me; only thanks to the help of many, many people could I move on so fast,” Tsukimori explained and suddenly turned at me. “Of course, you are one of them as well.”
She just totally used me as a shield, I thought to myself while narrowing my eyes and replied with an equally boring answer as before, “Well, you heard her.”
“Mhm…? Alrighty,” Misaki Takaoka muttered as she curved her sensual lips to a knowing smile and narrowed her eyes. Her sudden cold shift in attitude alarmed me.
Has this woman picked up on something regarding the passing of Tsukimori’s parents…?
No, impossible, I answered myself immediately.
I am the only one in the world who doubts Youko Tsukimori.
However, I found myself unable to disregard Misaki Takaoka’s meaningful attitude. The way she expressed herself in a provocative manner hinted at some kind of certainty.
I didn’t know her well enough, and I deemed that continuing an unpredictable conversation with an unfamiliar person was a bad idea. It was without doubt advisable to suspend this talk for the time being.
Just when I started getting antsy to end this conversation:
“Now, if you’ll excuse us, Misaki-sensei. We have to go to work,” Tsukimori said and then turned at me with a smile as gentle as the first rays of the morning sun. “We should hurry, Nonomiya-kun.”
Color me impressed. That was Youko Tsukimori to a tee; she may be dreadful as a foe, but she was most reliable as an ally.
“Oh, I’m sorry for taking your time then. But don’t take Nonomiya-kun with you, okay? There’s something I need to talk about with him.” However, Misaki Takaoka didn’t give up so easily. “Oh, don’t give me that sour look, Nonomiya-kun. You’re breaking my heart! It’s your fault, you know? Remember the portrait sketch you handed in the other day?”
“That sketch is terrible! Atrocious even! I have seen a lot of sketches in the course of my career, but I can say with confidence that yours are easily the worst!”
Her expression was so earnest that I had to avert my eyes. I was perfectly aware of my poor skill at art, but it was kind of awkward to have somebody lay it on the line for me.
“…Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses,” I muttered in an attempt to explain myself.
“No,” she countered. “You clearly lack motivation or you wouldn’t be that bad. Because of that, my dear Nonomiya-kun, I will now take you to the art room and give you a sermon.”
With a soft smile on her face, she confined me by entwining her arms with mine.
“Tsukimori-san, may I ask you to tell your boss that Nonomiya-kun was called out by his teacher and can’t come to work?” Misaki Takaoka said as she pulled me toward herself. The soft, unobstructed touch that I felt wrapping around my arm left me speechless.
“Yes … I suppose there is nothing to be done about it then. I shall pass on the message,” Tsukimori said with a faint smile on her lips and swiftly turned around, swaying her beautiful black hair in the air.
I caught a glimpse at her out of the corner of my eye. If I wasn’t mistaken, the look she gave me while making her exit was anything but a smile.