Takahashi Alice stood in front of the door that connected to the Class 1-2 room, holding a paper bag with her right hand. She raised her other arm, her slender fingers grazing the door, then knocked three times.
"Excuse me. I'm coming in," she said to nobody in particular, then opened the door.
The students that occupied the room were busy talking amongst themselves, studying, or playing games. Not one of them noticed her open the door and just continued minding their own business. Alice inhaled, then exhaled quietly through her nose, taking a step into the room.
"I'm sorry to barge in." Her face looked troubled as her gaze shifted around the room.
"Uhm, excuse me." She attempted to get someone's attention, preferably Yuugo himself or his friends, but that attempt only failed. She froze up, not knowing what to do at the moment. Her cheeks flushed and she fiddled with her fingers. She simply wanted to give back Yuugo's uniform, which he had let her borrow last week, and carry on with her day.
"Takahashi-san? What's up?" Kyousuke called out as he approached her. Upon hearing Takahashi come out of Kyousuke's mouth, the other students began to notice Alice’s presence until eventually, nearly all eyes were focused on her.
"Sugiwara-kun, I-I'm l-looking for Katsuragi-san," she informed him shakily. The students started to whisper to each other when they heard her mention Yuugo.
Alice's small body began to tremble as she looked at the figures of students whispering to one another. Her confidence faltered and she looked down at the floor to escape their frightening stares.
Being the center of attention of anything, with so many eyes locked on her, reminded Alice of an experience she didn’t like to remember.
"Yuugo? Sorry, he's not here yet."
"Ah, I see. Sorry to bother you. I'll come back later instead," she quickly apologized, then bowed.
"Alright," Kyousuke replied.
Alice turned around and walked away. She hastily exited the room, closing the door behind her. She laid her hand over her heart and breathed a sigh of relief.
She could've just simply handed Yuugo's uniform over to Kyousuke and had him relay it to Yuugo, but she decided against it. She felt like it would be a rude thing to do. After all, it may give Yuugo the wrong idea.
"Takahashi-san? Why are you standing there?"
As Alice began to walk off, a voice called out to her. She turned her head and recognized the boy standing behind her. It was Katsuragi Yuugo.
"G-Good morning to you, Katsuragi-san." She slightly bowed to greet him.
"S-Same to you as well, good morning."
"I actually came here to look for you. I was planning to give this back to you," she explained, holding the neatly folded paper bag out to him. Yuugo tilted his head, appearing confused.
"And this is…?" he asked.
"It's the uniform you let me borrow before—thanks for lending it to me. I've already washed it, so you don't have to worry." She smiled slightly, then watched as Yuugo blushed and averted his eyes.
"Oh yeah, I did do that, didn't I? I had already forgotten." He laughed awkwardly and grabbed the paper bag.
"Jeez, you really shouldn't just forget about these things," she reprimanded.
"That's all I came here to do. Thank you again for letting me borrow it, I really appreciate it. Well then, I have to go now." She bowed once more.
"Y-Yeah, it's not a problem. See you." He waved a hand to her as a goodbye. Alice turned and walked towards her classroom, Class 1-1. She arrived in front of the door and slid it open with a sigh, relieved that she had done what she had to do.
Alice walked down the school corridor at a brisk pace. She had some business to attend to at the Student Council Room on the 3rd Floor. Hurrying to the stairs and reaching the end of the hallway, she turned to the right. Then—
She felt a sensation of collision, followed by mild pain in her forehead. She hadn’t been paying much attention to her surroundings as she was in a hurry. She gently rubbed her brow to ease the pain, slowly opening her eyes to let them adjust.
"T-Takuya?! Are you alright?" Tetsuya was crouching on the floor and attempting to comfort Takuya, who sat on the ground with his palm pressed against his brow. His closed eyes tensed up and his teeth were clenched tightly.
"Takuya? Hey! Takuya?!" Yuugo called out in concern, his hands placed on Takuya's shoulders.
"I'm fine, so shut up already," Takuya reassured the concerned boys, a tint of frustration in his strained voice. He slowly stood up, Tetsuya and Yuugo supporting him.
"Are you really sure you're good?" Yuugo asked once more.
"I told you, I'm fine!" Takuya nearly shouted.
"S-Sorry, it's my fault," Alice apologized.
"Takahashi-san?!" Yuugo panicked as he saw her.
"I'm sorry, I'm truly sorry." She repeatedly bowed to Takuya, cursing herself for her lack of caution.
"N-No it's fine, Takahashi-san, really. I'm fine, you don't have to worry," Takuya tried to assure her, holding up his hands. But despite what he said, it was clear that he didn’t appear well.
"But I’ve caused you all quite the trouble, so please at least accept my apology," she insisted.
"A-Alright. I'm sorry, too. But it's not anything you need to worry about." Takuya rubbed the back of his head, laughing awkwardly.
"Takuya, that's…" Yuugo placed a hand on Takuya's shoulder.
"Boss…" Takuya hesitated. He shook off Yuugo's hand and turned to face him, then lowered his voice so that Alice could barely make out what he was saying.
"Please don't say anything unnecessary…" Takuya pleaded quietly, giving Yuugo a pained smile. He glanced back at Alice, who tilted her head in confusion.
"Sorry…" Yuugo apologized.
"Don't worry about it, I'm fine. Sorry for troubling you, Takahashi-san, we'll be heading off now," Takuya said. Alice gave a hesitant nod in response, then the boys resumed walking, passing her.
"See you," Yuugo mumbled, giving Alice a sidelong glance.
"Y-Yeah," Alice replied.
Alice sighed deeply. She stood for a few more seconds and then ascended the stairs leading to the 3rd Floor. As she continued to make her way to the Student Council Room, she made sure to slow her pace.
Alice couldn’t help but continue to think back to her encounter with Takuya. Between his frail appearance and pained expression, the situation troubled her more than she thought it would.
Eventually, she had reached the Student Council Room. But since she was so distracted, she continued to walk past it.
"Alice-san? What are you doing? The room's over here!" someone called out, but Alice didn't hear them. She was too preoccupied with her own thoughts to pay them any heed. That is, until—
"Alice-san! Are you even listening?" Alice felt someone grab her hand, which immediately snapped her back to reality. She turned around to check who it was.
It was a young lady with short pink hair and gleaming yellow eyes. She was Matsushita Kaori, a second-year and Student Council Secretary.
"Since when did you become such a klutz? Jeez, you're late."
"S-Sorry, I got caug- no, I'm sorry for being late…" Alice cut herself off. She bit her lip and wore a dejected look.
"You don't have to look so serious, Alice-san. I'm not angry. Though the Pres might be a different case… so it's best to not waste any more time." Kaori smiled to reassure her.
"Right." Alice's worries remained, however, and her expression didn't change. She approached the Council Room door but halted just before her hand could touch the handle. In her moment of hesitation, Kaori took the handle and opened the door for her, motioning for Alice to enter. Alice was reluctant at first, but she forced her body to move.
Once she took her first step inside the room, she promptly stopped and her body began to tremble. Although this wasn't her first time being there, it was her first time being alone with the entire Student Council.
Kaori saw that Alice had frozen and pushed her inside. She gave a strained smile and waved her hand at the young woman standing a few meters in front of Alice.
"You're Takahashi Alice, right?" The young woman took a few steps forward, approaching Alice. Alice could only manage a slight flinch from fright. Her body continued to remain frozen, her mouth trembling as she tried to let out words.
All she had to say was “Yes,” yet she could not even manage that. Alice refused to look at the young woman's face, afraid of the expression she might be given. Just then, Kaori placed her hands on Alice’s shoulder.
"Why don't you try calming down first, then look her properly in the eye and answer?"
"Huh? But that's…" Alice mumbled.
"Just try it out."
Alice complied, quietly inhaling and exhaling to relax.
"Let me repeat myself. Are you Takahashi Alice?" the young woman once again asked her. Alice slowly raised her head. Her eyes widened upon seeing the young woman’s face. This wasn't Alice’s first time seeing her face, yet she had always tried to avoid it because she was afraid of her. But every time she was able to sneak even the slightest glance, the fear instilled inside her vanished and she was reminded of the woman’s majestic beauty.
Her blonde hair shimmered golden yellow like the sun, her orange-red eyes possessing a fire of unwavering confidence and determination. She was a person truly befitting the position of Student Council President. Shinomiya Kyouko stood cross-armed before Alice, who was in complete awe.
"Yes, I am. I'm Takahashi Alice," Alice declared, hesitation no longer present in her voice. A slight smile could be seen slowly forming on Kyouko's crimson lips.
"Answer me this, Takahashi Alice. Why were you 16 minutes late to arrive here?"
"U-Uh, I-I, I just… I'm sorry! Really sorry!" In the face of Kyouko’s question, Alice lost her temporary confidence and began to spiral into panic once more. She brought her hands together subconsciously and began to fidget with them.
"I don't remember asking you to apologize, I asked you to answer my question."
"There you go again."
"Eeek! I… s-sorry…" Alice squealed. Her panic continued to grow and her cheeks reddened.
Kaori gave a muffled "Oh jeez…" and tried to calm down the panicked Alice again. She again placed her hands on Alice's shoulders.
"Breathe in, breathe out. The Pres isn't angry, so you don't have to worry. That's just how she talks normally."
"What kind of weird personal details about me are you sharing with her, Matsushita-san?"
"Uh, it's nothing. Just small things, like you're not actually as scary as you look, Pres."
"Excuse me…?" Kyouko narrowed her eyes and slightly raised her voice at Kaori. Kaori only gave a peace sign with her hands and stuck out her tongue. Kyouko sighed and cleared her throat, then brought the conversation back on track.
"I'll ask again. Why were you late, Takahashi Alice-san?" Alice hugged herself. A cold sensation crept up inside her, shivering as she repeatedly asked herself, Why? Why did the President suddenly address her with an honorific? Those unnecessary thoughts filled her brain.
Alice took a deep breath and was barely able to give Kyouko an answer.
"I-I g-got caught up with s-something…"
"I got into some trouble with… friends…" Alice clarified.
"Is that so? Well then, let us proceed."
"W-Wait, you believe me…?" Alice raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes.
"Well, of course. Unless you intended to deceive me. Can I assume based on your reaction that you were lying, after all?" Kyouko asked matter-of-factly.
"N-No, that's not it… I'm sorry…" Alice's resolve began to chip away, growing weaker and weaker. She cast her gaze down to the ground, her meek expression reflected by the lacquered wooden floorboards.
"Takahashi, how many times have you apologized to me since the moment you entered this room?"
"H-Huh?" Alice looked up, confused. Kyouko held up her right hand, all five fingers raised.
"Five times. While that might not seem like an extreme amount, apologizing five times over the course of our short conversation is too much. Don't you think? Tell me, do you think that's how a possible future President of the Student Body should act? If all you do is say sorry, do you think you can become a leader that the student body can put their full trust in?
"S-Sorry…" she apologized once more before realizing what she had done. She quickly covered her mouth with both hands.
"That's six times."
"Pres, don't you think you're being too harsh?" Kaori interjected.
"Matsushita-san, you seem to be misunderstanding something. I'm not criticizing her, I'm asking her."
"I… don't think that's how a leader should act…" Alice stated unconfidently. Her words bore a tint of sorrow and self-awareness. Alice herself knew that she lacked the necessary traits of a competent leader. Her selfish desires were the only thing left keeping her together. If she lost them, too, her resolve would surely shatter.
"That's your answer?"
"Y-Yes," Alice replied with uncertainty.
"I see. Then tell me, why did you decide to run for the election?"
"I… I decided to run because… I wanted to repay my parents… and also for my own reasons."
"Don't you think such reasoning is too shallow? Running for Student Council President isn't something you can do simply because you want to, or other people want you to."
"I'm aware my reasons are selfish, but…"
"Do you think that's something you should be taking pride in? You're aware your motivations are selfish yet continue to pursue your greedy desires. Isn't that just arrogance?"
"That… I'll try to fix it…" Alice stiffened her cheeks.
"I'm not telling you to fix it, I'm telling you to improve."
"The answer lies within you. Independence is one of the factors of a good leader, and you can't achieve that if you continue to only rely on the people around you."
"Kyouko, don't ya think you're being too lenient?" a new voice joined the conversation. Watamoto Minoru sat lazily on the couch, his feet lying crossed upon the short wooden table.
"Please refrain from calling me by my given name, Watamoto-san."
"What's the big deal? You let Yuuto do it, or are you just giving him special treatment? Anyway, returning to the topic. You," Minoru remarked then shrugged. He pointed a finger at Alice. In response, Alice looked to her sides then pointed a finger at herself as if asking to confirm if he was referring to her.
"Yes. You there, little girl," he clarified, then brushed the bangs of his lime-green hair with his hand.
"L-Little… girl…?" Alice muttered, dumbfounded.
"I'll be blunt. Why don't you just back down while you still can? Being a member of the Student Council ain't something you do for fun."
"I… I-I can't do that…" Alice rejected. She held tightly onto Kaori's arms, her eyes repeatedly darting to and away from Minoru.
"Why not? You're just too unfit to be Student Council President. Just cause you got the smarts doesn't mean you'll make a good leader. You're not cut out for the job, so why don't you give up now? You'll lose anyways—better to not make yourself a laughingstock, am I right?" Minoru criticized, expressing his contempt for Alice.
"That's going too far, Watamoto-senpai," Kaori interrupted and wrapped her arm around Alice.
"Don't get in the way, Ms. Sunshine. Maybe you should learn to shut your mouth sometimes," Minoru snarked. Kaori pursed her lips, unable to say anything in response.
"Tch…! Watamoto-senpai, I ask that you stop this." Miyamura Denji clicked his tongue at him, then placed his hand on Minoru's shoulder and tightened his grip.
"Won't you take your hands off me, oh Mr. Knight in Shining Armor? That's not how you should properly treat your seniors," Minoru said mockingly. He shook Denji's hand away, then narrowed his sky blue eyes at him. The two locked gazes for a moment before Minoru lost interest and turned away.
Minoru set his sights on the downhearted Alice, heaving a deep sigh at her discouraged expression.
"You're really hesitating? From what I can tell, Takahashi, you're the type of person to focus too much on what other people think of you. Is my assessment correct?" he asked. Alice stopped for a moment, then nodded slightly in response. Minoru sighed and stood up from his seat.
"Work on that," Minoru said.
"H-Huh?" Alice widened her eyes in bewilderment. Her body began to stop trembling and she started to loosen up.
"You seriously shouldn't worry so much about what people think of ya. It's your life, so you get to decide how you want to live it. Try to improve in that aspect and you might just be able to barely make it." Minoru placed his hands in his pockets and walked towards the door.
"Well, that's what I'll leave you with. Whether you decide to take my advice depends entirely on you. Good luck." Minoru took one last glance at Alice with a smile showing on his face. In response, Alice loosened her cheeks.
"I knew it was one of your antics again, but you took it a bit too far this time, Watamoto-senpai," Kaori commented.
"Hahaha. I just thought I had to hammer it into her or else it wouldn't work. Anyhow, time for me to bail. See you tomorrow," Minoru laughed as he exited the Student Council Room.
After Minoru left, Alice breathed a sigh of relief.
"Scared, weren't you? Watamoto-senpai is secretly a nice person, though sometimes it becomes hard to tell," Kaori said.
"Y-Yeah. I really thought I made him angry…"
"Oh, and I just remembered something!" Kaori held up a finger, then stood in front of Alice and placed her hands together.
"Hmm?" Alice wondered.
"Sorry! I haven't properly introduced the Student Council members to you." Kaori wore an apologetic smile.
"Then… I'll introduce myself first," Alice suggested.
"Go ahead," Kaori affirmed.
"I-I'm T-Takahashi Alice from Class 1-1. It's… it's a pleasure to meet all of you." Alice bowed deeply before the Student Council members. Nervousness overwhelmed her as she trembled in place.
"Despite you already knowing me, I shall make an effort to properly introduce myself," Kyouko stated, never once losing confidence nor dominance. Alice straightened herself and faced Kyouko, who approached her.
"My name is Shinomiya Kyouko. I'm from Class 3-1, and I am the current Student Council President." Kyouko bowed slightly. Alice was taken aback, her face mystified.
"I'll go next, then." A young man with a well-built, tall body approached Alice. Kyouko moved to the side, giving way. As Alice laid her eyes upon the man, she felt a mixed sensation of anxiety and curiosity. The young man easily overwhelmed her relatively short stature, looming over her like a monolith. Alice shuddered at his presence and instinctively took a step back.
"Ah, sorry for frightening you, Takahashi-san. Don't worry, I don't bite, hahaha." The young man scratched the back of his head and laughed.
This wasn't the first Alice had seen him, but she had never been this close before. The difference between them was like night and day, especially for Alice at her "below-average" height. She felt afraid at first due to this disparity, but the unease soon faded. There was something about him that gave her a feeling of tranquility.
"My name is Katsuragi Yuuto. From Class 3-1, Student Council Vice-President. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Takahashi-san," Yuuto spoke in a comforting tone, extending his large hand.
"S-Same here." His alluring voice soothed Alice, although she hesitated for a moment before she offered her hand in return.
As Yuuto's hand wrapped around hers, she shivered. She felt like if he wanted to, he could crush her delicate hand with barely any effort.
"Hey! You actually did it, Alice-san!" Kaori praised her. Alice only tilted her head in confusion.
"Everyone here had to overcome the scary Yuuto-senpai. When we first met, I remember refusing to go anywhere near him. You were definitely a lot better than most people."
"S-Scary…? That kind of hurt, Kaori-san. I can't deny it happens to everybody I meet, though… So you did great, Takahashi-san," Yuuto said with a pained expression.
"T-Thanks…? Also, I can't believe Katsuragi-san is your younger brother."
"Takahashi-san, Katsuragi who? I'm Katsuragi, too, you know. Maybe you should specify who you're talking about." Yuuto winked and gave her a mischievous smile.
"…I refuse to believe Y… Y-Y… Yuugo-san… is your younger brother," Alice stuttered.
"Haha. My height is sort of an abnormality, although Yuugo is also pretty tall compared to other male students. I'm surprised, though—you know Yuugo?"
"You could say we're, er… acquaintances, perhaps?"
"I see, I see. What do you think of him?"
Alice placed a hand on her chin. She was frozen in thought as she gathered the right things to say. She had only met Yuugo a few days ago—she didn't yet have a good grasp of who he truly was.
"Hmm… I personally think he's fine. He acts really weird sometimes, and I find it hard to believe he's ranked third in academics in the entire year," Alice replied after a long pause.
"Yuugo does give off that kind of vibe, doesn't he? Just wanted to ask that—thanks for answering my random question." Yuuto gestured to Denji that it was his turn. The red-haired youth nodded and took the center stage.
"I'll introduce myself next, then. Good afternoon to you, Takahashi Alice-san. I am Miyamura Denji from Class 2-1, as well as the Student Council Treasurer. It's a pleasure to meet you." Denji placed a hand on his chest and bowed.
"It's a pleasure to meet you too, er… Miyamura…-san?"
"Miyamura is just fine. May I call you Takahashi?"
"P-Please, g-go ahead," Alice wore a surprised look. How Denji was acting right now was completely unlike his attitude during his confrontation with Minoru.
"I'll take care of introducing everyone else! First off, that beautiful young lady over there." Kaori raised her hand high up in the air as she made that suggestion. She directed a finger towards the young lady who had yet to introduce herself, sitting on the couch, absorbed in her computer.
"She's a total workaholic and takes everything too seriously. She's Shirayuki Haruka-senpai, a third-year. She's the General Affairs Officer of the Student Council." Haruka possessed short black hair and wore computer glasses. Haruka slightly raised her hand in response, not bothering to look up, and promptly returned to her work.
"The scary guy from before was Watamoto Minoru-senpai. He's also a third-year and the Auditor of the Student Council."
"And finally… there's me! Matsushita Kaori, a second-year student, the Student Council Secretary, and the School Idol!” Kaori pointed her thumb at herself with a self-satisfied expression.
"Well… that's basically everyone," Kaori finished.
"Thank you, Kaori-san," Alice said politely. Kaori grinned and gave Alice a thumbs-up.
"Though this ended up as something like counseling for you, I hope you learned a valuable lesson. You definitely possess the potential to stand on the same stage as the other candidates, and it will be up to you to realize that potential. While they may have a one-year head start, you're not too far behind."
"Thank you for everything, President. And everyone else, too. I'm truly grateful for all your help today." Alice bowed to express her appreciation.
"I really shouldn’t let my guard down around Alice-san, huh? Although we had a temporary truce for today, we'll go back to being enemies tomorrow," Kaori said.
"I feel the same way, I'll make sure not to hold back. Even against you, Takahashi," Denji stated.
"Do you think you can beat Kaori-san and Denji-san, Takahashi-san?" Yuuto asked.
"I'm not sure… both Kaori-san and Miyamura are better than me in a lot of ways, and frankly, they would make better Council Presidents than I would… but I'll do my best!" Alice firmly declared, puffing out her chest.
"I see. I wish the best of luck to the three of you," Yuuto said.
"Thanks again for today! I'll be going now!" Alice exited the Student Council Room, sliding the wooden door shut on her way out. The sunset was visible through the glass windows, painting the hallways a soft orange with its lazy afternoon glow. A shadow of a person could be seen across the floor. A young man was waiting just outside the room. From the corner of her brown eyes, Alice recognized him.
"Watamoto-senpai…?!" Alice leaped backward from surprise upon seeing Minoru, his back leaning against the wall.
"Yo, sorry for listening in," Minoru said nonchalantly.
"H-How long were you there…?" Alice asked with a shocked expression.
"The entire time. But don't mind me, just carry on."
"O-Okay…" Alice reluctantly complied. She turned around and strode down the deep crimson corridor. Today had proved quite insightful for her. She had hardened her resolve and her determination was stronger than ever before. However, a faint feeling of loneliness exuded from her heart as she walked down the long, empty hallway.
She took one last glance out the windows, her gaze focused on the plentiful figures of students walking home together from school. She narrowed her brown eyes, closed them, and retracted her glance. Once she had reopened her eyes, a slight hint of envy and melancholy could be seen trapped in her gaze.
For the young woman who had left everything behind, was it right for her to hold such sentiments?
Note: The writing in this chapter is a lot better than the previous ones, had a friend help me edit them. Seriously, big thanks to him.