The year before last, Haruko used to attend Noburo High, as she said in her self introduction to the class. Noburo High was also a high league school like Miyazaki, although it was much more private. The entrance exam for Noburo was much harder than Miyazaki’s, as was the performance expectancy from the teachers. Shun and Haruko were both students of the same class. It was during that year’s winter that things started to take a turn.
Haruko always had a very small stature, as well as thin arms and legs. She looked like a walking skeleton. Because of this, she inevitably got bullied quite often by her classmates. It was during that winter that things took a turn for the worse.
The boys followed her around, sneaking in punches and kicks whenever they could. Haruko would curl up into a ball and close her eyes silently. Never making a sound only fuelled the awful game; the students quickly gathered that she must’ve been mute. Shun never participated in any of the bullying, yet he didn’t try to stop it either. Perhaps it was because he knew his current way of life would quickly dissipate and he would be the next target. Since, at the time, Shun was quite the chubby teenager. He resembled a chipmunk with its cheeks puffed out.
The winter seemed to never end and although Haruko knew Yulan was quite busy as usual, she despised him for the first time in her life.
Yulan had looked at Haruko’s face, beaten black and blue. He had a mysterious expression, neither upset nor happy. Why couldn’t Yulan show more sadness? Or did he not care? He didn’t care to see Haruko beaten to a pulp. Everything was entertaining to him. That was the kind of disgusting person Yulan was. Haruko felt her heart drop. Picking up her shoes, she walked out of the apartment late that night.
She walked all the way to a park she used to go to when she was younger. It was a long time ago… her parents would bring her here and push or on the baby swing. She could barely remember her mother’s face. Then, Shun appeared out of nowhere, carrying a grocery bag.
“This is a cooling ointment. And these are disinfecting wipes…”
He looked into Haruko’s eyes. They were dark and dull. Not a single tear.
“... I also brought bandages. I’ll help you. I’d ask mom to help but she’s still at work…”
He applied the solutions to Haruko’s face and legs. The bruises went all the way up her leg, then into her shirt…Haruko stared at the ground with the same dull look on her face.
“Where’s Lan-san? Tell him to come right now.”
“YULAN WON’T COME. HE WON’T COME.”
Shun was starlet at Haruko’s sudden volume change.
“Why? Is he gone on another week-long business trip? Still, you should call him…”
Haruko placed both her hands on her face and smiled. In all of her life, this was the most expression she’d ever shown to another. She stayed in the park all night, while Shun ran back and forth to his house, bringing her various fruits and snacks.
The next day, Haruko walked into the classroom as all the heads snapped to look at her. Their expressions were different...she felt like sinking into the ground. Where was Shun? He never missed a day of school and the first bell had already rung. She felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped a bit. It was the teacher.
“Kitamura. Please come with me to the principal’s office. Quickly now. The rest of you know what to do. Study hall! Now! I’ll be right back.”
Haruko walked slowly with the teacher, her hands shaking violently. The principal's office door creaked open. Shun was sitting quietly, along with his mother and… Yulan.
Haruko’s heart dropped. What was Yulan doing here? This couldn’t be happening. Anybody other than him would do. Anybody. The principal motioned for her to sit down. His long, white beard moved slightly as he adjusted his seat and drank his tea. The silence in the room was so stifling, Haruko thought she’d die. The teacher placed both hands on Haruko’s shoulders and made her sit down, opposite of Yulan. She then bowed and left the room.
After a brief moment, the principal spoke.
“Well, now that everyone’s here, let's hear it. Both sides of the story.”
Shun was avoiding eye contact with everyone by looking at his shoes, his fat hands pressed neatly against his lap.
“Our Shun would never do something like that, president. He has known Haruko-chan since the beginning of high school. This doesn't make any sense. Right Shun? Shun?”
Shun wasn’t answering. He kept looking at his shoes, as if they were the most incredible things on earth. The principal sighed loudly.
Haruko lifted her head quickly.
“Tell us. Did Shun here do something to you? If he’s misbehaved he will be severely reprimanded.”
Haruko’s dark circles were more visible than ever and her head was clouded. Even her vision was blurry, it felt like she was living off of a string that could snap at any moment.
“What? I’m s-sorry what...did Shun… to me…”
The principal raised his eyebrows and leaned his arm against the armrest of his chair.
“Shun Nishida has been reported for bullying, against you, Kitamura-san. A student saw the two of you in a park, late last night. It is said that Shun beat you. What do you have to say regarding this incident?”
Shun let go of Haruko, his now limp arm swinging aimlessly at his side. He looked completely different, as if he became another person in the span of two years. He had grown much taller and had lost tons of weight. That was why Haruko hadn’t recognised him… or did she just not try to remember in the first place? An eminent silence washed over the small storage shed before Haruko winced slightly.
“...I see...you transferred here as well…”
“I was suspended that year and dropped out of all my classes. Then, the following year, I came to this school to repeat the grade since Noburo High was just too… annoying. And now, you transfer here out of nowhere.”
Haruko started to feel angry.
“You left Noburo but you’re acting just like all those who made a fool out of both of us?”
Shun lifted his head slowly and backed away.
“You never defended me. That day, you never answered the director’s question in the office and I was suspended because of your incoherent answer. Do you know how much I suffered because of you… god...”
He punched the wall.
“Haruko-san, don’t expect anything from me anymore. I just want you to get out of my sight.”
Haruko said, picking up the cake,
“I won’t pretend I didn’t do anything wrong to you. But Shun… you wanted to get out of that private school as much as I did. Though a suspension doesn’t look great on your papers, you secretly wished you got expelled every single day, if it were not for your mother begging you to finish your studies.”
She brushed the dust off the cake box and wrapped it carefully in some loose newspaper.
“I guess we’re both just unlucky.”
Haruko opened the shed door and walked out quickly, leaving Shun in the dark room. Itsuki told her to be ready before 3:40pm. It was now 3:35. Running through the courtyard and into the arts building, Haruko quickly set the cake down on the library table and placed down a few forks and cups. She suddenly stopped and gripped the table, the warm sunlight shining on her back. What was she doing anyways? She did not deserve to celebrate anything.
It felt so shameful, having to encounter the same people from the time she hated the most. Picking up her school bag, she left the building and took the last train home.