Chapter 1:

1977

CONGRATULATIONS, TAEKO-SAN


It was early April of 1977. All of the 3rd year students at Miyamura Academy for Girls were saying their goodbyes. The entrance ceremony had just ended. While the other 1st years were getting comfortable with their new and old seniors, 1st year Misato Ito was not. She had no friends at this school, as it was her first year there. In fact, it was her first time being in this town. It wasn’t her choice to move to Takayama to live with her mother. Misato didn’t even want to be in the Gifu prefecture. Even being in the same prefecture as that woman was worse than pulling fingernails. As she contemplated running away after the school day was done, she spotted another student staring at her. The girl had a pink hair clip holding back her thin bangs, along with long black hair that reached her waist. All she was doing was staring at Misato. Before she could ask the older student why she was staring, a voice echoed throughout the nearly empty gymnasium. Bookmark here

“Murakami-san!,” the voice called out. The senior turned her head to where the sound came from and ran off in that direction.Bookmark here

A handful of the 1st years, including Misato, were led to their new classroom, 1-B, by their new homeroom teacher, Kitamura-sensei. As other girls piled into the classroom, Misato spotted an empty seat in the back row of the class. Just as she went for it, someone had placed their bag on the desk. “Oh…” Misato sighed. She looked around the classroom to find an empty desk but she couldn’t find one that wasn’t surrounded by socialites. Before she could get completely annoyed by this, she felt a tap on her shoulder.Bookmark here

It was the girl who took her seat. “You can have this seat if you want, I can just sit in the front!~,” the girl said cheerfully. “What?...No it’s fine. I’ll sit in the front-”Bookmark here

“Really, it’s fine,” she insisted. Misato felt the sincerity in the other’s voice and smiled. “Oh! And by the way-” The girl doubled back to face Misato. “I’m Hinata Kuromiya! Call me Hina!✩”Bookmark here

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For nearly the entirety of the introduction, class 1-B made jokes with Kitamura-sensei and messed with each other. The students got to know each other and their new teacher, which was good. As for Misato, she found the class a bit annoying and felt that she wouldn’t have any fun in that class. Bookmark here

A month had passed since Misato Ito had entered her school. She’d come to accept living with her mother, and ended up changing her lifestyle. She now wore her shoulder-length hair in pigtails, which she never did, and had a moderately sized group of friends, including another 1st-year named Kana Minamoto. Misato felt happy. A type of happiness she thought she’d only feel when living with her father in Osaka. Her high school life, which she thought would be just as bland as her middle school life, started off less muted and more colorful. Although she still felt like she wasn’t having fun.Bookmark here

Misato had made friends with the senior who’d stared at her that early April. The girl with the thin bangs that were held with a thick hair clip. Her name was Taeko Murakami. Out of respect, nearly everyone Taeko Murakami knew referred to her as “senpai” or “Murakami-san.” Even Misato’s playful classmates didn’t dare to call her by her first name, or mess with her by calling her “paisen.” Even the other 3rd-years called her Murakami-san. Misato heard rumors that even the teachers called her Murakami-san.Bookmark here

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One late afternoon, Misato was on her way to the front gate when she saw Murakami carrying 2 boxes by herself. Feeling weird just leaving her senior there to struggle, she rushed over to Murakami-san. Murakami noticed her. “Misa-chan! What’re you doing here so late?,” Murakami asked, the top box nearly toppling over. Misato then grabbed the top box from her senior’s arms. “I’m obviously here to help my favorite upperclassman!”Bookmark here

After explaining that she was delivering the boxes to the art room, Misato helped carry the heavy boxes to their destination. The two walked down the empty hallway, the orange sunlight breaking through the large windows that faced the sky. Misato would occasionally look over at the upperclassman’s clothing. It looked like Taeko Murakami had just finished her club, but Misato was too scared to ask what club she was in since she couldn’t really tell by the clothing. All she could think about was how cool Murakami was and how she looked up to her as an idol. Bookmark here

The two girls finally reached the art room, both sweating from the harsh sunlight and from the lack of A.C in the school. Misato was just about to bring the box she was carrying inside when Murakami stopped her. “It’s fine. I’ll take them in myself.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

Murakami-san smiled, giving a thumbs up. “I’m positive.”Bookmark here

The senior grabbed the first box and pushed her body against the door to open it. Bookmark here

Misato once again found another reason to admire her. “Bye, Taeko!,” She exclaimed, skipping down the hallway. It didn’t take long before she realized what she said. It didn’t take Murakami-san long, either. She wasn’t used to anyone other than her family calling her Taeko, so all she could do was stand in the doorway of the art room, her face beet red.Bookmark here

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It was now June, and summer vacation was a month away. Hinata, Misato, and Kana had all finished their lunches and were hanging around the lockers. “Hey hey, Misa-chan!,” Kana teased. Misato didn’t answer. “C’mon, Misa-chan! I have something to tell you!”
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Misato rolled her eyes and gave into her friend. “What’s the thing?,” Misa asked. Kana nudged Hinata with her elbow, alluding that Hina knew what the thing was. “Actually, Hina-chan has to tell you the thing!”Bookmark here

“I’m not telling her, Kana. I won rock-paper-scissors.” Kana pouted. “Pleasee, Hina-chan! She’s gonna be mad about it either way!!”Bookmark here

“Then why can’t you tell her?,” Hinata asked. Bookmark here

Kana covered her mouth with her hands. After a couple of seconds, she revealed her curled-up tongue. “I’m tongue-tied!,” Kana said giggling. Hinata sighed and headed towards Misato’s locker. “I don’t want to tell you. I’d rather you see for yourself.”Bookmark here

My locker?, Misato thought. Confused, Misato unlocked and opened her locker to see a pink letter sitting patiently on her outdoor shoes. She took the pink envelope from her locker and turned it around to see Bookmark here

To Misato Ito♡.Bookmark here

Her heart sank. “A love letter…?!,” Misa exclaimed, twirling around to face her friends. “I know, right? Gross… A girl liking another girl! Can you imagine?,” Kana said, taking the letter from Misato’s hands. “Hina and I saw who put it in your locker.~” Misato froze. “Who was it?”Bookmark here

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After being told who it was, Kana and Hinata wanted Misato to confront the girl who gave it to her. But, she didn’t want to embarrass them since they were a 3rd-year. In the letter, the person had asked Misato to meet them behind the school so they could face her since the confessor didn’t put her name. So Misato Ito did just that. Bookmark here

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After waiting for 15 minutes, the girl wasn’t there. The 1st-year began to think that this was some elaborate prank done by her two friends. Annoyed, she was about to turn around and leave. But then she heard someone call out to her.Bookmark here

“Misa-chan! Sorry I’m late!”Bookmark here

That voice wasn’t the voice of Kana or Hinata or any of her other classmates. Misato had hoped that it wasn’t her, but it was. It was Taeko. Misato turned around to see Taeko in her club uniform, panting. “The club leader held me back to help out in the art room again! They needed help getting some boxes off the shelves since the baseball team needed the ladder and none of them were tall enough to-”Bookmark here

“Taeko… Do you like me?”Bookmark here

The two stood in silence for a moment. Taeko turned redder than she already was from the sweating. She then smiled. “Yeah… I do. Sorry the letter was so sappy. It took me a while to write it…” Taeko said while looking at the ground, her ears cherry red. The older girl then revealed her bandaged hands. "Kinda hard to write when you have bruised hands from helping out the volleyball team..." Another long moment of silence occurred between the two before Misato said something.Bookmark here

“Senpai… I’m sorry, but you’re really gross. Please stop liking me.”Bookmark here

Murakami-san’s heart sank into her stomach. The words were so simple, yet so ignorant and hurtful. Taeko couldn’t even get a word out before Misato ran off.Bookmark here

Misato had lost her idol.Bookmark here

...While Taeko was heartbroken.Bookmark here

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Summer vacation was now 2 weeks away and rumors about Taeko and Misato were spreading.Bookmark here

I heard they’re dating, one said.Bookmark here

I heard Misato confessed first, another claimed. Bookmark here

Lesbians can’t get into good colleges, y’know… Bookmark here

The two were what everyone was talking about.Bookmark here

Misato had become the subject of teasing by a group of 2nd-years, while the 3rd-years would make jokes about “Taeko-san’s lover.” However, soon the rumors would get darker. Bookmark here

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Before the confession, Misato Ito was seen as bubbly and kind. But after, it was like she reset to how she was on the first day of school. Kana and Hinata assumed (along with nearly everyone else) that something malicious had happened to Misato during or after the confession--that Taeko had gotten angry and done something. People began to paint Taeko Murakami as a predator towards 1st and 2nd years. Taeko was never the type to get angry, or even slightly irritated. But because of her sexuality and how most people like her in the media were sexual deviants, she was seen as such. Bookmark here

Misato wanted the rumors to end and for everything to get back to normal. That everyone should pretend it never happened, and that they enjoy the upcoming vacation. But she didn’t know how to. She didn’t want to ruin Taeko’s reputation. Although she thought of Murakami-san differently now, she didn’t want her to lose her career choices over some rumors from high school. Misato Ito just wanted it all to end. She needed Taeko to end. Bookmark here

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Only a week was left before summer vacation. Taeko and the student council president, Kyoko Hanamori, stayed behind to clean up the classroom. Most of the 3rd years in their class had clubs to go to, so it was just Kyoko and Taeko. “Murakami-san,” Kyoko said, putting down an eraser for the chalkboard.Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Are you… doing alright?”Bookmark here

Taeko looked up at Kyoko, nodded, and continued to sweep the back of the classroom. “Why do you ask?”Bookmark here

Hanamori turned to face Taeko. “All the rumors… about you and Misato Ito from 1-B. Are they true?,” Kyoko asked. Taeko didn’t answer this time. Hanamori opened her mouth to say something, but she was interrupted by the door sliding open. It was Misato. She noticed Kyoko was in the room and bowed. Misato then turned her attention towards Taeko. “Murakami-san, can you come here for a second?,” the 1st year asked. Taeko looked at Kyoko, hoping to get permission. Hanamori sighed as she walked over to the back of the classroom and picked up the broom. “Go on, now. I’ll finish up by myself.” Bookmark here

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Misato had explained that she wanted to play a game of hide-and-seek with the 3rd year, and Taeko had agreed to it. Taeko had counted to 15 in an empty classroom and opened her eyes to see a note on the chalkboard that wasn’t there when Misato shoved her in there. The note on the chalkboard read Bookmark here

‘Check The Roof, Senpai♡’Bookmark here

Taeko realized that this wasn’t a regular game of hide-and-seek, since they wouldn’t give up their spot like that. But, Taeko Murakami still went to check the top of the school. Bookmark here

Once she opened the door, the smell of pure nature hit her like a brick. But the smell wasn’t as strong as it’d usually be. No one was on the roof, for it wasn't allowed at the academy. The orange sun shined bright, causing Taeko to forget about the game and admire the sun. She loved it when it was this color. She walked towards the edge of the roof and just admired the bright, radiant star that was only visible during the day. Taeko Murakami was so entrapped in the orange sky that she didn’t notice Misato Ito come up behind her and push her off the roof. They were on the fourth floor of the school, where the 3rd-year students resided. Once Taeko Murakami hit the ground, she died. Outsiders assumed that she had committed suicide due to the harsh rumors and rejection. After her death, the rumors of Misato and Murakami started to fade away. Everyone was heartbroken because of the loss, except for Misato Ito, who had finally got the fun that she'd been craving.Bookmark here

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