Chapter 25:

Umiko

Having Trouble Coming up With a Decent Story


“Who would be here this early?” Sumiye herself had woken up super early that day so she could find out what was going on with Umiko Sawada, but now she was pressing her ears against the principal’s door, trying to hear the conversation happening inside the room:Bookmark here

“...why do you want to know about Umiko Sawada all of the sudden?” it was the muffled voice of Katayama-Sensei, the school principal.Bookmark here

“I’m just curious Katayama-Sensei…” the second voice was a female one.Bookmark here

"Hayami Takayama?"Bookmark here

“I was absent yesterday, but my friend told me something odd about the girl, and... it sparked my curiosity!” Bookmark here

“You even came here this early! Always the honor student, Takayama-chan!” Bookmark here

“I’m just trying to look after a fellow student!”Bookmark here

“I’m so proud to have you here in our school! But, as I told you before, you should talk to him.” Bookmark here

“...” a hush descended over the conversation.Bookmark here

"C'mon girl, what are you waiting for? Keep it up!"Bookmark here

The hush remained for several seconds, until: “Thanks Katayama-Sensei! I’ll be going then!”Bookmark here

Sumiye heard steps coming towards the door and hurried to turn a corner a few meters from there, where she waited for Takayama while leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.Bookmark here

“Umiko Sawada?” the woman startled the girl when she turned the corner.Bookmark here

Takayama stared at Sumiye for a moment with a serious face and then smiled:  “Oh! if it isn’t my favorite Sensei! Good morning, Suto-Sensei!”Bookmark here

“You don’t need to pretend in front of me, Takayama-san.” Sumiye gazed at the girl’s eyes, “I know of your true nature.”Bookmark here

“What are you talking about Sensei?!” Takayama laughed, “You’re so silly!”Bookmark here

“Just a piece of advice Takayama: you should act more like yourself, don’t hide it, be more confident.”Bookmark here

“Oh, Suto-Sensei! You’re so funny!”Bookmark here

“Well, I advised you.”Bookmark here

“Acting as a teacher for the first time.” Takayama’s smile vanished, “Today I’m not in a good mood.” she started to walk past Sumiye.Bookmark here

“I’m not done with you, Hayami.” Sumiye stopped Hayami by her shoulders.Bookmark here

“Aah?” Hayami glared at her teacher, “Didn’t you tell me to act like myself, Su-to-Sen-sei?”Bookmark here

“I’m serious here.” she grasped Hayami’s shoulder, “You were just talking about Umiko Sawada, right?”Bookmark here

“What do you have to do with it?”Bookmark here

“You could say that she’s currently under my guard.” Sumiye shortened the distance between their faces, “I like to look after mine.”Bookmark here

“Huh, is that so?” Hayami scoffed, “Just like Koshiro Koike, right?”Bookmark here

“What do you know about Umiko Sawada?” Sumiye insisted, staring at Hayami.Bookmark here

“Arara!” Takayama’s smile returned, “Lucky you! I’m trying to look after that girl as well!” she put her hand over Sumiye’s, “It happens that the one to put her in this school was the last school principal, the old Katayama-san. He is the one that must know about her…”Bookmark here

“And?”Bookmark here

“And my family happens to be an acquaintance of Katayama’s.”Bookmark here

“But?”Bookmark here

“But, although my family is…” Takayama hesitated as her smile diminished, “...that’s not necessarily the case for me.”Bookmark here

“So?”Bookmark here

“So I have the means to find out about Sawada, but I’d rather not do so.”Bookmark here

“Hmm… I see.” Sumiye loosened her grip.Bookmark here

“I can give you the number of someone who’ll be able to contact the old Katayama, and in return…” she rummaged through her pockets and picked her phone, “...I want to know if you find anything.” she showed Sumiye the number, “Do we have a deal?”Bookmark here

“Yes.” Sumiye added the number, “Thanks Takayama.”Bookmark here

“Just tell her I was the one to give you the number.” the girl uttered and headed to the stairs.Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Sumiye looked at her phone, “Let’s see who are you, Sawada-san.” she then typed the number and started to make the call.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“Of course, there were a lot of other details that will be probably used to cover any plot hole or inconsistency in the future, but I just can’t think of anything other than that Takayama part.” this type of thought would haunt Koshiro through several days. That writing contest was sure to wear him out.Bookmark here

The next morning was quite unusual for the boy, he woke up at the normal time for a student (instead of a writer) and felt something odd, “Huh?” he looked to the side, Scar was sleeping right next to his face, but this wasn’t the cause of the weird feeling, “Huh?” he looked at his feet: “Why is there four of them?” but it wasn’t the cause either. “Hmm…” he looked at his chest, where a girl was leaning her head while hugging him. “Wait…” Koshiro looked around him and confirmed that he was in his room. Bookmark here

“Koshiro… idiot…” Sawada was still asleep.Bookmark here

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!” Koshiro woke the girl up with a growl.Bookmark here

“Dolaa… aaah!” Sawada jumped out of the bed, “W-what are you doing you Lolicon?!”Bookmark here

“You were the one hugging me! Besides…” Koshiro stared at her, “Did you just admit that you’re little?”Bookmark here

“I would never!”Bookmark here

“Uhum, I know.” the boy looked at the hour, “But now you should hurry and get ready for school.”Bookmark here

“Huh?” Sawada tilted her head, “We have to leave already?” Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Koshiro pondered for a minute, “Not exactly, we have to pass somewhere to buy some Dorayakis.”Bookmark here

Dolaaki?!” her eyes shined as she drooled.Bookmark here

“Yes, it’ll be our breakfast and lunch for today, is that alright?”Bookmark here

“Yes!”Bookmark here

“So, go change.”Bookmark here

“Yes!” with that, the girl darted out of the room.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Koshiro received a lot of stares when arriving at Obaka high, not only because of the weird Senpai accompanying him (even though she kept some distance from him) but also because she insisted that he brought Kuma-chan as well.Bookmark here

“Kuma-chan is very important to the school! She can’t take one day of absence!” Sawada repeated over and over.Bookmark here

"Looks like she's only important to you." “Okay, okay, I got it.” Koshiro gave up arguing with her.Bookmark here

It was a day in which he went to school with a little girl, and the school mascot, so of course it wasn’t going to be a normal day for Koshiro: first, he had the impression that he was being observed; second, Takayama didn’t hit him that day; third, Sumiye was absent from school, and fourth:Bookmark here

“Huh? Where is she?” it was lunch break and the first time after a long time Sawada didn’t appear in the back of the school building. Koshiro looked all over the place, to be sure the girl wasn’t there, and then started to make his way to her class. It was the first time he was going there (indeed a day of firsts).Bookmark here

After just a few seconds of walking the boy realized something; “Oh shit! This is the part she’s going to get picked on because she came to school with a boy! Her kouhai of all things!” Koshiro began to sprint, “If something happens to her, I’m sure Sumiye is going to kill me!”Bookmark here

He started to hear the muffled voices a couple of meters from Sawada’s class:Bookmark here

“What about that boy, Sawada-san?!” a female voice laughed.Bookmark here

“Yeah! Is he your boyfriend?” it was another female voice.Bookmark here

“No…” Sawada replied.Bookmark here

“Yes… they should start bullying her right n..”Bookmark here

“Oh! Thank god Sawada-san!”Bookmark here

“Yes, thank god!”Bookmark here

“I know we’re not really your friends, but that guy?”Bookmark here

“He looks like someone who could never write a decent story!”Bookmark here

“How dare you, NPC character?!”Bookmark here

“Or balance seven books on his head!”Bookmark here

“That’s weirdly specific… although my limit is six…” Koshiro started to slide the door.Bookmark here

“And…” one of the girls stopped when she saw Koshiro on the door, “Let’s go NPC 1!!”Bookmark here

“Okay NPC 2!” the girls bolted out of the classroom.Bookmark here

Koshiro observed the two get away and then turned to Sawada, who greeted him with a scowling: “What are you doing here, Koshiro idiot?” Bookmark here

“Isn’t it obvious? You didn’t show up to lunch so I was worried you might've got into trouble! Maybe some girls could be bullying you…”Bookmark here

“Huh?” the scowling face disappeared, “You were worried about me…?”Bookmark here

“Of course! If something happened to you Sumiye would kill me!” he smacked his face and sighed, “Will I have to come here every day from now on?”Bookmark here

“No…” Sawada fiddled with her fingers, “But I wouldn’t mind…” she murmured.Bookmark here

“Okay, okay, let’s have lunch.” Koshiro showed her the DorayakisBookmark here

The girl quickly picked one from his hand. “You know…” Sawada said while eating, “If you come here again you should consider coming faster! The girls that bullied me were the ones before those…”Bookmark here

"Is that so?" Koshiro sighed, "Oh, man. Maybe I should start coming here every day, then."Bookmark here

"Yes... please..."Bookmark here

"Huh? What did you say, Sawada?"Bookmark here

"Nothing!"Bookmark here

Not much happened during the rest of the school day. Koshiro had his typical club meeting and reported to Murakami that not much was going on there. The boy then went home, but this time, with a little Senpai and an inflatable bear.Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Sawada was following Koshiro to the Koike household, “Thank you… for worrying about me…”Bookmark here

“Huh? Haven’t I told you that it was because of Sumi-nee?”Bookmark here

“Yes, but either way…”Bookmark here

“Watch out!!” Koshiro yelled and prevented Sawada from being run over by a car.Bookmark here

“W-What are you doing you pervert! I was wrong in thanking you! Koshiro idiot!” the girl started to scream with him.Bookmark here

“Aaargh, you are such a bother! I save your life and you curse me?” he let go of her, “Next time I might let you taste that car!”Bookmark here

“Hmm!” Sawada sulked and pouted.Bookmark here

"Yeah, next time I'll only save the stupid bear in your hands. Is that alright?"Bookmark here

"Her name is Kuma-chan! How can you not know that?! You're so dumb!"Bookmark here

"Ugh." Koshiro frowned at the girl. "If it wasn't for Sumiye, if it wasn't for Sumiye!" he kept murmuring to himself.Bookmark here

The boy composed himself and they returned to their walk. They remained in silence until it seemed that Sawada forgot their fight:Bookmark here

“What will we have for dinner?” she asked.Bookmark here

"Ohoho, the stomach comes first, right?" Bookmark here

"Hey!"Bookmark here

"How can you think about eating now after you drank that much tea, anyway?"Bookmark here

"Tea isn't food!"Bookmark here

"So you don't mind if we don't drink anything at dinner, right?"Bookmark here

"Hmm... that is..."Bookmark here

“I don’t know what we'll eat." Koshiro sighed, "What do you think of Dorayaki and popcorn? Maybe a very unhealthy soda?” Bookmark here

“Popcorn…?”Bookmark here

“Yes, I’ll watch a movie tonight, so I’m considering buying some popcorn.” Koshiro had decided to read some things and watch movies and anime so he could be able to draw inspiration from them, for the writing contest.Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Sawada fiddled with her fingers. “Can I watch it too?” she asked with a low voice.Bookmark here

“What?” Koshiro stopped and looked at SawadaBookmark here

“It’s nothing, it’s nothing!” she shook her hands in front of her.Bookmark here

“Okay then…” he resumed his walk.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing…” Sawada murmured downcast. Bookmark here

“Do you want to watch it with me?”Bookmark here

“Huh?” she looked with high hopes at Koshiro, “Really?!”Bookmark here

“Of course. As long as you don’t get in the way.”Bookmark here

“Thanks!” Sawada celebrated and started skipping.Bookmark here

“Huh?” Koshiro glanced at the girl right behind him, “Why is she so happy?”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“I’m here.” Sumiye was in front of a huge gate while talking on the phone. She had skipped her job coming to the place the woman on the phone had told her.Bookmark here

“You can just wait there.” the woman ended the call.Bookmark here

“Hmm.” Sumiye looked at her phone. She waited for several minutes until “A maid?” appeared to open the gate.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for the wait, Suto-san, but you can now come with me.” the woman ushered Sumiye through a garden, passing by a fountain and arriving at a house that looked like a castle. It made the young woman finally realize the huge walls she had seen on her way there were all part of that property.Bookmark here

“What is this place?” Sumiye turned to the maid after admiring the view.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry but I can’t answer that.” the woman replied, “You’re only here to talk to Katayama-sama, isn’t that right?”Bookmark here

“Yes…” Sumiye stared at the back of the maid while they entered the castle and walked through a huge hallway until they made it to a double door.Bookmark here

“He’s waiting for you.” the woman stopped beside the door.Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Sumiye stared at the door for a moment, and then pushed it to enter the room.Bookmark here

“Oh! Suto-san! Isn’t that right?!” a man greeted her as she crossed the threshold. “I’m Osamu Katayama!”Bookmark here

“Yes…” Sumiye approached the man with caution. He was sitting before a desk in a large room, similar to a principal’s office, “Maybe he likes to keep old habits.” “Excuse me.”Bookmark here

“Please, take a seat!” he indicated a chair in front of his desk, and then poured a brown liquid onto two glasses.Bookmark here

“Whiskey.” as a drunkard, Sumiye had the obligation to know what that was. She did as the man said and sat on the chair, staring at him.Bookmark here

“So! You’re here to talk about Umiko Sawada, right?” he handed her one glass, which she accepted in autopilot.Bookmark here

“Yes, I enrolled Obaka High last year and noticed that Sawada-san barely attended classes...” Sumiye glanced at the glass on her hands, “...but since I wasn’t her homeroom teacher there wasn’t much I could do about it. But this year…” she sipped some of the whiskey, “... I realized she didn’t have any files on our school.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I see that you know your way around a drink!” the man remarked and smiled, which annoyed Sumiye.Bookmark here

“What about Umiko Sawada-san?”Bookmark here

“Oh, of course!” the man reached for a portfolio with laziness. “You can see it for yourself.” he opened it on the desk.Bookmark here

“Huh?” Sumiye approached the thing, “What is that?” she looked at the man.Bookmark here

“That’s everything we know about Umiko Sawada.” the smile on his face vanished, “It’s something no one should go through.”Bookmark here

Sumiye incredulously skimmed through the portfolio, seeing the images regarding the girl, and reading some of the key parts: “...low height… scarlet eyes… abandoned… from house to house… Obaka High…” she murmured while reading, and, before she realized it, her eyes were burning.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Koshiro and Sawada bought everything they needed for the movie night and went to the Koike household to begin their session.Bookmark here

“Just wait here in the living room while I find the movie.” Koshiro left the girl on the couch and went up the stairs.Bookmark here

“Okay…” Sawada laid on the couch and caressed it with her hands (something that wasn’t that easy with Suto-Sensei’s huge clothes on her), “Cozy…”  she observed the place, the girl had been to houses similar, but this was different for some reason... it had a different "aura" around it. "Everything feels cozy..."Bookmark here

“Huh?” some time after Koshiro went to the second floor, Umiko heard a muffled sound coming from the front door.Bookmark here

“Hello!” Suto-Sensei opened the door, “Koshiro! I brought some things for you two eat!” she had a plastic bag in her hands. “Hmm… what's going on here...?” the young woman observed the house until she spotted Umiko: “Oh! What are you guys up to?”Bookmark here

“We’ll… watch a movie.”Bookmark here

“A movie, huh?” she walked to the kitchen and left the bag there, “Do you mind if I join you?”Bookmark here

“Hmm…” Umiko hid behind the couch, “I don’t know.”Bookmark here

“Popcorn…” Suto-Sensei murmured as she looked at it, “Can I at least make the popcorn?”Bookmark here

“Hmm…”Bookmark here

“Have you ever eaten Koshiro’s food?”Bookmark here

“No…” Umiko stared at the floor with a terrified face: “…but I drank his tea.”Bookmark here

“His food is of the same quality level.”Bookmark here

“I’m counting on you with the popcorn, Suto-Sensei!”Bookmark here

“Great...” Suto hesitated for a moment, but then walked towards Umiko, “Look, Sawada-san... I… talked to the old Katayama-Sensei today...”Bookmark here

“W-What?” the girl froze.Bookmark here

“I talked to the old Katayama-Sensei today....” she repeated while stopping before the girl, crouching a bit so their eyes were at the same level, “I’m sorry.” Suto uttered while gazing at the girl’s eyes and patting her head, “I have your files with me, I’ll take care of them now.”Bookmark here

“What…? You… are g-going to… m-make me g-go back…?” Umiko was shuddering with a weak voice.Bookmark here

“No.” Suto-Sensei affirmed with conviction, “I’ll hold you right here for as long as it’s necessary.” she then hugged the little girl.Bookmark here

“Huh?” Umiko was looking at Suto-Sensei until just now, but suddenly she could only see a blur, feel something wet on her eyes, and feel the warmth of an embrace, “What…?”Bookmark here

“It must have been quite a trek to arrive here.” Suto was talking close to her.Bookmark here

“...” Umiko couldn’t voice a single word, she could only accept the embrace and let the tears fall.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“It’s exactly like it says there, it’s truly a sad situation.” the man called Osamu Katayama looked at the whiskey in his glass and started to summarize everything: “Umiko Sawada was abandoned as a child because her parents simply didn’t like her low stature and scarlet eyes.” he then sipped some of the whiskey and continued: “As an orphan, she never stabilized on a home, passing from house to house and from school to school, until she ended up in the worst there is: Obaka High...” Katayama looked at Sumiye, “...where I put her and made sure to give her a new home!” he smiled, “But I see that she escaped her last home, and you’re probably the next one to have to deal with her!”Bookmark here

“Huh?” Sumiye took her eyes off of the portfolio, “What? The next one 'to have to deal with her'?”Bookmark here

“Huh?” the man tilted his head, “Isn’t that why you’re here?”Bookmark here

“I’m not understanding, you are a wealthy man. I’m sure you could’ve given her a better place to live.”Bookmark here

“Hmm…” the man pondered for a moment, “Yes! A place like my own house perhaps?!”Bookmark here

“Well… yes.” Bookmark here

“Kuaha” a muffled sound came from the man’s mouth.Bookmark here

“Huh?” Sumiye stared at the man.Bookmark here

“Hahahahahaha!” the man burst into laughter until tears started to form in his eyes: “My own roof?! That’s a good one!” he wiped some of the tears, “Why would I sully the name of my family with a girl that didn’t receive love from her own parents?!” he laughed more, “I mean, it’s a sad situation indeed, and I have a soft spot for defects, but I’m not crazy.”Bookmark here

“…” Sumiye stayed quiet, completely dumbstruck by the man’s words.Bookmark here

“Besides…” the man sipped more of the liquid, “I had to assume the presidency of Akabo, so I didn’t have the time to deal with that girl… I had to leave her to my brother over at Obaka.” he laughed more.Bookmark here

“WHAT?!” Sumiye growled and smashed her hands against the desk.Bookmark here

“Hey, hey! There’s no need to get angry!” he tried to assuage the situation while still smiling.Bookmark here

“You didn’t even leave her files!! How could someone do something for her that way??!” she gazed at Katayama with burning eyes.Bookmark here

“Oh! That!” the man glanced at Umiko Sawada’s files, “I just wanted to have an Ace up my sleeve... you know, to deal with my dear brother over at Obaka. You could call it a prank with you want.”Bookmark here

"Unbelievable” Sumiye glared at him, letting her eyes do the talking. She threw her glass on the wall behind Katayama and picked Umiko’s files, darting out of that sick place right after that.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“It must have been quite a trek to arrive here.” Sumiye tightened her arms around the now sobbing girl.Bookmark here

“...” Umiko didn’t answer.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“I’m sorry that you had to walk all this alone, but now everything will be alright, Umiko.” Sumiye tightened her grip even more as if saying she wouldn’t let that girl go anywhere else, “Everything... will be alright...” and it felt like that embrace lasted for years until the girl managed to voice screams that were muffled by the woman’s chest.Bookmark here

Joshua Lundquest
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Kerry Kamiya
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