Chapter 4:

What's with All These Weird Girls?

Somehow, I fell in Love With My School's Biggest Gal!

        “Urg!” Sora moaned as he entered the courtyard of the Akiharra City Middle School. “I’m too tired for this!” Bookmark here

         He had barely gotten any sleep last night. After everything that had happened yesterday, his mind had raced too fast for him to get any sleep. All he could do was stare at the One Piece figures that he had placed on his windowsill and contemplate how crazy his life had suddenly become.Bookmark here

           What was going to happen between him and his friends now? He knew that things we going to change between the four. He could easily tell that from the way that En-Kun had spoken to him on the phone yesterday. The uncertainty disturbed him.Bookmark here

            Despite their long friendship, ever since the start of 5th grade, something deep inside him felt rubbed the wrong way by his friends. Maybe it was the way they passive-aggressively teased him about his hobbies.  Or the way that they always made him do what they wanted and never gave him much say in anything. Or the way that they manipulated him into doing favors for them but never did anything for him in return. Or...Bookmark here

             But they had been together since they were little kids. To be honest, they were the only friends he ever had. He had been too lazy to care about making new friends when he was already a part of a close-knit group. But, looking back now, had they ever truly been close? Did En-Kun, Mirho, and Ryo actually know anything about him? Did they even care about who he really was, or was he just a tool for their amusement? Would their friendship be over now?... Did Sora really care if it was?Bookmark here

               He trudged to his locker, weighed down by his uncertainty and conflicting feelings. The halls were beginning to fill with students. Mirho was already at his locker to the right of Sora’s. Sora sighed in defeat and walked to his locker and messed with the combination lock. Bookmark here

              “Hey, Mirho. Mornin’.” “Oh. You, Sora.” Mirho said with a tone of disgust that didn’t match his radiant and joyful face. “You’ve got some nerve talking to someone after you betrayed them, don’t you think?” He gave a smile that was eerily both charming and sadistic. Bookmark here

             “What are you talking about, Mirho?” Sora asked as he rummaged through his locker. “Hmm, I seem to recall that you purposefully sabotaged our prank just to spite us, or did you already forget that, you bastard?” Mirho glared at him. Bookmark here

             “I knew I should never have trusted you. An otaku loser like you? You might act all harmless and naïve, but I know that there’s only one thing that you could really care about. You really are a selfish bastard for someone so dull. You whined all the time about how we never respected you, but I wonder how you think it feels to realize that one of your friends was just using you to make himself look cool because he knows how worthless he is?” Bookmark here

          Sora rolled his eyes as he slammed his locker shut. He picked up his bag and sulked away.Bookmark here

           “Oh, look! Just like a cowardly traitor to walk away!” Mirho called after him.Bookmark here

          “Pointless!” Sora muttered under his breath. And there truly was no point in defending himself. Years of friendship, and all it took was refusing to falsely demean and slander someone to get them to turn on him? No discussion, no genuine concern for him, not even bothering to ask him what his feelings and intentions actually were? He didn’t even feel sad. It just proved who really had valued whom and who had truly used whom for all these years! He felt embarrassed and gross for having been friends with such mean and sadistic people.Bookmark here

         He walked through the door to his classroom and saw Ryo sitting in his front-row desk. By instinct, he stopped.             Bookmark here

         “Morning, Ryo. How are-“ “You can just stop, please.” Ryo never even looked up from his phone. “I don’t have any interest in talking to someone who’s willing to abandon his friends just to get into some whores pants. Thanks, but no thanks. I honestly thought I knew you better than that. I thought you had self-respect and morals, but I guess you're one of those guys!” “Ryo-“ “Please! Just shut up and go away!”Bookmark here

          Sora slowly walked away. Despite how he had thought that the dissolution of his friendships wasn't a big deal, that particular rejection honestly hurt. Out of the three, Ryo was the one who he had been the closest to. They had hung out alone quite often. Ryo may have been a jerk, but he was the least mean of the three. His teasing was just teasing and usually didn't have any ill will behind it. Also unlike En-Kun and Mirho, Ryo wasn’t inhumanly perfect, he was just talented. Sure, he bragged about his artistic and romantic skills, but Sora doubted that he genuinely believed in his own greatness the way En and Mirho did. Bookmark here

        The fact that his closest friend had turned on him so suddenly felt like a punch to the gut. Still, though, in a sense, it was nice to just get all the pain over with right away. These so-called friendships had just been weighing him down and holding him back from being himself. Even if he was kind of lonely, he was better off being alone than going along with a toxic group like them.Bookmark here

          He slumped down in his seat. “Hey, Sora-Kun!” An overly energetic voice yelled as an unseen force glomped upon him. “Gah!” He screamed, startled by being grabbed from behind unexpectedly. Bookmark here

         “Hi! Morning!” Aki grinned as she rested her chin atop Sora’s head. “Oh, geez, Aki!” He breathed, his heart racing. “Don’t do that! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” He complained as the other students paused and stared. Bookmark here

        “Oh, come on! I was just being funny!” Aki pouted, letting go of him. “Geez, you’re such a stick-in-the-mud!” Sora rolled his eyes. Like he’d never heard that one before! Bookmark here

        “How are you?” He asked casually. “Good! I had so much fun with you last night! But to be honest, I was so tired out that I passed out right after dinner and didn’t do any homework! I’m going to be in hot water with our biology teacher! I haven't been doing so good on the quizzes...!” She awkwardly placed her arm behind her head and fidgeted. “Anyway, did you see the new One Piece episode that aired last night? Oh my gosh, I...!” Bookmark here

           As Aki chattered away, Sora glanced to the other side of the classroom. Almost as if by fate, he caught the eye of En-Kun, who was walking to his desk along the opposite side of the room. The two made direct eye-contact. Sora’s insides quickly turned to goo.Bookmark here

        That look…he was used to En’s deep, dark-green eyes being cold and condescending but this time…just the hate in them! Words failed to described the utter hate and disdain that those eyes exchanged with their former friend.Bookmark here

         It was clear to Sora that En-Kun felt incredibly wronged and that his glare contained a promise of hell to come in exchange for humiliating him.Bookmark here

          He knew he shouldn’t be afraid, but something about En-Kun’s look made Sora incredibly scared. He was aware of Aki talking to him, but it felt as though he was under water. He wasn’t comprehending anything that was going on around them.Bookmark here

          Even after he smiled and acted as though he understood, sora’s strange, out of body experience continued until that afternoon.Bookmark here

            *                                                                   *                                                                   *Bookmark here

            Sora had no clue where to sit for lunch. Normally, he sat with his buddies. However…he glanced over at the three, who had pulled their desks into a tight, closed circle. When he had started over to them out of habit, En-Kun had shot him a glare that clearly said “You aren’t welcome here anymore!”Bookmark here

            The idea of sitting alone somewhere felt pathetically anti-social and unappealing, but Sora didn’t really have much of an idea what else to. He paused for a moment. Maybe Aki-Chan would let him eat lunch with her? He was unnerved and embarrassed by the idea, but it sounded better than being all alone. Besides, it seemed that Aki had taken to him like a fish to water. She was probably going to be a permanent fixture in his life from now on, whether he wanted her around or not.Bookmark here

         Out of other options, Sora loitered around the locker area until he saw Aki retrieving her lunch from her locker. “Um, hey, Aki-Chan?” He messed with his hair awkwardly as he approached her. Her face instantly lit up in recognition. “Sora-Kun!” She hopped over to him. “I know that this is weird but, uh….would it be okay if I eat lunch with you?” He glanced away. “Umm…my friends are being a pain…and I’d rather spend time with you than eat alone…”Bookmark here

          “Yes, yes, yes! I’d love that!” Aki jumped and clapped. “Oh, but I usually eat with a couple other girls, though. Is that okay with you?” “Uh, yeah. Sure, whatever. I’m not picky.” “great!” Aki took his hand and lead him down the hallway.Bookmark here

          “We normally meet on the roof and eat up there.” She explained. “Actually, in the same place we met last night. Are you okay with that?” “Sure.” He wasn't worried about hanging out with a bunch of girls. The only thing he felt awkward about was the fact that he was basically holding hands with Aki in public. However, since she didn’t seem to see anything wrong with it, Sora didn’t want to hurt her feelings by yanking his hand away.Bookmark here

           “Aki-Chaaaaaaaaaaannnnn!" A small, energetic voice screamed as a yellow blur shot down the hallway towards them.Bookmark here

           “Rina-Chan!” Before Sora knew what was happening, Aki was happily hugging a young girl who’s head barely even reached her enormous chest. “How are you?” “Great!” The girl giggled, flapping her long right sleeve.Bookmark here

         If Aki’s uniform didn’t cover enough, then Rina’s covered too much! Her sailor uniform was loose, managing to completely cover her knees. Her yellow cardigan was vastly oversized and extremely baggy, nearly reaching the hem of her skirt. It didn’t have buttons but, if it did, then Sora suspected that it could count as a dress all on its own. Rina’s hands weren’t even visible in because the sleeves were so long. Bookmark here

         She was petit and short. It wouldn’t be hard to mistake her for a child instead of a middle school student. Even with the school’s gray, heeled dress shoes, she was still very short compared to him and Aki. She had a round face with bright, happy purple eyes, red lips, and a natural glow. Her dark brown hair was done up into two large side-buns adorned with pink ribbons. She was very adorable!Bookmark here

            “Hey, Rina, this is Sora-Kun. Sora-Kun, this is Rina.” “Hi, Sora-Chan! Nice to meet you! Let’s be friends!” The small girl grinned and stuck out her arm in greeting. “Y-yeah.” Sora stuttered. “Nice to meet you, Rina! I’m Sora Kusagi.” “Rina Kaname. But you can just call me Rina. Or Rina-Chan!” She giggled and gave him a cute sideways smileBookmark here

           ‘Wow, this girl has the little sister character-type down to a T!’ Sora reflected in amazement. She only came up to just below Aki's armpit and, since he was at least a good inch taller than Aki, talking to Rina felt like conversing with a kindergartener. Bookmark here

           “Okay, Rina. Yeah, let’s try…to get along…and be friends...okay?” Sora stumbled over his words. Not that he had anything against the female gender, but the idea of being friends with a girl felt weird. He’d never had any female friends before. Now he apparently had two, whether he wanted them or not!Bookmark here

        “Okay, let’s head on upstairs!” Aki said cheerfully, raising her fist in the air as the led Sora and Rina. Bookmark here

         “Hey, Sora-Kun, you’re in Aki-Chan’s class, right?” Rina tugged on Sora’s sleeve. As the three climbed the long staircase to the roof.Bookmark here

         “Yeah. What class are you in?” “I’m in Class A3. Actually, I was supposed to be in 5th grade, but I got skipped ahead this year!” “Whaa?” “Yep!” Rina happily flapped her sleeves as they climbed. “Yeah! I’m not a genius or anything, but I was a little bit ahead of my 4th grade class and performing at a 6th grade level during the finals, so I got moved ahead!”Bookmark here

      Wow, Sora wasn’t expecting that! If she was able to move ahead a grade, then Rina must have been smarter than she appeared. Still, though, she didn’t exactly look it.Bookmark here

         “Ok, we’re here!” Aki announced cheerfully as she kicked the door open. The group was nearly blinded by the bright sunlight. “Yay! It’s great to finally be outside again!” Rina cheered, spinning around joyfully. “Hey. You’re late, dorks!” Bookmark here

          Sora’s head snapped to the left. A punk-looking girl was sprawled out on the circular bench that surrounded the fountain. Bookmark here

                She had long, messy hair pulled back into a high ponytail. Her hair was lemon-juice yellow with hot pink streaks in it, and a pair of chopsticks were stuck into the base of her ponytail. Her top wasn’t excessively tight or lose and her skirt was a bit short, but not to the extent of Aki’s. She wore her cardigan around her waist instead of as a top, but it was clearly for the sake of fashion. Instead of a pale pink skirt and bowtie, her uniform’s skirt was hot pink and she wore a regular tie with a music note pin on it. She had a stack of black bracelets on her left wrist and hot pink ribbon tied around her right wrist in a bow. Even though she was somewhat more normal than Aki, she still stuck out like a sore thumb. She dressed like she was in rock band or something! Bookmark here

                “Ichigo! Hello! How was class?” Aki greeted the girl as she sat next to her. “Urg!” The new girl groaned. “Sooooo boring! What do we have to sit through this crap? I wish I was back at home sleeping!” Bookmark here

                 She suddenly  glanced over at Sora. “Huh? Who’s that guy?” “This is my friend, Sora Kusagi.” Aki gestured. “Sora-Kun, this is Ichigo Innua. She’s in class A-3.” Bookmark here

                 “H-h-hey.” Sora bashfully raised his hand in a greeting. “Yo. Nice to meet you.” Ichigo deadpanned as she flashed a peace sign at him. Bookmark here

          “Hey, Ichi-Chan?” Rina bounced over to the bench and plopped in front of Ichigo. “Where’s Mitsu-San?” “Oh, yeah.” Ichigo leaned backwards and turned her face upward. “The tightwad said something about not wasting time frivolously when there is an exam to study for. Or something like that.” Bookmark here

          “Aww!” Aki whined, opening her lunchbox as Sora self-consciously sat to her right. “I wanted you to get to meet all my friends today, Sora-Kun! You'll like Mitsu-San. She acts cold and mean, but she's honestly really nice and caring underneath that ”Bookmark here

           “Did I ask where Mitsu-San is, Ichi-Chan?” Rina asked Ichigo “Oh my freaking God, Rina! I told you five seconds ago that she’s not coming up here today!” Sora tried to ignore their bickering as he conversed with Aki.Bookmark here

          “Hey! It’s fine!” he assured Aki. It was probally good that this Mitsu didn't come today. Sora honestly didn’t know if he could take any more people right now. Bookmark here

             ‘What’s with all these weird girls who’ve suddenly shoved their way into my life?’ He silently reflected as he pulled his chopsticks off of his lunchbox.Bookmark here

               ‘I got a 6th grader who looks like a kindergartener and has the attention span of a goldfish, some punk girl who acts tough, and a cutesy bimbo! I made my first female friends, and these are the people I get stuck with? Where did all the normal humans go?’Bookmark here

              He glanced at Aki. She was occupied with chatting with the two other girls. She looked  laid back and content, giggling as she picked at her lunch. He’d never even considered the fact that Aki had friends that she ate lunch with, or that she had hobbies, dreams, a unique personality, or anything like that.Bookmark here

                It was really quite sad; he’d focused on her external appearance and the rumors so much that he had never considered that she lived her life just like he did. She went to school, hung out with friends, studied, and played games. Somehow, he had been able to totally forget that she was human, too. She did the same basic things as a thousand other people did, yet he was able to view her as a label, a thing, instead of a unique individual or a fellow human. Bookmark here

          The thoughtlessness and callousness of his thoughts and actions shocked him. It just further cemented that he had done the right thing by choosing to sacrifice his friendship with his childhood friends. They had dulled his conscious and standards. They were far worse than him. They just saw Aki as an emotionless, personality-less image, a toy for them to play with. They thought that she had no feelings or that, if she did, that they didn’t matter, just because of her outward appearance and how they perceived it. They held to their opinions, despite being called out on their error. It was disgusting! Bookmark here

         He looked at Aki as she laughed and smiled. Despite what people said…she truly was beautiful. She was a sweet-natured person. She was happy and friendly. Being around her made him happier than hanging out with his friends ever had.Bookmark here

            ‘Gah! What am I thinking!’ He blushed furiously to himself and took the lid off of his lunchbox.Bookmark here

            “Oh my gosh, Sora-Chan!” Rina leaned over Aki’s lap to stare at his lunch. “Your bento looks so yummy!” “Huh, really?” Sora asked, a bit intimidated by her close proximity. “yeah!” “It’s sooooo cute!” Aki gushed. Today’s lunch was a giant rice ball Totoro laying in a field of flowers. “Did you make that yourself? Seems weirdly elaborate for a guy!” Ichigo raised an eyebrow.Bookmark here

             “No no no!” Sora insisted in a panic. “I-I can’t cook at all! My dad made it for me!” “Your dad made that?” Asked Ichigo in shock. “Yeah. He loves to cook. That guy is amazing, honestly!” Sora said in admiration. Bookmark here

               “He’s the coolest and smartest man I know! He’s an art history professor at Akiharra university. He loves to cook and is really good at it, too! He was thinking about opening a restaurant until he decided to go into teaching. I keep telling him I’m old enough to make my own lunch, but he loves being able to do this for me. Cooking is his stress relief, and he obviously loves going all-out and making them elaborate. I just let him keep doing it. Besides, I’d rather eat his food than anything else in the world, if I was given a choice.” “Huh. Weird choice of a hobby for a grown man.” Ichigo observed. "But I suppose, whatever makes him happy, right?"Bookmark here

                 “I think it’s really cool, Sora-Kun!” Aki smiled. “Uh, Rina?” She cringed. “Could you please move? I can’t feel my legs anymore.” “whoops! Sorry!” The little girl scooted off of Aki's legs.Bookmark here

              Sora stared at Aki. She thought his dad was cool? His heart soared in his chest. While he loved his father dearly, he rarely mentioned him to other people. Whenever he had mentioned it in the past, his father was either mocked for being an insufferable academic or for being unmanly for his love of cooking. He loved his father too much to hear him being insulted, so Sora simply stayed silent on the topic of his family. But Aki…she though that what made his dad stick out was cool! Despite how much she herself was judged, she didn’t appear to judge others at all.Bookmark here

                By the time he had finished mulling this over, the girls had all turned back to their own lunches and their conversation. Sora picked up a red-pepper flower and ate it. As he chewed, he glanced over at Aki, who was staring at him with a glazed look in her eyes. Was she drooling? Bookmark here

               “That rice ball looks so good…!” Aki salivated. “Uh…do you want to try some?” Sora asked hesitantly. “It’s chicken and mayo and cucumber.” “Really? Yeah! Yeah!” Aki scooted closer to him on her knees and nodded her head rapidly. “Okay.” Sora picked up one of the mini rice balls that made up Totoro’s paw while she waited expectantly.Bookmark here

              ‘Oh, crap!’ He silently panicked. ‘What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to, like…feed it to her or something?’ His hand holding the chopsticks shook frantically. ‘C-c-can I do this? Is this okay? Feeding a girl?’ He gritted his teeth.Bookmark here

            ‘It’s okay! I can do this!’ He gritted his teeth. ‘It’s just…I just put it in front of her mouth and she takes the rice ball, right? Just like pairs of girl friends do in all those slice-of-life shows!’ His hand trembled as he moved it towards Aki. ‘Just don’t think about the fact that she’s a girl!’ He encouraged himself as he sweated profusely.Bookmark here

           The food reached Aki’s mouth. In an instant, she gulped it down. “Mmmm! That’s so good! Please tell your dad that his food was delicious!” She smiled widely. “Y-yeah!” Sora flushed as he smiled at her. He did it! Bookmark here

             “Hey, Sora.” Ichigo said suddenly. “Yes?” Sora was surprised. The pink-haired girl hadn’t seemed particularly interested him. “Are you an otaku nerd like Aki?” “Uh…what?” Sora blinked, unsure of how to answer her. “Are you in to anime and manga and all those stupid games and stuff?” Bookmark here

             Sora flushed red in annoyance. “Hey! It is not stupid! Games are fun! They increase your intelligence and problem-solving abilities!” “Ha-ha!” Ichigo rolled around on the bench, laughing hysterically. Bookmark here

            “Oh my God! Aki, you and your boyfriend are such nerds! You sure know how to pick ‘em!” Bookmark here

            Now it was Aki’s turn to glow bright read and panic. “W-w-where did you get that idea? He…He’s not my boyfriend!” She insisted.Bookmark here

               “Oh, sure!” Ichigo playfully rolled her eyes. “You’re lucky, Sora! I know what people say behind her back, but Aki is the sweetest human you will ever meet. To be honest, I kinda worry about some guy getting funny ideas and taking advantage of her. You seem like a decent enough guy. But you’re so boring, though! Hey, Aki!” Bookmark here

             Ichigo turned her attention back to her friend. “Couldn’t you have picked someone less plain? This guy is as interesting as a cardboard box!” “Hey!” Sora complained. What was with the whole ‘Sora-is-lame’ thing being brought up by everyone he met?Bookmark here

               “Wh-wh-what are you…? I didn’t…didn’t pick anyone!” Aki fidgeted in embarrassment. “I d-d-d-don’t…” “Oh, come on! It is way too easy to mess with you!” Ichigo laughed, lunging at Aki. “Gah! N-n-no! Ichigo-Chan, s-t-t-t-op it!” Aki heaved, laughing and panting as her friend tickled her.Bookmark here

                Sora watched for a moment in confusion, then pressed his hand over his mouth, laughing loudly as he hadn't laughed for a long time. These girls were strange, but it was nice to be with them. Rina and Ichigo had already welcomed him into their circle without any hesitation whatsoever.Bookmark here

              Sure, Ichigo was a bit of a jerk, but she and RIna had both accepted his presence and included him in their antics. It was so different from being with En, Mirho, and Ryo. He felt like he was one of them, not just a mildly amusing side-character. Maybe he had only been around them for fifteen minutes, but he already felt comfortable around them. It was like…they were the friends he had been wishing for since he was little.Bookmark here

     He watched Ichigo’s continued torture of Aki as Rina rolled around in laughter. 'But they are still weird, though!' He snorted through his laughter. Bookmark here

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