Chapter 12:

Final Countdown

Stars of Aoba

With the final strategy of approaching the social media game, Umeno’s campaign has been smooth sailing. After informing Origami of the changes, the genius artist took no time to change her approach from a normal flyer to a banner on the forum, which attracted quite a bit of following after it was posted on her socials.

Using my and Tsunagi’s connections as class reps, we quickly got the whole class C supporting his campaign, although Umeno also took a big part in it with his overall friendliness online to help them with their school problems. And soon enough, his reputation started to spread. Not like a wildfire, but a flickering ember, slowly but surely eating away at the student body’s affection.

And now, two months later, our labor has started to show its worth.

“Yo, Umeno. Another good day today, isn’t it?”

“Yup,” the boy in question confidently nods. Gone was his gloomy look when he first started school, right now, Umeno is like any other student of Aoba – of course, not completely standing out by any means, but this is plenty of growth already. And it shows, too.

“Hey, it’s the Rising Star and his manager! What’s up?” A student from class D, upon seeing us, lets out a big smile and waves hello. And Umeno, wasting no time, answers with a polite bow:

“Good morning to you too.”

As the guy leaves for his class, I poke my elbow to my side with a teasing grin on my face. “Wow, I’m impressed. I never thought you’d be a-okay with that nickname now.”

“It’s still kind of embarrassing, really…” the one in question replies with an awkward laugh, his face flushed to the edge of his ears.

Rising Star. It’s the nickname the freshmen have given Umeno upon seeing his growth during the initial election process. A fitting name, if I do say so myself.

“Umeno, Suzuki!” Just when I’m lost in my thoughts, a figure from behind tackles both of us, wrapping his arms around our shoulders with ease. “Today’s the big day!”

“It’s not your campaign, Hayato.”

“Oh, come on, don’t lie to yourself. I can see the grin on your face already.”

“Is that so?”

I don’t disagree with it. Today’s the day, after all. The day when the final two candidates are chosen from the preliminary election. Well, I say that, but I can already tell who the finalists are gonna be. But even so, it doesn’t stop me from feeling the blood pumping up in my veins in excitement.

“Well, it’s my class here. I’ll catch you later today, guys,” with a wave of goodbye, Umeno separates himself from Hayato’s grip and disappears behind class B’s door.

“Later! We’ll meet in my class after school!” Giving him a quick message, I, along with Hayato, return to our class as well.

The moment we take a step into the room, an odd phenomenon is already awaiting us.

“Look chipper today, boys,” Michinari, in his girl’s uniform again, sits with his legs crossed on my table and blows a kiss towards the two of us.

“Since it’s the day today, I’ll ignore the fact that you’re sitting on my desk,” throwing out some friendly banter of my own, I answer.

“And it’s not because of my incredible charm, you say?”

“Haha, sure.”

“Well, jokes aside,” quickly returning to the ground and retracting his smile, Michinari waves his phone at us. “The results should be on the school’s site by now. Wanna check?”

“Nah,” I shake my head in refusal. “We should wait for school to be over. Gotta have the main star here, after all.”

“Do we need the results, though?” Tsunagi’s voice sounds behind us in response. “I don’t mean to brag, but with our work so far, who’s in the finals should be known already.”

“It’s just an officiality, Tsunagi. Have some fun with it, you know.”

“True,” a rare smile comes from the redheaded girl. She’s cuter when she smiles like this more, but if I said that now she’d probably kill me again. “Then I guess we wait for classes to end.”

As the bell rings to end the day once more, Umeno shows himself in front of our class’s door.

“Well, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” Hayato, fast as his name implies, is the first to wave the phone around.

“Yeah, let’s,” nods Umeno.

Five people cramming onto one another just to look at a single phone screen is in no way effective (thank goodness, and also a bit jealous, Origami doesn’t partake in this due to her work). But I can’t deny that sweating out of our minds in the late spring weather doesn’t have its own charm.

Nonetheless, as the webpage finally loads, even though it’s not surprising to any of us, the joy that everyone feels when the letters on the screen show up is without a doubt very present.

Notice of final election phase.

After the preliminaries, we of Aoba Academy are proud to announce the two finalists of the Presidential Speech round: class 1-A’s Kuroshi Ryuuro and class 1-B’s Umeno Rei.

In the final round, the two contestants will prepare a speech on their directions to better Aoba Academy. The round will take place one week after this notification, on June 1st. After the round is over, students will have one week to vote for the winner.

“We did it! We’re in the final round!” Umeno exclaims in joy, tears already starting to form in his eyes. “Thank you, everyone! Truly!”

“Hold your horses superstar,” Hayato gives a teasing grin. “Tears are best saved for after you win, am I right or am I right?”

“Yup, yup, he’s right,” Michinari adds. “The first round was just a warm-up. Now we go against the last boss.”

“Last boss, huh?” I let out an excited grin as I clench my fist. Finally, the time has come. Our final showdown between us and him.

While the boys are busy with their celebration and the thoughts of competing, the one female member keeps her feet on the ground and asks. “Although, considering the themes of this final round… Umeno-kun, have you gotten any ideas?”

“Obviously Aoba needs to have more relaxing time!” Hayato, once again, is the first to suggest. But his attempt of lightening the mood is only met with a glare from Tsunagi.

“It’s a harder problem than what it seems to be if I’m being honest,” Michinari ponders with his hand on his chin, surprisingly serious for once. Can’t say I don’t like the novel look, though…

“In what way, actually?” I ask. “Because we still have to give credit where credit’s due, our school is pretty much the best in the country.”

“Judged by outsiders,” answers Tsunagi. “It’s an interesting question for sure since it makes us use the most of our experience in Aoba. The problem, however, is that…”

“There are a lot of angles we can approach here,” Michinari nods. “And not only do we need to pick one that fits Aoba, but also fits our strengths and weaknesses, something we are able to do.”

“Indeed, what could it be…”

“Um… guys?” The one to break the silence is, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the main actor himself.

“What’s wrong, Umeno?”

“I… I think I’ve got it,” the boy answers, still stuttering, but at the same time shows confidence in himself, as well as his abilities.

Ah, I’ve forgotten it already. But Umeno is in fact the highest-ranked among us. Of course, he would be able to see something that we don’t.

“Well, you’re the star. Whatever you choose, we’ll follow through until the end. Right, guys?”

“Of course!” A nod of unison among the five remaining members of our group brings a smile to Umeno and me. The former, however, continues nonetheless.

“Thanks, guys, I mean it. But this is the final round now; I can manage on my own… no, I need to manage on my own. So, all I want is your support for what I’ll bring to the speech, is that good with all of you?”

Look at him, finally all grown up and handling things on his own. As a friend, I couldn’t be happier.

“Of course. You have our full support. Well, I can’t say for everyone here actually, but at least you have my full support… Rei.”

“Hey, what gives? Don’t hog all the cool moments to yourself!” Hayato turns to me with a playful hit. “I’m in, of course. Break a leg, Rei!”

“Suzuki-kun is just selfish like that, isn’t he?” Michinari chuckles in response. “But he has a point. You’re the star of the show, Umeno-kun. Whatever you choose, we’re on board.”

“The guy has always been a handful, I tell you,” Tsunagi also lets out a snicker. “But I guess there are some times that he’s right. I trust your decisions, Umeno-kun.”

Even if all of the ideas the others give are meant to poke fun at me, the fact that we’re all on the same boat remains unchanged. And for Umeno, who wasn’t even looked at before, to gain this much trust in this short amount of time, he must be over the moon right now.

“Alright, then it’s decided. Rei, it’s up to you from now on. Bring home the win.”

“Yeah, I will!”

Ei Ruan