Chapter 13:


Stars of Aoba

At the same hall we entered on our first day, the entire student body – all 540 of Aoba’s students, unlike our entrance ceremony – gathers around. The excess number makes the crowd much larger than it was before, and in turn, makes the room we have a lot more cramped in the process.

Unlike the entrance ceremony, however, the lights are mostly off, only leaving the stage lit like a live concert. The chanting crowd and the tension in the air make my stomach growl from the butterflies inside. This time I’m sure it’s not the excessive acid, I’ve been off energy drinks for the entire week now.

“I wonder if he’s gonna be okay…” I unconsciously utter. And to my surprise, even with this much shouting, the ones next to me can still hear my words loud and clear.

“You said it yourself, right? We’re supporting him with whatever his decisions may be,” Tsunagi stands beside me, giving a reassuring nod.

“Don’t worry! We’ve all done our parts! Umeno-kun will be alright!”

“Origami-san?” It takes a second for me to process, but I know I’ve just heard the voice of the socially inept artist nearby.

“I’m watching from Tsunagi-san’s phone!” Following the voice’s direction, it doesn’t take long for me to realize the unlocked cellphone in Tsunagi’s hands, with its front camera open so that whoever on the other side can see for themselves.

“We trusted him, remember?” Hayato continues with a reassuring smile. “It’s the final stretch. He’s got this.”

“Yup. No use worrying about it at this point in time,” Michinari adds. “All we need to do is watch our star take flight.”

“… Yeah. Let’s do just that,” I let out a smile of my own, directing my gaze back to the smoke-filled stage – full of dramatic effect, it seems.

From the center of the stage arises a single podium, and standing behind it is… not the contestants at all. Rei and Ryuuro are stationing themselves at the two sides, ready for their names to be called.

Instead, on the center podium is a peppy, blonde-haired girl in a sporty tracksuit and a backwards billed cap. But the most surprising thing is neither the girl nor the contestants, but neon boy next to me sweating buckets and shivering all of a sudden.

“Dude, what’s wrong?”

“You don’t wanna know,” Hayato quickly answers, lowering his knees to look shorter than normal. “All I’m saying is that I’m glad that’s not me competing.”

“Hey, hey! Welcome, all students of Aoba!” The girl, meanwhile, continues her job as the MC of the show. “I’m your host for today, second-year class B’s Enda Marisa, and I’m very excited to announce the long-awaited final round of the Student Council Election! And now, without further ado, let’s welcome our contestants!”

Gesturing to her left, the girl named Enda continues. “You’ve known him from his unrivaled intellect as he smashed through all records in the entrance exams! The genius worthy of the title ‘Monster’! Give it up for Kuroshi Ryuuro!”

The bespectacled genius steps forward with confidence, throwing his uniform jacket that he draped over himself like a cape with confidence. Flair much, showoff? Also, that’s not cool in the slightest! I’m in no way impressed by it, not at all!

“And in the other corner,” Enda continues, gesturing towards the other side of the stage. “We have a new phenomenon! Coming in like a tropical breeze, yet rising in the ranks like a kite in the wind! It’s the Rising Star, Umeno Rei!”

Both of them have the same color scheme, though I can’t help but feel the gap already forming between them. If the black genius commands the crowd to gawk at him in awe, the black star comes off as still shy and reserved, taking short steps and slightly cowering at the piercing gazes directed at him.

Come on, Rei. You can do it. Believe in yourself.

As the two settle, Enda continues her commentary.

“Now, I’ll reiterate the rules of the final round once more. Both contestants will give a speech about what kind of school they wish Aoba would be under your regimen. Each will have 15 minutes to give their speech, and should they need it, they can use the projector on the stage as they wish. Now, my competitors, are both of you clear?”

“Of course,” answers Ryuuro with a confident grin.

“Y-yes,” Rei follows suit with a hasty nod.

“Alright. Now, let the final round commence! First, contestant Umeno!”

Enda and Ryuuro soon leave the stage and disappear behind the curtains, leaving the podium now with only Rei taking the spotlight. However, the pressure seems to be getting to him, with the young man dripping cold sweat on his forehead more and more by the second.

It’s only some whispering at first. But the more he stands silent, the angrier the crowd gets. Before we realize it, booing has already commenced, and along with it comes shouting from the mob:

“Hey, get a move on already!”

“We didn’t cram ourselves here for nothing!”

Can’t these people get it? The more they react like this, the more nervous Rei gets, and the more unlikely he would be able to start. He needs to calm down, but how?

A slight poke on my side grabs my attention. Turning to see Tsunagi lightly moving her head towards the stage, I immediately understand what I need to do.

Putting my hands together to make a megaphone, I shout as loud as I possibly can:

“You can do it, Rei! We trust you, no matter what!”

The words, thankfully, manage to hit Rei at just the right time. With a slight expression of surprise, then a confident nod, the rising star finally has it within him to begin his speech.

“H-hello, everyone,” Rei speaks into the mic, making a large screeching noise around the stage. It’s funny actually; this reminds me of that first speech Ryuuro made.

Nonetheless, Rei continues. Stuttering still, but firmer and more clearly now.

“I-I’m Umeno Rei from class 1-B. And… here’s my speech on the chosen topic.

I’m… not a great student at all.

I’m shy around people. Due to my looks and the rumors around me, I get shunned by people. I’m unpleasant to be around. All I have is an allegedly above-average intelligence, seeing that I somehow made my way into class B. But that doesn’t help me at all. Class B already has a lot of people better than me, and friendlier than me too.

I was stuck alone in a class unfamiliar to me. In fact, the reason why I joined this election in the first place was to give a better impression of myself, so that I could make friends in my high school years. However, during my campaign, something changed within me.

Thanks to my friend and his friends, I managed to put together an actual team for my campaign. Everyone was so nice to me, and for the first time in my life, I genuinely had fun doing things. Planning the next move that I should make, designing flyers to improve my image, tallying statistical usage to better my social media skills… Mundane, yet fun, things.

And that’s when I realized. I’ve already made friends. Great friends, in fact. And I wish to make more during my time here in Aoba. I wish to recreate the same experience that I’ve had, both for my own, and for others like me.

That’s why, if there’s anything in Aoba that I wish to better, it’s the cooperation and the interaction between us students. Among the same class, among other classes, even other grades. There are a lot of great people around here in Aoba. People that you might cherish enough to call them ‘treasure’. To call them friends. And that’s my goal if I become Student Council President. To set the stage for future friendships to blossom.

That is all I have to say. Thank you all for listening.”

It’s one person clapping at first. Then another. Then another. Then a few more. And before I know it, the entire crowd is clapping in unison. Friendship and cooperation – a simple, yet effective theme to capture the hearts of students everywhere. It’s a great idea, Rei. And… thank you, for thinking so highly of us.

“That speech was really heartwarming just now, isn’t it?” As the crowd settles down, Enda comes up to the stage once more to continue the event. “And now, it’s contestant Ryuuro’s turn to speak his ideas!”

Ei Ruan