Chapter 2:

the spaces in between

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

Shun wakes up to a stabbing headache that starts from his temple, so he rolls over and tries to smother it with a pillow. There is no pillow, of course. The bedding underneath him is the uncomfortable, stiff material intended for recovery, not sleeping. His eyelids are still heavy with sleep and impossible to pry open at the moment, but he knows he’s at the nurse’s office.

He’s back in middle school again, and he’s here for something ridiculous like always, such as someone knocking him out with a football in home economics. With a groan, he peers through his eyelashes and struggles to sit up. He blinks an unfamiliar infirmary into view.

“Welcome back to the land of the living!” a cheerful voice calls out. “The nurse is out for lunch, so she got me to watch over you instead. And man, you’ve been asleep for aaaaaages.”

“Lunch?” Shun repeats, the only word he manages to extract amidst the pain and confusion in his head. Right, so it’s lunchtime. “Wait, how—? I was—the library…”

The sound of light footsteps approach, and Shun winces a little as he lifts his gaze. Mischievous, sea-green eyes blink back at him. He recognizes the reddish, shoulder-length hair that frames her face—it’s the girl that sits three seats down and one to the right in his class.

She isn’t one of the classmates he remembers from middle school though. And the confusion must be showing on Shun’s face as he’s trying to recall her name, because she sighs loudly.

“Miwa,” she says, placing a hand on her hip. “I’m Miwa Akagi.”

“Um, well…thanks for helping me,” he tells her, unsure of what else to say.

“Oh, it wasn’t me,” she says brightly. “I was only passing by and was asked to stay while Auntie—I mean, the school nurse—went on lunch break. It was Ichikawa that brought you here.”

“Saori did?” Shun asks, trying to recall the hazy memories of when he stopped by the library that morning. Saori was there, he remembers. She was scowling for some reason, and there were a bunch of books piled on the ground…

“She told me you tripped on a book and hit your head really hard,” Miwa pipes up in a sympathetic voice, though she looks unfathomably pleased at the thought. “And she said this kinda thing happens to you a lot.”

“It…yeah, it kind of does,” he admits sheepishly.

“Well, you be careful out there,” she says. “Lunch is almost over so I gotta head back to class. Are you going be okay on your own for a bit?”

Shun nods. He’s used to missing class, but his high school attendance record was perfect for almost a month. It stings a little, especially now that he’s decided to take his academics seriously…

As Miwa flounces out the door and disappears into the hallway, Shun massages his temple with his thumb. His headache is starting to subside, so he slowly inches himself toward the edge of the cot to hang his feet over the ground.

The nurse still hasn’t returned after he’s gotten his bearings and walked around the office for a bit, so he looks around for some paper to write her a message. He spots a logbook on the desk, and he quickly scrawls down a thank-you note. With any luck, he’ll be in here a lot, so he might as well make a good first impression.

Shun returns to his classroom empty-handed, but he finds his bookbag sitting on his seat and a neat stack of notes on his desk. He’s not sure if it’s Miwa or Saori or even the custodian’s doing, but he sure is grateful that they didn’t leave his stuff scattered all over the hallway floor for people to step on.

Right, he remembers now. Before ending up at the nurse’s office, he was sitting on the ground outside the library. Because—he racks his brain for the memory that eludes him—oh yeah, it’s because the door was locked. One of the custodians told him that. So how did he get inside the library in the first place?

As the chemistry instructor starts setting up some lab equipment at the teacher’s desk in preparation for first period, Shun scans the classroom. Miwa is near the front chatting away with her friends, but Saori’s desk at the far left by the window is glaringly empty. He doesn’t think she’s ever missed a day of class before.

Shun expects her to show up before the lesson begins, but she never does.


“Oi, Takeuchi! I’ll trade ya my notes from this morning if I can copy yours from last week!”

Hiro Kunihiro, Shun’s desk partner, blinks at him expectantly. With dark roots growing out of his dyed blond hair and the tendency to show up late to class without his homework, teachers usually assume that Hiro is a good-for-nothing delinquent. Little do they know, he’s usually tardy because he’s searching for peoples’ lost pets or helping elderly folk with their groceries—at least, that’s what he’s told Shun. Those excuses are slightly ridiculous, but Hiro made him promise not to tell a soul. Maybe he wants to be seen as a delinquent at school, for whatever reason.

Shun thinks back on his thoughts about friendship. He glances at Hiro, who’s offering to exchange notes with the biggest grin on his face. Maybe this is how friendships are formed, and Shun’s just got the order all wrong after getting hit in the head so many times.

“So, what do you think?” Hiro asks eagerly, still holding out a single loose sheet of paper that’s supposed to fit all the notes from this morning’s classes.

“Are we friends?” Shun blurts instead, unable to help himself.

Hiro’s face falls. “Are we not?”

Friend is a looser term than he’s realized. As long as he considers the other person a friend, that makes them friends, right? And so Shun agrees to trade notes, receiving one flimsy piece of paper in exchange for his notebook. He examines the sheet of paper carefully, not because he feels like he’s being ripped off, but rather that there’s something about it that feels oddly familiar.

“My notes are concise,” Hiro insists, a little defensively. “Ya bet all the core concepts are condensed in there, or your money back!”

“No, no, I’m happy with the notes,” Shun reassures him. “It’s just…”

Inexplicably, looking at the paper reminds him of Saori—which is downright ridiculous! That is, until he remembers that she was there, at the library, holding several strips of paper in a gloved hand. Books. Paper. A door stopper wedge. There’s something that isn’t adding up.

“Where’s Saori?” he finds himself asking, even though Hiro’s probably the last person who would know. The rest of the students are diligently cleaning up the classroom now that class is over, and the two of them should probably get up and help soon.

“The white-haired girl in the kyudo club?” Hiro asks, still lounging in his seat with no indication that he’s planning to stand up anytime soon. “She was here today, wasn’t she?”

“In the morning, but…” When Shun trails off, his desk partner just shrugs.

Strange. Maybe he needs to get his head checked. The commotion and the sound of desks scraping across the floor spurs Shun to put his stuff away faster, so he can go help with cleanup before the class president calls him out for shirking his duties. He doesn’t really stop to check if Hiro’s following his lead, or if he’s slipped out to go feed stray cats.

When Shun opens the broom closet for a spare broom, he finds it empty. It looks like some of his other classmates have beat him to it.

“Grab a washcloth, Takeuchi,” a voice calls from behind him. “You’re wiping down the desks today.”

He turns around to find the class president, Kaito, eyeing him suspiciously with his arms crossed. With a nod, Shun shuffles off to do as he asked, before remembering that the president sits directly behind Saori in class. He pauses.

“I didn’t see Saori after lunch. Do you know where she went?”

Kaito, in the middle of scraping chairs across the floor, gives him an odd look. “What do you mean? She was here the whole time.”

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