Chapter 4:

truth, goodness, and beauty

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

The next day, she’s not there.

Shun’s half expecting the whole class to claim that he’s just seeing things again, but the silence after her name is called during attendance is indisputable evidence. Even so, he still taps Hiro on the shoulder and whispers, “Hey. Saori’s desk is empty right? It’s not just me, right?”

Hiro looks at him like he’s insane. Shun’s heart sinks and he swivels back around to face the front of the classroom in embarrassment. But before he can focus on the homeroom teacher’s droning voice again, he hears Hiro whisper back furtively:

“Is your head okay, dude?”

Shun swallows hard. “I—I think?”

“I dunno why she’s absent today and why you’re asking me—”

His head whips around so fast it makes him dizzy, causing Hiro’s voice to cut off abruptly.

“So she isn’t there,” Shun says in slow, triumphant realization. It sounds like he’s losing his grip on reality, but the truth is the exact opposite. His mind has never felt clearer. “She really isn’t there.”

“She’s not but…” Hiro’s voice is full of concern. “But you’re not either. Ya doing okay?”

Why, he’s never been better. Sure, he can barely focus on school right now, and his thoughts are racing thousands of miles away, counting down from the time that school ends. But he’s never felt more alive in his entire life, and maybe it’s because of the exercise from yesterday.

And kyudo is on Tuesdays. Saori has to be there today, right?


It looks like kyudo practice has already started by the time Shun arrives at the east wing. He can’t stay still, and he finds himself pacing back and forth restlessly in the hallway. The scene in the library that plays out in the darkness of his mind’s eye is unmistakable. Saori, crouching atop a pile of books. The strip of paper that clings to his cheek, a foot coming up so quickly against the side of his head that he didn’t have time to think.

None of that adds up.

Shun listens to the faint sound of activity from inside the dojo as he walks quietly down the hallway again. This feels somewhat ridiculous, and the sense of trepidation that quickens his heartbeat with each passing moment isn’t helping either. But the tiny voice in his brain tells him to sort this out now before he forgets again.

And when Saori steps out of the doorway, her long hair tied into a high ponytail down her back, Shun forgets how to breathe. The traditional uniform is elegant—a pristine white gi and black hakama, crisp and freshly pressed that hangs down to her bare ankles. A long, thin bag carrying her bow is slung over her back.

She walks with an airy grace as she approaches, seemingly focused on something in the distance. Then she glances over and sees him.

“Takeuchi?” she says, surprise colouring her voice. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh,” he says, feeling very stupid. “Do you have a moment? Can we talk?”


Saori’s expression is completely blank as Shun rambles—he should’ve gotten his thoughts in order first, but it’s too late for that. All he hears is his own voice, pouring forth like rushing water. Between glossing over the encounter at the library, the aikido club paradox, and Saori being absent yesterday afternoon, he’s not even sure what the point of this conversation is anymore.

He dumps all of his worries in a string of words without thinking of the consequences, and instead of feeling a weight off his shoulders, all he feels is dread. When he’s finished, his throat feels very dry. The water fountain in the changing room is suddenly so far away.

And the silence that follows stretches for miles. Shun drops his gaze to the ground, unable to bring himself to look at her, to see the judgement in her eyes for himself. He’ll settle for having her likeness judge him in his mind.

“You…” she says at last, and her voice is softer, kinder, more serene than he remembers. He’s pretty sure he didn’t imagine it when she swore at him in the library, but thankfully he chose to leave that out. “You’re probably tired. You should get some rest.”

“I’m not making this up,” he insists. He can’t back down, not now.

“I’m sure you’re not,” Saori says patiently. “But you hit your head very hard yesterday. You’re probably not in your right mind.”

No, the tiny voice in his head says, and Shun has to strain to keep that thought from slipping away. No. This has been happening since a long time ago, gnawing away at the memories that don’t matter that much but they matter to him.

“You kicked me,” he says, watching Saori’s expression morph from endless patience to confusion. He jabs a hand at the side of his head. “You kicked me, right here.”

Annoyance flashes through her gold eyes. “You’re making things up now, Takeuchi.”

“You swore at me too,” he continues recklessly. “And you threw something in my face, a piece of paper—”

There’s a sudden rush of wind in his face, and then the ends of Saori’s silky hair tickle his cheeks for the briefest of seconds before the impact of her fist slams heavily into the wall behind him. Shun stands there, frozen in shock, as she pulls her arm back and smiles sweetly.

“There was a fly on the wall,” she states, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

All of a sudden, Shun’s vision is partially obscured, along with the familiar sensation of paper pressed against his forehead, just above his eyes. He hears Saori utter something under her breath just like back at the library, and the familiarity of it is almost comforting. The weird feeling he’s been getting from her isn’t his imagination.

“Um—” he begins tentatively, but she cuts him off.

“I don’t get it!” she breathes, and there’s strained panic in her voice now. “Why doesn’t it work on you?”

“Uh, I’m not sure what you’re trying to do,” Shun says. “But—”

“Come with me!”

Saori’s cold fingers close around his wrist in an iron grip, and he’s dragged along as she dashes down the hallway and around the corner. She’s surprisingly strong, and Shun finds himself getting shoved headfirst into an empty classroom. And then the door slams shut in his face.

The strip of paper unsticks from his forehead and flutters to the ground.

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