Unease and nerves twisted every feeling. The ambivalent atmosphere of students passing through the halls made the uncaring worse. No one noticed the change. In a way, that was the best outcome. Invisible was better. But loneliness crushed any possible warmth.
An empty classroom with leftover desks pushed to the sides. The room was part of the reserves for clubs. It made for a private place to have a conversation. The subject of which remained unknown.
Across from her at the small table sat Yori, partially through his lunch. While his sister remained only a couple of bites through her rice. She kept waiting for whatever it was that Yori called her for to come up.
Halfway through his lunch gave her enough courage to speak. “What…did you want…to talk about, brother?”
Yori finished the food in his mouth before answering. “I’ve been hearing some troubling stories about your class.”
“Yes, there are some troublemakers from what I heard. I wanted to make sure you were safe.”
She paused to think about who he might be referring to. The obvious suspects came to mind. “It’s not…that bad.”
“Yumi. Yuki Hayashi is said to be disruptive in class and fights everyday. Saki Furukawa attacks students for little cause. And those around them are apparently nearly as bad.”
“Well…” It was hard to deny what often happens. But he didn’t know the situation. Or maybe he did know. Yori could be talking to her because everything he knew. Or maybe he just heard rumors and worried. “The class…is safe…”
“Safe? Fights in the halls! You could be hurt if things get out of control! I’ll talk with the teachers about the two of them.”
Chapter 30 – The Warning
Panic immediately crashed through her body. She dropped her chopsticks, focusing wide eyed at Yori. “The teachers? You’re not…going to get them…suspended? Are you?”
Yori put down his chopsticks, starting to gesture with his hands. “Everything I’ve heard about those two is bad and hurts the reputation of the school. It’s more surprising that they haven’t been suspended already.”
“Yumi, I want you to promise me you will stay far away from them. I can’t always be around when you need me.”
“I know…brother…I’m safe…”
“Yumi, promise me you won’t go near those two.”
Hesitation blocked her words. She should agree immediately. That was the right thing. But Yuki didn’t do anything wrong. But Yori didn’t know anything. Agreement was the right course. “...brother…I…”
He watched his sister shrink in the chair. An all too common sight he knew. Yori stretched out his hand as an offering on the table. “This is for your protection. I know you don’t want to get into trouble, Yumi.”
His sister shied away her gaze. Silence returned to the room. A few awkward moments passed until Yori pulled back. He granted her space and picked up his lunch. Folding the cloth over to contain everything, he looked walked to the exit. “You’ll see. This is the right choice.”
Left in silence, alone, Yumi stared down at her largely uneaten lunch. The words of her brother echoed in haunting tones within her mind. She clutched her hands to the sides of her tray. There were no answers to be found for as long as she stared.
After a long wait, she returned to her class, lunch largely untouched still. Ten minutes remained of the lunch break. Only about a quarter of the students returned, or maybe never left. Yumi quietly took her seat in the back. No one seemed to notice her.
Time moved slowly forward. She was sitting within her own world as lessons continued. Only half of her paid attention. Her brother still lingered on the fringes, inescapable. The best solution was to listen to him. But she was in no danger like he thought. She was safe. Maybe she was wrong. No, he wasn’t.
“But the galaxy’s in danger…” Yuki declared to the classroom.
The rest of the class began to laugh while the teacher only became more frustrated with Yuki's lack of focus. He managed to keep his composure with Yuki. “Well the galaxy can wait until after my class is done, Mr. Hayashi.”
Yumi smiled watching him bow and sheepishly try to sit down. She watched Saki scold him for falling asleep and other things she couldn’t hear. Ayumi flailed about trying to calm things down. All the while Yuki beamed with warmth.
She only knew him as a classmate and briefly at that. Yet she couldn’t help but find him curious. ‘How does he do it? It seems so easy…natural for him… I wish I could thank him…’ Yumi quickly threw that idea out. The worlds that separated them were too great.
Watching was the only thing to do.
After school ended, Yumi stayed behind for her cleaning duty. Two others from the class helped in hurried fashion to try to return to their afternoon. She wiped down the board and cleaned up around the front.
Halfway through, Katsumi and Kaede walked into the classroom. They joined her in taking out the trash. The empty hall felt freeing. No pressure slammed around her.
“So Yumi, what your brother want?” asked Katsumi.
“It’s not bad is it? Are you okay?”
“Did something happen, Yumi?”
They both stared at her questioning her silence. She blinked and hurried up with the trash. Not quite a run, but close enough that it gave her a lead on her friends. But, as expected, they caught up to her outside at the dumpster.
“Yumi…you don’t need to run away from us.”
Leaning against the dumpster, her head down, she was staring at the concrete. “I…know…I just…”
“Yumi? What is it?”
She turned around and faced her friends. They hugged Yumi giving her the needed support. Another couple of breaths, Yumi gathered herself. “I think my brother…is going to report…them.”
“Her too? I guess that makes sense, she gets into fights consistently.”
“The real problem is Hayashi though. The fights wouldn’t happen if he wasn’t stirring up trouble.”
“And did you hear him in class today? Sleeping again! He’s going to fail the exams at this rate.”
“What are the teachers doing?”
“Honestly, a little peace would be welcome.”
“Yeah, Yumi, don’t be worried about what the President does. It’s not going to hurt you. Even without the distraction of Hayashi in class, we won’t let anyone do anything to you.”
Yumi was nodding. They were right. Her brother was right. Nodding was the correct thing to do. There was no risk. No danger presented itself to her. Her life would remain the same. Everything that she wanted would stay.
This was right.
This was right.
She kept nodding for them. A weak smile came up to thank them. Yumi walked back with her friends. She was walking the right path.
After her time with her friends, she returned home. Yumi entered and looked to see no other shoes present. “I’m home.” Slipping off her shoes, she sat them to the side and walked into the hall. She stopped at the kitchen to look into the dim space.
Unwashed dishes from the morning remained in the sink. A few plastic containers scattered the counter. The chairs were out of place. She silently made notes of everything before passing on.
Yumi continued upstairs to change into casual clothes, a simple fitted shirt and jean shorts with her hair pulled back. She returned to the kitchen and started tidying things up. It only took thirty minutes and she could resume her studies.
Another hour or so later, she heard the distant sound of the door closing. She knew by the timing, Yori arrived. Her mind focused back on her work. When she finally finished, she stretched her arms out. The clock read quarter past seven. It was time.
She walked down stairs picking up the smells of dinner. With each step, a hand squeezed on her heart. Pushing forward, Yumi reached the threshold to look inside. Yori moved around quickly, finishing putting together three plates of food.
When he turned around, holding two plates, she froze up. Yori smiled over to her. “Good timing, Yumi.” He placed down their food leaving the third to cool on the counter.
Slowly she was drawn into the kitchen. Her brother was already seated waiting for her to join him. A slow nod came from her before she hurried herself. Silence hung around them as she found her seat. The polite gratitude for the meal were the only words spoken.
Awkwardness filled in the air making it difficult for her to breathe. She poked at her food still by the time Yori finished. He stood up and put the plate in the sink. Testing the third plate, he held his hand over the food and nodded.
He wrapped up the meal and placed it in the fridge. Afterwards, he then walked out of the kitchen. “Yumi, when you’re finished let me know and I’ll take cleaning duties.” His footsteps then disappeared in the distance.
Air finally escaped from Yumi. She slumped over in the chair pushing the plate away. “I couldn’t say…anything…” Yumi pressed her hands to her face trying to bring her pulse back down.
Five minutes left in circles, Yumi pulled herself out of the chair. She grabbed the plate and emptied the rest of dinner into the sink. The disposal drilled out all of her thoughts as she stared. Her eyes simply watched the food disappear. The water spiraling down felt almost hypnotizing.
Yumi stared longer until her body shook randomly out of the glazed state. She flicked off the disposal and returned to her room. Dropping on her bed, she stared once more. ‘I can’t do anything…’