Chapter 2:

How I Drank a Suspicious Beverage

Cursed Lines

The next morning I was doing pretty well. Over breakfast, I tried to reanalyse the conversation I had overheard in the night. I did not draw any new, interesting conclusions. Mom left a note asking me to stay home if I didn't feel up to going to school. It was a tempting proposition, but theoretically, I preferred to miss as few days as possible. My friend was waiting for me in front of the block where our families lived and was watching me anxiously.

"What happened yesterday?" he asked bluntly.

"I passed out after seeing Hamada giving chocolates to Tachibana too," I muttered. "I think someone caught me before I hit the floor, but I don't know who."

"It hurt you so much." Daisuke shook his head in disbelief.

"Don't make a fool out of me, it's probably just tipped the scales, I've been feeling bad since the morning."

I quickened my pace, remembering someone reminding me of being pathetic. Those words haunted me the whole time; in addition to that, this guy's voice, I did not doubt it. The tone in which he said it only made me feel even more hopeless in terms of my love life.

"What did they say at the hospital?"

"I'm technically fine," I replied in a calmer tone, realizing that my friend was worried about me.

"They don't know what is the cause of your headaches?"

"I don't think so." I shrugged. "So far I'm fine, I hope it stays that way."

I made my wish in vain. As I entered the school, where students were gathered at their lockers, the pain returned. It came violently like a wave and almost swept me off my feet. Again, strange coloured lines connecting people appeared and disappeared in front of my eyes.

"You should stay home," Daisuke muttered.

"I'll be fine," I replied a bit nervously.

I felt someone's eyes on me, not very friendly and unpleasant, and a cold shiver ran down my spine. When I tried to find the person who had a problem with me, he was not among the crowd of onlookers. It had probably already spread around the school what had happened, and now everyone was staring at me, afraid that I would have to be rescued again.

I didn't like the attention they were giving me, and in class I went straight to my desk, hoping that everyone would leave me alone. My head was still pounding, but it was relatively bearable. Suddenly, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, reluctantly looked up, and when I saw the girl I had had a crush on for so long, I straightened up immediately.

"How do you feel?" Hamada asked. "I got scared when I saw you fall."

"It's better today," I managed with a small smile. "Thank you for your concern."

"It's good that Konya caught you, I'm afraid of what would happen if you smashed your head on the floor," she said in a slightly frightened tone.

"Konya?" asked Daisuke, who was sitting behind me and was listening to our conversation with curiosity. "Do you know someone like that?"

"Konya Tatsuo," Hamada explained. "He is in our year, but in a different class, I don't remember which one exactly."

Daisuke and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. It wasn't until I heard his name that I realized who I owed thanks to. Hamada was approached by friends, as usual, focusing on some gossip. This time that someone new is about to join our class. I fell back onto the table with a heavy sigh; not only does the girl I love like the guy the whole school adores. Even now, I was indebted to a man everyone looked up to and wanted to be part of his circle of acquaintances. No matter how mean this Konya was, people still clung to him. No wonder he thought I was pathetic.

"I wouldn't suspect him of such an act of kindness," Daisuke said. "What are you going to do?"

"I'll thank him, and then I'll try to forget about the whole thing," I replied, knowing that Konya wouldn't be impressed.

I should start mentally preparing myself for some more insults from him. Although I didn't remember him pestering anyone in particular, or being especially eager to bully others; he just did it when the opportunity presented itself. I've witnessed this many times, and I've always been surprised that he always hit someone's weak spot and his victims were always badly hurt. I was hoping to get hit once and then actually forget everything.

With this positive attitude and the pain still not going away, I tried to force my brain to work and focus. I was surprised when the rumours turned out to be true and a new student stood in the middle of the class. She was a foreigner, and I expected an insecure, timid demeanour, but the girl stood straight with a broad smile on her face.

She looked around as if she was looking for someone among us. She finally reached me, and her face seemed to light up even more, then she waved in my direction. Suddenly everyone looked at me, the attention I didn't care for. Daisuke, who was sitting behind me, stabbed me in the back with a pencil. I turned to him furiously.

"You know her?" he asked excitedly, staring curiously at the new addition to our class.

"No," I murmured. "How would I?"

"Then why did she wave at you?"

"How should I know?" I replied.

I looked around, Hamada was also surprised by the girl's behaviour and her expression suggested that she was thinking the same as my friend. My heart began to beat faster, and I involuntarily made a gesture of victory in my head. Whatever, no chocolates, what matters is that she cared. My mind wandered, dreaming about our happy future together, but Daisuke used the pencil against me again. He wanted to turn my attention back to the new student, who was finally about to introduce herself to us.

"I'm Alice Higgins, but please call me Alice," she announced in a cheerful, friendly voice. "I am sorry that my Japanese isn't perfect, but I hope we can still be friends. Nice to meet you all!"

She was full of energy, and it felt like she wanted to run up to everyone and hug them. I didn't like people like that. I felt insecure around them, and all this over-positivity and openness often overwhelmed me. The teacher asked Alice to sit at the empty desk at the end of the class. She walked past us, her red hair bouncing to match her perky stride. Even compared to us, she was tiny. At my desk, she seemed to slow down for a moment, and I could see freckles on her face and beautiful brown eyes.

For a moment I had the impression that I had something in common with her and that her presence and interest in me was not accidental. I followed Alice with my eyes until she sat down in her seat. Then I noticed that Hamada was looking at me with a dissatisfied face. I was glad in spirit, another thing in my favour. Suddenly I got dizzy, those lines appeared again. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the teacher's voice, silently asking for it to end.

During the lunch break, I ate as usual with my friend, who kept bringing the subject back to Alice. The girl was already besieged by everyone, wanting to get to know her better and suggesting that they show her around the school. She was kind to everyone, but she did not agree to anyone's offer, still, she could not strongly turn them down.

"Did you see how Hamada didn't like it when Alice showed interest in you? Maybe fortune will smile at you," Daisuke said, trying to steal something from my bento.

I took the box further away and told him to stay away from my food. He just laughed and went back to watching the rest of the class. My friend was also liked, but not so social, thanks to this, he knew a lot and saw even more. He always accurately assessed people's emotions, and what was going on, and paid attention to many things that escaped me.

"It seems to me that Hamada felt threatened, her position as the most popular girl in the class may be shaken, and she will see Alice as a rival," he stated, expecting some specific reaction from me.

"Alice is new, that's why everyone is interested in her now," I replied. "Then everything will be back to normal. At least that's what I hope for."

"And you're not interested in her?"

"No, she seems nice, but I have no plans to be friends with her," I muttered impatiently at the fact that he was extremely talkative during the meal.

But something in the back of my mind told me I shouldn't ignore that feeling as we looked into each other's eyes. On the other hand, I didn't want to delve into it, seriously, I didn't need any extra worries. However, I found myself occasionally glancing at Alice to see how she was doing. I didn't know why I felt that I should be worried about her, even though we had nothing in common.

The pain returned, this time an exceptionally severe wave. I lay down on the desk, my hands trying to cover my head and face. I clenched so that I wanted to scream so as not to let out how much pain I was in. I could hear Daisuke and Hamada's worried voices vaguely, I should have been glad she cared so much about me, but nothing else mattered but the torment. However, only her voice, with this strange accent, broke through the wall of pain.

"Breathe deeply," Alice said calmly and asked me to raise my head. She set a bottle in front of me with something that was a strange brown colour. "Have a drink, it will ease the pain a little." She smiled warmly as if she was sure it would help; as if she wanted to add that she had been through it herself.

I didn't hesitate, took a sip, and winced, it tasted awful. I couldn't recognize what kind of herbal mixture it was, but it did help a bit. The vision became clearer with every second, everyone looked at me uncertainly, intrigued by the scene that had just taken place. Hamada, though she looked worried, her pursed lips suggested anger. My crush left after a while after making sure that I was okay.

"Calm down, Kiyoshi isn't dying yet, so go back to whatever you were doing a moment ago." Daisuke tried to distract everyone from me, I was grateful to him for that.

"Didn't I say it would help," Alice said cheerfully. "It's a special blend of herbs, and I'll be supplying you with it until you will get through this phase."

"But how did you know I had headaches? It's kind of weird that you're prepared, we don't know each other, after all," I muttered as I sipped the hideous drink.

"That's right, Alice, it's quite suspicious," my friend supported me. "What do you have to do with him? Did you use some secret contacts to get here because you have a crush on him? What is this, a secret love story?"

I almost choked on a piece of meat when I heard that. I don't know what possessed him to ask something like that, but Alice seemed undaunted. She laughed heartily and nodded her head.

"No, absolutely not. Anyway, that would be inappropriate because Kiyoshi is my brother."