Chapter 25:

The First Job

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

The pink haired girl skipped on the wooden floorboards of the old building as they faintly creaked under her feet. She hummed a small melodious tune to herself and finally came to the plastic door that was painted pastel yellow and had a small silver-coloured metal handle. She adjusted her skirt, fixed her hair and straightened her glasses. She took a deep breath and as she let it out she realised her lower lip was trembling. Bookmark here

'C'mon Ai. You can do it. Your goal is not to be rude to him. Just stay calm and don't react immediately.'Bookmark here

She kept her hand on the handle and pushed open the door to be greeted by the familiar faces of the club members. Today was supposed to be the last day of school so all clubs had to choose certain activities they would do over the summer. But there was one new person along with the rest of them. Bookmark here

There was a tall girl with a very docile expression and a long braid that rested on her shoulder. She was sitting up straight with a polite smile and listening to something Ryouta and Ryuuji were discussing. She remembered her from before when she had come to apply as a club member. The most odd thing about her visit was the way Ryuuji behaved when she had come in. She slowly walked in, aware she had drawn the attention of all the people in the room.Bookmark here

"Uhm- Heyy-lo?"Bookmark here

"Oh Ai! Hey hey! C'mon, c'mon have a seat," said Futaba as she ushered her into the room. Bookmark here

"I think you've already met Hinata. She's our new club member as of today!"Bookmark here

"Yeah, I do remember her... What happened to, y'know, recruiting members and keeping them on a trial period? The thing you told me?"Bookmark here

The three of them looked at each other helplessly, unable to reply. Bookmark here

Hinata saved their face as she exclaimed, "Well of course Miss Ai! I'm on a trial basis too right now. Hopefully, one day we'll both be the members of this club. I really like the idea of contributing to my school by helping other students as much as possible and that's why I want to be a part of this club."Bookmark here

Ryuuji almost rolled his eyes at her blatant yet well executed lie while Ryouta breathed a sigh of relief of being saved to answer that question. Sometimes Hinata's lying could be really useful.Bookmark here

Convinced, Ai nodded, her round innocent eyes looking at Hinata with a hint of admiration and awe. Bookmark here

Ryuuji said, "Anyway, back to the topic. We haven't even got a single request till now how're we supposed to do any club activities during the summer. At this rate, the club might shut down due to inactivity."Bookmark here

"You're right about that but we can't exactly go and look for some work right?" replied Ryouta.Bookmark here

"I think that's because our club's name is so weird. Sounds like a rip off of Ginta-"Bookmark here

Futaba interrupted, "Alright, alright! We know there are a few problems right now but I think we can do some summer activities. We can go to different places and help some people and then come back and write a report about it as proof. Right?"Bookmark here

Ryouta supported it by adding, "Yeah that's a great point. I mean, it can be like one-time summer jobs without any pay of course. We are technically going to volunteer so it has to be free of cost."Bookmark here

Ryuuji said in a sarcastic tone, "Yes, we can totally avoid the problem at hand and make uncertain plans about the future.” Bookmark here

He scoffed, “I mean, who's gonna even employ us even though we're working for free?"Bookmark here

Ryouta frowned, not used to Ryuuji being like this and asked, "Ryu, you seem a bit... Off today."Bookmark here

"Thanks for pointing out Sherlock. Can we get back to the topic?"Bookmark here

"Yes, but-"Bookmark here

Ryouta was interrupted by a sudden knock on the door. Ai got up and opened the door to reveal a brown haired girl. Bookmark here

"Uhm- hello?"Bookmark here

"Hi! How can we help you?" said Ai in her cheerful tone. Bookmark here

"You guys are the Odd Jobs club, right?"Bookmark here

"Volunteering Club is a better name but yeah." came Ryuuji’s snide remark.Bookmark here

"Oh… Uh- o..k? Anyway, I wanted some help with something."Bookmark here

Like clockwork, Futaba got up and rushed to prepare some tea and Ryouta got up and arranged the chair for her while Ryuuji sprayed some room freshner. Bookmark here

Carefully setting down the tea in front of the empty chair, Futaba beckoned her, "Please miss, have a seat. We'll be glad to help you."Bookmark here

Clearly weirded out and a bit hesitant, the girl sat down as the others assembled on the other side of the table, waiting for her to speak. Bookmark here

"Uh- so... I have a cat and she's really really cute. She loves me a lot and has a habit of always following me around. So I usually lock her up in my house before leaving for school but somehow she escaped and came to our school today. I saw her from the window of the classroom just before the first period. I tried to search for her but I just couldn't find her. I'm pretty sure she's still on campus cause I asked a few people and they said they saw her. Please, please, can you help me find her?"Bookmark here

Ryuuji said, "Are you sure it's your cat that you saw?"Bookmark here

"Yes, I'm pretty sure. She has black fur all over her body but has two white legs."Bookmark here

"What's her name?" inquired Ryouta.Bookmark here

"Mimi."Bookmark here

He looked at the other club members for a second - a little longer at Ryuuji to make his point - and then said, "Alright! Let's go find Mimi."Bookmark here

———————Bookmark here

The club broke off in a pair and trio to look for the cat. Futaba and Hinata went to cover the right half of the school while Ai, Ryouta and Ryuuji searched in the left half. Even though it seemed like they had made the group randomly, Ryouta had made it so he could observe how Ai and Ryuuji interacted with each other. For that, he had even risked letting his past be revealed by sending Futaba along with Hinata. Bookmark here

Hopefully, he had made the right decision. Bookmark here

Futaba and Hinata walked on the school field where every year the school soccer tournament and the school sports festival was held. It was vast, so vast one could feel really tiny standing there as if they were just ants on the ground. It had neatly trimmed grass growing on it that gave off a yellowish-green look to the entire field. The field was like the personal property of the school's Soccer Club which used to practice there every week. Luckily, at that moment there was no practice match going on so the team - led by Haruto - was training on one corner of the field. Bookmark here

The two girls had decided to look for the cat in the vast place and slowly make their way to the Soccer Club to ask if they had seen Mimi. Bookmark here

As they called out for the cat while searching, Hinata couldn't help but engage with Futaba. Bookmark here

"Hey Futaba... I wanted to ask something from you."Bookmark here

"Hm? Sure, go ahead!"Bookmark here

"How did you fall for Ryuuji?"Bookmark here

"Huh? What do you mean ‘how’? I just-"Bookmark here

"I mean... To be honest, I don't think you guys are compatible at all. He's the kind of person who takes everything for fun and is never serious about most things in life. An easy going, chill person."Bookmark here

'A fake imitation of what his brother was in elementary school. Ahh- that dumbfuck thinks he can be like his elder brother. So stupid,' she thought to herself as she said those words.Bookmark here

Continuing from before, "And you on the other hand... You're the type of person who is, you know, a serious and smart girl. If you were looking for a relationship, it would be something that would be strong and not... A flimsy casual relationship. In my opinion, you're not compatible with him at all. I don't mean to criticize your relationship or anything! I just feel… I mean, I’m just curious how did you two come together?"Bookmark here

Futaba walked in silence for a while before replying, "Hina-chan - I hope you don't mind me calling you that. So, Hina-chan... The points you made are uhm- in a sense correct. Ryuuji does seem to be the kind of person who is easy going and I do seem to be the kind of person who would look for something serious and yes, those two kinds of people are not compatible at all. But you know what, not everyone is what they seem to be... And Ryuuji is a perfect example of that. Even though he looks like he is the kind of person who is laid-back, he deeply craves for a connection with someone. He's the kind of person who would pretend his whole life just to keep the closest person to him happy."Bookmark here

She smiled warmly at Hinata.Bookmark here

'Oh shit. This one is a complete normie. She's so fucking wholesome. She chooses to see the "good" and "positive" things in life rather than admit the faults. I can imagine that kid falling for her but how the hell does Ryo even tolerate being around her,' she thought as she smiled back politely.Bookmark here

"Hina-chan, do you mind if I ask a question?"Bookmark here

"Yeah, sure."Bookmark here

Futaba looked into her eyes and asked, "Is it hard being the daughter of the principal of the school?"Bookmark here

Hinata stopped in her tracks. She couldn't believe what Futaba had just asked. She stopped breathing for a second and her vision turned a bit blurry.Bookmark here

"Wh- what do you mean?"Bookmark here

"I mean, you're always so polite and formal to everyone. Though it's barely noticeable, I think it is not you who is that person. And if I'm right that you are hiding your true self. I can only think of one reason why you would do so. You, being the daughter of Daigo Ichinose - a famous personality - might have so much more responsibilities and a public image to keep up. You're almost like a celebrity, and celebrities have to always be at their best. That's why I wanted to know if it's hard being the daughter of Daigo Ichinose..."Bookmark here

For a moment, Hinata's heart ached so hard she wanted to just clutch her chest and cry out. Inside her head, she could suddenly hear a resounding 'Yes' in a voice so loud, she felt as if her skin would crawl off any moment and her ears would start to bleed. Bookmark here

She did well to hide her tears and somehow managed to say, "I- I- I don't know. I mean-"Bookmark here

She was trying her best to lie and for the first time she had this much trouble lying.Bookmark here

"A little bit, yeah. But I like being polite and uh- tha- that's not because... It's not because I feel the pressure of being his daughter."Bookmark here

Futaba smiled to herself, a smile of victory. She decided not to push her further. She knew her intuition was right. She could clearly see from how Ryuuji and Ryouta behaved around her to understand that Hinata was hiding something about herself. This was just the beginning and Futaba knew she would get plenty of opportunities to push her buttons. But, for now, she was satisfied with her small little win. She had managed to crack the seemingly impervious mask that Hinata wore.Bookmark here

They soon arrived where the soccer team was practicing. Haruto noticed them immediately and came over. Under the sun, his sweat soaked skin glistened and it looked like he was almost shining. His tall frame leaned over as he stopped in front of them and rested his hands on his knees. He wiped his sweat from his forehead and pulled back his wet hair.Bookmark here

In between pants, he asked, "Huff- Huff- hey you guys! Huff- What are you doing here? Can i- Huff- help you?"Bookmark here

"Yes. Actually we're looking for a cat. We were wondering if you had-"Bookmark here

"Hold up. A cat?"Bookmark here

"Yes"Bookmark here

"Black fur?"Bookmark here

"Yeah..."Bookmark here

"Two white legs?"Bookmark here

"Yesssss. Have you seen her around!?"Bookmark here

"Wait a second."Bookmark here

He turned around and shouted, "Oi Oreki! Is Kuro still with you?"Bookmark here

"Kuro?"Bookmark here

"That's what we named her."Bookmark here

"Pfft-"Bookmark here

Futaba and Hinata tried to hold their laughter as the short boy, who was supposed to be Oreki, brought the black cat. The small cat peacefully slept in his arms as he carefully handed it over to Futaba. The boy looked a bit sad handing it over to her. Bookmark here

"Did you guys meet the owner?" he asked in a small timid voice. Bookmark here

"Yeah. And her name is Mimi, not Kuro."Bookmark here

"Oh... Bye bye Mimi." Said Oreki with such a sad and remorseful tone that Haruto almost hugged him. He patted his back and consoled him, "Oreki, it's ok mate. Buy a cat when you go to college."Bookmark here

He waved at the two girls before leaving with Oreki, a hand around his shoulder.Bookmark here

Futaba softly cradled the cat and Hinata walked with her hands behind her back, her eyes on the ground observing the kemptly cut grass as she couldn't stop thinking about how sharp Futaba's intuition was. Bookmark here

'Ah fuck, this bitch is smart. Smarter than I thought. I can see why stupid Ryo is like this right now. I underestimated her. I'll have to play my cards safely.'Bookmark here

They went to meet up with the others who were still searching. The two of them first visited the clubroom and gave the cat back to its owner. She profusely thanked them and left cooing the small cat that had woken up and had immediately jumped into her owner’s lap when it saw her. Bookmark here

They decided to search for the other three members of the club and soon spotted them. Bookmark here

As they came closer, they suddenly saw what was happening. They stopped for a moment to witness the scene that played out in front of them, both their eyes widening with absolute shock and terror. Futaba was the first to move. She rushed ahead, as fast as she could with Hinata trailing behind her. Bookmark here

But they were too late. Bookmark here

By the time they had arrived, the soft green baby grass at the back of the school - the place where Shiomi shared Haruto's past to Ryouta - was already tainted with bright red blood.Bookmark here

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