Royal Academy 為生学園
Episode 1 – Welcome to Isei
Even Ms. Orihara was pretty. Isei was bright and clean. Nonoka had never seen a classroom with automatic sliding doors. Everything else about the classroom was just as nice and modern as the rest of the school. The white walls were writable surfaces, as long as dry erase marker was used, and the temperature and lighting was all controlled by the classroom itself. It was what they called a “Smart Room.”
“Takeda, Nonoka?” Orihara called.
Nonoka snapped to reality at the sound of her name. Had it been called twice? It was her first day and she couldn’t even go through roll call right. With nerves making her heart pound, she stood up from her desk.
Ms. Orihara looked up from her roll sheet, eyes peeking over the rims of her glasses. Her wavy hair was pulled back with one part of her bangs left to grace the side of her face. The other students looked at Nonoka as well. There seemed to be more girls in her class than guys. Some sported short cuts and others had long, elegant tresses of hair. They all shared one thing in common though; contemptuous smiles. Nonoka heard whispers and looked at a few students giggling a couple desks over.
“No need to stand, Miss Takeda,” the teacher said. “Just raise your hand or call out.”
Nonoka felt her cheeks heat up slightly. She bowed at the waist.
“Sorry,” she said before sitting down, keeping her eyes on her desk.
Ms. Orihara continued with the roll, but Nonoka could still feel eyes on her. A new school meant a clean slate, but that slate wouldn’t be clean for long if she kept embarrassing herself. She couldn’t help it though. Everything fascinated her. She had never seen a school so expensive and high tech. Every student dressed and looked their best. The girls carried designer bags and the guys had the most recent phones. She was in a shiny world, usually inaccessible by someone like her.
“I hope everyone downloaded and printed the syllabus that was sent out last week,” Orihara said.
Nonoka reached for her school bag and searched inside for the packet of papers. She searched again as everyone got theirs out. She looked up and felt dread come over her. She knew where it was. At home, on her desk.
“You’re getting a good start, huh?” said a familiar voice.
Nonoka looked up and met Mika’s eyes. Her new friend smiled and handed her a packet of papers.
“Here, airhead. I brought two copies just in case. You can have one, but you owe me. Again,” she said.
Nonoka took the syllabus and wanted to shower Mika with grateful tears.
“Thank you, Mika-chan, really. You’re amazing,” she said.
Mika chuckled. “You’re impressed way too easily.”
She was right. She was too easy. That was probably why she couldn’t focus. Her surroundings were too grand and impressive. She had to get herself together.
“I’ll be going over school regulations,” Orihara said. “No clothes other than Isei’s uniforms, no staying out past curfew, no parties on campus grounds or in dormitories, and especially no co-ed dorm visits.”
The girls giggled and the guys complained. Nonoka felt herself smiling slightly. Isei wasn’t that different after all. It had almost all the same rules a normal school would.
“…For safety purposes, no weapons will be allowed on campus.” Ms. Orihara continued with the syllabus.
Because she sat in the last row by the windows, Nonoka had a clear view outside. The windows were giant squares, cut out of the wall, with glass that tinted if the sun was too bright and automatic shutters for when the projector was in use. Outside, the day was bright and warm and the skies clear. She had a good view that overlooked the main plaza. Across the way, she could see the science building and cafeteria. She could also partially see the curving driveway that dropped students off from the gates, to the main plaza.
She rested her chin in the palm of her hand and traced the design of the plaza with her eyes. Its stony surface was decorated with smooth patches of grass that arched, looped and curved around each other to form a pattern that could only be seen from above. In the center of it all, was a fountain boasting a stone goddess that gushed water from a seashell horn in her upraised, left hand.
Movement caught her eye. From the driveway, a black car pulled up to the common area. Nonoka watched, as a man stepped out of the driver’s side and walked around to open the back door. Another male stepped out. He was young and handsome with short, jet black hair that framed his face. Nonoka might have thought he was a student, but his dark eyes seemed cold and his thoughts closed off. He looked way too serious. From somewhere below, Nonoka saw the chairman appear. The balding man walked with a man and a woman by his side and approached the stern-faced young man that had exited the car. They shook hands and bowed. Nonoka tilted her head in curiosity. The young man’s lips moved and the chairman bowed excessively. Apparently, he was important enough to have even the chairman bow.
“…So we’ll be doing a little ice breaker exercise instead,” said Ms. Orihara.
“Eh?” Nonoka sat up straight and looked around. The classroom erupted into complaints and excited chatter.
She looked to Mika who shrugged.
“Find a partner. You’ll ask each other at least three questions and introduce them to the class,” said Ms. Orihara. “Don’t be shy and try to get to know them.”
“This should be easy,” Nonoka said. “Hey, Mika, you’ll be my partner, right?”
“And no picking people you’re already friends with,” Orihara said. “Now go find someone.”
Nonoka just stared at Mika. Who was she supposed to pick then? The girls beside her all giggled, stood up and moved across the room to find a partner, leaving her to sit by herself. Before she knew it, everyone began to partner up, leaving her few choices. Even Mika, who ended up with a male student with bangs dyed a dark red. Nonoka knew she had to move quickly, but nobody met her eyes.
“Miss Asegawa, you’ll have to find a partner as well,” Orihara said.
To Nonoka’s surprise, Asegawa Nori was still in her seat, as quiet as she was. The teacher looked at her with hands on her hips. Asegawa simply looked away, as if she was too busy to take part in such trivial things. Most of the girls cooed and noted how cool she was. Orihara sighed.
“Fine. If you won’t, I’ll just pick one for you,” the teacher said. “Is there anyone who would like to partner with Miss Asegawa?”
The classroom immediately turned into a circus of flailing hands and shouts. Even those that had partners seemed eager to leave them behind for Asegawa. Ms. Orihara looked startled. She tried to calm everyone down, but no one was listening. Nonoka looked at Asegawa, who glanced at the beckoning hands and pleas with indifferent eyes. Or was it annoyance? Nonoka chuckled to herself. Asegawa was popular, but it seemed to be only a hindrance to her.
“Please, calm down. We only need one person,” Orihara said, barely audible over all the students.
The excitement of the class continued until Asegawa stood up. She looked around the room and at each eager face. Nonoka watched the students sway under her gaze till her eyes found her own. Her eyes were a chocolate brown and seemed at home in her tanned face. Her hair was stylish and draped down the right side of her face. It fell just past her chin on one side and stopped above her ear on the other. Nonoka was sure it would have looked too risky on herself. The side that was shorter exposed her ear and three silver studs.
“You,” Asegawa said. The classroom got eerily quiet.
Nonoka paid no attention. She wondered what her own hair must have looked like. She had to straighten it every day or else she’d have crinkles and waves in odd places.
Asegawa stepped away from her desk, hands in the pockets of her pants. She stopped in front of Nonoka.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Asegawa said.
Nonoka looked up at her. She was the only student that hadn’t stood up or raised her hand. She wasn’t that desperate to be partnered and she didn’t care about knights, princesses and kings. She just wanted to graduate.
“Me?” Nonoka asked.
Asegawa looked at her with considering eyes. Nonoka began to feel nervous. She could also feel the other fifty something eyes staring at her. She took a glance at a nearby student. The girl looked shocked, mouth slightly open. When she saw Nonoka’s eyes shift to her, her expression turned to one of envy and malice. Nonoka shied away from her hateful gaze.
“Umm, I think someone else would rather-”
“Ms. Orihara,” Asegawa said. “I’ve made my decision.” Asegawa took a chair from a nearby desk and sat down in front of Nonoka.
The teacher nodded. “Very well then, everyone, take a seat with your partner. You will only have about fifteen minutes.”
Full of complaints and disappointment now, the students took their seats. It only took a few moments for soft chatter to fill the classroom once more. Nonoka sat in her seat with her hands in her lap. Asegawa sat across from her, waiting.
“Umm…,” Nonoka said.
“We only have fifteen minutes,” Asegawa said.
“I know that.” She did. It just wasn’t easy coming up with questions for her unexpected partner. She thought of what Mika had told her about Asegawa. She was new money, quiet and liked sports.
“What’s your favorite thing to do during the summer?” Nonoka asked.
Asegawa raised an eyebrow, but answered. “Fishing…”
Fishing? She imagined the cool Asegawa, sitting on a bank in overalls, a straw hat and a long blade of grass in her mouth. She smiled.
“What’s so funny?” Asegawa asked.
“I didn’t think you would like fishing.”
“Nothing wrong with fishing. I’ve done it since I was a kid,” she said. “My dad took me and my brothers out early in the morning during the summer.”
“Brothers? You have siblings?”
She nodded. “Three older brothers.”
Nonoka nodded as well, puckering her lips and thinking about how fun it would be to go fishing with the father and brothers she wanted to have.
“And you?” Asegawa said. “You don’t get to just ask the questions. You have siblings?”
“No. It’s just me and my mom.”
Nonoka looked at Asegawa and shook her head.
“He isn’t…dead or anything. He left when I was a kid. Lives separately.”
“How’s that any better, huh?” Asegawa looked annoyed.
Nonoka didn’t wish him to be dead, but she also didn’t understand why he left. She preferred not to think about it. She looked at her hands resting in her lap.
“At least your dad is still around to take you fishing,” she said.
Asegawa huffed. “You don’t know anything about my dad…,” she murmured.
Nonoka’s head snapped up. She looked at Asegawa, who had her eyes focused across the room. Nonoka narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms.
“This isn’t over,” she said.
Asegawa glanced at her.
“The point is to get to know you.”
Asegawa straightened and faced her. That seemed to have gotten her attention.
“What’s your favorite subject in school?” Nonoka asked.
She gave a slight scowl. “How is that a subject?”
Asegawa crossed her arms this time.
“You asked. I answered.”
“Fine. Tell me why you’re so quiet and broody,” Nonoka snapped.
“I’m not broody,” she said, just as snappy.
Nonoka let out a puff of air and a short laugh of disbelief. How did anyone like this type of girl?
“My turn,” Asegawa said. “Why didn’t you want to partner with me?”
“Eh?” She was concerned about something like that? “What, don’t tell me you care about your reputation as ‘knight of Isei.’”
“I couldn’t care less about that sort of thing. I just wanted to see if it was some stupid ploy like ‘playing hard to get.’”
Nonoka laughed outright this time.
Asegawa rolled her eyes but her face was slightly red. Nonoka calmed down. She wasn’t trying to embarrass her.
“You never told me your favorite subject,” Asegawa said.
She kept a smile on her face. “Piano.”
“What? How is that any different than me saying sports?”
“Who knew you’d be such a brat,” Asegawa said, shaking her head.
“Alright,” said Ms. Orihara. “Time’s up.”
Nonoka looked at her partner. “I don’t think we learned much about each other.”
“Oh? I think I learned something,” Asegawa said.
Nonoka opened her mouth to say something but stopped. She looked at Asegawa, then nodded her head and smiled. And for the first time since their conversation, she got one back.
* * *
Lunch came and Shirase Mika took her arm and led them to the cafeteria across the plaza. She didn’t say a word, just silently pulled her along till they ended up in the air conditioned food hall.
“Grab a tray and let’s get a table,” Mika said.
Nonoka didn’t even have time to say yes. She followed after Mika, grabbing a tray and moving to the buffet. Mika slapped dumplings, rice, salad, some chicken and a boiled egg on both their trays. She seemed to be in a hurry.
“Wait, what if I don’t want-”
“Oh, just come on, don’t be so picky,” Mika said.
Once they had their food, Mika looked around like a ferret checking for predators. She glanced at Nonoka then pointed to a table. Without hesitating, she pulled Nonoka along and sat down, setting her tray in front of her.
“Come on, sit,” she said, slightly leaned over the table. Her voice was hushed.
Nonoka sat. “What’s wrong-“
“What did I tell you before?” Mika said.
“Remember? Keep your head down. Don’t you even know that that means?”
“Yeah, but what did I do?” Nonoka asked.
“What…what did you do?!” Mika’s voiced raised. She looked around before lowering it again.
“Partnering with Asegawa Nori? Do you know how quickly rumors spread?”
Nonoka rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t my choosing.”
“Uh, yeah. You made it look like you were too good for her. That’s another issue.”
“I really think you’re over-exaggerating.”
Mika crossed her arms. “Really? Then take a look around.”
Nonoka looked a question at her but decided to do as she said. She looked around the cafeteria. Its bright hall was filled with students, male and female, dressed in either a black blazer uniform or a white one. Some students had taken some of the filled sweet breads, which Nonoka liked. Others ate scarcely as if they were dieting. She met the eyes of the other students but they either looked away first or stared long enough to make Nonoka uncomfortable. Tables were filling up quickly with groups of friends. Their own table was big enough to fit two groups of four, yet no one else sat down on the other end.
“Yeah, her…,” said a female voice.
She turned the other way to see two girls talking and staring at her. They caught her gaze, looked at her with contempt and continued to converse.
One of them wore a ponytail. “Ew, why did she pick that average looking girl?”
Nonoka looked away.
“I heard she made Asegawa angry. She probably talked rudely to her,” one of the girls said.
“I bet she comes from a family with no manners…”
Mika leaned in. “See? It’s already starting.”
Nonoka opened up a set of wooden chopsticks and jabbed at her food, stuffing rice and chicken in her mouth, with a scowl on her face.
“Is this what Isei is all about?” she said.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full. And yes, I think I told you that already,” Mika said. She picked up her chopsticks as well. “Rich kids don’t have anything better to do than gossip…”
Nonoka chewed her food and swallowed before answering.
“Well, I’m not rich,” she said.
Mika dropped her chopsticks. Nonoka kept on eating.
“What?!” Mika whispered.
“I said, I’m not-”
Mika nearly lunged across the table to cover her mouth.
“Do you want to be an outcast that badly, airhead?” Mika removed her hand, looked around and sat back down. “From now on, don’t go around telling people that.”
Nonoka rubbed at her mouth and tried to continue eating.
“Why?” she asked.
“Remember the one rule?”
Nonoka looked at her.
“Of course you don’t. It’s keep the order.”
Nonoka nodded and made an affirmative noise through a mouthful of egg.
“The Royals are at the top, then come the common rich, the majority. Students who parents work for major corporations, hold high management positions, or work in the sports or entertainment business.”
Nonoka ate a bit of salad. “That’s common?”
“If that’s normal, then where am I?”
Mika’s eyes glinted. “Untouchable.”
“That’s right. You aren’t even common here at Isei. As far as they are concerned, you’re nothing.”
“That’s rude,” Nonoka said. “And what do you think?”
Mika pursed her lips.
“I’m adopted. I’m only here because of my parent’s graciousness. I guess it wouldn’t look good if their real child was the only one to get an education,” she said, staring at her food.
Nonoka had no idea how it must have felt to second in her own parent’s eyes.
“So, we’re in the same boat really. Nobodys,” Mika said.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to call herself a nobody, but Mika had shared her secret with her, and that, she appreciated.
“How did you end up at Isei?” Mika asked.
“I got a scholarship for outstanding performance in piano,” she said.
“You play piano? Whoa.”
Nonoka smiled and nodded. “The John…no…the Jeff…I think it was something called the Jones Musical Scholarship.”
“Huh? Jones? You mean like-“
“Hey! Mika-Mika!” called a voice.
Nonoka looked up to see a male student run over to their table and set down his tray right beside her. He had dark hair, cut short, with bangs that had the tips dyed red.
“What’re you doing here?” Mika asked.
“Continuing our conversation from this morning?” he said, smiling.
“Ah! You’re the guy Mika was partnered up with,” Nonoka said.
“Yep. Oda Tamaki, nice to meet you, new girl,” he said.
“You’re new too.”
Tamaki laughed. “Apparently not as new as you. I’d never have crossed the fans of Asegawa like you did, but you looked cool doing it.”
“I wasn’t trying to-…I looked cool?”
Mika rolled her eyes. “Oda, meet Takeda Nonoka.”
“Why won’t you call me Tama-Tama?” he said.
“Because it’s stupid,” Mika replied.
Nonoka looked at them both and chuckled.
“Nice to meet you, Tama-chan.”
“That’s the spirit!” he said.
Mika grumbled and finally absorbed herself in her food as Tamaki began to talk about evening activities and clubs. Nonoka watched them both and smiled. Her first day wasn’t exactly the best, but she had at least made some friends. Isei might not be as bad as she’d thought.
To be continued…
Next time on Royal Academy…
Episode 2 – A New Transfer.
“A face from the past…would he even remember me?”