Royal Academy 為生学園
Episode 3 – Waltz
10 Years Earlier – Grade 2.
Yukiji got out of the car, but wasn’t quick enough to avoid saying goodbye to his mother. She walked around the car, high heels making a soft clacking noise on the pavement. In her hands was a lunch box, wrapped up in a cloth. She went to him and kneeled. All the other kids watched them. Their mothers didn’t look like his. Mariette Obata was tall, fair, with reddish blonde hair and ringlets of curls that cascaded over her shoulders. Her green eyes matched his.
“N’oublie pas ton déjeuner, mon cher,” she said.
Yuki looked away. He understood her, but he didn’t want the other kids to hear. He took his lunch as he was told, holding his head down.
“Yuki, ça va?”
He nodded and turned away.
“Une bise?” his mother asked.
She wanted a kiss, like he always gave her when he left their home. He looked at his mother, then at the other kids. Dark haired children stared at him with their brown eyes. Even their mothers watched and whispered.
Yuki gave a small bow.
“Bye,” he said, turning away without giving her a kiss.
Rokukai Elementary wasn’t like his former, international school. Rokukai was Japanese, and the kids there made sure he remembered that.
In class, Yuki immediately took a seat, avoiding conversation with the other students. They would just ignore him anyhow—all except one.
Mr. Nagoya’s lecture had never interested him so much. Yuki had decided the best tactic to get Shiro off his mind would be to focus on the lecture, take notes, and give the professor his undivided attention. The subject was literature. Something he actually enjoyed. Mr. Nagoya stood at the front of the class with a book in his big hands. He may have seemed like he was all muscle, but Yuki new he was quite versed in poetry and other classic works.
“Can anyone explain the significance of Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue?” Nagoya asked.
The class was silent. Most of the students didn’t care for literature. They were too busy trying to earn their parent’s approval and money. Yukiji didn’t expect them to even know who Murakami Ryu was or his work. After five seconds of silence, Yuki was sure Mr. Nagoya would scold them if he didn’t answer. He prepared to stand up, but heard the scuffing of another chair being pushed back. He turned to look at the student brave enough to answer the teacher and saw that it was Ueno Shiro. His sculpted face was hard to read, as expressionless as a rock.
“When I went on anyway, my body began to grow cold, and I thought I was dead. Face pale, my dead self sat down on a bench and began to turn toward my real self, who was watching this hallucination on the screen of the night,” he said, voice smooth.
“My dead self came nearer, just as if it might want to shake hands with my real self. That’s when I panicked and tried to run. But my dead self pursued me and finally caught me, entered me and controlled me. I’d felt then just the way I felt now. I felt as if a hole had opened in my head from which consciousness and memory leaked out and in their place the rash crowded in, and a cold like spoiled roast chicken.”
“But that time before, shaking and clinging to the damp bench, I’d told myself, Hey, take a good look, isn’t the world still under your feet? I’m on this ground, and on this same ground are trees and grass and ants carrying sand to their nests, little girls chasing rolling balls, and puppies running.” Shiro paused. “He talks about existence, the reality of life and death, the world and his place in it.”
The students were surprised at Shiro’s perfect reciting of Murakami’s work. Yuki wasn’t however. Shiro had always been smart, with a good memory. He found literature just as appealing as Yuki did. Something like this would be easy for him.
Shiro sat down and Mr. Nagoya cleared his throat.
“Very good, Mr. Ueno. Perhaps you should all take a lesson from him,” Nagoya said.
Yuki glanced over at Shiro. He was perfect at everything he did. Even his neatly pressed uniform gave away his orderly nature. Shiro didn’t even smile at Nagoya’s praise. The other students grumbled, probably thinking that he was trying to gain favor, but Yuki knew Shiro didn’t care about trivial things like that. He would do what he had to without a single slip in his cold façade.
It was time for outdoor activities and Yuki’s favorite place to play was the slide. It was red, yellow and grey, big and shaped like a huge tower with a few sections that acted as a fort. It also had a slide that curved around and ended at the base of the tower. Yuki sometimes liked to climb up into the tower and look out over the playground while the other children played. He walked over to the tower slide and prepared to climb up.
“Stop there, outsider,” a kid in the tower said. “This is our fortress. You need permission from Princess Sarako to enter.”
Yuki stood there. “Princess Sarako?”
A girl with long, dark hair poked her head out.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I just want to ride the slide,” Yuki said.
“What? I can’t understand you. Speak properly.”
The other kids began to giggle. He knew his Japanese was near perfect.
“I said…I want to use the slide.”
The girl, princess Sarako, cocked her head to the side.
“Is that anyway to talk to a princess?”
Yuki tried again. “I would like to use the slide.”
The girl was quiet for a moment. Then gave a small smile. She was pretty, her face a small triangle, with bangs that covered her forehead.
“Pledge yourself to me first,” she said.
Nearby, other kids were watching him now.
“Get on your knees, and swear to be my subject and I’ll let you on the slide,” the girl said.
“Princess, you should make him beg to be let on. If you show mercy, the other peasants will want to get in,” the boy in the tower said.
“Peasant?” Yuki said. “I just want to ride the slide…”
“Then kneel,” she said, shrugging. Yuki could hear the others kids whispering and giggling. He sighed and began to drop to his knees, but a hand caught him by the elbow.
Yuki looked up to see a boy with raven black hair and dark eyes.
The boy looked up at the girl in the tower for a moment. She stared back.
“Maybe I’ll make an exception for you,” she said.
Shiro looked at Yuki and gently pulled him.
“Let’s go,” he said, leading him away from the slide.
They walked towards the outer edge of the playground to stand under the shade of trees. Grass was soft beneath Yuki’s shoes and the air blew the fresh scent of leaves into his face. Shiro let go of his arm to stand near the trunk of a tree. Yuki looked down at the grass, folding the blades back and forth with a swing of his foot.
“If I was princess, I wouldn’t be so mean,” he grumbled. “I’d let everyone into my fortress.”
Shiro watched him with his dark eyes. Yuki bit his lower lip, hanging his head down.
“I bet no one would want to come to my fortress. They would side with that girl, Sarako. She’s mean enough to declare war on any rival kingdoms.” Yuki gave a small smile and looked at Shiro.
His friend suddenly dropped to one knee, lowering his head. Yuki startled, looking around to make sure the other kids didn’t see him.
“Wh-what are you—.”
“If that happens, you’ll need a knight to protect you,” Shiro said. “I pledge my loyalty to you.”
Yuki didn’t know how to respond. He felt his cheeks begin to burn with embarrassment.
“You don’t have to do that…,” Yuki said.
Shiro looked up. “Do you accept?”
Yuki looked at the only person he could call friend and nodded.
The Cafeteria was serving bowls of sashimi, rice, and fish roe with an assortment of vegetables and sides. Yukiji filled his plate and took a pair of chopsticks. Behind him, Horuichi grabbed almost everything he could fit on his tray. He stuffed a piece tempura shrimp into his mouth and travelled beside Yuki. Most of the tables in the cafeteria were white and square. However, on the second level, there were round tables, cushioned seats and a small terrace. It was a place where only Isei’s royals ate. Yuki might have avoided it, but it was the only place he could eat without girls making a fuss over him.
“It seems a bit…quiet today,” Yuki said. People were still coming in to get their lunch but usually a circle of girls would be forming around him, asking him to eat with him.
“You’re right,” Horuichi said.
They headed towards the stairs that would lead them to the second level and soon saw a crowd of students. A girl rushed past them, excited.
“I want to see him too,” she said.
Horuichi ate another shrimp. “See who?”
Yukiji stood back, watching the crowd of students surround someone. He waited till he could see who was standing inside.
“Hey, isn’t that the new guy? Ueno?” Horu said. “Word must have gotten out about his transfer. I heard he’s the heir to that company, Hoshibo. They own like half the damn city. Lucky bastard.”
Within the circle of students, Shiro was unable to do much but watch them. They asked him questions, wanted to shake his hand and eat with him, but he remained quiet.
“Maybe we should help him out?” Horu said.
Yukiji didn’t move. Houichi looked a question at him. Yuki could only watch. His former friend had grown taller.
The students grew quiet. At the top of the stairs stood Himise Sarako and another familiar face, Sakurano Shuhei. His white blazer was partially unbuttoned, showing a triangle of chest. He didn’t wear a shirt underneath or a tie. Sakurano began to descend the stairs, hands shoved casually in the pockets of his pants. His hair was a lighter shade of brown, thick, slightly wavy and always styled. Like Shiro, he was handsome, with chiseled features and sun kissed skin. Sakurano was one year ahead of him. They had been somewhat friends through junior academy. Yuki believed most of his reasons to befriend him were because he was popular.
Sakurano reached the bottom of the stairs and the students parted. He gave one of his winning smiles and the students became flustered. The girls looked red faced, some even began to get tears in eyes, while the guys looked humbled and envious. The crowd stood back, leaving Shiro with Sakurano. On top of the stairs, Himise stood with her arms crossed.
“You brought your own lunch?” Sakurano asked.
In Shiro’s hand was a small, wrapped box. He didn’t answer however.
“It’ll be a hassle for you to eat down here. It’s quieter upstairs. Why don’t you join us?”
Shiro shrugged. “Fine.”
Yuki could tell by Shiro’s tone that he wasn’t exactly happy with the circumstances. However, when Sakurano began to go back up the stairs, he followed behind him. Yukiji looked up at Himise and found her watching him with big, dark eyes. She had watched the scene from above. She stared at him for a moment, then gave a small smirk, turning to disappear before Sakurano and Shiro reached the top.
“Those are the kids that’s going to own Japan,” Horu said. “Looks like lunch is going to be interesting.”
Yuki turned and began to head towards the west exit.
“Hey, where are you going?” Horu called after him.
“It’s a nice day. Why stay indoors when we could be outside eating?”
They took the west exit and followed the path that took them past another building and under a small section supported by pillars before reaching the gardens. Rows of purple, pink and white tulips, red and yellow carnations, and other various flowers were hedged in different patterns that filled the winding, cobbled pathways. Yuki picked a wooden bench near the center, where the air smelled of the sweet scent of the blooming flowers. Horuichi sat down beside him, sneezing.
“Why did we come all the way out here? I bet Himise and Sakurano are trying to induct Ueno into their little cult right now, and we’re missing it,” Horuichi said.
Yuki shrugged. “Ueno isn’t interested in being their friend. You aren’t missing much.”
“What are you talking about, not ‘missing much’? Denying Himise isn’t something anyone can do,” Horu said. “I heard Ueno is pretty top rank, studied overseas for a while and is back to be groomed to take over his family’s corporate empire.”
Yuki didn’t say anything. Instead, he opened his chopsticks and began to eat.
“What’s up with you?” his friend asked. “You’ve been acting strange all day.”
“No I haven’t.”
“Yes you have.”
Yuki glanced at him. “Your food will get cold.”
“I ate the warm food, the rest is sushi. Now tell me what’s up with you.”
Yukiji sighed. “You aren’t going to let this be are you?”
Horu shook his head. “I’m missing out on the chance to see some royal rivalry and my chance to talk to Risa Jones. I know she must be up there.”
“Risa Jones isn’t going to go out with you and Ueno isn’t royalty.”
Horuichi gave a melodramatic expression at his comment about Risa before answering.
“Ueno isn’t royalty. Not yet, Prince Flower Boy.”
Yuki rolled his eyes. It was embarrassing to be called ‘prince’ by his fellow students but he would have been lying if he said it didn’t make him feel important.
“So why are you so upset over Ueno?” Horu asked.
Yuki raised a brow. “Who said I was?”
“Pfft, please. Ever since he showed up in class, you’ve had this off-planet look. So what’s got you all unfocused?”
Yuki thought he had been doing a good job of staying focused on not focusing on a particular someone. He sighed.
“I went to Rokukai Elementary with Ueno. We were friends.”
Horuchi nearly choked on his food.
“You’re friends with Ueno Shiro?”
“Was,” Yuki said, paying more attention to his food.
“What happened?” Horu asked, voice softer.
“He went away all of a sudden.”
“I did hear he studied abroad for a few years. So it’s true? He was in England?”
“You could have just called him, or sent letters.”
“I did. He never came to the phone and he never wrote back.”
Horuichi was silence for a second. “Maybe there’s a good reason.”
“And maybe that reason is that he didn’t want to see me. Perhaps I was too mixed to be his friend.”
He shook his head and began to focus more on eating.
“We won’t have any time to finish if we keep talking…,” he said. Horuichi didn’t question him, he began to eat as well. Perhaps because he knew what it meant to be different.
“…I sure do miss your mom’s bentos,” Horuichi said.
Yuki glanced at him.
The kids gathered at the tables to eat their lunch. It was common for their parents to make their lunches, packed bento boxes for a long school day. Everyone sat at the table, opening their lunches. Yukiji looked at the other kids who had things like seasoned chicken, fish, rice, noodles with vegetables and rolls of seaweed wrapped sushi. Yuki opened the lunch his mother had packed. He had chicken scallop, salad, peas, slices of cheese and two wedges of bread.
A freckled boy next to him leaned over and sniffed at the cheese on his plate before scrunching his nose.
“Ew, what’s that smell? Why is your lunch weird?”
“Because his mother’s weird,” another kid said.
The boy next to him scooted over, away from him.
“Your food stinks. Why do you have to sit here?”
The other kids began to agree with him. He never asked his mom to make his lunch that way. He wanted sushi and sweet filled breads like everyone else.
“Maybe it tastes all right,” a girl with pig tails said. “Can I try it?”
Yuki looked up at her and smiled shyly.
“No way. If you eat that, you’ll start to stink too,” the boy next to him said.
The girl with pig tails laughed and looked at Yuki. “That’s probably why no one plays with you. You smell like old cheese.”
“I don’t smell like cheese,” Yuki said.
“And why don’t you have rice?” another kid asked. “Everyone eats rice.”
“I bet he doesn’t like rice,” a girl across the table said. “Japanese food isn’t good enough for you?”
“If you think you’re too special to eat like us then eat somewhere else.”
The kids agreed.
“Yeah, take your stinky food away, you’re making us lose our appetite,” the kids complained.
Yukiji stood up, took his lunch box and left the table. He turned away from them all as he felt his eyes begin to sting and blur. He walked to a trashcan and stood over it, warm tears wetting his cheeks. He dumped his lunch into the garbage, throat tight. He wiped his face and sniffled. His stomach grumbled, but he wouldn’t eat cheese and bread even if it meant going the whole day without food.
Footsteps sounded behind him. Yuki quickly dried his face and turned around.
“I was looking for you,” Shiro said, holding a wrapped bento. “What happened to your lunch?”
Yuki looked at him then burst into tears. His shoulders shook and his voice broke as he hiccupped and tried to stop his crying. Shiro peeked into the garbage can then glanced at the kids.
“Did they do that?” He was scowling now, fists balled up. He began to storm off towards the table but Yuki stopped him.
“They didn’t do it…I did.”
Shiro looked at him, his black eyes slowly losing their anger. He gave a small sigh and grabbed Yuki by his wrist.
“Come one. It’s still lunch. Let’s go eat.”
“B-but I threw my food away.”
Shiro walked with his fingers wrapped around his wrist, leading him away from the other children, not caring if they saw that he was his friend. If anyone said anything to him, Shiro never hesitated to shut them up. They walked to the grassy area near the building and sat down below a window. Shiro set his lunch down and opened it up. It was like everyone else’s.
“You’re lucky, Yuki,” Shiro said.
He looked at his friend, almost outraged.
“How? I’m forced to eat that weird food in front of everyone.”
Shiro looked at him, then down at his food.
“At least your mom makes your food for you,” Shiro said.
Yuki looked down at the food. His mother had made his food with care and attention, and Yuki knew some kids weren’t as fortunate. He knew what Shiro’s family did, how busy his parents must be, but they never picked him up, never ame to school festivals, and now he knew his mother wouldn’t even make his lunch. Yuki expected his friend to scold him. He shouldn’t have thrown his mother’s food away, even if he was embarrassed. Instead, Shiro grabbed his chopsticks and lifted up a piece of chopped up hotdog. He held it towards Yuki.
Yuki hesitated, he could feel his face heat up, but he leaned over anyway and ate the piece of meat. Shiro grabbed another piece and ate it, then gave Yuki the next, and so on till they had finished all the food together. He looked at Shiro and smiled. No matter what happened at home or school, he knew they always had each other.
Despite the instructions Mr. Nagoya had given him, Yuki managed to avoid Ueno Shiro. It was the end of the day, and the sun was hanging low over the western horizon, painting the bright, white walls of Isei gold and orange. Yuki had waited till even extracurricular activities would be over to head back towards class 2-A. He would need to collect the first day surveys that were due and make sure he got them to the student council by the end of the week. He walked through the main building. His class would be up the stairs, on the second floor. The halls were quiet and empty around this time. During the first week, most clubs weren’t ready so no meetings were being held, meaning no students walked the halls.
Yuki appreciated the lack of people and was relieved he made it through the day without embarrassing himself because of Shiro. He didn’t know what he was going to say, but he wasn’t sure he could just pretend like he didn’t know him. He needed to think more. Too bad he had to see Shiro in class every day.
Soft music came to his ears as he walked the first floor. He was so in thought that he hadn’t noticed till he was upon the door where the music was coming from. He stopped and listened. Someone was playing Ave Maria on piano. He listened to the flowing melody, a stream of harmonious notes that were perfect for winding down the day. Whoever was playing made the song seem never ending, a constant, soft flow of music that made Yuki close his eyes for a moment. The golden hallway turned into the rustling trees of his elementary school, and days spent out in the sun, under shade with the cool wind blowing against his face and his friend by his side. Yukiji opened his eyes, his heart heavy. Could he really not face Shiro? After all they had been through, could he abandon him as he once had been?
He turned to the room, placed his hand above the sensor and watched the automatic doors open up and spill the melody out into the halls. Against the far wall, by the windows, was a beautiful red wood piano and in front of it was a girl, with her back turned to him. She was still unaware that he was there and kept playing, body gently swaying and moving with her playing. Yuki recognized her ponytail. With soft steps, he walked to her, standing just behind her as she played. He smiled and let her continue, enjoying the breeze that came in through the window till she was satisfied and ended the melody.
“That was beautiful,” he said in the silence.
The girl startled and turned around, eyes big and cheeks rosy. Her startled expression was cute and made Yuki chuckle.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to surprise you, I just didn’t want to interrupt such nice playing.”
“O-obata-senpai!” The girl stood and bowed. “What are you doing here?”
“I have to grab something from class,” he said. “I remember you from this morning. Takeda-san, right?”
“Yes, Takeda Nonoka,” she said softly, bowing her head.
“I’m glad you made it to class on time.”
Nonoka shook her hands.
“It was all thanks to you, senpai. Thank you,” she said, bowing again.
Yuki could tell she was nervous. Most girls were like that when he talked to them. There was something about the flustered Takeda Nonoka that was cute though. He smiled.
“No need to thank me. I hope you learn the way better.”
“I will,” she said, staring off to the side as if she couldn’t quite look at him.
“Well, I just wanted to tell you that I like your music. You play piano well,” Yuki said. “Perhaps you should consider auditioning for the theatre club. We need a pianist to help with our pieces.”
Her eyes widened. “You want me?”
“Sure…unless you don’t want to?”
“Uh…umm, I mean yes, but…I need time to think about it.”
Yuki chuckled. “Sure. Auditions are next week, after school at the auditorium. If you play like you did today, I’m sure everyone will be happy to have you.”
Takeda Nonoka bowed again. “Thank you.”
Yuki smiled and gave her a small bow back and left the room, closing the door behind him. He walked to the end of the hall and walked up the stairs to the second floor. His class was the first door on the left. Yuki hit the sensor and the door to 2-A opened. Everyone had left and the classroom was empty and filled with golden light. He walked towards the windows that lined the back wall. Just under them were a set of desks and cabinets. He walked down the middle row of desks, and stopped in front of a drawer. He opened it up and grabbed the stack of surveys Mr. Nagoya had collected and left for him.
Yuki made sure they were nice and neat, tapping the end of the stack against the counter to straighten them. He doubted the students would have too many complaints. Yuki sighed. He would have to see Himise by the end of the week. People assumed they were good friend since they attended the same primary school and went to Isei’s junior academy together. But that was far from the truth.
The sound of the door sliding open brought Yuki out of his mind. Usually no one came back to class unless they forgot something. He turned around, the surveys in his hand and stared at the male that walked in.
Ueno Shiro closed the door behind him. Yuki was frozen for a moment. He cleared his throat and began to head for the door. Shiro watched him and when Yuki noticed he wasn’t going to move away from the door, he stopped.
“What are you doing here? Forgot something?” Yuki asked, tone flat.
“You should get it and head home, it’s getting late.”
The dark haired male watched him with unreadable eyes.
“I know you don’t want to talk to me,” Shiro said. “It’s why you’ve avoided me all day.”
Yuki opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. Was he that obvious? He might have lied, told him that he wasn’t, but when he looked into his dark eyes, he couldn’t. Instead, he met his eyes with resolve.
“Don’t expect me to hang around you all the time just because you’re new,” Yuki said. “If you have questions about Isei, then feel free to ask. I’m only here to make sure you don’t embarrass the school.”
“Ueno-san, only my friends call me that.” Yuki could feel his heart beating against his chest. He had never talked to Shiro, or anyone like that before.
“Yukiji-san. I never stopped being your friend,” Shiro said.
Yuki was surprised, but he didn’t let it show. If he meant it, things wouldn’t have turned out like it had.
“Then how come you never wrote me back?”
Shiro was quiet, as he always was. He looked down and shifted his feet. It meant he was uncomfortable.
“See? Just admit you left me to go to England and stop pretending like everything’s the same.”
Shiro looked up at him and took a few steps forward, close enough that Yuki could smell the faint aroma of his cologne. Shiro gave a faint smile, something he hadn’t done all day.
“You’ve changed in these past few years, Yukiji. You’ve grown stronger.”
Of course, he thought, he couldn’t remain a kid forever. Not when he’d lost his knight. Yuki met his former friend’s eyes.
“And you haven’t changed one bit. Still in your own thoughts, doing things in your own way,” Yuki said.
They were two different people now, living in two different worlds. Shiro would take over Hoshibo and Yuki…he didn’t know what he would do yet, but he was sure he didn’t want to inherit the inns. Yukiji stepped past Shiro, heading towards the door.
“Just because you’re back, doesn’t make us friends, Shiro.”
“Yuki,” Shiro said.
He looked back, ready to be angry, but saw something in Shiro’s dark eyes that made him pause. It was pain and oddly, joy. Shiro gave him a smile, a real smile; one that he rarely let others see.
“I missed you,” he said.
Yuki looked at the face that had brought him so much comfort as a child, then turned away. He left the classroom and shut the door behind him, heart beating fast.
To be continued…
Next time on Royal Academy…
Episode 4 – Rinse and Repeat
“We all have secrets. I bet you do as well, so I suggest you keep quiet.”