Royal Academy 為生学園
Episode 5 – The Knight of Isei
“I hope we have an understanding,” he said, inches away from Nonoka.
She might have thought he was good looking, even charming with his perfect smile and bronze hair, if he hadn’t been currently threatening her. Secrets, he said. Everyone had them and she had plenty she didn’t want exposed to all of Isei. If she became an outcast, perhaps even Mika and Tamaki would stop being friends with her. Life at Isei wasn’t easy and she didn’t need the king making it any harder.
Sakurano slapped the wall with his open hand near her head, his chiseled jaw set in a hard line. Nonoka startled. The stone wall against her back seemed softer than Sakurano’s gaze. Nonoka nodded rapidly.
“Say it,” he said.
She opened her mouth, lips heavy, as if she had glue between them.
Sakurano paused to look to the side. Nonoka followed his eyes to see a hand on his forearm; a hand belonging to Asegawa Nori. She held her bag over one shoulder and used the other hand to move Sakurano’s arm aside. She looked at her upperclassman for a long second. They both held unreadable looks, but she soon turned to Nonoka, her dark eyes questioning.
“Well, what are you waiting for? It’s late. Time for all bratty schoolgirls to be home,” Asegawa said.
Shaken by Sakurano and surprised to see Asegawa, Nonoka looked at her dumbfounded for a moment. What was she doing at school still? She decided she didn’t care what her reasons were, she was simply glad Asegawa had freed her. Nonoka began to slip away from Sakurano through the opening Asegawa had made, but his gaze turned to her and stopped her in her tracks. They all stood there, quietly.
“Do we have a problem, Sakurano?” Asegawa asked softly.
His eyes narrowed at her, and to Nonoka’s surprise, Asegawa didn’t back down.
“Perhaps we do, perhaps we don’t. It’s none of your business, Nori.”
To that, it seemed Asegawa didn’t have anything to say. She shifted in place, very slightly, but it was enough to make Nonoka believe she would leave her there. She reached out, head down, and gently took hold of Asegawa’s sleeve. She hoped she would understand, I need help. Nonoka didn’t dare look up at Sakurano now. He had made his intentions clear. If she uttered a single word about what she saw, Sakurano would make sure she’d regret it.
A silver car rolled up the driveway with tinted windows and a female driver. It stopped a few feet past them and waited. Asegawa let out a small sigh and Nonoka let her hand drop.
“Come on,” Asegawa said. “We’re leaving.” She used her shoulder to push past Sakurano and Nonoka seized the moment and slipped past him unhindered. Asegawa walked to the silver car and opened up the back door herself before climbing in.
Stumbling, Nonoka went around to the other side and opened her door. She glanced at Sakurano. He watched her.
“Get in before I leave you,” Asegawa said.
Nonoka climbed inside the car and shut the door. She put on her seatbelt and only when the locks clicked, did she feel free to relax. The driver spun around the curve of the driveway, and Nonoka watched Sakurano grow smaller as they headed down the hill and to the gates.
Kiseirei was orange and gold in the light of the setting sun, now low enough in the horizon to dye the sky a red orange. The streets seemed just as calm and pleasant as the morning. People walked casually, enjoying the evening air. Local shops would be closing up soon but a few cars still rolled up and down the street.
“So, are you going to tell me what that was all about?” Asegawa asked in the silence, startling her. “I find it hard to believe that someone like you would be so involved with Sakurano Shuhei.”
“’Someone like me’?”
“A freshman with no known family connections,” she said.
“Oh…,” Nonoka said. Had she really seen Sakurano-senpai with her homeroom teacher? It had only been a week, and already, one of the most powerful students at Isei wanted to crush her. Nonoka felt lightheaded.
“So? Why were you with Sakurano?” Asegawa said. “And don’t tell me you were just having a friendly conversation. It looked like you wanted to die.”
Nonoka placed her hands in her lap and pressed her thumbs against each other. They wobbled as she tried to match their strength.
“I…can’t tell you,” she said.
“Bullshit you can’t.”
Nonoka startled. Asegawa’s voice was loud in the silent car. Nonoka could see the driver glance in the rearview mirror at them for a second. She was a young woman, of middle age it seemed, with hair tied back into a ponytail.
“If I hadn’t come when I did, you’d still be back there with him,” Asegawa said. “You owe me.”
Her heart began to beat faster and her palms grew sweaty again. She couldn’t tell. It would be all over if she did, but Asegawa knew something was wrong, and now she was in her debt. Nonoka didn’t know what would have been worse, staying with Sakurano, or enduring Asegawa’s questions. The worse part about it was that she wanted to tell her. She wanted to spill every detail of Sakurano with Orihara. She wanted to confess she wasn’t rich, but a poor girl who loved to play piano.
Nonoka swallowed. “I…really can’t. I can’t tell you or he’d kill me.”
Asegawa’s eyes widened. “He said that?”
“Huh?…Oh! No, no. He isn’t going to really…is he?” Nonoka felt the sting of tears.
Asegawa looked at her, her hair covering the other side of her face. Her jaw was a strong line, although more triangular, softening the curve. Her skin was unblemished, save a scar just below her right ear. When she stopped Sakurano, she looked as steady as a statue, fearless. It was a bit cool of her. And if she had been scared, she didn’t let it show. Nonoka was the opposite. Perhaps that’s what it meant to have money.
“Of course he isn’t. He’s not a thug,” Asegawa said.
“Oh? I couldn’t tell…”
Asegawa chuckled. The sound made Nonoka look up at her. She had a faint smile on her face, one that made it seem as though Nonoka wasn’t currently stressed about her wellbeing. All she had to do was let herself believe in that smile and that everything was actually all right.
“What was your name? Takeda…Nanako?”
She looked at her in disbelief, crossing her arms. “You don’t even know my name, Asegawa Nori.”
Her classmate looked away. Was she embarrassed again?
“Am I expected to know every student at Isei now?”
“Then why did you even help me, if I’m just another girl, part of the masses of Isei?”
Asegawa looked at her again.
“Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have. I was generous enough to help you when you asked for it, and now you won’t even tell me why you needed it to begin with.”
To this, Nonoka didn’t have anything to say. It was true. She helped her, and she couldn’t even tell her what happened. Asegawa looked at her expectantly. Nonoka frowned and pursed her lips before remembering Sakurano’s cold eyes. She knew who she feared more.
“Sorry, Asegawa-san…I really am glad you helped me, but I still can’t tell you.”
Her classmate waited a moment then shrugged. “Whatever, then. Be under Sakurano’s shoe and live in fear.”
“You don’t under—”
“Kana,” Asegawa said.
The driver pulled over. Outside were unfamiliar streets. Nonoka looked at Asegawa.
“You aren’t kicking me out here, I don’t know where I am.”
“Unfortunate, but I am.”
Nonoka let her mouth hang open.
Asegawa turned her head away, silent. Apparently she was waiting for her to get out. Nonoka couldn’t believe her arrogance and callous behavior. She acted so distant, yet expected her to confess. Whatever. She had enough problems to deal with, and she didn’t need Asegawa to add to them. Nonoka opened the door and slid out before looking back.
“Thank you for your generosity,” she said, slamming the door. The words burned on her tongue.
The car pulled off and Nonoka watched as it disappeared in the distance, taking her savior with it. She was left alone, the light quickly fading. She crossed her arms and frowned.
“Knight of Isei…good riddance.”
The bell rung and she was still running to class. Nonoka ran up the driveway with labored breath. Her bag was clutched in her hands and her hair became frizzy in the damp morning air. She got to the top of the hill with burning lungs and crossed the drop off area to scramble up a short flight of stairs that led into the main building. Her body and mind were exhausted. It had been almost impossible for her to go to sleep after Sakurano threatened her and Asegawa’s interrogation. She managed to find her way back home after two hours and barely enjoyed her dinner before tossing and turning all night with thoughts of humiliation and expulsion.
She got to class 1-B and stopped for a second, smoothing her hair down and straightening her outfit. She didn’t want to look like a complete mess before getting sent to detention for being late. She could hear Ms. Orihara already beginning the day’s lecture. Nonoka sighed and opened the door. The classroom fell silent at her entrance. She bowed immediately.
“Apologies for being late…,” she said.
No one said anything. Nonoka turned her head up at the silence to find Ms. Orihara looking at her strangely. She was dressed quite modestly today, a dark blue dress with long sleeves, a high neckline and a black sash around her waist that matched her heels. Very different from yesterday she noticed.
That’s right, Nonoka thought, I saw her yesterday, arms around Sakurano…
She could feel her face frozen, remembering that moment, one she wanted desperately to forget. She looked at Ms. Orihara again, and knew she had saw in her eyes that she remembered. For a brief moment, Nonoka could see a flash of fear in her eyes before she turned them away.
“Go ahead and take your seat, Ms. Takeda…,” Orihara said.
Nonoka straightened and quickly went to her seat. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her. The classroom remained quiet until she was seated and Orihara continued her lecture. Everyone slowly focused on the lecture again, however Nonoka couldn’t relax. In front of her, Mika turned her head to the side, enough to mouth the words “we need to talk” to her.
Class was painfully slow. Orihara didn’t call on her, even if she wasn’t paying attention. Nonoka had so much on her mind, how could she? No, she had to focus. She still had tests and grades to worry about. Not to mention, club sign ups had begun. She got an invitation from Obata Yukiji himself. Another famous face of Isei. At this point, they all seemed like trouble to her, but Yukiji seemed far kinder than Sakurano. And he was just as beautiful as the rumors said. If she joined theatre, she would get to play just like she did in her last school. It was a nice to have something to do other than practicing hard for recitals.
The bell startled her. Class was over.
“Well then, you’re excused. I will see you all after science,” Ms. Orihara said.
Had time passed so quickly? Nonoka barely paid attention. Orihara stepped out of the room and the students began to chat. Nonoka was somewhat relieved. She didn’t want to look at Orihara.
“Yeah, her…,” someone said.
Nonoka turned her head and saw the girls two desks over, stealing glances at her and talking. They noticed her looking and immediately shot her a dark look, rolling their eyes then turning away. She didn’t know why but she felt like they weren’t the only ones. Other students were peaking over their shoulders at her.
The sound of scraping turned her attention forward. Mika turned her chair around and crossed her arms before laying them on Nonoka’s desk. She leaned in, being quieter than she had ever been.
“So is it true?” her friend asked.
“Is what true?…”
Mika gave her a look.
“That you were with Asegawa Nori yesterday.”
Nonoka’s eyes widened. She leaned in.
“What?” she said in a harsh whisper. “How do you know that?”
“Everyone does by now,” Mika said. She turned around to reach into her bag and came back with her cellphone. She flipped it open, went to an email and showed her a picture taken yesterday.
Nonoka’s mouth dropped open.
“Th-that’s me getting out of Asegawa’s car. But how?”
“How? Because someone who goes here saw you.” Mika tried to keep her voice down. She glanced around. “What did I say? Don’t mess around with the Royalty of Isei. You get close to Asegawa and every other fan of hers is going to freak, especially when you aren’t anyone of note.”
“I didn’t try to. It just…happened.”
“How do you ‘happen’ into her car? It’s like you want to become a victim.”
Nonoka looked away. “Victim” was far too true.
“If I hadn’t gotten in her car, you’d probably be scolding me for different reasons.” Nonoka said.
“Yeah? Well, you aren’t off the hook. What’s up with sensei? She looked at you all weird and didn’t even scold you for being late,” Mika said. “It looked like she’d seen a ghost when you stepped in.
“Umm…that’s a bit complicated too?” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means…I can’t tell you everything but Mika…I think I messed up. Sakurano—.”
“What?!” Mika launched across the desk to cover her mouth. “Why is he involved?!”
Nonoka moved her hand away.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you! I….” She didn’t know what to say first and what she could say. “He…I just…so much happened. And Asegawa appeared and I think Sak-I mean, that senpai wants to have to roasted and served to the students of Isei. I crossed him and now it’s all over for me.”
Mika stared at her, mouth partially open. “Wait, wait, slow down, what? Why would senpai want to ruin you?…What did you do?” she asked suspiciously.
“Nothing! Well…not nothing, but, ugh! Mika, I can’t say. I’m serious. I’m dead if I do.”
Everyone was leaving the classroom. It was almost time for Physical Education. Mika sighed and slumped into her chair.
Nonoka looked up to see Tamaki at the door.
“Aren’t you two coming? We have to change. You don’t want to be late. Again.” He chuckled and disappeared out the door.
Nonoka wanted to disappear from Isei at the moment.
“Well…I’m going to hope you didn’t do anything too awful. For now, we’ve got to keep you under the radar. That means no crossing of any Royals. Don’t even look at Asegawa. Rumors are bad enough already,” Mika said, getting up. “And stay out of senpai’s path. He hangs around some pretty tough looking guys. They’re all on the basketball team.”
Nonoka got a chill. She hoped she didn’t look as scared as she felt.
“What are the rumors saying?”
“That you’re trying to take her for yourself and that you’re trying to boost your status by using her. They think you’re some unknown rich girl trying to make a name for herself,” said Mika.
“But I’m not.”
“Exactly. Don’t you think they’ll find that out?”
Nonoka could feel her face pale. Mika nodded.
“Don’t worry about senpai roasting you. The masses of Isei have already got the fire stoked.”
Nonoka fell right into the steel frame of the locker with a firm push to her shoulder. The culprits giggled and snickered to themselves as they left the locker room.
“You alright?” Mika asked.
Nonoka nodded and Mika began to walk after them.
“Just leave it,” Nonoka said, stopping her.
“Tch, rude of them. Nonoka, are you really going to be alright? You look out of it.”
She didn’t know what she was going to do about Sakurano, Asegawa and now the students of 1-B. How could she deny anything when there was physical proof she was with Asegawa? What if someone saw her with Sakurano yesterday? And if his secret got out because of it…
“I’m fine. Sooner or later, they’ll forget all about me and I’ll forget all about this mess I’m in,” Nonoka said.
She finished changing and away. She gave Mika her best smile and led the way to the same side door the girls had taken. It led straight into the gymnasium.
The first time Nonoka had been in the gym was in opening ceremonies. It was still just a big, refined and polished with shining floors, white walls and dark bleachers. The students from her class had already lined up, along with class 1-A how shared the same PE period. Mr. Nagoya was up front with a basket of balls by his side. Nonoka and Mika quickly went to stand next to Tamaki who was at the far end. Nagoya looked at them.
“You two are late,” he said. “Not really surprising if you’re hanging out with that one.” He jerked a finger at Tamaki and the students giggled. “I thought I said I wanted to see nothing but natural hair, Oda.”
Tamaki stood at attention.
“Sir! This is my natural hair, sir,” he said, chest out and hand coming to his forehead in a salute.
Nagoya glared at him and crossed his beefy arms.
“Your hair doesn’t naturally grow red at the ends, Oda. No dyes. End of discussion.”
“I do dye it brown, but when I go to bed and wake up, it’s red again, sir.”
The girls began to giggle and oddly, Nonoka found herself smiling too. Mika gave Tamaki a sharp nudge in the ribcage with her elbow.
“Oda…,” Nagoya said.
“Run ten laps around the gym. Then you can join us,” the teacher said.
The students chuckled while Tamaki looked like he had been sentenced ten years in prison. He immediately left the group to run around the inside of the gym.
“Quiet,” Nagoya said and everyone settled down. He reached into the big basket of balls with one big hand and held up an orange, squishy ball that wrinkled under the pressure of his grip.
“Today’s sport will be dodgeball. A game that will test your speed, agility and flexibility,” Mr. Nagoya said. “Divide into two groups, guys in one, girls in another. From there, we’ll split the group into two teams.”
Nagoya pointed at two boys and two girls.
“Asegawa and Haniya, team captains.”
The girls cheered at Asegawa’s name. The knight in question remained stoic. Even in gym clothes she had a more reserved and sophisticated air about her. She made it seem like every game they played was meant for nobility and she always demonstrated how flexible and skilled she was at adapting to different sports. It was almost annoying. The other girl was from class 1-A. she was pretty and popular with huge curls and beautiful auburn hair that Nonoka hoped was from a bottle. The other girls surrounded her, asking to be picked for her team.
“For the boys, Jiang and…Oda! Get over here and prove you’re worth more than a good scolding,” Nagoya said.
Tamaki, hair and face dripping with sweat, jogged over, panting. She bent over to rest his hands on his knees. Jiang of class 1-A was bigger and taller with black hair and pale skin stretched over muscle. Jiang began stretching his back and arms and Tamaki looked over at him as if he had to prepare for actual battle.
“You want me to win against a baseball player?” Tamaki said. “It looks like he eats metal for breakfast.”
“Shut up, Oda, and start picking members for your team. And if I see you slacking, it’ll be twenty laps next time,” Mr. Nagoya said. “Alright. Choose teams one at a time and grab a ball.”
The girls grouped up. Asegawa stood a few feet away from Haniya who looked at her with full eyelashes.
“May I?” Haniya asked in a sweet, high voice.
Asegawa shrugged and Haniya called her first teammate.
“Chie,” she said and the girl in question swayed over to the side.
A shoulder bumped against Nonoka’s. It was Mika.
“This isn’t good,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Haniya isn’t an Asegawa fan, but she’s a Risa Jones wannabe. She’s the sort that hates when us “common” students get out of place and too cozy among the upper crust kids.”
“Hates you,” Mika said.
Nonoka frowned. Isei seemed more and more like a world of childish feuds with serious consequences.
“Just great,” Nonoka whispered.
“She’ll never pick—”
“And…her,” Haniya said, pointing right at Nonoka.
The girls looked back at her, smiles erased. Nonoka glanced at Mika who only gave her surprised eyes.
“Perhaps you were wrong,” Nonoka whispered before walking over to Haniya’s team.
Nonoka waited for Haniya to call her friend’s name, but the choices began to thin and she ended up being called by Asegawa. The boys finished picking teams as well and moved to the other side of the gym.
“Let’s grab a ball and start then,” Haniya said. “We can’t let the boys think we’re too afraid or weak. Let’s have a good game, alright?”
Everyone gave a cheer. Nonoka followed her team as they began to fill into the designated area of the court. Asegawa’s team was on the other side; their opponents. Nonoka looked at Mika, who gave her a thumbs up. Asegawa stepped forward, as did Haniya. They bowed slightly.
“Shall we jump for the ball?” Asegawa asked, sounding far more polite than she had yesterday. Nonoka snickered under her breath. No one knew what a foul mouth she really had.
“It’s fine, Nori-san, you can start,” Haniya said, using her name as if they were already friends.
Nonoka glanced at the other girls. It was quite bold of Haniya. Nonoka shook her head. Since when did she start to care about such things?
“Then how about you start. Your team has the ball anyhow,” Asegawa said, unfazed. She turned and went to her team before Haniya could protest.
Both teams immediately began to fan out. Someone passed the ball to Haniya and she raised it up dramatically.
There was silence then someone shouted.
The ball flew.
Some girls squealed as the ball came towards them. When it hit the ground, they rushed to get it and threw it back, tagging a girl on Nonoka’s team. The fallen members got to stand on the outside of the court and help get the other team so it wasn’t a complete loss to lose a team member. Nonoka began focusing on the ball and moving accordingly. The bright sphere came her way finally. She dodged to the side with a giggle and turned around to chase after the ball but felt the push of another girl who went running past her to snatch it up instead.
“Come on, hurry!” Haniya said.
Nonoka didn’t have time to say anything to her classmate, instead she rushed back with the girl and watched the ball fly towards Mika. She felt a bit nervous for her friend but Mika dodged effortlessly as she just had. Nonoka smiled. The game would have probably been more fun if they were on the same team. Asegawa also moved effortlessly, her focus was unbreakable as she kept pace with the game. Her throws were fast and accurate, tagging a person out almost every time it got into her hands. Her skills in basketball were apparent with her dead on accuracy. Even the girls on Nonoka’s team were cheering for her when she got the ball. Asegawa got the ball again and Nonoka could feel her eyes lock onto her.
Nonoka waited. She wanted to move around, her body twitched with the effort to hold still. She needed to dodge at the right moment, not give Asegawa a chance to predict where she would be. Seconds felt like a full minute of standing off but the ball left Asegawa’s hand as fast as it had come and Nonoka saw its course. She moved to the left and it went right past her head and into the hands of another girl on her team. She caught the ball and everyone cheered at her chance to attack the other team.
Nonoka found herself cheering as well. For the first time, she felt she wanted to win; but more than anything, she wanted to win against Asegawa. The field was slowly dwindling and the game seemed like it would be a close one. Nonoka looked for chances and openings in the other team’s defenses. They tended to favor the right side of the court, where Asegawa was. Nonoka pointed at a lone strangled on the left, trying to give the hint they should attack there when something slammed against the back of her head.
She rocked forward, ears ringing and head throbbing from the sudden impact. The orange ball bounced off of her and to the side. Nonoka brought a hand to her head and turned around to the girl who had thrown. She barely contained her smile as she bowed her head shallowly. The others tried to hide their giggles behind upraised hands, but they knew Nonoka could hear.
“Sorry about that,” the girl said.
Nonoka just looked at her, frowning.
“I’m apologizing. Are you just going to stand there spacing out?” the girl said.
Her head hurt, but all the other girls were looking at her now, waiting to continue.
“It’s fine I guess…am I out?”
“No,” Haniya said. “Friendly fire doesn’t count.” Haniya was passed the ball. She looked at Nonoka. “You can throw next.”
Without hesitating, Nonoka grabbed the ball. She gave Mika a mischievous grin but her friend looked at her with a worried face.
“Throw it already,” someone said. “Hit Shirase.”
Mika? Her friend seemed to be thinking about other things now. An easy target. The other team seemed nervous, ready for her throw. Nonoka picked another girl to target. She threw the ball, but the girl saw it coming and the team shifted to void the ball, picking up to attack back. Nonoka smiled and moved back to avoid being a target herself.
“Ugh, so stupid. She could at least pass it if she can’t get anyone out,” said a team mate’s voice from behind her.
Nonoka lost her smile.
“She hasn’t gotten anyone. So useless. Why did Haniya pick her?” another said. Nonoka didn’t look back.
The game continued, but everywhere she moved, someone managed to get in her way or trip her up. Her team mates, the few that were left, threw the ball either away from her, or too close. Her side got the ball again and Nonoka turned around in time to see the girl behind her with the ball aiming for her. She sent the girl a glare and the ball flew in a high arch over her. The girl stared at her with a dissatisfied look.
“Do you really have to go this far?” Nonoka asked. “Can’t we just play normally?”
She turned around at Mika’s voice, and the ball smash right into the side of her face.
“Maybe you should have been paying more attention,” said the girl behind her. “Now you’re out.”
Nonoka held the side of her face. Her left eye stung from the impact. Her jaw tightened. She looked at the other team. The girl who threw didn’t seem to be bothered about hitting her in the face. She simply shrugged. Nonoka looked at Asegawa and to her surprise, she looked away, avoiding her gaze. Couldn’t she even reign in her team mates? The only reason she in that situation was because of Asegawa. Nonoka felt herself glaring. Her faced burned, but not from getting hit anymore.
“Don’t you think you should get off the court now?” Haniya said, with her perfect locks.
Nonoka turned her glare to her and the girl seemed to be taken aback. She walked towards her and Haniya actually took a step back. She had the ball now.
“Hey, you know the rules—”
Nonoka snatched the ball from her hands. The look of surprise on her face was almost satisfying enough. The other girls also fell quiet. The people who were ousted earlier stood on the side lines watching in anticipation and silence. Nonoka didn’t quite know what she planned to do, but she was tired of playing dodgeball with her own team mates.
“Don’t you think you should apologize?” Nonoka asked.
“Or perhaps I’m not the only one who comes from a family with no manners.”
She heard literal gasps and excited whispers rumble through the crowd of girls watching.
“Who do you think—”
“You should worry more about your hair dye than other people’s lives.”
The girls laughed.
“Excuse me?” Haniya looked angry this time. But Nonoka didn’t care.
Her brown eyes looked as though she would set Nonoka on fire for her words. But if she stopped to think about it now, Nonoka knew she wouldn’t be able to stand tall. Haniya gave her best glare and everyone was silent. She reached out and snatched the ball back and told her with her eyes that nothing had been settled. Nonoka sighed.
The whistle blew and everyone looked to the front of the gym where Mr. Nagoya stood.
“Cease activity. Class is over,” he said. “Bow.” They did. “Dismissed.”
Haniya gave Nonoka one last sneer before turning to head to the locker with the others. Nonoka caught sight of Asegawa, who gave her a look she couldn’t quite understand.
She turned to see Mika.
“That was…stupid! Why did you make an enemy of Haniya?”
Nonoka rolled her eyes. “She was already an enemy.”
Mika gave her a look of disbelief.
“I don’t know whether you’re just brave or out of your mind,” her friend said.
Mika chuckled. “I can believe that.” The gym had cleared, all the students had gone back to the locker room. “Come on, let’s go change and eat lunch. We can see how Tamaki did on his side.”
Nonoka’s heart was still racing but she smiled, relieved. For a moment, she felt completely normal and problem free.
“You go ahead of me. I don’t want to deal with Haniya or her goons.”
Mika smiled. “Good plan. I’ll see you back at the classroom then.”
Mika waved as she began to jog lightly to the locker room. Nonoka waited. When the rest of the students were done changing, they would go back to their homeroom to wait for the bell to ring. Nonoka hung around, watching her reflection in the polished floors of the gym. She still thought it was amazing, that she could attend Isei, one of the most prestigious high schools in Japan. This was her one chance to really improve her skills at piano and make a name for herself. She couldn’t let anyone stop her, not Asegawa or Haniya.
After a while, Nonoka felt it was okay to enter the locker room. She took the same door as everyone else and stepped into the changing room with its benches and rows of lockers. She went to the one she had picked earlier and found it opened with her stuff strewn across the floor.
She picked her uniform up and dusted it off. It costed her a little over a thousand to get an Isei uniform. To normal students, she guessed that was just pocket change. Nonoka took off her gym clothes and changed back into her Isei uniform, appreciating the silence of the locker room. She wondered if she would have to be more careful of her things now. Everyday seemed to breed a new challenge. Nonoka sighed and slammed the locker shut. She turned around with her bag in her hand and saw the locker room door open. She gasped as she watched the tall form of Sakurano Shuhei appear. He was in his practice jersey, bronzy hair and skin slightly shiny with sweat.
“Senpai?! You can’t be in here,” Nonoka said.
Sakurano walked with purpose, straight towards Nonoka without faltering. He approached and slammed his fist on the locker next to her. She pressed her back against the cold steel, frozen once again.
“What did you tell Nori?” Sakurano asked. His voice was lowered, but still cold and harsh.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not. I really didn’t tell her anything. I swear.”
Sakurano was nothing like Haniya. He wasn’t someone Nonoka could stand up to. The upperclassman narrowed his eyes and straightened himself so that he wasn’t towering over her with his menacing glare.
“You believe me, right?”
“I don’t think you’re stupid enough to get on the wrong side of me,” he said. “Didn’t think Nori had any friends though.”
“…We’re not friends.”
Sakurano raised an eyebrow then chuckled. His laugh was deep and lit up his face. Nonoka could see how charming he could be, if not for his threats. He was truly handsome but it was hard to take notice when he keep treating her like a criminal.
“She isn’t the sort to open up. I’m surprised she even stopped to help you. She wouldn’t do that for just anyone, so I think there must be something you aren’t telling me, Takeda Nonoka.”
He remembered her name. Nonoka let out a small breath.
“So…we’re done here?” she asked.
“No. I can’t trust you, and Hikari is getting nervous. I can’t have you doing whatever you like now, can I?”
Nonoka shook her head. “It’s not like that. She’s the one that acted weird. You can trust me. I won’t tell.”
“Hmn…” Sakurano had a considerate look on his face. “I have a better solution.
Nori Asegawa waited till the other girls left the locker room to begin changing. She liked privacy, and more so not being crowded by girls acting like she was some sort of celebrity. It was more annoying than endearing. She changed near the back, hidden from anyone that may have walked in. She didn’t like people seeing her legs, or the many scars she bore on them.
In the silence, she could hear another straggler enter the locker room. She remained quiet, continuing to change as she began to hear sighs and shuffling. A few moments later, the door opened again and Nori was shocked to hear the deep voice of Sakurano Shuhei. She went completely still, ears straining, but he was nearly whispering.
Dressed in her uniform now, she slowly gathered her things and crept past the lockers and into the next two rows so that she was on the other side of Sakurano and the familiar voice of the girl she had partnered with.
“…so I think there must be something you aren’t telling me, Takeda Nonoka,” Sakurano’s voice said.
That was her name. Nonoka. Nori listened more carefully. Just why was Sakurano so desperate to control Takeda Nonoka? What did she know?
“No. I can’t trust you and Hikari is getting nervous. I can’t have you doing whatever you like because you, can I?” Sakurano said.
Who? Nori wasn’t sure she knew a student named Hikari. Not in her class at least.
“It’s not like that. She’s the one that acted weird. You can trust me. I won’t tell,” said Nonoka.
“…I have a better solution.”
They were silent for a moment.
“You can be my girl,” Sakurano said. “That would be a better rumor than the truth. So, how about I make you mine?”
“No? You don’t have that much of a choice. Become my girlfriend, and I’ll stop bothering you about all this.”
“How would that help?”
“Well, if you ever told, I would dump you and people would think you were just scorned and heartbroken. No one would believe you after that.”
Nori balled her hand into a fist.
“You don’t have to go that far…I can’t accept this.”
Nonoka gave a small yelp, a girlish squeak. Nori couldn’t listen any longer. She moved around the lockers and saw Sakurano with a hand closed around one of Nonoka’s slim wrists. They both turned stunned faces to her. Without hesitating, she went to Nonoka and took her hand out of Sakurano’s, pulling her away from him and closer to her side. She looked at her upperclassman without flinching.
“Don’t you know where you are, senpai?” Nori asked. “This is no place for guys.”
“Nori. Good to see you again. You keep coming to the rescue, but this isn’t any of your business. So leave,” he said.
“No.” Nori saw Nonoka look at her with wide eyes.
“Oh? You’re always fit to be silent, now you’ve grown so bold, but I’m afraid you’ve picked the wrong person and the wrong time. Don’t make me ask you again.”
Nori swallowed. She let go of Nonoka’s hand and stepped closer to Sakurano.
“You don’t have to repeat yourself, because I will. Leave. You’re apparently desperate to keep a secret. I wonder how it’ll help your little plot if people knew you were sneaking into the girl’s locker room. One word from me and you’ll be branded a pervert and all your dirty laundry aired. So once again, back off, and leave her alone.”
Sakurano stared her down, but she came from a family of brothers. His gaze didn’t scare her. After a moment of silence, Sakurano’s gaze lightened.
“Why are you so intent on getting in my way? You aren’t even friends,” Sakurano said.
She could see Nonoka watching her.
“We are now,” Nori said.
“The lone knight of Isei with a friend?” He looked at Nonoka. “Perhaps you’re just one unlucky person, Takeda.”
Nonoka looked as though she didn’t understand the meaning of his words.
“I’ll take my leave then,” he said.
Keeping his word, Sakurano walked past them both and left the locker room. Nori turned to Nonoka.
“I think I said yesterday you should keep away from him.”
“You say that like I purposely seek him out,” Nonoka said.
She looked at the floor then back up at her.
“Thank you for helping me…again. Why did you?”
“His arrogance annoys me.”
“But, you didn’t say anything during PE, so why now?”
It was her turn to look down. She hadn’t helped when Haniya and the others were bullying her. She had left her to deal with it on her own, but not because she didn’t want to say anything.
“I didn’t step in because it would have made you look even worse to be protected by me.”
“Protected?” Nonoka asked.
Nori cleared her throat, avoiding her eyes.
“You stood up against Sakurano for me. He’s sort of scary when angry. You’re really brave. I can see why they call you the knight of Isei,” Nonoka said.
She felt her cheeks heat up and pretended Nonoka hadn’t just said that.
“Wh-whatever. You were pretty cool yourself today,” Nori said.
Nonoka looked surprised.
“The look on Haniya’s face when you said her hair was fake…” Nori chuckled. “You don’t need a knight to rescue you.”
The bell for lunch rung and they both looked up. They hadn’t gone back to class.
Nonoka gave her a smile. “I guess we should be going…thank you, Asegawa,” she said, turning to leave.
“Wait,” Nori said. “If you continue to let Sakurano do as he pleases, he’ll step all over you.”
The other girl looked at her.
“What can you do when someone is more powerful than you?” she asked.
Nori knew what it was like to feel weak. She spent her whole life not being able to measure up to her brothers, or be the son her father wished she was. There was only one thing she could do.
To be continued…
Next time on Royal Academy…
Episode 6 – Rush Week.
“Show them what you can really do.”