Royal Academy 為生学園
Episode 6 – Rush Week
The window was rolled down just enough for the lens of the camera to get a good shot of the gates. The car was black and nondescript with tinted windows, parked just outside the manor. The house was traditional, everything from bonsai trees, stone gardens, sliding doors and tatami flooring. It looked just as expensive as it probably was. Tall walls hid the inner grounds of the manor, allowing only its brown roof and the tops of hedges and trees to show. He snapped a few pictures of the outside, just for reference, and waited. It was morning, and the birds sang while the morning sun dried the early dew.
A car pulled up. It was dark blue and polished. It only took a few minutes for the black gates to finally open. Tazu smiled in the darkness of the car and lined up his shot. When the gates opened, a woman with beautiful blond curls, dressed in a cream dress and a red blouse stepped into view holding the hand of a little girl with equally curly hair, that was brunette instead of blonde. The little girl smiled at the woman, dimples making her look as cute as a doll. The camera clicked silently. Four shots of the woman and child as they walked up to the waiting car. A man stepped out of the driver’s side and opened thr door for them, bowing from the waist afterward. The woman had on sunglasses and bracelets that jingled on her wrist as she slid in after the little girl.
The door shut and the man got back in the car. The camera shuttered a few more times as they drove off. The missus was officially out of the house, but Tazu’s job wasn’t over yet.
“Nonoka, are you up, sweetie?” said a voice.
Grabbing her bag, Nonoka raced down the stairs in her Isei uniform.
“Morning, mom!” she said as her feet reached the bottom of the stairs. She peeked into the kitchen to see her mother cleaning up after making breakfast.
“I’m off,” Nonoka said.
“Hey, wait, young lady. At least eat a bit before you run off,” Misako Takeda said.
Nonoka, halfway to the door, went back to the kitchen. She took a seat on one of the stools that surrounded the little island. A plate with rice, egg and sausage was waiting for her. She set her bag down and grabbed her chopsticks. Her mother smiled at her.
“You seem cheery today,” Misako said. “It’s a relief. I was beginning to think something was wrong.”
“Huh?” Nonoka stuffed a piece of sausage into her mouth. “I…just hadn’t quite adjusted to the new school yet.”
Her mother took a seat and practically glowed.
“My daughter, a student of Isei. Mrs. Kimura next door nearly lost her jaw when I told her.” She chuckled. “Nono, I’m really proud of you.”
“I know, mom,” she said, giving her a smile back.
“Don’t ditch piano practice, and keep up with your studies,” she said.
“I know, I know.” Nonoka ate a bit faster.
“So, how is Isei? Making friends?”
Nonoka smiled again. Asegawa Nori had called her cool. She even said they were friends. Even if she didn’t mean it, it kind of felt good to be complimented by the upper crust of Isei.
“I have a few,” Nonoka said. “I met this girl named Shirase Mika. She’s really nice, talks a lot.”
“I hope she isn’t distracting you.”
Nonoka rolled her eyes. “She isn’t, I promise. She’s super nice. I think you’d like her.” She finished off her food and set her chopstick on top of the plate. “Isei is…not a place I could have imagined. Everyone’s well off. I even met an upperclassman, Obata Yukiji. He helped me get to school. He has blonde hair, and everyone looks up to him. He’s really nice.”
“A boy? Nonoka,” she chided.
“I’m in high school now, mom. Of course there are boys.”
“I just don’t want this Yukiji distracting you from what’s important. I know dating seems like fun right—“
“Mom!” Nonoka blushed. “I’m not dating, or thinking about stuff like that….” She didn’t know what was more embarrassing, the fact that her mom was talking about dating or that she thought she was dating Yukiji. There was no way something like that could happen to her.
Words came back to her, ringing through her mind. “You can be my girl. That would be a better rumor than the truth. So, how about I make you mine?” Sakurano’s words sent a chill down her spine. Nonoka cleared her throat, picked up her bag and stood.
“Well, I have to go now. Don’t want to miss my train.”
“All right, sweetie. Have a good day at school,” her mom said.
She left the kitchen but turned back to peek in.
“Oh, and club sign-ups are this week, so I may be a little late coming home,” she said.
“Just be careful,” called her mom as she went for the door.
He hung his camera around his neck and slowly got out of the car once he was sure the street was clear. Tazu walked across the street and straight towards the manor as if he had every right be. In case someone happened to see him, he could at least act like he wasn’t trespassing. He walked down the side walk, along the wall. It was high, but he followed it around the corner till he came to smaller, servant’s gate. It was locked when he tried it of course, But Tazu didn’t get far in his career by playing it safe. He tested the hold of the wall on either side of the gate, wedged himself in between and hoisted himself up, eternally gratefully the gate didn’t have pointed iron tips. Tazu placed his hands firmly on top of the gate, trying not to wobble it too much or smash his camera.
After he pulled up, he threw one leg over after the other. He jumped down and into the gardens sweat beading his forehead. No one had caught him. Hedges and trees lined pebbled pathways of the garden. There was a little wooden bridge that crossed a small pond, the air smelled of equinox flowers and the soft plunk of the shishi-odoshi could be heard. Trees drooped their branches and leaves from above, making it easier for him to hide off the paths. Tazu moved quickly and quietly through the gardens, pressing himself up against a cherry blossom tree once he heard the sound of passing maids. It was still early March, so the cherry blossoms weren’t quite in bloom yet. Only a few flowers had begun to peek.
However, the sight was still wonderful. Once he was sure he could do so, Tazu raised his camera and took a single shot of the flowers. It wasn’t everyday he could be so close to sakura trees.
“…Make sure everything is wiped down,” said a voice.
Tazu peeked over his shoulder to see two maids walking down the stone path, bags in their hands, towards the small gate he had gotten past. He hid himself behind the tree and waited till they passed. But they would surely see him on their way back. He had to move. He bent his tall form over, sneaking across among the cherry blossoms. A door shut to his left, and he heard more voices. He sped along the wall of the manor, minding the flowers as he scurried around a corner and out of sight. He sat under a window, panting and swallowing hard. He waited for someone to shout.
“Yes?” said another male voice.
“I’ve brought the mail.”
Tazu heard footsteps approach then retreat. A sliding door shut and only then did he raise up a bit to peek in the window he sat under. The room was big, traditionally styled with pictures on the walls, bookshelves packed, and a dark brown sofa against the far wall. To his left, was a dark desk with a lamp on it. Behind it sat a man with a newspaper in his hand. When he set the paper down, Tazu could see his face. He looked to be in his early forties, with dark, brunette hair, and kind features. He wore silver rimmed glasses that did nothing to hide the intensity of his dark eyes.
The man took up the mail that was sitting on his desk. He was quiet and focused as he went through the mail. Tazu slowly raised his camera and took a few shots of the man he knew would be Seijiro Obata, head of the Obata household.
She got to class with time to spare.
“Did you hear? That’s the girl who told off Haniya,” a classmate said.
Nonoka paid them no mind. She stepped into class, looked at her seat and saw Mika and Tamaki already gathered there. She went over, a smile on her face.
“Good morning, Mika-chan, Tama-chan,” Nonoka said.
“Oh, someone’s cheery today,” Mika said.
“It’s victory afterglow. After kicking so much Haniya-ass, I don’t blame her,” Tamaki said. “Way to go, champ.”
Nonoka blushed. “It’s nothing like that…I’m just happy things seem to be working out.”
The door to the classroom opened and the room erupted into chatter as Asegawa Nori came in and took her seat. Nonoka couldn’t help but glance at her. “Why are you so intent on getting in my way? You aren’t even friends,” Sakurano said. Nonoka remembered Asegawa’s reply. “We are now.” She wondered if she actually meant it or…
“Hey, Takeda,” said a voice.
Nonoka, Mika and Tamaki all looked over at the girl standing next to them. Nonoka recognized her. She had played on her team in Dodgeball.
“What do you want, Chie?” Mika asked.
Chie was with three other girls. They all looked at each other and Nonoka got the same sinking feeling she always got when her classmates were up to no good.
“So,” Chie said. “I heard that Takeda takes the bus and train to school.”
“Ehh?” said Tamaki. He chuckled. “Don’t you think your rumors are getting a bit too out of hand?”
Nonoka felt her stomach twist. Someone was bound to find out she took the train.
“Rumor? There are eye witnesses,” Chie said. She took out her phone and showed them a text message. In it was a picture of Nonoka leaving the train station in Kiseirei.
Tamaki look at Nonoka. “Sure does look like our Nono-chan…”
Chie crossed her arms, smug with a smile on her face.
“I wonder, why would she want to take the train? Something to hide, Takeda?” Chie said.
Another girl spoke from a row over. “Maybe her parents can’t afford a driver and have to do it themselves.” The girls erupted into laughter.
Nonoka’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. Even if it was the case, they looked down on her as if it was a bad thing to have your parent actually care for you. Half the class was watching them now, whispering about her, talking about her family, her mother. Nonoka slammed her hands on her desk and stood up to face Chie.
“Don’t you know…Obata Yukiji takes the train as well?” she asked. Chie gave her surprised eyes. “Are you saying his parents can’t afford to take him to school?” Nonoka asked.
“Wh-what? That’s not what I was trying to say…” Everyone was looking at Chie now.
Nonoka looked at Mika, whose mouth was hanging open. Her eyes were alight with satisfaction at Chie’s sudden scrutiny. It got quiet and Chie looked back at her friends, but they all turned away. Her face grew red and she looked at Nonoka, unable to contest. SHie threw up her nose before going back to her desk. Nonoka noticed Asegawa turning away. Had she also been listening?
It only took a few moments for everyone to go back to their own conversations. Nonoka let out a breath of air.
“So…why do you take the train?” Tamaki asked.
Great. Nonoka looked at Mika.
“What? Why are you two giving suspicious looks? You aren’t actually hiding something, right?” Tamaki asked.
“No,” Nonoka and Mika both said.
Tamaki gave them a look. Mika cleared her throat.
“I ride the train because I don’t want to burden anyone,” Nonoka said, but Tamaki gave her a skeptical look. “Really. I actually like taking the train.”
“Whoa, that’s hard core…aren’t there like…thugs and stuff?” Tamaki asked.
Nonoka chuckled. “Not really. I mean, it could happen but I guess…I think you watch too many mafia movies, Tama-chan.”
Her friends laughed as well.
“You’re probably right,” he said. “Is it true that Yukiji-senpai rides the train as well? I heard that, thought it was rumor.”
Nonoka nodded. “He does. I met him one morning.”
“What?!” Mika said. “I don’t remember you telling me this.”
Nonoka blushed. “I didn’t want you scolding me.”
Tamaki laughed while Mika scrunched her nose up.
“Damn right I would!” she said before darting her eyes. “But I won’t if you tell me all about it.” She placed her face between both her hands and sighed. “Yukiji-senpai…how do you get so lucky, Nono-chan?”
She shrugged. “I definitely don’t think it’s luck.”
“Yeah,” Tamaki said. “Now she has another rumor bound to spread with this whole train thing.”
She’d almost forgotten. “What do you think I should do?”
They went quiet.
“Oh!” Mika said. “You live kind of far anyhow, so how about moving into the Isei dorms? You know, to avoid…having people get too nosy.”
“There are dorms?”
“Yeah, there north of here. A lot closer than we’re you’re coming from most likely,” Mika said.
“’But’ what? Sounds like a good idea,” Tamaki said.
Nonoka looked at Mika, who seemed to catch on.
“Oh, you must be concerned about…wasting all of your allowance on the dorm fees.”
“Most of it’s taken out of your tuition. You just need parent permission and a good grade score average,” Mika said.
“A lot of students actually like to dorm,” Tamaki said.
“Why? Don’t they have houses much bigger?”
“Yeah, but a lot of them like to get away from their parents.”
“Oh…” Nonoka loved her mom. She didn’t have any problems at home, and didn’t mind taking the train, but her life at Isei seemed to always become difficult because of her little secret.
“Well, just think about it?” Mika said.
Nonoka gazed at her classmates and then at Asegawa who, as always, sat by herself with her classmates either sneaking glances and interested whispers about her or crowding her desk and bombarding her with questions. Nonoka wondered what she would think if she knew she protected a poor girl.
She shook her head. She couldn’t let Isei get to her.
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll think about it.”
Tazu sat in the back of his car after managing to safely get out of the Obata household without being seen. Even if his job consisted of spying, he took pride in it. He was the best. A light buzzing came from his pocket. He reached in and took out his cellphone. He gazed at the display and swallowed all his confidence down. It was his employer and all he had were a few pictures of a woman, a child and the head of the household. The phone continued to buzz. He wished he could ignore it.
“Hello?” Tazu said, pausing for a few seconds to hear his employer’s voice.
“Yes, I’m watching the house right now,” Tazu said. “No activity.”
He looked at his watch and suppressed a sigh while his employer gave him a cold response. He pulled out his extra battery pack and replaced his camera’s, making sure to take a soft cloth and clean the lens.
“No…yes…yes…I understand,” he replied. “Tomorrow? I can be here at the same—”
A maroon SUV pulled up to the house, cutting Tazu short. His employer questioned him, voice holding more sting than chill this time. The maroon car stopped and a man with a bald head got out from the rear passenger’s side. He wasn’t big, but slightly tall and lanky, wearing a suit that looked a bit too small for his body but showed off the muscle he had.
“Sorry…someone pulled up,” Tazu.
The lanky man walked around the car, but not before the door opened and a young man got out. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, not too far from Tazu.
“I have to go,” he whispered before hanging up the phone. Tazu held his camera up, focusing the lens and taking shots. The driver started the car up and drove away, most likely to park elsewhere. The young man had chocolate brown hair and a strong resemblance to Seijiro Obata but looked younger and had slightly longer hair. The young man shoved his hands in the pockets of his slacks while the tall lanky man stood just to his right.
Tazu took more shoots. It was obvious the man was a guard. But as far as he knew, no one in the Obata household needed guard duty. So who was he? The front gate opened for them, and a butler Tazu welcomed them in with a bow. The young man and his guard disappeared inside.
“Shit…,” Tazu said under his breath. He had to get back in there. A surge of excitement went through him. All the worry his employer had put in him went away. He grabbed his voice recorder out of a satchel in the backseat, shoved it in his pocket and threw his camera around his neck.
He had a feeling in his gut—that this was the money shot.
The end of the day came and everyone seemed to leave class in a hurry, except Nonoka. Everyone was so excited about rush week and joining a club. Extracurricular activities were encouraged enough that it seemed almost mandatory to join a club. However, she still didn’t know if she should take up Obata Yukiji’s offer. She could play it safe, lay low, act like her first week never happened, and perhaps, just perhaps, she could lead a normal school life—whatever that meant at Isei.
Nonoka left class, shrugging her school bag over her shoulder. She watched the tile flooring of the hallways under her feet as she walked. She loved playing piano. That’s why she was there. If she joined theatre, she did have a better chance of getting involved in more activities and projects. It could give her a chance to be seen and noticed in a way that didn’t make her want to abandon her identity. Nonoka exited the building and headed in the direction of the theatre building. It wouldn’t hurt to take a peek at the theatre tryouts, even if she decided she didn’t want to join. It would be rude not to tell Yukiji that she was declining after he had been kind enough to help her.
The theatre building was just behind the science building along with the track field and outdoor courts. It was a smaller auditorium and usually after school when there weren’t sports club meets, the area was less populated, which she was thankful for. Nonoka pursed her lips, trying not to furrow her eyebrows too much as she walked around the science building. If she didn’t join theatre, she could always try band or orchestra though that’s basically what the music program already was. If she was joining a club, it could at least be a bit more interesting than that. Nonoka sighed, then heard the smack of a ball on one of the courts.
Isei had various outdoor courts, from tennis to basketball. Each had at least one set of two; it kept the gym from getting crowded she guessed. On one of the basketball courts was a lone figure, bouncing the ball before taking a shot. There was a large basket which held a whole supply of balls near the person. Nonoka squinted. She recognized the tall, lean outline of the shooter.
Asegawa Nori was on the court. She was in her black, white and gold jersey, practicing her three point shots at the hoop. Nonoka looked around and bit her lip before walking in her direction casually. Asegawa didn’t seem to notice. She kept throwing the basketballs, grabbing the next ball from the basket after each throw. Nonoka went up to the fence and watched. She was as good as everyone said, missing only two shots, and even those hit the rim.
Nonoka waited till she had gotten three more in before she clapped. Nori turned around, wiping the sweat from her forehead with a towel around her neck. She seemed surprised because she paused for a moment before walking over. She hooked her fingers in the metal links.
“Finally joined my cheering squad?” Nori asked.
Nonoka crossed her arms. “Your fanclub does seem to have disappeared. What happened, they find out what a rotten attitude you have?”
Nonoka smiled back and looked at the basket balls. “Well, I guess we know what club you’re joining.”
Nori shifted her eyes away. “Baseball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball…they all won’t leave me alone,” she said. “I tried volleyball…”
“I think I like shooting hoops more.”
Nonoka shrugged. “Then do it.”
“Easy to say,” she said “You sound awfully confident, you must have already chosen your club.”
Nonoka looked away this time.
“Well…I did get an offer…from Obata-senpai.”
Nonoka looked up. She couldn’t admit it, but she found herself a bit envious that Nori could so easily call his name.
“Are you two close?…wee, you are both royals,” she said.
Nori rolled her eyes.
“I actually hate all that royal crap. The people here are crazy.”
Nonoka blushed. “Well, excuse me then.”
Nori cleared her throat and turned around to lean her back against the fence.
“The way you made yourself a target, I’d say you were crazy too. Just a different kind,” said Nori.
Nonoka peeked over her shoulder at the girl on the other side of the fence. Her long half of her hair covering her face.
“And what kind of crazy are you?”
Nori glanced at her with dark eyes and a smirk. “The sensible kind.”
“That makes absolutely no sense.” Nonoka chuckled.
“The beauty of being crazy…so, are you taking Yukiji-senpai’s offer? He does theatre I think.”
“Yeah, well…I don’t know if I should.”
Nori was silent. Nonoka bit her lip and sighed softly.
“I don’t want any more trouble. If I join theatre–”
“What will people say?” Nori finished.
She looked up at her classmate. Nonoka had no idea why she decided to tell her what she was truly thinking, but despite her cold demeanor, Nori seemed to care.
“I’ve been hearing that all my life,” Nori said. “Playing sports, fishing, rock climbing, wrestling, getting dirty, playing rough, cutting my hair…”
Nonoka watched her. “And what did you tell those people?”
Nori turned to face her fully, smiling. “To fuck off.”
Nonoka nearly gasped, cheeks reddening. Her reaction must have been hilarious because Nori began to laugh.
“You act so…not at all like a rich girl.”
Stiffly, Nonoka forced a chuckle.
Nori just looked at her.
“So, y-you think I should join theatre?” Nonoka asked, hoping she’d let it go.
Her classmate blinked. “At least try out.”
Nonoka clicked her heels together. “And will you join the basketball club?”
The other girl sighed. “I’m practically already on the team at this point,” she said. “Let’s just say I have good references…”
Nonoka swallowed and tried to calm herself before she let everything slip.
“Hey,” Nori said, startling her. She moved away from the fence. “Just remember what I said about not letting people step all over you. Don’t be afraid, be strong.”
Nonoka watched as Nori jogged towards the gathered basket of balls, taking one out and shooting it in a high arch, making the shot. She looked back at Nonoka and shouted.
“Show them what you can really do, Takeda Nonoka.”
To be continued…
Next time on Royal Academy…
Episode 7 – Fire & Ice.
“Why won’t you let your senpai protect you?”