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Hikaru Ishimoto was busy doodling while the teacher droned on. It was the first week of high school still, and there'd been a few new students introduced who'd started later in the week than the rest of the class. By now the novelty had worn off for Hikaru, so the latest couple weren't holding his attention much. He finished his drawing and folded it up, then waited for the teacher to be distracted writing on the chalkboard, before he leaned over and tossed it onto Megumi's desk.


She unfolded it and saw his sketch: Mao from SID standing on a stage winking, with a sea of passed-out fangirls piled around it. She giggled and looked at Hikaru, who grinned back. He knew she'd find it amusing. They'd been friends since before they could speak, he knew how to make her laugh, and he always enjoyed seeing her do so.


The class paid a bit more attention to the last of the new students being introduced, who apparently had come from one of the most prestigious elementary schools in Japan. His father was a successful businessman and could afford the best. But Kuzukami Academy was a regular high school, it was unusual such an achiever was enrolled here... unless he was actually too dumb to cut it at the more prestigious schools.


"My name is Tokuma Miki, pleased to meet you all!" he bowed, clearly as nervous as anyone else. Hikaru noticed some of the girls in the class chattering, and he supposed, after adjusting his glasses and taking a closer look, that this new guy was fairly handsome - he had a tall build, neat hair, symmetrical facial features. Nothing amazing, but definitely a typically preferred look.


But it wasn't like the guys didn't evaluate new girls themselves, judging their looks, so he could understand that girls did so too. He glanced at Megumi, wondering what she thought. Hikaru himself was pleasing to the eye also, but in a more soft way. He had glasses and youthful features, and while people thought him cute he was often envious of more manly appearances. He hoped he'd grow out of his boyish looks.


Any doubts as to Tokuma's intelligence were cleared up pretty quickly as the day went on, however. He was already ready to answer questions, with perfect answers. He wasn't a show-off though, he let others answer occasionally, and he seemed more like he was just alert and paying attention rather than being bored at the banality of the work.


During lunch break, Hikaru and Megumi hung out as usual, while the new guy seemed to be slow to make friends and sat alone. "Why do you think he's here?" Hikaru asked, "It's pretty weird someone who was in the renown Yamano Elementary would come to our Kuzukami Academy isn't it?"

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This year, autumn still felt a lot like summer.

Even on the first week of school, as Megumi Saito joined the students filing into Kuzukami Academy’s dining hall for lunch break, the wind still carried a great deal of heat. They had experienced a heat wave only in July, and temperatures were only starting to fall steadily in the past couple of days. Students were all dressed in their summer uniforms, for it was not quite the weather for the warmer outfits yet. She liked the summer uniform anyway. It was a plain white blouse with a brown checkered skirt and a brown ribbon at the collar. It made her feel mature, especially when she wore a hair band. She was a high school student now! Everything was going to be different.

Well, everything except one. Megumi turned towards her childhood friend, Hikaru, who was slouching at the seat beside her, his tray starkly bereft of any vegetables. He had of course entered Kuzukami too. There was no way they would have gone into different schools. He wouldn’t hear of it anyway. They had been in the same class in school for as long as she could remember.

In the dining hall, the summer atmosphere was plainly evident. People chattered and laughed at the top of their voices, discussed where to go over the weekend to surf, and a group of mischievous second-years even got into a food fight at the corner tables. Megumi dreamily leaned back against her seat, took a sip of juice, and wondered how she would ever concentrate on her studies in this heat. That said, the weather forecast had promised that this unusually hot weather would not last long, so she had better cherish it while she could.

"Why do you think he's here?" Hikaru asked. Megumi shook herself out of her stupor and looked to see what he was referring to. Tokuma Miki was sitting right across from them, eating alone.

"It's pretty weird someone who was in the renown Yamano Elementary would come to our Kuzukami Academy isn't it?" Hikaru continued. Megumi shrugged. He had introduced himself as coming from the prestigious school, and had more than proven his worth by answering most of the questions in class.

“Maybe he wanted a change in environment,†she said. “Anyway he seems lonely.†She jumped up without another word and walked up to him, holding out her hand.

“Hi,†she said matter-of-factly, “I’m Saito Megumi. I’m in your class. Would you like to eat with Hikaru-kun and me?â€

Watching him up close, he really was quite handsome, but not in an outlandish way. He certainly looked more mature than Hikaru, who looked like he never grew up. Then again, with her exposure to celebrities mainly revolving around visual kei performers, she wasn’t one to judge masculine beauty.

She noticed Hikaru from the corner of her eye, looking taken aback at her forthrightness. He never failed to be amazed, even after all those years. Megumi had always been the straightforward sort, even from young. She made friends easily and was warm even to strangers. Her only flaw was that she sometimes spoke without thinking.

“You didn’t get any greens either, did you?†she said with a sigh. “Why don’t boys ever internalise the concept of a balanced diet? We have to include something from the mountains and something from the sea, remember? Like our elementary school teacher used to say. Tokuma-kun probably learnt that too, didn’t he? We need something from all the food groups.â€

She laughed, realising that she had probably scared him off from the get go. After all, her own elementary school teachers (including the one who was teaching about balanced diets) had often remarked that she should act like a proper Japanese girl. But really, it wasn’t as if she was concerned about catching a guy’s fancy. And guys who really loved her would love her for her personality as it was now, unchanged and genuine, right?

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Tokuma had never made many friends in his own school. He could come up with many theories as to why, but he knew if there was a simple answer then he wouldn't have no friends in the first place. Was it because he seemed like a show-off with his excellent results in school, and the ease at which he answered questions in class? But he always tried to be helpful to those who weren't doing as well as him. Did they just take further offense, as if he was doing it to show off further? He did try to help sincerely, but unfortunately a lot of students didn't really seem interested in putting in extra effort with him.


In the end he attributed it to class difference. Most of the students in Yamano Elementary were from wealthy backgrounds and seemed spoiled. Meanwhile Tokuma's parents had got him into the school just barely able to afford it, and so he'd always worked hard to make their efforts worth it. Still, come time for high school, they could not afford more prestigious schools anymore, but Tokuma was supportive of their forced decision to send him to a more average high school. He hoped that he might make more friends this time. Still, on the first day, he was realizing he wasn't really sure how to do so.


As Tokuma sat contemplating these things at lunch, he was thus startled when a girl came over and invited him to join her table. "Oh yes, thank you!" he said, accepting her invitation. He moved over and sat next to her, with Hikaru across from them. The two boys made their introductions, and then Megumi commented on Tokuma's food. He looked over and saw Hikaru had much the same as him.


"Hey, you can find animals in the mountains, and they can go into the sea. So, really, meat is all you need!" Hikaru defended, taking a bite of his chicken drumstick. There was another aspect other than just enjoying the taste of meat - Hikaru was hoping eating lots of meat would help him get buff and shed his boyish physique.


Tokuma smiled politely, though he didn't really find it amusing. "Well Megumi is right really. It's hard but we really should have balanced meals. I just decided to indulge myself today, since it's been a pretty intense day, starting at a new school and knowing nobody and all. Though, I didn't actually learn that in my school. It was a bit more focused on academic subjects." he said, looking down as he realized the last part probably sounded condescending.


Argh, they'll think I'm showing off or looking down on them too. Stupid, stupid. He shifted in his seat uncomfortably, poking at his food.

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There was an air of stillness in the room. Everyone was bent over on their desks, as if the environmental pressure was weighing down on them. Even the teacher was appropriately quiet, understanding the anxiety of his students. Megumi’s two hands were firmly placed over the most important corner of the paper, covering it in something like the shape of a cross. She stole a peep at Hikaru, who could not resist the temptation and had already taken a glance at his marks. He was now groaning as he rested his head on the table, obviously regretting it.

“This first test is by no means the ultimate measure of your ability,†said the teacher. “It merely serves the function of telling which of you have to pull up your socks in the semesters to come. Remember, you’re now in high school, which is a lot different from the happy-go-lucky days of middle school. You’ve college to aim for, so buck up!â€

Megumi jumped. It seemed as though he had just turned his steely gaze onto her. She gulped and looked down at her paper. It did look like she had gotten a number of questions wrong…

At last, she decided she couldn’t take it anymore and pulled her hands away to reveal an enormous red number on the score sheet.

“I failed,†she murmured, feeling a mix of composure and disappointment. Well, at least she knew now what her result was. Or rather, maybe she had always known. She had never been very good at her studies – preferring instead to devote her time to gardening. Her aim had been to take an agriculture degree in college, but in the meantime it seemed she must endure the pains of mathematics, language and history.

She wasn’t very interested at first to know who the top scorer was, but when she heard Tokuma’s name she turned and flashed him a grin and thumbs-up. It was to be expected, of course, but he seemed so utterly crestfallen about being top again that she thought he needed some encouragement. It didn’t help that Hikaru was glaring at him jealously, and he was not the only one.

It was the second week of school and Tokuma had been sitting with them during breaks these few days. Megumi didn’t directly ask him, but he would hover uncertainly around them while they ate and it was quite discomfiting to leave him alone. He did not talk much, but watched Megumi and Hikaru squabble with some interest and envy. He became a sort of permanent fixture during breaks.

One day Hikaru refused to join them. He sat on his seat with his arms crossed and said, “You 2 can enjoy your romantic date; I wouldn’t want to be the third wheel.†No matter how much Megumi coerced, he stated flatly that he had brought a bento and would eat in the classroom. He was making an embarrassing scene, and so Megumi gave up and went to the dining hall with Tokuma alone.

“Hikaru’s sometimes very temperamental,†Megumi explained apologetically. “Don’t take what he said to heart. We’ve been friends since childhood and I still don’t always understand him. Anyway if you don’t mind, shall we eat quickly so that I can return to the classroom? There’s a geography test later and I don’t want to fail it like I did for Maths.â€

“I’m really bad at studying, plain and simple,†Megumi added as they tucked into their food – she had gotten tempura for today, and on her plate were deep-fried prawn, brinjal, lady’s finger and pumpkin. “I like working with my hands for practical purposes, and I really love gardening. Hikaru would laugh at me, saying my 2 favourite things in the world are gardening and visual kei. I really like plants, though, and would love to work with them in my future career. That means I should work harder at my geography and biology, at least, but I’m not doing very well in them either…â€

She bent her head miserably. Her parents had been pushing her to try harder, but no matter which subject she applied effort to, her marks would never quite meet the standard.

“All I want to do is to help the farmers in Japan and turn agriculture into a thriving business, well-known worldwide!†she said, her eyes sparkling at the thought, “but I guess I’ll never be able to fulfil this dream…â€

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