“In 101 days you’ll have to streak nekkid for a week!” says Miki.
“I’m feeling magnanimous. I’ll let you wear a swim suit,” I reply.
“There’s no way I’m gonna lose, Hiroto!” says Miki. “I only said 101 days to make it easier for you. I’ll have boys all over me in a month!”
Here I am, Machida Hiroto, age 16, facing down two girls in the school courtyard between the girl’s wing and the boy’s wing. The place is oddly appropriate. It’s like neutral ground in a war between boys and girls.
The girl who’s been doing most of the talking is Miki. She’s got almond eyes, a button nose, and a face like a frying pan. She usually has her hand in this weird karate chop position as if she's gonna hit someone (usually me). She's been my next door neighbor for ages. I’ve known her so long I’ve begun seeing her as a sister. Well, more like a step sister that you're not sure you really want, but you don’t have a choice in the matter anyway.
I admit she’s not a bad sort most of the time. Sometimes she can even be downright nice. It’s just she makes it so EVERYTHING between us has to be a bloody competition: Who has better grades? Who runs faster? Who can solve a jigsaw puzzle quicker? And today she issued the biggest competition of them all.
“Just in case you missed it the first time, let’s go over the rules again,” says Miki. “One hundred and one days from today, if I have a boyfriend and you still don’t have a girlfriend, I win. But if you have a girlfriend, and I still don’t have a boyfriend, you win.”
“The loser will have to streak from the science room to the auditorium for a week, yada yada yada. Yes, I heard you the first time,” I say.
“Remember, Machida-kun, we’re using Keika’s addendum to the rules,” says the girl next to Miki. “Mannequins, pillows, and blow-up dolls don’t count.”
She’s Ikeda Keika, of the famed Ikeda Zaibatsu, the company that owns just about everything under the sun. Keika’s the archetypal ojou-sama. The modern-day princess. She's got a heart shaped face with long, perfectly cascading curls that look like they’ve been done in one of those outrageously expensive beauty salons in Ginza. She's pretty in a princess like way. By that I mean, objectively, she's not that hot. But since she's a sort of modern-day princess, you can't help but give her a second look.
Today, like everyday, her school uniform is meticulously neat. I like her better in street clothes though, when she dresses like a model straight out of a fashion magazine. A strong wind blows her hair astray, and she immediately smooths it with a grace I wouldn’t normally notice, except Miki is doing the exact same thing but like a monkey. How those two ended up BFF's I will never know. In fact, I have no idea why Keika even goes to our school. Shouldn’t she be in one of those pretentious prep academies for the elite?
“Are you checking out Keika again?” says Miki. “She’s already got a boyfriend you know.”
“New rule: mannequins, pillows, blow-up dolls, and Keika don’t count.” Keika crosses her arms in an X in front of her chest.
“What are you guys talking about?” I say. “I’m not checking her out!”
They both narrow their eyes. Girls! Why are they so sensitive?
“Whatever. Lunch break is almost over. I gotta go to class. See ya.” I pick up my bag and walk away.
“Remember,” Miki shouts after me. “The competition starts today!”
“Got it!” I give her a wave and head to class.
For the rest of the day, I think about girls. Like any other male teenager, of course I’ve thought about girls (or guys, depending on one’s preference). But I’ve never SERIOUSLY thought about girls with my (social) life on the line.
The saying goes that if you’ve never owned a car before, and one day you buy, say, a Toyota, then you will see Toyotas everywhere, as if Toyotas have suddenly materialized and dominated the streets. Of course, these Toyotas have always been there. It’s just the mind ignores them because they aren’t important.
Same with girls. For the first time, I notice how many girls we have at our school. Tall ones, short ones. Thin ones, fat ones. Loud ones, quiet ones. All equally mysterious to me. I have not the slightest clue where to start. Maybe I should toss a paper ball behind my back and go after the girl it hits? It IS an idea…
I walk up to the second floor corridor that overlooks the tennis courts. The sun shines cheerfully down upon the courts, and the girls’ tennis team is out practicing in their white uniforms and short skirts. I glance down at them.
And see heaven.
Everything clicks now. It’s so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of her when Miki issued the challenge. I can’t wai-
An astounding force smashes into me, catching me mid-stride and mid-thought, sending me sprawling to the ground. The world spins for a moment. Shaking off whirling stars, I raise my fist to pummel the crap out of my attacker. I stop in surprise, as I don’t see the huge brute I expected. Sitting on the ground, rubbing her arm, is a girl with slender hips and a small bust, wearing a blue t-shirt and gym bloomers that cut off just below her behind, showing white, supple legs ending with black sneakers. She’s got a petite face with large eyes. We’re both sitting in a circle of Boss coffee cans and bottles of Pocari Sweat energy drinks, some still rolling across the floor.
“Great! Just great! I dropped all the drinks! I really don't have time for this!” She looks furiously at me. “Why did you get in the way?”
“Excuse me?” I start to get angry. “YOU ran into ME.”
“You were in my way!”
“You should’ve looked at where you were going!”
“Today is just not my day.” She covers one eye with her hand in exasperation.
“Look.” I shake off the dizziness. “Whatever. Let me help you pick up the drinks.”
“I don’t need your help,” she says. “I don’t need anyone’s help! Leave me alone!”
“Fine, do what you want!” I was trying to be nice! Well screw that!
She quickly gathers up the fallen drinks and stuffs them into her bag. She runs off without a backward glance.
“You have no manners!” I yell after her.
“You’re a jerk!” she yells back before she disappears.
I’ve never met such an ill-mannered girl in my life! What is her problem?
Miki walks by just as the girl storms off.
“Are you okay, Hiroto?” says Miki as she pulls me up. “What was that all about?”
“That’s what I want to know,” I say angrily. “Who was that?”
Miki scratches her head. “I think that’s Junko. Watanabe Junko.”
Her eyes look up and to the left. “She’s a track star. The first year who broke all the records last year. I talked to her once or twice when we had class together. I remember she’s quite cheerful. And pretty nice.”
“Cheerful? Nice?” I scowl in the direction in which girl the ran off. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?”
“Why?” Miki raises her eyebrows. “What did she do to you?”
“Nothing,” I growl. I don’t want to admit that a girl just sent me flying, even by accident. Yes, me and my foolish manly pride. Enough time wasting. I need to start thinking about how to conquer heaven. It’s not going to be easy.