Monday arrives and proves another ho-hum day. Ho-hum till noon anyway.
At noon I walk into the courtyard and into drama. Two girls are trying to comfort a little girl bawling her heart out. What’s going on? As I get closer I see Miki and Junko of all people. I walk closer and confirm my suspicions: the little girl is Aoi.
“What happened?” I ask as I join them.
“I don’t know either,” says Miki. “I found this little girl crying for Junko so I went and got her. We’ve only just arrived.”
“Oni-chan!” Aoi looks at me all teary faced. “You’re here too!”
“You know her?” Miki looks surprised.
“Long story,” I say. Before Miki gets a chance to ask more silly questions, I crouch down and speak to Aoi. “Hey. What’s going on?”
“You see,” Aoi sniffles. “It’s my turn to take care of the rabbits at school. But when I was feeding them, Mr. Hoppy escaped!”
“Oh, he was originally called Hoppy, but I thought it sounded too much like a puppy’s name. Like Robby or Bobby you know? A name is very important. Especially for a young rabbit. I HAD to change it. Now everyone calls him Mr. Hoppy.” She still manages to lecture us about the rabbit’s name in between sniffles, with well-timed gestures for clarity. She should go into politics when she grows up.
“It doesn’t matter now! I can’t find Mr. Hoppy anywhere!” she bawls.
“Whoa, slow down. You lost your rabbit? Where?”
“Our school is near the children’s playground. I think Mr. Hoppy probably went there.”
“Don’t worry,” says Junko. “I’ll help you find Mr. Hoppy. Come on, we'll go tell the teachers what happened and then I can take you back to school. But then you're going to have to stay there and wait for me to be done with school, okay?”
“Don’t you have an important track meet today?” says Aoi.
“Don’t worry about it,” says Junko. “I’ll skip it and help you find Mr. Hoppy.”
“No!” Aoi stands up with sudden defiance, surprising Junko. “You can’t skip again! You’ve already skipped so many times because of me. If you keep this up they’ll kick you off the team for sure! I can’t let you do that.”
Junko seems too shocked to reply. Aoi collects herself and goes on, “I ran here because I didn’t know what to do. But now I’m better. I can handle this myself.”
It would’ve sounded convincing if two trails of tears didn’t flow down her face right then. And if Aoi’s lips didn’t tremble as she said it.
“I’ll not have you out by yourself!” says Junko.
“Then someone else can come with me!” huffs Aoi.
Junko glances at me, but her gaze shifts away quickly. I guess she doesn't want me involved. Not that I would anyway. Who wants to help a rude girl like her?
“Hiroto.” Miki just HAS to ask, doesn’t she? “Can you help? 'Cause you know, me and animals…”
I shrug. “I can’t. I’m busy.”
“What do you have to do that’s so important?” exclaims Miki.
“I dunno. Stuff. I have stuff to do. I’m a busy guy.”
Miki glares at me. I keep a blank expression. Junko still doesn’t look at me. Ha! Serves her right! That'll teach her not to be rude to people. I smirk.
“Oooh! Sometimes you ARE a jerk, Hiroto!” Miki turns to Junko. “Ignore this heartless buffoon, Junko! I'll help you. Don’t worry and go to your track meet. I’ll take care of Aoi.”
Somehow through all this Aoi says not a word, but simply looks at me with determination. I don’t know what that girl’s hoping for, but whatever it is I’m not in it. I leave them to work out the problem on their own.