I run into the classroom and spot Takuya in the corner.
“It’s ready!” I say, hardly able to contain my excitement.
“You mean THAT?” says Takuya.
“Yes. Kentaro and his dad will deliver the apples to school this Friday morning.”
“Good for you, bud!” He gives me a high five. “This is it! You nervous?”
“A little,” I admit. “What if it fails, man?”
“I thought you were supposed to be encouraging me!”
“Even if I tell you it will bomb, would you call off the whole thing?”
“No. I guess I wouldn’t.”
“Relax, bud!” He slaps me on the back. “Just think, you went through all that backbreaking farm work for her already. You only need to take this last step. I’ll be right behind you.”
“You’re right,” I say. “Let’s do this!”
For the rest of the day, I jitter and daydream. Classes pass right over my head. I think Miki said something to me at some point but it was like hearing it underwater: totally unintelligible. Once I thought I saw Shihoko wearing a baseball cap in the hallway, but it turned out to be someone else who looked uncannily similar. Argh! I must be going nuts over Shihoko! Now I’m seeing illusions of her.
School ends for the day and I walk out the entrance, still thinking of what to say to Shihoko when the time comes. Look at all these apples! No, too off topic. I love you? Too short. Maybe I should ask her simply: will you be my girlfriend? Yes, that’ll do!
I seem to have wandered to the stretch of road by the river. Few people visit this out-of-the-way road. The afternoon sun glitters on the water. Some ducks quack as they swim by. I stretch my arms and enjoy the serenity.
“Hey, you!” someone shouts behind me. Who in the world?
I turn around to find five unfriendly high school dudes in basketball jerseys. The guy in the center scowls at me and I know right then who he must be: Keika’s boyfriend Shoichi.
He's got big eyes, a straight nose, an earring in his left ear, and a stylish hairdo. One of those pretty boys I think girls tend to swoon over. He could probably sing in a boy band. And if what Keika said is true, he’s their school’s basketball star. No wonder Keika is all over him, I guess.
He points a finger at me. “Do you know who I am?”
“No, but I have a good idea,” I say nonchalantly. “You are Keika's boyfriend.”
“Then you know exactly why we're here.”
“Actually, no I don't.”
“He's playing dumb, Shoichi!” says one of his buds.
“This is the punk who messed with your girlfriend?” adds another basketball/boy band member.
“We are going to teach him a lesson today,” says Shoichi. “Aren‘t we boys?”
“Hey,” I put up my hands and back off. “I think there's been some misunderstanding.”
“There’s no misunderstanding.” Shoichi steps toward me. “I saw what you did at the pool.”
“That wasn’t what it looked like,” I say. “Wait a min. You were there?”
“Why are we talking to him?” says another one of them. Then he points a finger at me too. “We’re done talking to you!”
With all their finger pointing, it doesn’t look like they want to resolve this peacefully. Normally, there'd be nothing wrong with their tactic. Five against one is generally a sure win. Unfortunately for them, they made two critical mistakes.
One. I actually do know judo. Despite not making the Nationals, I am still superman to the average high schooler.
Two. I practice One vs World on a weekly basis thanks to the Bakayaro Gang. So a bunch of preppy basketball playboys who've probably never been in a real fight before want to take me on?
It’s no contest.
“Can we talk like civilized people now?” I say as I hold Shoichi in a headlock while the rest of his buddies whimper on the ground near him. He grunts an assent. I stand up. He staggers to his feet. We glower at each other.
“You know what you did at the pool,” he begins.
“Then why didn’t you jump out and do something about it?” I match his glare. “What were you doing? Watching us like some kind of peep show?”
“She’s my girlfriend.” His voice loses a little of its bravado.
I don’t know why, but I begin to get pissed. First I get pissed at maybe having done something wrong. Then I get even more pissed that I’m pissed at all as I’ve done nothing wrong.
“She was waiting for you.” I shove him. “She’s always, ALWAYS waiting for you. And what do you do? You treat her like dirt.”
“I…” he stammers.
“All she ever talks about is you!” I shove him harder. “When you saw another guy making moves on your girl, why didn’t you jump out and stop him instead of hiding like a pansy? Huh? If it were my girl I would’ve shaken the other guy up real good right then.”
I slam him against the wall. “What do you do instead? You bring your cronies to help. You too chicken to deal with this yourself? I bet you didn’t even ask Keika about us. About what she thought of all this. You didn’t even talk to her, did you?”
From his expression I know I guessed right.
“Keika’s a good girl. She never did anything to betray you.” I stare him down. He looks away.
I grab him by the collar and growl in his face. “I don’t know what she sees in you. You want her? Then why don’t you shape up and start acting like the man she deserves?”
He refuses to meet my eyes and looks down at the floor instead. I let him go. His cronies heard everything we said, and now they’re all real quiet. I turn my back on them and walk away without saying another word.