As the first students arrive at school, bleary eyed, they notice Shihoko’s Heart. Some chuckle and others point and gasp. A surprising number stay to gawk at some expected spectacle that’s bound to happen. Inevitably, phones start popping out and pictures get snapped and posted. However it turns out, this will be the talk of the school for quite some time.
I swell with pride. I start to imagine the look of joy and surprise on Shihoko’s face when she sees this. I will sweep in at the right moment and make my big declaration of love. The crowd will applaud, and I will get to date the prettiest girl in our school. I smile in spite of myself.
Strange. I haven’t seen Shihoko yet. Maybe she’s a little late this morning? I DO see Masashi instead. He’s staring at the arrangement shaking his head. I can’t help but feel the urge to gloat a little. I walk up to him.
“Yo Masashi,” I call to him.
“Machida.” He looks up. “Don’t tell me you did this?”
“In fact, I did,” I reply smugly. Masashi looks at me with disbelief. Then he starts to chuckle, which soon turns into an all-out guffaw.
“What?” I say, a bit angry.
“Machida, Machida, Machida. This is golden,” says Masashi as he gestures at the apples. “You never fail to bring in the laughs. You should go into comedy.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Everyone!” Masashi announces to the people gathered around. “Behold! The author of this masterpiece! Mister Machida Hiroto! Right here, folks. Isn’t this tribute to our lovely Shihoko awesome? Isn’t it fantastic?”
A few people clap hesitantly, unsure where Masashi’s going with this.
“But oh,” he continues. “This incredible display has one minor flaw.”
He grins like a wolf. “As a good friend, I feel compelled to inform you of one trifling detail.”
“What is it, Masashi?”
“I just thought you’d like to know: Shihoko is not coming to school today.”
“Oh? You didn’t know she has an away tennis match today?” Masashi says to me and to the crowd.
This can’t be happening.
“You are not a details man are you, Machida? You do all this just to have it all fall apart because you missed one crucial detail,” says Masashi.
No, this must be a bad joke. Masashi lies.
Masashi lays his palm on his chest. “Yet I knew. I have ways of finding out Shihoko’s schedule. So you know what I did? Because I knew Shihoko had an important away match today, I sent her a love letter full of encouragement along with a single rose.”
It dawns on me that he’s actually telling the truth. Because this time, the truth hurts far more than any lie.
“You know what the difference is between you and me?” Masashi taps his head. “It’s up here. It’s called smarts. I can accomplish more with a single rose than you can with bucketfuls of apples. Think about that, moron.”
“Hey!” Takuya runs over and shouts at Masashi. “What’s your problem?”
Masashi just laughs and waves a mocking goodbye as he saunters off with his chums. I’m so depressed I don’t even have the energy to punch him in the face.
Takuya pats me on the back. “Hey, don’t mind that jerk. You did good, okay? At least the whole school knows you declared love for Shihoko, right? It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t see it. It’ll be all over the school. See! Someone’s taking a photo of it right now!”
Junko joins us. “Yeah, Hiroto. I took pictures of the arrangement with my phone too. You can still send the photos to Shihoko later. She’ll love it!”
They are trying to cheer me up. I know they mean well, but it doesn’t work. I know perfectly well that photos don’t have the same impact as the real thing. Plus, I’ll now be known as the guy who botched up a major declaration of love to Shihoko. Like Takuya warned me before, this could make me the laughingstock of the entire school. Do or die, I told him. Well, die I did.
Takuya nods his head at the apples. “What do you want to do with the apples? The teachers are going to show up any minute.”
“Eat them. Pass them out. I don’t really care.” I gesture to nowhere in particular. “I planned to give them out for everyone to eat anyway.”
“Okay, buddy.” He shouts to the crowd, “Free apples for everyone! Courtesy of Machida Hiroto! Everyone is free to take a few!”
I think there is a faint cheer. Then I hear a gasp. Oh, Keika and Miki have arrived too. I don’t really want to talk to them right now.
“Thanks guys. You guys are great,” I say to Takuya and Junko. “I’ll thank you both later. Just…I need sometime alone, okay?”
“Hiroto…” says Junko.
Before she finishes, I turn and disappear into the crowd.