Heartache 101 ~Sour into Sweet~

       The teacher drones on about the intricacies of integrals (or is it derivatives? Can’t ever seem to remember). I try to focus but the info seems to leak out of my ears as soon as it enters. I’m so not looking forward to college entrance exams next year. Why can’t they have exams based on how well you can throw people around? At least that’s more useful than this arcane stuff. Finally the class bell rings and I slump in exhaustion as the teacher reminds us for the third time to do our homework. What’s next? Chemistry? Oh boy. Another favorite.
       Students fill the hallways as usual during break. I walk slowly to chem since I’ve still got plenty of time. I pass a group of blushing, giggling girls sneaking glances at something. I follow their gaze. Oh, I see. It’s Masashi, the school chick magnet.
       Masashi is the track team captain. While the track team isn't as crazy popular as the tennis team, they’re still rock stars compared to the judo team. Masashi’s well muscled and according to the girls in our school, very handsome. His name consistently shows up in the top 10 when grades are posted. Girls line up to date him.  He's got the looks, the brawn, the brains, and the popularity. The perfect golden boy. I don't like him.
       It may have to do with the relationship between our teams. I don't remember exactly what began the rivalry, no, the blood feud between the judo team and the track team. Maybe it started with a few snide remarks about how all judo members are short and slow. Or maybe it's because someone from our side called them peewee twigs. Then one time they stole our judo gi's from the laundry. We retaliated by soaking their running shoes and turning them into ice blocks in the freezer. After that war erupted and no one has yet called a cease fire.
       Plus, it is public knowledge he recently broke up with his girlfriend (or girlfriends) and has set his sights on Shihoko. Quite a number of people in our school root for him and Shihoko. They think that the school’s ‘perfect couple’ should so get together. So in my book, he's public enemy No. 1.
       "Hey, moron!" he calls out to me. The goons around him laugh. Masashi’s nice to girls. Girls ONLY.
       "Throwing random insults." I stop and match his glare. "Yeah. That makes you a big man now."
       "I'm just telling it like it is. Okay then genius, since you deny my truthful observation, answer me this: Aristotle. Plato. Socrates. Who taught who?"
       I remember hearing those names in class. Just not in what order.
       "I'm Japanese! I don't care about some stupid western history!" I reply lamely.
       "Says the patriot!" Masashi exaggeratedly presents me to his buddies. "Well, Mr. I-Love-Japan. Do you know we live in a connected world now? Cultural integration? Global village? Oh, I'm sorry. Did I use terms that are too big for you?"
       I stand there red-faced. I ball my hands into fists. Someone swipes my wallet from my back pocket.
       "Hey!" I whirl around and see one of Masashi’s goons. He must've snuck up on me while I was talking to Masashi. He throws my wallet to Masashi. The pack whoops.
       Masashi shakes my wallet in my face. "I wonder what's inside. Maybe I'll find some maid cafe coupons? Some otaku memorabilia?"
       "Give me back my wallet!"
       "Sure," he says and then hurls my wallet through an open window. "Oops. My hand slipped. You better go find it before someone picks it up. Ha ha ha!" They high five each other and skip away like a pack of hyenas.
       Without thinking, I rush inside the neighboring room. I see my wallet and scoop it off the floor. I check the contents and nothing seems to be missing. Now I am gonna go back and punch- 

       Oh no. I suddenly realize where I am. I’m in the GIRLS' locker room.

       Holy crap. Here of all places! Good thing I don’t see anyone. I have to get out of here before- 
       I hear the door open. Someone’s coming! I’m in the inner section so I’ll have a few seconds, but no more. Great. Just great. If they find me now no one will believe my story. I’ll be branded the Supreme Joke of our high school forever and ever, and all chances of wooing Shihoko will be flushed down the drain.
       I must hide! Activating my “Janitor Mode,” a torrent of bathroom and locker room layouts flash through my mind. I look to the left. There! Just as I thought, a broom closet! I yank the door open and swivel in just in time. A few seconds later, I hear footsteps and heavy breathing outside the closet door. Someone just ran in? Is someone else on the run today too?
       I freeze. Any minute now someone is going to open that door and end my (social) life. I clench my fist. Cold sweat drips down my back. With a shock, I realize I forgot to lock the door. I reach for the door knob and-
       A brilliant flash of light blinds my eyes. A sweaty, breathless girl appears in front of me, still holding the door, her body on the way in.

       I can’t believe it. It’s Watanabe Junko: human wrecking ball.

       Her eyes widen at the sight of me, and I stare back mouth agape. For a second, we stand there like two idiots caught in headlights.
       Acting on wild instinct, I grab her, clap my hand over her  mouth, and pull her in with me, slamming and locking the door behind us. Good thing I do that because a moment later we hear the voices of two other girls.
       “Listen!” I hiss in Junko’s ear. “I’m not a per-! I’ll explain later. Just shut up!” Apparently she doesn’t want to be found out either, because she stops struggling.
       “Where’s that little...” yells a girl’s voice. “Wait till I get my hands on her!”
       Crash! Boom! Crack! It sounds like two dinosaurs stomping around outside the broom closet, ready to rip us apart and devour us whole. In high school one’s reputation IS life, so that comparison’s really not that far from the truth. If they discover us like this now, it’s OVER.
       The girls outside seem to be flinging open lockers and throwing stuff around, generally taking the place down. Hey, maybe I can use this as my excuse for being late to chem. So why were you late for class? Uh, I was dodging dinosaurs?

       The closet door handle rattles.

       This is it. That lock will break off any moment and the door will burst open. The end approaches. I hold my breath, and I feel Junko tense as she does so too.
       "This door’s locked. She can't be in here," says one of the voices.
       Thank heavens they are forgetting that one can lock a door from the inside too. Maybe some god of hiding has decided to be on my side today. Or maybe they’re just really dumb. Either way I’m not complaining. After a while the sounds cease, and I hear two soft thumps as the girls slump onto the benches. They begin chatting.
       "You sure you saw her run in here?"
       "I guess I must've seen wrong. She must've taken another turn."
       "What do we do now?"
       "She'll have to come to practice sooner or later."
       "Yeah, but you can't do anything with Coach around."
       “Coach can’t be everywhere. I will make sure that girl never competes again!”
       “I heard she’s in a gang.”
       “I don’t care if she’s in a hundred gangs. No one crosses me like that!”
       “To be fair, she hasn’t always been like this.”
       “Oh yeah? What happened?”
       “I heard her dad got together with a slinky little filly and dumped her mom.”
       “Really? That’s wild.”
       The girls laugh.
       A fury of twists, elbows, and kicks explode within my embrace. Junko is trying to break out, presumably to beat the living snot out of those two girls. There’s no way I’m letting that happen. I hang on to her for dear life because wow, she is STRONG. If it had been anyone but me (okay, or maybe one of my teammates), she would’ve gotten out for sure. Eventually she gives up. Hot tears of shame and anger flow down her cheeks and onto my hand, accompanied by a short sob of frustration. I feel like a dirty thug. It’s not one of my proudest moments.
       The dinosaurs outside cuss some more, kick some more, and throw their weight around in vexation. The seconds tick by with agonizing slowness. Every second I become more certain the door will be thrown open, my doom ensured.

       But as in all things, eternity passes and sweet silence arrives. I breath a sigh of relief.

       And become painfully aware that I, Machida Hiroto, age 16, have never, ever held a girl before. I always imagined I would have my first embrace under more romantic circumstances. Maybe after a fun night of dinner and a movie. As I walk my date back to her house, we duck into a secluded, forgotten garden, secreted in the bustle of the city. Then under silvery moonlight, surrounded by sakura trees... There. Certainly not in a dank broom closet hiding from two rampaging monsters.
       But here we are. And I’m totally unprepared for this supple bundle of warmth and softness. A not unpleasant weight presses against my chest. My left hand covers a face smooth and delicate, my right encircles a narrow waist, and my face snuggles in hair smelling faintly of flowers. It’s intensifying, electrifying, and terrifying all at the same time. I can feel her heartbeat. My own beats out of control.
       “They’re gone. Can you let go now?” she says coldly.
       “Oh. Ah. Yeah.”
       I let go, and we stumble out of the broom closet: two disheveled, breathless, sweaty teenagers. If some teacher had walked by then, we would’ve had to come up with some really, really good explanation.
       I look at her and begin apologetically, “Look, I’m so-”
       She slaps my face, hard. Then she turns and runs off.
       Leaving me stunned, holding my face, and pissed off. What have I done to deserve this? I hate that girl!

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