Heartache 101 ~Sour into Sweet~

       “And he’s cheap!” Miki narrates enthusiastically. “I told him it’s just ice cream. It’s not like I’m asking him to buy me a diamond or something. He said if I wanted it I can buy it myself! Can you believe it?”
       “Um.” I raise my hand.
       “What?” says Miki.
       “I thought you said you wanted to gloat about your date?”
       “Isn’t that what I’m doing?”
       “I imagined you would tell it more, uh, romantically?”
       “Well romantic it wasn’t! And he even tried to feel me up! Good thing I slapped his hand away before it got within a meter of me.”
       “I’m guessing you two didn’t part on the best of terms?”
       “Hmph,” says Miki. “He did say something strange at the end though. He said thank goodness he’s being paid for this. I wonder what he meant.”
       Somebody paid for Miki’s date? Who in the world has the spare money or the motivation to do such a silly thing? Keika suddenly finds the clouds outside our window very interesting. I have an idea why.
       “It’s just so weird,” says Miki. “Right, Keika?”
       Keika jumps. “Oh! Of course! I had nothing to do with it! I mean, why would I?”
       “Yeah.” I look at Keika. “Why would you? Hmm?”
       “At least Miki had a date!” Keika shoots back. “What about you? Gone on any dates lately?”
       “I’ve gone on one already,” says Miki smugly. “I told you I’d get a date first!”
       “Sounds like you had a blast, too,” I reply.
       “It can only get better,” declares Miki. “I’ll have a boyfriend before you know it. Come on! I shared my progress. How about you?”
       “I’m working on it.” I shrug and get up from my seat. I’m not about to reveal Project Snow White yet. I want it to surprise them too. “You two have fun chatting about dates.” 
       I look meaningfully at Keika. “And maybe think about how to setup the next one.” She returns an innocent smile.
       Nothing much happens for the rest of the day. I run into Miki a few times, but that happens everyday anyway. I also see some girl with glasses and a notebook speaking to a shady man in a car, but it’s really none of my business. I put the books I’ll need into my bag, sling my bag behind me, and get ready to head out. Maybe I can workout a little today. Lifting weights always manages to relax me. Odd. I see a kid standing by the entrance gates. It’s a little girl of about eight or nine with a lopsided ponytail. She turns her head this way and that as if looking for someone. What’s an elementary school student doing at our high school? Trying to be helpful, I walk up to her and say, “Yo, kid. Need help?” 
       She stares at me. 
       I try again. “This is a high school. You’re probably in the wrong place. Are you lost?”
       “I am waiting for my sister. She goes to this school,” she replies.
       “You sure?”
       “This is Hayauchi High, right?” She points to the school plaque.
       “It is,” I concede.
       “Then I’m sure.”
       “Alright then. Have fun. Bye.”
       I walk away. I mean, what could possibly happen to her? I am sure millions of kids wait in front of schools every day and nothing ever happens to them. Well, actually, things do happen to some of them come to think of it.

       I can imagine the headline now: Elementary School Student Found Murdered Near High School.

       The police will show up at my doorstep, shine a flashlight in my face, and say, “It has been confirmed by several eye witnesses that you were the last person seen talking to the victim. We need you to come with us.”
       “I didn’t do it!”
       “Then why did you let a little girl walk away alone?”
       “Uh, because I’m an as-hole?”
       I really don’t want to have that conversation. I walk back to the kid, crouch down, and put on my stern face. “Yo, kid. You need to go home. It’s not safe here. You should wait for your sister at home.” 
       “My sister says I shouldn’t talk to strangers.”
       “Your sister is right, but I am not a bad guy. You should do as I say.”
       “Oh yeah? What’s your name?”
       “My name is Hiroto. Machida Hiroto.”
       “Oh! Hiroto? That’s good then. My sister knows you!”
       “Like I said…what? Really? Your sister knows me?”
       “Yes! She said you’re that dumb-looking jock she runs by every morning.”
       “Is that so.” Dumb-looking jock? Dumb looking? Hey!
       “She said she didn’t really notice you before till she ran into you the other day.”
       I go over the number of girls who’ve run into me this past year. Then I run a database check on girls who’ve run into me in my lifetime. I can think of only one.
       “Your sister wouldn’t happen to be Watanabe Junko, would she?” I ask.
       Her expression brightens. “Yes! You ARE Hiroto! That solves my problem. I am Aoi. Junko’s my sister. You’re not a stranger!”
       I’m not a stranger, but I think your sister forgot to tell you she hates my guts.
       “So what do we do now, oni-chan?” she pipes.
       “Oni-chan? You need to call me Machida-san,” I scold.
       “You don’t look that old. I only call adults -san. And you don’t look like a -san. Besides, you FEEL like a big brother, an oni-chan.”
       “You got a smart mouth, kid.”
       “Do you have a swing set in your school, oni-chan?”
       “No, our high school does not have a swing set.”
       “No? That’s terrible! Every school should have a swing set. They should make it a rule.”
       After that she sticks to me like super glue. I can’t get rid of her no matter what I try. There goes my workout plan!
       Eons later (probably two hours), we finally see Junko walk out the school entrance.
       “Big sis! One-chan!” Aoi screams, runs, and jumps her sister.
       “Aoi! What are you doing here? This is not safe! Don’t ever do this again! Do you understand?” Junko begins to fuss over Aoi like a mom. 
       Aoi points in my direction. “Don't worry. I was playing with oni-chan all this time!”
       Junko looks my way in surprise. “You…”
       By the shape of her lips I am 100% sure she was about to say the P-word but stopped herself, probably because her kid sister is here. Instead she chokes out, "…Machida…kun."
       "Yo." I give a half wave.
       “You waited with my sister?” she asks.
       “Uh, yeah. I saw your sister, and we just kinda hit it off, I guess,” I reply.
       Aoi chirps, “One-chan! One-chan! Like you said, oni-chan does look a bit dumb, but he's not dumb at all! He knows all these fun games!”
       Junko flushes bright red.
       She stammers, “Don’t...don't be silly, Aoi! I never said that! So, uh, Machida-kun, you're, um…”
       I guess she's trying to change the subject.
       “You're on the judo team, right?”
       “Whoa. You knew that?”
       “Why? Is it supposed to be a big secret?”
       “No. It's just that nobody in the school knows about the judo team. I'm a bit surprised, that's all.”
       “I remember seeing you when you guys were jogging around in uniform.”
       “Oh right. That was when we had the senpai who believed religiously that running helps with judo. So we ran every morning.”
       “I think that time you were puffing at the end of the line and your senpai was yelling, 'You better move your fat behind, Hiroto! Or I'm gonna kick it all the way back to school!' That was how I knew it was you.”
       Oh. THAT time. 
       She says, “Anyway, thanks for hanging out with my sister. I, um, really appreciate it.”
       Oh, so you’re being nice now? Putting on an act 'cause your sister’s here? I am about to respond with something like 'you better keep your sister chained at home next time' when Aoi runs up and gives me a big hug.
       “Bye bye, oni-chan! You were awesome! Let's play again sometime!” she says happily.
       “Uh, yeah. Sure.”
       What else can I say?

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