VOLUME 2: ~Naïve~
Chapter 6 “Valentine’s knight-sama”
It was the girls in our class… No, it wasn’t just the girls in our class.
“He’s really popular, and now, everyone’s curious to find out more about him,” Momo-chan managed to put my thoughts into words.
She was right. I wondered if it was because of his nice performance during the recent concert. He was truly very cool, and he even thanked us for our help with a shy, embarrassed look. It was so rare to see him that way.
His after-school activities hadn’t changed as well; he would either head off to his part-time-job, or to GB-san’s place. Hazuki-chan informed us that he would be starting a part-time job at “Five Pennies” from spring vacation on. I hoped he’d managed to get Leon’s approval.
“Oh, I heard that Yada-kun and Kotake are ignoring Leon these days,” Ai-chan remarked.
“Ignoring Leon? Kotake?”
Wow, I can never understand Leon’s actions. I was shocked by his blunt choice of words when handling Yada-kun’s case. In my mind, a teacher should never do bad things, and would always stand by his students.
Leon’s way of doing things was totally different from any teacher I’d met in elementary and middle school. I always thought people’s actions should be guided by their responsibilities, rules, and our place in society.
“I don’t know much, but I’m really curious. Doremi-chan, why don’t you ask Kotake about it?”
“Well, I’ll be focusing on training from now on – the track meet’s coming up. And I won’t be able to work at the MAHO-do for the time being. Sorry.”
With that, Ai-chan picked up her bag and rushed off down the corridor.
“Good luck!” I shouted at Ai-chan’s retreating back, before making preparations to head home.
It was already February. Pop’s entrance exams were over, and she should be receiving the results at any time. She shared that even if she didn’t get accepted, she would attend Misora Middle School instead, while continuing to focus on her usual piano lessons. Judging by her calm demeanour, I guessed she must have done her very best, and was thus satisfied, no matter what the outcome might be.
The days were still cold, but the plum blossoms had already started blooming. The shops had also begun putting up decorations for the upcoming Doll Festival, so it felt like spring was almost upon us.
By the way, I heard from Pop that Seki-sensei had rushed over after the incident and given Yada-kun a stiff reprimanding. Seki-sensei and Leon’s wife were fellow alumni at Karen Girls’ Academy, so she must have heard about it from her.
It felt a little weird. Since my elementary school days, Seki-sensei had always been a kind and sometimes strict motherly figure, but it was slightly different now. Nowadays, seeing her come to the MAHO-do to purchase Momo-chan’s sweets, knowing how she was a Karen Girls’ Academy alumnus, and now, seeing her come to reprimand Yada-kun… I guess I was starting to see her as more of a big sister.
Of course, Seki-sensei was still an adult to us, but I somehow felt closer to her now. I hoped it wasn’t a sign that I was growing old.
I wondered if things would turn out differently if Seki-sensei had been there on the day of the incident. But that would have meant us losing out on the chance to learn more and solve the problem, so I was glad she wasn’t there.
Ah. But if Seki-sensei had been there together with Minako-san, Tachibana-san and GB-san’s wife, they would have made a formidable team. It would be awesome to see that happen someday.
“Doremi-chan, stop loafing around and smiling. Get to work!” Momo-chan scolded.
“That’s right, you’d better get Hazuki and Aiko’s work done too, or I won’t pay you,” Majorika threatened with a glare.
“Hazuki-chan must be busy now, with her exams coming up,” Lala mused.
Semestral exams at Karen Girls’ Academy were different from that in usual schools. Aside from the normal theory tests, those in the music faculty, like Hazuki-chan, had to sit for practical tests too. Those who did well would get the chance to perform at an actual concert held in March.
As the curriculum extended all the way up to the university level, the stress to do well must be really high. With her academics and confidence secure, Hazuki-chan must be working hard to achieve good results now. The fact that Karen Girls’ Academy had produced professional musicians in the past must be a great inspiration to her as well.
Onpu-chan was busy preparing for her debut in London, and I wondered if Hazuki-chan would get the chance to take part in overseas competitions this year too. With her being in the top class, she must be one of the better players in the country. Despite the stress from that incident with Yada-kun, I was sure Hazuki-chan would be able to manage.
Compared to the piano students, those focusing on the violin had a higher chance of being picked. But it also meant that they would now be competing with the chosen elite piano students. There must be lots of pressure.
Worried, I voiced such thoughts to everyone present in the MAHO-do.
“Don’t worry!” Momo-chan suddenly exclaimed with a thumbs-up.
“Hazuki-chan is much stronger than we think,” Lala added with a smile.
Yes, Hazuki-chan had a strong character. After gathering the truth about Yada-kun’s incident, she had solved the problem in such a calm manner.
“Eh? Momo-chan, what’s with those cakes?” I asked, finally noticing what Momo-chan was working on; three designed cakes which we had sold during the January period. Now that Valentine’s was approaching, we had stopped production on these and were focusing on chocolate gâteau instead.
“It’s a request from Seki-sensei. She missed out on them last month, so she put in a special order.”
I decided to help out and prepared some cake boxes. Momo-chan’s new cake creations were always really popular, and sold out almost immediately once we put them up for display. I’d gotten better at baking these days, but I still couldn’t bake them the way Momo-chan did, even though we followed the same recipe. That was why all of us, including Lala, could only help out with minor tasks like frosting, decorating and packaging. If only we were all as skilled as Momo-chan…
Well, at least I’d been training hard in my own way, and after a while more, I should become a charismatic soccer team manager, just like Kogure Maki-senpai. But…
“That’s a lot of stuff, Doremi. Are you bringing all that home?” Lala asked curiously as she stared at the pile of things before me.
As I was going to say, it was easier said than done. Kogure-senpai had passed me a whole stack of information today. There were notes written in tiny handwriting, rule books, photos, data sheets… It was a long road to become a charismatic soccer team manager.
“By the way, Kogure-senpai made some Valentines chocolates for Leon,” I shared with everyone.
Kogure-senpai had shared that with me when I asked about the pack of chocolates, tied with a shiny ribbon, I’d spotted inside her tote bag. Valentine’s this year would coincide with her final exams, so she had wanted to pass the chocolates to Leon early, as a show of her gratitude for his teaching.
“Leon is her world history teacher, right? I wonder if he’s a serious man when teaching her class,” Momo-chan mused.
“Well, Senpai shared that he always talks about random things during lectures, and writes useless notes on the blackboard—in messy handwriting, no less. But his printouts and remedial classes helped her lots in preparation for her exams,” I replied.
We would start learning about world history in our sophomore year, and I wondered if Leon would be our teacher. We started calling him Leon because he looked like a chameleon, and I was interested to find out just how much the nickname suited his personality.
When Ai-chan asked me to speak with Kotake about Leon, I didn’t really know how to do so. However, since I was really interested in finding out what Leon had said when Kogure-senpai passed him the chocolates, I decided to use that as an excuse to broach the topic.
“Huh? So that’s it?” Ai-chan asked incredulously.
“Yeah. It seems like both Kotake and Yada-kun were really turned off by Leon,” I replied tiredly.
Yes, it was because someone had said the words to Leon: “Both of them were so cool, just like knights. It’s been so long since I felt like a princess. I’ll remember to add them both to the list of men who will be getting chocolates from me for Valentine’s.”
Who, you ask? It was none other than Minako-san, Leon’s wife. During that incident at the club, Yada-kun and Kotake had thought that the drunks were harassing the ladies, and they had to come to the rescue. Their actions had touched the two women, and Minako-san had gushed about them to Leon.
Of course, the two ladies were probably used to men trying to pick them up, and could easily have handled the situation themselves, but having two brave high school boys come to your rescue must have felt good too. And because of that, Leon ended up getting jealous of the boys.
“So that’s it? He’s probably just jealous? And here I was, getting myself all worried for them,” Ai-chan sighed, both in relief and exasperation. Shouldering her bag, she then continued, “Well, that’s settled then. I’m glad it’s all nothing. I have track training now, so I need to go. I might pop in at the MAHO-do later.”
“No problem, I’ll let Momo-chan and Majorika know.”
With that, Ai-chan dashed off down the corridor.
Judging from her performance during the previous track meet, becoming a professional athlete or joining the Olympics was definitely no longer just an unattainable dream for Ai-chan. I’m so proud of her, and I wish she’ll continue working hard to achieve her goal.
As for myself, I’ve been bringing the notes Kogure-senpai had given to me to school every day for study and reference. I’m a little worried because there’s just so much to know about soccer, but I can feel myself slowly starting to make some progress.
“It was so amazing, Doremi-chan. And Ai-chan was so cool too!”
Momo-chan had not stopped her gushing ever since she arrived at the MAHO-do, excitedly reliving what she termed as “Ai-chan’s chivalry”.
It happened when Ai-chan was dashing down the corridor after we had said goodbye in the classroom. As she was rounding a corner,
She came face-to-face with Shidou Yuuna-chan, Narita Akira-senpai from the science club, and Miyamae Sora-kun. Narita-senpai had tried to pull Yuuna-chan aside, while Ai-chan did her best to stop herself, but it was all in vain as she bumped hard into Miyamae-kun, who then fell backwards onto Yuuna-chan.
“Sorry, Yuuna-chan. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Ai-chan apologized hurriedly.
Yuuna-chan had scraped her knee against the corner of a nearby pillar, and it was bleeding slightly. Narita-senpai immediately whipped out his handkerchief and handed it to her.
“I’m okay, it’s just a scratch. Aiko-san, are you hurt?”
“Come on, Yuuna-san, I’ll bring you to the school infirmary. Senoo-san, do come alo-”
But before Narita-senpai could finish his sentence, Ai-chan had picked Yuuna-chan up bridal-style, and had started running to the infirmary with her.
“She was just so quick! I was watching them from the opposite corridor, and lots of people saw it too. In the end, only Miyamae-kun was left standing there alone,” Momo-chan concluded.
What bad luck. He hadn’t made it in time to help Yuuna-chan up, missed the chance to pass her his handkerchief, and could only watch as Ai-chan carried Yuuna-chan away.
“Was Ai-chan hurt?” I asked.
“Well, she was running to the infirmary with Yuuna-chan in her arms, so I guess she’s alright,” Momo-chan replied, before informing me that Ai-chan had went for her track training after the incident.
The next track meet was scheduled for spring. Ai-chan had broken the record in the national high school category the previous year. Since then, there hadn’t been any major events, so she could not challenge any more records. Since she had been training every single day since winter, I’m sure she’ll be ready to display her prowess in spring.
The next day, Ai-chan was visibly relieved after learning that Yuuna-chan’s injury was slight. Yuuna-chan, being her usual kind self, was instead concerned about Ai-chan, and whether she had strained her muscles during the collision. Yuuna-chan was also slightly embarrassed, no doubt remembering how Ai-chan had carried her all the way to the infirmary the previous day. I mean, it was definitely the hottest topic in school that day.
Yuuna-chan is quite a tiny girl, but I don’t think I could have carried her if I was in Ai-chan’s position. The thought of carrying her probably wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. Ai-chan was probably acting on instinct. It was just like her.
Nobody knew if that incident was the cause of it, but during training that day, Ai-chan injured her Achilles tendon.
Momo-chan and I learned about this when we were making sweets at the MAHO-do. Suddenly, my mobile phone rang.
Before I could even say hello, Kotake’s urgent voice sounded in my ear, telling me that Ai-chan had gotten injured.
“Ai-chan? Is she alright? Where is she now, at the hospital?” I yelled into the phone, as Momo-chan, Majorika and Lala turned towards me with shocked faces.
“Is Ai-chan hurt?” Momo-chan asked hesitantly after I ended the call. I informed everyone that Kotake had been training as well when he learned about Ai-chan’s injury, and that Nagao-sensei, the teacher in-charge, had already taken her to the hospital in his car.
“Her calf was hurting, so it might be something to do with the Achilles tendon,” Kotake had told me calmly. It was probably nothing new to him, since injuries are an inevitable part of every athlete’s life, but I was worried for Ai-chan. The track meet wasn’t long off, and I wished her injury wasn’t something serious.
Just as I finished updating everyone on the situation, both my mobile and Momo-chan’s rang out again. It was a message from Ai-chan.
“I guess you girls already know about this. My leg started to hurt when I was running just now, so I was brought to the hospital. I went through a check-up and am home now. The doctor said I have Achilles tendonitis, and told me to take a rest from school if I’m still in pain tomorrow. At least there’s no tearing, so I’ll heal soon. Don’t worry about me. I’m going to bed now zzz”
Ai-chan must have guessed that we would be worried, and sent us this message to reassure us.
“I wonder if she’s alright… Well, it’s Ai-chan we’re talking about here; I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Momo-chan whispered to herself as she went back to mixing ingredients. Following her lead, I picked up on work as well, hoping that Ai-chan really was alright.
Soon, we received a message from Hazuki-chan. Ai-chan had no doubt dropped her a message as well. However, we didn’t know many details, and couldn’t answer her questions. I promised that I would find out more tomorrow from the teacher in-charge and give her a call.
I was slightly worried that we hadn’t heard from Onpu-chan, but decided not to worry about it right now.
Ai-chan didn’t attend school the next day.
Leon informed everyone during homeroom period that Ai-chan had injured herself and wouldn’t be participating in any physical activities for the time being. However, she would be expected back at school in a couple of days’ time.
After school, Momo-chan and I went to see Nagao-sensei to ask about the incident. I then sent out a message to Hazuki-chan and Onpu-chan, and we arranged to meet up that evening to go visit Ai-chan.
Momo-chan and I quickly finished up at the MAHO-do and headed out, meeting Hazuki-chan along the way to Ai-chan’s place.
Hazuki-chan had taken her practical test today. I was just wondering if anxiety for Ai-chan had affected her mood and performance when she spoke up,
“Congrats on Pop-chan passing her exams. She really worked hard for it.”
In fact, the results of Pop’s entrance exams were released yesterday, but we were all so flustered over Ai-chan that I forgot to break the news to everyone.
“Huh, so she got in? Congrats! She really did it!” Momo-chan exclaimed happily.
“Yep, thanks. Pop told me to thank all of you. Mum wants me to thank you too, Hazuki-chan, for putting in the effort to teach Pop.”
“Pop-chan passed the exams due to her own hard work,” Hazuki-chan immediately waved her hands before her face, dismissing my words. “I’m sorry. I was so shocked about what happened to Ai-chan that I’d forgotten to get her a congratulatory gift.”
“No, we should be the ones thanking you. Oh, Momo-chan. Mum wants me to let you know that she’ll be ordering some cakes, but I totally forgot…” I said guiltily, turning to Momo-chan.
“No problem, I’ll bake you some really cute cakes soon. Do apologize to Pop-chan since I won’t be able to get them ready until this incident with Ai-chan is over,” Momo-chan replied.
Momo-chan doesn’t like to bake when she’s feeling worried or down, because she said it makes her baking less delicious. Besides, Majorika and Lala had hustled us out of the MAHO-do to go visit Ai-chan, telling us not to worry about the store. I think our best course of action would be to make sure that Ai-chan was alright, so we can feel more relieved and not bake with heavy hearts.
As we chatted about Pop’s success, we also asked after Hazuki-chan’s practical test.
“Did you play well? Sorry I didn’t send you a good luck message,” I apologized.
“It’s alright. I’m lucky because the set piece is a favourite of mine, and I think I played it well in my own way. The results will be out next week, but I feel really satisfied with my performance,” Hazuki-chan said with a smile.
Mukai Riko-chan, Hazuki-chan’s classmate who used to spread rumours about her on the school’s Ura Site, had now become a worthy rival. Due to the fact that Hazuki-chan had practiced much more for this test, she was bound to do better than Riko-chan, but Hazuki-chan remained humble.
“Riko-chan sometimes gives me really good pointers and critiques. She does have a good ear for music,” Hazuki-chan shared.
As the two got better at playing their instruments, Riko-chan was now providing Hazuki-chan with plenty of support. I’ve not heard Hazuki-chan on the violin for quite a while, but I’ll definitely attend the upcoming concert. I’m sure Hazuki-chan would be chosen to play.
“If you get chosen to play, I’ll make you a violin-shaped cake, so look forward to that!” Momo-chan laughed.
Chatting excitedly, we reached Ai-chan’s apartment block.
The previous day, Ai-chan went to the hospital by Nagao-sensei’s car. As she’d told us in her message, she had been diagnosed with Achilles tendonitis, a common injury amongst athletes. However, Ai-chan was suffering from a more serious variant, which Nagao-sensei thought might be the result of a prolonged period of stress.
Ai-chan shared that she would be taking a break from training next week. Once the pain subsided, she would start with tendon training exercises that wouldn’t strain her leg too much. The doctor had also told her to be more aware of her own body, since she was growing taller every year, and that would throw off her balance.
As an athlete training for the track season and holder of the high school track record, Ai-chan seemed disappointed and upset at herself for not knowing enough to prevent this injury.
I didn’t know much about track, but Kotake had sounded really calm and composed when he told me about Ai-chan’s injury. I recalled how he had been knocked to the ground by an opponent’s foul move during that game I watched, and realized that injuries were probably part and parcel of an athlete’s life. I would be taking over as manager of the soccer team in April, but I knew I still had lots more to learn. The thought left me slightly frightened.
When we arrived, Ai-chan was sitting on the sofa in the living room, reading.
“Ai-chan, are you alright? Does it hurt?” we asked worriedly as we dashed up to Ai-chan, after handing Momo-chan’s handmade sweets to her mum.
“I won’t lie and say I’m fine, but the pain isn’t that bad now… I’m an idiot. I knew something was wrong when I started running, and the timing just didn’t feel right. And Nagao-sensei even told me to warm-up properly first,” Ai-chan sighed.
“Yuuna-chan is really worried. She thinks that your injury was caused by that collision in the corridor,” Momo-chan said.
“Well, my ankle was hurting a little after the collision, but it felt fine when I was doing my warm-ups yesterday, even when I started running,” Ai-chan replied with a remorseful look on her face.
The strain on Ai-chan’s tendon must have been so slight that not even the teacher could detect it. It was only after some time when he noticed that Ai-chan was trying to cover up her discomfort.
“This has nothing to do with Yuuna-chan, it’s all my fault. Please let her know tomorrow that there’s nothing to worry about,” Ai-chan insisted.
“Yeah, I’ll let her know,” I assured her.
Hazuki-chan decided to change the topic, “There’s really so many books here. Are they all about athletics?”
There was a pile of library books on the living room table, most of them books on athletics and nursing.
Ai-chan shared that she’d never really thought to learn about injuries until now, so she would take the break to read up on them. In order to heal soon and be at her prime for the spring track meet, she had also learnt how to perform procedures such as taping her joints and medical care while at the hospital.
However, Ai-chan didn’t feel like her usual self, in spite of all the optimism in her voice and expression.
“I can actually go to school, but I just couldn’t sleep last night. In the end, I didn’t get enough sleep, probably because I was so caught up with reading all these books…”
“Ai-chan, please don’t push yourself like that…” I protested. Before I knew it, I was crying.
“Ai-chan, don’t blame yourself for what has happened,” Hazuki-chan added.
“Ai-chan, you won’t heal if you don’t rest!” Momo-chan added.
In the end, the three of us huddled close around Ai-chan, crying our eyes out.
“What’s wrong…? Hey, it’s not such a serious matter…” Ai-chan said apprehensively.
“You must be suffering, but you’re still trying your best to ease our anxiety.”
“We’re crying for you, Ai-chan.”
I tried to stop my tears, but they just kept coming. I’m sorry, Ai-chan.
“What…? Hey, if this carries on, I’m going to cry too!”
A single tear rolled down Ai-chan’s cheek. The injury probably didn’t hurt her as much as the feeling of helplessness did. She must be angry at herself for her own carelessness and inexperience, which was going to cause her much disappointment in the upcoming track meet.
“Don’t push yourself too hard, there will be other chances to prove your skill,” Hazuki-chan said in an encouraging voice, while wiping her tears away.
“There’s still time before the track meet. Just rest well now, and eat lots of things to make you heal faster!” Momo-chan added.
“Nagao-sensei has also apologized for his lack of supervision. I’ll do anything I can to help you out, so you just focus on getting better,” I concluded.
Ai-chan nodded, though her expression still appeared slightly sad.
“Hazuki-chan, Momo-chan, Doremi-chan… Thank you. I mean it. I’ll do my best to heal before the track meet. Everyone, please watch over me.”
She still sounded tired and upset, but it had only been a day since her injury, so I guess she just needed time. We said goodbye to Ai-chan and her mother, then left the apartment.
“Ai-chan’s eyes were so red. I hope she gets some sleep tonight,” Hazuki-chan whispered with a sigh.
Even if Ai-chan managed to heal before the track meet, she wouldn’t have enough time to train. I was sure this problem had crossed Ai-chan’s mind as well.
“I use aromatherapy in my bedroom to help calm myself down before bed. I’ll bring some for Ai-chan the next time we visit,” Hazuki-chan said.
“She did look exhausted, so unlike the usual Ai-chan. I’ll bake her some herbal madeleine cakes,” Momo-chan added.
I decided to decorate one of the chocolate gâteau specially for Ai-chan, in line with our Valentine’s theme, to help cheer her up. Sweet things always make people happy, and I hoped it was true for Ai-chan too.
I mean, I feel great whenever I see steak.