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Alice continued walking disparringly.
---Ah geez, why do I always end up like this.
Without giving a proper thank you, she had actually yelled something negative. It was too cruel.
---It's because of things like this that everyone calls me strange-chan. I have to do better.
She was in the mood to pound her head.
Being lost in the fear of being groped, and the feeling of security after having being helped, and the self-dislike at her embarrassment, many feelings had mixed together, and she had yelled that she hated him...
Her face was still burning. Her cheeks must be really red.
She trudged forward, her gaze directed towards the ground.
Even if a shining tomorrow awaited, Alice could only feel the irony of her selfloathing.
Slapped on the back Alice had nearly jumped out of her skin.
"Oh, Yuka. Morning."
Yuka Tajima. A lean, tall figure, and a smile that showed she could tolerate anything. She was Alice's close friend, and somewhat of an older sister to her as well.
"You're late today."
"Yeah. You think we can make it?"
"No problem, we'll definitely make it. It's going to be close though."
Panicking, she had taken the East Exit, resulting in her taking the longer route.
The usually student filled street to Motochiba High was now nearly empty, resulting in a severe decrease in the amount of white from the uniforms one could see.
"What were you making all those faces for?"
"Uhm...ehh...n, no reason really!"
There was no way she could say she had been groped.
Having her bottom touched was too embarrassing.
The fact that Suzuki-kun who had helped her had looked like a prince was something she could never mention.
"Hmmmm. It was probably because you were busy reading one of those Saphire novels, and nearly missed getting off the train."
Alice's already scarlet face deepened further.
Safire novels were books written for girls that depicted acts beyond kissing. In the sparkling world of a prince and princess, these romantic scenes were added compared with other novels.
Alice had been reading one of the Safire novels in the train. It had happened right as the Prince had pulled the Princess close and kissed her.
That's when she had her bottom touched.
---It might be all my fault.
Because she had been reading a slightly erotic girls novel, a special aura had developed, and that might be the reason things had turned out the way they had.
Trying to run away from her embarrassment had only created more embarrassment, and had led to her shouting the word 'hate'.
"That's not it, I really did get off alright."
"Don't look like your about to burst out in tears. Ah, geez, it's because you're so cute Alice. When you start to get flustered, you say a whole bunch of stuff that doesn't make any sense."
Yes. That was exactly right.
In a panic, she would say things she wouldn't mean. She had yelled something really extreme.
"That's why I'm always called strange-chan huh..."
"What's wrong? You're pretty dark today. Your good point is that you're always pretty easy-going."
Alice was easy-going. Because of that she wasn't able to match the world's rhythm. She always tried her hardest to be a part of it, but she was always one beat off.
She was always thinking of her own fancies, and would say things that didn't match some situation, which had led to her being called strange-chan.
"You don't have to try and match, just be yourself, and we'll follow you."
Yuka's words were very soothing.
Alice hugged Yuka tightly, causing the area of her uniform covering her breasts to rub against Yuka's.
"Yuka is like my older sister! Gee I just love you...!"
"Ahn, okay okay you're cute! I like you too."
Yuka rubbed Alice's head.
The other students on the road watched the rare romantic scene unfolding before them.
Masayoshi was erasing the blackboard on which had been written all manner of rumors and the like. He wanted to have the blackboard clean before class started.
Erasing the blackboard was a daily assigned job, but somehow Masayoshi had become the one in charge of erasing.
The morning sun streaming in brightened the room and softly lighted all the students who were passing time in their own ways.
"Haha, that so?"
A laughing voice could be heard. It was Azekura Alice and Tajima Yuka as well as Sasaki Kaori were all laughing happily together.
"Haha, No way. geez Kaori..."
The combination of easygoing Alice, tall, older sister Yuka, and the quiet Sasaki who didn't speak much, was strange, but they all enjoyed each others company and were good friends.
Alice lifted her face.
Her eyes met Masayoshi's.
Alice let out a strange sound, and took a sharp breath.
Her pupil had become as large as her eye.
He wanted to avert his gaze but couldn't.
Even while thinking this was bad, he couldn't help it. Alice's face lowered.
When she lifted her face, tears were streaming down it.
It's not like he was trying to glare down at her, but just like with an elementary school kid a while back, she was crying after looking him in the eyes. Tajima held Alice while Sasaki patted her on the back.
"Suzuki-kun, why are you making Alice cry?"
Tajima's voice was sharp and piercing.
The classroom which had been lively until now suddenly turned silent. Everyone stared intently at Tajima, Masayoshi and Alice trying to find what was going on.
"What? What's happening?"
"Seems Suzuki's been bullying Alice."
Whispering had broken out in the room.
Masayoshi replied softly.
"I didn't do anything."
"Don't lie, you were glaring at Alice. She's scared."
"I wasn't glaring."
"Then why is she crying?"
"Tajima, let's stop there."
Perhaps it was due to the silver glasses she wore, but the girl who spoke looked full of knowledge.
"I didn't see Suzuki-kun do anything wrong, and Tajima you should know as well."
The clear voice one would expect from the Student Body President had the effect of silencing Tajima Yuka who had been acting to protect her friend.
"Azekura, what you're doing isn't right either. Don't you feel bad for Suzuki-kun?"
The Student Body President addressed Alice as though she were giving a lecture.
Alice hiccupped lightly, turning to face Atsuko.
The classroom became even quieter.
Wrapped in nervousness, somewhere not too far off a chime rang.
Alice stood up abruptly, causing the chair to make a great deal of noise as she did. She turned her head this way and that frantically. Her lightly dyed hair flew back and forth. The scent of her floral shampoo filled the air.
"I was just crying from remembering something is all. It has nothing to do with Suzuki-kun. I'm so sorry! Hwaaaaaaah!!"
Alice's voice resounded loudly through the room.
It seemed everyone was willing to accept that response.
"She is strange-chan after all."
No matter how one looked at it bursting out in tears was a rare occurrence, but it seemed to be accepted as part of the strange girls personality. Laughing out loud all of a sudden and staring off in to space, causing the teacher's question to be answered off the mark were aspects of who Alice was.
She was off beat with the rest by just a small margin. Yet it matched her strangeness and surrounding atmosphere that it had all but become a matter that took a little forgiveness because she was cute.
She wasn't a being that shone brightly, instead she was a pretty girl who was enjoyable to watch. The school's hidden idol.
That was the standing of Azekura Alice.
Glad that he was able to unlock his gaze from hers, Masayoshi returned to vigourously erasing the remaining remarks written on the blackboard.
Atsuko released a deep breath, and returned to her seat.
"We're starting shortened homeroom everyone!"
The classroom door slid open with a rough shaking sound, and the homeroom teacher Sadou entered.
Masayoshi returned the eraser to its place on the blackboard, and returned to his seat.
"Woooah! Azekura, what happened?! Why are you crying?! Someone wasn't bullying you were they?! Or are you crying from remembering something!?"
The classroom boiled over. After all, Alice's sobbing had come from her remembering something.
"I, I'm going to go to the restroom."
"No, it's okay Kao-chan. Thanks though."
Tajima held out a tissue.
"Thanks. I'll be back soon. Mr. Sadou, excuse me."
"Make sure you return before overtime."
"Shouldn't it be before class ends?"
With someone's weak attempt at a joke following her, Alice exited the classroom, the sound of her shoes on the floor revealing the speed at which she left.
---Ah~, why did I cry...I can't believe me...!
Alice was vigorously scrubbing her face at a sink in the girls bathroom. As class had already started, there was nobody in the restroom, which meant Alice was alone in the silence.
To her burning face, the cold water came as a welcome relief.
When she and Masayoshi had locked gazes, she had recalled everything that had happened in the morning train, filling her with embarrassment and causing her to burst out into tears.
The way she had cried was just as if the wall to a flood gate had burst.
"All of a sudden crying like that really isn't good."
It was just as the student council president had said.To not just refrain from saying a word of thanks to someone who had helped her, but to go so far as to yell loudly that she hated him and run away was the worst possible thing she could have done.
Differing from the time she was in middle school, she had friends now who would cover for her when she did something odd, so her eccentricity was able to be played down somewhat, but it's not as if her friends would always be there.
If things continued the way they were, there was no guarantee things wouldn't become a repeat of her middle school days.
When she had been groped, when something bad she didn't like happened, she had wanted to be able to say "stop it."
When she had been helped, when someone had shown her kindness she wanted to be able to say "thank you."
If she could only change little by little, if she could just become a little bit more positive, she should be able to stop doing things like bursting out in tears all of a sudden, and getting separated from the rhythm of everyone else.
--I'm definitely going to tell Suzuki-kun. Courage, Alice!
"I can do this!"
Alice clenched her hands into fists beside her, and shook them vigourously back and forth.
She was determined to say "thank you" and "I'm sorry" to Masayohi. By the end of the day at all costs. It's still morning, so if she continued following Masayoshi, she should be able to talk to him when he's alone.
--That makes me wonder, Suzuki-kun. Why were you erasing the blackboard? Ah, it's because you're the class rep, right?
Suzuki-kun is that kind of person...Alice, her eyes reeling from shock, continued to watch Masayoshi.
During the break after first period and before second. After promptly erasing the blackboard, he moved to the back of the classroom.
Taking out the trash bag lining the garbage bin, Masayoshi then carefully replaced it with a new one.
He took the bag full of garbage, and walked out into the hallway. He returned back to the classroom just as the chime signaling the next class sounded. He must have gone to the school's disposal facility, as when he returned he did so empty-handed.
During second period.
Going to the staff office to retrieve a printout the teacher had forgotten and asked him to retrieve, Masayoshi had picked up a piece of trash and upon returning to the classroom quickly threw it into the bin.
During the break between second and third period.
After erasing the black board careful to make sure nothing was left, he cleaned the blackboard eraser.
During the break between third and fourth period.
Having Handed out the notes for the Language class, which the teacher had requested of him, he erased the black board before returning to his seat.
--I had no idea...Suzuki-kun did this much of the classroom cleaning. Is it because he's the class rep? That just can't be it. Erasing the blackboard is the job of the one who's day it is, and throwing out the trash can't be one of the duties of the class representative.
To Alice, Masayoshi was a classmate with long hair who had a rather dark atmosphere about him. Nothing more, and nothing less. Masayoshi's family being associated with a Yakuza gang was famous, and so Alice had heard it of course, but had never really given it any thought.
She had only spent a single day watching him, and already the scales were falling from her eyes.
The true form of the so-called protligate son with a frightful dark demeanor was actually a boy who would make an excellent bride.
The scales that had clung to Alice's eyes had been so thick that she couldn't help but be totally taken aback.
"You know, Suzuki-kun is always doing the classroom jobs nobody else wants to."
Eating her fried egg home-made lunch, Alice tried bringing him into their conversation. The lunch she hand-made everyday was colorful and looked truly delicious.
Masayoshi took a bento-like box wrapped in cloth, and holding it close to his chest, left the classroom.
She actually really wanted to follow him and continue her observations, but lunch time was a time for her to be with her friends, so she couldn't.
Yuka said, continuing to eat her meatloaf.
"Isn't it because he's the class rep?"
"Nah...It's like he's doing things beyond his duty as the class rep, or you could say it's like he'll make a good bride..."
"Hah, a bride...?!"
Kao-chan said laughing, as she ate a sandwich from a convenience store.
"That's right. Alice you started crying after he glared at you. There's no way love has blossomed is there?"
Yuka said, poking fun at her.
--Love has blossomed?
The cooled crab cream croquet she had been holding with her chopsticks dropped to the ground.
Alice remained spaced out, oblivious to the fact.
"Alice, you dropped your croquet."
"Heh? Ah! My croquet...! It was my favorite and I dropped it..."
Tears again began streaming down her face.
"Don't cry over a croquet! I'll give you mine, okay?"
"Alice, don't go on a trip while eating your bento."
It was a lively moment the group of friends shared.
Masayoshi must be eating his bento around now. Perhaps with his friends, at the school cafeteria or maybe even on the roof.
--It couldn't be, not with...his girlfriend?
--I wonder if Suzuki-kun has a girlfriend?
--Ah, geez! What's wrong with me? Why am I so concerned about Suzuki-kun?
Before her eyes there was an explosion as of a balloon popping.
Kao-chan had clapped her hands in front of Alice's face.
"Geez, Alice. You're all spacy today. If you going for a trip, do it after you've eaten your lunch. Otherwise you'll miss out and won't be able to eat."
Kao-chan said in a worried tone.
"Ehh...you're right. Yuka, Kao-chan, thanks."
Alice began moving her chopsticks in a flurry.
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