Nanaka Morishima had been uneasily picking at the spiral binding on her notebook, anticipating this moment, and although she looked up, her gaze dropped almost immediately, “No…”
Student newspaper president Haruko Shinada’s sigh came as a puff of air before she spoke, “Really? Still?” She drummed her fingers on the table and glanced down at the sheet that listed the different sections of the newspaper, “At this rate, I think it’s too late for them to do anything… would you mind moving over to the student council election? It’s still a little while off, but it isn’t fair to keep making you case the School Idol Club’s clubroom each week for nothing.”
“We-ell… I guess so…”
“I’m sorry, I know you were looking forward to it. Look, this’ll still give you a few more weeks, though, so if it changes, we’ll put one of the first years on the student council stuff.” Shinada scratched down the change in assignment as her attention shifted, “Maeda, did you manage to…”
“…so that’s that.”
“Aw, that sucks, Nanaka – the student council election? So you’re gonna be stuck with the student council afterward, too, aren’t you?” Reina Saeki stood surveying the slumped over lump that was Nanaka. Homeroom hadn’t started yet and classmates were still streaming into the classroom, moving around between the desks and talking as they made their way toward settling in. Nanaka, for her part, was loafing miserably on her desk, having spilled her tale of woe.
“You’ve still got some time, though, Nanaka; it hasn’t even been a month yet, and Otome Syndrome did lose a lot of members when the seniors graduated.” Yukari Saotome was turned sideways in her seat, and had placed a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder, “They’ve always been a big group, so they have to do some recruitment before they can get up and running again.”
Nanaka continued to frown, “Yeah, but are they recruiting at all? They didn’t have a table at club recruitment day and I haven’t seen any fliers…”
“Why don’t you just chase them down, then?” Reina asked, “It’s not as if it’s a big school, and it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out what classes they’re in.”
“But I don’t even know which of them are still in it. I know Yuri Mido and Shizuku Ousaka left, but that’s because they quit before the prelims opened for the Winter Love Live. Mikoto Fukuhara was always a terror – I don’t even dare go looking for her, let alone asking if she’s still in it, and Kasane Hasekura’s really close with her. Although,” She sat up, and chewed at a nail thoughtfully, “Seira Kujou was pretty nice the couple of times they sent me to do photos …”
“See! It’s not a lost cause yet, just go ask her. Yukari and me can go with you, if you want – Yukari’s always been a Seira fan, remember?”
Yukari made a face of mild embarrassment, “Not because she was a school idol! She used to compete as a violinist and she’s planning to go on to the Kyoto Conservatory.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Reina waved her hand, “Violinist, I know, I know, no idols for you…”
“Just because you would never have heard of her if she wasn’t a school idol doesn’t mean that…”
Nanaka wasn’t listening anymore; it had faded into the rest of the background noise as she mulled things over. The decision to go searching for Seira did make her feel better, but even if it did turn out that Otome Syndrome wasn’t defunct, they would be starting at least two weeks behind the rest of the school idol groups in the country… and they were down to only three members and hadn’t, apparently, done any recruiting. And then there was the simple fact that their name alone was pretty infamous after their disastrous winter. When she’d been picked to get to cover them for the student newspaper once the third years left the staff for the college exams, they’d still been among the favorites for the Winter Love Live. At the time, she’d felt lucky, but now she was starting to feel envious of the girls who were following the drama club, marching band, and choir.
Mentally, she reviewed what was supposed to be the beginning of the first article she was going to write about the group. Sankyo-ku Girls’ Public High School had been a fairly marginal school of slowly declining stature for years when Otome Syndrome had first formed (but, of course, she wouldn’t frame the school quite like that). It wasn’t the first school idol group that the school had had, but it’d been a few years since there had been one at all, as the previous hadn’t been very successful. After a year of relative obscurity, they’d shot up in the rankings and managed to upset the nearby Kasaioka Girls’ Academy’s Naze! DS, making it to the Final Preliminaries of the Winter Love Live after having finished fourteenth in the Summer Love Live. In their third year, they’d finished fifth at the Summer Love Live, became even more popular, were expected to easily cruise into the Final Preliminaries once again, and were talked about as having a good chance of winning the overall crown. But then, but then…
Polite reference to the complete unraveling that prevented them from even being able to qualify for the first round of preliminaries (no new song!), and the suspension of activities as the third years tackled entrance exams. Skip over the bottoming out in the popularity ratings (one-hundred eighty-sixth by March!). Then move on to the optimism for the new year, at least a line on each new member, and upbeat quotes from the presiding third years. Unfortunately, that part had yet to have been given even a chance to materialize, as the clubroom had remained stubbornly locked and darkened for the entire first two weeks of the school year. Maybe more worrisome, too, was that a lot of students didn’t seem too bothered by the absence, and some even seemed relieved about the disappearance of their school idols. It’d been embarrassing to watch them implode, and the negative attention had been nasty and unpleasant. Maybe for professional idols there was no such thing as bad press, but the same wasn’t quite true when the idols in question were school idols attached to student bodies numbering in the hundreds and full of parents willing to forbid club participation at the drop of a hat or force someone to transfer.
Yet Nanaka, for her part, found herself upset each time she went to their clubroom only to leave without a single thing noted down. She hadn’t enrolled for Otome Syndrome, but it hadn’t exactly hurt her decision to take the entrance exam. And it’d been a lot of fun as a first year to go to their concerts, to check their ranking after school, and to talk about each new song with her friends (although Yukari liked to pretend she had no idea about anything like that). She’d even learned a couple of the dances, although she knew she probably looked like a fool compared to how the routines were supposed to go, and hadn’t told anyone. It had hurt to watch them become a mess, but she’d been sure that a new year with new members was just what they needed to make a comeback.
And, here they were, two weeks deep, and not even the tiniest of sounds had come from them.
The bell chimed and homeroom began.
There was a sense of dread slowly easing its way through Nanaka as she climbed the stairs to the third years’ floor. Reina had been awfully positive about the whole thing, and expressed wonderment at the fact that she hadn’t thought to do this previously, but it occurred to Nanaka that she probably hadn’t thought to do so was that she didn’t want to hear the wrong response. Lack of visibility of any form by Otome Syndrome was probably an answer all by itself, but if she never asked, well, they couldn’t say, “No, we’re over.” (That she, as a student journalist, was avoiding actually pursuing stories did bring up some other problems, since, truly, she wanted to go to college for journalism, but surely she could be forgiven at seventeen for wanting to keep hope about her favorite school idol group?)
Yukari trailed slightly behind, although not out of any apprehension over an idol unit’s demise; she was trying to preserve the illusion that she didn’t care about that in the slightest. Instead, her presence was due to interest in something respectable (classical music), as well as for the noble ideal of loyalty to a friend. In exchange for this loyalty, Nanaka would continue to keep quiet about the small poster she’d spotted on the other girl’s wall once when they were first years, something even Reina didn’t know about.
Reina had already reached the top of the stairs and had stopped to wait for the others. Unlike Yukari, she came by her enjoyment of school idols honestly. Even so, Nanaka knew that she’d offered to come along primarily due to their friendship – it wasn’t as if she was a particular Seira fan (her Saki Shimozono signed idol card had been a prize possession), and she’d expressed disgust over the implosion of Otome Syndrome that seemed to rule out a second chance. And, anyway, Shimozono had graduated, and Mikoto Fukuhara was probably the new leader; Reina loathed Fukuhara. So, duty to a friend it was, although she was managing much more enthusiasm about it than Nanaka was feeling.
“Oh, Kujou.” Reina murmured.
And there she was, on the last few steps of the stairs that went up to the fourth floor where many of the clubrooms were. Seira was looking at them questioningly as she came to a stop after dismounting the stairs, “May I help you?” Her gaze rested on Nanaka, “Aren’t you with the school newspaper?”
Nanaka resisted the urge to gulp, and stood up a bit straighter, “Yes, I’m Nanaka Morishima. I’m supposed to be covering Otome Syndrome.”
“I’m sorry to track you down like this, but I haven’t been able to speak with any of you at the clubroom, and there haven’t been any updates on your website in a while, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. We’ve even had other students ask the newspaper what’s going on.” She inwardly congratulated herself for quick thinking and smooth lying; persuade her to explain by making her feel as if a lot of people were counting on her. It wasn’t, probably, a total lie – it was impossible that she was the only one who cared, and she was pretty sure the counter on the Otome Syndrome page had still be ticking up, albeit at a much slower rate than it had been the previous winter.
“Ah, well,” Seira smiled, a touch uneasily, “You really should ask Mikoto about that. I’m sorry. I was out last week, too, and I haven’t seen her yet today.” Seeing the disappointment on the faces of the gathered girls, she hastily added, “I could bring you to see her, though! She and Kasane are in the same class.”
“Thank you, that’d be great. And these are Reina Saeki and Yukari Saotome.”
The smile was more sure of itself this time, “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too.” Reina said.
Yukari, a bit more effusive, bowed, “It’s very nice to meet you. I’ve always admired your work as a violinist.”
“Oh, thank you, um, here, let’s get along before lunch ends.” Flushing a bit, Seira gestured for them to follow her down the hall.
“It isn’t any of your business.”
The sour look alone was enough to make Nanaka want to turn tail even without Mikoto’s spiteful tone and unhelpful words. But she breathed in and tried again, “Fukuhara, the newspaper just wants to be able to give everyone an update about our school idols; the school year just started and everyone really wants to know what’s new with Otome Syndrome. Lots of people are already talking about the Summer Love Live.”
“Oh, Mikoto, I’m sure you can tell them something.”
“Seira, you’ve always been too easy! Anything we say will just end up being read by our rivals, there’s no way I’m talking about our plans.”
“We don’t need anything specific, really – a few quotes is fine, and if we could get a picture of you…”
Mikoto turned back to Nanaka, “I already told you no. Leave us alone.”
Seira was avoiding eye contact and looking vaguely guilty, while Kasane Hasekura had simply remained silently watching the exchange, pausing only to inspect her nails.
“Well? Didn’t you hear me? Go away. If you don’t, I’ll just go get Fukuzawa-sensei and tell him you’re bothering us.”
Nanaka opened her mouth to reply but Reina cut her off, “You’re kind of a bitch, aren’t you? I mean, I always figured you were, but now at least I know for sure. Come on, Nanaka, let’s get out of here.,” She grabbed her arm to lead her out, “Covering the Student Council has got to beat dealing with this bitch.”
Her chance to cover Otome Syndrome vanished as Mikoto erupted, “Get out! How dare you? You stupid bitches! Stupid, stupid bitches! Get out, get out, get out, get out!”
They fled, Reina with her head held high as she pulled Nanaka along, Yukari wincing at the shouts that followed them. Stumbling, Nanaka resigned herself to a year of writing articles about club budget deliberations and council efforts to get the lunch room offer three vegetables every day instead of two.