There was a flurry of introductions on the parts of Nagisa and the other girls, all in fairly cheerful tones. Fuyumi was quiet, inclining her head slightly at each new name, and ending with a repeat of her earlier words, “I am pleased to meet your acquaintance.”
Although she had stockings on, Fuyumi was wearing the summertime St. le Rim uniform, short sleeves at odds with her cold-weather shoes and nylons. A single thick braid of pale blue hair coiled over her shoulder, the split-ends visible against the front of her seifuku’s collar. Her eyes held the cold, flat quality of junk-store emeralds, barely betraying any trace of life in the girl.
“She just transferred here; she’s a fifth-year.” Chiyo explained, her voice characteristically soft, “She moved in yesterday.”
“Why don’t we all go back to our room; I have some fresh tea-bags I brought with me, so we can get to know you a little over tea.” Tamao suggested after a moment, “We are blocking the hallway, after all…”
“No blocking corridors or doorways!” Tsubomi suddenly shouted shrilly, and Yaya rolled her eyes from behind the girl. St. Spica’s thirteenth rule was not one generally observed. But Tamao smiled pleasantly, “Then we shall move along now.”
Fuyuko looked uncomfortable, but as the group made their way back to Tamao and Nagisa’s room, she followed at an acceptable distance. Upon reaching the room, Tamao pulled a key from her cuff, and unlocked the pine door. She crossed the room quickly, and firmly shut the window against the cooling air as the others entered the room. Nagisa retrieved the kettle from its storage place and went into the bathroom to fetch water, while Tsubomi and Yaya bounced themselves down onto Tamao’s bed. Chiyo cheerfully opted for Nagisa’s bed.
Fuyuko stood in the doorway, uncertain, before stepping inside. She closed the door, but remained standing, only a foot within the threshold.
Turning from the window, Tamao noticed this, “Yukizawa, you are welcome to come and sit down.”
Fuyumi nodded, and now stepped towards Tamao’s desk, cautiously easing the chair from its usual spot. She sat, back straight, and avoided looking at the other girls. She had always hated meeting new people, and this time was no different. In some ways, it was more awkward than meeting her room-mate had been, even though that girl had very clearly disliked her. But in that case… well, there’d only been one person. And that one person had already made the unilateral decision to run a rope across the middle of the room, complete with a faded floral sheet as a make-shift wall.
Her room-mate had been cold and direct. She also had not cared about any of Fuyumi’s circumstances. This warm group, bubbling with energy, seemed sure to be inquisitive. She shot a veiled glance at the frog-shaped alarm clock sitting on Nagisa’s headboard; there were still hours to go before lights-out.
Mismatched cups were handed out, and tea poured. Fuyumi gripped her own cup desperately, the heat seeping into her needy fingers. Tamao poured her own cup last before setting the kettle down on the window sill. As she settled into Nagisa’s desk chair,
Yaya took a sip of her tea before looking to Fuyumi, “Where did you go to high school before?”
“Keisuke Senior High School.”
“Oh, one of my friends from elementary school goes there… isn’t it in Kyoto?”
Yaya grinned, “She always said she hated it!”
Fuyumi looked away, her gaze resting on the cold panes of glass, “I liked it…”
“Ah, well!” Yaya started, aware of her faux pas, “She’s never been a very good student, and I don’t think she even wanted to go to high school – her dream is to become a hair dresser for celebrities.”
“Have you met your room-mate yet?” Tamao asked, setting her teacup down on its saucer.
There was an audible pause, “Yes, I have.”
“Oh, wait, have you met Chikaru yet?” Nagisa burst in, nearly unsettling her cup in the process.
Nagisa nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah, she’s the president of St. le Rim’s student council! She’s really, really nice.”
Fuyumi shook her head, “No, I have not met her.”
“Oh, Nagisa, don’t worry – I’m sure she’ll have to meet her soon, she’s a new transfer, after all.” Despite Tamao’s assurances, Nagisa still looked disappointed; to her, Chikaru was a wonderful person; for someone to have not met her yet was almost saddening.
“She’s probably been busy with student council duties, anyway – I know that the student council has been meeting with Hikari and Amane almost non-stop.” Yaya said.
“Who is the student council president from St. Spica now, anyway?” Tamao asked, looking up from Nagisa.
“Mm, some girl named Kitagawa Yurika… I don’t really know who she is, other than that she’s a sixth year. Supposedly the Sister is fond of her. What about yours; Miyuki is gone, after all…”
“Moriyama Mami. I’m actually not sure who she is, either.” Tamao admitted sheepishly.
“Oh, we’ll probably meet them at some point, since Hikari will know her now.” Yaya turned to Fuyumi again, “Hikari is my room-mate – she’s half of the Etoile along with Amane, a sixth year. The Etoile is sort of like… well…” She paused, thinking hard, “I guess the best way to describe it is that they’re like the king and queen of the school.”
“Oh.” Another monosyllabic answer from the unfamiliar girl. She looked at the clock again – barely ten minutes had crawled by. She swirled her tea around the cup, trying to think of a reason to excuse herself. They were too nice – it was impossible to depart rudely.
“I need to put sheets on my bed.” She said suddenly, blinking in surprise at her own words. The conversation had progressed during her rapid thoughts, and now the other girls halted their words, looking in slight surprise at the abrupt utterance. She stood up, and set her half-full teacup down on the desk behind her, “I’m sorry, I need to put the sheets on my bed.”
Yaya filled the brief silence, “Well, that’s understandable – but feel free to come see any of us any time. I live in Spica 112; you should meet my room-mate sometime.”
“Ah, thank you.” She forced a half-hearted smile, and bowed, “Thank you for the tea.” The door creaked open in her unsteady hands, and she closed it too loudly. The thud seemed to echo in her mind, and she flinched against it.
When she returned to her own room, she had to open the door carefully. One corner of the sheet was pinned to the back of the door, and it drooped as she swung the door inwards. Haruko was sprawled on her bed, cellphone firmly in hand. An irritated look entered her features upon Fuyumi’s entry, but she continued her rapid-fire conversation. It seemed she was talking to her boyfriend.
Fuyumi ducked under the “wall”, and made her way in the semi-darkness to her bed. As she flopped onto the bed, a picture frame poked her from beneath the sheets.
“She’s very quiet.”
It was an innocent remark, made after the door’s noise disappeared. There were nods of ascent in response.
“She’s your cousin?” Tsubomi inquired of Chiyo.
“Yes, a second-cousin. But I don’t really know her well; the last time I saw her I was eight.”
“Well, she’s probably shy… it’s a bit awkward to transfer in as a fifth year. Hikari was really quiet when she first transferred.” Yaya said thoughtfully.
“She’s still quiet!” Tsubomi interjected.
“Ah, true, but she was even more quiet, if you can believe it. She’s actually less shy since becoming Etoile…”
“That’s just because she has to be.” Tsubomi crossed her arms and frowned pointedly, signifying that she, at least, felt the conversation was over. Yaya rolled her eyes and didn’t bother to argue any further, sensing the futility in doing so. She turned her attention back to Chiyo, “Do you know why she transferred?”
The younger girl shook her head, “No, I don’t. My mother’s cousin just called up one day and asked my mother is the schools here at Astraea were any good, and then a few weeks later she called again to say Fuyumi was transferring to le Rim.”
“Huh. I wonder why, then…”
The girls chatted further, although the topic soon changed to more everyday things, ranging from complaints regarding certain classes to any room changes classmates had made between the school years. Finally, Yaya stood up with a sigh, “I have to go – it’ll be lights out soon, and I know Hikari forgot to bring her key when she left earlier.”
“Oh! I should go too.” Tsubomi said, leaping up, “Thanks for the tea, Tamao.” She respectfully handed her floral-print cup to Tamao, who set it with the rest of the empty cups.
“Your welcome; it was nice to have all of you.”
“I’ll walk you back to your room, Chiyo.” Nagisa offered, prompting a blush and grateful stuttering on the other girl’s part.
With the room empty, Tamao carried the cups into the bathroom. She stood by the sink, hot water running and fogging the dusty mirror. She briefly wondered how the mirror had gotten so dusty – they hadn’t been gone from school too long now. As she began to roll up her sleeves for the task ahead of her, she caught sight of a ribbon on the floor by the cabinet. She leaned down, and picked it up; it was the ribbon she’d pulled from Nagisa’s hair on that early spring morning. She gripped it for a moment, staring.
In the newly humid air, she sighed.