After the closing rise and bow, the class heaved a sigh of relief after another uneventful day of school. Among the scraping chairs and gossiping, a girl in a red jacket reached her arms up to stretch. After letting out a long groan, she fell forward and met the desk with her forehead with a soft thud.
“Soo...didn’t do so hot on the pop quiz, huh?” A familiar voice called out to her. Rinka turned her head to the left to see a girl wearing a cardigan tied around her waist.
“Mao.” Rinka groaned.
“Rinny.” Mao replied. She squatted down to look Rinka in her soulless eyes that had been sucked dry by that terrible pop quiz from this afternoon. “What do you think you got?”
Rinka flicked away in thought before replying.
“Yikes...C’mon, even I couldn’t have done that bad.” Mao winced with a pained grin.
“I just can’t wrap my head around...whatever all those numbers are.” Rinka sighed, exasperated. “Arghh, why did they have to put the alphabet in math!?” She propped herself back up and shouted at her textbook on the desk. Both Mao and Rinka stared at it for a while.
It stared back with no response.
“Well, I know someone who definitely aced that though.” Mao grinned and turned on her heels to look at the desk in the corner. “Right? Miiharuu—Ah. Right.”
The blonde girl Mao was looking for wasn’t sitting at her desk.
“She got called out to talk about her scholarship again didn’t she?” Rinka said, tilting her head.
“Mm.” Mao nodded. “She told me we could go on ahead without her when class ended, actually. Remembered that just now.”
“That makes sense. She usually has work right after school...But I guess I’ll message her just in case.” Rinka reached for her handphone, quickly putting in the passcode.
“What a caring girlfriend you are, Rinny.” Mao winked as she leaned over to glance at the message Rinka was typing out.
“Hey Miharu. Just checking on you before we left school.” It read.
“T-This is what you’re supposed to do in a relationship, right?” Rinka’s face flushed almost as red as her jacket at Mao’s teasing just as she sent the text.
“I wouldn’t know.” Mao pursed her lips and shrugged. “Never been in one before, but I do read a lot of shoujo manga, if that counts. And I gotta say, you two sure do act like you both came straight out of one sometimes. Or I guess gay out of one, in your case.”
“That’s terrible.” Rinka grimaced at Mao’s joke, but the corners of her lips said otherwise.
The two girls’ heads turn at the sound of a phone vibration emitting from Miharu’s desk.
“Achya—“ Mao muttered as she trotted over and pulled something from the inside of the desk. It was a phone. Miharu’s, to be exact. “Looks like Miharun left her phone. That’s awfully rare of her.” Mao walked back and leaned against Rinka’s desk, a sly grin creeping on her face. She investigated the screen as Rinka craned her neck up from her chair to see what she was doing. A notification from her own self (she could tell by the lion emoji) lit up the screen.
“That’s not good.” Rinka’s brows creased. “She probably needs that in ca—h-hey!!” Rinka shot out of her seat and snatched Miharu’s phone out of Mao’s hands as she saw Mao easily pass through the lock screen. Mao lifted an amused brow at Rinka’s panicked face. “Y-you can’t just go looking through people’s phone’s like that! How did you even know her passcode, anyway?”
“Wait, you mean you don’t?” Mao’s jaw nearly dropped. “You only need to think about it for like, 5 seconds, tops.”
“...” Rinka glanced around the room. “It’s my birthday, isn’t it.” Her shoulders slumped as she sighed.
“Bingo~” Mao confirmed. “Well, whether you can look in her phone or not, it probably won’t give us any clues as to where she is right now. Miharun hardly uses it for anything other than texting and work stuff.” Mao put a hand on her chin as if deep in thought.
“Maybe we could text Naomi?” Rinka thought aloud, pocketing Miharu’s phone and pulling out her own.
“Er, well I guess that’s a start...” Mao muttered. While it wouldn’t be her first choice, Mao has to admit that she’s noticed Miharu and Naomi getting along leagues better than before Golden Week.
Rinka was quick to receive a response from Naomi.
“Oh, Miharu-senpai? I saw her in the library just now!”
“She says she was in the library.” Rinka relayed the info out loud.
“Ew.” Mao grumbled. “Well, if that’s the case, then problem solved. Let’s go get the ace student back her phone so I can go home.” Mao slung her bag over her shoulder and turned for the door with Rinka following closely behind.
The two made their way down to the library. It was relatively large, seeing as it was the university’s. Finding Miharu could take a while, especially if she’s moving around.
“On second thought,” Mao stopped abruptly at the library entrance. “I just realized I have some overdue fees that I don’t really feel like paying if I see that cranky librarian’s assistant again. So you go on ahead. I’m gonna head home.” Mao stepped back and pointed her head at the direction of the exit.
“Mao…” Rinka sighed, but not without a smile. “Alright, alright. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Yep! See ya, Rinny~”
Mao gave a wave and quickly made her way off as she caught sight of the librarian's assistant through the small window of the door. Rinka playfully rolled her eyes before stepping into the library.
“Alright, if I were Miharu, where would I be?” Rinka mused to herself. Miharu was never really the type to enjoy being at the center of things, and she also liked sitting near the window in the cafe. So Rinka decided to start there.
She moved along the edge of the library, peeking through each of the spaces between the shelves for any sign of a tall girl and long blonde hair sitting at the study desks or searching for a book. Many university students were still around for studies and whatnot, and many of them seemed to give curious glances at Rinka as she passed them by. Rinka never really interacted with the university students much, even though the high school and university students did see each other every now and then during lunch in the cafeteria. But Rinka could somehow feel that their looks were different than the ones she got from her classmates. They seemed almost understanding, as strange as that sounded despite not ever really talking to a university student before.
As Rinka continued to quietly straffe through the edges of the library, there seemed to be no sign of Miharu.
“Hmm, maybe she’s somewhere el-“ Rinka cut herself off, stopping in her tracks just as she was about to skip over another little alcove before taking notice of a girl sitting by her lonesome at a study desk. “Miharu! There you a-”
Rinka tried to call out to her as she began to jog up to the table, but stopped herself when she realized Miharu’s eyes were closed. She was resting her head in her arms atop the study table with some textbooks and scribbled-on paper scattered around her. Rinka smiled softly and quietly made her way to the empty chair next to her.
She pulled out the chair and sat herself down next to Miharu who quietly slumbered. Setting sunlight filtered through the window, reflecting off of Miharu’s hair and tinging it with an orange hue. Rinka silently watched her as her shoulders steadily grew and fell as she breathed.
“Always trying so hard...You really put me to shame in my own studies.” Rinka chuckled to herself. She reached out a hand, gently brushing away a few locks of stray hair from Miharu’s eyes and tucking them away behind her ear before leaning over and resting herself on the desk too, continuing to watch as Miharu slept.
Rinka knew that Miharu didn’t really quite have a choice in her studies. Her scholarship position required her to be at the top of the class, and Miharu needed the scholarship to stay in school. Knowing her, she’d still be at least in the top 5 even if she didn’t study so vigorously due to her situation, but she’d at least have the space to breathe. To not be so hard on herself each day.
Rinka knew life was already doing more than its part to do that for her.
“...I wish there was more I could do for you.” Rinka whispered. Just as the words spilled from her lips, Miharu winced. “Miharu?” Rinka raised her head, thinking that she’d woken up, but her eyes still kept shut and her body even began to shiver.
Thinking that Miharu was cold, Rinka sat up and slipped off her jacket. She reached over and splayed it across her back, making sure that it wouldn’t fall off. “There you go. It’s pretty cold in here, huh?”
Within moments, Miharu was no longer trembling. It was almost as if a wave of peace washed over her and put her at ease. Rinka smiled, satisfied.
“Oh, right.” Rinka reached into her pocket and took out Miharu’s phone. She placed it on top of her notes where’d she see it whenever she wakes up.
She managed to catch a glimpse of her phone wallpaper earlier when Mao unlocked it. While she almost felt bad for seeing something she might not have been meant to see, it still warmed her heart.
At that moment, Rinka felt a vibration in her pocket from her own phone. She quickly whipped it out to check what it was, which was a message from her grandmother saying that she’d fixed up dinner already.
Rinka typed out her reply. After it was sent, she paused to gaze at Miharu for a moment. She grabbed a pen and scribbled something in the corner of the notebook Miharu had left open. All of her notes were neat and organized, complete with text like handwriting. Rinka then glanced around her skittishly, checking for anyone that might be around. Making sure that the coast was clear, she leaned over to plant a small kiss at the top of her head.
“Good luck, Miharu.”
Rinka stood up, gently pushed her chair under the table and made for the exit, leaving her jacket behind.
Meanwhile, an older university student perused a book behind a shelf nearby. They’d just happened to catch sight of what happened as they pulled the book off the shelf through the little window the space provided. They tried to pretend they saw nothing, but the image repeated itself in their head as they hopelessly flipped through the pages of their book. They sighed and shook their head, muttering something under their breath.
“God, that’s so fucking gay.”
“I’m home!” Rinka called out as she entered the café.
“Ah, welcome home dear.” Her grandmother turned around from wiping a table to greet her. She tilted her head when she noticed something missing as she watched her granddaughter put down her things to help out. “Where’s your jacket?”
“Hm? Oh, I uh...I didn’t wear one today. It was a bit warmer than usual.” Rinka responded, not looking in her direction as she set the chairs up on the table.
“Really now? I could’ve sworn I saw you wearing one when you left this morning.”
“Er…” Rinka’s shoulders tensed, trying to think of another excuse.
“Hm, must be getting old.” Her grandma shook her head and continued to wipe down the rest of the tables. Rinka let out a breath and continued her own part of keeping shop. Little did she know, her grandma let out a chuckle, knowing perfectly well what was going on between her and her friend recently.
“But I’m not quite that old yet, my girl.”