April, 2005. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and the breezes were cool and light.
And Haruki Kitahara entered the attached Senior High School at Houjou University.
He had picked this high school because it was affiliated with the nearest prestigious university to his home, a single train stop away.
As it was a private school, tuition was naturally expensive (tuition fees for the high school were not done away with until 2010). And as it was a long-established school, there was no system for scholarships (tuition exemption for students with high grades) in place.
He lived alone with his mother. In most cases like this, tuition would be a worrying burden.
Upon this point, it had been decided that his father, who had returned to his family (which owned a fairly well-known business enterprise) in Okayama after the divorce, would take on school expenses as well as child support.
As his mother would be taking none of the burden herself, she urged him to go wherever was closest, regardless of tuition.
Having achieved exemplary marks in the entrance exam, he gave an exemplary address at the entrance ceremony.
An impeccable speech, a refined bearing, a well-projected voice… Even before the school year began, the teachers had high expectations for him, and everything seemed to suggest that his high school life would be smooth sailing.
“Kitahara-kun, do you have a second?”
Haruki had begun to climb the school stairs, on his way to his first meeting as first-term class representative. From behind him, a girl in his class caught his attention.
“You can just call me ‘Kitahara,’ Mizusawa.”
“All right, Kitahara. I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“Keep it brief, please.”
“Well, the proficiency exams we just took, I’m gonna have to take the supplementary one for math… and I want to get it in one, so I was hoping you’d teach me.”
“Well, I mean, you got the top score. I figured, since I had the top scorer in my class, who’s also the class rep, maybe I could ask for some help.”
“You just entered Houjou at the high school level, right? The contents of that exam really weren’t any different from the entrance exam.”
“Oh, uh… Really?”
“Really. So how did you end up having to take the supplementary one?”
“Well, after I found out I got in, I got real busy with work and practice and stuff up until the year started. I wasn’t really thinking we’d have tests all of a sudden.”
“Mizusawa, listen to me.”
“Passing the entrance exam isn’t the goal, it’s the start. The same goes for university. Do you understand?”
“I… Yeah, I guess.”
“And, in the high school handbook, there was a rough outline of how our studies would proceed once the year started, as well as a schedule for regular exams and proficiency tests.”
“Ahahaha… aha. Seems that way.”
“Mizusawa, your parents are paying your tuition here—which is far from cheap—because they’re expecting you to study hard, move on to college, keep developing your skills until you graduate, and become a praiseworthy member of society. Are they not?”
“They… probably are, yeah.”
“If you understand all of that, then why didn’t you use the spring break to prepare to meet the new school year?”
“I get it. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me. You should apologize to your parents—”
“No, no, I shouldn’t have walked up to you out of the blue and asked you to do that. I’ll make it work.”
“Hang on. I never said I wouldn’t teach you.”
“There aren’t many of us who transferred in just for high school. We’re peers. I’d be happy to teach you.”
“You… Couldn’t you have maybe said that before tearing me a new one?”
“I don’t enjoy getting stern with people, either. But it’s crucial that you, yourself, are aware of the significance of studying.”
“Got it. I give. I’ll take my time thinking it all over until it sinks in.”
“Good. And I’ll take the responsibility of teaching you.”
“Thanks a ton. I can’t have extra exams piling up and eating into my after-school time. If I skip too much practice in my first year, it’s gonna hurt my ambitions.”
“Ambitions… You mean becoming a regular on the basketball team as a first year?”
“How the hell do you know that? What, are you a stalker?”
“I’ll ignore that. You’ve been pretty well known since middle school. Your height’s only average, but when you’re standing on the court, all eyes are on you. You’re quick and nimble in slipping past the defense, frighteningly accurate in your passes. You move efficiently behind the line to make a solid three-point shot… They call you ‘Killer Cat Io,’ don’t they?”
“Whoa, whoa, that’s enough! I’ve never even heard that nickname!”
“Any way, the point is, I’ll help you. Get in touch once you’re done with practice. Here’s my phone number and email address.”
“You have cards with your number and address already written on them? Is this supposed to be a pass?”
“I get a lot of people approaching me with hassles to deal with. Having to do the infrared exchange and give my address aloud gets to be tiresome.”
“If they’re hassles, you should just say no.”
“And where would that leave you?”
There were three days until the test. As soon as she had finished basketball practice, Io Mizusawa sent a message to Haruki Kitahara, then met up with him at Goodies, a diner by the Minami-Suetsugu station.
He might be brusque about it, but he was willing to explain things clearly, as many times as it took for her to understand. His was a thorough, careful teaching method.
She also appreciated his frank, open manner—never showing any clinging over-friendliness just because she was a girl, but not putting any nervous distance between them, either.
In Haruki, Io felt a friendship that was something different from her One Guy Friend from middle school.
“What is it?”
“I like you.”
“We should be friends.”
“Well… All right.”
“Can I call you Haruki?”
“You can call me Io, too. Just don’t stick ‘Oi!’ in front of it.”
“Pffff. It’d be a palindrome.”
“I mean it. And one more thing. I don’t want you to let him know that you’re teaching me how to study.”