Chapter Eight : The Burden Of His Suspicions
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“So now that that matter is settled,” Kanna grins.

“It’s not settled!” Madoka and Eiji interrupt her with equally embarrassed and annoyed expressions. Their expressions are surprisingly and amusingly similar.

“Now that that matter is settled,” Kanna continues. “I need people who have costume requests to start collecting what they can or buying what they can and bring it in as soon as possible. Tomorrow, preferably.” She looks at Madoka and winks. “Don’t worry about yours though, Madoka-chan, and yours, Useless Pres. I have plenty of material.” She giggles.

“I’m not wearing it.” Eiji scowls. He looks at Madoka and grins suddenly himself. “Maybe your butler friend has an extra tuxedo I could borrow? Don’t you think I would look handsome in one?”

“It’s called a tailcoat, idiot,” Kanna corrects him with a smile. “And request denied.”

“I didn’t ask you, Tsukimi!” Eiji scowls.

Madoka giggles. “Request denied. If I have to wear it, you do too.” Seeing another boy in the costume would at least help her to feel better about it. Not that she was one any longer. No amount of depressed introspection would change that reality.

“So start naming off what you want to be and I’ll write it down. I will discuss your costumes with you each individually,” Kanna says, pulling out a notepad shaped like an ice cream sundae from her handbag. She starts taking down notes quickly as students around her one at a time re-state what they want to dress up as.

Madoka loses interest midway and turns her attention to the Shadow Pres’ group of students. The cooking team.

“... cake and ice cream of course,” she hears someone say.

“I think we should do crepes too. Crepes are super popular, and I have an electric crepe maker,” a girl enthuses.

“Cake is a lot of work. Is anyone a good baker? Maybe we should order cakes from a shop and resell them?” another girl suggests.

“Shadow Pres can bake,” someone offers. 

All the talk of cake makes Madoka’s stomach rumble a little, even though it still feels tender. She eyes her lunch box and resists the urge to snack early.

The conversations are interrupted by the first period chime.


The sounds of complaints and mild frustration are audible all around as desks are pulled back into their normal places.

“Well done, everyone. I’m very pleased with the progress we made this morning. Good job, Sugawara-kun.” Ren-sensei smiles. The door slides open and Nakagawa-sensei grumps his way into the room, bowing to Ren-sensei slightly. Ren-sensei bows slightly to him on his way out. “Keep those thoughts churning today, class. We have a lot more pre-planning to do tonight. Tomorrow we will start putting together the things needed for the cafe as well. We have eight days. Do your best, everyone!”

The day passes slowly, and Madoka finds herself starting out the window more often than not, but finally lunch period comes and everyone breaks up into their usual groups, Kanna walking over and seating herself in the windowsill as usual while Aoi pulls her desk closer to Madoka’s. Aoi rubs her eyes tiredly before pulling her bento out and popping it open. It was far less extravagant yesterday. As Madoka studies it, unable to resist doing so, she smiles.

“I guess my lunch yesterday made you want to put together a cute lunch too,” she giggles.

Kanna looks over at it and grins. “Oooh. Curse you two and your designer lunches,” she complains, reaching out with her chopsticks to pluck free an octopus sausage. Aoi smiles wryly.

“I don’t mind them. I’m fine with combini bento. My aunt is staying with us temporarily while she looks for an apartment and a job.” She shrugs and smiles. “She’s super girly.”

“Oooh… you should get her to teach you a few things about the fine art of womanhood.” Kanna grins. “You’re too boyish, you know. The only thing you take seriously is Kendo. I’ve tried to impress some of my feminine charm on you but...” She cuts off when one of Aoi’s chopsticks is leveled at her, the point touching the bridge of her nose between her eyes faster than her eyes can track it. 

Madoka blinks. Aoi looks kind of silly wielding a chopstick like a sword, but there is a certain fierce dignity about Aoi that makes the move more cool than anything else. Somehow Aoi had managed to leave her desk during Kanna’s speech and was standing in front of Kanna now, pinning her up against the window by chopstick point.

“Um... okay… I get it, Aoi-chi…” Kanna laughs nervously.

“I’m glad you do,” Aoi says quietly, and with a mocking grin she lowers her chopstick and stabs a strawberry in the lunch box in Kanna’s lap. She walks back to her desk with a smirk and pops the strawberry into her mouth.

“Ohhhh… I have to learn that,” Madoka enthuses. “I’ll join the Kendo club.”

Aoi pauses as she sits down and grins. “Great! I’m glad to hear it! Looking forward to having you, Madoka-chan! It’ll help you build your strength up. A little extra exercise won’t hurt, though you’re looking a little tired. Are you sure you aren’t pushing yourself too hard?” she asks.

“I’m alright.” Madoka smiles warmly at her friend, feeling her stomach growl at her again. She unwraps the masculine handkerchief from her lunch, smiling at it, and opens the box. The first thing that she notices is the enormous pile of scrambled eggs with ketchup on it. The second thing she notices is the rice heart, which had somehow broken. There are two piles of rice with a jagged crack down the middle. It hasn’t held its shape, though she can tell it is supposed to be a heart like yesterday’s rice was shaped into. The accidental symbolism of that broken heart hits her like a blow for a moment, her eyes moistening.

“What is that?” Kanna’s nose wrinkles as she studies Madoka’s lunch. “A man made that,” she says like a statement of fact.

“Isn’t that writing? On the eggs?” Aoi says around a mouthful of her own expertly crafted lunch.

“Is it?” Madoka blinks, rubbing her eyes and studying the eggs more closely.

“Q… u… i… o… u… i… c… e… s… t...” Madoka puzzles the lettering out. “I’m not really sure that the letters are those… they’re so garbled up. It’s gibberish, though.” She frowns.

“Quiouicest?” Aoi frowns. “That sounds French,” she comments.

“Does anyone in class know French? We’re not allowed to use our phones to translate,” Kanna points out.

“Why would Kozy write a message in French? That’s weird.” Madoka rolls her eyes.

“Qui oui c’est. It is gibberish,” Ippei comments, looking at the girls from nearby. “It might mean, Who is it? Or if you reach, maybe who are you? That’s Qui es-tu.” The girls stare at the eggs and finally Aoi reaches out with her chopsticks and takes a piece of scrambled egg. Her nose wrinkles when she chews it.

“It tastes kind of weird.” She frowns.

“Thanks, Shadow Pres,” Madoka manages, blinking tiredly. Why did Kozuke put a message like this in her lunch? She looks at the salmon and sees a heart written in ketchup on that. She decides to put it out of her mind and try the fish. It cuts with only a little difficulty, and she pops it into her mouth. It isn’t Midoriyama’s cooking, but it tastes like fish at least. She tries the eggs and a shiver runs up her spine. 

“The eggs do taste weird,” she blinks. “What did he put in these?” The girls giggle together taking turns eating the eggs and making comical faces at each other.

After dropping Madoka off and leaving, Kozuke debates on what the best use of his time will be. He needs to start looking for Midoriyama as he has promised Madoka that he will. Where can he look?

After a moment he decides to start with calling Midoriyama’s phone number. He swipes through his address book and dials Midoriyama.

The phone rings once and goes to voicemail. Kozuke sighs, shaking his head. He did not expect Midoriyama to pick up the phone. He tries again, with the same result.

She has either blocked the master and himself, or her phone is off, he decides. He ponders the situation as he parks the van to think. Finally, he decides to pay a visit to Social Saito. If he is unable to find Midoriyama, he will have to put a notice in for help wanted, but he has not given up yet.

He puts the van back in gear and drives towards social services.

Her phone ringing wakes Midoriyama. She scowls at it, bleary eyed and immediately hangs up. She hasn’t had an opportunity in a long while to just sleep in a little bit. Living as a live-in maid demanded that you work pretty much all of the time. There had been no one to take her place as chef in the mansion, and Master Yoshi had been a little bit of a skinflint in some areas. One of those areas was on the subject of hiring a second maid or at least a dedicated chef. Not that she had ever minded being the cook. She had always been passionate about cooking, and being a maid has always made her feel happy. It is as though, when she puts on the dress and corset, she becomes years younger.

She puts her phone in Do Not Disturb mode, and then rolls over an effort to go back to sleep. She does not bother to check the identity of whoever tried to call her. She is simply not in the mood at the moment to deal with whoever it is. Probably it is Kozy begging her to come back and save him from having to cook. She closes her eyes, snuggling a pillow and smiling at the thought of Kozuke desperately trying to keep order without her. Okay… she does feel bad for him… a little, though she can’t help but take at least some sadistic pleasure in thinking about how troubled he probably is.

When she thinks of Madoka, her expression becomes moodier. The boy-no-longer Madoka. What kind of a sick sad joke is it that he has been named that, in any case? It is a girls name, isn’t it? She has heard of a few cases where boys have been given technically girly names and vice versa, though it isn’t the most common thing. Considering how she acts, it’s much easier to think of her as always having been a girl. Granted that she didn’t have any idea of how to use feminine hygiene products, or even know more than the basics of styling her hair. Even so, Hisako finds it hard to believe.

She tosses and turns and with a growl; finally she jumps up to her knees in her futon and yawns. There isn’t any help for it. Her body is used to waking up early, and because she has been awakened, she simply cannot go back to sleep. She picks up her phone and smiles amusedly as she finds that her guess is correct. She has two missed calls from Kozuke. She considers calling him back, but finally shrugs. She has decided to make a clean break.

She crawls out of her cozy futon in the little room and unzips her suitcase. She pulls out clothing suitable for job searching in, her grey suit with a skirt with its white button-up undershirt. She removes her bath towel from her bag and slings it over her shoulder. She will take a bath, dress up nicely and she will have a new job lined up. If Master Yoshi thinks she will just sit around and mope about losing her job, he has another thing coming.

Kozuke pulls up to the Social Services building’s parking lot and parks. He locks up the van and adjusts his suit collar before striding confidently up the walk towards the large four story red brick building.

Kozuke finds the main entrance, and steps inside, looking around. There are rows of seated people, women, children, the elderly. Some turn to examine him, although more do so as he strides over to the information counter.

The woman behind the counter studies him over the rim of her thick glasses, and she adjusts her hair and smoothes her skirt before speaking.

“How can I help you, sir?” She bows. Kozuke bows in return.

“I am looking to speak with Uchida Saito. I understand he works here?” Kozuke murmurs, smiling.

“Works here? Yes… he is one of our social workers. Do you have an appointment, sir?” she asks.

“No,” Kozuke murmurs. “I work for a man he calls senpai. Please let him know that Hashiba Kozuke would like to see him, if it’s not too much trouble.” 

The woman pauses for a moment, looking undecided, finally, toying with her hair, she nods and smiles. “I will call him for you, Hashiba-san.” She smiles at Kozuke enticingly. Kozuke smiles in return and bows.

“Thank you, I appreciate that. I will wait patiently.” He turns and walks over to a seat, missing the slightly disappointed look in the woman’s eyes. She hesitates a moment and then shrugs and picks up her IP phone receiver, and, after examining a directory pinned out of sight under the counter, she dials the extension for Uchida Saito.

Kozuke notices her talking into the receiver after a brief wait, and after another long pause, she nods and speaks again, placing the receiver back onto its hook. She looks over at Kozuke and gestures him back over. Kozuke grins, not having expected to be seen so quickly.

Kozuke stands and walks back over to her, and when he gets there, he bows again.

“Thank you for your prompt service, my lady,” he murmurs. “He will see me?” Kozuke inquires.

The woman blushes and blinks and then nods, smiling. “Yes. Mr. Uchida will see you. Step through this door.” She indicates the one beside her desk. “Walk down the hall until you come to an intersection. Make a right and come to the elevator. Take the elevator to the second floor. Go right after leaving the elevator and walk down the hallway to the end. Mr. Uchida’s office door will be marked.” She bows.

“Thank you,” Kozuke grins at her, and steps over to the door. The door makes a buzzing and clicking noise before Kozuke pulls it open. He steps inside and closes the door behind him before proceeding forward and following the receptionist’s instructions.

He takes the elevator up one floor, and then proceeds down the second floor hallway far to the right until he reaches a door with the placard bearing the name of Uchida Saito. He knocks and hears Saito’s voice through the door, beckoning him inside. Kozuke steps inside, closing the door behind him, and then he looks around, studying the simple but clean office around him.

A room air conditioning unit hangs from the ceiling directly over the man, and over the window behind him. To the sides are a few bookshelves filled with various books. There is a couch in a corner of the office with a table for tea, a desk with a computer on it, and two office chairs, one in front of the desk and one behind it. A few simple paintings hang on the walls. Kozuke examines one in particular: a picture of a wrinkled, elderly white woman in white robes with blue borders across her robe’s hood and more blue bands on the robe itself. The woman holds a meager, hungry-looking child with dark skin color in a loving and motherly fashion.

Kozuke turns his attention away from the portrait as the man behind the desk patiently waits for the butler’s focus to rest upon him. Saito smiles warmly, standing and bowing.

“To what do I owe the honor of your visitation, oh stoic butler of my cranky and undeserving Senpai?” he grins, playfully.

Kozuke chuckles. “I admit that my… stoicism is being tested greatly at the moment.” He shakes his head and waits for Saito to gesture for him to take a seat before doing so.

“How so?” Saito asks, eyebrow raised.

Kozuke pauses, sighing. He has not thought this through completely. Now he has to air the master’s dirty laundry to some extent. Still, he has come here in the hopes that Saito might have an idea of where to find Midoriyama, so he does have to talk about it, doesn’t he?

“Where to start…” Kozuke sighs. “The master and Midoriyama had another altercation…” Kozuke begins.

“Oh, another one? That’s not unexpected. The woman lives to egg Senpai on.” Saito laughs. “And, let me guess the situation.” He holds his hand up to forstall Kozuke continuing the story.

“Senpai and she are not on speaking terms, and that has put a bit of a pressure on you?” Saito smiles knowingly.

Kozuke blinks, shocked at how deeply Saito saw into the situation.

“Yes… that is correct… but the situation is far worse than that.” Kozuke sighs. “I’m afraid that Midoriyama found out about our Madoka’s unique situation recently and the mistake that was made by the Master when he performed emergency surgery… and well… it did not go well.” Kozuke shakes his head.

“Oh… that is not good.” Saito gapes for a moment and shakes his head. “So things are pretty serious then?” he enquires delicately.

“Yes. The master fired her on the spot. There was nothing to be done about it.” Kozuke puts his head in his hands.

“Oh… my. That is pretty bad.” Saito sighs. “I had never imagined that it could come to this. I liked her, I truly did. I thought that she really livened things up around the mansion. If she had stayed longer, perhaps even…” Saito trails off and shrugs. “Or perhaps not. Senpai is a very stubborn old man.” He laughs.

“I’d say not.” Kozuke chuckles. “He avoided her whenever possible. He didn’t even like it when she served tea, as you know… but her cooking was worth everything. Now I will be searching for new help to replace her, and I would honestly prefer to find Midoriyama. If she could just let go of her pride for the sake of Sugar… for Madoka…” Kozuke trails off again.

“She was despondent when it happened last night. She could not have gotten very restful sleep. I know that I did not.” Kozuke sighs, sounding very tired indeed.

“I regret to tell you, Hashiba-san… I only have as much information as you do.” Saito sighs. “I have her phone number, and I assume you would not be going to this trouble if that was enough to resolve the issue. Perhaps time is the only thing that can resolve it?” he suggests.

“Time? How much time do you think that stubborn woman will take? She will be looking for a new job this very day. If I don’t hurry, she will reject my request with a good excuse. If she finds another job it might be too late.” Kozuke wrings his hands.

“You sound like you feel something personal for the woman, Kozuke.” Saito grins. “I don’t blame you. She even gets my blood boiling, and I have no idea why she doesn’t have that effect on Senpai. Well it’s obvious that she does have some effect… but he seems to feel anger more than anything else. Could it be that Senpai has Gynephobia?” Saito asks.

“That seems possible,” Kozuke says with a dry expression. “He doesn’t seem able to deal properly with any women at all that I have seen. It isn’t really my place to say such things, however,” Kozuke adds.

“That is true. One does not speak poorly of his employer.” Saito nods. “I can’t do anything for you in regards to Midoriyama in the short term. Through my contacts I might be able to gain some information on where she ends up living or where she might have gone to, but it will without a doubt take time to gain that information. These sorts of things don’t go quickly when you have little information to work with.”

Saying that reminds Saito of the situation half a year ago… no, a whole year ago practically, when the poor boy, now a girl, had been discovered by his Senpai on his way home from the only time he had ever been able to convince the older man to join him in an Izakaya. That night the master had drunk copiously. He had lost his license to operate over the previous week, and that night had sunk himself into his drink. Without his normal inhibitions to get in the way, the old man had actually had a little fun and laughed.

They had gone to karaoke, caught up in the whirlwind moment. Saito cannot imagine his old Senpai letting loose in that way ever again. The very next day, after sobering up and heading home with his butler Kozuke, he had called Saito, begging his Kohai for help. He had not been able to refuse the old man. He’d driven up the mountain road out of Tsukuba, enjoying the nice drive into the mountains despite the urgency of his Senpai’s request. When he had arrived he had found a shocking surprise waiting. He had of course noticed the burned out hulk of the car that Madoka’s family had crashed in, though he had passed it.

Kozuke had shown him into a room of the mansion that he had never been into before. This room had been a fully kitted out surgery room and laboratory. His Senpai had claimed that this room had existed as a place for him to practice his revolutionary techniques. How he had done so, he never really explained to Saito.

What surprised him most had been the bloody, bandaged body sitting on a hospital bed in the new room Kozuke had shown him to. To say that he had been frightened out of his mind for a moment was an understatement.

Kozuke had stoically held onto his shoulders and explained the situation while his Senpai had checked fluids and computer screens.

The girl had gotten into an accident last night. The master had had to perform emergency life-saving surgery on her when he determined that she would not survive a trip into town. He had started work immediately, despite his hung-over condition. At the moment, the girl was comatose but stable. After a time, Saito’s horror had turned to admiration for his Senpai for going to such amazing lengths to save the life of the girl. Truth be told she could not be in better hands, and yet he had just lost his license. There was something of a legal issue there.

When Master Yoshi had finally been able to break away from his care of the girl, he had tiredly explained the situation again. Patting Saito’s shoulder and telling him he was happy to see his kohai, he joked, stating that they should never speak of their previous night’s festivities ever again. His senpai was understandably horribly embarrassed by his lack of restraint the previous night. Saito had agreed, of course, though he was inwardly amused by his senpai’s pride.

When he asked why he was needed, his senpai had explained to him that they needed to find the identity of the girl. For various reasons, likely legal reasons, he would not allow Saito to take a DNA sample to analyze. It had to be done in the most mundane way possible. Saito had protested of course. Such a search might not turn up any results at all, and certainly not for quite some time. His senpai had been insistent, and Saito had grudgingly agreed to do things his way.

Saito had insisted on taking pictures. His senpai had argued against that, not wanting to allow it, but he had had to give Saito something, so he had agreed to a few photos, and he had also agreed to let Saito take a few more photos as the girl’s recovery progressed. Saito snapped those photos, spoke of the situation a little more with his senpai, and then left to begin his task. He had started at the burned-out hulk of the car, searching it. He wondered why there weren’t any police cars there. His senpai obviously wanted to keep things extremely low-key for the moment, but that fact did not feel right to him at all.

He had found absolutely nothing of use. A few trinkets, a melted charm from a shrine that had not seemed to do the family any good on their trip, sadly, and oddly no papers of any use in the glove compartment nor underseat. Saito’s information search had to start from the outside in.

It took half a year for him to find out anything worthwhile. He had finally been able to track down a missing persons report on the family who had gone vacationing from Tokyo. A bit more digging had gotten him the identity of the child. Thankfully the child was an only child, but what disturbed him most was that his senpai had referred to the child on the bed as a girl, and as the girl’s healing had progressed, Saito had seen hints of it behind bandages. His senpai had never uncovered the wrappings from her body or her face, but they had ceased to be bloody a month into her recovery. Her comatose condition had not changed in all that time.

The child of the family he had found, the Fugui family, however had been a boy indeed. He had brought all of this information to Yoshi. His senpai had grunted when he studied the information, shaking his head, but he hadn’t seemed all that surprised.

Saito had brought up the discrepancy at that time, and suggested that perhaps his senpai had misstated himself when he had called the child a girl. Yoshi and shook his head and denied it. He had explained that the girl’s body was too damaged to tell, and even if he had been able to tell, trying to repair the damage and make the child a fully functional male would in effect be far harder at that point than conducting the surgery that he had done.

Saito had grudgingly accepted the logic, but felt bad for the child. If he ever woke up… if she ever woke up, she would be extremely confused and disoriented to say the least, he thought.

He had suspicions about the condition his Senpai had been in when he had started the surgery, but he could not question a man who had worked so hard to save the life of the child, and beyond that, had gone to amazing lengths to repair the damage instead of just leaving the child broken and burned as a normal surgeon might. What was more, he was not going to charge the child a single thing for the medical care given to him… her. These things had definitely won Saito’s loyalty. He believed strongly in helping others to the extent which was humanly possible. His senpai was in a great position to help many people, and he already had, working pro bono for the experience and challenge as often as he worked for pay it seemed.

Saito shakes his head, staring into the distance. As kind as his Senpai is, she still suspects that there is something more to the situation than he knows.

“Is Madoka doing well, despite everything? How is school?” he asks Kozuke. The butler had also quietly sat, deep in thought. Kozuke blinks and nods. 

“Yes. She seems to be making friends. She is quite popular with both the girls and the boys, it seems.” He smiles, pride in his eyes.

It amazes Saito how… fatherly the butler seems to be towards the child. It was his understanding that his Senpai intended to adopt the child in order to start a family, and be charitable towards Madoka, who had no other family to rely on. Instead, the butler seems have taken that role, and his senpai, as usual, is hiding his true feelings and being his usual self, which is to say… he is not especially compatible with others, period.

“That’s good to hear!” Saito grins. “I was afraid she would be horribly mal-adjusted. Miura-san seems to feel much the same way. Madoka’s therapist,” Saito adds that last part just in case the butler had forgotten her name.

“She spoke with me after their first conversation and she definitely seemed concerned, although she was surprised at just how… fragile and feminine the child seems to be.” Saito chuckles. “That is truly amazing. I haven’t been granted the opportunity to talk to her yet very much, other than that one time when Senpai introduced us in his study, of course. Perhaps I should talk privately with her soon. I am her social worker after all.” Saito smiles. Honestly, he has to admit that he has felt somewhat uncomfortable around Madoka. not knowing what to say to the boy-turned-girl whose life had turned completely upside down.

“I think that would be fine.” Kozuke smiles in response.

“Then I will call Senpai and see if I can get him to agree to it.” Saito chuckles. Kozuke stands, however, bowing and extending a hand to Saito, who stands and takes it, bowing and shaking it.

“I appreciate your help, Uchida-san. I unfortunately need to start looking into putting an ad or two here and there for help wanted.” He smiles wryly and Saito laughs in response.

Madoka watches as the others in her class play volleyball again in the gym. She sighs and puts her head in her hands, feeling gloomy and a little out of sorts. Whenever she watches things like this it just frustrates her that she cannot jump in and play. She burns to do so. To run and jump and laugh. She focuses on the weights that Ren-senpai has again brought her, and works her leg muscles. Today, as Kozuke suggested, she has stood up now and again, forcing herself to place her full weight on her legs. She isn’t able to stand for prolonged periods, and her legs and knee joints throb and ache with the exercise she has given them, but she perseveres. It isn’t much different from when she started her arm exercises after waking up from her coma.

The chime rings and everyone starts cleaning up quickly, heading off into the gymnasium’s locker rooms to clean up and change before heading back to class. Madoka wheels herself to the storage room and hands off the weights she had used to Ren-sensei, who nods and smiles to her.

“Does it seem to be improving any?” he asks. 

“Not much yet.” Madoka laughs. “I just have to keep at it. It’s not going to get any better by itself,” she says, forcing a cheerfulness that she doesn’t feel.

She bows a little to Ren-sensei and excuses herself, wheeling to the locker room. Aoi joins her, wiping sweat from her forehead. She looks… happy to Madoka. Kanna joins the two while Madoka admires her athletic friend. Kanna pokes her shoulder and she jumps and blushes, laughing. Oh no… I shouldn’t stare like that at Aoi-chan, she admonishes herself. She isn’t a boy anymore. Doing things like that will not fly with the girls.

They walk into the locker room and start changing. Once again, Madoka hasn’t bothered to change into her shorts, and Ren-sensei hasn’t said anything about it. It really does not make a lot of sense to do if she is not going to stand up and get sweaty… at least not as sweaty as everyone else, in any case.

Madoka washes her face and uses a bathroom stall, taking a moment to change her tampon as well, and then leaves, waiting for Aoi and Kanna to finish. They head back to the classroom together.

The focus seems a lot more intense now that the class has a project they have declared. The students pair off again as they had earlier this morning and continue to discuss the festival. Kanna resumes making notes about what everyone will need for costumes.

Ren-sensei calls for everyone’s attention again, and the classroom falls silent. “We also need to discuss props and decorations we will need. You have done well pairing off into groups that will actually perform jobs in the cafe, but we’ll also need people to work on decoration and such. Will we use the classroom, or will we do it somewhere else? Consider these things as well. I would appreciate it if you would take over on that note, Sugawara-kun.” He gestures to Eiji who blinks and stands. He has been for the most part doing very well, except trading taunts with Aoi. He grins at his sudden newfound infusion of importance and stands up in front of the class, clearing his throat.

“Yes, sensei.” he says first and thinks. “I think maybe we’ll need to have some of the people who are in other groups form another group focusing on props and such. I think it would be a good idea if I head the prop team as well as the serving team. There really isn’t a whole lot for me to do until the festival otherwise.” He laughs.

“But that’s just the way you like it, right, useless pres?” Kanna teases aloud.

“That’s not true!” Eiji holds out a finger, his expression annoyed. “Why would I offer to head this new group if that was even remotely true?” he protests.

The class erupts into laughter.

Eiji sighs and waits for the class to calm down and finally waves his hand to put a stop to it.

“Okay, everyone, seriously. Let’s start picking out some people. Who wants to talk cafe decorations? Raise hands if you have nothing else you’re doing and want to pitch in with it.”

A large percentage of the waiting staff raise their hands, though some people conspicuously try to look smaller.

The class ends in much that way, and even goes into overtime a little as the three planning groups start discussing things.

Midoriyama Hisako sits tiredly in a bus, looking outside as the scenery of the city passes by. She has had a busy day today. She studies her reflection. Her hair is out of its old style of braids that complemented her maid look so beautifully. Now it is tied back behind her ears in a ponytail in a professional style. She doesn’t look bad… pretty, but also more professional. All the accents she would otherwise wear are not present.

Tired as she is, she has great news for her family.