Halo – III –
by Dreams in Pink
|← II||IV →|
III – Classmates –
Usagi’s gaze shifted warily around the room, her lip curling with disdain. The biology lab had to be the absolute worst place in the school. Jars preserving various creatures and plants lined the back wall, and mounted over the door was the head of a deer; its glass eyes watching her every move. The scent of formaldehyde hung in the air, making Usagi’s stomach churn. She sat straight and still on her stool, hands under her thighs, avoiding any contact with the black topped tables.
“We’ll be choosing partners for the next project, so when I call your name, come choose a partner from the bag,” Ms. Haruna instructed, holding up a black velvet bag filled with slips of paper. “And then please go sit next to them,” she finished. Usagi sighed; all she wanted was a decent partner.
“Yumiko,” the girl jumped from her seat, pulling out a name.
“Kuri,” she read, her lips curving into a smile as her partner squealed in delight. Usagi glanced over at Naru, who looked back at her hopefully, showing crossed fingers for good luck.
“Settle down,” the teacher mumbled, checking their names from her master list. “Okay, next is Naru.” The red head took a deep breath before plunging her hand into the bag.
“… Umino.” She looked at Usagi and shrugged. Usagi scowled; they never got paired together. The class continued one by one to be partnered up and Usagi couldn’t help but allow her focus to dwindle. Her mind flashed back to the previous battle. How his gloved hand forcefully grasped her elbow as he pulled her up. How his clothed finger brushed her cheek. How he was so firm and demanding, yet showed the capacity to be gentle and kind. He was beautiful and regal, and she was determined to find out who he was. They had something to share, something in common. He was good. She could feel it.
“Usagi.” The blonde remained silent, her mind reeling in memories. “Usagi?” Her partner called again, but still no response.
“MS. TSUKINO!” Usagi’s attention jerked forward and she could feel the red spread over her cheeks.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
“You’re with Ami, please take the appropriate seat,” Ms. Haruna ordered, shaking her head. Wanting to sink into the ground, Usagi quickly and quietly gathered her belongings and shuffled over.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Ami, flashing an apologetic smile. The girl only nodded in reply, pushing her wire rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose. Usagi swallowed nervously. She didn’t know much about Ami, except that she was the smartest girl in their class. Maybe even in their entire school. She seemed reserved, often sitting off to the side and only speaking when spoken to.
Usagi cocked her head, taking in Ami’s cobalt locks and noticing how every detail on her uniform was pressed and polished. Her backpack, which sat leaning against the table on the ground, was overloaded with books. Usagi frowned, wondering if she was disappointed with being her partner.
“Each group will need to label the following diagram before we begin the dissection on Friday.” A stack of papers began circulating the room.
“Before we begin what?” Usagi asked. She couldn’t have heard that correctly.
“The dissection,” Ami answered.
“That’s our next project; we’re dissecting a fetal pig,” Ami stated, furrowing her brow. Hadn’t she been listening?
“A fetal pig?” Usagi’s eyes went wide with horror.
“Yes, an unborn pig.”
“An unborn pig?” She repeated, looking at Ami with shock. The girl giggled at the blonde’s reaction.
“Don’t worry, I can dissect it and you can write down the notes,” Ami offered. Usagi momentarily agreed, but soon changed her mind and shook her head.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll help,” she said, figuring that if she could battle a youma, she could dissect a pig.
“When do you want to get together to work on the diagram?”
“I guess we could work on it after school today,” Usagi suggested half hoping that Ami already had plans.
“Okay,” she nodded.
“I can meet you at the gates after classes, and we can go to the Crown?” Usagi figured if she was going to be stuck doing the gross diagram, she might as well be in the comfort of her favourite hangout.
“Sure…” Ami agreed, with a reluctant smile. She would have preferred the peaceful sanctity that the library had to offer. “I’ll see you at the gates then,” she confirmed, gathering her belongings to head back to homeroom as the school bell rang.
Ami stood with her back pressed against the brick column that was nestled between the iron gates, waiting patiently for her partner to arrive. Although they had been classmates for years, Ami couldn’t remember ever really talking to, let alone working with Usagi. She quickly made a mental list of the things that she knew about the blonde:
‘Her last name is Tsukino.
We’ve been at the same school for six years.
She always wears her hair in two buns.’
Ami paused, tapping a finger against her lips as she thought.
‘She’s always late.
She frequently earns time in detention.
All of her accessories are pink.
She’s best friends with Naru Osaka.’
The girl also knew that her partner was never at the top of the class when it came to grades, and questioned if Usagi would pull her weight for the project. School was important to Ami, and she worked hard to excel.
“I’m sorry!” A breathless Usagi panted, running towards her, “I hope you weren’t waiting too long!”
“Oh, no. It’s fine!” Ami smiled.
“Off to the arcade!” Usagi proclaimed, pointing forward. The pair took off, with the blonde nattering along the way. The cobalt haired girl couldn’t help but grin at Usagi’s bubbly antics, as she ranted about assignments, and did impressions of their homeroom teacher. For the first time in a long time, Ami felt herself relaxing in the presence of one of her peers.
From the tender age of three Ami had been labeled as ‘gifted’. She had spent a great deal of her childhood with her nose stuck in a book, reading fascinating theories and living her somewhat sheltered life through heroes from history and characters in stories. She found herself frequently in the company of adults, rarely taking time to make friends her own age. Eventually she had evolved into ‘that quiet, smart girl’ that everyone talked about, but few took the time to know; that quiet, smart girl who was always alone.
When they reached the arcade Ami was bombarded with the whirring of games, and chattering of patrons. She followed Usagi, who bee-lined the back of the café.
“Is here okay?” She paused in front of an empty booth. Ami nodded in agreement, allowing herself to adjust to the surroundings; the arcade was not a place she frequented.
“Are you getting anything?” Usagi asked, having already decided what her order would be. “Their milkshakes are really good!” She recommended.
Picking up a menu, Ami adjusted her glasses, and focused on the drinks. ‘When it Rome…’ she thought, wondering if this is what normal teenagers did after school.
“Hey Usagi,” Motoki greeted her. “Who’s your new friend?”
“This is Ami,” Usagi replied, gesturing towards the girl who looked up from the menu and blushed. “Ami, this is Motoki. His family owns the arcade,” she explained.
“It’s nice to meet you! Any friend of Usagi’s is a friend of mine!” Motoki said, warranting a smile from the blue haired girl. Somehow, being there with Usagi made her feel like she belonged, like she was accepted.
“So are you girls ready to order?” The man flipped to a new page on his notepad, and pulled the pencil out from behind his ear.
“I’ll have a strawberry milkshake, like always!” Motoki shook his head; why did he even bother asking?
“And I’ll try the vanilla milkshake, please.”
“Coming right up!”
As soon as the sandy haired man was out of earshot, Usagi turned to her partner, “Isn’t he cute?” She giggled, a question that made Ami’s cheeks flush pink. The topic of boys was almost alien to her – she had school and homework to worry about!
“Maybe we should get started so we don’t have to worry about the diagram later,” Ami suggested, happily avoiding the question.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Usagi sighed. What was that saying about all work and no play? The blonde began dumping her book bag out on the seat, searching for the diagram. Ami carefully pulled out a turquoise binder from her backpack, and flipped to the tab marked homework. “I know it’s here somewhere”, Usagi mumbled, shuffling through handfuls of loose paper. Her partner then took out a highlighter, two pencils, and an eraser, lining them neatly in front of her.
“Ah-ha!” Usagi cheered triumphantly, holding up a crinkled sheet. She shoved the unwanted papers back into her bag, in exchange for her pencil case.
“Okay, so we have to take these eighteen terms from the box, and label them on the diagram,” Ami instructed, picking up a pencil. Usagi stared blankly at the paper; not only could she hardly pronounce the words, the picture was just gross. “How about we start with the ones we know, and go from there?” Ami suggested.
“The ones we know….” the blonde repeated thoughtfully, scanning the terms in hopes that she would recognize even one. “Okay, this has got to be the umbilical cord,” she said, tapping her pencil on the page.
“Usagi… I don’t think that’s where the umbilical cord is.”
“No,” Ami shook her head, biting her lip to keep herself from laughing. “The parts we’re supposed to label are all inside the pig’s body.”
“Oooh.” While she appreciated Ami’s tactful response, she felt like an idiot. “…this is the tail, isn’t it.” She said quietly, an embarrassed grin taking hold of her face.
“It is,” Ami confirmed. Usagi burst into a fit of giggles.
“I’m so sorry Ami,” she managed, her laughter becoming infectious. Eventually the two girls had settled down, and were back to the task at hand, successfully labelling the parts they could remember from the brief introduction in class.
“Your milkshakes, ladies!” Motoki interrupted the intense studying session, placing the cool beverages on the table. “What’s this you’re doing?” He asked, peering down at the black and white diagrams. “Biology?”
“Yeah,” Usagi frowned, “we have to label this diagram for homework. How are people supposed to remember any of this, I mean really.” She shook her head.
“Well, if you do need help, I have a friend who probably knows all the answers,” he smiled, knowingly. Usagi knew that the offer sounded too good to be true.
“Mamoru?” The girl asked flatly.
“Yeah, he’s working his way through school to become a doctor. So I’m pretty sure he knows all that biology…y… stuff!” Motoki finished, raising an eyebrow. Usagi scowled; he was like a used car salesman trying to sell her a horrible car.
“We’ll be fine on our own, right Ami?”
“Well it couldn’t hurt to – ” she started.
“Fine. On. Our. Own.” Usagi stated through gritted teeth.
“Okay,” Motoki laughed, “I’ll leave you girls to it!” He raised his hands as a sign of surrender, and headed back to his carry on with his duties.
Ami looked at Usagi curiously, what was so bad about this friend? Motoki seemed like a nice person, so it would make logical sense that his friends would be similar, wouldn’t it? She felt uncomfortable pressing the issue, so with a slight shrug, Ami decided to leave it be.
Motoki was behind the counter drying some freshly washed glasses, when Mamoru slid into his regular seat.
“Are you okay?” Motoki asked, stopping the task at hand and staring intently at his friend’s face.
“What?” Bewildered, Mamoru double checked his surroundings to ensure that Motoki was indeed talking to him.
“You kind of look like you’ve had a rough night…” the blond noted, pointing to the darken circles under Mamoru’s eyes. “Not to mention the way you just took off yesterday.”
“What are you talking about?” Mamoru wondered, completely baffled by the conversation.
“You took off like a bat out of hell,” the Motoki remembered . “You didn’t even pay.”
“What?” His face twisted with confusion. “I’m sorry.” Digging into his pocket, he placed some money on the counter.
“No, it’s not a big deal,” Motoki said, pushing the change back. “It’s just really unlike you,” he explained. He watched Mamoru struggle with the information “Don’t you remember? It seemed like you were in a lot of pain or something, you were holding your head.”
“I… I don’t know. I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately,” Mamoru confessed, looking down at his hands, puzzled.
“Maybe you should get that checked out,” he suggested, grabbing a mug and pouring a cup of coffee.
“Yeah, I guess I should.” The raven haired man agreed, picking up the cup and taking a much needed sip. Turning his attention elsewhere, Mamoru’s gaze fell on a familiar golden hairdo, that peaked over a booth in the back. “Who’s Usagi with?” He wondered, looking back at Motoki for an answer.
“A new friend from school. They’re working on some biology homework together.”
“Odango’s doing homework?” He nearly leapt out of his seat – this he had to see.
“Mamoru –” Motoki warned, “if you can’t stop yourself from going over there, at least be nice.”
“I’m always nice,” Mamoru replied, plastering on a fake grin. The blond shook his head, narrowing his eyes knowingly. “Fine,” Mamoru ceded.
“Odango,” he whispered from above her. Usagi’s face tightened, her mouth turning into a frown. I guess things were back to normal after all.
“Hi,” he flashed a charming smile at Ami, only causing Usagi’s scowl to deepen. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” he walked around the booth to the opening, placing steady hands on the table.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Usagi glanced up at him and smiled sweetly.
“And here I thought we were becoming friends…” The girl furrowed her brow; something about his response made him seem almost sad. The man was impossible to read.
“Ami, this is Mamoru. Mamoru, Ami,” she sighed, waving her hand between the two.
“Mamoru Chiba, it’s nice to meet you,” he stuck his hand out for Ami to shake.
“I’m Ami Mizuno,” she accepted. As they shook hands, an unwarranted feeling of uneasiness came over her. She pulled back her hand, her lips turning upwards in an awkward smile. Shyness. It must just be her shyness. But Chiba… why did that name sound so familiar?
“So you’re stuck with Usagi, eh?” Mamoru joked, the blonde shooting daggers through her eyes in his direction.
“Or she’s stuck with me,” Ami replied. “Chiba… ” now she knew where she had heard that name before, “are you of any relation to the family that made the donation for the Chiba Pediatrics Wing at the hospital?” she wondered, having spent a great deal of time there waiting for her mother who was a doctor.
“They were my parents,” he answered, a hint of sorrow in his voice. “They’re the reason I want to be a doctor,” he explained. Usagi’s features softened; what happened to them? Where were they now? Hundreds of questions popped into her mind, but she held them back.
“I hope to be a doctor too, someday.” Ami’s response started a discussion between the two, and Mamoru sat down in the booth next to Usagi, pushing her further inside. His leg brushed hers, and she scooted over, pulling her belongings with her. As happy as Usagi was that they shared a common interest, their conversation of which schools are the best to attend hardly piqued her curiosity. Utterly bored, the blonde dug a few markers from her pencil case.
“Usagi?” Ami addressed her, but received no response.
“Odango?” Mamoru called, her head shot up.
“It’s USAGI.” She growled.
“What are you doing?” Ami wondered, seeing her partner scribbling furiously on their homework assignment.
“She was ugly, so I made her pretty!” Usagi beamed, turning her paper around to show off her hard work. She had taken the black and white diagram, and not only coloured the pig’s outer skin, but added earrings and a pink bow. “It’s way easier to look at now.” Mamoru and Ami groaned in unison, secretly admiring her childlike innocence.
“You have the pulmonary and coronary arties backwards there,” Mamoru stated, pointing at the two errors. Both girls hurried to grab their erasers.
“So what’s this?” She asked. Mamoru moved closer to get a better look at the diagram. He was so close; Usagi held her breath.
“Is it the umbilical vein?” Ami questioned, eyes moving between her assignment and her friend’s, making sure she was trying to identify the same thing.
“Very good,” the man praised. Usagi frowned; smart girls must be his type. Not that she cared.
Together the three finished the assignment, Mamoru stepping in as a tutor, explaining the organ functions and sharing mnemonic devices to remember each part. When they were finished Mamoru got up to go, saying his goodbyes, ready to head home for the day.
“Hey, Mamoru?” Usagi grabbed his arm before he got away.
“Thanks for your help,” she smiled shyly, peering up from underneath her thick lashes.
“Yes, we really learned a lot!” Ami added.
“Anytime.” Mamoru took his leave, as Usagi watched his retreating form until it was out of sight.
“He seems like a nice young man,” the blue-haired girl stated, studying her friend’s face for a reaction.
“I guess,” Usagi shrugged. She wasn’t admitting anything. “Sorry Ami, but I get home soon. It’s almost dinner time!”
“Okay. Thanks for today,” Ami said, genuinely grateful for being paired with Usagi. She may have not been the most knowledgeable about science, but the short time they spent together made Ami realize what it just might feel like to have a friend.
The girls tidied up their table, packing their belongings back into their bags. Unable to make everything fit, Ami began to pull items out in an attempt to reorganize. Usagi’s eyes went wide with excitement when a familiar book tumbled out of Ami’s bag.
“You read ‘Kimi ni Todoke’?” The blonde asked, surprised that Ami would be reading manga at all.
“It’s one of my favourites,” Ami admitted apprehensively.
“It’s my favourite, too! Isn’t it good?” Usagi glowed, thrilled to find a comrade who was just as enthralled with the manga as she was. The chattered continued, covering every topic related to the manga that they could think of. Ami found herself laughing more than she had in years, truly enjoying their conversation. Usagi’s phone vibrated against the table, interrupting the their discussion.
“Hello?” she answered. Ami watched with mute interest as her friend’s cheeks grew red, and her expression turned to panic. “I have to go, that was my mom,” the girl explained, “and she is not happy.”
The science partners left the arcade together, parting ways at the next intersection. Usagi waved her goodbyes, then turned on her heel and began her sprint home. Ami watched after her with a contented smile; today had been a good day.
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