January 1, 2005
Morning for a new year had begun in Tokyo. The temples and shrines were starting to get people again. Business will be closed for the next three days, as part of Japanese tradition. Kazuki was getting the temple ready for the massive crowd. Himeko and Chikane will come later at around 10 am. He didn't need them for the early morning; he and Souma could handle the early crowd.
Himeko and Chikane didn't get much sleep, yet they were up by 8 am. They had to head back to the shrine and continue on with their miko duties. But before they go to work, they had to get some food for the New Year. Traditionally in Japan, people eat a set of dishes called osechi-ryori. Each of these dishes have a particular meaning have a meaning; it could be for good luck, health, wealth, fertility, long life, etc. The supermarkets and department stores were closed, but it didn't matter to the two girls, they can still shop - in the back of the stores.
They were at the back of a Takashimaya store in Shinjuku Times Square looking through the trash to find any good osechi-ryori packets.
"I love eating osechi during the New Year holiday," Himeko chirped.
"Well I don't, but it's the only food that lasts, perfect for our case since we don't have refrigerators. And unlike people who buy them for at least 2000 yen, we get them free, even if they're considered 'lower quality'."
"Yeah. How about that one over there?" Himeko pointed at a particular osechi-ryori.
Chikane took a look to see if it was still good. "Yep this one is perfect. It has sliced fishcake in it."
"For good luck?"
"If you believe in that type of stuff, yes. This is rather ironic, since we could use some of that."
Himeko giggled, "I think we're fine now."
While they were searching, Kazuki was nearby, heading to a convenient store to get some ice. He suddenly noticed them and watched them going through the trash. Something inside of him found it very disturbing as he watched them scavenging through the garbage. They never noticed him.
He thought to himself how terrible it was. "Oh my, look at these young girls. They have to go through trash just to find food. They shouldn't be on the streets; they should be at a home going to school just like normal teenagers. I can't let them waste their life on the street when they have so much potential. I have got to help them out. After all, they've done a lot for me."
He went on to the convenient store, the image of them going through the trash burned in his mind. He couldn't erase it; he was starting to develop a guilty conscious about it. He deeply felt that he really hasn't helped them out enough. He felt that he should do something about it.
When they got to the temple, Kazuki immediately wanted to see them. "Kurusugawa-san and Himemiya-san, can I see you two for a minute?"
"Uh sure, did we do anything wrong?" Chikane asked.
"No, it's nothing like that, it's actually something else," he said as they followed him to a private area of the temple. When the got there, Kazuki said to them, "I'm very thankful for all the things you have done for us and for the temple, including this. I want to really make it up to you in a very big and special way?"
"How so?" Himeko asked.
"Well, I want you two to move in and stay at the temple."
Himeko and Chikane just looked at him like he was crazy, "Are you okay? Did you fall on your head earlier today?" Chikane asked.
Kazuki chuckled, not totally surprised at her response. "No, I'm okay. I know that this is rather unexpected, but I really do want you two to move in with me. So you two can have normal lives. Like go to school, eat home-cooked meals, or sleeping on a bed; things you don't have living in the streets. I really want you two to have normal teenager lives, not having to worry about everyday survival. Plus you could get hurt out there."
"Hey, I can take care of myself!" Chikane told him with a stern tone.
"I know that, but do you want to live like that every day? It's your choice. I can't force you to stay here; it's up for you two to decide."
Chikane thought about it a bit. She doesn't want to live like that for the rest of her life, but she knew that it was too good to be true, "What's the catch here?"
"Well you would help out with the temple, since I would like for you two to be my mikos. However, I will pay you two for your work as mikos, so don't worry about it. You will also have to do chores, but every teenager does that, or they should, so that's not much of a catch. The one thing is that I will train you two in fighting. Thought I don't think I need to do much with you Himemiya-san. You know about our problems with the black-masked group. They're still out there, so self-defense is vital. This is not the time to be weak, hence learning how to fight is essential, Kurusugawa-san," he said, singling out Himeko. Chikane nodded her head in approval.
"Actually Oogami-sensei, I've been training her for almost six months now. She's more capable than she appears, but it wouldn't hurt for her to have more training. Plus, I've heard about your sword skills and I would like to receive some training myself."
Kazuki smiled, "Of course, I'll be happy to train you." Chikane smiled in return. Kazuki continued, "Other than that, there really is no catch. You get free housing and your won't have to pay for school, food, cell phone, or utilities."
Chikane and Himeko thought about it for a minute. Chikane was the first to speak up, "So what do you think Himeko? It would be nice to no longer sleep on a cardboard box."
Himeko was hesitant a bit at first, because of the training part, but then she nodded. "I totally agree. I look forward to going back to school again."
Kazuki then smiled, "Well that settles it. The move will happen after the Hatsumodo. That will give you girls some time to get your stuff, if you have any, packed and for me to straighten up a room for you two. And I hope I don't have to sign a contract for this Himemiya-san?"
Chikane chucked, "No, none indeed."
"Good! Now that we agree on this, let's get to work. The crowd is starting to form."
Later on that day, Souma and Makoto wanted to visit their best friend Yukihito. While riding on his bike, Souma talked to Makoto about their situation.
"It's been a while since we've seen him." Souma said. "I can't understand why he would disappear on us like that."
"Yeah, for the past few months, he has been acting very strange," she replied, while clutching on to him as he speeds down the road.
"Yeah, and he has been hanging out with more of his so-called 'other' friends. I haven't been able to visit his home in like over four months."
"Have you met any one of them?"
"Nope, not one of them, and they don't' seem to be the positive type. One time when I ran into him, he was clearly drunk, even though he denies it."
"Oh." Makoto simply responded.
"Something's going on. I don't like it, and we need to talk to him about it."
Finally, they see the house down the street. As soon as they arrived in front of there, they stopped dead in their tracks, shocked. Yukihito's house appeared to be empty, and it had a 'For Sale' sign right on the lawn.
"Oh no..." Makoto responded.
Three days later after the hatsumode ended, Himeko was getting her stuff ready for the move. Nekoko was assisting.
"I'm glad that you finally got yourself a place to stay, but I'm going to miss having you around, nya!" Nekoko said.
"Don't worry, I'll come back to visit."
"I'm surprise that he only wanted you just to bring your artwork and not much of your clothes."
"Well he said that he was going to take us shopping today. I guess he didn't want us to wear our current clothes, since he thinks they're dirty. After all, he had us go to the clinic yesterday for examination."
"And how did that go?"
"It went well. The doctor said that were a bit dehydrated, but other than that, we were fine."
"That's good," Nekoko responded, as she finally got the last piece of Himeko's artwork packed.
Then Kazuki arrived with a minivan. Chikane was sitting in the passenger side.
Kazuki and Chikane walked up to the tent, "Hello, how's everybody doing?"
"Were fine Oogami-sensei. We're just about done getting everything together."
"That's great, so can I start loading your things?"
"Yep," Himeko replied, and she handed her first item to Kazuki.
While the two walked to the minivan, Nekoko had a word with Chikane, "Look Chikane-san, I know there's something going on with you and Himeko. If I could, I would put a Great Wall of China between you two, but I can't choose who she falls in love with. However, if you hurt her in anyway at all, I will hunt you down. Understand, nya?"
Chikane looked at her coldly and responded, "I love Himeko too much to ever hurt her, so you don't have to worry about that. What you have to worry about is me, kicking your butt for constantly getting on my nerves, like what you are doing right now," she hissed.
Nekoko started to boil up, "I'M NOT GETTING ON YOUR NERVES!"
"Yes you are," she coldly spat. And the two started to argue. By the time Himeko and Kazuki returned, they were in a full-blown argument. They tried to break it up.
"Okay enough you two!" Kazuki uncharacteristally shouted.
"Yes, stop fighting like cats and dogs. Uhh... No pun intended!" Himeko stated.
"No you're right Hime-chan, Chikane-san is a dog, nya!"
"Why you -" Chikane seethed but Kazuki and Himeko held her back before anything happens.
"Stop it! Just stop it! I'm borrowing that minvan, and I don't have much time to waste. So let's just get her stuff, okay?"
Both girls responded 'okay'. For the rest of the time, Chikane and Nekoko didn't say a word to each other while they were helping Himeko and Kazuki. When they finally got everything, Himeko gave Nekoko a goodbye hug and they went to Kazuki's place.
They finally arrived at his place. He showed them around a bit before they start moving in their stuff. His living quarters was right next to the temple. It was a modest house built for a family of four. Perfect for a new home for Himeko and Chikane. "Welcome to my place. It's not much but it's nice. My family has been living her for the last 15 generations."
Himeko was amazed, "Wow! That long? How does the house stay in good shape for so long?"
Kazuki chuckled, "Well it has not exactly look like this all these years. It has been renovated many times. The last time was when my father renovated it ten years ago, when he ran the temple. "
He headed them straight to their bedroom, "Well here's your sleeping quarters. I know it's not much but at least it has a bed, " he humored with his smile.
Himeko was gleaming nevertheless, happy that she finally got a stable place to stay. So was Chikane, who cracked a smile from her usual stoic look.
"You can go ahead and put away your belongings. The drawers are empty. Let me go ahead and get the rest of your stuff," he said as he left.
A few seconds later, Himeko hugged her and elated, "Wow Chikane-chan, we finally got a permanent place to stay!"
"We sure do," she simply answered as she hugged back.
"Don't you know how great this is? Finally, we get to do the things we really want to do. We can do each other's hair, go to the movies, go shopping, hang out at some mall, make each other's lunch, visit even more art museums, go to concerts..."
Himeko's childish, yet excited rambling gave Chikane some chuckles, "Himeko, Himeko, Himeko; I know you're happy to have a place to stay, but I don't think we can do all that!"
"Why not?" she asked liked a little child.
"Because all that requires money and time, and since we're going to start school soon, we might not have that."
Himeko thought it over, "But at least we can try to do some of those stuff," she delighted with a smile.
Chikane returned the smile back, "Yeah, you're right about that. After all, we only have one life to live." Chikane gave her a hug back and told her, "Thanks for being in my life."
"No, thank you for being in my life," she responded followed with a kiss on Chikane's cheek which caused Chikane to blush.
While they were hugging, Kazuki walked in and saw them hugging. It drew a small smile on his face. He tried to quietly put the rest of the stuff on the floor, but it creaked, breaking the girls loving embrace.
"Oh I'm sorry, I didn't want to interrupt you two."
"No problem Oogami-sensei," Chikane stated.
Kazuki thought it would be a perfect to time to bring up something. "I know that you two love each other very much. I also understand that you two may want to express it more intimately, but if you do then please don't do it too often and don't do it in the middle of the night. I need my sleep."
That caused an embarrassing blush on both girls' faces. "We not that far in our relationship to do stuff like that!" Himeko jokingly protested.
Now it was Kazuki's turn to feel embarrassed, "Ano... Then I dearly apologize for making that assumption."
"It's no big deal," Chikane shrugged.
Souma then walked in, "Here's the last of your stuff, Himeko-san."
"Thanks a lot Souma-san."
"No problem. Do you two need my help in putting away your things?"
"No thanks, we're fine." Chikane politely responded. He walked out of the room and they started to put away their stuff.
Just as they were getting done, Kazuki walked in, "It looks like you two are finished."
"Just about," Himeko replied as she put her last artwork on the top shelf in her closet. "Now I'm done. Oogami-sensei, why did you tell us to leave our clothes behind? We don't have anything else to wear besides what we got on our backs."
"Don't worry about that Kurusugawa-san. We will go shopping right soon."
Kazuki proceed to show them around the rest of the house. Besides Kazuki's bedroom, kitchen, and the bathroom section, the main part of the house was really one big area divided by fusumas, panels that partition the big area into smaller sections. "Here's our kitchen area. It's not really big, but it's functional." Then he walked a few steps to the dining room, a room with lots of decorative panels. One of the panels showed a decorative drawing of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, and Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, the moon god, facing away from each other. The two gods that the temple represents. Another one had three sacred objects of Shinto, the mirror, the sword, and the jewel. Himeko was admiring the artwork on the panels.
"It's beautiful, who are they?"
Kazuki was a bit surprised that Himeko didn't know who they were, but then he remembered that she was never fully exposed to Shinto.
"The one on the right is Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, and the one of the left is Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoo, the moon god."
"Oh," she simply said. She was not familiar with them. That made Kazuki realize how much he has to teach her about Shinto. "And what is this panel with the sword, sword, and that funny looking thing.
He couldn't help but chuckle at her question. "That 'funny looking thing' is actually the Magatama, a sacred jewel. It represents benevolence.
"Benevolence?" she asked with a puzzled look.
"Yes, just like it is in your religion, it is very important to promote goodwill to others and to perform charitable causes to others."
"Oh ok. So what does the other two things mean?"
"The mirror represents wisdom, while the sword represents valor, or courage. See there's a lot of symbolism in Shinto, but I'll tell you another time."
Kazuki then continued the tour of his home. "And this is our dining room."
Himeko was amazed, "Wow, this is beautiful."
"Why thank you Kurusugawa-san. It was painted over three hundred years ago."
"Yes. From what I've heard, it was done by a family friend of ours. I really don't know his name."
Then he showed them the living room, "And here's our living room." It had an even better display of paintings and wall scrolls of various flowers, especially the Suikazura, or better know as the honeysuckle. It was a mixture of the old with traditional Japanese tatami floor mats, an alcove with historical Japanese artwork and flower arrangements; and the new with a stereo system, a DVD player, a Playstation 2, and a brand new flat-screen TV. He looked at the TV dismissively, "Somehow, Souma-kun talked me into it." The girls giggled.
Souma overheard the conversation, "Admit it nii-san, you would take this over some regular TV anytime!"
"You know I don't watch a lot of TV."
"But you sure do love your classic films."
Kazuki smirked a bit, "True, however I don't get to enjoy it. Most of the time you're using it to watch your soccer, wrestling, and tennis; and also to play your videogames."
Souma just smiled, felling a bit embarrassed. "That's also true."
The girls just chuckled, "Do you have any problems in me watching my anime on here?" Himeko asked.
"No, I shouldn't. That's if it's in good taste. None of that hentai stuff."
"Oh it won't be anything like that! It's on TV and it's called 'Battle Mikos'."
"Then it shouldn't be a problem," Kazuki replied nonchalantly.
"Thank you Oogami-sensei!" Himeko bowed in happiness.
"No problem. As long as it doesn't interfere with your schoolwork or any of your responsibilities."
While they were talking about various things, Makoto came over. "Hi everybody, including the new residents, how are you doing?"
"Fine," Chikane said, being a bit annoyed at her perkiness.
"Hi there Makoto-san, how are you doing?" Himeko cheerfully greeted.
"Fine, yourself? So you two are now living here, right?" she asked with her usual enthusiasm. The two girls nodded in agreement. "Cool! I hope you have everything you need?"
"Well, we need some new clothes," Himeko noted.
"But, that's not all you need," Makoto said.
"Huh? What else could we need?" Chikane questioned.
"Check the bathroom and you'll see," Makoto chimed.
The two went and looked in the bathroom. What they saw was nothing but men's stuff. They came back to Makoto and Chikane said, "I see what you mean..."
Kazuki and Souma understood as well, "Uh... The stores won't open until tomorrow. How about if you come shopping with us so that they can get the 'things' that they need?" Kazuki said with an embarrassed blush. Souma blushed as well.
Makoto laughed, "There's no need to feel awkward or ashamed about it. It's just a part of life for us girls. Besides, I would love to go shopping with them; I need some new stuff myself."
Kazuki smiled, "Well that's good, tomorrow we will go shopping. As for now, let's eat some food. It's the last day of the holiday and we do have some remaining osechi packets to finish off." Everybody agreed and they went to get the food.
For the time during their meal, they talked about various light-hearted subjects such as the latest fashion, baseball, cute animals, Souma's latest tennis accomplishments, and other things. Kazuki listened and didn't say much, true to his nature.
After their meal, Kazuki had a serious discussion with them.
"As you two know, you will be helping me run the shrine. There's a lot needed to be done here. Dating back to many generations, the shrine always had two mikos. One that represents the sun and the other that represents the moon. Kurusugawa-san, I'm making you the Sun miko and Himemiya-san, I'm making you the Moon miko. Plus I will be training you two will in sword combat, starting tomorrow. I will be trying to get you two into a school, so be prepared for that as well. Do you two understand?"
Himeko nodded nervously, while Chikane nodded confidently. Both were nervous of all the responsibilities, it was just that Chikane did a better job of hiding it.
"Can we get them to try out for our school?" Makoto asked.
"That was the first place I was going to try anyways. I need to visit the principal for various reasons," he said, since he knew about their situation.
"We'll talk about it privately," he said to Himeko and Chikane, as he got up to go to his room.
The next day, Himeko and Chikane went shopping with Kazuki and Makoto. They visited a few stores in the Shibuya area, getting enough clothes to last them for a few weeks. This was all new to Kazuki. He never really dealt with teenage girls like this before, even those who worked for him as mikos. He thought that it would be for only at most two hours, but the shopping took almost an entire day! Until then, he never knew how much time and effort women put into their shopping.
Makoto joined even though they really didn't need her, but she wanted to get some stuff herself. He also got some 'feminine products' for them.
Finally they got back home. Everyone was exhausted, especially Kazuki. He quickly went to the living room and dropped on the futon.
"Oh my, I've never went shopping for that long."
"Don't worry about it. For now on we'll do our own shopping. I notice that you're not into it," Himeko said.
"No, it's not my thing. Now I know what the other half does in shopping," he sighed.
They just chuckled, "That's only the tip of the iceberg Oogami-sensei," Chikane joked.
"I can't imagine that," he said while shaking his head in disbelief.
"Did you say that you wanted to talk to us about school after we got back home?" Himeko questioned.
"Yes, I do. Please sit down," he gently commanded and the girls sat on the futon while he got up and sat on his chair. He looked directly to the two girls and he explained his plan, "As young women, you need to go to school so that you can make something of yourself. I know that Hanayaka School is the perfect one for both of you. Of course you might not be good enough to make it in, though I seriously doubt it. However, the bigger issue is that both of you are runaways. "
Himeko swallowed her throat when she heard that. Chikane didn't, but inside she was seriously panicking.
Kazuki continued. "They're going to need to get your school records before they can do any transferring," he informed.
Nervously, Himeko spoke up, "Maybe it's not a good idea to go to school after all." Chikane shook her head in agreement as they were about to walk away.
Kazuki saw her fear and stopped them, "I know a few people in the Tokyo school board and they will do their best to make sure that the transfer won't be noticed. Plus, I know the principal as well. He'll do his best to make sure that you stay there."
Himeko and Chikane read through his vague response, they suspected that he knew more than he was letting on. Himeko then asked, "So you know? Know about our situation?"
Kazuki looked at her, amazed at her perceptiveness. Knowing it wouldn't do him any good to lie, he simply told her, "Yes I do. I know about your abusive relatives, and I have contacted your art teacher. She very much approves having you go to Hanayaka." Himeko smiled a bit, and then gave him a thankful hug.
"Thanks a lot Oogami-sensei!" Himeko said as she started to cry a bit.
"No problem Kurusugawa-san," he reassured as he hugged her back. "No need to worry, you will be safe here." After they finished hugging, Kazuki then turned his focus to Chikane.
"I also know about what you went through in the orphanage back at Mahoroba. I had a friend from New Zealand who used to work there."
Chikane's eyes lit up when she heard that, "You mean Sister McGlade? You know her?"
"Yes I do. She used to work at the church a few blocks from here. She used to help us with the food and clothing drive. This was before she was transferred to that orphanage in Mahoroba. I talked to her a few days ago, and she told me what happened. I'm really sorry Himemiya-san." However, he only told her half of the truth. He also got some of his information from Sister Miyako, and he also knew that she running away from her.
"It's okay, it's been a while," she said as she downplayed the event.
"No. It's not okay; you lost a friend of yours because of it."
"I know that," she said, feeling uneasy talking about it. "But I got to move on, that what she wanted me to do. Plus, I'm a runaway; I can't do anything against them. Trust me, there are plenty of people who want them in jail and out of business, but none have succeeded due to their strong political connections."
Kazuki saw her point, but suggested something else, "I understand, but you can't give up."
"What am I suppose to do, protest about it? I can't, unless I want to get myself arrested."
"You don't have to do it now, but perhaps in the near future. They'll be many more like you if they are not stopped and held accountable for their actions."
Chikane closed her eyes and nodded her head in agreement, "I know that very well Oogami-sensei."
Kazuki gently laid his hand on one of shoulders, and she winced a bit. It was still hurting from the knife incident. "See this is why I want you two to stay with me, so that this probably won't happen to you ever again. Now go ahead and try on those clothes. I want to know if I have to take them back."
Himeko and Chikane smiled, and quickly ran to the room with their new clothes.
The next day Kazuki put them to work on the shrine. He showed them the daily functions of maintaining the shrine, which includes cleaning the shrine, assist visitors, and daily rituals. He made sure that they weren't anything to compromise Himeko's religious beliefs. He gave them the task of running the information desk. He found them ideal for the job because of Himeko's natural gentleness to people, and Chikane's ability to speak fluent English.
It was ten in the morning, and they finished their shrine chores. They met Kazuki at the middle of the shrine. He got someone to volunteer to watch the shrine for him.
"Now that you two are finished with your chores, we can now begin the training."
"What are we going to do Oogami-sensei?" Himeko asked.
"We are going to learn some sword combat."
When she heard that, Himeko was a bit scared. "Really?" she asked.
Kazuki saw the fear in her eyes, and just chuckled. "Don't worry. We won't work with swords at first. And even when we get to that point, it wouldn't be very sharp."
Chikane explained a bit more to Himeko. "Most likely, we will be using shinai in the beginning. Also we will wear some protective gear."
"True indeed." Kazuki responded. "I already got some gear for you two, plus I have two kendo shinai. Himemiya-san, do you have experience in sword fighting?"
"A little bit. I'm more handy with a tanto than with a katana."
"Well it is a bit different than using a tanto. There won't be much thrusting in the beginning, since it can be very dangerous. Striking is more important now, which you don't do a lot with a tanto."
Chikane nodded in agreement. "I see."
"Well let's get started. I got the gear and the shinai for you two right there." He pointed to a spot where the weapons and gear were lying. Himeko and Chikane went and got the items.
"Does it matter who wears what?" Himeko asked.
"Not at all. Both head gear and body armor are basically the same size. I will have them tailored to fit you girls later on this week."
So they both suited up and got their shinai.
For the next hour, Kazuki trained them in the basics of kendo and the mechanism of using the shinai. It was nothing spectacular; as Kazuki had them repeatedly do the movements, so that the mechanism became second nature to them. Chikane was doing fine, but Himeko was struggling.
"That's not how you plant your feet Kurusugawa-san."
"You got to have your legs tense when you are about to strike, so you can have more power when you are attacking."
Himeko nodded in agreement, "Understood sensei."
"Good, let's try that again."
Another hour passed, and both were sore. They wanted to take a rest, but Kazuki had other ideas.
"Now you need to take a shower, and get back to working at the front desk."
"But we just finished our training, can you give us some time to relax? I mean it's lunch time right now." Himeko begged.
"No. We got work to do. This is the time that a lot of visitors come, during their lunch break. You'll have your lunch break at two at the earliest."
Chikane and Himeko sighed in disbelief, but did as they were told. They took a quick shower and then returned to work the front desk and various parts of the shrine. It wasn't until six pm that Kazuki told them to stop working.
"Let's start closing up. It's dinner time now."
They were happy that it was finally over. Kazuki went on to show them how to close up the shrine. It was rather tedious, but a necessary part of their work as they put away a lot of the items in the room.
After that, they finally got to eat. Souma was there as well.
"So how was your day girls?" Souma asked as he was about to take a bite of his okonamayaki.
"Tiring!" Himeko said.
Souma just giggled. "Ha ha ha! Welcome to the Oogami household. If there's one thing you will be doing here, it would be work." Kazuki didn't say anything, he just continued on with his eating. "You'll get used to it."
"I hope so. I hope I don't die of exhaustion!"
"You won't Hime-san. We're not THAT unreasonable," Souma joked.
Kazuki finally spoke. "But through hard work you build discipline and character. Without either, you won't survive in life."
Chikane nodded, but she had an important question. "But when we start school, how are we going to do all this?"
"You will find ways to do it. I will cut down on your time tending the shrine and kendo practice, but I will never cut it out entirely. You will be doing your job and your practice at least four times a week. And as long as you are staying here, you will do all your homework and study for all your exams. If I have to tutor you, I will do so. If you have to go to cram school, you will have to do that."
Chikane simply nodded while Himeko was very nervous. Besides Arts and to a certain extent, English, she was not an academically good student.
"O-o-okay," she responded. Kazuki also knew how bad her grades were, so he told her. "Look, I will help you out as much as I can okay."
"Okay... I hope I can do better." she said unconvincingly.
"You WILL do better. Hope is not a strong word."
"I see Oogami-sensei. I don't want to disappoint you, like I have disappointed my relative." Immediately, tears came down her cheeks and she started to cry. Those painful years of living with her relatives were coming back. Those beatings she got because of her bad grades were still fresh in her mind. Chikane and Kazuki had an idea of what was going on, but Souma didn't really know what to make of it.
"What's wrong with you?" He asked. Himeko didn't say anything, but she quickly ran into her bedroom. Kazuki and Chikane were silent a bit while Souma had a puzzled look on his face. "What was that all about?" he inquired.
"I'll tell you later." Kazuki replied. He and Chikane got up and walked to the bedroom. When Chikane opened the door, they saw Himeko in the dark, lying on her bed crying on the pillow. Chikane was trying not to cry herself, seeing her lover hurting inside.
"Do you want me to leave?" Kazuki asked.
"No, I think I will need you."
They slowly approached Himeko, who was unaware that they were in the room. Chikane sat on the middle end of the bed while Kazuki remained standing. She then softly brushed her hair in reassurance.
"Himeko, can we talk to you?" Chikane said softly.
Himeko finally took her head off the pillow and looked at her lover. Her face was drenched and her cheeks were fully flushed. She didn't say anything while she was sniffling.
Kazuki took it as a yes as he started to speak. "You shouldn't be afraid of me Kurusugawa-san, I will not do what your aunt and uncle did to you. All I want from you is your gambaru. The past does not make the future. Things will be different here than back at Mahoroba."
Chikane filled in. "Besides, you never disappointed your relatives, even if they told you so. They were trying to make you something that you weren't. If anything, they have disappointed you, by not taking care of you the way they should. Plus they put unrealistic expectations on you."
"But what if it isn't good enough?" Himeko sobbed.
"Kurusugawa-san, what's more important is the fact that you are trying. Even if you give it 100%, there's no guarentee that you will get 100% back. But there is a guarantee that if you only give 0%, you will only get 0%. Nothing is perfect, and nobody is perfect. I might seem unreasonable, but I don't expect perfection from you. However, I do want you to be the best that you can be. I, or anybody else, should not expect less than that. Do you understand?"
Himeko dried her eyes with the sheets. "I understand." she replied softly.
"Now just dry your face off and come back to finish your dinner. Don't worry, things are different here," he said while keeping his stoic expression. He walked out of the room. As soon as he left, Chikane spoke to her.
"Look, we both came from rough beginnings and we still have scars from it, but this is our chance to make anew. We don't have to live in our past anymore, and we don't have to let our past dictate our future. We don't have to worry about our guardians or about being homeless anymore. We got a new beginning ahead of us and this is our chance to make something out of it."
"I don't know. It might turn out to be the same." Himeko lamented.
"Only if you let it. This is a different environment and we're living with different people. Chances are it won't be the same. Oogami-sensei believes in you. I believe in you. Souma-san believes in you. The only person who doesn't believe in you is the one who matters the most, yourself. You got to believe in yourself Himeko." She ended with a touch of concern in her voice. Himeko just looked at her lover and didn't say anything, but her eyes were asking for reassurance. Chikane added, "No matter what happens, whether success or failure, I'll always be there for you."
A tear came down from her right eye. "Seriously?"
"Yes, really." Chikane smiled.
Himeko saw the honesty in her face, and then she smiled. She then gave her partner a hug, and Chikane responded back with a kiss on the forehead.
"There's nothing to worry, I'll always be there for you," Chikane assured while she was hugging her.
After they finished their hug, Chikane told her, "Come on, let's finish our food. I'm kind of starving."
"Okay," Himeko giggled and they returned back to the dining room.
Almost a week later, thanks to a lot of delicate string pulling by Kazuki and the Sumida Board of Education, he was able to get them a placement test without having to officially notify their guardians. It was indeed the Hanayaka School that Souma and Makoto attended. Located in the Sumida ward, the prestigious private school was highly respected for its arts and athletics. Many students who wish to become artists, musicians, actors, or athletes apply, but only an extremely talented or well-connected few ever get in. Kazuki was very certain that Himeko and Chikane had a chance of gaining admittance, since both were very talented in art and music respectively. There was however a lingering concern he had about Himeko's other grades.
Kazuki arrived with them at the school and went into the office building.
"Hi, I came to see ÒWakayabashi-sensei for the placement test of these two ladies." He said to the administrative assistant.
"Oh yes. I see that you're fifteen minutes early. I'll get him to come over." She called him and he came out of his office.
"Oogami-sensei, it's nice to see you again!" He said as he bowed.
"It's nice to meet you again as well." He replied as he bowed back.
"So are these the young ladies that you want to attend our school?"
"Yes, I think they have the skills to do well here."
"Oh I see. So which one of you is the 'little Hokusai'?"
Kazuki pointed to Himeko. She bashfully blushed when she heard that. "I'm not that good!"
"Don't be so modest. I'm sure you are. And you must be the musical one?" He said looking at Chikane.
"Yes I am." Chikane bowed.
"Good, good. I got both of your tests ready. So come with me."
They walked about nearly half the distance of the school. The school was very clean and full of delicate yet bright colors. There were various paintings and drawings from past and present students hanging on the hallway's walls. Himeko and Chikane were impressed at what they saw. During their walk, the principal was giving them a short tour of the place.
"This here is the auditorium where we have our events, concerts, and plays."
"You guys have concerts and plays?" Chikane asked.
"Yes we do. We do have performances, whether it's musical or theatrical, to the public."
"That's great!" Himeko enthused. "How about art shows?"
"Oh yes, we usually have one around March and September, when Spring and Autumn arrive respectively."
Himeko smiled, "That's wonderful!"
"It really is, and I hope that you can be a part of it."
Finally they arrived at the classroom where they will take the test.
"Okay, this is where you two will have your exam. One of our teachers is in there. She will provide you more details on how to take the exam." He opened the door for the girls. As they walked in, he said to them. "Good luck and do the best that you can."
The girls took their seats and the principal left. The teacher then spoke.
"Welcome to Hanyaka Secondary School. I am Otahari-sensei, and I am here to supervise your entrance exam. We are thankful that you two chose to apply for Hanayaka. As you know Hanayaka is the most prestigious Arts and Music secondary school in Tokyo, and one of the most prestigious in Japan. Because of our distinguished reputation, we can only select those that we feel meet our standards. This entrance exam you are taking will determine that. For the exam, there will be two parts: the first is the written part, where you will be tested on your regular scholastic skills such as math, reading, and writing. The second is the activity part. This is to test your major at this school, whether it's arts, music, dancing, drama, whatever. Since you two are here for two different majors, both of you will have to go to separate rooms for the activity part. Do you have any questions so far?"
Both girls shook their heads 'no', so the teacher continued.
"Okay, now which one of you is Kurusugawa-san?"
"I am," Himeko said raising her hand a bit timidly. She was very nervous about the test.
"Okay, and you must be Himemiya-san?" She said pointing to Chikane.
"Hai Otahari-san." Chikane responded confidently.
"Good. We will start with the written exam. There are four parts of the written exam: Reading, Writing, Mathematics, and History. Each part will be an hour long. Now we will begin with the Reading section. There are some multiple choices, some fill-in-the-blanks, and some requiring essays. If you have any questions, feel free to raise your hand so I can come over and assist you if I can. Any questions so far?
Both shaking again 'no'.
"Good," she said as she got up and handed out the papers. "Now go ahead and write your name and date on top, but don't get started until I tell you so." She waited until the girls finished writing their names on top. "Okay, you can begin now, and good luck."
And so the two girls looked over the first question and answered it to the best of their ability. Thus this was the beginning of their new life at Hanayaka.