Cover Art: Allenes
Cicadas hummed outside the open windows as mom served us dinner, dad was absorbed in some paperwork for the temple while my little brother rambunctiously hopped in his chair. It was the end of the week, meaning mom made her usual chicken katsu for dinner. My mind wandered to the sound of the cicada as I closed my eyes and held my breath. One… Two… I could hear the sound of my plate rattle as a small piece of chicken and some rice was spooned onto it. Twenty… Twenty-One… My brother finally settled down, grabbing his chopsticks and diving into his food before mom had even gotten back to the table from the kitchen. Thirty-Seven… Thirty-Eight… I could hear dad set down the papers, saying something to mom in his deep rhythmic voice. Fifty-Five… Fifty-...
"Shizu! What are you doing, sleeping? Its dinner time." My father nearly roared, I could tell his temper was higher than normal. Sitting up properly I quietly began eating, avoiding the thick peanut sauce mom liked to cover everything with. Dad resumed his conversation with my mother, "so until the shrine makes more in donations, we can pay Hiroshi for cleaning and maintenance. Well have to take care of things ourselves. Hopefully we can get through this, otherwise we might have to sell the shrine."
Mother looked solemn, she loved the shrine up on the hill behind our house, it had been in her family for seven generations. Even as a kid I would dress up in my hakama and kosode and prance around the shrine grounds as visitors admired and took pictures. But over the years, fewer and fewer visitors would stop by, tourists would rather see the temples in the city than come way out to the middle of nowhere, the whole community was disappearing as they moved towards the city.
"Well, well all just have to pitch in in whatever way we can," my mother was telling my father, though by the tone of her voice Hara and I knew she meant all four of us. "Shizu and I can clean the grounds and welcome visitors, and you can do any repairs that we need done. Maybe you can teach Hara what to do so one day he could even take over maintenance." I looked sideways at my brother. Eleven years old, not even out of primary school yet, the thought of him swinging a hammer made me start to laugh. Not wanting to make the situation awkward, I pretended to cough on a piece of rice instead of laugh.
My dad sighed, we all knew he had a lot on his plate with work, and to add repairing the shrine to things couldn be stress-free. "For you and Shizu to watch the shrine will mean almost her entire weekend will be spent up there. How do you expect her to keep her grades up if she is working all the time?"
I quickly piped in, "I also have swim meets on Saturdays." The look on my moms face was like I stabbed her in the heart. "But I could always help out in the evenings after school, so Saturday won be as hard on the rest of you." I was too much of a people pleaser.
Mom stood up, her food barely touched as she started to put things away and clean up already. I took one last quick bite before helping her take dishes into the kitchen and running up to my room. I didn want to talk about the future of the shrine, I barely even wanted to help clean it. I still had a few hours before bed, stripping off my clothes until I was in just my bra and panties, jumping onto my bed with a textbook to study for next weeks finals for the third time this weekend. It was the best way for privacy, the combination of being undressed while studying meant that no one bothered me. After an hour, I found myself holding my breath again as I read, the sound of the cicadas still going outside.
My name is Okada Shizu, Im a second year high school student at Kurashiki High School. My family owns the not-so-famous Okada Shrine, built some thousand years ago in the hills outside of Okayama city. During the summer I usually walk to school, the shade of willow trees and a long walk along the canal being quite pleasant in the hot weather. There are a few farms near our house but there aren any other students that live out our way, so my walks are pretty quiet. I really wouldn call myself an outcast, I have a few friends at school, but I like being by myself. I often sit by myself during lunch, spend way too much time in the library, and hardly anyone even realizes Im on the swim team for the school.
Up ahead, my best friend waited by a crosswalk for me, Izuhara Echiko. Her and I first met in primary school and by good luck we have been in the same class every year since. "Shiiizuuuu, did you end up doing the homework this weekend?" She looked pitiful, a girl that almost every guy in school desired but she never seemed to get her homework done. I already had my notebook out, passing it to her as we crossed the street. In the few blocks we had left to the school, she juggled her own notebook and mine, trying to copy down the answers. She did decent enough on tests, even when rushing through copying my homework, so I never really pressed the matter on her to stop. "You
e a lifesaver, Ill love you forever Shizu." She surprised me from behind, wrapping her arms around me and indirectly squeezing my breasts with my notebook still in her hands.
"Eh eh, get off. Someone is going to see." It was one thing to act like that in primary school, but we were high schoolers now and had to be a good example to the middle schoolers that shared the same campus with us. We were still a little early and only a handful of students were about the courtyard. The doors into the building were likely still locked on such a warm morning, so I sat down at the edge of the fountain and let my hand play with the water while Echiko talked to me.
"So Friday night, I went out with Shunji, he took me to that karaoke place that opened up a couple months ago. The new booths are great, we definitely tested out the sound proofing in there." I didn even have to look to know that she was winking at me. She always made suggestive remarks about her relationships with boys. "Although come to think of it, the guy at the counter was staring at me on the way out. Oh well, maybe hell give me a discount next time." Echiko undid the top two buttons of her blouse, barely exposing her lacy black bra underneath as she tried to cool off by the fountain with me.
"A teacher is going to see you, do you like getting detention or what?" This was a common summer activity for her, ever since last year when we entered high school. We knew teachers were a lot more relaxed with the high schoolers, especially when it came to the dress code, but Echiko loved to push the boundaries. Her skirt would always be an inch or two higher than what was permitted, or she would open her blouse a bit too much. This year in particular she stopped wearing pink underwear, saying that boys preferred her in black underwear whenever they were alone with her.
Echiko barely even turned her head to look around, "I don see any teachers out yet. When they unlock the doors Ill button back up. At least the school has air conditioning." She pulled out her phone, taking a picture of herself as she leaned back by the fountain. "Toin is going to love this."
"Toin? You mean Morioka Toin? Why would you send him a picture of your undone shirt?"
"Oh, I didn even tell you about Saturday! Well, Shunji was busy so I sent Toin a text. It was such a nice day that I wanted a guy to take me to the park. Not the nice park in town, the one out by the old orchards. It was really secluded." She bit her lip slightly, and if she was blushing I couldn tell in the bright sunlight and heat. "Anyways, if Shunji gets too busy for me, he can expect me to sit around doing nothing, right?"
There was some movement by the front door of the school, a teacher inside was unlocking the door and a few students were already lining up to get in. As we straightened up and stood, we noticed the usual flow of students coming through the main gate to the school. Passing through the now open door into the air conditioned getabako room we heard a sharp voice, "Miss Izuhara, I expect you to be in detention after school today, and button up that shirt."
"Yes sensei," Echiko began to button her shirt back up as Miss Miyaki glared at her.
"Thats the fourth week in a row, when will you learn?" I knew it was hopeless, Echiko didn care much about detention unless it was Friday. Shunji was on the track team, so Echiko had to wait a while after school got out anyways. It didn matter much to her whether it was in detention or sitting out on the bleachers watching the team practice. I placed my outside shoes into my cubby, grabbing my school shoes and slipping them on. As Echiko opened her cubby, I could immediately tell she had another anonymous love letter left behind.
She squealed with glee, "Hehe, this one left me a phone number this time, though no name. What do you think, should I send the fountain picture to this one too?" She elbowed me in the side knowing that I wasn paying much attention to her. "Or would you like to pose and send this mystery person a picture of you?"
"Please, as if. I don even have a phone, or have you forgotten for the hundredth time?" It certainly wasn for a lack of interest. Mom and dad refused to get me a phone, and it wasn just because of the money. My parents didn think a high schooler needed a phone, especially one who could walk to school and back every day. Echiko shoved the letter into her purse and back into the cubby.
"Here!" I replied during homeroom. Miss Miyaki had her back to the class as she was calling roll, writing down notices on the chalkboard. Saturdays swim meet was going to be in Okayama city along with the next track and field meet. I gave Echiko a sideways glance, noticing how she had perked up when she saw the location for the matches. She loved shopping in the city, especially when she had me to go with her to have someone to talk to. Although I wondered if shed make time for me if Shunji was going to be in the city too.
There was only a week left until the semester was over before we had a small summer break. Finals were starting this week, and other than a few last minute assignments to turn in, there wasn much left as far as lessons. Miss Miyaki was writing down some of the main lesson points for the next semester that we should be expecting. I absentmindedly copied down everything into the inside cover of my notebook, most of my break would be spent reading up on the next semesters topics to get a head start. We would be covering some more advanced math formulas, English poetry, the Kamakura period in history, and organic chemistry. Echiko visibly yawned, luckily with the teachers back still to us.
My seat was by the window, turning my head from Echiko I could see the schools pool and sports fields. There wasn a cloud in the sky, the only shadow was that of a lone hawk slowly circling over the fields in search of mice. The sound of rustling bags brought my attention back to the room, as a moment later the bell was ringing for homeroom to end and first period to begin. Getting up and grabbing my school bag, I hurried after Echiko as she was skipping down the hall to meet her boyfriend before first period. I lost sight of her in the crowd, but when I reached the stairwell to head up to the Japanese classroom, I found her locked by the lips with Shunji. He had dark hair and was a grade above us, so we never had classes with him. I rolled my eyes as I walked past them, ascending the stairs before I would have to suffer the inevitable back and forth of both of them complaining about how little time they get to spend with each other. I could already hear Shunjis deep voice before I reached the top step.
"Oh Echi, why couldn you have been a year older? Classes are so boring without you."
"Oh Shun, why couldn you have been a year younger? Wed have so much more time together."
I came around the corner sharper than I had intended, stepping into the hallway and accidentally smacking into someone coming the other way. I immediately bowed to apologize, when I recognized the boy I had run into. "Morioka-san… My apologies, Morioka!" I said his name a little louder the second time, hoping that Echiko would hear downstairs and break her embrace with Shunji before she was spotted.
"Okada-chan, no apology is needed, I was in a hurry and forgot my bag in homeroom. If Im not back in time for Japanese, can you let Richie-sensei know Ill just be a second? Thanks, I owe you one." Toin skipped down the stairs in a hurry, saying hi to Echiko on her way up and almost getting distracted from getting his bag.
Echiko was right behind me as we entered Japanese, and luckily Toin made it back just as the bell was ringing, but it didn stop Richie-sensei from scolding him a bit. Toin sheepishly took his seat behind me, giving me a smile as he walked past. A shudder went through me, though I tried not to show it. It wasn a chill or anything, more just my mind processing the possible things he and Echiko might have done in the secluded park by the orchards. My breathing got heavier and faster even as I tried to shake the mental images from my mind. Closing my eyes while the teacher wrote on the chalkboard, I held my breath and began to count. My swim time had been getting better all season, but the coach said the only thing holding me back from first place in matches was my need to constantly come up for air. All summer I had been practicing holding my breath and had improved a lot. I opened my eyes half way through so I could start getting ready for our final, but I managed to count to a hundred and twelve seconds before I needed to breathe in, my heart racing but for a different reason than before.
Finals today were a breeze, though it was only the end of term, not the whole school year. Plus tomorrows finals were supposed to be harder. A lot of the students were getting out of their classes early and the courtyard was full of high schoolers. The middle schoolers usually had to wait until the bell to ring, even during finals week. Not wanting to sit through all the usual complaints of how each question was somehow created just to be horrendous for one student or the other, I hurried over to the locker room to try to get a few laps in the pool before heading home. Since it was finals week, we weren going to have any practices, but we still had an end of term meet that I wanted to be ready for.
Alone in the locker room, I started to undress and place my clothes in the locker, taking out my school swim suit. As I lowered my panties, they clung to me slightly, a wet spot between the fabric and my skin making them slightly sticky. I was a little surprised, I certainly knew why this kind of thing happened, but Ive never had it happen at school. I quickly threw them in the locker and started putting on my swimsuit while my mind wandered. Was it thinking about Toin and Echiko? I didn normally think about things like that at school, so maybe that was the cause. Was my imagination vivid enough to affect me physically?
A few minutes later I was jumping into the pool, thoughts of boys and illicit activities far from my mind as I began swimming the length of the pool. I couldn hold my breath nearly as well while exerting myself, but my time was getting better each week. The pool felt great in the heat and I had the whole thing to myself. After about ten minutes I heard the bell ring, meaning school was out for the day. Letting myself bob in the water for a moment, I looked around. High up in the bleachers there was an overhang from the school, casting shadow over the top two rows of seats. I couldn see anything, the brightness of the sun in my eyes making it impossible to see anything in the shadows, but I felt eyes on me. Swimming to the far end of the pool where I had left a towel, I lifted myself out of the water and wrapped myself in the warm fabric. Still dripping, I walked back to the locker rooms, but as I passed the bleachers I couldn see anyone up there.