Ties with Kuro
Previously: Shirokin's volleyball team prepares for nationals. Yankumi gets 3-D to form a motivation team with a bribe. Kana, Uchi, and Shin discover that they all know a guy named Kurosaki, and he's back.
"He's hanging out with kids who've dropped out of Ara High," Shun told me as I finished cleaning up at the café.
I stared at him. "What?"
"Your friend, Kurosaki. Chiba saw him in town this morning."
I fell silent. I had heard rumors of Kuro dropping out of school a year ago, but I hadn't really paid much attention because I had been dealing with my own things and we hadn't talked in a long time anyway. And now this. Ara High…it made me sad that Kuro was hanging out with the likes of them and that I hadn't been there for him.
My phone rang suddenly, breaking into my thoughts.
"Hey, Kana. Shin's agreed to let us hang out at his apartment tonight. Wanna come?" Uchi asked me.
If anyone knew about Kuro's current situation, it'd be Uchi and Shin. I asked Shun if I could go, and he agreed, as long as I returned before 11.
When I got there, it seemed like it was more of the guys intruding on Shin rather than Shin inviting us over.
"Hey," I said, putting some cookies that I had bought on the way on the table. Kuma instantly went for the cookies, and I looked at the mess around the apartment. Shin sat on the floor against the couch, looking a bit annoyed, since he was probably used to peace and quiet. I gave him an apologetic look before settling on the couch next to Uchi. I was trying not to think of how I'd slept over here only weeks before.
"YES!" Minami shouted as he hit a bull's-eye when playing darts, but hardly anyone was paying attention.
"Man, living on your own must be awesome!" Noda said as he munched on some junk food.
"It's not as easy as you think," Shin said from where he sat on the floor.
"Like taking the trash out?" Uchi asked. I laughed. Shin was probably referring to having to deal with his friends randomly crashing at his place while all Uchi could think about was taking out the trash?
"Hey, do girls ever come here?" Minami asked suddenly. I choked on my drink but tried to appear nonchalant about it. I snuck a quick glance at the back of Shin's head.
"Of course not! Shin doesn't have a girlfriend!" Kuma said matter-of-factly. Minami shrugged while Uchi and Noda nodded.
"Well…yeah…" Shin said suddenly with a strange look on his face.
"EH?" the guys all shouted and surrounded him. I trusted Shin enough to not say anything stupid but the guys' reactions made me roll my eyes.
"You're hiding something from us!" Minami said.
"Come on, fess up!" Uchi demanded.
"What was she like?" Noda asked.
Shin looked bemused. "What was she like?" he asked in contemplating manner. It came to me that he was thinking about Yankumi, not me. And Yankumi was a difficult one to describe for certain.
Kuma suddenly jumped up. "I know! I bet it was your mom and your sister!"
"Something like that," Shin finally said, and the guys backed off, relieved or disappointed, I couldn't tell.
"Besides, I'm here, right?" I said casually.
"Oh yeah, huh. You're a girl," Minami said after a pause. I proceeded to whack him with a pillow.
While the other guys played darts and got riled up over other things, I began to think about Kuro again. I didn't know how to approach the topic. It seemed like Uchi and Shin had some sort of complex history with Kuro and I wasn't sure if it was a touchy subject.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Uchi asked softly. Shin turned to look up at us, and I forced a smile.
"Just…thinking about Kuro," I said slowly.
"Us too," Shin said with a small, somewhat reassuring smile.
"I wonder why he's hanging around our school…" Uchi mused.
"Those guys that were with him…they're Ara High's dropouts," I informed them. The two looked at me, stunned. They didn't ask how I knew, but their reaction was similar to mine.
"Ara? They're a pretty nasty bunch," Uchi said worryingly.
"I hope nothing happens," Shin said.
But I could tell that all of us knew that something would happen anyway. This was Kuro we were talking about. The news about him made the guys fall into a sullen mood, and I didn't feel like pushing them to tell me about their past with Kuro.
The next morning, we arrived at school to discover that the Volleyball banner was torn and covered in spray paint. It now read: Shirokin High School's Volleyball Cosplay Contest in red paint.
"Kuro…" I said softly. I didn't know why he would do this, but who else?
Uchi looked at me, then looked at Shin, who nodded. We would have to settle this ourselves.
We found Kuro in his "hangout" place, which was another empty warehouse by the harbor. He didn't look surprised to see us and had us sit. I stared at him, wondering what had become of that innocent boy I had once known.
"What do you want? We're quite busy, you know," he said to us. His "gang" stood behind him.
""Did you ruin our volleyball banner?" Shin asked coolly.
"Come on, Kuro, did you?" Uchi asked with a smile, trying to appear non-hostile.
"If I did, why does it matter?" he asked casually. "The way that they forsake a student for the name of the school…those kinds of people don't deserve to go to Nationals."
I was confused. Forsake a student? What was this about?
"What do you intend to do?" Shin asked.
"It's obvious. I'm going to crush any chance of them going to Nationals. Seeing Iwamoto suffer will make me happy," Kuro scoffed.
Uchi grabbed his arm as he stood up, but Kuro shrugged him off.
"I can't forgive that teacher!" Kuro shouted, making me jump at his furious outburst. "People like you, pretending to be good students, wouldn't understand."
"Kuro…" I said. When did he become like this?
He smirked, composing himself. "Looking fine, Kana."
"You don't look too bad yourself," I replied. His blond hair, pink tinted sunglasses, black shirt seemed to suit him and his new personality. "I haven't heard from you in a while."
"What, with you getting expelled all the time?" he retorted.
"Kuro!" Uchi warned, glaring at him. I grabbed Uchi's arm to placate him, despite the slight feeling of hurt that struck me from Kuro's harsh words.
"You hang out with these guys now?" Kuro said with a smirk. "Small world."
"Kuro, what happened to us?" I asked, trying to ignore his jabbing remarks.
"You mean the stupid promise we made to each other when we were eleven?"
"No, besides that. We were good friends…"
"Were," he responded. "Not anymore. I'm different from you, from these guys," he said, looking at Shin and Uchi. He then walked out and his group trailed after him.
"What was that all about?" I asked the two. Uchi sighed as he slung an arm across my shoulders.
"Let's go back to school first," Shin said. "We'll explain it there."
Once back at school in our classroom, Shin and Uchi, or rather just Shin, since Uchi seemed too upset to tell the story, began to tell me about Kuro. The three of them had been close buddies during second year, always hanging out and stuff. They'd fight over who got to eat the meat in the ramen, and they'd ditch class together and sleep on the roof. Kuro had also been a really strong player on the volleyball team at the time. However, during regional tournament, he had gotten into a fight with another team's player and had inflicted serious injury on that guy. To avoid being pressed for charges and Shirokin having to drop out of the League, Iwamoto-sensei, the volleyball coach, made Kuro quit school. That way, when asked, the school didn't have to take any responsibility for Kuro's actions.
"No wonder Kuro hates Iwamoto," I said. It wasn't fair, what the school did. I suddenly realized how painful this was for Kuro, and how angry he must be.
"What about you? How do you know Kuro?" Uchi asked me.
"Hatsukoi*," I let out in a rush. I didn't know why, but it was somewhat embarrassing to be admitting that I had been in love with Kuro to two of his close and more recent friends.
Uchi gawked at me while Shin raised a brow. Without looking at them, I told them how when we were young, we used to be neighbors. Kuro and I had pulled a Romeo and Juliet, without the deaths, of course. Our parents had some argument going on, but Kuro and I managed to become best friends through a hole in the fence, so our parents couldn't do anything about it. We had even once run away together, until my parents, who were cops, tracked us down and scolded us. When we were eleven, Kuro and I made a promise to each other that we would always remain friends and then grow up together and get married. At the time, I had seriously thought it was going to happen.
"Awww…" Uchi said softly, patting my head.
"We were eleven, what can I say?" I replied. "Anyways, we both have these necklaces to symbolize that promise." I pulled mine out to show them.
"Ah," Shin said. "I've seen Kuro's."
"Yeah, and whenever we'd ask him about it, he wouldn't tell us," Uchi added.
The three of us fell into silence. A mutual friend was getting caught up in something that could end up a disaster.
"I think we should tell Yankumi about this," Shin said. I was surprised at this suggestion, but, after a brief moment, it made sense. It wasn't like any of us could do anything, as much as I hated to admit it.
The three of us went to Yankumi while the rest of the class was practicing for the motivation team routine.
"Iwamoto did that?" she asked in surprise after Uchi explained why Kuro had a grudge against the school. I left out my part, and luckily, she didn't ask.
"It was so dirty of him, letting go of a student without listening to him first!" Uchi griped.
"Uchi, I understand your anger at the school's method, but it was Kurosaki who caused the incident first," Yankumi pointed out.
"Uchi's worried about Kurosaki," Shin said to mediate.
"We were all good buddies. He may get angry and violent easily, but he's not a bad guy," Uchi defended Kuro.
"That's why we can't leave him alone. If h were still at school, he'd be right here, in 3-D with the rest of us," Shin explained. That thought made me realize how big of an impact a single action could have.
"When he got expelled, we couldn't do anything," Uchi said sadly. I patted his shoulder, feeling bad that I hadn't even given Kuro a second thought at that time. If I had, I probably would have met Uchi and Shin a lot sooner.
"All right, I understand," Yankumi said sympathetically. "We'll have to do something about it before he tries to ruin the volleyball league."
"He's probably going after Iwamoto," Shin said suddenly. "Iwamoto is the person he most hates."
"And knowing Kuro, he's not going to waste any time doing so," I said grimly. We set out immediately to find them.
After a bit of searching, we found Kurosaki pinning Iwamoto against a fence by the overpass.
Yankumi poked Kuro's cheek and smiled brightly when he turned.
"If you dwell too long on the past, you'll get old," she said cheerfully.
"What? Who the hell are you?" he demanded angrily, grabbing her collar.
"She's our homeroom teacher," Uchi said, and Kuro looked annoyed.
"You hang out with teachers now?" he asked coldly.
"Since Iwamoto-sensei is also here, why don't you say what you want, and we'll listen," Yankumi said, smiling.
"None of your business," Kuro said and released her, brushing past us.
I ran after him and he glared.
"Kana, give up. It's over," he said. I stood in front of him.
"We promised that our friendship had no end," I said calmly. Somewhere in there, the old Kuro still had to remain.
"Yeah? Well I've got my own friends now," he said, tearing off his necklace and throwing it to the ground. He walked away quickly.
I leaned down to pick his necklace up. He had kept it all these years…but was it really over?
"Come on, Kana," Uchi said, coming over. I held the necklace in my hand and looked up at Uchi, who seemed to understand. He gave me a quick hug before pulling me to follow Yankumi, Shin, and Iwamoto. There was a serious discussion at hand.
At Shin's, Yankumi asked Iwamoto if there was seriously nothing he could have done to prevent Kurosaki's expulsion. He responded that he couldn't go against the entire school board and expect to win.
"Then go and apologize to Kurosaki. Then maybe you can talk things over with him, and he'll understand the situation better," Yankumi said.
"Wait a minute," Iwamoto protested. "He's not the type to accept apologies. It'd be pointless."
"That's no way to talk!" Uchi growled, but Shin held him back.
"Pointless?" Yankumi asked. "It shouldn't matter who you are. When a person does something wrong, one should apologize. You should show him that."
"I…I can't," he responded.
"Who cares if Kuro doesn't accept your apology! You know you did him a huge injustice, and you owe him that much," I said angrily. "Or does your pride not allow you to bow your head to others?"
"Kana," Yankumi said, and I shut up, but it was hard not to glare at him. Iwamoto stared at me.
"I'm sorry," he said before turning and walking out the door. Why was he apologizing? Because he couldn't apologize to Kurosaki? Was that supposed to appease us?
I clenched Kuro's necklace in my fist. I couldn't tell who had committed the greater sin.
Later, when I passed Shirokin on the way back, I heard the sound of volleyballs striking the ground. I was surprised. Who would be practicing at this hour?
When I walked into the gym, I was surprised to see Kuro serving volleyballs around the gym. He was surprised when I went over and hit it back to him.
"Hey," I said.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Doesn't matter. Are you going to serve it or not?"
He hit the ball to me, and I hit it back. It was just like old times. We would do something else to get our minds off of anything that frustrated us.
"Are you still really mad about getting expelled?" I asked.
He stiffened. "What are you talking about?" he asked, but his serve veered off course.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Not like you could have done anything anyways," he scoffed.
"And anything you do can't stop the volleyball team from going to nationals," a voice said. We turned and saw Yankumi standing at the entrance of the gym. "You know, your friends are worried about you. Sawada, Uchiyama, Kana. They all want to do something for you."
"Friends?" Kuro scoffed. "My friends are the people I hang out with now. Don't lecture me like you know everything!" He threw the volleyball to the ground and stalked out. I stared after him, not wanting to accept that this was who he was now.
"Yankumi?" I asked softly. "Even people like him…can they change?"
Yankumi smiled warmly and nodded. "Of course. Believe in him, Kana. That's what he needs."
I nodded and reached for Kuro's necklace in my pocket. I believed in him. I just hoped someone believed in me too.
*Hatsukoi: First love/crush
Author's note: Good? Bad? Annoyed with a character? Too much / too little going on? If you could comment and let me know, that'd be great! Also, I'd love to hear how you all got into Gokusen. Did you start with the manga? Did you watch it for a certain actor? Was it one of your first dramas? It'd be cool to know a little more about the fans in this fandom. :)