This is the first chapter of a story about the relationship of two teachers and how it changes over the course of time. This is my first submission ever so any comments and critiques, grammar advice, etc., are totally welcome :) The story as a whole is loosely based around the events of the anime/manga.
Hope you enjoy it! There should be quite a few chapters to come in the future.
Update: As of recently (June) I've started to add some illustrations for each chapter. If you'd like to see them, just go to my profile as I've included links to the pictures there. I'd view them only after you've finished reading a chapter :) I'm still catching up on adding drawings to all of them, so there are only a few at the moment.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Azumanga Daioh. Don't sue me bro!
"Give it back! Stop!"
"Come and get us weirdo!"
A chorus of laughter broke out.
"I said stop!"
In the middle of a bright blue day near the beginning of summer, hundreds of young girls anxiously awaited for the final bell to go off in their all-woman's high school. The sun sparkled through the windows of the schoolrooms and hallways, its light glinting off an assortment of furnishings that littered the interiors. Students wandered in and out of their classes as they set about for the last period of the day, filling the afternoon air with the gentle murmur of casual conversation.
That was all soon broken apart however as a loud commotion made its way around the school, forcing hallway pedestrians to leap out of harm's way as four girls dashed madly by them.
"It's a love letter! Make way!"
"No it's not!"
One of them, with short, black, tousled hair, chased furiously after the other three. They had stolen something of hers that she needed back very badly. It was something of such personal importance that her usually calm, in-control demeanor had given way to frantic desperation. She shouted furiously at the top of her lungs, not at all noticing the awkward stares coming towards her from every girl she ran by.
The trio she pursued giggled incessantly, clutching her cherished item in their grips. She had been catching up to them gradually as she was entirely used to sprinting distances, and would have caught up easily had it not been for the traffic of other students in the way. If she could just pick up the pace a bit more then she would be close enough to snatch the blue envelope that the shortest of the girls was carrying, hoisting it high above her head like a prized kill from a hunt.
The way she saw that girl treating her possession so callously gave her the final rush of anger-fueled adrenaline that she needed. She gritted her teeth and let loose with a burst of speed, weaving around other students in front of her with cool grace, and then lunged...
...just missing her target as she grasped thin air, her body landing and sliding onto the slick hallway floor. Just a fraction of a second before she had the envelope in her hand, the girls had evaded her by turning sharply into the open door of a classroom.
The one she entered into at the end of the day for her very first semester of high school. The one she shared with three girls who had never liked her for a variety of reasons, and who had finally believed they had found a way to make a complete fool of her.
She nimbly stopped herself from sliding and spun around with precision, dashing into the room after them. She was about to yell out again when she saw that most of her other classmates had already arrived inside. Her anger and frustration melted away, and she found herself once again in the possession of her usual self-consciousness. The reality of making a scene in front of her peers had suddenly hit her, causing her to become flustered as she realized she had just ran like a mad-woman through out half of the school building. She prayed that she hadn't passed by any of the faculty members, especially any of her coaches, who would no doubt look down upon her if they had seen her act like such a delinquent.
The three girls she had been chasing were in the middle of the class now, flaunting over their find as other students formed a crowd around them. The black-haired girl watched it all, trying to decide what to do. Should she make a scene and try to grab her letter back? What if she couldn't? Wouldn't that desperate act itself make any claims they made about her all the more true even if she did get it? Should she just flee and avoid the first-hand embarrassment?
"...and we got it from her senpai's locker. What else could it be but a love letter?"
The small girl who was holding the envelope started to tear it open.
"I told you guys that Kurosawa kid was weird."
"Th...that's not yours. Please give it back to me."
That's all that could come out of Minamo Kurosawa's mouth. She had tried to say it as confidently as possible, but the words came out broken and despondent as her voice trembled. All eyes turned on her for a moment, and then back towards the other girl.
Some of her classmates voiced that the girl should indeed give Minamo's letter back if it was her property. But they were few and far between as the majority of the other students waited eagerly to hear what was written on the contents of the blue envelope. Good high school gossip was just too enticing to pass up, the smell of blood in the water too potent to resist.
The girl who held the envelope stuck her tongue out at Minamo as she took out the small piece of paper contained inside, unfolding it. Her eyes touched upon the first words.
Minamo wanted to rush at her, but she was much too bashful to do something like that in front of her own class. All she could do was look down in distress. She felt herself physically shrink as the situation played out before her. That letter was written for one person and one person only. Why did everyone else have so much interest in her business? She had never done anything bad to any one of them. Why was this happening?
"Let's see...'To my Senpai...'"
The plead came out so meekly from Minamo that she wasn't even sure she had said anything at all.
"'Thank you fo-'"
Minamo looked up as the words cut off. Disbelief washed over her. One of her classmates had come from behind and snatched the letter away from the girl, who was now jumping up and down frantically to get it back.
"Now now shorty! You shouldn't read other people's personal stuff out loud like that..."
Relief filled Minamo's heart. She was saved! Someone who actually possessed some combination of compassion and bravery had come to her rescue. She breathed out a huge sigh as she started to calm down, wiping away the tears that had formed on her face before anyone could see them.
The girl who now had her letter held it up high above her head.
"...because that's my job! You idiots have no sense of the dramatic. Let me show you how to do this."
It took a second for Minamo to register what had just been said. She hadn't actually had a chance to look at who had taken the letter, as all she had seen was an arm come out from the crowd to snatch it away.
But the voice that had accompanied it started to become familiar to her now, and the terror she had experienced just a few moments earlier had returned to finish what it started.
The girl who now held Minamo's life in her hands climbed up on one of the desks. She had frazzled, brown hair that was tied up in a sloppy pony tail. Her clothes were crumpled sharply, not having seen an iron that day, and a smirk as wide as the sun cut across her face as she read the letter silently to herself. That smirk soon gave way to a grin, and then to all out hysterical laughing.
Minamo died a second time. Her precious letter was in the hands of Yukari Tanizaki, the loudest and most belligerent person she had ever met in her life.
"Geez, Yukari, did you really have to mention something like that to those girls?"
"I was defending my reputation! I saw that smug look on your face, about to spill the beans on your ol' pal! Those little punks look up to me, you know?"
"Oh, please, I'm sure they do that..."
Minamo Kurosawa took a deep breath and sighed as she looked down at her fellow teacher and closest friend, Yukari Tanizaki. The woman was sitting at her desk in the school's faculty room, an arrangement that allowed the two women quite a few occasions to see each other throughout the school day since Minamo's own desk was right next to hers. Yukari was leaning back in her chair with her usual lackluster demeanor, arms folded across her chest as she looked up at Minamo with defiance.
"Of course they do! They have the utmost respect for their incredibly talented teacher. But then you go behind my back and turn traitor on me, harlot!"
Minamo was used to Yukari's slander, but it still never failed to get on her nerves to some degree. "Don't say things like that out loud! And I don't think 'respect' is the right word. 'Fear', maybe..."
Yukari closed her eyes and laughed softly to herself, shaking her head. "You still don't understand, Kurosawa. Respect is fear. Fear is respect! That's why you're such a bad role model, because you try to be all looooovey-dooooovey with everyone. Like when..."
Yukari went on with some story about how her friend had once "failed the kids and the world" due to her lack of instructional competence, Minamo somehow managing to keep her temper in check by ignoring most of what the English teacher said.
She glanced at her watch as the ranting went on and saw that her next class would be starting soon. Minamo was one of the high school's Physical Education teachers, a faculty member who looked after the state of the students health as well as managing some of their after school sports teams. She loved her job immensely, as it combined a love of athletics with her desire to help and educate kids as they grew up. It was even more enjoyable for her because both she and Yukari had been hired at the very high school that they used to attend at. Some things were a little different now after becoming a co-ed institution, but for the most part the school was just how she remembered it when she was a young girl. It was a very warming experience for her to work in a place that she had grown up in, being more than thankful for the few years she had been a teacher there so far.
And even though she drove her crazy sometimes, Minamo was honestly glad to have Yukari's familiar face around. They had been best friends since high school and had always done everything together, including their careers. Their friendship was an uncanny one, considering how much her calm, rational character conflicted with Yukari's outright audaciousness, but it had still somehow held together throughout the years. Yukari had always been the one person there for her when it really counted, and that's all that Minamo felt that really mattered.
Ugh, Yukari. She snapped her attention back to her friend who was still going on with whatever it was she had been talking about. Minamo was running a bit late today and would have to get going quickly if she was to get the gym ready before her next class began.
"Ok, ok. I'm sorry Yukari. I won't try to start any gossip about you with our students again. Can you forgive me?"
Yukari, who was flailing her arms about as she was talking, suddenly stopped with a perplexed look on her face, never usually getting Minamo to admit defeat on anything so quickly. "Umm, yeah, ok, sure."
Minamo gave her a smile and then started to proceed out the door. "I have to get going for next class. See you later!"
She paused as she saw Yukari's expression twist into something that looked like regret. It seemed like her friend had something that she wanted to say to her, but was struggling with what exactly to say.
Yukari looked down at the floor, mulling something over. An intense frown formed across her face, and Minamo knew that always meant that her brain was working over time. She could almost hear the gears struggling to turn inside of Yukari's head, due to the heavy rust they had acquired from so little use.
They didn't seem able to turn too many notches.
"Nah, nothin'. Get outta' here. Shoo, shoo!"
Minamo was out of the door for only a few seconds before she heard her name being yelled out. She groaned and quickly went back in.
"What? What is it?"
"Hey! Uh…we still going drinking tonight? We got off tomorrow!"
Usually she and Minamo worked a six day week, but they had the luxury of a full weekend off after every third Friday of the month. For them it meant that they could have an extra special time at whatever bar they went to that night, knowing they would have two whole days to get over it. "Yeah, yeah."
A smile lit up Yukari's face as she pumped up her hands in joy.
"Wahoo! Ok! Oh, umm, we can skip the game store and just go to the bar by the way. I don't have any money this week for what I want."
Yeah, you always seem to have none on the days we go out. Minamo rolled her eyes. Looks like she would be treating tonight as usual.
"Alright...well, see you later."
Minamo shook her head and exited the office, eventually making her way out of the main school building as she headed to the gym. 'Nyamo' was her nickname, given to her by Yukari way back in high school. She liked the name, but didn't enjoy hearing it used at school in front of her students. The last thing she needed was a class full of kids calling her something so personal. It's not that Minamo didn't want to be close to them, she really loved it when they got along well, but the principal of the school had told both her and Yukari to keep a somewhat professional distance between themselves and their pupils, in order to maintain a healthy and respectful relationship in the classroom.
She sighed. Any respect for both herself and Yukari had probably been diminished already, as plenty of students had seen them banter with each other over the silliest of things before. The most recent incident had just happened earlier that day, when some of the kids found out that she and Yukari had gone to their own school together. Curiosities were piqued, and so later that day when Minamo had run into them they had asked her how Yukari, their crazy homeroom English teacher, had fared throughout her educational years. Minamo was happy to oblige them, and had just started to dig up one of her old stories when Yukari had walked by and uttered something that shut her up instantly.
Minamo had been cringing throughout the whole day after that. Those two little words were the key to some of her most private memories as a freshman in high school, and Yukari was the only other person in the world who knew of them. Amazingly though, against the grain of her character, Yukari had done her part in keeping the tale an untold one. She did however mention bits and pieces of it when she needed to twist Minamo's arm a little, which is what had happened earlier.
Another sigh escaped from her. Minamo admitted to herself that she probably shouldn't have tried to indulge those girls about Yukari's past, despite all the times Yukari had done just the same to her in front of all sorts of people. Surely bringing out a little dirty linen about her friend was justified?
She shook her head as she walked through one of the school's courtyards. No, it's not a right thing to do, Minamo. You're better than that. She should have told those girls that it wasn't polite to try and find gossip behind people's backs. Even though Yukari didn't have that great of a reputation to begin with, Minamo still felt a little poor about trying to add any more stories to the rumor mill about her. She always wanted to be a good example to her students and now felt a bit remorseful since she hadn't met her own expectations.
Even though she had already apologized to her, Minamo decided to take an extra step in order to make it up to Yukari. She was already paying for tonight's fun, she always did since Yukari was so cheap, so picking up her tab as a favor wouldn't really work. Maybe they could hit a late night convenience store afterward where she could buy Yukari some of those ice cream bars she loves so much?
That should make her happy. She was content with that plan, especially since it wouldn't be too much of an additional strain on her wallet. While it did give her a lot of grief sometimes Minamo still always tried to look out for her friend as much as she could, even when Yukari didn't really deserve it. That was the point of being best friends, right?
She thought her plan would have made her feel a bit better, but as she continued to walk she felt her mood still declining, gradually turning into slight depression. It was like a small weight was attached to the bottom of her heart, dragging it down slowly into some somber recess of herself.
The feeling was a familiar one to Minamo, something she had become accustomed to dealing with every day since her youth. She had learned to contain it properly so that it didn't leak into her normal personality, but today its strength had been renewed, weakening the bars on the cage that held it in.
She grimaced. Argh! Why did Yukari have to mention that today, especially in front of her own students? She had told her a thousand times not to speak about that incident again, as just being reminded of it would always bring her down.
Minamo took a deep, slow breath to calm herself. It's not her fault. If you were a stronger person, then it wouldn't bother you. Just forget it, just forget it.
After a few more minutes of walking she was finally in front of the school's gym. She unlocked the doors and headed in, making her way to one of the storage rooms in back. From inside she retrieved a cart that held items for her third period's activity today: basketballs, cones, jerseys, and some other equipment that she would use to set up a few drill stations around the indoor court.
As Minamo wheeled out the cart, she passed by a wall of the gym that had been fitted with a large stretch of mirrors. They were there to allow the kids to see if they were performing an exercise or routine correctly, though most of them just practiced their abilities at making rude faces. For one particular student of hers named Tomo the mirrors were simply a canvas that was to be painted upon by the brush of her own breath.
Minamo stopped in front of one of the mirrors, letting go of the cart to look at herself.
Minamo Kurosawa was in her late twenties now, but she still always felt like a young kid. She was taller than she used to be in her youth of course and, contrary to what most people go through when they age, actually in much better shape. Her black, slightly messy hair was still cut in the same short style that she had kept all her life, but was now also accompanied by some 'dog ears': strands of hair that looked like long sideburns in front of her actual ears. Her blue-gray eyes were still wide and honest, the color of them matching well with the cobalt sports jacket and pants she wore.
She put her hands on her hips and struck a little pose. Minamo had always enjoyed the tomboy-look she had going; it gave her some confidence as it made her feel a bit more mature, perhaps even a tad unique. Her athletic lifestyle had added to that image, giving her a fit and lithe figure. And, while she wasn't exactly a model or anything, she knew that she had a decent face as well, made known to her by quite a few people. Even her own students had given her ample praise on how she looked and carried herself.
Minamo had never let any of that get to her head though. Modesty was a trait of hers, and the demeanor she possessed had matured in step with her appearance. She had grown up to be a kind and diligent individual, someone that could always be counted on, and those positive qualities had made her a friend to practically everyone she had ever met.
Overall Minamo was happy with who she had become and where she was at in life. She knew she had been given a lot of blessings, all of which she had been quite thankful for as the years went by.
Her gaze focused onto her reflection's face.
So why then, despite all the great things that she had going for her, did the melancholy she had carried for half of her life never seem to disappear?
Minamo put her hands against the mirror and leaned close to it, locking eyes with herself while putting on the most confident smile that she could.
Come on Minamo, be happy. Be happy! You're not so bad off. Just do your best. You can...
The words came flying back to the forefront of her thoughts.
Her eyes wavered, and then her head followed suit, eventually slumping down to look at the slick wooden panels of the gym floor. Minamo picked herself up quickly and looked back at the mirror. Her smile seemed forced now and her eyes had lost some of their life. The confident, vibrant person she had been looking at only moments ago was now under the shadow of a stormy little rain cloud. She had tried, but she couldn't fool the mirror. Her head sunk back to look at the ground again.
Those two words always conjured up a variety of difficult emotions for Minamo, but she had gradually learned to deal with most of them. One of those feelings however still haunted her from that tumultuous high school day, making her cringe every time it made its presence known to her.
On that bright afternoon she had felt something that she had never experienced before in her life. It had only lasted for a single, brief moment, before a crushing wave of guilt had come in to drown it out completely. It was that same guilt that she felt again right now, a burning shame that engulfed her entirely whenever she was reminded of that day.
I'm not a bad person...I didn't do anything wrong...
She didn't even know what that transient feeling that had touched her was, yet some other part of herself had still condemned Minamo for it regardless, her own heart scorning her painfully. She had tried so hard since then to forget about it, so that the heavy guilt that plagued her would disappear, but she couldn't.
Somewhere deep inside her, she longed for that enigmatic sensation again. A cold void had formed in her after it had vanished, but she was much too afraid to give chase and find out the true identity of that feeling, to find out why its absence had made her life feel so incomplete since it had left.
I can be happy...I have been happy, haven't I...?
It almost felt like her heart was guarding her from something. Something that would place such an enormous amount of grief upon it that it would make Minamo's life become unbearable. Her heart would do anything to keep it bay then, even if it meant that she would always carry an aching wistfulness inside her.
Even if it meant making her feel ashamed of herself for the rest of her life, in order to avoid a pain that would far exceed any guilt.
I'm not a bad person...!
What her heart had been protecting her from, for all the years since that fateful day...
Her words echoed around the empty gym. She took her hands off the mirror and saw that they left some sweat behind.
Minamo exhaled, put her fingers against her temples, and began to rub them slowly.
Now you're talking out loud and getting worked up...just relax. Just forget it.
She would shut it all down like she had always done before and resume a happy exterior. Her eyes opened and she looked at her watch. Only a few minutes remained before the next period started and she hadn't been able to set up anything at all.
Now I've done it. Minamo shrugged. She would just have to rush to her homeroom, take roll, hand back some health exams, and then get all the kids back here to the gym. Maybe she would forget the exercises for today and just talk a little about basketball with the amount of time they would have left. Explain the rules, show them a few pointers. She could get them started on some actual practice next week.
She gave herself a glance in the mirror one more time and put on a friendly smile. Once she was satisfied that it looked convincing enough, she left the gym to head back to the main school building.
A clear blue sky met her as she walked outside. The sun touched her back with warmth as she made her way, like a reassuring pat to help her get through the rest of the day. Minamo hoped it would go by quickly enough, so that she could relax with a few drinks later when she and Yukari hit the bar tonight. That always helped out when those old feelings would return to her. It allowed her to forget everything and just enjoy herself, even if just for one evening.
Yes, that was what she needed. Just some good food and drink and her old friend to banter with.
Minamo felt a genuine smile come upon her as she looked forward to it all.