Megumi Hisakawa frowned as she thumbed through the pile of essays she had collected from her students earlier in the afternoon. She'd asked her sixth-grade students to reflect on the elements of a successful, well-rounded life, and from what she could glean while scanning the essays, the results were skewed heavily toward successful rather than well-rounded. Several students had even gone so far as to say that the primary function of art was to showcase wealth. Megumi sighed. Granted, the value system at Ouran Academy had always been a bit perverse, prioritizing wealth and pedigree over all else, but for some reason this particular class was even more obsessed with status than any of her other classes had been. The school year had only been session for a month, but Megumi had been startled at the sheer amount of backbiting and jockeying for position her students were exhibiting.
It wasn't that Megumi was without sympathy for them. She herself had attended Ouran her whole life, from preschool to college. And when she was offered a job teaching class 6-A in the elementary school, she didn't think twice about accepting the offer. Sometimes she did feel like she was living in a cloister, never experiencing the world outside Ouran, but on the whole, she was happy. She loved teaching, and she loved her students. And she particularly loved the degree of independence that came with not going into the family business as her older brother and sister had done. It wasn't that Megumi particularly had anything against janitorial services, but she thought that if she had to spend her life poring over spreadsheets and glad-handing people for the sake of securing contracts, she would tear off her own head and eat it, despite the anatomical impossibility of the task.
How on earth do I get these children to see art and music as more than just status symbols? Megumi thought. Particularly when the only thing they seem to care about as much as lineage is money. She heard a rumble of thunder outside. I'd better get to the car before the sky opens up. Megumi hurriedly shoved the essays into her bag, along with a second pile of quizzes that would need to be graded by tomorrow. She quickly left the room, her footsteps echoing in the empty halls. I wish I didn't have to walk halfway across campus to get to the faculty parking, she thought bitterly. Although the exercise is probably good for me. As she exited the building, Megumi saw a small group of high school students crossing the quad. She smiled at the sight. It didn't seem like ten years ago that she had been wearing that uniform herself.
"Reminiscing about the past, Hisakawa-san?" a voice interrupted her reverie.
Megumi jumped and turned around. "Chairman Suoh! You startled me, sir!"
"You looked lost in thought. Is everything all right?" the older man asked solicitously.
"Oh, no sir. That is, everything's fine," Megumi stammered. Earlier, she had wondered briefly about asking his advice on how to deal with her power-hungry class, but now, seeing him standing before her, she had an idea. "Actually, sir, I was wondering. I thought it might be nice to have some distinguished Ouran alumni visit my class."
"Oh? To what purpose?" the chairman asked, reaching out and taking Megumi's heavy bag from her as the two began to walk toward the parking lot.
Megumi blushed. "Suoh-sama, there's no need for you to carry my bag."
"Humor an old man. It's not often I get to act the chivalrous gentleman to such a pretty young lady." Suoh winked at her. "So tell me why you suddenly want to start having class visitors?" he pressed.
"Class 6-A is a little … narrow-minded … in terms of their vision of what their future might entail. It's not practical that every student in the class will be able to take a significant role in their family's business. I want to help them open their eyes to other possibilities," Megumi explained.
"It's an excellent idea," the chairman enthused. "I'll ask the headmaster to furnish you with the contact information for a few of our students who have branched out somewhat. Was there anyone in particular you had in mind?"
"I was hoping to bring in a few people who had achieved success in the arts, sir. This class in particular seems to think the only real value in art is the amount it sold for."
"Ars longa, vita brevis," Suoh nodded. "I have a couple ideas." They had reached Megumi's car. "I'll make a few phone calls tonight. I'm assuming it's all right for me to pass along your phone number and e-mail to one or two former students?"
"Of course," Megumi said, although she wasn't quite as certain as she sounded. Who does he have in mind? "Thank you so much, sir. Can I offer you a ride back to the main gates?"
"Hmm? Oh, no, thank you. I enjoy walking; it's often the only time I get during the day to think quietly."
"I'm sorry to have interrupted you, in that case."
"Not at all! I'm glad you brought this to my attention. We have a duty to your students to prepare them for the future, even when that future turns out to be different than anticipated," Suoh twinkled at her. "Thank you, my dear. I think you can look forward to a phone call from an old friend or two in the next few days."
Megumi looked at the chairman's back as he walked off. Who is he talking about? She turned the car on, rolling down all the windows. Old friends? I'm still in touch with Chiyo and Kumiko; I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about them, anyways. Chiyo got married straight out of school, and Kumiko's definitely not doing anything with the arts; she manages her family's restaurants in Edogawa. So who …? Suddenly, she had an unpleasant feeling at the bottom of her stomach. "Oh no," she said aloud. "He wouldn't." But knowing the chairman, Megumi was pretty certain that he would.
Hikaru wandered into Kaoru's office and threw himself down on the couch, not bothering to remove the samples covering it first. "So I got a weird voicemail last night," he began.
"I know. He called me right after he called you." Kaoru said, hiding his irritation. Hikaru was wrinkling the clothes. Will he ever stop being so careless?
"Why did you pick up?"
"Must be a conditioned reflex. When the phone rings, I tend to answer it rather than burying it in my sock drawer."
"I wasn't anywhere close to my sock drawer at the time, so take that back." Hikaru grumbled. "So what's this favor that milord's father wants?"
"I guess there's some teacher back at Ouran who wants to expose her students to the wide and wonderful world of art," Kaoru said tiredly. In theory, he thought the idea was great. It would be even better if someone else could deal with it, though. Between working up new designs for the next season and dealing with Hikaru's recent mood swings, he hadn't been getting enough sleep lately. He checked back through the follow-up e-mail Yuzuru Suoh had sent. "Here it is—Hisakawa Megumi."
"Why does that name sound familiar?"
"She was in our year at Ouran. She used to come to the Host Club sometimes, but she usually sat with Huni and Mori," Kaoru said. He remembered her dimly; a pretty little thing, but painfully shy. They certainly hadn't bothered to get to know her well.
"Wait a minute. Wasn't she the janitor princess?" Hikaru asked.
"Hikaru!" Kaoru chided, annoyed. "They're not janitors; they own the largest janitorial service in Tokyo. Hell, we're probably one of their clients."
"Same thing," Hikaru shrugged. Kaoru shot him a dirty look. "What? I'm not trying to insult her. The world needs janitors."
"Do you think you can manage to not call her a janitor princess if you go talk to her students, or do I need to handle this?"
"Honestly, Kaoru, can you please just go instead? I am beyond swamped with getting ready for our latest show; Mom keeps changing her mind about the models, and I'm trying to ensure the new site gets rolled out on schedule. I'm running on overload." Hikaru pinched the bridge of his nose. "Besides, you're definitely coming up with more of the artistic concepts these days anyways. Bring in some of your jewelry line; the girls will love that."
"Mmm," Kaoru thought out loud. "Maybe I'll bring in some of those wisteria pendants for the girls, and the tooled leather cuffs for the boys. And then some of the kimonos Mom designed this year. What about some of your photos, Hika? The ones from Coney Island are spectacular, and certainly nothing these kids have ever seen before."
"Not those," Hikaru snapped.
New York = sore spot. Got it. Kaoru didn't bother to push: he knew Hikaru wouldn't talk about the on-again off-again relationship he had with Jennifer Shapiro until he was damn good and ready. But evidently, given his twin's foul mood, it was off. Again. Kaoru made a mental note to have a talk with Kyoya's wife, Laney. As Jen's best friend, maybe she could shed some light on the current situation. Although knowing Laney, she would probably just tell him to butt out and let Hikaru and Jen figure it out for themselves.
"Sorry, Kao. That came out a little nastier than I meant it to. How about the ones of the Takachiho Gorge?" Hikaru said apologetically.
"Perfect," Kaoru smiled at his twin. "What do you think the chances are I can convince Kyoya to loan me a couple of his paintings? I think it would be good for these kids to see that even hard-ass businessmen can be artists."
Hikaru laughed. "The chances that you can convince Kyoya? Practically nil. But …"
"I can convince Laney, and she can get him to do just about anything," Kaoru finished. "Brilliant, Hikaru."
"I still can't get over how much more relaxed he is now that he's married," Hikaru said. "I mean, if you shoved a lump of coal up his ass, it would probably take him a whole two weeks to shit out a diamond now."
"It's cause he's getting some on the regular," Kaoru said.
"Speaking of which, a few of the models Mom decided against are in dire need of some consolation, so I said I'd take them out to dinner tonight. Want to come with?"
"Thanks, but I think I'll pass. I'm going to see if I can't catch Laney before she leaves the lab. If I give her a ride I can ask her about Kyoya's paintings."
"And you'll probably get dinner out of her as well," Hikaru grinned, standing up to leave. "Catch you later, bro."
Kaoru grinned back at his brother, but dropped the act as soon Hikaru left. He hated this new side of his brother; the mildly self-destructive playboy. It wasn't so much that his behavior was terribly excessive, the sleeping around aside. But Kaoru could tell Hikaru was trying to ignore something in his life that wasn't working. And he was willing to bet that something was a ridiculously stubborn brunette doctor, currently finishing up her oncology residency in New York. Jen, what in the hell are you doing to my brother? Kaoru frowned, then texted Laney. –Dinner tonight?
She must not have been working on anything in particular, because her response was almost immediate. –Are you offering or asking?
-Asking. But I'm offering you a ride back to your place in exchange.
-Tempting. K is working late. Again.
-What a shock. Pick you up at 5?
-Eager beaver. What's up?
-I want to talk to you about a couple things.
-Seriously? You don't even know what I'm going to say.
-Anything about J and her incredibly fucked-up relationship with your brother is off the table. Anything she's told me was in confidence, and you're the absolute last person I'd tell. Well, almost the last.
Kaoru rolled his eyes. –Okay, so I want to talk to you about one thing.
-Nothing big. I need you to convince Kyoya to loan me a couple of his paintings to show some kids at Ouran.
-Oh sure. Nothing big at all. It's not like Kyoya is an intensely private individual or anything. It's not like his painting is one of the only areas of his life not subject to public scrutiny.
-It's for a good cause.
-Pick me up at 5. No promises.
Kaoru grinned and put his phone down. If you're going to do a job, you might as well do it right, he thought. If this teacher wanted to show her students that art was still a vital force in the modern world, he was damn sure going to show up with a full arsenal.