A sixteen-year old teenage boy sits quietly on a swing of a deserted playground, kicking off the dirt once in a while to keep it swinging.
Dark cloud darkened what used to be a clear blue sky. People loitering nearby could be seen moving into the shopping malls or covering their head, be it with a parasol or their bags.
Dressed in a white collared shirt and dark pant, the boy loses himself to the repetition, letting his thoughts drift, ignoring the threatening rain clouds that sneaked closer and closer. No smile crept up on his permanent scowl, and his eyes remained dimmed.
Turn back time six hours, and one would have seen the boy smiling, joking and laughing with his friends. They were all excited about an announcement, an announcement that affected each and every student in their country.
The university entrance exam.
The boy had been a nervous wreck when he applied for the examination for his choice of a university, having felt that he would enjoy it the most. What friends he had wanted to pursue their own interest, as the main reason why they have stuck together was gone.
The boy had felt the urge to talk to someone, and so he struck up blindly, greeting the first person he felt comfortable with. To his fortune, she greeted back, and from there, he made a circle of friends that would enter the university together.
Now, with their bellies full and their spirits high, the boy and his friends made their way into the courtyard of the university, chatting, joking and laughing all the way.
"Hey, Aiko-san, you're looking beautiful today!"
"Can't wait for the results, can you, Takashi?"
"I think I messed up in question fifteen, Sakawa, what was your answer?"
"Pyah? I don't remember the question. What was it again?"
"How can you forget it when it happened a few months ago?" The boy jabs at Sakawa, laughing as he patted her on the shoulder. "You have to remember things from several years back for you to pass a test in here!"
"Mou! Sakawa isn't forgetful about learning!" the girl yells back playfully. "I just don't remember the question. It was pretty specific, you know? Something about levers and buttons, I think?"
"Sakawa-san, there isn't a question with levers and buttons." the boy deadpans, elicting a horrified scream from the short-haired girl.
The banter soon died down as the group entered through the gates of the school university, butterflies quickly replaced whatever they had eaten together. The six of them crept through the crowd, glancing and looking around for the signs leading to the results.
"Ah, over there!" Takashi exclaims, pointing over to a massive crowd gathering a distance away.
The group wrestles their way through the crowd, elbowing and shoving their way to the front. They began scanning through the entrant numbers from top to bottom, trying to match their numbers to one on the boards.
"Ah, found mine."
"No way, so early!?"
"I'd told you I'm studious! What's your number? Let me help you find it!"
One by one, each of his new circle of friends found their number, turning their efforts to find each others in turn. As the minutes passed, they slowly whittled it down to the boy himself.
"Hmmm.. this starting to become impossible, Kirigaya-san..."
"It can't be! It has to be here!"
The minutes slowly turned into an hour, then several hours. His friends starts to disperse, citing various reasons for their departure.
"I promised to play basketball with my friends."
"I promised to meet my other friends for dinner."
"Haaah... let's face it, Kirigaya-san. Your number isn't there.
His friends left, and the crowd starts to disperse. Soon, he was the only one left.
"Sir, visiting hours are over. I must ask you to leave!"
Kirigaya left the university as order, opting to lose himself into the noise surrounding Harajuku. He found himself a quiet playground in the park nearby, seating and swinging aimlessly.
What does he do now? Where can he go now? He was a high school student without qualification. Would any agency even employ him? A brawny man, he was not. Even labour jobs would be difficult for him.
He thought he had figured out life, that he would enter the university of his choice and graduate there with a decent degree. What company he would join could be figured out later.
In his arrogance, he failed to plan for when he fails the exam.
"Planning ahead will lead to a bright future, huh?" he growls sarcastically. "There's no future for me if I can't get into my university!"
He hears footsteps approaching the playground, the soft thud of a pair of Mary Jane shoes doing nothing to distract him. He tries to build a new plan that he could follow, but without any prior research or infomatiom, he could not see a way.
"Perhaps death could redeem my failure." he mused, thinking about the warriors of old.
"Would death be satisfactory to your friends?" A soft, feminine voice whispered into his ear. His eyes widened in surprise as a chill went down his spine.
"What!? Who are-!?"
He jumps off the swing, spinning around and facing the source of the voice. The girl stood at roughly his height, dressed in an unfamiliar black sailor uniform with red and white compliments. Her red eyes, wide with shock, matched up with her long, dark hair. Said dark hair was slightly ruffled with a braid tied to the left of her face, a strange looking red and gold ornament drawing attention to itself.
The unknown girl held a plain blue umbrella over her head, keeping the rain out of her eyes and body. Speaking of rain, the dark clouds have blotted out the sky, he noticed.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself he speaks to the frightened girl in a calm, polite voice.
"May I ask who you are?"
Slowly, the girl's eyes returned to normal, returning a soft, gentle smile to his cautious frown.
"It's impolite to ask for one's name without giving their own, or has that changed as well." The girl wonders with a mischievous smile. Taking the hint, Kirigaya takes a deep breath before answering her.
"My name is Kirigaya Suzaku, now may I know your name?"
The girl covers her mouth and giggled, her ringing voice soothing the temper of the boy. Had one of his other friends done that to him, he would have definitely lost it and started a shouting match.
But... the young lady's voice had a charm to it. It was alluring, gentle and... sympathic. Like she understood what had happened to him, or had something similar happened to her.
Going against his better judgement, he gave a sigh as the woman stifles her laughter.
"My name is Shigure." A short silence passed as Kirigaya waited for her to give her given name. When it became evident that she would not, he pressed on.
"That's it, Shigure-san? No given name?"
The brunette fidgets uncomfortably, biting her lips before answering.
"S-seo. Seo Shigure, Kirigaya-san. But call me Shigure, I don't like being called Seo..." she finally explains, causing the boy to tilt his head.
"Why not? It's a good name."
"T-that's because..." She trails off, biting her lips again before continuing, "I don't like being in the shadow of my father."
Kirigaya knocks that thought out of his head, instead trying to recall any famous name that had 'Seo' in its name. Most of them he recalls are actors and actresses, it does make sense that that individuality was passed on from parent to child.
Only... Seo was a Korean surname, right?
Kirigaya gulps nervously before dropping the question.
"Are you from Korea?"
"No, I am Japanese." the girl answers with a serene look, as if to humour him. He give the girl an annoyed look, to which she responds with a gentle smile.
"You are worried about the university, are you not?"
Her words struck him like a shell, ripping through his ship's armour and setting off the ammunition in its magazine. He faced the woman with a glare of hatred, she ignored his face for a more pleasing view of the park.
"H...how did you know!?"
"I saw you," She offers, glancing back at the boy, "scanning through the list over and over again."
He turns away, shame evident on his face. His downcast eyes met her solemn ones, giving her the silent approval she wanted.
"It is not the end of the road."
Her simple words drove anger to his head, only to be curbs as she gently brought him out of the rain and into her umbrella.
"I was like you once." She speaks softly, gripping her sizable umbrella tightly. Kirigaya idly notices that it resembles a wooden parasol similar to the ones in the olden days.
"I had a bright future once, I thought that passing the examination was a given with how studious I was. I always passed with distinction and was considered the role model of my class."
Her smile turns into a sorrow sigh, drawing the boy into the tale.
"When the results came, I found out that I flunked the exam. Panic settled in as I tried to work out what a girl could do without an university degree. What could I do while waiting for the next exam. Do I start working for low wages, or should I study harder to prepare for the next one?"
Kirigaya returned the sad smile she gave him, now heavily invested in the story. He wanted to know how a beautiful girl like her could survive the same situation he now found himself in.
"I decided to work to help my family, trying to juggle my studies, work life and family for my younger sisters." The boy pales as she mentions 'sisters', realizing that she had a situation worse than his. He was the only child of his family, she had to support others as well.
"Tell me, Kirigaya-san. Would your friends be happy to see you dead? Would your family be happy to see you dead?"
"N...no... No they wouldn't..."
"The road will be hard, but the pain is still better than hurting your loved ones. Kirigaya-san." Shigure softy hugs the boy, patting him on the pat.
"It may rain hail, and it may have strong winds, but eventually..."
She pushes him back so that he can see her smile.
"The rain will clear eventually."
As she finished the sentence, the rain lightens to a light drizzle before stopping. Kirigaya spies a rainbow that arcs behind the girl, adding a dazzling image for the boy to see.
"Ah, it looks like the rain has stop, I am sure you don't need my umbrella any more. It's been a pleasure talking with you, Kirigaya-san."
Giving the young man a polite bow, she turns towards the streets, walking away from the park. Kirigaya snaps out of his stupor, getting off the swing and chasing her retreating form.
Reaching a corner that she turned at, he is stunned as he is greeted by an empty corridor. He frantically scans the room, looking for any sign of the red and black attired girl.
"Was... it a dream...?" He mutters to himself, bringing a hand onto his back and rubbing it. A single sentence echoes back into his mind, reminding him of her conversation.
The rain will eventually clear...A short chuckle came out of the man, followed quickly by full blown laughter. He doubles down, clutching his stomach in pain.
It took him several minutes before he could gather himself, giving the sun a bright smile as he started making his way back home as the last light of the sun slips behind the horizon.
The first step is to figure out what I can do now.