Chapter 1: Late Again
Tetsuko was late to class. Again. It was only the first week of the new school year and she’d been late twice already. But this time it wasn’t her fault. Well, it wasn’t mostly her fault. The traffic lights in her neighborhood weren’t working correctly in the Oriental sector of town that morning so walking to school was a pain, with all the traffic patterns messed up. It was like playing that retro game…what was it called again? She mused on route to her high school. Oh, yeah! Frogger! Tetsuko dashed down the sidewalk when the school came into focus, just to hide in the bushes when she realized the front gates were closed already.
“Damn it!” she cursed under her breath, blowing her spiky, dark hair out of her face. Her golden eyes scanned the perimeter of the school and spotted her nemesis: a hall monitor. This kid was one of the new members of the disciplinary committee by the looks of it (since Tetsuko hadn’t had a run-in with him yet) and he was pacing the grounds just inside the gates. Probably waiting to catch late students. Tetsuko knew how the game worked, being one of the late students many times during her school career. If she was being honest with herself, being tardy was half the reason she was forced to come back to school as a hold-back. The other half was probably the bad grades, the constant fights she got into and that one time a teacher had caught her in the bathroom with Antonio and the school board was more pissed off at her for being in the boy’s bathroom with a guy than the fact that they were doin’ drugs in there. How messed up was that?
Studying the guy behind the gate from her bush, Tetsuko decided he wasn’t bad looking (except for the dorky looking hexagonal glasses plastered to his face). He had pale, flawless skin, shiny blond hair that definitely had product in it and had been curled this morning, and gorgeous green eyes. He was probably Tetsuko’s height, maybe a bit taller than her five feet eleven inches (that’s half the reason no one would date her) and had the overall look of holier-than-thou while wearing the dark green pants, cream button-down and jacket of the boy’s uniform. He also had the disciplinary committee’s white armband on his left bicep to complete the look.
Tetsuko spotted his first victim, another student that lived not far from her house. Ducking down further into her bush she watched the encounter as the monitor harshly (abet suavely) slapped the kid with a late slip and sent him inside with an entirely too long lecture about punctuality that had Tetsuko yawning even when it wasn’t directed at her. When the student tried to explain what had happened on the way to school, the monitor brushed off all his excuses with a piercing glare that cowed the kid. The kid disappeared and the hall monitor started pacing again as first period marched on. It was high time that Tetsuko at least got into the school and the girl decided to get to class the fun way.
“This would be more fun with you, Antonio.” She sighed as she looked at the school’s perimeter wall and pictured the broad Spaniard with his ridiculous chest hair and bright smile. She backed away from the gate to her sneak-in tree. Antonio would always wait for her here so that they could sneak in together, but now that he had graduated, she’d have to do it alone. The cherry blossom tree stood at a corner in the outer walls of the school compound, and with one quick jump she scaled the wall and scrambled up the tree until she was high enough to reach the second floor of the high school building. The building planners had put the school really close to the wall right here and with a well placed foot, Tetsuko had just enough leverage to yank herself up onto a windowsill and crack the pane open so she could slip through.
If only I didn’t have to do this in a skirt! She thought as the Japanese girl yanked her emerald colored skirt down over her panties and checked to see if her cream blouse was straight. Dressed in the girl’s version of the uniform, Tetsuko wore the pleated skirt too high, the blouse too low, accented with a purple beaded cancer awareness bracelet, thick black wristwatch and added her favorite black tie with a line of white dots down the middle just to piss off the teachers. She tapped her black penny loafers on more securely when she heard the sound of footsteps. Thinking quick, Tetsuko leapt up onto one of the random filing cabinets someone had left in the hall and pushed off to reach the flimsy tiling in the ceiling. She pushed one of the sections away, scrambled onto the maintenance walkway, and replaced the tile just as the footsteps turned into her hallway.
Tetsuko slowed her breathing so she wouldn’t get caught and waited for whichever monitor standing under her to go away. After pacing for a few minutes the first set of feet were joined by another. Crouching down to listen in, Tetsuko pressed her ear to the tile to hear the conversation.
“See anyone outside, Mr. Brooks?”Tetsuko growled when she heard who was talking. It was Yuri Petrov! That bastard had carded Tetsuko so many times the two years he’d been here that the chick could’ve make a whole scrapbook out of the stupid pink slips he’d slapped her with! She hated the sinister glint in his gray eyes and wanted to hack off his gray-blond hair right at the pony-tail!
“I carded a few late students by the gate.” The other voice answered. So Brooks must be the new kid I saw, whoever he is.
“Good, those slackers need to be punished for their rule breaking.” Yuri’s grave voice paused, as if her were thinking. “If you ever catch Tetsuko Kaburagi coming in late, send her to my office.” Crap! He’s onto me!
“Is she the student who was held back a year?” Brooks asked.
“Yes and a notorious troublemaker. She’s destroyed school property before and won’t stop this year, I suppose. She’s got this sense of justice that compels her to help those weaker than her, even if they don’t want it, and in the process tends to destroy things.”
“I agree. Keep your eyes peeled.” Petrov ordered.
“Yes, sir!” Tetsuko got the image of the newbie saluting Petrov and had to hold back a laugh before it got her into the trouble Petrov was alluding too.
Both boys wandered off until Tetsuko couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore. Her muscles complained about their cramped position as she slowly stood up on the ceiling’s walkway. Stretching out her insanely long legs, she made her way down the cat walk to a remote corner of the hall where she could slip back into the school crowd when the bell rang.
The dim light from the windows below filtered up into the ceiling and gave Tetsuko enough light to see by as she ducked under ventilation tubes and electrical sires. Her feet knew the way by heart, she’d been up here so many times. One time she managed to get Antonio up here but his weight and almost knocked some of the ducts out of place when he bumped into them. So, he’d left what they dubbed “the shadow walk” to Tetsuko. And a shadow walk it was, dim, quiet and it made Tetsuko felling like a ninja every time she came up here.After winding around for a few minutes, Tetsuko came to an intersection of two walls (the corner of the building) and slung her backpack off her shoulder. Slumping down against the wall, she fished out a juice box from this morning’s breakfast and punched the straw into the box. Her kaa-san knew that Tetsuko was constantly running late and packed her breakfast and lunch. Tetsuko had eaten the omelet with her hands on the way to school but neglected the juice box until now. If only I had some ice to crunch with it. She slurped the drink noisily as she checked her watch on the left wrist. She still had twenty minutes until second period started.
She sighed as her gaze fell on her left ring finger, a simple silver band adorned her tan skin, glinting in the low light. It was a promise ring, a gift from her boyfriend. Or the man who used to be her boyfriend. This was a promise ring for two reasons: she had promised herself to Tomoe two years ago and later, Tomoe had made her promise to help those in need. Tears pricked Tetsuko’s eyes as the ring dragged out grief-laden memories and she angrily wiped them away. Not now, she shook her head to dislodge the sad thoughts. She whipped out her phone to distract herself, a touch screen with a dark black case with a white slashed boarder, almost as if a tiger had chewed her phone. She checked her texts: Tonio had sent her a message. I didn’t think he was ever up this early with his new job.
Bison: What’s up Tets?
Tetsuko: Late again. Wasn’t my fault. XP
Bison: What happened?
Tetsuko: Lights were all wonky this morning. And Petrov decided that it would be fun to sic the new monitor on me.
Bison: That’s rough. X( Better not be late anymore, Tiger.
Tetsuko: You know how well that works, cow. Even if I get up extra early, I somehow manage to be late anyway.
Bison: Quit callin’ me a cow, I hate it. X( Just make sure he doesn’t catch you any of our routes or you won’t have an escape.
Tetsuko: Thanks for the advice, Mr. Obvious.
Bison: Just doing my job.
Tetsuko: Btw, how is the new job?
Bison: Gyu-Kaku is great! And the boss is totally fine with giving good servers free barbecue!
Tetsuko: Good, that way they can fatten you up, cow.
Bison: Stop calling me cow, kitty!
Tetsuko: I’m not a kitty! I’m a tiger! Anyway I g2g. Second is starting.
Bison: Good luck…kitty!
Tetsuko snapped her phone shut and peeked out of a tile to check the hallway. All clear. The bell was about to ring and she needed to be in the hall before anyone spotted her coming out of the ceiling and discovered her hiding place. She pried the tile up and softly jumped down onto the floor just as the bell rang. This hallway only held a janitorial closet so no one regularly came down this way. It’s a good thing home room is my second period or else I’d be busted by now! She blended into the crowd and made her way to homeroom period.
Barnaby Brook Jr. was the third person to show up to homeroom. The other two were girls, one who kept sneaking glances at him from down the row and blushing. The other was a brunette who was asleep at her desk one row behind him, leaning back in her chair. He shook his head at her sloppy appearance. His eyes skipped over her scantily exposed chest (he did not need to blush right now), messy dark hair and unnecessary accessorizing (the tie needed to go and she had way to many bracelets on) and he was going to card her but saw that someone else had already done it for him-the pink slip was hanging out of her bag.
Barnaby winked charmingly at the blushing girl as he got out his materials for class. She nearly swooned out of her seat, smiling like an idiot. Other students filtered in as the minutes passed. The junior spotted Nathan Seymour with his bright pink hair saunter in and sit down at his desk near the back. He may be wearing the school’s male uniform, but that didn’t stop him from wearing star earrings and applying lipstick to his face with a compact at his desk. He was the one person that Barnaby wasn’t supposed to card: his family funded half the school’s clubs so the gay guy got to wear lipstick when he wanted. A fellow dashing blond and upstanding student walked in and sat down just a few seats down from Barnaby’s front row seat, calling a loud hello to everyone…twice. Keith Goodman, Student Body President, was very good at repeating himself, but he was a hard worker and friendly with everyone so Barnaby could let his oddities slid.
“Good morning, Barnaby! And again, good morning!” The blond waved to the teen from his seat with a blinding smile and Barnaby greeted him cheerfully, hiding his annoyance with his own smile. The rest of the class wandered in to their seats until most of the class was seated. Just before the bell rang, Mr. Lloyds walked into the room and began setting up for class. Shy, quiet Ivan Karelin quietly made his way over to his seat next to the sleeping girl and gently poked her in the cheek. Nothing. Barnaby turned away when Karina Lyle (another beautiful blond with an attitude that Barnaby did not appreciate) slipped in just as the bell was ringing, humming the newest pop song on the radio as she took her seat near the middle of the class room.
“Good morning class,” Mr. Lloyds greeted, his pale blue eyes held no hint of any “good” morning in them. Mr. Lloyds had a strange hair style that Barnaby couldn’t help but want to restyle every time he saw it: dark hair on the side and then light gray combed over from a left part, but the gray could’ve just been from aging. He observed his class, straightening his immaculate gray suit and red tie.
“Good morning, Mr. Lloyds,” the class answered in unison. The sleeping girl with the dark hair and huge boobs sat up semi-straight in her chair and joined the class, yawning and blinking her amber colored eyes blearily. Finally, Barnaby mentally rolled his eyes at her disrespect and lack of decorum.
“Time for roll,” and then the teacher began going down the list of student’s names. Barnaby said “here” when his name was called. Barnaby was still new at this school so he paid really close attention to the names of the students so he could learn them until Kaburagi’s popped up.
“Tetsuko Kaburagi,” Mr. Lloyds called.
“Here, teach.” The warm voice drifted from the mouth of the busty girl two rows back that had been sleeping before class. Barnaby’s head shot around to stare at her. Her golden eyes landed on him and she smirked in a way that was irritating and comforting at the same time, if that was even possible. Other than the disregard for school dress code, she didn’t look as dangerous as Yuri made her out to be. Her smirk turned into an embarrassed smile as Mr. Lloyds made a comment about being an example for the other students because she’s already done this course already. Barnaby thought her blush was kind of cute. Then he got a hold of himself and abruptly turned back to face the front. She’s one to watch, Barnaby reminded himself harshly.
He then proceeded to ignore her for the rest of the class.
When the bell rang, three people made their way over to Kaburagi’s desk. Barnaby lingered as well, fiddling with his books and pens while other students headed off to their next classes now, but some of them were still in the classroom so it wouldn’t look suspicious as he took stock of the trouble maker. Nathan, Karina and Ivan all reached the girl at the same time and began talking at once until she called for quiet.
“Quiet!” She sighed in a defeated way that revealed that this happened quite often. “Okay, Nathan, you first.” She pointed her attention at the pink- haired, black man.
“Oh, honey!” His falsetto voice grated on Barnaby’s ears, but he could live with it. “Couldn’t you manage to drag my ‘Tonio back with you? I’ll die without my sweetcheeks!”
“Personally, he’s glad he’s gone, second, he didn’t get in as much trouble as me and his butt is now safe from your hands. Next!” The Japanese girl dismissed the man and slapped his hands away from her hair he was trying to smooth into some semblance of order. “My hair is fine the way it is, Nathan!”
“So cruel!” the man teased, winking at her, “If you were a man I’d be all over you right now!”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m a girl!” She shot back. “Ivan, what did you want to say?”
The quiet Russian kid spoke up politely, “Nee-san,” it was a term unfamiliar to Barnaby, “did you get the manga I asked for yesterday?” He asked, his purple eyes pleading.
“Yeah! It’s in my bag!” Kaburagi’s face lit up again as she dug around in her bag for the Japanese comic book. She yanked out three copies of paper, slightly batter from use. “This shonen”-yet another unfamiliar term that Barnaby was going to have to look up- “is awesome! I know you’ll love it!”
“Arigatou, nee-san!” That one means “thank you.” He mused as the blond stashed away his prize.
“Okay, Karina,” Kaburagi turned to the other blonde and folded her hands on top of her desk, business-like. “What’s up?” The girl flipped her long hair over her shoulder and stared deep into Tetsuko’s eyes.
“What’s your secret?” She asked intently, golden eyes locked onto a similar pair.
“Which one do you want to know?” The hold-back answered mysteriously. This is getting interesting, Barnaby mused. Maybe I’ll gleam some of Kaburagi’s tricks so I can catch her trouble making. Karina leaned in and the junior found himself doing the same to hear what she asked.
“How do you get you boobs to be so big?” Barnaby wanted to slap her. That’s not what I wanted to know! He screamed inwardly, but on the outside he was perfectly composed as he finished cleaning up his books. Tetsuko stammered out a response that it was genetics as Ivan blushed beat red as Nathan crooned at the topic, smiling teasingly. Then Mr. Lloyds voice broke into Barnaby’s eavesdropping.
“Ms. Kaburagi, Mr. Brooks I’d like to meet with you after classes are over if you don’t mind.” His voice may have been pleasant, but the statement was an unmistakable order.
“But I didn’t do anything wrong!” Kaburagi shouted, standing up from her seat. “I didn’t even fall asleep in class!” Barnaby knew it couldn’t be disciplinary actions because he’d done nothing wrong as well (and he never did anything wrong anyway).
“I’ll be here after school, sir.” He answered, and nodded at his homeroom teacher.
“Good, Barnaby.” Lloyds’ glared swiveled to the girl, “And I trust that you will be here as well?”
“Yes, teach,” Kaburagi sighed in agreement.
“Then it’s all settled.” Lloyds took his leave and Barnaby followed him out to his next class, glancing one last time at Kaburagi with her smile gone. He decided she only looked good with a smile. A frown made her look old.
After another period ended, Barnaby spent his lunch outside, sitting in the shade under a tree listening to music. He’d brought lunch with him- a salad kept cold in his lunch box- but he didn’t touch it. He wasn’t very hungry. Instead he let opera music sweep him up as it filtered in through his headphones. The headphones were one of his most precious possessions, the other being a toy robot from his parents. The headphones had a red headband with clear pink spiked attachments on top of the speakers. He’d bought them with his own money the year he entered high school and never went anywhere without them.
When the current aria ended, Barnaby took the chance to look around, tapping his fork against the table. The day was nice and most of the students were outside enjoying the sunshine. A lot of them were in clumps of friends, laughing and sharing lunches (or not) or gossiping about the latest fashions or sport scores. Barnaby felt no desire to join any of them. He felt no need to make friends, not when there were more important things to take care of.
A commotion behind the school startled the teen out of his thoughts. Most of the students looked around for a moment and then came to a conclusion that some voiced out loud: “Kaburagi’s in a fight again.” Barnaby stashed his lunch in a bush along with his headphones and ran off to the back end of the building. He dashed along the grass as fast as his feet could carry him until he reached the corner of the building. Not wanting to rush in without a plan, Barnaby hid behind the wall and listened to what was going on while he caught his breath.
“I thought we wouldn’t have to deal with you again, Kaburagi. But I guess we can’t all have what we want,” The deep voice taunted.
“Shut your mouth, Jake! The only reason you’re still coming here is because your underlings are still in school. You’re not supposed to trespassing on school property anyway!” Kaburagi spat back at him. Barnaby snuck a quick glance at the situation from his corner, peeking his bangs around the side of the building.
Tetsuko was pinned against a wall, fists up in defense and surrounded by five guys in various shades of black and red. Except for one guy in a school uniform and another who…What the hell is he wearing? The man in question had two toned pink and yellow hair the top of his head and cropped on the sides, monster side burns, a wacky beard, tattooed skin, red pants and some sort of white leg brace on his left leg. His shoes seemed to be part of his pants and he wore a zebra striped, pleather jacket that fell to his waist and had fur that crept up the guy’s neck. He held something in his right hand but Barnaby was too far away to see what it was.
“But what’s the fun of school life if you can’t beat lunch money out of snotlings?” The man Barnaby assumed was Jake replied.
“Lunch money’s not all you want!” Tetsuko was sporting several bruises and was breathing heavily, several storage crates had been crushed and two more guys were unconscious.
“Well, you’re right, but we’ll start with your lunch money anyway.” Jake held up a bag and rummaged around until he produced a wallet. It was Kaburagi’s backpack!
“Paws off!” Tetsuko finally attacked, moving so fast Barnaby struggled to follow her movements. Punching the lights out of the closest guy and slugging the boy in the school uniform, both went down quickly as she moved on. But they were ready for her at this point and one guy punched the girl in the jaw and the second kicked her gut, causing her to crumple to the ground. Barnaby expected her to stay down but she got up and took the two who attacked her by surprise when she threw them into the wall. By this time Jake had fished out all her money and chucked the bag high up into the tree where it caught on a branch. Tetsuko roared in frustration and raced towards him.
Barnaby leapt into action. He kicked the goon headed towards Tetsuko in the chest and sent him flying into a nearby tree and round-house kicked the goon coming after him. Kaburagi reached Jake and tackled him to the ground while he just laughed. He flipped her off and began an intricate dance of dodge with the girl. Every time she jabbed at him, he’d leap out of the way and wave Kaburagi’s money in her face, laughing manically. Tetsuko growled and moved faster, almost a blur. Barnaby kicked the guy he’d sent to the ground in the stomach so he couldn’t breathe and went to help his classmate. Caught off by a second kid fighting him, Jake dropped the cash on the ground and leapt over the wall and disappeared. Tetsuko bent down to pick up the contents of the wallet and return them to their proper place. Panting she looked around and caught sight of Barnaby. He watched her carefully. Smoothing out her skirt, she held out her hand.
“Thanks for the help. I’d never have gotten out of that one conscious if you hadn’t come along…?“ She stopped talking, eyeing him and apparently searching for his name.
“Barnaby. Barnaby Brooks Jr.” He clasped her hand and pumped up and down once before letting go.
“Tetsuko Kaburagi.” Her smile faltered for a second, like she’d eaten something rotten and then gave him a goofy as she wiped some blood off her face.
“You really shouldn’t get into fights on school grounds. It gives the school a bad reputation and causes you to have damage fees from the administration.” Barnaby decided to give her the short lecture since it seemed she didn’t start the fight. Seven against one was a really stacked fight. Jake played dirty.
“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Monitor, in a perfect world nobody would get into fights. But since they do, it’s my duty to protect others when they do happen, and myself when necessary.” Tetsuko looked around, searching for her bag, Barnaby guessed.
“In the tree.” He supplied, “But this was just plain reckless! Yuri was right.” Barnaby looked at the broken crates and the bodies on top of them. “You really do break things without thinking about it.”
“I’m sooooo glad you gossip about me behind my back, makes for interesting conversation, doesn’t it? Well, next time you’re cornered at lunch, I challenge you to do better!” Tetsuko spotted her bag high in the tree and made her way over there.
“I probably could, and I wouldn’t-“ Barnaby cut himself off when the Japanese girl jumped to reach the first branch and pulled herself up onto it. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think? My homework’s in that bag along with my cell phone and everything else I need. I’m gonna get it!”
“It’s against school rules to climb trees.” Barnaby told her, grabbing the pink slips out of his pocket and began writing out a notice. She replied with a “Shove off!” Barnaby glanced up to watch her climb up the second branch with a sigh and then had to look away as her panties came into view under her skirt. His blush crawled up his face as he called out to her.
“Come down from there! I can see your u-un-underwear!” He stuttered on “underwear” as Tetsuko’s skirt got caught on a branch and hiked the fabric up even further.
“Well don’t look!” She yanked her skirt down but continued climbing until she was three-fourths of the way up the tree and reached her bag. She unhooked it from the small branch and looped the strap around her arm to climb down again. Barnaby watched her carefully, but didn’t look at her butt. Then Barnaby head a CRACK as a branch snapped from Tetsuko’s weight. She flailed her arms around as she fell straight down. Barnaby acted fast and dashed forward to catch her.
She landed in his arms heavily, backpack thudding to the ground next to him, but the teen managed not to drop the girl. She had her hands plastered over her face, but Barnaby could tell she had her eyes squeezed shut tightly.
“You can open your eyes now.” He grumbled moodily. She wasn’t as heavy as he thought she was. For her height, Tetsuko was surprisingly light but she had a lot of sharp angles and pokey bones along with her toned muscles. Except her breasts. Which were right by Barnaby’s face. And he could totally see her lacey bra underneath with the way she buttoned her blouse. Low. It was very low. His blush got deeper for a moment but disappeared when Kaburagi opened her eyes. They were like whirlpools of molten gold, wide and frightened from her fall. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, looking like a fish until she found the words she was looking for.
“T-th-thank you.” She was the one stuttering now. “Now please put me down. This is embarrassing.”
“Me, Tetsuko Kaburagi, being caught like a damsel in distress. I have a reputation to protect you know.”
“Notorious trouble maker?” Barnaby guessed.
“Don’t go climbing anymore trees.” He stated sharply, hiding his flustered expression behind curt words. “I won’t catch you next time.” He then dropped her right on her butt. She landed with an “oof!” and glared daggers and the blond.
“I take back anything nice I said. You’re horrible!”
“And you’re annoying.” He quipped back. She stood up and thrust a finger at his chest, getting right in his face with hers.
“Well, I don’t try to be but you make it really easy!” She shouted. “Bratty, snot nosed kid you are, who can’t tell where his ass ends and where his head starts!”
“And you’re just an old lady who’s too dumb to graduate high school and is stupid enough to climb trees in a skirt!”
“What did you call me?” She stared in shock at the name calling.
“Old lady, I believe. Or were you looking for ‘stupid?’” Barnaby slapped her finger away and glared right into her eyes.
“Why you-!” And that’s how the teachers found them a few minutes later after they’d been informed by another student that there was a fight on the school’s grounds – name calling and arguing in the middle of seven unconscious trespassers.