It had been a sunny day and Shin asked himself, not for the first time, why the architect who designed the School of Law’s very modern building had thought it a good idea to encase the whole thing in glass. He had been looking forward to his daily espresso, but now he wondered if it might not be better to go for an iced coffee instead.
He must have been distracted, because he missed Ota-san’s dismissal and only began to pick up his notes —his notes! He hardly recognised himself— when Wakaba turned to him.
“Shin-kun,” she said, lightly but clearly. “Are you joining us? We’re thinking of grabbing something to drink at the refectory before the afternoon session.”
He thought of merely saying no and being on his way, since it was already 1pm, but he found it in himself to reply, “Not today. I’m going to TIES.”
“Ooh, really?” she said, not at all placated or deterred. “I love their blueberry tarte! Isn’t it amazing how it looks like a mountain? And it’s so sweet, too.”
“I’ve never had it,” he said.
“You should! And get some of their café au lait to go with it.”
“I was thinking something iced.”
“On a day like today, I can understand why!”
“Mm. Yeah,” he said, decided it really was time to go, and started walking towards the edge of campus. Before he realised it, Wakaba had made her apologies to the rest of the usual group, and evidently capable both of inviting herself and holding a conversation nearly unassisted, was matching his pace and direction.
Not knowing how to refuse her what she had not even asked for, he ignored her and resolved to do what he would have done anyway.
At the café, he was pleased to see that they had the fluffy layered cake thing, and he ordered that, his iced coffee, and another besides.
“I didn’t know you had such a sweet tooth, Shin-kun!” said Wakaba, who was still there.
“It’s not for me.”
“Then…?” Wakaba said, hesitantly. “It’s not for me, is it?”
Shin was pocketing his change and couldn’t think of a better way out of the situation. “No, it’s for my girlfriend,” he said, which was after all nothing but the truth.
“Oh!” Wakaba sounded surprised, but somehow not angry or disappointed. That Shin could see, anyway. “You should have said you had a date. Hideto-kun did mention he thought you had a girlfriend, but you’ve never mentioned her to me, you know? We should—hang on—yes, just a latte please, to take away—“
He went to the side of the counter to collect his order while Wakaba was paying. He looked at his phone; he should still have time to settle in and start on the Theory of Necessity article.
“We should,” Wakaba continued, as though she had never been interrupted, “as I was saying, get together some other time. We still need to go over the material from Ishiwata-san, anyway. Since you’re busy today, how about Saturday? Akiyo could join us then. And you could tell us about your girlfriend!”
Shin had to reassess the whole situation, but Wakaba’s idea didn’t sound like the worst.
“Sure,” he said. Ishiwata’s shit wasn’t giving him any trouble, but Akiyo often had unusual interpretations and that could be useful, so why not.
“Great! I’ll message you,” Wakaba replied, grabbed her coffee, and was gone. He supposed he wouldn’t mind hanging out with her again.
On the whole, though, Shin was glad she had left.
Luckily, Shin’s preferred corner was just being vacated when he approached. He sat with his back to the wall, grabbed pens, highlighters, and half a ream of paper’s worth of printed articles, dropped his bag on the floor, and settled in as though for a long study session.
Not five minutes later, the door to the café opened and closed with a slam. Shin looked up, and there Yamaguchi was, just as he had expected. With her pigtails and her tracksuit she looked like she might have walked in by accident, meaning to be somewhere else entirely—somewhere a little cheaper and a lot less fashionable.
Shin went back to his article, only halfway pretending to care about limitations to patent protection. He was making a note on his pad to actually read it later when Yamaguchi dropped heavily on the seat across from Shin.
“Wow, Shin! It really is you! How are you? I can’t believe you’re here. I haven’t seen you in forever!” Yamaguchi said. He supposed he should be flattered. He hadn’t seen her last week, but she had been at the café the week before.
“Copyright’s still as annoying as ever,” he said, with a gesture to the paper in front of him, “but I’m okay, thanks.”
“Look at you talking like that! I can’t believe you’re already in your second year at Todai, and doing so well. As your former homeroom teacher, I’m so proud of—”
He couldn’t have her carry on like this.
“You know it’s my third, Yamaguchi,” he interrupted her, though it was her tone that annoyed him.
“So it is. Well, not so long to go now, I suppose,” she said, unusually subdued. “Are you—“
This time it was the waitress who interrupted them, with the cake. She was a pretty girl who worked afternoons often enough to recognise Shin. She placed the cake carefully in the middle of the table, and both the coffees near enough to Shin’s half.
Kumiko’s face brightened visibly at the sight of cake.
“You ordered cake? Those cherries look great,” she said, and was already grabbing her fork before Shin was done sliding the cake she still thought was his over to her side.
“Do you want some iced coffee?” Shin asked. “You look like you’ve been running, and it’s warm outside.”
Her eyes widened like this, too, was some kind of huge surprise. Her lips parted a little, piece of cake not quite in her mouth. She’d somehow got a little icing on her cheek.
Shin handed her the iced coffee, and waited until she was distracted by the simple pleasure of a cold drink to wipe the cream off her cheek with his thumb. He smiled when she didn’t even remark on it; he was sure she’d noticed.
While she alternated sipping on her drink and eating cake, he told her a bit about his Evidence class. Ishiwata, who had a reputation for holding his students to high standards, seemed to think that Shin’s analysis of case law was original and well realised. He had been encouraging Shin to consider Todai’s graduate programmes. Shin was adamant about going into practice as soon as possible.
“Well, Shin—” Yamaguchi sounded serious. “I know you want to take the bar as soon as possible, but if a graduate degree is something you would like, you should consider it. You know you would succeed at whatever you set your mind to.” Here she paused. “I would support you in whatever you do.”
“Don’t be dumb, Kumiko. I told him I’m training to be an attorney. He understood.” Shin allowed himself a smile. “I haven’t changed my mind.”
“How are your students?” he ventured, some time after they were done with the cake.
“Hmm, well. They’re nothing compared to 2-4 —none of them are aiming to join the Yakuza, at least— but there’s been all the normal trouble. Drugs, fights, sex…”
For a moment Shin thought Yamaguchi had embarrassed herself out of continuing, but it seemed she was only gathering her thoughts.
“...you know, in some ways it’s been a lot better since Shirokin started taking girls, but it’s certainly caused a lot of problems.” Yamaguchi, Shin knew, had been one of the strongest advocates for changing Shirokin to a co-ed school, and was by and large pleased with the results. But, well, it was Shirokin. It would have been too much to hope that the mere presence of girls would civilise the rest of the students. And anyway, any girl that chose to go to Shirokin would bear as little resemblance to polite girls like Wakaba as Yamaguchi herself did.
As this was familiar enough territory, Shin pulled out pens and highlighters again and started reading the patents article from the start, this time in earnest.
“...and there’s this girl in 2-3, Naoko, who transferred in this year and has been failing all her classes,” Yankumi was saying.
“Not exactly unusual, you know,” Shin quipped.
“Yes,” Yamaguchi said, looking at Shin pointedly. “But once, in maths—Monday mornings, you know—she was the only one actually awake, and I could tell that she’d got functions so we went through some limits exercises and she was actually following along.”
“So you went and figured out what was up with her—”
“—that she didn’t feel she could dedicate her energy to school,” Yankumi broke in, eyes shining with earnest enthusiasm.
“—that she couldn’t be bothered with maths, of all things.” Shin finished his sentence, anyway.
“Mathematics is very—” Yamaguchi would once have launched into an impassioned speech extolling the virtues of her subject, but she must have caught on that Shin wasn’t being entirely serious. She changed her tack. “Anyway, I told her about the after-school maths sessions, and reminded her that she could go to any of the staff—well, to me or Fujiyama— if anything was the matter, but she just brushed me off.”
Here Shin made a noise of acknowledgement. He knew how this went, and was waiting for her to continue. He flipped over the first page of his article, still highlighting and annotating the margins as he went.
“It took me some time to put it all together, but I heard from Kaede-san at the club that Naoko used to go to a girls' academy in Kyoto but her mom had to leave her dad. They had family in Tokyo, but they never approved of the marriage, and won’t see either of them, not even Naoko.” This was a story Yankumi had encountered many times, but she sounded just as touched and distressed as ever. “We’re not sure how they’re making their money, but it can’t be anything good. Or they might have taken a loan.”
Shin was going to ask what Yamaguchi planned to do, when it occurred to him that there was actually something he could do to help.
“Yamaguchi,” he said, “why don’t I talk to Kuma? I hear he’s looking for part-timers at his restaurant, and in any case, he knows the sort of situation Naoko is in.”
“Would you?” Yamaguchi’s eyes shone. “I should have thought of asking Kuma’s mom, of course! I should say hello to Kuma, too.”
“We can go next time you get out of school early,” he suggested.
“I don’t know if—” Shin never got to hear what she didn’t know, because just then her phone rang.
“Moshi moshi,” Kumiko said, and he could hear just enough of the other side of the conversation to guess that it was family. “Yes, I’m near Todai. What’s happened?...Yes...do you want me to come?...No, no...yes, he’s with me...really?...Okay, okay, one moment.”
He stopped taking notes. Kumiko handed him her phone.
“Yes, Sawada speaking,” he said.
“Hello. How are you?” It was Kuroda-san.
“Very well, sir. And you?”
“Well enough. Listen to me, boy...do you think you can come with Kumiko to the house this evening? We could use your help.”
He noticed the time when he ended the call with Kumiko’s grandfather. He wished he could go directly to the complex. It seemed that Kyo-san had been found to have broken the conditions of his release, and urgent legal advice was needed. Shin was in a position to help, but he really needed to head back to campus, and his stuff was still all over the table. He handed Kumiko back her phone, and began to gather all his notes.
“I have to get back. I should be done around 7, so I’ll see you at your house.”
“Alright,” she agreed easily. “It was good to catch up with you. What a coincidence that you were here!”
He wanted to roll his eyes.
“Yeah,” he said instead. “I guess I spend a lot of time here. Most of the time, if I have a long enough break, I come here for coffee. And it’s a good place to study.”
“And you like the cakes.” Kumiko liked the cakes.
“The cakes are good. I might be able to pick another up next Monday. I have Evidence until 2, but Trusts is not until 4.”
He got up, grabbed all his stuff, and squeezed her hand. This he could get away with. On impulse, he leaned down and pecked her on the lips, as well. He walked away. He couldn’t hear any reaction at all, which, all things considered, was surely a good sign.