Choromatsu marched briskly down the hall, keeping his head up and his posture rigid as always. But inside, his stomach was twisted up in a knot and he felt like crying. How could he not, when he knew he had a graded test paper--marked off with a giant red “0”--stuffed into his school bag, needing to be signed by his parents? It was a big, fat reminder that once again he’d tried to be a proper student, and one again he’d failed.
I studied for that test! Didn’t I? I thought I understood it, but when I sat down to take it, it was like I got so nervous that everything I read last night just vanished…
Or maybe that's just what he thought. Maybe he really was as stupid as his grades showed. Maybe he’d never be more than that zero that practically taunted him on his test paper.
Tears stung his eyes and blurred his vision. No, he would not start crying at school. That wasn’t something proper students would do! Then again, real proper students wouldn’t have a reason to cry because they’d be going home with perfect scores…
Just get home and then you can lock yourself in the bathroom and cry. Just move fast so Todomatsu doesn’t catch up to you and beg to walk home with you…
Choromatsu pushed his glasses up enough to rub at his eyes, pretending he just had a speck of dirt caught in them. At least, that’s what he’d tell anyone who asked. He quickly rounded the corner at the end of the hall--
He crashed into someone, hard enough for him to stumble and fall forward. He managed to catch himself with his hands before his face could hit the ground, but his knees banged painfully against the tiled floor. His book bag slid off his shoulder and popped open, scattering some of its contents across the floor in front of him.
Panic rose in Choromatsu’s chest. Oh no, oh no…! He scanned the floor frantically, scrabbling to snatch up his belongings, the tears threatening to spill out again. To his relief none of his magazines had fallen out, just a few books and papers.
Unfortunately, one of those papers was his failed test.
And even more unfortunately, someone else had already picked it up.
“I...I’m sorry!” Choromatsu babbled, keeping his head down so the other person couldn’t see how red with embarrassment his face had become. “I should’ve been watching where I was going, I didn’t mean to run into you…!”
“Hey, it’s okay. Don’t worry.” To Choromatsu’s surprise, the male voice that responded to him was calm and kind. “Honestly, I probably should’ve been watching where I was going. I guess I was daydreaming. Anyway, are you okay?”
The boy held Choromatsu’s test out to him, and reluctantly Choromatsu reached out to accept it. As he did so he finally forced himself to lift is head, meeting the gaze of the stranger he’d just collided with.
He suddenly found himself looking into the boy’s dark brown eyes. They were hard to miss. His brown hair was starting to fall over his eyes, but he tossed his head enough to flick it out of the way. That caught Choromatsu’s attention too.
“...I’m fine,” Choromatsu finally croaked out, realizing with a start that he was staring. He averted his gaze, but when he glanced back up again the boy was still looking at him with concern. It made his heart skip a beat, and he wasn’t sure why.
“Are you sure?” The boy glanced down at the paper in his hand, and Choromatsu’s stomach lurched. Oh no. He probably noticed the awful grade. Choromatsu wasn’t sure why he cared whether or not this boy thought he was dumb.
“Y-yeah.” Choromatsu grabbed the paper back, his fingers accidentally grazing the boy’s in his haste. His hand felt warm where their skin had touched.
The boy tipped his head to the side, studying Choromatsu with a knowing expression. “Is that why you’re upset?”
“Wh-what?” Quit stammering, why are you so nervous?! And quit looking right into his eyes, that’s weird…!
“You seem upset,” the boy replied. “Is it because you failed your test?” Suddenly his own face flushed and he quickly added, “I mean, I’m not trying to be nosy, I just noticed and well...it’s not a big deal, y’know? To fail a test once in awhile, I mean. It’s okay to make mistakes. I fail tests all the time...uh, I mean...oh no, that probably sounds bad…”
Somehow Choromatsu found the boy’s anxious rambling endearing...not to mention reassuring. At least he wasn’t the only one with a bad case of nerves here. He relaxed a little, though he still held the test clutched tightly in his sweaty hand, and even managed to smile even though he still felt rotten inside.
“Thank you...maybe you’re right.” He wasn’t entirely convinced of this, but at least someone had taken the time to try and tell him that. And it was a boy with nice eyes at that…
Wait, why did I just think that…?
The boy smiled back a little, which made Choromatsu’s heart flutter again, then stood up and offered a hand to help Choromatsu up too. Choromatsu accepted it, but now his whole hand felt like it was on fire, even when the boy let it go.
“You’re one of the Matsunos, right…?” the boy asked.
Oh no. He just had to go and associate me with my dumb brothers. Not that I could escape that…
He just nodded stiffly in response. “You are…?”
The boy opened his mouth to respond, but before he could say anything they heard a high-pitched, whiny voice calling from the end of the hall.
“Nii-Chaaaan! I thought you were gonna walk home with me!”
Choromatsu groaned inwardly. It was Todomatsu, hurrying to catch up with him, already sounding close to tears at the mere thought of Choromatsu abandoning him.
Before he knew it Todomatsu was at his side, practically latching himself onto Choromatsu’s arm. Choromatsu assumed his rigid posture once again, but shot the boy an apologetic look.
The boy just smiled and brushed his bangs away from his eyes again. “Well, I have a club meeting to get to. See you later, Matsuno,” he said, waving as he started walking down the hall again.
Choromatsu could only nod slightly as he waved back. That strange, fluttery feeling in his chest had returned, and his knees felt a little wobbly. It was strange, but sort of nice, which was why the feeling was so confusing.
Why do I feel so weird…?
“Who was that, Nii-Chan?” Todomatsu asked, still clinging to Choromatsu and tugging on his arm.
Good question. Choromatsu realized with an unexpected pang of disappointment that he’d never gotten the boy’s name.
Oh, well. It didn’t really matter. They’d be graduating in a week anyway, then they’d probably never see each other again.
“No one,” Choromatsu finally responded, then frowned at his younger brother. “Also, you’re getting much too old to constantly need to walk home with one of us. We graduate from high school soon, we’re almost adults.”
“Nii-Chan, please,” Todomatsu whined pitifully, and Choromatsu relented, mostly because it was easier to give in than to fight him when he was this close to crying.
“Okay, fine. But this is the last time.” Choromatsu began marching toward the door again, and Todomatsu trailed after him.
“Can I sit in your jacket?”
“Can we stop for melon bread on the way home?”
“No, I need to study. That’s what a proper student does.” Choromatsu no longer felt like crying, amazingly enough. He felt like renewing his effort in being a good student. Maybe he still had a chance!
“That’s no fun, Nii-Chan! Come on, please?”
“I said no.”
This was how they spent the rest of the walk home, Todomatsu begging and Choromatsu resisting (in the end, he’d finally caved and bought Todomatsu a melon bread, just so he’d be quiet). But the whole time, Choromatsu kept thinking of that boy, and every time he remembered that smile and those eyes his heart skipped a beat again. He couldn’t quite figure out why.
But then again, he told himself, it was probably nothing.