“Hey,” said Flower. She walked over to where the girls were sitting with their lunches. She was always done first, gobbling down her rice and soup in a flash, before wandering over to where the other girls were still eating.
“Hey,” Heart replied.
Shizuka looked at the two of them disdainfully and returned to her book. She didn’t use words like “hey.”
“There’s a new girl,” Flower continued.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Sugar said immediately. She started to get up.
Shizuka looked up from her book again and gave Heart a knowing look. Heart put her hand on Sugar’s arm.
“You’re not even done eating. Finish first.” Sugar was just way too sweet for common sense. She needed management, and Heart usually provided it.
“She’ll have to eat alone—“ Sugar protested.
“She’s not even here,” Flower interrupted. “I just saw her walk down the hall with the principal.”
“Then how do you know she’s in our class?”
“Because I heard the principal say to her that this is her class.” Flower leaned in closer. “I think she’s half. Or something like that.”
“You can’t tell nowadays, though. Half what?”
“I dunno. Half something. She doesn’t look Japanese. Much.”
Sugar frowned. “You can’t be sure nowadays.”
“Half isn’t a bad thing,” Flower said, sounding a little defensive.
“Half girls are usually pretty,” Sugar agreed. “But if she doesn’t speak Japanese she’ll have a hard time.”
“Yeah, and you won’t be able to help her if you can’t understand her,” Shizuka said, turning a page. Heart and Flower looked at each other. Sometimes it was hard to tell if Shizuka meant to be snide, or if that was just her tone. It was true that Sugar was always jumping up to be helpful, and it was also true that it could get annoying. But it wouldn’t be right to make fun of her just because she was a truly nice person.
Shizuka was always reading and always studying, so perhaps it was just the way she sounded. It was often hard to attract her attention and engage her in a conversation. One almost had the sense that she thought other people weren’t smart enough to bother with.
But she was a part of the gang, so they dealt with it. And she was the only one of them with an engaged, helpful mom who was a homemaker, so she often brought homemade snacks and craft supplies to their study sessions. She also had the biggest, nicest house, so she hosted occasional sleepovers and parties for the foursome.
Shizuka could be fun. Sometimes. Heart often found herself thinking of ways to coax the fun out of her and into the public space. She knew that most of the other students envied her and disliked her, and thought that it was unfortunate that they didn’t know who she really was underneath the excessive studying, perfect grades, and the formal language that she used with even the other students.
Sure enough, after lunch had ended, their teacher escorted the new student into the classroom. A hush fell over the students as the teacher explained that Paloma McDonald was a new student in the eighth grade, having just moved to their town from the U.S.
Heart turned to give Flower a nod of acknowledgement, because she had been right. Flower smirked.
“I’m Paloma McDonald,” said the girl. “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”
Well, she did speak Japanese, although with a certain something to her accent. It wasn’t exactly an American accent—she sounded much more natural than the American celebrities on television—but it wasn’t perfectly Japanese, either. And she did have some knowledge of social niceties, given her awkward bow and her “yoroshiku” statement. She seemed to know how to behave.
“Makkudonarudo-san is from Texas,” the teacher continued, “and speaks very good Japanese!” She beamed at Paloma, who looked uncomfortable. She was very fair, with wispy brown hair and eyes that looked both brown and gray at the same time. Her uniform looked a little messy on her, as if it hadn’t been pressed. The tie around her sailor collar looked like it was knotted wrong. Heart made a mental note that she would tie it for her later. She figured that if she didn’t do it, Sugar definitely would.
One of the troublemaker boys at the front of the class muttered something, and the kids around him snickered.
“What was that?” demanded the teacher. “Goto-kun, do you have something to say?”
“No,” the boy said, flushing. But the girl in the seat behind him raised her hand.”
“Sensei, he said, ‘french-fry-san,’”
The class giggled. The teacher looked distressed, and Paloma turned red. Her eyes filled with tears.
Uh-oh. Heart raised her hand quickly, not quite knowing what to say, but feeling that she needed to handle the situation before it got worse.
“Makkudonarudo-san,” she said, stumbling slightly over the long name, “can we call you ‘Makku-san?’ It’s easier to say. And we all love ‘Makku,’ anyway! Right, class?” ‘Makku’ referred to a certain fast food chain.
Sugar jumped in. “Welcome, Makku-san!”
The teacher looked relieved. “If you don’t mind—“ she began, looking at Paloma.
“I don’t mind,” Paloma said. She looked as if she did mind, but she didn’t look any longer as if she was going to cry.
Heart breathed a sigh of relief. Disaster averted.
“Yamashita-san,” the teacher said to Heart, “I am going to have Makku-san sit next to you. You are the class representative, so you can be responsible for her.”
“Yes, I understand,” Heart replied. As Paloma made her way over toward Heart, the teacher added, “And you can take care of her after school, too. Makku-san will be joining the swim club!”
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