Book three: Chapter one, 2016, the value of friends

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Given what she remembered from Red Rose she almost believed it. Whatever went down in that hell hole these days couldn't be anything good.

"Noriko?"

She looked at Kyoko who arrived with a quizzical look in her eyes and a pair of shoes in her hands.

Noriko just pointed at her locker.

"What the bloody hell?" Kyoko said in a voice so far from her usual ladylike one that Noriko cringed. "I'll beat the fucking witches to pulp!"

"Kyoko!"

Suddenly Noriko found herself wrapped in Kyoko's arms.

"I'm not going to allow anything to happen to you. Nothing!"

"Calm down, Kyoko." But it warmed her that her friend cared so much. "It won't be so bad. I just didn't want to take it in alone right now. That's all."

She was still wrapped in that embrace.

"Don't talk that way. Don't you even think of handling this alone! Kuri-chan did and I couldn't stop it."

Of course! Noriko hadn't thought about it in those terms. Kyoko still felt guilty about the assault on Kuri in the locker room, and she'd been attacked herself just a couple of weeks earlier.

Noriko ripped out the paper at the back of her locker and crumbled it. "Don't worry," she said and freed herself from Kyoko's arms. "I won't do anything alone. I promise."

She wouldn't. The seed of a plan was already forming in her head. She had to go through it with the others, but she already had an idea how to shoot down this idiocy so hard nobody in school would ever think of going after her again.



***



Just prior to lunch break two days later the planned event went into action. Noriko wanted to make certain it went down to legend as well.

She slid open one of the doors to 7:2 while the class was still in session. What she was about to do should normally have guaranteed her a suspension, but this time the entire teaching staff knew what was about to happen beforehand, and with Principal Nakagawa's blessing things were about to explode.

It came at a personal price for her, but not one she found unacceptable.

"Sensei, I have an errand here," she said.

He nodded and walked to the windows.

There were surprised gasps from the class.

Noriko walked up to the blackboard and faced the students. Nao-sempai rose from his seat. This was the agreed upon compromise to make certain he got off the hook as well.

"Noriko-chan, what a pleasant surprise," he said as planned.

Her heart beat faster even though she knew what was coming. It wasn't just an act from his side, because he was truly aghast that his open interest in her had made her a target. She had to admire his bravery for coming up with this part of the madness.

You've been nothing but kind to me even though you know how I feel for Urufu, she thought, but it was time to repay his kindness with nothing but hard words once again. "Nao-sempai, you owe me for these," Noriko said and dug up her slashed shoes from her bag and placed them on the teacher's desk. She waited for him to walk to her with a new pair and publicly give her the apology he never really owed her in the first place.

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