On the day after she met the wretched wild dog (Koremitsu actually) in front of Aoi’s house, Asai left her house right before noon.
She had a lot of issues to consider, so she did not let her chauffeur drive her out, choosing instead to straighten her back and walk at a regular pace towards a tranquil residence area.
She would stroll alone on the streets whenever her thoughts were in a deadlock. Thus, she would be able to sort out the main points of the issue and find a way to resolve them.
However, the intense rays of summer reflected off the asphalt, giving off a searing heat that caused her to lose her usual poise.
There had been one issue occurring after another in recent days regarding the one topic Asai had been most concerned with, the power struggle regarding the heir of the Mikados.
There is the Rose section supporting the first wife of the Mikado’s head, Kazuaki’s mother Hiroka, and the Wisteria side supporting the second wife Fujino—till this point, both sides had been on equal standing. Asai joined the Wisteria faction, continuing her fervent support in secret.
Currently, the only child inheriting the bloodline of the Mikado head was the eldest son Kazuaki. If Kazuaki were to become the head, Hiroka and her main family, the Udates, would expand their power vastly. Hiroka herself was infamous of her cruel and stubborn personality, so many were utterly terrified of it. Leaving aside the assumption that Kazuaki was meek in personality, it would be a massive problem if that mother of his had such great authority.
It was because of this that Asai chose to join the Wisteria faction.
Kazuaki was the only child of the head.
Is that so?
There is still one final gambit with the Wisteria—
She muttered this to herself.
The Tōjōs, who had supported the Mikados in management, had just joined the Wisterias, and the results were startling.
However at this point, there was a major commotion amongst the Roses.
The opportunity came when Kazuaki did something in front of everyone that left his mother speechless.
Before that, everyone had assumed Kazuaki was a kind, dreamy, typical cultured rich boy.
No, that was what they were made to assume.
It was when all the important figures related to the Mikados were gathered at a summit. Because of a little verbal gaffe made by one of the subsidiary company chairmen, his mother let out a loud outroar in front of everyone, and Kazuaki in turn tried to coax her and ease the atmosphere.
Because of that incident, everyone related to the Mikados knew that Kazuaki was not a puppet who would respond to his mother’s beck and call.
With that, there was no issue about letting Kazuaki take over the Mikado family.
To Asai, her biggest miscalculation was that the head of the Tōjōs, Masayuki, had thrown in his support for Kazuaki. Because of this, the heir to that family, Shungo Tōjō was so displeased by this arrangement, he wanted to slam his fist on the table.
“There is no way Kazuaki can be a leader of men. His true personality is still the spider of the Udates—Rokujō. Father however feels that no matter how this person is on the inside, it does not matter as long as he can maintain a facade perfectly in front of others. The momentum is shifting towards Kazuaki, and the Tōjōs will be serving the next head of the Mikados, Kazuaki.”
The madness within.
Asai knew all about them.
If Kazuaki, who was so obsessed to Aoi, was to become the head of the Mikados, there would be no way for Aoi to run.
And perhaps, Kazuaki might have known about Hikaru’s secret.
She felt a cold hand grasp her heart firmly, and inadvertently groaned.
It was the secret Hikaru hid with all his might, and even at the cost of his life. If Kazuaki were to learn of that secret, he would certainly revel in delight, expose, demean and hurt him .
And Hikaru, together with all that he left behind, would sink into the dark abyss with the sin.
(This is what I have to avoid no matter what. I cannot allow the power to fall in Kazuaki’s hands. Even if we have to stab each other, I shall be the shield and sword protecting you.)
The Saiga parents were not very approving of Asai being embroiled in the Mikados’ powers struggle.
Normally, if Asai was already isolated, the situation being a lost cause, Aoi would immediately force Asai to avoid this situation.
When she visited the Saotomes’ residence, she received a reply stating that Aoi was out, and when she asked if she could wait inside, the servants stopped her, looking really troubled.
Aoi’s parents too looked troubled as they apologized,
“I am sorry, Asa. Do you mind heading home for today?”
“Aoi is probably in that difficult age too. We really apologize about this, Asa.”
She knew with certainty they were lying about her not being at home. Even though she called Aoi, there was only the cry from the cat Aoi raised.
Thus, she decided to meet Aoi directly at the cafe where the latter worked as a maid, but other waitresses took her orders instead, and Aoi was trying her best not to look at Asai in the eyes. She bit her tender lips, her face pale as she passed by Asai stiffly.
“I am working.”
Even when Asai approached Aoi, the latter turned her face aside and left
Once she got off work, she would say “I have something urgent going on”, and take the car, leaving.
It felt like the moment when Hikaru died. Back then, Aoi was forcing herself, barricading a wall around her.
But even then, she never thought of avoiding Asai.
Asai had no idea what Aoi was thinking at this point.
They knew each other since young, but this was the first time such a matter happened. Asai was inadvertently uptight as a result.
Surely it had to do with Koremitsu Akagi’s influence.
That wild dog probably intoxicated Aoi with something.
If that was not the case, it would not be reasonable to explain why Aoi would be so fervently opposed to Asai.
The intense summer sun shining from above was like that outrageous man.
Feeling peeved and hot, her usually rational mind was agitated by fury.
(Such a wretched man actually calls himself Hikaru’s friend. Even if Aoi approves of him, I will not)
Of course, that wild dog surely would not know about the thing Hikaru risked his life to protect, why Hikaru put down all his flowers, and had to end his life like that.
When he was young, Hikaru inflicted wounds all over his white, pretty skin, and he looked up at Asai quietly.
—Asa…I cannot cry.
With that helpless appearance of a dreamy girl, his tragic eyes were clear, unable to let out any drop at all. The grave despair she thoroughly felt that day was accompanied by fury, and an intense pain swelled in her chest.
“…I cannot back away right now, for the sake of what Hikaru requested me to do.”
She let out such a mutter from her mouth.
There is no other way—Shungo Tōjō let out this feeble voice from the other side of the phone.
She had no intention of relying on a man for help in the first place, but that was too feeble.
Even though he did say there was a final mean in the end.
There was the Gonomiya clan, who had a major influence upon the Mikados’ power struggle. For the past few days, Asai visited the leader.
If she could get the word of proof from the ‘Asagao Princess’ as a guardian symbol—
The momentum would be changed.
The sun rays raining on her were getting more intense.
The summer sun was really discomforting.
And the appearance of Koremitsu Akagi in her mind caused her entire body to be filled with disgust.
What that wild dog said certainly had to be to be a lie. Even though Hikaru may have showed the dog his weakness, he would never mention to others the true thoughts within him, and no matter how much pain and despair he had, he would never ask others for help.
It was completely impossible that Hikaru, being such a person, would ask a stray, unrefined dog. Was Hikaru that kind of person to entrust his feelings to others?
But, what if,
What if that dog really was Hikaru’s friend?
(I may have no choice but to kill that dog myself.)
Her face contorted in frustration, she was about to put her hand that wiped her sweat off—
But right in front of her eyes was the one thing that vexed her in this world.
Asai was headed to the Gonomiya Residence.
And standing in front of the shut, aged wooden doors.
The bright red hair was reflecting the sun’s rays, and his lips were contorted into a frown as he stared at Asai with fiery eyes. That man—no, that dog barked at Asai.
“I’m here as Hikaru’s representative to fulfill the promise he had with you.”
♢ ♢ ♢
—If it is Asa, she is probably headed to the Gonomiya house.
Hikaru spoke to Koremitsu with a stern look.
On the previous day, this carefree frivolous prince knelt in the middle of the road, his smooth white forehead touching the floor.
“Please, Koremitsu. Please fulfill the promise between Asa and me.”
In reality, being a ghost himself, Hikarus knees and head would float slightly once he approached the floor. It would be too surreal to call it a Seiza.
“I got it, I got it. Lift your head up now.”
Koremitsu wiped his sweat as he repeated those words.
Koremitsu was already very displeased about having to get involved with Asai, the latter whom treated him with disdain like a wretched wild dog. However, the reality remained that the frivolous Hikaru would actually request him so earnestly.
And so, Koremitsu followed what Hikaru said, and waited for Asai at this place.
(Damn it, one troublesome thing is happening after another.)
Asai glanced at Koremitsu, ostensibly stumbling upon something filthy. Why is Koremitsu Akagi at such a place? Her eyes were anxious, practically saying, is he here to harass me? No, the expression clearly showed her intent of wanting to eliminate the existence called Koremitsu.
(I don’t want to see your face so early in the morning either.) Koremitsu thought of saying those words, but he noticed Hikaru beside him give such a serious look,
He grimaced in his heart, swallowing his spiteful emotions as he handed Asai a piece of paper.
“Anyway, here’s the schedule for the day.”
Asai’s cold narrow eyes scanned the contents of this paper.
He wrote these words on the long calligraphy paper in his grandfather’s calligraphy classroom, and the words of thin handwriting were,
-Search for a Tsuchinoko in the mountains.
-Catch a Kappa.
-Exchange messages with a UFO on the hill.
-Hug a snowman sleeping in the summer.
And there were many more for this ‘summer vacation plan’.
Asai’s cheeks were gradually dyed red.
It was not because of embarrassment, but fury. Her eyebrows were raised, her lips were quivering, and her stare was icy as she pronounced each word clearly,
“These are the promises I made with Hikaru, I suppose?”
Asa believed in Santa Claus until she was in 3rd grade. Hikaru had mentioned. She wrote in her summer vacation schedule that they would look for a Tsuchinoko and fish a kappa. They would then breed the Tsuchinoko once they catch them, and make a Tsuchinoko park for them.
This certainly was a black history for the flawless, aloof student council president Asai.
In the past, Asai passed out at the park, and when taking care of her, Koremitsu kept pestering her, asking her about this. As a result, Asai gave him a slap, and reported him to the police, calling him a pervert.
She emitted a cold aura as she read the schedule.
The sounds of flipping and ripping could be heard. She tore it up with both hands, and bit by bit, tore it down into small places.
“Ah, Koremitsu put all his effort into writing it though.”
Hikaru lamented. For some reason , Asai’s actions were predictable.
“Too bad for you. I got copies.”
And Koremitsu handed out another piece of paper.
Asai again grabbed that piece of paper, shredding it to pieces.
“I still have another here.”
Koremitsu said as he handed one copy after another over and over again.
Asai maintained her Siberian tundra-like eyes as she grabbed them and tore them up. At their feet were shreds of paper akin to snow.
After keeping this up for some time, Asai was starting to pant somewhat.
“Have you had enough?”
“What about you? Just give up already.”
“I have no idea why I have to look for a Tsuchinoko with you.”
“Asa, Koremitsu is my friend here. He is here to help me fulfill the promise I made with you back then.”
Hikaru was beside Koremitsu, pleading with an ever earnest look. Koremitsu too added seriously.
“I’m here looking for you because I’m Hikaru’s friend. Hikaru has a promise with you that he wants to fulfill so much he knelt down in front of me with his head down. Hikaru’s really troubled that he could not go look for the Tsuchinoko with you!”
Koremitsu exclaimed, and cold blades were flashing in Asai’s expression, her eyes filled with cold hatred.
It had always been like this.
Whenever Koremitsu insisted that he was Hikaru’s friend, Asai would give Koremitsu a look that practically expressed her intent to kill him.
Standing tall on the scattered pieces of paper, she retorted coldly with a voice as icy as a blizzard.
“There is no way you can be Hikaru’s friend!”
Koremitsu, incensed by Asai’s loud outcry, gave an absolute-zero-stare back, yelling,
“No matter what you think, I’m Hikaru’s friend!”
Both sides looked completely agitated, sparks ostensibly about to fly, and at that moment,
An annoyed voice of one being out of patience could be heard.
A woman dressed in an apron poked her head out from behind the door of the elongated wooden shed
“Please do not leave your waste in front of our house’s door. It is a hassle having to clean it up.”
Both Koremitsu and Asai were rendered speechless at the same time.
“Please pardon me.”
Asai’s cheeks were beetroot from the humiliation.
“Sorry. I’ll clean it up.”
Koremitsu instinctively replied.
Asai too helped gather the scattered shreds of paper. While she did so,
“It is your fault”, she said with much hatred.
“What? Isn’t it your fault for tearing the paper up?”
Koremitsu retorted back,
“Ah, please do not quarrel now.”
And Hikaru clapped his hands together, begging them.
With the screech of the wooden door, the front door of the residence was opened.
While squatting down, Asai suddenly lifted his head.
And Koremitsu too did likewise.
Standing in front of the door was a small old lady dressed in a refreshing onion green kimono and a silver sash, looking very posh. That woman had her back straightened beautifully, and remained serene as she gave Koremitsu a reminiscing look, saying,
“Are you the one who calls himself Mr. Hikaru’s friend?”
♢ ♢ ♢
The blue and purple Morning Glories were blooming wildly in the large garden.
The pillars and floors were covered with young green vines, and there were round Morning Glory flowers on them. At the far end of the garden was a space cordoned by stone, and besides the little shrubs growing there, they were all Morning Glories. Even on the porch, there were Morning Glories. Some of them had sharp petals, swaying with the breeze like a goldfish tail. There were also weird shapes too.
(Are these all Morning Glories? Amazing…)
Koremitsu walked down the corridor leading to the room, and once he saw the garden scenery from there, he was left breathless.
He was the complete opposite of Hikaru in that he neither loved nor had any interest in flowers, but even his eyes were inadvertently mesmerized when he saw the bright, proud Morning Glories lined in rows.
The lady who warned Koremitsu and Asai earlier served them tea. Though the tea was accompanied with pickled turnip and cucumber, Koremitsu, who disliked sweet things, was really grateful for it.
Asai sat beside Koremitsu, looking extremely displeased as she sat on her knees, her back straightened. Facing her was the old lady who invited them in, now seated opposite them.
Her body was small, but for some inexplicable reason, she was a lady with much presence. Her upright posture and her sharp mouth were the reasons a firm presence could be felt from her.
Her name was Orime Gonomiya. She was the master of this Asagao Residence, and was living with her grandson and his wife.
“Mr. Hikaru would appear here suddenly ever since a young age, climbing onto the porch with his hands supporting his chin. He really looked blissful there, like he met a lover or something similar.”
She narrowed her eyes lovingly while reminiscing.
As Orime had said, Hikaru was seated at the porch, his hands supporting his cheeks, his lips slightly closed as he stared at every single Morning Glory with a gentle expression. The gentle light brown hair gave off a glittering gold look due to refraction, and his originally white skin was paler, his lips slightly red, his limbs slender, his androgynous appearance tender, akin to an angel.
“Mr. Hikaru was a kind obedient boy with such a clear look in his eyes… I really hoped to meet him again this year, but alas, he died at such a young age.”
Orime’s expression gloomed.
Asai too clenched her hands that were placed on her knees, her eyes bleak as she looked down. Upon seeing this, Koremitsu felt his inner heart sink, and felt extremely solitary.
(Hikaru, you’re here right now…looking at the flowers over there with that ever delighted face of yours. Nobody else can see you right now…)
As he thought about it, his nasals started to agitate.
(Damn it, the tears are about to fall from my eyes.)
How exactly was he supposed to contain these tears?
He widened his eyes with all his might to prevent Asai from noticing it.
Orime continued sadly.
“Mr. Hikaru’s father will definitely come here once he loses his authority. To reminisce over Mr. Hikaru, and also to reminisce his most beloved.”
(Most beloved, as in Hikaru’s mother…is it?)
Not his real wife, but his mistress.
There was the photo of the young lady holding a baby Hikaru when Koremitsu visited his room. She was a beauty practically of the same mold as Hikaru himself.
Hikaru never mentioned anything about his family. However, after his mother died, his father took a young Hikaru under his care; as Orime had said, one reason may be because of how Hikaru’s father had so much affectionate love for the woman who gave birth to Hikaru.
Even if that person was his mistress.
Suddenly, Asai, who had been looking somber all this while, silently lifted her head.
“We lost the Paulownia flower, but uncle still has the Wisteria flower.”
She fixated her stare seriously at Orime, her tone filled with decisive will.
“To allow the Wisteria uncle loves to continue to bloom, I wish to have a word from you, Lady Orime.”
(She called her Lady Orime?)
Koremitsu was truly shocked to notice that Asai, who would treat her upperclassman Tōjō on equal standings, being so humble here.
(Hey, this old granny is that amazing?)
He wanted to ask Hikaru, but the latter was looking at Asai so worriedly, and is rather perturbed.
Orime quietly answered,
“I do apologize, Miss Asai, but I have reiterated many times that I am already advanced in age, ailing in health, and I cannot be of as much use as you think.”
But Asai would not give up.
Her stern expression caused the mood to become abnormally tense as she appealed,
“No. Surely there is no one around who does not know of the ‘Asagao Princess’.”
(Asagao Princess? I heard her mention it on the phone. What kind of person is she exactly? Besides, what does she mean by getting the word? What exactly is Saiga planning here?)
When he tried to eavesdrop, his body naturally leaned forward.
At this moment, the breeze blowing from the porch blew at Koremitsu’s copy of the schedule.
Asai did not spare any piece that was given to her, and this was the last copy left.
This last copy slipped from Koremitsu’s hands, and fluttered to Orime’s knee.
“Ack!” Koremitsu opened his mouth in a startled manner, Asai turned her face over to him, and Hikaru widened his eyes.
Orime picked it up with her slender, wrinkled hand, and had a look at it.
She widened her eyes inexplicably, looking somewhat bemused. After reading it, she lifted her wrinkled face.
“Is this your work, Mr. Akagi?”
“I do apologize for letting you see such an absurd thing, Lady Orime. Those are things of folly he wrote.”
(Hey, why’re you apologizing now, Saiga? Calling them absurd too.)
Just when Koremitsu was unable to vent his anger, Orime marveled quietly,
“Those are nice words…”
Asai was startled.
Koremitsu was stupefied to realize that he was praised, his eyes widened.
Hikaru too looked as if he was the one being praised as he beamed.
Orime then analyzed each word, one at a time, as she read the words on the schedule.
“The lines are straight and firm, and they really are pretty words all around. It is a rarity among the current generation of youths to be able to write such beautiful words.”
Not knowing how to respond to the praises, Koremitsu’s cheeks gradually reddened.
“Ah, well, my grandfather opened a calligraphy class, and I practiced there since young.”
Orime nodded. “I see. It is no wonder then that those words are nice.” She repeated it over again, and Koremitsu’s cheek got redder.
Beside him, Asai curled her lips unhappily.
“Madam Orime is interested in calligraphy. She herself has quite the nice handwriting, has contributed to the development of it in many ways, and even acts as a judge. You really are amazing to be recognized by such a person, Koremitsu.”
Even Hikaru had his chest puffed proudly as he said.
(Shut up, you idiot. Damn it, this is embarrassing.)
“Mr. Akagi, if it is convenient, do you mind writing something now?”
After hearing these words, Koremitsu looked anxious and Asai narrowed her eyes.
“Please excuse me.”
Though they were in the house, a young female dressed in a bright miniskirt, ostensibly about to head outside rudely opened the door as she walked in.
“It is time for your medicine, grandmother.”
Though she did somewhat crude, she did watch Orime finish all the medicinal soup in the bowl.
“Now then, it’s about time for your rest. You’ll collapse if you force yourself too much.”
Though she did show a proper choice of words, she gave Koremitsu and Asai a look of annoyance, indicating for them to leave.
Orime too looked conflicted, her expression somewhat unnatural.
“Well, it is that late already.”
“Sorry to bother you for such a long time. I shall return to visit when Lady Orime gets better.”
Asai lowered her head politely.
The woman who served them tea stared at Asai with spite, and Orime smiled quietly.
“Why yes. Come by to visit when you have time. You have to come here too, Mr. Akagi.”
She turned her face over to Koremitsu.
And Asai raised her eyebrows in disdain.
Koremitsu panicked in the face of Orime’s unexpected goodwill, and answered,
He assumed Hikaru would be a chatterbox over Koremitsu receiving such praises, but Hikaru in turn had his stare fixated on the woman who served Orime tea, looking somewhat concerned as he frowned.
Having just exited the Gonomiya residence, Asai showed all his anxiety. Her shoulders quivered and her fists clenched as she bit her lower lip.
“Hey, you done with your business? If you have nothing, go look for the Tsuchinoko with me.”
Koremitsu was trying to communicate with Asai normally on his part.
“Ahh, Koremitsu, saying such a thing now is…”
Just when Hikaru panicked and was about to intervene, Asai stamped hard at his foot with her all might.
His right foot was ostensibly aimed at, and after his foot got stomped hard by it, the pain continued to reverberate in his mind.
“I do not have even 0.01 second to play with a wild dog.”
She retorted with words akin to icy blades, and strode off while leaving Koremitsu behind as the he hugged his foot.
“Damn it—! You’re not being cute at all! My foot hurts!!”
While Koremitsu yelled with teary eyes, Hikaru floated about gently, his hand on his forehead,
“Even if it had not been Asa, I suppose most girls would have been angry at such a scenario.”
♢ ♢ ♢
The sun was still dissipating heat on his way back.
In response to Asai leaving him alone, Hikaru could only explain the situation with a solemn look,
“Currently, there is an intense struggle amongst the Mikados between the first and second wife of my father. Most of the reason, I feel, is because father’s illness has yet to improve for the better…”
“Your dad’s sick? In what way?”
“His heart is a little uncomfortable…he did do a surgery two years ago, but there is a chance of it being a relapse.”
Hikaru’s voice sank.
“That is really worrying…”
Though Hikaru nodded calmly, he would not mention much about his own family, and thus, Koremitsu could not tell how exactly Hikaru felt about his father’s illness.
After some silence, Hikaru continued to explain,
“The ones supporting the first wife are the Rose faction, and the ones supporting the second wife are the Wisteria faction. Asa is in the latter group.”
And thus, she needed to recruit supporters for the second wife. The Mikados had much prestige and authority, and the Gonomiyas had much power over the Mikados, so she wanted to recruit them.
“What, that sort of thing isn’t something a high school student should be doing.”
Koremitsu was dumbfounded.
Was there no way to enjoy herself? Like the seaside, fireworks or a concert? Well, he himself had no right to say that about others…
(Like me, she doesn’t have friends either…it looks like she got into a quarrel with Aoi…)
Hikaru’s eyes betrayed some sorrow.
“Being the head of the Gonomiya household, Madam Orime is known to be an influential person, and that is not all. Her word has a deeper meaning.”
“The current head of the Mikados, previous, and before that all had a word sent from Madam Orime, and they framed it up to preserve those words. Thus, the words Lady Orime gives is like obtaining a seal of being the head of the Mikados. Of course, this originates from Lady Orime’s wisdom and etiquette. The words given by the ‘Asagao Princess’ still plays a major role in the Mikados’ power landscape.”
“Saiga did mention what you said about that Asagao Princess too, saying that there is no one who does not know of the ‘Asagao Princess’.”
“The Gonomiya residence is filled with Morning Glory flowers, no? In respect of Orihime of Tanabata, they call her as the ‘Asagao Princess’. The Morning Glory, or Asagao, was a species of flowers imported from China at the end of the Nara era, and the Chinese called them qianniuhua, the Ipomoea nil type of Morning Glory. Asagao was later called the Morning Glory too, and in the flow of time, Orihime was dubbed the Asagao Princess out of respect.”
However, it was unknown when people started calling Orime the ‘Asagao Princess’ out of respect.
“The original species of Morning Glories are blue. It is the first to open its eyes at dawn, opening its petals with royalty while every other person is still sound asleep. It straightens its back, working hard seriously, and proudly shows off its proud blue flower like a pure, riveting girl—it does match Madam Orime in this way, and also Asa.”
The gloomy expression Hikaru betrayed before gradually brightened.
He spoke lovingly with a gentle voice, muttering,
“Asa too is like the Morning Glory. Like Madam Orime, she is another ‘Asagao Princess’.”
Normally, Koremitsu would feel frustrated and not pay much attention whenever Hikaru praised those flowers and women effervescently, but this time, he inexplicably found himself agreeing with Hikaru’s view.
Asai did seem similar to the Morning Glory.
(That girl’s definitely not willing to let others see her wake up.)
She would wake up earlier than anyone else, comb her head, sort everything out, and begin work with a refreshed look.
“I woke up too late now. It has nothing to do with you.”
He did hear such harsh words before—
Though that was the case, Koremitsu did do an observation diary of the Morning Glories for summer vacation during his elementary school days. He missed out on the important part about the Morning Glories blooming as he overslept, and when he woke up, the Morning Glories had already opened their blue flowers, and Koremitsu stomped on the ground in anger.
“Well, to put it, I don’t really know Saiga much as a proper High School student, but anyway, I’ll focus on fulfilling your promise.”
Can Hikaru’s wish ever be fulfilled? Upon thinking about that, Koremtisu lifted his head.
“I’m going to give her a hassle all the way. I’m going to drag her along to look for Tsuchinoko.”
After he answered, Koremitsu showed a smile that was totally not a smile, one more terrifying than a ghost, a highly dreaded look amongst his schoolmates.