Fox & Wolf

Chapter 8

Lay of the Land

After a quick sweep and wipe—easier than cleaning kennels, that was for sure—Yuki rearranged the desks and chairs. Instead of leaving right away, she climbed the stairs to the school’s fourth floor.

Opposite the stairwell was a brightly-lit alcove. The wall on her left was covered with posters publicizing club activities. Windows filled the walls in front of her and to her right.

There were two break rooms on each floor. An agitated murmur rippled among the dozen or so students occupying the wooden benches. The murmur died to a tense hush as Yuki stepped onto the landing. News of the white-haired girl had spread to the freshman class.

Yuki strolled to the windows and surveyed the grounds. “Nice view,” she said to nobody in particular.

As with its curriculum, Sumiyoshi Girls Preparatory Academy felt no need to needlessly innovate when it came to the architecture. The school’s two main wings formed a four-story shoebox, the chunk of unadorned concrete interrupted only by the central clock tower.

There was a separate gym/auditorium, a multi-purpose, packed-dirt athletic field, all off-white and brown and utilitarian. Students were supposed to bring the aesthetics of their own minds to their surroundings, not the other way around.

Only the sparkling bright blue of the outdoor swimming pool interrupted the monotonous landscape below. Beyond the fenced-in fields, past the houses and shops and small businesses crowded cheek by jowl, she could just make out the shining ribbon of the Yamato River.

“So,” Yuki said, her gaze still directed out the windows, “who’s the queen bee around here?” She cast a quick glance over her shoulder. Heads turned in concert as everyone averted her gaze. Yuki looked down at the girl sitting on the bench to her left. “C’mon,” she purred cajolingly. “Every school has at least one. It’s like they have to meet a quota, you know?”

“Namiya Senpai,” somebody else answered for her.

“And her enforcers?”

“Takahashi Senpai and Masuda Senpai.

Yuki shook her head in disbelief. However the first-years despised their upper class overlords, they couldn’t bring themselves to drop the ingrained honorifics, even out of the overlords’ presence.

“So, what are we talking about? Preps, jocks, nerds—”

Yankii,” her questionee mumbled under her breath.

Yuki smiled. At this school? She followed up with faux furtiveness, “And where does this yankii gang hang out?”

The girl jerked her head to the left.

“Ah.” Yuki nodded. “Well, carry on.” She bid the first-years goodbye with a salute-like wave.

A collective exhalation of relief chased her down the hall.

Yuki took her time walking along the hallway, absorbing the sights and sounds and smells of her environment. She couldn’t comfortably settle into a place until she knew the territory, the ways in and the ways out, the local flora and fauna, the predators and the prey.

Afterschool club life at Sumiyoshi Prep would keep most of the students busily engaged at volleyball or soccer or softball or tea ceremony or cooking or sewing or art or—that’s as far as Yuki got in the catalog—for the next two or three hours.

The problem was, only the sports clubs interested her, and playing an actual sport meant either checking herself to a frustrating degree or revealing too much about her actual capabilities.

Besides, she had more interesting things to do after school.

Curious faces poked out of classroom doors. Intrigued whispers rustled like dry leaves behind her back. She was not only seeing but letting herself be seen.

The north break room was occupied by a pack of three girls. Pocket mirrors reflected from their hands. They were touching up their makeup and texting their boyfriends and snapping their gum, bold acts of defiance on this campus. Yuki recognized Keiko Namiya and Tama Takahashi from her homeroom class. So Masuda must be the girl with the glasses sprawled out on the end of the bench.

The scene was a familiar one. Yuki had been there, done that, and gotten bored to death with the whole roost-ruling scene. Teenage rebellion in Japan still hadn’t left James Dean and the bobby-soxers behind. Young punks on the make sported punch perms from the 1950s. A teenage girl advertised herself as a delinquent by wearing the skirt of her sailor suit down to her calves. Maybe that’s why they adopted the name given to the American Occupation soldiers sixty years ago.

Masuda looked up as Yuki sauntered into the foyer. “Holy—” she said.

“Told you, Ma-chan,” said the tall yankii standing next to her, Tama Takahashi.

With her John Lennon wire rims, Ma-chan must be the girl Keiko and Tama copied their homework from. Every student had a uniform to go with her uniform, and every high school gang brought along a brainiac to shoulder the academic chores. Yuki could imagine Ami being recruited for the role and telling them to take a hike. Some things were quite beneath a fox.

Yuki turned to the pack leader. “So you’re Keiko Namiya, huh.”

The girl flushed. It was unconscionable for a new student at a new school to so directly address another girl, even in her same class. Tama Takahashi stepped forward and gave Yuki a firm shove. “Show some respect,” she hissed.

Yuki yielded to the blow and retreated with a casual curtsy. “My bad, Keiko Namiya-san.

Keiko quickly recovered her composure. “What’s the deal with you and Tokudaiji? Awful hard to see what you and the little squirt could have in common. The word is, you got kicked out of your last school for fighting. Beat the crap out of an upperclassman at Omiya High.”

Anything said aloud in the teachers’ office stayed there about as long as water in a sieve. “Yeah, well, he had it coming. But that was then, this is now. A friendly warning, though—the little squirt is stronger than the three of you put together.”

“Oh?” Keiko smirked. “What, she the Karate Kid or something?”

Yuki blinked, then shrugged off the pique of annoyance. “There’s more to people than meets the eye.”

“You got that right.” Keiko’s smirk narrowed to a razor-thin smile. “From what I hear, she’s got the Tokudaiji name but none of the money. Manual labor would suit her well.”

From the window, Ma-chan said, “Hey, check out the guy with the black Benz.”

Off to the left, the school gate was visible from the window. Yuki laughed. “That’s my Uncle Hiroki.”

“Your uncle?”

“Must be making sure I didn’t commit any felonies my first day here.”

Tama Takahashi took another long look. “Nothing personal, but he looks—” She flicked her fingertips across her cheek. Yakuza, the gesture meant, a mobster, and never one made frivolously.

Yuki answered, “And sometimes what you see is exactly what you get.” Her cell phone buzzed. She got it out and flipped it open. “Speak of the devil. Well, gotta go.”

They didn’t wish her goodbye. Yuki could have tugged at her forelock a bit more forcefully. But subtlety wasn’t her strength, and considering her usual first-day approach—pick a fight with the top dog and settle things right from the start—today was a definite improvement.

Right then, Yuki was prouder of herself for not bursting out laughing. Keiko and her lieutenants were poodles pretending to be Doberman Pinschers.

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