Their English class felt endless. Akiara kept glancing out the window into the school yard while their teacher droned on about concepts she was already familiar with. Seeing the thin dusting of snow covering the ground and blanketing the branches of the large cherry tree made her pout, wishing spring would come and revive the school in a fresh splash of color and chase their dreary winter away. With a sigh, she brought her focus back to the teacher as he explained the difference between direct objects and indirect objects for the twelfth time this term when a loud screeching resounded through the halls. Akiara let out a gasp, startled by the sudden metallic shriek and dropped her mechanical pencil before suddenly rising from her desk.

“Leave your things behind and line up!” yelled their teacher over the alarm. The students were in a ruckus as they all rose from their seats, heading for the doors in single file. Akiara let herself get carried by the thrall of bodies rushing to escape the building without coats and boots, huddling in the cold outside. Within moments, Hinako found Akiara and the two stayed close together, the fire alarm still ringing in the brisk, cold air, a distant siren screaming for aid.

“Who pulled the fire alarm on a day like this?” grumbled Shiori, coming to huddle with Akiara and Hinako as well.

When Shiori came and bumped her hip against Akiara’s, she wrapped a length of her scarf around her neck, the short bob of her hair draping over the red wool. Hinako was already bundled in on her other side, her longer, waving hair keeping her warm enough without needing Akiara’s scarf. The three of them watched curiously as uniformed men were circulating the buildings, the students herded into the schoolyard by their teachers taking inventory of their numbers, ensuring that the school was properly evacuated and that no children lingered in its deserted halls.

“Is there actually a fire?” Akiara asked under her breath, only loud enough for her friends to hear.

“It feels like a fire drill,” replied Hinako, her teeth beginning to chatter from the cold. “And they’re taking too long,” she added with a whine, shifting from one foot to the other to keep moving, bumping into Akiara as she swayed.

“Think of it like a free break,” said Shiori with a snort. While Akiara and Hinako had their eyes on the school, Shiori’s glanced around at the crowd of students around them, noticing with a hint of envy that some of them had put their coats on despite being told to leave everything behind.

Time dragged on until a couple of firefighters escorted a small group of first year boys out of the buildings. Then the teachers all redid their headcounts and when all students were finally accounted for, they finally got the okay from the school director to let students back into the school. Class by class, they went back into warmth, but now buzzing with excitement, none of them sat still or quiet while their teacher tried to continue his lecture. With a sigh, their English teacher eventually gave up and let them break for lunch, earning himself a round of applause from the students.

Knowing Hinako would be busy with her club today, Akiara stayed with Shiori as class let out. The two made their way to the cafeteria, close together to avoid getting hit by students going in all directions with their bags slung over their shoulders. Akiara was still trying to visualize in her mind the master task of homework she needed to do in the hour-long break they had while Shiori’s babbling occasionally cut through the fog of her thoughts.

“… and then he was cussing me out for no reason! Gosh, I swear my brother is such a jerk even on a good day,” Shiori continued to vent, seemingly unbothered by the fact that Akiara was not listening.

The two soon sat down with their carefully packed lunch boxes at a table near the large windows looking out into the yard. Akiara shuddered when a draft came through, goosebumps coating her bare arms. She waited until Shiori took a break from her venting to cut in and ask, “Do you think we could go to the library after we eat and work on our English assignments together?”

Shiori blinked, her train of thought lost as she turned to Akiara. “Sure! I’ve actually been meaning to ask you to check my writing, since the teacher always seems to like you more,” she teased.

Akiara let out a light giggle at that. “That’s because I actually listen in class and don’t pass flirty notes to boys,” she replied as playfully, pulling her notebook out of her bag to work while they eat.

Shiori scoffed. “The boys in our class aren’t even cute,” she laughed, before her attention was drawn to Akiara’s bag. “What’s what?”

Akiara glanced down to where Shiori was looking, surprised by the small pale pink envelope that slid out when she took out her lunch. “I don’t know,” she said, picking it up and finding no name for whom it might be addressed. Curious, she opened the letter and pulled out the lined paper that was tucked into its folds. The handwriting was scratchy and the thin paper crackled between her fingers. Shiori glanced over her shoulder for a peak.

You probably don’t remember me but we had gym class together in middle school. I thought you were really cute and funny and that you laughed like an angel. When I saw that we had classes together, I thought my heart was going to explode. If I fail all my classes, I blame you, because I can’t take my eyes off you. You’re so beautiful, I think I would be the luckiest man in the world if you said yes to going out with me.

Writing this letter is making me so nervous, I don’t want to say my name yet… I wish I was less of a coward so I could deserve your love. I hope one day I will deserve it and that you will bless me with your devotion rivalling my own towards you.

Until the day I find the courage to scream it from the rooftops, this letter will need to be enough to say I love you. I just can’t hold it in any longer.

I love you so much it hurts every time I see another guy looking at you. I get jealous every time I see you give them one of your amazing smiles. One day, I hope those smiles will be all for me. Just like how I hope this letter makes you smile, too…

By this point, Akiara’s cheeks were burning red with a mixture of embarrassment and bafflement. She couldn’t finish reading the letter.

“You have a secret admirer!” laughed Shiori. “Oh, I wonder who it is. He sounds so sweet in a gross and cheesy way, yeah?”

“It is really sweet but I feel kind of bad,” Akiara admitted quietly, tucking the paper back in its envelope to hide it away.

“Why? Kudos to him for putting it out there at all. I wish he wrote his name, too, so we can know who it is.”

Akiara bit her lip, her eyes glancing around the bustling cafeteria… Full of boys… Some rather cute ones, too.

“I’m not really looking for someone to date,” she admitted sheepishly to her friend.

“No one is saying you have to date him,” chuckled Shiori. “But girl, I sure hope that gave you a confidence boost.”

Akiara blushed at her remark. She had to admit she was flattered. The rest of their lunch, she couldn’t help glancing around at the people milling about, wondering who could’ve written her such a letter. Having never received romantic attention before, it preoccupied her even through their study session later. Within an hour of finding the letter, she feeling queasy and decided it was best if she went home to rest, to get away from people, from boys with wandering eyes, all the while wondering where the letter had come from and what she should do about it.

When she walked into her home, Suki was curled up in his bed in the living room, lethargic from the cold outside. Akiara warmed up some miso soup and grabbed the fluffiest blanket in the house to curl up next to him on the couch, her fingers massaging his head and scruff. Now warm and distracted, sipping her cup of soup, Akiara came to a decision. She was going to get to the bottom of this new mystery.

Tomorrow, by the end of the day, she was going to unmask her secret admirer.

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