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Sunshine After a Storm

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The morning after she and Utena found her love letter pinned to the middle school’s main bulletin board, Wakaba woke up to a pounding on her door. Rubbing her eyes to clear away the sediment left by her tears, the gangly girl begrudgingly stumbled out of bed to greet her visitor. “It’s very early, you had better be someone important…” she muttered as she fumbled with the lock, and the door swung open to reveal the party that had disturbed the 12th hour of her sleep. Three girls, who she recognized from class but could not have named had her life depended on it, stood in the hallway. Already dressed in their uniforms and carrying their book bags, they each smiled as her older sisters might have when trying to comfort her, if Wakaba had ever had any. The one on the right, who seemed to have pinned her large hair bow on without looking in a mirror, carried a tray with breakfast pastries and sliced fruit, and the one on the left held a steaming teapot and four cups. “Oh, um, hello, I…” Wakaba mumbled with wide eyes, stepping backward as her three cheery classmates invited themselves into her room.

“We’re so glad to see that you’re up and doing okay, Shinohara-san!” said the tallest of the girls, her two pigtails bouncing a bit as she placed the food they had brought on the small table Wakaba kept in the room. Wakaba was keenly aware of how much these three visitors filled the room’s space; she had been living in a single room for the last year, but would receive her new room assignment that day and would likely be moving to a double. The thought of sharing such a small space had been weighing heavily enough upon her lately, as she valued a bit of privacy so she could occasionally hang up the smiling mask that she usually wore. While they were few and rather innocent, Wakaba had her secrets, and needed a place to call her own. For the last day, however, she had thought not once about sharing a room or cooking breakfast or pressing her uniform. Her embarrassment and heartache had eclipsed even her normal routine.

All three girls were now seated around the table, pouring tea and helping themselves to the pastries. “I’m sorry, but why are you here before school?” Wakaba asked bluntly as she sat down on the remaining pillow at the table.

“Don’t you know? We’re the Ohtori Sunshine Club!” chirped the girl with the pigtails. “…Sunshine… Club?” Wakaba looked at their smiling faces with suspicion as she took her first sip of tea, which tasted of rose hips and honey. “I didn’t know we had such a club here.”

Croissant crumbs flew everywhere as the third girl, whose ponytail flipped out over her left shoulder, jumped to her feet. “We are here to bring light to the lives of Ohtori’s students!” She performed a dance of sorts that left Wakaba breathless, not from admiration, but from concern for the porcelain figures that lined the shelf directly behind her eccentric classmate. “When someone is sad, lonely, or confused, we’re here to entertain and comfort them! No one’s heard of the club because we usually operate in secret. We don’t want recognition for simply being good classmates, you see. You could call us the unsung heroes of Ohtori, protecting youth’s happiness from the shadows!” Even her two companions seemed bewildered as the girl fell to one knee and thrust her fist in the air, as if brandishing an imaginary sword.

Now even more skeptical than before, Wakaba closed her eyes and set down her teacup. “And how, exactly, did you hear that I was in need of cheering up?” The girls glanced at each other quietly, and said in unison: “We have our ways of knowing.” As they giggled to themselves, Wakaba sighed and stood up. “Well, I really appreciate the treats and tea, but I still need to get ready for the day. Thanks for stopping by, I guess.”

Her visitors rose and filed out the door, still laughing about some inside joke that Wakaba didn’t even want to understand. “We’re glad you seem to be doing well, Shinohara-san!” the girl with the pigtails called back as the other two started down the hall. “But you’re right, we had best be going. Have you heard that the student council vice president got beat up yesterday? We’ll need to cheer him up too, I suppose! So long!!” Wakaba couldn’t believe her ears, and glanced down at the paper she gripped in her right hand; she didn’t remember picking up the letter that had caused all these problems, but she must have grabbed it from the top of her dresser as she held the door for those girls as they left. Wakaba crumpled the sheets of stationary into a ball and tossed it into the waste bin. As she glanced down the hallway to where her visitors were headed, however, she saw no one at all. Shaking her head, she closed the door.

After dressing and finishing a second cup of the tea, Wakaba began the walk to class with far less dread than she had anticipated. It was a bright and clear day, and the birds that had taken up residence in Ohtori’s many trees serenaded her as she made her way across campus. Maybe those girls had helped her just by showing up and getting her out of bed, she thought. She struggled to remember the details of their faces, but did feel better after their visit. The news that Saionji had been beaten up gave her pause, though; she was doing her best to not care about the man who had humiliated her so, but that was made more difficult by the creeping feeling that she knew who he had fought…

“Why should I be sad when I have the best boyfriend in the whole world?” she sung with a cheerful lilt in her voice, skipping and swinging her school bag in a broad arc alongside her. Wakaba knew that Utena would never admit to punishing Saionji, but her heart filled with pride at the knowledge that the girl everyone admired so much was so dedicated to her. It was hard to imagine that the grade celebrity, known for her daring style and cool basketball skills, would ever find herself on the brink of a slump like Wakaba had the day before. Still, she promised herself that she would protect Utena in the ways that she could, and that she would be there for her friend even before the Sunshine Club could stop by with treats. The Onion Princess would never leave the side of the girl who wanted to be a prince.