Saiga drinks an entire carton of milk everyday. He hopes that it's making him taller, that the calcium is going straight to his bones and yelling at them to hurry up. Mostly, it seems to be heading to his belly, making it jut out just enough to stick out when he's wearing his PE clothes.
The other boys tease him about the little weight he's gained, but it's just another thing to add to the list: he's too short, too pale, even in the summer, his glasses are too big for his face, he's always falling asleep in the middle of lessons, he's too good at home economics.
The girls like everything the boys hate about Saiga. They praise his skin and moan that they wish theirs were as clear, they loop their arms around him and call Saiga their little brother, ochibi, in the same clear voices that beg for help on their knitting and stitching.
Saiga doesn't enjoy any of the attention he receives. The boys steal his things and hide them in the toilets, the girls flock around him and treat him like a beloved pet. So he drinks the milk in the hope that he'll grow bigger, be more intimidating to everyone.
Even the customers at the store do it, petting and prodding him like he's some sort of animal. He has to fight to keep the scowl off his face as he bags their prescriptions and purchases.
The winter of sixth grade, he finally hits his long-desired growth spurt, growing almost half a foot seemingly overnight. His mother looks relieved when he finally stops, like she thought he'd snap in half if he continued. His father just nods approvingly when he notices, one bright morning, and remarks that Saiga'll need new pants for school.
The first day back, Saiga wants to surprise everyone by strutting straight into homeroom with his new inches, so he does, head held high despite the fact that he's still wearing the same overlarge pair of glasses on his face.
But on the one day he wants to be noticed, everyone is too busy talking about the new student to care that last year's runt has grown a few measly inches. Especially when puberty did the same favor to all the boys in his class, he realizes.
Saiga slinks to the seat closest to the window and tries not to feel too put out about it. He comforts himself by thinking that he's finally taller than most of the girls before settling into a good sulk.
Saiga's black mood lasts until almost all the way through homeroom, staring out into the schoolyard like it owes him money. Their teacher stumbled into the room looking likes he's still hung over from the break, squinting at the class like they're fuzzy at the edges. He reads the announcements off his palm and Saiga tunes him out when the words 'can drive' are uttered.
He's so involved in watching a teacher scold the latecomers negotiating from outside the school's gate that he almost misses the new student's name. The change in the timbre of the voice speaking at the front of the class, from the teacher's unimpressive baritone to a student's more youthful tones, is what jerks Saiga back to the classroom.
He catches the tail-end of the new student's name, something Kakei, and when he finally bothers to look, Saiga is mildly surprised to realize that the new kid is standing in front of the blackboard is wearing a boy's uniform.
Kakei, last name unknown, is so pale that he seems to give off his own light. His hair is some variation of honey brown-blond that doesn't detract from its owner's luminescence, glowing warmly in the daylight. His features are so fine that they'd almost be pretty, especially in conjunction with Kakei's wide eyes.
But what really grabs Saiga and holds his attention is that the new kid is practically a dwarf.
Well, he's exaggerating. Kakei is at least two whole inches shorter than Saiga, and that's perfect, that's practically everything. Goodbye, being the class runt, goodbye, being the girls' favorite.
Saiga smiles to himself; this year was going to be awesome.
Kakei smiles back at him before taking his seat.
The new kid is fantastic. It's recess, finally, Saiga was dying of hunger in math class, and everyone's crowded around Kakei's table. They're all tripping over themselves to get to know the new kid, leaving Saiga's corner of the classroom blissfully empty.
He eats his rice balls in relative peace and quiet, while the girls ask if Kakei's got a girlfriend and the boys demand that he join track and field because he looks small enough to be fast.
Saiga's walking out of the building after class, amazed at how quickly the day had passed. He could seriously get used to this whole having a decoy thing. He slings his bag over his shoulder, feeling utterly carefree, when someone taps his shoulder.
"I heard that you work at a drugstore?" Kakei looks like he ran the flight of stairs down, rosy-cheeked and slightly out of breath.
"Green Drug, yeah," Saiga answers automatically, "It's my dad's store." It was one of those things that he knew as well as his name, could snap it out in an instant.
He looks so thrilled to hear that Saiga's family owns it that he's suddenly afraid that the other boy's going to pass out from the excitement. But Kakei masters himself quickly, "Do you think your dad needs a part-timer?"
"I… don't know?" To be honest, Saiga does most of the work at the store, tagging items and stocking everything. He could use the extra hands, but he doubts his old man would be willing to shell out the money to pay for it. And he didn't want the new kid hanging around him too much. "I could ask and tell you tomorrow?"
"That would be perfect." Kakei smiles up at him, partially blinding Saiga with the force of his grin, "I hope he says yes."
"I don't know why you'd want to work there," Saiga says before he can stop himself. "It's not very exciting, working in a drugstore." He doesn't even know why he's having this conversation; the new kid's barely been here a day. Surely, he could wait at least a week before looking for a part-time job.
Kakei pushes his hair off his forehead; "It could be, one day, with the proper elements in place."