Akira opened the door to the car. His eyes were affronted by the harsh sunlight of the hot, country summer. This was going to be a very, very long summer indeed. He could already feel sweat beading around his forehead and the collar of his issued uniform polo. Behind him, the cab driver popped the trunk and Akira promptly went to the back to retrieve his bags. Two over the shoulder bags—one issued along with the uniform and the other his personal bag—and a large rolling suitcase that carried most of his belongings. He closed the trunk and walked to the driver’s side of the car to pay the driver.
“Thank you,” the driver said. “I hope you have a nice stay.”
Akira watched the driver pull away followed by several other cars and taxis. It had been a long trip out here. A two-hour train ride with a transfer at the end for another half an hour ride. Then he had to catch a car out here for the remaining half hour of the journey. He was just thankful that his parents had allowed him to take a taxi instead of taking the bus. The bus would’ve added an extra half hour to his already far too long journey.
Now, he was very far from home, very far from civilization, and he wasn’t even sure he had any cell signal out in this shithole. He felt a little travel weary and at this point just wanted to lie down. But he knew that wasn’t about to happen. A guy could dream, though, right?
He took a deep breath, gathered his belongings, and started towards the giant sign that read 'CAMP TANUKI' on it in bright red and green letters. Under the sign was a giant tanuki mascot, who was dancing and trying to engage with the other kids entering the grounds. Akira wondered why they even had this mascot. Most of the kids that attended this camp where in high school. There were a couple of kids who were still in their last year of middle school but those were very few. And even those kids would find the tanuki mascot a little childish. He wondered briefly what poor sap had to dress in the costume and if it was the worst job you could get. He ducked his head and scuttled past the mascot quickly, as not to be seen.
Once past, he glanced around and found the check-in table. It was just a folding table set up close to the entrance with a sign hanging from the front that labeled it as check-in. Two girls were sitting at the table and were handing out packets to the kids who were coming up. Akira stood back a bit until the line settled and he was called up. The girl who called him up was a stern looking girl. Her brown hair was chopped to her chin and had an intricate braid over the top. Her camp issued uniform bore the pin of a third year. There was a sharp look in her eyes that just seemed to be part of her average look.
“Hello,” she said with almost too much sweetness to be genuine. “Name.”
Her demeanor shifted slightly. It wasn’t a ton, as if she was at least trying not to change her mood so visibly. It was still enough for him to notice. “Ah. Kurusu-san…” She sifted through the packets on the table and held his out to him. When he went to reach for it, she pulled it back out of his reach. “Just so we’re crystal clear,” she started, “I do not want any trouble from you this summer.” Her red eyes bored holes into him.
He kept his expression as neutral as possible. “Yes, ma’am,” he responded tersely.
She handed him his packet and smiled. “I’m glad we understand each other. Go get settled in, make sure to read your packet, and have a wonderful time here at Camp Tanuki.”
He shoved the packet under his arm and went on his way. He had thought that being labeled as a criminal wouldn’t get to him. There was just something in that slight shift of her posture that had irked him. It was almost like she thought she was in danger from him. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting this summer in regards to the whole criminal thing, but he hadn’t planned on this.
The top page of the packet said he was in cabin number 7. It was on the far side of the grounds, closest to the athletic fields and farthest from the mess hall. What a shame. He had hoped that he’d at least get fed without having to fight other kids for it.
The cabin door groaned when he opened it. The room inside wasn’t small but it wasn’t large either. Both sides mirrored each other. Two bunk beds sat in the back corners. Beside them sat a nightstand for the bottom bunk with the top bunk getting a shelf on the wall to act as the same thing. The foot of the bunk beds had desks on them, one for each side of the room. Chairs accompanied them. There were four separate wardrobes, two on each side to accommodate the four residents’ belongings. The wardrobes already had name slates on them, seemingly hand-written by one of the staff. A plain green carpet sat in the center of the room. Probably the most overwhelming feature was that everything in the room was made out of wood. It’s almost as if the camp had attempted to appear more rustic but in the process tore down an entire forest and had way too much wood to work with.
With a sigh, Akira tossed his bags into the wardrobe, not even bothering to unpack. He didn’t claim any of the beds either. Best to let the other boys fight it out. He didn’t want to get on anyone’s nerves this early on and honestly, he could sleep pretty much anywhere. He wasn’t picky.
He opened the wardrobe next to his. The slate read ‘Sakamoto.’ There was already a shit ton of things crammed in there. Most of the clothing inside that he could see was not issued by the camp. Didn’t they have to wear uniforms most days of the week? How lax was this camp with the dress code? Other things in there included a skateboard, so much manga it lined the bottom of the wardrobe completely, several bags of chips that were all different flavors, cans of soda, and a black bag tucked away in the back that Akira felt was too prying to look into.
“Hello,” a voice called from behind him, making him jump.
Akira turned around to see a small, mousy boy. His shoulders were hunched and he didn’t quite meet Akira’s eyes. Akira noted that the boy was drenched in sweat, even though he appeared to be wearing clothes designed to keep him cool. The hair that wasn’t plastered to the boy’s head was dark and seemed to be scruffy and unruly much like his own.
“Um…” the boy continued softly. “Are you Sakamoto?”
Akira shut the wardrobe quickly and shook his head. “Ah no. Kurusu. Akira. Ah. I was… snooping a little.”
The boy looked nervous as if he had done something wrong. Something about his demeanor reminded Akira of a puppy that had just been scolded for doing something particularly naughty. Akira figured that him introducing himself had prompted the boy to act this way. So his cabin mates were informed of his criminal history as well. Figured.
“I didn’t mean to snoop. I was just curious if anybody else had been here,” Akira added quickly. “I promise I wasn’t… looking for anything.”
This seemed to set the boy a little more at ease. He shuffled awkwardly over to a wardrobe on the other side marked ‘Mishima.’ He opened it up and started to look through the clothes in there.
“I’m Yuuki Mishima,” he added over his shoulder. “I was outside just now in the—” he cut himself off. “Um… in the… you won’t laugh will you?”
Akira shrugged and said, “I guess not.”
Mishima hesitated a moment. “I was in the tanuki costume out front.”
“Oh shit. I was wondering what poor guy they shoved in there.”
“Yeah, that was me…”
Mishima was holding a change of clothes in his hands now as he turned to face Akira. “No worries. Just don’t go spreading it around. Anyway, I’m off for now. Opening ceremonies should be in about an hour, I’d say. We can sit together if you want.”
Akira shrugged again. “Sure thing. What am I supposed to do until then?”
“Eh, anything you want really. Nobody’s really gonna stop you from doing anything. Unless it’s dangerous, but I feel like you’d know that already. I’d just have a look around. It’s your first summer, yeah? Get a feel for the camp or something.”
“Alright. Oh, and Mishima, who was that girl at the check-in with the brown hair?”
“You mean Makoto Niijima? She’s basically top counselor around here. She’s a little scary sometimes if you ask me. I’d stay out of her way if I were you.”
Akira nodded. “Thanks.”
Mishima smiled and exited the cabin leaving Akira alone once more. He sighed. Mishima seemed like someone who might end up annoying him if they spent a lot of time together. Hopefully, it didn’t get to the point where he wanted to kill the kid. He seemed nice.
Akira left the cabin a moment later and looked over the grounds. There were several groups of kids gathered here and there—probably kids who either attended this camp every summer or who went to school together outside of camp. For now, he just wanted a quiet place to record his thoughts in his journal. He decided that if everybody was hanging out on the main cabin area, then the athletic fields would be pretty deserted. He turned to the back of his cabin and headed off towards the fields.
He was mostly right about them being empty. He plopped himself underneath a tree near a sandy volleyball pit where two girls were tossing the ball back and forth over the net. One girl—a tall and skinny blonde whose long, flowing hair was pulled into pigtails—was clearly not very good at volleyball. The other—a shorter, well-built girl with black hair pulled back into a ponytail—was very good at volleyball. He pulled out his journal after a moment but could only seem to focus on the girls. The dark-haired girl was very intently keeping score which Akira could only assume was to make the blonde one mad about it. They were clearly very good friends.
“Shiho!” the blonde said exasperatedly as the ball hit the sand for probably the fifth time since Akira had sat down. “You’re supposed to be helping me get better at volleyball. Not kicking my ass!”
The dark-haired girl laughed. “But Ann-chan, kicking your ass is more fun than making you better at volleyball! Also, if you get better, how will I win?”
Ann placed a hand against her forehead. “I’m gonna kill you, you know.”
Shiho smiled and ducked under the net to Ann’s side. She wrapped her arms around Ann and embraced her tightly. “You’d never do anything like that.”
Ann sighed and patted the top of Shiho’s head. “I hate that you’re always right.” Ann glanced to the side and noticed Akira sitting under the tree for the first time. “Hey! Are you spying on us, you creep?!”
Akira blinked in shock. He was pretty sure that this was a public field and that literally anybody could have caught this scene. Although, these two girls seemed to figure that they’d be alone on the athletic fields much like he did.
When he didn’t say anything, Ann started to march towards him. She looked very angry. Shiho, after scooping the ball out of the sand, followed after her at a more leisurely pace. She seemed much more relaxed and calm. Akira figured that out of the two of them she was going to be the more rational to deal with and decided to mirror her body language instead of getting defensive.
“What are you doing here?!” Ann demanded, towering over him.
“Ah…” Akira glanced at Shiho when she finally pulled up beside Ann. She shot him a smile. “Sorry.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. Who are you?”
“Sorry. I was just looking for a place to get away for a moment. I’m Akira Kurusu.”
Both girls looked at each other and shared a brief look of concern. Ann took a small step back, letting Shiho take the lead. Shiho had gone back to her very casual posture as if whatever had transpired between them hadn't phased her any.
Akira frowned. “Why does everybody keep doing that?”
“Doing what?” Ann asked too quickly and too innocently, her voice pitched way too high.
“You know, getting that look on their face whenever I introduce myself. First the head camp counselor, then my cabin mate, and now you two. Is there something I need to know about?”
Shiho looked genuinely sorry for him. “Everybody knows about you,” she said. “About what you did.”
Akira’s frown deepened. “Oh what did I do?” he growled.
Ann took a step forward again. “Hey, watch it. I’ll report you.”
Shiho put a hand on Ann’s shoulder to settle her. “Ann, don’t.” She looked at Akira again. “Anyway, your court date, the assault charges, everything. Everybody knows about it. I don’t know how so don’t bother asking. But that’s why you keep getting those looks. Plus, what I can only assume are fake rumors are spreading fast. They’re very exaggerated. At least… I hope they are.”
Akira sighed. He should’ve known better. He had expected rumors; that was almost a given. But he hadn't anticipated the whole camp knowing every detail about him.
“But,” Shiho continued, “I won’t judge you based on that.” She held out her hand and he took it. She shook his hand with a surprisingly firm grip. “I’m Shiho Suzui. And my cohort over here,” she jerked a thumb at Ann, “is Ann Takamaki.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”
“You seem okay. Even if you were spying on us,” Shiho said slyly, a smirk on her face.
Akira smiled back. “I wasn’t spying. I just wanted to have some peace and quiet. One of my cabin mates seems like he might be a little annoying and I’m not too keen on meeting the rest. You guys just happened to be playing volleyball right in my peace and quiet spot.”
Ann, now a little more at ease with the situation, added playfully, “Your peace and quiet spot? You just got here. How can you claim it already?”
Akira chuckled at that and threw his hands up in surrender. “That’s fair. Fine, you win.”
The group went quiet for a beat before Shiho said, “So you said you met Niijima-san, yeah?”
Akira nodded. “Unfortunately. She seems like she’s going to be more of a pain in my ass than I am in hers.”
Shiho elbowed Ann gently in the side when she burst out laughing from that statement. “Niijima-san isn’t known for her… um… kindness,” Shiho said almost like it pained her to say so. “She cares. But she’s not very nice. Best you just stay out of her way.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“At least he doesn’t have to share a room with her,” Ann groaned. “I hate being with her uptight ass. We've been sharing a room with her since we went to the middle school camp. Literally, if we leave anything out, she gets on our case about it.”
Shiho couldn’t argue with that one and just shrugged.
The group fell into a more casual conversation after that. They chatted about their home life, their school work, and really anything that they enjoyed doing outside of the camp. They sat around the tree talking for the rest of the time until the announcement for the opening ceremony could be heard over the loudspeaker.
“Guess it’s time to get this over with,” Ann said as she stretched. Her head was in Shiho’s lap; and when she stretched, she reached her arms up and around Shiho. “Can we skip?”
“I’d love to,” Akira said, watching her. He noted how attractive she was in her uniform gym clothes. He wondered how good she’d look in clothes that she had actually picked out. “But I think if I skip it’ll just create more problems.”
Shiho was absently petting Ann’s hair. “We should go,” she said. “I also don’t want to get in trouble if somehow Niijima-san notices we’re not there. Because she’s got a, like, sixth sense when it comes to us not being where we should be.”
“True,” Ann said sitting up. “Fine, let’s go.”
The group stood up and started off towards the main grounds again.
The opening ceremony was held in the camp’s amphitheater. The stage was a circle but the seats only formed a semi-circle around it. They were made of rock and seemed set right into the hill that they sloped down on. Akira grabbed a seat near the back by himself. He hadn’t seen Mishima around anywhere. Ann and Shiho had seemed to straight up vanish once they got there.
It wasn’t a moment before a blond haired boy plopped himself down next to Akira. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt that was definitely not in the dress code and the straight black pants that were from the uniform. He glanced around quickly as if looking for someone then looked at Akira with a smile. “You haven’t seen Niijima around have you?” he asked quietly.
As if saying her name summoned her, Makoto Niijima’s voice came from behind the two. “Sakamoto-san, you know that shirt is not part of the uniform. I expect you to start dressing appropriately.”
The boy smiled sweetly at her. “Yes, ma’am.”
Makoto squinted at him, a scowl on her face. “I’m watching you.” She started off towards the stage without another word.
“Damn,” the boy muttered. He looked at Akira again. “I dunno who stuck a barbed pole all the way up her ass, but I wish they’d remove it. I mean, Niijima is a bitch on a good day. But she’s been on a warpath since she got here. Like full throttle out to kill. Spill some blood, you know what I mean?”
Akira nodded slightly. “Yeah… I’ve been told multiple times today to stay out of her way. Is that your advice too?”
The boy laughed. “Absolutely not. If anything it’s more fun to get her going as long as she can’t actually get you in trouble for anything. Like a write up for dress-code is literally nothing. Anyway, I’m Ryuji Sakamoto.”
“Nice. You’re in the cabin with me.”
Akira nodded, slightly caught off guard that Ryuji didn’t say anything about him being a criminal. Maybe he hadn’t heard yet. Or maybe he was choosing to ignore it. Either way, Akira was pleased by this development.
The opening ceremony started and was pretty much what Akira had expected. The camp supervisor, Kobayakawa, came on stage and welcomed everybody to the camp for the summer. Then he passed the mic off to the camp director, Kawakami, and she continued on with what they’d be doing for the summer. The whole thing seemed pointless. Even though he hadn’t read it, he figured the packet he’d been given would’ve covered most of what was said here. But he wasn’t going to read the packet anyway and that’s probably why the opening ceremony existed. For the most part, he was bored out of his mind though.
Beside him, Ryuji was busy folding paper into cranes. Akira wasn’t sure where he got the paper or why he only knew how to make cranes. But there was already four sitting in Ryuji’s lap and he was working on a fifth.
“You like cranes?” Akira asked quietly as Kawakami droned on about canoeing across the lake or something equally as boring. He wasn’t even sure he was doing canoeing.
Ryuji shrugged. “My mom taught me how to make ‘em. They pass the time.”
Akira felt like there was more to that statement but didn’t pry. Instead, he continued with, “Do you know Suzui-san and Takamaki-san?”
“Yeah, I’ve known them for a while. We went to the middle school camp together before this and me and Suzui went here together last year. We don’t go to the same school, but we all live in Tokyo. We’ve met up a couple of times for lunch and stuff.”
“Takamaki-san didn’t go here last year?”
Ryuji shook his head. “Nah. Her parents are like famous fashion designers or something. They took her to America for the summer. New York or something? I don’t remember or really care.”
Akira nodded, watching Ryuji finish another crane. He watched the other boy fidget with it for a moment before he pulled out another piece of paper and began folding another one. It seemed almost like a nervous habit. At the very least, something to keep his hands busy when he had to sit still. He found it fascinating that none of them were subpar in quality. Ryuji had clearly been doing this for a very long time and kept in practice.
“And that concludes the opening ceremony!” Kawakami called from the stage. Akira could feel the wave of relief from the gathered campers. “You may all head back to your cabins after grabbing a quick meal from the mess hall. Get plenty of rest! You’ll have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”
Akira stood up and stretched. His butt had gone numb from sitting on the rock seat for close to an hour. He watched Ryuji shove his cranes into his pocket before standing up himself.
“Good thing we get to eat. I’m starved!” he said loudly.
Akira nodded with a smile. “Yeah.”
As they headed towards the mess hall, Akira noted that Ryuji loved to talk. And he was pretty loud about it. He had gotten used to Ryuji’s more quiet voice while they were whispering during the ceremony. This must’ve been his normal speaking voice. He was fine with it since he didn’t talk much anyway and Ryuji was definitely carrying the conversation. And it was oddly charming. Ryuji was very passionate about whatever it was he was talking about. Akira was only following about half the conversation. When they’d arrived at the mess hall, gotten their food, and sat down, Ryuji was only halfway through his story.
Mishima came and sat beside Akira. “Hey!”
Ryuji shut up for half a second, more so out of the shock of being cut off than anything else. He quickly bounced back though, “Hey, you’re Mishima, right?”
“Ah, so you’re our roommate. But who’s the fourth guy?”
Mishima tilted his head to the side in confusion. “I thought it was just us three. I didn’t write down the fourth nameplate.”
Ryuji shook his head quickly. “When I was in the cabin earlier, next to your wardrobe the nameplate was filled out.”
“What did it say?” Akira asked.
“Huh,” Mishima said. “I’ve never heard of him. At least, he’s never come to this camp before.”
Mishima and Ryuji continued to discuss the topic while Akira spotted Makoto across the hall standing with a thin, tall boy. The boy’s hair fell well past his shoulders and was braided in a single, loose braid. Akira couldn’t describe the color. It was black with almost a blue hue to it. He was wearing the standard grey polo with the camp’s tanuki logo and the camp’s black pants.
Makoto caught his eye and waved slightly. Then she turned to the boy and said something to him. He bent down slightly to hear her and then his gaze drifted to meet Akira’s. Makoto said something else and then disappeared from the boy’s side.
The boy started forward. His movements were languid as he seemed to almost melt through the crowd of people. He reached the table in almost no time at all but then hesitated as if he didn’t know how to inject himself into Mishima and Ryuji’s conversation. Of course, Akira had been the only one to notice him at this point.
“Excuse me,” he said in a smooth voice that was gentle and polite.
Ryuji and Mishima looked up at the boy now. If they had thought anything about his arrival, they didn’t show it. They just waited patiently for him to continue.
“I’m Yusuke Kitagawa,” the boy continued. “I’ll be your final roommate for the summer. I hope that we all get along well.” He bowed slightly then seated himself beside Ryuji in a fluid motion.
“I’m Ryuji Sakamoto,” Ryuji piped up first. “And same.”
“Yuuki Mishima,” Mishima said quietly, but with a smile.
It was definitely going to be an interesting summer.