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Bringing Down The House

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Really, the whole thing was Karin's fault.

 

Ever since Karin and Emma finally hooked up, the model had been walking around with the smuggest expression. When Kasumi cornered Karin and asked her to pretty please tone down the PDA at practice, it got even worse. As they were taking a breather, listening to one of Setsuna’s inspirational speeches, Karin slipped an arm around Emma and snuck a look over at Kasumi, daring her to object. She knew Kasumi couldn’t say a word. Kasumi already had the club record for the most interruptions during practice and couldn’t risk another admonishment. 

 

There was another reason: with Shizuku focusing so carefully on Setsuna’s motivational words, Kasumi wouldn’t dream of breaking her focus with an outburst. Not if she wanted to retain any chance of Shizuku looking at her someday with that amount of rapt interest. 

 

That was the real problem. Kasumi had known Shizuku just as long as Karin had known Emma, but their relationship wasn’t making any progress. Kasumi thought they’d turned a corner after she’d plied the demure actress with sweets and helped her to come out of her shell, but weeks later and Shizuku was still holding Kasumi at a distance. 

 

After Setsuna had sufficiently amped up the club and allowed the girls to disperse, Kasumi caught up to Shizuku and tugged on her sleeve. 

 

Shizuku looked like she was about to be annoyed, but her expression softened when she recognized her assailant. She was still focused on packing up her bag. Her concentration was one of the things Kasumi liked best about Shizuku. She didn’t have to fake the idol persona; she really was that hard-working. 

 

“What do you need, Kasumi?” she asked.

 

“Did you see the ice cream shop has a limited edition sundae special? Since you were such a team player on the rainbow pancakes, I thought we’d be the perfect duo to take it on!”

 

“Maybe another time,” Shizuku said, not unkindly. “I’ve got drama club, remember?”

 

“Oh uh, Kasumin forgot she’s super busy right now, too!” Phew, pride recovered. 

 

“Hopefully not too busy,” Shizuku looked worried. “I was hoping I’d see you at my performance tonight.”

 

“I’ll try to get out of my more important engagements,” said Kasumi, who wouldn’t have missed one of Shizuku’s performances for all the ice cream sundaes in the world. 

 

Shizuku brightened. “Glad to hear it! Oh, Kasumi,” she reached over to rearrange a piece of Kasumi’s hair, and the first-year felt her heartbeat pound in double time. Shizuku smelled amazing, like floral shampoo. Kasumi could already picture the look on Karin’s face when she walked into practice tomorrow arm in arm with her new—

 

“You’re such a great… friend.” Shizuku tucked the unruly strand behind Kasumi’s ear, and just like that, glided off to drama club. 

 

For a moment, Kasumi stood there as if she were made of stone. What the heck just happened? Bewilderment soon gave way to pouting. Was Shizuku making a joke? Who had a “friend” as cute as Kasumi and didn’t secretly want to boink her? 

 

If only there were some way to get Shizuku to admit she was madly in love with Kasumi. Everyone was to some extent, Kasumi knew. But her sweet Shizuko could be stubborn. 

 

Kasumi pouted. It was profoundly unfair that people like Karin could find love while unmistakably cuter and more talented people could escape notice. She pulled out a notebook and pencil case and did what she did best: she began to formulate a plan. 

 

***

 

“Sorry, you want me to make what again?” Rina pressed. 

 

“It’s all here in the schematics,” Kasumi said, thrusting a pile of crumpled pages at her friend.

 

Rina picked up a paper at random and puzzled at the pink scribbles that covered one side of the page, then the other. Did she draw this with crayons?

 

“Uhhhh…” Rina didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

 

“It’s ok, I get it,” Kasumi replied, and Rina sighed in relief. “You don’t want to read it, you want to hear it in Kasumin’s cute little voice? That’s only natural.”

 

Rina nodded, resigned to her fate.

 

“I call it the Kasumin Mark I! It’ll go whirr and burr and soar through the air! It’ll have a controller, pale yellow of course, to match my dress, so I can fly it.”

 

“So, a drone? That’s easy enough,” Rina said.

 

Kasumi appeared slightly deflated by Rina’s no-nonsense response, but quickly recovered her thunder. “Not a drone,” she insisted. “The Kasumin Mark I!”

 

So, a drone then , Rina thought. “What do you need it for?”

 

All of a sudden, Kasumi was uncharacteristically covert. “Club stuff,” she mumbled, thumbing a strand of her blunt haircut. She brightened, putting a playful finger to her lips. “It’s a surprise, but it’s a good one! You know I wouldn’t ask you to help you with anything bad, Rina-chan!”

 

That Kasumi was always up to something. Rina frowned slightly. 

 

“Please, I can’t wait to see the look on Shizuko’s—everyone’s faces!” Kasumi declared.

 

Oh, so that was it. It was no secret that Kasumi was over the moon about their fellow first-year. Concerns assuaged, Rina took a small machine down from the shelf above her desk. 

 

“I have a drone—er, a Kasumin Mark I, that I was going to use for aerial photography of my next performance. I’d be happy to lend it to you for a little while.” 

 

Kasumi frowned. It wasn’t the right color scheme at all. And where was the glitter? But with Shizuku’s performance in just a couple of hours, she didn’t have a lot of options. 

 

“Thanks, Rina! How can Kasumi ever repay you? Oh! I know: when I’m a famous idol, you can be the number one member of my fan club!” 

 

Rina tilted her head. “Thank you?” 

 

***

 

Kanata settled onto her favorite bench, already warm from the afternoon sun, and reclined her head, letting out a long, luxurious yawn. Was there anything better than taking a post-practice nap en plein air ? She was just about to doze off when something blocked the sun from her face, darkening the space behind her eyelids.

 

Maybe they’d go away if she didn’t respond. 

 

Ahem .”

 

Reluctantly, Kanata opened her eyes. “Kasumi. What can I do for you?”

 

“Oh hi, Kanata, I almost didn’t see you there,” Kasumi said unconvincingly. “But since you’re up, I’ve got an opportunity for you that you’ll be glad not to have slept through!”

 

Kanata eyed the younger girl warily. Like the rest of the club, she was accustomed to Kasumi’s schemes, and the perpetually exhausted girl had less of a tolerance for it than most. 

 

“You’ll go down in history as one of my first and most ardent supporters!... if you could teach me how to bake some sweets today.”

 

Kanata stifled another yawn. She knew she had a reputation as the big sister of the group, but to be woken up for something like this was almost too much even for her near-infinite patience. Fortunately, she was well-prepared.

 

“I left some sweets in the clubroom for everyone to share after practice,” she said. “No need to learn to bake today! So I’ll just go back to sleep…”

 

“Wait! I mean,” Kasumi looked nervous suddenly. “It’s important that I bake them myself.”

 

Huh. Kanata shook off the rest of her sleepiness and began to catch on.

 

“Kasumi, could it be that you’d like to bake something for your crush?”

 

Kasumi laughed too loudly for it to be natural. She probably thought she was refuting Kanata’s theory instead of strengthening the older girl’s case. 

 

“O-of course not! W-why would I bake cupcakes for Shizuku?” As she realized her revealing mistake, she clapped a hand over her mouth. “O-or for anyone else, for that matter!” 

 

Kanata smiled. She remembered last February, when she helped Haruka make her own Valentine’s Day chocolates for a special someone. Kasumi was only a year older than her little sister, and with this realization, Kanata began to feel more warmly toward the girl. 

 

“Let’s go to the Home Ec classroom,” Kanata said. “We’ll be making shortbread cookies.” Because I don’t have all day , she added mentally.

 

“Aye aye!” Kasumi said, agreeable now that she’d gotten her way. 

 

***

 

Kasumi frowned. She hadn’t wanted to ask her arch-nemesis’s girlfriend for help. But there was nobody better for the job than Emma. 

 

She found Emma with the fashion club, which had become something of an Emma club as of late. The Swiss girl was wearing a sweet shepherdess frock that suited her European red hair and freckles charmingly, though it would, of course, have looked way better on Kasumi.  

 

Though several club members were flitting around her like butterflies as they performed alterations, Emma noticed Kasumi as soon as she slid open the clubroom door and looked at her curiously. Kasumi had already devised a reason to be there, one that she expected would get Emma in an accommodating mood. 

 

Kasumi playfully raised her smartphone in hand. “Just here to take some photos for Karin. I’m sure she wants to see her girlfriend in her cute new look!”

 

“Kasumi!” Emma squeaked, but her cheeks were pink with pleasure. Thank you , she mouthed. 

 

Ugh, these two. Kasumi was definitely not super jealous of their requited love. But soon she and Shizuku would be just like that, so she pushed her feelings aside for the moment. 

 

“Now make a cute little face like Kasumin’s!” she encouraged, pointing at her own smile. Emma didn’t need the encouragement, she looked positively beatific. 

 

“By the way,” Kasumi said casually, as she snapped a few cursory pics, “How do you say ‘good luck’ in Italian?” 

 

“Well, we don’t say ‘good luck,’” Emma said thoughtfully. “We say ‘in bocca al lupo,’ which means something like ‘into the wolf’s mouth.’ It’s not literal. Kind of like ‘break a leg.’ We covered that in English class, remember?”

 

“Oh, yeah, totally,” said Kasumi, who paid even less attention in English class than she did in Japanese. 

 

It was at that inopportune moment that Karin chose to walk through the door. She breezed past Kasumi and gave Emma a light peck on the cheek. 

 

“Had some extra time before I had to go to my shoot, so I thought I’d see how my favorite girlfriend was doing,” she said huskily. She didn't seem to notice how the fashion club members all suddenly seemed to have something else to do and Kasumi didn't blame them: Karin's mommy-domme vibe could be more than a little intimidating.

 

Karin’s Emma-only tunnel vision subsided, and she pivoted over to Kasumi as if she could suddenly hear her thoughts. “How nice of you to join us,” she said icily.

 

Kasumi began to sweat. 

 

“Kasumi already told me, about how she’s helping you out,” Emma interjected cheerily, oblivious to Kasumi’s sudden jolt. “I guess you didn’t need to ask her to take pictures of me after all!”

 

Karin warily eyed an increasingly uncomfortable Kasumi. She was silent for what was probably just a second but felt like hours to the younger girl. “Babe, will you go and try that one on for me?” Karin finally said, pointing generally at a rack of costumes.

 

“Sure, I was just thinking that one would be buono myself,” Emma agreed before bounding off.

 

Karin smiled sweetly in Emma's direction until the changing room door clicked shut. Then she flew at Kasumi in a rage.

 

"Listen up, I don't know what your problem is with Emma and me, but this kind of thing is not OK," she said. 

 

“You’ve got it wrong!” Kasumi said. “I was just—”

 

“Lying to her? Taking creepy photos? I seriously thought somebody who aspired to be a ‘top idol’ would be a little nicer than this.”

 

“I’m jealous, OK?” Kasumi blurted. “I want a girlfriend, too!”

 

In a less embarrassing situation, the face Karin made as her self-righteous fury fizzled into befuddlement would have made Kasumi laugh.

 

“You… don’t want to date Emma, right?” Karin said slowly, still processing.

 

“No! I mean, she’s great. Definitely hot,” Kasumi added, not wanting to offend Karin any further and maybe going a little overboard. “But,” and this came out as a whisper, “Shizuku is hotter.”

 

Karin was speechless. By the time finally she opened her mouth to say something else, an unsuspecting Emma had flung open the dressing room door. She was dressed in hospital whites with a nurse’s cap tilted rakishly over her braids. It was clear she hadn’t overheard a thing. 

 

“Are you ready for your checkup, Karin?” Emma said, too innocently. Karin raised an interested eyebrow. 

 

“I still don’t totally get it,” Karin said as an aside to Kasumi, “But we can talk about this later.”

 

Kasumi knew an escape opportunity when she saw one and didn’t delay, leaving her upperclassmen to their lovey dovey reunion. Jogging lightly down the hallway, she checked the time on her smartphone. It was almost time for the play. 

 

***

 

[Excerpt from the Niigasaki High School Informer]

 

Chaos erupted at the amphitheater last night when a UFO prompted students to run for their lives. During the drama club’s latest performance, witnesses reported “some sort of flying object” that careened into the crowd, narrowly avoiding the stage. 

 

“At first I thought it was part of the performance,” said Ai Miyashita, a student who had been sitting in the audience. “Then it swerved right over my head and I thought, ‘I gotta bail before I lose an eye,’ since my name is Ai!”

 

Miyashita echoed other witnesses in her description of the low-flying object. She recalled that it was festooned with a banner in indecipherable foreign language text, perhaps so the culprit could escape identification, but its reference to ‘lupo,’ the wolf, leads this intrepid reporter to believe it could only be meant as a threat. Witnesses also confirmed that as the UFO flew lower, bits of shortbread cookie inexplicably exploded in all directions. 

 

Shizuku Osaka, who had been playing the lead role, would not confirm or deny the drama club’s involvement in the stunt. “Doesn’t that make us sound mysterious? Please show up to our next performance for even more excitement!” 

 

As rattled audience members were focused on evacuating the arena, nobody could confirm which direction the UFO disappeared into, and it is still at large. The student council has asked any students with information on the UFO to come forward as soon as possible. 

 

***

 

Kasumi slumped over her school desk, a tablet computer in her outstretched hands. Class was over, but she couldn’t muster the strength to budge. Instead, she wished she could sink straight into the floor and disappear. Not only had her plan failed spectacularly, it had probably also put Shizuku and her club in mortal peril, or worse: trouble with the student council. 

 

Kasumi had been successfully avoiding her all day, but it looked like her luck had just run out when Shizuku appeared in the doorway. Bangs ruffled and ribbon askew, the actress looked uncharacteristically disheveled and rather upset. 

 

“I thought you might be avoiding me.”

 

“No,” Kasumi said glumly. “Just busy.” 

 

Shizuku walked resolutely up to Kasumi’s desk, blocking the sunlight theatrically. “Maybe you should leave the acting to me.”

 

Kasumi didn’t have the spirit to reply. 

 

“So I know it was you. Let’s get that out of the way,” Shizuku began. “But there are still a few things I’m curious about.”

 

“Ask away,” Kasumi said without energy.

 

“Why did it say ‘good luck’ in Italian?”

 

“Cooler that way,” Kasumi mumbled. And more romantic.

 

“If you say so. Where did you get shortbread cookies?”

 

“Made them. Kanata showed me how.”

 

“I tried one that fell on my head. It wasn’t bad,” Shizuku said. When Kasumi finally finished dying of failure, at least she’d die knowing Shizuku had tasted her baking. “And the… flying thing?”

 

“Rina gave it to me.”

 

“Rina should know better.”

 

Oh, she does now , Kasumi thought. When Kasumi had returned the ruined contraption, Rina had been so shocked and horrified that she’d had to stop and scrawl out a brand new face on the Rina-chan Board to express just how shocked and horrified she was feeling. 

 

“One last question. Why did you do it?”

 

Kasumi didn’t care anymore. “Remember when you called me cute?”

 

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” said Shizuku.

 

“I wanted you to say I was cute again, OK?”

 

Shizuku seemed to be reflecting. “You did all that… so I would say you were cute?”

 

Kasumi nodded. She had nothing else to lose. 

 

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Shizuku said, right before she cupped Kasumi’s face and kissed her. Her soft lips and the tendrils of her bangs brushing Kasumi’s forehead threatened to short-circuit her brain. 

 

When they finally parted, Kasumi sputtered into the space between their lips. “W-what are you doing, Shizuku? Yesterday you said we were just friends!”

 

Shizuku looked positively mirthful. “Oh, is that what set you off? I’ve been wondering what it would take to finally get you to confess.”

 

Kasumi sized up the girl she was in love with, from the gleam in her eyes to the impish twist of her mouth. Being outschemed had never felt so good.