Michiko hesitated outside the classroom door. Butterflies did cartwheels over the elephants marching inside her tummy, and it was only the knowledge that Akira-nii would be very disappointed in her that kept her from running back down the hall and out the door.
Technically, she figured she was supposed to be happy. After a year and a half of arguing with the schools, Akira-nii had finally been able to have Michi moved to a classroom of her proper level. Primary school grades were divided by class. The students who scored the highest marks were put into Class 1, and then the next highest into Classes 2, 3 and 4. Students with any kind of a disability or special need were either put into Class 5, or into a special program. Michiko wasn't severely disabled or handicapped, but her hearing problems and difficulties in focusing had automatically had her slotted into Class 5 – despite her higher than average test marks.
Akira-nii had been really angry, and had been demanding that Michiko be put into a class that would challenge her ever since. 'If I'd known this would happen, I wouldn't have mentioned her having a mild hearing condition,' he'd told the school's guidance counselor angrily. Michiko didn't really like being in Class 5. Some of the students there were scary. Two of them were older than her, old enough to be in grades three and five respectively, but they were unable to do more than basic work. The teacher was someone Akira-nii called 'a patronizing idiot'. Michiko wasn't quite sure what patronizing meant, but it couldn't have been good.
Her teacher had always spoken very slowly to her, shouting at times, even though Michiko could hear perfectly fine when she was paying attention, and sitting close to the board. She didn't know why the teacher praised her so lavishly for doing the simplest of tasks, but she figured it had something to do with that 'patronizing' word again, and let it go.
But now she was being put into Grade two, class two as a result of her latest test marks that had come back. It was a trial run, to see if she could handle it. Kamio-nii had told her that it was very important that she pay close attention to her lessons, and had asked the teacher to let her sit close to the front of the room. The teacher had agreed. Michiko liked her. Midori Koizumi – Koizumi-sensei – was very pretty, and she smiled a lot. Michiko hoped she would be able to stay there. She seemed a lot nicer than Onada-sensei.
The headmaster was looking at her. “Ready, Michiko-chan?” Yutaka Fujikawa was a tall man, and he had scared Michiko on the first day of school with his deep voice. But he had a nice smile, and he never shouted at her like she couldn't hear all the time.
“Yes,” she said in a small voice. She wasn't sure if that was really true or not, but there wasn't much else she could say. “I'm ready.”
Fujikawa-sensei knocked on the door, and a minute later, a short girl with long black hair tied up in twisty pigtails, opened it. “Sensei!”
“Koizumi-sensei?” Fujikawa-sensei entered the classroom with Michiko trailing slowly behind. All chatter in the room stopped as forty pairs of eyes focused on her. “I have your new student for you.”
“Ah, Michiko-chan!” Koizumi-sensei moved to the front of the class, smiling warmly. Michiko tentatively smiled back. “Welcome to class two! We're about to draw a picture of our favorite animals so we can discuss them.” Koizumi-sensei bowed her head at Fujikawa. “Thank you for bringing her.”
“My pleasure. Enjoy your new class, Michiko-chan,” Fujikawa said, and Michiko watched, a little forlornly, as he left her there.
“Now then, where should we we put you?”
“Umm...” Michiko coughed, a little embarrassed. “My brother... he... he asked...”
“Ah, to have you sit near the front?” Koizumi-sensei nodded. “I remember. And it just so happens that one of our groups that sits in the front has an opening!” She raised her voice a little. “Panda-group, raise your hands!”
A group of three students sitting by the window in front of the teacher's desk raised their hands. There were two girls and one boy. The boy was smiling – he looked friendly. So did the girl with the pale brown, nearly gray hair. The other girl was the one who had opened the door, and she had a suspicious look on her face. There was a chair between the gray-haired girl and the boy. Michiko swallowed hard and headed over.
“Michiko, all of our students are in groups named after something in the unit we're studying in English class. The unit right now is 'animals'. You're now part of the Panda group.” Koizumi-sensei introduced the other students. “This is Michiko-chan. Michiko, this is Ken-kun.”
Ken-kun waved at her. “Hi Michiko-chan!”
Koizumi-sensei pointed to the girl with the twisty braids. “This is Marika-chan.”
“Your name is too close to mine,” Marika-chan complained. “People will get us mixed up.”
“It will be fine, Marika-chan,” Koizumi-sensei said firmly. “And Michiko-chan, this is Yuzuyu-chan.”
The gray-brown haired girl stared at her with wide brown eyes. Michiko blinked in surprise – did she have something on her face? Her clothes?
“Wow,” the girl said in an awed voice. “Your hair is really pretty!”
Michiko blushed. “Thank you,” she said, smiling timidly. “My nii-chan put the ponytails in for me.”
Yuzuyu-chan beamed. “Kippei onii-chan does my hair too,” she said. “Does your Onii-chan pull the tangles too?”
“'Kira-nii stopped doing that a long time ago,” Michi said. “He's really good at doing hair now.”
Marika-chan frowned. “Both of you have onii-chans?” She pouted and folded her arms. “That's not fair – why can't I have a cool onii-chan?”
“Don't mind Marika-chan,” Ken-kun told Michiko with a grin. “She complains about everything.”
“I do not!”
Michiko smiled as the two of them started bickering. Yuzuyu-chan had a smile on her face as she watched them, which meant they probably did this a lot. It reminded her of 'Kira-nii and 'Kaya-nii fighting over what movie to watch before Sachiko popped a cartoon in the VCR and ended the conflict. It was reassuring. Class 2 didn't seem so scary after all.
“So what's your favorite animal?” Yuzuyu-chan asked, handing her a piece of paper. “Do you have crayons? You can use mine if you don't.”
“Thank you,” Michiko said. “I like rabbits. And dogs.”
“I like rabbits too!” Yuzuyu-chan said, clapping her hands. “But I really like drawing bears.”
“She draws good bears,” Ken-kun confirmed. “I like tigers best, but I can't draw them.”
“Everyone knows unicorns are the best animal,” Marika-chan said, wielding her pink marker with a flourish.
Yuzuyu-chan coughed. “I think we're supposed to draw a 'real' animal,” she pointed out gently.
Marika-chan whined. Ken-kun laughed. Yuzuyu-chan comforted.
Michiko watched and smiled. Yes, she had a feeling she was going to like Class 2.
o0o o0o o0o o0o o0o