Akira was the first one to mention it.
"We should go see Nobuta," he said, apropos of nothing, wiping away a soy milk
mustache with the back of his hand.
Shuji nodded immediately, like he had been thinking that all along, which he
had been. It was over a month, now, since they had moved from Tokyo. "Yeah,"
he said. "My father did say we could visit, after all. I'll talk to him, make plans."
Akira shook his head vigorously, as though Shuji had just said something silly.
"What?" Shuji demanded.
"Are you going to eat that?" Akira asked, and Shuji pushed the remaining piece
of strawberry cake at him.
"So what, you want to run off to Tokyo without telling anyone?" Shuji asked
finally, while Akira stuffed his mouth and swigged soy milk.
"We'll have to tell my father so we can use his helicopter," Akira said, "but other
than that, it can be our secret." He drew out the last two syllables in an
"Helicopter? Why not just take the train?"
Akira waved his hand. "Too slow," he said, as if that settled the matter.
Shuji wanted to protest more, but he also wanted to ride in a helicopter like some
kind of bigwig, and he figured that that wasn't the kind of opportunity that came
along every day. "Okay, fine, helicopter," he said.
"I was thinking," Akira began, and he looked serious enough that Shuji figured it
must be true. "We need to check on Nobuta, see how she's doing. It's our
responsibility as producers, even though we're not producing her anymore."
Shuji nodded again. They had talked to her, of course; written letters, even, on
actual paper to tuck inside books and keep. Nobuta had said she was fine, had
told them little everyday stories about eating lunch and passing notes in class,
had even laughed, not once, but twice. That didn't mean that he didn't want to
see her for himself.
"So in a week, we leave for school early in the morning, but we take the
helicopter instead," Akira went on. "No one will even know we were gone.
Except my father, of course."
"And Nobuta," Shuji added.
Akira shook his head solemnly. "Not even Nobuta," he said.
"What, you want to go to Tokyo to see her and not even tell her?" Shuji said,
flabbergasted. "How do you think you would feel, if Nobuta came here and
didn't even pay us a visit?"
"It's like a science experiment," Akira said, "You have to just watch, without
"What do you know about science experiments? Didn't you fail your last science
"That was biology," Akira said.
Shuji began to count on his fingers. "A week from today is February fourteenth,"
he said. "That's Valentine's Day."
Akira nodded and clapped his hands, like Shuji was a rather slow child who was
finally catching on.
"You want to watch Nobuta on Valentine's Day," Shuji said.
He thought of last February, when he had gotten so many boxes of chocolates
that he couldn't carry them all home by himself and he had given them all to
Koji, who ate too much chocolate at once and was sick. Now, he wasn't sure
what the girls at school even thought about him, except that he was one of the
new boys, that weird Kusano-kun's friend. And that was okay.
"We'll do it," he said. "It would be better, though, if it were White Day, when the
boys give to the girls."
"No, no, no," Akira drawled. 'The boys just give back to the girls who gave to
them. It's the girls who give first, so that's more important."
Shuji wondered whom Nobuta would give chocolates to.
Shuji sucked down the rest of his Coffeemilk in a hurry, then regretted it as soon
as the helicopter was aloft.
"Isn't it great?" Akira said, face glued to the window. "You can see all the people
like tiny ants on the ground."
"I think she saw us!"
"She didn't see us," Shuji said, but he ducked behind a streetlight with Akira
anyway. As they watched, poorly concealed, Nobuta turned her head, slightly,
so they caught the curve of her cheek.
"She definitely saw us." Akira slumped, disappointed.
"She didn't say anything, did she? She didn't see us."
"Do you think she's carrying any chocolates?"
"No," Shuji said, honestly. He hadn't actually expected that she would, but he
found that he was obscurely disappointed all the same. "You know, she's still
very shy. She probably doesn't want to draw attention to herself like that. It
doesn't mean that she's not doing okay, though."
Akira tugged at Shuji's hand. "Come on, she's getting away!"
"Idiot, we already know where she's going, don't we? We're not going to lose
"No, she's going into a shop!"
Shuji let Akira drag him into a storefront across the street.
"See, she is buying chocolates! Two boxes of chocolates!" Akira pronounced
triumphantly, before he paid for the whole display of delicate paper fans that
they had knocked over.
It turned out to be not quite as easy as Shuji and Akira had expected to observe
what was going on inside a classroom through a window 100 meters away, even
using two pairs of high-powered binoculars.
"What's going on?" Akira demanded, as if Shuji could see any better than he
"I think people are playing baseball with wads of paper," Shuji said. Akira
Something blurry and red interrupted Shuji's field of vision. He lowered his
fancy binoculars and then stumbled over backwards into an uninviting bush.
Akira landed on top of him.
"Hello, boys," Vice-principal Catherine said sweetly, wearing four-inch red
stilettos and a matching dress and carrying a crossbow and smiling like this was
all perfectly normal, which, for her, it probably was.
"Uh, sensei," Shuji mumbled finally.
"Happy Valentine's Day," she said. Shuji kept a close eye on the crossbow, but,
fortunately, it remained pointed harmlessly at the ground.
"You too," Akira managed.
"I was just doing a bit of hunting," Catherine went on, "but it looks like the two of
you have been ensnared already." Still smiling, she bounded onto the roof and
"I had forgotten how scary she is," Shuji said finally.
"Yeah," Akira agreed. He fished in the bushes for his binoculars.
"Aren't we supposed to be leaving now?" Shuji worried. "My
brother will be getting home from school."
"I guess," Akira said, "but we still don't know who Nobuta gave her chocolates
Shuji threw up his hands in the air. "Why don't we just ask Nobuta?"
"Ask me what?" said a soft voice behind them. Shuji and Akira jumped like
The first thing Shuji noticed was that she was looking them right in the eye,
which was more than he could manage at the moment.
"Ask me what?" Nobuta repeated. Her lips twitched with a half-smile.
"We were wondering who you gave your Valentine's chocolates to," Akira said,
like it was perfectly normal and not at all weird for them to show up and spy on
her all day long to find out.
"Oh, that," Nobuta said, and this time she definitely smiled with her whole
mouth. "I gave them to you two, of course."
"Huh?" Shuji found his voice again, sort of.
"I put them up on the roof for you this morning," Nobuta clarified. "Then when I
checked back, they were gone, so I knew you had gotten them." She laughed; a
little rusty, like a disused faucet, but still working. "I should have guessed you
two were here."
"We didn't go up on the roof, though." Shuji looked at Akira. "Did we?"
"I don't think so," Akira said, like he was trying to think back. "Nope."
"It's okay, though," Shuji said. He linked one arm with Nobuta's and the other
with Akira's, and the three of them headed off the school grounds before the tide
of other students overwhelmed them. "We got them anyway."