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"No, I didn't put that there…," Sae-san quivered.
Asuka-sensei looked at Sae-san for a moment before grabbing the bottle and closing the locker. She stood up, inspecting the bottle for a second.
Sae-san turned towards Oshiro-san and grasped the neck of her shirt. I knew what was coming but chose not to stop it.
"You did it, didn't you?!"
Oshiro-san remained silent, showing no emotion at all. She was good at it.
Sae-san lifted her arm and slapped Oshiro-san, who didn't express anything as her cheek became red.
"Narumi-san!" Asuka-sensei yelled. "Let's return to my office. Now."
I didn't need to intervene. After a piercing gaze at her friends that showed how broken Sae-san was, she walked away. Except for Oshiro-san, they seemed scared after that. We followed behind.
Once back in the office, Asuka-sensei sat at her desk and we stood in front of it. She seemed quite displeased.
"Narumi-san, I won't tolerate that behavior."
"And you tolerate theirs?" she replied.
Asuka-sensei now looked annoyed. "There's nothing wrong with their behavior. As far as I know, you poisoned Kozue-san. Probably with the help of Araki-san. What I don't know is why. Please explain yourselves."
"Even we don't know why. There's no reason for us to do something like that," I said.
"Because Narumi-san likes Araki-san but he likes Kozue-san," Oshiro-san interrupted. "So she wants to dispose of her."
Dispose? That's a bad choice of words. Seems like the slap got her heated.
"Shut up," Sae-san quivered.
"It's similar to what happened with Daisuke-san. She liked him but he didn't, so she disposed of him."
Sae-san raised her arm to hit her, but I grabbed her. Even though Oshiro-san deserved it, we couldn't risk it again. I had never seen someone that broken. She was just betrayed by her friends. The only people that approached her after being framed.
I continued, "Asuka-sensei, I don't know if you are aware of this, but there's no dish on the menu that has mustard. There's no mustard in the kitchen."
"You could've brought it from home, which is why it was kept in Narumi-san's locker instead of the kitchen."
"Narumi-san was never in the kitchen before Kozue-san was poisoned. She was with her friends."
"She wasn't the one to put the mustard in the dish, that would've been suspicious," she refuted. She seemed thoughtful for a second before continuing. "According to the account I heard, you both acted together. She gave you the mustard, you added it to the dish, and she ran to her classroom to keep the bottle in her locker."
About to suggest that she ask the Cooking Club, I remembered that I left the kitchen once. It would've made it worse.
"That's what I speculate for now. Oshiro-san, was Narumi-san with you all the time?" Asuka-sensei asked.
"No. She went to the bathroom for quite a while. That's what she said, at least."
Of course, she will lie like that. I'm running out of ideas. I need proof.
"Is that true, Narumi-san?"
She stared at the floor. "No. The only time I left was to ask Koji-kun about Suzuka after she was dragged out of the cafeteria…"
Asuka-sensei sighed. She seemed to believe her. Unless Sae-san was an actress, it was impossible to lie with such hatred.
"You're putting me in check here. All of you look like you're telling the truth, but only Oshiro-san, Itō-san, and Yasutake-san have proof. I'm sorry but you leave me with little choice."
My fists clenched. I couldn't believe it. They had been suspicious since the first time I met them yet I let my guard down.
Asuka-sensei continued, "Narumi-san, Araki-san, you will be—"
Out of nowhere, someone knocked on the door.
"I'm busy right now. Come back in ten minutes," Asuka-sensei shouted.
The door opened and Tsuga-san peeked from behind.
"Sorry," he giggled.
"I told you I'm busy."
He bowed. "I apologize, but I have something that might be of interest to you."
Asuka-sensei, Sae-san, and I were confused. Whilst Sae-san's friends seemed nervous—especially Itō-san.
Tsuga-san approached Asuka-sensei and showed her his phone. She stared at the screen for what felt like an eternity.
Finally, Tsuga-san stepped back. Asuka-sensei took her glasses off and massaged the sides of her forehead.
"Where did you record this?"
"It happened in the middle of the play. I left for a walk and went to the drinking fountains. I heard the doors of the classroom opening, but I didn't care. Then, when I was walking by, I saw someone inside. I was about to say hi, but she looked very suspicious. I didn't want another incident like Daisuke-san's to happen, so I hid behind the wall and recorded what I was seeing, just in case."
Wait. He recorded them putting the bottle in Sae-san's locker?
Asuka-sensei sighed. "At this rate, I'll have to install those security cameras." She stared at Itō-san. "Itō-san."
"It wasn't my idea!" she screamed and kneeled down to the floor. "She forced me to!"
"Riko!" Oshiro-san yelled.
"It doesn't matter who's idea was or who was forced. You three did it together."
And like that, the situation was turned around. Sae-san still stared at the floor, whilst I was still baffled by the fact that Tsuga-san had just saved us. Oshiro-san and Yasutake-san seemed furious, whilst Itō-san looked like she wanted to cry.
"What do you want to say in your defense?" Asuka-sensei asked them.
"Sae put the cigarettes in Daisuke's backpack! I saw her!" Oshiro-san yelled.
"You didn't see shit!" Sae-san shouted back.
"Narumi-san!" Asuka-sensei shouted. "Give one more outburst and you'll be expelled anyway."
Sae-san seemed to calm down a little. "Sorry. Mino, if you are so anxious to get me out of here, that means that you were the one that put the cigarettes in his backpack."
That's not a bad suggestion.
"What? Why would I have done that?! I liked him and he liked me!" Oshiro-san shouted.
"I liked him too! He spent most of the time with me!"
"That's enough!" Asuka-sensei yelled.
And there it goes the suggestion…
"Daisuke-san's situation happened two years ago. There's no reason to think about it anymore. I know we couldn't solve it and that's our fault."
"No reason?" Sae-san repeated. "His life was probably ruined because of that! He never replied to my messages."
"Mine neither," Oshiro-san added.
"I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do about it," Asuka-sensei replied.
"Why?" Oshiro-san and Sae-san asked at the same time.
"Because he was admitted into another school. I made sure of that. I also convinced his parents that he wasn't the owner of those cigarettes."
"Then why did he stop replying to our messages?" Oshiro-san questioned.
"Security. Since we never caught the culprit, his parents forced him to stop all contact with the students of the school."
That makes sense.
Oshiro-san and Sae-san seemed confused yet relieved.
"Back to the present," Asuka-sensei said. "Oshiro Mino-san, Yasutake Kanna-san, Itō Riko-san, you will be expelled for two weeks. Starting now, you'll be required to take therapy sessions until the school year ends. I'll call your parents to let them know about this."
Without saying anything, Oshiro-san turned around and left the office, slamming the door closed. Yasutake-san and Itō-san seemed worried. They bowed at Asuka-sensei and followed Oshiro-san.
Sae-san, Tsuga-san, Asuka-sensei, and I stayed silent in the room. My blood cooled down and my heartbeat returned to normal.
"I'm sorry for that," Asuka-sensei apologized. "I hope you understand that I'm trying to be as unbiased as possible. They had more proof, so I didn't have many options."
"It's fine," I replied. "It just angers me that people can do things like this."
"Touché," Tsuga-san added.
Asuka-sensei smirked. "Oshiro-san wanted revenge, but she got the wrong person. She must be even more upset now. Luckily, we were able to bring justice thanks to Tsuga-san. I'm glad that you recorded the video. Still, try not to do it too often or it could be misinterpreted."
"Yes, ma'am," Tsuga-gan smirked.
"I'm worried for them. The next weeks won't be very joyful for them. But I know they have each other's back."
I shared Asuka-sensei's sentiment. They did something horrible. As much as I wanted them to be punished, they needed to learn. And having each other was going to help the process.
"Can we watch the video?" Sae-san asked.
Tsuga-san approached us and showed us the screen of his phone. The recording showed Sae-san's and I's classroom. Itō-san crouched in front of Sae-san's locker, which was already opened by the time the video started. She took the bottle of mustard out of the bag that hung around her body and put it inside the locker. She closed it and the recording ended.
"She didn't see you?" I asked.
"I guess not."
"And how did she open the locker?"
"I don't know. It was already opened when I saw her."
"We all have each other's keys in case we forget them," Sae-san answered. "It seems I was foolish."
"Let's wrap this up," Asuka-sensei. "I have things to do, so please leave the office and enjoy the fair."
We bowed and left the room. She had asked us to enjoy the fair, but it wasn't going to be possible knowing that Suzuka was suffering at the infirmary.
"That was crazy, huh?" Sae-san falsely smiled.
"You tell me," Tsuga-san replied.
They remained silent for a moment. Oh?
"Thank you for helping us," Sae-san said.
"I-It's not like I did it for you. It was weird not seeing any of you in the cafeteria when I arrived. Tarō was eating alone, so I asked him where everyone was. He told me what happened and I ran here with the video."
"You ran? Were you that desperate to be the hero?" Sae-san jokingly asked.
"Well, I knew that you weren't going to be able to defend yourselves."
They glanced at each other and looked away. Another awkward silence began. Oh?
Suddenly, sirens slowly echoed through the school. A minute later, an ambulance arrived. The paramedics ran with a stretcher to the infirmary and came out with Suzuka laying on it. Hashimoto-san and Rem-san followed them. I wanted to go too, but I would've only caused more problems than help at that point.
Sae-san, Tsuga-san, and I observed everything through the window. I felt quite gutted about it, but there wasn't anything I could do to change that. At least we had solved the case.
Asuka-sensei came out of her office.
"You are still here?"
"Yes. We were distracted by the ambulance," Sae-san answered.
"I know you're worried. I am, too. She will be fine. She's in good hands."
"Exactly," Tsuga-san said.
"Weren't you going to be busy?" I asked.
"The sirens are a bit distracting. And I remembered that the concert will begin in an hour and I want to supervise everything. The paperwork can wait," she smiled. "See you soon."
She walked away.
"The concert!" Sae-san shouted.
"What about it?" Tsuga-san asked.
"I forgot about it. Tomoki-san has probably been waiting for me for a while. Well, since we lost one member, we can't play anymore."
"I can play the keyboard," I said.
"Seriously? Do you know the songs we are going to play?"
I nodded. "Suzuka taught me in case we swapped… places. But I play them poorly."
I hadn't realized that we hadn't told Tsuga-san about the swapping. At that point, I wouldn't have minded telling him, but it wasn't the proper moment to do it.
"It doesn't matter! What are we waiting for?"
She grabbed my arm and pulled me away.
"See you later, loser!" she shouted at Tsuga-san as we left.
We arrived at the gym and headed backstage. Tomoki-san—whom I had seen before—and the drummer of the band, practiced on their own. Sae-san explained the situation to them and they agreed to let me replace Suzuka.
We practiced for the next hour. I was nowhere near an acceptable level and it was going to be impossible to improve much in what little time remained. They decided for me to play basic versions of the songs with fewer notes and to turn the volume of the keyboard down.
The concert began. We were the third band to play. Meanwhile, the loud music shook the walls backstage and the cheers made me more and more nervous as the minutes passed. Sae-san noticed it and comforted me.
It was our turn. We walked out from backstage and headed to the stage. It was a miracle that I didn't trip on the stairs with what little light there was.
They walked to their instruments and I sat on the keyboard bench. Then I saw the crowd for the first time. The gym was full. Everyone stared at us. I hadn't expected to be that nervous. But it was my first time in front of that many people, after all. It couldn't be helped.
I stared down at the keyboard. My hands shook. I could barely see the keys. The notes of the songs slowly faded out from my mind as I tried to recall them. I was getting anxious.
Instead, I remembered the little training Suzuka gave me about being on stage. If I got too nervous, I needed to breathe and forget about being on stage. Long and controlled inhalations and exhalations.
After a few deep breaths, I was still nervous, but I remembered the notes.
Suddenly, drumsticks clacked behind me. It was the signal to start the song. Fortunately, I nailed the opening notes. Sadly, I played the rest of the song very poorly. Many wrong notes and I was out of tempo most of the time.
The song ended and some people clapped, but nothing compared to the previous bands. We returned backstage and, soon enough, the votes were in after the two remaining bands played. We finished in fifth place and were eliminated in the first round.
Sae-san laughed and slapped my back. She seemed genuinely happy. The drummer did, too. Tomoki-san, on the other hand, smiled, but he didn't seem as pleased. I had noticed something strange about him the first time I saw him, but I couldn't tell exactly what it wasns220.127.116.11da2