"So, a festival, huh," Rika muttered. "Festival festival festival..."
Alarmed, I asked, "Hey, don't go nuts on me. What's the matter?"
Without a word, she flew into my arms and hugged me tightly.
She looked at me and smiled, saying, "Thank you for being so sweet, Richard."
For that, I felt that I was being overpaid for something I did so little about.
"But it's not reality yet, so don't count your chickens before the eggs are even laid," I warned with a chuckle. "We need eighty, yes eighty, percent of the whole student body's votes."
Rika agreed, "Yes, that is a daunting task... Is there anything I can help with?"
I shook my head and answered, "Nope. Or rather, you'd better not. You'd be interfering on a modern love drama."
I told her about the relationship between the Council Vice-President and President.
Upon finishing, she was grinning from ear to ear. She said, "Oh, how scandalous. The Council having a little affair? Not that I don't approve, of course."
I had never seen that playful side of Rika before. But then again, Rika didn't really seem herself today, so...
"Okay, so what is it really that's making you so happy?"
Her face melted into one of a poorly hidden frown. "You... don't remem- Never mind."
Of course I do! I wanted to tell her that so badly, but it would simply spoil everything.
We then walked in silence along the road in the park. When we reached her home, she said, "Well, see you tomorrow then."
I replied, pretending to shift uneasily, "Could we... spend a few more moments together? I think I''ll miss you if you leave so quickly."
Even my hairs stood on end as I finished that mushy sentence, but it seemed to work. She looked at me and conceded, "Alright, but just an hour, okay? We still have school tomorrow."
I grabbed her hand and led her to the nearby playground. Checking the watch, I tried to think of things to say, and I could tell I was boring her incredibly.
As the minute hand on my watch ticked 12am, I smiled triumphantly. I rummaged into my bag for a small box and turned to Rika.
"Rika, happy birthday."
Rika looked as though she had been expecting it all along. "Haha, you are so predictable sometimes, Richard! But thank you for the thought."
I scratched my head and said, "I suppose I was a bit obvious, wasn't I? But never mind that, here's your present."
She took it and asked, "Can I open it?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
She untied the bow and lifted the lid to reveal a glittering silver necklace with the chain ending in a beautiful but tiny emerald.
"Saw you looking at it at the jewelry shop at East Mall not too long ago, so thought I'd get it for you."
Rika looked thoughtfully at the gift.
I asked, "Anything wrong with it? Is it not this specific one that you wanted?"
She shook her head. "Where did you get the money for this?"
I replied, "I have a part time job; it's been quite some time now."
"Why didn't you tell me about it? What happened to having no secrets between us?"
"Well, I didn't want you to worry-"
"Why do you keep saying that?! You know you have a weak constitution! So all that sleeping in class was due to this job?"
I took a step back, surprised at the hostility. "I just wanted to make you happy, that's all! Why are you so frustrated about that?"
Her eyes turned serious. She said in a low voice, "Richard, your safety makes me the happiest of all. No amount of other gifts can be as valuable as that to me. To me, having you still with me is the greatest gift I can receive."
I was humbled by those words. I understand now that I was conceited. I was thinking of my own feelings under the pretense of thinking about hers. I thought I had changed, and I was wrong.
"Sorry," I offered sincerely. It was the only thing that I could do now. No amount of argument could make me right; no point to truly make valid.
She smiled in response and said, "I'm happy that you finally understand, Richard. Now, can you help me put it on?"
I clasped the chain around her neck. She turned around and asked, "How does it look?"
I replied fondly, "It brings out your eyes."
She asked, "Oh, you noticed?"
"How could I not?"
She then asked slowly, "Would you... like to take a closer look?"
She leaned towards me. As if a cue, I responded in kind. Slowly, our lips met.
It wasn't a romantic and wild kiss. Rather, it felt as though it was an elaborate display of mutual understanding.
After a few seconds, she pushed me slightly away to indicate a stop, but hugged me tightly. I stroked her hair and we remained in that position for a while more.
"Alright, you should go. See you tomorrow, alright?" Rika said, and before I could protest, turned and walked into her house.
The next day was a hectic one for all of us. Derek could be found running throughout the whole school gathering votes. The idea of a cultural festival was a wildly popular one, and around half of the school was already swayed to a positive vote on the first day. Now Derek aimed to ensure a full vote attendance, regardless positive or not, was given. I found myself visiting Catherine at the end of the day, just to check up on the status of the poll, since the event was as important to me as it was to Derek.
"Hey Catherine," I called as I pushed the Council office door open.
"Yes, Richard?" she replied, not once looking up from her paperwork.
"Paperwork sucks, doesn't it?" I asked, trying to be casual.
"Yes, and it sucks more when there is someone watching, not helping, and making snide remarks," she replied with her stinging language.
I took no offence, however, and answered, "I'm hurt, you know."
She said, "Flirting with me, huh? Won't Rika get jealous?"
I was taken aback. "How..."
She replied mysteriously, "The Council knows everything."
I challenged her, "Then do you know the statistics of the poll as of now?"
"64.4% have voted and out of that, 91.2% are positive votes."
I didn't even bother to be skeptical about those numbers. "This is good. So only around 20% more to go?"
Catherine replied ominously, "It won't be that simple. The initial votes are easy, since people who want to vote would have voted. The difficulty of getting even a single positive vote will increase exponentially as time goes by."
I understood what she meant. "So do you still think Derek can handle it by himself?"
She replied, "Yes, I do. I believe he possesses the eloquence to sway the rest of the students to his side, but he needs more time. That is the greatest obstacle for him."
I shrugged. If she has such faith in him, I don't think interfering would be wise.
"So, in order to ensure that the festival is held as early as possible, shouldn't we begin preparing for the fund raise and other things?"
"Unfortunately, no. Things must be done a step at a time."
Having nothing else to say, I let my eyes wander around the room. So there was nothing to be done.
I walked around the campus aimlessly. This is ridiculous. Rika is busy with classes, there hasn't been fencing since the tournament, and I have even done my share of Project Work. Complete boredom overwhelmed me as I gave up and sat in the canteen. I'd never thought I'd say this but...
"Oh forget it, I'll study."
Bringing a stack of notes into the library, I spotted Felicia studying furiously in one corner.
Waving any bad memories of her aside, I walked over and asked, "May I?"
She looked up and was obviously surprised to see me. She replied nervously, "Uh, okay?"
I sat down and spread out my notes. I said, "You know, even if we aren't together anymore, you don't have to avoid me, you know."
She replied, "But aren't you angry?"
I answered, "About what?"
"About me... playing with your feelings."
"It's fine. In fact, that helped me instead in various ways. I have to thank you for that."
She looked at me suspiciously. "How can you change so easily and so quickly into such a different personality in such a short time? When we were together, you used to mope so much."
"I'm better this way, aren't I?"
"Yes, but change too much and you'll find yourself in an identity crisis."
"You sound... experienced."
She averted my questioning eyes and said, "I have to study, and so do you."
Felicia. As mysterious as ever. But at least it comforted me that looking her no longer reminded me of the events a few years ago. I smiled at that thought.
"Say, care to tell me something?"
She looked up. "Yeah, what is it?"
"Why did you date me? You didn't really like me, right?"
"I told you before. You were the chairperson, and being the chairperson's girlfriend was sure to garner attention, right?"
I replied, "Wow, that's so... realistic."
"Practicality and pragmatism are the keys to success."
Yup, she will definitely take the business world by storm in the future.
"Haha, so guess I'm just unlucky to have been the chairperson, then?"
She frowned, then changed it to her trademark charming smile.
"So, you're saying it's unlucky to be in a relationship with me?"
I flashed a smile of my own. "Of course not."
She blushed and stared at her notes intently.
I pondered over an idea that suddenly occured to me, and said, "Say, do you mind if you tutor me? I mean, you are the genius of the school, after all."
She answered, "Am I obliged to?"
I replied, "No, of course not. But it would be nice."
She looked at me with incomprehensible eyes. "All right, fine. But I'll demand compensation. Nothing in this world is free, you know."
I nodded and said, "Yeah, of course."
Just then, Derek plopped into the seat beside me, exhausted.
I chirped, "Oh, hey Derek. Let me introduce you."
Standing up, I gestured at Derek, "Felicia, this is-"
"Derek, obviously. Vice-president of the Student Council?"
Oh yeah, he has to be famous for that. I was about to speak when Derek said, "Felicia, your ex-girlfriend. Genius, sneaky, cunning."
Wow, how direct, coming from Derek. But before that, "Derek, tell me something. Does the Council have spies everywhere or something? How do you guys know everything?!"
Derek smiled mysteriously. Felicia huffed and continued with her work.
"So, what did you interrupt my studies for?" I questioned.
Felicia sniggered, to my annoyance. Derek said nonchalantly, "Eighty percent. Done, finished, complete."
My eyes widened despite myself. "Seriously? No, wait, seriously seriously?"
"One step above penultimate seriousness." Derek smirked proudly.
"How... It was only around sixty percent this morning!"
He shrugged. "Well, I did get myself into a lot of trouble. I visited every single class, interrupted a couple of lessons, and made sure every single student voted."
True, that was one surefire way of getting a full attendance, but...
"Then let's go pay Catherine a visit. It's time to get the fund raise under way."
I bade farewell to Felicia who looked glad to see me go (I'll confirm the tutelage details later, alright?) and followed Derek to the office. Catherine was already standing outside, and when we approached her, she said with a genuine smile, "Congratulations, Derek. I have heard about it, and I must say I am impressed. Your methods may be rash but the results are delivered, as you promised."
She stopped, as though waiting for something.
Derek said, "Yeah, so can we-"
Catherine interrupted happily, "Of course."
Derek continued, "-discuss the details of the fund raise now?"
Catherine's face lapsed into one of disappointment, but it was merely ephemeral. I blinked and her usual lucid expression was back.
I smacked my head with my palm in frustration. I hurriedly made up an excuse to leave, "Er, I guess we won't be able to do that today. I have remedials now, so I have to go. Sorry about that."
Before I made off, I nudged Derek in the ribs and whispered, "Tact, my man. Go for it."
He looked confused for a second, and then realization dawned over him.
I walked around the corner of the hallway then turned back to eavesdrop. The conversation was quiet enough for me to be unable to make out the words, but I caught a glimpse of Catherine's face suffused with radiant joy, and she immediately hugged Derek afterwards, so I suppose everything went well.
Smirking at the birth of another unlikely couple in the school, I proceeded to pick Rika up.