The silence that hung throughout the school in the minute leading up to the bell ringing would have been envied by graveyards. Everyone seemed to hold their breath as the clock finally struck three in the afternoon and finals were officially over. The halls were packed with students eager to discuss their summer break plans for the next five weeks. Still, there were a handful of students doing summer sports, and we all had to go into the city tomorrow. Summer break would start tomorrow afternoon for us.
Echiko had her fingers entwined with Shunjis as she walked up to me, she always ran off after class to find her boyfriend before coming back to talk to me. It was like she wanted to make me jealous that she had someone to be all lovey-dovey with at school. I couldn help but notice Toin walk by, almost unphased by seeing Echiko with another guy. He waved goodbye to me, wishing me a good summer before disappearing down the hall.
"So what is the plan for tomorrow?" Echiko had agreed to go with me to Okayama, but that was as far as we had gotten on the topic.
"I need to catch an early train, at least the seven oclock train. Most of the other students will be on that one, at least those that don drive in. The high school there is only a few minutes from the train station." I had been to Okayama Daianji High School several times for swim meets and even a couple choir competitions. I sucked at singing, but my parents wanted me to do music of some kind in school.
Shunji rarely spoke around me, but he seemed to be in a good mood with finals being done, "I need to take the morning train too. I can swing by your house and walk to the train station with you, Echi. Well probably take a late train home though." He kissed her on the lips, something that even Echiko would shy away from with everyone walking down the halls, but she didn seem to care today. Summer break just has that effect on some people.
I left the two of them to meander home while I went to the locker room. I needed my swimsuit for the meet tomorrow and didn want to have to swing by the school on the way to the train station. As I walked down the row to my locker I could hear a couple girls in the next row over. I vaguely recognized the voices, though I didn know their names, a couple of third year students that were on the track team.
"- and there will be a lot of boys there from Okayama."
"I don know… it sounds like a lot of people will just be drinking and fooling around."
"Yeah, thats the point. Besides, Shunji says he knows the guy throwing the party, so its legit." Did she say Shunji? What kind of party are they talking about? Echiko certainly didn say anything about it. "Come on, its the start of summer break, when will there be a better time than this?"
"Fine, we can go. But you will have to let me borrow that cute skirt of yours, you know, the shiny blue one."
"Yeah yeah, just don get any stains on it this time." The two girls giggled, some inside joke between the two of them. Having eavesdropped enough, I opened my locker. The noise of it caused the girls to stop and a moment later I heard both of them quickly head out of the locker room before they were seen.
With my swimsuit stowed inside my school bag I left the school, keeping my eyes peeled for Echiko. I could just ask her about it in the morning, but now I was curious if I was even going to be spending the whole day in Okayama or not. As I reached the gate to the school and the main road, I couldn see either Echiko or Shunji in the dispersing crowd of students. I was about to give up and just head home when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Spinning around, I was face to face with Toin.
"Hey there Okada-chan, I didn think you would still be hanging around the school. Don you have a big swim meet tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I do, I was just grabbing my swimsuit before heading home." I felt a little awkward, I was used to simple pleasantries as I met people in the hallway, but I never spoke to boys like this.
"Would you like me to walk you home? I was heading that way anyways. My mom wanted me to pick up some fresh apples from the orchard out past your place." I was a little surprised that he knew where I lived, but then I remembered that last Saturday he had gone on a date with Echiko out to the orchards. There was an old park between the orchards that had fallen into disrepair. Now it was little more than a hiking trail at the base of the hills. "I mean, if you don want to, thats fine. It might just be a little awkward if we are both walking the same way and not saying anything to each other."
"Oh yeah, no, its fine. Im just not used to people heading out my way." Toin and I started walking down the street, he wasn especially tall like Shunji, so his pace was pretty evenly matched with mine.
As we made it past the first block and there were hardly any other students around, Toin unfastened his school shirt to reveal a plain shirt underneath. He was attractive in his own way, lighter brown hair that was a little messy and gray eyes that seemed to see everything sharply, but he always looked so choked in his school uniform. A casual look was a lot better on him, it seemed way more natural seeing him outside of school for some reason. "Its so hot out, it will be nice for the next month to not worry about a school uniform, huh?"
"I don mind the uniforms too much…" I hesitated, why was small talk so hard, "but yeah, it will be nice to wear lighter clothes for the rest of summer." I loosened the tie around my neck and undid the top button of my blouse. It didn show off anything, but I think acting more casual made our conversation easier.
"Do you ever go swimming other than at the schools pool?" His elbow bumped my school bag playfully.
"Well, I have some relatives in Teshima, so well take trips there to swim during the summer, but that is more just playing in the ocean than swimming."
Toin laughed lightly, "Well hopefully you don wear your school swimsuit to a day at the beach."
I scoffed, rolling my eyes, "Of course not, I have other swimsuits obviously."
"In that case, why don we go swimming sometime? There is a lake up in the hills behind the orchards, the old park has a trail that leads right to it." I didn decline the invitation immediately, I was preoccupied with the thought of the lake. I think that was the same lake as behind the shrine, at least it was the only one I knew of up in the hills above Kurashiki. "August is going to be extra hot this year, so the lake will feel great."
"Oh, ah… maybe." Swimming in the lake did sound nice, I hated using the pools at school during the summer break, last year it had been a struggle each day to get the custodian to unlock the locker room for me. On the other hand, swimming with a boy like Toin sounded like more than just some casual swimming. "Well have to see, Im pretty busy these days. Its kinda fallen on the family to clean and take care of the shrine above our house, and since my little brother is pretty young still, a lot of that falls on me. At least the cleaning part."
"Oh yeah, that shrine has been in your family for a while. I think the roof of the shrine is visible from the lake, its pretty close by. Next time you are up there, you should bring your swimsuit and go swimming afterwards. Maybe Ill see you up there."
When we finally reached my house, Toin stopped and just stood there expectantly. Not sure what else to say, I hastily wished him goodbye and hurried inside the house. From the window, I saw that he waited a second in front of the house before continuing on to the orchards down the street. My heart was beating quickly, my mind racing as it wondered why I didn just go with him to the orchards.
I wanted to make sure I was ready for my swim meet before I did anything else. I emptied out my school bag completely, set my swimsuit out on my bed, and organized my notebooks on the bookshelf. I wasn going to need them for the next semester but I liked having them handy in case I wanted to reference some old notes. My new notebooks for next semester were already on my desk, clean and ready for reading. I was certainly going to give myself a few days of a break before I started studying again, but it was harder to ignore them when I made sure to leave them out in the open. Repacking my school bag with my swimsuit, a swim cap, and a towel, I hung it on my door for tomorrow.
The shrine needed some cleaning, though luckily summer was an easy season to clean during. There hadn been any rain to cause muddy footprints and the leaves hadn started to fall yet. When I got up to the shrine, there were already half a dozen people milling about. That was typical on Fridays and Saturdays, families wanting to offer their prayers to loved ones, parents introducing their children to the old ways, or even just the occasional person out for a stroll.
As I cleaned I kept half an eye on the donation box but most people seemed to ignore it. A few more people had shown up while I was cleaning and the place actually seemed pretty lively. One person was even taking a few pictures around the shrine, something we didn discourage at all.
After an hour nearly everyone had left for the afternoon and I saw my father walking into the shrine grounds. He smiled as he saw me finishing up with the cleaning. Pulling his keyring out, he walked over to the donation box. I made sure I was nearby when he opened it, curious at how the week had been. At first as he was looking through it he didn indicate a change in expression, but as he reached the bottom, his face lit up. Letting out a long whistle he turned to me, "Someone donated ten thousand yen! Either that or five people each gave a good donation. Either way, this has been a good week." He gave me a hug, something he rarely did, but it was nice. It actually made me happy that I could help our family so much. Sure, the donation money wasn as much as my dad made in a week of working, but it was the little bit that would help around the house to make things more comfortable for everyone. "I wonder who could have given such a good donation. You know, I mentioned the shrine to some guys at one of the offices I work at, they had some visiting consultants in. I was trying to hype up the shrine as a good place to relax, think, and pray about business decisions. Maybe one of them stopped by."
I tried to give my best unassuming smile, shrugging my shoulders, "Who knows, though hopefully word will spread and we can get some more visitors this summer."
Dad walked back towards the house, taking the side path that led straight to our backyard. I started straightening up what I was doing and putting things away. Looking around, the shrine grounds were deserted and quiet. I squirmed a bit in place. I had worn a bikini under my kosode today. I knew Toin wasn expecting me to swim in the lake today, and I wasn really hoping to go swimming with him, but the whole idea of it was playing around in my mind.
Once I had locked up the storage shed and checked one more time that no one was around, I crept back through the brush and bushes behind the shrine, hopefully heading to the lake. It only took about a minute before I could see the sparkling water in the sunlight. There wasn much of a shoreline, the trees grew right to the edge of the water, some of them even having large gnarly roots that descended into the lake. I slipped off my shrine outfit, setting them on top of my shoes as I stepped out of the tree line and into the water. I hadn really planned on ever wearing this bikini again but it was the only swimsuit I had other than the school one. I bought the bikini two years ago when my family went to the island where my relatives live. Dad didn approve of it, but it was my birthday money so he dropped it. Of course last year it had barely fit me after growing so much over the year, and now I could barely tie it on to me. The cup of the top barely held my breasts in, and being two years old it was starting to wear out a bit.
The water felt amazing, colder than the pool by far, but in this heat I didn care at all. Rather than my usual laps and practicing, I chose to just lay in the water, floating under the sunlight. After a few minutes I started to look around the lake. About halfway down the lake I could see a section of shoreline that looked like it had a man made beach, probably where the trail led up to it from the orchards. There was no one on the beach though and the rest of the lake was completely walled in with trees.
After half an hour or so of swimming, I heard a noise back up on shore in the trees. I didn see anything, and guessing that it was likely a squirrel, I decided that I should head back before it got too late. I still needed dinner and a good nights rest before my meet. Pulling myself back up onto the bank, I let myself dry for a couple minutes before I put my kosode back on. For now I left the hakama off, carrying it in my hand as I walked back to the shrine. I checked to make sure no one was in the shrine before scurrying across the grounds and taking the side path to get back to the house. Dad and Hara were distracted in the family room while mom was in the kitchen, so it went unnoticed when I slipped upstairs. I dropped off my shrine outfit in the laundry hamper and grabbed some fresh clothes before taking a shower.
I felt invigorated, I had been swimming plenty of times in the ocean, but there were always people around and rules to follow. Just living my life, jumping into a lake when I wanted, it was amazing. Clean and looking proper again, I made it back downstairs just in time for dinner.
"Oh Shizu, I didn hear you get back from the shrine already." Mom was still setting the table when I walked in, "and you already showered and everything. I guess someone is eager for their big swim meet tomorrow. By the way, your father told me the great news about donations from this week. I put a little spending money in your school bag for you, not very much, but more than just a lunch." She gave me a little wink and handed me plates to start setting around the table.
With dinner finished, I helped clean up and was almost to the foot of the stairs when mom called me to come back to the kitchen. "Im making a few pies for a bake sale for Hara, can you run down to the orchards and get a dozen from the fruit stand there? I heard they just got their first harvest of pie apples in."
"Oh, a friend from school was getting apples today too." Mom wasn really listening to me, handing me a few hundred yen for the apples. The orchards were just past the parking lot for the shrine, you could almost see it from in front of our house if the road didn curve slightly from going around the hill. As I passed the parking lot, I saw that there was a bike locked up in the bike rack, someone was visiting the shrine late in the day. Not too concerned about late visitors, I pressed on to the fruit stand where an old toothy woman sat behind a couple baskets of apples. Most of the apples were pale green or golden, mostly what the orchard needed to prune away so the branches didn get too crowded.
"A dozen apples please," I gave the old woman a big smile. I never knew her name, but she was always at this stand whenever I stopped by. Looking at the sign that said how much apples were, I counted out the yen and handed it to her. She silently accepted it and gave a little half wave goodbye as I trotted back down the road. As I passed back by the parking lot, the bike was gone. I didn see anyone on the road, the way back to town seemed empty. Shrugging, I headed back into the house a minute later and dropped off the apples before heading to my room.
With no studying, and no computer or television in my room, I reached under my bed for a manga I had hidden there. I knew mom didn care if I had manga, but dad thought it was a waste of money, even when I told him I was borrowing it from a friend. So to make everyone happy, I hid them under my bed. This manga was a sappy romance story, the main two characters constantly saying and doing the wrong things that would cause them to stay distant, but both secretly wanting to be together. Here and there I would blush as I turned the page, the content on the page being less than appropriate for a girl like me. Still, I enjoyed reading it, and it wasn long before my mind began to wander, to Toin and what inappropriate things we could have done in the orchard, as my hand slowly drifted down to my dampening panties.