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So what, Kaito happily… silently… thought in the back of his mind.

When tossing a ball with the other boys, nobody cared much about telepathy. It didn’t matter how great you were at levitation or projection tests… you could just run and use your hands and feet to do things, like everyone else did.

So what.

“…HA!” Kaito had landed the cloth ball inside the empty crate with a massive throw, using all his might in his un-shifted arms. Kyle and Zhong cheered as Henry ran up to the crate and fished it back out.

 ((Okay!!!)) Henry projected to them, ((I’m g…nna…)) And then he paused… and then called out loud with his mouth as well, “This time, I’m gonna throw it REALLY far!!!”

((Okay!)) said Alex.

“Aright!” yelled Zhong.

“Aright!” Kaito called out.

Henry took a few steps backwards, ran forward on the grassy plain, and then hurled the ball high up into the sky with a two-armed swing.

Kaito was ready. He ran to catch it, following the ball with his eyes and anticipating where it was going to land. Kyle and Zhong each ran beside him: they knew to follow his lead– but Haoran and Alex were quick on their tail too—all the boys laughing, racing, and scrambling across the games field to get the ball to their goal first.

That morning had been rough.

Hours… and hours… at least it had felt like hours… and all Judy-Sensei kept telling him was, ((No. NOT your mouth, Kaito. Your MIND.))

If he could use his mind for this, didn’t she think he’d have done it by now??? Still, Kaito sighed and tried yet again to recite their word list to her for that week… not speaking it aloud, but instead projecting his thoughts to Judy Sensei while the other kids copied the following week’s word list into their primers. It hurt his head to keep trying.

“…Can I use the orb?” Kaito wearily asked.

((Not this time. You need to be able to do this without the orb as a guide.))

When, oh WHEN was it going to be Games Class already?

… And, another failed attempt.

… And ANOTHER failed attempt. 

Until finally, Judy-Sensei herself sighed.

((Right… we’ll try testing you again next Moonsday. Each evening tide ‘til then, Kaito, I want you to go ahead and practice with the orb ten times before dinner. Ten times.))

“Okay,” Kaito said in a soft voice… trying at least not to be loud about it.

((Not 9 times. And not 3 times. You need to practice 10 times.)) Judy-Sensei then held up both her hands to show him all of her fingers.

What, did she think he couldn’t even understand NUMBERS either? Maybe he was stupid, but he wasn’t that stupid.

“I know what 10 is,” Kaito said gruffly, raising his voice a little. Now, the other kids were busy playing with the class’s levitation bags and drawing on loose scraps of parchment. That meant everyone else had already finished copying—AND that they’d all passed the word projection test for this week…even Henry. Kaito was the only one who still hadn’t.

Judy-Sensei continued, ((And then once you’ve practiced with the orb, add to that 10 times WITHOUT the orb. You can’t have any more crutches to keep leaning on, Kaito. You should be able to project more of your thoughts on your own by now, so you can keep up with the rest of the class. I don’t want any stragglers here.))

Judy-Sensei paused, looking intently at him as if expecting an answer, and Kaito looked back at her. Not knowing what a ‘straggler’ was, he was almost a tiny bit curious despite it all… but he wasn’t about to admit something else he didn’t know to her.

((‘Stragglers’ are those who fall behind, Kaito. Those who don’t keep up with the rest of the group.))

Kaito looked down. He hated when the Convent teachers could sense his desires.

((And they become stragglers because they don’t work hard enough to keep up with the group—in other words, they get lazy. If our purpose is to help all of Society with what we do, then we can’t let ourselves be lazy, Kaito. We MUST keep up with the group for everyone’s sake. ))

So what, Kaito thought angrily, still looking away from Judy-Sensei… At that moment, he just wanted to get out of the classroom as fast as he could… away from all of this and off to Games Class, with this much time surely passed by now. “SO WHAT.”

Except, that thought had come out of his mouth.

Kaito realized it too late: he started at Judy-Sensei’s much angrier tone to him now.

(( ‘SO,’ this. You’ll make SURE you practice all twenty times every single night, and I’ll make sure the lunch-sensei knows you have a demerit every day until your next test, because of that cheek with me.))

Kaito balked. ((B-)) he tried to say in a tiny voice… his mental projections coming in infuriatingly small, broken waves… ((b…t I d–nt… mean…))  Once again, it was just an accident…  he’d just been thinking aloud without recognizing he was doing so.

But then, Judy-Sensei had already walked away from him, instructing the rest of the class to put away their things for the day.

Kaito turned around. He marched back, slammed all of his calligraphy tools into his student-box, shoved the box aside, and put his head down in his arms at his spot at the class table. He didn’t look up when Judy-Sensei told everyone to remember what they learned… nor when she praised those who did well on the test… nor when she cautioned them all to do their homework and practice, lest they be lazy.

The moment she told them to queue up for Games, Kaito raced to the door.

So what about his homework… so what about his demerit. So what about Judy-Sensei. He at least was going to get to play.

Tired, panting, happy, sweaty, dirty and hungry after running around with the other boys (where they’d played a pretty even game of Bin Ball– Kaito’s team winning just barely by a point before class ended)…

…It was then time for the Games Class to split back up and return to everyone’s main groups.

Then, after practicing their usual cleansing rituals (those who’d just come from Games taking a little bit longer to wash off until the dorm matrons were satisfied)…

…It was time to retrieve their empty bento boxes, bowls, washcloths, and water canisters from their dormitory cubbies.

As then, it was time for lunch.

Kaito was happy and eager at first. He was REALLY looking forward to today’s meal after playing so hard… but then, he remembered all too well… and his mood fell again.

He dragged his lunch kit out of his cubby: looking at it, but not really taking it in.

Walking out onto the Primaries’ spot in the courtyard with the rest of his class, Kaito saw the lunch-sensei stream rice buns, eggplant soup, and fresh peach slices into the students’ boxes and bowls as they queued up in front of the outdoor table… some students receiving praise if they were able to levitate their lunch kits while they waited.

Kaito held out his kit with his hands to the sensei and looked silently, dolefully… but, with just a little, tiny bit of hope… just maybe… ?? 

… In which the sensei answered Kaito’s unspoken question, ((Nope, not today. Judy-Sensei’s informed me of your demerit, and this week you’re not getting any peaches or soup. Take your rice buns.))

Down… hurt… angry… but trying not to let it show, Kaito silently carried his half-empty kit through the courtyard, past the other primary students sitting and eating happily with one another on their tarps.  

When he spotted them, Azalea and Mariko were both on the hill near the peach tree: Azalea cross-legged, and Mariko lying out on their lunch-tarp— neither of them seeing him yet. Azalea, however, immediately sensed Kaito and turned around.

She waved to him, smiling excitedly. ((Kaito!!! We found a great spot for lunch this time!))

“Yeah big brother!” yelled his little sister Mariko when she rolled over and saw him too… then, switching to perfect, no-orb-necessary telepathic projection herself, ((We got to be by the peach tree today!))

Kaito plopped down with his bento and empty bowls. “That’s great,” he said quietly. “Yeah!” they each said back, under their breath. He noticed that they both returned to earth-speak with him… and all of a sudden, he felt angry for a reason he couldn’t really explain.

But he didn’t say anything about it… chomped into his rice bun… and really hoped they didn’t say anything in turn about it to him either.

They all ate silently for a few minutes…

Mariko looked at Kaito’s empty bowls, then back at her own peaches and soup… was she about to say something to him? Offer him some of her fruit again?

And even though he wasn’t looking back at her in return, he knew Azalea was watching him, probably wanting to try to help him out as the fool he was. He could tell… and he somehow felt even angrier.

“Um… Kaito, did… did you get another demer–” Kaito heard Azalea begin to say in a small voice…   but then, he had an idea.

“I have a story,” he said, and as he said this, more and more ideas steadily grew in his mind.

“You do? What’s it of this time?” Mariko perked up, happily.

“A story?” Azalea said quizzically to him, thankfully stopped in her tracks.

“Yeah,” said Kaito, grinning at each of them now, “It’s a story about a little squirrel, who lived with all the other squirrels in a squirrel grove. This little squirrel was soft and had white fur with a little brown spot. You’d almost think it was rice bun-colored! And this little squirrel wasn’t like the other squirrels, working and gathering apples for the rainy seasons… this squirrel just lay flat on its belly like a rice bun. It was so lazy that it began to turn into a rice bun! And all the other squirrels said to it, ‘Look at you, lying about, so lazy you’re turning into a rice bun!! Why don’t you stop being so lazy and come help us?’”

“But the lazy squirrel flopped over onto its back and said, ‘I don’t care, I like rice buns. Would someone bring me one?’ And then it tilted its puffy, bushy, rice-y bun-tail under its head and fluffed it like a pillow, falling asleep on top of it.”

Mariko looked at her big brother with wide eyes, engaged as she ate; hers and Azalea’s bowls of peaches sitting on the tarp between them.

Azalea laughed, as Kaito continued to tell.

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