Energy! 24/6 [Book 1: Chapter 1]
Ever since I was little I would immerse myself in stories. Books, comics, movies, it didn’t matter. As long as there was a good story with great characters and a lesson to be taught I was there. Over and over again the same thing would happen to me. I’d be enveloped in a story—so absolutely connected with the characters it was like I was there—and then this moment would happen. One epic, fictional moment that would change my life forever and from that point on I’d be different. I’ve lived my life like this. In stages.
My first year of high school was a rebellious stage, courtesy of a manga that my best friend, Kazuto, got me hooked on. I died my hair blond and adopted a bad attitude. It matched perfectly up with my little sister going into school and my need to feel frustrated at the way my parents coddled her. Not to mention it was easy because even when I try to smile it somehow looks like I’m angry to people. But even though it was fun to act like a punk, that part of my life is over. You see, I found an author that I really love—Obana Michiyo—and I was feeling a need to be a bit more sophisticated. So I stopped retouching my roots.
I was feeling a change the morning of my first day of second year while I stared at the black on the top of my head. I was maturing. Growing. I was better this year. I was going to make all the right decisions. This time it wasn’t just a stage. I had found myself. I was so sure of that until about a week into school when I was asked out by a strange girl I had never spoken to before.
“Izumi Koichi! My name is Amamiya Azusa and I want you to go out with me!” Her stance was confident as the wind played with her burgundy locks. Determined amber eyes locked on me. But I had made up my mind about things like this long ago.
“Sorry.” I told her, maintaining my cool. “But I don’t date people that I don’t know.”
She looked contemplative for a moment before asking me. “But isn’t dating how you get to know people?”
I’m sure there are people who think that. Romantics. But the idea sounded really ridiculous and something about the way she said it made me feel like she wasn’t entirely sure herself. It made me kind of annoyed so I decided to set her straight.
“There are plenty of ways the get to know people without dating. If you really liked me then you would have gone through the effort of talking to me before now.” It sounded a bit more harsh than I had meant it too, but I stood my ground. I was ready for her to cry or run away or even argue with me, but she didn’t do any of those things.
“I see!” She said, as if she’d just made an amazing discovery. “That’s true! How sensible! Thanks, Izumi!” Her smile was so genuine I thought that maybe she’d misheard me, but as she dismissed herself and began to leave I realized she hadn’t.
“Wait!” I called reflexively, but when she turned around I didn’t know what to say. “Is… is that it?”
“Well yeah. You gave me the answer I was looking for so I was going to leave now.” Still smiling. “Did… Did you want something else?”
“No! Uh…” I stumbled over my tongue, silently cursing myself for calling after her. “No, um. Bye.”
She turned to face me properly and grinned. “Bye, bye!” She said, cheerfully, before disappearing into the school yard.
I stood there underneath the shade of the trees while the breeze played with the adolescent herbs in the school garden. It wasn’t a particularly cold day, but I felt a chill under my skin. Somehow it seemed as though I was the one who’d been rejected.
For the rest of the day I contemplated her attitude. I considered that maybe that was her way of coping and that it was all an act, but it was hard to believe it. Maybe I was just being insecure, but she seemed so genuinely happy to hear my response. Maybe it was because she wanted to be rejected? That thought crossed my mind as well, but the answer that resonated with me was by far the most arrogant one. She must have taken what I said to heart and decided to get to know me first. That had to have been it. She was going to try and become my friend.
Over the course of the next week that thought would make me feel very foolish.
I saw Azusa more around school after that and at first I thought that that was her doing. In my mind there was no doubt that she was putting herself in my way to give us opportunities to get to know each other. That had to have been it. But the more I ran into her, the more I realized that she wasn’t trying to talk to me. In fact, it seemed more like she was blatantly ignoring me. I realized then that she had probably always been there and I just never noticed her before.
“Dude!” I heard Kazuto calling out to me in conjunction with a light smack to the back of my head.
I must have been spacing hard because that light tap was enough to usher my head into the desk. My face struggled between irritation from the pain and remorse from having ignored him for so long. I didn’t know how long exactly he was calling me, but we were a good ten minutes into lunch so it might have been a while.
“Are you still lusting after that Amamiya girl?”
I choked trying to stop myself from spitting my banana milk all over him. “I’m not lusting after her!”
“Please! You’ve been chasing that skirt all week!” He laughed.
I quickly looked around the classroom for who was listening. My eyes told me no one cared about the conversation two nerds were having, but my insecurity told me that the few people left in the room were all secretly eavesdropping. I glared back at him and motioned for him to keep his voice down. He only raised an eyebrow at me like I was losing it. Maybe I was.
“I’m just confused.” I defended. “I don’t get her.”
“Maybe she just thought you were cute and then lost interest when she heard you talk.” Kazuto reached over to squeeze my cheeks in his hand and laughed at me again. “Even I have to admit how cute that grumpy face of yours is.”
I swatted him away. “Shut up, man. That’s not funny.”
“Lighten up!” He grinned, leaning back in his chair. “From what I hear, you dodged a bullet anyway. That girl isn’t really easy to get along with.”
Kazuto’s words struck me. That didn’t make any sense. “But she seems so cheerful. I thought people liked that.”
“I heard some girls saying that she’s really insensitive. Something like, she doesn’t take anything seriously and it’s so un-cute.” He clasps his hands together as he imitated some girl.
“Were you a part of this conversation or were you just following girls like a creep?” I teased.
Kazuto blushed and straightened up his chair, trying not to lose balance. “Shut up! I just heard it in passing!” He adjusted the headband that often held back his spiky dark hair, suddenly feel disheveled.
I couldn’t help but feel victorious. I’m not good at teasing people so it wasn’t often that I was on that side of the exchange. I decided to leave Azusa out of our conversation for fear of giving my mischievous friend more ammo to use on me. But I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about her. She just didn’t make sense to me and I needed to understand. So I looked for her.
I tried to use every opportunity that I could. Anytime we passed each other in the halls, lunch time, free periods, after school. She always seemed to elude me no matter what I did. It was as if she was avoiding me on purpose. I guess I couldn’t blame her. Here was a guy she sincerely confessed to who turned her down then began to practically stalk her. I was starting to feel like the creep now.
Scratching my head, I found myself heading toward the library. There was hope there. Maybe I could read a book and get my mind off of all of this nonsense. I felt my spirits lifting at the thought. I felt myself wanting to forget about Azusa. I only needed one woman in my life and her name was Obana Michiyo! My mind began to whirr again, going over the volumes I’d read and the ones I’d been meaning to. I sorted between them as I searched the aisles for that special name, but as time went by I realized I wasn’t going to find it. The volume I wanted simply wasn’t there.
My finger hovered over the spot I instinctively knew it should be and I silently cursed.
“Izumi.” A quiet voice breathed beside me. “I didn’t know you like to read.”
The first thing that crossed my mind was, excuse you but I think you need to replace “like” with “love”. The second thing was that the book in those feminine hands was exactly the one I was looking for. The third one was that Amamiya Azusa was standing in front of me and I get the feeling she knows I’ve been lowkey stalking her for a week now. I might’ve been gawking awkwardly at her in that moment without realizing it until she gave me a funny look.
“I… um… yeah!” I stuttered, stepping back so she could put the book back in its place. I resisted the urge to smack myself in the face. “I was actually looking for that one. You… um… you like Obana Michiyo?”
She looked surprised for a second before smiling at me and my heart jumped. It shocked me so badly I didn’t really hear what she said next. My brain put together a series of rapid thoughts to stop me from panicking. It’s not like my heart fluttered when she smiled at me or anything cheesy like that. It was more like I’d uncovered something intriguing. Her smile in that moment was so genuine it made realize that I’d never seen her looking sincere before. I thought back to when she asked me out and any other moment I could remember of her smiling. They all looked so fake to me now.
She’d been talking and I tried to tune in so she didn’t know I was spacing.
“…Well, not my favorite author, but she’s in the top five. She paces stories well and the characters are believable which is refreshing, but I feel like she wastes her skills writing romance.”
“What? That’s what makes her so great! Her relationships are realistic and not overly fluffy or unnecessarily dramatic!” I caught myself responding naturally to her. Did she notice how awkward I was being before? If she did she didn’t let it show.
“Right?” She grinned. “That’s why I like her writing even though I’m not a fan of romance.”
“That’s surprising. Don’t girls normally like that stuff?”
“Do they? Can’t imagine why.” She seemed thoughtful at that, like it was news to her.
“Well, because they aspire to it, right? When you read a good love story don’t you think, I wish that would happen to me, or, I hope someone says that to me one day?” I blushed when I realized Azusa was holding back laughter. “What?!”
“Nothing.” She lightly snickered. “I was just thinking that you’re not as cool as you look.”
Her words probably weren’t meant to be a sharp as they felt when they hit me, but I could definitely feel them cutting deep into my ego. It’s not like it was something I didn’t already know. I’ve had girls say that to me before. At the beginning of the year my classmates thought I was a delinquent—probably more because of my face than my hair—but once they got to know me better they realized that I was just bad at smiling. So I’m not the best at interacting with people. I’m still pretty sure that was still a rude thing to say.
I didn’t really know how to respond so I just frowned. I wondered if she even noticed since I probably didn’t look much different from normal.
“Not in a bad way, though.” Azusa didn’t seem too remorseful about hurting my feelings so I assumed she didn’t notice. “You’re more approachable than I originally thought.”
“Oh.” I scratched the back of my head. What was I supposed to say to that? I guess being approachable is good too, but it still felt like a jab to my pride. Is approachable really favorable to being cool? I didn’t think so.
“Anyway if you haven’t read that one, it’s really good. It’s more dramatic than her other books, but in a good way.” She paused for thought, like she had something else she was trying to explain. “You know, like it’s a lot of drama but for the right reasons?”
I kind of got what she was saying that time and suddenly I felt that mood coming back of finding the right thing to read. “Like when it’s really dramatic, but it’s warranted so you take the drama seriously? The resolution always feels more satisfying that way. Like when something stupid happens and the heroine is all dramatic about it I always hate that! Then everyone is all concerned about her and I find myself thinking, would anyone actually feed into that drama in real life?”
“Yes!” She near shouted. “I hate that! It’s so annoying! It’s like they just wanted to have a bunch of hurt/comfort moments but couldn’t think of a good reason! Ugh, I can’t stand lazy writing like that.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her frustration and it took all of my willpower to ignore how cute I was beginning to think she was.
“So you can laugh!” She giggled. Suddenly I felt self-conscious, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead she took the book back off of the shelf and shoved it into my chest excitedly. “Read it!” She stared me down with determination. “You won’t be disappointed.”
After a quick nod Azusa waved to me and bounded passed me and out of the aisle. I felt my feet turn to face where she’d gone, but I couldn’t move to follow her. It surprised me that I wanted to. A part of me wanted the conversation to end as soon as it started, but I felt that way about every conversation so I was compelled to pay more attention to the other part of me. The part of me that wanted that conversation to go on forever.