Energy! 24/6 [Book 1: Chapter 7]
Kazuto’s laughter was louder and more obnoxious—if that was even possible—than I had ever heard it. I wanted to glare at him but honestly all I could do was bury my head in my arms and knees. I cowered on the farthest corner of my bed while he sprawled out on my orange patterned bedspread.
“I cannot believe you said it like that! That’s so embarrassing!” He cackled. “My god, what did she say?” He turned to face me, clearly enjoying my despair and I groaned loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
“It doesn’t matter!” I shouted at him. I didn’t want to think about the completely rude and unnecessary stab to my ego that was Azusa’s response.
‘We did have that conversation when I said I wasn’t into you right?’
I pulled my knees closer at the thought of that blunt phrase and slightly condescending expression. Of course I had to say it like that and of course she had to respond like that before I had time to correct myself.
‘I didn’t…! What I meant was that I have these tickets for the three of us! It was Kazuto’s idea!’ My response was just as stupid as my initial question. I had meant to appeal to her about the manga artists and making it out to be all business, but in the end I made it a casual thing. It really looked like I was just making excuses to hang out with her. How embarrassing.
“So are we going or not? She doesn’t have to come with us.” Kazuto smirked and a part of me felt like he was hoping she’d shoot me down like that.
“She said she would go on Saturday.” I noted his frown, confirming my suspicions, but I ignored him. “But not Sunday.”
“What? Amamiya actually had plans? With who? It’s not like she has any friends.”
“Hey, if not for me you wouldn’t have any friends either.” I felt bad about it as soon as I said it. I didn’t really know why I felt like I had to defend Azusa, but it really pissed me off that he seemed to dislike her so much. I looked away, probably out of guilt, as he scowled. “I mean… I didn’t mean…”
“Whatever. Just shut up, okay? I get it. I’ll stop ragging on Amamiya.” He looked at me seriously, an unusual sight that seemed to be reserved for the topic of Azusa. “As soon as you admit that you like her.”
“I mean, I don’t dislike her…” I dodged.
“You know what I mean.” He was staring me down now. To the people at school this situation would probably look strange since everyone seems to think I’m some kind of hard ass, but for all of Kazuto’s smiles and charm, I’ve never been able to win a stare down with those icy green eyes. He could be so intense and even though I knew he was more of a coward than me I couldn’t bring myself to stand up to him. If it happened that I could win he would probably take it hard and I would just feel bad about it. Then again maybe I was just afraid that I might lose.
“Fine.” I buried my face in my knees. “I’ll admit that I’m being obsessive about her, but that doesn’t mean I like her like that. I just…” I looked at him, feeling a little less trapped when I saw that intense look soften. Then the words started to pour out of me into an explanation that I hadn’t been sure of until that moment. “I don’t know… She’s just so different. I can’t stop thinking about the way her mind works. Someone like that must be able to create the kinds of stories that change my whole world. Like that manga you gave me and Obana Michiyo’s books. How am I supposed to accept that she’s just going to keep those stories to herself? If there’s a way to get her to bring her stories to life than I have to try.”
He watched me with a blank expression before sighing in a way that looked almost resigned. “You’re a nerd, you know that, Kou?”
“Yeah…” I relaxed. “But that’s why we’re friends.”
Kazuto scoffed, but he couldn’t hide the smile on his face. I knew how much he loved it when I validated him and in the end he kept his promise and stopped bad mouthing Azusa for the time being. I was sure it wouldn’t last, but there wasn’t really anything I could do about that so I just let it go. For the next week I would be too busy dying of anticipation to worry about it anyway.
I didn’t get many opportunities to talk to Azusa during that time, but every now and then I would find her in the library and she would tell me more about her stories. Sometimes she would ask me strange questions like what I would do if I thought someone was going to kill me. I told her it would be hard to answer a question like that, but I think I just didn’t want to answer in a way she might think was lame. Azusa never pressed me though. She’d just smile and agree that it was a difficult question to answer.
The more we talked the more of a mystery she became. When I asked about her she would tell me her life is boring and that there wasn’t much to say. That besides her one hobby all she really does is study and be as lazy as she can be. I laughed at that. It didn’t fit my image of her. She always seemed so diligent and strong, but she assured me she wasn’t. I didn’t know what to say to that so I didn’t say anything.
Before I knew it the event day had arrived and I found myself at the train station in the morning with Kazuto, waiting for Azusa to arrive.
“Dude, chill.” Kazuto put a hand on my shoulder and I realized suddenly how tense I was. “What is your problem? Are you nervous? This isn’t a date, you know.”
“I know that!” I defended.
“Why are you yelling so early in the morning?” A sleepy voice asked from behind me and I nearly jumped out of my skin, but luckily managed to keep from shouting.
I turned to see Azusa’s uniform skirt and blouse and felt myself deflate a little bit. Not that I was hoping she’d be dressed cute or anything! She yawned, clutching a tumbler of something in one hand. Her cherry hairclip was gone, leaving the right side of her bangs, which were normally pulled back, to fall a bit in her face. Her sneakers and light green coat were the only things I hadn’t seen before and something about the comfortable looking texture made her seem really tired.
“What a letdown!” Kazuto greeted, rudely. “Aren’t girls supposed to try a little harder to dress cute on the weekends?”
“I overslept a bit so I just put on whatever.” I thought I saw a twitch in Azusa’s brow before she smiled the same as always. “Besides, it’s not like there’s anyone here to impress.” The way she said it almost sounded like she was giving a compliment, but I’m sure Kazuto’s pride was as damaged as mine was as we both wilted a bit.
“God, you’re so un-cute, Amamiya.” Kazuto’s comeback was dampened considerably by the wound to his ego and Azusa didn’t seem to care too much about what he had to say. She just smiled and I found myself glaring at him until Azusa spoke again, asking Kazuto to remind her of his name. He was angry about it, of course, but despite their one-sided argument it felt so casual. It was so easy for them to converse—probably because Kazuto wasn’t trying to act princely like he normally would—and I wanted to be relieved that the atmosphere wasn’t tense between them but, in all honesty, it kind of bothered me.
“What’s the matter, Izumi? You haven’t said I word since I got here. Are you not a morning person either?”
I stared at her for a moment, wondering why my heart was pounding. Her amber eyes were fixated on me, but I couldn’t tell what she was feeling. Even in her uniform skirt she looked so casual, but that wasn’t it. There was something about her smile that made me feel like she was pushing herself.
“I… No, I’m fine.” I said before an announcement sounded that our train was arriving. “We’d better go.”
I caught a glimpse of a concerned expression before she smiled at me again and we boarded the train. I wanted to ask her so many things, but in the end I lost to my social anxiety and Kazuto’s undefeatable charm. We sat with Azusa in the middle and even though I had spent the most time with her, anyone would think I was the third wheel beside the two of them.
“A protein shake? That sounds gross.” Kazuto grimaced at the tumbler in Azusa’s hand. “Why don’t you just drink some coffee?”
“Caffeine is bad for you, Hinamori.” Was her simple answer. I couldn’t decide whether I was happy to learn something new about her or annoyed that Kazuto seemed to be the only one who could get it any information out of her.
“Everything’s bad for you.” He rolled his eyes. “You’re gonna die eventually so why not live a little while you’re here?”
“That’s an interesting viewpoint.” Azusa’s eyes gleamed a bit like they do when she wants to write something down, but she didn’t move to pull out her notebook and I noticed her bag looked a bit too small for her to have it on her. “Don’t you want to feel as good as you can while you’re alive though?”
“What feels better than indulging?” Kazuto looked at her like she was weird for not feeling how he felt. Like it was strange that he even had to explain it.
“But what if you indulge too much and it makes you sick?”
“You’re not going to get sick from one cup of coffee.”
“Coffee? You’re still talking about coffee?”
“What?! What are you talking about then?”
They looked exasperated with each other, Kazuto not quite understanding Azusa’s need for general information. Clearly Azusa didn’t get why it was difficult to understand what she was asking. For some reason that filled me with a quiet satisfaction.
The train ride was short since we weren’t going far, but once we were on foot we were forced to follow Kazuto seeing as though he was the only one who knew where we were going. That left me to the cruel, silent reality that I had no idea what to say to Azusa. I struggled to think of any kind of conversation starter I might have used in the library, but it was no use.
“Izumi, do you dislike bitter things?” She suddenly asked.
I must have flinched, but I quickly collected myself. “Is… that a bad thing?”
She smiled. “I’m just asking a question. It’s not really a positive or negative thing.”
“Okay then, I don’t like bitter things.”
“I see.” She smiled. “Then you probably wouldn’t like this protein shake…”
I glanced at her in my surprise. Why would that be a concern? “Do you like bitter things?”
“I don’t particularly like them.” She smiled. “But I’m used to it so I don’t mind it. A lot of bitter stuff is good for you.”
I laughed at that. “Are you a health nut or something?”
“I just don’t like feeling bad.”
Before I could ask her anything else, Kazuto called for us. I didn’t realize how far ahead he’d gotten until he was beckoning us with a very displeased expression. I only felt a little guilty. He did buy the tickets after all. Luckily he didn’t make too much of a fuss about it and his mood shifted considerably as soon as we entered the tall building.
The place was kind of smaller than I’d expected, not that I’d been to many things like this before—there was a limit to how far I’d usually let Kazuto drag me. It seemed like a regular restaurant until we got inside. The tables were all moved to the sides of the room and the elevator at the far end of the room had an attendant. It wasn’t until I saw the sign next to it that I realized this event thing was probably on every floor of this building. Just how much money did otakus have anyway?
“We got here pretty early.” Kazuto turned to us. “The crowds will start coming in around noon, so if you want to have time to talk to some artists about your thing before they’re bombarded, now’s your chance.”
“Izumi?” Azusa called. I looked down at the orange sleeve of my favorite hoodie where her hand was lightly tugging and blushed a bit before seeing the confused expression on her face. “What is he talking about?”
It was then that I realized I hadn’t told Azusa why we were there in the first place and my heart started pounding. I had made a mistake. Actually, I felt much more comfortable blaming this on Kazuto. If he had just kept his stupid mouth shut I wouldn’t be in this mess.
“Look.” I scratched the back of my head. “I swear I wasn’t going to do anything without your permission, but I just thought… You know, since your stories are so good… Well, actually it was Kazuto who thought of it.”
“Thought of what?” She turned that intense gaze toward Kazuto, but I still couldn’t relax. I had never seen Azusa get angry before so I didn’t really expect her to blow up at us. But not knowing how she would react at all was just as bad.
Kazuto groaned impatiently. “He likes your stories, Amamiya. So much that he’s willing to find someone else to draw them for you.”
“Draw them?” She stared, dumbfounded. “Like a manga?”
“Yeah, it would be easier to market and you wouldn’t have to write anything. Wouldn’t that be a good thing for you? You could make a lot of money.” He watched her, unfazed, but I was starting to sweat.
Azusa looked thoughtful before staring up at me. “You really like them that much?”
“I…” I swallowed hard before steeling myself and nodding. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when she started laughing. “Wh-what’s so funny?”
“I just never know what to expect from you, Izumi.” Azusa wiped a small tear from her squinting eyes and smiled at me. “Alright, since I’m using you for inspiration then you can have that story.”
“What? Seriously?” I’m sure I was making a dumb expression as the relief and shock were fighting for my face. I glanced at Kazuto for a second to see an equally shocked and somewhat annoyed expression before turning back to Azusa’s smiling face.
“Why not? I’m pretty sure people don’t just agree to this sort of thing without being offered payment or something so it’s not likely you’ll find anyone.” She smirked as I deflated a bit, always at her mercy it seemed. “But who knows! If it’s you, Izumi, maybe it’ll work out.”
There it was. She turned away from me to ask Kazuto about how these things work and soon he was yelling at me to hurry up as well. I trailed behind them, my heart pounding faster and faster. It was true that Azusa was rude and weird and blunt and unreadable, but every now and then she’d give me a look or say something like that and my legs would turn to jelly. What was wrong with me? Was I really falling for someone like her? Why couldn’t I just be interested in her stories and nothing else?
I silently cursed myself for a stupid reoccurring thought I kept pushing out of my head. What if I had said yes that day when she asked me out? What would she have said? I wanted to ask her, but I was afraid of what she might say. Whatever I felt for her, I didn’t want to hear her say she didn’t like me again. So I didn’t say anything.