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Energy! 24/6 [Book 1: Chapter 9]

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NINE

The days were getting warmer as April ended and I was starting to feel like things were going my way. As lunch period on Monday rolled around I made my way down the hall, determined to speak to Saya again. It wasn’t long before a got my chance and I saw light brown curls exiting Azusa’s classroom and heading toward the cafeteria. Looking at her now in her uniform I could see that she wasn’t frumpy at all. She looked a bit too mature to be a high school student. In fact I felt it was safe to assume her loose clothing was more of an attempt to stop guys from coming onto her than to hide anything. Suddenly calling out to her seemed to be much bigger of a task than I thought.

“Izumi Koichi?” Saya turned to me. I wondered how long I’d been staring when the girl next to her blushed and looked away. “Go on ahead, Umi. I’m going to talk to him.” The girl nodded shyly before walking off and Saya came up to me with a confidence in her step I hadn’t seen before.

“U-um. Taka… hashi… right?” I stammered. God, I hope I’m not turning into some hormonal teenage boy.

“Yes?” She placed her hands on her hips and I made the mistake of looking down once before training my eyes on her face. “Well, what is it? Did you want to apologize to me for running off the other day without a proper goodbye?”

“Uh, yes! I’m sorry. Kazuto is really self-conscious about what people think of him so he can be pretty forceful.” Not that I’m one to talk.

Saya’s laugh startled me before she smiled sweetly. “It’s alright. I’m not mad as long as you keep my secret. So did you have anything else to say?”

“Yes.” I answered, trying to get back to my earlier state of mind. Saya’s not Azusa. She’s an otaku, but she’s also a normal girl with a normal understanding of people and emotions. Taking a deep breath, I relaxed a bit. “I wanted to ask you if you’re willing to listen to Amamiya’s story. I know you probably prefer… a specific type of romance… but I promise that Amamiya’s stories are really interesting! I’m not asking you to draw it for her, but at least listen to what she has to say and then decide if you’d be willing to help her out.” I know I probably looked angry instead of determined, but I wanted to show my conviction as best I could. Saya didn’t give away what she was thinking.

“I don’t really mind, but why are you asking me if it’s Azusa’s story?”

“Because… I really want to see this story. Amamiya’s not the type to go out of her way to ask things of people. And it’s a love story so I thought you might be interested.”

“You must really like this story of hers, huh, Izumi Koichi?” Saya smirked, delicate curls framing her face as she tilted her head. Honestly, she was a little intimidating. “Tell me. What’s so great about it? What makes this story not just another romance?”

I cleared my throat and remembered my goal. “Amamiya makes it different. She puts so much time and thought into each person. What they like, what they don’t, their values and motivations. She spends so much time making them 3 dimensional.”

“Is that why you’re so intent on helping her?”

“It isn’t just that.” I felt a conclusion coming to me and I rolled with it. “They mean more. She looks at things differently. She thinks about things like how good people are for each other. It’s not just some pointless romance. They each have something the other lacks, yet they have so much in common, too. And it’s not just this story. She has things she wants to say and when I hear her talking about these characters and messages I can’t sit still. I believe that if a story is good it deserves to be told. Isn’t that reason enough?”

“That’s a good answer, Izumi Koichi!” Saya smiled.

“You… you don’t have to keep saying my full name like that.” I stammered.

“Alright then, Izumi. I will hear Azusa out. I’m not in any clubs so if you’re free after school we can meet somewhere.”

“The library!” I answered reflexively. My excitement got the better of me and before I knew it Saya was gone.

“Izumi.” I heard from the doorway and turned to see Azusa. “You’re actually really tenacious, aren’t you?”

“Amamiya!!” I near shouted, my heart racing from too many emotions to count. “How long have you been there?”

“Hmmm…” Azusa leaned against the doorway to her classroom, a thoughtful finger to her lips, and my whole system shut down when she answered. “Around ‘Amamiya makes it different’.” She grinned at me.

How embarrassing. “I! You know! That’s!”

“Appealing to a girl like that sounds like a real pain though…” She folded her arms, moving out of the way of some girls and leaning against the wall instead. She looked kind of tired again. “Takahashi is one of those one hundred and ten percent kind of people, you know? She nags me a lot when we have class duties together. She even went so far as to keep track of me during the physical exams.”

“I didn’t realize you had that kind of relationship.” The look of Azusa’s face when Saya spoke to her over the weekend was starting to make a little sense. Maybe Azusa was a much lazier person than I thought. “But this is a good opportunity for you!” I pushed. Even if she was lazy, she’d be an idiot to walk away from something like this, wouldn’t she?

“Yeah.” Azusa agreed, but that grin she always pointed at me was gone. “I guess it can’t hurt to talk to her.”

I felt a bit uneasy after that, waiting impatiently for classes to end so that I could be there for Saya and Azusa’s conversation. I was starting to get the idea that Azusa might ruin this somehow. Again, she puzzled me. She said that she wasn’t going to write it because it was too much work, right? Because she wasn’t good at writing, right? So here I was making everything easy on her and she still seemed to be put off. It didn’t make sense that a girl with commitment issues would ask someone out even if it was just to see what I’d say. But what more could there be to the situation that made her so opposed?

When school was over I was quick to collect my things. I asked Kazuto if he wanted to come too, but he just waved me off. He never liked nerve wracking situations like this and in the end he told me to just tell him how it turned out. That kind of made me nervous too. Suddenly this felt really important.

I tried not to run to the library. Azusa and Saya’s class was much closer to it so I figured that they would get there before me. I was used to walking in and seeing that mess of burgundy hair and that plastic smile, but this time the atmosphere was different. That room that was usually filled with Azusa’s lazy presence was now overwhelmed by Saya’s intimidating pressure.

“We don’t need to wait for Izumi. It’s your story so tell me about it. What’s the genre? The setting? Who does it center around? Do you have designs or would I be designing them?” Saya wasn’t sitting down. Instead she stood opposite of Azusa with her hand on the table in a demanding fashion. If I wasn’t so used to watching Azusa’s face I probably wouldn’t have noticed how uncomfortable she looked behind that smile.

“I don’t have designs, but I do have an idea of how they could look.” Azusa started, stopping as soon as she saw me. “Izumi! Come here! You’re better at this sort of thing.”

“Right!” I stammered, making my way to the table, but I stopped when Saya glared at me.

“What’s with that wishy washy attitude, Azusa? It’s your story. I want to hear it from you.”

I froze. I didn’t think Saya would be this obstinate.  As I feared, without the thought of escape Azusa gave me the impression she might willingly sabotage this and I panicked at that thought. This was really important to me for some reason and I had to do something before that forced smile turned into a scowl. So I steeled myself and took a seat beside Azusa, gesturing to the seat across the table.

“Takahashi. Why don’t you sit down?” I tried to smile, but I know it didn’t look right. I probably looked at least half as nervous as I felt and three times as annoyed but Saya didn’t mention it. Instead she took a seat and crossed her legs before fixating her gaze on Azusa.

“Go ahead then.” Saya said, more patiently this time and Azusa looked at me a bit helplessly. My heart swelled a bit, but I shook that thought away. Now was not the time.

“It’s alright, Amamiya.” I tried to sound certain. “You don’t need to pitch it. Just tell her about it like you told me. I’m sure she’ll see how interesting it is!”

Azusa stared at me for a moment like she was searching for something before turning back to Saya. She seemed to relax a little and I could have imagined it, but she might have been a tiny bit closer to me than before.

“Well, I don’t much care for romance stories, you see.” Azusa started as clinically as possible. “They always seem so forced. So I didn’t want to make a couple that just ended up together because I made them to. Instead I wanted a heroine that thinks she’s in love with someone because they’re close. Then he falls in love with someone else and in her desperate attempt to get back in the forefront of her mind she finds someone who’s better suited to her.” She pulled out her notebook and began to discuss the characters. She was kind enough not to tell Saya who she based them off of, instead sticking to basic details until Saya pressed further. Azusa had an answer to everything, delving deeper into the complex emotions of the characters and why the acted the way they did. It was going well. Saya seemed interested. Then, of course, Saya pushed in the direction I had hoped she wouldn’t.

“So what are your plans for it? You’re not really into manga so is it really alright to have it drawn? Or is this a by any means possible kind of thing?”

Azusa smiled calmly. “Oh, I don’t have any plans. It doesn’t really matter to me if it gets done or not.”

I paled. What is she thinking?! My mind was screaming. She knows Saya is a one hundred and ten kind of person!

“What? Are you serious? What kind of attitude is that? Do you really expect anyone to go into a project with someone who feels that way?” Saya stood again and Azusa leaned back a bit in her chair.

“Well, Izumi is—”

“What about Izumi? This is your story! I story is only as could as the care put into it. How do you expect me to be interested if you’re not?”

“Takahashi.” I tried to reason. “It’s true that I’m the one who really wants to do this, but after hearing all of the work she’s already put in can you really say Amamiya’s uninterested?”

Azusa is the one who created this.” Saya brought a steady palm down on the table and looked around at the empty library, wary of anyone we might be bothering. “It’s fine if you want to give it your all, Izumi, but a team is only as good as its weakest link.”

Azusa wasn’t smiling anymore and my heart sunk a little. That indifferent expression looked just as practiced as her usual smile and I was starting to see that Azusa wasn’t as emotionless as she let on. She looked away from us both, folding her arms and dropping her shoulders in the way someone might if they’ve had all they can take and didn’t care anymore.

“Well, then it’s probably better that there is no team.”

“So that’s it? A little road block and the trip is canceled?” Saya taunted. “I knew you were a quitter, Azusa, but I thought you’d give more effort into something you liked.”

I stood then. “That’s enough, Takahashi. That’s a bit much, don’t you think? If you two function so differently then shouldn’t there be a little compromise? You can’t expect Amamiya to suddenly change how she is if you aren’t willing to change a little too. You don’t have to be best friends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work together. Would it be so difficult just because Amamiya’s not a passionate person? Didn’t I say that I was the one who really wanted to do this?”

“It’s fine, Izumi. You don’t need to go so far.” Azusa looked at me with those eyes that had already given up and I felt something snap. I was angry. I was angry at Azusa too.

“It’s because of that defeatist attitude that Takahashi won’t work with you, you know.” I knew I shouldn’t have but I ignored the look of surprise in her eyes and kept on going. “I get being daunted by a large goal, but are you really so lazy that you can’t put even a little more effort into this? Isn’t that why everyone’s always so mad at you? Would it kill you to try just a little bit harder?”

“Maybe it would. Why the hell do you care so much?” She glared, forcing me back a bit as she stood. Then a cruel smile crept onto her lips. “I don’t get you Izumi. Maybe you actually do have a crush on me, huh?”

I tensed when I saw that grin. She already knew how I felt. She was just teasing me on purpose. I looked away from her, turning towards Saya, but unable to look her in the eyes. I could feel the heat on my face all the way to my ears and I bowed my head further, trying to look like I was just being polite.

“I’m sorry, Takahashi. I didn’t call you out here just to have an argument.” I paused, composing myself. “I won’t waste your time anymore.”

I didn’t have to see her face to know she felt sorry for me. “It’s alright, Izumi. I kind of knew it would turn out like this anyway. I’ll see you later.” Saya picked up her bag from the back of the library chair and walked out. The sound of her footsteps felt louder than our conversation was, echoing on for way too long until Azusa broke the silence, sliding back into her chair with no effort to be discreet.

“She’s gone, you know. You don’t have to keep bowing like that.” She commented, her chin in one delicate hand, eyes off somewhere on the other side of the room.

“You know what, Amamiya? I really get why people call you insensitive now.” I blurted out.

“Really? I’m the one who’s insensitive?” She spoke calmly and I couldn’t tell if it hurt her feelings like I wanted it to since she still wouldn’t look at me. “Aren’t you the one who decided you wanted to do something and then forced it on me? I told you I had no intention of writing, Izumi. I told you I’m not ambitious like that. I told you she was pushy and annoying and working with her would be hard. I told you. I was clear. You were the one who didn’t consider how I felt about this, getting lost in your fantasies like always. Trapped in that concept of making something you like real and thinking it would just work out the way it does in stories.” She looked at me then and smiled, but I could tell she was trying really hard not to get angry. “This isn’t a book, Izumi. Things don’t happen because you want them to or even if you need them to.”

“You’re right. Things happen because you make them happen. That’s what I was trying to do.” I sighed. “You also said that I could have that story. Did you mean that? Or did you just say that because you were sure it wouldn’t work out.”

She thought for a while before shrugging and looking away again. “Well, I definitely didn’t think it would work out.”

It made me angrier than it should have but I didn’t know what else to say. I couldn’t bring myself to say something worse than that so I just picked up my bag and left as fast as I could.

I took me a long time to change my shoes. My frustration was so overwhelming I just threw them on the ground and stared at them for ages. I didn’t hear or see Azusa anywhere around that whole time so I assumed she was still in the library. I thought about waiting and apologizing, but I was still mad and my pride wouldn’t allow it. So I walked home. It took me almost twice as long as it normally did and I spent the entirety of that time thinking the same thought.

“Maybe you actually do have a crush on me, huh?”

That wouldn’t have made me so upset if it wasn’t true.

 

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