Energy! 24/6 [Book 1: Chapter 10]
I’m this far into my story and it feels like I’ve made no progress. Azusa hung out with me outside of school but it wasn’t a date and even though we spent the whole day together I don’t feel like we’ve gotten any closer. I thought that because I learned about her secret hobby we would become friends. I thought she was being more honest with me than anyone else. But after yesterday I’m not sure she was ever honest about anything she told me.
Azusa is surprisingly mean-spirited. Now that I know that I’m not actually sure why I was surprised at all. I mean, it’s not like she’d never said anything before yesterday that hurt my feelings but I guess I was just so infatuated that I was fine with overlooking them. I know now that I was being naïve, but the worst part is that despite that I still want to be around her. Thinking about her ignoring me from now on makes me impatient. I don’t want to keep going like this. I can admit that we were both at fault if that’s what it takes. After all, I did pressure her into something she told me she didn’t want to do. But I just can’t bring myself to accept that not even a small part of Azusa wanted to do it to.
“You know, midterms are in two weeks. Are you going to be okay? You haven’t been studying.” Kazuto leaned over the back of his chair, taking bites out of a milk bread, no doubt. He was eyeing me. Watching me carefully.
“I’m fine, I’m not stupid.”
“Yeah, but you get distracted easily.” He wasn’t teasing like normal, but a part of me felt like he only wanted me to pass so he wouldn’t be alone next year. When had I become so insecure?
“Shouldn’t you be worried about yourself?” I asked defensively, knowing what he was going to say.
“I’m like a million times smarter than you.” He laughed. “Just try to pay attention in class instead of thinking about Amamiya.”
It was a reflexive response. I didn’t even register the sound of my chair scraping against the floor or Kazuto’s surprised expression. Before I knew it I was walking down the hallway, shoulders tense, probably looking really angry. Angrier than I felt, for sure. After all I wasn’t really mad. I couldn’t name what I was feeling so easily.
I stopped when my eyes met with Saya’s. I wanted to run away but I just stood there like an idiot until she greeted me politely with a small bow.
“I’m sorry about the other day, Takahashi.” I blurted out, immediately feeling embarrassed. I expected Saya to smile at me sweetly and forgiving or maybe even pitying, but she didn’t.
“That’s a little disappointing.” She sighed, folding her arms. “I thought you were going to ask me to give it another shot.”
“Wh-what?” I gaped. That wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I had half a mind to ask right then and there if Saya would reconsider and just communicate with Azusa through me but then I realized that Azusa would still be a part of the equation. I wondered if I was willing to do that.
“I guess I can’t blame you if you’re annoyed at her but… you should probably be annoyed at me too.” She sounded like she didn’t want to admit that, but her gaze was steady and confident and I couldn’t look her directly in the eyes. “I might have went into that conversation with the intention of provoking Azusa. I don’t know if you know this but we don’t have the best track record.”
“Amamiya said something about you being pushy.”
“Well… Maybe I expect a bit much from people.” Saya grimaced, obviously trying not to get annoyed. “It just bugs me when I see how half-hearted she does everything. She doesn’t care about anything. Not other people’s feelings or even her own it seems. I guess I just wanted to see her get passionate about something… or at least riled up. I’m disappointed in myself for not trying my best for what I agreed to do. That wasn’t fair to you, Izumi. I know you were really excited about it so I’m sorry.”
My hands bolted up in response, shaking rapidly as she bowed. I couldn’t recall the last time someone apologized so formally but I definitely didn’t feel like I deserved it.
“It’s alright! I mean… I guess… maybe it isn’t. But I was the one forcing everyone into this… so…”
The few passersby slowed to watch Saya slap me hard on the arm. The warm days of early May assured that my favorite hoodie or and blazer weren’t there to shield me from her impressive strength. I stood there rubbing my arm in shock, but Saya went unfazed making me wonder how often she did that to people.
“Izumi, would you have some confidence! What you did was pure and passionate and I commend you so have some pride!” She breathed through her nostrils in a way that said she was way tired of my attitude. “There’s nothing wrong with being passionate! It was mine and Azusa’s fault for arguing and that’s that.”
“But I can’t force her to write if she doesn’t want to.”
“What are you forcing her to do? She’s going to have ideas whether you ask her to or not! Do you really think she didn’t want any part of that? Does Azusa strike you as the type of girl who would let herself be forced to do something she doesn’t want to do? I don’t think so. That girl does whatever she wants with no regard for others. I think you’re misunderstanding her.”
Saya smiled at me and all of the conversations I’d had with Azusa seemed to pile at my feet. I watched them, counting the times on my fingers that Azusa’s smile seemed genuine. What were we talking about when she did that? What did she say to me that I’d missed? What wasn’t I understanding about her? I couldn’t say for sure, but I did know that she looked happy when we talked about stories whether they were hers or Obana Michiyo’s. Azusa loves stories as much as I do. There’s no way she could be as opposed to this as she seemed. Maybe she was just as frustrated as I was.
“I should talk to her.” I said, feeling my priorities shifting back into place. “Is she in class?”
“Oh.” Saya looked blankly at me. “Azusa didn’t come to school today. She should be back tomorrow I think.”
That caught me off guard. “Is she that mad? Or is she sick?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Azusa misses a lot of school. She says she’s sick, but I’m pretty sure she’s just playing hooky.”
“She does…?” That thought troubled me. I wanted to believe she was someone who didn’t think much of ditching, but I couldn’t shake the image of her tired eyes out of my head.
“Her brother usually picks up her homework when she’s absent. He’s very friendly if you want to talk to him, but like I said, she should be back tomorrow.” Saya smiled, patting me on the shoulder she’d smacked earlier and paying no mind to the way I rubbed it afterward. As she turned to leave she left me with one last notion. “Oh and, Izumi. You have terrible taste in women.” She winked at me before walking away, soon joined by a girl with long brown hair that I didn’t recognize.
My face changed five shades, I’m sure, as I whipped around and stocked back to my classroom.
“Her brother usually picks up her homework when she’s absent.”
Was Azusa absent so much that that had become a routine thing? The whole thing made me feel so impatient. How was I supposed to wait until tomorrow to talk to her? What if she was absent tomorrow, too? What if she didn’t want to talk to me?
Kazuto was right. I watched the back of his head during class knowing those focused green eyes were concentrating on learning. Meanwhile I sat there distracted by the thought of Azusa. I scratched my head and looked up at the board, trying to take notes. Midterms were coming and I was lost in my own world again. Before when this would happen it would be because I was in the middle of a book or the last episode of my favorite drama ended on a cliffhanger and waiting a week for the next one was driving me crazy. I’d never been this distracted over a person.
When class was over Kazuto leaned against my desk and prodded me about the notes. I didn’t lie exactly, since I did manage to write a few things down, but I knew he didn’t believe I was paying attention. I thought about seeing if Azusa’s brother was there, but I didn’t know what to say to him so instead I packed up my things and prepared to leave. What I didn’t expect was the sly grin on Kazuto’s face as he grabbed me by the strap on my book bag and dragged me down the hall to Azusa’s classroom.
“What are you doing?!” I struggled, holding onto my bag for dear life.
“I’m sick of watching your depressed ass. We’re going to talk this out.”
“Amamiya’s absent today!” I called out to him and he stopped suddenly, but as I regained my bearings and turned around I realized that it wasn’t because of what I said.
“Who’s Saya talking to?”
At first glance I thought I saw Azusa’s familiar mop of burgundy hair, but her image was quickly replaced with a brown private school uniform and a boy much taller than her. I didn’t notice the envious look on Kazuto’s face or the smile and wave Saya shot toward me until the boy turned to me with a bright, unguarded smile. He definitely wasn’t Azusa.
“Narumi, this who I was telling you about. The angry looking one is Izumi Koichi and the pretty boy is for some reason his friend.”
“What the hell kind of introduction is that?!” Kazuto fumed. “My name is Hinamori Kazuto!” He glared at Saya who responded in kind, sticking her tongue out for added effect.
“Nice to meet you both!” The boy seemed to sparkle as he smiled, giving a short bow to us both. “My name is Amamiya Narumi. Thank you for being friends with my sister. I know she can be a handful.”
“I’ll say!” Kazuto grinned.
“It’s not a problem!” I scratched my head nervously. “I kind of feel like I’m bothering her most of the time actually.”
“Nonsense!” Narumi patted me on the shoulder, looking at me with stars in his eyes. “Azusa is especially fond of you, Koichi!”
“I-is that so…?” I could feel my face reddening, unsure if it was because of this guy’s over-familiar attitude or because of what he said.
“Yup! She never goes out with friends!” He giggled. “Least of all on the weekend. That’s her sacred time.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Kazuto gave Narumi a weird look.
“Oh, nothing. Azusa’s just a strange girl.” Narumi glanced back at Saya for a second before his eyes brightened. “Say! How about you all come to see her? She’s never had friends come to visit so I’m sure she’ll be thrilled!”
By the looks on everyone’s faces I could tell that that thought was just as hard for them to believe as it was for me. I had to wonder if these two were even related. From a strangers point of view there would be no question with his familiar features and constant smile. He looked just like her on the outside, but I could tell that his joy was real and full and something about Azusa’s was forced and hollow. It made me really curious about their home life.
“Audition number two, huh?” Saya smiled at me. It gave me a bit of courage.
“Yeah, alright!” Kazuto chimed in before I could say anything. “Come on, Kou. Let’s go see Amamiya.”
“Oh, yeah, one more thing!” Narumi grinned and for the first time I saw a resemblance between the siblings. His grin was sneaky, like he had been planning something and finally caught us in his trap. “Everyone at our house is Amamiya so you’re going to have to call her Azusa, okay?” His smile was innocent, but I wasn’t fooled anymore. I was sure now that it was every bit as practiced as his sister’s.