Sorry if these colors are blindingly bright. I was experimenting. lol. I wanted to try something summery! I never really get into summer since I don’t really like it and I prefer drawing winter clothes so this is my attempt at something I don’t normally do and also since it’s summer at this point in the story! ^^ Can’t wait until these two become a bit closer. Sorry it’s so slowburn, but I wanted their relationship to develop at least a little realistically. xD
Narumi was talking. I only knew because I could hear him saying Azusa’s name every now and then and it reminded me that I was about to be face to face with her in her own home. It’s not like that was a big deal on its own, but I wasn’t really prepared for it. I wanted to talk things out, but how exactly was I going to do that with everyone else there? I’d be way too embarrassed.
“When you say it it gives her some merit, but in the end it still feels like Azusa’s playing hooky.” Saya walked easily next to Narumi, turning to him and shaking her head.
I walked behind them, Kazuto at my side. He had no problem navigating in and out of the conversation, but I guess I was the only one too awkward to say anything.
“Is that why she likes all that health food stuff?” Kazuto asked, his book bag dangling carelessly in the grip that rested behind his neck. I tried to tune in at that. Is what why she likes health food? What were they talking about?
“Oh, you noticed, huh?” Narumi chuckled. “I guess there are some things she can’t help but put effort into still. She used to be a lot more hard working and since mom was dead set on her being a doctor Azusa started studying health and nutrition. She was really good at it, but after the burn out she doesn’t really care about studies. I guess she’s just using what she learned to stay healthy. She gets really moody when she feels even a little bad so I can imagine why.”
“The burn out?” I blurted out.
“Yeah… well, I don’t really know what else to call it.” Narumi rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly as he came to a halt. We watched as he turned to us, guard down and eyes a bit pleading. “Azusa’s going to wring my neck when she finds out I’m telling you guys all of this… I know you aren’t that close. There’s no way you could be with the way she is, but if you can would you please try to be her friend?”
The three of us exchanged glances, probably taken aback by the request. Honestly I didn’t know what they were thinking, but I was sure that Saya would take the lead as always. To my surprise it was Kazuto who spoke up first.
“I know that dork isn’t closer to anyone else in school than us.” He smirked. “So doesn’t that make us friends already?”
Saya appraised him for a moment before smiling. “Well, she’s a pain my ass, but I do feel a sense of responsibility for her.”
“You don’t have to say anything, Kou.” Kazuto slapped me on the back. “We all know you’re pretty much obsessed with her.”
“I’m not! Don’t say that! That makes me sound like a stalker or something!”
My protests were ignored as we moved on and Narumi continued with his explanation. He told us about Azusa’s collapse in middle school and how her body has been weak ever since then. The doctors tell her she’ll be fine as long as she watched her stress levels and to just go on like normal. Somehow it didn’t surprise me. Thinking back, Azusa always seemed tired, like she was forcing herself to be cheerful. I had to wonder if that was a difficult thing to do.
As we approached the door Narumi turned to us again, hands clasped together. “Um, can you guys not tell her I told you all of that? She’s really scary when she’s mad, okay?”
Saya laughed. “Don’t worry, Narumi. We’ll behave. Right, boys?”
That bright smile lit up Narumi’s face as we nodded and he eagerly opened the door. “Welcome! Please make yourselves comfortable!”
Kazuto gawked shamelessly as we entered the expensive looking home, abandoning our shoes at the door. Narumi led us into the living room with that bright smile of his and I soon found myself face to face with a startled Azusa. We three stood in the archway to the living room watching as an orange slice slipped from her fingers and onto the short table. The low volume of the TV was loud in the silence of our impromptu staring contest.
Amber eyes shot toward Narumi who approached gleefully as if nothing was awry. “Narumi. What are they doing here?”
“I invited them! I thought you’d be happy to see your friends!” He grinned, but kept his distance as if he was anticipating a physical attack.
Azusa turned back to us, her hair falling a bit in her face without her hairclip. She was dressed so comfortably in a matching light green pajama set. It was casual and I felt like I was invading her privacy a bit, but it was really cute.
“Jeez, Azusa! Aren’t you going to welcome us? After we came all this way just to see if you were okay!” Saya marched fearlessly into the room, taking a seat at Azusa’s side. The action was enough to break the tension and Kazuto and I followed after toward the low table to sit. Saya’s scolding was light hearted and caring, but Azusa looked away with a pout. Her face was more expressive than I’d ever seen before. She looked so much less guarded than usual and a part of me wanted to take advantage of that somehow.
“How rude of you to barge in here like we’re friends after yelling at me.” Azusa jabbed childishly.
“Well I was going to apologize, but now that you’re acting like a five year old I’m not sure that I want to.” Saya folded her arms and turned away equally as childish.
Azusa looked like she was fighting with herself as she trained her eyes on her brother and Narumi offered her an encouraging smile before escaping to the kitchen for snacks.
“Were you really going to apologize?” She mumbled.
“I’m not so much of a child that I can’t admit that I was being too pushy.” Saya quipped.
Azusa looked at me with a suspicious expression. “Did you… come to apologize too, Izumi?”
I inwardly panicked for a moment. What did I come for? My mind went blank and I nodded reflexively. I don’t think I was the only one who jumped a bit when Azusa dropped her arms to the table and buried her face.
“Seriously?” She whined. “Are you messing with me? You can’t possibly be this nice after I said all that stuff.”
Saya looked at me pointedly, gesturing toward Azusa. I could tell she wanted me to do what we talked about and fix things, but everyone was watching and I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say.
“Hey, Saya.” Kazuto suddenly stood. “Let’s go help Narumi in the kitchen, huh?”
“What? But Izumi is—!”
“Don’t worry about him, he’s fine.” He smirked, helping her up and practically dragging her away. “Koichi’s not good under pressure.” I heard him whisper. I might’ve protested that if I wasn’t so grateful, so instead I turned back to Azusa who was peeking over her arm to watch them go.
“I’m sorry, Amamiya. I didn’t mean to stress you out this much.” My eyes took to watching the grain of the table, traveling up and down the little grooves to avoid looking at Azusa.
“It’s not really your fault…” She sighed. “No… I guess it is a little your fault. But mostly it’s me.”
“It’s because I’m pushing you to make your hobby into a career, right? Does it bother you that much?”
“It’s not that it bothers me… It’s that… It’s not easy for me to say this.” Azusa looked at me and I met her eyes on accident.
“I’m not going to judge you.”
“It’s that. It’s you. You’re not at all what I thought. Even though I thought I’d figured you out when I took my notes, the more I learn about you the more I feel like I don’t understand you at all. I don’t get why you care so much and I want to care about it as much as you do but I don’t. I do care. Just not as much as you. But… what you want to do… what you want me to accomplish… it’s difficult. I think that, if it was you then you could do it. But it isn’t you. It’s me. And I can’t do anything.” She sat up. Her delicate hands played with the ends of her pajama shirt and I could tell she wanted to apologize, but I didn’t really care about that anymore.
“Then let me do it.” I found myself saying. Somehow, watching her in that delicate state gave me courage. “Let me be your ambition. Let me do everything that’s too hard. Let me help you.” I searched her eyes as they widened, looking for any sign that she might give in but Azusa didn’t say anything. She just watched me. “I really do believe in you, Amamiya. I believe that your stories are important. But in the end, making them a reality isn’t your dream. It’s mine. I know that it’s selfish of me, but I want to do this. So I’m okay with it if you only want to do the fun parts. All I’m asking is that when you do, you give it your all.”
“…I’m sorry, Izumi.” She finally spoke. I could feel myself deflating as I anticipated her answer. “For that stuff I said before. You’ve been working so hard all this time for my sake and I’ve been a jerk. I know I’m not really tactful and you’re pretty sensitive so I should’ve been more careful about what I was saying.”
I let that one slide, telling myself she must not have known how rude that last part sounded. “It’s fine. We were both frustrated.”
Azusa gave me a slightly sheepish look. “Do you think Takahashi would hear us out one more time?”
“It’s Saya.” The girl in question made her way to us with a tray of cookies, setting them delicately on the table. “It’s weird if I call you by your given name when you don’t do the same!”
Azusa looked a bit put off, but she caved quickly under Saya’s stare. “Saya…” She struggled. “Would you—?”
“Of course I would! Why would I come all the way over here if I wasn’t on board?” Saya smiled, seemingly satisfied. “And Izumi!” She pointed at me and I felt my back straighten up involuntarily. “Didn’t Narumi say earlier that there are more than one Amamiya’s here! It’s confusing if you don’t call her by her name.”
I locked eyes with Azusa and my face burned up. “A-Azusa…” I stuttered helplessly under Saya’s stare. My heart skipped a beat at the small smile Azusa tried to hide. I followed her eyes to her hands as they fiddled with her half eaten orange.
“Stop giving Kou a hard time. He has a weak heart.” Kazuto laughed, setting drinks down next to the cookies.
Narumi followed soon after with a bowl of pealed oranges. “If you guys are going to work on a project then I want to help!” His smile shined brightly as he took a seat next to his sister who lightly shoved him away.
“After midterms are over, naturally.” Kazuto sat casually beside me and the whole room froze.
“Ugh!” Azusa dropped her head back on the table. “I hate exams.” She complained earning her a scolding from Saya who warned her against slacking on something so important.
I relaxed at the atmosphere even though I was sure I was most likely in the room to fail in at least one class. Even so, at least I didn’t have to worry about Azusa anymore so I might finally be able to concentrate.
We left shortly after that when Azusa’s eyelids became noticeably heavy. It was a relief. I was able to make up with her and somehow my social circle had become a little bit bigger. The excitement was bubbling up inside me as I anticipated the project to come. We had a team and I couldn’t wait to see how it was going to come together.
“I can’t believe you didn’t confess to her.” Kazuto sighed, draping an arm around my shoulders.
Saya nodded in agreement, slapping me lightly on the arm. “Yeah, Izumi! We even left you alone!”
“Confess what?!” I near shouted.
“Your undying love, duh.” Kazuto looked at me like I was the crazy one and I shrugged out of his grasp.
“I am not in love with Azusa.” I blushed as I realized my mistake. “Amamiya.”
“Don’t back track, Izumi.” Saya scolded. “You made progress. Take advantage of it.”
“I’m not in love with her.” I repeated. “I meant what I said back there. Maybe it’s selfish of me but I can’t let go of this dream and I can’t do it without Azusa. Maybe I like her…” I admitted. “But I don’t want to rush at her with something I’m not sure of.”
They exchanged glances before smiling at me. I could tell they were sticking by their thoughts, but at least they would let it go for now. At the very least I knew we all had something to look forward to after the midterms were over. So we left it at that and walked home.
As I lay in bed that night I thought I realized after that I couldn’t do anything on my own, but neither could Azusa. All of the faith I had in her and the will I had to accomplish this tall fantasy was what she lacked. Azusa was never going to put in any effort unless I did first and somehow I was okay with that. I wanted that. Maybe I was hoping that if I pushed enough, someday, she would push back.
So I don’t know what you’re going to take out of all of this, but there are a couple of things I learned. You shouldn’t expect to get more out of anything, or anyone, than you put in yourself and if you really want something you can’t expect it fall in your lap. You have to fight for it as hard as you can. You can bet that that’s what I’m going to do from now on.
So thanks for listening.
Book 2: Love, Karin will begin serializing in September 2016.
Birthday: 09.08 Blood type: AB
Height: 151cm Weight: 53kg
Likes: Romance, Hard workers, Manga, Banana Juice, Flowers, Make up
Dislikes: Quitters, Tight clothes, Milk, Cream, Showing skin, Wearing pants
Saya is what Azusa refers to as a “one hundred and ten percent kind of person” and Saya would probably be okay with that. She’s definitely the kind of girl who gives it her all, which isn’t such a bad thing until she expects everyone around her to do the same. This is the cause of her clashing with Azusa, who runs at a much slower pace.
Saya is in love with love. That means all kinds of love. She’s a hard core otaku who draws R18 yaoi doujinshi for profit. Though she’s young and isn’t supposed to be doing that which causes her to be much more timid and defensive at events where she can be caught. At school, however, Saya is confident and the full force of her pushy nature comes into effect.
Though Saya means well, she can be pushy, stubborn, overbearing, and a bit over dramatic. She’s cute, but doesn’t like showing off her curvy body since men can be handsy. She hates to admit it, but she has a hard time making friends as well and if she’d just calm down a bit she may find that she and Azusa have a lot more in common than she thinks.
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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I wasn’t happy with chapter 8 so I’m going back and fixing it. I’ll be resuming schedule next week but for now here’s a picture. Originally I was going to release pictures along with each chapter, but it didn’t happen since I’m working on so many things at once. I have a lot of things I want to draw for this story, but Azusa’s confession was always the most important thing in my mind since this whole story came about because of two things and one of them was the thought of a guy falling for a girl after he’d already turned her down. So anyway, I hope you enjoy this and i’ll try to draw more soon. :) You can read the story here.
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.
I found myself infinitely distracted as I reread “Sunday Morning Coffee”, one of my favorite Obana Michiyo novels. It wasn’t the feeling that I wanted, I realized, so I set it down and scanned my bookshelf for something else. Every opening line I read only fed my frustration. Then, finally, I understood why. I wanted to read Azusa’s story. I wanted those feels.
For a moment I panicked, first wondering if I had said that out loud and then wondering who the hell was in my bedroom. The alarm subsided as soon as I recognized the voice in my doorway and turned, probably too fast and with too defensive an expression.
“Kazuto!” I glared. “I told you to text me before you come over!”
“I did.” He grinned, holding up his phone. “You didn’t answer.”
“So you came anyway…”
“Yup!” He sat cheerfully on my bed as if it was his own and immediately pulled a handheld from his pocket. “Looking for a word book to read?”
“I was.” I rolled my eyes and turned away from the shelf. There was something annoying in every direction it seemed.
“Oh, don’t stop on my account.” His eyes focused on his game, but he looked like he wanted attention.
Normally I would’ve ignored it but he was making a face I knew all too well. It was the face he made when he was upset, but Kazuto wasn’t the type to talk about feelings. He didn’t like drama or getting deep and even though I wanted to ask what he needed in times like this I knew his carefully crafted superficiality would keep me from making any progress.
I slouched against the shelf when I realized he was probably just annoyed at how much I’d been ignoring him lately. It reminded me of Azusa’s story and I found myself sympathizing. It must be hard when you only have one person to care about and they suddenly find someone more interesting. I groaned out loud and Kazuto paused his game to give me a quizzical look.
“I’m sorry.” I met his eyes, but he looked away. I knew he was embarrassed.
“What the hell are you apologizing for?” Immediately he was busy with his game again, a light dusting of pink across his cheeks. “I just came over here to give you some attention and now you’re getting all weird.”
“Sorry…” That one was considerably less sincere.
“Anyway, what about your feels?” He dodged. “Are you bored with your word books?”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not that…” I hesitated, wondering if bringing up Azusa was a bad idea. “I found out why that stuff was in Amamiya’s notebook.”
“You gave it back to her?!” He put his game to the side and I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I knew he was interested at least, even though he looked unhappy about my decision.
“Well, it belongs to her.” I defended.
“So what was that profile stuff about? Is she a serial killer after all?” His eyes sparkled just a bit. “No I guess you wouldn’t be here if she was.”
“She’s not a murderer and she’s not crazy.” I scowled when I couldn’t find something nonlethal to throw at him. He looked unconvinced. “She uses people as references for characters. Then she makes stories with them.” I didn’t realize I was smiling until I saw Kazuto’s face fall a little.
I leaned back on my hands and watched him suspiciously, but he quickly corrected himself, grinning and asking me about the conversation we had. Normally I would’ve left it alone, but it bothered me that I didn’t really understand why something like that would’ve upset him. It made me wonder what kind of face I was making. I opened my mouth to tell him what I was thinking. I know you don’t like to talk about this stuff, but if you’re upset with me you need to say something or I won’t know.
I couldn’t do it. Instead I told him about Azusa’s story and he picked his game up and leaned back on my bed. He seemed to go back to normal after that. Commenting every now and then about how the heroine sounded like me and I opted out of telling him the truth about that too.
“Sounds like it would make a good shoujo manga.” He grinned. I felt a bit relieved at that grin. “Too bad you nerds probably want to waste a good story on a word book.”
“Actually…” I glared at that stupid phrase before looking unintentionally sullen. “She isn’t going to write it at all.”
To my surprise, Kazuto sat up at that. “What? Why even bother with all of that effort?”
“That’s what I said!” I threw my hands up. “She said she sucks at writing and that it’s just for fun. It seems like Amamiya really doesn’t like to work hard.”
“Lame.” He flopped back down. “It’s too bad she can’t just get an artist to draw it for her. It’s a lot easier to sell manga and doujinshi independently than word books.”
“Yeah…” I thought about that. It wasn’t the most satisfying option available, but it gave me an idea. “I wonder if it was easier… if she didn’t have to go to university. If she didn’t have to write anything. If she only had to do the fun parts… Do you think she’d publish her stories?”
He stared at me for a while with a strange face before looking uninterested again. “Maybe. I don’t know anything about her so I have no idea what she’d do.”
“If I could find an artist for her then we could publish her stories as manga and sell them at those things you go to!”
“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself, Koichi?” Kazuto turned his game off and sat up on the edge of my bed. He looked a little annoyed. “You don’t even know her that well and you’re already planning out her future. What if she doesn’t want to do that?”
“She has good ideas, Kazuto. Like real talent. Doesn’t it bother you that she’s wasting it?”
“Not really.” He said in a way that felt more like, not in the slightest. “Because I don’t even know her and frankly I don’t really care what she does with her life.”
Finally, frustration got the better of me. “Why does she bother you so much?”
“Why are you so stuck on her? Didn’t you reject her? Why the hell are you so obsessed with this now?” He looked more frustrated than I was and that annoyed me even more. If he would just communicate in the first place, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
“I just really like her stories.” I glared. “Is that a problem?”
Kazuto stood up and pocketed his game. I watched him walk to my bedroom door without a word and stop at the doorframe.
“I hope it’s just me you’re lying to, Kou.” He left before I could say anything.
At dinner my mom asked why Kazuto left so suddenly, but I didn’t know how to answer. I just told her I made him mad and she fluffed it off saying he could be so finicky. It was true so I just ate dinner quietly and hoped he would be back to normal in the morning like he always was.
The next day Kazuto didn’t show up to walk to school together and I felt a sinking feeling in my chest. Maybe he was really mad at me. Maybe he was going to ignore me all day. Normally that thought would be welcomed, but that was when he was happy and obnoxious. Not when I knew my only friend was upset with me.
I found myself walking faster than usual to school and I’m sure that, even though I felt worried, I probably looked like I was about to make good on a vendetta. But as I approached my shoe locker I saw a familiar face looking more bashful and less upset than I had expected.
“Kazu!” I rushed up to him on impulse then immediately straightened myself out. Not going to lie, we probably looked like a couple trying to make up after a stupid fight. Bashful, a bit prideful, neither meeting the others eyes. I thought I should say something to stop the weird atmosphere so I opened my mouth to speak.
“Look.” He stopped me, clenching something in his hands. “I don’t hate Amamiya, okay?” He waited for me to nod before continuing. “And I’m…sss… I’m… I might have been aggressive last night.”
“Alright.” It honestly shocked me more that he didn’t make an innuendo about that last part than the fact that he literally couldn’t apologize to me. “So?” I folded my arms. I knew there was more.
“So…” He glared half-heartedly at me. “I got some tickets… For an event…” He seemed to be struggling, but eventually he mumbled the last bit and shoved the tickets he’d been gripping at my chest. “So you can… you know… look at independent… manga artists… or something…”
I took the tickets from him, instinctively straightening them out. I looked up at him in shock. Then I noticed something. “There are three tickets here.”
“Yeah, I know.” He looked away.
“Is…” I didn’t want to say it for fear that it’d only upset him, but I had to know. “Is the third one for Amamiya?”
He took a deep breath and looked as if he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Yes! Okay? It’s for the three of us!”
“The three of us?” I raised an eyebrow and tried not to smile. This must have been hard for him.
“Yeah, I mean…” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “If you’re going to be hanging out with her all the time then obviously I am too.”
“Obviously.” I tried not to laugh, but I’m sure the relief I felt was all over my face.
“Ugh!” He turned around, probably to hide his embarrassment. “I know you’re thrilled about spending more time with me, but you’re going to have to chill, okay? We’re going to be late.”
“Suuureee…” Relief was immediately replaced with exasperation as I watched Kazuto walk away. At least he was back to normal. Now that I didn’t need to worry about him anymore I was going to have to figure out how I was going to ask Azusa to come with me to some otaku gathering without sounding like I was asking her out. Crap. After that last thought I was going to have to figure out how to ask her without freaking out and doing something straight up shameful.
I shoved the tickets into my jacket pocket and went to class, but it was hard to concentrate knowing I was going to have to ask Azusa to do something with me outside of school. What would she say to that? We didn’t even know each other well. It was nerve-wracking, but at the same time there was something else bubbling up inside of me. Something like excitement? I didn’t know what to call it. I had never really been happy about being nervous before and, honestly, I didn’t want to think about such a confusing feeling. So I tried to put it out of my mind. I tried to anyway, but then lunch rolled around and I was going to have to talk to her if I went looking and suddenly I had all of these other things I needed to do.
“Um… You finally have my approval to go find Amamiya and you’re not going anywhere.” Kazuto sat backwards in his seat in front of mine like he always did at lunch and his accusatory look was majorly unwelcome.
“Aren’t we having lunch? What?”
“Nothing.” Kazuto shrugged carelessly, but I knew he was judging me. Every bite of his melon bread was like he was rubbing my cowardice in my face.
“I don’t have to see her at lunch. I can see her after school.” I glared.
He laughed at me. “I didn’t say anything, dude.”
He didn’t have to say anything. We both knew I was going to put it off for as long as possible and fry my nerves until I was a wreck. I wasn’t going to last if I put it off, but right at that moment I definitely wasn’t ready to face her. So of course it was that moment that I heard Azusa’s voice at the door.
“Is Izumi here?”
If I wasn’t hardcore panicking I probably would’ve laughed at the strangled noise of disgust Kazuto made as I spit my milk out all over his uniform jacket.
I had no time to console him. I got out of my chair and practically leaped toward the door, grabbing Azusa by the arm and dragging her as far away from the eyes of my classmates as possible. I inwardly cringed at what that must’ve looked like but it was better than the dumbass I would’ve made out of myself if we had talked by the door.
“Izumi!” Her voice sounded a bit distressed and I felt my heart jump a bit. When I looked at her I was expecting a face I’d never seen, but aside from being a little out of breath she just smiled at me. “Where’s the fire?” She laughed a bit, but something about her looked fragile to me in that moment.
“S-sorry.” Dammit. “I just…”
“Panicked?” She grinned that magic grin that turned my face three shades of red every time. “I guess that answers my question.”
“I came to ask you how you are under pressure.” She gave me a funny look before I followed her eyes to our hands that had somehow become connected.
“I’m sorry!!” I snatched my hand away, inwardly cringing at my shouting and the fool I made of myself despite my efforts.
“It’s fine, Izumi. I don’t mind.”
We stood there in the quiet hallway and I was sure that if she couldn’t hear my heart pounding then she could definitely see it trying to force its way out of my chest. I told myself it was because I was embarrassed. It was because of the tickets. It was because she suddenly showed up at the door to my classroom. She was looking for me just to ask about my personality.
“A-are you… working on your heroine again?” I tried to hide my embarrassment by looking down and if she noticed then she didn’t say anything about it.
“Yeah, I just had this part in my head where they need to study for exams, but she keeps putting it off so she can keep an eye on the guy. Then exams come and she hasn’t studied at all.”
I laughed. “How irresponsible.”
“Is that too obsessive?” Azusa looked thoughtful and I watched her expression change and the way the light reflected off of her eyes and that cherry hairpin of hers and forgot all about her question.
“Amamiya…” The words slipped out. “Will you go out with me next weekend?”
Her eyes widened as she stared at me and I suddenly realized what I had just said.
I found myself thinking about Azusa’s mother at the dinner table. Miyuki was chatting away with my dad, who only became lively around this time and continued to be well into the early morning when he fell asleep. My eyes were drawn to my mom who was eating the meal she had made quietly with that air of strength and serenity she always had about her. She looked up at me with mirroring chocolate eyes and smiled.
“Got something on your mind, kiddo?”
Suddenly I felt embarrassed. Why are my feelings so obvious to her? “I met a friend’s mom today and she seemed really… strict.”
“A friend besides Kazuto?” She looked excited and suddenly all eyes were on me.
I grimaced. “Well they’re not really a friend… I just keep running into them…”
The excitement level of the table went visibly down at that and my dad and Miyuki continued their conversation, but I could tell they were still paying half attention to me.
“It’s just that this person is really cheerful all the time and it feels like they don’t take anything seriously and their mother seems kind of harsh about that. But instead of being annoyed they said, it’s tough when you get stuck with a lazy kid.”
“This person sounds kind of self-depreciating.” My mom said, contemplatively.
“I think they sound mature for a high schooler.” My dad cut in. He smiled at me. “It’s possible they’re just being realistic and they understand the trouble they’re causing for this overbearing mother. But if you’re worried about this person maybe you should keep an eye on them.”
I looked down at my plate as I realized how much Azusa consumed my thoughts. In the past two weeks I’ve only read one book and it was the one she’d handed to me. I thought I was changing this year. I thought that books were going to be my focus from now on, but all I seem to think about is her.
My mom definitely noticed my melancholy and I silently thanked her for not saying anything at the dinner table. But that didn’t save me from her looming presence in my bedroom afterward. The sounds of video games and laughter echoed from downstairs until my mom closed the door and leaned knowingly against it. I sat on my bed with a guilty expression.
“This person you’re concerned about…” She grinned. “It’s a girl isn’t it?”
“It’s not like that, mom!” I defended, but she looked suspicious.
“Is it a boy?”
“Honey, I will love you no matter what you’re into.”
“Mom! No!” I hid my beet red face in my hands. “It’s a girl! But it’s not like that!”
“Oh.” She said casually before sitting cross-legged at the end of my bed. “Alright, then. It’s a girl. You like girls, but you don’t like this girl.”
I dropped my hands to scowl at her for the implication then looked back at my hands in my lap. “I don’t know…” I found myself saying quietly. “I don’t know how I feel about her… She just always seems to be on my mind.”
“You don’t have to know everything right away, Kou. And just because you care about someone doesn’t mean you have to want them to be your girlfriend.” She smiled sweetly at me and ruffled my hair. “If you’re concerned about her maybe it’s because there’s cause for concern. People aren’t one dimensional. No one has energy 24/7. I’m sure this girl has times when she’s upset, but she doesn’t know how to show it. Maybe you can help her with that.”
I thought really hard about that and, even though I didn’t really respond, I’m sure my mom could tell how much it resonated with me. She could always tell those sorts of things. She ruffled my hair and left to run my bath as I contemplated my apparent obsession with Azusa. There was no sense in wondering about her relationship with her mom or any of the stupid thoughts I’ve been dancing around. I would just have to get to know her.
So that was the plan the next day at school as I left Kazuto and his pouting face as soon as I finished eating lunch to find Azusa. I mentally prepared myself to search in vein again so you can imagine my surprise when I entered the library to find a mess of burgundy hair and a cherry shaped hairpin.
“A-amamiya.” I have got to stop stuttering around this girl.
“Izumi!” She smiled. It was fake. I was beginning to be able to tell that now.
I could tell she didn’t want me to sit down, but I did anyway. “We… um… never got a chance to talk about that book.”
“Scented Letters?” This time her smile was real. “Did you like it?”
“I loved it.” I corrected, somewhat surprised at the natural grin that found its way to my face. I had meant to use it as an excuse to ask about other things, but now that we were talking about it I couldn’t help myself. I wracked my brain to pull up the images of the book and the things I’d been wondering about when I remembered the one thing that really got me. “But I hated the ending.”
Azusa closed the book she had open on the table and leaned into her hand. My eye caught her notebook underneath her other arm. “Because you wanted the romance to work out?”
I blushed a little and remembered why I tried to fit Azusa into the protagonist’s shoes. A girl who’s had a loving relationship with a boy for years suddenly gets the opportunity to move far away and accomplish her dreams and realizes that she and the one she loves has very different ideas about how they want their lives to go. The heroine was emotional and struggled with her decision but ultimately chose her dream over her romance. I thought that was a decision Azusa would make with far less tears.
I defended my standpoint without all of the extra elaboration. “I mean… It just felt to me like the author was saying a career is more important than love.”
“Really? I didn’t see it that way at all.” Her amber eyes lit up as she explained and I couldn’t help but find them beautiful. “There are a bunch of different kinds of love. I think the author was trying to say you can love your dreams more than you love a person.”
“I see what you’re saying…” I admitted. “But that still seems so sad to me. It’s like saying that if the thing you love and the person you love are separate than you have to pick one.”
“Isn’t that how it is?” She shrugged. “Life’s tough. You can’t have everything.” As true as that statement was and as generally as I’m sure she meant it, it felt like she was saying, I can’t have everything.
“Is that what you would choose, Amamiya?”
“What? A career? Over a person?” Azusa looked almost shocked that I would ask something like that. “No way. I’d choose a person. Definitely.” She surprised me with a laugh. “I hated the ending too!”
I was a bit in shock. Suddenly I felt like anything I’d learned about this girl was tossed right out the window.
“Don’t look so surprised, Izumi! It’s only because following some daring dream is too much work for me.”
“What? But…” I tried not to be so obvious about it but my eyes instinctively sought out her notebook. “Don’t you want to be a writer?”
She sighed. “The notebook again? It’s just a hobby. All I do with this is story build. I don’t actually write anything.”
My brows furrowed reflexively. “What’s the point in that?”
“What’s the point in doing anything you like doing? It’s for fun, of course. Stress management. That sort of thing.” She looked at me funny just then and I realized I probably looked like I was glaring at her. “Does that bother you?”
“I guess… not.” I tried to relax my face. It baffled me that someone would go to such extreme lengths just for fun. I felt like it should be a bigger part of her life. “I was just wondering about your stories. It seems like you go through a lot of effort. So they must be good.”
“I don’t know about that, but if you want to know I’d be happy to tell you about one.” Azusa began flipping through her notebook until she reached a page entitled Compatibility. “Since you seem to be interested in romance, I’ll go with this one.”
I made a face, but didn’t protest. “I’m shocked you even have a romance in there.” I tried not to sound patronizing.
“It’s the only one.” What a surprise. “But I liked the concept. See, this girl has a childhood friend and they’re inseparable all the way up until high school where he starts to make other friends. They still hang out all the time, but she’s not interested in other people because she thinks she’s in love with him.”
“She thinks she’s in love with him?”
“High schoolers don’t know what love is, Izumi.” She said it matter-of-factly and completely ignored my annoyance. “Anyway the boy gets a crush on another girl and in order to be close to her he joins the literature club so naturally the heroine also joins in order to be close to the boy. Long story short, the heroine finds that she’s actually far more compatible with the literature club president than with the boy she thought she was in love with.”
Her way of thinking bugged me a bit—like she knew better than me even though we were the same age. But as she went on I found myself really interested in this love polygon. It was an interesting concept. I could imagine the drama of it all. Just when the heroine’s heart is broken, this new, better love shows up to pick up the pieces! As Azusa went on a bit about the characters I became more and more attached to the lead female. She was standoffish and came off as cool and mean, but she was really just shy and didn’t know how to act. That stupid childhood friend of hers didn’t deserve her. I immersed myself in these ideas and characters until I realized something.
“Wait.” I stared hard and Azusa who looked up from the notebook casually. “Who did you base the heroine off of?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” She leaned on her hand again and grinned wide. “I based her off of you, Izumi!”
I could feel the blood rushing to my ears as I buried my face in my arms on the table. I heard her giggle at me as I tried to hide my embarrassment. Somehow I could only take it as a compliment, but it was still incredibly unmanly. After a loud groan I looked up from my hiding place to ask the question that’s been on my mind.
“If I’m going to be used as reference then you’re going to let me read it first, right?”
“I already told you I don’t write anything. This is as far as I’m going to take this.”
“But it’s so interesting.” I was probably pouting. “What a waste.”
“It would be worse if I wrote it. I’m really bad at writing, Izumi. Trust me. It would just be disappointing.”
“I’m sure you’re just being modest.” I reasoned.
She raised an eyebrow at me and flipped through her notebook again. After stopping on a page she pushed it wordlessly over to my side of the table. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was as I began, but I quickly realized that it was supposed to be the opening of a novel. It wasn’t cringe-worthy… it was worse.
I struggled a bit to look at her. “It… You know… Everyone starts somewhere!”
“You don’t have to hold back so much, Izumi.” She looked like she felt kind of sorry for me.
“But… your ideas are so good.” I’m sure I sounded as disappointed as I felt.
She laughed. “Too bad you can’t write them for me.”
For a moment I felt filled with passion for the idea, but my shoulders quickly dropped as I realized that I wasn’t much better.
“I’m not really the creative type…” I defended.
“Don’t look so defeated, Izumi!” She laughed, resting her head in her palms again. “Like I said, chasing big dreams like that is just too much work for me. I’m not cut out for it. I’ve already decided I’m just going to be a civil servant. It’s easy and secure and I can still do this for fun.”
Something about that didn’t sit right with me. “But… aren’t you passionate about this? If not writing, what about editing or something?”
“That’s a high pressure job.” She looked really put off by the thought. “Besides, I’m not that great at school so getting into university would be hard.”
The bell rang before I could protest and I stood suddenly, realizing I was about to be late. Azusa didn’t seem to care one way or the other as she took her time packing up her things. I quickly said my goodbyes and bowed before running off to class, rushing through the hallway with one thing on my mind.
She’s wasting her potential.
My eyes traveled across pages and pages of what looked like… character profiles? It was like she was logging people’s information carefully down with excruciating detail from physical description to behavior patterns and interests. That’s when I saw the name Izumi Koichi written on the top of a page. My name.
“What is this?” I felt a bit sick. Was she stalking me? Was she stalking everyone? Why did she have something like this? Before I knew it my cell phone was in my hand and the ringing was loud in my ear.
“Hmm?” Came an uninterested tone from the other side of the line.
“KAZUTO!” I panicked.
“What the hell, Kouichi?! Don’t scream in my ear like that! You messed up my rhythm!” I could hear a low music playing in the background of Kazuto’s grumbling about a perfect score. I might’ve rolled my eyes at what I was sure was that stupid rhythm game I suck at if I wasn’t so alarmed.
“You opened it? Man you have a weak resolve.” He teased.
“It was an accident! But there’s really weird stuff in here! Like profiles on people… like really detailed profiles and…” I paused nervously.
“And what?!” The tapping of buttons intensified and I couldn’t tell if his irritation was at me or the game.
“There one of me in here.”
The distinct pausing sound effect echoed on the line before silence and I knew that I was about to hear the worst possible thing that could mean.
“Dude. Amamiya is totally a serial killer. She going to kill you, Kou.” It was hard to tell if he was serious or not, but he sounded urgent enough to make me pretty damn paranoid.
“Th-that’s! No way! There’s no way!” I knew I didn’t sound convincing. By now the notebook was on the floor again and I sat against the wall on my bed, staring at it as if it was a dog held back on a chain. “I mean… she did seem like she was thinking about how I could handle myself in a fight… Oh my god. What am I gonna do?”
I thought I heard snickering, but I wasn’t sure. “She’s so going to kill you, you’ve gotta skip town!”
“I can’t skip town, you idiot! Where would I even go?”
“Don’t worry. I know a guy you can stay with in Amagasaki.”
“Shut up, you dumbass! No you don’t!”
“You’re right. That’s not far enough…” He sounded like he was contemplating something, but at this point it was clear he was messing with me.
I took a breath, picking up the notebook again and going over some details. “Looks unfriendly, but is actually approachable… She must’ve written that on that day…” I thought about Azusa’s face and something in me wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. There had to be an explanation.
“She’s got you down.” Kazuto snickered. I could hear the game in the background again.
“I’m going to ask her.”
“What?!” There was the pausing sound again. “Uh, Kou, that’s so creepy. I mean maybe she’s not a serial killer, but she’s obviously a freak and she’s straight up stalking you, bro. Don’t just go up to her and give her the evidence!”
“What the hell am I supposed to do with it? Pretend I don’t have it?”
“That’s exactly what you should do!!”
I sighed. Calling him was a bad idea. “I’ll see you at school, Kazu.” I could hear more garbled words as I hung up, sure he was swearing at me from wherever he was, but it didn’t matter. I had made up my mind.
That’s what I told myself, but the next day I couldn’t find Azusa anywhere, as usual. If it was easy to find her I probably wouldn’t have been losing my nerve. I steeled myself. I couldn’t bring attention to the fact that I was looking for her, so I decided to wait after school despite Kazuto’s many warnings and glares. It was easy to ignore since I knew he was too lazy to actually try to stop me or wait with me. There was nothing he could do. So I stood at the entrance after school with Azusa’s notebook in my hand and what was probably a very intense looking expression on my face.
I waited in silence as a few people passed me by, whispering to each other with worried expressions. It depressed me a bit to know that I most likely looked like a delinquent waiting to make good on some vendetta and I was about to try to reassure a scared looking first year when Azusa passed me by.
“A-Amamiya!” Dammit. She surprised me and I stuttered.
“Izumi?” She looked distracted until she noticed the notebook in my hands. “Why do you have that?” And there she went again taking control of the situation. It struck me then that somehow she always managed to have the upper hand and I couldn’t let that continue.
“I should be asking you that.” I glared. “It’s really rude to keep people’s information like this.” I held the notebook up in what I thought was a menacing way, but she didn’t seem phased.
“You say that, but isn’t it also rude to go through people’s things?”
“I…! I didn’t go through it on purpose! It just fell like that!”
“Oh, I see. Well, no harm no foul.” She shrugged. I dropped my shoulders at that response. I was beginning to see that thing about Azusa not taking anything seriously.
“That’s not right… You should stick to your guns a little more…”
“Oh, should I be angry with you then?” She looked at me as if I were asking her to do something confusing. “But I thought you wanted me to feel guilty.”
“Of course you should feel bad about it! Anyone would find it pretty unnerving to see this kind of thing, you know! But you can be a little angry too!” I’m sure my exasperation was clearly visible at this point. I mean, what’s wrong with this girl?
Then, suddenly her face lit up. “That’s very good, Izumi! Conflicting emotions! I get it! Could I have my notebook back? I’d like to write that down.”
“Wh-what?” I was thrown for a loop again and I knew any hope I had of having the upper hand in this conversation was lost now. Trying to regain my footing, I paused and put a hand out to stop her from grabbing at the notebook. “No. Wait.”
“What is it now? Oh, that’s right. You’re angry with me.” She sighed, clearly tired of the situation. “Alright then, go on. Berate me or whatever it is you had planned.”
“Ugh! Why are you like this?! It’s like you don’t understand basic emotions! It’s not like I just wanted to get mad at you and yell and stuff…”
“Then what do you want?”
“I don’t know… An explanation?”
Then she met my eyes and bluntly answered. “Alright. I write down notes on people so that I can make more three dimensional characters for my stories.”
I was so taken aback I didn’t notice her gingerly slipping the notebook from my hands. I watched blankly as she flipped through the pages of data to one that contained a simple bullet list of notes. If I was more aware of my surroundings I might’ve noticed the title, “Emotion vs. Logic”, above the list.
“Are you alright, Izumi? You look a bit drained. Do you need me to walk you home?”
“Uh… Sure.” I ended up saying. I wasn’t sure if it was her straightforwardness that shocked me or her answer, but the more I thought about it the more I didn’t know what to say. It was weird. Even with the explanation it was a weird thing to do. Despite that I wanted to know more about it. What prompted her to do that? Does she know how creepy that is? What kind of stories does she make? Am I a character in one? That last thought was really intriguing.
“Is it really so strange?” Azusa’s words snapped me back to reality. Suddenly we were down the sidewalk, far from the school. I was walking side by side with the girl I’d turned down two weeks ago. How did that happen?
“W-what?” Ugh, why do I keep stuttering around her?
“Is it really strange to study people? Isn’t that what anthropology is? Or I guess this would be more like psychology.” She stared ahead, a face like she was talking about the weather. I couldn’t be sure, but there might’ve been something akin to loneliness in her voice.
Somehow, I wanted to comfort her. To tell her it wasn’t strange if that would make her feel better, but I stopped myself from lying about it. “It’s a little unsettling to be dissected… especially if you don’t know why it’s happening.”
“Oh.” She looked at me like she’d realized something. “So it’s about being self-conscious, then?”
I looked away from her to hide my exasperation. How was I supposed to tell her that it made her look like a serial killer in a nice way? “Sort of…” Was what I went with. Brilliant.
“I don’t get it. You’re interesting. It’s a compliment!” Azusa grinned.
I wondered about that grin. She reminded me of a conman when she made that face. I wanted to ask her why she just gave away smiles for free and if they were the real thing or just cheap knockoffs. I don’t know why I was so entranced by her. It was as if she emitted a force that made me want to speak my mind, which is something I’ve never been so inclined to do. Before I knew it I was speaking again.
“Is that why you asked me out that day? To study me? Because I’m interesting?”
“Of course!” She smiled like it was no big deal. It shouldn’t have been.
“So you have no romantic feelings for me then?”
“Oh, no. Don’t worry. I’m not interested in relationships.” She patted me on the shoulder as if to comfort me. Don’t worry, she said, like I was making sure she didn’t have any bothersome feelings. I wondered why that kind of hurt.
“I see.” Was all I could think to say as I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep from fidgeting.
“Well, this is me.” She suddenly stopped and I realized we were in front of a house. The name plate read Amamiya and a part of me was annoyed that I didn’t pay attention to how we got there. “Are you going to be okay on your own, Izumi? You look really out of it.”
I opened my mouth to protest the comment, but before I could say anything the front door opened. I looked up to see a beautiful, but very strict looking, business woman staring right at me. There was no doubt in my mind that she was Azusa’s mother. The resemblance was uncanny.
“Azusa.” She said curtly, without looking away from me. I tried not to shrink under her gaze. “You sure took your time getting home.” She looked over at Azusa now and I suddenly noticed that Azusa looked surprised to see her. “If you have time to fool around with boys then you have time to be punctual. As it turns out something came up I can’t wait around for you all day.”
“Okay.” Azusa answered casually and I wondered how she wasn’t intimidated by this woman.
Azusa’s mom looked at me again after she closed the door. “Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” She glared.
I felt my whole body tense up. “Y-yes, ma’am! My name is Izumi, ma’am!” I ignored Azusa’s snicker.
She seemed unsatisfied with my response. “Well, Izumi. Please don’t take up too much of this girl’s time. She’s lazy enough as it is.” Before I could say anything she got into a sleek black car and drove off.
“Does my mom scare you, Izumi?” Azusa teased, a sly grin on her face.
“She would scare anyone!” Was my reflexive response.
She laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. She’s not that bad though. She just wants everyone to be the best they can be.” Her smile quickly turned sheepish as she scratched the back of her head. “It’s tough when you get stuck with a lazy kid.”
That didn’t seem right to me. I wanted to say something about it but I also felt like I was butting into something I shouldn’t so I kept my mouth shut.
“Anyway, she’ll have my head if I don’t get some studying done before she gets back so I’d better go.” She waved to me from the door and I waved back with considerably less enthusiasm. The image was laughable to me because I was sure that I was far more interested in spending time together than she was. “Be careful on your way home, Izumi!”
I nodded. She closed the door. I put my hands back in my pockets and trudged home, frustrated. The more I learned about Azusa the more I felt like I didn’t know anything about her. The further I felt from her the closer I wanted to be. The worse she made me feel, the more I wanted her to treat me fondly.
I kicked a small stone in irritation and thought for a moment that I was beginning to fall for someone terrible.