Chapter 4 Appearances
Eiichi slumped down in one of the four circular, polypropylene surfaced stools with iron posts bolted into the floor, around a broad, circular, fiberglass, bolted table, arranged perfectly so no one could scoot their seat in for comfort, or so a malfunctioning student couldn't use one to attack an unwary student – yeah, because prison riots happened in high school.
A large number of bustling students created a dull roar of conversation and fluctuating emotions that did make him somewhat uneasy. Long lines stretched from the food court concessions and here and there could be seen a student carrying a tray of food, or a pair of eyes starring over at the couple, that avoided contact whenever noticed. Kotonoha placed her tote bag in its space next to him.
"So remind me again why we're eating in the cafeteria?" Eiichi asked.
"Well, you said something about going out of your routine, so I figured it would give your brain some exercise being around other people. Come on, take in all those emotions so you can keep your wits sharp," like it was some kind of…training program or something…
"But-but, the roof! If we don't go up there, someone else might claim it!" Eiichi panicked.
"You stress out about the weirdest things sometimes. We'll eat up there again, it doesn't matter if anyone uses it now."
"Ya know, you're putting me at risk here…" he muttered.
"That's alright, if you start feeling woozy, we'll leave."
"Oh no, oh…" he clutched his head, wincing. "That girl over there is having family problems…I don't know if we can stay…"
"Yeah, you need this if you think I'm going to fall for that one."
"But her mom…she can't make this month's rent and her dad keeps staying out late…"
"And her brother is a criminal mastermind with a bionic arm, and the family dog is from another planet, like you would know all that in one minute. What do you want to eat?"
Eiichi gave up, slouching against the table, "Yakisoba…"
"That makes two, I'll be right back," she walked off toward the crowd at the noodle stand.
Was this really becoming a thing? Eiichi buried his head in his arms, "Eiichi, today it's the roof, one day it'll be the TV remote, or those chocolate glazed pastries you like so much…"
It was happening, slowly, one by one, some of his freedoms were being dashed away. His territory was being invaded, just like with the roof. Eventually, he'd be wearing a sweater vest, and the 'yes, dears' would start…
"No…no way. I'll burn the damn thing…" 'But what if she knitted it herself, like the first one?' "Dammit…"
Putting his unnecessary worries of a midlife crisis aside, he had a more pressing matter to focus on. He had not seen Roka all day, but if he'd never noticed her before, he couldn't expect to know where to find her. He turned over and leaned his back on the table, peering about the crowded cafeteria, wondering why so many students felt the need to eat inside when spring was just around the corner. Did she only tie her hair that way for basketball practice, or was that a normal thing?
If he did find her, he supposed Roka would be okay with hearing him out for a minute at least, even if he'd sided with Chie. She did not loath him like Yuuki, and had simply expressed curiosity toward him, despite being annoyed by his teaming up with her frivolous senpai. He risked an egotistical thought that his renown could help him out here a little, and she'd possibly like the idea of being seen talking with him.
He wondered why he was again, sticking his nose in someone else's love life, or lack thereof. Still, he'd sort of made a promise to Chie, and she was beginning to sound like a good friend, even with her well expressed interests in him.
"Um…hey there…h-handsome," now this one was a liar, and what was up with that pickup line?
Eiichi turned to find himself gazing upon the modest spectacle of a red headed beauty. Her light pink lips pouted at him from underneath a pair of shy, garnet colored eyes, the flowing auburn hair matching with the warm shades as it draped around her shoulders. Naturally, any guy, committed or not, would've found this a pleasing sight. To her, Eiichi looked stunned, maybe a little too stunned, but not for the reasons she thought. Eiichi had become overtly aware of his surroundings, all his senses on high alert because of the person standing before him. It turned out this one was lying about more than her feeble pickup line, her entire existence was a lie.
Girls were typically feminine and guys were typically masculine, though their levels of femininity and masculinity varied. There were very masculine girls in the world, or else tsundere's and tomboys wouldn't exist. And as well, there were also very feminine guys. However, their thought and emotional patterns remained the same. No matter how masculine or feminine either gender was, neither could escape this. One of the basics of Eiichi's life as a reader was learning these patterns and their differences. Men thought in a very organized sequence of situations, while women had more of a flow to their pattern that could still change immediately, but with very little forewarning.
The pattern that Eiichi was receiving from the output of this particular 'girl' did not at all line up with what it should. For a moment, he had begun to think that his sniffer was off, or that it was literally possible that there was some kind of scientific or psychological anomaly that could cause one pattern to be switched for the other. From every angle, she looked like a girl. The jawline, the hip curvature, the dainty hands and polished nails, the smooth facial features, even the chest screamed female, though that last one was because this person had to be using pads, but her emotional processing was giving Eiichi the impression of a dog trying to pass itself off as a cat. And what's more, he had only met the particular pattern in question very recently.
"Y-Y-Y-Yuuki!?" The glasses were missing, the men's uniform replaced with a girl's, the short hair replaced with a wig of flowing red strands, but it was him alright.
In Yuuki's mind, everything came to a dead halt, as shock overwhelmed him and his face turned white underneath the gentle shading of blush. Then, Eiichi could feel a plunge of emotion, with brain chemicals surging into Yuuki's head. In milliseconds, his adrenaline at this immediate, unexpected, unpredictable discovery welled into a pressured ball of disbelief, panic and mortification, exploding and sending chills throughout his body with the ejection of a single phrase, 'How did he know!?'
Real pain surged into Eiichi's head and he planted his elbow on the surface of the table, grimacing into his hand. To Yuuki, it probably looked like a posture of absolute disgust.
'I wanted to eat on the roof! I just wanted to eat on the roof, but nooo~!'
He had never seen a transvestite before, at least not one in full 'uniform'. He imagined he might have been around one or two before in passing, without realizing it. He wasn't a mind reader exactly, so he wouldn't have known unless they were overwhelmed by their fears or fantasies.
When he had first been greeted, upon turning and seeing the figure standing before him, his mind had been processing everything as his eyes instinctively scanned up and down the person in question. Now, Eiichi shifted uncomfortably in his seat, leaning away. His eyes kept telling him one thing while his brain continued to give them a sound beating. Yuuki could really pull it off, but he had to if he didn't want to be spotted. Of all the other times that he cursed his own disposition, this was one of those times when Eiichi thanked God as often as he could in his heart for making him one of His bizarre little creations, because without his abilities, Yuuki would've had him fooled. Maybe it was his imagination, but he thought he could hear a certain Aerosmith song playing somewhere in the background.
'This is supposed to be high school – WHERE NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS!'
"I…uh…" Yuuki stammered, his overly convincing feminine voice beginning to slip. Then he touched his face, distressed. He must've thought some of his makeup had smeared, because he frantically took out a pocket mirror to check.
"What are you do—" Eiichi had started, but suddenly, at the most inopportune time, there was another presence that approached.
"Eiichi? Who's this?" Kotonoha's innocent face poked pins of curiosity at Eiichi and the newly found conspirer as she stood with a tray and two steaming bowls of noodles. Eiichi could sense that Yuuki had come there with a plan, and based on their last interaction, and how this whole situation stank so bad it could peel paint, he knew it wasn't for his benefit.
The fear and anxiety, directed from Yuuki to Kotonoha, only made Eiichi worse and he had to hold in a few painful groans. He could not appear tired, or at least make up something if he did. Yuuki clapped the pocket mirror shut, and bowed immediately, trying to keep his face as much out of sight from Kotonoha as possible, his feminine voice, though shaky, had regained its composure, "I-I'm sorry! I'm new here and I was just asking him where the bathrooms were." At least he knew when to back out once the mission had been compromised.
"Y-Yeah…" Eiichi played along and put on his best look of normalcy. "Uh, if you head down that hall, they should be around the corner."
Inside, Yuuki was exceedingly grateful to him for not blowing his cover, "Thank you so much!" The pseudo-girl padded away and out of sight. Eiichi felt a weight lifting off his shoulders, which only helped him to realize more how tired he'd become. He just knew there was going to be a follow up discussion from his crossdressing assailant.
Kotonoha shook her head and smiled, "Why is it every time I turn around, there's a girl asking you for something?"
"Why is it every time I turn around, there's a guy asking for your number?" this was really the best he could do.
'What the hell was that!?' was the question that preyed on Eiichi mind every moment after lunch, right up to the end of the day.
Now that he thought about it, Eiichi remembered Yuuki's likely small sized uniform looking rather bulky on him in the library. He was a small guy, much smaller than an average Japanese male. He also remembered Roka's impolite comments about Yuuki being girly. Chie said they had a run in, and Roka had referred to him as a pervert, could she have…does Chie know as well?
"Things are getting crazy Eiichi, remember what happened last time?" maybe he was thinking too much about it, Roka and Chie didn't have much concern when they'd been talking about him. He supposed it could be possible that they knew and it just didn't bother them, Chie was pretty laid back. If anything, Roka would be the one to be surprised with.
He couldn't remember sensing any attraction from Yuuki, there was so much pain from the stress it would have been impossible. Attraction would've balanced things out more, plus he would have sensed it in the library the other day. It wouldn't have been the first time Eiichi felt attraction from the same sex, it was just something he would've acknowledged and set boundaries for, he wasn't a bigot. And yet, Yuuki had approached him, convincingly dressed as a girl, and was hitting on him, but he hated Eiichi, and that was the truth. If anything, through all Yuuki's nervousness, Eiichi could still sense the same amount of disgust from the non-incognito Yuuki as before, but he had been pretty focused on whatever he was planning to do. Eiichi knew he had a plan, he just didn't know what. Wait…Yuuki was nervous. He was really nervous, even before he'd said anything to Eiichi, his awareness had been high as well. Which meant, it could be possible that was his first time doing…that.
His own thoughts were making his head spin and he took a deep breath. He decided to cut through a courtyard to get to the front of the school faster, on his way to meet with Kotonoha, ready to put all this behind him for a couple hours, and looking forward to asking Chie some meticulously formed questions through text later this evening. He had his hand on the door when he looked out the window and was greeted with the sight of his assigned objective, seated on a bench underneath a sakura tree.
He quickly ducked back behind the wall and leaned. It had been Roka, sitting in the evening shade, wearing a deeply troubled look.
'That's both of them in one day! I was only supposed to meet with one, and I got two! What the hell have you done so far, Chie!?'
He had been looking for her and here she was, in all her love-struck glory. So tying her hair in twin tails was her normal thing. He peaked around the corner again to get a better look at that sad face. He knew he'd be walking in to another hot zone, this one was going to be very awkward as well. Why was he playing along with this? Even if Chie and he were successful in the long run, things might just blow up in their faces, leaving both Roka and Yuuki hurt.
"Why me?" he pleaded to the ceiling.
He had to deal with the task at hand and figure out a way to sort everything else out later, Chie was counting on him, he supposed…he had to at least treat it like she was.
He sucked wind in his nose, and with a shot out his mouth, he pushed the door open. She had her hands clasped together with her tote bag, giving that schoolgirl 'thousand yard stare' to the grass. As he approached casually, her atmosphere of dejection welcomed him with a hug of dark, elongated claws.
"Roka, fancy meeting you here."
Roka's dim eyes peered up at the newcomer, hands in his pockets like when she first saw him.
"Oh Kuzoka-san, how's it going…" she stood, her bow was very slow.
"Ah, you don't need to do that. I was just happening by and saw you, so I thought I'd say hello."
"Well that's nice, thank you."
"Mind if I sit?"
"You don't have to—"
Despite her answer, Eiichi sat down a respectable space from her, "Ya know, I use to do this a lot when I was a first year."
"Well…what're you talking about?" she returned to her seat.
"I kind of kept to myself, I had a lot on my mind, which I guess is typical for a first year."
"Did you have any friends?"
He shook his head, "No, not really. Do you?"
"Well I am on the basketball team."
He chuckled, "Yeah, you're bound to have some friends there. You have to rely on each other after all."
She had brightened up just a tad, but it didn't take long before she slumped down again.
"So why are you so down?"
She sighed, "I don't know…"
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but you look like you need someone to talk to."
She rustled the bag in her hands, a blink to the green blades.
"If I tell you, could you promise to keep it a secret?"
Hesitating, giving him a lazy side glance, she started, "I…I've been thinking of someone, but it's not like I like him!" she backpedaled. "I…said something to him that was very mean. And I kinda' wish I hadn't now. I really don't know that much about him, and I…don't know how to go about apologizing to him," okay, so it was likely she didn't know.
Eiichi kind of wanted to take out his vaporizer to puff on during this discussion, but he knew this wasn't the right place for it. It was kind of his thing, and it gave him something else to do to take his mind off the pain.
"Have you tried talking to him?"
"I wanted to, but…it's his stupid face! I almost can't stand the idea of being seen talking with him! I mean—" backpedaling again. Her frustration was hard on him, but the innocent attraction eased things a little.
"I think I have a good idea of who you're talking about," as if he didn't know already.
"D-Don't get the wrong idea!" she pointed.
"It's alright, no one's assuming anything," raising his hands. She couldn't be more obvious though.
"I uh, don't know how to approach him. I want to apologize, but I saw him…talking with another girl."
"Well that doesn't necessarily mean something, what were they doing?"
"I don't know, they looked really happy though. I think they were talking about books."
"I don't really read a whole lot, so…books aren't really my thing. If I try talking to him about it, he'll probably think I'm stupid…"
"You don't have to talk with him about it, just ask him and listen."
"What good will that do?"
"There's nothing wrong with just sharing with someone. It gives you a chance to learn more about them, even if you're not at all interested in what they're talking about. If you listen you'll pick up things, and eventually you'll be able to talk with him about it regularly. I bet if you talked with him about basketball, you'd lose him in the first few seconds, but if he's interested, he'll ask you questions. I remember a few times Kotonoha left me in the dust talking about Fryderyk Chopin, but I just enjoyed hearing her talk. I love to hear her play too…"
"Is that your girlfriend?"
"Yeah hey, there's a lot we don't have in common. Sometimes I still wonder why she picked me. She likes classical music and pop, I like speed metal. She reads those gooey romance novels, I prefer Tolkien and Hemingway. She likes ballet, I like boxing. In fact, I think the only thing we share in common is our love for scenery and travel, that and puppies."
"That's amazing! …what if he asks why I'm asking?"
"Well, you both do sound like you're on pretty unstable ground," and if she knew what he knew, there wouldn't be any ground to stand on. "Just tell him you're curious, after you apologize."
"He has to apologize too," she became stern.
"What'd he do?"
She blushed intensely, a sensation of incursion appeared and skyrocketed, "This is a secret, remember? If you tell anyone, I'll tell Chie and she'll have your head."
"What do I look like, the school gossip?"
"Okay. He…um, he…touched me…"
"Uh-uh…juh-h-how-how did he touch you?" Eiichi's stammering began to rival hers. 'Oh man, is this guy really a pervert and I'm just not picking up on it fast enough? Maybe I am out of shape…'
"I-I-It was an accident, I think…" waving her hands.
"Well it's not that he really touched me, there was a lot happening. I was changing in one of the club rooms when he barged in, and one thing led to another, and he sort of…saw something he shouldn't have…" her rich shade of pink turning rouge.
"That whole situation sounds like something he shouldn't have seen," but who changes in a club room without locking the door!?
"I know that! He apologized, sort of. I don't think he knew I was in there…Chie brought me over to their house and something else happened, and that's how I found out he was her brother," her feelings of invasion oddly turning back to attraction.
"And what happened there?"
"That's when I said what I said to him and he kicked me out. I…said he looked like a girl…" her voice turning to shame.
The pieces were slowly starting to fall into place.
"What made you say that?"
"He stepped out of the bathroom…in his boxers…we had a fight and I got angry and…" they might as well have been made for each other, they were a couple of little clumsy, careless, cuddle buddies!
"Is that really what you think?"
"I don't know…he is kinda' scrawny…" her hands and knees rubbing together.
"Well, if that's really what you think, then why do you want to apologize?"
"B-Because…I just want to, okay?"
Eiichi stayed silent and looked at her, she was a little fireball.
"I'm sorry…I just don't know what to do…I hope I can talk to him. He seemed to really like her…"
"Wait, what'd this girl look like?"
"Well she's…taller than me, she had long black hair, glasses and…a nice figure…" the petit Roka was flush with envy.
"Yep, that would be Kotonoha in librarian mode."
"Mhm, you have nothing to worry about. In fact, I think if she knew I was staying after class to talk with girl, I'd have some splainin' to do. And that's my little secret for you to keep…but man she's so amazing in those glasses…"
Roka mused, "I hope a guy will talk about me like that one day."
"Oh you don't need to worry about that."
This conversation was getting more exclusive by the second. Her strain had mellowed out finally, but Eiichi was walking on eggshells, "I'm serious. You're a cute girl, your athletic, it shouldn't take you long to find a guy."
"How can that be possible…I'm short…"
"So? What's that got to do with anything? Though a short girl on the basketball team, that's pretty impressive. But if you're so conscious about your appearance, why are you making fun of him for his…"
Just then his phone vibrated. There was a text on it from Kotonoha, 'Eiichi, I'm out front, are we walking home? If you decide to meet me, be careful, I think I'm coming down with a cold.'
"Hmm, speak of the wolf and she will appear…kinda'."
Eiichi began tapping his response, "Yeah, and that would be about my cue to go," he stood up, the evening sun was beginning to drop down to the unseen horizon, the courtyard beginning to get dark. "It was nice talking to you. Yeah, just approach him when you have a chance and be the first to apologize, it should get him to do the same. Oh yeah, before I forget, I thought you should know, Chie sent me yours and Yuuki's cell numbers."
'Ow, ow…' the pleasant reward for his efforts, he lifted his head. 'Just look at the pretty clouds Eiichi…'
Roka's fists unclenched, "I mean…I guess that's okay."
"She only meant well. If you want me to, I'll get rid of it."
"No, no, that's fine. Actually, send me a text so I have yours, I would like to talk with you more, if you don't mind."
"Not at all," Eiichi padded on his phone again and sent her the message. "Feel free to talk to me anytime."
He turned to leave, but her voice stopped him.
"Um…" she had stood, "You may not look it, but you're a very nice guy, Kuzoka-san. I think that's why Kotonoha picked you."
"Appearances can be deceiving," and he'd just broken new ground on this one. "Just call me Eiichi, kay?"
A little smile broke out on that once sad face, "Okay, and you call me Roka."
"That fits, see ya around."
Satisfied with being able to clean up some of that depressing smog from her output, it was not long before Eiichi was out the front doors of Sakakino. The clouds above were a broad spreading of gray with paintings of rich orange on their edges, golden rays here and there against a backdrop of blue, sakura trees became spiny silhouettes on the outstretched path. She was waiting for him at the foot of the steps. Feeling somewhat light footed, he scaled down quickly to meet her.
"Hold it!" Kotonoha stuck a hand out, looking a little panicked. "I've been sneezing like crazy for the past twenty minutes. It's stopped now, but I don't know if it means I'm coming down with something."
"Yeah, those early spring colds will get ya. Ah, but if I get sick, we can be sick together."
"No, I am not risking you getting anything, you have finals."
"But you have finals too. If we both get sick, it'll give us a better chance to study. Hey—, that's a good plan."
"Yeah…yeah…" she wiped her nose with a cloth. "Maybe it was dust from the heater," they began walking. "So what were you up to?"
"Was helping out a new friend."
"Okay, I wondered why you were taking so long. Sounds like you took my advice."
"I take your advice, it's not like I tune you out."
"Really~, because sometimes I wonder."
Letting go of his retort, Eiichi eyed Kotonoha up and down in her coat and boots.
"Hey, do you have those reading glasses of yours on you?"
"As always, why?"
"Could you take them out, I want to check something."
She fished around in her coat and brought out the case. She opened it and removed the specs.
"Put them on…" he stopped her, looking very intent.
"Um…what's this about?" she slipped the frames over her face.
He peered at her closely.
"Not yet," he leaned forward, she brought her hand up to his chest to stop him, but without much effort.
When they parted, her eyes were still open, "What was that for?"
"No reason, you can take them off now."
"No, I think I'm going to keep them on."
"But you don't want to ruin your sight."
"I think I'll be fi—ne!"
"See, you're walking funny."
"Okay, but you're going to get sick now."
"You worry too much…"