An afternoon walk
Shinozaki and I walked towards the sun. At first she was dragging me along, but I quickly caught up with her. Her face was beaming in the orange light. It's her favorite color. Maybe that's why she brings so many candles with her. The flame on the wick is the same color as the afternoon.
I look at her out of the corner of my eye. She's still holding my hand. The slight jog she had started off with has slowed to a gentle walk. My legs are longer than hers, so it's no problem either way.
She seems a lot happier than before. The grumpy feeling I was getting from her disappeared when she learned I didn't have work today. Was that why she was angry earlier?
I can't stop the small smile working its way across my face.
Shinozaki wanted to spend time with me.
The idea alone makes my chest light and face hot.
Even though I made her waste her time, the thought of her waiting for me feels good. I'm not making it a habit though.
Still, this feeling is special to me; the feeling that you matter to someone. That's how I started liking Shinozaki in the first place.
I'm not a people person.
Most of what I say pisses people off, or gets ignored.
I guess nothing hurts more than the truth.
Back then, in that bathroom, I just hated everything. It wasn't a feeling of anger or vengeance, just a dark sticky disgust at everything.
It all seemed pointless. It didn't matter what I did or who I talked to. Nothing changed, and nobody cared.
I was smoking with those thoughts, watching the grey fumes rise into the air.
Shinozaki saved me that time. Not just from Tsubota, but from that feeling as well.
After that incident, I ended up watching her from afar. It's not every day you see what looks like an honor student lie to a teacher's face.
At first, she just looked like a total busy body. Always helping someone out, or poking her nose into someone else's business. Still, nobody seemed to be bothered by that. Both her, and the people she helped were smiling by the end of whatever she got herself involved in. Now that I think about it, I was smiling when she helped me as well.
She wasn't perfect though.
The first sign were the candles. At first, I couldn't figure out why I sometimes saw her with a massive bundle of them. She always had a really satisfied grin on her face at those times.
The lights of the classroom she was in at the time sometimes winked out without warning, so I thought she was just being overly prepared with them. But, the number of candles she had was definitely overkill. It looked like she planned to light up the entire room with them.
While passing by her classroom during one of its black outs, I saw a single candle glowing inside. A bunch of dark figures surrounded it, facing another shadowy outline. They looked like worshipers of some evil cult before some dark ancient god; a god with two downward pointing horns on the back of its head and glassy blue eyes.
I vaguely remember running down the hallway after that with goosebumps allover, and then waking up in detention for running in the hallway. That was probably the one time Shinozaki got me into trouble. After that, I noticed how her classmates often left the room looking more than a little nervous whenever the lights were off. It took me a week to ask one of them what she was doing in there.
And that's how I learned of the Class-rep of the Ghost Stories.
Well, it was a much better hobby than smoking, and I wasn't that bothered either. Ghost stories never really got to me in the past. I usually just snorted at them. Shinozaki tried telling me a couple when we became classmates, but she stopped after a while muttering, "Kishinuma-kun doesn't react at all."
"Kishinuma-kun." Shinozaki's voice breaks me out of my reflection.
She's looking up at me. Half her faces the sun while the other half is in shadow. A slight wind lifts up her hair. The slightly nervous look of her upturned eyes tickles something inside me.
"Hmm, what is it?" I look down at her.
I can tell I'm smirking.
I can't help it.
What would you do if the girl you liked looked up at you like that?
The wind tousling her hair blows towards me, bringing the faint scent of soap and tulips.
Is this it? The mood feels pretty good at the moment. Do I wait for her to close her eyes, or do I just go in like this?
"You're squeezing my hand."
She turns back to the road.
Phew, thank god I didn't jump the gun. She's still holding my hand, so it's still progress compared to the past. At least, that's what I tell myself, while another me inside my head furiously bashes his head against a wall in embarrassment.
As we go into the city center, we pass a bunch of people exiting a building. It looks like there was some sort of concert inside from the number of people with used glow sticks and logoed T-shirts.
"Wasn't it fun, Aiko-san?" I hear one of them call out.
She's a cute looking girl with wavy brown hair. There are two other girls by her wearing the same clothes as her. It's probably their uniform. A white collared shirt with a red necktie under a purplish suit jacket. The bottom is a black pleated skirt.
"It was an interesting experience." The girl next to her says.
She has blue ribbons tied to her long, black hair. Our eyes meet for a moment. They're a pretty purple, sort of like Yui-sensei's.
"Really?!" The girl with the brown hair jumps in front of her, and the eye contact breaks. "You weren't jumping with us on the choruses so I thought you were bored."
"Don't worry, Sayaka." the third girl of the group comments. She wears glasses, and has her hair cut short like a guy's. "She was probably worried her breasts would pop out of her shirt if she jumped around too much."
The girl with the long hair smiles at the insult. "I'd be insulted if it wasn't such an obvious case of sour grapes."
The girl called Naho, clicks her tongue and looks away. "Anyways, Aiko's just that sort of person." A sigh follows soon after.
"I'm surprised you were so into it, Naho-chan. I thought you didn't like crowds."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing much, just remembering how much you've changed since I first met you."
"You're talking like an old woman, Aiko."
"I am your senior, you know?"
"By only one year. Anyways, if you're my senior at least act like it. You're barely attending the number of days required to graduate."
"With permission, of course." The girl called Aiko says, not troubled in the slightest. "You skip quite often as well."
"That's for work." Naho replies with a frown.
"And so it is for my absence as well." Aiko continues breezily. "By the way, how much did you manage to make off of your latest publication?"
Naho clicks her tongue loudly and looks away. "You already know."
"Yes, I do." Aiko says with a victorious smirk. "But, I'd like to hear it from your mouth."
"Hey, Naho-chan." The girl called Sayaka, who's descended to the level of third wheel in this conversation, interrupts. "What are you talking about?"
Pointing a thumb at the still smirking girl, Naho sighs and says, "Aiko, suddenly started this competition with me on her own." Giving the person in question the stink eye, she continues. "Whoever makes more money than the other in a given space of time gets to order the other around for a day."
"And, this time I was the winner." Aiko leers at Naho. "So, I get to have Naho-chan do anything I want for a whole day."
"S-stop saying it like that!" The soon to be victim, visibly shaken, exclaims.
"A-a whole DAY! Naho-chan! Anything you want?!" Sayaka, in a visible state of panic and tears in her eyes latches onto Naho's arm. "Naho-cha~n! I don't want that! ! ! Naho-chan is my Naho-chan!"
"Oh my, I guess this is what they call NTR isn't it?" Chuckling, Aiko pours more oil on the emotional fire.
"AIKO!" Naho shouts.
At this point, there's a visible timer counting down above Sayaka's head before an explosion of tears comes from her.
"S-sayaka! Calm down! Calm down, okay?" Naho hurriedly takes Sayaka into her arms and looks into her face. "Now that I've met this month's deadline I've got some free time, so let's go on a date next weekend."
"Really?" Sniffs Sayaka. "Will you do anything I say during that time as well?"
"W-well, within reason..."
"Yay! Naho-chan, thank you! Meroha~~~n! ! !" Tears completely gone, a glomp follows soon after threatening to send both glomper and glompee to the ground.
"Kishinuma-kun?" Shinozaki looks up at me quizzically.
I'd slowed down unconsciously, watching the three girls.
"Sorry, got distracted. Let's go."
We continue on our way, as they do theirs.