At the book store and the walk home
The book shop we reached was a medium sized one. It had a selection of manga magazines, cooking magazines, and news magazines out in front with some new best sellers. A few other students and one or two adults were browsing through the selection, seeing if there was anything interesting to read. Shinozaki started walking past the shelves, inspecting the titles on their spines.
"The horror section is over there." I point at a row of shelves deeper in the shop.
She frowns at me, before sighing heavily.
"Kishinuma-kun, I read things other than ghost stories you know." Giving me a disappointed look, she continues looking through the books in front of her.
"Right..." I move to leaf through the magazines. Then notice they've all been tied up with nylon string. A glance at the shop keeper shows him smirking victoriously at me, before switching his attention to the small TV in front of him.
Well, it's not like this is unusual. The only place that allow people to read magazines before buying them are convenience stores. Book shops and newspaper stands tend to have them tied up nowadays. Still, I now have nothing to do while Shinozaki looks for something she wants.
I could go in after her, but I don't want to be hovering behind her while she chooses something. There's nothing that really catches my eye at the moment, not that I read much anyways.
Shinozaki puts back a book she was leafing through. As she does, our eyes meet.
"What's wrong?" She walks over to me.
"Hm? Oh... Well..." I nod at the tied up magazines. "Guess I'm in a bit of a bind."
"What's that, a pun?" She sighs, before walking back into the shop. Halfway in, she turns back and beckons to me. The way her hand moves looks like she's coaxing a cat towards her.
"Come here." She orders.
Scratching my head, I walk over.
"I can't concentrate if you're just standing out there looking at me." She quickly picks up a different book and starts going through it.
... Well, it's not like I had anything to do. Still, I swear she's always been a little harsher with me than everyone else. She's usually more comfortable with the girls of our class than the boys, but she always seems a little extra grumpy when she's with me.
Sighing, I pick a book off the shelf at random.
Guess it can't be helped. Socially, I'm a delinquent and she's a class-rep. Usually, we're supposed to be at each other's necks or something. I won't go so far as to say the relationship we have now is taboo or anything, but maybe she's annoyed by it.
I look down at her. Her neck is exposed; a patch of white between her pigtails and the collar of her uniform. Slender and smooth, it looks comfortable to touch.
I turn back to the book. Calm down Yoshiki. This is a public place. Besides that, touching her like that would probably freak her out.
But it's too late. Now that I've noticed her neck, I can't stop thinking about it; the gentle smell of her hair, the softness of her skin... All right next to me, within hand's reach.
Dammit, the words are all starting to blend together. I can't even tell if I'm holding the book the right way up!
The thought of burrowing my face in the nape of her neck and sucking in her smell keeps filling my head. My mouth waters slightly at the thought of licking its base. The silky feeling of her hair going through my fingers, and the sweet sound of her voice...
Crap. My voice kept out funny. What were you supposed to do when you want to hide something? Look them in the eye? Say something before they can?
"What's wrong, your face is bright red."
She looks into my face, a slightly worried expression on her face.
H-hold on, this isn't that sort of setting. Sure this position looks really cute, and her lips are pretty close, but this isn't the time.
"Are you alright? Does your head hurt?"
"N-no, everything's fine."
I put on a smile.
This is bad.
Usually, the way this goes is that the girl asks if the guy's alright, then they check their temperature with their hand or something.
But, if she touches me now, I'll definitely want to touch her back.
The thought of the impending feeling of her cool fingers against my forehead focuses all my nerves on her hand.
"If you say so." Shinozaki shrugs then, goes back to reading.
Well, this is good in a way. If she did do what I thought she would do, I would have done something I might have regretted.
I don't want to hurt her. I owe her too much to do that.
She doesn't want to do those sorts of things yet. I won't force her to do them.
As long as I can be with her, as long as I can see her smile... then, that's enough for me.
Shinozaki's happiness is my happiness. If she wants to do something, all I have to do is help her where I can.
'No matter what'
That's my vow, my purpose.
It's not like I'm bitter about what just happened at all!
Eventually, Shinozaki seemed to find a book she liked and we bought it. To be honest, it felt a bit cheap having her find her own present, but I'd hate to buy something only to find out she already had it or didn't want it.
The book she bought ended up being a book related to the occult. I guess she couldn't resist in the end. She glared at me when I lightly teased her about it.
As we leave the shop and head for the suburbs, I looked down at her again. She's leafing through the book she just bought. A small brown book with what looks like a skull face on it.
"Still, that's one creepy book you managed to find." I comment. "What was it called again? 'The Book of Shadows'?"
"That's right." She says, her eyes not leaving the pages. "It's got all sorts of charms and spells in it. They say the original was written by the witches in Europe during the witch hunts, to preserve their knowledge. Passed down along their lineages, the Book of..."
She starts going on and on about the history of the book she's holding. I managed to keep up for the first 10 minutes, but when she started bringing up the dates of the various trials and burnings my brain overloaded.
In the past, I might have gotten tired and asked her to stop. Now, it's strangely soothing just listening to her talk. I might not get what she's saying, but simply listening is enough. There's no reason to stop her, nothing I want to say. I put in the odd sound to show that I'm listening, and she seems happy. That's enough. It's not like she's going to test me on this stuff later.
My mind wanders as we walk; the two of us in the setting sunlight.
She looks up at me, quizzical.
"When did we start hanging out like this?"
"Huh?" She frowns. "What are you saying all of a sudden?"
Oh, oops. I guess she figured out I wasn't really listening. She's reeeaaaaallly glaring at me…
"Sorry, it just sort of popped into my head, ya know?"
She gives me one final glare, before sighing and pinching her chin with her thumb and forefinger.
"It was probably four months ago, wasn't it?"
"It was!" She huffs. "You interrupted Yui-sensei's story, remember?"
It was the day Shinozaki got back to school after having to stay home due to a cold. It must have been a pretty bad one for her to be taken out of commission like that.
"You did my shift for the day duty that time, remember?"
"Now that you mention it…"
I walked in on the two of them when I was handing in the class journal. Yeah, Shinozaki gave me an annoyed glare back then. Something about her just about to get to the good part.
"Yui-sensei told me you filled in all the boxes and even wrote the class report."
"Well, I was trying to pretend to be you..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" She frowns.
"Eh? Um… You'd just gotten back, right? I thought I'd take some of the load off your back so I filled it out for you."
Shinozaki stops and looks at me. The right side of her face is dyed orange from the sun, the other grey in the shadow.
"Do you remember what happened after that?" Her blue eyes stare into mine.
"After you left the class journal, do you remember what happened?"
After I left the class journal? Wasn't it the end of the day? I think I just went home, or to work…
Ah, crap. I can't remember anything about it. Besides Shinozaki coming back to school, it was just another one of those days.
"Yui-sensei showed me the class journal." She smiles. "Remember how I thanked you the next day?"
Shinozaki turns away from me, and we start walking down the road, the sun at our backs.
"You did an okay job with filling in the class journal, and did all the things we had to do. That's why I started having you help me with the odd thing here and there, remember?"
"Hmm… so that's why you started talking to me more often back then."
The things she asked me to do were small. 'Move this desk with me', or 'sort this half of the paperwork'. Ordinary day duty tasks that either of us could have done alone, but she asked me to help her.
"I did regret it when I asked you to wipe the board with me though." She sighs.
She once asked me to help her wipe the blackboard. The idea was; I'd do the top half, and she'd do the bottom half. However, I forgot to check the blackboard eraser I was using. I guess the last guy to use it hadn't cleaned it. Next moment I knew, Shinozaki was covered in chalk dust.
"Anyways, you stuck with me during all those times, right? That's why I decided I could probably trust you a bit more."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"You're the type who falls asleep or skips any class which doesn't interest you, right? I can't ask a slacker to do a job for me. What would happen if you just quit halfway through?"
"Hey, I'm not that bad…"
"Talk is cheap. Anyways, I said I decided to trust you in the end, didn't I? That's why I started having you help out with some class-rep duties."
I sigh. She's got a point. I'm trusted now, so who cares about what happened then?
As she said, after a few weeks of us doing our day duty jobs together, she started asking me to help with some of her class-rep jobs. There were a few wolf whistles in the class after people noticed how often she was asking me for help. I was called the class reps dog for a while as well. Well, those rumors died out thanks to Satoshi and the rest. But…
"I don't think helping another class with their school festival event is a class-rep duty."
"What are you talking about?" She huffs. "We finished our class's preparations early. What's wrong with helping others?"
"The fact that you loaned me to another class."
One of the classes Shinozaki went to help was having a mini-concert. However, one of their guitarists was sick. They asked her if she knew anyone who played a guitar. I just happened to be next to her, so when she looked troubled I said I might be able to help. Back then, they were just talking about how they couldn't rehearse without a guitarist. I thought I was just standing in for the guy during these rehearsals. Imagine my surprise when I ended up playing the guy's part at the festival. The guy was still sick, so it couldn't be helped.
But seriously… I felt like I was being sold off when she shoved a costume into my hands and pushed me into a different class.
"You would have just been bored ladling out Oshiruko with us. Anyways, you looked like you were enjoying yourself."
"Well, it wasn't bad."
After the festival, people who used to avoid me started saying hello when I passed. The guys who had played at the festival with me asked me to join the school's music club. I became a stand in member, since I couldn't show up for practices as much. It suited me fine. I still have work, and I practice better alone. All I had to do was make sure I know my part well enough to fill in for one of the guitarists.
"And that hair actually came in handy once." She laughs. "It made you look like an actual rock star."
"Yeah." I nod, and scratch my head. "But I don't think I'll keep it."
She nods, "Yup, you look better with black hair."
"How do you know?" I snort.
"Anyways." She ignores my question. "I guess I have to thank you again for taking my shift for the day duty."
"Huh? What for?"
"Because I talked to you more, I was able to do something I haven't done for a long time." A slight wind tousles her hair from behind.
"Hmmm… What was that?"
"Talk to my father."
We continue in silence for a few steps.
"Did you have a problem with him?" I ask finally.
"A little, but I was able to get over it a little by talking to you."
"Was it because I told you about my fight with my father?"
She nods, "But… it was probably a little more than that."
Another silence, filled with only our footsteps and the cries of a crow in the distance.
"Well, glad I could help." I tell her.