Chapter 1: You're Important
My breath was hot. I was panting like a dog on a hot day as I fumbled at the buttons on my uniform. For future reference, doing anything, let alone something like this, in a supply closet tended to heat up the room rather quickly.
"…I should get going," I said after finally managing to finish fastening the buttons on my shirt.
I instinctively rubbed my hands across the pleated material to smoothen it out and make it look at least somewhat normal. My uniform never looked amazingly pristine, and I never took amazing care of it, but still, it was better to be safe than sorry.
"Relax a little bit. I already made sure there was no one around."
Her voice was sturdy, but held an odd quality to it. A vague hint of exasperation maybe.
"I am relaxed," I responded.
I wrinkled my nose at the smell of flint and smoke, as I began looking around the small room. "Where are my pants?"
It was kind of hard to see in the practically lightless room, but the black of my uniform slacks against the white tile should've stood out enough for me to pick up on it probably. It was surprising that I couldn't find them with just a quick glance around.
"Over there," she said, her head flicking to somewhere on her left. Her voice sounded funny with a cigarette gripped between her teeth.
I reached behind her, and by way of touch, finally stumbled upon my pair of crinkled pants. It was carelessly draped over one of the metal racks, one leg curled up messily while the other was hanging over the side. I couldn't decide if it had been put there purposely or if it had merely ended up there after our clumsy entrance.
I frowned as I noticed the dust and dirt that had accumulated on the backside. Most of the loose particles fell off with a few swipes of my palm, but there was a thick layer of grime and whatever else that stained it nastily and wouldn't come off.
"You didn't put them there did you?" I asked after a second.
"Hm? Your pants?"
"Mm, maybe. I tossed them wherever. Why?"
"Never mind." I turned away from her and looked down at the pair of pants in my hands. No matter which way I scraped or scrubbed, the ugly stain was still there.
"They're completely ruined, that's all."
She shot me an interesting expression as she puffed smoke out of her mouth. One of her eyebrows rose questioningly.
"Oh? Bring them over here. Let me take a look."
I looked at her, but after a second, did as I was told and walked a few steps over towards her. She took the pair of pants, her hands turning it over a few times as she examined it. As she nodded and inspected the material, she breathed out again, a cloud of smoke forming around her mouth before disappearing altogether.
Her sudden puff of tobacco reminded me that I would once again be smelling like ash and nicotine for the rest of the day.
"Yup, this pair is ruined. Looks like some bleach or detergent spilled on that shelf earlier and your pants soaked up the brunt of it." She stirred suddenly, wrapping her bra around herself, and clasping it behind her. Even in the dark room, it was easy enough to see the definition and voluptuous shape of her chest. "I'll order a new pair for you, free of charge. What size are you again?"
"30/32," I answered.
I suddenly felt like a small child. A child whose mother was picking him out a new pair of jeans after he accidentally ruined his by playing just a little bit too rough. In a perverted sense, something like that was exactly what was happening.
"Mm, that's surprisingly small. I always took you for bigger, but I suppose that was just the bedroom eyes," she said with an amused tone. Her shoulders shrugged.
I rolled my eyes, but I doubt she could see them in the dimness. "Pants size and whatever you're talking about have little to do with each other."
"Oh, is that so? Well, I suppose you're the expert, with your having had one total partner in your lifetime and all. I'll just have to take your word for it," she breathed out sarcastically.
I doubt my face showed it, but I hated it when she made comments like that. There were so many reasons that I hated it in fact, I don't think I could count them all if I really tried.
I ended up ignoring her statement and after a short bout of silence, decided to bring up something that actually had to do with what we were talking about.
"So what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Parading around school without pants is definitely going to raise suspicion. That is if it doesn't land me in jail first."
She chuckled quietly as she slid her own pants around her ankles and began to do the buttons on her shirt.
"Just put them on. Don't tell me you're afraid of getting a little bit of soap on your ass. If anything, it'll help wash off the smart attitude you keep hidden down there."
"Bleach can be used as a substitute for soap? Huh, I've been doing it wrong all this time."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about, right there." She waved her hand at the air in a ridiculous looking gesture. "Anyways, I told you I could get you a new one, so stop your complaining already."
I merely gave a half of a grunt in response and snatched up the pair of pants that she had discarded to the ground.
This whole conversation seemed sort of ridiculous to me actually. Not a particularly bad ridiculous, but just absurd in a sense. I mean, gaming the system for free pants because I ruined them during an illicit encounter? Absurd. Still, I suppose that was one benefit of doing something like this with a person of authority.
I suddenly had the urge to laugh sardonically but I settled for a neutral expression instead.
"I'm gonna get going. The others are probably waiting for me," I said without looking over my shoulder. I slipped on my socks, and then my shoes, and at that point, I was pretty much ready to leave. For the most part, I looked like I had before, give or take a couple of shirt wrinkles and misplaced hairs.
"You certainly seem eager to leave today." She laughed humorlessly. "Can't wait to get away from me?"
"Nah, that's not it," I responded. "Yukinoshita and Yuigahama would get suspicious if I didn't show up though. I already told them I'd eat with them."
"But you also told them that you had to see me about something first didn't you?" She finally stood up to her full height. In the dark room, it seemed as if she was towering over me, which was odd because she was only a few inches taller if anything.
"Right, well there's your excuse right there. You were late because I kept you behind in my office to talk about something or another." She smiled one of those lopsided grins that seemed so characteristic of her. "You just lost track of time because you find me so positively enchanting."
Her eyes sparkled deviously under the low lighting and her hands that were rearranging the silky black hair behind her slowed.
"I'm not sure how credible an excuse is when it's used more than three times," I bandied back.
"It's not an excuse if it's true." Her tone wasn't questioning or anything. It was declaring what she had said as the irrefutable truth. She flipped her wristwatch once. "There's still fifteen minutes before lunch ends. That's a lot of time, you realize."
Was it though? Lunch lasted for thirty-five minutes. If I had to walk all the way over to the special building in the crowded hallways, it'd probably be too late to make any decent progress with my book, let alone finish all of the food that Komachi packed for me in my bento.
I shrugged. "Not really. Barely enough time to finish my lunch at all."
"But plenty of time for you to fuck me again."
I stiffened up. I couldn't help but turn to face her with slightly wide eyes. This wasn't anything that I didn't see coming, but in all honesty, I'm not completely sure I'd ever get used to hearing her talk like that.
She laughed. "Ah, don't look at me like that. I know you have another one in you, and I can't say that I was completely satisfied with earlier. I've been feeling restless all day."
She stood from where she was leaning and walked over to me, grasping me by my elbow, and dragging me back towards the corner again.
Her arm traced over mine as she leaned in closer. Before I knew it, her lips were on mine and we were kissing. A soft moan came from the back of her throat as she tore at my shirt in an attempt to undo all of my hard work. I gripped her around her waist.
It felt good. No I couldn't lie, really good. But there was something, an odd prickling at the back of my head that told me I shouldn't be doing this. That actually showing up to club for once would do more to throw off their suspicions than an essay full of excuses ever could.
"Wait," I breathed out between kisses, trying to peel my lips from her soft, moist ones. But for all my efforts, she was persistent and kept pulling herself closer to me. Her scent was as intoxicating as always. I couldn't get more than a few syllables out of my mouth at a time. "I… think… really… should… head," I murmured.
The wet slobbering of her mouth was hard to talk through, but there were worse ways to be interrupted I suppose.
She pulled away suddenly, leaving me slightly dizzy.
"Don't ruin the moment Hikigaya. You can leave when we're done here," she said suddenly.
Like before, her words didn't leave much room for argument. She leaned in to capture my lips again. Not that I was in a particularly argumentative mood with her tongue in my mouth anyways.
"Don't… worry about… it. I… always… take care of my… responsibilities." She whispered against my lips, her words much softer this time.
And suddenly I found myself unable to say no. Whatever I was feeling earlier was all but gone now.
Hiratsuka-sensei was a beautiful woman. She was definitely a beautiful woman, I told myself.
(3 weeks earlier)
The Autumn Fair was one of the biggest and most important events during the year for Sobu High. It was a night for fun; a total reprieve from schoolwork and simply a night to hang out with friends and play a couple of cheap games at the booths that were haphazardly set up. Aside from the games, there were drinks, food stalls, and even a ton of vendors that sold whatever random items seemed to be popular that particular month. Keychains, a slathering of otaku-related merchandise, and those weird Destiny characters that were stretched out to look like little loaves of bread were just some of the few things that were sold there. I still don't get why, but for some reason those things always made an appearance at these types of events.
But if you really wanted to know my opinion on it, it was that this thing was basically a knock-off version of the Matsuri festivals that would pop up around Chiba every once in a while. This particular school-ordained event was essentially that though, but shrunk down proportionally to compensate for the less than stellar budget that Sobu High reserved for these types of extracurricular celebrations. It went without saying that I hadn't gone to the previous year's festival and I wasn't planning on going this year either.
The point is though: The Autumn Fair was a big deal for everyone else, and the excited chattering and squeals that came from the students around me proved as much.
"Alright, alright. Settle down everyone. I'm going to begin class in a few minutes, so take your seats if you would."
The woman at the front of the room spoke loudly to the students that were standing around idly in the desks in front of her. Despite what she said however, most of the students who were talking beforehand continued doing so, albeit in slightly softer tones.
"I said seats!" Her eye twitched visibly as she roughly slammed her folder on the surface of the podium to create a harsh slapping noise. That got their attentions. Every student rushed to his or her seat and plopped in without saying another word. "That's better. Next time anyone tries that, it'll be detention."
My eyes that peered over my novel's edge flicked back down to the printed words in front of me. I shook my head in slight disbelief. Harsh, sensei, harsh. She certainly sounded like she was a in a bad mood.
Hiratsuka-sensei wasn't a bad woman by any means, and certainly not a bad teacher. Despite her occasional outbursts, which unfortunately in my cases usually included a harsh dose of physical punishment, she was actually a pretty good person. I wouldn't go so far as to say that we were friends or anything, but she played the mentor role well for me. Be it personal or "professional" problems (club stuff), she usually seemed to have the right thing to say. Even when she didn't, she would at least ask the right questions: questions that would help me figure out things on my own.
But yeah, where was I going with this again? She was a good person… a decent teacher… and she had quite the body for someone her age… Wait, no no, that last part wasn't relevant to what I was talking about.
Ah, Hiratsuka-sensei was a good person, but she was harsh and rough around the edges. She smoked like an old American action-hero, drank like a European, and cursed as much as or even more than any sailor I ever knew. Also, she couldn't get married despite her dozens (hundreds?) of attempts at doing so. I didn't fault her though; all humans had their issues. If I expected her to be anything else than what she was, that would just be me projecting my fantasies onto her, and that would just be unfair for the both of us. Me, because my fictional standards are just way too high, and her because she didn't deserve to get compared to a cardboard cutout that I had constructed in my mind after watching too many unrealistic anime. Maybe it was her imperfection that allowed me to get so close to her in the first place.
I probably wouldn't have opened up as much as I have to a teacher who seemed completely perfect in every regard. Hiratsuka-sensei's flaws reminded me of my own flaws, which reminded me that even a person, especially a person who seemed to have it as together as she did by first glance, was in reality about as pathetic as I was. Maybe a tiny bit less pathetic, because she had a job, but close anyway. It was the fact that she was a flawed person that let me connect with her. By that logic, her imperfections were her best qualities, yep.
"Here," I answered with a slight raise of my hand.
She smiled a small smile at me as she checked my name off from her roll-sheet, shaking her head somewhat incredulously while she did so.
I stared at her somewhat dumbfoundedly. Was there really so much amusement to be derived from me answering to my name being called? It honestly made me a little bit uncomfortable to see her react to something so minor that I did. It was a small thing, but still embarrassing. It seemed that she possessed the uncanny ability to make fun of me for whatever I said or for any action I took. I rolled my eyes that were hidden beneath my folded arms.
Class droned on as usual. Hiratsuka-sensei did make the lessons a lot more interesting than they otherwise would have been, but any way you cut it, discussing formatting and the syntactical structure of the Japanese language was always a bore… and a chore. A chore-bore.
All I could do to pass the time was sketch idly in my notebook or mentally hum that one English Evangelion song in my head over and over again. I started off taking notes, detailed ones at that, but that got old way too quickly. After deciding that I'd grown completely tired of that damned melody and, after filling up all the blank space in that particular notebook page, I decided to let my eyes wander around the room.
They focused on the usual things: my shoes, Tobe's dumb bleached hair, Miura's chest, Yuigahama's chest, Kawasaki's chest, the community chest… (For propriety's sake I would like to note that I actually didn't look at any of their chests; I wasn't that terrible-mannered (it'd be too easy to get caught given where I was sitting)).
I let my eyes drift around the room for a while, observing the postures of my other classmates. Some were asleep, some jotting down notes hurriedly as if the information they heard would somehow vanish like smoke in the air, but most were doing something along the lines of what I was doing. Looking around the room with bored expressions on their faces. It was only when I noticed a couple of students, all male now that I mention it, looking towards one particular spot in the classroom that my curiosity was piqued.
A kid in the corner of the room (Yamaguchi was it?) who wore a pair of cheap looking black glasses was practically drooling. His spectacled eyes were fixed on something… I tried to adjust my gaze to see what he was seeing, calculating for angle and wind-resistance and everything, and that's when I saw what he was looking at.
I'd never seen something that round. That perfectly shaped… My eyes that were seemingly restless just a second ago must have finally found something worth looking at, because they paused. The contours over the tight black material of those slacks were captivating. I mean, the slacks themselves were nothing if not completely professional. They covered up everything and pretty much left it all to the imagination. But oddly enough, that only seemed to make it look better. The mystery was in the modesty, or something along those lines. There was a reason nuns were so sexualized in media. But regardless, I was frozen at the sight. I couldn't peel my eyes away.
Of course what I was talking about was Hiratsuka-sensei's butt.
She was leaning over the whiteboard, writing down a novella's worth of advanced kanji on the green surface, her arms stretched out towards the top and her vest practically taut over her shoulders. It looked like she had discarded her lab coat over the side of her desk's chair.
It wasn't that I wasn't observant or anything. In fact, I prided myself on my abilities of observation. I'd always known that Hiratsuka-sensei had a… nice body. I guess I just never took all that much time to flat-out ogle it though. I wasn't a pervert; that was just another part of myself that I was proud of. But now that I had been roped into staring at it… well, yep. Her ass was pretty amazing.
"And… done. Copy down these kanji in your notes everyone. You're going to need to know them for the quiz on Friday." She said this as the sound of chalk on board suddenly stopped. I blinked as she turned around, my fingers accidentally fumbling the pencil that was lodged in my hands onto the floor. "Speaking of which, the principal wanted me to remind you that the Autumn Festival is also this Friday."
The perfectly tranquil atmosphere of the class that had persisted a moment earlier was shattered as everyone broke into a round of whispers at Hiratsuka-sensei's comment.
"Now, now. Quiet down. Yes, you're probably all excited, but don't forget, school comes first," she said with her hands on her hips. "It would be in your best interests if you took the time to finish your papers early so that you won't have to scrape and scratch the night before the festival to get them done. That being said, I'll be accepting your essays early this week in anticipation of that. I'll take them as early as Thursday if you have them."
I heard groans from around me as she spoke. I too wanted to bang my head against my desk out of frustration. It was already Tuesday and for all my hard work at my computer last night I now had approximately… nothing done.
"Think of it as an early Christmas present maybe. Or if you prefer, an Autumn Festival bonus from yours truly. Whatever the case, get them done people." She clapped her hands.
'Thanks sensei.' I thought sarcastically. 'You're practically a saint.'
A couple of people motioned to stand and pack up their bags, but were interrupted by Hiratsuka-sensei's loud voice.
"Stay seated everyone. I wasn't finished yet." She glared sternly at the offenders who then shuffled back into their desks. She looked at us quizzically for a second before continuing. "What was I… Oh, that's right." Her tone suddenly seemed to sour for some reason, and her face twisted a little bit.
"Like I said, The Autumn Festival is this Friday. I'll be running a booth there, so feel free to come look for me. I'm not going to tell you which one I'm operating, but if you come by with a poem using the structure I just discussed," she paused to point a solitary finger at the chalkboard. Her butt was once again in view. "I'll consider giving you extra credit. If it's good of course."
Luckily for me, extra credit was the one thing that I didn't need. At least not for this class. My grades in Modern Japanese were high enough—second highest in the class actually.
Ah, yet another good excuse to NOT go to the festival (as if I needed any more of those).
"Okay, you're dismissed. Enjoy the rest of your day," Hiratsuka-sensei said to conclude the lesson, and subsequently the class.
Everyone began to pack up and before long, most were out of the classroom.
"Hey Hikki, ready to go?"
Yuigahama came up to me and whacked me lightly with her bag. I rubbed at my shoulder irritably before responding.
"Ow. If you're going to hit me, could it at least be for something that I deserve? I haven't even answered you yet. But yes, I'm ready."
"Shaddup already. You're taking forever."
I shook my head at the characteristically pointless comment that Yuigahama made. I didn't like being the first one out the door, or even one of the first ones out the door. If you were in too much of a hurry, it made people think that you had somewhere urgent to be, which I didn't. And they knew I didn't. So if I were to leave early, everyone in the room would probably think that I was simply trying to look cool and important as if I had a pressing business meeting to get to or something (In reality, I doubt anyone cared one way or the other). But that was seriously my reason for waiting to pack up. Was it stupid? Probably.
I picked up my scattered notebooks and loose-leaf papers on my desk before stuffing them into my bag. The couple of pens and pencils that were scattered about my desk were ushered into my bag as if I were wiping crumbs off a dinner table.
I stood up and straightened out my uniform before turning to address Yuigahama. However, where I expected to be met with one girl, I was instead met with two girls. Well, one girl and one much older woman.
"Heading off to club you two?" Hiratsuka-sensei asked us as she paraded over to my desk.
"Eh?" Yuigahama turned around to face Hiratsuka-sensei before recognition dawned on her face. "Oh! Yup! Well, we would be if Hikki wasn't taking forever."
I rolled my eyes in a none too subtle gesture. "A minute less of sitting and sipping at tea with Yukinoshita isn't going to suddenly end the world," I responded sarcastically. I couldn't help it. Why get annoyed at me over something so pointless anyways?
Hiratsuka-sensei chuckled slightly. I noticed that she had put her lab coat back on. "Well, it looks like it'll be several minutes less today. Hopefully that doesn't end up doing us all in," she joked. I looked at her inquiringly. "I need to see you in my office Hikigaya. Not for too long, just a bit. We need to talk about something. Something important."
Even though her tone sounded slightly serious, she was smiling.
Yuigahama looked at her with a puzzled look on her face. "Something important…" she murmured. "Did another e-request come on the computer?"
"No no. It doesn't have to do with the club." Hiratsuka-sensei waved her hand in dismissal.
At this point, I was completely curious myself. By the way she said it, it didn't necessarily sound like what she wanted to talk to me about was bad… but the discrepancy between her expression and tone when she said what she said made me question myself. Huh, Hiratsuka-sensei, you're an enigma if nothing else.
"Yeah, sure. Let's go," I said with a shrug.
Looking around the room, it was apparent that every other student had made it out of the class at that point. The only ones left were the three people standing around my desk: me, Hiratsuka-sensei, and Yuigahama.
"Oh…Okay Hikki. Then I'll see you after? Yukinon said she made teacakes again, so you shouldn't make us wait that much you know."
I was strangely touched by the idea that they'd wait for me before they started eating. I nodded.
"Don't worry Yuigahama. I won't keep your precious Hikigaya away for too long. It'll just be a short chat," Hiratsuka-sensei said with a smile.
Yuigahama immediately seized up and her hands spastically wavered back and forth in a hurried motion. "It's not like that! I don't actually care that much about Hikki! It's just… rude I guess, if you start without everyone there and all." Yuigahama responded in a fluster, her cheeks slightly pink already.
So should I be happy or shouldn't I? Somebody spell it out for me so I know how to feel please.
"I know what you meant. This brat doesn't deserve to be treated so well after all," Hiratsuka-sensei responded. Suddenly she grabbed my head in a choke lock and began rubbing her knuckles against my hair.
OW! I could hear the strands at my scalp being twisted into unnatural positions as her curled fingers raked across my head.
"Ow, ow, ow. Stop please." I cried out until I was finally released from Hiratsuka-sensei's surprisingly muscular arms.
Yuigahama smiled awkwardly as I rubbed gingerly at my damaged head.
After we made it into the hall and Hiratsuka-sensei locked the door shut, Yuigahama said a final farewell and took off for the special building.
"So what's all this about anyhow?" I turned to face Hiratsuka-sensei before voicing my question.
"We'll talk about it in my office." She responded before sticking her hands into her coat pockets. She started walking through the hall that was bathed in the rays of the late afternoon sun, and I followed after her with a shrug.
"I can't believe you dragged me all the way over here to talk about this. You said you had something important to talk to me about," I said with an air of slight disbelief.
She flicked at her zippo lighter a few times to light her cigarette. Her feet that were perched out across the small coffee table suddenly were brought to the floor as she sat up straighter.
"Come on, I'm asking as a personal favor," she said after her first drag. "You can't just let a woman suffer when you have the means to help her. That's just ungentlemanly."
I rolled my eyes—something that I found myself doing more often than lately when it came to Hiratsuka-sensei. It was deserved in this case though.
"I'll gladly admit to being ungentlemanly if it means getting out of this," I said as I turned my eyes away from her.
The small room we were sitting in was one that I was more than familiar with. Two simple small couches, a coffee table, a cabinet, an ashtray, and a set of windows were what occupied my immediate surroundings. This was the intimate little sitting area that Hiratsuka-sensei took me to so often to discuss real-world issues and other relatively important things. That's why in this case, I was surprised that she would pull out all the stops, including bringing me here, only to ask me such a ridiculous thing.
"Hey now. Don't make me pull the superior officer card on you. As your teacher, I could simply force you to help me. The fact that I'm actually giving your opinion any weight speaks volumes for my character," she said.
"Yeah. Volumes of how rotten it is," I answered snidely. She didn't like that. She glared at me, and I could practically feel her sizzling forehead from where I was sitting. I coughed once before continuing. "It's not like you've hesitated to pull that card in the past. Wasn't it you who practically forced me under threat of suspension to join the Service Club in the first place?"
She had the gall to laugh at that. "Yes, but you needed discipline and companionship. I did you a favor and I think deep down you know that."
The only thing I could do was shrug. Yukinoshita and Yuigahama weren't the worst people in the world by any means. There was a chance that maybe one day, I might even call them my friends. But that still didn't change the fact that I had been forced into what could essentially be summed up as an indentured servitude.
"And now you're cashing in on that favor and expecting me to go along with your plan?" I asked.
"Well, that would be fair, wouldn't you agree?" She smiled again, a warmish sort of smile that made it kind of hard to keep up my sarcastic attitude.
"Maybe," I responded noncommittally.
I didn't exactly have a good response to what she said so I gave her a vague, and altogether short, answer.
"Hikigaya," she said softly.
She suddenly turned to face me head on. Her eyes were looking in my direction unabashedly. I found myself unable to resist as I turned my own eyes towards her. Looking at her like was the least I could do after she had addressed me so directly and gently.
Her pleading tone caught me slightly off guard I had to admit. I wasn't used to hearing Hiratsuka-sensei practically beg like that. The thing was, this whole thing wasn't even a big deal either. I could think of way worse ways to spend your night than working a booth by yourself. (Okay, not all that many, but one of them was definitely being forced to work a booth while in my company). That's why I was so confused why she wanted me to join her in the first place.
If it were up to me, I wouldn't set foot a mile near the Sobu High fields during the Autumn Festival. Way too many crowds, way too much noise. Basically way too much fun being had without me. Naturally, I'd want to steer clear of a place like that. But what she was asking of me… to work the booth alongside her… that would eliminate any semblance of peace I was hoping to have on my Friday evening. It would be bad enough having to even attend the festival itself, but having to work a booth and being forced to the beck and call of a bunch of idiots? You couldn't pay me to do something like that. I guess it made sense that nobody was paying me, or her for that matter, at all.
She was basically being strong-armed by the principal into running one of the booths to save on the already skimpy budget. I mean, I could sympathize with the administration though. Why would I possibly outsource when I had access to a bunch of free labor already? Force the teachers to run some booths, maybe offer them a free meat skewer for good benefit… and oh yeah, threaten to fire them if they refused. It was a good business model, even if it was kind of cruel. And all of a sudden, Hiratsuka-sensei's bad mood from earlier made perfect sense.
I couldn't say I wanted to do this. At all. But… didn't I owe her?
There was no doubt that she'd done more for me than I'd done for her in the past. She gave me advice, guidance, and whatever else it was that responsible senseis imparted onto their students.
But of all the things she could've asked for help with… it was something like this. The damned Autumn Festival. I was tempted to choke out a cry, but decided against it. Looking into her pleading eyes made it hard to do anything but what she had been so desperately hoping I'd do this whole time. Agree.
"Fine," I said in defeat.
She clapped her hands suddenly, a big grin splaying out across her face. "I knew you'd see it my way." She leaned back into her chair and once again plopped up her long legs on the coffee table.
"You know you could've asked the club. You know, force Yukinoshita or Yuigahama to pull their weight for once. I don't see why I'm the only who's being punished here." I grasped at straws, or at the very least for an explanation. Truth be told, her request seemed to fall into the category of what she would normally consider service work. And I didn't want to hear that she didn't want to bother us over something so trivial, because she had consulted us many times in the past for things that were much stupider in comparison. Much.
"Huh?" She asked suddenly, her eyes widening slightly for whatever reason. She looked like a deer in headlights. What, had she not even considered that possibility at all? As the counselor for the service club, you would think she'd have thought of that idea even before I did, but it wasn't so. I wasn't surprised. "Ah, the club? It'd be too much of a bother. After all, I only need one volunteer really. I'm not running a daycare or something. It's a small booth."
She went and did it. She said she it was a bother.
"Well, it's a bother to me too you know…" I grumpily muttered. "I think Yuigahama would be better suited for this type of thing anyway. It might give her practice for the minimum wage job she's going to be doing when she graduates from high school."
Okay, that was a little harsh, but I was just ribbing on Yuigahama. No harm, no foul.
"Ah, but there lies the problem. Yuigahama doesn't take to directions all that well. It would be way more trouble than it's worth just to try to get her to do an acceptable job. You, at least, have some experience doing grunt work with all those part-time positions you've held."
Don't remind me. Those weren't fun times.
I threw out the other name. "What about Yukinoshita? Yukinoshita's both smart and capable. She'd probably end up running the whole thing too if you'd let her." I paused slightly. "Or even if you didn't."
"That's the problem. She's too commanding. If the principal stopped by my booth and saw that one of the students was doing all the work in a booth that I was supposed to be in charge of, he'd think I was lazy. Bastard might even cut my pay or something." She narrowed her eyes. Clearly she and the principal weren't on amazing terms. "You, on the other hand, are just the right amount of subservient to do what's necessary while also making me look good in the process."
"Wow, you make it sound like I'm perfect or something," I said.
"Well, for this type of thing, I suppose you are." She smiled crookedly, her grey eyes sparkling a little bit as she did.
I was effectively cornered. She had decent reasons for why the other two wouldn't be good candidates for the position, even if it was obvious that she made them up right on the spot. I breathed upwards to clear a strand of hair that was hanging limply in front of my eyes before speaking. Here comes the Hail Mary.
"Couldn't you just suck it up for one night though? You said it was a small booth. How much work could there be that would require two people to man it?" I asked.
Surprisingly, she looked slightly miffed at that. She folded her arms across her chest in a stiff gesture. "If you're really so opposed to it, then I'm not going to force you to do it. I'm your teacher, not your babysitter," she said. The last part sounded a little bit bitter.
I immediately felt guilty. I'd already agreed; I wasn't really trying to back out of it, just poking and prodding to try and find out why she found it so imperative to recruit me specifically for this dirty job.
"Sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I already said I'd help, so I'll help."
Her rigid posture softened slightly. Her folded arms spread apart slowly and she sighed out.
"Thank you." She eventually said. We sat in silence for a few moments, and I tried hard to focus on anything but sensei's face. Oddly, she apparently seemed to be trying hard to focus on everything that wasn't not my face.
"What I said about the other two not being good fits for the job is true…" She started after a beat. Another cigarette had found its way into her hand again somehow without my noticing. "But, if you must know… The reason I want you in particular to help me is because... we're close."
I looked up at that, my eyes catching Hiratsuka-sensei's. She looked rather earnest as she said it despite the smoke that she blew out after she finished. She closed her eyes and shook her head a little bit after I made no motion to say anything. She spoke again after a moment, her eyes opening to once again meet mine.
"Yukinoshita and Yuigahama would probably be fine choices too, in all honesty. Heck, I could call my cousin over from Kagawa if I really had to. But…" She paused for a second, as if she were trying to find the right way to say something. "But I'd rather choose you every time."
I bristled at her comment.
"Why?" I asked suddenly.
She seemed to react to that somewhat as she shifted slightly. "Fufu. What, are you going to make me spell it out for you brat?" She asked almost incredulously. I nodded.
Her sudden burst of humor died down suddenly and she was left with a quizzical expression on her face. She gulped.
"Well… you know." She cleared her throat. "When we talk… we have interesting conversations. I… um. Despite our age gap, I can talk to you about whatever and we can always brush it off and laugh afterwards. Even the serious stuff." She trailed off slightly, her voice growing slightly softer. "I mean, spending hours alone watching high school couples stroll through campus with their arms linked and making moon eyes at one another would get tiring for anyone after a while right? I mean this way… At least if you tag along with me, we can poke fun at them together."
It was kind of strange listening to her talk like that. But I understood what she was getting at, despite her sudden subject change to her disdain for couples. She was insecure; it wasn't the first time she was like this. She didn't like having to watch couples hanging off each other's arms and professing their loves for everyone else to see. And that was exactly what these types of events were for. Glorified date spots for madly in love highschoolers to attend and use as a stage to broadcast themselves. I couldn't say I liked them much either.
But essentially, Hiratsuka-sensei wanted me to keep her company because she felt that we connected with each other pretty well. I wasn't going to disagree with that. We did. I liked the conversations I had with Hiratsuka-sensei, even, no especially the ones that seemed like they were too inappropriately deep and philosophical for the situation—but they never were. They were just two conversations between two individuals who had some good ideas to share. They actually never seemed too entirely out of place, even if we went from talking about manga in one sentence to the nature of human relationships the next. They were fun.
"I don't know what it is Hikigaya, but there's just always been something about you that I find interesting." Her face looked earnest and completely absorbed in thought. "Whatever it might be though, the fact is you're a good listener, and a fun person to hang around with. That's why I asked you to help me out."
And I was sold. How could I not be when she was saying something as cheesy and sentimental as all that?
She stopped abruptly, and her tone got slightly harsher. "Don't read too much into it or anything though. You're good company is all," she pointed out.
This damn tsundere…
"You're not bad company either." I shrugged. And it was true, she wasn't.
She grinned and wrapped her coat around herself. "Alright, I'll text you the details and everything later then. You should get going to club. You know, before they get upset about you being too late and all."
"Right. I guess I should." I stood up and grabbed my bag off the floor. I added, "So do I get extra credit for this or something?"
"Ha. More like a demerit if you don't do good enough of a job." She gave me an amused grin, and breathed out through her nostrils as if she found what she had said to be overly amusing. I rolled my eyes again.
"Being forced to entertain you for a night and possibly screwing up my grade? This really is a great arrangement for me isn't it?"
She chuckled but didn't say anything after that. I took it as my cue to leave. As I made it to the doorway and gripped at the rectangular knob to open the door, Hiratsuka-sensei called out.
"Oh yeah, you're going to need to wear something nice. I don't want you to embarrass me."
"Me embarrass you? I'm the one who's being forced to spend all night with his teacher at what basically amounts to a carnival."
There was no insult or retort like I was expecting, but instead just a small chuckle that was light and altogether quite pleasant to listen to. "Take care, Hikigaya."
"Right." I smiled slightly and closed the door behind me. I walked out of the office rooms, and made it out into the hallway before I stopped completely.
I was going to be working a booth for the Autumn Festival.
It was only as I was walking away that I fully grasped just what I had gotten myself into.
AN: Phew, so pretty much wrote all of this in one day. The formatting and characterization isn't going to be nearly as strict in this story as in MOL.