Chapter 20: Eirin

He calls me again several days later.

"Let me ask you this first," I say. "How exactly did you get my number?"

"I asked the sky and it fell into my lap."

"Stop kidding around. You're not that charming."

"Ah, but the way you said that implies that you think I'm charming to an extent?"

I inwardly fume and he laughs at my silence.

"Kasamatsu-senpai gave it to me," he says.

The traitor. I'll have to talk to him later.

"Are you upset with him?" Kise asks.

Upset? That's not exactly the word I would choose. I say, "You would've gotten it somehow. There was probably no avoiding this."

"Ichikawa-san, must you use that tone?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"Say that you're happy to talk with me! I'm happy to be talking with you."

My cheeks flame and I'm glad that we are separated by the phone — that it is nighttime, and that if I turn, I will not see my reflection in my mirror: the visible proof of how he affects me. "I wouldn't say I'm exactly happy to be woken up after midnight every night."

"I'll take that," he says. "Because, after all, you didn't say you weren't happy to be talking to me. Ichikawa-san, you really like to avoid things, don't you?"

I have to bite back my next words when I realize they prove his point exactly.

So I say, "Yes. I tried avoiding you. But look at how well that turned out for me?"

"Great," he chirps into the receiver. "While your stubbornness may not be your best quality, it's definitely something I like about you."

I have to clamp my hands around the phone and lay it down on the bed for a few moments. He is such a flirt. Of all the people I had to get involved with, why'd it have to be him? Someone who won't leave me alone?

I suppose, that's the exact reason why.

Him and his persistency. "Kise," I say, and I hear his breath catch. "Why do you try so hard with everything?"

He doesn't answer for what seems like a long time. Then, "I don't understand, Ichikawa-san. Why wouldn't you want to give your best in everything that you do?"

I visit the basketball team's practice the next day. They're in full throttle when I enter, and my eyes are immediately drawn to Kise, who is running laps with the other first-years. They race around the court in circles, but he always seems to be one step ahead of them. My legs seem to be frozen as I watch him — and then I realize that he is nearing me.

He sees me and his eyes widen. He is going fast — so fast — but he halts to a dead stop right in front of me; so close that he almost runs into me. Some of the other first-years cry out and narrowly avoid running into him.

"Hey," he says.

I swallow. "Hey."

"What are you doing?"

If I wanted to, I might be able to count the individual beads of sweat running down his skin. The strands of blond hair plastered onto his forehead. Each and every individual eyelash framing his golden eyes.

He is too close. Much too close. But I can't seem to move away and there's a slight lilt in his lips — the brat is enjoying this.

"I came to see Yukio, of course," I find myself saying.

He lifts an eyebrow, a challenge rising in his eyes. "Just Kasamatsu-senpai?"

My throat is dry — but if I swallow, lick my lips, blink just once too many times, he'll see. I am sure he'll notice. And he will say something about it, because he always does. "You shouldn't let such things get to your head," I say, trying my best to impersonate Kasamatsu. "Someday, you might topple over from the weight of it."

I point my finger at him, and attempt a mock glare — but my finger trembles. He notices, of course, and he grabs my hand to steady it, and there's a teasing smile on his face. "Are you cold?" he asks. The words are serious, but there's a burning fire in his eyes.

Cheeky. So very cheeky.

I snatch my hand away from him and stalk away. He trails after me, no doubt in order to torture me further, but just then a savior appears in the form of Kasamatsu Yukio.


Kise topples over, having taken a neat kick from Kasamatsu. "Ow! Senpai, why?"

"I told you to run laps! Don't be bothering Eirin now! Get back to what you should be doing, first-year."

Kise casts one more glance at me, but he nods, and then joins the line of other first-years who are still running, while looking at us curiously as well. He immediately takes the lead again, much to my irritation.

"Thanks, Yukio-chan-senpai," I say.

"I've told you already, don't call me that."

"That's why I do, though."

He rolls his eyes and gives up. "So? Why are you here?"

"No particular reason." I move over to the nearest bench but am surprised to find a girl already sitting there — it takes me a moment to recognize her. She was the one from earlier. The one who said she knew Kise and Kasamatsu.

The girl raises her head as Kasamatsu and I approach and a smile stretches across her face — I'm fairly certain it's not because of the sight of me, though.

"Hey!" she says. "Kasamatsu-senpai. Ichikawa-san, nice to see you again."

"You too," I reply, and I take a seat on the other side of the bench.

"N-Nakahara-san," Kasamatsu mumbles, his captain presence diminishing. "H-how are you doing today?" I almost snigger. It's almost a miracle he can say that much in front of a girl. She grins with something near triumph, and suddenly curiosity fills me. Kasamatsu hasn't mentioned anyone like her — though to be fair, we haven't seen each other much lately . . . and I haven't exactly told him what the progressing relationship (or whatever it is) between Kise and me is yet either.

Kasamatsu leaves to go do whatever his captain duties are, and the girl — Nakahara Susumu, if I remember correctly — and I are left with an awkward space between us. If it was Mom or Masuhiro sitting here, they'd immediately have struck up a lively conversation, but as it is . . . my social skills could be improved, to say the least.

"You and Kise, huh?" the girl finally says.

I jerk. "What?"

"You two made quite a presentation there a few minutes ago," she says, observing me and taking a sip from a water bottle. "Are you two going out?"

"W-what? No way!"

"Oh. I see. He hasn't said anything to me, so I didn't know."

Her forwardness puts me off guard, so I immediately retaliate in defense. "And what about you and Yukio? He was able to say a full sentence to you! That's — that's abnormal!"

To my surprise, instead of getting offended, the girl just grins and says, "I know, right? It's taken a while, but he's really warmed up to me, hasn't he? You must know him better than anyone else, so tell me: has he always been this shy with girls?"

I just stare at her. She is so earnest, almost like Kise in a way, and it unnerves me. Finally, I say, "Yeah. For as long as I've known him, he's barely been able to string two words together in front of a girl. He was only able to become friends with me because our parents forced us to — and basketball. We used to play basketball together, so that helped."

Her eyes lighten up at the mention of basketball. "You play, too? Well, I guess that would make sense. Are you any good? I'm just learning myself, so I still have quite a ways to go. Kasamatsu-senpai's been teaching me, though."

I think over this new fact — the idea of Kasamatsu spending extended time with a girl, the hoop, and a ball — but move onto her question before I can get distracted. "I don't play anymore."

I keep it short. There is nothing more she needs to know than that.

She looks disappointed at my answer. "Oh. I see."

To my relief, she doesn't press as to why, and leaves it be. She turns away at that moment, too, because Kise and the other first-years just finished their laps, but Kise did something stupid (of course) and now Kasamatsu's yelling at him again.

I am glad for the distraction, because it allows me to reach down and rub my leg. Whenever I mention or even think about the accident, my leg always seems to throb. It is most likely just my imagination, but I can't help but feel that I'll never get over this injury.

A/N: Kise being a flirt as always, and Susumu and Eirin getting a bit more interaction between them. Thank you for reading this far! Can you believe it? We're nearly halfway through the story!

~ J. Dominique