"I'm starting to wonder if the student council is filled with incompetent asses who just want to look good when they begin applications…"
In response to my observation, Shiromeguri-san laughed awkwardly. Yet another afternoon where I'm helping the president because her lackeys were useless.
This counts as a Service Club request, right?
"They're just stressed out. The culture festival is coming up and entrance exams."
"Those aren't for months from now… and you're the same, aren't you, Shiromeguri-san?"
"Yes, but I also had the pleasure of learning how to be an efficient student council president from Haru-san." She smiled at me. "Also, you can call me Meguri, like how you call Haru-san by her given name."
Yeah, except I do that because of her sister… "…I didn't know Haruno-san was the student council president."
She shook her head. "She wasn't, but she was the chairman of the culture festival committee and she was amazing! Everyone was able to thoroughly enjoy the culture festival while working extremely hard to present the best one ever! Under Haru-san's guidance, it was spectacular."
I'm not surprised there. Yukinoshita once commented how incredible the culture festival was two years ago. That would have been when Haruno-san was a third-year student.
I can barely imagine her in the Sōbu uniform. Wouldn't it have been tight? No, what am I thinking? She couldn't have been that well endowed in high school… could she? But Yuigahama was…
But Yukinoshita was lacking in that department… does this mean she'll have a major growth spurt soon!?
"I wanted to be like her. So confident and loud and liked by everyone. She was the perfect leader. You've met her, wouldn't you say the same?"
"..." That sounded exactly like the Haruno-san I know, yet… it still didn't sit right with me. "She's more… scary than anything…"
"Really?" She pulled out a box cutter, its appearance completely contrasting the sweet senpai. "She said you'd say that, actually. She's really fond of you, I think."
"That's even scarier…" Why would anyone be fond of me? Is it because I was Yukinoshita's friend? No, I'd kill any guy who became Komachi's friend, so that can't be it…
Wait, this was Haruno-san. Or mentalities are completely different. Trying to understand her was more effort than it was worth.
Meguri-san had cut one of the boxes open and began pulling out empty binders. "You have pretty high standards, Hikigaya-kun."
"What do you mean?"
Having high standards is considered a bad thing that society would say would leads to unhappiness. It's harder to please people with such high standards, after all. It might even be what defines us loners. But I couldn't tell what Meguri-san thinks.
"I mean, you expect that even though it's well after club hours that the rest of the student council should be here, helping me."
"I'd say it's unfair. The president does the important stuff, but things like this aren't important. And I'm here helping you and I'm not even part of the student council."
"Would you join the student council?"
The question was sudden and I had to repeat it in my head. Why would she ask me something like that? "Huh?"
"After the school trip will be elections for the next student council. Will you take part?"
"Oh… that's too bad…"
Did… did I just kick a puppy? "Um, well, it's not like I'd get voted over the popular students. And I don't even think I'm qualified…"
"The student council isn't a popularity contest." Her fists were raised at each side of her. She believed in her words; it was clear. But I didn't. Then her fists dropped. "If you give them a speech that's passionate enough, popularity doesn't matter."
Maybe. It's hard for me to believe. If your friend was running, wouldn't you vote for them no matter what? There will always be bias in any sort of voting system. Especially when you're surrounded by teenagers enjoying their youth.
"Haru-san was really amazing; she definitely could have been the best president in the history of the school."
"Why didn't she run?"
Meguri-san looked at me and smiled. "She said 'one day you'll see.'"
That sounds like her, leaving you to torment over her words. "So, is it 'one day' yet?"
"Nope. I'll be sure to tell you when it is!"
Meguri-san wasn't loud and she emitted an aura that allowed me to relax just being in her presence… no, not relax, but enter a state of daze. I could get used to this.
Lunchtime, and it was raining. This was truly the biggest hurdle for loners. My favourite spot was unavailable. And thus, I was stuck inside.
There's the infamous "cafeteria", but on rainy days like today it's even more full and noisy than usual.
If only everyone in this stupid class would leave.
"Hey, Hikigaya-kun." Slowly, my gaze drifted upwards. I didn't even notice him approach my desk. I grunted, food in my mouth. "Do you mind coming with me for a moment?"
Yes, I do mind. Very much. "…Why me and not…" Okay, the blonde girl was glaring daggers at me. Does she really think I'm a part of the competition for Hayama's heart?
"It's been a while."
For some reason, I felt like I had no choice but to comply.
Maybe it was because if I didn't, I'd be stuck with the fourth-scariest girl I've ever encountered. Behind Haruno-san, Yukinoshita, and my mother. My mother and Yukinoshita's positions were interchangeable.
In mere minutes, Hayama had two drinks in his hand and we were staring outside the glass window. Stairs that were very familiar to me were in view, alongside some bicycles.
We were staring at my favourite lunch spot.
"Is that why you asked me to come? To torture me by showing me the one thing I love just out of reach?"
"Hahaha, no not at all!" Laugh. Laugh as if I was making a joke of some kind. Laugh to dispel any harboured ill-will. That was Hayama. "I just felt bad, seeing you alone but surrounded by people."
Nice try, nice guy. "If you felt bad, you could have talked to me in the classroom." I sipped my coffee. Hayama was a nice guy. He bought me coffee. And now my debt is even further down the hole. For every time my lips are removed from the can, I regret accepting. For every time the liquid touches my tongue, I berate myself for even thinking about refusing such a sweet beverage.
"Well I had to also consider your feelings as well. I know you prefer isolation."
"If you wanted to consider my feelings, you should have left me be." That would have been preferable, though I hate to admit it, I feel significantly more relaxed. Having soft rain as the only sound was much more preferable to the noise of the classroom. If this meant dealing with Hayama, then it's worth it. "…But it is quiet."
"Ah, it is. It's unusual for me, to be honest. I'm always surrounded by people that to have a moment of quiet is… different."
Yes, why don't you brag some more about how many friends you have, you riajuu. I sipped my coffee, keeping my thoughts to myself. As per usual. "Not a single moment to yourself?"
He shook his head. "In the classroom I'm always talking with Yumiko, Tobe, Yui, Hina, Ōoka, and Yamato." …Were those names supposed to mean something to me? "After school there's club and that's anything but quiet. And on my way home I'm always talking with someone on the phone. Usually between Yumiko, Tobe, or my parents. And at home-"
"I get the idea." Seriously, I decide to actually start a conversation and he goes and spills his life story.
Instead of being angry at me for cutting him off, he just laughed it off. As he does. "That's why I find spending time with you so fascinating, Hikigaya-kun. I get to experience a different kind of social environment. One that I've long missed."
If you want to call it "social", you're clearly deluded. "You sound like you're…" …coming on to me. No, I'm sorry but I don't swing that way and probably never will. I shook my head of those thoughts. "You don't need to stay with that posse."
"They're my friends and I appreciate them a lot. The conversations and everything. Their chatter might seem like garbled noise to you, Hikigaya-kun, but to me, it's a bunch of people enjoying their youth in harmony."
If you call that harmony, then actual harmonies must be gifts from God. Just thinking about their laughs, their booming voices, forcing their values onto others… "I can't say I can call that harmony."
"Well, it's a different kind of harmony than between you and Yukinoshita-san." …Huh? What's that supposed to mean? "Even you and me, Hikigaya-kun, are in harmony."
I coughed. And kept coughing. And then almost fell over when I felt a strong thump on my back. "Yeah, I'm done."
For some reason, my almost timely demise got amused him as he was laughing freely. He didn't even respond to my glare and just waved. My glare intensified but I couldn't be bothered and began to leave.
I couldn't help myself and gave one last look behind me. In the mirror, his reflection half-clear, his face unusually serious. And I couldn't help but think how that seriousness suited him far more than that fake smile.
For as cautious I was around him, he was just as cautious, if not more, around me. And that was fine.
"Sorry for the intrusion…" I closed the door behind me before taking a seat on the long couch. Yukinoshita walked over with two mugs. It was a different scent than usual, and it piqued my interest. "Did you make coffee?"
"Yes, but don't expect this to be a normal occurrence. It was only because I felt bad leaving you alone the past few weeks."
Alone… that was exactly the word I'd use to describe me. "I'm used to it. Didn't we agree you were going to be busy?"
"And as it turns out, I'm not as busy as I'd like. But lately all my free time has been used up by Yuigahama-san." Her face scrunched up. It wasn't in disgust, but rather confusion.
Having a friend was a new experience. And not just any friend, but a completely overbearing friend who was practically both of our opposites. It was difficult to adjust to such a person who just barged into our lives.
"It's good." I was referring to her coffee. It was too good. No fair, Yukinoshita.
"I'm glad. I can't say I taste-tested it myself. It's a very good thing you didn't collapse."
"As if. Even at its worst, your cooking is still good." Savour or gulp it all down? These were the impossible decisions one had to make. "You still don't like coffee?"
"It's not that I don't like coffee…" She mumbled before raising her cup to her lips. I watched her expression carefully. She placed the cup down gently before rubbing her lips. It was Yukinoshita's version of disgust.
"If it's too sweet then brew it bitter." Meanwhile, the other side of my brain is still making the impossible decision… Ah to hell with it, savouring such sweetness was a mistake.
"I had to at least try." I guess one sip was enough for her. I continued drinking my coffee, though I watched her looking back and forth between her coffee and me.
"What?" She appeared startled. Apparently she wasn't expecting me to call her out, but she was acting odd.
"Here." She pushed her barely-touched cup towards me. Um… what was I supposed to do with this? She understood my confusion and sighed. "It would be a waste to throw it out."
Oh she was saying I should drink it to not waste food. Yeah, I understand.
She looked annoyed, but don't think I don't see you not making eye contact with me, Yukinoshita! "I detest wasting food. And I spent some time making this coffee."
"Suck it up and drink it."
She didn't take that too kindly to that and kicked me under the table. She didn't kick hard, but I got the message.
If Yukinoshita doesn't like something, she doesn't like something.
But, Yukinoshita, just because you barely touched your coffee doesn't mean you never touched your coffee! How would you feel if I had you drink my coffee!? Have mercy, please!
Whatever Komachi-impression I was making wasn't working. I felt like a child, being forced to ingest something I had no desire to put near my mouth. But this was different! Does she even understand the implications of such an action!? She has to, if she read the manga I lent her…
Oh. She didn't.
With shaking hands, I raised her cup to my mouth, before letting the liquid fall into my mouth.
That was the fastest I've ever drank coffee...
…And the last time for a while.
"Quit it." Whatever face I was making must have been gross.
She sighed, her index reaching get forehead. "Let's get going."
"You need to focus," Yukinoshita said before slamming the ball hard with her racket.
And you need a longer skirt… I tried to return the ball. The result was the racket slipping out of my hand and me almost falling over. "You're crazy."
"If crazy equates to winner, then I suppose I am." She was smug. You're not supposed to take that as a compliment…
I bounced the ball on the ground, catching it on the return. "Why are we practicing alone, anyway? Aren't we supposed to help Totsuka?"
"And how useful do you think you'd be with your poor form?"
"He said I was pretty good…"
"Clearly he was embellishing your talents. Why, I'm unsure."
She was giving me an expectant look, waiting for an answer. I would happily give it to her… if I knew myself.
"I don't know. I didn't even know he was in my class last year." I didn't even know he was a guy…
"You might have an admirer then." We began our next game. I think it's time for me to show her how to properly serve.
"You think?" I tossed the ball into the air and then slammed into it hard. "HYAH!"
Within seconds, the ball returned to me. I wasn't fast enough and it was already bouncing away. "Please never yell like that. Only one… whatever you called that friend of yours is enough."
Was she comparing me to him!? I thought yelling before performing an epic shot was a necessity… "Sorry."
Although… maybe she doesn't want me to yell because it distracted her?
It never worked. Instead, Yukinoshita was rubbing her head with an extremely irritated expression. We went over to the side where our bags rested and I watched her down a bottle of water.
Ah yes, Yukinoshita and her low stamina. That must be why we're practicing. By improving my form, I can more effectively help Totsuka when Yukinoshita inevitably has to withdraw.
Still, shouldn't Yuigahama be here with us then?
It's been a day before Yukinoshita decided upon this impromptu training session. Though I can't say I was too helpful yesterday, but neither was she. Just standing there, reading a book while Yuigahama and Totsuka trained.
As for me, well, I did that one job where you just stand there and watch them, maybe give an encouraging remark or two. You know, that one. A supervisor.
"Did I not ask, rather politely I may add, for you to stop acting like a buffoon?"
"Well, not a buffoon per se…"
She shook her head and leaned next to me against the fence of the tennis court we were at. It was late, and the evening sun was disappearing. But we weren't far from Yukinoshita's place so it was fine.
No matter how low her stamina, Yukinoshita could at least still walk. I stretched and picked up my placed racket. "Ready for another game?"
"Give me a moment," she said, breathing heavier than I expected.
It made me uncomfortable so I quickly rummaged through my bag and found an extra water bottle. Heh, praise the insightful Hachiman. Yukinoshita said she wouldn't need more than one bottle of water, but I knew better.
I held it out for her and after a quick look of surprise, she took it and took a few sips. Although she was still breathing rather heavily. "Are you all right?"
"Yes... Well, no. You're shots had a lot more power in them than I'm used to. If you actually invested your first year into tennis you could have been actually good."
Uh, was the 'actually' necessary…? I rubbed the back of my head. "Tennis isn't really my thing. I was always terrible at doubles…"
I couldn't trust my partner. Doubles in the past resulted in me running back and forth, effectively turning it into a one v two match.
The chances of me winning were very low.
But relying on my partner made the chances zero.
And then they would laugh it off, "whoops, my bad!"
But not me. If I missed… "Come on, Hikigaya!"
I shook my head. I wasn't playing doubles right now and I never will.
Although if I absolutely have no choice, no other options, have to… then having Yukinoshita as my partner would be preferable.
Then again, I'd think having Yukinoshita as a partner would be anyone's preference.
"You will have to play doubles tomorrow."
"Huh? Says who?"
"We're helping Totsuka-kun improve his tennis skills. That includes doubles." Oh. That made sense. Unfortunately. "We'll pit him and me against you and Yuigahama-san."
"At first it will be beneficial for him to see how someone at my skill level works as a teammate and then as an opponent. And then you. And then Yuigahama-san."
"Ah, I get it… Well, whatever helps him."
She rolled her eyes but neither of us made a move. She was still catching her breath. We were content just leaning against the fence, our shoulders barely touching, watching the sun disappear completely.
"By the way, Yukinoshita…" She looked at me, innocent and curious. I had to be careful. Tactful. Cautious. "Uh, maybe you should get a longer skirt?"
Slowly, her face began heating bottom up. Without a word, she spun around and headed into the nearby building, leaving me alone in the dark.
Totsuka was no Yukinoshita, but his skills were definitely better than most of our school. But because he was no Yukinoshita, I managed to at least keep up a rally before I inevitably lost.
"Point! Hikki wins!"
…Wait, I won?
"Ah, looks like I have a long way to go. Haha. That was fun, Hikigaya-kun!"
"Ah, yeah…" I raised the racket to eye level. Was there some sort of mechanism in this racket? By all means I should have lost, unless…
My line of sight met Yukinoshita who was standing next to the referee stand. Yuigahama, who was previously sitting on the stand had climbed down and ran over to us. "Good job Sai-chan! You almost had him!"
"Thank you, Yui-san." Totsuka's smile was filled with beaming gratitude. Totsuka… was dangerous. I clutched my heart. "You're incredible Hikigaya-kun! You're like a different person when you play outside of class. It's a shame you don't want to join the tennis team."
Gah! Don't make that face! I'm sorry! Maybe I should drop out of the Service Club. I mean, does Yukinoshita really need me? Sorry Yukinoshita, but I think I found my true call-"
"Yuigahama-san, Totsuka-kun, another few laps before another match."
"Yes!" With not a single ounce of hesitation, the two ran off at Yukinoshita's authoritative voice. I took my time walking over to her and she handed me a cloth.
"Why am I doing so much work…?" I patted my face down with the cloth. I must have looked real gross… how surprising that neither Yukinoshita or Yuigahama didn't call me out.
As soon as the cloth left my face, something cold touched my cheek. I recoiled only to see Yukinoshita with a water bottle in her hand matched by a teasing smirk. I growled, accepting the bottled water.
She rolled her eyes but I was too busy refreshing myself to care why. "Five matches. Compared to yesterday, this should be nothing. Besides, I don't see you putting nearly as much effort as those two."
On cue, they ran past us, smiling at us as they passed. Though their breathing was very ragged.
"Maybe you should join them. You could use the stamina."
She sighed. "It would be pointless. If I don't keep it up I'll lose my progress. At least with Totsuka-kun he can add these laps as part of his warm up. He's already quite good at tennis and he's smart enough to realize he has room for improvement. We've put him on the right track to improving. I'd say this request is complete."
"All we did was give him a regime…"
"And that's what he needed. As well as going against skilled tennis players like me."
Totsuka was close to my level, higher actually. I may have won the last game, but that was the first game I managed to win out of the five.
At the beginning, Yukinoshita had three games with Totsuka and beat him every time. She used that to determine his skill levels and how he should improve.
Then there was Yuigahama and Zaimokuza who stood no chance against Totsuka, but Yuigahama at least brought encouragement. And there were times where Yuigahama managed to surprisingly pull off some impressive maneuvers. Zaimokuza, on the other hand, just seems to be here for no reason.
I now understand what Yukinoshita meant about being a buffoon.
"Then… are we finished?"
She shook her head. "There's plenty of room for improvement. I'd say by the end of the week he should be satisfied."
"Right…" I wondered. Would one week be enough time to get his desired results? But when I look at Yukinoshita, who in turn is looking at the running pair with a blank expression, I feel reassured.
After all, what other feeling can you feel in the presence of Yukinoshita?
"Sai-chan!" Together, the two of us ran over to the fallen angel and helped him up. "Are you okay, Sai-chan?"
Instead of crying and making a big deal out of what appeared to be a few minor scrapes, he smiled at Yuigahama. "I'm fine, Yuigahama-san. Let's keep going."
"Even if they're nothing to worry about you should still take a break," I said. Out of all of us, Totsuka's played the most, ran the most, did the most push-ups. He had every right to whine and complain. I know I would have.
Or, maybe I wouldn't.
I don't know anymore. Someone, give me something I would complain about and we'll see.
"There should be a first-aid kit in the storehouse." Yukinoshita said before immediately walking away. "Wait and don't do anything Hikigaya-kun would do."
"Hah? What's that supposed to mean? Are you saying I'm emo?" Yukinoshita kept walking, as if she didn't hear me, or rather, not acknowledging me. "Oh, right, the first-aid kit is on the top shelf. Will you be able to reach it?"
She kept walking.
I realize she might have taken my words as condescending but I just wanted to make sure she knew…
"Haha… Yukinon's really kind, isn't she?"
"Mm. She's so inspiring. It's too bad she's not in any sport clubs."
The most Yukinoshita could do for a team is score a couple of points before withdrawing. In a way, she's like a glass cannon.
"Haah? You're playing tennis, Yui?" A loud voice boomed from behind us. We all turned to see two striking blonde-hair youths.
Well, wasn't this a surprise. It was Miura and her clique.
Miura Yumiko was one of Yuigahama's friends. Her words, not mine. She was well known throughout the school. Probably because of her affiliation to Hayama.
I glance back to the storehouse. Of all times for Yukinoshita to leave… or maybe they were waiting for Yukinoshita to leave?
"Ah, Yumiko. Um, we're not playing but instead, um, helping Sai-chan get better at tennis. Loads better."
"Really? Sounds like fun. I wanna play!"
Totsuka stepped forward; the tennis racquet close to his chest. "Um, we're not playing Miura-san…"
"Hah? I can't hear you!"
Seeing Totsuka flinch was the final straw. I stepped forward one step. "Totsuka got permission to use these courts for practice. We're not playing around here." Go back whence you came, snake.
"But you're using it?"
…Was this woman serious? Before I could properly explain, a sharp voice cut me off.
"What is this noise?" Yukinoshita made her dramatic reappearance, first-aid kit in tow. "What are they doing here?" She looked at me for an explanation.
I think shrugging was the only answer. I pointed my racket towards them. "They want to play tennis."
Yukinoshita blinked before extending an arm to the other tennis court. "Then they can use that one."
That… seemed too simple of a solution. People like them… would they be satisfied by that solution?
I turned back to the group. "Well?"
Hayama decided to step forward, an extremely pleasant smile on plastered on his face. "That sounds good. Right, Yumiko?"
"Hm, I suppose. Though…" Past me, she glared at Yukinoshita. "I wouldn't mind knocking some sense into Yukinoshita-san over there."
Huh? Miura, you're scary. I'll give you that. But Yukinoshita… is on a different level of scariness. One that not even I've seen.
"Knock some sense into me?" Yukinoshita's head tilted. "Do you mean assaulting me with a tennis ball? Because you can't surely mean defeating me in a tennis match."
Okay, Yukinoshita, you're scary. I'll give you that. But Miura… isn't one to trifle with.
"Now now," Hayama spoke up with his hands in the air. "There's no need for confrontation. Yumiko, Let's play tennis over there"
"No." Yukinoshita's sharp tongue once again pierced the air. "You challenged me, did you not? I do not back down when faced with a challenge. Hm. Perhaps challenge was too strong of a word…"
"Yukinoshita-san, is that necessary?" Hayama's face was attempting to plead with Yukinoshita's blank, dead stare.
I can't say I've ever seen Yukinoshita this cold, but that doesn't mean I didn't know she got this cold. Although looking closely, she appears agitated. Her glare was different from what I'm used to. Colder, sharper, scarier…
And now Hayama was on the receiving end of her glare. This was kind of entertaining…
"If you wish, Hayama-kun, we could make this a doubles match. After all, it was your group that decided to enter these courts without permission and boldly challenge me."
"Yukinon…" Yuigahama's hand reached Yukinoshita's arm who recoiled at the touch. "It's okay."
…Huh? Did something happen between them?
Yukinoshita sighed, looking away from Yuigahama only to meet my gaze.
My shock was obvious when she quickly turned away again. But I saw it, in those few seconds: Yukinoshita was blushing.
Could it be… Yukinoshita has feelings for Yuiga-
My thoughts were cut short when her head whipped around to glare at me this time. Don't tell me she has psychic powers and can tell whenever I have male thoughts!?
…At this point, I wouldn't be surprised.
"…I'll leave the final decision to you, Miura-san, Hayama-kun." Yukinoshita wrestled her arm away from Yuigahama before rubbing it, as if she was abused. Though with how hard Yuigahama seemed to cling to her, maybe hugging could be classified as abuse.
"Well I say we play. Doubles sounds good to me! Right Hayato?"
For a split second he frowned before pulling up his mask. "Yes. It'll be fun, I'm sure."
During the whole conversation I was stealthily moving along the side of the court and managed to meet up with Totsuka who was treating his knee.
He nodded. "Mm. Ready to go!"
His enthusiasm was too cute. "Well, while they're fighting let's do some light rallies in the other court."
We looked back at a glaring Yukinoshita and scowling Miura with Hayama and Yuigahama frantically trying to placate them. "Not sure what else you'd call that."
"I hope they can make up…" I nearly snorted in response, but the hopeful, angelic expression on his face…
"I'm sure they will."
I just lied to Totsuka! Oh god what have I done-wait he's smiling. Totes worth it.
Before we could begin, I was suddenly grabbed and dragged away.
My hand reached for the fading angel but it was all for naught.
The next thing I knew, I was standing by Yukinoshita's side. "…Why am I here?"
"You're my partner."
"Yeah, figured that much. But why? What about Yuigahama?"
Glancing at Yuigahama who decided to sit up in the referee stand, she waved happily. I returned the wave with a glare.
"She didn't want to go up against Miura-san."
I glanced at him who was standing by the referee stand. He gave me a thumbs up. I returned the gesture with a glare.
"…Fine, let's get this over with." I said, hunching slightly with my racket in front of me.
My focus on the ball heightened, though I still saw Yukinoshita shaking her head.
You're not one to talk.
And so, our tennis match began.
As soon as Miura hit the ball, I knew this wasn't going to be as easy as I hoped. "What the heck?" I muttered, throwing the ball back to the other side.
"It's clear Miura-san has some experience."
"'Some'? How about a lot…"
"Now you know. Don't screw up this time."
This time I actually returned the ball. When you know what to expect, the results are drastically different.
Though that isn't to say we were invincible, at least, at first.
Yukinoshita and I had collided with each other, she barely managing to keep her balance while I straight up fell.
I looked up to see her hand extended, a kind gesture contrasted by the stern look on her face.
"What was that?"
"Uh, trying to get the ball?"
"It was my side."
My mouth opened, and closed. Not unlike a fish.
"Hurry up you two!"
Yukinoshita didn't take kindly to that, glaring back at Miura. As for me, confrontation is only nice when I'm not involved so I tossed the ball back to them.
And I somehow didn't expect a second collision between us. Well, less collision and more Yukinoshita shoving me when I almost ran into her again.
History repeats itself and she helped pull me up with her soft hands. "You weren't this bad during practice."
"I didn't try," I muttered. As Yukinoshita said, during our evening practice session we played doubles to help Totsuka. But they weren't serious matches so I let myself relax.
Yukinoshita started blankly at me. "Do you trust me?"
Her expression softened and I looked away. My response was instantaneous, automatic. That was kind of embarrassing.
"Then stay on your side. Remember who's the superior tennis player here."
I rolled my eyes but nodded. I played off of instincts. And my instincts said to never trust my partner.
But my partner was Yukinoshita.
And so the instincts to trust Yukinoshita finally kicked in.
Took long enough.
It should have been an easy win for us. But it was far more even than I expected. Part of that was a result of Yukinoshita's abysmal stamina.
Though even I'm impressed she managed to last this long. If they ever got a point it was my fault. Yukinoshita perfectly rallied every shot.
"Hey, if we lose, I'm impressed."
"We won't lose. Just one more point. I'll leave it to you."
"…Right." Across the court, I saw Miura looking less scary and more determined. Like a true athlete. Hayama on the other hand was giving a look akin to pity to Yukinoshita. So he's aware of her stamina.
He opened his mouth to speak but I wouldn't let him. The moment the sea breeze tugged my hair, I threw the ball into the hair before slamming it. Hayama didn't waste a second and began running for the ball. Heh.
Hayama… you look down on me, don't you? A loner who gives no damns about relationships and society, friends with Yukinoshita. But look at what my status has achieved.
There's a breeze, Hayama. A wind that blows near the end of lunch.
But Hayama. That wind doesn't blow only once. That is the fruits of-
He hit the ball.
Hayama had managed to predict the wind.
The crowd that gathered gasped and cheered. I was stunned. Yukinoshita ran forward and hit the ball back. We got the point.
"Good game." Hayama smiled. I couldn't make out a single ounce of deceit. I suppose being in a sports club he was used to winning and losing. Make no mistake, Hayama was the true embodiment of sportsmanship.
"Yeah." But even despite the kind gesture and the results, I couldn't help but feel… What was it I was feeling? I felt like part of my identity was stolen.
"Are you wondering how I returned your… magic shot?" My eyes narrowed while Hayama's looked up at the sky. "Isn't nature amazing? Those few times I joined you for lunch I tried to see why you preferred being alone. I took in everything I could: the sounds, the scenery, the weather. It seemed lonely but it wasn't. It was peaceful."
Joined me for lunch… if that's what he wants to call it, then reality escapes him.
But even then, he tried to understand me.
What that means, I don't know. It was probably to get closer to Yukinoshita, or to understand her.
Yeah, I was just a means. If it wasn't for Yukinoshita there was no way Hayama would spare me a single glance.
"You ruined my vibe."
He laughed. "My apologies. You're pretty good at tennis though. How about we partner up next class?" Was he serious? Was he mocking me? "Yukinoshita-san's stamina has also improved, I see."
We both turned to see Yukinoshita talking with Totsuka. In a way, you have two cute angels conversing with each other.
"Yeah." I was admittedly also surprised to see how well Yukinoshita lasted. She played a few games before they showed up and that was another three matches.
"So, the Service Club, huh? It's good to see you being productive, Hikitani-kun."
…Huh? Wasn't that the name, uh, Hayama-friend-number-one gave me? "Watch it."
He ignored me and walked over to Miura who was conversing with Yuigahama. I was ready to leave before a large hand clasped my shoulder. "You did us a great service, Hachiman. You can now finally rest."
I brushed off his hand and walked over to Yukinoshita and Totsuka. "Good job." I complimented Yukinoshita who nodded in response. Now that I'm physically closer to her, I can see her attempting to hide her heavy breathing. Every now and then she'd let out a small huff indicating she was holding her breath.
"That last shot you made was impressive. I'm not sure how Hayama-kun managed to receive it, but he was always one for adaptability."
…Yes, I much prefer that explanation. "Still, if it weren't for you, we wouldn't have won."
"I wasn't denying that," she playfully teased. "But because of your shot, they were thrown off giving us an easy point."
"Huh… I didn't notice." How could I, when I was moping over how Hayama countered my unique loner shot?
"You both were incredible! After the little accidents you two had at the beginning, it was like watching a duet!"
"Yes, when Hikigaya-kun puts his mind to something for once it's an impressive display to be sure."
Oi, where's this praise coming from? It's kinda embarrassing… wait, you're just trying to hide your own embarrassment!
By the time everyone left, it was just Yukinoshita and me in the storehouse. We had changed back into our uniforms and put away the equipment with Hayama's help.
Before we left, I felt something collide against my side. And by something, I meant someone.
"My apologies… I'm so exhausted."
I scratched by nose. "You did overexert yourself. That much pride can be your downfall."
"I'm aware of my limits. I would have said something if it was a concern."
"Yeah, you usually do." So what was so different this time around? "…We don't have long."
"Just a few minutes is all I need." Her eyes shut and she stopped trying to hide her heavy breathing.
"Don't fall asleep on me…"
"I won't." And she won't.
It was embarrassing, having a cute girl leaning against me. But it didn't feel awkward. For two people who were naturally repulsed by physical interactions, it was oddly comfortable. Maybe Yuigahama was rubbing off on her…
Still embarrassing. "You did great today."
She didn't move and the only sound she made was her breathing. But her face reddened considerably.
"Did you know Yukinoshita-san and Yumiko got into a fight?"
"Huh?" That's it. I'm changing my lunch spot. I don't need his clique after me just because he keeps finding some reason to talk to me. It was unnatural how much this guy wanted to talk to me…
"Do you remember the last time we had lunch together?"
All too well, unfortunately. "Yeah."
"Apparently Yukinoshita-san visited our class then and got into an argument with Yumiko."
"Huh." I took a sip of my MAX coffee. "She didn't tell me."
"I was surprised. From what I heard she spoke rather coldly. No hesitation. Yumiko was in tears. Or so I've been told."
"Yeah, Yukinoshita has no restraint." For as close as we are, I could imagine being on the other side of her tongue-lashing and it was extremely unpleasant. The thought alone almost makes me want to cry.
"It reminded me of you."
"If you're trying to say I'm a bad influence, you're wrong."
"Not at all. I'm just trying to say that you have an influence."
"Yukinoshita's always been like that."
"I wouldn't say always. There was a time where she would never be so confrontational and prefer to settle matters civilly."
"Wouldn't that be nice? Too bad it never works out. How'd talking about things 'civilly' work out for you, again?"
Instead of frowning or showing any sign of discomfort, Hayama only laughed weakly. "You don't pull any punches either."
With you, that'd be stupid. "The sooner people hear the truth, the better. Then they'll wake up, smell the fake roses and realize their youth is nothing but lies."
Hayama, for the first time, sat down by my side. "I regret that you were right, and that the messages stopped after I was removed from the equation. But that's not to say they can't learn from this."
"If only you didn't want to settle it 'peacefully'… we could have found out who was behind it and expose them." Not that I particularly cared. But there was an unsatisfied feeling deep within my gut.
"That wouldn't help anyone. It would only sever any chance of a future friendship. Already the three are trying to rebuild their reputation. And in a way, have gotten closer."
"So you admit that your group would fall apart, and apologies wouldn't fix anything?"
"You and Yukinoshita-san have showed me that much." Hayama flashed a wry smile and I briefly wondered how he managed to make me wonder, for a brief moment, if we were the ones at fault.
He wasn't there when she needed him most. What do you do when the trust built up for years is shattered?
Wasn't it natural to abandon it so it couldn't hurt you anymore? Second chances were too risky, no matter how much time has passed. That was what Yukinoshita had decided.
As for me… I trusted Yukinoshita. And if she didn't trust Hayama, then I didn't trust him either.
"Hikigaya-kun, if you continue to be by Yukinoshita-san's side, then we'll continue to cross paths."
"…Is that why you've been talking to me? To get me to warm up to you?"
He shook his head. "I just want to understand you, since we'll be seeing each other a lot more."
That… was a poorly worded sentence that almost made me gag. But the thought, the concept, that someone wants to understand me was too baffling. "You can't understand me." Besides, it was just a means, wasn't it?
"I wonder if that's true. Do you understand the people around you, Hikigaya-kun?"
"No." Yes. It was easy when everyone is wearing their youth on their sleeves. There are patterns and habits that can identify anyone and their true self. I looked Hayama over once more. If it weren't for Yukinoshita, he could have been the greatest lie I've ever encountered. But I know his true colours, the complete opposite of what everyone else sees.
"Not even Yukinoshita?"
"Is it because you've known her for so long? I want to think, no matter how distant we were, I still understand her. And I don't think she's changed too much."
Didn't he just point out my so-called influence? "…Then you're wrong." I should have left him with his false observation. His ego is at its highest and he thinks he understands everyone. But someone like Hayama, where people go to him and confess their greatest secrets, of course he'd think he understood people. But when given someone like Yukinoshita or me, two people not willing to reveal anything to him, he has to rely on inference.
And he's clearly not good at it.
"Maybe I am. It's been a long time since I was wrong."
Emotions aren't as complicated as people make them out to be. All it takes is finding the cause and suddenly everything falls into place. If you know the person and their traits, then it's easy to pacify those emotions.
But there was only one way to pacify me.
"What are you still grumbling about?" I didn't stop walking, still hunched over with my eyes barely in front of me. Yes, that's how upset I was that not even Yukinoshita was able to-
"Ow!" My back straightened and I bit my tongue.
The cruel woman stepped on my foot.
"Are you still upset over Komachi-san's new friend?" It was faint, but the trace of amusement in her voice was not enough to hide the envy. I quickly looked away and resumed walking.
"I, uh, just figured I should be more considerate when I act like an older brother…"
"Don't be. Its… endearing seeing how siblings normally act and worry over each other. Though sometimes I question whether your complex is normal…"
"Huh? Of course it is. My sister enters a café with a boy after cram? That screams danger and it's my job to protect my little sister from nefarious males!"
"…" She sighed with a finger prodding her forehead. "There are many different kinds of sibling relationships it appears. But you seemed fine with him walking her home?"
That's because Komachi was giving me mother's glare… Since when did she inherit it? "Well, he seems harmless after talking to him. Komachi could handle him."
"Oh? I didn't know she knew self-defence."
"Ah, she doesn't. But its not like that kid knows anything either. Komachi would definitely overpower him." I nod to myself.
"That kind of logic is ridiculous. Instead of thinking like that, why don't you trust in Komachi-san?"
"Huh?" Was I seriously about to get sibling advice from her of all people?
"If you truly trust her, then you can trust her to make her own decisions, right? You don't have to trust her friends, just trust Komachi-san."
…That hit home surprisingly hard. But there was a difference between Yukinoshita and Komachi. "I can't do that. Komachi's an idiot. I have to look out for her at all times."
"You're unbelievable. Perhaps I should tutor her then? That way you'll have no excuse. Your logic won't be able to save you then."
Wait, no, don't take away my sole purpose in life. If I can't be a doting oniichan then what's left!? "Aren't you too busy for that kind of stuff?"
"Tutoring her can't be nearly as bad or time-consuming as teaching you mathematics."
"Ah, no, she's worse."
"…Oh," she sighed. "Then can you at least promise me you'll be less… protective of her?"
"Um…" Heh, I have a way out of this one. First step is to act unsure, like I really don't want to accept. Hesitantly, I'll look her in the eyes and meet her glare and look away fast. "Fine…" And now prepare the loophole that is defining 'less'.
Ingenious if I do say so myself.
"And I don't mean a small, marginal difference in how protective you are." My mouth opened in shock but closed when I saw her lips twitch. She was enjoying this! "Anyway, let's move on from this discussion. We have a couple of plans laid out for Kawasaki-san."
"Yeah, I know. Cat, guidance counsellor, boyfriend, and… uh… is that it?" Guess who thought of which plan.
"Correct. Plan A should be enough to complete this request." She was so sure of herself I almost felt the same way. "As a result, I would like to hear about your studies."
"Ah, well, nothing's really changed on my end. Same grades." The reason she's asking… it's almost too obvious. And I wonder… how long until she asks again? And again? Will there come a day where she stops? "And you?"
"Do you even need to ask?" I didn't, but I was compelled to. "Even with Yuigahama-san taking up so much of my time, I will not let my studies fall behind."
"Ah, good. Just don't overexert yourself. I know your time management skills are on another level, but sometimes it feels like you're biting off more than you can chew." Yuigahama was different from me. Yukinoshita didn't gain anything from being with her, like with me. There were no skills to develop, no reviewing schoolwork, no discussions about school, nothing like that.
But if Yukinoshita was still hanging out with her, then Yuigahama might be Yukinoshita's first friend.
And if Yuigahama was Yukinoshita's first friend, then what was I?
"I suppose if anyone knew about my limits, it would be you. Is that the real reason you didn't put up much of a fight when your sister volunteered you to walk me home?"
"Aaaanyway oniichan, Taishi-kun and me are gonna get going!"
"You can thank me later. It was nice seeing you again, Yui-san! And you too Yukinoshita-san! You should visit again one day!"
"Ah… yes. One day."
"W-wait a second! Are you going to be all right?"
"Don't worry about me, oniichan! Taishi-kun will be with me if you're still worried."
"Yes! I'll protect Hikigaya-san, oniisan!"
"I didn't give- wait! Komachi!"
"Although the fact Komachi-san volunteered you… is it because she also realized my limits? Is she perhaps just as perceptive as you?"
"She's an idiot." No, that's not entirely true. Komachi was sharp. Maybe she can't read a room like Yuigahama, but she's good at noticing little details. Especially about people she knows well. The real reason… well, I'll let Yukinoshita wonder. I don't want to be the person who destroys that innocence.
No, it's more than that. Destroying that innocence… It would hurt.
"Well, I'm grateful. Socializing with someone like Yuigahama-san is exhausting in a different manner. I never imagined I would become friends with someone like her."
"Yeah." Maybe, before the tennis match, I would be waiting for the day when Yuigahama had to choose between Yukinoshita and Hayama's clique. But in the end, she cheered Yukinoshita on.
And managed to stay friends with Miura.
What an anomaly.
"You've been watching me closely since that tennis match."
"Yeah." There was no use in denying it. She was looking at me with a curious expression but I can tell there was a trace of happiness. I can understand that happiness. "You've never done something like that before. You collapsed, even if it was for a minute." I could still feel her weight on my shoulders.
"I apologise for worrying you."
"I'm not going to stop you, I don't think anyone can, but I can at least give you some constructive criticism, right?"
"A normal person would try and stop me."
"Stopping you would be going against your wishes and goals. Besides, you're smart enough to fix your own problems."
"Is that so?" Yukinoshita stopped and looked towards the sky. I stopped at her side. "If I fixed my problems, Hikigaya-kun, would you stop watching me?"
"Uh… No, I don't think so. I still want to see what you can do. What you will do." She turned to face me and even through the tree's shadow I made out her smile. What I said, she expected it. "And you can be the smartest person in the world and still have problems."
"That's true, no one is short on problems. Assisting those with problems is the very purpose of our club." We still hadn't moved. "That tennis match… There is a reason I went beyond my limits."
I already knew that. Did I have a right to ask the reason? "Hm."
"It was the first time I was able to do something with you seriously."
"Me?" 'Seriously', she said. Shopping, eating, studying, talking, cooking… no, none of that was a serious activity. They were two people enjoying each other's company in a relaxed atmosphere.
"That means I plan on exerting myself again."
"That's… stupid." She looked surprised and I felt just as surprised. That word… was never used with Yukinoshita as the context. But I couldn't help myself. "If you don't have to, then you shouldn't suffer unnecessarily. Who are you helping at that point?"
"I like to think that I'm helping…" She paused. "You."
It wasn't often, if ever, that I get the chance to digest expensive food. But Yukinoshita was feeling kind today so Yuigahama and I were grateful.
"What is your plan?" Yukinoshita asked after dignifiedly patter her lips with a napkin. I mimicked her before I responded.
"I told her to meet me tomorrow morning… so a few hours."
"Eh? And Kawasaki-san agreed?!" Yuigahama asked, also mimicking Yukinoshita's grace.
"Well, once I mentioned her brother." Heh, it was nice being on the other side and using someone else's brocon to blackmail them.
"You're going to meet her in the morning? How early exactly? And who's going with you?" Ah, Yukinoshita's interrogation mode. Activated the moment I think of any sort of plan… She knows my methods too well.
"5:30, and I plan on having Taishi join me."
"Would he even be able to get up that early?" Yuigahama asked, a finger on her chin as she looked up. "If it was me in middle school, I don't think it'd be possible."
"That time is brutal for a middle school student. Especially one as well-rounded as him. But he'd do it. I understand his worry for his sister and it will definitely drive him to wake up an hour, no, two hours before the meeting."
"What exactly can the two of you do to convince her?" Yukinoshita wasn't thrilled with my plan, but she was becoming more accepting. "She wouldn't listen to Taishi-kun at home and she didn't even recognise you."
"Have you ever thought about why she needs money so badly? Money that her parents with four kids and full-time jobs can't even supply?"
"Eh? Uh… Kawasaki-san still shows up to school… Is she saving up for college?"
I nodded, slightly surprised Yuigahama figured it out. I guess spending time with Yukinoshita was good for her. "Yeah. And if no one in their family knows why, then it must concern them, right?"
"She doesn't want her financial circumstances to burden her family. And since Taishi-kun will also need money soon… I see." Yukinoshita nodded as she understood. "I wonder if I have been carelessly spending my own money."
"Nah, you spend money on what you think is worthwhile. It'd be boring if you just saved up forever," I said. "Anyway, once Taishi knows and confronts her, then that should help her understand, right?"
"Eh… I don't know. Wouldn't she, like, not do anything different? Does Taishi-kun knowing really change anything?"
Yukinoshita nodded, agreeing with Yuigahama. That was a blow. "She needs to understand how Taishi-kun feels. It sounds like there's a gap of understanding between them."
Ah, if anyone knows about that gap it would be Yukinoshita. "Then I got nothing."
The three of us continued eating in silence, all of us going over any method we could think of. Well, I was able to think of one, but there was no way I was going to make Komachi lose sleep-
"How about Komachi-san? She's similar in age to Taishi-kun and has an older sibling the same age as Kawasaki-san," Yukinoshita stated, staring directly at me. "I would rather not force her to wake up so early, but I'm sure she would rather help her friend."
"Eh? I doubt it."
"I wouldn't be so sure. After all, she's your sister after all."
"Eh? Eh?" Not all siblings were similar. Yukinoshita, you're proof of that.
"I'll ask her!" Yuigahama exclaimed, pulling her phone out of her purse that was beneath the table. Wait, ask her? When did she get her number?
Yuigahama… you're scarier than I expected.
It was brief, but out the corner of my eye I saw Yukinoshita give me a once-over. I tilted my head but she only nodded to herself.
It took her a moment for her to realize I had noticed her strange glance. She coughed lightly, and her soft, blue eyes made mine widen slightly. "I was only thinking of how I didn't expect this to be where we wore the clothes we bought."
Maybe I should have looked down at my clothes, shrug, and ask Yuigahama what Komachi said.
But I didn't.
I only thought about how much I trusted Yukinoshita. What Yukinoshita has done for me. And what I've done for Yukinoshita.
What I am to Yukinoshita, is a confidant.
How've you all been doing? I hope everyone's doing okay in spite of current events. A lot's happened since Chapter 6, huh. A dub of the anime, the light novel ended, and Season 3 has begun.
I've actually avoided a lot of Oregairu-related content (even fanfics) in order to not accidentally copy ideas/lose "my" Hikigaya and Yukinoshita. But I was not going to miss out on Season 3 so I'm keeping up with it. I'm greatly enjoying it so far. But I'm not here to talk about canon, I'm here to talk about my story.
I could have held this off to Hikigaya's birthday, but no. Things have been tough for everyone and this chapter has gone through so. Many. Alterations over the past year. I'm pretty sure I've reached the 4-5k mark and started over several times. Yet I don't think it was nearly as bad as chapter 6. I also had to get my writing "skills" back.
The word "confidant" is probably associated heavily with Persona 5 and in a way lost some of its weight, but before Persona 5 the word was such a strong word to me. I don't know if anyone else felt that way.
I actually don't have much else to say. I'm quite happy with this chapter and I apologise for the canon events we've all seen but I hope my changes were worth the read. Also added a little more fluff than normal but not in any way that's unnatural (I hope anyway).
I can understand if it wasn't worth the wait, but regardless I hope you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun writing, and part of it was definitely because I missed writing these characters so much.