Prologue. Lately I don't get much sleep

Lately I don't get much sleep.

All the usual suspects are there: Vita-chan plugged into the charger to replenish the drained battery on my desk; half of my manga and light novels collection having had migrated from the bookshelf into my room, the sheer numbers making Tatar-Mongols green with envy; the most recent episodes of all the ongoing stuff aired at otaku o'clock having been watched on our living room TV and diligently recorded. The suitcases under my eyes tell the whole story to anyone interested, and teachers have to make efforts to wake me up.

I only barely make exceptions for Hiratsuka-sensei's class: while certainly having mellowed on me in the last half a year, she still was a force to be taken into account. Quite literally. Seriously, stop trying all the wrestler moves you know on me. It's tsujigiri at this point. Would it hurt you to show more of your feminine side, sensei? Driving a left-hand wheel sports car, knowing your ramen and being a wilderness survival expert surely isn't all you have, is it?

No wonder finding a spouse is so hard for her. What kinda man would take her if she puts most men to shame by being way manlier? The only one to even dare would be, what, some manly paragon of manliness who wrestles bears, assembles monster trucks and prefers the original Devilman to the remake? By the way no offense, Yuasa-sensei. It's just, well... It's Hiratsuka-sensei we're talking about. Can't cut corners here.

My point is: dear pinnacle of testosterone evolution, whoever you are, wherever you are, please, take the poor sensei! Or it'll have to be me!..




How many times have I repeated that phrase in my head? Five times? Fifty five? It doesn't really matter since it's one of those resolutions I'll never fulfill. And I can't even blame the ten year age gap or that teacher-student realtionship is a no-no for our society. Imagine that, those are quite valid reasons and I still won't use them.

And the main reason I don't use them, that head culprit, is by a strange coincidence the source of my insomnia, a condition that is honestly to be expected given the circumstances.

Why, you would ask? "Why" is half the reason I can't get no sleep in the first place, the other half being sheer dumbfoundedness for the mere thought of what I'm getting insomnia for. It's so awkward, surprising and even somewhat embarrassing that the first two sleepless nights were spent pondering what my mind is refusing to process... and the remaining five roaming through this plane of consciousness in silent disbelief at myself, finding the words, sentences, paragraphs to formulate the explanation, rationalize it, systematize it to better understand; only to then review the result, find it completely unsatisfying, throw it away and start all over.

All to answer a single question: am I really capable of such a feat?

Of being preoccupied with one particular girl?

Try telling that to my younger self and you'll get a healthy laughing fit. Keep telling him it's true and you may even be rewarded with a punch to the face. Well, attempt to, anyway. Let's be honest about my fighting skills here.

The most mind-boggling, and paradoxically the most expected of it all, though, is that the girl in question is Yukino Yukinoshita.

There, I said it.

I've just used more than half a thousand words forming very convoluted sentences in the previous paragraphs alone to convey the fact that I'm losing sleep over Yukinoshita. Can you wrap your head around the fact? Because obviously I still can't. Help needed badly.

No, really.

Why all this?

Fine. I'll try to summarize and categorize it all again. Let's make a thousand and one attempt instead of just thousand, why don't we.

Where to begin...

Alright, let it be the end of my high school first year.

By that time I'd already got myself familiarized with my school: remembered the main building's layout, memorized the faces of my classmates and recognized most of our teaching staff's ticks and quirks.

That naturally excluded the club wing, for no club like go home club; anything beyond my classmates' general clique affiliations because screw them, really; and anything not related to stuff to be careful about around certain teachers because screw them too for good measure.

By this time I also had heard a dozen or so things about Yukinoshita. Some flattering (stunning beauty, academical achievements, adored by teachers), most not (cold, uppity, untouchable bitch, in many different variations). This, combined with the one or two times I've seen her close enough, resulted in me classifying her as a typical high-class high-maintenance vixen and thus someone I had zero things to do with, subsequently losing all interest.

Okay, maybe not all interest. I saved some for late night sessions, if you know what I mean. But then again, the same was true for Yuigahama, Kawasaki, Shiromeguri-senpai, some other pretty girls...

For the record: male fantasies revolve around women they know first and foremost, gravure idols come distant second. Source: me.

Don't tell them, by the way. I don't know why but I have a feeling they won't like it.

Then, in the beginning of the second year, that stupid essay happened. If you think I should be smart enough to know better than to write 300-odd words of "screw you and that rosy high school illusion of yours"... then you're absolutely right. To this day I still can't say why exactly I kept writing essays in such a manner. Maybe I was... gasp... rebellious deep down beneath all that pile of introverted laziness after all? Who would've thought.

So. The essay. Which lead to me being dragged to the club wing and meeting the Service Club. Active members: one. President: Yukino Yukinoshita. Club advisor: Hiratsuka-sensei. Not at all in desperate need of new members, thank you very much.

Except I was going to be one and simultaneously the first client. When and what for was this club founded again?..

It was then when life made me properly look at her up close. The girl quietly reading by the window was really what I expected: cold, distant, unapproachable.

Yet, as I watched on, I realized that I was drawn in like a moth. And not just for the silky smooth long black hair, the porcelain-white skin, the stunning blue eyes, the lithe figure accentuated by expertly tailored uniform, the shapely calves showing below the uniform skirt, the... Um. Off track again. Got it.

But not just that. At that moment, as I took a closer look, it dawned on me she wasn't cold and unapproachable, just serene, at peace and concentrated on her book. That was something I never ever seen a real girl do. And I am very certain it was this combination of looks and impression that made break my resolution of Not Contacting Women Ever, Period.

So I did approach Yukino Yukinoshita. That all I had in return was jabs at my personality, face and eyes, generously sprinkled with insinuations about me being a ferocious sexual predator, was absolutely expected from her. What do you know, rumors did have some basis to them. Not to mention I kinda was a sexual predator... in a broader meaning of the word, mind you.

What was not expected were those moments, those briefest little things that allowed me to sneak glimpses into her psyche. I saw not just another pretty rich girl. I saw a pariah suffering for her smarts, a person with strong convictions and a deep dissatisfaction with society and its rituals, facades and superficiality. I saw someone striving to change that. I saw someone willing to do something I had long given up on.

I saw a kindred spirit, the one which I wouldn't mind being my friend.

The one who also admittedly had a different opinion about the latter, and thus I've experienced yet another humiliating rejection. That was harsh by the way, you.

I spent the rest of that day trading barbs with her and generally trying to get an upper hand. When she finally flipped her book shut, gathered her stuff and left home I felt I failed at that, badly. In hindsight, though, I really did get an upper hand. Noo, not by challenging her beliefs. By getting under her skin.

And, reluctantly, I do admit she was right. This indeed was the first meaningful conversation with a girl I'd ever had. For that matter life had taught me that, as far as meaningful conversations with girls go, that one wasn't half bad.

Naturally the vengeance, being her cred, was in full force for a long time afterwards. Yuigahama can say about us being in our little world all she wants: Yukinoshita absolutely wouldn't back down and was very expressive in treating me like trash at first. And I still remember that juice you haven't paid for, don't think I've forgotten! You hear me?

Yet I couldn't deny her earnest effort to help Yuigahama, as best as she could. Yuigahama saw that too, as she was not just awestruck, but wanting to be friends. Good things do happen, Yukinoshita: you now have a friend and... a not friend. Let's call it that for now.

Bottom line: whether it's her weird but consistent moral code, her determination or her deeply hidden kindness, Yukino Yukinoshita had certainly grown on me.

But just as I saw something in her that made me change my mind, to my surprise, so did she. I can't clearly pinpoint what that was exactly, though I dare think it's my creative and out-of-the-box solutions; hey, a man needs something to be proud of.

All I can say is, she did take a closer look and reconsidered.

Thus I learned that despite her being a refined upper-class girl and all, Yukino Yukinoshita was nonetheless a... girl.

She could get flustered at a mere mention of her being cute.

Her Pan-san obsession was oddly endearing.

Her catlike quirks would put Kamakura to shame, and don't even get me started on having her close to an actual cat: watching a proud cold posh beauty turn into a mewing dope had my world shaken and put on its head, forever.

Last but not least, her tiny unsure attempts at being touchy-feely with me melted my poor weathered loner heart time and again.

There were also signs of the storms to come. I could write off her disdain of Hayama for her general fear of boys. But those remarks about my and Komachi's sibling relationships, that drop of her glass when Kawasaki said a bit too much, those revelations at the camp... There was something going on with our perfect Ice Queen, not so subtly hinted at by her caring big sister.

When Haruno-san had later finally dropped the bomb and revealed Yukinoshita was involved in that damn car crash, I felt drained. Spending the whole Summer figuring out what to think of Yukinoshita was more than enough already, and thanks to that new bit of info I've spent the rest of it thinking how to conduct myself before our dear club president now.

Or what should I do with that image of her I had in my head, an image that now had shattered into a million merrily ringing shards.

Next September, as you can guess, wasn't pretty. We both decided that pretending nothing happened and everything was business as usual would be the best course of action. The result was, how do I put it, awkward. To be precise, it was soul-crushingly draining, mentally taxing, generally stupid, and awkward.

At that time I really was on the verge of cutting contacts with her until the school festival happened. You may remember that one. You know, the one where Minami Sagami the organization committee chairwoman adorably stuttered at the opening speech and gave a heartfelt closing ceremony that drove her to tears. Yeah, that one.

Fun little fact: it was Yukino Yukinoshita who carried it all on her perfect pretty shoulders. Almost all alone. By working herself into the ground. Because, burdened by the guilt about the whole car crash debacle and being playfully poked into mindless submission by her aforementioned caring big sister, she decided to prove something to everyone.

So she took on the work not yet finished by the slacking committee members. Then she became the de facto committee chairperson after Sagami plain declared that having fun was more important, subtly goaded into that by the aforementioned caring big sister of Yukinoshita's. She took on even more work when even more committee members realized they could slack off entirely. More, more and yet again more.

Amidst this idiocy parade, watching it all quietly spiral into an insane Kafkaesque comedy, I suddenly realized one immensely funny thing.

Yukino Yukinoshita, demon superwoman, a genius who can learn anything in an instant, a walking encyclopedia, a capable organization committee member, and so on and so forth.

That very same Yukino Yukinoshita is bewilderingly, surprisingly, staggeringly, hilariously, horrendously bad with people.

Forget hiding stuff from me, forget dodging Yuigahama's cuddling like the grumpy cat she was, Yukinoshita wasn't even courageous enough to demand people to do their damn job. Which wasn't funny at all! I had to work long hours because of that, you know!

In short: not only was Yukinoshita cold, sharp-tongued, arrogant, but also, it turns out, not the most communicative person around to boot. As far as everyone around her was concerned that would be the last nail.

Yet Yukinoshita was earnest, hard-working and willing to pay the price for her mistakes. Yukinoshita was actually kind, compassionate and capable of slowly opening up to those she trusted. Yes, even me.

So, later, when I came to visit her during her sick leave, weak and miserable and putting on a brave front and tired and lonely, for the life of me I couldn't find any contempt inside myself. For the second time in my life I looked at her and saw a girl. Awkward, clumsy, bound by obligations, genuinely bewildered by me and Yuigahama helping her, nevertheless very adorable girl.

You guessed it. I chose to support Yukino Yukinoshita. Which I did, in my own way.

No, stomping that condescending bitch Sagami into the ground, while very satisfying, was just an icing on the cake. Because by the end of the festival I entered the clubroom and saw Yukinoshita quietly filling out some form, at peace, serene and concentrated. That sight of her had resurrected my long lost inner calm.

She said sorry, in her own way, I forgave her in mine. She smiled at me and my heart skipped a bit, the strange feeling of happiness slowly kindled inside.

We had reached an understanding the we both enjoy each other's company and were fine with our quirks. That newly gained trust was... something incredible. So incredible that I decided to perform a stupid social experiment and ruin it all.

I don't want to bring up all of what happened, as it was quite painful. It took me a set of some other stupid mistakes, an election of Iroha Isshiki for student council president(don't remind me), a sleepless night and all of my courage to speak my mind and make that embarrassing claim about something genuine (gaaaah somebody kill me!). Yet I can't stress enough of how worth it was.

Not just because we could trust each other again. It was then when Yukinoshita started to be truly caring and affectionate to me. All those smiles, all that help and those MAX Coffee cans she gave me while I was busy, all the treatment in the infirmary when everyone else basically didn't care. When I remembered that haughty vengeful girl from before, I couldn't help but laugh.

But good times didn't last because of course they didn't, for the storms to come finally decided it was about damn time.

Meeting with the Yukinoshita matriarch suddenly answered all of my questions about everything wrong and strange with their youngest daughter, but was only a start. First the hints about Yukinoshita and Hayama's arranged marriage (I'm sorry if your stomach churned right now; mine churned all the same). Then her mother guilt-tripping our dear president in plain sight, then the decision to move Haruno-san in with her, then Yukinoshita's breakdown, then Yuigahama deciding to figuratively go for the kill...

That was just too much. For the third time in I saw this girl. A girl slowly breaking apart, an empty shell of once proud and smart and compassionate person I had admired so much, in dire need for help. I had to intervene, to speak my mind however awkwardly I could.

Back then I thought it was all simply to save the last remnants of my worldview and perception of all things I knew. Obviously that wasn't all there was to it. What was it then? Well, enter the Insomnia Week. You know the rest.

I have been quietly and dutifully observing her this whole time; partly ruminating on her request ("Please help me stand on my two feet". So surprising, yet so... not); partly noticing her behavior. Most of the time she isn't different from usual, and even my careful questions about her sharing the apartment with Haruno-san are only met with a soft smile and an "I'm managing, no need to worry".

Other times she also is no different from usual, except one look at her and I suddenly have this nagging desire to abruptly hug her, stroke her hair and tell her everything was going to be alright, that she has us... has me.

That makes me very uncomfortable: not only had I never experienced that before, but also perfectly realize I want not so much to console her but to feel the silky hair with my palm, savor the petiteness of her body underneath my other arm and enjoy the tickling feeling of her hair under my nose.

Egoistic jerk.

How do I even know it should be like that? Extrapolating from the hugs Komachi had given me in the past wouldn't be a correct way to imagine this stuff, right? Why am I even thinking about it in the first place?

It's not that I should even be surprised. Really though: after all the happenstances I remember, after summating all my thoughts and feelings... The answer's right here.

Time to allow myself to admit it. Let the pieces of a puzzle finally click into place so the result would hit me on the head like an anvil. A pink, heart-shaped hundred ton anvil.

I want to do things for Yukino Yukinoshita.

I want to do nice things to Yukino Yukinoshita.

I want to spend time with Yukino Yukinoshita.

I want to touch Yukino Yukinoshita, hear her voice, watch expressions on her face.

I can finally say that to myself with confidence. And she probably would not mind, which is what scares me the most.


What do I do about it all?