I can't believe I'm doing this! Man, this suit is so stifling, I can hardly breath, not to mention move. It's so tight and confined, I don't think I can even lift my arms up properly. And it itches…
"You look uncomfortable," Koizumi pointed out, smiling politely.
The stupid idiot…
Koizumi was standing next to me, looking prim and proper in his tuxedo, and not to mention extremely comfortable (the lucky bastard). He was fastening those buttons on his sleeves – whatever they're called – and looking very pleased with himself. When he was done with that, taking one last look in the mirror in front of us to inspect himself, he stood perfectly straight, looking like the perfect gentleman.
My reflection next to his looked like a hunchback suffering from some sort of itchiness and sweat inducing disease. Everything seemed out of place on me. It was like staring at a hobo trying to pass off as high society. Although the tux was decent enough, I had been unable to put it on properly. Odd angles and folds were everywhere. It was hard to fathom where exactly I had gone so wrong, it was nothing more than a pair of pants and a coat after all! Sure there were extra bits here and there but… still…
"Need some help?" Koizumi asked, still smiling at our reflections in a smug manner.
"…No, I'll be fine," I said sternly as I tried to twist my sleeve the right way up.
"It wouldn't be a bother."
"No, I can handle it."
"All we would have to do is take the jacket and –"
"I can figure it out."
And just what is this thing on my chest? It looks like a piece of plastic, but looking at Koizumi, it's supposed to be a fetching vest or something. I just have no knowledge of fancy clothing whatsoever.
"Come now, it'll be over in moments."
"I said I'm…" My words halted as I thought I heard something rip, something in my sleeve as I had been pulling on it. Damn it! This is a rental!
Koizumi lifted my arm and looked under my armpit. "Just a small rip, easily fixed. Besides, no one shall notice it anyway. We can fix it later with the proper tools."
"Now, if you'll allow me, we can have this over within moments and avoid any more accidents."
I allowed Koizumi to take my jacket off, straighten it out, and settle it on a nearby table while he made sure my undershirt was in proper order and did the impossible and fixed my vest before he helped me back into my jacket as if there had been nothing wrong with it in the first place. He tugged on my pants, straightening them out as well. He went over me with a meticulous approach, fixing and straightening things as he saw fit. Soon, I was practically as presentable as he was.
"There we go. Don't we look nice?" Koizumi said, sounding rather condescending to my ears.
"Uh, yeah… Thanks…"
"No trouble at all."
"Well?" Koizumi asked, arching an eyebrow at me.
Koizumi motioned at the doors behind us in a way a butler would. "Shall we go out? Our dates may already be waiting, and it is bad form to keep damsels waiting."
"Uh, yeah." I gave my collar a tug, trying to breath a bit better and relieve some of the pressure I was under.
"Oh, wait, how silly of me." Koizumi placed his hand on my shoulder, stopping my slow exit.
"I completely forgot about our bow ties. How silly."
Yeah, freaking hilarious.
"Turn around," Koizumi said, doing the job for me as he directed me back to the mirror. I saw him pull something red out of his pocket in the mirror. Swiftly he wrapped it around my neck, tying it up from behind me, making the whole deal seem even more awkward. If I had any idea how bow ties were tied, I would have stopped him immediately.
Heck, I don't think I can even remember how to tie a regular tie properly like the one that's a part of our school uniform anymore. Once I had managed to get it to go right, I had never loosened it too much again so I could always just slip it on. And so, I was forced to watch the sullen looking me being dressed up not unlike some little child.
"Not too tight?" Koizumi asked, peering at my reflection from over my shoulder.
"Well, it's a bit –" Is there a stronger word than suffocating for what I'm feeling?
"I'll do my best, but it can't go much looser than it already is."
Can't go much looser than it already is? I feel like I'm being strangled!
"There we go… Now let's see what the color chosen for me is… ah, blue, but of course." Koizumi got next to me and swiftly tied his own tie around his neck. He had obviously done this sort of thing many times before.
"Well then, I think we're finally ready to make our grand entrance," Koizumi said, giving his tux a last yank around the collar, looking immensely pleased with himself.
No, not really. I really don't feel like doing this. I put a finger between my neck and bow tie, moving my finger back and forth under the blasted thing to get some room to breathe. As if this isn't bad enough, I actually have to dance. It's not that I have anything against dancing as such, it's just that me and it don't mix very well. The one day (one day!) I'd had to practice (thanks to the late warning I had been given regarding this event), hadn't exactly given me the skills to dance at even a mediocre level. My pathetic training sessions had made me wonder if the human body had been designed specifically NOT to dance, at least in my case. I seemed to have no sense of rhythm and I was always in the wrong position or something. Not to mention my head seemed incapable of being able to remember any dance moves. I needed to constantly go through the motions in my head or I would forget them. I had received a couple of bruises in the already painful training process as well, and most of them had come from my impatient instructor.
"Well, are you coming?" Koizumi, who had already moved to the door, with his hand placed on the handle, asked me as he raised his eyebrow a bit in an elegant fashion.
"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess," I said, giving a long sigh.
Koizumi opened the door, giving me the chance to step outside first. Maybe he thought his entrance would be all that more spectacular after my shabby appearance or something. Or maybe I was just in a foul mood and letting my paranoia get the best of me. Well, whatever… This is it, the end. I took a few slow steps forward, silently dreading the evening that waited outside for me.
Luckily however, there wasn't a single person in sight in the halls. Phew, maybe the thing's been cancelled.
"Hmm, I see everyone else has left already. We might be running late. I wonder where our dates have gotten to." Koizumi said as he stepped out next to me, giving the empty halls a look. "I suppose we should head to the dance hall."
Or we could just go home. It's not too late. There's an open window, we could use it to escape.
"Yes, I think I can hear sounds coming from the hall. Let's hurry," Koizumi said, taking the lead as he confidently strode down the hall.
I sighed in defeat and trudged along after him, still fiddling with my bow tie the whole way.
"Here we are," Koizumi said stopping in front of a pair of large and ornate doors. I could hear the murmur of a crowd behind it. Koizumi reached up with his gloved hands, seemingly ready to push both of the doors open in a melodramatic fashion.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. What do you think you're doing?" I asked, jumping in front of him.
"Going in, of course," the slightly surprised looking Koizumi said.
"Not like that. We'll just carefully sneak in. We'll probably get enough attention as it is, coming in late like this. Here's the plan: we just inch the door open and sneak into the crowd without arousing too much attention." I grabbed one of the fancy handles and gave it a slow turn.
"I'm not sure you're well acquainted with the design of the dance hall, if that is really your intent."
"What are you talking about?" I asked, but it was already too late. The door was open and all eyes turned to me in a hushed hurry. Apparently, there was only one doorway to the hall, which was ridiculously huge and on top of a stairway. Everyone turned to look at me, probably expecting the host or someone important to turn up. Now I was at the focus of the dead silent hall.
"Uh, hi…" I said.
I hurried down the stairs and headed for the corner of the hall, seeking a place where only a few of the people in the hall could continue staring at me. The hall itself was grand and very fitting of the event it was hosting tonight. Golden carvings like vines of some plant crawled over the pure white ceiling in magnificent patterns. The walls were lined with huge windows, letting in orange rays of light from a distant sunset that only seemed to intensify the expensive looking (although I sternly doubt it really was) golden scenery.
"Pardon us, we're a bit late," Koizumi said coolly to the gathered people at large, still smiling warmly as he closed the door behind him and elegantly strode down the stairs, joining me in my corner. "Hmm, I didn't spot our dates anywhere in the crowds, I wonder if they're late as well…"
Yeah, great, and then we'll have even more attention focused on us as they make their doubtlessly showy entrance.
"Hiya, Kyon!" Taniguchi shouted as he neared us, looking almost as haggard in his tux as I did. "Always at the centre of attention and action, am I right?" He nudged me in the ribs.
"Yeah, always…" Truer words have hardly ever been spoken, much less from the likes of Taniguchi.
"Have you checked out the hour derfs?"
"I think you mean h'orderves," Kunikida said, stepping out from nowhere, wearing a tux a size or two too large for him.
"Whatever… So, without a dancing partner as well, I see," Taniguchi said, sneering a little at me in what he probably thought was an endearing look of manly comradeship.
"What, even you've got a girl to dance with? First Kunikida and now even you? Where's the world going?"
"Don't you have a girlfriend or something?"
Taniguchi looked away, grimacing. "…It's a work in progress."
"Oh, I see…" Yep, that sounds about right, if Taniguchi had managed to get a girlfriend, which going by his looks shouldn't be too hard, he'd probably mess up eventually. It's not that he's a total schmuck or an idiot or something, it's just that he's… Taniguchi. You have a hard time picturing him in a long and deep relationship of any kind. But luckily for him, he does manage to surprise occasionally.
While I had been conversing with Taniguchi, Koizumi had, in the spirit of the event, formerly introduced himself to Kunikida and struck a conversation with him about such light subjects as school, local politics and even upcoming weather. It wasn't long until Kunikida left, saying he should check up on his date. Too bad for me he didn't realize to drag Taniguchi with him.
"I mean, seriously! How can I help it if this super hot chick walks by! There wasn't a single guy – or girl for that matter – who didn't look at her. Yet I'm the villain! It's just – just genetic programming or something. We wouldn't even be around here if our ancestors hadn't been after – hmmm, what's the term Darwin used? – that's right, the fittest chick. But I told her there's no one as beautiful to me as she is but NO, you make one glance at another girl and she's throwing a tantrum. I mean, what happened to all these modern empowered women who are s'posed to be above physical –"
"Yeah, okay, I get the picture," I said, trying to calm Taniguchi down before he brought back all the attention towards my corner that had dissipated for the moment.
Koizumi joined the two of us and smoothly interjected himself into the conversation, giving his bangs a rather theatrical flick. "You make an interesting point on the social structures and inlaid stereotypes that surround us, although I must say I do not think that is exactly what Darwin was going after on his theories concerning natural selection, except in a very narrow sense. The process works through a sort of 'weeding out' of –"
"Who are you?" Taniguchi asked, at first so shocked by Koizumi's sudden appearance behind him, he almost jumped out of his scruffy tux. "Oh wait, you're that Koizumi guy, right? In that weird club of Suzumiya's along with Kyon?"
"Yes. We haven't had much chance to partake in proper dialogue, but perhaps we could find the time later this evening. I would be greatly interested in other social and behavioral observations you might have made concerning contemporary society."
"Uhh, sorry but I… have to go check up on those ow-derves," Taniguchi said, making an odd expression before he left us.
"Phew, thanks for driving him away. I don't think I could have handled his whining tonight."
"Whatever are you talking about?" Koizumi said, sounding a bit too serious as he raised a gentle, inquisitive eyebrow. "I truly am interested in what he had to say. I'm trying to live true to a perspectivist world view so I may fully understand life and all its myriad nuances, and in order to do that, I must gain as many perspectives on matters as possible. All opinions and thoughts have a seed of truth in them, even if they are distorted by our egos. This way, a subjective life and experience can be viewed from a different perspective, which will ultimately lead to an objective truth through a processing of correlating factors and exclusion of purely arbitrary ones. I will gain an insight into the world free of all subjective impressions, even my own."
"Riiight…" Can we just get this thing over with? I think I might be developing a rash around my neck because of this itchy ensemble I'm wearing.
"The main event is just about to start. I wonder where they are." Koizumi gave the crowds a scan, standing up on his toes to do so.
Maybe we got lucky and they won't show up at all. Then we could just sneak out and get out of these uncomfortable things. I swear, straitjackets must be more comfortable (and one of those would probably not look so out of place on me as this tux does). So itchy. I hope there's nothing alive in this suit along with me.
It was then that our dates for the evening finally made their appearance, predictably bursting onto the scene (whether this was truly their intention or not).
The heavy, ornate doors were roughly pushed aside, slamming against the walls. Standing up there at the top of the stairs, in the middle of the giant doorway, stood Haruhi, as proudly as an evenly tanned nudist. She was dressed in a deeply red dress, embroidered with golden frilly things. Her hair had been done up very nicely, it being gathered behind her head in a nice wavy bunch. She looked like a fairy tale princess from a western movie…
She was, however, not to be undone in beauty by the two other damsels trailing her like handmaidens. Dressed in a deep green dress of similar design as Haruhi's was Asahina-san with her hair done up in the back into a flowing and wavy ponytail of sorts as well. Nagato, whose hair was too short to be fashioned into something as luxurious as the others, had been left as it was, although a white flower had been placed in her hair, held in place by her ear I guess, with it working as a lovely simple ornament. In fact, Nagato had the most simplified appearance of the three, with her light blue dress being surprisingly casual in comparison to the other two. There were no folds or embroideries, just cloth that draped her slender body perfectly with only one small stretch of cloth on one of her shoulders holding it in place. This was definitely one of those cases where less was absolutely more. Wow, she is stunning.
"What are you all looking at?" Haruhi said irritably, staring down the entirety of the hall, as she scratched her side carelessly.
As she walked down the stairs, glaring at everyone all the way, she eventually spotted me and Koizumi and strode over to us, the crowds parting to let her pass like she was a leper.
"Can we just get this thing over with?" Haruhi asked, wearing a scowl that rather ruined her beautiful appearance.
This was kind of funny, at least to me. And this is why:
Two days ago in our clubroom.
"We're attending the dance ball!" Haruhi shouted out enthusiastically, as she always did when she found some sort of activity for us to participate in.
"What? What ball?" This was the first I'd heard of any dance ball. My natural curiosity battled with my rational sense of apprehension towards everything Haruhi ever suggested and actually won out, so I decided to add, even though I knew I would probably regret it later, "Why?"
"All clubs are to partake. It's some kind of special event. Anyway, it'll be fun. We'll get to show off to all those other snooty clubs."
I gave a short sigh. Oh, well, it could be worse, right? At least, if it was an official school event like that, nothing too weird should happen and we'd probably have a nice, long time to prepare for it, unlike with some of the sporting events Haruhi had dragged us on.
"It's the day after tomorrow."
"Those pompous dorks probably thought they could keep the Brigade out of this by not notifying us on time, but I found out anyway. So we'll be crashing it." Haruhi smirked fiendishly at the last part. She had better not be planning on doing anything crazy.
I bet the reason we weren't invited was because we aren't really a club. In fact, the real people in charge have probably noticed that it's best to keep Haruhi isolated from the rest of the school in her own little bubble. They probably think we'll be enough of a distraction for her so she doesn't go and defile school property like she did in her last school. Harmless little firecrackers on the roof and lascivious clothing in the yard seem like small prices to pay, really.
"This may just be me, but I certainly have no idea how to dance… So, could I just skip this?" I asked hesitantly, raising my hand a bit as I voiced my dissent, already knowing on a not-so-deep level what the answer would be.
"What?! Of course not! This is a club activity! As in, the whole club. We do everything monumental together, or what's the point in having the Brigade? I might as well be on my own if that were the case. And don't worry about not knowing how to dance," Haruhi said, before she smirked that troubling smirk of hers again, bringing her hand to her chin, giving her cheek a couple of small taps with her index finger, in what would be a cute mannerism if it didn't spell out certain future annoyance on my part. "I can teach you a move or two."
Oh boy… but more on that torturous experience later. Because as it is, I'm neck deep in… ach, so damn itchy! Seriously, what the hell? My throat is going to turn into a bloody mess at the rate I'm scratching at it.
"Seriously, can we just get the show on the road and be done with this stupid thing?" Haruhi asked no one in particular. She squirmed a bit in her dress, like she was trying to get it to settle into place or something. If you asked me, she looked simply gorgeous in it, but apparently her outfit was causing just as much discomfort to her as mine was for me.
The other two girls however were looking as comfortable in their dresses as was possible. Asahina-san kept smiling politely, looking in every way the princess she was to my eyes. Nagato scanned the gathered crowds blankly, until she was done with that and focused on our gathering. It was kind of odd seeing her in such a simple dress when the two others were so lavishly robed. I wonder how she got so lucky as to not have to wear anything as extravagant as the rest of us.
"We were going to dress up in matching dresses, of different colors, but we simply ran out of time," Haruhi explained, shrugging and shaking her head as she did so. "This thing really shouldn't have been so early."
"It's past ten," I noted.
"Yeah, like I said, way too early for a proper shindig."
"And you left us five hours ago to prepare."
"You can't put a schedule on art, idiot. Sheesh, just how uncultured are you?" Haruhi asked, giving her hairdo a gentle pat.
It didn't even take the two of us an hour to get ready, and the only reason it took as long as it did was because I had trouble with my outfit. It can't really be that much harder for girls, can it?
"Once again your ignorance astounds and amazes, Kyon." Haruhi shook her head, wearing a condescending smile, holding her chin in an elegant pose with her right hand and then gave her head a playful tilt.
Man, she's really got this haughty princess act figured down to the T. But then I noticed her give her back a carefully half-hidden scratch with her left hand. Heh, a fine lady indeed.
Our group filled up the minutes we had with rather empty small talk, keeping to ourselves, defeating the purpose of attending such a social event. But then again, it wasn't like anyone really wanted to make our acquaintance, and it wasn't just because we were huddled in our own little corner or anything, but most likely simply because of our widespread status as sort of weirdo pariahs. But to be completely honest, I don't really mind all that much anymore. The club is pretty much my entire social life nowadays anyway. I haven't been able to decide if that makes me rather lucky, to have such a close nit group of friends, or sort of pathetic since I can't seem to be able to socialize with anyone that isn't considered out of the norm anymore these days.
"Gah! This so annoying! Are we doing this thing or not? Or am I going to have to start providing the music?" Haruhi eventually snapped out loud, glaring about until she spotted the orchestral band. "Hmm, I haven't tried playing a string instrument in a while but I think I could fiddle a tune or two."
Geez, is there anything you can't do?
"Wait around anymore." Haruhi lifted the hems of her dress and stamped across the ball room, giving anyone unlucky enough to not move out of her way a kick in the behind. "Move aside! One way! Dodge! Did you just kick me back?!"
"It was either you or your boyfriend trying to cup a feel!!"
With Haruhi drawing everyone's attention to her once again, this would be an excellent chance to sneak out and avoid any more embarrassment.
"Kyon! Get over here and defend the SOS-Brigade's honor whilst I go and make sure this over blown farce gets started!" Haruhi turned and waved at me to come over before she turned back to continue her journey. "Move!! Get out of my way, you painted pig!"
Oh, damn it. She just had to wave at me… Fine, I guess I won't be leaving without notice now but you can forget about defending your honor. But I guess I should go and apologize for her, since it'll be pleasantly warm day on Pluto before Haruhi does something like that herself. And on top of that, I've already been dragged into the middle of this mess.
"Sorry for that, she forgot to take her medicine for today," I told the victimized girl who may or may not have tried to give Haruhi a taste of her own medicine.
"I did not! I mean, I don't take my medicine! No, I mean, I don't need any! Damn it, Kyon, what the hell do you think you're doing?!" Haruhi shouted back at me, her march toward the suddenly frightened looking band stopping for a moment so she could berate me. "Don't make me come back there and teach the lot of you some manners!"
Ain't that rich? In any case, I once again apologized to the girl in a hushed voice and made my best Obelix impersonation, tapping my temple with a finger, hoping Haruhi wouldn't notice and interrupt my attempt at damage control. The girl gave a faint smile and nodded understandingly.
"What's taking so long?!" Haruhi bellowed at the band so loud that now everyone's attention, even in the farthest corners, was sure to be on her.
The little rat-like conductor of the troupe was pushed to the forefront by his cowering players, not unlike a human sacrifice to a dragon, who was gripping his baton like the lifeline it unfortunately failed to be, losing all the blood in his face as a dementedly fearful look in his eyes increased in intensity with every small step towards Haruhi, who was tapping her foot against the tiled marble floor with a fierce rat-tat-tat.
The conductor squeaked something inaudible and flinched as Haruhi gave him a glare. Then she leaned in close to him, causing the poor guy to further collapse into himself, probably fearful of being assaulted like some of the guests. But Haruhi quickly pulled back, having whispered whatever it was to the poor guy, flicking her bangs in a self-important manner, and walked off incredibly nonchalantly for someone who had the full focus of an entire ball room on her.
The conductor was shivering and some of the bravest (relatively speaking) members of the band gathered around him to ask what Haruhi had said. The color in his face suddenly returned, going from anemically pale to wine red in a fraction of a second. He turned around and shouted at his band and quickly ordered them to take their places. Apparently, the show was about to start.
As the band hastily fine-tuned their instruments, making quite a cacophonous racket, Haruhi arrived by my side, looking immensely self-satisfied.
"What did you do?"
"Oh, wouldn't you like to know…" Haruhi gave me a sinister glance from under her bangs, which suggested just far too many things for a rather imaginative guy like me.
I gave the surrounding crowds a swift look and was not happy to find everyone still staring at us. Oh boy, this is going to be a long night, isn't it? Maybe I can go and check up on those h'orderves with Taniguchi. It'd be irresponsible of me to leave him alone with the snacks. I can't just turn my back on my duty to the rest of humanity, they'll want some appetizers as well.
"Calm down, Kyon. Thanks to me, both of us will be out of these itchy things soon enough," Haruhi said, giving her stomach a little scratch.
I hadn't even noticed that my hand had travelled back to my neck to scratch it as I had been entertaining escapist thoughts.
The conductor loudly cleared his throat, instantly summoning perfect silence, achieving this probably because Haruhi had focused everyone's attention to her and the band, and then tapped his baton three times against the metal stand holding up his notes.
"Ah, here we go," Haruhi said, taking a step closer to me.
Is it just me, or is it getting a lot hotter in here as well? I should probably step outside, I might be coming down with something.
"C'mon, Kyon, let's dance."
Now that the moment had actually arrived, I had somehow managed to feel even more apprehensive than before. Worst of all, the two of us had in some way been isolated into a little circle at the middle of everyone. Now my horrible dancing skills would literally be at the centre of it all. Perfect.
"Come on, it's easy." Haruhi took hold of my shoulder and with her other hand gripped my left hand, lifting it up. "Just do it like you did during practice…" Haruhi blushed a little at this. "A-actually, don't do it like that, at least not the way you tried to do it earlier, but how it went... afterwards… I hope we don't need to repeat what we did to each other in order to achieve that level of grace again. It'll take too long for you to recover. Keep mindful that we're in public where lewdness is not permitted and your hands where I can see them, especially the one you put against my back. "
And what she's referring to wasn't really all that bad as she is making it sound… I mean, it wasn't all my fault, and that's what counts in the end.