Not The Preferred Type
Chapter 5 Part 2
"Mura-buchou!" Kirihara cried out, striding toward the effeminate captain rather happily, his hand wrapped tightly around Camille's wrist as he dragged her with him. "She's the oneechan I'm talking to you about," he beamed at the girl as he gestured at Yukimura. "Neechan, she's Yukimura-buchou."
Camille smiled shyly, offering out her hand. "I—I'm pleased to meet you, Yukimura-san."
The teal-haired captain took her hand and shook it. "So am I. I'm Yukimura Seiichi. Seiichi, if you will." He smiled charmingly. "Thanks for taking care of our Akaya."
The girl blinked, then shook her head a little too vigorously. "No. I'm glad I've got the chance to do it, Yuki-um, Seiichi. Akaya is so charming; no one would regret taking care of him."
The man chuckled. "Oh, he's being charming because he's with you. Most of the time," he paused, sparing the vice-captain a secret glance. "He's Genichirou's pain in the ass."
All of them whirled around to the source of the unexpected outburst. It was Mel, and she flushed in embarrassment at the unnecessary attention she was receiving. "Erm..."
"You know each other?" Grace, who had now recovered from Niou's acts, inquired as she made her way toward the girl, brows furrowing in disbelief.
Yukimura eyed Mel curiously as he gave an uncertain shake of his head.
"We know you're a stalker and all," Ems chimed in, trailing after Grace as she didn't want to be left alone with the perverted trickster. "But he has, like, never stepped foot in this country before for you to victimize him."
Mel gave a sharp look at her words. True they were, but still rude. She'd rather not use the word 'victimize' in front of her victi-er, in front of the object of her attention. "It's because he's famous. I knew the jacket Akaya-kun's wearing is familiar. It's not a simple jacket at all; it's their jersey."
"We're known even in this country?" She looked up at a brunet with closed eyes and swallowed a squeak. He was intimidating, though Mel could see that he was curious, very curious. It's in his expression; the hunger to know more.
She noticed it because she had it most of the time.
He's like her. A stal—um, data collector.
Can I have a brofist with this man? An awesome one will do.
"N—No. Not really. I'm researching about your team." The girl said simply. It would be too rude to just exclaim "I'M YOUR NUMBAHH ONE FAN! OMGGGGG. I HAVE BEEN LONGING TOO SEE YOU SINCE FOREVER!" wouldn't it?
"You're a tennis fan?" Camille asked. She's a player, but she never realized that her best friend also had an eye for the sport. She inwardly shrugged. After all, Mel's the most secretive among her best friends.
"Just recently," Mel grinned sheepishly. "I've watched an awesome anime about middle school tennis and I decided to surf the net for Japanese tennis. Turned out reality is better than anime."
The reason why they were the only ones talking was that only a few Rikkai Regulars understood and/or knew how to speak Filipino. That was why Camille later proposed that they speak English instead.
However, that didn't close the matter.
"It's unfair!" Kirihara and Grace exclaimed in unison, making their companions smile in amusement. They had just said the same thing in two different languages.
Camille smiled at the second year. "You're an exemption, of course, Akaya." She patted his head and laughed softly when the boy choked out how grateful he was and that he really, really, really, loved her.
Niou tsk-ed as he watched them from afar.
On the other hand, Ems, who was an aspiring writer and therefore had a wide English vocabulary, laughed tauntingly at
Grace. The other girl was summing up her patience and restraining herself from wrapping her hands around her best friend's throat.
"I think we have to make introductions first, since I only know Seiichi, Akaya, Renji and that pesky Niou," her eyes rolled mockingly toward the trickster when she said his name. "Well, unless you guys wanted to be called by annoying pet names. We have no problem with that." She finished with a slight tilt of her head and sweet smile, making the Regulars wonder whether the smile was real. "And I bet my best friends would also want to meet you." As she said this, her eyes rested a little longer to the redhead, who blinked questioningly at her.
"Yagyuu Hiroshi. You may call me Hiroshi as I know you'd be more comfortable with that," the bespectacled brunet stated with a small smile. Instantly, the girls felt comfortable with his presence, as he had this aura that made every lady feel safe when she's with him.
As they alternately recited their names, Marui slipped off to find a trash bin. This didn't go unnoticed by a pair of curious eyes.
"Ni-ou," Niou practically sang, randomly stepping forward. Camille rolled her eyes, while Ems and Grace shot him death glares. He snickered, turning his gaze to Camille. "Oi, Kamiru. Your best friends are after my blood, puri. Why don't you do something about it?" He pouted, unleashing a not-so-effective look that was akin to a kicked puppy.
"Like what?" The girl challenged. "Like letting them do it? As you wish."
Grace thoughtfully looked at them. It seemed as though she was the only one to realize that the boys had finished introducing themselves. She stepped forward, opening her mouth to speak.
"Marui Bunta dayo!"
She clamped her mouth shut in surprise, then opened it again to introduce herself, but no sound came out and she ended up gaping. Her heartbeat went abnormally faster and her breathing sped up rapidly as she took in the appearance of the man in front of her. Absently, a hand flew up to fan herself.
She had just seen the cutest redhead in the world.
Marui blinked at her, then realized what she was about to do before he suddenly emerged. He smiled sheepishly, scratching his cheek. "I'm sorry about that. What's your name?"
The girl just stared blankly up at him, his lilac orbs seemingly swallowing her. She then shook her head to clear her mind, though she was still a little light-headed. Grace gulped, trying to mouth out her name in a decent manner. "G-Grease."
"Guriisu?" The redhead asked uncertainly. He was sure the other girls called her differently before. He blew his green apple bubble gum but immediately popped it. "Okay."
Ems looked at them conversing. She couldn't believe her eyes. She never knew that Grace was actually a girl. Apparently, she once thought that there was a mistake. Like, her best friend was actually a male just trapped in Grace's body because she had done something bad in her earlier years. Something like that. Really, the possibilities were endless.
"It's Grace," the girl absently butted in. "But we call her Chip. Call her whichever."
"I told you, Chippy's cuter!" Mel said as she joined them. This resulted to Grace being dissolved in the background as she caught Marui's attention. Better, since the girl still hadn't returned to her senses. "I'm Mel, by the way."
The redhead smiled in acknowledgement. He then turned to Ems, tilting his head inquiringly. The girl only stared back until she realized it was her turn to introduce herself. She flushed slightly. "Ah. It's Ems. Pleased to meet all of you." She gave one cheerful wave, which only Kirihara bothered to return.
Camille clapped her hands in satisfaction. "And then we go." She grinned at them and started to lead the way. Though when she had taken her second step, she tripped over a familiar pair of tennis shoes. She scowled at the trickster, who just smirked and ruffled her hair as he fell on a step beside her.
Marui had trailed after them when he noticed something. He looked back to see that Grace hadn't yet moved. He walked over to her. "Grace-chan?"
The girl yelped in surprise. "H-Huh?"
The redhead snickered. "You're out of it," he fumbled something out of his pocket and placed it in Grace's hand. Then he took her other hand and tugged her forward. "Take it. Come on, they're leaving us."
Normally, she would've slapped his hand away for nonchalantly touching her. But as of now, it was like she'd taken some kind of drug that made her thoughts foggy. Grace let the man drag her to where the others were. As he did so, she opened her hand to glance at what Marui gave her.
It was a neat pack of green apple bubble gum.
They had taken the electric train and boarded a jeepney, and now they were walking down the road since the path wasn't included in the route of the vehicle.
Niou nudged Camille as they passed along a memorial park. The girl fought down the shiver that threatened to come.
She never liked cemeteries; it gave her a queer feeling. And the trickster just HAD to remind her about that.
"Kinda," the girl admitted, surprising the trickster. "Even though I usually pass by here, I never get used to the sensation."
Niou blinked at the information. "Keh."
Camille stared at him shortly before shifting her gaze to her other companions, eyes finding her best friends. Grace was chatting freely with Marui, smiling and laughing in a shy manner occasionally. The girl frowned at that.Isn't she a man-hater?
Ems, on the other hand, was running around and chasing Kirihara. Laughing nearby was the captain, who, by the looks of it, was the one babysitting the second year.
Mel was talking with Yagyuu and Yanagi, letting the two feed her with information about the tennis team and everything the girl itched to know. She was flashing a grateful look once in a while, apparently thankful that the two were answering her questions patiently.
And now she was with Niou.
She sighed. What about it?
"Why are you sighing so suddenly?" The trickster looked at her weirdly. "That's a symptom for craziness, did you know?"
"Shut up, Niou."
The man gave her the same look he'd given her two days ago, just before they parted. It was as though Niou was tempted to say something. He re-enacted what he did that moment: opening his mouth and clamping it shut as he decided otherwise.
This puzzled Camille. "What is it?"
"Nah," the trickster smirked, covering his previous actions. "Just thinking whether that sigh was really a pant, piyo." He walked in front of her and stopped, making the girl stop as well. Then he bent down. "Tired? Let me carry you."
It was just his idea of a joke. He grinned mischievously when the girl turned crimson and tried to shoot him a disgusted look, which actually seemed like an outraged one. Camille looked around, realizing that her companions—sans Kirihara and Ems, who were still obliviously chasing each other—had stopped to look at them.
"Baka!" She squeaked, kicking the trickster's knee. However, she was still too slow to compete with a national level tennis player.
Niou burst into a fit of laughter. "What's the matter? I'm being a gentleman here, piyo~"
"You're not being a gentleman; you're being a pervert!"
"And what's perverted with that, ah?"
"Wah, neechan~!" Kirihara squealed as he ran toward the two, looking back to see his 'Emi-neechan' tailing after him. He hadn't noticed the trickster nonchalantly putting his left foot forward to trip him.
Camille gasped upon realizing what the man was up to. She smacked him hard across the back of his head, making his attention shift to her.
Niou rolled his eyes, annoyed. "Mind your own business, la-" He felt the air knocked out of him as the second year collided against him. The trickster managed to take several steps to balance himself, avoiding the boy who had now collapsed on the ground.
But as he did this, he bumped into Camille, who hadn't been expecting anything and started to fall backward with a strained yelp.
"Camz!" Ems exclaimed in horror.
Due to his rather excellent reflexes, the trickster held out his arms and looped them around Camille, pulling her back to him. The move was unplanned, so the man had pulled her a little too roughly, resulting with the girl banging foreheads with Niou. Both groaned painfully.
"Ami?" A middle-aged man stood by the gate of the tennis clubhouse no one realized they had reached. He squinted through the crowd, apparently thinking that he'd heard his daughter's voice.
Camille's eyes widened and she instantly pulled herself away, hands flying about her as she straightened up and composed herself. She threw Niou a glare before stepping forward, smiling cheerily. "Dad!" She walked over to the man, giving him a hug and pecking him on the cheek.
The older man smiled kindly, patting her head. "I'm relieved you arrived here safely," he paused, looking around. "Where is the one who escorted you here? I shall thank him."
"Um," Camille started thoughtfully. "He didn't exactly escort me here. As you can see, he brought his whole team along," she gestured at the Regulars before them, who had the decency to keep quiet. Her eyes passed along her best friends.
"Ems, Grace and Mel came along as well."
"Did they, really?" The man blinked. He once again broke into a smile as the girls stood forward, greeting him alternately. He then scanned the group of tennis players, silently looking for the man his daughter described a few days ago.
He realized he forgot the description. He inwardly shrugged as he opened the gate wider. "Boys, I'm Eduard, Ami's father. Make yourselves welcome here, I'll provide you with several of our employees to assist you, as my daughter told me that you've just arrived here-"
"Not really, we're about to go home in three days' time," Kirihara mumbled sadly to himself, tuning the man out.
"-so enter, enter. Don't let me keep you," Camille's father finished in a warm, business-like tone. He stepped aside to let them pass, then closed the gate afterward. He tugged his daughter's hand and they lagged behind, out of the others' earshot. "So where is he?"
"Who?" Camille blinked.
"Your escort," he said playfully.
The girl held back a smile. "Dad, I told you-"
"Nah, Dad just wants to meet the man you're spending time with," her father interrupted her with a non-committal shrug. "It's very rare, you know, since you spend time with nobody except those three girls."
She found the reason logical, though she didn't sense the underlying meaning behind the older man's statement. She pointed discreetly at Niou. "That's him."
"Very good-looking," the man commented warmly.
"I know," Camille giggled slightly.
"Okay, then. I'm just going to know this man and leave you on your bearings. The staff would take care of your company." He stated, ruffling his daughter's head.
The girl's smile fell. "You won't be with us?"
"Dad's very busy, dear."
Camille snorted. "You're always busy, Dad."
Her father looked down at her, eyes reproachful. "Don't be like that. I'm sorry, okay?"
"Hmph." Brushing off the older man's hand on her head, she stomped away, heading toward her best friends to vent. She grasped Grace's arm and glared up at Marui. "I'm borrowing her for a while, if you don't mind. On the second thought, you mustn't. Or else." She added the last part as a threat and dragged the other girl to where Ems and Mel were. She did the same to their current companion.
Meanwhile, her father strode toward Niou, excusing him from his group. The trickster agreed rather hesitatingly.
"Sir?" He started respectfully, eyes questioning as he silently executed his usual method of knowing a stranger: guessing the height and age, and everything, like what he did with Camille the first time they met.
"I'm Ami's father, Eduard," the man took his hand and shook it, though he didn't let go of it yet, just maintaining an iron-like grip around it. "Thank you for keeping my daughter company, though you don't have to do it anymore."
Niou blinked at the words. He peered straight through the man's eyes, noting the seriousness of his features. "Very much welcome, sir." He answered informally.
"Ami's very selfless, and you mustn't take her actions for granted," Camille's father started, and his statement made the trickster realize how much the older man hated him. The latter's grip about Niou's hand went unbearably tight. "Therefore, I advise you to..."
The younger man waited, even though he knew what to expect.
"...stay away from her."
It's a threat.
"Keh... hehehe..." Niou chuckled, tugging his hand away from the other man's and raking it through his spiky tresses. He could hardly believe it. He wasn't even that close with the girl. "Ahahahah..."
Apparently not satisfied, he threw his head back, his chuckles morphing into a full-blown series of cackles. "MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" His lungs started to burn, his stomach starting to hurt, but he figured out he couldn't stop just yet. He found the whole thing impossibly funny. "AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Camille's father looked insulted, though when it occurred to him that the younger man wasn't planning to stop, he actually took a huge step backward, doubting Niou's sanity.
Everyone within the vicinity froze at the creepy laughter. Heads whipped toward the trickster and whispering about his craziness started. The subject of their attention hardly cared.
Sanada had the sudden urge to bitch-slap Niou. If the latter publicly declared his insanity, the reputation of his tennis team would be at stake. The vice-captain blinked. It wasn't his tennis team! He can file his resignation whenever he desired!
Kirihara hid behind the captain, trembling uncontrollably. "Oh my gosh. Is the world about to end?"
Yanagi Renji's eyes widened. Nuff said.
The gentleman pushed his spectacles on the bridge of his nose, taking the event calmly. Apparently, he had already witnessed this before.
The girls stared at the trickster, dumbstruck.
"Freak," Grace muttered. "He's crazier than Ems."
Said girl glared at her in a 'Don't-you-dare-compare-him-to-me' fashion.
"God, that was funny..." Niou gasped, choking out a laugh once in a while. Camille's father shot him a 'You-don't-say?' look, incredulous. "Look here, old man," he paused. He would've said 'ojiichan' if he were talking in Japanese, and it would've sounded less rude. "I'm not threatened. And I'm not backing down, puri."
With an air of mystery, the trickster flashed his signature haughty smirk.
"You're so cruel, fukubuchou!" Niou snapped, glaring at the vice-captain as he nursed his stinging cheek. It was the third time he was hit (the first one done by Ems, the second by Camille), and he wasn't liking it one bit. "I haven't even talked to you for the whole day," he ranted on, face going redder in extreme irritation. "...and now you're slapping me like... like I've broken up with you!"
"Tarundoru!" Sanada boomed, posing to strike a blow once more, but Yukimura stepped in front of him, lips pressed into a thin line.
"Enough, Genichirou." The captain said calmly, though the vice-captain immediately froze as though he was submerged
in an icy-cold water container. "Run fifty laps with Niou."
"What?" Yukimura interrupted, his soft blue eyes flashing dangerously at Sanada.
Meanwhile, Camille listened as personnel explained to her the signing up process, handing her a stack of papers they should fill out.
"So, Camille," the staff addressed her casually. "Fill everything out and hand them over to me. I'll be on my table."
"Got it. Thanks, Kuya Mark."
She strode toward the Regulars, repeating what Mark told her.
Niou and Marui stared at the papers as though they were about to self-destruct. The former kicked Kirihara behind his knee and the redhead bullied him into signing up first. This gesture earned scandalized glares from the girls and hopeless sighs from their teammates.
The second year whimpered. "Why are you so mean?"
"That's how we show our love for you, Bakaya," Marui answered with a grin, popping his gum rather noisily.
The trickster blinked, looking disbelievingly at the self-proclaimed tensai. "Wait. We love that brat?"
The latter sniggered.
Camille handed the form to the Junior Ace, ruffling his head softly. "Don't mind them, Akaya. They just love to feel superior over their kohai," she looked at the two disgustingly as she said this, but only the redhead had the decency to look ashamed. "Go on."
Kirihara accepted the paper, looking at the alienated letters of the alphabet. He ran a finger across his nose to make sure he wasn't about to suffer nose bleeding. Then he looked up at the girl with a perfect puppy-eyed look. "I can't, neechan."
Camille realized his problem at once. She placed a hand beneath her chin pensively. "We're going to have a problem with it."
They decided to have the girls fill out the papers, with Camille handing it over to the personnel.
She was about to submit the forms, balancing them on her arms, when the effeminate captain stepped to block her. He took the stack from her and tossed them to the trickster. The latter swiftly caught the sheets. "Go with her, Niou."
"I can do it, Sei-" Yukimura shot her a look, and she immediately stopped. "Er... Chip and the others will help me?" She tried.
The captain broke into a small smile at her persistence. "I'm sorry, Camille, but I certainly won't let you serve us like this even though you're acting as our host. Besides, ladies shouldn't be carrying heavy things like this."
"It's not even heavy," the girl sweat dropped.
"Excuse me, buchou," Yagyuu said, announcing his presence. He gently tugged the papers off Niou. "I shall go with Camille-san if Niou-kun doesn't want to. I'm afraid I find myself agreeing to what you just said."
"Oh. Okay, then, Yagyuu-kun."
"I changed my mind," the trickster grabbed the forms back. He glanced skeptically at his partner, feeling mildly annoyed. "I'll be going with her, if you don't mind, Yaaagyuu."
"Of course, I don't, Niou-kun. I just said I'll accompany her if you don't want to." The gentleman adjusted his glasses.
"Keh," Niou turned to Camille. "Oi, let's go."
"O-Okay," the girl walked after him, stupefied.
Neither saw the small smirk adorning Yagyuu's face as they left.
Camille's hand flew to her chest, the trickster's annoyed expression flashing before her eyes.
Why was she...happy?
Niou was just going to accompany her. It's not that he really wanted to, since the captain had just ordered him. But Yagyuu could've replaced him. Why did he protest?
She blinked repetitively, looking up at the man. "Eh?"
"Where are we going to bring this?" He gestured at the filled-out forms he was carrying.
The girl pointed at Mark's desk. "There."
Niou's gaze followed her finger. A dozen or so tennis courts, separated by blocks, welcomed his eyes. The reddish grounds could clearly be seen for there were only a few people meandering around. The employee's desk was situated on the middle of the path near the courts, standing alone beside the empty parking lot.
"It's kinda deserted here, isn't it?" The trickster asked.
"Today's supposed to be a family day. What do you expect?"
"How am I supposed-"
Suddenly, a teenage man about their age appeared, hooking his arm around Camille's shoulders. "Hey, Camz."
The girl looked up and recognized the employee assisting them earlier. "Kuya Mark." She nudged Niou to give the papers to him. "We've finished filling them out, Kuya."
Mark accepted the stack and reviewed them, eyes scanning the names of the Regulars. The three girls needn't signup; they were VIP Members since Camille's father pulled several strings at the request of his beloved daughter. The man's eyes paused on a certain form. "Masaharu Na... Na... er, how do you read his surname?"
The girl looked over, closing the distance between her and Mark's faces.
"It's NEE-YOH," the trickster deadpanned, getting more and more infuriated as Mark the employee continued being touchy-feely with Camille in front of him.
Mark finally noticed the trickster. "Oh, I see." He yanked a ring of keys from his pocket and handed it to the girl. "Get the first block, Camz. I give you the privilege. Later, then." He left the two with a wink.
"Is this even tennis?" Ems voiced out rather weakly as she watched the ongoing match between Sanada and Marui. God, the ball just ran along the net. Was that even possible?
The redhead struck his signature 'tensai pose', directing it to Grace, who was cheering from the bleachers. "Dou, tensai teki."
Mel stood beside the girl. "You'll get used to it soon."
"Camz's tennis looks like nothing when compared to this," Ems ranted on.
A deep, boyish laugh sounded nearby. "Your best friend just stated that your tennis is nothing compared with theirs, piyo. Wait, 'til you see mine," he added the last part rather arrogantly.
"Well, I'm not a national-level tennis player like you and your team," Camille raised an eyebrow, apparently unaffected.
Niou smirked. "We can see that. Do you want to play with me?"
"I'd rather not. You might lose."
The trickster laughed. "That's very conceited. Do you want to come with me, then?"
Camille blinked. "Where?"
"I saw a weird passage behind the parking lot. I want to see where it goes to. And I'd want you to come with me."
"Why?" The girl breathed, heartbeat going unnecessarily faster.
"Because I need a tour guide."
"Oh, I-" Camille paused. "What?"
"I'd need a tour guide?" The man answered uncertainly.
The girl huffed as she stood up. "Invite someone else. I'm getting a drink."
Niou fumbled his water bottle out of his tennis bag. "I've got some," he smirked, waving it in front of Camille's face rather rudely. "You'd come with me?"
It was kinda weird, but the girl swore that when she looked up at his oceanic blue eyes, she had somehow concluded that the trickster was truthful with his words: that he really did want her to go with him.
But he might be only tricking me...
Nevertheless, she agreed, but not without scowling at Niou to make it look as though she was reluctant.
She finally regretted agreeing to the trickster.
"Haha. I knew it would lead here."
Her head whipped toward him, staring accusingly. "You knew? But you still brought me here," she ended it with a whimper.
Niou grinned. "I wanted to make sure." His eyes darted to their entwined arms. "And you seem to be comfortable with that, puri," he leaned closer, nearly breaking the girl's personal bubble.
"Pervert!" Camille pushed the man away, brushing her arms as though they were contaminated. She had clung to him when he exclaimed that he'd seen a snake by her feet. Who would have the guts to do that, anyway, if you found yourself in the middle of grassy nowhere?
"Is that a big lizard?" The trickster pointed at the shrub nearby.
The girl turned panicky, her hand automatically grasping his. "Where?"
Niou laughed mockingly, making the girl let go of his hand. "I hate you."
He took her hand again, anyway. But the girl was so annoyed with him that she slapped it away. The man tugged her hand the last second. "Are you sure? The anacondas might eat you alive."
"Damn." That was absurd, but Camille still held on to his hand, fingers intertwining with his rather perfectly.
She noticed his hand was uncharacteristically cold.
Like, he was as nervous as her.
"Hey..." the girl started as she watched Niou clearing their path. He was pushing the wild grass away from Camille as he walked, getting unnecessarily hurt in the process.
He could be a gentleman, after all.
Niou grunted in response, snapping Camille from her thoughts.
"What do you say about going to school tomorrow?" She paused, summing up her courage. "Tomorrow's our school's Foundation Day, and guests are welcome. We could get you a VIP pass from Mel; she's the President of our Student Government. Plus..."
The girl took a deep breath. She realized that they had stopped walking, and that Niou was staring weirdly at her.
"...I'm going to play the piano for the opening. I actually wanted to... to dedicate it to you..."
Unbeknownst to her, the trickster's eyes had widened. But her eyes were tightly shut and she was preoccupied by her burning cheeks that she didn't notice.
"...and your team," Camille finished, looking up. "So, what do you think?"
She was puzzled when the man's expression blenched, but then it occurred to her that he might not want to come. After all, a Foundation Day, for some, was a child's play. She couldn't help but to pout. "It's okay if you don't..."
On the other hand, Niou felt the sudden urge to have his own version of spazz out moment, but the girl just HAD to say that she meant 'you' as the tennis team, not 'you' as Niou Masaharu.
Was he being disappointed here?
"I'll ask buchou if he'd let the team come," he responded coolly.
Camille smiled. "That's better."
They could now see the end of the maze—which wasn't exactly a maze but a field of tall grass with random winding paths.
Niou cleared the last bunch of grass so that sunlight streamed through them, illuminating both with a hazy orange glow. The man looked down at her directly, clearing his throat as he planned to say the thing he had been tempted to speak out.