Miyake sprinted off with obvious glee, giggling and saying “Yaaay!” as she disappeared from our eyes. Both of her hands were in the air, holding the outfit I had picked out for her, swaying left to right each step she so cordially took. Eventually, she’d be gone from our line of sight, but we could still make out her effervescent laughs throughout the store.
I looked over to Okumori, and immediately spotted the wild, dumbstruck expression across his face.
I gulped with uneasiness.
Crap, crap, crap! Okay! You got it, Shiori! Just try to start a conversation! It’s not that hard!
Stop stuttering, dummy! Talk properly! Geez, I just look like a fool now! Why am I so nervous?! It’s just some guy, anyways! It’s not like he hates me!
He paused, then looking over at me with glowered eyes.
He definitely hates me! There’s no question about it! What is that glare?! It’s too horrifying! Miyake! Come back! Please! He scares me!
“H-Hi.” I quaked, while forcing a grin.
He closed his eyes, and respired.
Seeing his disgruntled look, my heart felt rather rough.
“I’ll get an outfit now! You won’t have to talk to me! It’s fine! U-Um, goodbye!” I blurted out.
I’d turn my whole body around almost instantly, and started dashing forwards.
“Stay.” A grumpy, irritated voice spoke.
I instantly froze and shuddered at the voice.
Did he just talk?! Was that his voice?! It’s so menacing! He’s definitely mad at me, isn’t he?! Oh no, what do I even do anymore?! Is he going to yell at me?!
With my quivering legs, I’d slowly and gradually force my body to face Okumori. Once I had been finally been turned towards him, I’d look up and spot his violet-colored, narrowed, wearied eyes, which only made me even more panicky than earlier. His eyes had been meeting with mine, as he stood in complete silence.
“You don’t have to buy or get me anything...” He said, then starting to avoid my gaze in what seemed to be discomfiture.
“A-Are you sure…? I nervously asked.
He nodded, then going back to his usual silent-self. He didn’t stop avoiding my eyes, but started to get even more uncomfortable as I didn’t move my gawking sight either. He’d clear his throat, then moved his head slightly more to the left, seeming to hide his face away from me.
I’d soon realize that I was causing his awkwardness. My face instantly felt warm, as I quickly looked down at the floor and connected my hands together in apprehension.
… What do I do?! Do I talk? What would I even say? Okumori is a silent person, so I don’t think he’d even respond! Think! Think!
As dread started to overwhelm me, a sigh would leave from Okumori’s mouth.
“I have to talk now, don’t I...?” He silently muttered under his breath.
He probably didn’t mean it for me to hear him, but I could hear him clearly. His words only made me feel even more overwrought, and it made me believe that he probably didn’t want to converse with someone like me.
I inhaled, then exhaled, proceeding to look back up to Okumori. He now had been looking at me, with his uninterested, stiff look still present. His arms were now crossed together; his right finger tapping his arm every few seconds.
He cleared his throat, before finally speaking once more.
“How’s school?” He questioned.
Once I had perceived his odd inquiry, my anxiousness all disappeared in a split second. I froze, staring at Okumori in shock.
I’d shake off my astonished face and took a deep breath, then forcing a smile towards him.
I stopped again, my fake smile vanishing away, with only blankness filling my body.
He shook his head in displeasure.
“Lying only makes it worse, idiot.” He said, annoyed. “I’ve seen what’s happening, and it’s definitely not ‘good.’”
The flashback instantly hit me like a truck. I remembered the slap that my face had been marked with by those girls, as well as the sight of Okumori on all fours watching me in bewilderment.
He’d swallow, then looked away again, avoiding my gaze at him.
“... Well, not that I was planning to help, anyways. I’m just saying, don’t keep it in. You’ll only regret it.”
He’d pause for a second, then opening his mouth again.
“And, for the record, I don’t like you, but seeing you in such a sad, glum state makes me feel rather…”
His mouth was open, but no words came out of it. He appeared to be reluctant, only to wipe it off his face and go back to his original, tired expression.
“Any who, That monkey wants to help you, though, so tell her your problems and keep me out of it. But, keep in mind that she probably has a lot of sympathy, but little empathy.”
He’d finally look at me, noticing my confused, yet intrigued look. He’d stare at me in perplexity as well, then relieving another sigh right after.
“What I’m saying is, plenty of people have a lot of sympathy, but very little empathy. Very few people put in the actual draining, and grueling mental effort to actually stand inside someone else's shoes and comprehend the gravity or complexity of a problem they might be experiencing. The chances are, you’ll meet many people like that. They’ll just do the equivalent of saying ‘This thing is bad, sorry. That sucks...’ It’s the grim reality when some people ‘help’ others.”
He would then groan.
“... With that said, the monkey might not be able to help you, because she doesn’t want to burden herself. But, who knows? We’re unpredictable. Maybe she’s different from others. She might give some empathy to someone like you.”
He then took a deep breath after talking.
He looked over to me.
“Is the monkey perhaps… Miyake-senpai?”
His expression turned into irritation and confusion. It was just if as he was saying ‘That’s your question?’
I’d then quickly look back down to the floor, and clenched my handbag tightly after realizing what I had just asked.
“Sorry… That was a dumb question of mine… U-Um, instead of that, rather, why did you choose to talk to me now? I mean, when we were with Miyake-senpai, you were super quiet…”
He pondered about it for a second, then looked away.
“... You look weak, that’s why. I’m not afraid of you.”
My heart dropped, just like a ship anchor hitting the bottom floor. His words slapped me across the face aggressively. But, who am I to even argue against it? That’s just an abominable, hypocritical, and an obnoxious thing to do. Why would I even fight the truth? It’d just be fighting a losing battle.
“I am weak, huh…?” I looked back up and smiled.
He’d nod reassuringly.
The grip on my handbag only got tighter after seeing his certain reply.
“Okumori-senpai, you know what I do, right?” I questioned.
Okumori nodded once more to my question with his eyes closed, then opening them again and continuing to look away.
“Well, I hate it.” I said with self-assurance.
Slowly, he’d look back at me once more, with curiosity in his spiritless eyes.
“I hate something I love. That probably doesn’t make sense to you, but to me, it does.”
I closed my eyes, and didn’t give up my artificial smile directed to him.
“I want to continue dancing, modelling, all that fancy stuff. But at the same time, I hate being targeted. I hate being the person who has the most attention, and I especially hate how some people treat me.”
“I never thought about the stress, or the terrible things that were going to happen to me if I continued this job. But, now that it’s here, I can’t really go back.”
And, finally, my forced, sad attempt of a smile started to tremble. I’d take another breath to keep my composure, but it failed terribly, as I could hear and sense my shaky breath.
“People most likely think that I’m just some popular, cute, and happy idol who can dance well. And, I want to keep it that way. I want to be known as someone who’s happy.”
As I finished my sentence, I could feel my eyes start to prickle, and a lump forming in my throat. I’d try to blink to get rid of whatever was leaving my eyes, but I didn’t know whether they were even successful.
“I know I’m weak. I’ve known it ever since, and I desperately try to hide that frail side of me. But, I’m so scared that it’s going to spill out all of a sudden. I know that someone is going to be disappointed in one way or another. Even if I do want to say it, I know that it’s just some insensitive, and immature thing of me to do…”
I was now struggling. I had been choking on my breath, with my smile now turning into quivering lips.
My jaw trembled, my eyesight started to get blurry, and my breath stopped every few seconds. Realizing this, I’d slowly direct my head back to the floor, only to spot a watery substance by my shoes in my blurry eyesight.
I took a deep breath and sniveled.
“I don’t want people to think I’m weak…” I stammered in a scared, quaky voice.
Then, I’d soon also realize that I, had now completely broken down. The floor was met with my tears, dropping and piling up into a small, miniature pond, getting bigger and bigger by the second.
I dropped the handbag in my hands and started to wipe my eyelids, trying to get rid of the tears that kept coming out of me, combined with sniffling and quiet sobs that exited my body.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” I frequently repeated to Okumori. “I’m sorry for being so weak...”
Instead of trying to wipe my eyes, I’d eventually give up and just simply just cover my face with my wet palms that were tainted with my tears, as I silently continued to cry and weep.
I’d then hear footsteps approaching me, then a feeling of a hand connecting with the top of my head. They rubbed it in a slow, consoling, and reassuring manner.
“Stop crying already, idiot. It’s making me feel guilty.” Okumori said.
I’d lower my hands, and saw him in front of me, with his arm reaching out towards me. It was then, that I realized that he was the one head patting me. He had a dissatisfied look on his face now as he continued to stroke my head.
“I told you not to vent to me, yet here you are.” He grumbled.
I looked away from him and sniffled. “Sorry…”
“Just, save your desolate ranting to the monkey. I’m not someone you should trust, nor even associate with.”
“Mm...” I nodded.
I knew it. He hates me.
“Sorry…” I said once more, then finally wiped the tears from my face. “I guess crying really wasn’t a good thing for me to do, huh, Okumori-senpai?” I said, followed with a forced laugh.
He’d remove his hand and retract his arm away almost instantly, setting it to his side as he nodded firmly to my question.
Then, I felt a hug that wrapped around me. I looked down to my chest in bafflement and saw blue sleeves, and delicate, soft hands.
“Jeez, crying while I was gone… I feel left out.” A voice said with a giggle.
I looked above me and saw Miyake, who was behind me, wearing the outfit I had picked out for her.
“You’re fine, Shiori-chan… Completely fine.” She said with a smooth, elegant voice.
Then, she looked over at Okumori with a sullen pout.
“Also, I didn’t know you liked to call me monkey! That’s so rude of you! What part of me even resembles a monkey to you?!”
Okumori had his usual bored look again, simply staring at Miyake. Even if he was completely expressionless, I felt like what he was saying in his head wasn’t a very good thing to hear.
Miyake gasped in realization, probably figuring out what he was thinking. She’d then point at him aggressively.
“I-I’ll let you off the hook this time! You consoled Shiori-chan while I was gone, so I’ll give you that!”
Okumori rolled his eyes, and looked away in irritation.
Miyake moaned in vexation, and rested her chin on top of my head tiredly.
“He’s so troublesome sometimes… It’s like talking to a wall…”
I could feel her chin press onto my head as she spoke, and it made me somewhat uncomfortable, but yet relieved.
“Y-Yes…” I said with an awkward smile.
“Oh, also!” She then sparked.
Miyake would then let go of me and step back. I’d face her, and watched her twirl around in the new clothes she wore with delight. She’d then stop, and placed her hands on her hips, giving me an appealing smile.
“The clothes you picked out fit perfectly! They’re so cute, too, don’t cha’ think?” She laughed with exhilaration.
I paused, shocked by hear sudden spark of enthusiaism. Then, I nodded happily.
“Yes! It looks beautiful, Miyake-senpai!”
“Right?!” She twittered.
She’d lean forwards to me and place her hands on my shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Shiori-chan, I’ll pay for it! It’ll be my gratitude!” She said with a thumbs-up.
“Um, yes!” I nodded again.
She giggled after hearing my response, then instantly launching towards Okumori. She’d start circling around him, smiling and tilting her head to the left.
“Ya’ like it? It’s cute, huh? Don’t be embarrassed about it, Ki-kun! Say it’s cute! You think so too, don’t you? Don’t yoouuu? Spit it out! Come on! I want to hear you say it!” Saaaayy iiit!” She optimistically taunted, poking all around his body using her fingers simultaneously.
“Will you… Shut up…?” He silently muttered, clearly sheepish and uncomfortable by Miyake.
“Fiiiineee!” She groaned. “You’re so boring, Ki-kun…”
… Are these two really not close with each other?
“Well, anyways! I’m going to have to take this off in order to pay for it!”
She’d then lean in close to Okumori’s ear, cupping her hands around her mouth and speaking in an elegant, seductive voice.
“But, it’d be very lewd for me to take it all off right now, huuuuh…?” She teased.
Okumori instantly reddened, and moved back to try to avoid her close distance.
“Hahaha! Kidding! I’m just kidding, Ki-kun! Your reactions are so priceless!” She laughed while slapping his back.
He choked and grunted each time Miyake’s hand hit his back, with a clear, exasperated look on his face, indicating that he was obviously not enjoying it.
Then, Miyake would back off, and start running away from us.
“See you later, guys! Don’t do anything while I’m gone! I’ll be back in thirty-seecooonds!” She waved.
I sighed and closed my eyes.
I’m so envious of her… She’s so happy, and contented, while I’m here crying… Jeez, I’m such an idiot.