Chapter 1:

Age Seventeen.

I Like You, I Just Don't Know it Yet.

Break time. Some might prefer to call it 'recess'. Both mean almost the same thing and bare equally loved. At least when during school is the context. My favorite part of going to school are break times and going home at the end of the day. 
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“Please go out with me, Kaizaki-senpai.”Bookmark here

Everyone in the class fell silent.Bookmark here

“F-fine by me.”Bookmark here

“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!” Or so everyone screamed.Bookmark here

Kaizaki Najimi, age seventeen, year two in Aoyusha high school, got a girlfriend. To know how this predicament happened, we needed to go back the day before. Bookmark here

Thursday, Tenth of February.Bookmark here

The chime had just rung. Students were leaving the class to hang out with friends, resume to club activities, or go straight home; the last part was what I usually did. Suzuki, my childhood friend and the kind-hearted class rep who was now-his-girlfriend, Michiru Toho had left the classroom and gone home. They asked me before going home, to which I declined. Bookmark here

But still, it had been a month since they officially became a couple. It was nerve-racking for me and I knew both sides' stories. Nonetheless, it ended well and a happy couple was born at that afternoon. Bookmark here

Going back to my situation, I was left alone. Not totally alone, there was one other male student who was packing his stuff, preparing to leave; while I was not alone, I would soon be. That one male student, with his bag already shut tight and held in his right hand, asked me what on earth was  I doing, sitting at my own desk while staring at the orange sky through the window. Bookmark here

I replied to him—Bookmark here

"I like the view from here." Bookmark here

He chuckled at my response and proceeded to leave. Bookmark here

Finally, I was alone. Bookmark here

I sat in my desk, enjoying the moment. Simply appreciating each passing second. It was quiet and lively at the same time. I could hear the sound of shoes coming from the soccer field, audience cheering at the soccer club's afternoon practice session. It found its way into my class which was located at the second floor, echoing. Bookmark here

Twenty minutes had passed.Bookmark here

Even for someone who enjoyed his me time a little too much, could eventually get bored after sitting in an empty classroom in one afternoon for the past twenty minutes. I needed to get some air, so I decided to stand up and left, leaving my belongings inside my bag. Bookmark here

This was obvious, but the moment I left the classroom, the echoing sound of the cheering audience became more vague and inaudible. The stairs which I was headed to was farther to the field than my class was. Not to mention, the second year's class was at the second floor of the school building; which made it harder for the cheering to echo. Bookmark here

Nearing the stairs, I heard some other noise. Calling it a noise would be wrong per say, because it was, without a doubt, a human voice. A male human voice if I might add. However, my previous statement would soon be proven false as I got nearer to the stairs. Bookmark here

I could hear a voice of a boy and a girl coming from down there. It was as though they were in an argument of some sort. They stopped talking once I was close enough to hear what they were saying, so I could not get what it was all about. Bookmark here

That being said, I stopped walking and stuck myself to the wall. Yes, I realized it was bad to eavesdrop, but walking in on them would lead to more troubles. I was not in the mood for joining in some strangers' argument, so I decided to be the bad guy and eavesdropped on them.Bookmark here

"What do you mean you can't?" Asked the male student.Bookmark here

"Because... I'm already dating someone else..." Bookmark here

"You're lying." Bookmark here

"N-no! It's... I'm telling the truth..." Bookmark here

What is this situation? 
Situations like this happens in real life?
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"Then bring him to Rokutenboru next Monday after school." Bookmark here

"N-next Monday?"Bookmark here

"Got it?" Bookmark here

"... yes..."Bookmark here

Rokutenboru? Why bring up the mall?Bookmark here

Footsteps were heard and becoming weaker after each step. It seemed like the guy had left. Bookmark here

"I overheard something heavy..." I mumbled to myself. Bookmark here

At that moment, I swore to never eavesdrop again, no matter the cost. Bookmark here

I was going to go down the stairs anyway, but because I overheard their little yet heavy exchange, it became harder for me to move. Before going down, I promised myself not to glance at her, say anything to her, and just move as quick as possible. Getting involved in this exchange was a pain. Any weird movement would result in me engaging in an unwanted conversation. Bookmark here

I went down the first step, then the second, and so on. I tried my best to appear 'normal'. I kept my pace so I wouldn't walk too fast nor too slow, I paid attention to my gaze so that it wouldn't meet hers, and of course, I didn't say anything to her, not even a simple greeting. On the contrary, I could feel her gaze becoming more and more intense and focused by each step. Bookmark here

As I walked pass the girl, I thought I was safe from something troublesome. I did not do anything out of ordinary and appeared as normal as I could be. Alas, all my efforts were to no avail. Bookmark here

"Umm..." Bookmark here

I stopped walking.Bookmark here

"..." I glanced over her. Bookmark here

"I'm sorry if I'm wrong, but were you eavesdropping on our conversation just now?"Bookmark here

"....."Bookmark here

I don't want to get involved anymore of this. However, at the same time, I can't afford to lie to her.Bookmark here

No hope. I should just tell her the truth. At least half of it. Bookmark here

"I wasn't eavesdropping... I overheard just a little bit." I said as I faced her. Bookmark here

Standing before me was a female student whose face I had never seen prior to this encounter. Judging by how young she looked and well-mannered she was dressing, she could not have been a third year student. It did not seem like she was the same grade as me, so she had to be a first year. Bookmark here

Her hair was dark brown, did not seem natural so might be dyed. It went down to her shoulders and her bangs were almost passing her upper eyelids. She did not wear an accessory on her hair and her skirt length was not shorten. This was one of the signs that she was indeed well-mannered. Bookmark here

In contrast to that, she had quite a voluptuous body for her age. She curved in where she was supposed to curve in and curved out where she was supposed to curve out. She was not tall by any means, an her scalp barely touched my chin, but her legs were long compared to girls in her year. Bookmark here

In less words, she looked attractive. Bookmark here

"Can you please come with me? "Bookmark here

"Eh?"Bookmark here

"There's something on my mind and I can't bring myself to talk about it with other people." Bookmark here

Honestly speaking, I was holding myself not to let out a sigh in front of a helpless girl. However, if a girl came up to me with an expression like that... I felt awful just thinking about it. Lending a pair of ears should not be that bad. Bookmark here

"Okay." Bookmark here

She then led me to a certain place on the first floor, which worked in my favor. I thought of it positively and that I could benefit something from it. The place she was leading me to was a classroom. If she led me here then it confirmed my theory that she was indeed a first year student. Bookmark here

Anyway, in the classroom there were only chairs and desks which had already been cleaned up. A little note, she looked anxious and nervous when leading me here. It was as though she feared of being seen by people, or 'someone'. Bookmark here

Even though we had all the chairs for both of us to sit down on, she didn't offer me a single one, thus the conversation was carried while we were standing up. Ignoring that for a moment, the girl in front of me was trembling and shaking. She looked worried and uneasy. Whatever. I was not planning to stay here for too long. Bookmark here

Listen to her problems and leave. 
I'm going to just do that.
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"So...?" Bookmark here

"Ah! I'm sorry!"Bookmark here

"Err... There's no need to apologize, you know?" Bookmark here

She fell silent before she continued.Bookmark here

"Let me introduce myself. My name is Hashimoto Iori. Year one, class C." The girl was apparently named 'Hashimoto' and she bowed, "Thank you for agreeing to my trivial request." She got up. Bookmark here

"I'm Kaizaki Najimi. Year two, class A." I said but I did not bow, "It's no big deal, really." Bookmark here

"Y-year two!? T-that means you're my senior!?" Bookmark here

"Hmm? What does that matter?" Bookmark here

Hashimoto looked even more nervous than before. Bookmark here

"Now that I know you're a senior... I'm feeling nervous..." Bookmark here

"You don't have to be, though?"Bookmark here

Silence came and took over the room. I got that she was nervous, but to think she made me wait for another twelve minutes while she was readying herself. I had my gaze focused on her, carrying the message for her to 'just talk already', with the hope of her understanding. Alas, that was a dream. She did not get the message and remained quiet for another three minutes, in which when three minutes had passed, I sighed. Bookmark here

This time, she immediately got it. Bookmark here

"I'm sorry! I'm taking your precious time for something mundane like this!" she bowed her head twice. Bookmark here

"It's fine... Can you tell me about it already?"Bookmark here

"Y-yes! I will tell it now!" Bookmark here

She then began telling me her story. Everything about it, from the point prior to me 'eavesdropping' until the boy left. As her story progressed, the trouble she was in a moment ago starting to make more sense. I did not say anything that might interrupt her story telling session, so I nodded at everything she said. After ten minutes of that, she was finally done. Bookmark here

"—and that's it, Senpai."Bookmark here

"Let me get this straight."Bookmark here

Hashimoto nodded twice. Bookmark here

"Basically, your classmate Kitahara asked you to go out with him. You, on the other hand, don't feel the same about him and wanted to subtly reject him, so you told him that you are already in a relationship with someone else. However your plan quickly backfired, and he's now asking for proof. Did I get that right? Bookmark here

Hashimoto nodded twice.Bookmark here

Seriously, don't situations like this happen only in comic books?Bookmark here

I sighed. I sighed twice. After School in the afternoon, being alone together with a girl younger than me in an empty classroom, and orange sky was our view. Many boys would be jealous of me if they saw me like this and yet I did not feel anything romantic at all from this situation.Bookmark here

Hashimoto herself had been quiet since nodding her head. That was, until she finally opened her mouth and spoke.Bookmark here

"And... Um... Senpai...? I have a request..." Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

"... Please go out with me!" Bookmark here

"Vetoed." Bookmark here

"Whaaaat? That was the part where you agreed to my selfish request, wasn't it?" Bookmark here

What logic is that?
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"I feel bad after hearing your story, but I decline." Bookmark here

"Why? At least give me the reason!" Bookmark here

"That's a question with a million answers..." I sighed, "Fine. I'll tell you three of them." I said as I had three of my fingers up.Bookmark here

"..." Hashimoto quietly waiting.Bookmark here

"I don't know you. We've never met before this. We don't like each other." Bookmark here

"I just introduced myself to you. There is no way you don't know who I am."Bookmark here

"That's not what I meant. Even if I did know you and have met you before, we still don't like each other romantically, so it's still out of the question."Bookmark here

"It's not like love matters, Senpai. We're going to put up an act and that's it. Where's the harm in that?" She paused before she continued, "Or what, have you got a crush on someone already?" Hashimoto asked as she crossed her arms.Bookmark here

".................... whatever are you on about?" Bookmark here

Hashimoto twitched upon hearing my reply. Her expression turned from relaxed to surprised. She uncrossed her arms and used one of her hands to cover her mouth, supporting her surprised expression. Bookmark here

"That pause is suspicious." Hashimoto hummed, "It seems like I was right."Bookmark here

"Assuming that it's true, it's none of your business." I averted my gaze.Bookmark here

Hashimoto gasped. Bookmark here

"Wait a minute. My assumption of you having a crush on someone is because I thought you were not popular among the girls." Hashimoto held her chin, "What if you are already in a relationship with someone, hence the real reason why you had to decline my request?" Hashimoto hummed, lost in her own thought.Bookmark here

Her assumption was correct. I was already in love with someone else, not someone from my school, though. Chances of her knowing anything about that was very low, and I was not worried even in the slightest. Bookmark here

The fact was that we were getting off topic. I cleared my throat and resumed our 'real' conversation. There was something bugging my mind for a while and I had been meaning to ask her about it. Bookmark here

"What about the boys from your class or year?" I asked lightly.Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

"Can't you ask one of them? Surely you know a few." Again, I asked lightly.Bookmark here

"I... can... not." Bookmark here

Her tone changed drastically. She went from shy and nervous, to flat and uninterested, and now she sounded too quiet. A little too quiet to my liking. Her timidness meant something bad was waiting to come out. I did not like it. Bookmark here

"How so?" Bookmark here

Hashimoto did not instantly replied to my question. She seemed more hesitant than she was before. Her eyes were darting everywhere, refusing to look at me in the eyes. She began sweating, especially on her forehead and neck. It was still mid-February and should still be cold and yet this girl here was sweating. Bookmark here

I began to realize it was not something light, and the fact I asked her about it so casually as if it was nothing made me feel worse. However, I still believed asking her 'true' reason was the correct answer; at least if I was going to help her. Bookmark here

After about three minutes of silence, Hashimoto finally spoke. However, her speaking only led to more question. It did not answer anything I wanted to know about. Bookmark here

"I... have my own reasons here." Said Hashimoto hesitantly.Bookmark here

Thinking of a way so that she would speak, I hummed. Her eyes stopped darting around and instead she chose to gaze at her own two feet. I could only see the top of her head and her face was hidden by it. Bookmark here

I scratched my head.Bookmark here

"I already gave you three reasons why I declined." I crossed my arm, "It's your turn to tell me one reason why you can't ask the boys from your year." I told her, almost like I was scolding her.Bookmark here

My attempt did not result in anything, for Hashimoto still refused to talk about it. Bookmark here

"This goes without saying, but if you think 'shy' is a good reason, you better drop it now." Bookmark here

Hashimoto lifted up her head. Bookmark here

"... If I tell you... would you be willing to help me, Senpai?" Bookmark here

"If I see fit." Bookmark here

"Have I got your word on that? I have, right?" Hashimoto sounded desperate. Bookmark here

"Of course."Bookmark here

Hashimoto became quiet again. Just like the sun slowly going down, Hashimoto slowly opening up to me. She needed extra time after extra time before we actually got to the main point, but she was getting there. Bookmark here

"My classmates... At least most of the boys... they say mean things about me." Bookmark here

"Mean things?" I uncrossed my arms, "Specifically, what?" Bookmark here

"O-of course I will tell you, but you will keep your promise, right?" Bookmark here

"You have my word." Bookmark here

Hashimoto took a deep breath. She sighed as she let out air from her lungs. However, when she did start talking, her lips were quivering hence her voice sounded shaky and was hard to hear. It sounded as if what she was about to say locked her tongue, making her speechless. She persevered to continue.Bookmark here

"They say how attractive my butt and breasts are, and how they want to touch them. They want to test whether or not my lips are soft as they look..."Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

"Of course they don't talk about it when I'm around. But I overheard Kitahara talking like that with his group during break time." Hashimoto's voice turned shakier as she continued, "I heard them laughing, too... It was like a joke to them. Talk about irony, huh."Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

Hashimoto restrained her sniffles as she went on. Bookmark here

The irony she was talking about was how she found out this problem due to her overhearing, in this case you could also say 'eavesdropping', on Kitahara's conversation with his group, the same way I found out about her problem by eavesdropping on her exchange with Kitahara.Bookmark here

"Now that I think about, it was a silly request." Hashimoto wiped tears from her eyes, "Please forget about it." Hashimoto was still holding back her sniffles. Bookmark here

Standing before me was a girl crying in need of help. She lost trust in her own classmates, thus desperately seeking for other people whom she had yet to know. In her case, the more she did not know the person, the better. She trusted someone, a complete stranger, rather than her friends. Bookmark here

When I used to get bully back in grade school, Suzuki was my only ally fighting the bullies off. He saved me, helped me, and got in trouble for me. Naturally, as time went on, I became more and more dependent on him, and he was okay with it. Suzuki was always there when I needed him the most, but I could not do the same for him. In fact, almost everyone I knew owed Suzuki something, even the bullies. Bookmark here

He never asked for anything in return. He believed helping others could never be wrong, as long as it was not something breaking the law. No matter how small and trivial a problem was, if someone reached out to Suzuki, he would surely help them.Bookmark here

What am I hesitating for? Bookmark here

There's only one answer to this, isn't there?Bookmark here

"Your request... I will accept it." Bookmark here

"Senpai...?" Bookmark here

I did promise her, after all.Bookmark here

Hashimoto's look of sadness was blown away by passing wind, which at the same time brought back her smile. That was quite incorrect; for I had not seen her smile prior to this moment. The more 'correct' phrase would be 'I finally got to see her smile'.  Bookmark here

Not only that, Hashimoto also started jumping up and down out of excitement. She could not conceal her true feeling of gratitude and began hopping left to right like a little bunny. Hashimoto grabbed my hands and held them tight. Bookmark here

Just how excited is this kid...Bookmark here

"Thank you very much, Senpai!" Bookmark here

I was not sure if this was what Suzuki felt when helping me and other people. Seeing someone else smile because of agreeing to help them was something pleasing. My chest felt warmth. Bookmark here

Hashimoto stopped jumping around and finally calmed down. She took out her own cell phone and held it using her left hand. Bookmark here

"I'm going to give you the details later on the phone, so could you please lend me your phone for a moment?" Bookmark here

"What?" Bookmark here

"... Contact exchange..." Hashimoto darted to the left side for a second, "I can't tell you the details if you don't have my number." Bookmark here

"Oh." I lent her my phone, "Here you go." Bookmark here

She smiled and took it using her right hand, next to her own. She did all the inputs by herself. Her fingers were moving so fast that I was sure she was used to texting her girl friends every night. My little sister Rin also typed fast, but there was no doubt Hashimoto was faster. Bookmark here

After just a moment, Hashimoto gave me my phone back. She went back to her own phone and began typing something. I could hear her keyboard's noises as she typed. As she finished typing, my phone rang and 'one new message' was written on the screen. She was checking my number it seemed. Bookmark here

I opened it. Bookmark here

One new message from Lovely Iori ♡
I will be in your care, Senpai.
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"Hashimoto... What is this name?"Bookmark here

Hashimoto quickly leaned back as she crossed her arms together.Bookmark here

"I-it would be bad if someone found out that we were not actually dating from my name in your contact list, wouldn't it?" Bookmark here

"That's not..."Bookmark here

"Here!" Hashimoto showed me her contact list, "I have your contact saved as 'Lovely Najimi'." Hashimoto stopped showing me her contact list, "It's fair now, right!?" Bookmark here

I scratched my head. Her reasoning was not sound at all. Just how small of a probability she was putting into the equation. It was not like someone would ever check my contact list anyway. Bookmark here

"W-what I'm trying to say is, if we're going to do this, then we'd better go all out!" She looked away.Bookmark here

To think this girl right here was so timid and nervous some minutes ago was something I could not believe so easily. Well, if she was feeling better then I had zero complaints. I guessed. Bookmark here

I sighed. Bookmark here

"That's everything, right?" Bookmark here

Hashimoto's gaze returned to me.Bookmark here

"Yes..."Bookmark here

"Then I'm going home." I said as I Bookmark here

turned around.
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"Umm..." Bookmark here

I did not wait for her and started walking toward the classroom's door. She sounded hesitant trying to say something, but I did not feel it would be good if I stayed longer than I planned to. Bookmark here

"S-Senpai!" Hashimoto shouted. Bookmark here

Her shouting stopped my movement. I turned back and had a quick glance at her.Bookmark here

"..... Nothing. Let's do our best!" She smiled somewhat sincerely and awkwardly at the same time.Bookmark here

"Sure..." Bookmark here

I continued walking ,leaving her alone in the classroom. Whether Hashimoto stayed there for another hour, stopped by the convenience store to buy something or went straight home was unbeknownst to me. All I knew was that I had decided to help her therefore I had to give my all to support her. Bookmark here

Before that, I traced my steps back to my own classroom. I totally did not almost forget my bag and belongings in the class, yep, not at all.Bookmark here

After that, I left school without running into Hashimoto. Bookmark here

Takahashi  Eien
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