Chapter 21:

Change in Mindset

Confession Games

After Naoya's declaration, Ms. Ria stomped away in embarrassment. As he watched her leave, there was a sad look on his face but he didn't seem to regret his decision. However, seeing that expression, I hardened my resolve to go through with Zakushi's plan. Since he had so boldly proclaimed that I was his friend, how could I meekly let him protect me? That wouldn't be a friend, after all, friends had to be on equal ground.Bookmark here

When Naoya came back to the classroom, the first thing he said to me was, "Looks like I'm still single, guess I'll have to look for my next crush tomorrow."Bookmark here

He ended with a sigh and a downhearted face, but I knew he was joking. Even so, I comforted him by patting him on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be able to find a better crush. You're my best friend after all."Bookmark here

In response, he gave me a weird look.Bookmark here

"Uh, that's kind of cringe bro."Bookmark here

"I don't want to hear that from you!"Bookmark here

In the end, Naoya was the same as usual. Bookmark here

After lunch, even the minor attempts at bullying me stopped, and with Naoya by my side I was finally able to see that not all of the eyes on me held malice. While the prickly ones were most evident, I also detected gazes filled with pity, interest, admiration and...?Bookmark here

'Hmm, why are those group of girls looking at Naoya and I like that?'Bookmark here

Anyways, there were also strange gazes here and there. Now that I could notice these gazes I felt much less pressured by my bullies, but that didn't weaken my resolve. Impressed by Naoya's valour, I couldn't merely sit quietly and endure their gazes, I had to prove that I was not only worthy of being a part of the Life Assist Club, but also of being his best friend. Both to them, and to myself.Bookmark here

The rest of the day went on uneventfully. After saying 'bye' to Naoya, who had his head on the desk and groaned due to being reminded of his missing assignments by our homeroom teacher, I left the classroom and I walked to club. Since they were eyeing me on the way out, I was worried that Kenta's group would start something again, but they let me go. I wasn't sure why, but I wasn't in the position to complain to them, not yet.Bookmark here

When I reached the first floor, where the clubroom was, I momentarily froze because of who I saw. It was a cute girl with twintails who normally donned a cheery expression at all times, but now that cheer was replaced by gloom.Bookmark here

As I saw her darkened expression, my guilt became a knife that dug itself into my chest. I felt regret for what I said this morning, and even more so for the way I said it. After Naoya's confession, I realized that not talking to her in public was a mere stopgap measure, and not a good one either. Bookmark here

Yes, and as a member of this club, I had to be able to walk with them boldly. Anything less would just be running away, and I could never confess to Arisugawa like that. Bookmark here

While I was building myself up to talk to her, Kirisaki glanced in my direction and was very surprised at first, but when I took a step closer to apologize to her, she swiftly entered the room, leaving me behind.Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

Despite the fact that I was certain that there was no hate in her eyes, the knife stabbing my chest began gouging out my heart. I knew I couldn't expect her to shut up and take my apology, but seeing her run away like that gave me true heartache.Bookmark here

'What am I going to do?'Bookmark here

I thought that my main objective would be carrying out Zakushi's plan, but now I wondered if I should focus on appeasing Kirisaki first.Bookmark here

This was a matter of extreme importance so I wanted to take my time pondering it, but out in the hallway I could detect at least a few gazes landing on me.Bookmark here

'Tch, I'll have to move huh?'Bookmark here

For the first time, I was afraid of entering that clubroom. I wasn't expecting a confrontation of any kind, but just imagining Kirisaki awkwardly ignoring me was agony. However, with the leftover courage from Naoya, I went in.Bookmark here

"Good evening."Bookmark here

"Good evening, Akishiro."Bookmark here

I stepped into the room and was greeted by Arisugawa, who as usual, had her back towards the entrance. Normally I would take a few moments to admire her, but this time I immediately moved my gaze towards the space where Kirisaki would sit. Fortunately, she was still on the same side of the desks, but I could tell that she had subtly increased the distance between the two of our seats.Bookmark here

On the inside I felt like I would start crying at this rate, but when I remembered that this was my fault those tears were pushed down as I didn't have the right to release them.Bookmark here

'Damn it! My heart can't take this, I need to make up with her as soon as possible.'Bookmark here

While ensuring that I didn't sneak too many peeks at her, I tried to think of a way to apologize to Kirisaki. She was currently engaged in conversation with Arisugawa, but since I could tell that she was also occasionally glancing at me, I knew that not all hope was lost. Bookmark here

'But none of that matters if I can't talk to her. I only told her not to talk to me outside of club, but I can hardly do anything if she wants to take it a step further and not talk to me at all.'Bookmark here

As the cause, I couldn't expect forgiveness, but at the very least, I had to express my sincerity.Bookmark here

With my thoughts better organized, I prepared to actually make my move. I hesitantly got up and was about to head towards Kirisaki when,Bookmark here

"Good evening."Bookmark here

"Good evening, Zakushi."Bookmark here

For the first time, I cursed Zakushi for the time of his arrival. It was a momentary impulse, but I glared at him like he was my parents' killer until Arisugawa raised her head and addressed us.Bookmark here

"Before I talk about how we'll handle requests going forward, I want each of you to speak about your experiences subsequent to the announcement of the completion of our first job. Can you start, Zakushi?"Bookmark here

Hearing Arisugawa's request, only Kirisaki panicked for a moment and looked at me. My chest warmed when I thought that she was worried about me, but since she quickly removed any sign of it from her expression I only savoured this feeling with a wry smile. Bookmark here

In a pleasant mood I looked at Zakushi who responded, "Sure. I'm not very close with the girls in my class, but many of them came to my desk to express their gratitude. A few of the guys seemed to be jealous but overall they were impressed."Bookmark here

I heard quite a lot worth bragging about in what Zakushi said, but none of the other members paid attention to it so I locked my mouth. When I worked together with Zakushi, I would sometimes find girls watching him from afar but I never saw them talking to him, so I wondered if they used the announcement of our success as an excuse to get close to him. However, based on Zakushi's expression, it didn't look like any of them were able to leave an impression.Bookmark here

Next to report their experience was Kirisaki with a happy smile.Bookmark here

"Everyone who I met praised us for it. I didn't know some of them but I was still glad to hear them thank me. Oh, but I think my best friend realised what I was doing that night. What should I tell her?"Bookmark here

Kirisaki's experience was as expected so there were no surprises there, but Arisugawa slightly frowned when she brought up the best friend who had helped her.Bookmark here

"I figured that she would realise based on what you told me. Has she confronted you about it?" asked Arisugawa.Bookmark here

In response, Kirisaki shook her head and said, "No, but I get the feeling that she's waiting for me to say something."Bookmark here

"Hmm, you can tell her the truth then. With your popularity even if she says something we can likely escape unscathed."Bookmark here

Zakushi and I nodded in affirmation, but Kirisaki was still a little confused. I considered explaining it to her in a simpler way, however, my mouth lost its function the moment I was about to make my attempt. I opened and closed my mouth several times but no sound came out until Arisugawa called me.Bookmark here

"Akishiro?"Bookmark here

"Oh, um, nothing really changed for me. But I think I received more positive looks."Bookmark here

As I swiftly summarized my experience in a way that reduced the negatives without lying, Arisugawa nodded but Kirisaki gave me an uncomfortable glance. On one hand I was grateful, but on the other hand I grimaced at how kind she was. Of course I liked it, but since I was the guilty one her kindness only made me look worse.Bookmark here

'I'm the one who said such a hurtful thing to you, you know?'Bookmark here

All I could do was shake my head at this behaviour while listening to Arisugawa.Bookmark here

"Okay, I also received tokens of appreciation for the first job's completion. With this it can be confirmed that we made a good first impression."Bookmark here

We nodded as I imagined those 'tokens' as offerings and nearly burst into laughter, but I pinched my thigh to restrain myself.Bookmark here

Arisugawa continued, "However, we must continue to work hard in order to maintain this positive impression. Going forward we will..."Bookmark here

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