When I reached school, I sensed a special atmosphere blanketing the compound. With one glance, I detected one of the reasons for this special atmosphere. Among students I was familiar with, were also students I wasn't familiar with. And no, the ones I didn't recognise weren't just students in my year, even I wasn't that anti-social. As proof, in addition to the black ties worn by first years I spotted the blue ties of the second years and the red ties of the third years.
"There's a lot more people here than I thought there would be."
Since attending the special class was voluntary, I wasn't expecting much of my seniors to show up, but considering the concentration of students it seemed I was wrong. I wondered why they bothered showing up but the only one who I could ask was Zakushi, and he wasn't here anyways.
I thought about going around and immersing myself in this fresh atmosphere, but once I entered the school my nervousness started adversely affecting my stomach too, so I quickly went towards the class I was assigned through email. Fortunately, it was class C in the first year building so I didn't have to worry about getting lost. However, inside the classroom was inevitably an unfamiliar battlefield.
There were no specifically assigned seats and the class was rather empty so I didn't have to worry about finding a seat, but my problem came right after that.
'Where should I sit?'
A trivial issue you might think, but it was in the nature of teenage students to be very conscious of where they sat, at least in my experience. Although some extroverts might say that you could sit wherever you want, there was a glaring problem that even they had to acknowledge. Let's say you saw this amazing seat by the window that catches your eye, but then what do you know, someone who you don't like sits beside you, therefore ruining the greatness of your seat.
I could easily name several other examples, but the fact was that choosing a seat was a gamble. And though this gamble's result might only affect today, I couldn't just give up on it.
'Which one, which one shall I wager on?'
"Oi, you're blocking the way."
Hearing a voice from behind, I immediately stopped my pondering and hastily moved from the entrance.
I wanted to kill any chance of any more trouble so I was quick to bow in apology, but I froze once I saw who I was bowing to.
"I know you're nervous but you have to keep your wits about you, okay."
"Got it, senior."
Zakushi nodded at my answer and strolled into the classroom. Without thinking, I followed him and took the seat next to his. The moment before I sat down, I felt a chill run down my spine, but I resisted it and lowered myself onto the chair.
'I hope his fans don't have wild imaginations.'
I didn't dare turn around but I was sure that almost all of the girls in this class, irrespective of grade, were glaring at me. Believe me, I could understand why, if I was in their position I would be angry at me too. If Arisugawa was sitting by herself I would definitely want to sit next to her, but let's be honest here. Neither I nor them were brave enough to do something like that or else we would have already made some progress in our relationships.
As I convinced myself not to mind their gazes, I tried to think of something to do while I waited for class to start. I twiddled my thumbs and eventually took out my phone, but I just wasn't in the mood to watch any videos or play games. I just kept on scrolling for no reason until I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Calm down. There's no more preparation for you to make, so you might as well relax until he shows up," said Zakushi.
He only glanced at me before returning his gaze to his book, but just that short interaction was enough to trigger a spike in the intensity of the stares on my back. I wanted to deny any ideas in their heads but I did feel better after Zakushi gave me advice.
'Why is my senior so damn cool? Damn it, I'll just have to rely on my emergency medicine.'
I closed my eyes and smiled due to what I was imagining. Only an innocent smile of course. I kept my eyes closed for so long that I nearly drifted off into sleep, but then I heard Zakushi say something that instantly jolted me awake.
With no other explanation necessary, I knew what he meant. There were more people in the class, but the entrance was still clear in my view. Standing there, with a bored look on his face, was a confident and handsome young man with a streak of silver in his hair and the swagger of a fearsome delinquent. Much more than from Kenta, I felt an intimidating aura from this guy who wore a blue tie.
I didn't know how long he had been looking around, but soon after I spotted him, he also spotted us. The fearless smirk of a predator appeared on his face as he approached.
He stopped in front of Zakushi's desk and asked, "Zakushi, how you been?"
It didn't look like he cared that much about the answer but I was much too busy trying to get a read on him to care.
Unlike me whose nervousness came back several times worse than before, Zakushi didn't even raise his eyes as he apathetically answered.
"Tch, you're as irritating as usual, you know that."
"No, I'm afraid I don't."
I was tense watching these two, and judging by how silent the class had gotten, I wasn't the only one.
The one in front of Zakushi, Daiki Hiroki, ranked lower than him in number of times confessed to and number of fans, but that was only due to the difference in their personalities. Daiki went through many relationships and was more approachable so he had less of a loyal following.
...Don't look at me, I'm just repeating what I saw in the comment section on the school confession rankings.
Anyways, the main point was that he considered Zakushi as his rival so they apparently confronted each other from time to time.
As I looked at these two heavyweights going at it, I almost forgot the reason why Hiroki was here despite being in a different group, but he 'kindly' reminded me.
Once he was finished talking to Zakushi who remained unflustered, he turned his sharp gaze over to me.
"So you're Haruto Akishiro, right?"
"Uh, um, ehem, yes!"
I was shaken when he suddenly called my name so I verbally stumbled as I tried to give a response. I knew I couldn't afford to show weakness in front of him, but it wasn't as easy as it sounded. I felt suppressed due to his gaze and clenched my fist to resist this pressure and encourage myself.
'You can do this. You can do this.'
As anxious as I was, I kept looking straight into his eyes without backing down. Eventually, he smirked at me and said, "Tell you what, I don't want to be on the same side as this guy but, if you voluntarily resign from the Life Assist Club I'll set you up with some cute girls."
My eyes opened wide in surprise at his proposal, but before I could regain my senses to refuse his offer, Hiroki looked around the classroom and pointed at a pretty girl.
"Like her. Hey Chika!"
I absentmindedly followed the direction of his finger to find the girl that he called, and saw her wave back at him with a flirtatious smile. She then glanced at me and blew a kiss in my direction, but I swiftly convinced myself that she meant to give it to Zakushi and awkwardly turned away.
'What the hell...'
As this was completely unlike what I was expecting, I had trouble accepting what I just witnessed. I could understand his offer and the reason behind it, but it was just such a fresh situation that I wasn't sure how to respond. However, whether I would accept or deny it, that was already decided.
After waving back at the girl named Chika, Hiroki turned back to me and asked, "So, what do you say?"
In his eyes, I saw a curious expectation. Rather than thinking that I would accept his offer, he only seemed interested in what my answer would be. Nonetheless, I had to take my time to build up the courage to respond. I lowered my head and took a deep breath before facing him once more.
I braced myself for a violent reaction, but Hiroki only shrugged his shoulders and asked, "Why? Was the girl I pointed out not your type, or do you think I'll go back on my word?"
"Um, well it's sort of both, but most importantly, I can't see any love in such a proposal."
As both Hiroki and Zakushi gave me confused looks, I was under more pressure, but I still managed to endure and speak my true thoughts.
"I decided when I first entered this school that if I ever dated a girl it would be because I liked her and she liked me. Anything else isn't even worth considering."
On the verge of bursting into laughter, Hiroki asked condescendingly, "Kid, do you know what you're saying?"
I knew that my words were truly cringeworthy, but I had no intention of taking them back. I had already sworn to stand by these words, so even if I wanted to I couldn't break my word.
I didn't respond, I only looked at him with a solemn expression. As he looked at my serious face, Hiroki laughed boisterously, drawing the attention of the entire class.
"Hahaha! You sure have an interesting junior, don't you Zakushi?"
"It seems so."
When even Zakushi acknowledged it with a chuckle, I felt a bit embarrassed but I still stuck to my word.
"Kukuku, well, I gave you a chance. I'll crush you later, kid."
Leaving behind an ominous line, Hiroki left the classroom while still chuckling. Once he left, I turned to Zakushi and asked something that had been bugging me.
"Senior, he was just acting, right?"
In response, Zakushi lifted his eyebrow and denied my assumption.
"No, why would he be acting? He's completely serious about crushing you."
'As I thought. So this wasn't an elaborate set-up. I'm seriously about to go up against someone as popular as Zakushi. ...Is there really any hope for me?'