Anyone would come to the same conclusion as I did so I couldn't even blame them, unlike the initial incident with that selfish girl. While it was true that Kenta was the only one shouting and showing anger, my grin wasn't really winning any affection. Especially towards the end, even when Kenta grabbed my collar, I had a wide smile that made it look like I wanted it to happen, as if I couldn't wait for him to fall for my trap, which was true but I wished that I hadn't shown it on my face. I probably wouldn't have as many minor troubles as before, but with this video out I knew I wouldn't be able to get away with acting like an innocent boy anymore, even if that was what I was.
I released a heavy sigh and then glared at Naoya as I gave him back his phone. He accepted it with a guilty smile and turned away. This would affect what measures I could apply going forward, but since I hadn't made any measures it wasn't that bad. Besides, acting soft likely wouldn't work against him anyways.
Like we predicted, for the rest of the day I only received gazes from afar, not a single person even whispered close to me anymore. As embarrassed as I was about it, I thought the video was rather tame, but according to what Naoya was able to find, I had the 'vicious grin of a smart and ruthless antagonist'. It was quite specific but when I looked at the video again I could see what they were getting at. However, more than the public opinion, I was worried about the reactions of my clubmates. None of them had texted anything so I couldn't be sure what they thought about it. I was particularly distressed since Arisugawa would be handling a request with me.
'What if she thinks I hurt the reputation of the club? Don't tell me I'm going to get kicked out before I can defend my position.'
Despite my treatment improving, I was still suffering from anxiety straight until the end of school. When I heard the bell ring, I couldn't help but groan. If she wasn't my crush and I wasn't in a bad position, I might have tried faking an illness to get out of this, but such thoughts were only there to distract me from reality.
As I got up and went to the door, Naoya said, "Good luck with club."
I lazily waved in response and started my stomach-queasy journey. Instead of heading straight to club, I planned on taking a breather in the bathroom which required that I take the route to club and then change direction after going down the stairs. However, as a result of my own carelessness, I couldn't even get on the stairs.
"Akishiro, where are you going? The staff room isn't that way."
I froze faster than a high performance game on a trashy laptop at the sound of her voice. I hastily tried to get my breathing in order as I turned around to face the sophisticated beauty that was the owner of that voice.
"Uh, Arisugawa, I thought we were supposed to meet at the clubroom."
When I turned around and pushed myself to speak to her in this narrow hallway, I could see a void form around us. Unlike when I was with Kirisaki, none dared to even look in this direction. Even Naoya only took a single glance and then ducked his head.
Fear, respect, admiration, loyalty, her noble presence alone was enough to demand all of these. If it was any other time I would love to extol the perfection of her facial features, but like a criminal before the judge I nervously awaited her response.
"That was only correct before 11 this morning. Did you not check the group chat?"
Although her tone was flat, my shame and guilt grew to the point where I found it hard to look straight at her. And as I recalled the fact that we would be working together after this, my previous excitement was converted into fear.
"N-no. My apologies."
I could faintly pick up chuckles in the background as well as satisfied smiles on those in my sight. They were likely glad to see me put in my place, but I couldn't mind them right now.
I pinched the side of my thigh as I waited for her decision, ready to accept her order no matter what it may be. Fortunately, my benevolent lady spared me.
"No, I suppose it was unreasonable to expect you to check your phone while school was in session. I should be the one to apologize."
Of course I was happy that she didn't find fault with me, but I also couldn't put that blame on her either.
I replied, "No, I was negligent in my preparations considering my position," and added, "But there's no reason to keep minding that right now. Shall we go?" before she tried to take the blame again.
It was an audacious move for me since my position would only get worse if she didn't like my attitude, but I believed that she wouldn't mind.
'That's right, I believe. And if you believe in the magic, it'll come true.'
When Arisugawa raised her thin eyebrow, my heart rate went up with it until she nodded.
"Sure. Let's go."
'Yes! The magic worked!'
She then turned away and started walking so I breathed a sigh of relief before following her, keeping myself a step diagonally behind her.
The staff room was closer to the stairway opposite to the one I used to get to club, so we walked in the direction of class 1-A rather than 1-D. After a few seconds, the number of students I could spot sharply decreased but I didn't think too much about it.
My brainpower was better dedicated to thinking of how I should act around Arisugawa. Though we had several conversations in the clubroom, this was the first time the two of us were by ourselves. Common sense would dictate that I try to make small talk, but I had no idea what topic she would be interested in. And did she even want to talk? Would I come off as annoying? Is she forcing herself to walk with me?
I could swear that I was more stressed right now than I was on that stage Saturday. And that stress would have only gotten worse if my lady didn't initiate the conversation.
"By the way, Akishiro."
"Would you like to explain that video you were in?"
'Never mind, the stress was better.'
"Uh, well, I..."
'I'm dead. I'm dead, aren't I? No revenge, or redemption, I'm dead.'
Completely convinced that this was it, I wondered how I should get my will sent out, but then she added, "Speak clearly. I can't make my judgement until you tell me what happened."
'Wait, so I have a chance to live?! Oh thank you for your mercy.'
As I briefly clasped my hands in thanks, I narrowed my options down to two. I could either twist the truth so that I was in a better light, or simply be honest. However, I had no confidence in calmly carrying out an act of deception even if we weren't facing each other. Still, I wasn't sure if the truth would be pleasing to her either.
'Tch, if either way is a risk I'll just have to take the less risky option.'
"As you saw in the video, I was in my seat when he approached me and started insulting me. At the time I was a bit, frustrated you could say, so I decided to accept his challenge."
"Frustrated, huh? In other words, you were glad to have a chance to release your frustration."
Her phrasing didn't have a good ring to it, but it was spot-on. I thought it was inevitable for this to lower her opinion of me, so I just hoped that it didn't fall enough for her to lose all trust in me. I was prepared for the wrath of her tongue that had defeated many men before me, at least I thought I was. Fortunately, I didn't need to be in that position, not yet.
"I see," she answered plainly.
I waited a couple more seconds for a continuation, but once I became more and more certain that she was truly finished, I had to confirm it.
"Should there be something else?"
"I, just thought that you would warn me about dirtying the reputation of the club."
"Hmm, that is a good concern but it's fine, I've already gathered information on that boy you were arguing with. He doesn't have much of a following and neither of you pointed out the club itself in a bad light, so the adverse effects of this video will likely only affect you as an individual rather than the club."
"Ugh, that's true."
I couldn't think of what I did as wrong, but it would definitely be different for those who had already decided that I was guilty. I was able to get rid of some stress after seeing how ugly his face became but that stress was already returning.
While I wallowed in this despair, Arisugawa added one more thing.
"But, even if this would hurt our reputation, I wouldn't admonish you. After all, I have no intention of telling any of you to endure injustice for the sake of the club."
It was a line said without much emotion, but when it came from her mouth I felt like I was given the courage to face the world.
'Yeah, no wonder I like her.'