Chapter 19:

Accepting Jealousy

Couple That Can't Touch

"W-Would you go on a date with me?!" Kozue shouted out of nowhere.

My heart began pounding and time froze as we stared at each other intently. My face burned in a snap and I even stopped breathing while trying to regain my reasoning. What was that feeling? Was it because I was in her body?

She looked directly at me, determined to get an answer. I couldn't comprehend the many mixed emotions that were going through my mind all at once, and seeing myself blushing in front of me didn't help.

However, I needed to think about what was happening or I would go nowhere.

She just asked me out on a date, right? We already confessed to each other, so why am I overreacting? Even though we decided to give ourselves time, this is a logical next step to get to know each other better.

I took a moment to breathe deeply before answering, "I do, I want to go on a date with you," I replied, successfully hiding my trembling voice.

Kozue beamed and let out a long, deep breath as she plopped onto the ground.

My breathing slowly returned to normal but my chest still felt tight.

"This is too much," Kozue said, trying to recover her breath on the ground. "I was more nervous than I've ever been while gearing up to compete."

"You tell me, but please stand up, my uniform will get dirty," I replied and offered her my hand after putting the tickets back inside my skirt's pocket.

"Oh, you're right, sorry," she giggled and grabbed my hand.

Her hand—my body's hand—was a lot bigger and warmer than mine—Kozue's hand. It also was sweaty, but mine probably was too. I didn't notice.

Only then did we realize what we were doing. We looked at each other in silence and her face grew red instantly.

"I-I'm sorry, I wanted to help you stand up," I stuttered.

"I-I know," she nervously giggled as she stood up. I expected her—me—to be heavier, but I didn't have to put much strength into my pull to help lift her.

"I, too, was somewhat nervous, if it makes you feel better," Kawahara-san said.

Kozue replied, "Don't worry, it's—"

We snapped our heads towards Kawahara-san, who was standing still next to us while pointing her phone directly at us.

The three of us stayed silent.

I forgot she was here…

"K-Kawahara!" Kozue shouted. "Were you recording all this time?"

"I was," she responded.

"Can you stop for a few minutes?" Kozue asked.

"But this is an important event to document—"

"Just give us some privacy," I said.

Kawahara-san didn't seem to agree, but she accepted and put her phone down. "Sure. A researcher should comply with their test subjects' requests."

She just called us test subjects…

But she didn't surrender that easily and asked, "Can I at least ask some questions—"

"No!" both Kozue and I instantly refused.

"Sorry, Kawahara, but this is not the time," Kozue apologized.

She pushed up her glasses. "I understand. I shall take notes of everything that happened in the past few minutes and of the questions I have. I'll be sitting on the bench over there," she said and walked away.

I couldn't help but feel bad for her, she was just trying to help us, but she should've been more aware of social cues as well.

The sleepiness quickly took effect. A wave of fatigue passed through me. It wouldn't be long before we fell asleep to swap back.

"We should sit somewhere or we'll fall asleep in the middle of the park," I said.

Kozue nodded and we walked to a bench next to where Kawahara-san was sitting.

We sat together and said nothing for a long while. I stared at the mountains just a couple of blocks away from the park with the sun about to disappear behind them.

I couldn't decide what to say.

Even though we will go on a date, we don't know much about each other. Is that how it is supposed to be? Is the purpose of a date to let us get to know each other without anyone else around? I wondered. Anyway, there's no point in overthinking it, it's already decided.

"D-Do you like theme parks?" Kozue asked me with twitching brows and a weird smile. She broke the ice even though she was that nervous, while I couldn't bring myself to do it.

"Maybe. I've never been to one," I answered.

"What? Really?" she asked back in shock.

I nodded. "My parents are always out on business trips, I barely see them. They both are on one now, actually. It has been like this since I was born."

"Yes, you already told me that, but didn't your butlers or maids take you to places? Or didn't you have school trips?"

I shook my head. "My school didn't have them. My butlers and maids broke my father's rules a couple of times and took me outside to nearby places like parks, but that was already too risky for them."

"I see… So you rarely go out of your mansion—I mean, house!"

"It's a mansion. We do go on a family camping trip annually."

"Oh, that sounds nice!"

"But my parents have only gone twice. It's always my butlers and maids that go with me."

"Oh, that sounds… sad, but nice?"

I let out a chuckle without thinking and Kozue stared at me, surprised. I looked away and my cheeks felt warm. It had been a while since I had laughed in front of someone.

"And how's your relationship with your butlers and maids? I already met them, so I'm curious," Kozue giggled.

The question came unexpectedly, but I didn't mind answering it.

"Moriyama-san and Sakakibara-san are like the parental figures when my parents are out. Fujisaki-san and Yoshimura-san are like a sister and a brother to me. I enjoyed my childhood thanks to them and Otsune."


"She's… It doesn't matter."

Words suddenly vanished from my mind and guilt tightened my chest. I stared down at the ground.

What am I doing? Why am I running away from it? Not only is it stupid, but it would also be bad to begin keeping secrets right after she asked me on a date.

"You know what? I'll tell you," I said as my leg bounced on the ground.

"Eh? You don't have to if you don't want to," Kozue replied.

"I made up my mind. And it may even help me."

She stared at me, confused and expectant to know what I was about to say. After a long and deep breath, I told her.

"Otsune is my older sister."

The wind shook the trees and bushes around us. The red bangs from my—Kozue's—hair tousled on my forehead while she rapidly blinked.

"Ehh?! You have a sister?" Kozue shouted in shock.

"What's with that reaction?" I asked.

"Ah, sorry, I just didn't expect that," she giggled as she scratched her cheek.

"Well, I've never talked about her before."

"Is there a reason?"

I nodded. "My parents kicked her out after she finished high school. They've never told me exactly why, but I came to the conclusion that it was related to our family status because she was tired of it, just as I am…"

My hands grasped the bench.

"They even made her change her name, so I can't know where she is even if I tried to look for her. She's in her late-twenties now."

"Really? That's awful," Kozue frowned.

As I expected, my chest loosened up after telling her, but I didn't expect it to be that relieving.

"Anyway, I think we derailed a little from the question. What about you, do you like theme parks?" I asked.

"Oh, I love them! But I've gone only a couple of times, my family doesn't have much money to spare," she nervously giggled. "Though it has been getting better since my older sister started working. My parents used practically all their money and took out loans to help her with university costs, but she's slowly paying them back."

I had imagined that her family was struggling with money, but not to that extent.

"I see," I said.

"Can you believe my older sister is already getting married? She's only turning twenty-six this year and she's already engaged—with someone I don't approve of completely."

"Yeah, you told me about it when we were stuck at the convenience store. You said he's too nice and you feel like he's planning something."

"Y-yeah! And he's also too fit," she stuttered.

"You don't like him because he's fit?" I asked, confused.

"Well, it's not because of that. And it's not that I don't like him…"

I couldn't understand her, but my brain didn't take long to spin its gears and connect the dots.

"So you're jealous of him because he's taking your sister away from you," I said.

"What? No, how can I be jealous of that?!" she argued. "I've only felt jealous when you and Narumi—"

She suddenly stopped talking.

"Wait, you were jealous of her?" I smirked, teasing her without thinking.

Kozue blushed and looked away.

"W-What if I was?" she muttered. "What about you? You haven't been jealous at all?"

"Well," I sighed. "I must admit I got a little jealous of Tsuga-san, but it took me a while to realize it."

Kozue snapped her head towards me and grinned, "Oh, really?" she asked sarcastically.

Now I was the one being teased. However, for some reason, I chuckled and Kozue followed me with a giggle. We both yawned after laughing together and, before realizing it, my eyes closed on their own.

Not even ten seconds later, Kawahara-san began to call us. "Kozue Suzuka-san, Araki Koji-kun."

Half-awake, I didn't want to open my eyes, but Kawahara-san kept calling us in a loop until I replied.

"I'm awake."

As I opened my eyes, I realized that my head was resting on something to my left; it was Kozue, whose head was resting on my shoulder. I sat up straight in a blink.

"Splendid," Kawahara-san said, standing behind us, and walked around the bench to stand in front of us. "That took approximately five minutes and thirty-two seconds," she added while tapping on her phone.

"You were calling us for five minutes?" I asked.

"No, that would be tiring," she answered, making me relieved for a second before she continued, "I began to observe you when I noticed that you had fallen asleep, that's why it's an approximate time."

She slid her phone in her skirt's pocket and took out a notepad from the pocket of her uniform vest.

She will never learn, I thought with a mild smile. At least it doesn't look like she recorded us.

"Do you feel anything out of the ordinary? Was it hard for you to wake up?" she questioned.

"It wasn't, which is weird because I'm a heavy sleeper," I answered.

"Interesting," Kawahara-san said while writing something down. "Do you have any thoughts on that?"

Thoughtful for a moment, I responded, "She's still asleep but, if she's normally a light sleeper, it means our bodies affect our sleep patterns."

"Very good observation, Araki Koji-kun," she replied. "Is there something else?"

My leg bounced as I began thinking and made me notice something strange, so I told her. "My left foot feels different. Now it's lighter compared to Kozue's body, which felt like I was moving it in the mud."

"That's the same analogy I use, but I don't remember telling you about it," Kozue yawned as she stretched, sitting beside me.

"You're awake, Kozue Suzuka-san. Was it difficult to wake up?" Kawahara-san asked.

"Hm? Now that you mention it, it was. I kept trying to open my eyes, but they were so heavy that I fell asleep again," Kozue giggled.

"Does that happen to you often?"

"No, I usually wake up with the slightest of sounds or movements."

"Interesting," Kawahara-san said. "This almost confirms your hypothesis, Araki Koji-kun, but we shall investigate further before we confirm it."

"Araki-kun made a hypothesis?"

"My hypothesis?"

Kozue and I questioned at the same time. I didn't know what Kawahara-san was talking about either.

Kawahara-san nodded. "Before explaining it, do you have an idea why his foot felt like that, Kozue Suzuka-san?" she asked.

"I do," Kozue replied.

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