Chapter 10:

Straight From The Shoulder

Unconsciously Interested


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“Senpai, listen to this… I spotted my crush drinking water the other day. It made me happy because it means we have something else in common!” Takashi-san is spouting a horrible joke while we’re sitting on a bench.Bookmark here

A muffled sigh escaped me as I looked at her with dead eyes while forcing a smile.Bookmark here

We found ourselves in this situation as a result of an activity designed to promote communication and interaction between members of the student council.Bookmark here

The idea is that every time we have a new member, the current members should spend some time with them while working on student council stuff. That way, working together and getting to know each other would be a more enjoyable experience. Bookmark here

The activity can take place in the student council room or elsewhere on campus if we prefer. In this case, the new member gets to pick the location. Bookmark here

Minori announced the pairing activity earlier. I'm cool with this arrangement since pairings will be shuffled eventually. Bookmark here

But… Bookmark here

That horrible joke has to go!Bookmark here

I turned my focus away from the student council files I was reading and tried to strike a casual conversation with Takashi-san.Bookmark here

“Say... Takashi-san, are there any other clubs you belong to besides the student council?”Bookmark here

“There aren’t any, senpai. I’ve decided to focus on the student council.” Takashi-san smiled.Bookmark here

“Hmm… Speaking of which, what made you join the student council?” Bookmark here

“Why you say... Ahm... Not really anything noteworthy. I just thought it was interesting since you’re a member, senpai.”Bookmark here

“Ohh… I see–” Huh? “Hold on... You’re not saying you joined simply because I’m a member, are you?”Bookmark here

“No. That’s exactly what I’m saying, Shibasaki-senpai.”Bookmark here

“Have you mistaken me for someone else?” She’s pretty forthright. Akin to Kyashii, she somehow manages to catch me in an unguarded moment.Bookmark here

“No, senpai,” Takashi-san’s smile faded as she cast a stern look at me. “I joined the student council primarily because of you.” Bookmark here

Why is she staring at me like that? Is she trying to get an amusing reaction from me? Bookmark here

Hmm... Bookmark here

Whatever the case may be, I will not let this underclassman to catch me off guard any longer.Bookmark here

And so…Bookmark here

Just like our first encounter, our eyes meet squarely once again.Bookmark here

Hmm… Now that I have had some time to stare into those eyes, I realized she has lovely pair of amber eyes. She may not have thick eyelashes, but hers are so fine that they match her eyes.Bookmark here

“. . . .”Bookmark here

Takashi-san's eyes drifted away from me. Looks like I won that stare-off, huh?Bookmark here

Wait... Bookmark here

I guess my eyes lingered on her for longer than they should have been. Bookmark here

“Just as I expected, those eyes are too much for me,” Takashi-san muttered.Bookmark here

“Am I making you uncomfortable, Takashi-san? If so, I apologize.” This makes me feel terrible as this is not what we were trying to accomplish. That’s not the purpose of this activity.Bookmark here

Ah-re?Bookmark here

Right, we are still in the middle of our activity!Bookmark here

What the heck am I doing trying to win this nonsense staring competition?Bookmark here

“Certainly not, senpai… It’s just that you seem to have a penetrating gaze. How should I put this? Umm… When you gaze into someone’s eyes, it’s as if you were peering into their soul. Yeah… That’s how I’d describe it.”Bookmark here

“Uhh…?” Bookmark here

What a profound statement from someone I barely know. My aim here is light years away from what she describes. I’m only scheming to compete in a fictitious contest with her, but she’s actually taking it seriously.Bookmark here

My words fail me in this instance. Bookmark here

“You see, senpai..” Takashi-san started talking again before I could respond. “I just think we started on a poor note. I have to say that our first meeting was memorable for me, maybe not for you. For the first time in my life, I felt nervous simply because someone glared at me.” Bookmark here

Was I really that menacing then? I wasn’t aware of it. Bookmark here

“After realizing that I had acted up, I decided to apologize because I think it left you with a negative impression of me, senpai,” Takashi-san added.Bookmark here

“I won’t argue with your last statement, though,” I replied straight away.Bookmark here

“I saw that coming, senpai,” she tittered.Bookmark here

Takashi-san seems to be more comfortable around me now that she talks about these things. Bookmark here

Great! It appears that this activity was a success.Bookmark here

“Takashi-san, does it bother you when people think negatively about you?” I asked with casual curiosity.Bookmark here

“Probably, senpai. That seems to be the case with most people, doesn’t it? Not to mention, the look in your eyes bothered me. It made me feel restless until I apologized properly.”Bookmark here

“Why are you so into my eyes? The way you’re blaming it, it’s relentless.”Bookmark here

I had no idea I could make someone feel that way just by gazing... umm, glaring at them.Bookmark here

She smiled. “It might be because I find your gaze enticing and fascinating, senpai.”Bookmark here

What a straight shooter! Bookmark here

How does she do that? She just says whatever is on her mind. Bookmark here

And does my stare really appear that way? I have no idea how it comes across to others.Bookmark here

Wait... Hold on...Bookmark here

Let's just leave it at that. Bookmark here

My curiosity about her keeps getting me sidetracked! We still need to complete several documents for the student council. We did not come here to recount our own personal experiences. Bookmark here

Just as I was about to suggest we end this discussion, Takashi-san started talking in a melancholy tone. Bookmark here

“When I apologized to you after the ceremony, senpai, I figured you had brushed off the incident as something trivial. That, however, was a real issue for me. During our first talk, I immediately felt that I could be comfortable around you, senpai. I get a sense of familiarity with you as if I’ve known you for a long time, although I’ve never met you.” She added with a soft smile.Bookmark here

“Uhmm...” I’m becoming uneasy about this situation. Bookmark here

This is an overly personal discussion, something I’m not used to. It’s as if someone random has walked up to me and started talking about their personal woes, and I’m utterly unprepared for it.Bookmark here

“However, senpai...” I see she still has more to say. Does she not want me to respond at all? “I doubt you will remember me for very long after that incident. So, I got you gummy candies as a gift. My goal was to make sure you would remember me favorably.”Bookmark here

Ohh.. So that's why... Bookmark here

I guess that explains why we constantly run into each other.Bookmark here

I feel fuzzy after I finally understood what she was saying. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around it. Something seemed out of place about her interest in me. Not to mention that she wanted to get close to me just because she felt familiar with me. Bookmark here

What makes her feel that way, considering she's aware that I'm not that friendly towards her? Bookmark here

And, I had no idea that I would have made such impression on someone just by the nature of that incident.Bookmark here

On a related note, it's amusing to learn the childlike yet endearing reason behind those gummy candies. Bookmark here

So... Bookmark here

I think the gist of it is that she wants me to remember her in a positive light because I’m a remarkable senpai in her eyes. Moreover, she found my nature comforting, and therefore she had a strong desire to be near me.Bookmark here

A remarkable senpai, huh? Bookmark here

". . . ."Bookmark here

Now, hold on a sec... Bookmark here

Aren’t all these things pointing to a senpai-kōhai bond? Isn’t this what the senpai-kōhai relationship was all about?Bookmark here

Ohh... I see now. Bookmark here

Well... I can understand her unusual interest in me if that's the case.Bookmark here

That idea didn’t come to me right away since I wasn’t close to my upperclassmen even during my first year. I have always considered the title of senpai to be sufficient in and of itself.Bookmark here

Even so, having a kōhai in this sense intrigues me.Bookmark here

It seems to me that she’s searching for a proper senpai, and she believes that I am capable of fulfilling that role. Personally, I think I can handle that role just fine. Bookmark here

In practice, it’s pretty handy to have a senpai-kōhai relationship at school.Bookmark here

“Senpai?” Takashi-san called my attention.Bookmark here

“Oh! I’m sorry, Takashi-san... I'm just thinking about what you said. I guess I understand why you would want to get close to your upperclassman like me.”Bookmark here

“You do?” She seems pleasantly surprised.Bookmark here

“Yes, of course!” I can’t help but feel smug right now. Bookmark here

“That’s a surprise, senpai! I didn’t expect you to understand me right away. It’s so amazing how quickly you understand me. As expected, you’re so cool… You may seem stoic, but you have a soothing presence that can calm others simply by being with you. This is why I enjoy being around you, senpai.”Bookmark here

Wait... What’s the deal with these flatteries? And did she just refer to me as a stoic?Bookmark here

“What’s with that kind of thinking you have about me? Anyway, I realized you were hoping for a senpai-kōhai relationship. So… I may not be perfect for the role you’ve imagined, but I’ll do my best to be a good senpai to you, Takashi-san.”Bookmark here

Senpai-kōhai relationship?!” She looked even more surprised now.Bookmark here

“Yeah. That’s what you were going for, wasn’t it?” Bookmark here

“No… Ahh... Not at all, senpai. I mean...” She started fidgeting. “And here I thought you really understood,” she muttered under her breath.Bookmark here

“What? Did I get it wrong?” Bookmark here

“We-well… Senpai-kōhai sounds nice. B-but could we at least become f-friends, senpai?” She asked with an embarrassed smile.Bookmark here

“Oh!” Right! I was way off the mark. Friends, huh? “I see... So that’s what you mean.” Bookmark here

“Is it possible, senpai?”Bookmark here

“Sure, Takashi-san. I have no problem with it.”Bookmark here

“Re-really, senpai?!”Bookmark here

“Uh-hum…” I nodded.Bookmark here

Thanks to this activity, I now feel comfortable around her. Though we nearly did nothing in terms of paperwork for the student council, this activity achieved part of its primary goal. Bookmark here

Even better, it resulted in us becoming friends. Bookmark here

“Then, can I call you by your first name, senpai?” she asked adoringly.Bookmark here

“No,” I replied bluntly. “It’s too soon for that.” Bookmark here

“Ehh? Come on, Yuyo-senpai~…”Bookmark here

“Hey... The defiance is real here. You shouldn’t call me that.” I reacted nonchalantly because I wasn’t particularly bothered by it after all. Bookmark here

“We’re friends now, Yuyo-senpai, so it should be alright.” she grinned.Bookmark here

Haah…Bookmark here

“Fine. Just don’t expect me to call you by your first name. I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”

Yatta! It’s okay, Yuyo-senpai. I’ll wait until you call me by my first name.” She had a bright smile on her face.Bookmark here

I just smiled. Strangely, I feel as though I’ve gained a younger sibling here.Bookmark here

“Alright. Let’s go back to the student council. Since you didn’t do anything with these documents, let’s get it done there.”Bookmark here

“Urrk! I’m sorry, Yuyo-senpai. I’ll finish this as quickly as I can.”Bookmark here

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“We’re back.” I stepped into the student council room while checking Takashi-san’s work. She’s lurking just behind me. Bookmark here

“Welcome back… So, how did it turn out?” I heard Minori asked.Bookmark here

“Kamiwaki-senpai, our date was a success!” Takashi-san excitedly exclaimed from behind.Bookmark here

Her words caused me to wrinkle my brows quickly. “It appears you have a strange vocabulary. That’s not a date. Moreover, as a student council member, you must remember that dating isn’t allowed on campus premises, Takashi-san.”Bookmark here

“Aww… I got scolded. Roger that, Yuyo-senpai!” she snorted and gave me a playful nod.Bookmark here

“Aha-ha. Ahh... Yeah… I think the activity turned out well. You even refer to Yuyo by her first name already. That's great, Takashi-san.” Minori commented in an apprehensive tone.Bookmark here

There was something in Minori’s tone that pulled my attention to her.Bookmark here

Minori is smiling awkwardly, but never mind that. It's more surprising to see Kyashii reading a book next to her. Bookmark here

Actually, it’s the fact that she’s reading a book that really surprises me.Bookmark here

“Oh, Kyashii… What are you doing here?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Waiting for you,” she answered without looking at me.Bookmark here

Huh? Why is that? Did I forget something?Bookmark here

I don’t remember making plans with her after school. Bookmark here

“Hold on a second...” I turned back to Takashi-san. “Here, Takashi-san. Please work through this part. If there’s something you don’t understand, please let us know. Do you think you can finish at least half of it?”Bookmark here

“I will try my best, Yuyo-senpai!”Bookmark here

I smiled at her. “Thank you. Then, just leave it on the desk when you’re done with it. I have to finish mine as well.”Bookmark here

She nodded as she sat down with the others. I then made my way toward Kyashii.Bookmark here

Minori had her eyes glued to me as if she were worried. I gave her a perplexed look, but she nudged me as though she was saying that it wasn’t a big deal.Bookmark here

“Hey... Did we make plans after school that I forgot about?” I asked Kyashii shortly after I took my seat next to her. Bookmark here

“No,” she replied rigidly, her eyes still set on her book.Bookmark here

There was an air of agitation about her. It made me wonder what brought her here.Bookmark here

“Are you all right? Something wrong?’’ I asked quietly, trying not to disturb the other members working on their tasks. Bookmark here

“None at all... I’m just wondering if you’d be willing to tag along with me after this. I plan on going to the bookstore later.” She said coldly when she finally looked at me.Bookmark here

“. . . .”Bookmark here

Her demeanor really bothers me. Bookmark here

But I still have a task to complete, so let me deal with that later.Bookmark here

“Sure… Wait until I finish this.” I replied. Bookmark here

She went out of her way to wait for me; it would not be very kind of me to refuse her.Bookmark here

“Okay.”Bookmark here

I looked at Minori, who was just staring at us sheepishly. Kyashii probably said something to her. When I puffed up my cheeks and narrowed my eyes at her, she just brushed me off.Bookmark here

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“Yuyo, lend me your phone,” Kyashii said after a few minutes.Bookmark here

“Why? What happened to yours?” I asked without looking at her.Bookmark here

“It’s dead. Let me have yours. I’m bored.” Bookmark here

I silently handed her my phone to avoid unnecessary interruptions and quickly get my task done. Since Kyashii has been using my phone quite often, she already knew its passcode. She constantly asks for it when she wants to play with it.Bookmark here

“You two are so adorable.” Our student council president said out of nowhere.Bookmark here

When I glanced at her, it was obvious that her eyes were directed at us when she said that. Bookmark here

“What is, senpai?”Bookmark here

“You’re so close that you’re letting your friend use one of the most sacred belongings of a person nowadays.” Her smile widened.Bookmark here

Most sacred belonging?Bookmark here

“Ahh... I take it you mean the phone, senpai?”Bookmark here

“Ohh, yes, Shibasaki-san. Not only did you hand over your phone, but you did so without hesitation.”Bookmark here

“She’s been using my phone for quite some time now, so I’m used to it, senpai. I don’t think she’ll do anything nefarious with it anyway.” I wryly smiled at Kyashii, who sneered at me in response. Bookmark here

“My… What a wonderful friendship you have, Shibasaki-san.” Senpai is still beaming at us.

I simply returned her smile.Bookmark here

“Thank you, senpai. It goes without saying that Kyashii and I are best friends.”Bookmark here

Sigh….Bookmark here

The daily distractions today seem endless. I can’t seem to get my task done on time.Bookmark here

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Senpai–kōhai system is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.
This senpai-kōhai relationship is interdependent. It's more like a kind of idealized sibling relationship or mentorship.
The relationship is much the same as that of the protector and the protected, the mentor and the mentee, the guide and the guided. 
You can resume reading from this paragraph.