An awkward silence engulfed our entire living room that I could almost hear a pin drop until Sanji-onii started laughing his head off.
“What…” I throw him the most deathly of looks.
“Is that why you’re panicking?” My brother expressed amusement.
“Who’s panicking, exactly?? I’m not in a panic or anything!” I fumed.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” His chuckle erupted a second time. “So, that was the first thing you had in mind when you heard about this game, huh, Yuyo?”
“I’m only taking into account what is most likely to happen. What’s so strange about that?”
“But I wasn’t trying to make you do that; nothing could have been further from my mind.” He was acting innocent.
“What a surprise... Ha-ha... You could have knocked me over with a feather, Onii-chan.” I said with a cold tone and scowling eyes.
“It’s true, though. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to end up kissing Kyashii there, does it?” Sanji-onii pointed to my mouth. “You could end up kissing her chin, nose, or mouth side. How did you even come up with that thought right away?” I can see the chaffing grin creeping across his face.
“I told you — it’s because it’s likely to happen! The idea is to catch money with our mouths, so wouldn’t that be stating the obvious??” Grr! He is really making my hackles rise here. “Whatever! No matter what, I refuse to take part in that!”
“B-But why not, Yuyo?” When Kyashii chimed in, a tinge of disappointment was visible on her face.
Uhh? What’s the deal with that expression? “Err... I just said it... If we fail to get the timing right, my m-mouth may end up in yours...”
“Umm… So, what’s wrong with that?” The dejection on her face gave way to amusement.
Hmm? “Well… I-It doesn’t sit right with me, and that’s what’s wrong.”
“Friends sometimes kiss each other, so it’s fine as long as it’s not malicious.” Kyashii seemed to be repeating a phrase from memory.
“Those were your words when we had that talk in Nara.” Her lips curled up in a way that was both cunning and intimidating. “Is there any malice between us, Yuyo?”
“. . . . . .”
Y-Yeah... I remember saying that.
And… she’s on the button. In all likelihood, I... I’m harboring m-malice in this game; thus, I was reacting in such a manner, right?
“. . . . . .”
Now, what should I say??
And why has Kyashii mastered the art of leveraging my own words against me and catching me off guard like this?!
Tch! Come on, Yuyo, you need to come up with a compelling retort!
“But it’s not a problem if you don’t want to, Yuyo.” Kyashii flashed me a winsome smile before I could even think of a comeback. “There will still be a match in that game.”
“I mean, Hana and I can take on Minori and Mizuno-san, so you’re welcome to take care of Hana’s task~.”
“Umm... I also thought it would be nice to win; the prize money is ideal for some things I’ve had my eye on for a while~.” Kyashii then approached Nazumi-san in high spirits. Hmmm? “Hanaaa~... You won’t reject me as your teammate, right~?” Her arms reached for Nazumi-san’s shoulders.
“. . . . . .”
I shot from the hip when I learned about the rules, not giving any consideration to how my reaction would come across. In the end, Kyashii got the impression I rejected her as my game partner.
Would you look at that... It’s incredible how selfish I am sometimes without realizing it.
“Of course not, Kyashii... I’m glad I get to play with you.” Nazumi-san stroked Kyashii’s head. “Let’s give it all we’ve got.” She then made a cheerful turn toward me. “Shibasaki-san~, I’d like to look my best in the video, so please, could you see to it Kyashii and I are recorded from the most favorable angle?”
Are you kidding me?!
“. . . . . . .”
Wha— What the heck is going on?!? That idea is also something I can’t reconcile myself to!
What is wrong with me?! There is no way I can watch them without getting irritated when I consider the possibility that Kyashii and Nazumi-san will end up sharing a kiss!
Guuhh! I’m going around the bend!
One more thing, Kyashii mentioned if she were to win, she’d buy something she wanted with that money.
Uhmm? In point of fact, finding the average speed and velocity vector in this game demands a keen understanding of physics, something I’m inclined to think I know better than Nazumi-san. That said, if Kyashii were to team up with me instead, she’d have a much better shot at actually winning and taking home the prize, right?
Yeah… That’s it...
“. . . . . . .”
Taking a deep breath, I quietly walked over to Kyashii and gently tugged her back to my side.
“What…” Kyashii regarded me with bafflement.
“Aherm! Ermm!” I made room in my throat. “O-on second thought, I’d like to help you win that prize after all.” My eyes slipped away from hers. If my best friend really wants to win it, I will do whatever I can to secure it for her.
“Eeh?! R-Really, Yuyo?!” Kyashii’s voice carries a note of excitement.
“Yeah.” My gaze slipped back to Nazumi-san. “I’m sorry, Nazumi-san, but I’ve decided to play the game.” I bowed in an ungainly fashion.
“Ohh, please don’t worry about it, Shibasaki-san~.” Nazumi-san pressed a hand to her cheek. “This is a much better idea than teaming me up with Kyashii in the first place~.”
“Yosh! Here comes the fun part! I can hardly wait to get my money! Ho-ho!” Tomoka pumped her fist in the air.
“Your money blabbing is endless. Just how much do you love it?” Minori locked a blank glance at Tomoka.
“It’s more precious than my breakfast and lunch, so you’d better try your hardest, class rep. Cash is on the line here, yeah?!”
“Oh my, this has to be a joke...” Minori glowered. “That is something I should tell you, Mizuno-san! I’m w-worried if we can even w-win this at this point.”
“Of course we can! You only need to follow my lead, class rep.” Tomoka is dead chuffed. “Hm-hm! Watch as I trounce Yu-chin and Mikami-san in this!” She then stuck her chin up at me.
Wait... Tomoka just challenged me, didn’t she?
Tch! The vibe here has undoubtedly geared up for a match, huh?
Well, losing is not an option for us, no matter what. Getting that money for Kyashii and smashing Tomoka’s cockiness would be like killing two birds with one stone. Pfft!
“Tomoka, you’d better put your money where your mouth is.” My arm swiftly wraps around Kyashii’s shoulder as my tone gets serious. “I will certainly get that prize for Kyashii. When you get right down to it, physics is the name of the game here.” A confident smile lit up my face as I turned to Kyashii. “Don’t worry, Kyashii; we’ll win for sure.”
But Kyashii only stares at me in a daze, as if she is thinking hard about something.
“Hmm. What’s wrong?”
“Eh?! Ah! Nothing! Umm… But, Yuyo, let’s just have fun with the game...” She squeezed my hand that was resting on her shoulder. “I d-don’t mind if we don’t win in the end.”
“Nah-uhh… That won’t do. We will win that cash prize, so you can get what you mentioned earlier. And it’s not a game we’ll let Tomoka win, either.” I jutted my chin out. Somehow, setting myself up for this kind of stuff finds a way to rouse my lazy competitive spirit.
“It’s a go, then. We’ll get started in five minutes, girls.” Sanji-onii made a quick remark.
“Hmm... How about we practice a bit?” I asked Kyashii.
“Yuyo, those five minutes are for discussing your strategy; no practice allowed.” Sanji-onii winked.
“Sheesh! There’s nothing fair about that, Onii-chan.”
“What are you talking about? Anyway, I’ll let you have those five minutes immediately since I need to give a quick call to Tokumiya-san. I’ll be right back.” My brother then quickly made his way out of the living room.
I can’t tear my gaze away from Minori’s face as her cheeks brighten fiery red. With Tomoka’s lips firmly pressed against her nose and hands tightly gripping her shoulders, they managed to keep the money from falling.
Pfftt! Something about this makes me crack a smile.
I’ve never seen Minori in such a state before. It is totally out of character for her to transform into such a dazzling shade of red like that. She seems to be in shock at how Tomoka’s face has taken over hers. That flushed look on her skin conjures up an image of steam spewing over her head. And it’s cute how she blushes, almost as if she’s having a romantic encounter with someone she likes.
Hmm... Considering she is already like this with Tomoka, it makes me wonder whether Minori will be the same way with her crush. That would be a sight to behold, wouldn’t it?
“Whoaaaa~! They pulled it off!” Kyashii couldn’t help but cheer in admiration at how those two conquered the challenge.
“Yeaah! I told you I’ll get that money!” A smug Tomoka then leaps to her feet, leaving Minori dazed on the floor. “Beat that, Yu-chin!”
“Yeah... Yeah... I’m not going to lose to you, Tomoka.” I squinted at her and reached for Minori to give her a leg up. “Are you okay, Minori?” I can’t help but smile amusingly at her. “You’re a little wobbly.”
“Ahh! A-ha-ha... N-Nothing, Yuyo. I was incredibly nervous about the game, after all. A-ha-ha...” Minori took hold of my hand. She looks like she does not know where to put herself, though. “I’m perfectly fine. Thank you.” She limped toward the sofa and plopped down.
Heeh~... That much skinship must be too much for her to handle, huh? “Ohh, right. Minori, please do share your thoughts on those physics theories you just put to the test~.” I jested, but she glared daggers at me instead.
“What’s up, class rep? You don’t look well. Did I throw you off?” Tomoka tossed a confused gaze at Minori. “But I’m pretty sure I brushed my teeth and don’t have an offensive breath either, yeah?”
“T-That’s not it! Please q-quit joking around, Mizuno-san!” Minori glanced over at my brother rather than at Tomoka. “P-Please carry on with the game, Onii-san.”
“Oh... Of course, Kamiwaki-chan.” Sanji-onii could only smile.
“Yeaaah! Let’s see how well Yu-chin and Mikami-san can hold us to that.” Tomoka switched back to her combative mode. “This is certainly a high hurdle for you, Yu-chin! Hm-hm!” Her fist clenched with pride.
“Yeah... Whatever. We’re not going to eat your dust, Tomoka.” I had my right hand on Kyashii’s knee when we were seated facing each other in a seiza position. “Whew! L-Let’s leave no stone unturned, Kyashii.” I mustered a fleeting smile at my best friend.
But there’s something amiss...
Uungghh… Now that I’m sitting in this spot, I’m starting to feel woozy! Is this how Minori felt earlier, which is how she got into that state?
Kyashii must have picked up on my restlessness because her hand pressed against mine. “D-Don’t worry, Yuyo… I’m confident your strategy will w-work.” She fumbled over her words. “Umm... Aah… But of course, I don’t mind if we d-don’t win this, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.” There was such an edgy look all over her face.
“. . . . .”
How are we supposed to win the game if we’re both in this state of nerves?! Oh, my goodness! What are our chances of getting this right after all again??
I wish I could wave the white flag right now! My nerves are making me forget all the strategies I was blabbering about a few minutes ago. Ugh!
I closed my eyes for a few seconds and worked on my breathing.
I’ve got this in the bag...
Please don’t mess it up, Yuyo...
Keep your wits about you...
Remember, we need to win this for Kyashii…
Yeah… For Kyashii…
“Ahem! So, are we good to start now?” My brother sounded out.
“Y-Yes, Onii-san.” Kyashii glanced skittishly at Sanji-onii.
“Yeah… Please, Onii-chan… Let’s get this done already….” I fixed my focus on Kyashii, whose eyes were now meeting mine.
I can’t tell if Kyashii’s penetrating gaze makes me feel less anxious or even more on edge!
“Alright… You two, get ready...” Sanji-onii held the money up to our faces. “I’m dropping this in three… two… one!”
Here goes nothing!!
Maybe it was my nerves acting up, but as soon as the bill slid down and I had to press my face against Kyashii’s, I closed my eyes tight! My head was telling me to shut my eyes! I can’t possibly keep my eyes open at this point!
Uhh... B-But w-wait... T-This s-softness...
“. . . . . .”
R-Right at this moment, I wish I had been more precise with my timing when I leaned toward Kyashii or that I hadn’t closed my eyes at all... b-because it’s clear I messed up. And in a fraction of a second, the pounding in my chest has become unbearable, unbearably intense, making it hard for me to breathe.
Hnngh... N-No… P-Please, don’t let this softness be anything like I imagined it to be.
I gulped hard and managed to muster the courage to open my eyes.
Only an inch away from my eyes is Kyashii’s flushed and stunned face staring at me with goggle eyes. Though I knew this could happen, I feel like I’m going to pass out at any second now that it actually has.
I mean... Really...
W-Who wouldn’t be when I… Uhm… m-my lips ended up c-catching Kyashii’s lips instead…
**You can find this chapter’s image insert in the gallery.
**Seiza is the formal, traditional way of sitting in Japan.