Chapter 2:

Part 2: Uneasiness with the Rising Star

A match made with the Rising Star

“What?” Hoshino threw her hands out and waved them frantically. “No! you must have confused me for someone else!”Bookmark here

“Your hoodie’s down.” I pointed to what was now folded against her back. It probably got knocked off when she bumped into me.Bookmark here

Her hair flowed when a breeze of the night wind blew through it. That was when she realized there was no point in denying.Bookmark here

Hoshino snatched her gym bag off the ground and ran past me without concern for time.Bookmark here

“F-forget what you just saw!” Bookmark here

Cupping my hands to my mouth, I called out to her. “Uh, just so you know, the Heaven’s Arena bus already left.” Bookmark here

Rubber shoes screeched off the ground as Hoshino skidded herself to a stop.Bookmark here

“You’re kidding, right?” She looked back at me, her glare piercing into my soul. “Why would they do that?”Bookmark here

“Sorry, I don’t know,” I said, picking up my groceries before walking toward my car. “The bus was already leaving as soon I tried to park here.”Bookmark here

After making sure my purchases were secured in the backseat of my car so they wouldn’t topple and make a mess once I go back to driving, I settled myself into the driver seat. Before starting the engine, I took a look outside my window.Bookmark here

In the distance and close to the outer edge of the road where speeding cars blurred past her, Hoshino pranced around in erratic strides with her smartphone held tight to her ear. Her gym bag rested nearby on the concrete ground. This was just a guess, but I didn’t think she talked in all her attempts to make a call. Bookmark here

I continued to observe her mannerisms. A bit of worry rose to my chest every time Hoshino came close to hurling her phone away. It was good that she always stopped herself at the last second, but it was never reassuring to see her reconsider doing it again out of what I believed to be frustration.Bookmark here

Then Hoshino squatted into a pitiful crouching position. She hugged her knees close and buried her face into them. Bookmark here

Okay, I just couldn’t pretend I didn’t see that.Bookmark here

Having a feeling on what might come my way, I brought my backpack with me when I exited my car. Bookmark here

I walked all the way to where Hoshino was and stopped about six feet away from her. There were no changes to her behavior or that depressing position she’d frozen herself in. Bookmark here

“Um… Hoshino-san?” I gently tried to inform her of my presence so she wouldn’t be caught off- guard.Bookmark here

“Go away,” she responded almost instantly. Bookmark here

Hearing that from her kind of hurt. “If you really want me to, okay, but I only want to help.”Bookmark here

“Hah?”Bookmark here

Hoshino lifted herself out of her crouching position. She looked ready for a fight. Bookmark here

“You don’t even know me, and you’re offering your help? That just sounds like you have an ulterior motive. I may be a girl, but I’m stronger than I look. I could easily plant your face into the ground!”Bookmark here

The thought of Hoshino performing a wrestling move on me did sound kind of tempting, but now wasn’t the time to provoke her on that. Doing what I must, I took off my backpack and unzipped it open. Hoshino’s eyes appeared to be keeping a close watch on my hands. She was probably anticipating if I were to pull out a weapon like a gun or a knife.Bookmark here

“If there’s any kind of reward I’d want from you, I’d be fine with just your thanks,” I said and slowly brought out a photograph about half the size of my arm.Bookmark here

“That’s…” Bookmark here

Of course, Hoshino recognized the autograph print in my hand when she saw the depiction of herself striking a flirty pose in her semi-revealing wrestling attire.Bookmark here

“I’m a fan of yours who watched you defeat Saya Kannagi earlier. I then got to shake your hand and get an autograph from you in the meet-and-greet.”Bookmark here

From the looks of it, proving to her that I was a fan helped her calm down. Not completely, though.Bookmark here

“Okay, so you are a fan of mine,” Hoshino said, her voice still in a defensive tone. “But that’s not enough to make me trust you or want to accept your help.”Bookmark here

I pretty much had an idea of why she’d say that. When you’re a celebrity with both cute looks and a lot of fans, you can bet that some of those fans won’t be the good kind. Good thing I had one more weapon, err, evidence in my arsenal.Bookmark here

“Take a look at these. I have tickets for the next two nights of your promotion’s three-day tour. Here’s for night two in Kiyodera Hall, and here’s for night three in Michizoe Stadium. Go ahead and check if they’re fake.”Bookmark here

I laid the two tickets down on the ground and took a few steps back. When the breathing room was adequate, Hoshino approached the tickets and picked them up.Bookmark here

She took a closer look. “Alright, these are legit.”Bookmark here

I nodded while maintaining my distance. “Your problem is that since the Heaven’s Arena bus is no longer around, you have no way of making it on time for the next event, right? I also want to attend both events on time, so since we have the same goal, how about I drive you to Kiyodera Hall? I won’t be able to do it overnight, but I should be able to drop you off with a few hours to spare on the day itself.” Bookmark here

Hoshino didn’t answer me right away. She must’ve been considering the possible risks a stranger like me would pose to her. I couldn’t blame her for hesitating and was ready to leave her alone if her final decision was a “no.”Bookmark here

A crackle of thunder echoed across the night sky. I looked up. The clouds started to converge and darken, meaning it was going to rain soon.Bookmark here

“Alright, I’ll go with you,” Hoshino finally said. Bookmark here

I’d be lying if I said her answer didn’t leave me delighted, but the mild discomfort in her tone made it clear that she was reluctant. She most likely agreed, only because the upcoming rain pressured her into making a decision. Bookmark here

“Great! I won’t let you down, Hoshino-san!” I tried to put her at ease with a little optimism.Bookmark here

It backfired.Bookmark here

Instead, Hoshino narrowed her eyes, casting another glare upon me. “Know this. If I feel like you’re going to do something that leaves me feeling threatened, there will be consequences.” Bookmark here

My head lowered itself a little until my eyes had a glimpse of the concrete we stood on. Bookmark here

“…Yes, of course,” I said, mellowing down. Bookmark here

Hoshino couldn’t be convinced so quickly, but it really was my intention just to help her reach her next destination on time. If this escort attempt ended with her bearing a personal grudge against me, I… I didn’t even want to think about it.Bookmark here

After Hoshino picked up her gym bag, I bowed slightly then extended my right hand to her.Bookmark here

“I already introduced myself at the meet-and-greet, but it’s nice to meet you again. My name is Ryūsei Igarashi.”Bookmark here

Unlike how it went hours ago, the look on Hoshino’s face was far from the bubbly demeanor I remembered. This time her emotions were compressed, almost like she lacked them. Nonetheless, she shook my hand again, except there was barely any shaking, and she let go just as soon as she grasped it. Bookmark here

“Likewise,” was her simple, half-hearted response.Bookmark here

I checked my hand after feeling something else in it. Turns out our second handshake was how Hoshino gave me back my tickets.Bookmark here

“Right, my car is over there.” I pointed a hand to the vehicle in question then began to lead the way.Bookmark here

It was evident and logical that Hoshino would be cautious with me accompanying her, so I imposed a couple of rules on myself.Bookmark here

For starters, I always made sure to stay at least an estimated six feet away from her. I’m not sure why, but my instincts told me it was a sensible level of distance. Bookmark here

Secondly, I always made sure to stay in front of Hoshino whenever possible. That way, she’d always be able to monitor me and hopefully, start to trust me too. Walking by her side was fine as well, but only if the situation called for it…Bookmark here

…Like when we both got into my car and sat next to each other.Bookmark here

Looking to my left, I asked her, “So… is the seat comfortable? Do you want it adjusted, or… anything?”Bookmark here

Hoshino seemed to ignore me as she placed her long gym bag on the backseat near my purchases from the convenience store, strapped on her seat belt, and propped an elbow on her door’s car handle. She stared to the window on her side, in time to watch the first raindrop trail down.Bookmark here

“Just start driving,” she said.Bookmark here

“R-right.” I twisted in my car key, and the soft roar of the engine’s ignition signaled me to step on the pedal. After a bit of maneuvering, my car reversed out of the gas station’s parking lot and returned to the open, one-way road.Bookmark here

With the path ahead looking to be the same for a while, it wasn’t long before the silence in the car started to eat at me. And not only that--Bookmark here

I took a quick glance to my left.Bookmark here

--My mind was still coping with the reality that the Rising Star herself, Mirai Hoshino, was in my car and sitting in the passenger’s seat, next to me! To think that these unexpected circumstances would lead to me spending more than thirty seconds with the idol wrestler I’ve always wanted to meet as a fan.Bookmark here

I took another glance at my left.Bookmark here

She was really there; this was no figment of my imagination. My heart raced like the car’s engine, and my arms trembled even though my hands had the hardest grip they could give on the steering wheel. I hated to admit it, but part of me felt like I was going to derail my car into an accident very soon. And that was saying something, considering that there were no other cars ahead and that road we were traveling on was perfectly straight. Bookmark here

I took yet another glance to my left.Bookmark here

I should really stop doing that. Still, I couldn’t deny the fact, not opinion, that even in street clothes, Hoshino was a vision of cuteness. It’s even more interesting to know that she occasionally takes part in swimsuit gravure videos that can easily be found on the internet – which I refuse to watch because I only want to see Hoshino as a heroine that paved the way to make me interested in watching Pro-Wrestling again. I do not want to include “sex symbol” in my perspective of her. I mean, it’s true that I’ve come across a few of her gravure videos on adult streaming sites whenever I needed to release some stress, but I’ve always managed to stop myself from watching them. Bookmark here

Seriously, with the real person sitting so close to me, it was a struggle to keep these indecent thoughts at bay. It was imperative that I needed to concentrate on the road ahead and get us safely to the hotel I booked in advance for the night.Bookmark here

Okay, I thought. Resistance was impossible unless I satisfied my curiosity. One more glance, and that will be the last time.Bookmark here

And so, I took, yet again, another glance to my left – only to meet a glare from another pair of eyes.Bookmark here

“What’re you looking at!?” Hoshino growled.Bookmark here

It took almost all I had to stop myself from yelping. My eyes widened instead. “Just making sure you’re okay.”Bookmark here

Hoshino scoffed and went back to staring out the window. “I’m fine. Worry about yourself.” Bookmark here

I sighed. That was a close one. Luckily, that warning of her’s was just what I needed to get myself fully focused on driving straight. Bookmark here

Man, even a bit of anger can’t take away the cute looks of Hoshino’s face. Part of me admitted that it wanted to see that more often.Bookmark here

Then a smartphone began to vibrate while playing a ringtone I didn’t recognize. Acting like she had been waiting all her life for this moment, Hoshino took her phone out of her pocket and wasted no time in answering it.Bookmark here

“Hello?” she began. “Yeah, why did the bus leave without me? What’s going on?”Bookmark here

The caller must’ve been one of Hoshino’s colleagues. I had no idea why they weren’t answering her moments ago, but at least they were now. That came to me as a relief and allowed me to continue driving forward in a more stable manner. Bookmark here

“Hah?! Are you serious!?” That shocked response from Hoshino clearly didn’t sound good. “Eh… fine, fine. I’m just lucky a fan of mine offered me a ride… Yeah, I’m making sure he doesn’t try anything shady… Okay, I’m just hoping to see you guys within the next two days…. Okay, bye.”Bookmark here

With that, Hoshino disconnected from the phone call and pocketed her smartphone. She then sighed, and that made me worry for her sake.Bookmark here

“Sounds like you’ve finally learned what happened,” I said, trying to stay optimistic.Bookmark here

“Tell me about it,” Hoshino replied. “Turns out the people I called did try to answer me, but their thumbs kept missing the green phone icon every time I tried.”Bookmark here

“I don’t follow.” Bookmark here

“I got left behind because my colleagues were wasted.” Bookmark here

What Hoshino said caught me off guard. I almost swerved my car off the road, but luckily, I managed to regain control before it was too late.Bookmark here

“Whoa, whoa, whoa… Wasted?!” I parroted. “Everyone in the Heaven’s Arena bus was drunk?!”Bookmark here

“Everyone except the driver and me,” Hoshino clarified, much to my relief. “Because of the amazing reception we got shortly after the event, some of us thought it was a good idea to celebrate early on the bus. I was going to take a few shots, but then one of my friends accidentally spilled her drink on me. That was shortly before the bus made a stopover at the gas station. While some of my colleagues went into the convenience store to buy more drinks, I went to the bathroom to change into some spare clothes and brush my teeth.”Bookmark here

“Which explains why you had your bag with you instead of leaving it behind on the bus,” I added. Bookmark here

Hoshino nodded before continuing her recollection. “To make sure no one gets left behind in these situations, the bus driver always does a verbal headcount, which was a terrible idea this time,” she mumbled. “My name was called after one of the other female wrestlers, Koyama-san, announced herself in. She was sooooo drunk that she ended up saying ‘here!’ in my place while imitating my voice. Everyone else was too smashed to notice. That was why the bus left without me.”Bookmark here

All I could say to her testament was, “Wow… that’s messed up.”Bookmark here

“Anyway, the bus can’t turn back to get me because this is a one-way road,” Hoshino said. “Plus, the driver is pulling an all-nighter to get the other wrestlers to Kiyodera Hall. They’ll have plenty of time to sober up after that.”Bookmark here

“I won’t be able to drive us all the way there overnight,” I reminded her. “See, I already paid online for a night in a MyStays hotel not too far away from us, so we’ll have to spend the night there. Sorry about that.”Bookmark here

“It’s okay,” Hoshino said softly. “Night 2 of the Heaven’s Arena tour isn’t until the day after tomorrow, so I’ll be fine with taking a stop for now.” Then she jolted. “Wait a minute!” she said, making me shake too. “We’re not going to share a bed, right?!”Bookmark here

As tempting as that sounded, I refused to leave Hoshino with potential discomfort. Besides, there was nothing to worry about.Bookmark here

“Ah, n-no need to worry!” I assured her, still trying to shake off the prospect of sleeping in the same bed with her. “I actually booked a room with two beds! See, it was the only vacant room available, and I really wanted to attend all nights of the tour on time, so I had no choice but to go for it. At least the circumstance now means we’ll be using it properly.”Bookmark here

“Oh…” Hoshino calmed down after listening. “That’s a relief.”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah…” I agreed. “And even if the room did have one bed, I’d let you take it.”Bookmark here

From the left corner of my eye, Hoshino looked at me. “Really?”Bookmark here

I kept my eyes on the road. “O-of course! I’ll just settle for the couch.”Bookmark here

We went through a moment of silence.Bookmark here

Then…Bookmark here

“Fufufufufu…” Hoshino chuckled. That was a first for me. “Alright. If you say so, Igarashi-san.”Bookmark here

She said my name… Hoshino actually said my name! I went light-headed for a moment, trying to comprehend the bliss!Bookmark here

When I came to, my hands stabilized their hold on the steering wheel.Bookmark here

I became more determined to take Hoshino to Kiyodera Hall in time. On my pride as one of her fans, I swore it. Bookmark here

✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✯Bookmark here

Around thirty minutes later, we arrived at the MyStays hotel. Bookmark here

I wanted to be a gentleman for Hoshino and open her door for her right after I finished parking, but she opened it as soon as I pressed the switch to unlock all my doors. Thus, she was the first to get her things and leave the car.Bookmark here

As for me, well, a thought ran through my mind as I gathered up the plastic bags that contained my purchases from the convenience store.Bookmark here

With Hoshino no longer in the passenger’s seat, that meant I had a chance to get a nice, long whiff of her scent, which had definitely rubbed off on the seat when you consider how long she’d been sitting there.Bookmark here

I was this close to giving in, but no, I managed to pull myself out. Bookmark here

The only price to pay was a little bit of embarrassment when Hoshino heard how loud I slammed my door for seemingly no reason in her point of view. Bookmark here

✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✯Bookmark here

The hotel room I booked was almost extravagant. Hoshino and I slipped off our shoes before entering.Bookmark here

Cream-colored walls and a rugged floor gave the room a cozy atmosphere. Based on what I read when I first booked it, the room’s special features, not counting the essentials, were two beds with a wide gap between them (thank goodness now), a couch, a flatscreen tv on the wall, a closet for one person, and a kitchen with a stove, refrigerator, and microwave. Bookmark here

Hoshino chose the bed closest to the room’s door by placing her gym bag on top of it. Her choice implied she was still cautious of me, which I would’ve done in her shoes as well. I just hoped the room’s quality was good enough for her.Bookmark here

Then, while preparing a change of clothes to sleep in while keeping my distance, I caught a glimpse of Hoshino crossing her arms on the hem of her hoodie and slowly lifting it all the way up. Her flat and toned stomach gradually laid itself bare.Bookmark here

My hormones were alerted. Don’t tell me she’d already forgotten she wasn’t alone?Bookmark here

“Wait!” I urged her to stop. “If you’re going to change, let me go to the bathroom first.”Bookmark here

“Hmm?” Hoshino looked at me, indifferent. “It’s alright. I’m wearing a shirt under it.” Bookmark here

She pulled said shirt down then resumed taking off her hoodie.Bookmark here

And just as her hoodie went off, out bounced a pair of breasts no longer confined by it. Bookmark here

At the same time, the bathroom door slammed shut.Bookmark here

That… was… close!Bookmark here

Inside the bathroom, I leaned against the door, my face twisted and panting from arousal while my change of clothes laid sprawled on its tiled floor.Bookmark here

Hoshino may have been wearing conservative clothes, but her shirt and sweatpants were tight enough to give me a clear image of the curves in her slender figure. It almost didn’t matter whether she was showing off some skin or not. Bookmark here

While it’s true that her wrestling attire regularly exposed her stomach, shoulders, and two-thirds of her legs, watching her shed a layer of clothing in such a casual manner was a first that made my blood rush down.Bookmark here

Let me just say I needed some extra time in the bathroom after changing to my sleepwear and brushing my teeth.Bookmark here

When I felt ready, I left the bathroom. Initially, I was going to bed in a tank top and boxer shorts, but since I was sharing the room with someone else, I resorted to a loose shirt and sweat pants – coincidentally the same type of clothes Hoshino was wearing. Bookmark here

I found her in her bed with the covers keeping her warm, but she was also sitting up and still awake. Then I noticed a Nintendo Switch videogame console in her hands. It was a pleasant surprise to know Hoshino was a bit of dork outside the ring. Bookmark here

I, for one, had no issues with it.Bookmark here

“It’s pretty late, you know. You’re not going to sleep yet?” I asked her, a little regretful after realizing another meaning of the words that just came out of my mouth.Bookmark here

“You can turn off the lights now if you want,” Hoshino replied and went back to playing.Bookmark here

Sitting down on the edge of my bed, I asked next, “So what game is it?” Bookmark here

“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”Bookmark here

“Wha, Really?” The nervousness I had in Hoshino’s presence was instantly overshadowed by my gamer side. “I have that game too!” I dashed for my backpack and revealed a Nintendo Switch of my own before exchanging the game card inside for my own copy of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Hoshino perked up a little. “How much of it did you complete?”Bookmark here

“Well, I’m still trying to unlock all the characters,” she said. “So I’ve just been playing random matches in Smash mode since I’ll get a chance to unlock someone new every ten minutes of game time.”Bookmark here

“If more players join your match, the required game time gets cut in half,” I said, turning my Nintendo Switch on. “I can help you get those characters faster if you’re okay with that.” Bookmark here

Hoshino chuckled. She seemed to have brightened up a little. “Sure. Why not? Let’s go for it, Igarashi-san.”Bookmark here

My tiredness from all that car driving took a back seat as I prepared to connect my Switch with Hoshino’s wirelessly. I didn’t have to move closer to her to do this. So long as we were in the same room, there was no need to worry about connection signal issues.Bookmark here

“Do you wanna try fighting as a team?” I offered.Bookmark here

“Just don’t hold me back,” Hoshino answered, shooting me a competitive look while curling half a smile. “It isn’t fun for me unless the enemy A.I is set to the hardest level.” Bookmark here

I grinned back as our match began a 3-second countdown before starting. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”Bookmark here

While we were unaware of how much time had passed, I played Super Smash Bros. with Hoshino. She was both a reliable partner and a fierce opponent. Yes, after I helped her unlock the last five characters of the game, we played a few matches against each other one-on-one before calling it a day. Those matches were intense, full of laughter, friendly banter, and praise for each other’s skills.Bookmark here

Sometimes I won, and sometimes the victory went to her. In the end, it didn’t matter who had more wins. I was just content with how Hoshino and I were able to use gaming to keep the atmosphere between us at ease before we turned in for the night.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.