Chapter 75:

My Student Council President can Read My Mind.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

No matter how many times you fall on it, the dojo floor never gets any softer.

The noise that I make as my shoulder slams into the tatami sounds like a baby elephant in the middle of its death throes as it gets eaten by a leopard. Or maybe a crocodile with severe asthma. It's not a pleasant sound.

The more humiliating part is the guy standing over me as I sit with my butt flat on the floor. His hair is tousled and sweaty and his gi is coming undone, but at least he hasn't been dropped.

"Tatsu? You alright?" Haru peers down at me, like he can't process the fact that I just went down off a trip. I don't blame him. He wasn't supposed to drop me this early. We're practicing a sequence. One guy comes in and goes for the trip, the other sidesteps and goes for a roundhouse to the body, which the first guy catches. Repeat until we puke or pass out. The foot sweep is the easiest thing to know it's coming, and you know how you're gonna counter, and I don't want to be mean to Haru but it would be pretty obvious even if it wasn't practice. He telegraphs the living you-know-what out of his leg sweeps. He's not like Captain Takeno who would feint one way and then make my legs go up in the air like a cartoon character with his other foot. Or he'd kick me in the face when I went low to defend.

...Or, scratch that, it should be easy. Especially since Haru's not exactly the best karateka on the team (no disrespect, I'm just calling it like I see it). But I haven't been able to keep my mind on practice, or school, or anything, really, for a while. It's just filled with nothing but dread- my mom, my sister, my brother, the home I grew up in, Ayappi, etc. etc., and today it finally bit me in the ass.

Aoki-senpai huffs as he surveys the scene of the crime. He looks slightly disgusted at me. He usually looks at least a little annoyed, but I can definitely tell what he's thinking: This moron had HOW much advance warning and he still got dropped? In a practice exercise?! Jeez. He looks exactly like my middle school classmates did when I decided to show up at karate team practice one month into my third year with absolutely zero (count it) experience.

Aoki rubs his temple, walking slowly over toward me as I stand up and my cheeks start to burn from embarrassment. "Aikawa, sit out for a second. Kouga, be uke again." Beside him, Daisuke Aramaki from 1-5 sighs in relief, happy to have a quick break.

"Yes!" Haru hurries over in front of our new vice-captain, quickly getting in his fighting stance. Looking at them across from each other, they're sort of alike- Haru's hair slicks down when it gets sweaty, and Aoki-senpai's spikes up even more, like a shonen protagonist, but both have the same intense looks of focus and determination as they circle each other. Maybe that's what sets them apart from me. They give it their all, and I can't stop focusing on other things. I guess that's why I'll never get a black belt like them.

Both of them execute the sequence perfectly. See, it wasn't that hard. And because I wasn't giving it all my undivided attention, I got tripped like a dumbass. This is what separates me from the black belts. On a normal day, I never pay much attention to the fact that everyone else is at least shodan and I'm not. I'm able to match them well enough. Until something like this happens. Then I realize that they've been doing it for their whole lives and I haven't. It's about time for me to be eligible for my black belt, but if I keep making stupid mistakes like this? Not a chance.

...Why does it matter? In only a few months, I'll have to move and start the whole thing over again. Show up at my new school's dojo, say, "Hey, I'm Aikawa, I only started doing karate a couple years ago and I'm an ikkyu, nice to meet you," watch them all react like I've got fresh turds hanging out of my mouth, and get my ass kicked every day in practice because they think I'm making fun of them.

Am I even gonna stick with karate when I move? Or just give up, like I have everything else?

"Aikawa! You're up! Tori again!"

"Gotcha, Vice-Captain!" Quickly, I hurry to my position opposite Haru. He's staring me down with such intensity that I swallow. I've seen him get laser-focused like this much more often in the past few months. I wish I could do that like him. He's gotten so much better recently, and I haven't.

This time, I know what's coming. I'm able to dodge and kick even though I still can't stop the intrusive thoughts of Tamaki crying and Ayappi's dejected face. Man, I'm a loser. The girl I have a crush on actually felt sorry for me and wanted to do something to help me and instead of thanking her and telling her that I liked her I told her to stop living in dreamland. I deserve to get punched.

"Rotate!" Vice Captain Aoki interrupts us all with a shout. "Kouga, you're with me. Aramaki and Aikawa, you two pair up. Aramaki starts tori."

All of us first-years respond with a chorus of "Got it!" before hurrying over to our positions.

I've gotta focus. Aramaki is. Forget my family for now. Forget Ayappi. Now's not the time. I can dwell on it all I want later. Right now, all I can do is get this perfect. Leg first. Now he dodges-

"'Sup. It's audit time~"

Instantly, the door swings open, a chirpy female voice rings out, and Aramaki's foot goes right into the side of my ribs. I drop to the ground, struggling to breathe, with the figure of the student council president leaning on the door frame upside-down in my vision.

God dammit.

"Hey, Kawa-chan! Kawa-chan! Sorry! You alive? You're alive, right?" In a panic, Aramaki rushes right over to me, shaking me.

"Just...let me lay here for a little bit..."

There's exactly zero people focused on Reika Suzuran, which is a little surprising. Instead, they're all looking at me. Aramaki with panic, Captain Nagase with concern, Haru with surprise, Vice Captain Aoki with even more disgust than usual, the other guys just gawking...and even the president is staring at me. She's smirking a little, too. Oh, man. If I thought being embarrassed in front of the entire team was bad...I just got my ass kicked in front of the most powerful student in the school. If I ever end up in the student council room, they're all gonna call me "that guy who got nailed" from now until the end of time.

"Hello?" Suzuran shrugs. "You're not ignoring me, are you? Rude."

Nagase-senpai immediately rushes over to her. "Um, good afternoon, President..." He's not very confident with girls. This makes interacting with the student council president worse. I'm glad I've never really had to speak to her much. She seems nice enough, but I've heard rumors of what happens when you cross her. The one about her hospitalizing an entire gang at Higashi sounds like bullshit, but you never know...

"Where's Torakichi?"

"Who?" Nagase looks positively confused.

"You forgot your own captain?" The president's brow furrows. "Black belt? Top 50 of the third-year class? Likes to read Janp when he thinks nobody's watching? Afraid of the dark? Really funny accent-"

"Takeno-senpai has retired..." Nagase sighs.

"Boo." She puffs her cheek out, fuming. "You guys pass the audit, by the way. No bullying detected."

Nagase-senpai positively glows in relief, sighing and looking toward the ground as I slowly right myself, dusting my gi off. At least everyone's paying attention to someone else now. But no one's talking. Everyone is peering at Nagase-senpai and the president, who themselves are not saying anything. It's the weirdest standoff I've ever seen.

At last, Nagase looks up and realizes that she hasn't left, and his eyes go wide again. " there anything else..."

"I'm just gonna watch for a bit. Keep going. Pretend I'm not here." She saunters back toward the door with a smirk, leaning with one foot up as she surveys the dojo.

Nagase, flustered, turns back to us. "Alright...the group with me, ashi-barai into step-back mawashi-geri! The group with Aoki, switch to choku-zuki into age-uke and ura-tsuki with the other hand! Got it?"

The entire dojo responds with a chorus of "Yes!"

Take my uncomfortableness about having to focus on practice when I have so many other things to worry about, make it times 1000. I feel like an office worker when the CEO shows up. I am terrified to make a mistake. Absolutely terrified.

I'm back with Haru now. He's still hyper-focused. When he's concentrating, it's like he gets in a trance where he can't see anything but his goal. I bet he doesn't even realize that the president is here watching. I have to match him. Again and again, we execute the sequence- punch into upward block and return uppercut to the body- like robots-

"Reika-senpai! What on earth are you doing here?! You said you were just going to the teachers' office!"

Another unfamiliar voice, this one high-pitched and exasperated. And then a fist hits my solar plexus like a bullet.

Once again, I hit the ground, flat on my back like a dying bug. This time, the world is spinning. I just barely catch sight of a dark-haired girl next to the president.

"Tatsu! Tatsu!" That's Haru's voice. He's poking me. Slowly, the world starts to come back into focus, still upside down. Now there's footsteps. Nagase-senpai is leaning down over me, his straight bangs framing his kinda delicate face, filled with panic. " okay? Nothing broken, right? Right?"

The most I can choke out is "Uh-huh..."

"Cold compress! Where's the cold compress?!" Captain Nagase is completely beside himself. Oh, no. Right in front of the president, too.

"I'm fine..." Slowly, I sit up. I just got the wind knocked out of me. But it's happened more than once today...

"Just let him rest for a bit," Aoki-senpai grumbles. "He'll be fine."

As I sit up, the president stares in my direction and grins, then turns back to the other girl. "Yui, look what you did. Poor guy."

It's right now that I manage to get a look at the other girl. She's the exact opposite of President Suzuran- her uniform is well-maintained, her skirt's nearly down to her knees, her hair is its natural color, and I can clearly tell that she's a high-strung type too. "I did that?!" she sputters indignantly.

"Duh. Don't interrupt when there's fighting spirit at work. It's dangerous." The president puffs her chin out, proud of herself.

The other girl's so angry, she can barely form words. Instead, a bunch of syllables come out of her mouth as she turns a nice shade of pink. "Reika-senpai, you know how much paperwork we have?! The study camp...and the sports festival...and the second-years' school trip...and Miki-senpai and I have been doing everything while you're out here GOOFING OFF!"

"Heh heh. Sorry, Yui-chan."

The other girl's face twists and she suddenly grabs the president by the arm. "We're going back right now!" She turns to Nagase-senpai, who's still standing there, confused. "Sorry, Nagase-kun..." She bows her head before she attempts to go for the door.

"It's fine, Tsukumo..."

"Oh?" The president suddenly smirks as the other girl perp-walks her out of the dojo. "Is that the guy you have a-"

The door slams before she can finish, but all of us can hear the "REIKA-SENPAI!" screamed from outside.

It takes a few minutes to get everything restarted, especially since Captain Nagase appears to have blue screened from embarrassment. But eventually, practice resumes...for everyone except me. I sit in the locker room, ice pack on my aching midsection, as the yells and thuds of fighting echo from outside. I'm not going out there again. I'm going to stew in my embarrassment until practice is over. I just made a fool out of myself in front of the damn student council president because I couldn't just forget about Ayappi and everything else for one second.

Man, I suck.

It could be minutes later, or it could be hours. I don't know. Everybody else starts coming in, with a peppy "Good work out there!" or two exchanged. I still just lay with my back on the bench and the ice pack over my stomach. I don't want to change. I don't even want to get up. When I leave, all I have to look forward to is a home that we're gonna lose in months, and a family that can't do anything about it.

"Aikawa?" Captain Nagase is leaning over me, his uniform half-undone. "Are you feeling better? You don't need to go to the hospital, do you?"

Facing the lockers, Haru whips his head around toward me and the captain. Unlike the other guys, who are still slowly changing after another exhausting training session, his pants are already down around his ankles. There goes the most efficient guy on the team. He's gonna be out the door before I even get up. Not that I want to get up.

"I'm fine...just tired."

"Alright." He gulps. "Don't push yourself." As he takes the gi off next to me- damn, he's pale as a fish, I didn't realize- he mutters, "By the way, Aikawa, you missed it, but the Ryuurai Ninomiya Dojo- that's the one that Takeno-senpai's family runs- is looking for a couple part-timers to assist with classes for kids and seniors and such. Are you interested?"

"I can't...I'm moving next month."

"Oh." His face downcast, Nagase-senpai turns back to the locker. "Good luck."

Slowly, everyone changes back into their uniforms and files out, and then the only people left are me and Haru. Why's he still here? He got naked the quickest out of anyone-

"Tatsurou? Seriously. Are you alright?"

"Yeah." I barely move.

"You're not sick, are you?"


He really is concerned about me. But number one, it's kinda hard to have a serious conversation when my face is directly opposite his crotch (Yes, I have actually seen his dick before. And almost everyone else's on the team, too. And they've seen mine. It's just a locker room. Get your mind out of the gutter.). And number two, all that fills my mind is jealousy. Haru's the closest friend I've ever had and he cares enough about me that he's worried for my health and all I can think about is how once I move he'll have the girl I love all to himself. She crushes on him so bad and he doesn't even care.

I take it back. I don't suck. I'm a piece of trash.

"You wanna walk home together?" Haru cocks his head.

"I take the train home."

"Oh. To the station then?"

"Nah. Go on ahead."

He gives me a glance over the shoulder, and then exits, leaving me alone in the small, musty locker room.

Like it or not, I've gotta go home.

It takes me what feels like an hour to change, but I finally get my uniform back on. Man, I stink, and I didn't even go the whole practice. The dojo is dark when I leave. As I gently close the door, I turn around to come face-to-face with the student council president.

She stares at me, sizing me up for a second, not saying anything.

"Um...are you looking for Nagase-senpai? He's already gone home."

"I'm looking for you, Aikawa-kun."

"Me? Is it about performance?" Thank God I didn't say "Is it about me getting dropped on my ass?"

"Nah. I'll let Yura-kun deal with the nasty stuff. I stay out of students' personal matters...except when someone needs my help. That's when I get involved."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"The student body elected me to lead them because they put their trust in me. That's why you elected me, too. Because you wanted someone to fight for you when you're facing problems. That's my job. Whenever any of my precious students are in trouble, I won't leave them alone. When any of them reach out their hands for help, I'll be there."

"But I didn't elect were already the president when I enrolled..."

"But you would have elected me if you could, right?" She smirks. I seriously don't understand this girl. She's sounding like a toku hero. Saving people? B.S. I think she's just someone who sticks her nose where it doesn't belong and acts proud of that.

"Uh, maybe..."

"You're in a pickle, huh, Aikawa-kun? Your family's in debt to the Yakuza? Your beloved family home is on the line? They threatened your cute little sister? That's crazy!"

Instantly, my blood runs as cold as the Arctic. "How...did you know..."

Shit. My secret's out. If she blabs it to anyone but Ayappi, my life is over.

Did Ayappi tell her? She's the only one I said anything about it to...but she wouldn't do something like that...

"A little birdie told me you were having a rough time." The president shrugs. "She begged me for help. So I came."

My head is still swimming. This girl, who seems to think she's some kind of superhero, is holding my secret in her hands. If she wanted to make me bark like a dog and kiss her feet, she could.

"I'm not gonna let criminals ruin one of my precious students' happiness." The president puffs out her chest. "As long as I, Reika Suzuran, am student council president of Shinchoushi Academy High School, you can count on that."

And then, the anger suddenly comes pouring out.

"I didn't ask for your help. Leave me alone."

It's so arrogant. She's one high-school girl and she's acting like a superhero that's gonna reverse my family's debt with a snap of her fingers. I know there's rumors about her, but this is way bigger than any gang at Higashi. Does it make her feel good to do this?

It's delusional.

The grin drops off her face. "But you need it."

"I need it?" I spit, staring her right in her obnoxious face. She's got hair dyed orange and fake nails and her top button unbuttoned and no jacket and her skirt's pulled up to her butt and this is the person who thinks she'll "help" me? Give me a break. "You think you're gonna save us like you're some hero or something? You can help me by leaving me the hell alone!"

As I whirl around to head for the station, I hear her voice again. "Are you happy with that, Aikawa-kun?"

"With what?"

"Being forced to give up everything, when you know you could have done something about it. When you know you could have reached out to someone. 'I couldn't do anything, but at least I didn't impose on anyone. I went about it the right way.' Even though you know it'll make others upset. Even if you know that they want to do something to help you, your pride won't allow it. Is that going to satisfy you? The worst possible outcome, just for the sake of your ego? Are you happy with that?"

It takes all the willpower I have to not strangle this girl or do anything other than turn around and growl, "Keep your nose out of my family's business."

Then, I storm toward the train station, not even bothering to look back.

Behind me, another pair of footsteps follows.

Steward McOy