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Also temporarily known as "Teamwork of Youth"
Previous thread: >>44887 Character blurbs: touhou-project.com/others/theater
I wasn't too concerned about things, honestly. And yet... a tinge of apprehension was present in my thoughts. How annoying. Yuugi was looking at me, staring rather, and seemed to be waiting for me to say something else. I felt a little reassured by her. She was a confident woman, sometimes overwhelmingly so. It was impossible not to be a little jealous of her outlook on life.
“Yeah,” I said after another moment of quiet reflection, “I think that I would like your help today. Do you think that you could show me the ropes?”
“I'm not a manager, you know,” she replied.
“You're a teacher and you're used to dealing with athletes. I'm an amateur.”
“Just use your zeal and head and you'll be fine,” she reassured me. It wasn't just a dismissive off-the-cuff remark either. The intense self-assurance behind her every stare indicated that everything she said was really meant. It was the absolute and unfiltered truth. “What you need the most is high-energy and a good spirit. It's just a matter of focus.”
I shook my head,” I'm sure that it is, but I'd like to get off on the right foot.”
“Fine, I'll give you an introduction at least.” She let out a hearty laugh and said, “I'm sure that you're familiar with the club anyways. You've gotten kicked out plenty of times.”
I couldn't help but laugh too. That much was true. I was an unwelcome observer most of the time, making inappropriate comments and bugging Alice. That fact helped relax me a little.
“Listen up people,” Yuugi called the scattered students in the gym over. Her voice boomed, filling the vast space with her words, “There's been a new addition to the rhythmic gymnastics steam. This fellow here,” she casually pointed her thumb at me, “is your new manager. He'll be in your care but remember that you'll be in his care as well. Try not to be too difficult.”
The assembled members murmured and talked amongst themselves, sizing me up with sidelong glances. “Yo, Yuugi,” I whispered to the teacher, “could you also show me how they usually do things? I'll read things later but I'm not sure where to start here.”
“Alright, guys, let's give your new manager a little demonstration of your talents. Get the hoops and clubs.”
Half of the assembled members went off into the equipment room, bringing back a few mid-sized hoops and a pair of clubs. Only two of them actually performed. One took a club and the other a hoop. It was a pretty awesome display of flexibility and dexterity. As soon as they began, they gracefully moved about to some unheard choreography. The club was deftly juggled and moved about as the girl bent forward, contorted and assumed several impossible-looking positions and stances all within the space of a few seconds. Likewise the girl with the hoop demonstrated adroit use of her tool, dancing about with well-timed steps. They exchanged equipment in a casual toss, reversing their roles with ease and surefootedness. The display culminated in a final spin and brandishing of their assisting apparatus.
“Nice, nice,” I clapped at the end of performance, “that was real nice.”
“Not bad,” Yuugi stated, "keep practicing and you might have a shot in the competition this year.” She turned to me, adding an aside, “most of their time here is stretching and practicing with the equipment. The fundamentals are key. Worrying about the choreography is something best done once they're fully confident in their skills.”
“I'll keep that in mind.”
“Good, see that you handle yourself,” she gave me a hard slip on my back. Stung like hell. With a friendly smile she waved goodbye and left me to it.
Everyone seemed to go and return to routine, ignoring me. Alice was in the bleachers, off to the side of the gym, staring at me. I predicted she would. Still didn't make it any easier. I had no idea what she was thinking (or I didn't want to assume the worst). On the other side, two girls were talking. One was wearing a leotard but I hadn't seen her perform or line up when Yuugi called them over. The other was in her school uniform, smiling. Didn't look too bad, either. I liked redheads. If she was on the team then I had plenty to look forward to.
Lastly, there was a guy off practicing by himself in the corner. I filtered him out immediately. I didn't need to worry about a guy in a tight form-fitting outfit. He could manage himself.
 Talk to Alice about the team
 Meet with people right away
“What are you doing all the way over here?” I asked Alice, knowing the answer already. I was relieved to see that she wasn't obviously peeved at me. A cross schoolgirl is a fearsome thing to behold. Worse still to suffer. At least the ones that I knew. They had a knack for getting under my skin.
“I was reading, actually,” she held up the book in her hands for me to see. A novel by some guy with a hard to pronounce name, probably written before the invention of the lightbulb. Very dull.
“You've chosen a strange spot to read. There's noise from practice and the lighting isn't all that great for reading.”
“I like to be here in case I'm needed,” she stated humorlessly. That was about all that I would get about her, I felt. She wasn't the kind of person to talk about what she was thinking. Her reticent nature could even be charming at times. When she was quiet and lost in thought, she could look rather cute. Not that I would tell her because she'd misinterpret what I meant by it. I didn't need more grief born from misunderstandings.
“Maybe you should just go ahead and join the club,” I told her, “you'd look rather good in a leotard. Plus you seem to be interested anyways.”
“...I don't see a need to join,” Alice brushed off the suggestion with a plain reply. I'd love to know why she did the things she did just once. Maybe I'd be spared from her nagging more often.
“That's a shame. Still, you know a lot about the people here, right? I mean, you talk to them.”
“Are you asking as just a concerned manager?”
“Of course!” I nodded, pulling out the makeshift badge that I had made for myself. A lot of time went into the paper construction. “See this?” I showed her the glittering emblem made from the junk I found lying around the classroom, “I've taken on a responsibility and this is the proof.”
“The 'manager' written below the emblem really adds to the dignity of it,” she observed in a very deadpan way. She was too good at it. Still better than being called an idiot outright, I felt.
“So then, won't you please tell me anything that could help me?”
With a sigh, Alice put down her book. She began to explain the dynamics of the rhythmic gymnastics team. There was a larger number people in the club and who came to training than actual competitors and people who took it seriously. This lead to those who wanted to compete to stick together and practice routines and technique on their own time. The girls I had seen earlier were one half of a quartet that had been together since they started school. They were all seniors and were graduating soon. That left the club without a team of performers. No one else bothered to train in groups.
“Isn't it a bit pointless for the club to continue if they aren't going to send people to competitions?” I asked, sitting down next to her. I watched someone do an impossible-looking bend of their leg.
“In rhythmic gymnastics there's also solo performances. The team theoretically has someone who is good enough to participate in exhibitions and competitions,” her gaze listed to the opposite side of the gymnasium, making it certain that she was talking about one of the chatting girls.
“That must be a lot of pressure, huh? To be the only good person in the club.”
“She isn't the only one,” Alice hesitated a bit, no doubt thinking about how much was appropriate to tell me.
“You know I'll just find out if there's something wrong sooner or later, I'd rather hear the truth from you, whom I know I can trust.”
“That's the nicest thing you've said to me all day,” she once again broke out her deadpan voice for that one. Dealing with a sarcastic Alice was... a change of pace. “Fine, since you're the manager and are asking directly, I guess I'll tell you. This better not just be a pretext to chat up the girls.”
“It mostly isn't,” I assured her with a wink. Her 'hmph' meant that it was a good enough explanation.
She told me about something that had happened a few months back, “Kaenbyou there, the one wearing her uniform, was the star. It looked like she would go on to competitions and easily win them. She hurt herself a while ago, in an accident she claimed happened when she was trying something new late at night. The result is that it's painful for her to do some of the more demanding moves, which rules her out of any competition this year.”
“Then it was fortunate that someone else showed up.”
“That's the thing. The current hope for the school is her friend. She joined after Kaenbyou's accident and has been dedicating herself nonstop to be as good as she possibly can be. It's not for me to say any more, sorry,” she refused to say anything else. It felt like I was still missing a piece of the puzzle.
I thanked her anyway, “Hopefully I'll be able to be a competent manager. Thank you for helping me understand the way things are.”
“Do you want my advice?”
“Sure, go ahead,” I said, knowing that it was better to hear her out right away instead of later when I was in trouble.
“Take this seriously.”
“It's not good enough for you to try for efficiency,” she told me while watching the seniors practice part of a routine together. “If you really want to succeed and help out the club then know exactly what you're doing. That means studying the rules and being understanding of the needs of the people here. You're not a coach, your job isn't to tell people how to improve. You just have to make it easy for them to do the best they can.”
“You'd probably be a better manager than I am,” I admitted easily enough. She seemed to know what she was talking about.
“No, not for this club and not under the present circumstances,” her words hinted at that something that had been left unsaid earlier. Rather vexing, that.
I thought about what I was doing. It seemed to be a consistent theme that I should take my time to get a better understanding first before actually doing things. It would be wrong of me to simply act and interact with the others before at least having some clue of what I was doing. As much as it pained for me to admit, study was the answer to my problems. I had done as much as I could do in the gym for the moment. Anything else would be just pleasure. And there would be plenty of time for that later.
 Read the files and consult Yuugi when needed.
 Alice is the ideal tutor. Ask her to help out.
>>45407 Not yet anyways. Turns out that work and sleep deprivation trumps any desire to jump into things. I like to relax and play long games so I'll end up waiting until things are less hectic and I'm less tired.
>>45411 Neither of the choices are about chatting up girls.
The choice basically can be summed up as 'mostly self-study with a dash of consultation about the very specific' and 'get non-book help from somebody who is involved (Alice)'. Any other connotations are just icing on the cake, really. Arc will prepare himself either way.
As informative as Alice may be, Arc shouldn't be squeezingasking Alice for personal information regarding the team so early as much as that may do more damage than good. Understanding the routines and improvising with the team with some consulting from Yuugi may be the way to go.
[x] Read the files and consult Yuugi when needed.
I get the feeling Alice already told us all she was willing to. We can fallback later but first, we should learn the rules and about the people here.
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Ok, so I'm taking a day or so off to relax and decompress after a hellish week. So no update. Video games and booze win out. I should have a lighter schedule and be able to return to faster updates afterwards.
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Under any other set of circumstances, preparing for something I had no real interest in would have gotten an annoyed grunt at best. Most of the time, however, I acted with much less restraint and decorum. My teachers could attest to that fact. Skipping classes and fence-hopping were relatively standard ways of dealing with stuff. So it was unusual to concentrate on something that I wasn't really into. For a few days after I studied the collections of documents. Going to school, coming home, I didn't really act out or do anything special other than dedicating myself to better understanding of the sport and my supposed duties. I popped by once or twice in Yuugi's office for a consultation, whenever there was something particularly opaque or difficult to understand.
Getting answers from Yuugi wasn't especially helpful. She was no expert in instruction, preferring to leave things to allusions about the importance of earnestness and the importance of having a positive attitude. She was a character coach, not a dispenser of facts and figures. Still, I couldn't complain about time spent talking to her. Even if I didn't come away with much in the way of practical knowledge, I at least was upbeat about giving things another try. It felt like I was being given free rein. There was probably a lot an outsider could say about the hands-off approach of the teachers in the school but I wasn't about to complain. It suited my independent agenda just fine.
I finally showed up back at the gym on Saturday. The half day meant that those who did practice would be in there longer, working harder. Limited resources on campus meant that space was divided between the clubs. The six girls wearing spandex shorts and playing volleyball were a welcome addition. I moved on before I drooled a little too much, going to check up on the team members. I greeted some of the seniors as they came from the changing room and we talked for a while. Normally, since I was staring at them with impure thoughts in my mind, female athletes hardly even gave me the time of day. My more altruistic concerns must have shone through my perverted veneer enough for them to treat me nicely enough.
Those girls were into the sport because they had fun performing together. Not a bad motivation. Still, it meant that they didn't really care about the club as an institution as such and didn't have much to add about how to improve performance. I tried not to get too drawn into conversation. When they started talking about me instead and why I was doing what I was doing, I tactfully found a way to excuse myself. They clearly saw my evasion for what it was, but only just smiled and let me go. They'd probably talk about me in private. When it came to girls, that was a mixed bag.
Chin up, eyes forward.
I moved through the ranks of the club, seeing if I could find something I could do or someone to help. Like I had been told, most of the members didn't really care about things enough to take me too seriously. A couple of first years pretty much admitted that they were only in there because they thought it cool to dance around with a big floppy ribbon. A bright future for the club, no doubt. The last pair consisted of girls my age, still dressed in their uniforms.
“I suppose that we're dead last then, Mr. Manager,” The redhead said with a wry smile when I finally got to her. This impish attitude suited my preconceptions just fine. A redhead without a fire in her was no redhead at all. Maybe I was projecting. Her eyes seemed lively and sharp, maybe more so than if she had been a brunette. Her intensely-colored hair framed her face on top with long and mostly even bangs that bordered her eyebrows. Elsewhere, around either ear, twin braids that were about shoulder length were meticulously fashioned.
“I take it that you've been watching me go around the gym, Kaenbyou,” I shrugged with a 'guilty as charged' sort of look.
“You've done you're homework,” she shrugged in return, as if to make a show to the girl who was standing uneasily behind her. She kept out of the conversation, looking as if she preferred to be invisible. Or at the very least, smaller and more easily hidden behind her friend. Kaenbyou added, “a proper manager knows the names of everyone on the team but you have me at a disadvantage here.”
“Arc, II-C, we've probably seen each other in school before.”
“You played against the teacher recently. We were forced to watch.”
“I'm guessing your loss is why you're here,” she said. How sharp, she guessed my real reason for being a manager straight away.
“That was part of it,” I admitted without getting into the other details surrounding my sudden desire to help the club out.
“I wonder if you're taking it seriously enough?” she laughed, answering her own question in the same breath, “the fact that you're talking to us means that you at least have some intention of doing your job. Or maybe you're here to pick up girls? Sorry, but I don't really go out with guys I just met.”
The underlying principle behind successful banter was matching tone and thinking on one's feet. Being quick-witted was a must.
 “What a shame, I like lively types like you.”
 “Don't flatter yourself, I'm more interested in your friend.”
The only thing I could think of would be that Yuugi in a way kept Arc from ever feeling sour while he manages the team.
Interestingly Alice probably would have been more informative regarding the routines and and probably would have most likely a different approach (formal/aloof?) to things than Yuugi; who's seemingly more improvisational handling of the team only goes so far by herself alone.
“Geez,” she rolled her eyes, “I hope that you know that that a line like that could never work.” With a playful wink, she added, “it's important to try, though. Being of good cheer is important in a guy. You at least have a chance because you're not a gloomy-type.”
“Great to know,” I smiled, glad that I had read the mood right. That was a skill that not only required perception but a whole lotta luck, especially when it came to girls my age. Anything said thoughtlessly was likely to result in soured dispositions. “I won't give up at my first miss,” I warned with a wink of my own.
“I have only myself to blame for that then,” she said.
“You can't help being cute, but those twin braids certainly help.” It felt like the uniform code was much stricter for men. We could do much less to alter our appearance than girls could. Not that that wasn't a good thing. Trendy types with dyed hair or piercings were an eyesore.
“Complimenting a girl's hair?” she giggled. It was an unguardedly honest reaction. “What a fast followup. You're quite the smooth operator,” she concluded.
Thanks were in order. Mental thanks since even I wasn't brazen enough to act like a completely shameless playboy. Maybe if I were more popular... but I was getting ahead of myself. Still, it was time to use the good will for a good end. The ice was broken. I switched the subject slightly, “as manager, it's my intention to keep an eye on all of the members and their needs. If there's anything you ever need or want changed, just ask.”
“Good move switching to the diligent manager mode,” she commented rather savvily. I just couldn't get the upper hand. She maintained her smile of amusement as she added, “I'm not really an active member of the club anymore. As such, I don't really need anything. I'm just here to support others.”
“Even if you're not active, I'm sure you have input to give. In order to have a strong team it's important to have different opinions for me to process.”
“Look at you, trying to sound so responsible and grownup. Nice. Not really the right way to conquer my heart, might I add.”
“This isn't about picking you up,” I was the one to roll my eyes that time. “What I do with whom in private has nothing to do with my work ethic.”
“Fair enough,” she shrugged with just enough pause to make me suspect incredulity on her behalf. “Say, we've danced around it long enough now, aren't you going to ask why I'm not an active member anymore?”
“I heard you got injured during practice,” I told her. “I'm not callous enough to bring it up first.”
“I gathered. But you probably aren't aware of the specifics.”
“Should I be?” I asked, a gut feeling telling me to be a bit circumspect.
“You're the manager right?” she was still smiling, but it felt different than before, “you should know everything about the team. It's history, the people in it and what you can potentially do for the future.”
“Not my style to force things out of people,” I said after a moment's pause. That was true enough. Besides, I had a pretty poor track record of forcing resolution so far. Hedging my bets was the smart way to do things.
“You're not forcing anything, just asking.”
“Fine, fine,” I could see that we weren't going to move on anytime soon if I didn't ask. I caved, “how exactly did you get injured?”
“Oh, it was just a stupid accident. Could have happened to anyone,” she mused, “though it probably didn't help that I was really tired at the time. Goes to show that taking it easy and resting once in a while is important.” After telling me that, her bright and playful smile returned. Ah, I understood. It was a feint. Crafty and oddly manipulative of her. She was just messing with me. “End result is that it'll take a long while for my tendons and muscles and whatever to recover fully. Makes anything strenuous a big no-no as far as the doctors are concerned.”
“I'm sorry to hear it. You were pretty good from what I hear.”
“Me? Nah,” she dismissed my praise, “I was just the only one in the club who took things seriously. It was only natural for me to be chosen by default to represent the school. Never won anything anyways.”
 Chat about the club's future prospects
 Ask about what brought her to the club in the first place
“Feels like I'm getting interrogated here,” she joked.
“Well, you don't have to answer if you don't want to,” I told her, “I was just curious. Rhythmic gymnastics isn't exactly an immensely popular sport. The archery club or swim club have a lot more members.”
My reasoning gave her pause. I wasn't sure if she was thinking of something snarky to say or what. In the end she simply agreed with my qualification, “I suppose that this isn't the most popular athletic club in the school by far.”
“I just meant that you must really like it or something. Or if you just found it interesting for no good reason, then that's fine too,” I said a little defensively. I realized that I had stuck my foot in my mouth a little. Sorry, I didn't mean it like that – I apologized with my eyes.
“There's no real reason for me joining the club,” she explained, “it was just something to do after school instead of going back home and I felt like it was fun. The fact that it wasn't very hard for me to get into the groove probably helped too.”
“I feel like I missed out by not coming to watch you in the past. I get the feeling that you're better than you've let on.”
She laughed, adding with no uncertain delight, “You're just saying that because you'd have liked seeing me in a leotard.”
“Busted,” I laughed as well, “can you blame me though?”
“Not if you're honest about it,” she shook her head with feigned disappointment, as if saying that there was no cure for being a moron.
“Seriously though,” I said, “I think I've come to appreciate the subtlety involved just by reading a mountain of papers on the subject. Anyone who enjoys themselves is bound to be fun to watch. Those seniors may not be that talented but you can see that they're having fun with it.”
“Well, maybe after I'm all better I'll get back into it. If only to disappoint you,” she joked, adding another of her coquettish winks. Plucking at my heartstrings and playing the right melody there, sweetie.
“I'll gladly help you out if you want to get back into it.”
“But that's then, what about now? How are you going to improve the club?”
“I need a plan first and for that, I need to talk to the members and get to know what needs to improve. That's the main reason I'm talking to you anyways.”
She raised an eyebrow skeptically. I would have done the same if I was talking to me. That aura of dodginess that I was cursed with made taking me seriously a difficult proposition. But my winning smile always smoothed things over. And it at least got her to not challenge my claim for a second time, if not outright ignore it. She shook her head again, and looked like she was about to sigh, “This is the part of the conversation where we finally acknowledge the girl standing a few paces behind me, trying to seem invisible to you, right?”
'Now that you mention it...” I was glad she brought it up.
“I'd be surprised if she even talked to you. She's probably feeling uncomfortable at being mentioned in this conversation which she can totally hear,” she directed the last part to an obvious target.
“Is anything the matter with her?” By the process of elimination, she was logically the person I was supposed to help out. I had no idea who she was or what her problem was.
“She... just doesn't deal well with your type,” Kaenbyou stated it in an evasive manner. It raised more questions than it answered.
“Listen, don't take it personally, it's just the way she is. Just try a more hands off approach to being a manager and there won't be a problem.”
“I can't really do that,” I told her. For one, I'd never accomplish Yuyuko's demand that way. I brushed aside the redhead for now, focusing on her friend. She stood like a child who was being scolded, avoiding eye contact and trying to make herself look as small as possible. Was my presence really that much of a downer? I found myself unintentionally talking to her like I would to a scared kid, “Heya, I'm Arc. Your new manager. And who might you be?”
No reply. I stood silently, smiling (in what I thought was a reassuring manner) and waiting for her to say something. I was sure that she was just a bit shy. Yeah, a bit childlike but endearing in moderation. Not a trait found in most girls in my generation, I had to admit. Otherwise she was like any other cute girl at school. Her long dark hair reached down to her waist and had a ponytail in the back tied by a ribbon on her head. Good body proportions too. Slender but with enough of her there in the aesthetically pleasing places. She could totally be a star in a leotard,.. so I caught myself thinking. With a ribbon or clubs she'd look right at home.
“Just give it up,” Kaenbyou placed her hand on my shoulder, keeping me from approaching any closer.
“Nonsense, I'm a friendly soul, even if she's shy I can take things at her pace.”
“You're just going to upset her at this rate,” she warned me, “just accept that you can't always instantly make friends. Or even get close to everyone.”
“I can't give up, she's the star of the team now, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least concern myself with any problems she might have.”
“Figured it out, huh?” Kaenbyou said. “I'm her best friend and I'm telling you that she doesn't like being put on the spot.”
Giving up without at least getting some sense of what was up was not an option. Not if I planned to take things seriously. Being ignored was the least optimal resolution. Being disliked was preferable since at least there was somewhere to go from that.
 At least get her to say her name
 Ask her best friend out to see if there's a reaction
Was writing but sleep wins out. Will hopefully get back to it in a few hours, soon enough.
>>45619 Yeah, I fail to see how coaxing someone to say something isn't also a provoking a reaction. Especially when they clearly don't want to talk. Both choices are the same in that regard.
>>45620 You're wasting your time with posts like that (kind of like I am with this reply). Haven't counted those votes and won't start anytime soon. Read the first post in the story. Everyone else: sorry about bringing it up but I'd rather have less votes by people who clearly have read the story from the start.
I brushed aside the redhead and focused on her reticent friend. A restatement of my name and another winning smile didn't get me anywhere. So I tried a little harder, talking about myself as a way to make her feel a little more comfortable. I told her about my newfound admiration for the club and how I usually slacked off instead of bothering with any afterschool activities. That didn't get so much as a peep out of her. Kaenbyou told me with her eyes that I was just wasting my time but I wasn't easily discouraged. Hitting a wall was only a problem when the wall was too high to climb. So far it seemed highly climbable.
“I'm really average when it comes to sports. Perhaps lazy is a better way to put it,” I blathered on, “for the life of me I can't get excited about something that's boring like running. I guess that football is alright, but that's more of a social thing than anything else. Just another obligation that as a guy I sometimes have to do. Expectations are hard to deal with sometimes. So I find it cool that you've joined a club because you like the sport.”
That little rant got me nowhere either. It was like talking to a cowering little animal. No matter what I told her or what tone I used, it was plainly evident that she wished to be somewhere else and talking to someone else. I wasn't that scary. Or was I? Around girls, at least, I tried to be as non-threatening as I could be. All the cool and tough act was left for when they were watching from afar. It was a double strategy of tough appearances and hints of sensibility.
“Come on,” I found myself begging, “it won't kill you to at least tell me your name. I'm not planning anything wicked or anything. Just making conversation. You don't have to treat me like your best friend here but an acknowledgement would be nice.”
I was just making a fool of myself at that rate. Not that I minded much but I at least hoped to have something to show for my efforts. “Hey,” I held out my hand, “look, I'm the same as you. I'm pretty sure that I'm warmblooded and not some sort of reptile.” I spared her a comparison to different dinosaurs because experience told me that girls tended not to care much about those terrible lizards. I slowly brought my outstretched arm towards her, in a sort of demonstrative peace offering. I continued to talk, saying, “I'm not sure what about me you don't like but I assure you that I'm probably not as horrible as you think I am. Just look, I can't be that scary if you think of me as just another human being.”
She recoiled a bit. It seemed that she reached breaking point. With what may have been tears in her eyes, she stared at my hand and then at her friend and then simply bolted off. She ran away, clear out of the gym. Kaenbyou met my confused stare with a shrug and a “I told you so” kind of expression and then darted after her friend.
Unsuccessful first contact. That's what it was. For the life of me I had no clue what I could have done better. If I had hit on her, that may have caused her to run away even faster. Did she simply not deal well with new people? I was at a disadvantage for not knowing much about her. History sure did like to repeat itself, I sardonically told myself.
I watched over the practice session for the rest of the afternoon, taking notes like a good manager should. The club members took participation too lightly, more as a fun and novel thing to do than a serious commitment. It was clear that I wasn't there to convince them otherwise. And, in the end, the couple that I was more interested in never returned to practice. It was time to call it a day, while it was still mid afternoon and the weekend still lay brightly ahead. Only a few people were still on campus and they were on their way out.
 Sit by the field for a while and observe the last remaining clubs
 Leave and surprise Auntie at the store
[x] Sit by the field for a while and observe the last remaining clubs.
So much for this task being any easier than Tenshi. I choose this as it'd be more relaxing than dealing with his aunt. Going to Alice would have been more productive and might have prevented this minor botch up of a meeting
A grassy knoll by the track gave a good overview of the area. The oval track dominated the space, uniting the flank of the main school buildings with the various auxiliary buildings. The gym was directly opposite the school, while the equipment storage rooms and various club houses/practice areas spread along the side until reaching the back wall and gate. The indoor pool was a smaller annex to the gym, joined by a small covered walkway. Over on my end, there was a grassier portion that used to be used for field hockey from what I heard. Nowadays no one really played it so the area was left as a multipurpose zone.
The school was not known for its outstanding athletics, but had pretty good facilities nonetheless. Maybe because it tried to compete with the all-girls school for students. At any rate, it was the only mixed school in its side of town. That meant that it was the only place I'd want to be. Maybe that was why I was wasting time, not really doing anything. I had thought about going to check in on Auntie, maybe badger her for money but it was easier to be lazy. I'd be asked to work at the store as well, and that would be a drag. No such thing as a free lunch, as I already knew too well.
Students were leaving the clubs and leaving home, bunching up in groups as they went along. The rhythmic gymnastics club filed out of the gym, joined by the volleyball club. On the track, a few hapless members were clearing away hurdles and other equipment they had set up for practice. I wasn't even sure why they had bothered to bring all that junk out. They were mainly training for relay events and sprints from what I knew. Well, it wasn't anything that really concerned me. A group of girls walking past me and towards the changing rooms interested me. Short skirts, brightly colored shirts and festive-looking and fluffy pompoms immediately tipped me off to who they were.
I recognized one of the girls. I got up and walked over to the group, amazed that I hadn't realized it when I first met her.
“Yo!” I waved to her. She stopped for a moment, prompting her squad mates to take a step back, as if interested to see where the exchange was going to go. “It's me, Arc, from II-C, remember me?” I reminded her even though I was fairly confident she recognized me.
“Ah, oh yes,” she looked around, as if trying to determine if we could be overheard. Probably thinking that she could, she came a little closer. If she wanted to be discrete, she was achieving just the opposite with that move. Nothing made girls gossip more than a girl talking to a boy away from her friends. I wondered if she realized that. She asked, “how have you been?”
“Fine, fine, just a bit busy,” I showed her a confident smile, “sorry I haven't shown up for a rematch, there's just a lot going on with me.”
“It's alright, I didn't really expect to see you again or anything...”
“Now that makes me feel a little guilty,” I told her.
“Eh? Why? I just meant that...” she hadn't realized the other way her words could have been interpreted.
“I know what you meant,” I interrupted her, changing the subject as I went, “I didn't know that you were a cheerleader too, Reisen.” That was a double whammy in my book. Video game lover and cheerleader? It was like a dream come true.
“I just do it because I like cheering people on,” she said a little bashfully. None of that usual snobbery expected from an archetype of someone in her position. “I don't have the same spirit as some of the other girls, like Lily over there...”
I looked over at the group of girls and picked out the one with the biggest and most honest smile. That was probably Lily. She was a little famous in our school for being unapologetically energetic. During home games with other schools she'd whip up the crowd into a frenzy. A little too loud for my tastes, maybe. But cute and earnest. I could see how she had plenty of fans amongst the student body.
“Well, it doesn't really matter,” I said, “if you were cheering me on I'd surely try my hardest.”
“Thank you,” she smiled, asking, “do you do any sports?”
“Me? No. I'm currently the manager of the rhythmic gymnastics team.”
“Oh, so you know Rin and Utsuho then. We're in the same class.”
“We've only met recently,” I told her, “I'm still getting to know them.”
“Hey, you lovebirds!” someone from the gaggle of girls cried out, “I know you're enjoying yourselves, but we've got places to be.”
Reisen reddened a little, evidently not accustomed to being teased. “I'm really sorry!” she said, “I promised the other girls that I'd go to the new cafe by the station. I was just mindlessly holding them up.”
“It's alright,” I laughed, “just go. I'm sorry for taking up your time.”
She mouthed a quiet thanks and was about to go when there was some dissent in the ranks. The girls gabbed and talked, pushing Reisen back towards me. Lily stepped forward, addressing me directly, “spring is here and it's such a beautiful day. She should spend some time with her boyfriend. Reisen sees us almost every day, after all.”
“Oh, he's not my boyfriend, I mean he's nice and everything but we haven't really talked much and I have to get changed and...” Reisen yammered on, never quite completing an idea.
“Well, whatever he is, my point still stands,” Lily said with a bright smile. She looked at me, as if telling me “go ahead, we understand. You can borrow her.”
Felt like something that Suika would do. Too bad I was broke, I wouldn't otherwise think about it.
Why not? It'd be nice to be with a normal lovely girl and we might get insight on those two. Even if nothing comes out of it, it'd be nice for some normal female interaction asides from Alice. (Having Suika as a friend is something I wouldn't call normal female interaction)
Also I don't think Lily would be easily persauded.
“Well, thanks then for being so understanding,” I smiled. About the same time Reisen was suffering a meltdown, unsure why I was playing along. I placed a hand on her shoulder, hoping to get her to at least understand that I meant for her to not say anything.
Pleased, the girls went ahead to get changed,
“Eh, why?” her question indicated that the situation hadn't quite sunk in.
“It didn't seem like they'd listen to anything I'd say, so it was easier to just let them believe what they wanted. Got them to leave you alone, didn't it?”
“Yes... it did,” she frowned a little, “but I don't want them thinking that I wanted to ditch them.”
“Well, you can still meet up with them later, just say that you had to talk to me. Explain what's really up without any pressure. Then laugh about it over a slice of cake and a cup of tea.” A nice scenario overall, one that made me feel a little less guilty for potentially starting rumors about the poor girl.
“I guess that would work,” she said with a troubled look on her face.
“Of course, I wouldn't mind if we really did end up going on a date,” I added with a chuckle. “I don't think any guy in my position would.”
“Oh no, that's kind of...” she struggled to find the words, “not really what I had planned. I barely know you and I'm sure you're lovely company but I'm not really into the dating scene like some of the other girls, not that they brag all the time or anything but just that I'm not really comfortable with some of the things they say.”
“Whoa, calm down there,” I chuckled again, “I don't mean to pressure you or anything. It was just my way of saying that I think you're nice.”
“Thank you, you're nice too,” she looked a bit embarrassed, no doubt realizing that she had said a lot of unnecessary things just then.
“So what are you going to do?” I asked.
“Just wait a little, until they've gotten changed. They wouldn't let up if I showed up now.”
Girls could be vicious like that. Part of the natural hazing process. A similar experience was having your first crush in middle school. The boys would give you hell if they found out. That was the kind of thing that stayed with someone for the rest of their life. It wasn't easy.
“Hey, you know, I wouldn't mind getting to know you a little better. It doesn't have to be a big date or anything, but just talking sometime would be nice.”
“Um, I told you last time, I think. It'd be okay if you wanted to hang out at the arcade one of these days, I guess. I have a lot of things I need to do every day, so I don't really have a lot of free time to dedicate to anything too selfish.”
“There's nothing too selfish about spending time with someone you get on with,” I told her. “Being responsible is fine, but if you don't enjoy life when you can, you'll end up regretting it later.”
“I suppose,” she replied, not sounding entirely convinced. Her friends left soon after, giving us a wide berth. Reisen excused herself and went off to get changed. I waited for her, spending the time watching the last stragglers go home. When she returned she smiled at me, gently telling me that it was ok for me to go. “You didn't have to wait for me.”
“What are you saying?” I chided her playfully, “I'm your boyfriend, right? I'm supposed to wait for you. Come on now, I'll at least walk you to the station.”
She giggled, at last finding my eccentric behavior amusing instead of weird and confusing. We didn't talk about much during the walk. I just got a bit more background information about her time at the cheerleading club and why she preferred the rabbit girl in the shmup we played. Both pretty much boiled down to the same answer “because it's cute”. In the cheerleading squad's case she meant the outfit and in the game's case she meant the little emblem the character had to identify it.
We made it to the trendy part of town. She went off to her friends who were sitting in a window side booth while I just looked on from a distance. The place looked interesting enough. Like all trendy places, it had a motif. Plants and nature seemed to be its distinguishing gimmick. A pair of large sunflowers flanked the entrance and various potted plants and vines decorated the establishment. “Fleur de l'occident” - foreign name too.
Since I was already in town, I figured I might as well make the most of it.
 Window shop for potential gifts
 Idle in the park
Within urban spaces, the designated parks and recreational areas are sanctuaries where it's possible to escape the usual hustle and bustle for a short while. The park I found myself in was no different. By day, secretaries and staff from local business came by during breaks and had their lunch while trying to forget the stress of work. At in the afternoon, students like me appeared, spending time sitting on benches and watching nature, happily chatting with friends about the latest things. Finally, when night came, the park became the home of young couples and peeping perverts. That was during the week, at least. On the weekend families took strolls with their children.
A large round fountain was in the center of the park, by a highly-visible clock. The paths that cut the park all converged there and benches were arranged in the periphery. I sat down at one of the benches, relaxing with the sound of the nearby water. I recalled a rumor that appeared on the net a while back. The park was the scene of some grisly murders – the victims were completely drained of their blood. It got enough momentum to be picked up by the press and soon enough the story was that there was a rash of 'vampire' murders in the city. Of course, it was complete bogus. It was something ripped off from a third-rate game.
It was the weekend and so the usual working stiffs were nowhere to be seen. A few children played by the sand pit and toys on the far end of the park while parents talked to each other nearby. A young couple walked by, holding hands. I probably looked a little out of place there, still in my uniform and all alone. That was until I noticed that I wasn't the only one in uniform. A girl was sitting in a bench to my right, wearing the distinctive light-colored uniform of the all-girls academy. Waiting at the park for her boyfriend or, if the piety of the institution was was pervasive as outsiders thought, looking to help the poor and destitute.
Naturally, I wanted to at least introduce myself, even if there was little to none chance of it leading to anything interesting. I was beaten to the punch. A pair of shady-looking youths (maybe looking more like me than I cared to admit) came by and started chatting her up. I could tell what they were saying by the look on their faces. Their pickup lines were sure to be as clichéed as they were outright repulsive. I couldn't see the girl's face since one of the guys was blocking my view, but I could guess what she told them by their reactions. But they weren't the type to take that first 'no' and just leave. They continued to insist, making promises about whatever they thought would please the girl.
They were stubborn, but no brutes. In any case, ut was impossible to try to force the girl physically in broad daylight, with so many normal people around. It was a chance for foolhardiness, regardless. Not with very good odds but it wasn't like I was a oblivious to how these things worked.
 There's nothing more to do at the park.
 Step in and make them leave.
File 134086725896.png - (314.42KB,
874x1230 , dont mention the hair.png) [iqdb]
“I think you're just making fools of yourselves,” I interjected cooly, coming up from behind the two guys. They looked like wannabe thugs, looking closer. Had a few minor piercings like they were supposed to be marks of hardness.
“What the hell do you want?” Thug A was none too happy to see me. He was tall and lank, wore sunglasses, and kept his hands in his pockets at all times. Probably thought it made him look more intimidating.
“Yeah, what do you want? Can't you see we're busy?!” Thug B said with a click of his tongue. He was more portly, the more physical of the two probably.
“The young lady here obviously doesn't want to spend any time with you, so you should take the hint and scram,” I said. I smiled at the young lady, finding her to look concerned with the new development.
“I don't think that's the case,” Thug A smirked, “in fact, I think it's you who should get lost, buddy.”
“Yeah get lost,” B seemed incapable of doing anything but aping A's sentiment.
“I'm trying to be sensible,” I smiled coldly, “just walk away and go find someone else to bother.”
“Or, let me guess, you're going to do something about it?” The tall one laughed, like it was a good joke.
“Maybe I will, maybe I won't,” I shrugged, getting my fists ready for a preemptive blow. Nothing I could have said would have gotten them to ease back. Bluffing my way out of the situation was not an option. They were too into their target to contemplate backing off.
“Hehehe, looks like we'll have to teach you a lesson then...” A took off his glasses and put them away in his pocket.
I had to make my move. Two on one was not favorable for me. The smart move would be to knock one out right away and then deal with the other one. The lanky one couldn’t have been that tough, so I focused on him. I just had to watch out so that I wasn't sandwiched between him and the fat one. I was ready to rumble.
“Stop it!” the girl yelled out, stopping me from getting things started. “Fighting won't solve anything! I told you that I'm not interested in going for tea with you two. And I certainly don't need to be rescued through force by a stranger.”
“This will only take a moment, sweetheart,” Thug A dismissed the girl.
“Uh... bro?” Thug B interrupted, tilting his chin in the direction behind us.
“What?!” A looked over and saw what B saw. He frowned. “Dammit, just when I had gotten in the mood. Come on then, let's go,” he told B. He put his sunglasses back on and left with a challenge, “next time we see you, we're going to school ya real good.”
The girl's yell had drawn attention to us and a few of the families were looking over at our direction. What's more, a foot patrol officer was standing nearby, just watching as if to see if there was anything amiss. Those two weren't stupid enough to start something if it meant getting in real trouble. Saved me the pain of dealing with them.
“Looks like you'll be just fine there, Miss,” I smiled at the girl.
“You!” she sounded absolutely peeved. She strolled up right next to me and stared me into the eyes, “What were you thinking?! Picking a fight with strangers in the middle of a park where families go with their children?”
“Uh... you looked like you were in trouble.”
“I most certainly didn't need that kind of brutish help!” She chewed me out, “I'll have you know that nothing good comes from violence and that there are plenty of ways to resolve misunderstandings that don't involve force.”
“They didn't seem like the kind that would listen to reason,” I said defensively. What the hell? The girl was completely unthankful. She didn't have to approve but she certainly didn't have to put me down either.
“If they had done anything stupid, then we can only be expected to point out their mistakes. Help them change and learn instead of replying in kind.”
“Right, right, like a fist is going to listen to reason. Forget you, sister,” I was bothered by her attitude, “I was just trying to help. I shouldn't have bothered.”
“Think before you act. Reflect on your actions and become a better person,” she sermonized like it was no big thing. She really was from a religious school. How dreary.
Cornered, I just burnt the bridges out of spite, “and to think that I could have thought that a cute girl like you would have been appreciative of the good intentions on my part.”
“Your motivation was the same as those two's,” she pointed out correctly.
But it wasn't like I was going to let her get away with the truth. I argued, “maybe, but I wasn't forceful and I wanted to prevent others from being forceful. There's nothing wrong with trying to make a good first impression on someone. If you help them out, then all the better. You could at least thank me, like a normal person would.”
“But you were both impure of thought and misguided of heart,” she said, “you need to realize that. It doesn't matter what I think. I don't hold grudges because there's no point in doing so.”
“You sure have a weird way of showing that you don't hold grudges.”
“Discipline is not mutually exclusive with empathy and love.”
“It's not a philosophy that I subscribe to,” I retorted snappily. “Seems like a lot of hogwash to me. Some problems you just have to solve with non-ideal means.”
“I think you'd understand if you only opened your mind a little,” she said. “Come to our temple tomorrow with an open mind and I'll see that you begin to understand.”
“Sorry, me and religion don't really mix.” It just wasn't something that I concerned myself with. I lived in the moment.
“It's not about having a religious experience,” she shook her head gently, now smiling as if talking about something she was absolutely certain about, “broadening your horizons is not something that has to be exclusively achieved by believing in the divine. Coming together and seeing that there are other viewpoints is as equally valid.” She held took my hand, pointing my hand towards where her temple was, “at eleven we will gather by the front entrance. It's just a street beyond this park. Be there tomorrow. You will enjoy yourself, I guarantee it.”
She let go of my hand and then left, walking towards the direction of her temple with a lightness of step. She was not bothered in the least by what had just happened with the thugs and with me. I watched her go, not sure about what I had just witnessed. I realized that I had forgotten to ask her name after she disappeared into the city.
Without having anything else to do in town, I slowly made my way back home. I spent a normal uneventful evening. Without anywhere to go (or any money to spend) there was no reason to leave at night. So I turned in at a reasonable time.
Sunday was the only day of the week where I was absolutely free to do as I pleased.
 Show up at the temple
 The day is too nice to spend expanding horizons
>>45712 >>45714 I wouldn't expect a fate-changing experience or sudden enlightenment at any point in this story. This just isn't that kind of story. Any major change would be towards the ending. You may be expecting too much from the choices and not at all considering the drawbacks.
So, Reisen is a cheerleader?
She also seems pretty friendly, and her becoming embarrassed was nice.
(And thank you very much for the pic that went with it!)
And she's in the same class as the student we're supposed to help, isn't she?
That's something we should keep in mind, I think.
If we'd get some money, we should see about heading to the arcade or something.
As for the vote...
I'm honestly not sure - is this one of those temples that demand offerings before the people there would talk to you?
Because if so, there'd be no real point in going there, since no one would talk to us.
Except that preachy girl again, maybe, but I don't think Arc would want to talk to her - and even if he did, he'd probably be nasty to her after what she said, so there'd be no point.
Changing my vote from that to:
[X] Show up at the temple
Because I've just had a horrible amount of Fridge Logic. What happens if this temple is the reason Tenshi is on such an enlightenment kick. I mean the girl was spouting some similar lines to Tenshi. Also Tenshi came from an all girl school and this girl belongs to the all girl school.
Coincidence, I think not. This could be our chance to find out what this place has been filling young girls mind with.
Update soon. You're leaning a little on the conspiracy theorist side of things by the looks of it. Might be misdirected since you've only just started to get tangled in Yuyuko's vile web of deceit and lies. Corruption goes all the way to the top. I kid, I kid.
>>45748 Please direct your input to the specifics of the story. If you want to contest assumptions about a character's behavior or beliefs go ahead. Presenting your viewpoint is always fine. If you're going to take swipes at posters or groups of posters with generalizations then don't bother posting. Flaming and flamebaiting don't belong in a story.
Ok, so update pushed back to sometime in the next 12 or so hours because of a combination of factors. It doesn't help that my mind seems to be in the gutter and the urge to write smut is strong. Byakuren and her sexy strap/strips will have to wait.
>>45757 Yeah, I got that. Just so you know, it'll be incredibly obvious when Tenshi is revisited. So don't worry too much about going digging around.
That, and we haven't exactly seen a favorable side to this religion yet. We only have the girl in the park to go by, and possibly Tenshi if the speculation is correct, and the celestial is... Well, I'd honestly say she's something of a self-made doll, so it's easy to jump to conclusions about something we know nothing about.
Good news and bad news. Bad news first: a lot went down which kept me from updating, including a lot of alcohol. Good news: I did write a little and after I sleep now I should be able to finish up and get back to your regularly scheduled updates. Hopefully.
>>45761 two reasons: 1)I don't do smut for smut's sake. Strictly plot with porn not the other way around. 2) 70% (or some other made up figure) of my writing never gets posted on the site because it doesn't relate to a story/is too weak to stand alone.
An inert mass greeted me from the couch as I was about to leave. “Where are you off to so early?” she asked.
“Going to a religious service,” I said. Her collapsed form was a sad sight. Still dressed in her pajamas (stamped with cutesy animals), she was watching cartoons and having a bowl of cereal. Her hair was obviously down and wild, looking frayed because she hadn't bothered to brush it yet. Seen that made me feel like I was the adult in the household and she was just a spoiled freeloader. I understood how she must have felt sometimes now. Role reversal was not all it was cracked up to be.
“Oh, don't get yourself into too much trouble now,” Auntie gave me a half-hearted warning. She didn't believe me. And who could blame her? Lightning was likelier to strike me three times in a row than for me to show up willingly to any sort of temple or church.
There was no point in dwelling on it. It was a perfectly lovely morning, the sun shining, birds chirping away and only a few scattered clouds up in the sky. All the indicators of an easygoing weekend were on display. My body was complaining the whole way into town, reminding me that beautiful days should be spent doing only important things – mainly sleeping and playing games. My mind was more settled, refraining from outright mutiny if only because it knew that a nice day meant that there was a good chance of seeing girls in short skirts. Winter was a dark time for any warm-blooded male. Though, personally, as an eternal optimist I liked to think of extra layers of clothing like layers of wrapping on a great gift.
I found what I assumed was the temple. It was a building like any other in the area, about two stories high and with a discrete entrance off to one side. Only a hand-painted sign gave away the fact that it was a temple rather than, say, a community center or a gym. The tinted glass obfuscated the space inside. A small crowd was gathered outside, mostly young girls. At its head, on the steps before the entrance was the girl from the park, now wearing something that was paradoxically both more conservative and more provocative than an all-girl's academy uniform. To my chagrin she recognized me as I approached, calling me over. The group parted and let me through.
“I'm happy that you could make it,” she smiled, showing none of the sternness she had displayed the last time we met. “We're just about to head on inside and get started.”
I was about to tell her that I didn't know any mantras nor was I interested in praying when she opened the door and ushered the crowd inside. There was a main room just off to the left of the entrance with a matted floor and a small platform at the back. The girls all took seats, talking to one another with a warmness that suggested that they all knew each other rather well. As the outsider, I opted to sit at the last row, away from everyone else. There was nothing to do but wait for things to get started.
The girl from the park was talking to another girl with short, dirty blond-colored, hair off to the side. They were smiling, as if sharing a moment of shared intimacy. Interesting, but maybe another sign that I was just wasting my time. The group quieted down some when the girl finished speaking to the blonde and sat down cross-legged on the raised platform. She spoke with a cheerful smile, “Thank you all for coming here today. It means a lot to me and the others that you could make it. As most of you know, my name is Byakuren and I help in the running of this temple. There is a new face here today, someone I met yesterday and decided to invite to learn a little more about our way of thinking.” She extended a hand towards me, causing heads to turn and making me the instant focus of attention. “Please, if you don't mind,” she was asking for an introduction.
I waved with a stale smile, giving a quick rundown, “Hello all, my name is Arc. I'm a student from Tokimeki. Pleased to meet you.”
“Is that the school with that big tree?” A girl sitting on the far end of the room asked.
“Yeah, that's the one,” I confirmed, “legend and all that's my school.”
The girl's eyes lit up with a clear sparkle. Like she had just heard about an impressive legend. “Oh, I'd really like to go there one of these days. I'm from a school across town so I've never seen it.”
“That's enough, Nazrin,” Byakuren gently but firmly stepped in, taking control of the conversation once again. The girl apologized for the tangent, giving me a wink that surely meant that she would bug me later. She began giving a sermon, something which I chose to paraphrase instead of listen to attentively. High allegory wasn't something that I had fun internalizing. The gist of it was that there was value in even the most unexpected of things, something which I felt was directed towards me. It felt like a cheap ploy to get me to ease up and open up.
Luckily it didn't last too long. After the one story she did a quick round through the roon, where she applied the lesson there to the lives of the people present. She used their varied backgrounds (as fellow students at her school, students at other schools and even some actual adults) to reinforce the lesson, thus seemingly successfully mixing the practical with the theoretical. Witnessing how things developed I had to reassess the impact of parables on people's daily lives. If this group was a valid sample then clearly modern society had not entirely left behind its traditional beliefs.
“Do you do anything else?” I found myself asking Byakuren during a break. Apparently time for self-reflection and personal growth was the main component of the gatherings.
“You sound so unimpressed,” she smiled, not at all annoyed at the impudence of my question.
“You'll forgive me if a quaint story with a moral lesson and a few more direct examples featuring the lives of others doesn't instantly convert me to your cause,” I said. Rather boorishly. But hey, I felt like sugar-coating my feelings would be more insulting towards her. Something told me she rather I be honest.
“Ah, but this isn't about conversion, it's about making you see that we can get along even with different opinions. I'll bet that only one or two of my dear friends here really understood what I was talking about. For most of the people here these gatherings are a way to feel accepted, to forget about the small differences between people that seem like massive gulfs in daily life.”
“How did all of this get started in the first place?”
“I'll tell you some other time,” she insisted, “it's more important that you first understand what it is that I'm trying to show you.”
“Well, it's unusual to see a girl my age act with such conviction. The only other girl I've seen behave like that also came from your school, so I wondered if there was a connection.”
“This is just a family tradition of sorts,” she told me, “I've been doing this even before I got accepted into that school.”
“...well, nevermind then.”
“I suggest that you read some of the books we have here, maybe that will help you.”
“Listen, I understand what you're trying to say and do. It's nice, I really think so,” I said, “but it's still too idealistic for me. Not something that I can apply to my everyday life. Bad people exist and, no matter how much you can try to accept them or reason with them, they will still do bad things. Lie, cheat, steal and hurt you. It's not my policy to alienate others on purpose but there are times where that gulf is altogether too real and even if you have a plane you can't get across.”
“...so your way of viewing things is set in stone?” she asked, sounding not at all judgmental like I expected. Instead, I felt like she was being patient with me, like a good teacher with a trouble student. “I feel that nothing I can say will make you reconsider right away. And I don't expect it would. Change and metamorphosis takes time, wouldn't you agree?”
She was not wrong about that but I didn't rate her optimism very highly. At least in this case. I wasn't about to make going to the temple and listening to sermons part of my usual routine.
“Well then, it's a shame. I would have liked you to have learned to see things differently,” she said. Her smile showed traces of melancholy, as if the failure to break through to me weighed heavily. “If you ever wish to start down this path again, I'll be here to help you along.”
“Thanks, but we might not be quite as finished as you might believe,” I smiled, “I hope you'll consider what I have to say.”
She nodded, as if she really hoped I was capable of a sudden and complete change of heart. A little hard to build up my courage like that. Her calmness and disarming charm made me think twice about being brazen and blunt. It was like she deserved better than the usual lines. Byakuren was good-looking too, which certainly didn't help things. Her clear eyes, delicate eyelashes and full lips were all very alluring features on an otherwise unassuming and modest girl. Her dress didn't show off her curves all that well, save for the criss-crossing strips of material which seemed to be tightly coiled around her chest and bosom. These factors made it necessary for me to take a deep breath.
Without wanting to pause for too much dramatic effect, I told her, “you seem like a very dedicated and caring girl. I can appreciate what you're trying to do even if I don't think it's right for me. That doesn't mean that I want to cut off any and all ties just like that,” I smiled, setting it up for the important part, “I'd like you to go out with me sometime. Have a cup of coffee or grab something to eat. You know, a chance to get to know each other better. There's more to people than opaque philosophy.”
“I have to admit,” she answered, “that you are, at least, consistent. You haven't changed your intentions towards me at all. Even if you dismiss what I have to say with disparaging terms all the while.”
“I don't mean it, mostly,” I apologized, “I'm not sure how else to put it. I'm not interested so anything I say about it must sound forced.”
“Well, that's fine.” Byakuren never lost her smile, “I can't force you to change. But I can tell you that I'm not interested in your proposal.”
“Oh, come on, think of it as a chance to broaden your horizons. Surely there's something to be learned by going out with someone, even if it's mostly fun.”
“You're right about that,” she admitted, but then added, “that's not the problem however. Would you be satisfied if I told you that you're not my type?”
“There's a shock!” I exclaimed with a laugh. Hadn't seen that one coming. I thought it more probable that she was outright not interested or thought that dating was something scurrilous. “Do you mind telling me who your type is?”
“Someone who isn't afraid to share his or her heart.”
“...” her answer left me stunned and silent. I couldn't tell if she was being petty about my earlier comments or if she truly and honestly believed that. Her unyielding smile and collected mannerisms threw me off completely.
I then noticed that we weren't having a private conversation. Several of the girls present had broken off from self-study and meditation and were quite obviously eavesdropping on us. No doubt that they were interested in seeing where the conversation was going. Instead of curiosity or hostility, I felt that there was silent support for my effort.
There was something else I wanted to argue before giving up.
 There's no way she can be sure she won't enjoy herself unless she gives it a try
 Getting others to open up sometimes involves a gamble
[x] Getting others to open up sometimes involves a gamble
Our MC is not the only one who should try and aim for change. Even if we're not the type (or gender) she's looking for (if any) in a relationship, why not giving this new experience a chance?
After all, she wants us to open up; why not lead by example?
[X] Getting others to open up sometimes involves a gamble
It's true, though I now wonder if Arc's actually hiding anything or not. He comes off as someone that's seen things, a bit odd for a high schooler as most are more idealistic and often in the grasp of love.
“Is there anything else?” she showed a bit of impatience, evidently being the center of attention while having that sort of conversation wasn't something she desired. Byakuren looked around, retaining her sweet smile, “I certainly should talk to the others about their concerns before they disperse.”
“I just wanted to tell you that there's no guarantees in life,” I knew that well enough. The cool and aloof guy I was used to being wasn't always as cool. “You have to sometimes take a gamble.” A gamble like hitting on a sixteen when the dealer had a face card. Suika swore that she never cheated, out of principle, but I had my doubts. When we played games of chance, she always seemed to win. I smiled, not letting my thoughts show, “you can't expect others to trust and open up without first putting yourself on the line. I can't say that I will, or even can change or come to agree with you but I do know that I'll never be your type if you don't give me a chance.”
“...hmm,” it sounded like she was taken aback. People tended to do that when I rarely had my moments of poignancy.
I was unsure if she needed another push. Clearly I wasn't the only one who wondered the same. A bolder soul finally had enough of just being a passive gawker and listener. She pushed Byakuren for me, “come on now, Hijiri, he's got you there. Whatever happened to trying to love everyone? Go ahead and see what happens.”
“Alright,” Byakuren conceded, telling her friend to be quiet with a gentle flicking of her wrist. “If you really want to, I suppose that I can give you a chance.”
“I'm glad you've come to see things my way,” I couldn't help but be smug. It wasn't a religious experience nor a conversion of the conscience but it still felt satisfying to have made her consider my point of view. That and I got to go out on a date with a good-looking girl. Never a bad thing.
“When do you want to go out then?” She asked with the due diligence of a secretary filling out a day planner.
“How about today?” One of the other eavesdroppers chimed in.
“Yeah, we've done enough reflection and coming together for today,” someone else added with an obvious desire to go home.
“I wouldn't mind,” I told her. She looked like she was about to ask anyways. “If you want to take your time closing things up around here, I don't mind waiting.”
“Oh, would you?” Byakuren added, “but I feel guilty for making you wait. Especially since I planned to do a little silent reflection.”
“That's not a problem, it's still early,” I said, thinking mostly of the fact that I was broke. I had to have a little time to plan around that. “Like I said, take your time. I can come back in an hour or two, just tell me when.”
“Alright, if you don't really mind then could we meet at the park in an hour and a half from now?” She asked sheepishly, the confidence from her sermon fizzled away. I didn't know if she was too concerned with being considerate or if she was genuinely apprehensive.
“I'll meet you then,” I told her, excusing myself. The room was all smiles. Girls will be girls, even at temples. I wondered what they would say about me. Maybe they'd forget all about reflection and all the other junk from the meeting and simply tease Byakuren. Nah, that couldn't be right. Maybe they'd prep her, help her around so she could finish up in time.
Well, idle speculation would get me nowhere. I had other problems to deal with.
 Ask for a loan from Suika, even if it means telling her what it's for
 Promise Auntie to work part time at the store for a cash advance
[x] Promise Auntie to work part time at the store for a cash advance
I don't think we'll need that much money in this date, specially with how I imagine Hijiri to be, but better safe than sorry.
As for the vote, I personally try to keep cash and friends separate.
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I returned home. There I found my guardian still lazing around, the only signs of movement in the last couple hours the substitution of cereal for instant noodles and milk for beer. Other than that she still slumped on the couch, grumbling at the TV occasionally to share how she felt about whatever was on screen.
“You really need a hobby,” I told her as a greeting, “you know when even I'm up and about that there's something wrong with being a couch potato.”
“Mm, chips sound nice,” she replied absentmindedly, not really listening to what I had to say.
“Do you mind prying your eyes from that box for a moment and giving me a moment of attention?” I asked, stepping in front of the TV. That got her attention. She let out a grunt of frustration and sat up straight, her creased brow asking why I had deemed it necessary to interrupt her fun. “Yeah, sorry, this will just take a minute.”
“Fine,” she turned the TV off with a press of the remote. “Weren't you going out somewhere?”
“I did, and I've come back. I plan to leave again soon.”
“So busy, so I take it that you need something from me?”
“Yes, the obvious,” I didn't sugarcoat it. Dancing around the issue would only make her lose her patience. The siren song of the television was still calling to her. “I need money,” I told her. “I know what your policy is on spending money, so I'm asking for a cash advance against future work.”
“Eh, I don't know...” she puffed up a cheek, looking pensive. Reminded me a little of another, smaller person who was likewise a pain in the neck. Didn't help that her tawny hair was similar enough to the other's flaxen color. “If you need it right away then it might mean that you should think carefully about what you're doing. Acting on impulse leads to many regrets later.”
“You know that I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important,” I hoped to remind her of how I tried to keep out of her hair. Not wanting to depend on her might have been confused with pride on my part but that really wasn't the case. I was thankful for her taking me in when I had nowhere else to go. That was all.
“Alright, I'll advance you the money then,” she let out an exaggeratedly loud sigh, as if to say that I was being a true bother. I knew better than to believe that she was cross with me. That casual and playful smile that often showed itself in normal conversation was back when she came back with the money. She handed it over to me, observing cheekily, “this better not be for a video game or something that you'll forget all about in a day or two.”
“It's not,” I assured her. And thanked her, not in the least because she respected my privacy enough not to ask what the money was really for, “thanks for the advance, I'll come to the store sometime this week.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she shooed me away from the TV, acting like she had heard it all before. “Where were you when I needed help doing inventory yesterday? Out doing nothing productive I bet. Just make sure you show this time, or I'll have you on mop duty next time you need money.”
She didn't have to tell me twice. The price of having money was a loss of freedom. But I was prepared to deal with it. At least working for her was better than most other part time jobs. More flexible hours and I already knew how the business worked pretty well. I was at home restocking, cleaning up and even minding the register.
With enough money even for a potentially costly afternoon of fun, I headed back out. I had plenty of time left until the appointed time, so I walked at a relaxed pace. There were fifteen minutes to spare when I reached the park. I sat down at a bench and waited. Byakuren was late. Fashionably so, perhaps. I wasn't the best judge of what was in or not. She finally showed up fifteen minutes late, apologizing for making me wait.
“I'm sorry,” she explained, “I didn't mean to be tardy, but my friends kept insisting that I prepare for our rendezvous properly.”
“It's not a problem,” I told her. It was obvious why she was late. The clothes change alone implied that her friends had given her a hard time about her appearance. By wearing something that was casual and pretty, I think that they hoped that she would act more like a normal girl. Or maybe I presumed too much. I didn't know her well enough to judge her sense of fashion. Concocting fantasy scenarios could wait until we got ourselves into more suggestive situations.
“...you're staring, is there something wrong?” she asked a little naively.
“No, nothing at all, I was just thinking that you look lovely. I'm glad that I was able to convince you to come out with me.” I saw that I was going to have to be more proactive in the date, she didn't seem to know what exactly was expected of her. I asked, “is there anything in particular that you would like to do?”
“Isn't the objective of this to get to know one another better? I don't really mind what it is we do, I'm open-minded,” she said with a smile. In other words, she couldn't be counted upon to make any sort of real decision. A convenient copout for the inexperienced.
Well, with money gave us a lot more options to pick from.
 A romantic movie sounds good
 Trying out the trendy new cafe feels right
Well, we've got to spend money either way, and I think a cafe would be more in our price range, maybe?
I mean, I'm assuming it must be cheaper than a movie.
Plus, it's got to be easier to have a conversation there than in the middle of a movie, as has been mentioned before.
I'm still alive. This story hasn't been dropped, hiatused or anything else. Real life had me in a bad way. Stuff on the site wasn't exactly something I felt capable of facing. Wasn't a priority at all, sorry. I've been trying to think of what to say for the past week or so. I've been on IRC and no one broached the subject, so dunno. I'll probably write soon though.
And, wishing to talk about something with more levity, I'll add: y'all lack imagination, it seems. Or maybe you don't know how to enjoy a prize in a suitable fashion? Well, we'll see what it really is.
The cafe wasn't too far from the park. We made small talk during the walk. Nothing too exciting, just the usual about the weather and life in the city. Normal stuff. I felt that I was being a little too self-conscious. But, well, at least things didn't feel awkward. That was a good thing. The streets were crowded with people enjoying the weekend, people lazily windowshopping and kids out for a walk with their parents.
A booth cleared up just as we arrived at the cafe. Lucky. A waitress greeted us at the entrance and asked us to please wait a moment. She cleared up the table and wiped it clean before coming to fetch us again. I used the pause to look around, noting the distinct décor. The theme was clearly floral. Almost every table had a vase with a freshly cut flower. The bar had a trellis above it which sported a tangle of vines and their sundry flowers. It made the place feel like an outdoor garden, fresh and relaxing. A few potted plants served as dividers between booths and added to the greenscape. The staff, the waitress that greeted us and the master behind the counter, wore plain white clothes with one or two tartan strips woven into the hem of the sleeves/ Reminded me of a summer dress. Nothing eye catching but it fit the motif well.
“This place looks nice,” Byakuren said as we sat down. “It's very... green.”
“It's like being in a garden,” I said.
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Feel free to order whatever you like,” I uttered those famous last words as we got our menus, “it's my treat and it looks like the cakes here are really good.” Judging by the look of happiness on the girl next table over, anyways.
“My friends told me that I should just let you pay for everything but I certainly don't mind paying for myself,” she said with her usual warm smile.
“I asked you out, so it's only fair I treat you.”
“Isn't this a mutual choice, however? I certainly agreed to be here with you so we could get to know each other. Don't worry, I'm not under any pretensions here.”
“Thank you,” I told her with a smile, “but I insist. Don't worry about today, it's my original one-sided desire that got us here. I really don't mind.” It wasn't a matter of pride or anything. Just that I felt that I ought to pay for taking up her time.
Byakuren accepted gracefully, artfully moving the subject along. She looked through the menu, “it's hard to decide what I would like.”
“Well, take your time, there's no rush.” I leafed through the menu a little, settling on a simple iced coffee and a sandwich. I asked Byakuren about her tastes and helped her pick out what she wanted. She was sure about the nice hot cup of green tea but it took some narrowing down to get her to finally pick a slice of millefeuille with strawberries. “Are you sure you'll be fine with just something sweet?” I asked.
“It's fine, I'm not a big eater. I sometimes skip lunch altogether if I'm really focused on something else,” she admitted.
I could see that being true. We ordered when the waitress came around again.
There we were, talking cordially like as was proper on a date. Since I had made a big fuss about the 'getting to know' aspect of the date (sold it with that, actually) it felt only right that I take the initiative. Or continue to take the initiative, as the case was.
 Talk to her about... (write-in)
>>46054 Well, whatever merits either choice may have had are irrelevant when you narrowmindedly focus on a single thing to do instead of simply enjoying and making the most of a situation. This choice reflects reader desire pretty well, as a result.
[X] Talk to her about...
-[X] What, exactly, is your stance on personnel relationships and sex, and how does that factor into your religion of peace and brotherhood? Surly an intimate and personal act such as sex could only lead to deeper feelings of trust and companionship between two people.
No hidden meanings or flirting here. I honestly want to see her answer.
>>46098 So, we should stop talking during our votes lest you call focused votes as 'narrowminded' and less focused votes as 'lazy'?
[x] Ask Byakuren about herself. Ask about her hobbies, school, how she first came to her faith, etc.
-[x] But not before telling her your own situation in school, obligations and hobbies.
To receive we should give, I think. Let's open up first.
>>46115 Let's be careful we don't reveal everything about our obligations and such, though.
That could very easily be misunderstood, and then news would spread, and bad stuff would happen.
[x] Ask Byakuren about herself. Ask about her hobbies, school, how she first came to her faith, etc.
-[x] But not before telling her your own situation in school, obligations and hobbies.
-[X] Though be careful how you phrase it.
I stand by the line about not knowing how to enjoy a prize. Also with write-ins I just pick with whatever works best - numbers only matter when they're good but mutually exclusive ideas. Or which aspects to emphasize. These are opportunities to be creative and clever. That said, experience tells me that I'm wasting my time and I should just write. Eventually. Being lazy. And it gives me the excuse that I'm waiting for some sort of acknowledgment or reassessment first.
>>46115 I call them like I see them. And that was a reply to someone who thought I was being partisan about the choices - I was not. At any rate: the less you venture in the form of comments, the less you stand to gain. I work with what I'm given and I'm not a mind reader. The fact is that the last few votes and their rationale have been, for lack of a better word, dull. The temple, the date and even the location have all been optional and yet all the readers seem to be concerned about is talking (and about mundane things at that). Something that naturally happens when human beings spend time together. There's a difference between being focused and the very narrow view taken here. Surely it's an overcompensation for the earlier impulsive actions. Choices become irrelevant when you have blinders on. Guess the shtick about opportunity costs also applies.
Writing sometime later today, will try to resume the regular update rate.
>>46127 They'd fail because... of what evidence? The protagonist certainly is bold enough and his boldness has gotten him this far. It's what he does and he isn't ashamed of it. Besides -there's a whole spectrum of action in between shameless flirtation and topics that you'd talk to a stranger about if you sat next to them on a bus. I wouldn't call a date a success if all that you do is the latter. Hence my overbearing handholding and attempts to get you to pause and think about what led to this and the characters involved. Context is important. Lighthearted stories with a semi-picaresque protagonist are different than real life.
Oh and please don't try to speak for other people. People talk about what they want in the story and why is in these threads. They can state their own opinion freely at any time. It's dishonest to imply you speak for a group. Your opinion by itself is valid enough.
“You've been staring at me for a while now like you want to say something,” Byakuren perceptively pointed out.
“I'm that transparent, huh?” I shrugged with a carefree smile. No point trying to hide it.
“So what do you want to say?”
“Well, nothing too exciting, just wanted to get to know more about you. Was thinking of what to ask.” She had the patience of a saint, putting up with my missteps with that accepting smile of hers. It encouraged me to get to it. I asked her with my trademarked charm and self-assurance, “I'm curious about your school. What's it like being in an all-girl's academy?”
“It's nice,” she answered naturally. “The campus is nice and spacious and there's a lot of interesting people that can be met there.”
“But is it strict?” The image I had of an institution like that was that of spotless discipline and unending rules.
“Like all schools, I suppose,” she paused, seemingly giving the question some thought, “they're very warm towards the students. The teachers tend to dote over us. Some of the girls come from far away and live in dormitories. It's like we're like one big giant family sometimes.”
“Do you live in the dorms too?”
“Yes, I'm from out of town,” she told me. “I moved here about two years ago.”
“Oh, so you're all by yourself. It must be hard dealing with that much responsibility.”
“It's not a big deal,” she shook her head, “before coming here I used to live with my brother and I always had to cook and clean for the both of us. Life here is nice and peaceful. Besides, I've been fortunate to have a lot of supportive friends.”
I kind of wanted to know more about where she came from, but I didn't want to be too pushy either. I was, after all, taking it slow. Didn't want to put her on the spot. I understood how valuable it was for people to respect another's privacy. Byakuren asked me about my school and my living situation in turn. I told her the basics. Lived with my aunt, school was alright if a little boring at times. What I would tell anyone else. Didn't want to bore her.
Our order arrived after a while, looking as good as the pictures in the menu. Tasted about as good as I hoped it would too. Not bad, trendy cafe. Not bad at all.
I continued to ask her more about herself as we consumed our food, resisting the childish urge to down my food as quickly as possible. That was the downside of being a healthy young man – food was just irresistable. “How about any hobbies?” I asked, “do you do anything besides schoolwork and going to the temple?”
“I do crochet...” she said a little reluctantly.
“That's cool,“ I reacted to the vibe I felt, “there's nothing wrong with being useful with your hands.”
“I know. It's just a little boring to talk about, I realize.”
“Ha, maybe,” I chuckled, “it'd probably be more interesting if you showed me something you made. That way I could really get to learn what it is that you like about it.”
“It's just something to do to pass the time, it's calming too. I don't think you'd be very interested.”
“Well, I'm always open to new experiences.” Especially if they let me see the cute side of a girl. That part I left out. For totally logical reasons. I wasn't going hard and fast with her. She was confident enough to resist that. Maybe. The truth was that I wasn't sure what to make of her. It was the oddest date I had been on.
Maybe I made a mistake somewhere along the line, I caught myself thinking. Wasn't too sure where I stood. I was out of my comfort zone in more than one sense. I took a bite out of my sandwich and told myself to keep from thinking too much.
“Excuse me,” the waitress from earlier came up to the table, “this is the end of my shift and so if you need anything else please don't hesitate to ask the other girl on duty. Please enjoy your meal.”
Sure, that was fine. It didn't really matter who was attending to us anyhow. I was preoccupied with thoughts about Byakuren. A little too much to do my usual sizing up of the girls in the same room as me.
“So, if you don't mind me asking,” we continued to talk. I brought up the subject of her temple, “how long have you been preaching and going to the services?”
“For about a year and a half here. Though when I was younger my brother would take me to temples where we used to live... those weren't like the one here.”
“It's a bit unusual to see someone my age so active with a religious group.' True enough . Students tended not to care much about praying or metaphysics nor religion. Save when it was time for finals. Then everyone was saddled with charms and had ready a prayer on their lips. “I know a shrine maiden but she probably only does it because her father is the priest. Your convictions sure seem heartfelt.”
“Is it really that odd?” she frowned a little for the first time that afternoon.
“Sorry, I don't mean to offend you. It's just not something I've been exposed to much.”
“I don't think I'm very religious,” she said with a measure of sobriety, “I just think that what I've learned is a tool that can be used to make lives better. Make people feel good about themselves and make us look past our differences.”
“Still, you run that temple.”
“I just help guide people along. Everyone pitches in to maintain the place.”
“Hmm...” I couldn't really fully understand what she was talking about. I got where she was coming from... but I guess that I just disagreed with her outlook on a more fundamental level. People weren't bad per se – they just cheated, lied and betrayed just as easily as they cared, nurtured and supported. That's what I saw everyday. I wasn't sure that it was possible to make the negative parts go away, even temporarily. It was just the way things were.
Byakuren laughed softly, “I can read body language well enough to tell that something I said bothered you.”
“Maybe. Differences of opinion are only natural between people,” I added.
“Well, at least I hope that have a better appreciation of my point of view.” There was knowing look on her, like a mother's when she knew that her child was trying to hide something/
 Byakuren is hopelessly utopian
 It's not worth bringing up
[x] Byakuren is hopelessly utopian
I don't even know why is this a choice: why would he not give his two cents too? Or is he too good for her? Sorry but 'ask for everything, give away nothing' isn't my cup of tea for this situation. Maybe it worked in Thermopylae, but it won't here.
He's out of his comfort zone, eh? Good. Now let's see if he can consider other points of view. If anything I think this will allow these two stubborn heads to grow. That, in itself, is a worthy enough objective.
I agree. A little discussion with somebody who has an idea of what they believe in might give the MC a little perspective, and I'm pretty sure Byakuren is resilient enough to endure a little healthy debate.
“It shouldn't be a shock to you that I don't buy into what you're saying,” I slumped my shoulders forwards, as if that was my body's own special sigh at my brain's antics. It wasn't a discussion that I wanted to really have. Especially not on a date. Well, I had opened that door, so I at least went through with it, telling her, “I'm glad that you think that it's possible to get past all these barriers and obstacles with what you do. I'm skeptical. My experience has been different. People are selfish and manipulative. Your way of looking at things is way too idealized.”
“It's just hopeful,” she said. “If you believe that you can never improve yourself and understand others then you never will.”
“Seems like sophistry to me,” I shrugged, “but I'm not exactly a philosopher. I can only talk about what I've seen and experienced.” I didn't even have to dig deep to remind myself of examples. I thought back to the last few weeks. I certainly wasn't trying to help people because I saw it as my mission, I was doing it because it would be a much bigger pain to have to deal with Yuyuko's wrath. Not that she was a great example of altruism either, I wondered how much was genuine (if somewhat unconventional) dedication and how much was simply about making her own life easier. It wasn't just adults that were phony – a lot of my classmates seemed to be cast from the same mold.
But, hey, that wasn't a problem. Just the way things were. I learned to deal with it as best as I could. That usually meant just hanging out with people who were genuinely fun to be with and doing what I wanted when I could get away with it. Slacking off, sleeping in class, skipping school were all things I did to deal with it. There wasn't anything wrong in playing within the system to make my own fun.
“If you never try, you can never succeed,” she restated. “I don't think that's untrue. Inaction, at best, keeps things the way they are.”
“Being passive isn't really what I'm advocating.” I finished off my iced coffee. Felt like the date would be over soon due to my foot being in my mouth. “I guess that what I object to in your worldview is that it requires a leap of faith. I like to place my trust on other things.”
“You may not call it faith,” she argued, “but you definitely have shown it. Like with me. You talked to me and asked me to come out even after you knew that you disagreed with me.”
“...you were a cute girl in trouble. I stepped in because I thought that I could do something about it. Talking to you was a nice plus,” I told her how it really was. “I'm not sure that I expected things to come this far. Wasn't really faith, just me being selfish and taking risks because I could afford it.”
“I think you might be looking it at the wrong way,” she shook her head. Byakuren was patient but it increasingly felt like there was a divide that neither of us could cross easily. There were myriad lines I could use to endear myself to her but I chose to keep silent. Didn't feel like it was appropriate, even if it meant sabotaging any future prospects. “I can only tell you to keep your heart open to new possibilities. You'll find your own way eventually, even if you reject what I'm saying.”
That was a bit sanctimonious, I felt.
“Well, at least you know how I feel now.”
“Indeed. That's not a bad thing. At least it's important to understand the beliefs of others so you can work well together.” She looked at her empty cup and then at me and asked, “Mind if I get another cup of tea?”
“Go ahead.” I didn't want anything else but I wasn't about to stop her from getting whatever she wanted. I signalled for the waitress but didn't see her anywhere.
“She's coming from the kitchen,” Byakuren spotted her and raised a hand, “I've got her attention, don't worry.”
I was gathering my thoughts with my arms crossed. Byakuren asked for a cup of tea when, by chance, I happened to look at the attending waitress. That caused a double take. It didn't make sense. But then my eyes met hers and I was certain.
I couldn't just ignore her. “Yo,” I greeted meekly, “I didn't know that you worked here.”
“...it's a part time job,” she answered quietly, “please don't tell anyone about it. Students aren't supposed to work.”
Byakuren looked at me then her, interested at the new development. “Do you know each other?” she asked.
“Yes she's my-” I started.
“...” that wasn't the best of explanations. Byakuren tilted her head, looking unsure of what to believe.
“Her name is Marisa,” I took the initiative to explain, “a childhood friend that moved away but came back. She's in my class.”
“And your fiancée as well, apparently,” Byakuren added.
“It's not like that. We're not romantically involved at all.”
“Geez, how cruel,” Marisa pouted, “do you always treat your sacred promises so lightly?”
We hadn't really had a chance to discuss the subject but I was sure that she understood that I didn't take it seriously. “We were just kids”, “I can't remember ever making the promise” and the like were things I would have said save for my self restraint kicking in. It wasn't the time nor the place. I shot her a look that said “please drop it for now.”
“Well, it's ok. I care about you enough to let you choose what you want to do.” She smiled, adding with zealous overacting, “so what if I have to cry myself to sleep every night because you won't even look at me?” She rubbed her eyes and sniffled, “if you love someone, you have to let them make up their own mind.”
Oh brother. Give me a break.
“But yeah,” she continued, “I'm not too worried. I've got my own good qualities that I'm proud of.”
“So, uh, the tea?” I shooed her away, reminding her that she was working.
“No, you know what? I changed my mind,” Byakuren interjected. “If you don't mind, I'm going to end our date here.”
“Oh come now,” I frowned and tried to get her to change her mind, “I told you that I'm not involved with her. We're just friends.”
“It's not that,” she laughed, “but that I feel that if we kept at it we'd just be forcing ourselves. Part of getting to know someone is taking your time. I don't expect to get to know you by just going out on a single date.”
“Does that then mean that you'd like to do it again some other time?”
“Hmm, maybe,” she said with a flash of an enigmatic smile. She definitely was just like any other woman in that regard. I was never sure if those smiles were good or bad until much later.
And just like that she was gone. A tenuous promise to talk again was all that I could get from her. I sat at the table for a while longer. Eventually I let out a sigh. That was a draining experience.
I watched Marisa wait on the other tables. She was friendly and engaging as expected. Not bad as a waitress. The uniform suited her too. Cute enough. Still, I had no idea that she had a job. Then again, I didn't really know what she was up to outside of school. And in school, I was too busy not doing work or dealing with the club to watch her carefully. After the initial stir that she caused in the class, she had settled in quietly.
 Hang around until her shift is over
 Enjoy the town a bit instead
I must wonder how does the childhood friend become a trope? Is japan THAT small? A such would never happen here as once you move that's it, it's very well likely that you're never seeing them again and even if you do, the bonds of friendship/etc won't be there anymore.
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I migrated over to the stools and bar, freeing up my table for any new customers that have need of it. Instead of going out to town, mucking about in stores or at the arcade, I decided to have another iced coffee.
“You keep looking at her,” the woman who prepared my coffee remarked. “Is she your girlfriend or something? Employees should keep their personal lives away from the job.”
“No, nothing like that,” I answered, “she's just a friend. Didn't know she worked here.”
“Oh? That a fact? Those eyes of yours are saying something else, however.”
I shrugged, swinging back around to face the woman. I told her what I was thinking, “she looks really at home here. Which is just different from how I normally see her acting.”
“I always figured Marisa for the hardworking type,” the woman added, “maybe she just acts different around you.”
“Maybe.” I gave another shrug. “Truth is, I don't keep track of what she's doing very often.”
“I wonder if you're the boy she was talking about...”
“Oh, nothing,” the woman flashed the same kind of mysterious smile that I had seen Byakuren display. That meant that pressing the point would take me nowhere. “Say, you're waiting for her, right?”
“I guess, I don't really have any other plans for today.”
“Great,” she grinned, “she'll be a while yet. Would you like to help out here while you wait? If you do I'll cover the costs of your food and maybe even give you a little something extra.”
“Sure, why not.” I agreed without really thinking about it. It was something to do and staring at Marisa would get creepy sooner or later.
“Alright. Come behind the counter and I'll give you an apron. You can wash and serve up slices of sweets, right?”
“Yeah, not a problem.”
“Ok kid, since I'm the boss here, you'll have to show a little respect. I'd say you could call me 'mistress' but language has given that unfortunate connotations when a woman asks a boy to call her that. 'Master' works too but is a little odd... it's culturally acceptable for the owner of a store to be called that however.”
“How about I just use your name?”
“Ms. Kazami sounds a bit too formal,” she scrunched up her face like she didn't really like the thought. “Ah well, Yuuka it is.”
“That's a lovely name,” I displayed my usual suave charm. I introduced myself, “I'm Arc, a pleasure to be working under you.”
She plenty lovely herself, come to think of it. Her eyes let out a carefully moderated shine – what could be a real joie de vie tempered by womanly modesty. A polite smile formed on her lips, something that both masked her real character and added to the mystery. Fine, medium-length hair that curled the closer it got to her shoulders framed her head. Her dress was simple – tartan vest and skirt, evocative of the details on the waitress outfits, and a white blouse underneath. With a straw hat she'd pass for a mindful and polished lady out for a stroll in her country estate. A weird thing to think about someone I had just met but it felt like it could be true.
“Well then, if you don't mind, would you care to do the dishes in the back first?” She showed me to the door that led to the kitchen. I couldn't tell what she was thinking, she was hard to read. But that wasn't a bad thing. It felt nice to hear her tell me where everything was. “I have to tend to things up front, so I'll leave you alone.”
Left to my own devices, I began to wash up. It wasn't hard work by any stretch. A bit tedious, sure, but I was used to cleaning up after myself. Time passed by quickly. Yuuka came back, telling me that I had done enough.
“There are hardly any customers now. There’s a lull, so I think that I can handle things by myself for a while.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I'm giving your girlfriend – I mean your friend – the rest of her shift off. So go ahead and have fun.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but she's not my girlfriend. You saw me come in with the other girl,right? Well she wasn't my girlfriend either, but we were on a date.”
“Sure, whatever,” she rolled her eyes, “you're young so it's only normal for you to want to get a taste of all the different choices out there. Speaking of which,” she segued with a smirk, “for your hard work I cut a slice of our signature cake.”
I sat down on a stool, seeing that the cafe really did quiet down. There was only a single customer reading a paper in a booth, drinking a cup of coffee.
“Hey, I've been given the rest of my shift off, ain't that grand?” Marisa said when she saw me.
“Yeah, it's nice of your boss.”
“I'm going to go get changed, I'll be out in a moment.”
I enjoyed the slice of cake while she went off and got changed. It was nut-flavored with a foamy and light texture and a thin layer of dark chocolate on top. The chocolate was bitter but it served as a delightful contrast to the the sweetness of the base. I gobbled it all up by the time that Marisa came back. A new record, surely.
“You kids go ahead and have fun now!” Yuuka waved us off with a smile. It felt genuine enough... but I had a nagging doubt that she really was as altruistic as she seemed to be. A glint in her eyes and a self-satisfied edge to her smile made me wonder if she maybe had an angle I wasn't seeing.
Well, no point in worrying about the apparent kindness of strangers.
“Huh, it's kind of like we're on a date,” I mused as we walked out.
“A date?” Marisa sported a wide grin. “I guess my horoscope really was right today.”
“So, whaddya wanna do?”
“Hm, I'm a bit tired from work, but I don't want to waste this opportunity.”
“How 'bout then if we...”
 “go back to my place and just hang out for a while?”
 “do something here in town?”
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“Oh, like what?” she asked and cocked her head towards me, her braid touching her jawline. We stood on away from the flow of pedestrian traffic in order to talk.
“Let's see...” I scratched my head, “the usual things to do with someone in the city...” The obvious came to mind first, “it's too early for dinner, so a restaurant is out.” The slice of filled me up anyhow. Marisa didn't look like she was peckish either. “Oh,” I remembered something I had heard some time ago, “there's always the aquarium. How about that? Feel like it out?”
“I think we're too late for that,” she answered, sounding a little bummed out. “Both the natural history museum and the aquarium are only open until 4 or 5. There'd be no point going in for only a half hour.”
“A movie perhaps?”
“Is there even anything good on?”
“We could check it out,” I said. Wasn't a long walk.
“Nah, let's not commit ourselves to something we might not enjoy.”
“How about the arcade then?”
“I'm... not very good at video games,” she confessed, “and I'm not confident enough to try anytime soon... but if you want to go, I don't mind. I'll be with you so I'll be happy.”
“It's alright then,” I told her with a smile. My luck wasn't very good. I began to suspect that I had missed some sort of obvious ill omen. The obvious signs of evil at work – a rain of blood and the screams of the damned – were absent. I looked around, checking again for good measure. Still, even if evil was taking a holiday there was something else up. I wasn't catching any breaks. My pride was hurt as well. Whenever someone went out with me they should have a good time.
“Eh, don't worry about me,” Marisa patted my shoulder. My thoughts were showing on my face probably. “I understand that you can't bend time and space. Like I said, I'm happy just spending time with you.”
“Wait, hold off on the pity,” I told her. An inspiring thought stuck. It was the kind of idea that was painfully obvious only after a lot of effort. I proposed something else, “how about we go do karaoke?”
“Oh, that sounds fun.”
“What's the matter?” It felt like she was just saying that, “don't you like to sing? I'm not very good myself so don't worry about sounding bad. It's fun.”
“You're right. It is fun...”
“If there's a problem I'll just think of something else.”
“Well,” she hesitated to explain what she meant to say, “I just realized that something like karaoke is more fun in a group. And that we should probably call our friends to see if they wanted to join us.”
“Oh, yeah that's not a bad idea.” But why did she seem hesitant to bring it up? Ah, I got why soon enough. Luckily I wasn't that clueless when it came to girls. Unlike the lead in a romantic manga or a visual novel. “We can just do it by ourselves too,” I said. She was just uneasy about wasting her time alone with me. “The manager did let us off to so that we could play around together.”
“It's unfair to the others,” she argued, “it really is more fun in a group. I can't be selfish if we can all have fun. I already have you here so I'm happy. The more, the merrier as they say.”
“Jeez, it's ok to be selfish when you're with someone, you know.”
“I know that!” she reacted strangely, like she flustered for some reason .”I've acted selfishly enough and gotten what I've wanted. Our classmates should come. It'll be better that way.”
“Relax,” I was the one to comfort her, placing a hand on her shoulder to make her ease up. It had the opposite effect. Instead of making her calm down it agitated her further. She reddened and avoided making eye contact. She was acting odd. I wasn't sure what brought on the episode. It sent mixed signals. I really didn't know if she preferred to be alone with me or not anymore.
 Invite other people
 Insist on doing it alone
Fine, whatever she wants. Jesus Christ, what are the odds of missing so much if there are only two choices? Pushing her further now would be too much because she feels guilty and inviting others isn't what she really want. So the choice boils down to make her do something that she doesn't want or being an insensitive jerkass. Damned if you do...
There doesn't seem to be much point in waiting longer so writing soonish. Waiting longer between updates didn't help. Not sure how fast I'll go in the future. Guess I've disproved the myth that this kind of story will always be popular and active. Hooray.
I took out my phone and sent out a couple of texts. It would be nice to be able to boast about having every cute girl in school's number but my contact list was really barren. Home, Auntie's mobile, Suika, Alice (both home and mobile) and a distant cousin I met years ago (she was new in town and I was being nice) were the highlights. There were a couple other classmates but that was because we were working on a project at some time or another. So my messages had to also specify that they should invite whomever they thought would be fun as well.
I got two confirmations within a few minutes. Suika was already somewhere in town and would come meet us. Alice said that she'd tag along and invite a friend or two, but no guarantees. That was about the best that I could hope on such short notice.
“We've got a group now,” I informed Marisa. She perked up a little, like the idea had been worthwhile after all. I couldn't remember where the karaoke place was exactly so we actually arrived after Suika had. She was leaning up against the wall, tapping her foot as if impatient. The little hellraiser was overjoyed at the prospect of singing. Should have figured.
She greeted us enthusiastically, “Yo! You guys just made my day. Thanks for the invite.”
“Hiya Suika,” Marisa greeted cheerfully in turn. “Glad you could make it.”
“Yeah, it was Marisa's idea,” I pointed to the blonde. If it had been up to me I would have skipped karaoke with Suika. It was only worth doing when drunk. Like blackout drunk. Otherwise it offended the senses.
“Let's have lots and lots of fun singing our hearts out!” she didn't skip a beat. Without showing any restraint, she badgered us about the others.
“Dunno,” I wasn't sure, “Alice said she's in and that she might bring someone. If you want we can go ahead and book a room.”
That should have gone without saying. Suika went ahead, virtually skipping like a giddy girl to the counter. I had to almost beat it into her that we should wait for the others before going in. They charged from the moment we went to the room. Thankfully the wait wasn't very long. Crisis averted. Alice came on in, bring in two others with her. The two groups exchanged their greetings.
“Heya Alice,” I was thankful that there were more people to act as a buffer for Suika. “Thanks for agreeing to come on such short notice.”
“You should be thanking Reimu here. We had met up to discuss the cultural festival and she was the one who said that it wasn't a problem to take a break from planning to come here.”
“Thanks class rep,” I showed Reimu an affectionate smile. She wasn't listening in on the conversation so she simply returned a polite, if confused, nod. I asked Alice about the unexpected sixth person, “Didn't know that you were friends with Shameimaru.”
“I don't really know her,” she said, “we just ran into her on our way here. Isn't she a friend of yours?”
“Hardly,” I replied. We just happened to know each other's true natures a little. But well, she was fine enough in a social situation. I assured Alice that she had done the right thing in inviting her, “well, she's nice enough and the more the merrier. That's what Marisa told me.”
And with that our group was complete. Aya smiled when our eyes met, and I hoped that she would behave. She better. I knew where her other, secret dark room was. Would be a shame if her prized negatives got misplaced. But that was only if she took advantage of the intimacy of the gathering.
The room we rented was pretty standard for the type of establishment. Large couch that was pressed against the wall, two extra chairs, a small table a monitor, a clock and microphones and the karaoke device itself. There was a phone for ordering up refreshments as well. It would be used later.
“Who wants to go first?” Suika asked, already fiddling with the machine. “If no one has a burning desire to do a solo right now, I'm going to propose something.”
Ah crap, that couldn't possibly be good.
She waited for everyone to say that they didn't mind before continuing. Of course she skipped over me, just assuming that I was fine with it. What are friends for if not for taking their assent for granted? Suika explained what was on her mind, “I say we pair up and compete against each other. Winners get the rest to buy them free snacks. Sound good?”
Of course it sounded good. No one thought that it was going to be a serious thing. But I knew her better than that. She would give it her all, like it was a life or death struggle. Fun times ahead, I shook my head.
Almost immediately the first pair had been formed. Aya moved quickly, enlisting Reimu as her partner. An odd couple by any metric. Felt like she had an ulterior motive for choosing her. She told us with a chuckle, “us darker-haired girls have to stick together to show the blondes and fair-headed people who is boss.”
That meant that I had to think fast. I didn't want to get stuck with Suika. I didn't want to be guaranteed to lose. So it was a choice between childhood friends.
This is her show, after all. Besides I want to see how happy is she right now.
>>46218 Sorry to interrupt your whining, but all of those stories where in /th/ If you want more popularity you have more than enough skill and update speed to be one of the most popular stories there.
I may be away for most of the next day. Maybe longer. Though if things work out, there'll be updates before then. A minimum of 8 hours to know for sure is the very optimistic projection for schedule confirmation.
>>46227 If I wanted to whine there'd be a hell of a lot more things I'd whine about. The usual self-depreciating humor and sardonic remarks that I make in my stories turn frustrating (sometimes outright depressing) realities into something bearable. The absurdity involved sometimes and the fatalism create a good starting point for hope. Spurring others on ideally. Not like I have many options open to me anyhow. But that's neither here nor there. Nor relevant to the story. On a more serious note: popularity, especially on thp is a complex topic. There's a lot of factors involved. It's definitely a subject better suited to a non-story thread.
I could have sworn I voted before, but uh, I guess not..."
Anyway, do we know if either Alice or Marisa is the better one at singing (the character blurb doesn't mention it for either of them)?
Because if we do, we should side with the one in question (so we can win and get the snacks, because we are poor and should definitely not spend the money buying food for someone else just because we lost - and he did mention being bad at singing, so we can't trust him to carry this).
It might not have come up, though...
(Also, congrats to you, man - this thread seems to almost be done and we're looking at Thread #4!)
Good news and bad news. The good is that I'm unbusy enough to write today. The bad is that I'm also really lazy so I won't write right now. Some time in the next few hours though. Not manning up and singing with Suika is just wrong and a violation of the bro code.
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So yeah. Free time devoured by unfun real life stuff. And the remainder spent on games and forgetting about life. However, I really do plan to get something out in the coming hours and do the faster updates again. I mean it. Feels like I'm going to jinx it again but there's nothing on the horizon.
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Insisting, as she always did when excited, Suika made it so that she would go first. Alice looked flabbergasted, probably thinking that it would have been better to coordinate some sort of strategy or at least agree upon what they were going to do. That was what anyone normal would expect. But I knew Suika well enough and I knew that she would strike while the iron was hot. The fallout be damned.
I shot the skittish Marisa a reassuring wink. “Relax,” I whispered to her as the first duo set themselves up. “we'll do fine.”
Part of me thought that she was acting weird. Didn't mind partnering per me on the surface. And yet, something was off. I couldn't help but feel that she was somehow uncomfortable with it all. Did she prefer to be all alone, after all? Or was it just some sort of performance anxiety. I couldn't stand overthinking things like I was. So I just went with my instinct and tried to inspire confidence.
“Think Alice'll be any good?” I asked snidely. “Never heard her sing but I pity her for being stuck with Suika.”
“Mmm,” Marisa paused before answering, watching how Suika scanned through the song library with zeal. She offered her judgment as the duo selected their song, “I don't think she'll be bad.”
A frown on Alice's face told me that things weren't on to a good start. But Suika would hear no objections, flailing her hand dismissively and telling her that everything would be fine. Passion would carry the day, etc. Boy, I was not looking forward to the next few minutes. The other duo was watching silently, not sure of what to make of the (soon to be aural) dissonance. Yeah, well there was no going back.
“Let's get a move on,” I jeered, “show us what you're really capable of.”
That set Suika off. If looks could kill, I'd have been skewered by the daggers she shot. I rolled my eyes, telling her to deal with it.
She conferred with Alice for a moment - a last minute pep talk or something equally pointless. Nodding, she handed over a mic and turned back to the machine. She punched a few keys and the song got underway. I smirked, recognizing the tune at once. Poor Alice got blindsided. Almost felt sorry for her.
The soft intro strummed along for about half a minute. Suika clenched her mic in anticipation. Alice looked tense, her eyes narrowed and her lips twitched a little. At last the lyrics began. Suika was the main singer and blasted off into a passionate, but off-key, rendition. She was as hotblooded and full of life as the main character from whose show the song was from. I cringed a little, thinking that perhaps that a super robot anime was a unfortunately dated place to pick something for karaoke. I was sure that everyone felt the same way and I could only guess what Alice was thinking as she sang the backing vocals with significantly more composure. They were a contrasting pair. Cool and collected and wild and heated. If they had costumes (and Suika didn't suck so much) and other people who were half-decent at playing instruments they'd make an interesting band.
Mercifully, the song was over quickly enough. I led the uneasy and awkward claps, blowing Suika a kiss.
“Bite me, we were awesome,” she defended herself as she sat back down.
“My, aren't we touchy?” I teased. Gentle ribbing was in order, “you were dynamite after all. And about as loud.”
“Well, we'll see if you do any better, Mr. Jealous.”
Jealous? Me? Suika had lost her mind.
“Who goes next?” Aya asked.
“Flip a coin?” I suggested. They went along with it. Heads us, tails them. Naturally it was heads. I shrugged, accepting the impartiality of probability. We went up to the machine and I began to browse through the music catalog. There was just about everything on the thing. I asked Marisa, “Is there any song that you'd prefer?”
“Something short. I'm not sure that I can sing very well. Not well enough to beat the others. You're probably better than I am.”
“Yeah, don't worry about that. Let's just do something that you like.” I told her, “You've seen how low the bar is, so we'll be fine.”
“Oy! Stop hitting on your partner and choose a song already! You'll still be paying for snacks no matter what.” Suika got her revenge for earlier by trash talking. She was an entirely different person when she was competing for something. Still too early for a one-fingered salute, I figured, so I just ignored her.
“Well... I think that this track or this track would be fine,” Marisa narrowed down her preferences to two choices. “Just go with what you think is best.” They were both mid-tempo ballads of sorts, the kind of duet you'd hear in a romantic comedy film. The key difference was the distribution of singing time. One had emphasized the male vocals more, while the other featured the female singer more prominently.
I punched up the song on the machine, gesturing to Marisa that she should follow my lead. Truthfully, there was a lump in my throat. I was nervous but it wasn't for the obvious reason. Sounding good was important but it wasn't as important as showing Suika who was boss. A petty reason to be wound up but it was just part of our special relationship. Couldn't have her giving me hell forevermore about her singing prowess.
“Karaoke is stupid,” I thought to myself as the song began. The competitive variety at least. Whatever happened to simply putting in no effort and having fun? Well, I didn't have the luxury of letting my mind wander. On cue, I began to sing my part with as much ease and confidence as I could muster. Marisa came in sometime after, answering my croons of long-lost love with regret and longing of her own. I couldn't tell how well we were doing, I was too focused on not messing up my lines. The lyrics were all that I was paying attention to.
And it was all over in a flash. I put down the mic and showed Marisa a smile of relief. To my surprise her entire face reddened. I was about to ask her if anything was the matter when I noticed that both Alice and Reimu showed similar reactions. They weren't blushing, but they avoided meeting my gaze nonetheless. Aya smiled stupidly and Suika pouted with her arms crossed.
Suika preempted the question that was on my mind with a “sit back down already, ladykiller.”
I shrugged and returned to my seat. Marisa followed. Aya and Reimu went up. I poked Suika and asked discretely, “what the hell just happened?”
“You played dirty, that's what,” she scowled, “I can't believe that instead of trying to do the song properly you hammed it up and tried to act so smooth and cool. I'm not impressed. Pick up women on your own time.”
“Umm... what?” What the hell was she on about? I just sang as best I could. Wasn't thinking of anything else.
“You jackass, quit trying to rub it in,” she said in a huff. My testy friend then ignored anything else I said, trying to make it seem like she was too interested in what the final duo was doing.
Resigned, I gave the last couple my full and undivided attention. They seemed to be at ease and confident enough. They quickly picked a song after conferring together and took up the mics. Turned out that they went with a pop song, something simple and catchy. Saccharine even. It was a pretty solid performance, overall. Still, a surprising choice for Reimu. The image I had of her was a serious one. Her more frivolous moments were few and far in between.
“Alright, we've all had our turn,” Suika got up as soon as they were done. “Let's see who came first and who came last. Everyone raise their hand when I mention a group. Oh, and you can't vote for your own group. Has to be someone else.”
The results were fairly obvious. Suika got a single pity vote from Aya. A majority of three went to Reimu and my group got two (Alice and Reimu).
“Well then, looks like we know who has to buy snacks,” I accepted the results. Suika had no choice but to agree. Luckily, Reimu just asked for juice and Aya said she didn't really want anything. Paying out for a fourth of a juice can wasn't too bad, all things considered.
After that we behaved a little more like a normal group of friends doing karaoke. In other words, we were singing for fun and goofing off without much restraint. Suika was a little bitter, not really because she lost so much as it was because I had beaten her too. Over some other activity, like video games we could have endless rematches but singing was different. I wasn't about to lose my voice in an idiotic duel with her. I only sang one more time and that went off without a hitch. Got a polite applause but it was at least a normal reaction from the others. Maybe it was the type of song?
Some mysteries were hard to figure out.
We only renewed the room once so we were done before it got too late. The class rep mentioned something about having to finish something for school and it was something that Alice had to do too. Aya excused herself as well. I didn't believe her excuse about having to feed her dog, it seemed like she wasn't too keen to hang around me if everyone else was leaving. That left Marisa and the surly Suika.
“I ought to get back...” Marisa said softly, like she was trying to be discreet.
“Do you want me to walk you back?” I offered, naturally.
“Um, no,” she replied evasively, “I'm fine walking back by my own.”
“It doesn't bother me at all to keep you company a bit longer,” I told her, “so don't worry. I'm a loser whose highlight of the day is spending time with his friends.”
“Thanks, but I'll be ok, don't worry.”
I looked over at Suika. She had begun to walk away without saying anything, still looking sour. How incredibly childish.
 Insist on walking Marisa home
 Cheer up Suika
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I said goodbye to Marisa. She was a big girl and could handle herself. A bigger source of concern was the infantile sourpuss. Sure, she'd get over it eventually but it would just be wrong to ignore her out of hand.
“Yo,” I said as I caught up and walked beside her, “running away isn't like you.”
“Great,” she muttered, “asshole won't leave me alone.”
“This asshole prides himself on being a solid friend,” I said with perhaps undeserved pride. A dependable confidant, a stalwart brother and, above all, a damn good mate. Those were things that I hoped to be. Fairly confident that I wasn't too bad. Not that I had many real friends. Friend was too easy a label to slap on just anyone. So I saved it for special people. There was Suika and... people... that I just couldn't name at the moment. At any rate I continued to appeal to her sensibilities, “we're better than this, you know. I really doubt that I really pissed you off.”
“I could really do without the gloating,” Suika replied acerbically.
“Who's gloating?” I made her an offer that she couldn't refuse, “come on now, I'll treat you to ramen. Sounds good, right? You can even ask for extra pork.”
“...I'll take your food, but only because I never say no to a free meal.”
I smiled but said nothing. If our roles were reversed I'd probably do the same.
We went to a nearby cart and ordered. Predictably, she did go for the extra pork and extra garlic. I went with something simpler, not feeling like gorging myself with food. Budgetary concerns were still in the back of my mind. It was tough to be broke for a long period of time and then have something to spend. It's easy to second guess all purchase decisions.
“You know, I'm not entirely sure why you're pissed off at me,” I remarked casually as we got our bowls of food. Looked good. Piping hot noodles with that alluring scent of scallions and stock. Judging by how the other patrons were quietly eating the taste was also more than satisfactory.
“Geh,” Suika gave an annoyed grunt, like I was ruining her treat with my question. It took a couple of slurps of noodles before she deigned to answer, “what was supposed to be a nice time out messing about turned into a pathetic display of your romantic and sensitive soul.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Romantic and sensitive soul? Seriously? It felt like the sort of accusation that followed after a few swigs of hard liquor.
“It pisses me off even more that you're acting dumb about it. Or is it really a coincidence that everyone besides me was someone you want to impress?”
“...wow, you're a paranoid piece of work,” I laughed so as to not let it get to me. “I just called you and Alice because you're the only people I could turn to. Marisa didn't really feel comfortable being all alone with me so I tried to take the edge off.”
“You're not really convincing me,” she played with her food, submerging pieces of pork beneath the tangled mess of noodle. “I mean that song of yours was really something.”
“Yeah, I don't get that. I was just trying to sing, dunno why everyone acted so weird about it.”
“It's because it sounded like a love serenade directed to someone special, you moron,” she got worked up, “I can't believe you weren't even aware of that.”
“Oh, so you believe my good intentions now.”
“I'm not sold yet,” Suika didn't seem to want to let go of her frustration. “I just know how much of an unperceptive idiot you can be at times. As your buddy I know that you need a good smack to set you straight sometimes.”
“How scary~” I added to the banter with obvious sarcasm, “that's just the kind of thing that I expect to hear from Alice. It's like I'm sitting with her double.”
“Screw you,” she tore back into her ramen. It didn't seem like she was really bothered any more, just acting like it.
“Seriously though, it really came off like that?” I couldn't get over it. Acting like a playboy was only appropriate under certain circumstances. Around classmates it wasn't a good idea. It worked better on people who didn't know me.
“Well, crap. Though I wouldn't mind if Reimu thought that I poured my heart out for her.”
“What's with you and shrine maidens anyways?” She asked.
“It's... complicated. Let's just say that I find the costume irresistable.” Also I may have had fantasies in the past that involved living in a remote area of the world with one. Something like being the guardian of an old but important shrine. There'd be nothing to do but pray, repair the structure every once in a while and tend to the garden. And whenever it rained or got cold we'd have to keep close for comfort and warmth. Real close.
“You have the dirtiest look on your face right now,” Suika sighed.
“Ah, sorry. You know how me and my imagination works.”
“Work on it. If you ever do get far with Reimu she might be put off by your wolf-like slobbering.”
“Oh, piss off already,” I flicked her forehead playfully.
We talked for a bit as we finished our food. Sure it would have been fine to let time bring us back together but it was nice to hang out. I didn't feel like seconds. Suika didn't either. So we left and started to walk at a leisurely pace to nowhere in particular.
“Wanna do something else?” I asked. “I've had a long day and I drinks sound nice.” Relaxing in a nice quiet bar somewhere sounded like a good way to get over an otherwise stressful week.
“We have school tomorrow.”
“Since when has that ever stopped us?”
“Just pointing it out,” she shrugged.
“Well then, do you want to or not?”
“Hmm,” she scrunched her forehead. “Nah, I'll pass. I have something I have to do before school, real early like.”
“Next time then,” I said.
“Yeah, next time. You should go ahead. You've been taking school life so seriously after all,” she chuckled, “it's almost like you're an honor student.”
“You take that back!” I exclaimed with feigned outrage and laughed. We both laughed.
“Thanks for the meal, see ya tomorrow.” She waved goodbye and disappeared at the next intersection. It had been a long day in more than one sense. Calling it a day, though? Unusual for her. Then again, so was me being the good and proper student.
So, I'm going to say we should head to sleep, right about now.
Give us a chance to wake up early and, you know, head to school and all that, not bring too much attention to ourselves by avoiding it (well, ok, maybe us being there would bring attention just because we'd actually be doing stuff, but it'd give us a chance to interact with some friendly faces).
Plus, it's getting late - do we actually know anyone who would be hanging out this late, at a watering hole?
I can't really think of anyone, right now...
Most of the girls we've met have some other focus, that doesn't seem to involve drinking, or they're hard-working.
So that's my vote.
Heading to sleep is needed, so we can interact with others at school later.
[X] Go Home
Though I'd be willing to be convinced otherwise, if someone else has some idea with the watering hole thing.
Also, I'm thinking it'd be a good thing to add, to the character blurbs thing, something about Yuuka, and where Marisa works?
>>46294 It's a brief summary of who they are, not what they do/have done. Theoretically subject to modification if their characters change or are discovered to be fronts. I'm wary of spending time summing up what characters have done in a story anyways.
...also since when does it have to be obvious who the choices correspond to? What sort of attitude they mean is always more relevant.
>>46297 Uh, how does Marisa relate to going to a bar? And this would be the first time in the story that it's a choice. Everything else is mentioned in passing when talking about Suika.
It's a bit disappointing that no one seems to be familiar with the material the story is inspired by to recognize obvious tropes and patterns. Not that big of a deal. More importantly, the nature of the protagonist seems to befuddle some. The choices are things he'd do but the intent put forward by you often seems incongruous. Arc is not a blank slate ready made for self-insertion. Living vicariously through him is more of the point. Not entirely sure that it's mostly my failing but I'd love to be proven wrong and use that to improve. I'm avoiding negative reinforcement but positive reinforcement doesn't seem to do anything. Not sure if this post helps but it's frustrating to witness people repeatedly treat the story like a serious zero-sum thing and not the broad messy swatches of fun stuff that it's supposed to be. I also expect to be ignored by the majority but the day I lose all hope is the day I stop writing.
Let's try to speed things up with updates now that we've had a few days of lethargic progress. Check more often please.
“You're back early,” Auntie greeted me as I came in. She was going through a ledger at the table. Store accounts by the looks of it. Part of her job. “Back a whole hour before curfew.”
“Yeah, I got tired of smoking and drinking with strangers under the bridge.” Another equally irreverent line would have been “I have a curfew?” but I went with an old standby.
Unflappable as always, she just rolled her eyes. She pointed towards the kitchen and said, “If you're done cracking wise, would you like some dinner? I ordered in chinese and there's some left.”
“Already ate,” I told her. “I'm just going to go to my room now.”
“Alright, good night then. I'd ask you about your date but it seems like you don't want to talk about it.”
“...” I said nothing. Well, it wasn't a difficult assumption to make. Needing money, going out on a weekend, getting back late. All signs of a youth trying his hand at courtship. Still, it was annoying how she was always on the mark.
There wasn't much to do in my room. Boredom quickly set in. Games and magazines could only do so much before I decided that it would be a better idea to simply turn in for the night. Boring, but acceptable. Took a while to force myself to sleep. And, as revenge for trying to act like a conscientious student turning in for an early start, I was awake way before I had to be.
I took my time making breakfast. A pile of papers lay where Auntie was working. She had been at it for a while, by the looks of it. Well, maybe not. A close look showed that instead of numbers and figures she had doodled along the margins. They were pretty elaborate too, dragons fighting tanks and livestock with beards and attitudes. I watched TV while I ate, getting the day's forecast from a cheerful meteorologist. Sunny with a northeasterly breeze.
What could I do to pass the time? It was still kind of early to go to school. Had a half hour to kil at least. There was no point playing games this early unless I was willing to risk losing all track of time. One thing came to mind. A chance at role reversal. Very exciting. Depended on whether or not I really felt like starting my day with something bold. I was bored enough to at least think it over.
 Wake up Alice for a change
 Being the first at school is exciting enough
Alice isn't exciting at all... We could meet someone super-interesting this early. And although we won't be there to see it, the look on Alice's face when she realizes he left without her would be delicious.
Auntie's drawings sound neat. He should count himself lucky that he gets to witness such artistic talent.