People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby QuietlySomething » Tue May 02, 2017 8:54 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:Really, this chapter felt like you were in a rush to get he relationship started rather than it developing normally.
So far the impression I got from Naomi was that she probably is mildly interested in Hisao but not that she'd be so anxious that she'd confess right there.

Hisao's reaction was... weak? I mean I understand that he isn't the most eloquent person, but "You're… not wrong" is almost insultingly underwhelming.

Also, we (the readers) are in Hisao's head. So far you've done a good job with interior monologues, and here he gets confessed to, and what we get is a description of Naomis expression and the fact that he thinks that she's cute when she's blushing...

There are several seconds of silence there. Usually his mind should be running in circles

Huh. Well that's a disappointing reaction but I guess I am playing with fire here. "That escalated quickly" was the intended reaction but "that was rushed and unnatural" definitely was not :P

I guess my reasoning here was that while Naomi is impatient and a bit volatile, she is also somewhat insecure about how Hisao feels about her and so wants to avoid mixed messages for the sake of transparency. When I first wrote this my betareader told me she felt their relationship was dragging a little; I wonder if that has something to do with chapters being posted over the course of a few months rather than a bunch of them dumped here and thus read all together at once. Of course for a full completed fic that should not make any difference at all so that difference of opinion is valuable.

While I'm disappointed that you feel like their relationship hasn't had any time to develop (which wasn't my goal) I did want Naomi's confession to feel a bit out of left field since that's Hisao's reaction. Hisao's minimal reaction was intentional but maybe it doesn't play as well as I thought. I mean that, given that she totally blindsided him, it's less like he had a hundred thoughts at once and more like he completely drew a blank and had to go with his gut and figure it out later. Hence him truthfully having no idea what to say and being more or less dumbfounded.

Of course if it doesn't work I can always retool this chapter. I'm not sure how to proceed because I've had some very positive reactions to this chapter as well. But this is the most recent chapter so I have some time to decide that as well.

Either way thank you very much for your analysis to help me improve my writing.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby HoneyBakedHam » Wed May 03, 2017 5:21 am

azumeow wrote:I'm gonna be honest, here, Mirage, that would be my reaction if a girl confessed to me. Wait, what? Uh...huh. Sweet.

That might just be because I'm a sarcastic git, though


My reaction would be the same also, but only because I never expect anyone to feel that way about me from my self-esteem in social stuff (or lack of).

I know when I first read it, the explanation that Quiet said was what went through my mind. Does it make Hisao look like one of the generic protagonists you see in harem anime? Sure, but at least we're given an explanation as of why Hisao is specifically going down that route.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Mirage_GSM » Wed May 03, 2017 8:21 am

Well, the rapid/sudden development part is not so bad imo.
We're looking at the story through Hisao's eyes after all, and it's entirely possible that Naomi dropped a lot more hints then Hisao noticed and passed on to us.

Still, even if Hisao really went braindead here I'd expect a girl like Naomi to at least call him out on this unenthousiastic response.

Rule of thumb: If you get confessed to, and you respond with what boils down to "Yeah, sure" don't expect to get to second base anytime soon :-)

Edit: By the way, his reaction to the "Second Base" comment is also kind of flat.

Oh, and most stories would bring up Hisaos heart condition at a moment like this... I'm a bit glad you didn't because that trope has become stale ages ago.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Oddball » Wed May 03, 2017 7:02 pm

I'm with Mirage about the confession seeming a bit weak.

One thing I think that may have affected it is how you did a lot of the earlier dialogue between them as JUST the dialogue and nothing else. You don't mention expressions, actions, tone of voice, how they're thinking or anything like that, and I think it makes some of the interactions seems a bit more hostile and less playful. I'm assuming you wanted them to be more playful. It's hard to tell.

Another odd thing is how Shizune didn't have a valid excuse or explanation ready when called out in the paper. I thought she would have prepared something for that, even if it was just B.S.


I did like how the Nurse doesn't insist Hisao run with Emi or even Miki in this story. I've felt that's far too overused and you avoid it nicely. I'm kind of expecting Naomi to think of a way to spice up his walks though.

I also really like the idea that Natsume is a bit jealous of Emi. Cute touch there.

I look forward to see how Hisao does with the book mystery. Having him try to interview Yuuko, or even Hanako could be fun.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby QuietlySomething » Thu May 04, 2017 12:25 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:Still, even if Hisao really went braindead here I'd expect a girl like Naomi to at least call him out on this unenthousiastic response.

Rule of thumb: If you get confessed to, and you respond with what boils down to "Yeah, sure" don't expect to get to second base anytime soon :-)

Edit: By the way, his reaction to the "Second Base" comment is also kind of flat.

Oddball wrote:I'm with Mirage about the confession seeming a bit weak.

One thing I think that may have affected it is how you did a lot of the earlier dialogue between them as JUST the dialogue and nothing else. You don't mention expressions, actions, tone of voice, how they're thinking or anything like that, and I think it makes some of the interactions seems a bit more hostile and less playful. I'm assuming you wanted them to be more playful. It's hard to tell.

Thanks for your comments guys. I'm gonna work on improving this chapter (and making the other corrections) before I move onto 10. I do think I should be able to make it less flat and unnatural without getting rid of what I was trying to do. Hopefully the pacing of the story isn't hurt too much, and it comes off better then.

Oddball wrote:Another odd thing is how Shizune didn't have a valid excuse or explanation ready when called out in the paper. I thought she would have prepared something for that, even if it was just B.S.

Well, not if she wasn't expecting to be challenged in the first place. :)

Mirage_GSM wrote:Oh, and most stories would bring up Hisaos heart condition at a moment like this... I'm a bit glad you didn't because that trope has become stale ages ago.

Oddball wrote:I did like how the Nurse doesn't insist Hisao run with Emi or even Miki in this story. I've felt that's far too overused and you avoid it nicely. I'm kind of expecting Naomi to think of a way to spice up his walks though.

Ha well I'm glad to hear I have avoided some clichés so far even if mostly by accident :P I will hope that I can keep that up at least going forward.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Mirage_GSM » Thu May 04, 2017 12:00 pm

Well, not if she wasn't expecting to be challenged in the first place.

Really? She accused Naomi of libel and expected her just to take it?
Not likely.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby QuietlySomething » Thu May 04, 2017 12:41 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:
Well, not if she wasn't expecting to be challenged in the first place.

Really? She accused Naomi of libel and expected her just to take it?
Not likely.

Well the idea was that it wasn't something she'd planned out, just a reactionary comment she made out of defensiveness without much reasoning behind it, hence why she would attack the person who was "in charge" of publishing it rather than the person who actually wrote it and would be equipped to argue with her.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Oddball » Thu May 04, 2017 3:08 pm

Keep in mind, Shizune at one point says you should always find out as much as you can before going to a place, even if it's the supper market.

To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, I'm sure she always has an alibi and one or two to spare.

Even if she doesn't expect to even need to use them.

Besides, it's more fun when the people fight back.
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Act 2 - Play Date

Postby QuietlySomething » Tue Jul 04, 2017 12:08 am

I've gotten into a staring contest with myself in the mirror. Should I do something with my hair? Put product in it or something? That would probably look unnatural.

It feels stupid to be nervous about a date, especially with someone as easygoing as Naomi, but what can I say? She's hard to read. I don't know what she is expecting from me, or, for that matter, what I'm expecting from her.

I splash water on my face. It doesn't help me wake up or get ahold of myself like it does in the movies, but it does get my collar wet, which is uncomfortable.

I hear the bathroom door open, and I actively avoid turning around, as though if I stay still Kenji won't know I'm here.

His face appears in the mirror next to mine, and he straightens his glasses, looking directly at my reflection. "What are you doing in my bathroom?"

"Kenji, this is my bathroom, too," I reply with a sigh.

He freezes for a moment. "Of course. That was a test."

"Right."

"You look nice. Or, at least, I think you look nice." Kenji glances over his shoulder self-consciously. "I don't know. Do you look nice?"

"Uh." I look down and straighten my polo shirt, which I've decided is the right middle ground between casual and sharp dress. "I hope so."

"You're not wearing your uniform. Why not?" Kenji demands.

"Because it's Sunday. I'm going on a d- uh, a trip. Into the city."

"Hm. Suit yourself." Kenji makes a dramatic shrug, turning away from the mirror to pace around the floor of the bathroom. "I don't usually go into the city, myself. I don't want to get too far away from my room for too long. That leaves an opening for spies and thieves."

"Makes sense."

"It does, it does. I can keep watch for you while you're gone, if you want. From my own dorm, of course."

He seems so sincere about it… it's almost noble, in a weird Kenji kind of way.

I turn to face him, leaning back against the sink. "…Thanks."

"No problem, dude."

Making a finger gun with one hand, he turns and walks coolly toward the exit of the bathroom, like his mission is complete.

"Uh, Kenji, did you just come in here to say hi, or did you want to use the bathroom?" I ask quietly.

He whips his head around. "Well, not while you're in here. Duh."

I shoot him a look, but it's lost on him, so I just shake my head instead. Before he gets too far, I shoot ahead of him to cut him off at the door. "It's fine. I'm finished."

"Ah. Gotcha."

He pats me on the shoulder before I shut the door behind me, a little disoriented.

I set aside a couple of minutes to swallow my pills before returning to my mirror to overanalyze myself a little more. Maybe a polo is too stuffy? No matter what I show up in, Naomi will probably read way too much into it.

My cell phone rattles against one of the pill cases on my bedside table, pulling me abruptly out of my vain little fashion show. I already know who it is before looking at my phone, but I still wince when I hear Naomi's voice.

"What the hell's taking you so long?"

I pull the phone away from my ear instinctively, and give myself a moment before returning it. "Yeah, hello to you, too."

"Oh, yeah, hi." She takes a brief pause, I assume just to be polite, before speaking again. "Uhh, so what the hell's taking you so long?"

"I'm just getting ready. Give me a minute."

"Where's your room? I'm coming up."

Tucking my phone under my ear, I dab a towel against my collar to help it dry. I probably wouldn't have time to change even if I wanted to, at this point.

"Don't come up. Just give me a minute. I'm finishing up."

"What, are you ironing your clothes? You know I have to put on makeup, right? How am I ready before you?"

I swing open the door to my room and take off down the hall, taking my phone in my hand again. "I wish I knew, Naomi. I really do."

"Well, hurry up. If we miss the bus, it's your head."

Quiet giggling, obscured by phone static, reverberates from her end, but I'm not sure if she intended for me to hear it or not.

"Understood."

I raise a hand in greeting to one of the guys standing around in the hallway, and it occurs to me that I don't know his name. I wonder if he knows mine.

Naomi huffs loudly. "It's not polite to keep a lady waiting. You're going to make a bad first impression."

"I am pretty sure we are way past the point of first impressions by now."

I step through the entrance to the male dorms, and I am immediately greeted by a beautiful sunny day. Part of me thinks it will be too hot to go walking around in the city all afternoon in the blazing sun, but that's probably too pessimistic of me.

"Yeah, you know, with anyone else I would be inclined to agree with you," says Naomi- and it occurs to me after half a second that her voice came from behind me that time, much more loudly than it echoed through my phone's speaker. I flip around to find her leaning against the wall next to the door, and she greets me with the tiniest wave of her fingers.

It's the first time I've actually seen Naomi in everyday clothes, and it makes me resent our school uniforms for a moment. She's got on a t-shirt the same shade of pink as Misha's hair with a white logo plastered over the front, and- a bit more distractingly- very tight blue jeans. It looks like she dressed to look cute rather than stay cool in the sun, which I guess in hindsight is kind of what I did, too. Even still, if I were her, I probably would have worn a skirt.

Taking a step off of the wall to approach me, she snaps her phone shut with one hand, looking me over with a self-amused grin. "Wow, polo shirt, huh? I didn't know we were pulling out all the stops on the first date. I didn't even wear my good lingerie."

Aw, man; I knew I should have changed clothes.

…Hang on, what?

"…That was a joke," she follows up after an awkward pause, apparently reading my reaction from my face. "You can relax, Hisao."

"Right… sorry."

"Hey, if I'm coming on too strong, or making you uncomfortable, or whatever, please tell me. I'm not a very good judge of that kind of thing. And if you haven't figured it out by now, I don't have much of a filter." She smirks with self-amusement, throwing her head back.

"You don't need to watch what you say around me."

I say that almost automatically, just as a courtesy, but it makes me feel strange anyway. I mean, it seems like a nice thing to say, but is it really true? It feels like I've been talking to Naomi practically all the time lately, and yet I have to admit that even still, I sometimes have no idea to respond to her. Do I expect her to filter herself around me? I don't want to be that kind of person.

I can't help but think of Rin for a moment. I wonder if, in some alternate universe, she and I could have gotten along better.

…Yeah, no, probably not.

"Thanks for saying that," Naomi chirps, "but I'm still gonna try to avoid making any more jokes about my lingerie. At least for today."

She laughs out loud at my obvious relief, though I'm still conflicted about it. Part of me wants to tell her I would be happy to talk about her lingerie, but I think that might send the wrong message.

She tugs on my arm before I make up my mind, and we take off at a brisk pace toward the school's gate. "C'mon; I told you it would be your head if we miss the bus," she says playfully.

"You know exactly where we're going?"

"Course. Natsume and I do this all the time."

"And how often do you miss the bus?"

"About as often as Natsume keeps me waiting."

With that, she releases my arm, forcing me to scurry along behind her.

Thankfully, the bus stop is only a short distance from the front gate, and so it doesn't take us long to get in full view of the bus already parked there, about to depart.

Naomi nearly leaps into the air upon noticing this, and immediately takes off running, waving her hands around in the air like she's on fire. "Oh, shit! Wait! Wait!"

I take off after her as best I can, and just manage to squeeze in behind her before the door shuts behind me. The bus driver seems to visibly recoil upon seeing Naomi, though she seems pretty excited to see him in return.

"Mr. Hatanaka! Thank God it's you!" Naomi proclaims cheerfully, clasping her hands to her chest. "I should have known you would come through for me."

"And I should have known it would be you that I had to wait for." With a gruff frown, he takes the bus fare that Naomi offers him. He looks past her, straight at me, and says, "You brought a boy today. I sure hope he knows what he's getting into."

"He sure doesn't. So don't mess this up for me."

He laughs out loud and waves us toward the back of the bus. "Alright, alright. I don't have time to talk. Siddown."

"Thanks so much!"

Naomi gives a small bow and shuffles off toward the seats in the back, which are barren even compared to the rest of the sparsely-populated bus. None of the other passengers seem even slightly amused by her, but that doesn't seem to bother her in the slightest. I admire that sort of shamelessness, even while I am a little embarrassed myself.

I slump down in the seat next to Naomi in the back of the bus, shooting her a glance. "Why am I not surprised that you know the bus driver?"

She nods and points toward the front. "Mr. Hatanaka? He drives this bus route a lot, so plenty of students know him at least in passing. I wrote an article about him in the paper last year. He's actually a really nice guy. His wife works at the hospital near Yamaku."

My first thought is that it seems odd that a doctor would be married to a bus driver, but I feel guilty for thinking it. After all, maybe Mr. Hatanaka really is just a nice guy, and they're married purely out of love. That's kind of sweet, even though I know that I just made that story up and don't have any idea whether it's true or not.

I'm quiet for a while as I let my mind wander, eventually resting my head against the back of the seat as the road rolls past. I spent a lot of time wandering around the city as a kid, but the thought of doing it today just makes me forlorn.

Eventually Naomi says something to me, but I tune it out entirely. It isn't until she says something else a minute later that I realize that would probably be rude and turn my head to pay attention to her again.

"Hey. Spaceman. I'm talking to you," she says loudly.

"Sorry, I got distracted."

She puffs her cheeks out at me, and I can tell she is holding back the urge to ask me what I'm thinking about. Then, after a second, she changes the subject. "You slept late today, didn't you?"

I was kind of hoping she wouldn't call me out on that, but I know she doesn't like to be kept waiting so I probably shouldn't have expected to get off the hook.

"Yeah. A little," I admit.

She nods a few times before continuing, though to my surprise she seems totally unbothered. "So does that mean you haven't had any lunch?"

"No. Not yet."

"Cool. Neither have I." She hums quietly, tucking her hands behind her head. "There's a really great ice cream place, right next to the bus stop."

"Ice cream?" I laugh. "I thought you were talking about getting something to eat for lunch."

"I am."

She raises an eyebrow at me, intrigued to see my response. Of course, she already knows what I'm going to say, so I suppose she's more just wondering if I'm actually going to bother scolding her.

I am.

"…You can't have ice cream for lunch."

Predictably, she laughs out loud at that, shooting her nose toward the ceiling. "Like hell I can't! It's my money; I'll spend it however I want! I'm not gonna be pretty and thin forever, you know."

"Not if you eat ice cream for lunch, you're not."

"Whatever, Grandpa." She looks at her fingernails, clearly not impressed. "I'm pretty sure you can get a sandwich there instead, if that's more your speed."

"Hey, don't let me tell you what to do. You can act like a kid all you want; just don't let me be seen with you while you're doing it."

She snorts loudly, and then lowers her head out of embarrassment and covers her mouth. She sure does make it rewarding to get a laugh out of her.

Noticing me smiling at her, she tilts her head up, biting her lip like she's been restraining herself from saying something. I shrug with open palms to get her to continue, which she does without much resistance.

Folding her hands on her lap to look serious, she asks, "So, this is a real date, right?"

I'm a little stricken for a second. "Uh, as opposed to what?"

"As opposed to, you didn't want to embarrass me yesterday and now you're regretting not saying so, because you're in over your head."

Oh, man. I'd be impressed with myself if I managed to ruin the afternoon before I even got off the bus.

She watches me, more with curiosity than anticipation, and after a moment of thought I shake my head furiously to write the notion off.

"No. That's not it at all," I say frankly.

She doesn't even slow down. "Because I would totally get it, if that were the case. I know I didn't really give you an easy out yesterday, so-"

"Naomi, I thought you said you were nearly positive I felt the same way you did. What's with the tone shift?"

She narrows her eyes at me with suspicion, then turns away and rests her head on her fist, like The Thinker. I wonder if she is doing that on purpose.

"Okay. Prove it." Naomi sits up again so that she can cross her arms at me.

"What? What does that mean?"

"It means that it was my idea to do this, and I'm putting in all the legwork here. And I'm not used to that. So, if you really want to be here with me, I want you to prove it." Naomi brushes her hair to the side with a smirk. "Pay me a compliment. Say something people say on a date."

The bus rumbles a little, going over a bump or something. Naomi doesn't take her eyes off me for a second, keeping her head tilted a little to the side. I just know that she is already planning how to twist whatever I tell her into something bad, just to play with me. Now definitely does not feel like the time for mixed messages…

…Well, you only live once.

Feigning more confidence than I actually have, I slide a little out of my chair, place my hand against the side of her head, and kiss her. She is clearly stunned.

It takes her a second to react, but the moment our lips meet, she grabs me by the collar with a muffled hum and pulls me roughly toward her, so that I am forced to grab onto the back of my seat with my free hand just to avoid falling out of it.

When she decides we are done, she flattens her hand against my chest and pushes me half an inch away from her. She keeps her hand resting against my chest though, and when I return to my own seat it simply slumps down onto her lap like she forgot it was there.

That whole gesture, which was quite a bit more intense than I was anticipating, obviously drew stares, and I can see Mr. Hatanaka chuckling to himself, having seen us through the rear view mirror. Thankfully, my heart is already pounding, and I can barely summon up the energy to be embarrassed.

I turn back to Naomi, whose face is now frozen into a look of bewilderment. She creaks her head to the side to look me in the eye, and I laugh breathily.

Obviously roused, she pushes a bit of hair out of her face, smacking her lips as she attempts to find the right words. "…Well, shit, Hisao, you got me. I did not see that coming."

"I, uh." I slump back into my seat, but she doesn't take her eyes off me for a second. "I just kinda went for it," I say after a moment.

"Yeah. Yeah, you sure did. Damn." She touches the tips of her fingers to her lips, eyes still wide. "That. That was really hot."

"That's kinda what I was going for."

"You." She shakes her head and laughs again, looking at the floor. "You are a piece of work, Hisao."

With nothing left to say, she places her hands behind her head and nestles herself into her seat, eyes closed. She stays like this for some time. Not to overstate it, but she seems genuinely blown away, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me a little prideful.

The bus bumbles along at a slow pace, making periodic stops and filling in the seats next to us with disgruntled-looking townsfolk. Naomi drums up a bit of chit-chat but never comes up with anything serious or consequential to say, though I'm not sure if that's because of what I did or just because we've lost the privacy of the seats in the back.

When the bus finally hits our stop, Naomi is the last one to get up, following the procession up to the front of the bus so she can thank Mr. Hatanaka again. I raise my hand awkwardly to acknowledge him before scurrying after her out into the city. She immediately takes off walking, but I pause in the middle of one of the walkways raised above the street. It's a neat, modern thing that I never had back home.

The city feels huge from the inside, in a way that really does make me feel a bit nostalgic. I'd like to take some time to look around, but Naomi beats me to it, jabbing me in the arm before I have any time to get lost in thought.

"Cool, huh?" she asks, apparently reading my expression. "I'm a city kind of person, myself. Way more interesting than the sleepy little town around Yamaku. A little loud for you?"

"No. Not at all." I walk up to the railing to stand just over it, watching the cars below. "I grew up in the city. Well, not this city, but… you know. It's familiar."

"No shit? Hisao's a city slicker? You are just full of surprises today."

Naomi hovers next to me for a little while, drumming her hands against the railing. After a second she realizes it is too hot to keep her hands against, and crosses her arms instead, raising one hand to cover her eyes from the sun.

It's no surprise that she likes it in the city. Lots of people to talk to, and nothing ever slows down enough to get boring. She even looks like she fits right in.

"So where'd you grow up?" I ask, having already turned to look at her.

She sighs quietly to herself. "Absolute middle of nowhere. Mind-numbing suburb. Don't get me started." After taking a moment, she shakes her head at me and then turns, taking off down the walkway. "Come on. I'm hungry. Creamery's right around the corner."

She marches off down the street, like an explorer traversing uncharted territory. At least that means we probably aren't going to get lost.

"What's on the itinerary today?" I ask, following closely behind her.

"Whatever the hell we want. That's my itinerary." Throwing up her hands, Naomi shoots me a glance over her shoulder and smiles broadly. "I'd be happy to show you around, if you want. But I guarantee you we will be spending some time in the shopping district before the end of the day. I was thinking I might get a new hat."

"What happened to the old one?"

"Nothing! Is there a reason I shouldn't have two hats?"

"Uh, I guess not."

"My friend, that is why I brought you instead of Natsume."

"I thought you said you do this with Natsume all the time."

"I do!" She skids to a stop at the corner and flips around, clasping her hands together. "And when she's around, she always makes me restrain myself."

"I'm surprised you'd let her boss you around like that," I reply with a raised eyebrow.

"Boss me around? No, no… more like… she makes me feel guilty for spending money all frivolously. She likes to be the voice of reason." She gestures to me in demonstration. "So, y'know, naturally I couldn't wait to ditch her."

"So you're just using me to indulge your bad habits."

"I would never. Now, c'mon; I want some ice cream."

As soon as we turn the corner, we're greeted by the entrance to a small, old-school ice cream parlor, just as Naomi had mentioned. She leads me in without a second thought.

The whole place is painted white and is air conditioned to the point of being nearly freezing, like they want the whole building to feel like the inside of a tub of ice cream. The menu is small, since all the ice cream flavors are listed behind the glass of the front counter. Clearly, the emphasis here is on desserts, though the chalkboard with the menu on it does list a few different sandwiches. I don't see a grill anywhere, though, so presumably all of the real food is just pre-packaged.

Despite there being two dozen flavors to choose from, Naomi does not even look at any of the ice cream behind the glass, instead marching up to the front counter and calling out to get the attention of the man working there.

She grins like a little kid, leaning both elbows on the top of the counter while she orders. "Two strawberry cones, please. Two scoops each."

I cut in almost automatically. "Naomi, please, you don't need to order anything for me."

"Huh?" She looks over her shoulder at me with a hilarious, broad smile, then turns back to the counter. "I'm not. Get your own." The guy behind the counter laughs out loud and Naomi giggles at him, slapping her hand down on the counter and walking to the end to pay for her ice cream.

A cone in each hand, Naomi walks up to me, raising an eyebrow with anticipation. "Alright, go ahead and order your lunch. Warm milk and a laxative for Grandpa, right?"

I watch her carefully for a moment, then lean into the counter and look the attendant straight in the eye. "Vanilla."

---

"Ugh! I wish we'd found this place earlier!" With both hands holding her sun hat steady, Naomi spins slowly to position it properly, almost knocking over the few shopping bags at her feet.

I look past her, out the window of the shop we're standing in. The sun is still out, but starting to wane. I ran out of the stamina to go store-to-store some time ago, but there's something entertaining about watching Naomi pick things out for herself. She just gets so… excited. Like it's Christmas morning every time she finds something she can spend money on.

Aside from that, it's been forever since I had the chance to take a whole day just to unwind and enjoy myself. Catching up on schoolwork has been kind of rough, considering the time I've had to put in to help with the newspaper. Hell, even the day of the festival had me running errands for Natsume.

"What do you think, Hisao?" Naomi asks expectantly, placing a hand on her hip and tipping her sun hat.

I look her over. "Looks good. And practical."

"Seriously? You think so? 'Cause I feel like I'm wearing a sombrero."

"Yeah, seriously. It's… cute. It's a good look for you."

We exchange a brief glance, which is apparently enough to satisfy her that I'm telling the truth. Reaching into the back pocket of her jeans, she walks to the counter at the front of the store to pay for the hat. She only takes it off briefly to let the cashier scan the tag on it before putting it right back on again, emboldened by my compliment.

I pick up her shopping bags and walk toward the entrance of the store to meet Naomi there, but she takes them from me as soon as I get close. "I've got them, thanks."

I tuck my hands into my pockets. I haven't bought anything during the trip so far, aside from a couple of drinks for the two of us. It's not that I didn't have the opportunity- more just that I didn't feel the need. I guess an impromptu shopping trip just feels a little too impulsive.

We step through the door, and Naomi leans back against the wall to the side of it, looking me over suspiciously.

"Do you like shopping?" She asks, lowering her head to shade her face with the brim of her hat, which suddenly makes it feel like an important question.

I almost say 'sure', but something stops me, and I shrug instead. "…No, not really. Kinda boring."

Naomi thinks on that for a few moments before grinning and walking away from the wall, bags swinging at her hips. "My dad says that if I ever find a guy who says he likes shopping, I'll know he's a keeper, because that means he's willing to tell little white lies to make me feel better."

I can't see her face, so I have no idea how to gauge what she meant by that. Not that it matters, because my reply is automatic. "Oh. Sorry."

"Don't be. I hate white lies." She stops in place and glances at me over her shoulder. "Tell me this afternoon hasn't been a complete bore. I mean… good company?"

"Good company. I promise I'm not bored," I respond truthfully.

Naomi nods contentedly and slacks her arms, letting her shoulders slump from the weight of her shopping bags. I can't believe she hasn't gotten tired of carrying those by herself yet. Without giving her the opportunity to protest, I walk up next to her and take one of her bags.

Evidently it is full of cinder blocks. I already know I'm going to regret this. Damn, does Naomi work out or something?

"Wow, what a gentleman," Naomi snickers, throwing up her hand when I snatch the bag out of it.

"I'm doing my best."

I take a step forward, but she doesn't follow along, evidently because she is lost in thought.

After a couple moments of this, she purses her lips and makes a strange face. "Okay, new idea: we could hit the bookstore. It's really nice; only a block away, too."

I glance around briefly at the storefronts around us. "No, that's alright. I usually just borrow from the library if I want to read something-"

"Borrow?" she scoffs. "Boring! If you buy it, then you have it, y'know?"

"I guess I can't argue with that. It's just that-"

"Oh, it's just that nothing, Hisao! C'mon, I've been dragging you around all afternoon. I want you to go get something for yourself so I don't have to feel bad."

"No, no, don't feel bad." I glance at my watch again and shrug. "I just mean- isn't it getting a little… late?"

"Late? You kidding me?" Naomi closes the distance between us in a flash, grabbing my wrist with her free hand to look at my watch. "5:00 is late now? Geez, you really are a grandpa."

"Well, I don't mean late so much… it's just that, we've got that long bus ride, and then we have classes tomorrow…"

"Yeah, yeah. You're right." She releases my wrist with a sigh and wanders a few steps away from me. "Dinner, then. What are you in the mood for?"

"Anything."

I'm a bit too proud to admit it, but I seriously regret not getting any actual food for lunch. I'm hungry enough that I would honestly eat anywhere, as long as they seated us quickly.

"Hungry? Yeah, me too," Naomi sighs. "I know a fancy place would probably be more romantic, or whatever, but I'd really rather go somewhere that wouldn't make me feel out-of-place in jeans and a tee."

She looks down and checks her outfit, turning her leg inwards to look at her jeans from the side. There are absolutely no complaints about what she's wearing from my end, and I'm pretty sure she knows that, as I know she's caught me staring at least once today. She never said anything about it, though… which is pretty suspicious, knowing her.

I straighten out my shirt self-consciously, clearing my throat. "I, uh- I'm not exactly dressed for a formal place, either."

"Well, there's this little French bistro-type place just nearby. It's really more aimed at the lunch crowd, so it's not too fancy, but the food is awesome. And it should be a little more quiet… and, y'know, private."

"Private? Yeah, that, uh… that's important."

"Right."

She raises an eyebrow at me and smirks, taking off again. I do my best to catch up with her, but the fifty-pound weights in the shopping bag take me by surprise and weigh me down, forcing me to trail behind.

The restaurant she leads us to is small and tucked away, hidden at the end of a remote strip of shops. The building itself is pretty tiny, so the majority of the seating is outdoors, on the patio in front. As such, we're seated at the table nearest to the door, giving us both a full view of all the other diners out on the patio. Just as Naomi said, the place is pretty sparse, and everyone seems to be exclusively dining in pairs.

Come to think of it, I doubt any of these tables are big enough to comfortably seat more than two people. I'd bet anything Naomi knew about it, and figured this would be a good location for a date. If it were just a little darker out- and a little further from the nearby city traffic- I bet this place would actually make for a pretty romantic evening.

Naomi takes off her sun hat as soon as we sit down, stuffing it into one of the shopping bags we leaned against the table leg. Her hair is a little tousled from being stuffed into the hat, so she shakes it out like a dog and runs a hand through it to get it out of her face. She knows it's cute, too; it's written all over her face. What a show-off.

"I've been thinking about putting it up in twin-tails," she hums, leaning into the table. "What do you think?"

…I can't help the comparison.

"You can't do that. That's Emi's thing."

"Bullshit! Ibarazaki does not have a monopoly on twin-tails. And besides, I've been doing it longer than she has. I had 'em ages ago. And they were cuter on me than they are on her, too."

She scoffs when I laugh at that. "Is that a fact?"

"You think I'm cute now? You should have seen me at 16. I really knew how to play up the bubbly schoolgirl thing back then. Met a lot of interesting guys that way, too." She glances around shiftily, smirking. "Oh, the stories I could tell…"

"You've dated a lot at Yamaku?"

"Yeah. Oh, yeah," she laughs.

She says that in a very knowing way, like I'm supposed to be picking up on some kind of subtext here, but it's lost on me. I don't know what that look is, and it seems ill-advised to ask.

Before I get the chance to come up with a response, the waiter arrives to take our drink orders, and Naomi gets an orange soda. I just have water, which she immediately decries for being boring.

"Something you should know about me, Hisao," Naomi continues once the waiter leaves. "If you ask me out- as long as I don't think you're creepy- I can pretty much guarantee that I'll say yes."

"Even if you're not interested?"

"Why not? It's fun! At the very least, it's a good way to meet people."

I shrug. "That would probably stress me out. Agreeing to a date with someone I wasn't interested in, I mean."

"Nah, it's not stressful if you have the right attitude. I'm always thinking, once I get to know them better, maybe they'll change my mind. You know?"

The more she talks, the more puzzled I become about what happened yesterday. It seemed like a big deal to me- and I have been kind of gratified by that- but now she's starting to make me think that maybe I'm just too uptight about it. I wonder if this is her way of telling me to manage my expectations.

…Well, I'll be damned if I'm coming on too strong.

The waiter arrives with our drinks, and Naomi chirps an overly-enthusiastic 'thank you' at him.

"So this is no big deal, then, right? Just any normal Sunday afternoon. I'm just filling in for Natsume."

"Oh, more or less, but Natsume and I usually at least wait until we get off the bus before we start exchanging bodily fluids." She lets that sink in for a moment, completely stone-faced, before breaking into a broad grin and laughing at me. "Look, Hisao, this was my idea, and that is definitely saying something. You've got nothing to worry about."

I laugh lightly, a little disarmed, and break eye contact. "Thanks."

I don't know what it is about her smile, but it makes it hard to feel insecure around her. She just gives off this air of unfettered confidence, like she knows for a fact that my anxiety is misplaced.

She takes a moment more to be amused with me before giving up waiting for me to continue. "All I'm saying is, I really like getting to know people. Everyone has a different history, and story, and personality… I think that's fascinating. It's what I like about the city- so many different kinds of people," She raps her fingers along her glass as she explains it, gaze fixed somewhere on the road past the patio.

I can't help but think back to my own hometown again. The city used to seem really big and unapproachable back then, especially as a kid. Like everyone there is just a small part of a giant, faceless mob. That's one of the reasons I tried to stick with a gang of my friends.

"But that doesn't mean it's easier to get to know people," I counter. "The thing about the city is, even though there are a ton of people, everyone's a stranger to everyone else."

"Yeah, well, strangers are interesting, too. Do you remember what I told you when we met? People aren't so hard to figure out if you pay attention." She bites her lip and glances around, looking for an example, before settling on one of the couples on the other end of the patio. She points to them as subtly as possible- which is not very subtly, incidentally. "There."

At the table Naomi points to sits an absolutely gorgeous young woman and a much stockier middle-aged man. It's actually kind of a funny sight, as rude as that observation would probably be to make out loud.

"What do you think is the deal with them? They can't be married, can they? I'll bet you anything he's her sugar daddy." Naomi waves me on, inviting me to contribute. "What do you think they're thinking right now?"

"What? I don't know!" I glance self-consciously at the couple at the other table, even though they obviously can't hear us and probably haven't even noticed us sitting here.

"I'll tell you what they're thinking. He's thinking, 'This is what eight years of medical school has bought me. May as well make the most of it.' She's thinking, 'I'd like to see Mom say she's disappointed in me when we show up for Christmas in a sports car.' And they're both wondering why they are going to the trouble of wining and dining."

I take another look. "…Maybe she's his daughter?"

She laughs out loud right away, waving her hand around dismissively. "No. No way."

"Well, how do you know? They don't look that different. They could be related."

"Look at her! That blouse! Nobody shows that much cleavage to go get dinner with their dad." She taps on her collarbone. "One button undone? That's style. Two buttons? Okay, maybe I'd buy that; it's a hot day. But three buttons? No, that is definitely advertising."

…Well, she is showing a lot of cleavage. Though I hadn't taken the time to count her buttons.

Absolutely confident, Naomi smirks at the couple before returning to her soda and relaxing comfortably into her chair.

"Do you do this with everybody?"

"Everybody I find interesting."

"And you think you're right, most of the time?"

"That's what I tell myself, anyway. People-watching is a hobby of mine. Do it a lot, and you tend to get an eye for it. Practice makes perfect." She glances off to the side at our waiter, who has just started to approach our table. "You gonna look at your menu, or what?"

I'm startled for a moment- I hadn't even thought about it. Naomi hasn't looked at her menu, either, which is why it hadn't crossed my mind, but she seems completely unconcerned, so I assume she must have already known what she would be ordering.

The menu is a little overwhelming, mostly due to the fact that it's almost all French cuisine and is peppered with options I don't know if I could actually pronounce. All things considered, I'm thankful it's even in my price range.

"What can I get the two of you?" asks the waiter, much sooner than I'd like.

Naomi glances at me for a split-second before turning to him. "Would you recommend the steak tartare?"

"I recommend everything," he replies with a soft smile.

"Okay, but what about the steak tartare specifically?"

"I. Um, well, I try to avoid raw meat, to be honest…" He seems a little embarrassed, but recovers quickly and gives an apologetic smile. "But I hear it's excellent. If that's the sort of thing that suits your palate, I'm sure you'll like it."

"Cool. That, then."

"Of course." The waiter turns immediately to me, though still scribbling down Naomi's order. "And for you, sir?"

I still have no idea what to get, so I just glance down at my menu and blurt out the first thing I spot. "Uh… I'll just have the tuna…"

"Excellent choice."

Naomi rolls her eyes at me as the waiter collects our menus. "Wow. Adventurous."

He fails to suppress a chuckle at that just before turning away, and then shoots me a look like he's expecting it to bother me. I wave him off.

"Not your kind of place?" she asks once he's out of earshot.

"No, no, I just… didn't have much time to look at the menu. I guess you already knew what you wanted, so that threw me off."

"Yeah, it was something I wanted to try."

I squint suspiciously at that. "Does that mean you had this place in mind when you suggested we get dinner yesterday?"

"It was one of the places I thought we could try. I've been meaning to come back." She debates whether to continue for a moment, stirring her straw around in her drink. "Natsume's hard to eat out with. We tried this place a while ago, not long after it opened, and she didn't like it, so we haven't been since. But I really liked the food the first time."

"So why didn't you just take a boy instead?"

…It's almost accusatory, the way I say it. I don't even know where that question came from.

I think it's something about the way she's looking at me. It feels practiced. She said she's done a lot of dating at Yamaku; all of a sudden I can't help being suspicious that she's playing me somehow.

She seems amused- and a little surprised, at least enough to hesitate for a moment- by my question. "What do you think I'm doing now?"

"It's just that you said you do a lot of dating. So I'm surprised you haven't taken the opportunity to come here earlier than this."

"Well, not everyone takes all of my suggestions without question."

She sips loudly out of her cup, triumphant. I'm not letting her off that easy.

"You said there are a lot of stories you could tell."

"Stories?"

"Yeah. About guys you dated at Yamaku."

"Tsch. Well, it wasn't a lie. I mean, not happy stories, but stories…"

Just in case it wasn't already clear that I was asking her to elaborate, I open my hands to invite her to talk.

"You really want to talk about my ex-boyfriends?" Naomi asks with a snicker, giving me curious look. "Doesn't really strike me as good first-date chitchat material, but…"

"Hell, I'm not jealous. You made me curious."

She watches me do it for a long time before responding, but the pause is deliberate.

"There was a guy with an eyepatch. Tanjiro. He had a scar that trailed halfway down his face, like the evil lion from The Lion King."

She had to take the time to choose the right story.

We exchange a glance, and she raises an eyebrow at me, which makes me realize she was waiting for permission to continue. It's a funny courtesy to give me, like I would have deemed her story too boring and forbid her from telling it.

I chuckle quietly and shrug. "Sounds interesting."

She smiles for a moment and then leans back in her chair, taking her time to figure out how to start. "It was way, way back, when I was just starting my first year at Yamaku. And I was naïve and a little stupid back then, mind you. Like kids are."

"Sure."

"So there was this guy Tanjiro from the vision-impaired class, a year above me- and to this day I still don't know the details- who lost an eye in an accident. And he walked around-" She stops herself to give her the chance to crack up, holding up a finger to stop me. "-like I said, he walked around with this… giant black eyepatch, on an elastic band around the back of his head."

She presses her hand against her right eye to demonstrate, giggling from the memory of it. My first thought is that it seems pretty mean-spirited to make fun of the guy for an injury, and all I can really do is pretend to laugh.

I look her in her uncovered eye and shrug. "What, like a… pirate?"

Naomi seems too caught up in her own story to notice my hesitation, and snorts with laughter as she lowers her hand to the table. "I know, I know, I know. But at the time I thought it was kinda sexy. Like, dangerous, mysterious, that kind of thing. He had that kind of look, with the spiky hair, and the- you know."

I'm not sure I know. Maybe I should have gelled my hair this morning after all. I don't know if I could really get it 'spiky'.

"Point is," Naomi continues, "he could tell I was into it when I met him. And, like, right off the bat, he started talking about his eyepatch, and what it was like dealing with, like, depth perception and shit. He just offered it up out of nowhere, 'cause he could tell that's what had caught my eye. He even showed me the injury; lifted up the eyepatch and all. It was really bad, kind of hard to look at. And I was still basically a total stranger at that point. But he was trying really hard to seem tough."

"How did you meet him? Didn't you say he was a year above you?"

"Oh, yeah, he was, uh, in the chess club. That was where this we met the first time, actually."

"You met… in the chess club?"

"Yeah. So what? I happen to like chess." She shoots me a playful look and laughs out loud. "But no, I didn't actually join the club. I just sat in during one of their… meetings, or whatever it was. Don't forget, this was the very beginning of the year, so I didn't have any friends, and I was kinda desperate. So I was just doing a lot of different stuff to try and meet people."

"Sounds like it worked."

"For better or worse, I guess. I didn't actually play any chess, 'cause I was talking to Tanjiro the whole time. We started hanging out a lot over the next few days or so, and he told me all about himself. Like, his family, and his history at Yamaku and everything. And it was the most depressing goddamn thing I've ever heard."

"How so?"

"His family practically disowned him. They didn't know what to do with him, so they dumped him at Yamaku and never looked back. His friends were basically too freaked out to talk to him afterward, and he had to move away from them, anyway. He- geez- the girl he last dated, Miu. He told me they dated for months, but she was so disgusted by the way he looked afterward that she couldn't stand to be around him anymore." Naomi purses her lips, frowning slightly now. "That's what he told me. I felt so sorry for him. I mean, I'd heard some bad stuff about other people. Rough family lives, or whatever. But Tanjiro, what he told me, it was so ugly…"

She's looking at the table now, lost in thought and looking uncomfortably serious. I feel like I should say something, but I don't know how to interject. I hadn't realized this story was going to be this emotionally charged.

It's just the way she talked about it. Everything she talks about, even serious stuff, she has this way of sounding… relaxed about it. But I can't tell if it's her or me. Maybe I'm still just bad at reading her.

She laughs quietly after a little while and slaps her hand down on the table, apparently brushing it off. "So, anyway, things got a little bit more serious over the next, like, week and half or so. And, y'know. I rushed into things with him. He showed me his room, and his stupid collection of eyepatches- like, really stupid. Like, one of them had a skull on it. Ordered some of them off the internet. He thought he was in a biker gang or something. Even back then I thought it was kind of stupid." Smiling now, she glances up at me, just to make sure I'm still paying attention. "Anyway, he was the only guy I had been hanging out with at that time, so I asked him to introduce me to his friends, and immediately everything went to shit. Immediately. My very first time hanging out with them, they called bullshit on every single thing he told me. He hadn't even mentioned to them that he was lying to me, and they just immediately stabbed him in the back the first chance they got and told me he was still in contact with his old friends, and his family hadn't disowned him or anything. 100% bullshit. It turns out his old girlfriend Miu actually used to be part of their friend group. Which means she was a Yamaku student, which means she didn't even meet him until he was already injured. And the real reason she left him- I mean, I'm assuming aside from the fact that he's the worst- is that she had ALS, and she had to take an extended leave from school to do intensive physical therapy. And he was blaming her! Can you believe that?"

She pauses for a response, and I'm caught a little off-guard by the direct question. If a story like that doesn't warrant a contemplative pause, I don't know what does. But I'm still working through everything she told me when I hear myself reply. "I- wait, is that a serious question?"

"Pft. No. Good catch," she chuckles. "What really gets me is, he didn't even really need to be at Yamaku for his injury, you know? At least, not like I do. It's not like he needed to get treatment from the nurse for his eye or anything. He could have still gone to public school. He just went there because he wanted to, and his parents were generous enough to send him."

"That's some lie to come up with on the spot…"

"That's what I was thinking. I was wondering if he had, like, been using that story with other girls, but apparently he had a long-term girlfriend before we met, so I don't think so." She shakes her head harshly, and her bangs fly out in front of her face, almost covering her eyes. "He made up all that shit to make me pity him, just to get in my pants. I mean, am I crazy, or is that the scummiest thing on Earth?"

"You're not crazy," I reply, exhaling loudly. "Geez, what a plot."

"Yeah, well. The stupid thing is, it worked. I lost my virginity to him." She shrugs at me with stunning nonchalance, then leans into the table to take a sip of soda. "Wanted to make it work with him 'cause of that, but, y'know, he was an asshole. I dumped him not long after. All told, from beginning to end, the whole thing happened in about the same amount of time that's passed since I met you."

I shake my head, unsure of how to respond. This seems seriously personal, the kind of thing I wouldn't tell anyone short of a close friend about. She doesn't even seem that bothered about it, but there's no way I can presume something like that, right? How am I supposed to know whether this is weighing on her? Even still, she barely knows me, and yet she's willing to tell me so much. That has to count for something.

Man, she barely knows me.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Naomi says lightheartedly.

We exchange a glance, and I hesitate. I can't help but suspect she's just trying to put me at ease, but she really does look relaxed.

"I… just… that isn't exactly what I was expecting when you said you had stories to tell," I say uncertainly, after a beat.

Naomi shrugs. "Yep. Told ya they weren't happy."

"No kidding."

"Fucking Tanjiro."

She snickers wryly.

I don't want to pity her, and I'm sure she doesn't want to be pitied, but I can't think of anything fitting to add that would be appropriate.

"I'm sorry, Naomi," I say clumsily.

"Nah. Don't be sorry." Naomi sighs and looks me right in the eye. It feels earnest, that way she gets when she really wants to let me know she's serious. "I'm not beat up about it. It's just a mistake that I'm not gonna repeat."

I relax a little bit, even if just for her sake. "I can't imagine that everyone you've dated was like that."

"No, of course not!" she blurts out, making a face. "Not even close. I'm still friends with-"

"Then why is he the one you decided to tell me about?"

My interruption doesn't seem to bother her at all. In fact, she almost seems impressed by it.

It's nice to be on the same page.

"I think I like that story," Naomi says slowly, cupping her glass in both hands while she thinks about her answer. "You know, in a certain sense. It felt appropriate."

"Appropriate?"

"Appropriate." Another pause, even more brief this time. "The moral of that story is, some people are so self-absorbed that it's like… a sickness. Like they are genuinely incapable of putting thinking about the needs of others, or putting themselves in someone else's shoes. I think that's my least favorite trait a person can have."

"And that's appropriate because…?"

"Hisao, what's your heart condition called again?"

The change in subject is so abrupt that I barely have time to register it.

"Huh?"

"Your heart condition. You mentioned it after I had my seizure in class."

"Arrhythmia."

"Right." She snaps her fingers, like she just solved a riddle. "Hisao, I can't help but notice that all day long, we have talked about me the entire time. And don't get me wrong, I love talking about me, but that's the kind of thing I pick up on."

"Still trying to figure me out, huh?"

"Now more than ever." She studies my face for a little while, then turns away to look over her shoulder. "…Man, the food is taking forever. How long does it take to not cook a steak?"

"I got tuna," I reply flatly.

She turns back to me immediately, grinning. "Yeah, you did. Interesting choice for a date, by the way. Good thing they give breath mints."

"Oh. Yeah."

I blush instantly, and Naomi giggles at my reaction. She's not wrong, though; I'm gonna be worrying about my breath for the rest of the night now.

"Hey, tell me something," Naomi commands, resting her elbows down and leaning on her hands. "Am I crazy? Did I dream this? I could have sworn we were on the bus today, and you leaned over my seat, and put my hand behind my head, and-"

"I really don't know where that came from," I say hurriedly.

"Yeah, you're telling me."

"Should I have done it again by now?"

"…Well, I'm not gonna say it's ever been off the table."

She's breathing more loudly now, or at least I'm more aware of it.

She looks away, very slightly and only for a moment- then she sits straight up and makes direct eye contact with me, fast enough to make me flinch.

"So… this is happening?" she asks slowly, waving a hand between us to highlight the distance. "We're gonna do this? For real?"

I meet her eyes firmly. "I'd like to."

The table is too long for me lean over it to kiss her, but I almost try to do it anyway. At the last second, I change my mind and shuffle back in my chair, stunningly awkward. If Naomi picks up on it, she does me the courtesy of not laughing.

"So I guess that means I definitely have to pay for your food now," I say gruffly.

"No. Hell no. You're not paying." She shakes her head dismissively.

"Yes, I am."

"No, you are not."

"Yesterday you seemed pretty insistent that I should."

"That was a j-" She freezes, stopping short. "…Oh. Oh, man."

"What?"

"Look, Hisao, I'm not saying you don't have a shot… but I have a ton of work to do tonight. For the newspaper. Truth be told, I probably should have been doing it this afternoon… I'll be in the computer lab at 6 AM working on it. So I kind of have to go straight to my room once we get back to school."

Her concern is so misplaced that I can't help but laugh. "Oh, Naomi, I wasn't trying to invite myself-"

"Oh, I know!" she interjects. "I know that. I just thought you should know what I would be busy doing tonight. Y'know, so we're exactly on the same page." She nods her head slowly. "…'Cause I had a good time today."

"Good. So did I." I smile gently. "And we'll do this again, right? I'm not going anywhere."

"I should hope not," laughs Naomi. "I'm not done with you yet."

"That's ominous."

"There's still plenty I want to ask you."

She bites on her nail absentmindedly, gazing curiously across the table.

I lay down my hands. "…I'll clear my schedule."
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Hesmiyu » Tue Jul 04, 2017 12:20 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:Finally, if you're looking for a replacement proofreader, just drop me a PM. All the stories I proofread at the moment are apparently on hiatus :-)


Hey now, it's not my fault someone's proofreading has caused a butterfly effect requiring a story rewrite :P

QuietlySomething, which is I am enjoying the story so far (even if in at chapter 1 lol)
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Mirage_GSM » Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:57 pm

I step through the entrance to the male dorms,

Pretty sure the dorms are neither male nor female...

So... pretty weird kind of talk for a first date there at the end - even for somone like Naomi.

Otherwise good chapter!
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.

Sore wa himitsu desu.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Craftyatom » Sat Jul 08, 2017 6:56 pm

Finally got around to reading through this one, and I found it to be quite nice. Your writing is good, without a doubt - I really enjoyed the way you wrote your dialogue/monologue. And, to your credit, I couldn't find any lingering spelling/grammar errors.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the personality you've given Naomi, but despite that, I think you did it justice. She's well-characterized, although I very quickly decided that she speaks with a posh British accent, at least in my head. It just seemed to fit.

I enjoyed the confession scene, in part because it referenced how thick-headed Hisao can be, and also in part because of Naomi's short attempt at a backpedal - part of the "I know everything/I'm just guessing" duality that you've played on throughout. The date scene was nice, although I always raise an eyebrow at frivolous shopping. It played well into Naomi's "we've only talked about me" point, though - which I think should've led into Hisao talking a bit more about himself, personally, rather than just him going "oh, so you want to know more about me" and then dropping it.

Anyways, you're doing a grand job thus far, and I'm excited to see where the story goes! Keep up the good work!
I'm writing a Miki route, if you're into that sort of thing - if not, check out my disturbing one-shot, Destroyer!
I also write poetry, and some of it is about KS! Look for Breathlessly I Go, All That's Left For Me, and Golden Shadow.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Feurox » Sun Jul 16, 2017 6:37 pm

Realising I've never commented on this, I decided it's time for that to change. Whilst I think Naomi's personality may be slightly "over" overconfident, I think actually the more the story goes on, the more I actually enjoy this decision. It sets up Naomi's vulnerability insanely well, and plays on the irony of her condition to a T. Furthermore, your Hisao is unique enough to me to be an enjoyable read, but recognisably stoic befitting traditional Hisao. I'd like to see more of the characterisation of Hisao, and I think you do a good job of establishing a seriously strong foundation for the romance. The combination of technical skill and now more likeable characters makes me seriously enjoy this. Keep it up my dude.

That's kind of sweet, even though I know that I just made that story up and don't have any idea whether it's true or not.


Spilt my drink laughing, redact all praise since I'll have to buy another laptop.
My Hisao and Molly route. Here


"Life's hardest choices are the ones that force you to question your own moral code." - Shay
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Act 2 - Dateline

Postby QuietlySomething » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:01 pm

The cafeteria is nearly dead at seven in the morning. With nobody else to talk to or even overhear, I resign myself to standing off to the side and watching sugar dissolve into a cup of coffee. It's lukewarm and not very strong, as coffee from the cafeteria is, but I figure it's better than nothing. God knows I'm going to need some this morning, and Naomi is probably feeling the same way.

Usually, if I woke up as early if I did today, I would be inclined to bury myself in my covers and get another hour of sleep. Nice as that sounds, though, she mentioned that she would be working in the computer lab this morning, so I figure coming to help her out is the right thing to do. Possibly even what I'm expected to do, since Naomi is actually my girlfriend now.

Huh.

That's kind of exciting.

A drink in each hand, I stroll up the stairs up to the first floor of the academic building, though most of the lights are off and all the classrooms are locked shut. The narrow hall that contains the computer lab has light shining under a door just before the end, apparently the only occupied room within it. Without further ado, I take off for the end of the hall, pushing down the door handle with the bottom of my coffee cup and forcing the door the rest of the way open with my back.

"Hello? Anyone alone and working themselves to death in here?" I call out, tilting my head into the lab and putting on as chipper of a voice as I can in spite of my grogginess.

I spot a girl's figure jump out of her seat with surprise near the back of the room, but after a moment she throws a hand into the air and flips around, trying not to look too discombobulated. Her glasses nearly fall off of her face, and she fixes them with some embarrassment.

…It's not Naomi, and I feel like an idiot for making that voice.

"Is that Hisao? Good morning!"

Natsume meets me at the doorway with a surprisingly pleasant smile, glancing down at the coffee cups in my hands. I hold mine close to me, and she snatches the other one from my right hand, smiling mischievously.

"Oh, for me? Well, isn't that thoughtful?" she says with pursed lips, turning away with the cup in hand. Once she takes a few steps closer to her computer, she takes a sip and physically recoils with disgust. "Eugh, Hisao, how much sugar did you put in this thing?"

I frown guiltily. "Uh… six packets."

Natsume looks down at the cup in her hand with a grimace, then over her shoulder at me. "…I suppose I probably should have seen that coming."

"Sorry. I just didn't really expect to see you here this morning."

"Yeah, well, likewise." She slumps into her chair at her computer and turns it around to face me, crossing her legs and holding her coffee cup with both hands. "So how was your date?"

Okay, then. We're just going to go straight there.

"I… didn't realize you knew about that," I say slowly, taking a seat in one of the chairs at the conference table.

"Well, I didn't realize it was supposed to be a secret. Naomi told me it was why she cancelled our plans yesterday."

Natsume sighs disapprovingly at the memory of it. I had assumed Naomi was just going to make up an excuse, but I suppose it's no surprise that she admitted outright why she wanted to cancel their plans together. Still, ignorance is bliss sometimes.

"Yeah. Uh, sorry about that," I say halfheartedly, scratching behind my head. "It was Naomi's idea; I didn't really mean to get in the way of your plans."

"Don't apologize. I'm well aware of Naomi's priorities." She rolls her eyes, but I can tell she's proud of herself anyway.

"Yeah, about that… Naomi told me she'd be in here working this morning. Did I miss her, or…?"

"She's out," Natsume replies curtly, lifting her cup to gesture toward the door. "Supposedly she is working, but I'd bet anything she's relaxing and having breakfast or something instead."

"Don't you think that's a good idea? I mean, how long have you been up this morning? There's still plenty of time before class starts." I realize even as I ask that I'm just looking for an excuse to shirk off work and hang out with Naomi, but I suppose there's no polite way to bring it up without inviting Natsume along as well.

"It's not a good idea if I want to get any work done. Besides, sometimes I'm more productive by myself." Natsume closes her eyes and takes a long breath, clearly fighting off sleep. "Although, that said, I'd give my left arm to have Hiro here taking notes for me right now. But I don't have the heart to drag him out of bed on a Monday morning."

"You really think he'd come help if you dragged him out of bed?"

Natsume lowers her glasses with one hand, making sudden eye contact. She doesn't need to say any more than that.

"Poor kid," I snicker.

"He's sweet. The least we can do is not hold that against him… so I'm working alone this morning."

"I'd be happy to help you, if you need it, Natsume," I volunteer, immediately wincing at my typical instinctive response.

One of these days I'm going to get roped into a serious commitment. Like a club.

Natsume seems momentarily impressed with me for offering, but quickly shakes her head to dismiss the idea, fixing her glasses slightly as she adjusts her seat to turn back to her computer.

"I appreciate the offer, but I can't accept, Hisao. You have a job of your own. If you're going to do work for us this morning, you should be doing that," she explains rigidly, as though I should have already started working on it.

I blink once. "What? I have a job?"

She lets out a playful groan, obviously unsurprised. "Don't tell me you forgot already. You're supposed to be investigating our little library book thief."

Oh, right. For some reason, my memories of our meeting on Saturday aren't much focused on the club work we did.

"Oh. That job," I reply meekly. Speaking of things I agreed to too quickly… "But… what do you want me to actually do?"

She shrugs with one hand. "Oh, I don't know, maybe go to the library, for starters?"

"Who in the world would be hanging out in the library this early before class?"

"Maybe someone who doesn't want to attract attention?" She looks over her shoulder at me with a raised eyebrow as she says that. "We have to get moving on the paper this week. You don't have to do it this morning, but you're going to have to find some time to get some work done today, and I know you have plans this afternoon."

"…I don't have plans this afternoon."

"That's not what I heard."

Yep, that sounds about right.

Natsume gives me a bemused look as I realize what she means, and she takes a triumphant sip of her stolen coffee, though she can't help making another face at it.

"Fine," I concede, "but I can't promise that I'm going to come up with anything useful for the paper."

"As long as you take the time to ask around." With a brief nod, she leans over her computer and pulls out a clipboard, evidently the one Hiro usually carries around with him.

I rap my fingers over my coffee cup. "If you see Naomi, please remind her that it's the thought that counts."

"I'll see you in class, Hisao," she snickers, holding out the clipboard behind her for me to take.

I adjust the papers on it as I make my way out of the computer lab, still holding my coffee in the other hand. I feel like a stuffy businessman all of a sudden… I think I'll ditch the tie on my uniform, at least until class starts.

I'm still fixing my shirt as I reach the entrance to the library, which is as dead as I have ever seen it. I don't know exactly when it opens, but it can't have been long ago, given that there doesn't appear to be anyone behind the counter.

…Unless someone just forgot to lock the door.

"Hello?"

A stack of books on the counter collapses as Yuuko thumps her head against the bottom, trying to rush her way up to greet me.

I flash her a friendly smile to keep her from feeling embarrassed, but it's clearly a lost cause. "Morning, Yuuko."

"Good morning…" she groans unhappily, rubbing the back of her head. "Um… sorry… how can I help you this morning?"

"I'm just poking around a bit. You don't get a lot of people before class, huh?"

"No, sorry… people usually wait until after class when they have more time, so it's usually pretty sparse this early." She pokes her fingers together as she thinks about it. "Unless you don't want there to be anyone here, since it is quieter, and people do tend to come to the library for peace and quiet, so…"

"Well, I was kind of hoping there would be a few people around…" I reply slowly, glancing back at the empty tables that people usually study at in the afternoon. Yuuko's apologetic glare reminds me that I haven't explained myself yet. "…Uh, so, here's the thing. I'm in the newspaper club now, and I am looking into this story someone told me about. Stolen library books… might you know anything about that…?"

Yuuko tenses up as soon as the words come out of my mouth, and thinks with a very stern expression for a few seconds before leaning into the counter and waving me closer.

"Do you know who it is?" Yuuko hisses at me as I lean into the counter, clearly trying to keep her voice down even though there is nobody in sight anywhere.

"That's kind of what I'm here to find out."

"Hold on."

With a huff, Yuuko disappears under her desk, rifling through her things out of sight. As soon as I lean over to see what she is doing, she pops up again, nearly colliding with me, and slams down an enormous binder on top of the desk.

"I have something for you," she explains, sifting through various tabs before settling on the one she was looking for. After a wayward glance to make sure she isn't being watched, she slides a sheet of paper across the desk face-down, and I try to look stealthy as I pick it up to look at it.

It's an ordinary sheet of lined paper, like a page ripped out of a school notebook. As far as I can tell, there's nothing important on it… just doodlings; a girl with octopus legs, a couple sketches of a boy and the name "Maharu" with a little heart around it in the corner. Is it supposed to be some kind of code? I stare at it for a little while but can't come up with anything.

I meet eyes with Yuuko when I glance up from the paper and shrug at her uncertainly. "Uh… I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with-"

In an instant, Yuuko whips her hand out to snatch the paper from me, swiftly replacing it with another page from the binder.

"That's the wrong paper. Please forget you saw that."

The new document looks like official Yamaku stationery. It's a bullet-pointed list of textbooks- no, library books in general- marked and itemized all the way down to the bottom. It's mostly school-related texts, but there are a few odd standouts- fluffy romance novels and Pride and Prejudice.

"That's part of the inventory list," Yuuko whispers, trying to lean over the desk and read it upside-down at the same time. "I've been keeping stock on everything we lose. It just seems to disappear at random…"

"This is everything that's been stolen? There's got to be over a dozen books here…"

"Fourteen, actually, but it's been accumulating over a long time. I've gone back to check the shelves every time something's gone missing, but whenever I do, I just end up getting afraid that I'm going to rearrange things by mistake, and then things might get reported missing even if they're still here…"

"It just seems like a lot of inventory to lose, if you're sure this was all stolen by one person." Some of these are pretty large books, too; I'd bet even one of them would be a hit. "Someone probably owes you a lot of money."

"And if they don't pay it, who do you think is the one that is going to get penalized?" Working herself into a panic, Yuuko takes a few paces behind the counter and gnaws on her fingernails. "Keeping track of the book checkouts is part of my responsibility… and the more books that haven't been checked out, the more serious it gets. If they don't have someone specific to blame, they're going to blame the person who checks them out, and if they do that, I'm going to have to replace them personally. …And forget that, because the more books I have to replace, the worse I'm going to look in front of my boss… if I can't even keep track of the books in a library, what use do they have for a librarian like that?" She stops short suddenly to take a breath, tugging on a strand of hair in front of her face. "Do you understand? I need this job, okay? I can't even afford to replace the stolen inventory!"

"Don't you have another job?"

"I need that job, too!"

She shoots me a sharp, pleading glare, which makes me regret that I can't do more to help.

I glance down at my clipboard, which I guess I should probably be using to take notes or something. "Well… I don't know how much I can do to help, but I'll see what I can find out…"

Yuuko softens a little as I do this, apparently catching on to the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing, and stares at the floor with embarrassment. "I'm sorry; it's not your fault… I'm not trying to be rude. I just don't know what I'm going to do…"

I tap my pen against the clipboard absentmindedly. I'm not exactly a hard-boiled detective, granted, but to be fair, I doubt the person behind this is some kind of master thief, either. It can't be that hard to find someone if they've been consistently skimming books from the library for a month.

What would Naomi do in this situation? Honestly, I have no idea.

I go with my gut instead. "Why don't we start with what you already know?" I ask with a shrug. "That could help us narrow down the possibilities."

Yeah… that sounds reporter-y. Good work, brain.

Yuuko seems encouraged that I decided to take some initiative, and nods a few times to herself, thinking aloud. "Okay, well… I don't see why someone who wasn't in class would steal a textbook, so we can probably assume that it was a student, right…?"

"That makes sense to me." I take another look at the inventory list. "What else?"

"I was thinking it was probably a girl- I mean, not that I want to assume anything, because all kinds of people check out all kinds of books, but some of the ones on the list…"

"Yeah. I saw that, too. I was thinking the same thing."

"And…" Yuuko continues, tapping her hand on the counter with some kind of sudden invigoration, "…and it has to be someone who comes in a lot! One of the regulars in the library, I mean. Because I almost never see more than one book go missing in a day, but I've seen them go two days in a row before, and that means they must have taken a lot of consecutive trips."

"…So a girl who spends a lot of time in the library. Easy enough place to start, right?" I finish jotting these bullet points on the clipboard, a little underwhelmed by how small the list is when it's laid out on paper.

"Really? That's enough for you? So you think you will be able to find out who did it?"

I throw up my hands just on instinct, to protect myself from any even remotely high expectations. "Whoa, well, I don't know. It's just something to look into, that's all."

"Okay, yes… I just don't know how much more I can help you than that."

"That's alright. I'll bring this back to the rest of the newspaper club, they may want to look into-"

"Wait!" Yuuko steadies herself a little before continuing. "I was just saying, the best thing to do, rather than staying here talking to me… would be to talk to students directly, because I can't focus all my attention on everyone who comes in and out. I have to check out books and everything during the day… which is probably how I got myself into this mess in the first place." She glances under the counter, looking flustered again.

"Yeah, we will. But don't you think it would make more sense to come back when it's not so dead in the library?" I glance around again- library or not, it really is distractingly quiet in here.

"Well, the thing is," Yuuko responds slowly, "I was thinking, there is definitely someone who comes to mind who has been in here that much… and she is in this morning… so… maybe it would be a good idea for you try to get some information out of her…?" She stands on her toes and points in the direction of the bookshelves, leaning on the desk with one hand for balance. "You know Hanako Ikezawa? She came in not too long ago, and I think she's the only upperclassman here right now besides you…"

Yuuko blinks twice and then slumps behind the desk again, like she's embarrassed to even be talking about this. She thinks Hanako is in on a secret plot to steal school property?

She cannot be serious. I don't think Hanako has it in her to steal a free sample from a supermarket. She may technically fit our criteria, but our criteria are pretty broad right now, so it's not exactly damning evidence.

I shoot Yuuko a look. "You don't think…?"

"That she's the thief? No, no, she's very timid; I don't think she would do something like that," Yuuko explains, chuckling nervously at the thought. "Buuut… she is here a lot, so she probably sees things that I don't in the area near the bookshelves. So she would probably be a good person to talk to, while you have the opportunity. Um, don't you think?"

If Natsume were here, I know she would be scolding me to do my job and investigate. But then, Natsume isn't here… and I really don't want to talk to Hanako about this.

Then again, my alternative is refusing Yuuko to her face, and I am afraid she might break down if I do that.

"Sure, I'll talk to her," I reply, doing my best not to give away my reluctance.

"Let me know if you find out anything new!"

"I'll keep you updated. Thanks for your help, Yuuko."

I take a deep breath for my own sake, then pat my hand on the table and set off for the nook over by the bookshelf that Yuuko pointed out.

"And Hisao." I turn my head to glance at Yuuko over my shoulder. "Whoever this thief is," she says grimly, "they know what they're doing, okay? They're a real criminal. Just, um… watch yourself."

She tilts her head to the side, pouting a little. She clearly takes her job very seriously, credit where it's due.

I lift a single hand in acknowledgment and continue walking. "…Yeah. Thanks, I will."

Trying half-heartedly to look cool, I keep my gaze fixed toward the floor, but a bit of nervousness returns to me as I think about having to talk to Hanako again.

Hanako is exactly where Yuuko said she was, curled up by herself behind a book in the corner between two bookshelves. She glances up briefly when she hears me approach, but doesn't say anything. I guess she's hoping I'm just going to walk past. But no such luck, for either of us.

I hold my hands behind me, stopping a comfortable distance away from her. "Uh. Hey, Hanako."

She remains still for an uncomfortably long time, like she is deliberating over whether or not she could get away with just pretending she didn't hear me.

I cup my hands meekly and stay still, and eventually she lifts her eyes from the book, the upper half of her face just poking into view.

"H-hi," she murmurs.

"I'm Hisao, from class… I don't know if you…" I take a breath as I trail off and take one step to the side, trying to look friendly. "Do you mind if I sit here…?"

She freezes again, but shakes her head very slightly after studying my face for a few moments. As I sit, she returns to her book again, and I cannot stop myself from sighing audibly.

"Sure is quiet here in the morning," I remark, glancing back toward the rest of the library.

"Y-yes; it's nice…" Hanako replies from behind her book, speaking slowly and unsurely.

"Yeah. I... think so, too."

I rap my fingers along my knee, growing more anxious by the moment by our inability to talk to each other.

This was a ridiculous idea. Of course Hanako is not going to be of any use to interview; I can barely even introduce myself to her without scaring her. I don't know why I ever thought this would be worth-

"So, I'm with the newspaper, and I was hoping I could maybe ask you a couple of questions," I hear myself say, and wince as the words come out of my mouth. I honestly do not know why I felt compelled to continue.

She lowers her book from her face again, now with incredibly wide eyes, like I've said something bone-chilling. Who could have seen that coming?

"I- I… I don't want to be in the n- newspaper…" she manages to stammer out, her face quickly lighting up bright-red. That's hardly a shock.

"No! No, not… er, nobody wants you to be in the newspaper, or anything…" I explain quickly, scratching behind my head with discomfort. She is still here, so at least that's something. "It's just that some stuff has been going on in the library, and I know you kind of spend a lot of time in here, so…"

"Oh. I-I, um…"

"I'm sorry. You don't have to. Sorry."

I wave her off, but Hanako seems alarmed by my reaction, like she's done something wrong. I'm half-expecting her to find an excuse to leave, but instead she seems almost emboldened by it.

"No. That's okay…" She shakes her head solemnly as though scolding herself, then looks straight up at me. "I- if I can help you, I'd like to…"

Hey, maybe I'm better at this than I thought.

"It's just that some library books have gone missing, so Yuuko wants to find the thief so she doesn't get in trouble. We're writing a story on it."

"Oh… st- stealing books? I… don't know anything about that…"

She seems briefly panicked, and looks at my face again, though she seems to relax a little at the sight of it. I was trying to make it clear that I'm not accusing her, but the possibility still seems to put her slightly on-edge. Even still, I never expected to get remotely this far with her, so as far as I'm concerned, things are going pretty well.

"That's okay. I wouldn't expect you to know the thief or anything. I was more just wondering if you might have seen anything while you were hanging around in the library."

"Oh." She ponders that for a moment. "I don't know… I- I don't watch people that much."

I'm already pushing it, but I can't help myself from continuing. "Maybe just people who seemed like they were in a rush to leave, and didn't check out the books they were carrying?"

Disappointed, Hanako looks at the ground, resting her book on her legs and folding her hands over it. "I- I'm sorry; I don't know… people hurry out sometimes, but I haven't looked to see if they ch- check their books out. I can keep an eye out… if you want…"

"Really? You'd do that for us?" I glance down at my mostly-empty notepad. That actually sounds like it may be promising. "So you wouldn't mind if I came back some other time and talked to you about this again?"

Hearing the proposition framed like that, she suddenly seems less than enthusiastic about it, but she nods regardless.

Which means I just found myself an informant. Natsume would be proud, I'm sure.

"There's a list of books that have gone missing so far; you may want to take a look," I explain, sliding the sheet over Hanako's open book. "If you want a place to look, this might be handy to know."

"O- okay, I'll just use this, and… if I see something… I- I guess I can…" Hanako gets a bit quieter as she goes on, like she suddenly wants to back out.

I almost invite her to, but I stop myself to avoid sounding patronizing. After all, she knows that she doesn't have any obligation to this, and if I point it out it may just embarrass her.

I still have to say something, though, so I rest my hands on my lap and do my best to be gentle. "Um, Hanako, is… is everything alright…?"

She remains still for a long time, not making any sudden movements and certainly not looking up at me.

"If you want to be left alone, I'll…"

"N- no. That's… p- please don't go because of me."

Hanako lowers her book a little and shoots a glance upward, her face suddenly plastered with a guilty expression. Something is clearly going on with her right now, but I don't have any idea what, and I definitely can't ask.

I speak again, albeit tentatively. "Are you going to class today?"

She gives a very slight, almost unnoticeable nod.

Taking that as a response, I continue. "Are you waiting for Lilly?"

She takes a very obvious pause, and then she shakes her head, even more subtly.

Well, that probably explains why she's acting so strangely. I wonder if there's something going on between them. They don't exactly seem to me like the type to have fights, but what do I know?

"…If you want, I could walk with you this morning…" I continue, opening my hands.

Blushing very conspicuously out of embarrassment, Hanako averts her eyes as she tries to respond to that. "Um…"

I stand to spare her the trouble of coming up with an excuse. "Yeah, don't worry about it. I'll see you around."

"No, you can stay." She speaks very sharply to stop me from leaving, but shrinks in her seat again when it's clear that she has my attention. "I- I mean, I'll just be here reading until class starts, but you can. I- if you want."

To be honest, I'd rather not; I would have liked an excuse to get out of this conversation. She doesn't even seem like she wants me here- more like she sees my presence as some kind of necessary evil. But all the same, it's a pretty transparent request for me to stay, and I'm not stupid, so I take a seat again and grab one of the books off the shelf to kill a little time before class starts. I suppose, at the very least, I owe her this, given that she's agreed to help me with my newspaper business.

Hanako doesn't speak to me again for a long time, only calling my name once to return the inventory list to me before returning to her book. She's obviously more comfortable with silence, and she becomes a lot more relaxed when we stop talking to each other, but I still can't help but notice that she seems to like having me around when we aren't talking about anything. It hardly means that we're friends now, but compared to the first conversation we had in the library I'd say this was pretty successful. It's easier not to be on edge around her when I'm not worried she's going to bolt at any moment, which I am shocked she never tried to do today.

Eventually the bell does ring to signal that we need to get to class… just when I started to get immersed in the book I was reading, of course. Hanako stands without saying anything to me and takes off walking, but before she gets out of the corner by the bookshelves I see her glance over her shoulder at me to make sure I'm following along.

The walk to the classroom itself is actually pretty short, but Hanako manages to drag it out impressively, sidestepping awkwardly over the tiled floor like she stepped in something. It seems like a weird thing to point out, so I keep it to myself, but I still can't help but feel like I should be trying harder to make conversation. She makes no such attempts, though, and as such we end up simply quietly walking side-by-side.

She briefly pauses when we get to the classroom door, and I step in first to hold the door for her, which she seems to appreciate.

"Well. This is it." I rest my arms at my sides, still holding the clipboard in one hand. "I'll, uh, see you around, Hanako."

"O- okay… I'll s- see you later, Hisao…"

With a tiny smile- more like she's proud of herself than herself than anything else- Hanako makes her way to the back of the room, settling in next to Naomi's still-empty seat. Another chair over, Natsume- who has apparently finished her own work for the morning- raises an eyebrow at me, I assume for coming in with Hanako.

I tap on my clipboard with one finger, just to remind her who sent me off to run errands in the first place. I may not have found anything concrete yet, but now I have an informant to stake out the library for me, so Natsume can rest easy as far as the newspaper is concerned.

That actually wasn't so bad after all. Hanako's a nice girl… even though she kind of seems like she doesn't want anything to do with me. I should really try to be less judgmental. I suppose I'll put that on my to-do list.

Shizune and Misha seem to be doing a good enough job of distracting each other when I take my seat, so I don't bother to get involved outside of a brief hello, instead setting down the clipboard on my desk and sifting through my bag to retrieve Saturday's homework. It's been a long morning, and the coffee I drank an hour ago is really the only reason I'm not falling asleep at my desk.

The door to the classroom opens, and in walks a familiar, chipper-looking blonde girl, unusually well made-up but dressed up in the bland girls' uniform again.

I just remembered why I got up so damn early in the first place.

Naomi acknowledges Natsume briefly before meandering to my desk, and I raise a hand to greet her. We had quite a day yesterday, and I think we are both a little uncertain of how we are going to be interacting in public from now on.

Smirking a little, Naomi drums her fingers on my desk and prepares to say something, but stops herself as she glances over at Shizune and Misha, who as of now barely even seem to notice her presence.

After a pause, she comes to a decision and makes sharp eye contact with me, smiling. "Hey, Hisao."

"…Hey."

"You been working on the newspaper?" she asks curiously, tapping one finger on the clipboard.

"Yep. I can tell you about it later, if you want."

She puffs out her cheeks and shoots a quick, wary look in the other direction. "We'll do lunch?"

"Uh. Yeah."

She nods a few times, then takes her hand off of my desk, returning it to her side. "Okay. Lunch, then."

"Okay. See you then."

"See you."

Apparently satisfied with that, she returns to her desk and starts a conversation with Natsume, though they're too far for me to overhear it. Mutou shows up not long afterward, anyway.

I'm not sure what that was about, but I'm happy to see that she doesn't feel like making a scene this morning.

Maybe she's being quiet because she doesn't want to draw attention to our relationship?

…Wow, I can't think of a more obvious giveaway than that.
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Aug 11, 2017 1:15 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: People-Watching: A Naomi Inoue Pseudo-Route

Postby Toothless » Thu Aug 10, 2017 10:04 pm

Plot twist. Hanako steal book to pay for college. Loving this so far.
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