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Still Noises

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“I like you.”

         She stopped to turn to him. It was an unconscious movement and she regretted the instant she faced him. “Excuse me?”

         Daiki opened his mouth, closed it, eyed the ground, and fixed his eyes momentarily on hers. “I’m asking you to be my girlfriend.”

         It wouldn’t have made a difference if he threw her an algebraic question. She was too baffled to string a coherent response. “Don’t you like Natsuki?”

         They both knew he asked her out once, back when they hadn’t banded. She saw his Adam’s apple dip when he breathed in. “Ah, about that, it was nothing.”

         And how is this different from nothing? was what she wanted to ask. The question was probably painted all over her pained expression. “Oh.”

         “This isn’t … this is different.”

         “How?”

         His stare both drifted and hovered. “I want to be with you.”

         This was all types of painful, Jun thought, avoiding his gaze. She wished she wasn’t there, that he never confessed to begin with. It was hard to believe he felt anything other than tolerance towards her.

         God, this must be what Takumi felt.

         Jun could say “no” at any time, reject him as graciously as Takumi had. That would have been the smart thing to do. But Jun was held back by a strange unseen force— “finality” was its name. If she rejected him, the aftermath was absolute. She knew he would respect her answer and leave her alone to ease the awkwardness between them. On paper, it seemed like what she wanted.

         Standing there, however, her feelings were jumbled and stubborn. She was a little keen he liked her and a little scared for the same reason.

         She needed more clarification, but if she asked him, she wouldn’t know how to handle his answer. “With me? Are you sure?”

         She was stalling. At first, she hadn’t been conscious of it, but the longer she dragged the topic out, the more she grew aware she was stretching the topic thin. She raised her eyes to his, only for an instant. Her breath got caught in her throat and there was a momentary pause where she felt an unholy surge of certainty and elation. Fear was forgotten for that second.

         It’s that dismissal of trepidation that gave way to her clear “Yes.”

         The girlfriend title remained daunting to her, especially weeks later when their class held a strength test and destiny (or a piece of crumpled paper) decided that they will accompany each other.

         Probably to ease her fear, he said, “These strength tests are bogus. Not everyone believes in ghosts.”

         “Ah, uh, yeah,” she said, gripping his arm tighter. Jun didn’t think much about what her movements indicated. In a state of fear, she didn’t think of anything else but comfort. And he was warm and tall, shielding her from the dark or whatever apparition there was in the night.

         His face was red from her hold, but he never stuttered in his responses. There was a great deal of control in his actions than there was with hers. The only time he slipped from his regulated behavior was when he covered her hand with his.

         It was for a split second, but it was enough for Jun to realize she had been cowering behind Daiki, holding on to him so tightly, there was barely a millimeter between them. She jumped back instinctively, her hand still caught on the hook of his arm.

         “Are you okay?” he asked, thinking she saw something.

         “Y-yes.” Jun was no longer afraid of the dark, but her heartbeat remained rapid in pace. She didn’t understand why she was so jittery around Daiki’s presence, when all the times she was with Takumi, she was never this anxious with him.

         She had always been cautious around Daiki, mostly because he seemed indeterminate and guarded. He was, by technicality, a “cool” kid. He played sports and hung around a popular social circle (although he never really lingered with their group). For the lack of better word, he was too different from Jun.

         When they did begin to ease into a sort-of acquaintance, she brushed all these differences off. It was nice to be able to talk to someone with a different perspective and a generally dissimilar demeanor from her.

         But then—and she sighed to herself as she thought this—he told her he liked her.

         The confession felt like a disruption from the Matrix. Firstly, it made sense for someone like Jun to like someone like Takumi. Takumi not reciprocating her infatuation also made sense. It wasn’t like Jun expected him to strut atop a white horse, even though she did pray to the gods he would. But Daiki liking Jun?

         She couldn’t put a finger on it. He explained it before, too many times to count, but it never clicked for her. She wasn’t noteworthy in the slightest.

         And then, there was her feelings for Daiki, which she also couldn’t pinpoint. The feeling of being liked was so alien to her, her thought process couldn’t manage to hold it in accord. It was easier for her to believe Daiki wasn’t serious about her, that he was pranking her, maybe.

         That was when it hit her: she didn’t want this to be a prank. Her heart thumping, her warm cheeks, the way she was nervous around him but also wanted to be near him—could it be she liked him back?

         An elbow hid her field of view. Jun heard a non-threatening “Boo” and peered over Daiki’s arm to see an exhausted classmate dressed in white.

         “Come on,” their classmate said with a loud exhale. “I didn’t dress like Sadako for nothing.”

         Daiki shook his head at him and led her forward. He was struggling to stop a smile and she was too. Suddenly, she forgot why she was too scared to begin with. Once they were on a pathway lit with concrete lanterns, he turned to her and said, “You must dislike that you’re partnered with me.”

         Her eyes widened. “What? No!”

         “No?” he cocked a brow.

         “I mean, I’m y-y-your …” Jun played with her nails and then, with newfound courage, stopped. “...g-girlfriend, right?”

         “Are you alright with me?” he asked.

         His long-held stares were driving her soul from her body. She muttered shyly, “Of course.”

         His eyes scanned the sky and Jun wondered what he was searching for in the dark. Venus, maybe? Stuttering, he mumbled, “C-can I kiss you?”

         Jun blinked, emotions passing through her like a whip-fast caterpillar ride. Her shyness was amplified but her lips, ironically enough, moved on its own. “Wha—um, yeah.” 

         She had absolutely no idea what she was doing, and she was starting to feel self-conscious about the whole thing. Daiki was similarly insecure, though he tried hard not to show it. She had never stared deeply into his eyes as she had then, and Daiki felt his face heat up. His hands hovered over her face, not sure where to place them. He moved closer and closed his eyes.

         She took those few seconds to gaze up at him, his still face a few inches away from hers. She had never been more nervous—and never been more certain—than in that moment. With both hands lightly clutching his shirt, she stood on her toes and pressed her lips against his.

         He circled his arms around her waist, pulled away, and buried his face in her neck.

         “Jun,” he breathed in.

         Her face was half-pressed against his chest and she couldn’t speak, not that she could vocalize every thought that was running through her mind. Her heart felt full and heavy; she couldn’t imagine being with anyone other than Daiki.

         It was absolutely dangerous—what she felt about him. This was the type of blinding fervor that leads to rash decisions; it was an intensity that needed to be regularly tempered. He moved away from her and stood so close to her, she thought he would kiss her, but he didn’t. Instead, he rubbed his nose against hers.

         Kawaii 〰️ 

         She had, for the first time, an understanding of the predicament of shoujo main characters. He was too cute, she thought, tapping his nose with one finger.