Immediately after Miyuki's final sip of tea, Kaguya rose from her seat. "You ready? Shall we go?"
Kaguya's suddenness bewildered him, his cup almost slipping from his fingers as he was setting it down. He scrambled for his bag while Kaguya neared the exit. Miyuki reached her when she stopped to pull the door open.
Together they stepped into the evening light and made their way down the street. As they walked, Miyuki couldn't keep up with Kaguya as his heavy dinner weighed him down. His long strides barely allowed him to keep up with Kaguya, who was edging ahead.
"You seem excited. Are you thinking of getting something too?" He asked.
"I heard the bookstore has a nice stationery section. I'll get Chika something."
"Okay," he replied.
It was a reasonable answer. Although after a year and a half together, he was able to catch onto that brief hitch in her response. Her reply hinted at its premeditation although she recovered.
Moreover, with her excitement exposed, she seemed to lose her gusto, falling into her usual step right beside him.
What was she up to? He wondered. A scheme maybe? Strange she'd get excited over stationery and stationery for Chika, too, with no special occasion. Something was up, right? However, the numerous instances when he misread the situation kept any definite conclusions at bay. He couldn't image what she would be planning anyhow.
Nonetheless, there was no denying that she was excited about something. Something with him? Perhaps after spending more time with her tonight, he could figure it out, or she would just tell him? Yet, the more he thought about it, he hadn't actually confirmed if they'd hang out afterwards although...he wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't up for it.
Kaguya sighed with relief. "I'm glad midterms are over. It is lovely to have a break."
"Yeah, how do you think you did?"
She shrugged but with a confident air.
Wait. Was her comment a sign? An invitation? If she did come over or he came over, they'd probably end up sleeping together. He hoped? His heart dropped as he remembered how it felt staged, like two actors going through the same rehearsed movements and positions. The awkward tension when the deed was completed only added to the lack of intimacy.
It came to him the persistent space she maintained with him since they met up. She didn't kiss or hug him when she met him at his dorm, didn’t touch his feet with hers under the table, nor hold his hand as they walked. The hint she gave indicated that she just wanted to hang out if she did want to be with him, but only if she didn't already have plans with her other friends. Imagining her rejection twisted his stomach especially if his perhaps poor performance was the cause.
He could just assume that she had plans and let her correct him, but then she might not have plans and she will think that he thought she had plans. So maybe she will think that he will have plans.
He escaped his inner musing when he looked to Kaguya.
The slightest of smiles graced her lips as she exuded restrained giddiness. Her arms swung and her hair swayed. She glowed. At least she was eager about something, so maybe there was no need to worry. He strode up to her. His eyes fixed on her hand. Reaching out, brushing his finger with hers, he—
"We're here," Kaguya announced as her hand grabbed the door.
"I got it," he offered.
Kaguya and Miyuki stepped through the store's tall sensors and into the aroma of fresh, new books. A crowd of displays stood in front of the army of bookshelves, which seemed to go on for infinity. The shelves were packed together tightly. The aisles only allowed a two or three people through at a time. There was a staircase that lead to an upper and lower level with even more books.
After they agreed to meet by the magazines in the front, they diverged. Kaguya wandered in the direction of the staircase while Miyuki went up to the help desk.
When Miyuki got there, he saw a young, pretty girl, muttering to herself and struggling with the computer. Miyuki waited, not wanting to stress her out more, but he grew apprehensive as he watched her.
Quickly, though, her eyes snapped to his and scanned his face. A blush tinted her cheeks. "Oh, hello," she greeted, a flustered smile emerging.
Uneasiness plagued Miyuki's insides. She liked him. It was obvious. He wanted to leave but the need to get the academic journal for school and social obligations kept him planted.
"Uh, hi, I'm looking for a book, an academic journal. I heard you have it in stock?"
After he told her the title, her gaze stayed on him for a moment too long before she replied, "Let me check."
She typed on her computer, and she was relatively quick about it except she kept glancing in his direction. This just made him feel more uncomfortable. No suability. No tact. I should tell her I have a girlfriend.
"We do have some in stock."
"Could you tell me where it is?" He just needed simple directions.
However, Miyuki's worries came true when she walked around the desk. "It's kind of far. I can show you."
Not sure how to refuse or to get there, he followed her.
On the second floor of the bookstore, Kaguya tried to act casual, a pack of gel pens tucked under her arm as leaned against the bookshelf and pretending to peruse a book. Every 20 seconds, though, she would peer around the corner for Miyuki to come and pick up the journal.
(He was right) She did have a scheme going on in the background. Her objective: get him to buy the book she bought, The Modern Kama Sutra . Recalling their latest uneventful encounter in the bedroom, Kaguya was gripped with a new sense of determination. Her mind flitted through the the memory of pages she had marked, her imagination replacing the dull models in the books with herself and Miyuki. It would be so hot if he just let go, if they both did. The images in her mind had her body heating up, her heart racing, anticipation growing. God, please let this work!
However, she felt reassurance with her plan now in motion.
When he'd come across Medical Education in India – Problems and Prospects, he will also come across the The Modern Kama Sutra , read it, pick up on interesting ideas, and bring it up with her tonight. He will suggest a technique from the book, making it seem like his own, and she could reject or accept it while he appears as the expert. A win-win situation.
Why doesn’t she just bring it up?
With utmost humiliation she imagined it, her face glowing pink as her mind played the scenario:
In bed. Her body exposed to the elements and him with a condescending and disgusted glare directed down at her.
You want to do number 23?
She refused this fate. He is going to ask her. He will be here soon (he won't). She just needed to wait.
She doesn't know where she's going. Miyuki thought in frustration when The Help Desk Girl backtracked for the second time. It was no wonder. She tried to keep up a conversation, focusing more on him rather than where she was going. He'd bet that she knew this place as well as he did.
He really needed the Journal. The copy he had belonged to the school, but it vanished one day. It was nowhere online and this was the sole store in the area that had it.
For a while, they kept wandering the first floor. He was going to try to get out of it when he realized where they were. He halted and his eyes gravitated over the books. One caught his attention, “ The Guide To Getting it On “ His weight shifted in the direction of the book, but it was then when she sensed his pause. "Did you find it?"
He froze. She was staring at him. His gaze bounced back to her, hoping she didn't notice. "I just, uh, think that we're in the wrong place.”
And it all suddenly seemed to dawn on her too, where they were, the adult section.
"I'm sorry. I- I didn't realize." She led them out and they passed the same bookcase for a third time.
Then Miyuki said, trying to be polite, "It's okay, but I probably should go." He pretended to check his phone. To his surprise, he saw a message. Did you find your book? He felt relieved, he didn't have to outright lie. Also, he felt the girl’s eyes looking over his shoulder, scrutinizing his wallpaper picture of him and Kaguya. "My girlfriend is texting me. She wants to met up with me. I should go to her."
He began to edge away as he said this, but once he turned the corner, he sprinted. He waited and it seemed he lost the Help Desk Girl. He knew he still needed to get the book for school, but Miyuki took a detour.
He wasn't coming. Kaguya concluded. With her feet sore and her spirit taking 40 damage, she slid down to the floor. The gel pens lay neglected on the floor. Her knees were folded to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs, preventing herself from completely coming apart.
She supposed that she could call, meet up, and bring him here, but if she was here with him when he found the book. He might put two and two together.
Kaguya, you were reading these kinds of books and trying to get me to read one?
Actually, if she was there with him she imagined he would play it off cool. Avoid acting bashful. He might even ignore it or suggest to put it in the rightful place.
She wanted to see him in his natural, unrestrained state: blushing, nose buried in the pages, mind reeling.
She had been anticipating this the whole evening. She was so excited for him to find the book, for tonight; her face began to warm up. She began to fidget. Maintaining self-control by keeping her distance this evening proved excruciatingly difficult.
Miyuki, hurry up.
On the other side of the library, Miyuki was blushing, mind reeling, and nose buried deep in the folds of the book, The Modern Kama Sutra . He had taken off his jacket and tied it around his waist as it was no longer necessary for the temperature.
He drowned in new ideas. He could suggest something new, act like an expert. She would be impressed.
Yet, there was one problem…
It was embarrassing!
He envisioned it:
Her alarmed and appalled glare bearing down on him.
You're into that? How lewd.
The thought sweeping through his mind paralyzed him. Hearing it from her would make him want to die. Maybe…somehow, he will plant it somewhere she will find it, and she can be the one to choose and bring it up. She can choose what she wants while he won't seem like a creep. Win-win.
"Fifteen minutes until closing.”
Frustrated and restless, Kaguya sent a piercing glare directly where Miyuki should have been coming. No longer discrete. No longer natural. She was receiving odd looks from passersby. Kaguya collected herself, put off that he hadn’t come. Picking the book back from the shelf and hiding it in her bag, she decided to try this another time. Apparently, taking his book, purchasing all the available copies online, and researching for a cafe in Miyuki’s price range, and near the bookstore, had all been for nothing.
At this point, it would be better to meet up with him.
She couldn't shake off, though, how he never came. His cheapskate brain wouldn't allow him to get distracted on another book and he was responsible. He cares about this class, so wouldn't it be his top priority?
Then it came to her.
She recalled the pretty big breasted girl he was talking to at the help desk. While passing them to sneak to this section. It was obvious from 20 meters away that the girl liked him. Did he like her too? She peered down at her own chest.
He was loyal, though.
And they wouldn't, right? Not in a bookstore!
Yet, it wouldn't hurt to check.
Finally abandoning her post, she went over to the help desk.
"Fifteen minutes until closing."
The announcement brought Miyuki back into reality. Only fifteen minutes left and he had no book and no idea where it was in the first place. He began to panic. First, though, He slipped the book he was looking at into his bag and raced down the aisle, scanning the sections. Wellness. Fitness. Nutrition. After a few minutes of racing through the shelves like a mouse in a maze, he realized he wasn't even near it. He had no idea what to do. Adrenaline rushed through him as he saw other customers with their purchases migrate to the front. He raked his fingers through his hair, stressed. He supposed that he could come back tomorrow. What would he tell Kaguya, though, after spending forty-five minutes here and coming up with nothing? Besides, there was a more urgent issue: he didn't want Kaguya finding about his purchase. Maybe she's not at their meeting place yet, and he could sneak off. As he walked by, he grabbed a cookbook as his alibi and went to see if she was by the magazines.
Nobody was at the help desk.
An irrational sense of dread, anger, betrayal overcame her. Kaguya felt light headed. Her brain short-circuited as she frantically scanned for him or the girl around the store. He wasn't by the magazines nor did he respond to her texts.
Then Kaguya saw the Help Desk Girl stroll out from the shelves and to her dismay, the Girl glanced over, examining her with her wide stupid eyes. Kaguya counterattacked with a glare.
The Girl shrunk into a helpless little rabbit and backed away. Kaguya advanced toward her until Miyuki charged out of the bookshelves, Kaguya noted, from the same general area.
Kaguya paused, yet something was off. Miyuki's hair was messy, his jacket was off, and his face was flushed. On top of that, when his eyes met hers he bolted in another direction.
In that moment, Kaguya's world crumbled.
Crap. Miyuki cursed to himself. She saw him. He was pretty sure she did. He glanced over his shoulder. She was staring at him. Why? Oh, right, he took more than half an hour to "find" one book. Thankfully, she wasn't following him, yet as he advanced—-
"Miyuki, you cheater!"
Miyuki whirled around to watch as Kaguya stormed out.
Miyuki ran after her. The cookbook he was holding tumbled out of his hands as he tried to keep up with her. With every millisecond, he managed to get closer and closer. By the time she was bursting through the front entrance, he was only a few feet away when--
An alarm screeched through the store. Kaguya and Miyuki halted. Everything went still. Everyone went silent. The shrill, humiliation, and dread drowned him for what seemed forever until he got his bearings.
He finally cried out over the noise and the stares, "I'm sorry. I'm going to pay,. I swear."
Mercifully, the alarm stopped and the people who were already in line allowed Miyuki to cut. She watched as he made his walk of shame. Did he find the book? Kaguya wondered. She thought against it as he pulled another book out of a bag. Why would he have a book in his bag? She walked up to the cash register to get a better look. When she got there, he had placed the money on the counter. He mumbled "Keep the change,” and slid the book into his bag. She couldn't read the title, yet she knew the cover all too well.
Miyuki let out a small thank you with his gaze glued to the ground. His eye contact with the floor continued as he passed Kaguya, absolutely mortified.
She followed behind him, but it was difficult to keep up with his pace and it only quickened when he exited the bookstore and they made the sudden shift from the mildly air-conditioned bookstore to the cool, crisp night.
She picked up speed, closing the distance. Before he could escape her, she grabbed onto his arm and anchored him down.
He didn't resist but he felt tense, yet at her words, he seemed to relax, marginally.
She spat out, "I'm sorry." She tightened her grip on him. For a second, nothing happened. Kaguya released him from her grasp and pulled her own copy from her bag.
"I'm sorry, Miyuki," she said again.
She held it up for him to read. At first, her eyes weren't able to meet his, but she forced herself to look and was taken aback by his own shock.
While from his perspective, he knew what her apology meant: it meant that he would have more than enough copies of The Modern The Kama Sutra. It meant, like always, Kaguya was one step ahead. More important, though, it meant he had nothing to be ashamed of.
There was just silence from the both of them until Miyuki burst out laughing, the stress melting away. This sparked a giggle from Kaguya, which evolved into both of them laughing.
Soon everything died down, and Kaguya breathed a sigh of relief, ending her laughter when she was ready to finally talk to him. She asserted, "I...I want to do number 23.” She flipped to the page and showed him it. He skimmed it and responded with a shy smile and a nod.
Ecstatic, she grabbed him, and hand in hand they ran down the sidewalk all the way to the dorms.
(Result of today's battle);
Shirogane and Shinomiya win