"Yuuta! There you are! I have a new assignment for you."
Yuuta felt a hand grab his shoulder as Gojo rounded on him between their classes, pulling him around a corner in the courtyard.
"I want you to connect with your classmates more. You’re such a lump!"
"I--" Yuuta started but Gojo continued, ignoring him.
"So you’re gonna play a game! An ice breaker, if you will. The absolute favorite activity of every student transferring to a new school."
Gojo grinned showing all his teeth. Yuuta felt his flight reaction kick in.
"20 questions! Back and forth, with each of them!"
"E-each of them?"
"Yes~" his sensei sing-songed back.
"Sensei, that feels… excessive," Yuuta countered weakly, knowing this resistance would likely fall on deaf ears.
"It’s important!" Gojo slapped him on the back, "Embrace your youth and give a good effort, alright? I expect a full report of all their answers later! Have fun! Dig up something juicy!"
Yuuta felt that even if his sensei’s intentions might be good, there was definitely an ulterior motive here.
He started with Panda because Panda had always been the easiest one to talk to. Their previous conversations had all been friendly and this one ended up no different. They talked about the academy a bit and discussed their favorite classes. Yuuta found out Panda very much did not engage in normal panda things at all , but did like Korean TV dramas.
Maki was intimidating at first but not petulant when they started a rhythm of questions back and forth. She started by asking him about plants, he started by asking her about books. They ended up talking about their favorite and least favorite things to cook. He could argue the conversation with Maki went better than his one with Panda.
But his last classmate…
Inumaki sat across from him, leaning back on his chair, shoulders lax and hands in his pockets. He was gazing out the window, the bottom half of his face covered as usual. He looked… well, bored if Yuuta was being honest.
"Um," Yuuta started, breaking the silence between them.
Inumaki’s purple eyes moved and meet his, but he didn’t move or say anything.
"So… 20 questions."
"I guess I’ll start then," Yuuta tapped his fingers on the table awkwardly.
Don’t ask a question about food, don’t ask a question about food…
"What’s your favorite..." Yuuta paused, "...color?"
Inumaki blinked again.
"Tuna," he responded.
"Tuna?" Yuuta wasn’t sure what he expected.
"Tuna," Inumaki repeated, eyes locked on him. For as intimidating as Maki had been, it did not even come close to the discomfort Yuuta was feeling in this moment.
"Okay," Yuuta said, at a loss for anything else to say, attempting to move forward as quickly as possible, “Your turn to ask something.”
Inumaki raised an eyebrow at him as if to say, Really?
"I mean," Yuuta scratched his own head, "I guess you don’t have t--"
"Bonito flakes," Inumaki said, cutting him off, then continued, "Mustard leaf?"
"Ah…" Yuuta paused.
Right. He had to give an answer now. That's how this worked.
Inumaki blinked at him again, waiting. Yuuta hummed, tilting his head, trying to give the motion of thinking, hoping, praying something akin to understanding would come to him by doing this. The two of them sat there for a few drawn out minutes before Yuuta placed his hands on the table and hung his head down in shame, admitting defeat.
"I don't know how to answer that."
The other boy nodded and turned back towards the window.
"Okay. My turn again."
Inumaki slowly looked back over, eyebrows pinching together like he couldn’t possibly believe this was still happening.
"What do you…" Yuuta started and then paused.
What was that one question Panda had told him to ask if he got stuck… ?
"Like in a girl…?" He finished.
Inumaki squinted at him and, even with half his face hidden behind his collar, Yuuta could tell he was making a sour face. It was the biggest change of expression he had ever seen the other boy make.
" Bonito flakes," Inumaki responded with such a weird inflection, Yuuta assumed he must be offended.
"Was," Yuuta floundered, shocked at this reaction, "was that the wrong thing to ask?"
Inumaki narrowed his eyes and jerked his head to the side. Yuuta didn't hear anything but he swore that motion read as a scoff.
Yuuta hadn’t really thought about the context of the question. In retrospect, Inumaki didn’t seem like the type of person to talk about that kind of stuff. He was kind of private. The question probably came off as offensive.
Maybe he shouldn’t have put his trust in Panda after all.
"Let me," Yuuta groaned, wondering if he could even recover from this situation. "Let me try again."
Before Yuuta could formulate another question, Inumaki took one hand out of his pocket and pointed at him.
"Um," It was Yuuta's turn to blink. Inumaki continued.
"Tuna mayo ?"
Inumaki then crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.
Yuuta’s mouth pressed into a thin line. Inumaki was waiting for an answer and again, he had nothing.
"Tuna tuna," Inumaki repeated.
"I…" Yuuta grimaced, defeated once again. "...don’t know how to answer any of those questions."
Inumaki closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders in a sigh.
This … this wasn’t working.
Inumaki was looking less and less interested and Yuuta had known this whole situation was likely a lost cause. Even still, his stubbornness refused to let it go. There just had to be some way to communicate with each other that was able to subvert the language barrier.
Then he had a thought.
"Wait," Yuuta rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. "What about this?"
He slid the phone across the table to Inumaki.
"Put your number in."
Inumaki looked from him to the phone then back at him.
The other boy rolled his eyes, reached out, and grabbed the phone. He held it in his hands and tapped the screen a few different times, then slid it back over to Yuuta.
"Thanks," Yuuta scrolled through his contacts and saw that, yes, Inumaki had added his contact in. A small bit of hope shined through.
Inumaki pulled his own phone out of his pocket and put it on the table, face up. Yuuta started typing. Something easy, something simple.
> Do you like cats or dogs better?
Inumaki reached down and tapped his phone screen.
Yuuta looked down at the message he had just received and couldn’t believe what he was looking at.
"You can’t be serious."
Inumaki didn't even look up as he tapped his screen a few more times. Yuuta received another new message moments later.
" Really ?"
Inumaki tapped his phone three more times.
"Are you making fun of me?" Yuuta asked, exasperated, in frustration.
“Salmon,” Inumaki responded vocally, eyes creasing closed as his shoulders shook.
Yuuta paused. Then his eyes went wide.
"You are, " he said, realizing what he was witnessing was Inumaki making a soundless laugh. His mind raced back through the entire exchange they had just had. "Was...were you... the whole time?"
"Salmon," Inumaki repeated, throwing up a victory sign in confirmation. His body moved in laughter again.
Yuuta groaned, turning red and feeling embarrassment wash over him. He threw a hand over his face. He had been played spectacularly. He wanted to die on the spot.
His phone buzzed a few more times and he managed to fight the embarrassment enough to look down at it.
> it was too easy
> dont feel bad
Yuuta looked up at Inumaki, "You expected this to happen." It wasn’t a question this time.
"Tuna," Inumaki shrugged and repocketed his phone.
Yuuta sighed, "Do you think sensei is picking on both of us?"
"Salmon," Inumaki nodded.
It was Yuuta's turn to laugh. Inumaki pushed his chair out to stand up.
"What are you doing?"
"Kelp," Inumaki waved his hand dismissively as he picked up his school bag before heading towards the door.
"W-wait," Yuuta scrambled to feet and grabbed Inumaki by the arm before he could leave, “Can I come?”
Inumaki’s eyebrows shot up in what Yuuta thought might be surprise, "Tuna?”
I think, Yuuta's eyes widened, hoping he was understanding something correctly for the first time. He’s trying to confirm if I want to hang out with him.
"I mean, you're technically part of my assignment today. And I don't have anything else to do so," Yuuta rambled, "So, yeah I'd like too. As long as you don’t mind?"
Inumaki stared at him for a long moment before nodding his head, "Salmon."
Yuuta grabbed his own bag and followed Inumaki out the door.
"You gave Inumaki your cell number?" Maki asked him a few days later when Yuuta recounted to her how the situation had gone down, “I understand where you were coming from, but I think you’ll learn that was a poor choice. You’ll be getting links to cursed Youtube video compilations at 3am. I blocked him after day 2." She huffed, "Do your sleep schedule a favor."
"I think it’s okay so far," Yuuta shrugged, "All he sends me is emojis. I don’t really know what they mean but I'm kind of trying to go with it."
"Emojis?" Maki cocked an eyebrow, "Let me see."
Yuuta handed Maki his phone. She glanced over the messages for a few seconds.
"Ah," Yuuta repeated, then grabbing his phone back, looked at his messages again, "Wait, is it bad?"
Every way he read it, the messages were a jumble of different emojis to which he had attempted to respond in his own different jumble. It was a fun back and forth. Yuuta was sure at least some of the ones he received from Inumaki were not meant to be negative.
Maki paused longer than he would have liked before simply responding in a flat, "No."
"That…" He looked at her, suddenly concerned, "Doesn't feel very reassuring."
Yuuta’s phone buzzed in his hand, another message from Inumaki.
Yuuta squinted then read the emojis twice, "I think Inumaki’s skipping assembly this morning to sleep in."
"I told you, 3am," Maki glanced at the message over his shoulder.
"Send this," she clicked on his phone a few times and then hit send before he could stop her.
"You’ll figure it out," Maki said in a way that indicated she was done having this conversation as she walked away. "He shouldn't skip anyway."
Yuuta felt the phone in his hand buzz 6 times in rapid succession.