Just when he had resolved to stay away from Ritsu, fate had decided to push them closer.
The day after Ritsu invited him to read, he was summoned by a teacher- a sensei he didn't know, and had no idea why she was requesting him.
Trying to make head or tail of the matter, he stepped into the teacher’s lounge. They were having a meeting, and the room was empty.
No, wait. He was not alone.
Head bent, shoulders heaving slightly. The sound of giggling filled the room.
A smaller figure was hunched over a hardcover copy of Kimi Ni Todoke.
Usa walked up to her.
She glanced at him.
Her smile wavered, but stayed on her lips. "Hello, Usa-kun."
He smiled, but it did not reach his eyes.
Ritsu felt momentary relief, and then profound loss.
Usa walked away from her, every step deliberate, and proceeded to leisurely stroll to the window.
“It’s been raining a lot. El Nino season,” he said conversationally.
“Mm.” Why was he babbling about such irrelevant topics? she wondered.
This was strange! Why was she inviting conversation? “Maybe you should go back to your book...sorry for disturbing..
“Want to know what book I'm reading?"
He nodded. What else could he do? Besides, it would help pass the time.
“It’s a shoujo romance, for once. About a girl who is unbearably shy and a guy who lacks self-confidence, but because of their friends, they eventually take a leap of faith and confess to one another.” Did he notice the similarities between the protagonists and them?
“No wonder it’s fiction,” he muttered. Then he saw the look on her face. “No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that…”
Her heart sank. Then a wave of anger took over her.
Hands seized Usa’s shirt collar, and he found himself face to face with Ritsu. Her face was ashen, cheeks chalk white, lips quivering, but her eyes blazed with determination.
"Don't you ever shut yourself away from me! Do you know how many people have done that already?"
Her mum, too busy to speak to her. Her friends, who discarded books like clothes.
"I know I'm reclusive. I know I've been hard to talk to, hard to be with."
The people around her who, try as they might, couldn't understand her, and so gave up trying.
“But please...keep trying.”
Her outburst stripped away the last of her energy, and she sagged in his arms, firm yet fragile at the same time.
“Wait, what?! ” Usa began to freak out. His arms encircled her waist, hesitantly, sure that she would come down to reality with a jolt and kick him somewhere painful.
Then he spotted the book lying on the floor, and it hit him.
She’s chosen me over her book!
This was unprecedented in the world of Ritsu.
Alas, Usa didn’t rejoice for long.
A shadow lingered at the doorway, and he realised with a start someone was spying on them.
Luckily, Ritsu’s back was facing the door, and she was oblivious to the third party.
Oh, shoot, he thought desperately. He needed to get him and Ritsu out of this humiliating position, but he didn't want Ritsu to notice, either.
How do I get Ritsu to break the hug without her getting offended or realising someone is watching?
Then he realised Ritsu was shaking.
Trembling with anger? Startled, he stepped away from her.
She looked up at him meekly.
“The season is getting cooler! You should be wearing a jacket!” Usa launched into one of his long-winded lectures.
“Hai, hai Mom...”
She shushed as she heard the click-clack of a pair high heels.
The door swung open.
A cheery lady decked out in pale yellow greeted them.
“Hello! I’m Sensei Umi. Thank you for accepting my request, I’ll put both of your names down. You’ll be the first to carry out this new program in the library!”
All she received in reply were baffled looks.
“As school reading Ambassadors, of course! I see you two in the library practically every day!” She turned her attention to Ritsu, who was edging towards the door, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
“You’re a third year and busy with studies, so you could just supervise.”
That suited Ritsu just fine. She’d make Usa do all the donkey work and have an excuse to read comfortably for prolonged hours in the library.
Meanwhile, Usa’s eyes were practically shimmering with the possibility of more time with Ritsu.
“Who else is helping out?”
“Oh..these two juniors.” Sensei looked around. “They are supposed to be here by now...”
The door swung open, and Sakuma and Shiina stumbled in.
“Sorry we are late... WAIT WHAT?!” Sakuma gaped at Usa, then Ritsu. “Why are you two here as well!”
“I see you four know each other already!” Sensei Umi smiled and playfully pinched Sakuma’s cheek. “How cute!”
Shiina stepped protectively in front of Sakuma. “Don’t hurt his face! He looks bad already, don’t disfigure him further.”
Ignoring the blatant insult, Sakuma silently begged Usa to reject the job, say no, say he was too busy doing senpai things…
But Usa was doing some body language of his own. He shot a look at Ritsu.
“How about it?” His expression was pleading.
She lifted her shoulders in a tiny shrug. He could have hugged her again.
With a grin threatening to split his face, Usa turned to the sensei and said, "we accept!"
He'd deal with Sakuma's indignation and Shiina’s pouting later.
For now, his newly found bond with Ritsu was more than enough.