Kotaro sighed, leaning against the broom he was currently using to sweep the hallway. "I'm never going to make it to soccer practice in time," he said.
Arisa, who was standing just at the lower end of a nearby ramp, laughed at him. "If it means that much to you," she said, "I'll finish your part for you. But you owe me."
Kotaro's eyes lit up. "You're the best, Takamizawa-san!" he chirped. He moved, starting to leave so he could make it to practice. He knocked the broom over in his haste, sending it right into the path of someone coming down the hallway...
Kotaro jumped at the shout, and the CRASH that followed. He spun on his heel to see if anyone was hurt, and...
He saw a guy... On top of Arisa.
"What the hell are you doing?!" he shouted, storming over to the guy. He picked up the broom from the floor, intending to use it as a weapon. "Get off of her, asshole!"
In a panic, the silver-haired male leapt to his feet. He turned, and backed away slightly when he saw the weapon Kotaro now held. "Ah! I-it was an-!"
"What the hell kind of person just jumps on top of a girl?!" Kotaro shouted. He waved the broom angrily, and the other boy ducked out of his way. Kotaro continued trying to hit him, and the boy turned and fled the scene.
Kotaro wouldn't have that, though, and chased after him.
He chased the guy all the way down to the other end of the school, frantically trying to beat him with the cleaning utensil. "Pervert! Scum! Creep!" he shouted all the way, not hearing the other try to explain himself as he did so.
Eventually, he had him cornered, and pinned him against a wall with the end of the broom. Before he could say or do anything more, though, someone came out of the nearby classroom to see what was going on.
It was his older sister, Natsuki.
"Kotaro?!" she shouted. "Why are you pinning Koyuki-kun to the wall?!"
"You know him, Natsuki?!" Kotaro said in shock, though not releasing the guy - Koyuki, apparently.
"He's my classmate, Ayase Koyuki! Let him go!" Natsuki demanded.
Kotaro blinked. Classmate... That meant...
Oh, no. He panicked and leapt back, dropping his now former weapon to the floor. He gave a low bow. "I-I'm sorry, Ayase-senpai! I didn't know, I mean, I didn't mean to, uh..."
Koyuki laughed a bit nervously at the sight. "It's okay, Enomoto-kun. You were protecting your friend. I understand."
"Protecting his... Wait, what exactly happened?" Natsuki asked.
"I tripped and accidentally fell on top of his friend," Koyuki explained.
Kotaro lifted himself from his bow and crossed his arms. "Forgive me, senpai, but I still think you owe her an apology for that, by the way."
"Kotaro! You can't make demands of your upperclassmen!" Natsuki shouted.
Koyuki laughed again. "It's okay, Enomoto-san. I don't mind doing that for him." He smiled brightly at Kotaro. "Let's go back to your friend, then, shall we?"
Kotaro and Koyuki made their way back to Arisa, who was idly sweeping trash that Koyuki had spilled back into its bin. When she looked up and saw them, Koyuki gave a low bow and said, "I'm very sorry for falling on top of you earlier!"
Arisa blinked. "Um... Okay?"
It was quite obvious that she didn't really care about what had happened - not as much as Kotaro had. It was almost embarrassing on Kotaro's end, really.
But instead of getting mad, when Koyuki lifted himself back into a proper standing position, he smiled brightly at Kotaro. "I admire your sense of justice, Enomoto-kun," he said, brushing a strand of hair out of his face. "I'll help your friend here clean up my mess."
Arisa might have commented something after that, but all Kotaro could focus on was the big, bright smile on Koyuki's face.
His cheeks burned. His heart fluttered. And his stomach felt like it was in knots.
But Kotaro couldn't accept this. He couldn't accept the feelings that had been dumped on him with no warning. He refused to accept them.
He couldn't like a guy. Or at the very least, he couldn't like a guy like Koyuki. He just wasn't right, with that long hair, and the way his clothes were so baggy, and... Ugh!
Apparently, the universe didn't want to make ignoring the situation easy for him.
Every day after that, if their paths crossed, Koyuki would give Kotaro a bright smile and a cheerful hello.
Kotaro always dismissed him, always looking in another direction and pretending that he didn't notice him.
Sometimes, he found himself longing to glance back at his senpai, wondering if he was hurt by Kotaro's dismissals, or if he was just being polite and didn't really care.
He never gave in to that longing, though.
However, soon enough, his desire to ignore and avoid Koyuki got to the point that before Kotaro would go anywhere in the school, he'd carefully calculate the chances of him running into Koyuki. If the chances were too high, he'd find another route. If he couldn't find another route, he'd try to convince Hina, Arisa, Ken or Kodai to go in his place.
While the other three hadn't noticed anything amiss, of course Hina, his childhood friend, would.
Hina cornered him in an empty classroom one day. To anyone else, this may have been a love confession scene, but Kotaro knew it for what it was.
"Why have you been acting weird?" she demanded, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. When Kotaro didn't immediately respond, she gave a low, growling sound. "Kotaro! It's rude not to respond when someone asks a question!"
"I don't want to talk about it!" Kotaro snapped.
"Too bad, you're going to!" she immediately countered. "Tell me right now!"
Silence. The tension in the air was so thick it could be cut with a knife. The two of them glared menacingly at each other. One trying to help her friend, the other trying to get her to drop it.
"Kotaro," Hina eventually spoke again, "what is so bad that you can't tell me?"
Kotaro swallowed thickly. He didn't want to answer that. Because answering it meant coming to terms with the truth. It meant admitting to not only himself, but to another person, how he felt.
He looked down at the floor. "I... Like someone," he whispered.
A dead silence followed.
"That's it?" Hina growled, obviously irritated that Kotaro's odd behavior had been caused by something so small.
Kotaro, however, shook his head.
"I like a guy, Hina."
Yet again, dead silence. Hina's eyes widened, but Kotaro wouldn't lift his to meet them.
Eventually, Hina took a step forward. "There's nothing wrong with that, you know." She gave a weak laugh. "I used to have a crush on your sister, you know."
Kotaro shook his head again. "But I thought I liked girls, Hina. This is scaring me."
"You can like both," Hina pointed out. "But I can understand it being scary." She tilted her head. "Who is it?"
"Kotaro, I promise I won't tell."
Eventually, Kotaro sighed. "It's... A third-year. Ayase Koyuki."
"Never met him. You'll have to point him out to me some time!" Hina said cheerfully.
Finally, Kotaro lifted his head, hesitantly meeting Hina's bright eyes. "It's going to be okay, Kotaro!" she said. "I promise!"
Kotaro began returning Koyuki's greetings. One day he pointed him out to Hina, and she playfully nudged him, teasing him by saying, "You better snatch him up quick!"
"Why?" Kotaro said in response, obviously bewildered.
"Because if you don't, someone else will!"
Kotaro had no response for that.
Graduation for the third-years soon came. Kotaro could overhear a few conversations going down, but the only person he could focus on was Koyuki.
How easy would it be to walk over and ask what high school he was going to...?
How easy would it be to go to the same one...?
But his legs wouldn't move. Wouldn't let him find out.
"H-Hina," he said, catching her attention.
She turned away from her conversation with Arisa, waving the other girl away and moving to talk to Kotaro. "Yeah?"
"Can... Can you go ask Ayase-senpai what high school he's going to?"
Hina grinned almost wickedly. But it wasn't quite malevolent enough to be classified as such, really...
"Of course, Kotaro! You can count on me!"
Kotaro sighed in relief - but it quickly turned into a yelp of alarm when Hina grabbed his arm and all but dragged him over to Koyuki. "Ayase-senpai!" she said, getting his attention. "Can me and Kotaro get a picture?"
"Ah, of course... Sorry, what was your name, again?"
"Setoguchi Hina," was her response. She hummed, and waved over Kodai. "Hey! Come take our picture!"
Kodai complied easily enough. Hina quickly got on Kotaro's left, so that Koyuki was on his right.
The camera caught Kotaro's ensuing blush.
Hina really did ask Koyuki about his school of choice after that. Sakuragaoka High.
"That's the same high school your sister and my brother are going to," Hina said when they were alone a few minutes later.
"Yeah," Kotaro mumbled, still looking dazedly at Koyuki.
Hina smirked. "You know, if you're ever asked, you can just claim you went there for the soccer team."
Kotaro didn't respond, but he knew he would be needing that excuse.