18: A bet to win the girl
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This was the moment Ben learned he had a phobia of public speaking and the physical consequences of it.

He'd read about this last week in his psychology 101 class. It's a common fear. In fact, it's the most common fear, affecting 73% of the population.

In the statistics of the most common phobias, the fear of public speaking is even ahead of death!

People are more afraid of public speaking...than death...

If you were to give 73% of people two options: speak in public…or die...

They would choose to die!

At least that's what the statistics say! Ben was a man of science!

He was also a part of the 73%! The worst part was he didn't know it until now. It seemed talking to an unknown woman wasn't the same as speaking in front of a group of strangers.

Helpless in front of this classroom of judgment, sweat formed on his forehead as he withstood the heat of dozens of eyes beaming at him.

Ben had been silent for 10 seconds and students were starting to whisper. He knew he had to say something…anything. "M-my n-n-n-n-n-name is B-B-B-B-Ben-Ben..."

Zachary noticed Miyuki's worried expression. Returning his gaze to Ben, he narrowed his eyes and formed a mocking grin. "Ok thank you! Next!" Zachary cut him off.

The interruption hadn't upset Ben but instead provided relief. He was too nervous. Releasing a deep exhale, he walked over to Zachary to get a nametag for later group activities. Then he returned to his seat and put the tag on his chest.

Everyone had introduced themselves so the professor returned to the front.

Ben gripped the wooden desk's edges and closed his eyes for several moments, taking deep breaths to calm his still shaken nerves. When he opened them, he discovered people snickering under their breath. Others asked them what was funny and they pointed to Ben. After a minute, half the class had at least giggled at him.

'Do I have something on my face?' Ben rubbed his cheeks.

"Benjamin-san…" Miyuki's appeared sorrowful as she pointed at his chest.

Ben glanced down to see his nametag: "B-B-B-Benjamin."

He looked at Zachary who wore an amused expression while writing some notes.

The professor was busy drawing on a whiteboard and hadn't noticed this development.

Ben frowned. He didn't understand why this guy would target him.

Miyuki reached over to remove the nametag from Ben's chest, taking a pen and crossing out the extra B's. Zachary's eyes knitted his brows at this. Rather than be upset at Miyuki, he scowled at Ben.

That's when Ben understood. 'So that's how it is…Jealous over a girl.' He snorted. It was annoying, but he didn't have time for this now. Ben ignored Zachary's provocative stare and returned to listening to the lecture.

The first session of the seminar ended and most of the people had left. Ben was outside the classroom helping Miyuki move the desk and chair inside as a thank you for her earlier kindness.

"Benjamin-san, do you know what speech you will give at the end of the week?" Miyuki asked.

He shook his head. He hadn't thought about it yet.

A sneer came from the classroom's entrance. Zachary sauntered out with a cocky smirk. "Speech? Can he even give a speech? If it's anything like today, it would take 3 hours to through it haha."

Ben and Miyuki frowned at this random insult.

"Zachary-san, you are being rude," Miyuki rebuked.

"I'm merely offering this undergrad some advice. Not everyone can speak in front of a group. Some people lack the necessary…courage." He glared at Ben when he saw how close he stood to Miyuki.

Ben had been an eyesore for Zachary since the start of the class. Who does Ben think he is talking to Miyuki in his presence? She was Zachary's target and his property until he finished with her!

It would be best if he scared Ben off today, then Miyuki would only have him to speak with in class. Although Miyuki worked for the same professor, they worked during separate time slots, so there weren't many opportunities to be together like this. How could he give that precious time up to some snot-nosed brat?

Was it petty? Sure, but this was the power a teaching assistant held over students. Too bad!

Ben watched Zachary bluff and bluster. His intentions were written all over his face. 'Does he think he'll bully me out of the seminar with this? I've dealt with much worse. In high school, that one guy edited my face into a beastiality video. Everyone called me Ben the goatf*cker for two years! You think you'll shake me?!?' He showed pride in living through the ordeal. Being bullied was like surviving a war!

Ben's eyes glowed as he dived into memories of air sirens and bomb shelters. 'Then that guy released a remastered edition, and I became Ben the goat! This is nothing! Get skills newb!'

A two-war vet!

Ben smirked. "Zachary, right? How about we make a bet?"

Zachary crossed his arms. He didn't know where Ben was going with this.

Ben continued. "From what I've heard, you teaching assistants will also give a speech at the end of the week as an example to the students. Isn't that right?"

"So what?" Zachary asked.

"So here's the bet. During the last class, whichever one of us gives a worse speech…will never bother Miyuki again!"

Zachary clenched his jaw. 'This little sh*t.'

Miyuki stood there blinking. How did she become involved? When she saw Zachary grimacing and Ben glancing at her with a reassuring smile, she understood. 'Benjamin-san is trying to help me…'

She realized Ben noticed Zachary pestering her. Ben was trying to stop it...even though public speaking was impossible for him…and would be very embarrassing. Miyuki gazed at Ben and her heart grew warm.

Zachary spoke. "Not that you stand a chance of winning, but what you're saying is ridiculous. She and I work together. It wouldn't be possible. Besides, are you even qualified to bother her? Do I need to compete with a lowly freshman like you to talk to her?!? You can't even put a sentence together! What a joke! Look kid, you've pissed me off! Either get lost from the seminar or I'm going to make your life in class a living hell!"

Miyuki now understood why Zachary made fun of Ben earlier. She also realized she was the only one who could do something in this situation. With or without the wager, Zachary was going to give Ben a hard time. She knew Zachary. He was capable of many dirty tricks.

When they first sat down, Ben told her how important this seminar was to him. It's also her fault he was here. She put the flyer up. She couldn't let him suffer or drop out because of her... "No…I'll…I'll go on a date!" Miyuki's face grew red as she said the words.

Ben and Zachary became silent, staring at her, unsure of what she said. "What?" Zachary asked.

"I'll go on a date with the winner of the competition, but there is one condition. Zachary-san may not bother Benjamin-san during the seminar." Miyuki tried to be a kind person, and she appreciated when someone went out of his way to be kind to her.

New York City was full of people, but it was even more full of bitter coldness. She knew how rare it was to meet someone like Ben that would expose himself to humiliation to help her. Even though Ben was sure to lose and she would have to go with Zachary, it was only one date. It was the least she could do to let him take this seminar in peace."

"Miyuki, you don't have to do this…" Ben said.

'Yes...Do this!' Ben thought.

"No, it's okay." Miyuki gave Ben a gentle smile.

Zachary wore a weasel-like grin. "We've got a bet! That's perfect! Miyuki, you can ask the professor to judge the best speech. You should believe he'll give a fair assessment, right?"

Miyuki nodded.

Zachary had complete confidence in his victory. Although he wasn't an amazing speaker, he'd been a teaching assistant for the professor for a year. He gained a lot of experience with public speaking.

Meanwhile, Ben couldn't even pronounce his name without stuttering! His date was a sure thing! 'What a great deal this turned out to be!'

Now that Ben was no longer a threat. Zachary changed to prioritizing his professional image. He put on his teacher's face like nothing ever happened. "Benjamin, we'll see who's the better speaker at the end of the week. Good luck!"

Ben returned a frosty smile. 'The only thing you'll be seeing is stars when I embarrass you in front of your precious boss and students!'