The edge of a book hit me square on the head. “Ouch!”
Taizou was looking at me from below his fringe, his outstretched arm still holding the book that hit me.
“Don’t doze off. Focus.”
I rubbed my head and closed the menu. Bad timing for focusing on that. I needed to study.
I had to admit that his tone of scolding me was rather nice to the ears, though.
Barely a few minutes later, my phone played a song, signifying a conference call. I had intended on not answering, when the system gave me a pop-up:
[You answer your phone.]
Alright. Usually I’m the one in power, but when it’s like this, it sounds like the system is commenting my life.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't do something as rude as answer my phone during a lesson when I know it's just my friends, but Taizou motioned that it was fine.
I gave a quick ‘sorry’ to Taizou and answered it, preparing to quickly shut my friends down - but their voices burst through the phone, the loudspeaker activating without me doing anything.
“Dude did you know that Taizou Mizuki has a lover!”, was the first thing blaring through the phone. I froze.
My awkward squeak managed to reach them. “...What?”
“So you know there’s like tons of girls stalking him and it seems he’s been busy with something lately! He even rejected the president! They’re talking about it everywhere!”
I sucked in a breath through my teeth, not even daring to look at Taizou. “Tarou-”
Kaoru interjected from the side.
“There’s rumors it’s that Russian model that landed here not too long ago! Crazy!”
“I heard it’s some childhood friend he hasn’t seen in forever!”
“I think all of it is bullshit, but I’m playing along for the fun of it.”
...And there goes Yuji.
“Guys!” I shouted into the phone, terribly awkward. They finally halted a moment, though not for the reasons I hoped.
“Ooh! Do you have an even better theory?”
Before I could start to despair, Yuji took over.
“Yo, stop it for a second. I think he’s not in the mood for joking. Sorry, Riku, did we disturb you?”
“...I’m studying for the midterms.”
“Valid. Those two are just procrastinating and caught some girls bickering about it, that’s why they got stuck on it.”
“Aww, come on, Yuji, what are you being so boring for?”
Mama Yuji chastised her unruly children with the patience of an angel.
“What are you behaving like from the view of someone not in a mood for jokes?”
“Assholes?” “Nasty creeps?” “Trash-talking gossip-mongers?”
“Uh, yeah, pretty much. And who’s not in a funny mood right now?”
“So what should we do?”
“Stop behaving like assholes and gossip about people who are not around to defend themselves?” ...Although they are.
“Exactly. Good boys.”
“Yay! Yuji’s paying the next meal!”
“Fuck you! Like hell I am!”
“Yuji’s paying! Yuji’s paying!” “Free meal! Yay! Good luck studying, Riku. Free meal!”
The call cut off and I stared at my phone as it beeped. Awesome. The person I was desperately trying to get along with had heard my friends gossip about him. I didn’t want to look up, but I did.
His face looked troubled.
“Why is it that everything I do becomes an issue for everyone to know?”, he asked, his tone genuinely confused. He wasn’t mad, not yet, he just wanted to understand this thing he wasn’t part of.
I struggled to explain without offending him.
“You’re… attractive, but don’t use it for your advantage. They’re not used to that. All attractive people are like celebrities that belong to the public of their circle, is what they feel, I guess. And people like gossip, even… even if it’s just as a joke. You don’t think about the fact that it can actually hurt someone.”
He sighed, long and slow. Taizou rubbed his still troubled face with his hands, then looked up at me with a piercing gaze.
“Don’t gossip about me.”
I shook my head so fast it made me dizzy. “I won’t! I swear I won’t do it anymore!”
...The last word was awkward but a truth I didn’t want to deny. I had been part of those gossipers, as well.
He looked pacified at that. “Why is me not spending time with the president a clue to having a lover?”
Yikes, awkward topic. Couldn’t he have overheard that?
“...Uh. That. It’s a stupid thing, you don’t…” I stopped myself at his raised eyebrow and began fidgeting. God, I did not want to be the one to tell him about that. “It’s… cause a lot of your fans are fujoshis…”
I was dying on my pillow. I curled up as small as I could, looking everywhere but at him. “...They ship guys together.”
“...I’m going to regret this, but what does ‘to ship guys’ mean?”
“...Making imaginary couples out of people.”
A long, painful silence. Taizou’s face hadn’t moved much, but his jaw had lowered a bit and his eyes were wider than before. “The girls think that I and the president… are a couple?”
“Not necessarily actually being a couple, they’re just saying that you’d look good as one and they’d enjoy seeing you go out.”
I answered just as confused as he asked me, feeling imaginary sweatdrops run down my face.
Taizou breathed in and held the breath for a moment before exhaling slowly.
“I am not going out with the president”, he clarified with a serious tone, holding my gaze.
“I didn’t think you were…”
“In that case, you can stop curling into a ball.”
I unfolded myself slowly. That was a more private conversation than we ever had before, I just would have preferred another topic.
The awkward atmosphere kept around.
From my side because I still felt guilty about being one of those that gossiped before and who knows why he was uncomfortable. He could choose between that phone call, my explanation of fujoshis, the fact that people questioned his relationship and this whole conversation happening at all.
“I’m really not in that kind of relationship with the president”, he stated once more, maybe wanting to make sure I was taking him seriously. I nodded once more.
“I believe you. I can’t imagine you being interested in him.”
Out of perfectly selfish reasons, but whatever. I just didn’t want to think of the possibility, so I decided on my own that Taizou would never like guys, so the president obviously wasn’t a choice. I would have fewer problems seeing him go out with a girl.
We let ourselves fall into silence and continued studying. Once Taizou was completely absorbed in his notes again, the system began to blink annoyingly in the corner of my eye. I opened the menu and Taizou’s ‘current target’ tab, the one with the hint, opened, showing a pop-up message with a large exclamation mark above it.
[Relationship points locked into a static position. The current amount cannot be calculated. Please wait for or cause a special event to occur to unlock the function again.]
...An event? Of course I knew events from the games. Special occasions inside the game that gave you opportunities to better your relationship-
Eh. I guess I just answered some of my own questions.
Alright, so I knew what the system wanted me to do. I could wait for such an occasion to naturally occur or orchestrate one. But why did the points have to be locked until I completed one?
We studied for another hour and a half before Taizou looked out of the window at the slowly setting sun and decided to go home. I walked him to the door, thanked him for teaching me and paid him - then ran up the stairs to barge into Haru’s room.
“I don’t get my system”, I declared as I threw myself onto her bed. She loved it when I talked to her about the system so hearing me say that, she discarded all of her plans and plopped down next to me while I explained.