Masumi was still faintly panting as he emerged from the showers in the school gym, hurriedly gathering up his clothes and finding his usual corner to get dressed in. His muscles ached in a way they usually didn’t, not unless he’d just emerged from dance class, and that left him walking with a little less vigor as he strolled through the changing room with a smile nonetheless on his face.


He’d just made it to the door when he felt a looming, lanky presence join his side.


“Sanada.” Rumbled the voice of the oft-delinquent Kiryu. “You did good for once. And you were just the worst before. What’s your secret?” He asked, as he held open the door for the slighter boy.


“Oh, um,” Masumi smiled up and walked through the door. “I don’t have one. I’ve just been feeling it, I guess...” The door clattered closed behind Kiryu and the pair of them glanced down the hall to see the students approaching for the next class in the gym. It was a group of girls from the same year, quite literally overshadowed by the tallest girl, and her retinue of followers.


“Oh. How boring.” Kiryu said, as he followed Masumi’s line of sight to the girls’ class and shook his head. “Dream on, Sanada. There’s no way any of that group will be interested in a man they can fit in their bags.” He laughed. “Since you didn’t suck so much today, let me give you some advice.” He pointed down the hall, nakedly transparent in his pointing at some of the less-formed groups. “You’re better off with the stragglers. Trust me on this: I’ve read all the romances in the library.”


“That...” Masumi frowned. “Okay! What can you tell me, Kiryu?” He asked, as he tried to be a little more surreptitious than Kiryu in observing the other students. It was a little hard to focus with the short-haired girl bouncing around the largest group, seizing their attention with almost-yells and calls out. But, they were filing into their changing rooms, and a few others emerged.


There was a girl with glasses who drew his eye, the red specs and ornately pulled-back ponytail. It was completely impractical, but beautiful all the same. She was joined by another student, taller than herself, who seemed to have taken the uniform rules as mere suggestions. Her blouse had been tugged out, her jacket undone, and he was sure that she was wearing some vibrant t-shirt beneath it all. It was just the kind of rebellious spirit he hoped to exhibit in Low-Life, though mostly in his actions rather than his fashion.


“Hey!” Kiryu snapped his fingers in front of Masumi’s face. “Pay attention if you’re asking me for advice. If you’re going to ask a girl to go out with you, you have to seem slick. Cool, like you could have any of the girls and you don’t even care if they reject you.”


“That’s, how does that work?” Masumi peered up at the taller boy. He was all too aware of the fact that the girls seemed eager to get to gym class, and that he and Kiryu would need to be back in their homeroom before long.


“You see, what you need to do – You know what? I’m going to show you.” Kiryu said, as he adjusted his uniform for maximum sleekness. Then he started jogging towards the girls. “Hey, ladies. It’s Kiryu! Kiryu’s here. That’s right!” He declared, as the last of the big group had made their way into the changing room. The smaller groups had reactions that mostly amounted to sighs or rolls of their eyes, as he waved, ran and...crumpled like a man made of paper.


Masumi noticed a leg retracting from the doorway and the noisy girl from before grinning at the sight, before disappearing from his. The rest of the girls’ reactions ranged from surprise to laughs to blushing at merely having been present for the fall.


“It’s cool. It’s fine. Gravity? Whatever.” Kiryu insisted, as he pulled himself to his hands and knees and rested against the wall. Masumi hesitated where he stood, until all of the girls were inside, then shuffled over to the fallen boy and leaned down to him.


“A-Are you okay?” Masumi whispered, as he noticed a trail of crimson down Kiryu’s shirt. The boy stopped hiding his face against the wall and faced him with a smirk.


“Yeah, I’m fine.” Kiryu’s thumbs-up was somewhat diminished by a crooked nose and blood that had poured over his mouth, down his shirt. “That’s how you prove you don’t care, Sanada. Remember that!”


“Um, right, okay.” Masumi stared at the taller boy, who used the wall to help pull him to his feet. “I think we should take you to the nurse, Kiryu.”


“What? Nah, I’m fine.”


“You’re bleeding...”


“Eh?” Kiryu looked down and saw some of the splatter on his shirt. “It’s nothin’.”


“Okay...” Masumi walked down the hall with Kiryu, his expression steadily growing more set until a flicker of a smile came to it. “Kiryu, this isn’t the way to homeroom.”


“What? It totally is.” Kiryu sniffled, which did nothing to help the blood dripping down his face.


“No, you hit your head, and got turned around! It’s okay, follow me.” He patted Kiryu’s arm and led him down a few more twists and turns, until they were stood outside the nurse’s office. “You go in first. I want to see how you do an entrance from the other side!”


Kiryu chuckled. “You will learn, my young apprentice. You will learn.” He said, as he shoved open the door and strolled inside. “Look out! Here co-” He paused as the door started to close and he realized that the room beyond was not, in fact, filled with classmates. “Sanada, you traitor!” He cried out and span on his heel to grab for the handle.


“Not so fast!” The nurse’s voice cracked like a whip. “You’re a mess. Sit down, shut up, and let me take a look at you.” She ordered him. Through the window, Masumi could just see Kiryu warily taking a seat and smiled to himself. It was for his own good. Probably.


The rest of Masumi’s day went through without much of note, save for an announcement that Kiryu had been sent to a hospital and would be missing the rest of their classes. Masumi spent his lunch thinking about the night ahead, the four-week anniversary of him getting his first viewer, and whether it was too weird to consider actually sharing that with Jellybeaner. He didn’t come to a conclusion by dance class, as he emerged in his dancing clothes.


“Oh! You brought a hair tie! Finally!” Yuna laughed as she skipped up to Masumi. “I thought i’d have to start bringing a special hair tie just for you!”


Masumi smiled. “I, um, think it just set in! I didn’t want to bother you all the time, so.” He gave a little tug at his now-ponytail. “Yeah.”


“It looks good, like always! I love the little bangs!” Yuna used her fingers to mimic the shape. “They’re so...voluminous and fluffy! I wish I could have ones like that. But oh well. Next, I’ve got to get you wearing ones that suit you! The black’s lovely, but I’m!” She snapped her fingers. “That’s it! You’ll be bishonen!”


“I...” Masumi blinked. “Are you just trying to make me into your ideal dance partner?”


“What? No, never!” Yuna gasped. “Well, maybe! I think you’d look ever so cute, especially with all the smiling you’ve been doing lately! I can’t look at you without seeing one!” She paused, as Masumi’s cheeks started to turn pink. “Oh, it’s good! Smiling is good! I just wonder what it is that’s doing it!”


“It’s, uh,” Masumi did his best to give a nonchalant shrug. “Things have been going well, for me, recently. It’s just, a lot of good things, so I’m happy with it. It’s not that big a deal, really...”


“Okay!” Yuna beamed, then span around so that she was by Masumi’s side and they had a view of the rest of the club warming up for the dances ahead. “Don’t you think that it’s a shame that we won’t get to wear proper gowns? Well, I won’t! For you it’s suits. But it’s not as good without gowns, is it? The swooshing is the best part!”


Masumi’s mind drifted off to a version of reality where the boys in dance club were clad in fine suits made of vibrant materials and the girls in gowns. He could already see who would choose what, from Yuna’s bright and sparkly mermaid dress to the Club Head’s elegant empire waist, to...what he would wear. Visions of himself flashed in varying outfits, but never quite settled on one. It morphed from a velvet sheath to a silk trumpet to..all kinds of wonderful things that he wished he could be home to dream about.


“Yeah, um, definitely!” Masumi nodded. “So, um, we’re doing ballroom again today?”


“That’s right!” Yuna beamed. “I hope by the end of the year that everyone will be twirling and spinning and oh! Do you think you can lift me over your head? If you’re going to be my partner, I want that!”


Masumi glanced at Yuna. “Oh, um, is that a thing that’s happening now?”


“Yep! If you want!” Yuna nodded. “I can find somebody else if you don’t want to do it, but it would be fun! Like you’re my little project! Oh, not that, that’s rude, but something like that, yes?” She peered over at Masumi.


“Um...yes?” Masumi guessed.


“Fantastic!” Yuna said, just as the subtle orchestral music that signified the official start of club business filled the hall. “Oh, here we go! You do remember the basics, don’t you?”


Masumi nodded and smiled. “Yep, no problem!” He said, as he joined hands with Yuna and they got to the slow start of ballroom dancing. The lesson went as well as the last few had, and left him with a similar feeling of contentment that carried him all the way through homework and dinner.


He’d already planned his games out – Slime Rancher, it was one that he knew would appeal to Jellybeaner. Mostly because the slimes had some resemblance to jellybeans, and it meant that they’d be able to talk without him being distracted for half of the stream. If that got too boring at some point, he’d switch back to Stardew Valley and finish what he liked to think of as their joint playthrough. Jellybeaner had some firm opinions about who he should marry, which had led to some ample banter about their respective tastes.


The hardest part was his outfit, which he wanted to look special but hadn’t been able to find anything that felt good enough. He’d resolved to try to get more information out of Jellybeaner, about what she might like to see him wear. Which was difficult, because they seemed to like whatever he wore. He’d briefly considered trying to dress poorly, to see whether that would be enough, before quickly reprimanding himself for trying to not seem as cute as possible.


He settled for a colorful candy-themed loose top, over a white tank top, with a pair of skorts to go with it. He’d be bare-legged, which suited him just fine. Covering up a little less and showing off a little more was just one of the ways he felt the attention just one viewer. His anxiety asked him whether he was going to end up wearing nothing at all if he ended up with enough viewers, but no amount of irrational thoughts could douse the flame of his confidence.


With one final salute to himself in the mirror, Masumi sat down at his desk and started the stream. He’d barely finished introducing himself when that familiar name popped up in the chat box. He grinned.


About the author


Bio: Stock art for Words on a Screen from:

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