Masumi held tightly to Akira’s surprisingly strong shoulders as she gave him a trip through town, in a style that was all too likely to send him flying off. He did his best to cling on, keep his feet firmly on the bike, and hope that he’d get to hear what she had to say before he was sent flying into the pavement. If it was good for one thing, it was that he was too worried about staying alive to worry about how terrible it had become.
“And here we are!” Akira declared, as she slammed her fingers on the brakes and the bike skidded to a halt outside of the ice cream parlor. “How’s that for service? Didn’t even take five minutes to get here.” She grinned as she pulled herself off of the bike and rested it against the wall.
“Y-Yeah, um.” Masumi clutched at his chest for a moment, just to check that his heart was still there, and looked over the building. “Why are you so strong?”
“Baseball!” Akira mimicked swinging a bat at a ball. “You’ve got to stay in shape if you want to kick as much ass as I do. Anyway, let’s grab some ice cream and we can get things rolling.” She waved Masumi to follow in her wake, and he shuffled after her. “Sit there.” She pointed him to the nearest booth, and he sat down. His eyes were fixed on her back as she went up to the counter and came back with two bowls of ice cream, his covered with chocolate truffle sauce and hers the pale green of wasabi.
“This is what I had with Yui...” Masumi muttered, as he prodded at the ice cream with the soon and took a bite.
“That’s the point!” Akira said, as she rested her spoon on the edge of the bowl. “I’ve got to remind you of all the good stuff so you’ll stop focusing on all the crap that’s going on in your head. That’s your worst enemy here, you know, and that’s what I’m gonna knock out.”
“Um,” Masumi thought it his turn to speak, but only because Akira’s mouth was suddenly filled with a huge chunk of ice cream. “I don’t think that ice cream will help. I know what’s the problem and, um, it’s not that I didn’t have fun with Yui...”
“Then tell me what it is!” Akira said. “’Cause you just said you know what it is, and I don’t.”
“W-Well, uh,” Masumi looked at the penetrating gaze of Akira and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s, she tried to kiss me.”
“And you didn’t wanna be kissed?”
“Well...that’s, it’s not quite what, but I don’t think in that moment it was the right thing to do.”
“And you ran away, right out of the building because of that?” Akira raised an eyebrow at the boy. “Why didn’t you just say ‘hey Yui, I don’t want to kiss you right now, so let’s take a rain check’?”
“I was...it was uncomfortable for me.” Masumi furrowed his brow. “I was really nervous and I felt like that was just going to make things worse.”
“So, it wasn’t the only thing that was making you nervous and you ran away ‘cause of something else. Right, see, that’s something I can dig into! Tell me what upset you before she tried to kiss you. That’s what she’s upset about right now, because she can’t figure it out. She thought things were going well and then, poof, off runs her boyfriend without so much as a goodbye.”
Masumi breathed slowly as he took another bite of his meal. It was normally delicious and, if he let himself, he could enjoy it for a few seconds. But there was a bitterness to it, a distraction from how much he could have been enjoying the food.
“She...have you been to Yui’s room?”
“She has all of these posters over her walls and they’re all of boys like me.” Masumi stared down at his bowl. “And she’s had them for a long time, she said, and that means that she’s been thinking of boys like that for the same time, and she said that it’s a sexual thing and not just a cute thing, because that’s what she likes, and that means that she might not even like me because I’m me, but because I’m what she’s looking for, and that’s all she wants me for...”
Akira licked her lips and tapped her spoon on her bowl .”Do you have anything y’like that’s sexual? Skintight leather, cat ears, armpits, that kinda thing?”
Masumi blinked rapidly at Akira. “Wh-What? No! I mean, I don’t...think that I do...”
“Let’s say you do.” Akira pointed a finger at Masumi. “You like...snaggleteeth. That’s not too weird, so we’ll go with that. Then you meet this girl who has snaggleteeth and you really want to get at those snaggleteeth. They’re the top tier of snaggleteeth, the kind that’s gonna be featured in fetish magazines all over Japan. You picturing her/”
“Well, do it. Now picture that she’s a real pain in the ass. She talks crap about how you dress and she pushes you around, makes you do stuff for her, never pays for her meals when you go out and pinches you when you do something she doesn’t like. That’s a crappy friend. You wouldn’t want to be her friend, would ya?”
Masumi shook his head.
“Right! And that’s not going to change just because she has snaggleteeth, I mean, at the least, you’re going to try to spend as little time with her as possible, aren’t you? You want to get in there, uh, lick the snaggleteeth? I don’t know what you actually do if you have that, sorry. You’ll do that, get out, and just do the bare basics to still get them – if you don’t cut things off completely. Right?”
Masumi nodded slowly.
“Now, look at what Yui does. Yui spends as much of her time as she can with you. Sometimes she spends lunch with you when she can spend time with all those students that praise her all the time, and me, and I’m great! When she’s working, when she has a perfect excuse not to talk to you, she still watches your streams! And her Sundays might as well be called Masumi Days, because that’s all she wants to do with them. You tell me that’s how you act if you’re only into somebody ‘cause they’re your fetish.”
“But...that’s not fair.” Masumi said. He didn’t want to argue, not in his heart, but his mind wouldn’t accept such a simple answer. “What if she’s just a creep and does that to be a creep? She somehow found me streaming, and nobody watches me streaming, and I just happened to the one person she watched for a little while who turned out to also be her fetish? She could just be obsessed with crossdressing boys and now she’s got me and she just wants to keep me forever to be her creep...target.”
“Yeah, if you want to worry about that, you can do it if you want.” Akira said, as she polished the last of her ice cream out of the bowl and pushed it away. “But that’s not how Yui talks about you. She talks about how you’re sweet and kind and passionate about what you like. She doesn’t talk about how great your butt is or how flat your chest is. Yeah, she says you’re really cute, but that’s ‘cause you are. On top of all the other stuff. Just ‘cause she appreciates that, doesn’t mean she doesn’t like the rest of you, a whole lot.”
“Time’s up for ice cream!” Akira declared, as she stood up. “I’ll give you some time to let that rock around in your head while we go to the next place. Come on!” She said, and Masumi hurried to finish the last of his ice cream and darted after her. He climbed onto the back of the bicycle, only slightly scowling because of the interruption, and clung tightly to her as she rode through town, out to the outskirts, then to the overlook and the bench that he’d last met the pair of them.
“Why here?” Masumi asked Akira, as he shuffled over to the bench and looked out over the town. “This isn’t a good memory...”
“It is!” Akira declared, as she climbed onto the table and rested her feet on the seat. “It’s where you had the end of your first argument! You resolved it like real people who care about each other do, and it’s a perfect example of her actually caring about you, not your dresses. Are you ready?”
“The whole point of that argument was the fact that she was upset, ‘cause you deleted all of the archives you spent together! If she just wanted to get to your butt, she wouldn’t have been so upset. She’d just try to stay in your good books and make you feel better about it. Or she’d guilt you into making it up to her somehow. She wouldn’t get angry and have me try to calm her down. She gives a crap about you because you’re you, Masumi. Not because you look good in a dress.”
Masumi didn’t have an answer to that. The peace of the overlook was getting through to him, somehow. Perhaps it was the way the breeze ruffled his hair, or the feeling of detachment that came from being high over the rest of town, or just Akira’s determination to solve things spreading to him.
“...okay.” Masumi eventually said. “Yui’s not a creep, because she cares about me. She doesn’t just want me for her, um, fetish, because she spends so much time with me. So that means that I just ran away from her and hurt her for no reason, and I’m a stupid idiot who can’t control himself.”
“Kinda.” Akira said. “But, whatever, because we can’t all control ourselves all of the time. You can try to be kind and you won’t always succeed, but y’know what you do then? You make amends and then everyone’s happy. Nobody’s expecting you to be perfect all of the time, and Yui definitely doesn’t. She just wants you to make you happy.”
“So, what do I do now?” Masumi turned around to face Akira.
“To be honest, I don’t know.” Akira said. “I had a few more places to take you, didn’t expect to work through all of this stuff so soon! I’ve got mementos and a whole speech I didn’t even get to give, but, saves me time, right?” She grinned at him. “I’ll tel you what – I’ll pick you up tomorrow and drop you off with Yui and then you’ll have all of Sunday to get through the last bits of your problems.”
“You won’t be there?” Masumi asked.
“Nah. My job’s done and I don’t want to be there for personal couple stuff.” Akira shrugged. “But I want to pick you up to make sure you’re good for it. If your parents are being jerks like you say they are, you’ll need the boost, right?”
“Oh...yeah.” Masumi’s heart sank as he realized that there was still a whole night ahead of him before he’d get to see Yui, and...even longer before things could get back to how they were. If they even could get back to that. “I’ll, um, be ready to meet you at around ten?”
“That’s good for me.” Akira said. “So, I’ll drop you off now and then go tell Yui the good news.” She hopped off of the table and went towards the bike.
“Okay.” Masumi nodded and followed after her.
“This is a pretty sweet bike, by the way. Can I keep it? I did just fix your whole life.”
“Worth a shot.” Akira shrugged. “Next stop: Home.” Then she slammed her foot on the pedal, and sent the pair of them careening down the hill.