Mitsuru hit the wall next to Shinobu's bed with his fist and moaned like a mating cat. Shinobu wondered if that was Mitsuru's inspiration, either out of inexperience or perversity, or perhaps he just needed a sound that Hasukawa would recognize.
Shinobu turned the page of the textbook propped open on his desk. "You shouldn't tease Hasukawa."
"It's for his own good," Mitsuru said. "Besides, if Shun is there, he won't say anything."
Shinobu took a fresh piece of paper from the top drawer of his desk and began taking notes from the textbook. He could feel Mitsuru's eyes on him. Shinobu ignored him. He thought Mitsuru's obsession with Hasukawa would have faded by now, but Mitsuru had surprised him. A Mitsuru so focused on one thing for this long usually got his way. He wondered how long it would take Hasukawa to figure that out.
"That reading isn't until next week," Mitsuru said.
"How do you know what I'm reading?"
"I can see the chapter heading."
Shinobu looked over his shoulder. Mitsuru still lay on Shinobu's bed with his arms behind his head. "You can't see the heading from there," Shinobu said.
"I'm right, aren't I?"
Shinobu turned back to his textbook. He took out a stylus and pencil and drew a small trigonometric circle on the paper. Mitsuru had an essay due tomorrow, but Shinobu knew it would take another hour for Mitsuru to work his way up to starting it, and by then Shinobu would have finished. He read another paragraph of the book and wrote on the paper: Mitsuru vs. Hasukawa, five to one, Mitsuru, then scratched out the five and wrote six, because of Hasukawa's temper.
Mitsuru pounded the wall again, with the heel of his palm this time, and called out Shinobu's name. More like a strangled cow. There was a brief silence. "I think I hear him grinding his teeth."
"You should write your essay."
Mitsuru left the bed and sat down at his desk. He reached over and took several sheets of paper from Shinobu's drawer. It was quiet except for the scratching of Mitsuru's pen. Shinobu finished the chapter and closed his textbook. Mitsuru's pen had stopped.
"I think Hasukawa's coming along very well," Mitsuru said.
Shinobu put his textbook away by the bed and pulled out the book Furusawa had given him before summer break. It wasn't a very good book. He lay back on the bed and folded his pillow under his head. "I wish I understood why you find it so amusing."
"Teasing Hasukawa? I thought that was obvious."
"One would think you'd have learned your lesson. Hasukawa throws an impressive punch."
Mitsuru fingered his jaw as if Hasukawa had punched him yesterday and not several months ago. "Yes, he does," he said. "He'll be perfect. He just needs breaking in."
"There are more productive ways to go about it."
"Yes," Mitsuru said, "but this is more fun."
Shinobu turned back to his book. After a while, Mitsuru's pen began scratching again.
Even though it wasn't a very good book, he read it until Mitsuru straightened the finished sheets of his essay and tucked them into a notebook. Mitsuru left the room, probably for the bathroom, and Shinobu was still reading when he returned.
Mitsuru changed into his pajamas then climbed up to the top bed. He leaned over the edge to look at Shinobu. "You could help, you know. To make it more authentic."
Shinobu turned another page of his book. "You'll have to think of something more inventive than that for Hasukawa to break down."
Mitsuru acted as if he hadn't heard him. "He'll know it's a sham if it's only me. You wouldn't have to do much. Just groan a little, maybe call out my name. It's for a good cause."
"Done out of the goodness of your heart, I'm sure."
"Of course," Mitsuru said. "Hasukawa will need to know how to stand up to the others when he's dorm president. I'm only trying to help."
Shinobu closed his book and turned out the light. "Go to sleep," he said.
Hasukawa glared at them across the table in the cafeteria the next morning, but he didn't say anything as Shun chattered about the festival the end of September and what events the others were signing up for. Mitsuru gave Shinobu looks that were entirely for Hasukawa's benefit. Shinobu ignored both of them and ate his rice.
After classes there was a student council meeting to discuss the festival with the sports association. Each club was lobbying for the extra funds the festival had been budgeted this year, so Shinobu sorted it out and told the sports association to put together a schedule, and convinced them to use the extra funds for concessions and marketing to the neighboring schools. They could reinvest the money they made for next year. The cafeteria was closed when he returned to Greenwood, but the kitchen staff put a plate together for him. He ate it at the end of one of the empty tables.
Mitsuru was in Shun and Hasukawa's room. Shinobu opened the door to 210. Mitsuru had brought in the television from their room and he and Shun were watching a video while Hasukawa was at his desk scowling at a book.
"Shinobu-sempai!" Shun said. "Come and watch with us."
Mitsuru moved over an inch for Shinobu to sit down. "More room in here," he said to Shinobu, "and Shun wouldn't let up," but Shinobu noticed that Mitsuru watched the video with just as much interest as Shun.
Shinobu stared at the television screen but he was really watching Hasukawa. He was trying to do his homework. Shinobu noticed that Mitsuru would laugh particularly loudly at the video when Hasukawa seemed to be his most focused. Hasukawa scowled and shifted on his chair so his back was to them.
The video was over. Shun went to the bathroom. Mitsuru turned the television off and frowned at Hasukawa. "I hope you don't think you can coast in your studies just because you managed to pass finals," he said.
Hasukawa gritted his teeth. "No, sempai."
"We should quiz him, Shinobu."
Shinobu glanced up at Hasukawa. "I'm sure Hasukawa understands the tests he still has to pass."
Hasukawa narrowed his eyes at Shinobu, but sensibly, for once, he didn't say anything. Mitsuru shrugged. "We're too busy anyway, eh, Shinobu?" He lounged back against Hasukawa's leg, despite Suka's attempt to dislodge him. "Shinobu tires me out," he said, sighing heavily. "I'll barely be able to tutor you this term."
Hasukawa pressed his pencil so hard against his paper that the tip broke. Shinobu stood up. "Shun will be soaking up all the hot water," he said, pretending not to see Mitsuru's surprised look as he left the room.
As he expected, Shun was in the ofuro. Shinobu took his clothes off, washed, and stepped into the hot water. "You shouldn't worry about him, sempai," Shun said.
"Hasukawa or Mitsuru?"
Shun giggled. "Both."
The door to the bath opened and Mitsuru poked his head in. He looked at Shinobu crossly. "Why did you leave? We could have had him." He disappeared and Shinobu heard one of the showers running. Shun looked like he was asleep. Shinobu thought he could sleep as well. He'd had a long day.
Mitsuru came back and stepped into the bath, and ripples in the water turned into waves that splashed against Shinobu's neck. "Must you be so disruptive?"
"Yes," Mitsuru said, and Shun giggled again.
"I give it two more weeks," Mitsuru said. "What are the odds?"
"Four to one," Shinobu said. "There's a surprising amount of support for Hasukawa. Your reputation must be slipping."
"Hm," Mitsuru said, and closed his eyes.
"I don't think it will work on Suka-chan," Shun said.
"You think what won't work?"
"You'll just make him mad but he won't do anything. You shouldn't tease him so much."
Mitsuru splashed water in Shun's direction. "I've calculated everything to the smallest variable."
Shinobu made a skeptical noise, and Mitsuru looked at him. "I don't know when you turned into such a prude, either," Mitsuru said musingly. "You're the one who started it."
"Just because I won't help you doesn't mean I'm a prude," Shinobu said. "I think you're approaching the problem the wrong way."
Shun nodded. "I agree, Mitsuru-sempai. You'll just give Suka-chan another ulcer."
"I know what I'm doing," Mitsuru said.
Shun sighed. Shinobu felt the same but knew better than to let on to Mitsuru. It would only make him more stubborn and confident that his was the correct course of action.
"I just hope you don't send Suka-chan to the hospital," Shun said. "He nearly cracked at finals."
"He won't get another ulcer," Mitsuru said.
Mitsuru left Hasukawa alone for the next several days, which only seemed to make Hasukawa more nervous and angry and jittery whenever he did see Mitsuru. Shinobu was just as glad for the respite. Planning for the sports festival was taking more of his time, not to mention managing the dorm's bets on Hasukawa's ability to withstand Mitsuru without cracking. Odds had jumped to seven to one, probably because Hasukawa seemed more unnerved by Mitsuru's inattention than by his teasing.
Betting pools for the sports events were underway as well. Shinobu got back to Greenwood later and later each night, and often Mitsuru was already in bed or in the ofuro, and everyone else in the dorm was doing homework or sleeping. Shinobu did his homework at his desk and listened to Mitsuru snore.
The president of the track and field club had a mild breakdown in the cafeteria the next morning so the meeting with his club that night was canceled. Shinobu returned to Greenwood. He thought he might have time to do laundry before dinner. Mitsuru and Shun were outside Aoki's room. Mitsuru leaned against the wall and Shun sat crosslegged on the floor, braiding his hair.
"Shinobu!" Mitsuru looked glad to see him. "I was beginning to think you'd been abducted."
Shinobu leaned against the wall next to him. "I promised them a night alone with you to let me go."
"I hope you charged them more than that," Mitsuru said. "I'm not cheap."
Shun had finished his braid. Shinobu found a rubber band in his pocket and gave it to him.
Mitsuru nudged him. "Hasukawa," he said, and nodded toward the other end of the hall, where Hasukawa had just come up the stairs and was walking toward them.
Suddenly Shinobu felt Mitsuru turn and press against him, one hand resting on his shoulder and the other on his hipbone. Mitsuru leaned in and tucked his head in the crook of Shinobu's neck. Mitsuru's breath was hot on Shinobu's skin and Shinobu could feel Mitsuru's fingers through the thin cotton of his shirt, hot and almost clammy. The top of Mitsuru's leg was flush against the top of Shinobu's. Shinobu put his hand on Mitsuru's side, just below his ribs; he didn't know if it was to pull Mitsuru in closer or push him away. Mitsuru rubbed his nose and cheek against Shinobu's neck.
Mitsuru turned his head. "Hasukawa!" he said, as if surprised. "How nice to see you."
Hasukawa had stopped in front of them. His face was very red and his hands were clenched into fists. Shun stood up and several students came out of Aoki's room to see what was going on.
"You!" Hasukawa said to Mitsuru. "You're just faking it. You're trying to trick me again. It's as real as--as--" And he grabbed Shun by the front of his shirt and pressed his mouth against his.
The other students' mouths dropped open. Hasukawa released Shun, whose mouth was an O of surprise. Hasukawa seemed to notice the other students then, and how they stood and stared at him. He went very pale, and then red again, then back to pale and slightly green. "I think I'm going to throw up," he said, and ran back down the hall towards the bathroom.
Mitsuru doubled over with laughter.
"Sempai!" Shun said to him angrily. "I'm not here to be mauled by Suka-chan because of you!"
Mitsuru was laughing too hard to reply. Shinobu left them and returned to 211. He could collect from the students tomorrow. He could still hear Mitsuru's laughter and that of the others even when he closed the door. He took out his laundry bag and pulled the sheets off his bed. After a moment's thought, he pulled the sheets off Mitsuru's bed, too. He grabbed Furusawa's book from the end of the bed.
It was a good time to do laundry. The early eaters were already in the cafeteria and everyone else was goofing off in their rooms or laughing at Hasukawa's misfortune. The laundry room was empty and all six washers were free. His clothes took up one of them and he put his and Mitsuru's sheets in the other.
He sat in one of the low benches and opened his book. He had four more chapters to go. The second half of the book was more interesting than the first half so far, so he didn't look up when Hasukawa came in with his own laundry bag.
Hasukawa stopped short when he saw Shinobu and eyed him warily. Shinobu raised an eyebrow and went back to his book. He could see Hasukawa relax a little out of the corner of his eye and begin to pull clothes out of his bag for the third washer.
When he was done, Hasukawa sat down on the bench next to Shinobu. "That was stupid of me, wasn't it."
Shinobu turned the page of his book. "You hardly need me to tell you that."
Hasukawa sighed. Shinobu wondered what Mitsuru saw in him. Sure, Hasukawa would make a good dorm president, but so would many of the other first years. He thought Mitsuru was just intrigued because Hasukawa had the nerve to hit an older student. Shinobu found that interesting as well, but not enough to want to provoke Hasukawa's temper again and again.
"How do I get him to stop?" Hasukawa asked.
"He wants you to either break or give in," Shinobu said. "I think what you did just now counts as losing it completely, so he may leave you alone for a few days."
Hasukawa looked up at the ceiling in despair. "A few days. I don't think I can take this."
Shinobu felt a little sorry for him, but there was nothing he could tell Hasukawa that would help to divert Mitsuru's attentions. And his two washers had stopped. He pulled out the wet clothes and sheets and transferred them to the dryer.
"He likes you," Shinobu said, after he closed the dryer door.
"He has a funny way of showing it!"
"Don't worry. Your seduction of Shun will occupy everyone for a while. He won't be able to think of anything to top it." He picked up his book and left the laundry room as Hasukawa groaned and buried his head in his hands.
Mitsuru was in their room along with Aoki, Furusawa and Tochizawa. They had cans of beer in their hands, and Mitsuru gave one to Shinobu. "Where did you go?" He smelled a little of beer and detergent, though maybe Shinobu had carried the latter smell with him from the laundry room.
Shinobu drank some of the beer and sat down at his desk as the others lounged and talked about Hasukawa's face and how angry Shun had been. He looked at Mitsuru, who sat on Shinobu's bed and seemed happy and satisfied now that he'd won.
After a while they threw the others out of their room. Mitsuru stood and stretched his arms above his head. "Where are the sheets?"
"In the dryer. I'll get them later. Hasukawa's down there, so you'd better not go." Shinobu stood up. He looked at Mitsuru, whose shirt had pulled out from his waistband when he stretched. He stepped toward Mitsuru, cupped the back of his head with his hand, and kissed him.
Mitsuru pulled away and looked at Shinobu strangely. "Hasukawa's not here."
"I know," Shinobu said, and kissed him again.
Mitsuru tasted like beer. His lips were wet, and he didn't pull away this time. He kissed Shinobu back. Somehow they ended up on the bed, and Mitsuru made a groaning sound that was not unlike the mating of a cat, and his elbow hit the wall behind the bed.
Shun shouted through the wall, "Suka-chan's not here! I need to study!"
Mitsuru shook with laughter. Shinobu felt the shake all through his arms and chest but he didn't feel like letting go.
Mitsuru asked, "What were the final odds?"
"Six to one. We should make about 15,000 yen." Shinobu shifted on the bed. It felt good to lie there half-sprawled across Mitsuru. Shinobu kissed Mitsuru again, slowly at first then harder until both he and Mitsuru were shaking a little.
Mitsuru smiled. "Good. Next time you can buy me flowers."