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A Dash of Advice

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Kiyo was being a pain in my ass. Again. So we weren't talking to each other, at least not directly, which meant that Hayato was stuck relaying messages back and forth during student council meetings while Yuki-kun sat there looking awkwardly concerned. I could tell that he wanted to butt in with optimistic, useless advice like 'let's all try getting along, okay?' but was afraid to speak up. Well, any sane person would keep their mouth shut with Kiyo glaring daggers like that.

"Anyway," Kiyo announced loudly, staring at a space between Yuki-kun and Hayato, "we need to think of a prize for this year's ball tournament. One that we can actually deliver on immediately, instead of making the winners wait until the end of the school year. It would have ruined our reputation if Sagimori-sempai had graduated without receiving his prize. It's bad enough that we weren't able to add his suggestion to the regular cafeteria menu."

I ground my teeth. "Well, maybe Sagimori-sempai should have chosen a realistic prize that actually fit the criteria, and maybe we should have enforced our own rules! An entire feast is not the same thing as a single dish!"

Kiyo looked utterly bored as he fiddled with the end of his ponytail. "Hmm, did you hear something? Hayato, is someone talking?"

"Yes, Joker-sama, it's Sonoda."

"Oh, I see. Tell Eiji that he should stop making promises he can't deliver on."

"Understood." Hayato turned to me, but before he could open his mouth and repeat the message, Yuki-kun cut in.

"Um, guys... maybe we should end our meeting here for today? We're not making any progress. Joker-san, I'll think up some ideas for a prize that everyone would like. And Sonoda-san, I'll ask you to look at them before I bring them up in the next meeting, okay?" His smile was bright but strained. "Oh, and Chiba-san! If you have any ideas, please let me know and I'll include those too. That way we can have a list before the next meeting, and things will go more smoothly."

Hayato glanced at Kiyo, who shrugged. "Whatever you want, Yuki-kun."

And with that, he got up and left. A moment later, Yuki-kun followed after him, which left me alone with Hayato in the student council room. I let out a long, aggravated sigh. "So annoying."

Hayato glanced at me, quietly observing in that obnoxious way that made you think he was deep in thought even though he never was. So I was surprised when he spoke up. "Sonoda. Why aren't you the one following Joker-sama?"

I gave him a sideways glance. "Because we're not talking right now."

"So start talking. You're just making things more difficult for everyone."

I straightened up and turned to face him, scowling. "Me? I'm the one making things difficult? You heard just now, he was acting like a five year old and pretending not to hear me! He was asking you to tell me something that he knows I heard! How am I the one making things difficult?"

Hayato sighed, which also surprised me. He was always going on about the importance of being in control and discipline and blah blah, so it wasn't like him to show a lot of emotion. "Because you're the one who always makes things too complicated. Joker-sama likes you, and you like him. It's simple."

"It's not simple." I rolled my eyes. "See, that's the problem, you always oversimplify everything. Some things are complicated, Hayato."

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't think so. Not this. Asahina thinks so too."

I couldn't hold back a bitter laugh. "Oh, please. Yuki-kun is even simpler than you in some ways. Especially when it comes to dealing with annoying people. It's never the annoying guy's fault, is it? It's always me. Well, it's not my fault this time, it's Kiyo's."

The way Hayato tilted his head while he considered that reminded me of a puppy. "Hmm, but don't people say that if you're always the one who has a problem getting along with other people, it means you're actually the problem?"

"Argh!" I banged my hands on the table and got up. "No, I'm not the problem here! Kiyo is a giant pain in the ass who loves to antagonize people on purpose!"

"Maybe you should work on being less easy to antagonize, then."

The only thing that kept me from punching Hayato was my instinctive sense of self-preservation. No matter how annoying he was, my brain wasn't going to let me commit suicide. "Maybe you're too tolerant of Kiyo's nonsense, have you ever thought of that? Ugh, forget this, I'm going to go talk to someone who actually gives a crap about me. You run along to practice or whatever you do when you're not licking Kiyo's boots."

I turned and stalked away, but not before the subtle change in Hayato's expression registered in my brain, the tightening of his mouth and lowering of his eyes betraying his hurt. My step faltered for an instant, but I shrugged it off and hurried from the room before my guilt could force me to turn back and apologize. I didn't want to be a terrible person, I didn't want to say horrible things to someone who was finally becoming a true friend, but.... but!

Your pride will be your undoing, Sonoda. I could almost hear my cousin's voice in my ear. Why was it that all his nagging and annoying advice was acceptable to me, while the same words from anyone else only brought out the worst in me? Stupid question. I knew the answer: because he understood me, he actually listened to what I had to say, and wasn't dismissive when I worried. Sure, he could be short-tempered and didn't bother holding back his snide comments, but that was refreshing in a way. We could relax and be honest, each knowing that the other wasn't trying to score points or file embarrassing confessions away for later blackmail or whatever.

In other words, the opposite of Kiyo.

Plus, the professor knew all about the importance of keeping a relationship secret. He would definitely know how to convince someone to keep a lid on it - after all, Yuki-kun was the type to blab about anything good that happened to him, and I'd never heard a suspicious peep from his mouth. Of course, it would be harder to keep a loose cannon like Kiyo from going off whenever he felt like it, but any strategy was better than none. I needed ideas.

That's what I thought, but my decisiveness was beginning to waver by the time I reached my cousin's office. Did I really want to drag him into it? Sure, he'd have good advice, but I'd have to tell him all sorts of embarrassing personal crap and he'd definitely have some 'witty' comments about the situation. I stared at the office door, wondering if it was worth it. Maybe it would be better to talk to Yuki-kun instead.

While I was standing there arguing with myself, the door opened and there was a startled huff. "Sonoda? What are you doing standing here outside my office like a stalker?"

So that's how it was going to be, starting with insults from the very first moment? "Ugh, never mind, okay? I can tell you're in a crappy mood, so just forget about it."

"Who's in a crappy mood?" Professor Sakaki caught my sleeve as I turned to stalk off. "Get back here. You were waffling about coming to talk to me, right? That means it's something important."

I shook him off and folded my arms over my chest without turning back to face him. "I guess."

"Here, come inside. It'll look suspicious if you're hanging around with me in the hallway."

I followed him into his office somewhat reluctantly. As usual, his desk was so empty it was oppressive. "Weren't you about to go somewhere? If you have a meeting or whatever, you should go do that."

"I was going to drop some papers off in the staff room," he held up a folder, then turned to plop it on his desk, "but it's nothing urgent. This is more important. Come on, sit down. You've been on edge recently, so just let it out already."

"Okay, whatever, fine," I mumbled, plopping down in my usual seat, one of a set of two monstrous green armchairs. Man, those things were ugly. So much for the school being rich or whatever. Professor Sakaki settled into its twin with a quiet sigh, peering at my face with an expression of what seemed to be genuine concern. I expected him to make some sort of snide comment, but for once he was quiet, waiting for me to say something.

I wasn't good with that kind of pressure. "Ugh, say something."

"Me? You're the one who came here because you're concerned about something."

"Yeah, but..." Was I fidgeting? Damn, I hated being put on the spot. I could deal with anyone else, but every time my cousin focused on me, it felt the same as being singled out in class. Like he knew all my weak points and wouldn't hesitate to point them out.

"What, did you get into a disagreement with one of your friends again? I keep telling you, watch out for your stubborn pride, it will only get you into trouble."

I tried not to give him a death glare, but it was an automatic reaction. And he probably tried not to laugh when I did it, but he failed too. I gritted my teeth, forcing down the irritation that welled up. Getting pissed wasn't going to solve anything. Eyes on the goal, Eiji. Like it or not, he's the only one who has experience with this sort of thing, so you have to put up with his crap.

"Look, I'm not in the mood to be teased by you. This is serious. I need advice from someone who knows how to deal with... this sort of situation."

"Hm? What kind of situation is that?"

I glanced up, finding him leaning forward with an expression of interest and curiosity. It was probably safe to tell him. He'd understand. Still, I felt my face getting hot as I tried to put my problem into words, and soon I was staring down at my hands again. "Um... well..." Wait, no! I couldn't keep stalling! I forced my head up again before he could complain. "Listen, I know you're dating a guy, okay? And you've kept it a secret from the entire world, so I need to know how you got your boyfriend to agree to that, and how you manage to hide it so well. And," I quickly added while he stared at me, stunned into silence for once in his life, "I'm pretty pissed that you never told me you were into guys, but we can talk about that part later."

There, I said it.

Professor Sakaki stared at me, eyes rounder than I'd ever seen them. Self-satisfaction welled up inside me, and it took all my restraint to hold back a grin. He was constantly ambushing me with annoying observations that caught me off guard. It felt good to finally get back at him.

"How...?" He paused to clear his throat and continued in his usual steady tone, "How did you know?"

"Oh, so you're not going to deny it, then? I'm surprised."

He shrugged one shoulder in a sad attempt to play it off, the stiffness of his posture giving away the fact that he was still trying to recover from the shock. "There's no point denying it, since you've obviously figured it out. But I still want to know how you know."

"Hmph, well..." I briefly considered not revealing the full truth, but if I was going to get any useful answers out of him, he had to realize that I knew his deepest secret and there was nothing left to hide. "I'm sure you've heard the rumors about Yuki-kun. I know you're his boyfriend."

That really got his attention, back straightening and eyes narrowing as he glared at me. "That's a hell of an accusation, Sonoda. What makes you think that?"

I rolled my eyes. "Oh please, drop the act. Do you think I didn't notice how you two were looking at each other that time in the courtyard? You were this close to slipping him the tongue!" I held up my hand, thumb and pointer nearly touching. "Maybe you can explain that away, but what about after that baseball game? You two went off campus together and didn't come back until the next morning. And before you try denying that anything happened, I'll have you know that Kiyo saw you kissing in the car before you left."

He looked like he wanted to ask how the hell Kiyo had managed to see anything from a distance on a dark night, but he just glared sullenly at me.

"Did you take him to dinner? Or a love hotel? Maybe both?" I pressed.

"Alright, you've made your point. Don't go prying into things that are none of your business."

"Um, Yuki-kun is my friend so it kind of is my business, actually."

"If you're so concerned about Asahina, why didn't you speak up earlier? Or are you trying to distract me from the fact that you came here to ask for advice about something embarrassing?"

I glared at him without saying anything, not about to admit that he was right. All I wanted to do was stall for time, even though it was pointless. I'd come to get his advice, and pissing him off wasn't going to make things any easier for me. I turned my face away, scowling, and reached up to pick at my braids. "I guess. Whatever. Anyway, like I said, you got Yuki-kun to keep absolutely silent about going out with you. I need to know how you did that."

"Why? Is Jokawa pressuring you to be more open?"

"What? How--" I covered my mouth with one hand to keep any more stupid reactions from leaking out. Had he already known, or did he just figure it out from the context? But the worst thing was that his question was completely void of his usual smug tone. Instead, it was a calm and genuine question, and probably a concerned one too, from the way he was watching my face for a reaction with his brows drawn slightly.

"You came here for advice, then went off on me for being in the closet. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's bothering you, Sonoda." He leaned closer. "Talk to me. No more distraction tactics. If you want to know more about me, fine, but let's focus on you first."

"Alright. Fine," I mumbled, refusing to look him in the eye. I wasn't in the mood for his pity or whatever. "Yeah, it's Kiyo. We have... kind of a thing, I guess." My face was probably turning as red as my hair. How embarrassing. "It's nothing serious, we're just messing around. I mean, that's what it was supposed to be, but now he's getting annoying about it."

After a long pause, the professor prompted, "In what way? He wants to be more serious?"

I shrugged. "I guess. He wants to be all lovey on me in public, and go out on real dates and stuff. I don't want everyone in the entire school knowing my business, or anyone outside of it either, but when I try to get him to knock it off, he just gets more annoying."

"What exactly are you telling him?"

"I just told you, I'm telling him to knock it off and I don't want anyone else knowing. It's bad enough that Hayato and Yuki-kun figured it out. I don't want it spreading to the rest of the school."

Professor Sakaki tried to mask his sigh, but he couldn't quite manage it. "Yes, I understand that. Why exactly would it be bad for others to know that you two are in a relationship? Are you worried about something more than the inevitable rumors spread by kids with too much free time?"

I lifted my eyes and made a face at him. "Really, this from the guy who's been miles deep in the closet for god knows how long? You let me tease you for years about not being able to find a girlfriend without ever hinting that I was completely wrong. I thought you trusted me."

"Don't twist this around into an attack on me, Sonoda. It's an ingrained habit from when I was younger than you are now." He paused, hesitating for a bit, and I got the feeling that there was something else behind his words. "Anyway, you know what my family's like."

The finality of his tone made it clear that I wasn't going to get anything else out of him until the main conversation was over. Fine. I folded my arms over my chest and huffed, "Well, there's a lot of problems, okay? First of all, I don't know if I want to get that tangled up with Kiyo. He's a pain in the ass and sometimes I regret ever meeting him, so it's not exactly fun to have him hanging all over me and blabbing about how much he likes me. He's annoying on purpose and he has a rotten personality - and before you say he's a perfect match for me, just shut it, okay? At least I'm not purposely malicious, and I don't get off on scaring the crap out of people."

"No, it's true that Jokawa is a... unique character. But you already knew that, so why did you get involved with him in the first place?"

I stared down at the floor. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess..."

"So you made a rash decision because you were horny. It happens." His matter of fact tone only made it worse.

I banged my fist on the ugly armrest. "It was not just because I was horny or whatever! Ugh, I knew talking to you was a bad idea, you always do that!"

"Whoa, don't bite my head off." He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "You just finished saying that 'it seemed like a good idea at the time,' how else am I supposed to interpret that? If I'm wrong, try explaining in more detail instead of getting ticked off."

He was right. The only reason I was getting pissed was because on some level, I knew what he was going to advise, and it wasn't going to work for me. "I don't know, okay? It's just... it's complicated. When Kiyo's not being demanding or torturing me or being overly clingy, hanging out with him is fun. I don't mind cooking for him or trying to come up with new things he would enjoy eating, and I can tell he actually appreciates my effort. It makes me feel like I want to be with him. I mean, he knows everything about me, all that stuff about my dad and the restaurant and trying to shut down the school. He's known all of that for a long time, and I know all his personal history too." I shifted in my seat, made uncomfortable by a sudden rush of sympathy as I remembered the first time Kiyo had explained exactly why he couldn't taste anything properly. "Like, he's been through a lot, and there aren't many people who know about it. But I know."

I sighed. What the hell was my point, anyway?

As usual, my cousin had the answer. "He's your best friend."

"Well, yeah." Denying it was pointless. "We understand each other on some level. So..."

"So you find him attractive? That's not uncommon."

"Stop making it sound like something so shallow," I grumbled. "I don't know where you get the idea that I'm only interested in people if they're hot or whatever."

"I'm tempted to point out that you'd be more attracted to money, but I'd rather not completely derail this conversation."

"You saying that is pointing it out."

"True. Anyway, if you're interested in him and willing to put up with his irritating personality, why worry about what other people might say? You're projecting your insecurities onto others, and the only person that's hurting is you. It's difficult to ignore rumors, especially in a closed environment like this, but if he's important to you then the sacrifice is worth it."

I rolled my eyes. "So just be open? Why would I take advice like that from you? I don't see you hurrying to let everyone know about your personal life."

The professor's voice was strained with the effort of holding back the full force of his snark. "I'm not exactly in a rush to end up in prison, Sonoda. We have to keep things quiet until graduation."

My eyebrows rose. "What, you're planning to go talk to his parents or something after he graduates? Do you have a death wish or something? No matter how nice Yuki-kun's parents might be, they're not going to be happy." My stomach knotted up. "They really could make a legal complaint, you know. Or if they're too nice to try anything, there will probably be rumors about how you hooked up with a former student. It could wreck your teaching career."

"Well... don't think I haven't considered that. But it's a chance I'm willing to take."

"Are you serious? I thought your job was the most important thing."

Professor Sakaki lowered his eyes, but instead of looking concerned, there was a faint smile on his lips. "I may have discovered something more important to commit to."

"Hmph, easy for you to say. You've always had a safety net. I did too, but it's gone and it's not coming back." My fingers curled into fists. Sure, my father had come back for the world's shortest visit, just long enough to spout some words of encouragement before running back to France. His words were still tucked away in the back of my mind as motivation, and they were still effective. But once the novelty of his visit had worn off, I'd realized something: I wasn't all that important to him. Cooking was the thing he cared about most in the whole world. Honestly, I couldn't be all that pissed about it, because I understood his feelings. What was I willing to sacrifice for the sake of my career? Home, family, kids, everything, like my dad? Or would I be like my cousin, with priorities that shifted over time?

I wasn't like Professor Sakaki, though. His world was full of potential. Cooking was all I knew.


"Don't 'Sonoda' me, I'm not done! I know you're going to be all 'oh but I don't have a safety net' which is exactly what jerks who do have one would say. If this school won't have you after you come out because it's an all boys school or whatever, you still have a ton of experience. Plus you can say you were at the top of BL School for a while. If that doesn't work, you can beg Yuki-kun's parents for mercy and become a baker. And if you get really desperate, you can crawl back to your family and use their connections, or even give up and work for them again. I don't have any of that."

My cousin didn't bother disguising his sigh. "Really, Sonoda, is that what you believe? Didn't you learn that you're not alone? I'm here for you. And you don't want to hear this, but isn't Jokawa's family rolling in money? I'm sure he'd be happy to take care of you if it came to that."

"Ugh, that's gross. There's no way I'm letting someone else take care of me!"

"Why discount the possibility?" His eyes fixed upon mine. "Because it's not about the safety net, is it? It's about pursuing your dream. Accept that and own it. There's nothing wrong with being ambitious and having a dream that you value above all else."

"I know that, you don't have to tell me. Or did you forget that I was perfectly willing to destroy this entire school in order to chase my dream?" I rolled my eyes. "But this situation is different."

"Is it?" All the softness was gone from his expression and tone. "You keep protesting that things won't work for you, but you haven't explained why. If there's something else that's coloring your decision, then spit it out. I can't help you if you're only giving me half the story."

"I've been trying to tell you, but you keep interrupting!" I knew I was being ridiculous and defensive. It annoyed the hell out of me, how easily he poked holes in all my stalling tactics and cut right to the heart of what I was avoiding. That's what made him both a great person to talk to, and the worst possible choice when I needed serious advice.

Ugh, you really need to suck it up and get to the point, Eiji.

"Anyway," I huffed, folding my arms over my chest, "you probably don't know, but the world of cooking is ridiculously macho, okay? Women get harassed constantly, and any guys who seem less than 100% alpha male get the same treatment. If I'm with Kiyo, I'm going to be a target. And that's not just once I finish culinary school and start working in the real world or whatever, it'll start the moment I want to make any sort of big move. There's important competitions and contests for amateurs and guys who are just starting out. If I can win a contest that has a lot of visibility, it'll be a huge boost for when I open my own restaurant. But if I'm with Kiyo, who knows what will happen?"

"You think the judges will be influenced by knowledge of your personal life?"

I shrugged. "Maybe? I don't think anyone would be so blatant, but you never know what kind of biases are floating around in the back of someone's mind, you know? I might get passed over because of some unconscious thought or idea. I can't stand the thought of something like that! I don't care if I compete and lose in a fair competition, but if I lose or never even get to compete because someone didn't like me or whatever... how can I deal with that?"

"I see. That's a fair point. Then again, there's no way to know if a judge or sponsor will dislike you for any superficial reason - maybe they don't like your hair, or think you rely too much on one particular ingredient."

"Yes, but those are things people will comment on, and I'll have a chance to change them. No one's going to say 'I hate you because you're dating a guy' right to my face." I threw my hands up in disgust. "So what am I supposed to do? I can't live with the idea that I'll probably be judged on something other than my talent! And before you suggest something dumb like being brave and true to myself or whatever, I can't change the entire culture of the cooking world, and I'm not going to be stupid and sacrifice my dream to make a failed attempt at it!"

The professor was silent for a while, considering it. Watching his face, I could tell that he wasn't having any more luck than I had. I'd turned the problem over in my mind countless times, and the only conclusion I'd come to was that Kiyo had to keep his mouth shut. Except Kiyo was fundamentally unable to keep anything a secret, especially if I was the one asking him to do it.

"It's a difficult situation. I didn't realize the cooking world was so harsh." It was probably the first time I'd heard Professor Sakaki admit to being completely clueless about something. His smile turned bitter. "The teaching world isn't all that different, in some ways. It's difficult to make real changes in an ingrained culture, and there's no shame in keeping your head down and plowing through instead of trying to swim upstream all the time. It's exhausting."

"Exactly. I don't feel like changing the world, I just want to be successful in it."

"So have you told Jokawa all this yet?"

I rolled my eyes. "Of course not! He wouldn't understand! All Kiyo cares about is whatever's right in front of him at the time and if it's fun or not. He never thinks more than a few hours ahead. He has zero ambition and no drive to do anything. There's no way he'd take this seriously."

"So you're here telling this to me, but refusing to explain it to the person it concerns?" The professor gave me a tired, disappointed look. "You haven't made any attempt, you've just jumped to conclusions. And no, I don't want to hear that he always acts a certain way; I'm well aware of how Jokawa operates. That doesn't excuse your projection and refusal to discuss this with him."

"Don't make it my fault!" I snapped.

"Be quiet for once!" He made a slashing motion with one hand. "You spend far too much time talking and not nearly enough listening, Sonoda. Be humble and listen to the advice you asked for. Can you do that, or do I have to kick you out of my office?"

My chest tightened with irritation, and I had to literally bite my tongue to keep from firing back.

After a few tense seconds that dragged on forever, the hardness in the professor's expression softened a little, and he nodded. "Good. Now, I want you to know that I understand how difficult this situation is for you. I may not fully appreciate the pressures of the culinary world or every nuance of your personal feelings, but I know what it's like to be passionate about your work and to fear the judgment of others. Unfortunately, I can't give you specific advice. You're the only one who can decide what your priorities are and the sacrifices you're willing to make. But before you start thinking it through, the first step is talking to Jokawa."

I glared down at the armrest. "Buuut," I mumbled, not really protesting.

"I know. He's a difficult person, and likely not the type who will be satisfied with keeping quiet about a relationship that he's enjoying. You may have to make a difficult decision." I jumped a little as a warm hand clasped my shoulder. "Talk to him. Take his reactions into consideration. Do you want to get deeply involved with someone who refuses to respect your ambitions, or who asks you to choose between him and your dreams? That's not a healthy relationship. Then again, he might surprise you. You don't know until you try."

"Ugh, but... if he's going to be a jerk about it, then what?"

The professor withdrew his hand. "Make your decision if and when that happens. Don't make assumptions ahead of time, you'll only kill yourself with anxiety."

"Yeah, seriously." I glanced up. "Um... So, if I talk to Kiyo and I don't know what to after that..."

I couldn't do it. I couldn't beg my stupid cousin to let me come ask him for advice again.

"Yeah, you can come back and talk to me if you want. But not until you talk to Jokawa. I'm not going to get dragged into your whirlwind of emotional mess until you take some responsibility for it."

I covered my face with my hands, suddenly tired. "Can't you just be nice for once?"

"I am being nice. Unless your definition of 'nice' is telling you want you want to hear or making decisions for you instead of offering sincere, realistic advice."

"Argh, I get it, okay!" I lowered my hands so I could glare at him. "I'll try talking to Kiyo! But I'm telling you, he's going to be annoying about it, or downplay how serious it is, or whatever! So what am I supposed to do if he doesn't get it?"

"Then you either break it off or decide to live with it. If this has been dragging on for a while, which I suspect it has, it's time to make a move. Don't string Jokawa along, and don't tie your own hands because you don't want to deal with this problem." I expected him to say some other annoying stuff, but instead he leaned back in his chair with a quiet, almost fond, sigh. "Really, Sonoda, you're unpredictable, but in some ways, too predictable. You get wrapped up in your emotions quickly and you make your own life difficult. Well, I guess that's what makes you an interesting person."

Interesting. I wasn't trying to be interesting, I was just being myself. I didn't know any other way to be. "That sounds like something Kiyo would say."

"True. I guess he's gotten to know you pretty well, then." A pause, then: "It sounds like he cares about you, even if his way of showing it is childish. So talk to him."

Did Kiyo really care about me? That was a stupid question; I knew he did. That's why he was pushing for our relationship to become more serious, though for the moment he was content to give up after I promised to think about it more. He wasn't going to be satisfied with waiting for much longer, and I knew he wanted proof of my affection. Physical proof.

Urgh, my face was getting hot. I jumped up from the gross armchair, hoping that Professor Sakaki wouldn't make any comments about it. "Yeah, I got it, I'll talk to him soon."

"You mean today?"

Why do you always have to keep pushing after it's obvious that I'm done? It took all my self control to keep from complaining, and it only worked because I knew that would invite more unwanted commentary. I settled for a frustrated sigh instead. "When he's in a good mood. If that's today, then fine, but if it's not, I'll wait. I want to have the best chance of getting the importance of all this through his thick skull."

He probably wanted to protest, but instead he nodded. "A reasonable tactic." His lips curved into a somewhat twisted smile. "Good luck, then."

"Yeah, really. I'm gonna need it."

~ end ~