The winter sky loomed outside the windows of the dorm, the first snow of winter powdering the streets delicately. It was Christmas Eve - the lobby was full of chatter from the high school students who lived there, unaffected by the sharp cold of the world outside, excitedly discussing the holidays ahead.
But a single, gruff teenager separated himself from the rest of the group, hidden away in a corner. He stood tall, but not quite proud.
Minako was busy buzzing around her friends, smiling and laughing with them joyfully as the evening unfolded. She filled the air with her own warmth, sharing it with her companions like a cup of hot cocoa.
Eventually she stopped. Squinted. She realized her favorite friend was missing; he’s resigned himself to the corner, again, and it was her job to pull him out. She marched right up to him, smile plastered onto her face. “Shinjiro, come join us!” She tried to make it sound like a suggestion, but it came out more like an order.
“What, and ruin the mood?” He responded, his voice sharp but his smile soft.
“Please?” She pouted. “Please, Senpai?”
Shinjiro sighed, giving in without much of a fight. He walked to the rest of the group with her, stopped, stared, and made a beeline for the front door.
“Shinji!” Akihiko cried, trying to wrangle his friend back to the heart of the action. “C’mon! We're discussing protein!”
Shinjiro didn’t budge. He looked to Minako, jerked his head towards the door, and mouthed to her. “Wanna come?”
She nodded profusely back, practically running to follow him out the door, yelling a rushed “See you later!” to her confused friends.
Once they were safely alone outside, the two of them stopped, standing shoulder to shoulder in the freezing cold of the night. Their fingers touched; neither of them pulled away.
“Where are we going?” The shorter one asked, her smile beaming under the light of the street lamps hanging above their heads.
“Have you had dinner?” Shinjiro sighed, pushing his hands into his pockets abruptly.
“No…” She responded, her shoulders drooping slightly. “I’m not that hungry, though.”
With that, he started down the stairs, Minako struggling to catch up. She eventually met Shinji’s pace, pulling at his sleeve to try and still his quick feet. “Please, Senpai, my legs are shorter than yours…” She huffed.
“Sorry.” He responded gruffly, slowing down slightly. “Are you okay?” He turned to her, his face softened with concern; the moonlight reflected off the snow and into his eyes, making them look like the moon itself. She loved it.
“I’m… fine…” Minako responded, still holding onto his arm. “Where are we going?” She repeated, stomping her feet in the snow dramatically as they slowly started to continue forward.
“To get food.” Shinjiro said quietly, pulling his coat closer to his body as he walked beside her to prevent her tugging from continuing. “Aren’t you cold…?”
“N-no!” She smiled, her teeth clattering giving her away. “I’m extremely used to the cold, and snow, and ice. Yep! I’m fine!” She gave him a thumbs up with her newly freed hand.
“Idiot.” He rolled his eyes, draping an arm over her shoulder gently. “Haven’t you ever been in snow before? You can’t go out in clothes like those.” He grimaced, suddenly noticing her lack of winter-appropriate attire.
“No…” She smiled sheepishly. “I’ve never been in a place where it snowed before.”
Shinjiro narrowed his eyes, turning his head to look at her. “And someone let you go out like that?” He sighed, pulling her closer to him.
She stomped her feet again, trying to hide her red face from his gaze. “Well, I… I…” Minako crossed her arms with a frown. “You made me!”
He laughed softly, a smile playing at his lips. “Let’s get inside before you freeze to death,” he said, soon stopping in front of their favorite diner. His arm fell off of her shoulders as he grabbed the door and opened it, motioning for her to enter. She did, quickly finding them a table and sitting down with a grin.
To her surprise, he sat next to her, his hands again in his pockets. “What do you want?”
“The usual,” she said sheepishly, tugging at her friend’s coat gently. “Et toi, Senpai?” She giggled.
Shinjiro snorted as he flagged down a waiter. “Two beef bowls, substitute the rice for veggies on the side… one coffee… one hot chocolate.” He turned and glared at Minako playfully as the waiter left.
“What?” She giggled, poking his arm softly. “Are my drink choices insulting to you, Senpai?”
He shrugged. He put his arm around her shoulders again, his smile fully visible now. “You’re too much sometimes.” He whispered.
She sat there and blushed, the winter cold completely shut out of her world in that booth seat. They sat there in comfortable silence, Shinjiro staring off into the world of the diner as she fiddled with her phone nervously.
“Here you are, sir.” Minako jumped as the waiter returned, placing down their plates in front of them with a raised brow. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks,” Shinjiro mumbled, uncoiling himself from her to pick up his chopsticks.
She let out a sigh, grabbing her bowl with a slight frown as his warmth left her body. “They really went ham on the vegetables…” She grumbled as she poked at the extra greens, scrunching her nose.
“Yeah.” He replied, his eyes drifting around the room nervously.
“What’s wrong, Senpai?” She said, eyeing a piece of broccoli suspiciously before jamming it in her mouth. “Are you okay?”
“Who raised you?” He sighed. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Minako swallowed her food dramatically, fanning herself with her hands. “I just can’t take the horror of the evil veggies,” she said, throwing her head back. “It’s just too much.”
He just shook his head, eating his beef bowl and veggies quietly. “You’re such a kid.”
She pushed her plate of greens to his side, poking him gently with her chopsticks. “You may take the healthy, delicious veggies, Senpai. My treat.”
“No.” Shinjiro shook his head, picking up a piece of carrot and bringing it close to her face. “Open up.”
“Nooo!” She shrieked playfully. “Senpai, please!”
As she said that, he put the terrible, awful vegetable in her mouth and returned to his meal, sternly looking to his side to keep her in check as she continued to eat her vegetables, one at a time.
“Aki used to hate veggies too.” He said eventually, admiring his handiwork.
Eventually, they both finished their meals (even the veggies), paid, and left back into the freezing night.
“I could have died.” Minako sighed, shivering. “So many… greens…”
He stifled a laugh, unbuttoning his coat slowly and draping it over her petite form. “Here.”
“Senpai!” She gasped, pulling the fabric close to her joyfully. “You’re so kind!”
He blinked, looking to her with a flush face that stood out against the sea of white snow. “Let’s get home,” he said eventually. “they’ll worry if you stay out too late.”
She huffed, crossing her arms with a pout. “But I wanna experience more of snow, and winter, and…” She stopped herself, looking away quickly.
“Well…” He mused, smiling at her softly. “Alright. But stay close.”
She smiled and grabbed his hand as she started to run to a park down the street. “Snow! Let’s go, Senpai!”
“Whoa!” Shinjiro yelped, rushing to follow his friend down the road. “Be careful!”
The pair hurried along the path, catching stares as they entered the park. It was covered in sleek snow; the trees were highlighted in white, glowing under the light of the street lamps. Minako immediately flopped down into the snow, giggling as she attempted to make snow angels.
“Senpai!” She tried to pull him down with her, but Shinjiro held tight and refused to fall.
“I ain’t…” He paused, heart melting over her signature pout. He sat down next to her with a sigh. “Happy now?”
“We could make snowmen!” She said with a start, jumping up to sit next to him. She pulled his jacket closer, the red fabric now covered in snow. “Tiny, mini snowmen!”
He smiled slightly at her antics, taking a ball of snow into his hand and rolling it smooth before placing it in front of the two of them. He motioned to her to continue, and she did, making a smaller ball and placing it on top of the first with a smile.
“Senpai, do you like winter?” Minako asked as she scavenged for suitable pebbles for the face.
“I do now,” he replied quietly, cracking a stick in half and pushing it into the top ball of snow.
They looked at each other, smiling. “I’m glad you’re here, Shinji.” Minako said, pushing the rocks into the snowman, grinning proudly at their creation. “He’s so handsome. What should we name him?”
“I think you’d know better than me.” Shinjiro laughed, his teeth chattering slightly at the winter’s chill.
“Hmm…” She hummed. “Bob.”
He winced slightly at the lack of creativity, but still found himself smiling at her words. “We really should be getting back,” he said, pulling out his pocket watch.“It’s almost midnight.” He stated as he stood up quietly.
“Awww…” She whined, patting the snowman tenderly. “Bye, Bob!” She waved, standing up to follow her friend. “Lead the way, Senpai.”
Shinjiro simply nodded, taking her hand gently as he lead her back to the dorm without a word, comfortable silence filling the night air around them. As they approached the doors back in, they stopped.
“Thank you for tonight, Shinji.” Minako said shyly, returning his coat to him.
Shinjiro paused, putting on the jacket quietly before he responded. “Follow me,” he whispered, opening the door and walking straight towards the staircase.
“Oh!” She responded, red-faced, treading behind him without another word.
Perhaps they weren’t just friends after all.