At Close Range
Curiosity was one of the main tenants of a detective’s personality. It’s what drew detectives inexorably to investigate. Naoto was no exception. Even though she still had an open case, the main object of Naoto’s curiosity was focused elsewhere- the leader of the Investigation Team, Yu Narukami. And in order to investigate properly, a detective had to get close to their target. But with such a large group of friends constantly orbiting him, it was difficult to close the distance necessary to get the information she desired. The school’s festival, however, gave her the perfect opportunity. Yosuke’s “Group Date Cafe” idea had turned out to be a hit. When girls found out that one of the hosts was none other than the hottest topic of school gossip himself Yu Narukami, it soon became the most popular booth. Two lines had formed outside of the classroom, one for girls looking to spend 10 glorious minutes of small talk over lukewarm tea with Yu, and another for desperate guys trying to catch a moment with those girls. In times like these, strategy was necessary and what Naoto felt she lacked in feminine wiles, she made up for in strategic thinking.
She straightened her cap and approached the ticket booth being manned by an exasperated second year boy.
“Calm down ladies” he shouted into the crowd of squealing girls, then turned to Naoto with a frown.
“Can I help you?” he asked, wrinkling his nose at her as she leaned over the counter.
“I was looking to see Narukami-senpai” she said, dropping her voice low.
“Yeah, you and every other crazy girl in this damn school” he snorted “Get in line, sister.”
“As you can you imagine, I’m pretty busy with my work with the police force” she said breezily “What would it take for this line to just…Go away?”
“Nice try. But I don’t take bribes” he refuted “Get outta here before I call a teacher.”
Naoto wasn’t naive. She knew how the world worked. Sometimes palms needed to be greased, and everyone had a price. All it took was figuring out what that price was.
“That’s too bad” she said innocently, reaching into the inside pocket of her blazer and producing a slip of paper “Especially since I just happen to have…Risette ’s personal home phone number here in my hand and I…”
His eyes lit up at the sight of the folded slip of paper between her fingers. He made a swipe at it, and she pulled it out of his reach. Bingo.
“Ah ah ah. Let’s talk first” she said. “I want three turns with Narukami-senpai. No interruptions”.
“Three turns?! Are you crazy?” he blustered.
She shrugged, and put the paper back into her pocket, and turned slowly as if she was walking away.
“H-hey wait a second here!” he hollered after her. A smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth. She had him right where she wanted him now. She turned back, and watched the gears turn in his head as he weighed the cost of being caught taking bribes with the prize of Risette’s number.
“…Fine” he said eventually “But this had better be legit!”
“Naturally” she replied. It was, in a way, legit. The publicly available phone number of the Kujikawa Tofu Shop still counted as Rise’s home phone number, considering that she also lived there. In a court of law, there was no way she would be found guilty.
When the round ended, Yu waved goodbye to the girl he had been entertaining and smiled at the next lucky girl as she took her seat. Naoto tried to hide her smugness as the grumpy second year who had accepted Naoto’s bribe promptly turfed the girl out of her seat.
“But I’ve been waiting for like 40 minutes!” she cried shrilly.
“Well you can wait a little longer then” he snapped, pointing to the door. Scowling, the girl stood and stomped away.
“Three turns. He’s all yours. Have fun” he said, pushing in Naoto’s chair and tipping her a wink as he walked away.
“Hey Naoto” Yu said, looking almost startled “Didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Oh well, you know, apparently three rounds with you in the Group Date Café was uh, the prize for winning Miss Yagoshima” she said, not meeting his eyes, even though this was also not technically a lie. After the whole ordeal was over, they’d asked her if she’d wanted a prize, and at the time she’d been too shocked and humiliated to even find her voice to answer. But if she had have spoken then, this is what she would have asked for. No court would find her guilty of cashing a check, surely.
“I had no idea that was a prize…Well I’m glad either way” he said warmly.
Naoto felt a jolt of electricity thrum through her veins at his words.
“R-really?” she said, loosening the collar on her crisp white shirt. She felt very warm all of a sudden. She’d worn her extra-good turquoise suit and matching waistcoat today for the sake of the pageant, and even let Rise put a little make-up on her- a smattering of silver eye-shadow, some mascara on her lashes and a little cherry flavoured-gloss on her lips. Maybe one good thing had come of it.
“Yeah, really” he said earnestly “I realized, I don’t know much about you. Now we can get to know each other better.”
“Uh yeah, great” she replied, a smile spreading across her face.
“I’ll go get us some drinks” he said, rising from his seat. And then he shot her one of those famous dazzling smiles, rendering her completely speechless.
Next time she saw Yosuke, she was going to give him a big hug, she decided. Well, maybe not, given his…quite frankly entirely rotten personality. But he had been right on the money suggesting a Group Date Café. Naoto and Yu had spent 30 glorious minutes together, heads bent close together while they talked. As it turned out, they had a lot in common. They both liked the same books (old-fashioned mystery novels and Swedish crime thrillers), they both took their coffee the same way (cream and two sugars) and they both indulged in the same guilty pleasures (children’s cartoons and trashy romance movies). They also had the same sense of dry humor and kept each other laughing for the full duration of their “date”. Being so close to him allowed her to appreciate his good looks up close and personal. With his strong jaw; soft, kind eyes and perfect smile, she suddenly understood why the line to the cramped little classroom stretched around the corner. But she bet none of those other girls knew that he had a way of listening that made her feel as if she was the only one in the room.
While he laughed at one of her terrible jokes, she couldn’t stop herself staring at the way his lips curled in mirth. She bit her own lip, imagining how it would feel to have those lips of his glide over her own and-
Oh dear God. She slammed the breaks on her train of thought. This was bad. Getting too close to the target was a big no-no. She was in too deep now. By some small mercy, the bell rang for the third time, snapping Naoto out of the spiral of panic she’d fallen into.
“Is that the time already?” he said. She couldn’t help but enjoy the look of disappointment on his face at their time being up.
“I guess time flies when you’re having fun” she said, trying to keep the twinge of sadness out of her voice. It had been fun, but now it was time to go back to the real world, where guys like Yu never got so close to girls like Naoto.
He coughed and cleared his throat awkwardly.
“I hope we can… Do this again sometime” he said, lowering his eyes to study the tablecloth very intensely.
“What, get Yosuke to organize another Group Date Café?” she said, laughing a little.
“N-no” he stuttered, a pink blush suddenly colouring his cheeks. It was uncharacteristic to see the ever-cool and charismatic leader Yu Narukami get flustered. “I meant like… Go to a real café… And have a…A real date.”
Naoto felt the air leave her lungs. This couldn’t be happening. Was this real life? Her own face flushed police-siren red, but she tried to swallow down her own embarrassment.
“W-well I am sure w-we can, uh, check our schedules and-and coordinate s-something” she stuttered in her usual manic business-like manner.
“Sounds good to me” he said breathily, looking relieved. Then, in one quick motion he leaned across the table and pressed a feather-light kiss on her cheek. “I’ll text you.”
She clapped her hand to her cheek with a soft gasp.
“I’ll uh, I’ll text you” she stammered, then realizing it sounded more like an order than a reply added a hasty “back”. Under the watchful eye of the irritated second-year, she stood and excused herself from the room with an awkward bow.
When she got out of the room, she collapsed against the wall, her chest heaving. Oh, Yosuke was getting that hug for sure now.