Chigusa had known she liked Gou pretty much since she first met her. It was hard to imagine how anyone couldn't like Gou, honestly, and because of that, Chigusa knew that she was far from the only one. Gou's striking red hair was always well-kept, her stunning eyes had a piercing gaze to which none could compare and her beautifully petite figure that Chigusa just wanted to hold... Gou was practically perfect.
And yet Chigusa never gave it a chance. They were friends, that much was true, but after Gou joined the swim club, Chigusa decided that pursuing her would be a lost cause. The swim club was filled with attractive boys of every different type and even if Chigusa couldn't personally see what the big deal was about them, she could tell that from an outside perspective, they looked good.
So Gou would probably get together with one of them, Chigusa told herself. Either the tiny, adorable Nagisa, the gentle giant Makoto, the otherworldly pretty Haru or the nerd chic perfectionist Rei. One of them would win Gou's heart.
Perhaps Chigusa gave up too quickly, but she'd never been set on Gou – it was just a crush. Chigusa had liked girls before Gou and she would like girls after Gou. It was just that Gou dominated so much of her high school crush radar.
They kept talking after Gou joined the swim club, but it became less frequent. Yet even so, over the next three years, Gou didn't seem to hook up with any of the boys from the swim club, not even the two new ones who joined in their third year. It seemed that Gou appreciated their muscles on an aesthetic level, but that was it.
Even so, Chigusa did nothing. They were friends, after all. It might creep Gou out if she knew that Chigusa was interested in her.
The All-Japan Invitational rolled around. It was a big deal for one of the promising swim club graduates who'd gone to Iwatobi High last year and Chigusa felt invested enough to travel to Tokyo and see how he got on. She didn't make a big deal out of it, in fact, she didn't even tell Gou that she was going, but Chigusa went along, all the same.
...And that was when Chigusa realised she'd missed her chance with Gou.
On the day after the event, Chigusa was heading out to Harajuku to do some shopping when she saw Gou by chance. Her heart skipped a beat – perhaps it was fate that the two of them had come to the same street on the same day! Maybe Chigusa should finally swallow her doubts, talk to Gou a-and then... the two of them could get lunch or go see a movie together or do absolutely anything...! The possibilities were all there, waiting for Chigusa to make the first move.
She took a step towards Gou, but someone else was faster.
“There you are! Thought I'd lost you for a minute, Gou!”
A tall, muscular girl hurried past Chigusa and made her way over to Gou, two yakitori skewers held in her hand. She passed one across to Gou, before tearing into the other like a person possessed. The girl now had sticky sauce from the yakitori all over her mouth, but Gou reached across to wipe it off with a handkerchief.
“Thanks, Isuzu! I appreciate you thinking of me,” Gou said.
“Honestly? I've not been thinking about much else except you for the last few days. Is that bad?” said the girl who was known as Isuzu, “My brothers said it was natural, but I don't want to be, like, creepy, y'know?”
Gou laughed. It was such a light and airy laugh, of the kind that Chigusa had never heard from Gou before. In fact, the way Gou's cheeks were flushed red was also something that Chigusa had never seen from her before. It was obvious that Gou liked Isuzu... a lot.
“Trust me, you're not creepy at all,” Gou assured Isuzu, “So do you want to head off before the shops get too busy? I know that clothes shopping isn't your thing, but I figured we could go see that new Rat's Life special when we're done.”
Isuzu finished her yakitori and tossed the skewer in a nearby trash can. Then she put her arm around Gou, pulling her close and grinning widely.
“For you, I could get a lot more into clothes shopping!” she said.
“Glad to hear it,” Gou replied, “We need to get you something that properly shows off your muscles, Isuzu.”
On that note, the two of them headed off together down the street, chatting away without a care in the world. Even now, Chigusa could call after them. She could've joined them and Gou would've been happy to see her, as always. Yet... Chigusa knew that if she did that, she'd be intruding on their date.
It wasn't destiny that Chigusa saw Gou in Harajuku that day. The truth was that Chigusa had waited too long, she'd never even tried with Gou and now someone who hadn't hesitated was dating Gou instead.
Suddenly, Chigusa didn't feel much like shopping. She'd head back to her hotel and then tomorrow, she'd travel home and try to forget about the most beautiful girl she'd ever met...
Chigusa turned to walk away, but as she did, someone else caught her eye. Another girl, who was standing across the street, checking her phone. She was incredibly beautiful, even at a glance. Her brown bob hair framed her hair adorably, the braid down one side only added to the cuteness and the white scarf around her neck was quite stylish. This girl could've been anyone, she could've been waiting for her boyfriend, she could've been completely uninterested in Chigusa in any way. If Chigusa just left now, she would probably never see this girl again and the girl would carry on her life without knowing that Chigusa thought she was beautiful.
...Just like Gou.
In that instant, Chigusa decided that she didn't want to ruin her own chances on assumptions of failure any more. Even if it did lead to nothing, at least Chigusa could go home and say that she tried. Perhaps the prospect of never seeing the girl again after today gave her courage. Chigusa wasn't certain what it was, but all the same she made her way across to where the girl was standing.
“Excuse me, I was... I just... um, saw you and th-thought you looked very... I mean, I like your scarf,” Chigusa heard herself say, “Did you get it from around here?”
The girl looked up from her phone and smiled. She didn't seem bothered by Chigusa talking to her at all. In fact, she seemed flattered by it. She clutched her scarf as she spoke.
“Do you really like it? I've had it ever since I was young. But there's a lot of good shops around here where you can find nice scarves, too. Do you want me to show you them? We can make a trade, because you've got to tell me where you got your hair done,” the girl asked, “I'm Aki Yazaki, by the way.”
“Chigusa Hanamura...! It's g-great to meet you...” Chigusa stammered, “And I do my own hair. Perhaps I could do yours for you as well? Though it looks like you already have a great stylist.”
“Never hurts to have a change, wouldn't you say?” replied Aki, “Shall we consider it a date?”
It did never hurt to have a change. Chigusa decided that she wasn't going to make the same mistake with Aki that she did with Gou. She held out her hand, trying not to let it shake when Aki took it.
“...Sure! It's a date!”