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Eye Contact

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   Makoto glanced at her phone and then back up. It was irresponsible to walk and text but she couldn’t help herself with such a lively group chat. It was a bad habit, and it was one that she even considered to be of her own collection of pet peeves, but it was a habit that she was guilty of regardless. It was a habit everyone was guilty of. However, when her eyes flicked back up, she smiled and put away her phone, slipping it into her bag.

   Amid the crowd, she saw Yusuke. He wasn’t an overly unusual-looking person despite his eccentric behaviours, but Makoto was good at training her eye on him regardless. There was something about him and his stark, white shirt and tall height. He was easy to notice, even if he wasn’t the most overtly unusual person in the crowd. Makoto would know; she was good friends with Ryuki and Ann, after all, and they were more classically odd looking thanks to their dyed hair and ethnicity respectively.

   Given that Yusuke was by himself, he had gotten there first to the designated meeting point and her heart fluttered. He seemed to be people watching, she realised as she drew in closer. His eyes were surveying the area, studying someone once in a while before glancing upward to notice something only he and his artistic eye would notice. Probably. That was at least how Makoto saw it. Soon enough, he noticed her, and his icy demeanour melted slightly.

   His staunch shoulders dropped, and he smiled warmly unto her, “Hello, Makoto.” he said.

   “Hello, Yusuke.” she politely replied.

   Makoto slotted in next to him and she became aware of how short she was in comparison to him. She was about shoulder height and from this angle, his jaw seemed sharper and his hair seemed longer. Makoto would consider him handsome. Unconventionally so, though.

   “Not checking on the group chat?” Makoto asked.

   “No need. I have the time in mind.” Yusuke replied. “And when I checked my notifications, I saw several inappropriate jokes so I thought I would let those peter out first.”

   “Ah. That’s fair.” Makoto murmured.

   “But, I’m glad you’re the first to arrive. I wanted to seek your counsel for some advice.” Yusuke told her.

   Makoto blinked and then composed herself. “As the Phantom Thieves’ consultant, I will do my best.”

   “Thank you.” Yusuke said. “But it’s not Phantom Thieves related. This is more related to your position on your student council.”

   “It is? I didn’t pick you for the political type.” Makoto said.

   Yusuke chuckled. “No, I’m not. And I’m not currently seeking to change that. I just wanted some advice on public speaking. I presume you had to do a lot of that in your role as president, yes?”

   “Yes.” Makoto confirmed.

   “Well, I’m having some trouble… with eye contact. I don’t know how much is appropriate and how much is… inappropriate. I’ve been told, in the practice runs of this speech I have to do for one of my classes, that my eye contact is either not enough or so intense it comes across as sexual. I dislike it very much.” Yusuke confessed. “I was hoping you could shed some light on this conundrum.”

   Makoto paused to consider Yusuke. She could very clearly imagine Yusuke ranting about his passions in art and crossing the line regarding eye contact. Picking some poor, unfortunate soul and drilling his eyes into that person and that person alone. Conversely, she was aware of the other situation in which he didn’t even try to use eye contact. After all, he rarely spoke facing her or any of their other friends.

   “That is tricky.” Makoto mused.

   Yusuke hummed.

   “I think my best advice would be the forehead trick. Don’t go for the eyes, just go for the eyebrows or, their forehead. And I think two seconds is long enough. Just keep your eyes moving from person to person. Start at the back, finish at the front. That’s what I would do during my addresses as president.” Makoto replied.

   “Thank you, Makoto, I knew I could rely on you for advice.” Yusuke said.

   Makoto smiled. Her eyes widened and her heart swelled at the praise.

   “Do you want to practice?” she asked, a sudden squawk complete with reddening cheeks.

   Yusuke stammered. “I don’t see the… I don’t have my – my palm cards... I’m not-”

   “It was a bad idea.” Makoto quickly cut him off. “But, what if… What if you just talk? Pick a topic and you know… talk about it like you would for this speech you have to do.”

   “Oh. Oh! Yes, that’s a good idea, actually. I mean, between my art and, um, our more unorthodox extracurriculars, I hardly have time to study. A bit of practice whilst we wait for the rest of our friends to arrive could be good for me.” Yusuke rambled.

   Yusuke awkwardly – and somewhat robotically – turned to Makoto and Makoto turned so that they were more or less facing each other. His lips were pert whereas she was eagerly waiting for his speech with wide-eyes. He coughed into his hand and began a very detailed spiel into one of the artworks that he had been working on.

   He started off great. His diction was perfect. His grammar was wonderful. It was obvious that it was all coming from the top of his head but the passion in his voice disguised his fumbles. He had the potential to be a very engaging public speaker, Makoto thought and for a short while, she was very much enjoying his impromptu, practice speech but then… she realised what his peers meant regarding his intense – and sexual – eye contact.

   Yusuke began very well. Makoto was able to notice that he was staring at her forehead, between her brows, because she had instructed him to do so. If anyone else were to be in her position, such a thing would likely go undetected. But, as his speech progressed, his eye contact soon bore into her eyes and when he spoke with passion, there was something far too fiery in his own eyes and it was… uncomfortable.

   Makoto felt her phone burn in her pocket. The others would be here any second and Yusuke had been going on for about two minutes and she was feeling herself get smaller and smaller under his gaze of his. It burned brighter than the sun so, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

   “Th-Thank you, Yusuke…” she said, interjecting in a small voice.

   Her words criss-crossed with Yusuke’s. they got tangled in the air and like snapping from a trance, Yusuke’s head jerked, and his cheeks reddened. Embarrassment. He fidgeted with his hands and came to a hasty conclusion.

   “You have potential as a public speaker. Your diction is excellent, and you explain things very thoroughly whilst remaining engaging.” Makoto said. “But…”

   “But?” Yusuke echoed.

   “Your eye contact…” Makoto said, sheepishly. “But! But, I’m sure it’s an improvement on whatever you inflicted on your classmates.”

   “Yes… Let’s hope…” Yusuke mumbled, sounding hopeless and there was a crestfallen look in his steel grey eyes. It wrenched at Makoto’s heart.

   “I genuinely enjoyed listening to you. Maybe we can meet up later, again, after the mission and try some other public speaking exercises. I think that could be helpful and… and, because we rarely get to spend time with each other outside of, well, Phantom Thieves stuff and I think we should change that.” Makoto rambled.

   Yusuke’s spirits lifted. As did his shoulders and his eyelashes fluttered. He seemed to suck in a sudden breath.

   “I say this with the utmost sincerity, Yusuke, but I genuinely enjoyed listening to you.” Makoto said and, without thinking, her hands had lunged forward and clasped onto Yusuke’s.

   And now it was her eye contact which was far too impassioned for what may have otherwise been a mundane moment.

   Yusuke smiled. It was a wonky smile, but it was twisted with earnestness.

   “Thank you for your praise, Makoto.” he told her in a quiet voice, his eyes meeting hers gently, for once.

   And before such a moment could otherwise progress, it was ruined – but not by either of them. Rather, in their moment, they were ignorant to the fact that Ren, Futaba, and Ryuji had approached, and they had been rather enjoying the show. And Ryuji, being Ryuji, just had to show his approval as vocally as he could.

   He surprised Makoto with a hug and held her down, despite her protests. Ryuji sprawled over her and cocked his head back to Ren and Futaba.

   “Can you believe these lovebirds?” he asked them. “Look at how lewd they’re being in public.”

   “Yeah, holding hands-” Ren said, only to be superseded by Futaba.

   “And making goo-goo eyes at one another.” she chimed in.

   “Disgusting.” Ren joked, crossing his arms.

   Ryuji let go of Makoto, giving her space and she quelled her rightfully placed anger towards him. She huffed. She was going a fearsome shade of crimson in her round cheeks. She attempted to save face but all she did was bluster through half-thought out things so, Yusuke was the one who tried to swoop in and save them both some composure. All of this was extremely juicy entertainment for their friends who had arrived on such a lascivious scene.

   “Y-You’re just jealous, Ryuji. That Makoto touches me, and not you.” He said, with half a shimmy of his shoulders and a fold of his arms which was intended as aggressive.

   But all that resulted in was further embarrassment for Makoto, who was slowly folding in on herself with her hands clamped over her face, and howling laughter from Ryuji, Ren, and Futaba. Though, Yusuke saw no shame in anything he had said and was righteously standing by his assertation. Fortunately, Ann, Haru, and Morgana arrived within seconds of that and were able to wrestle up their unruly friends and were completely uninterested in whatever had spurred such things.