Tohru turns to the timid voice behind her, flanked by Uo-chan and Hana-chan. She smiles invitingly at the first year who had called her, trying to recall if she knows her name or not. “Yes? How can I help you?”
The girl is looking down at her shoes, cheeks pink. Behind her, Tohru can see a small group of girls whispering to each other while watching them. Judging by how the girl looks back at them and they make encouraging gestures, they’re probably her friends. “Um, I was wondering if I could ask you something?”
“Of course!” Tohru chirps, wanting to set the girl at ease. It isn’t like Tohru is scary; her friends tell her regularly that she is quite possibly the least threatening person they’ve ever met.
“We’ll see you inside, Tohru.” Uo-chan slings an arm around her shoulders and squeezes before letting her go and trudging down the corridor with Hana-chan. Tohru, smiling and calling that she’ll catch up soon, doesn’t notice them look back at the other girl and frown at each other.
“What is it?” She prompts, now that they’re alone.
The girl fidgets, her pink cheeks darkening. “Um, you see… I was wondering if… if you were going out with Sohma-sempai?”
Tohru, whose mind has been all over the place trying to figure out what’s so scary that she can’t seem to ask the question, breathes a sigh of relief. She’s been fielding this question since summer of her first year, albeit usually asked in a much more aggressive manner. “No, Yuki-kun and I are friends.” She says reassuringly.
The girl’s eyes go wide. “O-oh! Not Yuki-sempai!” She splutters. “I—I meant his cousin. Kyo-sempai.”
“Kyo-kun?” Tohru’s eyes widen. “N-no, we’re just friends.”
The girl’s smile is large and genuine, and Tohru returns it even as she feels a large, gaping void open up in her stomach. “Does he have a girlfriend?”
“No, he doesn’t.” Tohru answers mechanically, even as she feels the phantom throbbing of where Kagura had hit her the week before. She might not be the smartest person, but she’s had this interview enough times—though, for a different Sohma boy—to know where it’s going. She’ll likely see this girl, followed by her gaggle of supporters, approach Kyo either during lunch or after school to confess her crush on him and ask him on a date.
Yes, she wants to say. Yes, I’m going out with him. Yes he has a girlfriend. He’s mine. Leave him alone.
But she doesn’t. Because it isn’t true. Kyo doesn’t belong to her.
“Thank you so much, Honda-sempai!” She girl beams. Tohru feels her lips curl upwards and hopes her smile doesn’t look too wooden.
“It was no problem.” She lies. “If you’ll excuse me, we shouldn’t be late for class.”
They say goodbye—Tohru doesn’t really process the words—and she walks unseeing back to her classroom. When she slides the door open just before the first warning chime, she spies Kyo already sitting in his desk and staring out the window. Her heart clenches and her gut twists uncomfortably, something hot and ugly clawing at her chest. Tears prick at her eyes and she swallows reflexively. She will not cry. She will not.
“There you are!” Uo-chan calls out, waving her down. Tohru’s smile is back on her face, a little more genuine this time as she picks her way through the desks and takes her seat, waving back. The chime goes off and she focuses on readying her materials for her next lesson, deliberately not looking at anyone.
It’s not like she has any kind of claim on Kyo. Sure, they’re really good friends—best friends, probably, if she thinks about it—but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s selfish of her to want his attention when he might prefer to bestow it elsewhere. He only has a little time left on the outside anyway; if there’s a chance that he wants to spend it in the company of a pretty girl, who is she to deny that?
That’s what she tells herself all through the lesson, paying attention to none of it and frowning down at her notebook. Her mechanical pencil is gripped tightly in her fist, but she takes no notes and packs up on autopilot when the day ends.
“Hey, what’s up with you?”
She jumps as Kyo materialises next to her desk, bag already packed and slung over his shoulder. He’s frowning with concern, and that hot, ugly feeling is back. It wants to keep him all to herself; doesn’t want him to look at anyone else. She clenches her fists around the strap of her bag and smiles. “Nothing! I’m just a little distracted this afternoon. Do you have to go to the dojo today?”
“No.” He crosses his arms and glowers, but lets it drop.
She’s vaguely aware of Uo-chan and Hana-chan chorusing their goodbyes as they leave the classroom, the same way she’s always just vaguely aware of everything when Kyo is around these days. It makes her feel like a bad friend that she can’t focus on them when he’s talking to her; was she like this at this time last year? Probably. She doesn’t know how long it’s been since she started feeling this way, even if she denied it for a long time.
“Then do you want to come to the store with me?” She asks, heart thumping in her chest in a way it has no right to; not when asking if he wants to come on errands, for goodness sake! “I need to get a few things that we’ve run out of at home, but Yuki-kun has student council today.”
“Sure.” He shrugs easily, posture relaxing. “Let’s go.”
They make it out of the building, across the schoolyard, and outside the gates without interruption. Tohru is ready to breathe a sigh of relief when she hears a familiar voice call “Sohma-sempai!”
She stiffens as Kyo turns to the voice. “What?” The girl stutters through a request to speak to him for a moment, and he sighs, hiking his bag up over his shoulder. “Sure. Hang on a sec, Tohru.”
And then he follows her away.
She can’t bear to watch, instead choosing to look down at her feet. She can feel tears swimming in her eyes and brushes them away furtively while Kyo’s attention is elsewhere.
“Honda-sempai? Are you alright?”
She takes a gasp of air as the girl’s friends all peer at her. Her smile is as fake as can be, but she chirps “I’m fine. And yourselves?”
The three girls look between each other and then at whatever is going on behind her with Kyo and their friend. One of them, clearly bolder than the rest, says “If you like him so much, why did you say it was okay for her to ask him out?”
Tohru freezes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She forces with false cheer. “She only asked if he had a girlfriend. And besides, he and I are just friends anyway.”
They lapse into uncomfortable silence while Tohru’s stomach twists uncomfortably. If even random strangers are noticing her feelings, has Kyo noticed?
It’s not that she’s afraid he’ll say yes. In fact, she’s almost positive he’ll decline; according to Uo-chan, he’s been turning down girls asking him on dates the whole time he’s been going to their school—and how has she not noticed that happening? It seems like the sort of thing she should be aware of, considering how close they are.
It’s just that, the feeling that twists in her stomach is accompanied by a little voice in her head that tells her he’d turn her down too if she confessed to him. She’ll still do it, one day. He deserves to know that someone loves him. But she’s so afraid of the heartbreak that it steals the words from her lips, locking them down tight.
She’s aware the moment it’s over; the three girls’ expressions turn sympathetic and their friend passes Tohru and into their arms. One wraps an arm around her shoulder and murmurs something reassuring as the girl sniffles.
Tohru turns to look at Kyo; his eyes are already on her, completely ignoring what’s going on behind her. Something fierce and possessive and ugly rears inside her as he cracks a smile when she falls into step beside him. Just for now, she thinks, he’s hers.
She tries to silence the voice that tells her that one day, it will be her crying into the shoulders of her friends when he turns her away.