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A Deep Knead

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When Igarashi Sayaka saw Momobami Kirari grimace at the sight of her, her brain short-circuited. There was indeed such a thing as thinking too much too hard too fast. All she had done was greet Kirari like she did every morning. She’d stood by the entrance gates of Hyakkaou Academy, ignoring the whispers and stares of early risers as she waited for the Momobamis’ black Rolls Royce to come to a stop at the curb a few steps away. Two house pets had rushed over to open both passenger doors. Ririka was out first—masked and silent as she bowed her head toward Sayaka in greeting. Then came Kirari, who silenced the buzzing of the world with her arrival. She’d stepped out of the vehicle—an action that is inherently awkward—with poise and purpose, as if completely aware that the world was watching.

“Good morning, President,” Sayaka had said, and Kirari had responded in kind. 

But Sayaka had barely registered the returned greeting or the conversation that followed, because she had caught it—the grimace. For a brief moment, just as Kirari turned her head toward Sayaka, her lips turned downward, her brows furrowed, and her nostrils flared from a sharp inhale. Kirari had wiped the expression clean from her face instantly, replacing it with a soft smile, but Sayaka had received the message. Kirari was upset with her, so much so that it hurt to even look at her.

Unable to erase the image of Kirari’s displeasure from her mind, Sayaka spent the rest of the morning in a state between nausea and hyperventilation, only one thought on her mind: What did she do

In search of an answer, Sayaka began to jot down every order Kirari had given her over the past few days on a notebook meant for classes that blurred into one another, the little importance they carried gone. She then cross-checked the list with the schedule she had on her phone, no teacher daring to chastise her for openly using the device. What she found only confused her further. From small things like restocking tea leaves to more important tasks like delivering life plans to troublesome house pets, Sayaka had completed each one perfectly. Nothing stood out as particularly offensive. The days had been normal, routine.

The lead on the tip of her mechanical pencil snapped.

Maybe that was the problem. Kirari had grown tired of her. In the two years since Sayaka became Student Council Secretary, she had seen it happen multiple times. To tea blends, gambles, even fellow council members. Turquoise eyes would dull in an instant, and the source of Kirari’s boredom would disappear from her life soon after. Cut out. Devoured. 

“What’s up with you?”

Sayaka jolted in her seat, the volume of the voice too loud given the sudden short distance between Sayaka and its owner. Sayaka sat at the front of the class, on the desk furthest to the right, which made it the closest to the classroom door—she’d always be the first person out once classes ended. That path was currently obstructed by one Ikishima Midari.

“Not now, Ms. Ikishima,” Sayaka said with a sigh, closing her notebook.

“You’re acting weirder than usual,” said Midari, resting her hands on the desk and leaning forward. Sayaka instinctively leaned back.

“I don’t want to hear that from you of all people,” Sayaka said, glaring up at Midari.

“Oo, prickly too,” Midari said, reaching out and poking her cheek.

“Don’t push me, I’m not in the mood,” said Sayaka, smacking away Midari’s finger with the back of her hand. Midari flopped down on the desk, causing it to teeter, some loose papers and pencils spilling onto the floor.

“Uhehehe, but I am ,” she said, writhing as she bit the scorned finger, her cheeks red. 

Sayaka looked up at the clock hanging above the chalkboard. They only had a few minutes left before the next class started. Maybe honesty was the best way to calm Midari or, at the very least, get her off her desk. Sayaka straightened her back and rested her hands on her lap, each tightly wound into a fist.

“The President is upset with me.” 

The words felt heavy as they rolled off her tongue, but they stilled Midari, got her to stand. Her cheeks remained stained, but her excitement was now controlled, pointed. 

“How’d you manage that?” she asked, her eye serious as it locked onto Sayaka’s.

“… I don’t know.” Sayaka wasn’t surprised by how her throat tightened at the admission, nor by how her eyes began to water, but her reaction was frustrating nonetheless. She wanted to be honest with Midari, not open.

Midari blinked, as if off-put by Sayaka’s reaction. Then she leaned on the desk again and hung her head for a moment, groaned, and then looked up. “Just… I don’t know,” she started, reaching back to scratch her head. “Bat your eyes at her and tell her you’d make out with her throne if you could. She’ll eat that shit up like it’s her favorite meal.”

Had Midari’s words not sparked an idea in Sayaka, she’d have been equally as disconcerted by Midari’s earnest attempt at giving her advice. Instead, she gathered her things and headed toward the door.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Midari asked from behind.

“To fix things,” Sayaka answered, before pausing and turning back.

“Thank you, Ms. Ikishima.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Don’t blame me when you get splinters on your tongue,” Midari said, sticking out her own tongue to wave her off.

Sayaka rolled her eyes as she slid the door open, but froze mid-step to avoid running into her calculus teacher. 

“Ms. Igarashi?” he asked, raising a brow.

She didn’t answer, just stared expectantly until he sighed and stepped aside, letting her through. He knew better than to question the affairs of the Student Council Secretary, even if those affairs were simply her skipping class to call a small French bakery in Marunouchi to order a dozen of the Student Council President’s favorite madeleines. Perhaps, if Sayaka surprised Kirari with an offering of the spongy tea cakes to enjoy alongside her afternoon tea, they’d be the only thing devoured that day.

+++++++

The box of madeleines felt heavy in Sayaka’s hands. Doubt had started to seep into Sayaka, settling heavy in her gut as she closed the distance between her and the door of the lounge. She had decided to skip the rest of her classes to go pick up the madeleines herself, not wanting to risk any possible damage on the delicate cakes. Which meant that she had also missed lunch. When Sayaka sent Kirari a text informing her of her absence, she didn’t receive a reply. Sayaka’s grip on the box tightened at the possibility of what that could mean. She came to a stop in front of the door and shook her head, hoping the action would push out the negative thoughts.

Her plan had turned out quite well. She had made it back before the end of the school day; everyone else was still suffering through their last class. In twenty minutes time, Kirari would enter the lounge to find an array of tea blends and madeleines to choose from, and be reminded of Sayaka’s attention to detail, attention to her

Or so Sayaka thought.

Then she entered the lounge and found Kirari bent over by the pilaster that divided her aquarium with the rest of the wall, pressing her left shoulder against it, as if she were attempting to move it by throwing all her weight onto it. Her jacket lay crumpled on the sofa closest to her. As Sayaka tried to make sense of the scene she had walked into, she made a mental note to steam the jacket and rid it of the wrinkles it most certainly had.

Kirari didn’t notice Sayaka until the door shut behind her. At the sound, she practically jumped up. Another grimace passed through Kirari, this one mixed with frustration. It almost distracted Sayaka from the thud of a baseball falling from the space between Kirari and the pilaster, hitting the ground and immediately rolling away from Kirari and towards Sayaka’s feet.

“Ah, Sayaka! I didn’t hear you come in,” Kirari said smiling as if nothing was out of the ordinary, as if the collar of her shirt wasn’t loose, as if said shirt wasn’t crinkled.

“What are you doing?” Sayaka asked slowly, eyes flicking from Kirari to the ball that now tapped her shoe.

“I seem to have awoken this morning with a stiff neck. It’s been… distracting. I was trying to release some tension—”

“With a baseball,” Sayaka interrupted.

“With trigger point massage therapy,” Kirari corrected, moving away from the wall and toward her. That’s when Sayaka saw it, the stiffness in Kirari’s gait, her usual grace forced rather than effortless. Like earlier that morning, Sayaka realized. 

Kirari stopped in front of Sayaka and Sayaka held her breath, all too aware of the sudden invasion of space. Kirari grinned. She glanced down at the box Sayaka carried and her eyes lit up with curiosity, but she said nothing. Instead, she crouched down and picked up the baseball. She regarded it with a sigh.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked. I can’t locate where exactly the stiffness is coming from,” Kirari admitted, pouting as she looked pointedly up at Sayaka. “I had hoped that my precious secretary would help me with this matter but she abandoned our lunch plans without so much as an explanation. I was left with no choice but to rely on this.” She threw the baseball up in the air and caught it with the same hand, the action emphasizing her words.

Sayaka blinked once, then twice, staring with her mouth slightly agape. So that was it—her neck was tight. Sayaka had worried for nothing. A shower of euphoric relief washed over her, melting away the stress she had been holding. She wanted to laugh, throw her hands up in the air and thank the heavens. But then her mind started to catch up on Kirari’s words, on what she was indirectly asking, setting Sayaka’s cheeks aflame.

“I’m here now,” Sayaka said softly. 

Kirari stood back up, closer still. 

“So you wouldn’t mind?” She asked just as softly.

Sayaka shook her head, eyes wide as they stared up at Kirari. She couldn’t trust her voice anymore.

“Okay,” Kirari said, taking the box of madeleines out of Sayaka’s hands and walking over to the sofa. She set the box and the ball on the coffee table before sitting down. Then, she looked back at Sayaka, waiting for her and her touch.

Sayaka gulped. Years of hunching over desks, poring over textbooks, and slinging heavy book bags over her shoulder had prepared her for this moment. Her posture would have been irrevocably poor had she not maintained a strict exercise regimen that included massages and stretches, especially on the neck and shoulder region. But she had never touched Kirari before. Not really. Yes, she would style Kirari’s hair when ordered to, but that was hair. Not skin . Sayaka’s cheeks brightened. She knew the distinction of those touches better than anyone—she was often on the receiving end of Kirari’s. Kirari always teased her so mercilessly. A small voice inside couldn’t help but ask: Was that all this was?

Sayaka’s feet moved before she was ready. Within seconds, she found herself by the sofa, directly behind Kirari. Kirari sat upright, her head bent down ever so slightly to show off more of her neck. Pale, unblemished skin, the left side flushed in a soft pink that grew in intensity the further down it went, eventually escaping from Sayaka’s prying eyes, hiding away under Kirari’s dress shirt. How hard had she been pressing the baseball against her shoulder? Would Sayaka have to match the pressure? What if she went too hard? She looked down at her own hands, suddenly afraid.

“Is something wrong?” Kirari asked. 

“Not at all,” Sayaka said, eyes back up and zeroing in on the splotches of pink once more. She hesitated before adding, “Just let me know if you feel any pain.”

“No promises,” Kirari replied. Sayaka pressed her lips into a thin line. She practically heard the upturn of Kirari’s lips. Always teasing.

After taking a breath to center herself, Sayaka reached out and rested her hands on Kirari’s shoulders, tightening her grip as she dug her thumbs down at the base of Kirari’s neck. Then, maintaining the pressure, she slowly dragged the thumbs up as far as she could. She repeated the action again and again, falling into a rhythm. Taut muscles resisted her ministrations. Sayaka could feel the tension tightening, pulsing under her fingers. Sayaka scolded herself for being so foolish, so selfish. Her duty was to support Kirari and alleviate her burdens. Yet, she had wasted the day away from Kirari, jumping to illogical conclusions and expecting the worst. All the while, leaving Kirari to suffer.

Kirari inhaled sharply. Sayaka froze, immediately letting go. She had inadvertently pressed too hard. 

“Forgive me, President,” she said. 

“No,” Kirari said breathily, leaning back, as if chasing Sayaka’s hands. “Keep going.”

Sayaka did, focusing on the shoulders next. The left was raised slightly, further hinting at the location of the knot causing the tightness. Kirari arched her back. Sayaka took note of the heightened sensitivity. 

She liked studying anatomy. Every body part was connected. Once one became fluent in reading body language, even the way someone walked or breathed became a tell. Of health, of pain, of desire. Kirari exhaled forcefully. A particular tendon had just given way, rolling under Sayaka’s hand. Sayaka ran her thumb over it again and again, syncing her movements with each breath Kirari took. She was completely in tune with Kirari’s body now. When Kirari tensed up, when she released whatever she held onto, Sayaka felt it all. Kirari’s body all but screamed what it needed, and Sayaka gladly complied.

The massage answered questions that haunted Sayaka in moments of quiet, when she let her mind stray. Kirari’s skin felt smooth, soft. Warmth radiated off her to a surprising degree. Her frame was both delicate and strong. She shrank in Sayaka’s mind—as untouchable things do when they are finally touched—but then grew even larger than before. So much of her was still a mystery. Unseen and unavailable. For a moment, an imperceptible beat, want overpowered everything else. As she stared at Kirari’s exposed skin, at the curve of her neck, Sayaka wondered what it would be like to lean down and—

The whimper began airy like a whisper but then curled up into a high-pitched whine. It cut through the silence of the lounge in a way only the unexpected could. Time and space held their breath as a paradigm shift suddenly, violently, brought in a new reality to Sayaka’s life. 

Momobami Kirari had moaned and it made Sayaka burn.

Kirari tensed up under Sayaka, straightening her posture and staring straight ahead. She said nothing, did nothing, but Sayaka watched in awe as the tips of Kirari’s ears tinted red. The body always had a tell.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Sayaka flinched at the heavy knock of the door. She rested a hand over her chest and sighed, hoping to soothe the fast beating underneath. The world stopped for no one. She turned her feet and began to move, heeding its call.

“Yes? Who is it?” She said, loud enough for the person on the other side to hear.

A hand stopped her before she could reach the door. It grasped hers gently, tugging her until her back was pressed up against the warmth of Kirari.

“Send them away, Sayaka,” Kirari said quietly into her ear. 

Sayaka turned to face her, confused, but then froze where she stood. She had never seen Kirari’s eyes so dark. Kirari lifted Sayaka’s hand to her lips.

“I’m not done with these just yet.”

Her hot breath tickled Sayaka’s fingers. Sayaka wet her lips.

“Y-yes, President.”