Lilly ran. She wasn’t left with much choice. She had to. The alternative would have been a lot worse.
She jumped when a loud crash occurred right behind her, almost tripping her over. Stumbling to keep her balance, she tried to run harder. But her upper body was already leaning forward. Her center of gravity was getting away from her. If she kept at it like this she would’ve fallen over completely, face first.
Her arms flailed, not aiding in her balance at all. When another crash slammed down right at her feet, she was sent forward, her front landing onto the hard, maple surface.
She lost her sense of direction as her body toppled over a few meters, stopping when she collided into the wall. Though, it wasn’t as painful as she expected, having slowed down somewhat on the way. Not any real consolation, however.
Her thoughts got jumbled.
“Come on, Miss Akiyama, please prepare yourself!”
Gasping, Lilly pressed herself against the wall to stand. This isn’t helping my sore everything.
“Ayase, please…” Lilly panted, her breath cut short, “Eenoff.” Her chest rose with an inhale. I meant ‘enough’.
“Aw, fine,” Ayase said in reply, “But that doesn’t mean we’re done yet.”
‘Shouldn’t that mean exactly what it means?’, Lilly wanted to say that, but that would require another minute of steady breathing.
She flopped back down, her back on the wall and her knees to her chest. She didn’t have the breath to protest any more. She could only gave a pathetic look to Ayase, who was now standing over her.
The gym, after school. All of the sports clubs have already left, leaving the whole large space to themselves. They had on their usual gym uniforms, a plain white shirt and red shorts. And to keep in the spirit of her outfit, she tied her hair back into a ponytail. She looked at the scene behind Ayase. About ten or so craters dented the laminated gym floor, she wasn’t even sure what exactly caused them, only knowing the booming sound and their destructive force. More harpoons? Laser eyes? Spirit bombs? Ayase brought her fingers together, and after a clear snap, the gym floor healed itself. Before she realized it, all evidence of it being damaged was gone.
“Why… are we…” Lilly attempted to say.
“As much as I’d hate to say it, Nao was onto something.”
“I had hoped you would try and use your mind reading on me. To try and get the upper hand, or at least dodge better. You really did help me out a lot back there, when you used it on Nao.”
Lilly hugged her legs closer her chest, resting her chin on her knees. She stroked her ponytail. “That was a one-time thing. Plus, I went overboard.” That overwhelming shock frin her power was but a memory now, but she didn’t want to recall that memory. With no real thoughts, she only concentrated on her breathing.
“That’s why you need focus, so you won’t go overboard,” Ayase said, stretching her arms. Then her legs. “Also, you can’t focus with just one eye.”
Lilly touched her eyepatch, feeling the fabric. It was starting to become a habit. “It still hurts though. I was going to give it at least a few more days.”
“It’ll get better faster if you take it off sooner. It’s all in your head.”
Lilly huffed out her nose.
“I’m going to do a few laps to warm down. Would you like to join?” Ayase asked. From the blank expression on Lilly’s face, she knew the answer. “Okay then.”
She started her run around the gym. By the tenth lap, Lilly wondered if Ayase no longer warming down and instead warming back up again. After five more laps she had worked up a good sweat, and slowed to a stop. One hand was on her waist as she signaled she was done with the other. Lilly was disappointed, one more lap and she was sure to join her for at least two. Surely.
When Ayase finished her laps, Lilly went to her, handing her a towel.
“Thank you, Miss Akiyama.”
“Why are we doing all this again?” Lilly asked once more, having gotten some wind back in her.
Ayase made some sort of noise like she was scoffing at her. She quickly covered her mouth to hide her face. She spoke behind her hand. “We all need to learn self-defense, we’re girls after all.” Her answer wasn’t complete until she gave a wink.
“But there’s no way I could keep up with the likes of you. You’re literally faster than I can see.”
“I’ll just teach you a few basic techniques. I’m not asking you to be Narushima Ryo here.”
“Really? That’s a classic. Never mind. Let’s pick up tomorrow, same time.”
“It might be a good idea to start exercising everyday too. How does one hundred push-ups, sit-ups and squats sound? Maybe even a decent run too.”
“Everyday? You’re gonna kill me!”
Ayase flicked her hair. It was weighted by sweat. “Fine by me. Just know it won’t be exercising that will kill you.”
Lilly snorted and rolled her eyes.
After Ayase successfully warmed down, they finished up their session, leaving the gym and going back up to Lilly’s classroom to change. Her arms shook by her side as Ayase opened the door. Her heart thumped three times with each step she took into the room and to her bag. Being in this classroom, after school. It hasn’t even been a week yet. Absolutely nerve-wracking.
As Lilly was changing, removing her shirt and reaching for her white button-up, she heard a thump on her desk. Low but deep, like a pile of books. Turning to it, it was that exactly.
A pile of books.
How-to guides on self-defense. Books on aikido, judo, and karate. Various shounen manga featuring protagonists who want to be the strongest. Lilly was curious about that last category.
“What is all of this?” she asked.
“Some stuff you can read over in your spare time. We’ll cover page forty-three here, page fifteen on this one, and section B on page three here, all tomorrow,” Ayase explained, picking up the different books and showing her the pages. “The manga is so you can visualize different moves and poses. And just because I think they’re cool.”
Lilly flipped through one of the manga. “I can’t stretch my arms that far.”
“That’s not the point.”
“But why? Don’t you think it’s a little much?”
Ayase looked up at Lilly, her face stern. “As much as I want to, I can’t be with you twenty-four-seven. There may be times where you’ll need to rely on your own strength. Consider this, you’re almost in high school, and I’m a few months away from thirteen, do you really want someone like me protecting you all the time?” She said all this with a smug look.
You can’t bring up age, have you seen half the things you can do? “Ah, I get it, I get it,” Lilly supposed, putting the books into her bag.
“I’m not saying that there will be another Nao, but it’s good to be able to handle things on your own, even if it’s for a little bit. A few extra seconds can be very crucial.”
“I said I got it already!”
And she did. Part of her felt guilty for having Ayase come and step in for her protection, now that she remembered that at the end of the day, Ayase was a first year. But after everything that’s happened in the last few weeks, that small detail became negligible. Ayase always acted with a more mature air than other first years, and her knowledge of the supernatural justified that. What she’s seen, been witnessed to, Lilly had no idea. Talking to her, it was easy to forget that she was younger. Not by much, but she was younger. She talked like she knew more than most, which to be fair, she probably did. Normally, it would be annoying at best, blindingly irritating at worst. Depending on one’s tolerance on such manners. But she made it charming in her own way.
Also, she did save Lilly’s life.
“Um,” Lilly sounded, and looked down, “You know…”
“Hmm?” Ayase was taking off her shirt, the cloth over her eyes.
“‘Miss Akiyama’, you don’t have to call me that, you know. ‘Lilly’ is just fine.”
Ayase set down her shirt, damp from sweat, and folded it up. She moved slowly, like she was using the time to come up with her response. She put the shirt away in her bag.
Looking back at Lilly, she smiled.
“I appreciate the gesture, I really do.”
The tone of her last word made it seem like she would say something more, but she doesn’t. Ayase left it at that, a strange atmosphere hanging between them. Her eyes to the floor, Lilly wanted to say something, anything in return.
Ayase finished changing first, bag in hand and a foot out the door. “I’ll head out first, Miss Akiyama. Same time tomorrow.” She said that as a confirmation rather than a suggestion. The door slid behind her as she left, leaving Lilly to change alone.
I’ve spent all this time with Ayase, yet I feel like I hardly know her at all. Given the nature of her job, Lilly was too surprised about that being the case. But, it’d be nice to not feel like a bullet point on a list of responsibilities. She went back to changing.
After spending two minutes deciding to wear her blazer or not, Lilly settled on wearing it. She fought the aching as she put it on, the muscles on her back still tender. But it was cool outside, better to have it on than not.
Undoing her ponytail, she checked herself using her small mirror from her bag. Some loose hair stuck to her face, and some got in her mouth. Sticking out her tongue, she got rid of it. Her sight went to her eyepatch. “I look like I’m straight out of some horror special,” she thought aloud.
It still stung. She gave it some thought, but opted to keep it on.
She finished changing, and left the school. Seeing Rea waiting for her at the gates, she was hardly surprised.
“Sup,” Lilly said.
“Suppers. Finished with all your after school duty?”
Lilly played with her hair. “Yeah. Wanna go?”
“Yuh,” Rea said. “Can I chill at your place though? I wanna do homework there.”
“Are you sure you’re actually going to do homework?”
“You’re so hopeless!”
Their plans for the afternoon made, they went to Lilly’s house. Judging from the lights coming from a window, her dad was home.
As they entered, Lilly smelled a remarkably appetizing flavor. “I’m home!”
Yelling to return the gesture, her dad could be heard from the kitchen. “Hey ‘Eyebrows’!”
“Curry?” she inquired while removing her shoes, referring to the spicy aroma in the air.
“Yeah! I hear another set of feet. Rea?” he called out.
“Present!” Rea shouted, raising a hand. “Hiya Pops!”
“I have enough for three, are you going to stay for dinner?”
Rea clapped her hands together. “Yes, sounds awesome!”
“Geez Dad,” Lilly chimed in, “You always make too much.”
She entered the kitchen, and found her father hard at work. His back was to her as he was huddled over the pot, stirring ingredients that brought forth that delicious smell. Didn’t matter what how bad a day went, if Lilly could have curry by dinner, all worries melted away with that rich brown sauce.
“You always make too much, Dad,” Lilly repeated as she walked into the kitchen, making sure he heard her comment.
He did, and he snorted in response. Turning to face her, they exchanged a quick hug. Seeing Rea, he waved to her as she waited on the other side of the room. She energetically returned the gesture.
Leaving her dad to get back to cooking, the girls went to Lilly’s room. Lilly set her bag by her bed and put her homework and notebooks on her desk. She looked over all of her belongings. Good thing Ayane was able to save my stuff. Looking deeper into her bag, she saw the books that Ayase lent her. She set them aside for now, leaving them in there. Rea tossed her own bag into the center of the room, and sat on the floor.
“Man, you don’t even have a coffee table in here,” Rea stated.
“Never needed one.”
“But it feels so empty here,” Rea circled the area around her with her arms.
“Oh well,” Lilly answered in a drone. She didn’t do much in her room besides read, sleep, and use her computer, so the lack of a table was not a concern. Instead, it was more convenient, nothing would obstruct her path from her bed to her door. Of course, a table wasn’t necessarily for her, rather those who would visit her room. But who besides Rea would visit? Thinking it over, Lilly tidied up her desk, with Rea unpacking her bag behind her.
“Maybe if you did have a table here, I’d do my homework more often,” Rea said.
“You should always do your homework!”
“Whatever! Anyways, you should get a table here.”
“Why are you so obsessed over that all of a sudden?”
“I’m not, I’m just saying.” Rea kept shuffling some papers out of a folder. “Hey, your grades are good, right?”
“Decent, not great.”
“You do well on tests and stuff? Pop quizzes?”
“I refer you to my previous statement. Why do you ask any-?”
A hard yank of her sleeve, and Lilly fell backwards. ”Uff!”
What’s with me getting thrown around lately?
The thought crossed her mind as she caught herself from a face-first collision with the floor. On her hands and knees, she found herself on top of Rea, who was on her back, holding on to Lilly’s arm.