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When the Room Was Lively

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The clubroom used to be so lively. Despite only housing five members of the Nijigasaki School Idol Club, its walls used to bounce the excited conversations of the fledgling club, a varied cast of aspiring school idols throwing their hat in the ring.

A short-lived attempt, Kasumi remembered. They practiced for only a few months, but creative differences had gotten in the way. As a result, their club leader, Setsuna Yuki had the club put on hiatus.

That was all. Kasumi refused to listen anymore. Her club didn't disband, nor had she been abandoned. The student council president didn't know what she was talking about, and the preying clubs were only out for their club room.

For now, she was alone. It wouldn't be for long. Her club members will come back soon.

Right now, the table needed cleaning, and she would make its surface shine the cutest thing in the world: her reflection.

Kasumi set off to work, wringing a damp cloth and wiping down the table. Classes had just ended, the afternoon sun filtering in the row of windows overlooking the bay. After this, there was the floor to worry about. Then, practice would start.

Or what would be with their old schedule. In her lonesome, Kasumi would have to settle with vocals. Perhaps, she could work on her smile again.

"Oi, you still in here, KasuKasu?" A familiar voice brought Kasumi from her peaceful cleaning. At the door was one of the sports club members, her wide grin bringing a scowl to the school idol's face.

Indignantly, she bit out, "It's not KasuKasu, it's Kasumin!"

The girl waved off her correction, the grin never fading. "Yeah, yeah. Listen, so I heard that your club's-"

"Kasumin's club is fine!" She stomped the ground, throwing the towel into the small bucket on the ground. "Everyone's just taking a break. Until then, Kasumin's keeping the club clean!"

She strode towards the door, each step causing the girl to inch farther away. "Geez, all right. No need to work up a fuss, KasuKasu-"

Kasumi gripped the handle, glaring up at the girl. The pale green ribbon tied around her neck meant nothing if she disrespected her club.

"Don't come back again or I'll bite you!" She slammed the door shut, the impact bounding off the desolate walls of the clubroom. Silence crashed in like a train, leaving Kasumi in a state of whiplash.

For a while, she didn't move, her hand still on the door. Then, all too quickly she let go, moving back towards the table.

"Have to get the table cleaned."

She fished the cloth from the bucket, watching murky water drip back in. Wringing it dry as she could, Kasumi continued cleaning the table. It could sit twelve people, maybe even more. Right now, it was just her.

Kasumi continued keeping it clean. When everyone comes back, she'll ask about recruiting more members.

Shadows inched along the wooden table, each minute bringing her closer to leaving it flawless. When she took a step back, she could nearly see her own reflection. Where a smile welcomed her.

Blurred from the matte surface, but it was her own smile.

"Hello? Anyone in here?" a voice called out from the door, followed by soft knocking. Annoyance and anger fueled Kasumi once more as she hurried back to the clubroom door, ready to beat out interlopers.

"What did Kasumin say that the clubroom isn't vacant!" she screamed, what little patience she had drained when she threw the door open. She left all her patience for her club members, who still hadn't returned her texts.

"Woah, where's the fire?" The voice dared to laugh in front of her brave defiance. Kasumi scrutinized the girl in front of her, taking in the features that stood out.

It took a few moments, for there were many to note.

First was the girl's ribbon. A second year, one above her own. Next was the light blonde hair, adorned with accessories and tied messily. Her nails shone in the afternoon light, glossed but not painted. Bracelets, extra ties, and a scrunchie were around her arm, a phone held on the other.

Kasumi took a step back, realizing the tell-tale signs of a gyaru. Yet, she looked like she didn't belong to any of the previous clubs that had pestered her.

"W-What are you doing here?" She took on a guarded stance, standing right in front of the door. The girl loomed higher, a carefree smile plastered on a well-kept face.

"I heard that one of the clubs here needed some help cleaning." She let a grin show, her voice possessing an odd cheer. "Got some directions, and they pointed me right here!"

"Directions?" Kasumi raised a brow, peering her head out the door to the hallway. "Did the tea ceremony club tell you that or something?"

"Bullseye! How'd you guess?"

Without another word, Kasumi went to close the door. Her teeth grit, silently cursing the club for using such wary individuals to do their dirty work.

Unfortunately for them, Kasumi Nakasu wouldn't be so easily intimidated by flashy girls. She was the cutest school idol, and it would take a lot more than that to scare a performer of her caliber.

"Hey, what's wrong?" A foot in the door stopped the ash-brunette from closing the door fully. She grumbled, opening the sliding door back to see the blonde once more. "Did I say something wrong?"

Clicking her tongue, Kasumi glared up at the way she pretended to play dumb. "Don't give Kasumin that! Kasumin knows they put you up to this!"

"Put who up to what?" Still, she maintained her clueless façade. Kasumi scoffed but decided to play her game.

"All right, then. If you're not here to do their dirty work, why are you here?"

A smile crawled up across her face. Kasumi scowled at how easily the blonde could manage to look happy at a drop of a dime. "Cus' Ai'm here to help! Get it? Cus' I'm Ai!"

Kasumi stared blankly, missing the joke completely. "...What?"

Both exchanged a momentary look of confusion, then the blonde suddenly let out a sound of realization. "Ah! I didn't introduce myself. My bad."

She laughed her mistake off, a natural reaction as she waved a hand. "Nice to meet cha’! I'm Miyashita Ai. Second year, if you can't tell."

There was a hesitant moment, then Kasumi pushed her greeting out through gritted teeth. "Nakasu Kasumi. First year, School Idol Club member."

The blonde blinked, a look of surprise crossing her face. "School idol? I thought that the club was-"

"We're on hiatus right now!" Kasumi snapped, cutting her off. She desired to slam the door shut, but Ai's foot was still firmly stuck in its path. "If you're here to take our room, then Kasumin will bite you."

"Hey, hey," Ai cooed, raising hands up to her chest. "I'm not here to do anything, just helping out clubs."

Kasumi raised a brow, suspicious. "Helping?"

Ai gave a nod, an easy grin warming up her lips. "That's right! Ai do it all the time!"

She studied her. Not just her words, but the way she spoke and acted. As Kasumi mulled it over, she felt the heavy air begin to lift at the sight of her waiting smile.

Kasumi wouldn't admit it, but it disarmed her enough to let the door open fully.

"T-Then... Kasumin will work you to the bone."

Ai's smile gleamed in the afternoon sun. Kasumi took a step to the side, letting her inside.

"All right, where should we start?"

They looked around the club room. Aside from the spotless table, some of the shelves were disarranged. Setsuna had left some of her books, only to remove them when the club went on a break. Chairs were mismatched, a few not even belonging to the same set.

On the sofa in one corner of the room, there was a spider. Kasumi hadn't let anyone know this fact, too cowardly to deal with the insect herself.

"Boy," Ai let out, almost impressed. "You kept this place clean on your own, huh?"

"What?" Confusion was Kasumi's primary response, not expecting the praise. She quickly recovered, clearing her throat with a cough. "O-Of course! The cute Kasumin always knows how to keep things perfect."

"Kasumin?" Ai questioned, the inquisitive pique in her voice making Kasumi wince back. After this would come the teasing, then the futile effort to correct them.

"Yeah, what about it?"

"I thought your name was Kasumi?"

Kasumi blinked at the question, as if it felt obvious. To her, it made all the sense in the world. "It's also my name! Kasumin's stage name as she becomes the cutest school idol!"

A voice of wonder left Ai's lips. Lively marigold shone with interest, captivating the ash-brunette. This time, no throat clearing could make her recover so quickly.

"In that case, can I also call you Kasumin?"

She let Ai's question simmer. No one had seriously called her the nickname she'd try so hard to let it catch on. It would only be a matter of time, Kasumi thought. But now it was here, she had no idea how it would feel.

Instead, she shrugged. It was all too easy. "Only fans of Kasumin can call her that!"

Kasumi pointed a finger at her, resting against Ai's chin. Her skin felt smooth to the touch, the ash-brunette losing herself momentarily to the sensation. Ai let out a thoughtful hum, mulling over the condition.

Then, the same easygoing smile appeared on her face. Kasumi looked up, blinking back what felt like the sun. "In that case, Ai'll be your number one fan!"

Ai giggled, returning Kasumi's puzzled look with a genuine expression of joy. Her hands found Kasumi's, leading her towards the middle of the room. "Er... What does a fan do again, Kasumin?"

Kasumi looked at where their bodies connected, a strong but gentle grip on her hand. She looked up, seeing the brilliant smile right below marigold eyes. Kasumi fought down the giddiness from the call of her name, remaining composure as she pointed to the shelves.

"Those need sorting! After that, Kasumin will have to do her exercises!"

"Exercise?" Ai raised a brow, returned with one with just as much shock.

"What's with that look? School idols need tons of stamina to do all the singing and dancing, you know?" Kasumi reminded, jutting a finger at the blonde. "We won't be able to put on a performance if you don't prepare for it!"

The gaze on her looked on with bright interest, a first for Kasumi. Where the clubroom used to soak in the disagreements of the other members, Ai let out exclaims of excitement. Her wonderment following the preaches of the world's cutest idol.

"I know some exercises to help! After we sort the books, I can show you!"

Kasumi gulped as they both set to work rearranging the shelf. She turned to look at Ai, hearing a chipper hum between her lips.

"U-Uh, Kasumin would want to see how you do it."

When Ai shot a curious look, panic crawled under her skin. "I mean! Just to see if you know what your idol is going through, if you're a true fan."

"Ooh!" To Kasumi's surprise, it caught the blonde's attention. She gave a nod, books cradled in her arms. "I'll do it! I gotta' warn you though, my menus can be quite the mouthful! Get it?"

Her laugh received a strong eye roll from Kasumi, but a smile had snuck its way to her muscles, quirking up her lips.

In the middle of work, they began to chat about nothing. They’d laugh and exchange words, strong teasing and prodding as they arranged the books scattered out its shelves and around the room.

"Kasumin! Do we need these too on the shelves?"

The ash-brunette walked over, examining the magazine in Ai's hands. It didn't belong to her, leaving her with a guess among four people. "Er, guess we can keep it on the shelf until the others come back for it."

Ai nodded, shelving the magazines between thicker books. The blonde chatted away about everything, enjoying her own voice as she conversed about anything under the sun. Kasumi didn't know much else about her. Only her name, and the way her smile captivated those around her. She was no exception, feeling her voice soften every time her name was called.

"Hey, wouldn't KasuKasu be a more concise name to call you?"

Kasumi dropped a book, shooting a harsh glare at her. "It's not KasuKasu, it's Kasumin!"

"Ahh, my bad. C'mon, don't be angry, you look cuter when you smile, Kasumin!"

Their exchange bounded off the walls, producing a lively echo that resonated in Kasumi's heart.

She looked around, finding no one else but Ai.

Despite it, a smile crawled up her lips. With a light breath, she crafted her counter, earning her a hearty laugh from the blonde.

As laughter filled the air, Kasumi dared to join in with her own. It was a messy cacophony in the air, but it was music to her ears.

It was just like before. The clubroom was lively again.