The park was the only place of natural greenery to be found in the city.
The automatic lights would come on soon. As it was, the sole illumination came from the setting sun, painting long shadows that stretched like questing fingers across the grass and play equipment and walkways. Despite the advent of darkness, Misane wasn’t too concerned. There were still a few people around, and even if there hadn’t been, well…
She’d come here to be alone, in the first place. So, the less the merrier.
Her fingers were knitted on her lap as she sat, head bowed, mulling over what she’d been told.
Closed off…Hard to read…Do I really come across as untrustworthy…?
The argument with her friend sat coiled in her mind like a rattler, warning her back with aggressive shakes of its tail whenever she tried to get closer and examine the problem. It’d been weighing heavily on her ever since classes had concluded for the day, and she had yet to move from the park bench that she’d taken refuge upon earlier that afternoon.
She…wasn’t quite certain why it bothered her so much. Misane was well aware she could be seen as vapid, what with her usually stoic expression, but actually hearing a person utter it somehow made it far more painful; likely because she did feel. She spent most of her time feeling for those dear to her, and she didn’t have to outwardly show it, did she? A killer pokerface was a crucial component for any investigator, after all.
“Is everything all right, Miss?”
Misane startled—shown only as a small widening of her eyes—lifting her head to look at the owner of the voice at the exact moment the park’s lights blinked on.
The result was that the young man was shrouded in a halo of white. He smiled down at her like an angel, arms loosely folded, his voice soft and smooth and low.
(Despite herself, her heart skipped a beat.)
Misane straightened a bit, shifting her stance so she could see him clearer. She could hardly believe her eyes. She knew exactly who he was.
Yoshi Nanase. The mastermind of the Master Program, and an unparalleled genius. His reputation preceded him. She’d be a poor detective-in-training if she didn’t recognize someone so prominent. His face had been in the news for years ever since the Program was first announced to the public, more famous than any of his collaborators. In interviews he was infamously humble, and in person, he was…
“Is there something I can do to help? I’ll do literally anything.”
…exactly the same as the news streams.
Misane gathered her wits back together, realizing she might’ve just been staring. The knowledge made her cheeks feel warm, but the blush likely wouldn’t show. “No, I’m…I’ll be fine.”
“Saying you’ll ‘be fine’ means you’re not fine right now, I think.” Nanase showed her an apologetic smile right after that statement. “I’m sorry, it’s really not my place to pry, is it? You can ignore me if you’d like. In fact, you absolutely should; it’d be better for the both of us.”
Something about that rubbed her the wrong way. In the interest of not being pointlessly contrary regarding his unexpected kindness, she shifted over on the bench. “Never mind. I actually appreciate you taking the time to ask. If you’d like to help…”
Nanase took the hint and sat down beside her, and something about his pink eyes made her feel as if he was staring straight through her.
“…I wouldn’t mind having someone to talk with,” Misane finished quietly.
“You want someone to talk with? I can do that.” That smile was back.
Misane nodded, knitting her fingers back together on her lap. She was having trouble getting her thoughts organized and was even more troubled by how she couldn’t even fill the silence with small talk because the words were lodged in her throat. Talking about herself was so difficult, even to a complete stranger who she may never speak with again after this evening.
Nanase said, “Did you have a fight with your friend?”
The specific quality of that sentence—your friend, singular—lodged into Misane’s mind just then, as a clue for later. At the moment, she was too distracted to attempt to piece together the case of Yoshi Nanase.
“Yes…but, how did you know?”
“Oh, I just have a gift for reading people!” His tone was positively jovial. “From what I can tell, it looks like a friend problem.”
Misane gave him a scrutinizing stare. “You could decipher that simply from looking at me?”
“Maybe not as simply as you’re thinking? But something along those lines.”
She dropped her gaze back to her folded hands, deciding to let it go for now. “One of my friends told me I can be opaque and, in her own words, ‘positively infuriating’.”
“She said I can be difficult to get a read on in almost any situation, which can be frustrating because she never knows how I feel, or she only knows bits and pieces. But you didn’t have any problems just now, did you?”
“No,” he agreed, pale fingers tapping along his arm. “I could tell at a glance that something was bothering you! But then again, I’m the farthest you can get from ‘normal’, so you really shouldn’t bother comparing me to anyone.”
That could have been taken as arrogant, but all Misane saw on his face was that same deep humility. Or rather, that same deep self-deprecation.
“Why do you say that?”
“It’d take a lot of time to go into. Besides, I really want to help you first.”
Misane hummed in thought. “I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Maybe we should start with introductions?”
“Sure. I’m Yoshi Nanase. Everybody calls me Trash, Pest, Maggot, Spineless, Dust, Plankton, Moron and all sorts of other things, so call me whatever name you like."
She had an incredibly tough time believing anyone would think so lowly of the greatest programming genius of the century, yet he said it with such an enthused and sincere air that she couldn’t help but wonder if it was true. Or worse, they were terms he applied to himself.
Misane frowned a bit, lifting a hand to hide it. If they’d been closer in age, she would have tried to address him with a more casual nickname; as it was, she had no intention of insulting him at least. “It’s nice to meet you, Nanase. I’m Misane. You can call me Misane-chan.”
He arched his eyebrows. “Are you sure? That’s an awfully close—”
“Please call me Misane-chan,” she interrupted, firm as rock. She sounded very much like her father laying down an ultimatum, and Nanase complied.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Misane-chan!”
He’d have at least one friend who didn’t call him Trash or Maggot, this way. Somehow just having this little exchange with him was lifting her mood faster than she’d ever anticipated.
“So…I’m glad that someone is able to read me.”
“It’s nice sometimes to not have to say exactly what you’re thinking.”
“Does that mean you find it a bad thing to express yourself?”
The nature of his questions felt personal. Misane couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was as if he was trying to acquire some understanding of his own.
“No,” she replied, slowly. “But it can be difficult. Having someone who knows you and your quirks without having to explain it…I think that’s what friendship can be.”
Nanase blinked. “Are we friends then, Misane-chan?”
She was caught off-guard again for the second time that night. Misane regarded him, really taking in those kind eyes and that strange, mysterious smile. Yoshi Nanase, famous worldwide, who stopped to talk to a girl in the park because he wanted to help, and nothing more.
“We’re friends. If you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all.”
“…I would send you a friend request, but I see you have it hidden?”
“Oh, I was adjusting my settings earlier when I was altering my BitPhone’s source code, and I forgot to turn it back on. I’ve hardly used it lately…I wonder how long it’s been off?”
True to his word, she got a little ping! on her BitPhone that alerted her to the incoming friend request. She accepted it, and watched as his name was added in, tucked snugly amongst several others.
“Do you have any advice regarding what I should do about my friend?” Misane said after a few moments.
Nanase stroked his chin, his eyes narrowing in calculation. “I think you should tell her exactly what you just told me.”
“You mean how it’s difficult for me to open up?”
“Yes, and then you have to do it anyway! At least once. Showing her how you really feel every now and then should help reassure her that you’re really emotionally invested.”
Misane nodded, taking the advice and filing it away for later. She still couldn’t escape the strangest feeling…something about that response…
She winced, her thoughts interrupted by an incoming message of concern from her father, Toukai. Right. She needed to get home.
“I’m sorry,” she said, standing up. “I have to go. My father is wondering where I am.”
“Of course. That’s expected,” Nanase replied lightly.
Misane hesitated a second, looking at him smiling at her so serenely on the park bench.
“Can I talk with you again? In person?”
A slight hint of surprise entered his eyes. “I don’t mind. My schedule’s almost always open in the evenings, if you’d like to swing by. What place would be the most convenient for you?”
“Where do you live?”
“Misane-chan can be very forward,” Nanase said with an edge of a teasing smile.
She felt that same warm prickle on her cheeks. Misane gave him a deadpan look though. “The forecast is calling for rain tomorrow,” she said by way of explanation.
He chuckled and told her his address.
“I’d like to help you with what’s bothering you, too.” Misane met his gaze evenly.
His smile took on that peculiar quality again. “You really shouldn’t worry about me.”
But, she did. She found herself wondering about him, this odd young man who would offer her a hand, yet decline any attempts she made to talk to him as though the concept of anyone actually caring was laughable.
Yoshi Nanase was a constant feeling of “not being able to put her finger on it”, and that meant…he was a mystery.
And what else did detectives-in-training like her do, besides try to solve mysteries?
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she answered, her tone leaving no room for argument.
Nanase let out a soft laugh. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”