Like most teenage girls, Sayo Hikawa was constantly learning new things. Whether it had to do with school, music, or just life, Sayo tried her best to learn from her experiences. The one thing she wasn't great at learning was people. That wasn't to say she couldn't understand them. More like people didn't often open up to her, as if they were afraid of her. She would never admit it, but it made her a bit self conscious. Fortunately she had Roselia, Lisa and Ako especially were always ready to open up. Even within the band though, there was still one mystery: Rinko Shirokane.
She knew a bit about the pianist: she was extremely shy and socially anxious, she was best friends with Ako, she played online games, she was a reader, and she was a hard worker. It all felt surface level though. Rinko very rarely opened up about herself, not just to Sayo but to anyone. It made Sayo curious and she'd often catch herself watching the girl while pondering it.
It was these thoughts Sayo once again found herself with as the two toiled away in the student council room, working on paperwork. Sayo watched as Rinko silently looked over different forms, studying the girl. She was certainly beautiful, that wasn't even a question. Her black hair, well maintained, contrasted well with her pale skin and her eyes added a pretty splash of color to her. Her beauty was no mystery though. On the contrary, it was well known in their school, especially now that she was student council president. Sayo wanted to know beyond that beauty.
"Shirokane-san," Sayo broke the quiet. The girl across the table jumped in surprise, dropped a paper she had been holding.
"Y-yes?" Rinko exclaimed before realizing the paper she dropped had blown off the table. She bent over to pick it up before returning her attention to Sayo.
"I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you." Sayo apologize politely.
"No it is... Alright." Rinko said with a small shake of her head. "D-did you... Need something?"
"I was curious as to why you ran for president."
Rinko tilted her head.
"Why I... Ran for president?"
"Indeed. I do not believe I ever asked."
Rinko paused. Sayo waited, still watching the girl intently. She knew Rinko well enough to know the girl thought through what she was going to say, thinking about it and formulating her words. And so Sayo sat patiently waiting for the response.
"I... Wanted to try to... Know and talk to more people..." Rinko finally responded. "I thought that... Campaigning would help... Get me out of my shell..."
Rinko blushed and looked down at the table.
"I never thought... I would actually... Win..."
"It was to be expected," Sayo replied bluntly. Rinko looked up, surprised. "You are a hard worker. People believe that will translate well to being president."
"I... Suppose so," Rinko responded quietly.
"Besides, you are quite beautiful," Sayo continued. "While I disagree with using such criteria to choose a member of the student council, let alone the president, it is a fact that it does play into some people's decisions."
Rinko raised the paper in her hands, covering all her face beneath her eyes.
"T-that may... Be true..." She stammered. The two girls fell quiet, watching each other. Recognizing the coversation ended, Sayo looked down to some papers in front of her. After a few moments, Rinko spoke again.
"I-!" Rinko flinched at her own sudden increase in volume and Sayo raised her eyebrows. "I think... You are also quite b-beautiful... Hikawa-san..."
Sayo blinked, stunned for a moment. As she felt her face start to heat up though, she cleared her throat and immediately broke eye contact, gathering together the papers in front of her.
"I believe that we are done with today's work," Sayo said quickly, trying to hide her embarrassment. Why was she so flustered? It wasn't the first time she had been complimented on her looks, and she was sure it wouldn't be the last. She had never gotten embarrassed before. Why was this any different? The mystery clouded her head as she got up to leave.
"I will be going home now," Sayo said as she moved towards the door.
"Um!" Rinko responded. Sayo stopped and turned slightly, looking at Rinko over her shoulder. "Was that... Weird to say?"
Sayo blinked. She had been so preoccupied she hadn't realized how rude her actions must have seemed to the girl. She shook her head.
"No," She replied, still flustered. "Thank you."
Before Rinko could question her further, Sayo left the room. She stopped outside the door for a moment to breathe and calm herself before leaving the school and going home, distracted by Rinko's compliment the whole way. Another mystery brought on by the girl full of mysteries.
"Stop," Yukina cut the band off. "Sayo, you were off again."
"Ah..." Sayo mumbled. She realized the singer was right, Sayo was running on autopilot. She was unfocused, distracted. A few days after the fact, and the compliment, Sayo's behavior, and her embarrassment were all still lingering in her mind. "I am sorry."
"Maybe it's time we should take a break," Lisa interjected. "Take a breather for a bit?"
"Very well," Yukina said with a small sigh. "Take 5 then."
Sayo nodded and put down her guitar before making for the door. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw Rinko watch her as she crossed the practice room but she didn't want to try to look. Instead she quickly left the practice room and retreated to the restroom. She stood in front of one of the sinks, looking at herself in the mirror. She looked the same as she always did. There was nothing out of place about her. By all appearances it was business as usual.
And yet her mind raced. Why was she still thinking about the other day? Why did it fluster her so much? Why couldn't she focus? Once again the memory played in her head; she saw Rinko, hiding behind a paper, call her beautiful. Even the memory made her blush.
"Sayo~" A girl called, snapping Sayo from her thoughts. She quickly looked away from the door as Lisa stepped into the restroom. "Are you alright? You're acting strange today."
"Ah, yes," Sayo responded, still not looking at the bassist. "I've just been distracted."
"It's not like you to be distracted during rehearsal. You must have something serious on your mind."
"It's nothing. I'm just being foolish."
That drew a mischievous smile from Lisa. She stepped in closer, trying to get a look at Sayo's face.
"Ooh? You? Being foolish?" Lisa teased. "Now I'm curious. I won't tell anyone."
Sayo let out a small sigh. She felt her face return to it's normal state so she finally turned to face Lisa.
"Very well, but it really is nothing. First let me ask you, what do you think of my appearance?"
"How you look?" Lisa asked, a bit surprised. "You look fine, beautiful as always."
While the compliment felt nice, it didn't have nearly the same effect as when Rinko said it. Maybe it was how shy the other girl was acting that made it more impactful?
"Ah, this is frustrating..." Sayo mumbled.
"What is it?" Lisa asked again. "Do you think you look weird?"
"No, that... Is not it." Sayo sighed again. "The other day, Shirokane-san told me I was beautiful. It has been a source of distraction ever since."
The mischievous grin returned to Lisa's face, even wider now.
"So that's what this is..." Lisa said, as if everything was suddenly crystal clear.
"That's what what is? Why was that so impactful?"
"I wonder," Lisa said, though her voice gave away she knew exactly what was going on. It annoyed Sayo a little. "I'll tell you this: people feel differently about compliments based on who is giving them. Two identical compliments will feel different coming from two different people."
"I know that much," Sayo said. "What I do not understand is why this reaction specifically."
"Maybe talking to Rinko some more will help you out," Lisa say before turning to leave. "We should get back. Break's almost over."
Sayo clicked her tongue as Lisa left the restroom.
"That girl, always so carefree," She muttered to herself as she followed Lisa out. As she returned to the practice room, she accidentally met Rinko's eyes. She quickly turned away and returned to her guitar, determined to at least do something right. Music she knew. Music wasn't a mystery.
After rehearsal, Sayo was slow packing up. Her fingers were sore from her pressing too hard on the frets and it made cleaning up a bit uncomfortable. The price she paid for trying to use playing as a distraction. It payed off though as Yukina didn't have to stop on her account again.
"Alright," Lisa called, returning from the front of the studio. "I've got our next rehearsal scheduled. Once we finish cleaning up we're good to go."
"Good," Yukina started. "Good work today everybody. I'll stay and finish cleaning so you-"
Lisa was suddenly at Yukina's side whispering in the singer's ear.
"But why?" Yukina asked aloud. "I can do it."
Lisa again whispered in Yukina's ear. Yukina looked confused, then a bit annoyed before finally sighing.
"If you say so. Actually Sayo, Rinko, would you mind staying behind a bit longer to clean up."
Ako gave Yukina a confused look. Rinko looked at Sayo, slightly nervous. Sayo narrowed her eyes at Lisa. Lisa just wore a big smile.
"Ako'll stay too-" Ako started before Yukina cut her off.
"Actually Ako, if you have the time we should talk. I think it's about time you learned to actually read music."
Ako shrunk a bit, defeated. She couldn't say anything; it wasn't a secret Rinko simplified the sheet music for Ako.
"Alright..." Ako mumbled. Lisa put her arm around the poor girl's shoulders as the three of them turned to leave, Lisa giving Sayo a wink on their way.
Without a word, Sayo and Rinko finished cleaning up, returning the equipment they borrowed. The entire time Sayo refused to look at Rinko, trying not to think about what Lisa had said before. They left the studio and began making their way home. After a few minutes, Rinko finally spoke.
"Hikawa...san?" She said. "Do you... Hate me?"
Sayo actually stopped walking, she was so surprised. The question seemed to come out of nowhere. After a few steps Rinko stopped as well, turning so her side faced Sayo.
"It is just... You seem to... Have been avoiding me... Lately."
Sayo blinked. For some reason the girl's words cut like a knife. She thought Sayo hated her? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. And yet it was Sayo's behavior that made her think so. It's true that Sayo was acting differently around Rinko, but why did she suddenly feel so guilty about it?
"Is it... Because of what I said... the other day? If so I am... Sorry..."
Had Rinko been worrying about that the whole time? Sayo couldn't even find the words to respond. She could only stare at the girl in front of her, head down and face hidden by her side locks. She looked defeated.
"I am sorry... I will leave now..."
No. Sayo didn't know what to say or what she wanted to hear. But she knew what she didn't want. As Rinko turned and started to go, Sayo reached out a hand and grabbed her, holding onto the girl's wrist. Rinko stopped but her body trembled. The two stood there, frozen for a moment.
"We should discuss this," Sayo finally spoke. Rinko nodded.
The two made their way to the nearby park. It was empty and they found a bench to sit on. For a minute the two remained silent, unsure of how to start.
"First of all," Sayo spoke first. "I do not hate you."
The reassurance seemed to help Rinko relax a bit and she nodded.
"However, you were correct in that my recent state has been a result of your words."
"I am sorry..." Rinko mumbled. Sayo sighed.
"Frankly I am not sure whether it is something you should apologize for."
That got Rinko's attention. The girl looked up for the first time since they set out for the park.
"What... Do you mean?" Rinko asked.
"I am not entirely sure. Maybe you can help me figure it out."
"I will... Try my best!" Rinko clenched her fists.
"Thank you," Sayo took a deep breath to prepare herself. Meanwhile her heart felt like it was about to burst from her chest.
"Well when you first complimented me, I got embarrassed. I'm not sure why as many people have complimented my looks and I have never felt embarrassed about it. I confirmed it with Lisa earlier and did not become flustered. Since then I have been thinking about it and you nearly constantly. It is very distracting if I am honest. I also find it difficult to meet your gaze as I get nervous. When you asked if I hated you it hurt. When you tried to run I knew I could not let you go. Even now I sit here saying all this and my heart is racing. It is all very inconvenient and I find not knowing what it means to be extremely frustrating."
Sayo finished and turned to Rinko, who had her face buried in her hands.
"Shirokane-san?" She said, surprised. "Did I say something strange?"
"H-hikawa-san..." Rinko mumbled. "It's... Incredible that you can... Say all that with a straight face..."
"What do you mean? Is it bad?"
"Have you ever... Read shoujo manga?" Rinko asked, lifting her head but keeping her face covered in her hands with her eyes visible between her fingers. It was a strangely cute sight.
"I am not particularly interested in manga," Sayo answered. "What does it have to do with this?"
"W-well in shoujo manga they... Talk about feelings a lot. It might be... Easier to explain if you were familiar."
"I would hope I could know what this is without having to read manga. Are you alright?"
Rinko fidgeted, looking anxious.
"I... I think you... With me..." Rinko mumbled.
"What was that?" Sayo tilted her head.
"I think you... Might be... Maybe... Falling for me..."
Sayo was silent for a moment. Her first thought was to deny it outright; after all, they were both girls. Then again, it seemed as logical an explanation as any for what she's been feeling lately. But if that was the case, then didn't she just...
Sayo turned red and stood up quickly, clearing her throat. Rinko stood up next to her, probably out of surprise more than anything else.
"I um... I need to be going now..." Sayo said. Before she had taken a step though, she felt Rinko's hand grab hers.
"It's... Okay. You should... Take your time with this... But..."
Rinko fidgeted some more. Her head swayed as her eyes looked everywhere and anywhere but at Sayo. After a moment though she leaned in and kissed Sayo on the cheek.
"We should... Talk later," Rinko said before running off. Stunned, Sayo let her go, instead just standing in place. She slowly raised a hand to her cheek before turning even more red. As she made her way home she couldn't help but feel conflicted. After all, the mystery of her emotions was solved. On the other hand though, she'd have to go out and find some shoujo manga. Now on top of the mystery that was Rinko, she had to deal with the true mystery: love.