Everyone always asked her the same questions; "Aren't you afraid?"
But the truth was she had never really been afraid. Obviously there was nothing about Kei-chan that frightened her; occasionally she'd envision him as an overgrown, grumpy…horny, teddy bear in a high school uniform. At certain angles, he actually did look like one, he certainly acted like one. Mikoshiba and Yufune were about as imposing as a couple of kittens with a ball of yarn. Hiratsuka and Imaoka were like a walking gagman duo. Okada and Sekikawa were all dreadlocks and Mohawks and scowls and Wakana and Hiyama frequently acted like the Nikogaku version of Punch and Judy. But Yagi would be lying if she said that there wasn't a part of her that felt afraid the first time she met Shinjo. He was so tall and menacing looking; towering over everyone in junior high even the teachers. Next to Shinjo, Kei-chan looked like a horny, bobble-headed doll.
She was there the first time Kei-chan invited Shinjo to his house. She'd been helping his father stock the shelves while listening to him complain about what a useless son he had and how he should have sold him off when he was a baby for a crate of high quality sake ('or drinkable sake even,' he'd amended as an afterthought) when said useless son walked in. From that point on, any time she looked at Shinjo, she'd see the utterly gob smacked look on Kei-chan's fathers' face.
But then on one unexpected day during her senior year of junior high, it happened and everything Yagi Touko thought she knew was forever changed.
She was walking home from school that afternoon; despite the sunshine, the cool breeze gave her goosebumps and sent small shivers up and down her spine. She wrapped her coat tighter around her torso. She'd gotten into a small argument with Kei-chan over some insignificant matter that she couldn't even recall, but was still pissed at him about, that she took the corner without paying attention to where she was going or what obstacle may or may not be in front of her. The next thing she knew, she was on her behind on the cold pavement, looking befuddled at a pair of legs that seemed to go on for infinity.
She heard her name being said by the owner of the legs. Attached to the legs was a torso clad in the uniform of her school. The torso belonged to the best friend of her best friend and he was standing there holding a kitten.
"Shinjo-kun?" She said after managing to gather her wits about her and reached to grab the hand he'd extended.
"You should watch where you're going," he said in a serious tone, but she could see that he was smirking.
"I'm glad you find this so amusing. What were you doing standing in the middle of the road anyway?" she huffed, dusting off the back of her skirt. Then she heard a tiny mewling and remembered what she saw Shinjo holding as her butt was having an intimate moment with the pavement.
"I found it in the box," he said, pointing to the cardboard box beside the wall. There was a small towel in it, a cup filled with water and a small sign on the side that said 'Please adopt me.' Whoever left it there obviously did so with care.
"Awww, how cute!" cooed Yagi, leaning closer to look at the kitten. It was a pale grey colour and seemingly in good healthy judging by the way it was currently using Shinjo's thumb as a chew toy. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I don't know. Can't just leave it here," Shinjo said looking intently at the kitten.
Yagi studied his face as his gaze was preoccupied. This was the first time she'd really looked at him. She'd seen his face a lot of times before, but looked away quickly when his gaze shifted, afraid to be caught staring. The first thing she realized was that he was really good looking. Not like Kei-chan; a different kind of handsome. But to be fair, Kei-chan and her had known each other practically all their lives and over the years she grown accustomed to his face (and bad habits). Kei-chan was a familiar, best friend kind of handsome. Shinjo on the other hand was a rugged, dangerous almost foreign type of handsome. She didn't think one was handsomer than the other, they were just different. But then again, Yagi had a perpetual Kei-chan bias.
Looking at the Shinjo in front of her, Yagi almost couldn't believe that this was the same Shinjo she went to school with, that was Kei-chan right hand man so to speak; the same one that scared the living heck out of everyone without even having to do anything other than breath the same air as them. There was a gentleness in his eyes and in the way he stroked the kitten that made Yagi want to reach over and hug him.
She was so preoccupied in her analysis that she almost didn't hear him call her.
"Yes?" she answered quickly, shaking away whatever thought she'd had about patting him on the head.
He looked at her strangely for a few seconds before saying, "Shouldn't you get home?"
"I'm fine. I was actually just heading to the grocery store. Maybe we could get some kitten food."
For a moment, Shinjo looked like the thought of feeding the kitten hadn't occurred to him. "Yeah, sounds like a good idea. I could get it myself though."
"It's no problem. I mean we are kind of in this together, right?"
"Well…not really," said Shinjo, but as Yagi had sashayed off, she didn't hear him. He decided not to make a big deal out of it and just followed, the little kitten mewling happily while curling up in the palm of his hand.
"Are you going to keep it?" asked Yagi, taking a sip of her iced caramel latte.
They were currently parked at an outdoor café, watching the kitten eat some kitten biscuits from a small plate on the table. Across the table from her was Shinjo with a cup of hot chocolate which he wasn't actually drinking. It suddenly occurred to Yagi, like a train crashing into her at fifty miles per hour, that she was currently spending her afternoon sitting at the couples table of (now that she thought about it) a very romantic café with Shinjo Kei. She almost spat out her drink.
"I don't know. What else can I do with it?"
"You could send it to a shelter," she suggested, but from the way his expression froze, she knew that it was not an option. He looked like he wanted to say something to that, but after an internal debate, decided otherwise.
"I'd take it, but my dad's allergic to cats," she mused over the idea of giving it to Kei-chan as a present, but decided that it would have just been too a cruel hand to deal the kitten. "Is anyone in your family allergic?"
He shook his head.
"You look like you do want to take the kitten home. Then why not just do that? You're obviously really fond of it."
Shinjo didn't answer and Yagi thought she understood his hesitation. But given everything she thought she knew about Shinjo Kei up until today, she could have been completely wrong. "Your parents won't let you have a pet?" Yagi tried to imagine the family Shinjo; she knew Kei-chan's father and she'd met a few of the parents of the other guys like Wakana and Hiyama, but Shinjo had never so much as talked about himself, let alone his family. If nothing else, she imagined they're be really, really tall.
"My dad wouldn't care."
"Oh. Then…well, why don't you take it home and I can pitch in for the food?"
He looked up at the suggestion. "I don't know…"
"It would be great," she said enthusiastically. "I've always wanted a pet, and I guess this would be the closest I'll ever get to one while I'm still staying at my parents house."
"Come on, Shinjo-kun. It would just be our secret."
Yagi thought she'd come a long way in such a short amount of time. She wasn't a judgmental person, but yesterday she would have been cautious just being near Shinjo, even with Kei-chan around. Now she was making secret pacts with him over hot beverages and fruits tarts at a Maid Café (it was the only place that allowed pets). There was just something about Shinjo she never noticed before, an aura about him that made Yagi feel safe. All of a sudden, where people always saw danger and fear, she saw kindness and compassion. Where people saw imposing power and a fist that could put a hole in someone's front door, Yagi could only see the tiny kitten curling up and taking nap in the palm of Shinjo's hand. There was something about being around him, security and…kinship. This was the first time she'd felt that with anyone, even Kei-chan. Kei-chan was her best friend, she loved him dearly and would trust him with her life, but he could be such a gigantic butthole sometimes.
Shinjo said it casually, but Yagi thought she saw relief in his eyes for a split second and she suddenly just felt happy that Shinjo was happy. In between her feeling of happiness, Yagi caught sight of her watch and she just realized how long she'd spent with Shinjo and the kitten not really doing anything.
"Oh no, it's so late. I have to get home," she said hurriedly, gathering up her things and finishing the last sip of her drink. "It's been a great afternoon, Shinjo-kun. Thanks for…well, thanks for taking the kitten and letting me get involved…with the kitten thing. I'll give the food for it at school tomorrow, in secret of course."
Shinjo gave a small chuckle, gathering up his own belongings. "I'll walk you home."
"What? You don't have to trouble yourself."
"People are coming off work about this time; it isn't safe to be wondering around by yourself."
Yagi smiled. Shinjo Kei was really a person beyond her expectations. "Thanks, Shinjo-kun."
He acknowledged her gratitude with a small nod.
"By the way, what are you going to call it?"
He paused for a moment as he thought about it. "I don't know. You think of something."
Deep down, Yagi was actually hoping that he was going to say that. The truth was, between all her musing and character reflection the whole day, the thought had actually come up and she'd decided on the perfect name.
"Keichin. That's his name."
"Keichin?" Repeated Shinjo uncertainly, raising an eyebrow.
"See, Shinjo Kei and Aniya Keiichi; the name practically wrote itself," said Yagi with such certainty that Shinjo couldn't do anything but agree.
"Right…whatever you say."
The rest of the journey continued in relative silence, besides the frequent mews coming from the newest member of Shinjo and Yagi's family. There was nothing left to say and when Shinjo left Yagi at her front door with a one-worded farewell. Yagi felt so squishy and happy that she almost did a little jig right there on her doorstep.
She had seen the real Shinjo Kei today, and she liked what she saw.
She also liked that she could look smugly at Kei-chan when he's being his usual insufferable self and know that she knew something he didn't. That she had a secret that she could dangle in front of him and not tell. She felt like she had power, knowing this secret, and she liked the feeling.