Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter is so late! It was a long one, and I went back and forth deciding what to keep and what to leave out. In the end I decided to keep most of it. I’ll decide how I want to go about condensing it in further the next draft.
For now I just hope that you enjoy the chapter and forget that it should’ve been available to you days ago. I’ll try to get back on track this Saturday.
My supporters over on Patreon are fantastic as always. Even a dollar makes a huge difference. This novel is going places thanks to you guys!
Finals were just around the corner and Rina only felt more and more guilty about taking up Corine’s space and time. Trying to bring up the issue with Corine only resulted in her friend insisting that she was in no way distracting from her studies, but she knew better than to believe that. With Corine’s habits and a distinct recollection of both finals weeks of their freshmen year Rina knew better than to stick around and distract her. Corine needed good grades on her finals so her semester’s GPA would not be too low. She was remarkably good at making up for an entire semester’s worth of underachieving with just one test.
She did not want to run the risk of messing that up for her. After the huge favor Corine had done by allowing her to stay in her dorm room for so long she could not allow her to have a horrible finals week.
With the amount of work Corine needed to go from just barely passing to having solidly average to slightly above average grade, she needed time to study day and night. Just heading to the library for the afternoon would not be enough to stay out of Corine’s hair until she was prepared for her exams.
Rina knew she needed to get out of Corine’s hair until her last final was over. She just did not know where to go until that time.
She thought about it for a while. She even worried about it. She lost sleep over it, but she still tried to keep it all to herself. She needed to allow her friend to just focus on her studies and deal with her problem herself.
The only person that came to mind when she thought of people she could potentially visit was Hibiki. He would be studying for finals as well, but once the idea of spending more time with him entered her mind she could not shake it.
She had not exactly been avoiding him the last few weeks, but she had been giving him some space so he could focus on his studies without having to worry about her. She missed him, and she wondered if he missed her as much as she missed him, he had a lot more going on in his life right now than here so she had to suspect that he had other things to occupy his time rather than pining away for her.
As much as she did find herself worrying that she would be a distraction to him and how that had kept her away, she knew that he would handle having her around better than Corine. She could actually help Hibiki study. Corine would just use her as an excuse to procrastinate. Hibiki would actually find a way to use her for his studies.
That settled it in her mind. She would not feel guilty asking Hibiki if he would like to have her come stay with him for a few days. It seemed like it would be for the best, and she certainly would not mind having a bit more quality time with him.
She would just have to gather up the courage to ask him. Thinking about asking him to have her over for what might end up being a multiple night long sleep over made her a little bit nervous. They had never spent the night together before. She knew even bringing the fact up within earshot of Corine would only result in a ton of teasing.
That would only distract Corine from her studies which was exactly why Rina though she should leave in the first place. She also did not particularly want to have another conversation with her friend about the current state of her sex life. Thinking about that was enough to make her nervous. She did not know if she could handle the thought of having that sort of possibility out there when it was not something they had ever really discussed. She felt awful about that. It seemed wrong to her that she had been teased so much about it and still lacked the courage to actually discuss it with Hibiki even though he was the only person who really had any business discussing it with her.
She accepted the fact that she would need to have the discussion sooner or later. She just did not know if she could handle being the one to bring up these concerns. Waiting for the topic to just come up seemed like it would be much easier to her, but she did not know if this was even the sort of thing that Hibiki was thinking about at this point and waiting for him might mean she would be waiting and worrying about it for a long time.
Just one short phone call later and she was packing her bags. Hibiki was more than happy to have her stay with him for a few days, and she tried not to let that make her too nervous. It was not as though she had never been to his apartment before. It would just be the first time she was there for the entire night and was a little bit too much for her to process at once. Staying with Hibiki was not even the only problem. He had roommates. She would be sleeping in the same room as her boyfriend for the first time ever — and both of his roommates would be in the apartment too. She would have to share a bathroom with three guys. She had never shared a bathroom with even one guy before. It would be strange. It would take some getting used to, but she knew everything would work out once she got in there and actually gave it a try.
So many of the things that scared her continued to scare her mainly because she was too afraid to give it a try. She allowed her fear and anxiety to rule her. She needed to learn to be more daring. As long as she could not see any real danger in the situation she tried to make more of an effort to try new things regardless of how uncomfortable she felt before she gave it a try.
She was blushing badly when Hibiki picked her up. He was kind enough not to ask her about it until they were both in the car and she had started to calm back down and return to her usual complexion.
“What’s got you so worked up?” he asked with a hint of good-natured teasing in his voice.
Rina squirmed a bit while hesitating to decide whether or not full disclosure would be worth the embarrassment. She could feel the color rising to her cheeks again so the embarrassment seemed to have never left anyway. She might as well talk about it at this point.
“Corine just said some stuff and it was a little bit embarrassing.”
“I’d say it’s more us stuff than girl stuff.”
“Yeah. She thinks we’re going to sleep together tonight, and she wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
“Oh,” Hibiki said before falling silent.
That made Rina feel a bit nervous. She bared her soul by telling him the truth about the nature of Corine’s teasing, and she could not tell what he actually thought about what she said.
He glanced over at her and smiled shyly. “So… are we going to sleep together tonight?”
She hid her face in her hands. “Sometimes I hate Corine.”
She was pretty sure Hibiki was trying not to laugh at her, but she did not quite dare to look at him just yet. The humiliation was still a bit too fresh for her tastes.
“I guess I’ll take that as a no,” he said after a moment with a surprising lack of disappointment in his voice.
“I don’t know,” Rina admitted. “It’s not something I want to think about unless we are both ready.”
“I agree completely. It’s not something I want to rush into.”
“That’s a relief. I don’t want to be rushed.”
“I would never rush you.”
“I know, but what if we decide we aren’t being rushed?”
That question seemed to have made Hibiki at least as embarrassed as Rina felt a few moments ago. Color rose to his cheeks and he was suddenly very intensely focused on the road.
Rina felt a bit bad for putting him in this situation and for framing the question in such a way that would seem provocative. That was the last thing she wanted to be. Of course she wanted him to want to sleep with her eventually, but she did not want him to think she wanted anything of that nature to happen right now. She meant it as a joke, but now she had to worry that he might take it more seriously than she meant it to be.
Then again she did not even know how serious she had been when she said it. She did not know why she said it. She thought it was a little bit funny and the next thing she knew she had said it. She could not deny that the thought excited her at least as much as it made her nervous.
She hated that she had made things even more awkward between them. She could kick herself for it. This was the first time they spent any time together all week and she screwed it up by saying something stupid that put thoughts in his head and stopped their conversation dead in its tracks.
They parked just outside Hibiki’s apartment, but they did not get out of the car. He turned off his car and turned to face her.
He reached over and stroked her cheek. “No matter what happens we’ll be sure we’re ready for it before we take that step.”
She smiled and leaned into his touch. It felt like it had been forever since they last had a moment to have a bit of physical contact.
“I’m sorry I even brought it up.”
“No. It’s fine. Don’t be sorry. We should be able to talk about these things.”
“Of course. If we don’t talk about these things we’ll never feel ready.”
“So you do want to feel ready to sleep with me?”
“Ah. Well. I mean, I don’t want to not be ready when the time comes and you feel that you are ready to take that step in our relationship.”
She leaned over and kissed him slowly and sweetly. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“And you’ll be okay even if I’m not ready for years?”
She whispered in his ear. “And what if it turns out I’m ready tomorrow?”
He stammered a bit and she could practically feel the heat radiating off his blushing face.
“Well, in that case, as long as we’re both ready I guess we’d take it slow and see how things progressed.”
“So you are ready now,” Rina announced triumphantly.
She sat back in her seat and grinned. She did not know why she felt so pleased with herself for confirming that her boyfriend wanted to sleep with her. Knowing he was ready gave her an odd boost of confidence. She liked it.
“Of course I’m ready,” he took her hand in his. “My girlfriend is the most beautiful woman in the world. I’m not a saint, but I’m perfectly capable of respecting you and your wishes even if it is difficult for me sometimes.”
“That’s so sweet of you to say,” she said and squeezed his hand.
“We should probably head inside,” he said huskily.
She nodded. “You must have a lot of studying to do.”
“I think I can spare a few hours this evening,” he whispered in her ear.
She blushed furiously once she realized what he was implying. She realized she was as ready as she had ever been. She felt nervous, but not panicked enough to want to back out of this situation. She felt excited. She felt as though she was actually ready.
She got out of the car and helped Hibiki carry her things into the apartment. Then she got a very cursory tour of the apartment that was not entirely necessary as she had been there before. Before she knew it they were in Hibiki’s bedroom.
His roommates were not home so they had the place to themselves for the moment. Rina felt herself trembling slightly. Everything was happening so quickly. She did not feel as though she had a chance to process it.
Hibiki guided her to sit down on his bed. “You’re shaking. Are you okay?”
“It’s just my nerves,” she said with a weak laugh.
“We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I promise I’ll understand.”
“No. No. It’s okay. I’ll be fine. It’s just… this is my first time.”
“We’ll take it nice and slow, and we can stop whenever you want,” he promised. He leaned in and kissed her slowly and sweetly, drawing her closer to him.
Rina felt herself growing warm and tingly all over. She felt nervous but had to admit to herself that she felt too good to want to stop. Already she could feel her thoughts growing a bit foggy as her desire for Hibiki overtook her rational thoughts.
She pulled back from him slightly, out of breath and feeling as though she was fighting through a thick fog to even form a coherent thought. His arm remained around her and his other hand rested on her thigh.
“I’m on birth control,” she said as soon as she felt as though her mind was capable of telegraphing words from her brain to her mouth. “But I’d feel a lot better if you had a condom as well.”
“Oh, of course.”
He sprung up from the bed and hastily rummaged through a drawer before drawing out a condom and returning to her side with it. She glanced at the small packet in his hand and felt her heart rate pick up a bit out of a sudden realization that this could really happen right now.
She had to wonder if this was what she really wanted. She had gone from feeling so embarrassed and flustered by Corine’s teasing comments to actually going through with exactly the sort of thing that had made her feel so embarrassed just an hour ago. She did not understand how this could happen. Just talking about it with Hibiki had made her feel different about it. She never really considered it all that much other than to outright reject the notion so her current enthusiasm puzzled her. She never felt like this before, and she did not quite know if she was in her right mind. Considering her own behavior seemed out of character even from her own inner view of the situation she had to wonder what had come over her.
Her hormones surely played a part in her behavior, as much as that thought shamed her she knew it would be the case. Being in love changed brain chemistry. She wanted to be a more liberated woman and not be ashamed of having urges. At the same time she wished she could be above it all and just understand herself. It was not as though she could blame herself for the way she felt. New feelings that were this strong were always a bit scary for her. She wanted to be a more even-keeled, but that essentially meant aspiring to be someone she was not. A lot of the time she could keep her cool, but once she entered a new situation, a situation where she could feel strongly about something, she lost some of that cool, detached attitude and her emotions took over. Lately, she had been finding herself in a lot of new situations that caused her to feel things strongly. She needed to get used to it. She knew she had so many new life experiences ahead of her and getting scared because she felt things about these experiences would do her no good. It would just be better to accept that she would feel things and try her best to enjoy these new experiences as they came to her.
When she looked back up at his face she found him looking right back at her with a look in his eyes that made her stomach do flips. She could hardly believe he was looking at her like that. That sort of desire had never been directed at her before. She could feel herself blushing.
He leaned in and kissed her softly. She shifted a bit closer to him. His arms were around her, drawing her closer. She was practically sitting on is lap at this point.
In a moment of daring she found to be completely out of her personal realm of experience, she decided to move onto his lap and straddle his hips. His hands were on her waist, holding her close to his body.
They kissed for a while, neither daring to move beyond that point. She found that she was starting to worry a bit less and actually enjoy herself as they remained in an area of physical affection they were already well versed in. She felt comfortable like this, not calm because it was impossible to feel calm while kissing Hibiki. She felt herself winding up tighter and tighter inside as their tongues stroked against each other. She was acutely aware of his hands on her waist as his touch felt exceedingly warm even through the fabric of her shirt.
She felt a twinge of panic as his hands moved and slipped underneath her shirt. Even so, the sensation of his hand on her bare skin was entirely too pleasant for her to protest the action in any way.
She did not even mind when his hands started to travel up her torso to meet with the clasp of her bra. That did make her think about her bra though. This eventuality never crossed her mind. She now realized this was probably a bit naive of her, but she really did think Hibiki would be too preoccupied with his studies to give much consideration to her. She had come here prepared to help him study and to stay out of his way while he did everything he needed to do to succeed during his finals.
He seemed to be more willing to accept this diversion than her. He invited her over and he seemed to have acknowledge the eventuality of this happening even when she did not. Now she knew better. She knew it was silly to think that a guy would not at least expect to spend some time with his girlfriend when she came to spend the night with him.
She had played a part in making this situation as heated as it was now. She brought the topic up. She had sort of teased him into this point, and now she was a mixture of nervous and curious to see where they would end up next as the evening progressed.
The feeling of his hands on her skin made her freeze up. She got stuck in her own thoughts, and then over analyzed her every thought and potential move. She was immobile.
Hibiki pulled back and looked at her, a bit puzzled.
“Is everything okay?” he asked in a deep whisper.
She laughed uncomfortably. “I think I just forgot how to exist there for a minute.”
“Should we stop?”
She shook her head. “We don’t have to. I’m just a little nervous, I guess. I’m not sure what to do next.”
She blushed. She had said more than she intended, and now she would be forced to live with the consequences of her out of control mouth.
He kissed the corner of her mouth. “We can take things slow. There’s no reason to rush.”
“What about studying?”
“Studying can wait,” he assured her. His hands were creeping back up her sides.
Not wanting to feel frozen in place again, Rina leapt into action and kissed Hibiki. She managed to tip them both back onto the bed.
He quickly changed their configuration on the bed, pinning her down beneath him. Almost of their own accord her hands crept up and lifted his t-shirt up and over his head.
Suddenly she realized he was wearing fewer clothes than her now. She felt a bit in awe now that she could see and feel so much of his skin. He had never taken his shirt off around her before. Now that he had she wondered why, and she wondered why she had never thought to try taking it off before. It was a shame that this was the first time, but now that it had happened she knew she needed to enjoy every moment of it and to take in every inch of him she could now see and feel.
He seemed to be quite pleased with the amount of attention she gave him while her fingertips and her eyes traveled down from his collarbone. His own hands were on her waist but slowly moving up. His hands reached her breasts and her heart rate picked up.
This felt wrong. It was not that she did not trust Hibiki, and it was not that she did not enjoy the sensations. She just suddenly felt a terrifying wave of repulsion toward where this would be going. Knowing that this would lead to sex if she allowed it, left her feeling that she needed to get away to spare herself from the end result.
She felt guilty. There was no logical reason for her to feel this way. She was enjoying herself just a few seconds ago. Nothing had changed. All that had changed was her feeling toward where this activity was going. She realized she was not ready. She needed more time to think, to figure out why she was feeling this way. She knew she loved Hibiki. She had felt ready just a few minutes ago.
It was just the reality of knowing that she would be exposing her bare skin for him to see and touch made her feel panicky. She was not ashamed of her body. She knew she had a rather nice body, contrary to what Corine seemed to believe she thought. Not openly showing it off her body had always been a bit of a priority for her. Thinking she did not need to show off her body for anyone, including her boyfriend did not mean that she did not love her body or want to show it off to Hibiki — someday. She just realized that today would not be that day. She just was not ready.
As much as she trusted Hibiki she did not think she had it in her to allow any man at all to see her body right now. She had a fear of this sort of thing her whole life. Just showing herself off felt wrong, but right now it felt even worse than ever before. This was an overwhelming sense of panic. She had never experienced something this strong before.
All of this felt as though it came from a part of her that was in some way separate from her own consciousness and experiences. She could feel the fears and apprehensions from her dreams spilling over into her waking life again. She had never had it happen this intensely before. Of course it had to happen at the worst possible time.
Now she needed to figure out a way to explain all of this to Hibiki so he would not think that she was rejecting him or chickening out of their little plan. The last thing she wanted to do was to make him feel as though he had done something wrong. This had nothing to do with anything they were doing being wrong. It was just a matter of her brain being too messed up from the dreams she had been having for her to be able to handle what was going on in her waking life right now.
“Hibiki,” she whispered with more than a little bit of hesitation.
“Yeah?” he whispered back.
“Can we stop?” she said while cringing a bit at how bluntly she had phrased it.
He drew back immediately. “Is something wrong?”
“I’m just not ready yet, you know?” she could feel herself gearing up for another round of nervous babbling. “This has all been great, but I’m just feeling so overwhelmed by it all. I-I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’t handle all of this right now though.”
His arms circled around her in a protective embrace. She stiffened for a second before she realized that she was completely safe. He was not trying anything with her. This was just a hug to try to comfort her.
She might have felt a bit more comforted if he was not currently shirtless, but her admission had not given him much of an opportunity to get dressed again. It was less than ideal, but she appreciated the effort nonetheless.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted into his shoulder.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
She had to think about that one. She did have a need to talk about it, but she did not know how much she wanted to reveal to him. The reasoning behind her reservations about the progression of their physical relationship would probably not make much sense to him. It hardly made sense to her. She did not know if she could expect anyone to understand what was going on with her. She did not even know if she could explain it, even if she did have faith in the fact that this whole mess could even be understood, which she was not convinced was even possible.
Honesty would have to do for now. She had nothing else to work with. The truth as well as she could explain it right now was the only thing she had right now.
“I want to talk about it, but I don’t know how to explain it,” she said with a twinge of shame.
“It’s okay,” he assured her.
He kissed her temple. His arms remained around her in a reassuring embrace. She sighed and rested her head against his shoulder. She needed to know that she was safe, and then she needed to actually get the knowledge to sink in. Only then would she be ready to start spilling her soul.
“As long as you’re okay I don’t really need an explanation.”
She sighed. Sometimes he said the perfect thing and it still was not enough to make everything okay again. She really wished it was because if that was the case then she would never end up having a lasting problem again. He always said these wonderful things while she was stumbling over her own words and barely understanding what she was trying to say before the words left her mouth. Then she was stuck back tracking once she realized she had not said what she meant in the first place.
He was so perfect and she was so imperfect. She felt extremely self conscious whenever the situation arose that reminded her of that fact. She did not have time to wallow in self-loathing at the moment. Throwing herself into that sort of despair when she had to spend the next few days with the very person she thought was bordering on too perfect. She just felt like she needed to improve herself into a better human being so she could at least be considered worthy.
“Can I be completely honest with you?” she asked after a long moment of silence between them. She winced at how awkwardly she broke the silence.
“Of course,” he insisted, just as positive and supportive as ever.
“Okay. Good. So,” she found herself stalling even though she was the one who decided it was time to talk about this. “I’ve been having these dreams for a while now. They’re weird and way too vivid compared to all the other dreams I’ve had in my life. It’s not even me in these dreams — that makes it really weird. Sometimes they’re not so bad, but other times they’re downright horrible. Things have happened in these dreams that are making it really, really hard for me to deal with um… physical intimacy.”
She stopped partly to catch her breath and partly to give Hibiki a chance to say something if he wanted to do so. He said nothing and just held her a bit closer. That made it hard for her not to be overwhelmed by the vague feelings of shame that she let loose by confessing the truth of her dreams to Hibiki. She did not know what she had been so afraid of. He always supported her no matter what she did or said and sometimes that was just a bit too much for her to handle.
Tears were threatening to spill from her eyes. It was all just too overwhelming for her to process. She did not understand how he could be so supportive. How could he hear her say these things and still just hold her in his arms and make her feel so secure and loved?
“There. I’ve said it. Now you know how crazy I am.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy.”
She sighed with relief. She really needed that outside validation to know that she was not absolutely out of her mind for thinking and feeling the way she did. She trusted Hibiki’s opinion more than just about anyone else in her life. As long as he did not think she was crazy she would trust herself to not be crazy.
“Is this okay?” he asked. “If this is too much touching for you right now?”
“No. No. This is okay. I trust you. I know I can trust you. There are just some things I’m not ready to deal with just yet. It brings up all of these dreams memories and I get panicked and confused and then I end up not know what my real feelings are.”
She paused to breathe and to see if Hibiki would stop her and tell her he did not need to know more, or to tell her that he had changed his mind and now he believed she really was out of her mind. None of those things happened. He just held her close and listened. Her thoughts kept drifting off course and she wondered how she had ever managed to meet a guy that listened to her and still cared for her and respected her when she stopped talking. She knew it was a little bit sad to think that those were her ideal elements to a relationship, but she was genuinely afraid of being in a relationship with a man that did not listen to her and respect her. She really did not know how she managed to just stumble into a relationship with exactly the sort of person that knew how to deal with her at her worst and actually managed to make her feel better about the parts of herself she felt the worst about. Even if she never knew how she got so lucky she could not help but feel grateful for him right now.
As much as she thought she should probably stop talking about all of this while she was ahead she found herself saying more and inwardly cringing as she swam further into the deep end of the crazy pool.
“It’s just hard to tell which parts of my apprehensions are actually my own and which are from the stuff I experienced in my dreams. Well, it’s sort of me in my dreams, but it’s not actually me. I don’t believe any of it is real. That would be crazy, you know, but it feels real enough to make me think that I can’t do certain things without triggering a panic attack.”
Hibiki kissed the top of her head. “I don’t think it matters where your anxieties come from. You have these feelings, and I will respect that, and I’ll be here to help you in any way you need.”
Rina kissed his cheek. “I love you.”
Just as she was sure that they had fallen into a new routine where she would not have to be alone again for a long, long time Yuzuki woke up one morning to extreme disappointment. Even though they had been sleeping in the same bed as a sort of routine since their first night home, somehow Souma had managed to not only get up without disturbing her but he had managed to leave altogether.
She wished he had left her a note at least. He had told her nothing about this before he left. Now she did not know when to expect him back. She did not even know if she could expect him to come back. Maybe he had decided he had had enough of her and all of her hang up and insecurities and had decided he would be better off striking out on his own.
The best she could do at the moment was try to go about her day as normal and hope that everything would turn out okay and she would be able to get back to her new normal soon. As the hours wore on though it became harder and harder to pretend that everything was fine. She could practically wear a hole in the floor with her pacing. Her chores were done in record time because she tried to work her way past her worrying thoughts.
She could barely eat because she was near tears at all times. At first her tears were all for Souma. She did not know what she could have done to make him leave the way he did, but he was gone. Then as the day wore on she started to worry more about the fact that she was alone and everything awful in her life seemed to happen when she was alone.
At least she did not have to worry about taking that disgusting medicine anymore. Her body had indicated everything was well on that front after the second day. She only wished she had not had to drink it twice.
The house and the garden seemed to big and too small at the same time. She did not have enough space to breathe, but at the same time, she saw too much room to properly monitor everything from all sides at once. She felt trapped and vulnerable.
It was all too much for her. As it was almost sundown she knew that she was stuck here at least for one more night, but she had already decided that she could not bear to stay in this place alone now. She would stay the night because she knew the tree house was safer than wandering the forest on her own in the dark, but in the morning she would have to set out and head for that town that was not too terribly far away. She could stay there at least until she figured out what her next step should be.
She wanted to get an early start so she packed a bag with clothes and supplies and food before she laid down to sleep for the night. It seemed prudent to get as early of a start in the morning as possible.
When she went to bed that night she stood in the middle of the room and looked at both beds. Without Souma, there was no reason not to sleep in her own bed, but she had not been able to get to sleep once in her own bed since she came home. Besides she was mad at him for leaving her behind with no warning whatsoever. She climbed into his bed like she did every night now and buried her face in the blanket. He might not be there but she could pretend a little better if she could smell him. She wrapped herself in the blanket and closed her eyes so she could pretend everything was fine again.
She actually managed to fall asleep like that and forget her problems for a while. Then she heard something in the middle of the night and woke up with a start. She knew someone was out there.