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I left the club room still bewildered by the outcome. Teaming up with Tomoki-san was already surprising, but ending up in the same band as Narumi was totally unexpected. And everything happened because both Narumi and I decided to wait until the end. But it was strange that Tomoki-san hadn't gotten into a team by the end, everyone always invited him. There was no use thinking about it anymore, so I cleared my mind and headed to the entrance where we decided to meet.
All the students walked out of the school, the majority looking exhausted. Koji and Kawahara were already waiting for me on the side of the path. They probably arrived together from the Cooking Club.
"Hi. Sorry for making you wait."
"We just arrived," Koji replied.
"We are still waiting for my assistant. He should arrive soon," Kawahara said.
"Right. Why don't you tell us who he is already?" I asked.
"There's no need. He will tell you himself."
"Hello!" a guy shouted behind me. I turned around to see him bowing. "I'm Takuto Tarō, and it's a pleasure to work with you!"
Tarō is her assistant? I'm actually not that surprised. But why is he shouting?
"There's no need to introduce yourself, Tarō. We already know you," Kawahara said.
"Right. But I can finally introduce myself to Araki Koji-san properly," he giggled, scratching his head. Then he approached Koji and extended his arm.
He wants to shake his hand?
Koji—probably not to let him down—shook his hand.
"Why did you want to shake my hand?" Koji asked.
"Well, you come from another country, right? I heard foreigners like to shake hands."
I let out a deep and long breath. I had forgotten how gullible and weirdly direct Tarō was.
"I think there are some things I need to tell you," Koji replied.
Tarō looked confused.
"We'll have time for that in the park. We should leave before it gets completely dark," Kawahara said.
"Okay," I replied.
"Yes, ma'am!" said Tarō, saluting like a soldier.
I just hope he can follow Kawahara's requests.
A few children were playing around the park when we arrived after a fifteen-minute walk. It was already dark, but the streetlights were quite bright. Koji and I sat on the same bench as always, while Kawahara and Tarō stood in front of us.
"Before going ahead, there's one thing left to do," Kawahara said. She moved her backpack in front of her and took out a paper and a pen. She then passed them to Tarō. "You need to sign this contract."
Really? A contract?
Koji and I glanced at each other, sharing the same, dull reaction. However, Tarō didn't look bothered at all. He kept his smile while grabbing the paper and the pen from Kawahara's hands. Then he started reading it.
Can he read a contract?
"Basically, this contract stipulates that you are not allowed to share any information regarding the experiments and the subjects unless otherwise indicated. It, also, specifies your role and your payment."
With subjects she means us, doesn't she? And she's going to pay him?!
"Hold on. Where will you get the money to pay him from?" I asked her.
It's nice hearing her mom is supportive of her, but I can't help but think that she did it in a condescending manner.
"So, if I'm reading right, the last part says that you will sue me if I tell someone about this," Tarō said.
She nodded. "Or you'll get fined."
"But you would never do something like that to me, right?" he smiled.
Kawahara merely stood still and stared at Tarō. She was serious.
"Fine, fine. I agree with everything."
He signed the contract and gave it back to Kawahara—as well as the pen. She gave a quick look at the paper and put it back in her backpack.
"Splendid. As of now, you now officially are my assistant."
"Hooray!" Tarō shouted.
"The first thing you should know is the problem," Kawahara continued. "Araki Koji-kun and Kozue Suzuka-san swap their bodies when their skin touches."
"Wait, what? They swap their bodies?"
"It means that I control her body and she controls mine," Koji answered.
"Really?! Can you show me?" he eagerly asked.
"I do want them to swap bodies now, but I must tell you that nothing visible happens. They simply fall asleep and wake up with their bodies swapped. This makes it quite difficult to observe since I don't have the equipment to monitor their neuron signals. Nor do I have the permission to take blood tests."
Wait. Why didn't she say that she doesn't have the equipment?
"I see. So the only thing we can do is look from outside?"
"That's correct. And that's where you come in."
Kawahara reached for her phone in her skirt's pocket and handed it to Tarō.
"Your first task is to record the process of the body-swapping."
After grabbing the phone, he stared at it for a moment before he shouted and saluted once again.
Not even a minute later, he started pointing the camera of the phone towards us. Like the first time, it was quite uncomfortable. It felt as if I was being watched and judged the entire time just like when I competed, but worse since I wasn't doing anything special to distract myself from it.
"I'm recording," Tarō said, giving a thumbs up.
"Splendid. Araki Koji-kun, Kozue Suzuka-san, please go ahead and touch yourselves."
"Kawahara!" I yelled. I couldn't help but blush.
"Kawahara-san, please be more careful with your word choice," Koji said. Even his cheeks flushed a bit.
"Did I say something wrong?" she asked, confused.
"Nothing. Let's just…," I stuttered.
Koji and I glanced at each other. Even though it had happened many times already, touching ourselves on command was very weird. Should I touch him or should I let him touch me? Where and how should I touch him?
We both moved our hands reluctantly. In the end, Koji put his hand near me and stopped moving it to let me touch it. And so I did.
"Now, whilst we wait for you to feel sleepy, I'll ask you some questions. However, please don't fight back the sleepiness."
Kawahara started asking questions about our lives or simple math problems. Five minutes later, my eyes became very heavy. I could've kept myself awake, but I did as Kawahara said and let myself fall asleep.
Immediately after, I was shaken awake by Kawahara. My head rested on Koji's shoulder—in my body—still asleep. I sat straight on the bench. Once again, I expected to feel embarrassed, but I only felt relaxed—though my cheeks were warm. Then Kawahara woke Koji up. He sat straight on the bench.
"How do you feel?" Kawahara asked us, ready to write on her notepad.
"It has been a while since we swapped bodies, but I feel normal," I answered. "Only a bit disoriented because of the height change."
"What about you, Araki Koji-kun?"
"I feel normal as well. Only my ankle feels weaker."
"Noted. Everything seems to be the same as the last time."
"So it's true!" Tarō shouted.
"You believe it?" I asked him.
"Well, it would be impossible to tell if you didn't tell me that you can swap bodies. But, having that in mind, I can notice the change in the way you talk."
"Interesting. That's a good observation, Tarō," Kawahara said. "In fact, that's a great idea for our next experiment."
"Next experiment?" I questioned.
Kawahara proceeded to explain the plan she had just come up with. Then, after an exact half an hour of waiting, it was time to get back to our bodies. However, it didn't go as planned. Five minutes after we touched, we hadn't felt sleepy yet. We touched once again and the process occurred as normal. When we were woken up, Kawahara stared down at her notepad, pretty confused.
"Do you have any idea why that happened?" Koji asked.
"Not at all," she answered. "We waited the exact time as last time I recorded it. The only explanation I can come up with is that there was a delay on the swapping cooldown. But I'm not sure why."
"We won't know until we experiment more, right?" I said.
"Exactly. That's it for today's experiment. I will call it a success. Tarō, stop recording."
"A success? But something weird happened," Koji said.
"The earlier we find the questions, the earlier we'll be able to answer them."
Well, she's not wrong.
"It's time to go home," I said.
"Sure," Koji replied. "I'll message my chauffeur to come to pick us up."
"Tarō and I will take a taxi," Kawahara said. "We live near each other."
"Are you sure? There's really no problem—"
"Come on, Koji. We should walk to the main road so Yoshimura-san can pick us up faster," I interrupted, pushing him away.
"But I haven't even messaged him—"
"Just walk! Goodbye, Kawahara and Tarō! Be careful on your way back!"
"You too!" Tarō shouted back and waved at us.
Koji finally seemed to understand and walked with me, so I stopped pushing him. We walked to the parking lot of the convenience store we usually bought snacks and drinks at. Sadly, we hadn't seen Yōko since that unexpected storm.
Koji finally messaged Yoshimura-san. Then we stood still.
"I didn't clarify the rumors to Tarō," Koji said.
"Don't worry, Kawahara will probably add him to the chat group."
"Why did you push me away from them?"
"You didn't get it?"
He shook his head.
"They wanted to spend time alone."
"Oh, I get it now. But I doubt Kawahara-san even thinks about it."
"I wouldn't be so sure. She might look easy to read, but she probably hides many things."
Thoughtful for a second, he replied, "No, I disagree."
"Really? Haven't you noticed those weird smiles she makes sometimes? For example, when she created the chat group and asked for our phone numbers, she smirked."
"And? Maybe she was happy to add someone to her contacts."
"Maybe… But I still don't agree that she's hiding many things."
"Really?! Is this going to be our first argument?"
We stared at each other for a brief moment before laughing.
"It would be funny if this was our first fight," I said.
"Well, I would say we already argued. When you deleted me—"
"Just shut up and keep laughing."
He smirked and we both looked away from each other. We stood in silence for a while. No awkwardness or any pressure to talk. Simply stand together. However, I noticed that he opened his mouth but hesitated.
"Did you want to say something?"
I knew he did but didn't want to force him to say it. Nor was it necessary.
"I love you."
My breathing stopped. My mind became blank. My jaw dropped.
After an endless silence, he looked at me. He wasn't blushing like me. Instead, he seemed composed.
"I love you. That's what I wanted to tell you, but I don't know why."
I understood him because that's what I felt at that moment.
"I love you too."ns 188.8.131.52da2