The promised day arrived, and I was waiting at the train station a bit earlier than we decided. It’s not rare for me to be out with a group of boys and girls on a weekend like this, but it’s definitely a first for me to go out with one girl alone. That being said, it’s not even a date or anything, so I told myself over and over that putting effort into it was useless. With that mindset, I was waiting for Aotsuki-san.
…Told myself? Why was there a need for that in the first place? Am I going crazy? The more I try not to be conscious about it, the more I become aware of it. That’s why I tried to put a lid on my thoughts, and instead thought about the light novel I read a while ago.
The date scene between the protagonist and the heroine was so gooooood! And it was depicted in such livid detail……
Another ten minutes passed, when I saw a one-piece type of clothing flutter in my field of view. It was a classic brown and white…like a brown and white chocolate themed piece of clothing, perfectly fitting the fall atmosphere and weather. It honestly looked great on Aotsuki-san. She’s always a beauty, but with a different atmosphere from before, she was more cute than always.
Weird, this isn’t even the first time I see her in her own clothes like that. We both weren’t wearing our uniforms during summer break after all. But…it feels like Aotsuki-san put a lot of effort into her coordination today…
I was called out to, and realized that I must have been staring at her like crazy, so I forced out an awkward response.
“…Did you wait long?”
“Nah, just got here.”
What the heck? That was exactly like the conversation in the light novel. This is like we’re actually on a date. If this was a light novel, the protagonist would praise the heroine with a ‘Your clothes are really cute’. And even if it isn’t, there were many times where I praised Gami with ‘Your clothes look good today’ or ‘You really got good sense, Gami’, so that her mood would be at a high from the start. When dealing with a girl like Gami, it’s easy and recommended to touch the topic of clothes, but what if it was someone like Aotsuki-san…?
Depending on the person, it could sound like actual sexual harassment, and that could only worsen her mood. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t say anything unnecessary. Don’t wanna poke a hornet’s nest.
“…What are you spacing out for? Let’s go.”
After being shaken around inside the train for thirty minutes, we arrived at a specialized store for textile arts.
“Wow~ This is my first time coming to a store like this. So many textiles~”
There were those with average patterns, even flowers or stars, some a bit on the soft side, others more rough, it was a different object wherever I turned.
“So, what are we doing about the costume for the mermaid? Sounds pretty tough if you ask me.”
“For the lower part, we’ll just use a skirt with a mermaid-esque design to cover it up…For the top part…wearing a swimsuit would be too embarrassing, so maybe a camisole would work better?” Aotsuki-san explained, as she went through the rows of textiles.
She had a blue one with lamé design and laces in her hand…It looked like it would be perfect for that.
“Huh, I see. This is pretty interesting, though I doubt I can actually play with this kind of knowledge.”
“………” Aotsuki-san looked up at me for some reason. “So…because it’s a camisole, it still shows a lot of skin, and the mermaid skirt just…shows a lot of body lines regarding my waist or …b-butt…you know.” She was fidgeting, taking glances at me.
“Ahh, so they’re embarrassing after all? But, everybody’s wearing a camisole in the summer, so I doubt it’s that big of a deal? If you take a long skirt, you can reveal your knees and further up as well. Should be fine.”
I tried to reassure her with a smile, but the way she was constantly glancing at me told me that something was off. Even now, she was staring at me.
“So…between these two, which is better?” Aotsuki-san asked, showing me two types of fabric.
“Hmmm, that’s a tough question. I really feel like this one here looks like scales, perfect for a mermaid, but I doubt it’s easy to make out on stage. This one here is the opposite, it looks sparkly and clear in view, but I don’t think it’s fitting for the kind of play we’re doing…”
“…I didn’t ask for that kind of view.”
Hm? Why does she sound annoyed? When it comes to girls, there’s only a good or bad mood. Perfect example is Gami. I want a quicksave function. Crap, what kind of answer is the right one here? Since she doesn’t want to hear that…Maybe she wants my opinion completely disregarding the play?
“Um…are you asking me which would look better on you?”
“……” Aotsuki-san started blushing, and desperately tried to make up an excuse. “I-It’s definitely not like I want your attention or anything! …Definitely not, but if you seem so disinterested, it hurts my pride as a woman!”
“Eh…I wasn’t disinterested or anything, I just think that everything would look good on you…”
“…Hmm? I see.”
“What are you staring at me for? You’re scaring me.”
“You’re always calm and collected towards everyone, huh…You even called Mikagami-san a beauty before…”
I wonder why, but it oddly feels like she’s blaming me about something. If I don’t follow up with something, I might just get her angry.
“I mean, I’m not being polite or anything. I do think that you’re really beautiful, and your clothes today look great on you. Really cute.”
Crap, I went with the flow and blurted out everything I swore to keep quiet at the beginning of the date.
“……”Aotsuki-san’s cheeks reddened up again. “W-Why are you saying it now…You kept quiet when we met…”
Understanding what her blushing face and atmosphere meant, it was clear what the problem was.
“…So, were you waiting for me to say it?”
“As if I was.”
Because she gave an immediate answer, I felt the urge to tease her about it.
“…But, you were actually waiting, right?”
“Shut up. Nobody would wait for you.”
“That surely is subjective.”
“Shut up, shut up.”
“Just because of your different clothes, the air around you is like never. Especially today…your clothes during the summer break weren’t as extravagant and charming……Ah.”
“…So the reason you moved the day for our shopping trip to Sunday is because you wanted to buy clothes just for the occasion?”
On Friday, Aotsuki-san said that she wanted to go shopping on Sunday instead of the initial Saturday. Maybe she wanted to buy some proper clothes because she hasn’t gone out like this with anybody in a long time…?
“A-As if I would do that! I’ve worn these clothes so many times before!”
“But, the prize tag is still on them.”
“Eh, you’re kidding! I-I was sure I removed it…”
“Yup, I was kidding.”
Aotsuki-san’s eyes grew wet with embarrassment, and her cheeks turned crimson red.
“Whatever, you idiot.” She averted her face, but her ears were still red.
…Ahh, she really is so cute. It felt like this really was a date, but I quickly removed that idea from my head, but because I needed to do that, I only grew more conscious of it, so I yet again was forced to think about light novels to keep my thoughts under control.
Why does it feel like I’m walking in circles? Am I some hamster in a hamster wheel?
“Glad we bought a lot of fabric and clothes, right.”
“Not wrong, but…isn’t that heavy for you?”
Of course, we shared the load of everything we bought, but I definitely was carrying more. I mean, looking at Aotsuki-san’s slender arms, I felt worried and guilty if I had her carry the same amount as me.
“Totally fine. What about you? Can you handle it?”
“I-I’m fine. I couldn’t let you carry any more than that…” She opened and closed her mouth, seeming like she wanted to say something.
“So, um…that, you know…I want to say it…but I can’t…”
I wonder. What words would she say in such a situation? Maybe ‘thank you’, or something like that? But, even if she can’t be honest most of the time, I feel like even she would be able to say that…She’s staring at me, so I think that she wants to get it across with her gaze alone, but it’s not really working…
“—Hey, will you give it a rest already!”
I twitched in shock because of the aggressiveness in this voice, but it definitely didn’t come from Aotsuki-san. It came from further down the road. However, I recognized the voice.
Because of the full streets, I could only tell now, but Gami was standing in front of a cafe, a bit further away from us. Together with her was a woman, who seemed to be in her twenties, and she was just as beautiful.
“Doesn’t look that good.”
“Hey…maybe we shouldn’t be watching them like this…?”
Isn’t this my chance to grab a weakness of hers? Not like I’d try to threaten her or anything. I just want some information on the unparalleled existence at the top of the food chain at school. It might be an ace in the hole later down the line. Even now, I’m in a different position as someone who helps Aotsuki-san, so I want more possibilities.
“…Like I said! I won’t accept someone like you! Stop being so annoying!”
“Um…I’m sorry, Masuzu-chan, but I really want to get along with you.”
“And I’m telling you to stop being so pesty!”
What kind of relationship do these two have? Judging from their age, they don’t seem to be friends? But, they don’t feel like family either. When we observed them from afar, Gami happened to spot us after a while.
“…!? Yafune and…Aotsuki Mifuyuu!?”
Since we were seen like that, we saw no other choice but to approach Gami. I tried my best to keep a natural atmosphere.
“Yo, what’s up.”
“Why are you two here!?”
“We’re out shopping for the culture festival, nothing more.”
“So…you saw that just now?”
“Ah, yeah. Pure coincidence. Though we couldn’t hear what you were talking about.”
I didn’t think I was saying anything bad or embarrassing, but Gami’s face turned beet red. Rather than pure embarrassment, it was as if she was plagued by regret that she had been seen.
“Ahh, today is the worst! I’m going home!” Gami ran away, leaving behind me and Aotsuki-san, as well the unfamiliar woman.
Maybe that was a bad move after all. I should probably send her a message later.
“Um…are you Yafune-kun?”
The first one to speak up was the woman who called Gami ‘Masuzu-chan’ just a few seconds ago.
“Eh? Ah, yes, that’s correct…”
“Ah, I’m sorry, I heard your name before from Masuzu-chan…”
“Is that so…Um, who might you be…?”
“Ah, excuse my rudeness. My name is Mikagami Shizuku.”
“Mikagami? So you are Ga—Masuzu-san’s older sister?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
Really now…But, despite them being related…
“We don’t look alike, do we.”
Despite neither me nor Aotsuki-san having said anything, she commented these words herself. I guess she must have heard this a lot. Whereas Gami was a beauty with a sharp glare in her eyes, Shizuku-san seemed more the healing type of Onee-san, and definitely cute. The atmosphere she’s giving off is cozy, so I can’t see them growing up under the same roof at all.
“Just talking while standing isn’t the most favorable…so how about I treat you to some tea to make up for that girl’s rude reaction?”
“Oh no, I can’t have you pay for something like that.” Aotsuki-san said that.
However, Shizuku-san kept her gentle smile, and continued.
“Fufu, don’t be like that. I simply want to talk with Masuzu-chan’s classmates, is all…So, please?”
In the end, we entered a nearby cafe. Shizuku-san must have guessed that we were both pretty tense, which is why she first talked about recent TV shows, or popular stores around here.
“The crepe they are selling near here is so delicious, and full of fruits…Ah but, as a boy, you might not be too interested in something sweet like that?”
“Not at all, I love sweet desserts.”
“Is that so? I’m not too sure about a man’s taste, you see.”
“Don’t say that, I bet you must be popular with boys, Shizuku-san.”
I mean, she’s comfortable to have around, and has big breasts. I’m sure that she must be constantly swarmed by boys, but she betrayed my assumptions with a flustered answer.
“I…never dated a man before…”
Eh? So then, she actually is a vir—No, nevermind. Forget about that. I wasn’t imagining anything. Also, I didn’t say that out loud, did I? I wonder if Aotsuki-san is giving me this stare of contempt again.
“So, we were talking about this crepe store, right? What kind of types do they have? Please tell me more.” With a gentle smile, I switched the topic.
Our conversation continued for a bit longer, when Shizuku-san asked.
“How is Masuzu-chan at school? How do you feel about her, you two?”
Well, it makes sense for the older sister to be interested in that. However, telling her that ‘Your younger sister is the queen of the class, and reigns over everyone’ is not exactly an option here. I should just make up something random with a smile.
“U-Um…I do believe that Mikagami-san is like the queen of the class, reigning over everyone.”
Aotsuki-saaaan! You’re being too honest here! Since she was blushing innocently like that, I figure she was too nervous to carefully choose her words. Since she rarely talks to people outside class, dealing with ‘a classmate’s older sister’ and ‘a beautiful older person’, her brain must be in overdrive right about now.
“Ahahaha, that just shows how much dignity she has. Has she always been like this?” I tried to avoid the awkward mood, and switched the topic.
“Ah, I’m sorry…I don’t really know about that sort of stuff?”
Aren’t you sisters—is what I thought, when Shizuku-san showed a wry smile.
“I’m sorry, but Masuzu-chan and I aren’t related by blood.”
“Eh, so wait…”
“It’s a bit of a heavy story…would you hear me out?”
“Eh…I mean, are you sure telling us about that? I feel like it’s quite the private matter…”
“I won’t force it onto you, of course. I was just quite surprised to see you accept Masuzu-chan’s attitude quite normally. I can’t blame you for thinking of her as a queen or an absolute ruler. But, how do I say it…there are things you can’t understand without knowing the background, right?”
“Well…” Shizuku-san seemed like she was desperately trying to search for the right words, and put one finger on her chin as she thought. “For example…there are people who end up late on another person’s important events, such as a birthday party or marriage ceremony, right. Then, everybody would call them a ‘cruel person’. However, after they learn that this person helped an elderly who collapsed as they were on the way to the party, they’d be called a ‘kind person’, right? That being said, if the person who was late stayed quiet about this reason, thinking that ‘Late is late, no excuse’, then nobody will know, and they will think of them as cruel. This is just an example, but…in this world, a lot of these incidents can happen.”
Since Shizuku-san talked in a very serious tone, both Aotsuki-san and I could only listen in silence.
“And, Masuzu-chan is the kind of person who never reveals something about herself. That’s why, what I’m about to tell you is probably something you will never hear from the person in question. Of course, it would be best for the person herself to do so. But, she is living within a contradiction of ‘We can’t get along if they don’t know the circumstances’ and yet ‘By not getting along, they can’t know the circumstances’, see.”
I get what she’s trying to say. An example would be Aotsuki-san. If people talked with her, they would know that she’s actually very kind, but in order to understand this kindness, they need to talk to her. Since Aotsuki-san is excluding herself, they get the wrong idea that she’s scary and cold.
“It’s not an easy story. That’s why, if you don’t want to hear about it, I won’t tell you. However, I don’t want you to think of her as a bad person. Even if we aren’t related, as her older sister…I wish that she’s understood for who she truly is. I know that this is just my ego speaking.” Shizuku-san tightly grasped her hand in front of her chest.
“U-Um, I want to…hear about it. I’m curious as to why Mikagami-san is always acting like that.” Aotsuki-san answered Shizuku-san’s determination.
“…Then, I’ll tell you. As I told you before, me and Masuzu-chan aren’t related by blood. We became sisters because of our parents’ remarriage.”
“…I had no idea.”
That Gami had an older sister, not to mention a step-sister.
“That’s unexpected. I thought you were pretty close with Mikagami-san, Yafune-kun.”
“She never talks about her family after all.”
“Masuzu-chan had always been against the divorce of her parents…which is why she couldn’t accept this remarriage.” Shizuku-san narrowed her eyes, like she was harboring some complicated feelings. “I do know that it’s a complicated topic. During such a precious time, going through a remarriage like that, so it makes sense she couldn’t live with it…”
“Shizuku-san, were you not against the remarriage?”
“I…I just wanted my mother who had raised me all this time to be happy. Not to mention that I’m older than Masuzu-chan, so I needed to keep a grip-.”
“Isn’t it quite troublesome to have Gami…Masuzu-san as a younger sister? She seemed pretty harsh just now.”
“That’s not true. Masuzu-chan is a very kind girl. Even now, I want to talk with her about her favorite food and clothes and all that, so I got her to tag along with me. However, I think that she wasn’t really interested in the clothes, and just tagged along because I constantly asked her. She never asked me for anything back in return after all…However, when I brought up the talk of our parents, she got angry. I missed the timing, and messed up.” Shizuku-san took a sip from her tea cup, and let out a sigh. “It’s true that Masuzu-chan can be quite strong-willed. However, deep down she’s a good girl. It’s just that her environment was negatively impacting her…Because she couldn’t be together with the people she wanted in the way she wanted, she became unable to really trust others. To Masuzu-chan, feelings and bonds must be something hard to accept for her. That’s why she is trying to become the absolute ruler, and getting relationships by force.”
I thought back to all the things Gami said before. She always looks down on others, standing above everybody else in class. She never talks about her own family, so I figured that something must be going on there, but…this is quite unexpected. I didn’t think that she was dealing with these kinds of circumstances. I never would have imagined that someone who stood at the top of the school caste would hold emotional pain and problems like I could. I always thought that we lived in two different worlds.
To me, Gami is someone like Sakana, who constantly makes me aware of my inferiority, and instills fear into me that I’m always on the brink of being excluded from the class if something happened. That’s why I’m trying hard to not spoil their mood. But, obvious as it is, she is a human herself.
“…When my mother brought up the idea of remarriage, I prepared myself to form a proper new family and bonds with them. That’s why, even if we aren’t related by blood, Masuzu-chan is my important little sister.” Shizuku-san showed a warm smile.
It sounded like smooth talking for sure, but her smile showed that there was no lie in her words.
“…You really are kind, Shizuku-san. And, very strong.”
I said that she gave off this cozy atmosphere, but I don’t think what she’s doing is that simple.
“Fufu, once I’ve decided on something, I won’t give up that easily. Once I’ve fallen in love with something or somebody, I will continue to feel that way…That’s why, when I first met Masuzu-chan, I realized that she was acting strong, but a good girl deep down. That’s why I want to get along with her. I’m not giving up just yet. Although I’m probably just annoying her at this point.” Shizuku-san relaxed her hand, and turned towards me and Aotsuki-san with a gentle tone. “That’s why, I would be happy if you two could get along with Masuzu-chan.”
I looked at Aotsuki-san.
“…Yes, it would be nice if we could.”
That wasn’t a lie. After all, that would make it much easier. I understand that putting trust into us from the bottom of her heart is too much to ask. But at the very least, I want us to get along on a superficial level. Constantly being on rivalling terms is too exhausting. But, I doubt that it’ll work out that easily.
“Leaving that aside, you mentioned that you were doing a stage play for the culture festival, right?”
Almost as if she read the complicated emotions inside of my chest, Shizuku-san changed the topic at hand. She really is considerate deep to the core.
“That’s right, but…Masuzu-san said that she won’t be participating. Though, she’s not the only one.”
To be perfectly honest, only three people of our class will be participating in it.
“I figured. Even if Masuzu-chan appeared in the play, she probably would have hated the idea of me seeing her.” Shizuku-san showed a bitter smile, but that vanished right away. “But, I’m quite looking forward to your play. Because of my job, I can only come on the last day, but I’ll definitely be there for the culture festival.”
After that, we continued to talk about this and that, and left the cafe. In the end, Shizuku-san paid for everything, and yet she showed an apologetic expression at the end.
“I’m sorry that I had you tag along with me. Since you are classmates of hers, I wanted to at least see you for myself, but I must have bothered you on your date…”
Aotsuki-san’s and my voice overlapped. We both were bewildered, unable to immediately deny it.
“Fufu, you two look great together. So please, enjoy the rest of your date.”
“Eh…No, um! We aren’t actually like that…” I finally regained my senses, but it was already too late for me to deny that, because Shizuku-san already walked away. “…So, should we go as well, Aotsuki-san.”
We walked next to each other, but no words were exchanged. Damn it, because of what Shizuku-san said, there’s a weird atmosphere going on right now. Aotsuki-san’s cheeks were reddened, and she averted her eyes from me, like she was feeling awkward.
“Aotsuki-san, you need to look ahead…!”
On a weekend, there’s a lot of people. A bulky man walked towards Aotsuki-san on fast feet, and fully bumped into her, almost blowing her away—
Luckily, none of the stuff we bought would suffer from falling to the ground, so I threw that away, and accepted Aotsuki-san’s body.
We were at a distance close enough for our breaths to touch. Her cheeks were even more reddened than before. Her glass marble eyes seemed a bit dampened. Are you kidding me…this is exactly like a scene out of a romcom.
“Y-Yafune-kun…Um…so…I can’t tell you, but…you know…”
Inside my arms, Aotsuki-san was gently quivering, her mouth opening and closing……Why would she show such a reaction? Would she show this kind of face towards somebody she dislikes? Also, I’ve been trying not to think about it, but there were several dubious parts about her today.
Why would she ask me what kind of fabric would look better on her? Why would she go out of her way to buy new clothes just for the occasion? The more I thought about it, the more my fingertips grew cold, and my thought process came to a halt. My head is refusing it. Even if I thought ‘Maybe’, it immediately switched to ‘That’s impossible’, as I put a halt to any thoughts like that, completely subconsciously. It even makes me want to say ‘Your face is read, do you have a fever?’ like a dense romcom protagonist.
“It’d be bad if you fell over, so be a bit more careful, okay?”
In the end, I could only force out the fake smile I would show in front of Gami.
Today was an odd day. I sat on my desk, resting my head in my arms, and reminisced about the events of today. I went out with a girl for the first time, and even talked with Gami’s older sister. After that, the expression Aotsuki-san showed me, as I held her in my arms…I still can’t forget it.
—I know that I’m just a creep living in my fantasies, but…what if she really had feelings for me, what would happen?
“You’re wonderful, Yafune-kun. Always smiling, liked by everyone.”
Just imagining that I’d receive a gaze full of respect by her—had me shiver.
“You were even paying attention to me, who was treated like an outcast by everyone. You really are kind, Yafune-kun.”
—Kind? If I really was kind, I wouldn’t have used Senpai to set up this plot to make me the culture festival hero, and I would have broadly declared that I’m your ally. That’s right, can’t I just be open about it?
“I’m worried about Aotsuki-san, and I want to be friends with her, so I’ll help her.”
“Aotsuki-san might be cute, but her attitude is awful, right~ Not to mention that she now wants to stand out at the culture festival? Kinda gross~”
Can you really call me kind for not stopping my classmates’ words, and even laughing along with that?
“Yafune-kun, you’re cheerful, kind, and reliable. You are a wonderful person.”
The Aotsuki-san in my fantasy smiled again. But, me being cheerful, kind, and reliable is just a false hallucination. The more she looked at me with her sparkling gaze, the bigger my urge to puke becomes.
I think that Aotsuki-san is wonderful. I’m not just talking about her looks, she’s straightforward, not bothered by what the people around her think, and tries her best despite being clumsy. What if it was someone like Sakana. He might not be as aware of his surroundings as I am, but he’s considerate enough to care about someone else. He’d definitely be a better match than someone who hides his gross and disgusting true self. It’d just be me deceiving her all the time.
“I…like you, Yafune-kun.”
Bang, a loud sound rang out. I slammed my hand on my desk, forcefully cutting off these fantasies.
There’s no way she would ever say that. Never would she say that. I know it. The reason she bought these new clothes is because she didn’t have many chances to go out, so she wanted to feel beautiful as the girl she is. The reason she blushed in my arms is because she’s innocent, and doesn’t have any experience. She would have shown that reaction towards anybody, not just me. That’s right, there’s no meaning here to be found.
Aotsuki-san doesn’t know the real me. She doesn’t know how much of a disgusting coward I am. Even if she was conscious of me in that way, in a one in a million chance, she’s just being deceived. That’s why I won’t get the wrong idea.
“Hey hey, what time are we starting practice today?”
Around a week passed ever since our shopping trip that Sunday. Today after classes ended, that normie bastard Sakana actually didn’t skip out on practice, and said these words to me. Huh? Is the world going to end tomorrow? is what I couldn’t help but think.
“Depends on when most people left the classroom…So what, you finally decided to join?”
“Well, if I stood out at the culture festival, I’d be popular with the girls, right.”
“I’m thankful for your help, but aren’t you pretty popular already?”
“Oh my Yafune, do you really feel that way…?”
“You bastard. But…why are you helping us then?”
If you wanted to stand out and be popular, wouldn’t you just join a band or do some group dance on stage? I bet that Sakana could easily get some members together. I don’t see any reason why he would go with the girl being treated like a landmine.
“Hmm? Well, to be perfectly honest, I felt like swimming against the stream, you feel me?”
“Swim against the scream?”
“That queen of ours, she totally feels like she’s ruling over our class, right. So, I felt like going against her for the hell of it. Not to mention that…nobody participating in what we’re doing for the culture festival, that’s just lame. We only have three years in our high school life, right?”
He probably didn’t want other people to hear what he was going to say next, as he brought his face close to my ears. Definitely was about Gami.
“Then again, if you hadn’t taken Aotsuki-san’s side, I would have just ignored it. Only because you helped her, and asked for my help, I thought I might as well. I don’t really like taking sides, and I don’t wanna have this turn into full-blown battle, but a bit of resistance at times surely wouldn’t hurt.”
“…You were thinking about that sort of stuff?”
Since he’s always flirting around with girls, I didn’t expect him to think about something this earnestly.
“Of course~ But, I do think that she’s taken a liking to you, Yafune.”
“Well, I am her dog.”
“I told you before, but I’m pretty sure she’s got the hots for you.”
“As if, you idiot. Even today, she was bragging out meeting some hot guys from another school.”
“Maybe she’s just trying to get you jealous because you only hang around Aotsuki-san?”
“Stop with the jokes, seriously. If the person herself heard that, she’d kill you.”
It’s a saving grace that Gami isn’t here in the classroom right now.
“You sure are dense, alright~ But, it’s fun watching you struggle like that. Not like I’m supporting her either~”
Just how forceful is he about that whole ‘Gami likes me’ bullshit. I mean, Gami’s undoubtedly is a beauty, but I can’t see her as a romantic interest. We live in different worlds after all, and it’ll just fuel my inferiority complex…
Or so I thought up until now. But, hearing about the circumstances she’s dealing with, and the environment that’s troubling her, I finally learned about her some more. That being said, not participating in your own class’ project for the culture festival is still taking it too far.
Everybody has a lot on their plate in life, and just because she’s dealing with it in her own way doesn’t mean she’s allowed everything. Even Shizuku-san simply wanted us to understand the person Gami some more, but definitely didn’t ask us to forgive her.
“Also, Sakana, if you want to show her, then why aren’t you practicing a bit more seriously?”
I wanted to avoid this endless teasing, so I switched the topic.
“Come on, what are you talking about~ Am I not kind for not interrupting your fun with Aotsuki-san? I’ve been practicing on my own, you know.”
“My ass, lol. And, even if that was the case, why are you suddenly participating now of all days?”
“I figured you’d get closer if I left you alone, but you didn’t make any progress at all, right? I thought you might need a push.”
“You keep spurting vague nonsense…”
He really loves talking about love and all that. It’s like he doesn’t even care who it is, as long as I get together with someone. That is some insane curiosity. There sure are a lot of people who enjoy gossip in this world. Right when I thought that, I heard the sound of paper fluttering through the air.
“Wah! Ah, I’m sorry, I’ll pick it up right away!”
This voice came from a boy who’s part of the manga research club. With glasses, and a moderate attitude, he was always drawing manga during recess, and someone I’d love to be friends with. He happened to drop a bunch of papers with manga drawn on it. Since it’s culture festival season, it must be a manuscript for something.
“Ah, s-sorry…” While helping him to pick up the paper, I glanced over it.
Woah, this is crazy good! The lines are beautifully drawn, and the designs of the girls are full of expression, exactly how I like my manga. Eh, I can buy this during the culture festival!? I want it…But, with my current character, I definitely can’t! However, I do respect it a lot. It takes a lot of effort to make it that far.
“U-Um, thank you very much for helping me. B-Bye.”
He must have been embarrassed, because he quickly left the classroom. I wasn’t even making fun of him. Though, I’m in my normie character right now, so it makes sense that he’d be terrified.
“Is that some kind of moe nonsense? Gross.”
—Hearing Sakana’s voice behind my back, I suddenly felt a rush of cold fill me.
“I can’t deal with that. But, unpopular guys can only use 2D material to get off, right. I kinda feel bad.” When I turned around, Sakan kept up his idol face that made him popular with the girls, grinning to himself.
He’s fine with making fun of them, because liking something worthless like that is disgusting. That’s the kind of label we’re dealing with here. What’s that about? He’s working his hardest for the sake of something, so why does he have to be looked down on just because he likes manga, or moe? Why is it accepted to make fun of something or someone just because you think it’s gross? This shit is fucked up.
Why are you of all people allowed to be in the center of the class, living the good life, while others need to be considerate and mindful of you all the time. Who decides the school caste, who’s above and below, huh?
I could feel the fury build up inside of me. Even so, saying anything has nothing but demerits for me. Since we need a role for the prince at the stage play, starting a fight with him isn’t the wisest decision. And even without that, making an enemy out of someone as popular as him, I’d only get hurt in the process. That’s why I agreed with him, and opened my mouth to say ‘Yeah, it really is gross, lol’, but Sakana continued before that.
“Drawing some manga with large-eyed girls, isn’t that pretty sad? If he’s got the time, why not work on his hairstyle, and style up a bit so that maybe he could get an actual girlfriend, lol.”
Is that all your sorry ass cares about? He used up so much time to practice his drawings, and while studying, he perfected a work of his own. That’s so amazing. Not something you could do that easily. So, why would he deserve to have his passion and hobby made fun of by someone like you? Who do you think you are? Are you that great of a person to make fun of someone else’s efforts?
I honestly feel like punching you in the face, but I swallowed down my anger, and answered with a smile.
“Right, it’s so funny, lol.”
“Yeah. Ah, more importantly, I actually forgot my script, hehe. Yafune, do you have a copy?”
“I’ll lend you mine. I already remember all my phrases.”
“Thanks a bunch. You really are a good guy, Yafune. I’m glad we’re friends~”
“Hell yeah~” We shared a high-five, and laughed.
At the same time, I felt a dark and disgusting sensation sink into my body from my fingertips. Despite not anything to retaliate, I still complain about him and his actions. Why am I acting like I’m so much better than him?
“…What’s wrong, Yafune-kun? Are you not feeling well?”
Despite Sakana gratefully accepting to participate in our practice, I just couldn’t get into it.
“…Sorry, I don’t think today is a good day for me…”
“Ehh? I guess there’s no meaning to practice then. I’ll just go home~” The person who led me to end up like this acted without a worry in the world, and grabbed his back, leaving the classroom.
“…Are you…okay?” Aotsuki-san took a peek at my face, asking with a worried tone.
In the end, she’s kind as always, but that makes it only hurt more.
“Maybe practicing after school each and every day is too much…? You don’t have to force yourself…”
“No, that’s not it. But, thanks for worrying about me.”
“…N-Not really. It’d just be troublesome if you couldn’t play your part.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Even though I said that, Aotsuki-san’s gaze felt like she was trying to emphasize that I don’t understand it at all.
“U-Um.” She tightly grasped her hand in front of her chest, and took a deep breath.
Almost as if she tried to gather courage, she slowly opened her mouth.
“I…um…can’t really say it that well, but…” She closed the distance between us, looking directly up at me. “The reason I’m worried…isn’t because it’d be bothersome if you couldn’t play our part.”
Stop. Just call it a bother. I don’t want there to be any other reason.
“Yafune-kun, you called out to me back then…you lent me your strength, and always stayed with me…you always save me…So, that’s why…um…” Her voice sunk deep inside of me, filling me with warmth.
And this warmth gave me the urge to puke. What happened? Aren’t you always cold and distant towards everybody? Don’t look at me like that. Your kind words are nothing more than a sharp blade. When did I ever save you? I never saved anybody, never could save anybody. That’s the kind of man I am, so don’t get the wrong idea.
Poisonous feelings started to fill my body, burning strong with rage towards myself. There’s no way that I could receive any kind of affection, not when I loathe myself this much. Even if it’s not even love, just kindness is too much. That’s why I spoke up. That’s why I told you—that I definitely didn’t want you to act affectionate towards me.
Before I realized it, I had grabbed something small and minute.
It was her white wrist.
It was so thin and fragile, I was worried that I might break it if I put any kind of strength into my grip.
“Aotsuki-san, you hate me, right?”
The outside of the window was red. It was the symbol of the late fall evening. Red…When I praised her clothes on the day we were shopping, and supported her body when she almost fell, her cheeks were red as well. I knew that. If anything, the way she was desperately trying to connect her words no matter what, I should have realized it already. And even so, I calmly continued.
“Please, say that you hate me.”
My voice that I would always try to keep as warm and gentle as possible…now sounded cold, like a sharp pillar of ice. I could tell that Aotsuki-san was shaking just from her wrist alone. I thought about this before, but it all came back into my head yet again.
The people in this world are splitting everything into ‘truth’ and ‘lie’. However, it’s not just that. There exists feelings, reasons, circumstances, anything that isn’t black or white, but actually grey. Because of that, this right now is both white, and black at the same time. I want her to hate me, I want her to call me disgusting. In order to hear these words, I kept blurting out words that alike vomit and excreta.
“Ever since this school year began, I felt like I was saved greatly because you were in my class, Aotsuki-san.”
These words were simply meant to get me hated. But, they were my true feelings. No matter how disgusting they may be. In the end…
“I thought you were like a lighting rod.”
Aotsuki-san didn’t say anything. So, I just continued.
“Back in my second year in middle school, during our sports festival.”
This doesn’t have anything to do with her.
“During the class battle…with the jump rope. We had that battle, and it’s really easy to tell when somebody fails, because the rope gets caught on them. The other classmates always give them that ‘Seriously?’ look as well. Especially because the guy at the top of the school caste, the guy who’s good at sports, said something unnecessary like ‘Let’s get first place together!’. Not like you’d get money if you win, nor do your grades get better. If anything, I think that doing your best as a group is the most important.”
I can still remember the time back then. It was a clear sky, with a fairly strong sunshine despite it being fall, and the scent of the sports grounds tickled my nose.
“Once you make it through twenty, the tension is just at its worst. Everybody would blame you. Why would you do such a discipline if it definitely ends up with one person getting bullied? I always thought to myself ‘Please someone get caught on it already, someone who isn’t me’, and thankfully another boy messed up, disrupting the flow. He was a really kind and gentle guy, and never bothered anybody, just sitting in the corner of the classroom as he read his book, not wanting to stand out at all. But, one of the girls was like ‘Man, I really thought we could win that~’ and started crying. Because of that, the atmosphere of the glass went down the drain. It’s funny, right. The one who wanted to cry the most was that boy after all, but a boy isn’t allowed to cry. It’s really not fair. And seriously, it was hell just watching from afar.” Despite it being a cruel story, I laughed it off. “I could only watch, and not do anything.”
You can’t do to others what you would dislike being done to you. This is what my teacher in grade school told me. And yet…
“I should have known how agonizing it must be to be treated this coldly by everyone in class.”
If I raised my voice to protect them, who would come protect me if I got bullied in the process? The only one who can protect me is myself.
“I never want to get back to that position I was once in, so I acted like I didn’t see anything.”
If I were covering for the guy who’s the bullying victim of class, I’d be the next on their list. I was terrified of that, to the level where my fingertips grew cold, and I could not do anything.
“Until we turned into third-years and he ended up in a different class, he was always pushed away by the others. As for me, I was still popular, and continued my position until I graduated.”
Yeah, that’s right. Because I desperately tried to keep face, I was liked by everyone else. I can’t save the people I wanted to save, talk about the things I like, so why am I being liked by other people? Even so, the fake [Me] was still more liked by the people around me, and that’s the reality I was dealing with.
“—Enrolling at this high school, I was relieved because I sympathized with you.”
Aotsuki-san has been staying quiet for a while now. But, I couldn’t even look at her face.
“Because you’re the enemy of the class, I can rest easy. Whenever someone talks badly about you, I’d nod along with a ‘Yeah, she totally sucks~’, and join in on the fun with everyone.”
She really is like a lightning rod accepting all of the lighting. If you sacrifice one person in this classroom full of 31 people, then the other 30 can laugh in happiness. I knew that this logic was messed up, but so what?
“Don’t you agree? It’s not wise to make everybody my enemy like that. Everybody has their own complaints, but don’t say it as to not stand out negatively. If you speak freely, it’ll only hurt you. I don’t have any obligation to help you.”
A faint breeze shook the curtains. Ahh, the sky is so red.
“Also, in manga and other stuff, a beauty is almost always a perfect existence, but in reality, it’ll only worsen the mood with one around. People around her just feel inferior all the time, and the boys all fall in love with the same girl, so it’ll become like a circle crusher? In that case, you really helped me out. Even if the girls felt inferior to you, I could just say something like ‘Even if she’s cute, that kind of tone is just awful…’, and they’d all cheer up immediately. It even works in the opposite way. By sympathising with you, I’d get plus points with the girls, being called kind and all that.”
I wonder why I didn’t get slapped yet. Oh right, because I’m holding onto her wrist.
“Do you get it? You might not be at fault here or anything, but I’ve been looking at you with profit and merit in mind. Even as we were talking in the park every day, I talked like this about you behind your back. I didn’t want to be hated by anybody, you know. I just showed a good face, and did what was needed. In the end, I’m the exact opposite as you, Aotsuki-san.”
She’s not afraid of being hated. She doesn’t try to approach people without any need. She’s perfectly fine on her own, and can accomplish her goal like that. She even said she would rock the entire stage play for the culture festival. From how I can see it, she’s someone wonderful, which is why I can’t help but hate myself even more.
“Aotsuki-san, until today, you only knew the kind and perfect [Me]. But, the real me is just a shitty bastard.”
That’s right, this is who I really am. I can’t get the wrong idea. Being liked, being happy, I can’t hope for something like that.
“That’s why I definitely don’t want you to act affectionate towards [Me].”
I want to be liked, but I also don’t want to be liked. I want her to act affectionate towards me, but at the same time, I don’t. They are both my honest feelings, and both lies at the same time. I’m that kind of a good-for-nothing.
—I can’t even raise my head. So I stayed in that position, looking down at my uniform.
“Is that what you wanted to say?” Aotsuki-san gently brushed away my hand who grabbed on to her wrist.
And then, she gently embraced my head with both her arms.
“…You really are an idiot.”
I froze up like an old PC, and needed to take a few moments to even understand what just happened.
“…Why are you rubbing my head while insulting me?”
“That makes it more unbearable for you, right?”
My face ended up buried in Aotsuki-san’s chest, as she gently rubbed my head.
“It sounded like you regretted your way of living, and wanted to be reproached for it.”
I don’t get it. Why would she do such a thing? I don’t understand. But, it feels warm.
“Yafune-kun, I…” While embracing me, Aotsuki-san spoke up, her voice tickling my ears. “I…am a very contrary person.”
Is she? From my point of view, it feels like her way of living is quite straightforward.
“That’s why I won’t give you the words you want to hear.”
The inside of my head was a mushy mess, I couldn’t see the meaning behind her words. But, feeling her small hand run along my hair…it filled me with an almost uncontrollable urge to cry.
“…No, I’m trying my hardest to say the exact opposite.”
“…That makes no sense.”
Not to mention that Aotsuki-san definitely can’t understand everything I just blurted out. I never even told her that I was bullied a long time ago…Not like I’d told anybody else about that. Even so, I can tell that she’s trying her hardest to accept it all, conveyed from her warmth enwrapping me. The desire to push her away dwells up inside of me. It makes me want to puke. I don’t deserve any of this kindness.
“Aotsuki-san…you must hate that kind of man, right.”
A man so pathetic that he gives in to despair all the time.
“…You’re not as clever as you think you are.”
“…That’s pretty harsh.”
“You really are a big idiot.” Without answering my question, she just muttered these words.
I could hear her heart racing inside her chest.
“You have the wrong idea about me. You’re just helpless.”
“…You think so?”
“I do think so. So, don’t get the wrong idea…”
Even though she didn’t say anything affirmative, anything positive about me…I wonder why. Deep inside of me, it felt like I was forgiven, and the fragment that stabbed me in my chest changed into tears falling down my eyes.
“S-Sorry.” Worried that I would drench her uniform, I raised my head. “I’m so sorry. Something went wrong inside my head.”
“…Don’t worry about it. You were probably just tired? It’s my fault because I forced you through all this practicing.”
I finally managed to look at her face, but found no trace of the expected anger or contempt.
“Anyway, go home for today, and get some good rest.”
Despite everything I said, she’s acting like nothing happened, and treated me as she always would……Why? Why is she like this?
“Once you’re back to normal, we can continue our practice tomorrow.”
“…You really seem motivated, Aotsuki-san.”
“…Yeah.” She observed the sky outside, and muttered something. “I’ll fulfill my goal…and then tell you everything.”