Chapter 1: Prologue
Darkness. She could only see darkness as hands grappled at her wrists. The air was stuffy; there was something over her head, but there was only darkness.
She heard a clicking sound and cold metal around her wrist. Those people, who she couldn’t see, took her by the arms, dragging her along even as she struggled weakly against them.
Even though she couldn’t see, she knew that no one was watching and no one was stepping out to stop this.
The girl reached out, as if calling for her brother.
—Choosing is important. He always said.
—It’s stranger if everyone is the same. He had reassured her.
However, he wasn’t here anymore. In her memories of him, there was darkness. The warmth in her heart had already been extinguished because he was no longer by her side as the kind older brother of her childhood.
Click. Click. Click.
—I didn’t choose this! She wanted to scream.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
Her ears were filled with the disorienting sound of metals clashing. Pushed along, stumbling along, she could vaguely make out the sound of a door slamming open and closed.
She didn’t know how long it had been since she had been thrown into this chaotic darkness, but it hurt.
Finally, the darkness ended. Her capturers removed the sack from the girl’s head, letting go of her arms that were already starting to bruise, and pushed her through the open door in front of her before leaving.
The girl stumbled, and the door closed behind her.
She was in a classroom. The board was state of the art technology, and from first sight, the teacher’s podium was loaded with tools. The lockers in the back of the room looked to be brand new as did the 21 desks in the room.
Her vision was still tumbling, but she could see 16 girls already in the classroom. Each of them seemed to have a bracelet on their wrist.
She lifted her left arm and touched the ring around her wrist.
“Welcome to the Keyaki class.”
Chapter 2: Checkpoint 1
The Keyaki class. A special class in Sakamichi Private Academy for Girls. That was what they said. No teacher had entered the classroom, but a teacher-like person appeared on the board in the front of the classroom to explain the class through a video call.
By the time the video call properly began, 20 girls had gathered and were situated into their seats. The last seat, in the front of the room, was empty, but it seemed as if that last girl wasn’t coming.
Hirate Yurina, a short haired girl, ran her fingers over her mysterious wristband as she sat in her seat. Her bangs slightly covered her eyes as she looked down at her desk.
She had come in after over two-thirds of the other girls had entered, so she was stuck in a seat near the front of the room, just behind the empty seat.
Although she was listening half-heartedly, she suddenly perked up when the figure on the screen said, “I’m sure you’re wondering what the bracelets around your wrists are for.”
Murmurs sounded in the back of the room. There were all sorts of voices, even two girls who let out a few words in Kansai-ben.
The figure on the screen waited for the girls to calm down before continuing his explanation.
“These bracelets are your special identification tools. They work as your student id as well as a credit card. By attaining achievements, you can gain points, which you can then translate into goods, commodities, and even money.”
“The specifics will be included in your student handbook, which will be distributed to you later.
“Please do not remove the bracelets because there will be consequences. Also, do not attempt to exit the school campus without permission either. Everything will be available here, so please enjoy your time in the Keyaki class.”
Again, the classroom began to be filled with murmurs as the girls took a closer look at their wristbands.
“As you may have concluded by your lack of homeroom teacher, there will not be teachers coming to teach in the Keyaki classroom. Instead, there will be guest lecturers who will be shown on this board.”
The figure on the board began to explain the academic curriculum of the Keyaki class, and Hirate couldn’t help but let his words enter one ear and exit the other.
Before long, the explanations began to finish. Some of the girls stopped paying attention though they were still strangers, so they hadn’t starting chatting much while the figure spoke.
“As a start, everyone please give a self-introduction to the rest of the class. This assignment will earn you each 100 points.” The figure on the board smiled mysteriously, “Enjoy your school life this year. That will be all.”
The screen turned blank, ending the video call.
Silence filled the classroom. No one seemed to be willing to start the self-introductions. It was just a room with a class filled with girls wearing blazer uniforms and silence that could make crickets sound loud.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
In reality, the electric clock in the front of the room made no sound. However, no one spoke at all, so it seemed as if the silent clock was noisy.
A girl whose hair slightly curled at the ends finally stood up. “I’m Sato Shiori. I’m interested in doing art in the future. Nice to meet everyone in the Keyaki class.”
“I’m Suzumoto Miyu. I like chestnuts.”
“Hi, I’m Oda Nana!”
“...ah… I’m Watanabe Rika…”
“It’s a pleasure to meet everyone. I’m Sugai Yuuka.”
Before long, the girls began to introduce themselves one by one. As each finished, their wristbands gave a small light that read ‘+100.’
“I’m Ozeki Rika…” This girl started sniffling about wanting to be a big sister to her younger classmates because they were going to live in the dorms.
“I’m Koike Minami.”
“I’m Nagasawa Nanako.”
The introductions continued until there was only one girl left who hadn’t introduced herself. All eyes turned to Hirate Yurina at that moment.
“I’m Hirate Yurina from Aichi-ken. Nice to meet you.” She gave the class a weak smile.
Ding. The ‘+100’ appeared on her bracelet. The self-introductions were finished.
—The murmurs of the general students.
“Keyaki class?” “I wonder what types of geniuses we have?” “She looks so cool!”
—What do they know about me?
The 20 girls gathered in the dorm, located on campus. This dorm building was apparently for the Keyaki class only, and it had a gym, dance studio, as well as a cafeteria built in.
“Wow! This is amazing!” A couple of the girls exclaimed.
A pair with short hair stood to the side and coolly nodded, “Impressive.”
They entered a lounge area at the entrance of the building, and there was an announcement posted on the bulletin board. It listed the room numbers the girls were assigned and said that their luggage had already been delivered.
Although all the rooms were assigned, when Hirate looked at the list, she was surprised to see that she was rooming alone. In fact, although all the other rooms were double rooms, there was one with three people and one with only her on the list.
The girl who had introduced herself with chestnuts popped up next to Yurina, “Hirate-chan, you’re alone in room 46?”
“It looks like it, Suzumoto-san.” Yurina replied. Looking at the board again, she noticed that Suzumoto was in the three person room with a girl named Oda Nana and Kobayashi Yui.
“I guess they didn’t group us by prefectures. I’m from Aichi too.” Suzumoto pondered. “But, if you ever feel lonely, let’s hang out.”
“That sounds good.”
The girls chatted for a while, getting to know their roommates and their new classmates.
Grumble. Grumble. It was getting late, and the normal time for dinner had arrived. Yurina felt hunger, but she didn’t say a thing, letting her bangs cover her eyes as she watched the rest of her classmates.
One of the girls, Nagasawa, said quietly as her new roommate, one of the Watanabes, nodded in agreement, “I’m hungry. Let’s go to the cafeteria.”
“Let’s eat.” The other Watanabe said as well.
Everyone was getting hungry, so they quietly spoke in agreement.
As Yurina went with Suzumoto, Oda, and Kobayashi, she heard Suzumoto mumble to herself, “I wonder if they have chestnuts in the cafeteria.”
Watanabe Risa entered the cafeteria while talking with her roommate, Shida Manaka. She felt lucky that it looked like they were getting along quite well.
Although Risa had her own reasons for applying for the Keyaki class, she had been a bit apprehensive about whether or not it was a good idea. At least for now, she knew that she wouldn’t be stuck with a troublesome roommate.
Risa looked ahead. The cafeteria seemed to use a ticket system where the students had to get a ticket from a machine and then obtain their meal order.
Suddenly, she heard a sound of surprise, “Eh? 10 points for one meal?”
The cool Watanabe lifted her left wrist to look at the metal bracelet and looked ahead again toward the ticket machine. It was true that there appeared to be a place to scan someone’s hand, and in fact, there were small numbers under each meal option like prices.
The line moved ahead. Eventually Risa and Manaka got their food and settled down at a table near their other classmates.
‘-10: =90’ flashed on Risa’s bracelet. She shook her head and looked away from her bracelet, saying a quiet “itadakimasu” as she began to eat her dinner.
Dinner proceeded. Yurina ate the warm food on her tray gratefully and listened in on the conversation, chiming in once in awhile at her new friends’ urgings.
Halfway through the meal, Suzumoto turned to Yurina and asked, “Want to exchange LINE addresses?”
Yurina replied, “You have your phone with you?”
“Yea. Hirate-chan, do you not have your phone on you?”
Pausing for a moment, Yurina said awkwardly, “I dropped it in a puddle and broke it before I came here.”
“Ah, that sucks. I wonder if you can get a new one on campus.” Suzumoto gave Yurina a pat on the shoulder and turned to Risa, “Hey, Watanabe-san, want to exchange LINE addresses?”
““Huh?”” Two Watanabes responded.
Yurina gave Suzumoto a pat on the shoulder.
Shida Manaka lazily drawled, “Watanabe Rika, right? We can just call you Berika and Risa can be Berisa.”
“Weird nickname.” Risa scoffed without much anger.
“If we’re talking about having the same name, there are two Yuis in our class too.” Another girl, Imaizumi Yui, chimed in, “You can call me Zuumin or Zumiko instead.”
Somehow, various nicknames were made along with a LINE group for the class for the girls who had LINE accounts.
Amidst the youthful commotion, Yurina said to herself...
“Probably, if we don’t have points, then we can’t eat.”
—Question: Approval. Is it that important?
Chapter 3: Checkpoint 2
It was raining. Uncomfortably, as she stood in the rain, she couldn’t move from her spot as she looked at her bruised reflection in the puddles on the ground.
The world was laughing as it rained. Those were mocking tears.
Hirate Yurina woke up from her nap in class. Without meaning to, she had fallen asleep during the lecturer’s explanation on determining the derivative of a curve.
In other words, when a small exit card quiz appeared on the special screen built into the students’ desks, she utterly failed it.
After the lesson, she laid her head down on the desk and wondered to herself why she was even in the Keyaki class.
It had been three weeks since the start of the Keyaki class, and everyone had gotten somewhat acclimated to the system. Although unsteady at first, everyone was getting a decent amount of points.
‘+0’ appeared on Yurina’s bracelet from her performance on the quiz.
“Techi, how did you do?” Suzumoto came over during break time after the end of the class.
Yurina gave a sheepish smile, “Not very well.”
“Me too.” The chestnut loving girl sighed, “I don’t get it at all.”
“We have history and then gym class, so there’s no more math for a while.”
“I’m looking forward to gym class.”
Break time was a long time, so Yurina made her way out of the classroom for a breath of fresh air.
The school grounds were eerily quiet to the point that it made her shiver. The quiet was to be expected though as aside from the Keyaki class, all the other students were in class at the moment.
She passed by the track field where some of the normal students were having gym class, not noticing the looks of curiosity she received.
Before she knew it, Yurina was in front of the school campus gates. The school building was close to the gates, and the dorms and other places, which made up a town by themselves, were more to the inner parts.
A flock of birds flew by through the blue sky.
The short haired girl looked up for a moment, shielding her eyes from the sun.
Yurina looked through the bars of the school gates. The world outside didn’t seem any different than it did a few weeks ago, but somehow, it looked brighter nonetheless.
She didn’t know what to think, so she didn’t ponder on it.
Yurina noticed a cat by the gates. It had a collar around its neck, but it had escaped its owner to this school. The cat stared at Yurina as if asking to be pet.
The girl reached her hands out through the gates when—
Pain. There was a sharp pain in her body. Yurina recoiled, falling on her bottom. She blinked away tears from the sudden sensation of pain, and when she looked for the cat, it wasn’t there.
Her bracelet vibrated.
When the short haired girl looked, she noticed a glaring red ‘-50,’ a deduction from her point values even when she hadn’t bought anything.
“...Is this a punishment?”
Yurina took another look at the school gates. Then, she shook her head and turned back to hurry back to class.
History class finished.
In the back corner of the classroom near the window, a group was chatting. Asking Saitou Fuyuka, Shida Manaka, and Watanabe Risa, Moriya Akane brought up the question, “Why did you decide to join the Keyaki class?”
“It was by chance.” Manaka offered.
Risa replied in the same vein, “I didn’t think I would get in.”
“I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that I thought it would be nice to get paid for going to a prestigious school like Sakamichi.” Fuyuka pondered aloud.
“With me,” Akane glanced away from her group at her long haired roommate, “I guess I don’t really know either.”
They spent a moment not talking, thinking.
Fuyuka interrupted the very brief silence, “Let’s play a game.”
“Huh?” Risa asked.
“Like the mozzarella cheese game.”
Akane chuckled, “I don’t think we can play that in the classroom.”
“The aishiteru game?”
Manaka responded, “Strange games are dangerous.”
“It’s not strange at all. Come on. Let’s do something.” Fuyuka smiled, “Mona and Risa, how about it?”
“Fine.” Risa huffed. “I love you, Manaka.”
“I love you.” Manaka replied smugly.
“I love you.”
Without a warning, Manaka swooped in and landed a teasing kiss on Risa’s cheek, “I love you.”
“Ah, Risa blushed.” Fuyuka laughed along with Akane.
“Geez…” Risa made an angry face toward the laughing two. “You two do it too then. Come on, aishiteru game.”
“Uh.” Akane stared at Risa as if Risa made an unreasonable request.
“Okay then. I love you, Akanen.” Fuyuka started.
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I— Oh, geez. What’s with that look?”
Manaka laughed at Fuyuka’s indignance of being ignored by Akane.
Akane shrugged, sending a quick glance back to her roommate again, and smiled victoriously. “You blushed.”
—The murmurs of the general students.
“I want to have gym class with the Keyaki class.” “They’re so athletic!”
—What meaning is there to that?
Changing into gym clothes was a quick process for Risa. Some people took longer to change, like Hirate who always seemed to disappear when changing, but Risa and Manaka changed quickly.
The gym clothes were a simple t-shirt and jersey in red with the school’s logo on the sleeves.
Risa felt her heart rate increase a little as she looked at Manaka in the jersey, remembering the playful kiss on the cheek received in the game she played earlier in the day.
The cool Watanabe shook her head and looked at the clock. Their gym class was scheduled for in a few minutes, and it looked like most of the girls were done changing.
Just as the class was about to leave for gym class, the door slammed open.
“Who are you?”
—Who should we trust in this world?
fine being alone after all?
Chapter 4: Interlude 1
On the first day, when Moriya Akane looked at the room announcement sheet, she noticed the name Sugai Yuuka as her roommate.
On the first day, when Moriya Akane heard Suzumoto asking about LINE, she ended up exchanging LINEs with Sugai Yuuka as well as joining the group chat.
The thing that Moriya Akane thought the most when she met Sugai Yuuka was that ‘ this person is an interesting person. ’ Akane wasn’t sure whether or not to be surprised by the horse icon that her new roommate had as her LINE profile.
As Akane lounged about on her bed in the dorm room, she noticed Yuuka reading the student handbook that had been distributed to the rooms.
Yuuka was wearing glasses, and Akane couldn’t help but look toward her roommate, thinking that Yuuka looked reliable when reading. Although Akane’s hands were idly tapping on her phone, chatting in the class LINE group about cosmetics, her attention was on her roommate.
“Moriya-san, I’m going to take a shower now.”
Akane was jolted out of her thoughts by Yuuka’s voice.
“Go ahead, Sugai-san.” Akane responded, trying to keep a calm face since she couldn’t tell if her roommate had noticed her staring, “I’m going to take one in the morning.”
Yuuka smiled and went into the bathroom with her change of clothes.
Akane returned the smile before rolling over on her bed and scrolling through the chat to see what she had spaced out for. It looked like some of the girls were already going to sleep, so the group chat was getting inactive.
She set her phone aside and stretched before standing up from her bed.
“Hm?” Akane noticed the student handbook still open on Yuuka’s desk. The page it was open to had a cute horse sticky note attached to it.
Akane started reading the page.
‘Points can be exchanged for monetary gains. For example, 1 point can be exchanged for 1 yen. As more points are gained, more money can be gained. The exchange rate is non-linear, meaning that while 1 point is worth only 1 yen, 1000 points is worth 2000 yen, and so on. The conversion table is detailed below.’
The girl lifted her left wrist and looked at the bracelet. She pressed a small button on the metal band and ‘=90’ flashed on the bracelet. That was barely 100 yen if she were to exchange it for money, not even enough to buy a yakisoba bread from the convenience store.
Giving a complicated look, she shook her head and decided to think about that later. She looked back at the student handbook and noted that Yuuka was already half-way through the booklet.
“Wow, she’s diligent.” Akane thought aloud, a grin of respect appearing on her face. “I’m not going to lose either.”
She stepped away from the desk and changed into her pajamas. Akane made sure to set her alarm for the morning and made a mental note to check out the tennis club some time soon.
Before long, Yuuka finished her shower and stepped into the bedroom in pajamas. The horse loving girl’s hair was dried via blowdryer, unexpectedly disappointing Akane.
It was soon time to turn in for bed.
“I’ll turn off the lights now, Moriya-san” Yuuka said to Akane.
“Thanks.” Akane smiled. Then she added hurriedly, “By the way, you can call me Akanen. That’s what my friends call me. Moriya-san is a bit stiff between roommates.”
“Oh. Then you can call me Yuuka.”
“Yea, let’s get along from now on.”
“Yes.” Yuuka smiled, switching off the lights. “Good night.”
Chapter 5: Checkpoint 3
Dribble. Dribble. The basketball bounced up and down on the floor between her hands as the short haired girl weaved between her classmates.
Sweat wetted her black bangs, but she didn’t pay them any mind. Stopping for just a moment, with the ball in her hands, she jumped and threw the basketball.
And, the ball—
—21 seats. 20 students. That’s wrong, isn’t it?
—There are so many things we don’t know about this class.
The door slammed open to the classroom. Even though they had finished changing, the girls still recoiled in surprise, letting out girlish screams that perhaps a pervert had gotten in.
Hirate Yurina slowly moved her hands away from her eyes, resetting her bangs that had been messed up in her sudden move to hide from whatever caused that slamming noise.
“There’s no one there.” She said slowly, looking toward the door apprehensively.
The short haired, cool Watanabe also returned to a relaxed pose, crossing her arms, and drawled out, “So, a ghost?”
“Eek!” Someone yelped.
“Eh? Probably not.” The other half to Watanabe Risa, Shida Manaka, shrugged.
The class was silent for a moment. Then, everyone started chatting, letting out sighs of relief, and laughing about how their friends made such funny faces at the sudden sound.
Slam! Something from outside of the classroom crashed into something else.
““Eek!!”” The class let out a noise of surprise again.
Acting cool, Watanabe Risa crossed her arms again, “Doing it twice is a little repetitive, don’t you think?”
“Risa, you say that, but you screamed too.” Fuyuka sighed.
Although some of the girls were able to engage in friendly banter, they still stood stiffly, looking toward the door. They held a long breath, wondering what would come next after that loud slam.
Yurina stepped forward again, pointing toward the open door, “We should check it out.” After a pause, she specified. “That sound.”
“Hirate-chan, that sounds kind of dangerous.” Suzumoto made a face.
Yurina tilted her head, “This is a school. I don’t think it should be that dangerous.” Although she said that, inside, she was also somewhat unconvinced of her own words.
“Hirate’s right about that.” Risa spoke up.
Yurina nodded, “Let’s check it out then.”
With those words, Yurina started walking toward the door. For each step she took, she felt that her classmates weren’t exactly following very closely behind. Nonetheless, she continued toward the open door.
“Oh, no! Hirate-chan!”
“What the heck? Isn’t this kind of bad?”
“Wait… isn’t that just…”
“Oh, it’s just a student. What’s she doing here?”
“No, wait, she has a bracelet. Look at her left wrist.”
Hirate Yurina braced herself a little too late as she fell onto the classroom floor, suddenly impacted by someone who had suddenly been flung into the room through the door.
“Ow…” She cried out.
“I’m so sorry!”
Yurina opened her eyes, which she had squeezed shut in fear from being crashed into. Right there, mere centimeters away from her face, was a girl’s face, a pretty girl with long black hair.
The short haired girl couldn’t help but mumble, “...pretty...”
The long haired girl quickly apologized, “I’m so sorry for crashing into you. Um, what did you just say?”
“It was nothing.”
“...Um. Well, I’m really sorry—”
“You don’t need to apologize. It was just an accident that we collided.”
Yurina started getting up. Her cheeks felt a bit warm, and she hoped that she wasn’t blushing because she got a close up of the new girl. The short haired girl reached a hand out toward the new girl to help the latter up.
The long haired girl held onto Yurina’s hand for a second longer after getting up.
Then the two were interrupted by Watanabe Risa’s voice.
“Who are you?”
Watanabe Risa looked at the girl who had suddenly crashed into the room suspiciously. Tapping her foot, crossing her arms, Risa couldn’t help but be irritated that she didn’t know what was going on.
Manaka put a hand on Risa’s arm reassuringly and gave her roommate a nod.
Risa repeated her question, “So, who are you?”
The long haired girl replied, “My name is Nagahama Neru.”
“Nagahama-san, why did you come crashing into our classroom like that?” Manaka piped up curiously.
Neru laughed awkwardly, nervously clenching her hands as she tried not to be intimidated by the class, “Ahaha, that’s a good question.”
“So, Nagahama-san, what are you here for?” Oda Nana added in as well.
Neru stepped back unsure what to say. To her surprise, she found a gentle hand of encouragement behind her.
Yurina stepped forward, a little in front of Neru. She offered her hand to Neru, and when Neru took Yurina’s hand, Yurina looked at her classmates calmly to explain her hypothesis.
“Nagahama-san is probably the person who that empty seat belongs to.” With her free hand, Yurina pointed to the desk in front of her desk. Then she elaborated by directing the class’s eyes toward Neru’s left wrist. “She has a metal bracelet like we do.”
There was silence. At serious moments, the class couldn’t help but be excessively silent as everyone took a moment to come to their conclusions.
Risa relented after a few moments, “That’s true.”
“Yes, you are correct.” The board in the front of the class flickered on to show the figure from the first day of the Keyaki class.
“Nagahama Neru is the 21st member of the Keyaki class. Her enrollment had been decided beforehand, but she couldn’t attend class until today. I’m sure the class will be able to take care of her and treat her as a classmate from now on.
“She will be rooming with Hirate Yurina-san, so Hirate-san, apologies, but you will have to share a room from now on.
“I will make further announcements later. However, right now, it is time for you to head to gym class. You are not late as I have informed Tsuchida-sensei about your new classmate, but class will start soon.
“It appears that it is basketball today. Hirate-san’s specialty, if I am correct.
“Enjoy yourselves, Keyaki class. Show your abilities and earn points. That will be all for now.”
—Murmur, murmur. In the end, life continues.
“Ah, I’m Hirate Yurina.” “Thank you for helping me.” “No, it was nothing.”
—Gym uniforms. Rushing to class. Is this so interesting to you?
Yurina stood on the basketball court in the gym with the ball in her hand. The figure on the board had been right about the lesson being a basketball game in gym class, and since he called her out, she had been chosen to throw the jump ball to start the game.
The class had been split up into two teams, Team Serious and Team Relatively Peaceful, named by the girls. Neru was off on the side, spectating, because she didn’t have her gym clothes yet.
Yurina was on Team Serious, led by a certain Moriya Akane. Team Relatively Peaceful was led by Akane’s roommate, Sugai Yuuka. The roommates appeared to get along, but as far as the short haired girl could see, they still wanted to win against each other.
Akane said seriously as she stood, ready to hit the jump ball for her team, “Tecchan, we’re going to win this.”
“Hirate-chan, throw this fairly.” Yuuka jokingly retorted at Akane.
Yurina nodded to both of them. She thought to herself that it would have been better for Tsuchida-sensei, the gym teacher, to throw the ball, but he was more interested in soccer and thought that having Yurina throw it would add a bit of fun to the game.
The whistle blew.
The ball went into the air.
Yurina joined the game, a smile unknowingly gracing her face.
—There’s nothing wrong with doing what you like, right?
The game sped by. At one moment, Yurina was in possession of the ball. In the next, the ball had already entered the hoop in a magnificent jump shot, scoring the last points of the game in the last minutes of gym class. And then there was clapping and cheering as well as good-hearted laughter.
She wiped away the sweat on her forehead, letting out a breath.
“That was awesome, Techi!” Suzumoto gave Yurina a jump-hug from the back. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Thanks.” Yurina smiled. “Techi?”
“Yea. Hirate-chan is a bit long to say, right? So, I think I’ll call you Techi from now on. Is that okay?”
“Techi. Techi is fine.”
Akane came jogging over as well, exchanging high-fives with the team, “Good job, Tecchan. We did it!”
“It was a good game.” Yuuka smiled. “We did our best even if we couldn’t earn any points...”
“Good game.” Akane agreed to Yuuka’s words.
Yurina echoed the same opinion, “It was a good game.”
The short haired girl walked around the court being congratulated by her teammates. The team received 75 points for winning. She lifted her wrist to look at the metal band around it and noted that it read ‘+100.’ Whoever distributed points decided that her performance was worth that much.
She gave no one in particular a wry smile. Yurina wondered to herself how long it had been since the last time she could play basketball like this.
—Isn’t it uncomfortable to be judged on things you like though?
Chapter 6: Checkpoint 4
It was lunch time. The girls had moved their desks together into their own groups within the class, and they were eating. Some of them bought bread from the school store. Others made their own lunches, ingredients from the on-campus grocery store near the dorms. Hirate Yurina was eating a pre-made bento bought from the bento store also near the dorms.
In the group of desks she was with, there were also Kobayashi Yui, Oda Nana, Suzumoto Miyu, and the new Keyaki class student, Nagahama Neru.
Neru said to Yurina, “You were really cool.”
“Cool?” Yurina asked, not understanding why Neru would suddenly praise her like that.
“During gym class.”
Yurina paused before saying a quiet “Thank you” to Neru.
The two girls exchange smiles. Yurina continued eating her lunch, moving her chopsticks to pick up rice and side dishes. She was happy to be able to eat decent food like this, but she kept glancing over to Neru.
The long haired girl didn’t have any food on her desk.
Suzumoto noticed too as she asked Neru, after finishing a chestnut snack, “Are you not going to eat lunch?”
Oda Nana nodded and chimed in, “Nagahama-san, are you dieting?”
“Oda Nana, don’t be rude.” Kobayashi Yui frowned.
“I was asking because she’s cute. What type of diet would she be doing?” Oda pouted. “Ah, but not as cute as you, Yui-pon.”
“Dani...” Suzumoto mumbled under her breath, looking at her two roommates jealously. “Hey, what about me?”
“Ehhh, Suzumoto is…” Oda started.
Yurina looked at the triple room trio and looked at Neru again. Neru looked a bit confused since she wasn’t used to their antics, so Yurina just gave Neru a shrug of ‘that’s normal.’
“Not hungry?” Yurina asked.
Neru shook her head, “No, actually, I just don’t have any food with me right now. I don’t have any points or my wallet, so I’m just going to tough it out for now.”
“Being hungry is…” The short haired girl trailed off, shaking her head to rid herself of negative thoughts, and instead, she picked up a small omelette with her chopsticks to give to Neru, “Here. You can have some.”
Yurina insisted, “You should eat. Open wide.” The omelette was still in the chopsticks, ready to be eaten.
Neru finally relented, “Thank you then.”
Without any hesitation, Yurina fed Neru the omelette. Neru blushed a little, but it looked as if the short haired girl didn’t understand why it would be embarrassing to be fed by someone else.
The chopsticks kept moving. Yurina gave Neru some rice.
Suzumoto gave Yurina a thumbs-up, “Wow. Techi, you’re good.”
Oda Nana offered, “Nagahama-san, do you want some of my vegetables?”
Suzumoto did the same, “You can have some of this.”
Yui-pon sighed, shaking her head at her two roommates, “Aren’t you just giving her food you don’t like?”
“Eh? Yui-pon, you don’t like those foods either, right?” Oda pouted.
—Noisy, noisy. This seems like normal life, doesn’t it?
Watanabe Risa’s group looked on at Neru and the rest somewhat amused. Risa was eating her lunch without really paying attention, ignoring Akane’s happy aura from the gym class victory.
“They’re being pretty rowdy.” Fuyuka grinned as she held her lunch, yakisoba bread, in her hand, “It looks like fun to exchange food like that.”
“Maybe.” Manaka nodded.
Risa shrugged, “None of us can cook though.” She wouldn’t have minded exchanging bento with Manaka, but somehow, she had the feeling that exchanging home-made food with any of her group mates would end up with strange food.
“Hey, maybe we could all try to make a bento some day and exchange side dishes.” Fuyuka suggested. “I don’t think it would turn out that badly.”
Risa looked at Fuyuka blandly. Akane looked at Fuyuka with a weird look. Manaka looked at Fuyuka and then looked away, laughing. With nothing to say, Fuyuka took a bite from her yakisoba bread and chewed silently, shaking her head as if she should have expected it.
After a while, Fuyuka said, “Yea, it would probably turn out badly.”
They changed the topic. Akane brought up clubs. “By the way, when I was talking with some of the tennis club girls, they said that Risa and Manaka were doing something for the photography club. I thought you didn’t want to do clubs, Risa.”
Risa responded, “I don’t.”
“It was more like a favor to the photography club. Modelling?” Manaka elaborated. “We got some points for doing it.” She raised her left wrist as if to emphasize the point earning.
Fuyuka sighed wistfully, “Modelling? That sounds amazing. Sakamichi sure is a prestigious school.”
Akane laughed, giving Fuyuka a pat on the back, “Fuu-chan, we’re the Keyaki class.”
“Even if we’re the Keyaki class, I don’t really feel any special except for having this bracelet.” Fuyuka raised her left wrist and looked at the metal band. “It’d be nice to be popular like in manga where a special class with superpowers has fangirls all across campus.”
“No, you’re popular.” Manaka interjected.
Fuyuka joked in response, “When did that happen?”
Without missing a beat, Manaka responded, “The photography club has a secret blog for the Keyaki class.” She took out her smartphone and opened up an internet browser to get the page up.
“Wait, what?” Risa stopped her chopsticks and sharply turned to look at her roommate.
Manaka pressed her fingers on the phone screen, looking through the secret blog and showed it to her friends, “It doesn’t have Nagahama yet.”
“No, wait, Manaka.” Risa narrowed her eyes.
“Ah, never mind.”
Akane said, “You should share that on the class LINE.”
“I want to see this blog. Eh, that’s so weird.” Fuyuka muttered as she finished up her yakisoba bread. She gave her friends a disbelieving look, wondering if they were all in a prank together.
“Done.” Manaka said after a few clicks on the smartphone.
After taking a few looks at the blog, they changed the topic again. While finishing up her store-bought bento, Risa lazily said, “So, Nagahama. What do you think about her?”
“She’s cute.” Fuyuka replied.
Akane looked over to Yurina’s group, “Tecchan seems to get along with her already. She seems like a good girl right now.”
“Really late for school.” Manaka offered.
“Yea.” Risa narrowed her eyes. “...it’s a little suspicious though. Keyaki class. Why would she be so late? And what was with those violent noises?”
Flicker-flicker. Click. Fuyuka’s next words were interrupted by the board in the front of the room turning on. With a shuffling sound, everyone turned to look at the figure from the first day who was once again displayed in a video call to the Keyaki class.
Hirate Yurina looked at the figure on the board. Somehow, she couldn’t help that the man looked somewhat familiar. She shook her head; she had seen this person so many times on the screen before but hadn’t had that feeling before. The short haired girl wondered if it was the feelings from playing basketball that had brought on this strange sense of deja vu.
“It’s good to see that you’re getting along with your new classmate.” The figure started with a smile he covered up with his hands crossed in front of his face. “I have an announcement to make about an update to the points system.”
Yurina glanced over at Neru, noticing her new classmate sitting oddly stiffly.
“I’m sure that many of you have read your student handbooks and looked over the sections about the points system. For example, the section about future updates. Of those updates, the points sharing system has now been implemented. That data has been transmitted to your bracelets through a wireless device, and from now on, it is possible to give or receive points from your classmates.
“As this information is not in the student handbook, I will not explain how to exchange points. Listen carefully as this will not be repeated. Put your bracelets together so that the portion that displays the point values is touching between bracelets. Then, the button on both devices must be pressed simultaneously for three seconds. A holographic screen will appear. That screen is the interface for your device and will be updated in the future. On the screen, under the ‘Social’ tab, you can find the point sharing program. Afterwards, you may decide how many points to exchange.
“This can only be done between two people. In the future, the holographic screen will be implemented for other uses as well, but for now, it is only for point sharing.
“Enjoy yourselves, Keyaki class. I must remind you that stealing is bad. That is all for now.” With those words, the figure cut off the video message, and the board returned to its default state.
—Ding. Dong. Ding. Dong.
—The end of lunch and a wonder if those words really needed to be said.
—Isn’t it sad to not be able to trust anyone?
Chapter 7: Interlude 2
The train chugged along the tracks. A girl with somewhat short hair was heading toward Tokyo from Ibaraki. She looked out the window, sitting down in a train seat, with nothing to do as her phone’s battery had died.
The school year was starting soon, and she had been accepted into a special program that she applied to on a whim. Apparently, she was supposed to meet an escort in the city who would take her to the school campus.
Whoosh. Click. More people got on the train.
Seeing an old lady unable to find a seat, the girl stood up and offered her seat to the old lady. The old lady thanked the girl, and the girl replied that this type of action was only to be expected of young people.
The train continued as the girl stood, holding onto a handle for standing passengers. The scenery went by. Ibaraki was a little far from Tokyo, but in her heart, she was still a little excited. However, she maintained a cool face, uninterested.
Whoosh. Click. More people got off. More people got on.
Among the people who got on, there was a girl wearing blue headphones. The girl from Ibaraki couldn’t help but think that the headphone wearing girl was rather pretty.
The girl from Ibaraki glanced at the headphone girl once but continued to look out the train window after that. She was in for a long ride, and likely, the headphone girl wasn’t going to the same destination.
Whoosh. Click. Another stop and another set of ons and offs.
The headphone girl was still on the train. What she was listening to was a mystery, but she seemed rather happy with her music. The girl from Ibaraki didn’t notice the headphone girl take a glance in her direction.
Whoosh. Click. Whoosh. Click. After a number of stops, the girl from Ibaraki finally arrived in Tokyo. She had to change stations to go to her destination and to her surprise, the headphone girl was also boarding the same train.
The girl from Ibaraki stood on the new train. It was crowded, filled with more people than she’d seen before in her hometown. Even though she wasn’t from the middle of nowhere, the capital of Japan was definitely a different world. There were people bumping into others as they tried to find their positions and make their stops.
A salaryman bumped into the girl from Ibaraki. It was crowded, so she just frowned and thought that perhaps he had been pushed.
The train started moving.
Flinch! The girl felt a hand on her skirt. She wondered if she had imagined that, but she looked and saw the same salaryman. Scowling, she was shocked to find a pervert on the train, but even as she wanted to say something, she found that she couldn’t. Unexpectedly, she was scared.
The man continued to touch her butt, getting bolder and bolder. Suddenly, his hand was torn away and he was tripped to the side, stumbling and nearly falling on the crowded train.
The girl from Ibaraki turned to see what happened, and she saw the headphone girl with the headphones around the girl’s neck. The headphone girl frowned at the man and said, louder than a normal talking voice, “Hey. Are molesters common in Tokyo or something?”
Everyone in that area of the train sent a disdainful look toward the man who had fallen. Seeing those looks, he scrambled to his feet and started running away.
“Thanks.” The girl from Ibaraki said to the headphone girl shakily.
“No, really. Thanks. What’s your name?”
“Shida Manaka. You?”
“Watanabe Risa. Nice to meet you.”
—That was the first time Watanabe Risa and Shida Manaka met.
“It was unexpected that we would be going to the same place, but…
honestly, I didn’t mind that very much.”
Risa folded her arms and sighed as she watched her classmate, Harada Aoi, scurry off unhappily with the last word of “Risa, you’re a meanie!” That girl was really childish and would bug Risa now and then, but the cool Watanabe saw her as an annoying little sister who appeared out of nowhere after the first week of school. She wasn’t sure where she picked up that annoying little sister either.
Nonetheless, she didn’t bother going after Aoi.
It was after school, and the class was dispersing. Some of her classmates were going off to clubs and others were just hanging out on campus. Risa was bored, going through the hallways at a slow pace as she wondered what she should do and where her roommate was.
“Risa!” Risa heard a voice and found her eyes covered by hands.
The cool Watanabe calmly replied to her assailant, “Manaka.”
“What are you doing?”
“Want to walk?”
“That’s fine. Do you still have those blue headphones?”
“I don’t have them on me right now.”
Manaka dug out a pair of earbuds from her bag and offered one to Risa. Risa took one. Manaka then pulled out her smartphone to choose a selection of music, scrolling through her folders when Risa pointed out a song.
“How about that one?” Risa asked.
“That’s good.” Manaka selected the song.
The two of them walked through the hallways together, listening to music. Since they were sharing a pair of earbuds, they had to walk quite close to each other, their arms bumping against each other.
That was when Risa heard a snap. She turned and found a student, not from the Keyaki class, with a camera, recoiling in horror, awe, and all types of emotions.
“Oh, no! I got caught. By Watanabe Risa-sama too. Ahhh, I knew I shouldn’t have done this. But, it’s the Cool! Senpai is going to kill me…” The student cried out, saying inexplicable things. “The photography club’s honor is on the line…”
“What’s your name?” Risa sighed and asked.
“K-Kanemura.” The student replied, gripping her camera in fear.
“And what were you doing?”
“Taking your picture. I’m so sorry!”
“Stalkers.” Manaka noted.
Kanemura cried out, “I’m so sorry. I-I-I’ll commit seppuku!”
Risa sighed again, “In the first place, that’s going way too far. If you really wanted to take a picture, you should have just asked. Aren’t you the photography club?”
“I mean, Watanabe-sama!”
“Please model for the photography club! Just this once. And Shida-san too.”
“Huh? Why am I the only one called -sama…?”
—One way or another, ‘+100’ points.
—Strange things happen. Isn’t it more interesting to be weird?
—It would have been nice for the fun days to continue forever.
Chapter 8: Checkpoint 5
Hirate Yurina looked at her new roommate, Nagahama Neru, as Neru got settled into their shared dorm room. Class had ended a few hours ago. Yurina was sitting on the edge of her bed while Neru was getting set up. Like Yurina, Neru didn’t have many belongings with her as she moved into the room.
“Are you okay?” The short haired girl asked, elaborating, her fingers running over the metal band around her wrist, “With your points.”
Neru looked over to her roommate and smiled, “I’m okay. Thank you for asking, Hirate-san.”
“You don’t have to call me Hirate-san, Nagahama-san.”
“But, you’re calling me formally too.”
Yurina froze, part of her felt cold hearing those words from Neru’s mouth but her heart started pounding. She didn’t expect to be flustered by being called by her first name. The short haired girl just couldn’t remember what she was suddenly reminded of when Neru spoke.
“What’s wrong?” Neru asked worriedly at Yurina’s silence.
The short haired girl shook her head hurriedly, “It’s nothing. No one has called me that for a long time, so I just felt a little weird. It’s not a bad thing though.”
“Yurina is very pretty name.”
“Neru is pretty too.”
“Anyways, if you’re ever in trouble with your points, I’m willing to help. I don’t use my points very often.” Making sure to say this as a whisper, Yurina muttered to herself, looking away from Neru, “Since it isn’t like I have anything much to look forward to.”
Neru paused for a moment, not hearing Yurina’s mumbles, and she said again, “Thank you.” The long haired girl looked at her left wrist and then at Yurina again and thought to herself, ‘ thank you. Really. I’m sorry. ’
Before long, the sun fully set. It was nighttime, and everyone had long finished dinner. Neru completed her unpacking, and Yurina offered the shower to her. When the long haired girl finished showering, she found that the short haired girl had already fallen asleep and hadn’t even covered herself up with a blanket.
Neru saw Yurina’s sleeping face and murmured to herself, “Yurina-chan is like a cute little otter.”
She stopped herself from reaching out to the short haired girl. Shaking her head, Neru simply adjusted Yurina’s blankets so that the other girl would be covered as to not catch a cold. Then, she went to bed herself, turning off the lights.
—Isn’t life tiring? But don’t you want to live?
“I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry.”
—Everyone is fickle. So, it’s fine to be alone, but isn’t it cold that way?
Click. The lights turned on dimly. It was in a gym. From nowhere, a basketball bounced from behind her, making a loud sound on the ground. It rolled after losing momentum. Hirate Yurina’s tired eyes followed the ball, and she walked to pick it up.
As she bent down, she felt a heavy force hit her from behind, forcing her down to her knees. Click. A spotlight focused on her, and she couldn’t help but squint her eyes in pain from the light. As she tried to get up to soothe her knees that had hit the ground harshly, she felt another hit to her body and saw the ball roll away into darkness.
When she looked up, she saw a very familiar face who spat and kicked her, “What do you think you are?”
Yurina didn’t cry out in pain. She just looked away. However, before she knew it, she was surrounded by people who she recognized.
“It’s all your fault.” A slap, a hand grabbing her by the hair roughly.
A stomp, a foot crushing down on her dominant hand and grinding it into the ground. “Don’t ever touch that ball again.”
The short haired girl didn’t make a sound. It was because she was already used to it. That was a truth. However, it was because she knew that this was just a perpetual nightmare that she wouldn’t wake up from with her own power.
“Disgusting.” Painful words.
“Go die.” Painful hits.
“You’re worse than trash.” Yurina tried to ignore them.
She breathed heavily as she heard them say, “Everything is because of you.”
“Why were you ever born?”
“It would be better if you were to just disappear.”
“It’s your fault. All your fault. Take responsibility for this.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“You’re the worst.”
“Do you think you’re so amazing?”
“Trash. You should just stay where you belong in the trash.”
“Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die instead.”
The short haired girl looked down, panting. Even if it hurt, she wouldn’t say anything back. The tears in her eyes didn’t matter. The cold sweat that had beaded up on her skin didn’t matter. She was just waiting for her hell to end even if she knew that it would continue every night.
Finding that the attacks had temporarily ceased, Yurina looked up.
Her eyes widened.
From her lips, a single name escaped, “ —————— ?”
And she saw a smile, a cruel smile.
“Yurina-chan, why did you have to be born?”
—Say no. Even if you’re hit, stand up for your own justice.
—If you say nothing, they’ll take it as agreement.
—Isn’t that wrong?
She screamed. She couldn’t hold back that scream. Jerking up, Hirate Yurina screamed, her heart racing in horror and her eyes tearing up. Then, she quickly slapped her hands over her mouth, looking around to see that she was still in her dorm room. The clock read 3:00 AM.
The short haired girl took a deep breath and tried to calm herself down.
“Yurina-chan, are you okay?”
Yurina flinched at the sudden voice. When she looked at Neru’s bed, she was surprised to see Neru up already at such an early hour. Class didn’t start until past 7 and the cafeteria didn’t open until 6.
Neru gave Yurina a worried look. “Yurina-chan?”
“I-I’m okay.” Yurina’s words came out less steady than she wanted them to. “I’m going to take a shower.” Thus, she made a strategic retreat, getting to her feet in such a hurry that she nearly tripped and went for the bathroom.
Before she entered the bathroom, she made sure to hurriedly add, “I’m sorry for waking you up.”
“No, you didn’t wake me up.” Neru replied, but Yurina was already in the bathroom and the shower soon turned on.
Under the hot water of the shower, Yurina closed her eyes, letting her bangs cover her eyelids. She made a weak smile and mumbled to herself, “Neru definitely won’t like someone like me.”
That thought made her sadder than she expected.
Chapter 9: Checkpoint 6
Hirate Yurina sighed, laying her head on her desk. The class had finished a big test regarding all the subjects that they had learned so far, and her head was throbbing from that as well as bad sleep.
The board in the front of the class displayed the class rankings based on their scores on the test. She wasn’t surprised to see herself in the lower half of the class though it turned out that her roommate, Neru, was a genius because Neru had tied for first place with another girl called Yonetani Nanami.
“Hey, Techi, are you okay?” Suzumoto called out to Yurina. “Um, getting a bad grade isn’t a big deal. I did pretty badly too. It’s not that many points anyways. Right?”
Yurina moved her left wrist so she could see the metal bracelet. Since she failed this test, she received demerits to her points. Everyone below a certain score received a point loss, but despite complaints, the class had accepted it as a way that the school was making sure they kept their grades up.
“Techi?” Suzumoto repeated.
“Oh. Um, sorry. I’m okay.” Yurina sighed, “I hate school.”
“Yea. Studying is hard.”
Yurina widened her eyes in surprise at Suzumoto’s words. Then, the short haired girl realized that she said her words of ‘I hate school’ out loud. She didn’t mean to do so, but luckily, Suzumoto didn’t notice her internal conflict.
Suzumoto nodded. “Let’s do our best together. Maybe Nagahama-san can help us out. Actually, maybe I can get Dani to tutor me…” She gave a scheming laugh.
“Yea. Let’s do our best.” Yurina smiled weakly in reply.
—Sometimes, you don’t realize where you are until you’re too late.
Watanabe Risa grumbled to herself as she glanced at the board in front of the class. Although she knew she wasn’t the best academically, it was embarrassing to have the numbers displayed like that without any warning of an exam. Her roommate Manaka was also on the lower part of the board.
“That was bad. That was really bad.” Fuyuka held her head in her hands as she looked away from the front of the room.
Akane made a face like she ate something bitter as well. She glanced toward her roommate and the board again though, conceding that at least Yuuka did well, so the exam wasn’t a total flop. Of course, Yuuka’s whole friend group did decently.
Manaka sighed, flopping over and leaning on Risa, “Yea, that was bad.”
“How did Nagahama even get first ranking?” Risa muttered loudly to her group, “She wasn’t even in class for these lessons.”
“Did she cheat? She doesn’t look like the type to cheat.” Fuyuka wondered.
“Probably not. Not to be rude to Techi or Suzumon, but Nagahama’s not in a seat that’s easy to cheat from.” Manaka pointed to Neru’s seat near Hirate and Suzumoto, using nicknames without a care in the world.
“I hope Tecchan isn’t feeling too down from flunking the test.” Akane looked to where Manaka was pointing, “It looks like Nagahama isn’t with Tecchan right now.”
Risa’s eyes followed as well. She frowned as she spotted the new girl in another corner of the room, “She’s talking with Yone? Nagahama’s suspicious. Like a tanuki.”
Fuyuka asked, “Risa, are you sure? That might be going a little too far.”
“This is my gut feeling.” Risa replied coolly.
Akane redirected the conversation back to Neru-watching, “Oh, Nagahama is going over to talk to Tecchan now.”
—Suspicious. Resistance. This place is not without what?
—That conversation really wasn’t that interesting in the end.
It was raining. When it had started raining was a question, but Hirate Yurina couldn’t quite remember. It was probably sometime during lunchtime. The bell dismissing all of the students from their afternoon classes had just rung, but the short haired girl was only paying attention to the rain.
Neru approached Yurina, “Yurina-chan, do you want to go to the dorms together? I bought an umbrella this morning.”
“Are you sure though? You’ll get wet if we try to share the umbrella.” Yurina asked.
“It’s okay. We can stand closer together so we both stay dry.”
Neru extend a hand out toward Yurina. After a moment of hesitation, Yurina took Neru’s hand. They walked out of the school building together, holding hands, Yurina being led by Neru.
With surprising dexterity, Neru flicked open her red umbrella and held it over their heads. They stepped into the open, their shoes still somewhat splashing on the ground.
Pitter. Patter. Pitter. Patter. There was only the sound of rain.
They continued walking, and Yurina noticed that Neru was having trouble holding the umbrella over Yurina’s head because Yurina was a few centimeters taller. There was also an awkward gap between them, leaving Neru’s shoulder to get wet because the long haired girl seemed intent to keep Yurina dry.
“Neru, let me hold the umbrella. I’m taller.” Yurina offered.
“Thank you.” Neru smiled and handed the umbrella over. “Sorry to trouble you.”
“No, it’s nothing.”
The rain continued, and their lightly splashing footsteps continued as well. Yurina let go of Neru’s hand when she took the umbrella and made sure that Neru was kept dry from the rain.
“Yurina-chan, your shoulder is getting wet.” Neru gave Yurina a wry smile.
“It’s not a big deal.”
“That ruins the point of having an umbrella, right? You can stand closer to me.”
“Then… thank you.”
Pitter. Patter. Pitter. Patter. Yurina still heard the sound of the rain, but she could also hear the sound of her own heart as she walked with Neru, arms extremely close. It wasn’t a bad feeling to share an umbrella with someone so warm.
Even though they weren’t talking, Yurina could hear Neru softly humming to herself over the sound of the rain. That humming was a little off-key, but the short haired girl could still tell that it was a song that Neru liked.
Unknowingly, Yurina smiled.
—This feeling welling up in your heart must be an illness.
—Because, ------ isn’t allowed to feel this way.
Watanabe Risa looked at the cafeteria food ticket machine and frowned as she put her wrist into the scanner and pressed her meal ticket choice. The price had gone up to 30 points, gradually but surely. It would be better to cook than to eat at the cafeteria eventually, and she had noticed the price rising pattern in other places too.
After Risa got her tray with food and sat down at a table with Fuyuka and Akane, Manaka appeared, sitting down next to the cool Watanabe, “Risa, what did you get?”
“Udon.” Risa replied, opening up the supplied disposable chopsticks.
Manaka nodded, “I got omurice.”
As the group of friends said “itadakimasu” in tandem, Manaka reached for the ketchup on the table and started to draw on her omurice in ketchup. Risa sent Manaka a questioning look, seeing the demented hearts on the dish.
“I wanted to see if ketchup actually goes well with omurice.” Manaka joked, “Do you want me to draw hearts for you too?”
“Not in udon.” Risa retorted.
“Maybe it would taste good.”
“Not in udon.”
“Nagahama’s putting ketchup in stuff too. Wait, is that yogurt…?”
Fuyuka took a look at the disgusted faces that appeared on her cool, short-haired friends and tried to offer, “Maybe it tastes good.”
“No, it doesn’t look like it tastes good. Tecchan, don’t… eat it.” Akane sighed as she looked at Yurina and some of the other girls try Neru’s concoction.
The conversation eventually turned to strange food combinations and weird foods that actually tasted good together. Risa and the group were having fun talking, but Risa still felt a nagging doubt of suspicion toward the new Keyaki class girl and it wasn’t because of her questionable taste buds.
She ate her udon and pondered to herself.
—I don’t trust her.
Chapter 10: Checkpoint 7
Over a week had passed since Nagahama Neru joined the Keyaki class. Although the normal students at Sakamichi had already discovered her and set up a section for her in their fan-page, Watanabe Risa was still cold to Neru. That coldness was so steady that Neru hadn’t been invited into the class LINE chat yet.
Contrary to Risa, Hirate Yurina was getting along extremely well with her new roommate. Although the short haired girl was too reserved to go for sitting in Neru’s lap like Suzumoto would often do to Oda Nana, Yurina would often hold hands with Neru when Neru offered a hand.
The class was currently heading toward the home economics classroom. Similar to gym, home ecs was one of the few classes where the girls had a physical teacher rather than a person on a screen. It was only taught every two weeks.
They entered the classroom, and the teacher split the girls up into groups of 5 with one group of 6.
To Risa’s chagrin, Fuyuka, Akane, and Manaka were all in the same group with the two Yuis in the class while Risa herself was stuck with the other Watanabe, Yurina, Nagasawa, and most importantly, Neru.
Today’s lesson was how to make a simple hamburger steak. The teacher gave a quick demonstrations and wrote out the instructions on a movable whiteboard that she placed in the front of the room.
Although Risa hadn’t made hamburger steak before, she saw that the Watanabe-Nagasawa pair looked like they knew what they were doing.
“Naako, this…” Berika said quietly to Nagasawa.
In a similarly mild manner, Nagasawa replied, “I’ve made hamburger steak before. Pe-chan, what type of hamburger do you like the best?”
Risa shook her head. Perhaps only Nagasawa knew what she was doing. The cool Watanabe didn’t particularly see the soft Watanabe knowing how to cook. Risa was relieved that at least one person knew how to cook in the group although she frowned when she eyed Neru.
“Do we split up the tasks?” Yurina asked, “Nagasawa-san, what do you suggest?”
Nagasawa thought for a moment before assigning the tasks, “Hirate-chan can make the rice. Berisa-san and Nagahama-san can help cut things and make the sauce. I’ll cook the hamburger steak. Pe-chan can help out random things and set out the dishes.”
The group chorused out a “Okay” with varying rates of enthusiasm. Then, they all got to work.
Risa and Neru stood side by side. Neru felt that the cool Watanabe was excessively cold toward her, but she couldn’t really understand why. Nonetheless, she had an uneasy feeling being with Risa even though she wanted to get along with Risa.
Neru asked her partner, “We cut the onions first, right?”
“Yes.” Risa replied curtly.
After retrieving two onions from the supplies they were given for home economics class, Neru showed the onions to Risa, “Do you think these look good?”
Without another word, Risa and Neru cut the onions. Chop, chop, chop, chop. Although Risa was doing it a bit clumsily and Neru was doing normally, they worked without talking. When they finished, they handed the onions over to Nagasawa and started working on the sauce after washing their hands.
As they went to start the sauce, both Risa and Neru reached out for the ketchup. It was almost as if a zap of electricity went between the two as their fingers touched because Risa quickly pulled away.
“Um…” Neru started.
Risa replied crisply, “What?”
—Trust might be something that’s hard to earn.
—Who are you supposed to trust in this world of dog-eat-dog?
Yurina finished washing the rice and starting the rice cooker. She finished her part rather quickly, but when she looked toward Neru and Risa, the short haired girl felt a strange pressure coming from that area.
She noticed her groupmate, Berika, daydreaming.
Then, Yurina looked toward the other groups, some of which seemed to be rather troubled. Unconsciously, she rubbed her left wrist where the metal wristband had been for weeks.
“Hirate-chan,” Berika called out to Yurina, “what are you thinking about?”
“Nothing in particular.” Yurina answered before asking, “How do you feel about the Keyaki class? Being here?”
“Hm… I guess, it’s fun.”
“Yea, it’s nice.”
“I didn’t think I could have so many friends. Even if I’m not close with everyone, I have a lot of fun everyday here.”
“I’m glad I decided to join.”
Yurina nodded, “Yea.”
After another few minutes, the hamburger steak and rice started to finish cooking. Nagasawa called Berika to help set up the plates, and Yurina followed after, offering to help.
When the short haired girl and her group finally sat down to eat their creations, Yurina couldn’t help but feel grateful that she could eat delicious, warm food.
“This is delicious.” Berika said softly with a smile.
Nagasawa replied as she ate, “I’m happy.”
Yurina ate quietly, sitting between Neru and Risa like a wall. “Yea, it’s delicious.” She said like a whisper as she took another bite of the warm hamburger steak.
—Warm, handmade cooking is like the taste of home.
—What is home defined as?
After school, Yurina went to the library by herself. Although she had thought to study a little, she ended up in the manga section, browsing through volumes. Her fingers brushed against the spines of the books as she wondered to herself what to read.
“Ah…” She let out a small noise as she reached a series that her brother used to read.
She hesitated to slip the book out of its place, but she took it off the shelf anyways. Flipping through it, she gave the manga a sad look and put it back onto the shelf. That series was as lame as she remembered it to be.
Yurina went down the aisle, eventually picking out a short shoujo manga series.
She read it, flipping through the pages. At some moments, she blushed. At others, she wondered if the actions were really romantic as she had done things like share an umbrella with Neru.
Before the short haired girl knew it, an hour had passed. She put the books back and looked up at the clock. Yurina decided to return to the dorms.
A voice called out to the short haired girl, “Um, excuse me, Hirate-san.”
“Yes?” Yurina responded, not recognizing the girl who called her. It was someone from the normal classes at Sakamichi.
“Can I shake your hand?” The unknown person asked.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I think you’re really cool. Out of everyone in the Keyaki class, I think you’re the coolest.”
The atmosphere of the conversation got awkward. However, the Hirate-fan managed to squeeze out the words, “If you’re not in any clubs, please join the basketball club.”
That was when another student came up from behind the fan and grabbed the fan’s hand, dragging her away, “Hey, stop bothering Hirate-san.”
Yurina watched as the two left. Her apparent fan waved goodbye to the short haired girl, so Yurina gave a weak wave back. Her only thought about that was that it was a strange occurrence.
She headed back to the dorms.
—Not being the LINE group.
—The screen of that phone had cracked a long time ago.
Chapter 11: Checkpoint 8
It was early morning. Although Hirate Yurina had a small nightmare, she still had to go to school. Walking side by side with her roommate, Neru, Yurina entered the school building and opened the door to her classroom.
Everything was normal. Everyone who had already arrived was in their seats, chatting with their friends. Like always, the teacher podium was utterly empty, and the board in the front of the room had yet to turn on.
Yurina and Neru took their seats and said their “good morning”s to their classmates.
Time moved on. Like always, the digital clock in the front of the room was silent. What normally counted as homeroom was about to start, but that was usually just an overview of what the day was going to be about.
Just as the morning bell was about to ring, Suzumoto, Oda Nana, and Kobayashi Yui ran into the room. With that, everyone had gathered. The three roommates sank down into their seats with a sigh of relief.
“What happened?” Neru asked lightheartedly.
Oda Nana answered, “All three of our alarm clocks didn’t ring.”
“I was having such a nice dream about chestnuts…” Suzumoto groaned as she buried her face into her head, feeling that school started way too early.
“I woke up thinking that it was strange…” Yui-pon sighed.
Neru said, “That sounds terrible.”
“Yea, it was.” Oda Nana added jokingly, “But when we ran past the staff room on the way here, I heard some commotion. I guess it’s not just us who have trouble in the morning.”
They chatted a little more, giving Techi a pat on the head because she too was tired. Then, the morning bell rang. However, the board in the front of the room didn’t turn on.
—Out of the norm. That’s not acceptable.
“Huh, is it broken?” “Eh, no way.” “Maybe the overview uploading guy overslept.”
—What a terrible feeling.
Watanabe Risa scrolled through LINE as she waited for the board in the front of the room to turn on. She was chatting with Manaka through the phone even though her roommate was sitting closeby.
“Risa.” Manaka wrote. Then her icon was beside a set of ellipses for a few moments before the ellipses disappeared, Manaka not having written anything more.
Risa replied on LINE, “What is it?”
There were more ellipses. Risa peered over to her roommate, wondering what exactly she was typing but not sending. Then, she received Manaka’s message, “Just wanted to say Risa.”
As the short haired Watanabe was about to reply, the door to the classroom opened with more force than needed.
A man in a suit stepped into the classroom. Rather than just being a man in a suit, he was a teacher at Sakamichi, but the Keyaki class had never had him before, and it had never been planned for them to have him teach their class ever.
He gave the girls a mean look before stepping up the teacher’s podium.
Clearing his throat, he said, “You girls are the Keyaki class?” As he saw a few of them nod and murmur yes, he continued, slamming his palm down on the podium with a smack, “Put your phones away!”
The girls flinched. Some of them hurriedly stuffed their smartphones into their bags while others, like Risa, put their phones into their desks, ready to message each other under the cover of their desks. Risa especially frowned at his command.
“Do you think you’re special? That the Keyaki class is something special?” The man asked the girls.
No one knew what to say in response to him. He looked angry.
“Well, do you think your class is special?” He repeated, stepping towards the girls, walking through the aisles and stopping at a random girl.
Ishimori Nijika who had been randomly singled out could only squeak out a “Yes?” in confusion. She didn’t know if it was the right answer, but after hearing that single word, the teacher walked back up to the podium.
“Yes, you girls must all think that you’re so special. That you can do as you please just because you’re the Keyaki class.” He frowned.
Risa sent him a dour look from her seat in the back of the class. She peeked down at her phone, seeing the messages in the class group LINE from the girls who hadn’t put their phones away.
“What’s he talking about?”
“Did someone do something?”
“Who is this old guy?”
“A lit. teacher?”
“What’s he doing here?”
“Berika, not the time for jokes.”
Then, she looked back to the teacher who was continuing his rant. No administrator from the Keyaki class was stopping this man, and none of the girls knew what to do.
“Do you think you can steal from a teacher? Do you think that you’re really that special?” The man asked. “You Keyaki girls are the same students as everyone else, so don’t assume that you can do things that aren’t allowed.”
A ripple of nervous mumbles went through the girls. That was cut off by another slam of the palm onto the podium.
“Who did it?” The teacher began to walk through the aisles again, stopping at random girls to ask. “Who did it?” They shrank away from him, but he continued. “Who stole the gradebook from the staff room?”
“Was it you?” He asked a girl. “Was it you?” He asked another. Everyone of the girls he asked had long hair, and eventually he walked up to Neru.
“Was it y—” The teacher began to interrogate Neru.
Then the sound of a chair being pushed aside interrupted his question. A short haired girl stood up, Risa found it to be Yurina and widened her eyes in surprise. With a steady voice, Hirate Yurina started, “Please wait a moment.”
—You must beat me down because I won’t let go of my justice.
“...Tecchan…” “Techi…” “Hirate-chan…”
—What meaning is there in standing up?
“Do you have any evidence that one of us stole from the staff room? We rarely interact with the teachers in the staff room.” Yurina elaborated.
From the back, Akane stood up as well, “Yea, that’s right. We don’t even know what you’re accusing us of.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to agree.” Yuuka hesitantly stood up as well. “We have no idea what you are talking about.”
The teacher gave Yurina an annoyed look before walking back up to the podium, yelling at the girls to “Sit down!” He frowned when he saw that the short haired girl hadn’t sat down and was returning an apathetic look.
“One of you Keyaki girls stole a gradebook from my desk in the staffroom. All I need is for the culprit to step forward now.” The man explained.
Yurina repeated, “Like I said, how do you know that it was one of us?”
“I have video proof from the security cameras.”
—Suspicion. Suspicion. That terrible feeling welling up inside.
—Will we play the blame game too?
Chapter 12: Checkpoint 9
A video was put up onto the board in the front of the class. It was slightly fuzzy and the color quality was bad, but the time stamp showed yesterday afternoon. It was the security camera’s video, and the area being recording was the hallway the staff room was in.
Then, a figure walked onto the screen. The person was wearing the Keyaki class version of the school uniform and appeared to have long black hair. She opened the door to the staff room and entered.
Within a few moments, the figure exited the staff room, holding a binder that was likely the gradebook in her hand. She noticed the camera and scurried away. The face was too blurry to make out, but Yurina felt that she saw piercings on the ears of the figure. That was a fleeting thought though as the figure turned away quickly, and the video quality was too poor to make out facial features, much less piercings.
The video ended, and the screen went blank again. The room was filled with murmurs, and Yurina took a seat, unsure of what to make of the video.
“The question now is who stole the gradebook.” The teacher cleared his throat and looked at the class with an ugly glare. “Step forward now, and your punishment will be lightened.”
No one stepped forward. It was only natural because it had already been stated that a punishment would be doled out.
The tense air was finally broken when the bell signalling the end of what should have been homeroom rang.
The teacher in the suit scowled, but he relented. “Come to the staff room and confess to your crimes. I have to go teach first period now, but that does not mean that we will accept you stealing from teachers just because you’re the Keyaki class. If no one confesses after the next week, then this matter will have to be seriously investigated.” He finally left after those words.
—A collective gasp of relief.
“Who was that?” “There are a lot of people with long hair.” “No way…”
—Even though we didn’t commit a crime, isn’t it so tempting to be blamed?
First period for the Keyaki class started quickly. The lecturer on the board was teaching about science, the structure of nucleic acids as well as three-prime to five-prime strands of DNA. Some girls were studiously taking notes, but others were on their phones, chatting about the theft incident they had just been informed of.
Watanabe Risa was not among those too distracted to listen to scientific explanations. She had her phone on her lap and was in the group LINE.
Akane asked in the chat, “Who did it?”
“Long hair.” Manaka typed.
One of the two Kansai girls in the class, Koike Minami, wrote, “Habu-chan?” She tacked on a crying penguin emoticon that said that she didn’t want that.
“Too tall.” Fuyuka replied.
The tall girl, Habu Mizuho, typed into the LINE chat, “I wouldn’t do such a thing in the first place…” She added a sad face emoticon at the end.
“Who in the class has long hair?” Ozeki asked.
“Granny Rina, Berika, Yukka, Aoi?” Manaka typed.
Fuyuka wrote, “Hm.”
Berika inserted a sticker. “Revolution!”
“Berika was with me yesterday afternoon though.” Nagasawa joined the conversation as well.
“Alibis.” Manaka noted.
Risa looked through the chat log again, frowning to herself. Then, she typed out one name, “Nagahama Neru.” That was her suspicion, the idea that Nagahama Neru was the culprit.
The cool Watanabe looked toward the front of the room where Neru was diligently taking notes. Even though there wasn’t anything visibly off with the long haired girl, Risa still couldn’t shrug off the feeling that there was something wrong with Nagahama Neru.
“She’s suspicious.” Risa couldn’t help but mutter.
She looked back down to her phone, noticing that Manaka sent her a LINE message in their private chat. The message read, “Really paying attention to Nagahama?”
“Nagahama’s suspicious.” Risa messaged back.
“Possibly. She has long black hair too.”
“Doesn’t really add up.”
Risa returned to the class LINE group that had been chatting the whole time. The other girls stated their alibis for yesterday afternoon and were chatting curiously about the crime, not really caring yet also not wanting to be dragged up into something that reflected so badly on the class.
Rather than paying attention to class, they were looking forward to the next break time. The cool Watanabe looked up at the clock. There was still a while before class was over.
—Those who are silent aren’t agreeing.
—Speaking up and trust.
With the bell, it was break time. Hirate Yurina put her biology notebook away, having realized that she understood very little of what was being taught. As the girls got up to chat, Yurina looked around the room and wondered which of her classmates wore earrings.
Suddenly, murmuring broke out in the classroom. Everyone seemed to be looking at the board in surprise, so the short haired girl turned as well.
A message was on the board. ‘Find the culprit of the gradebook theft from the staff room. Failure will receive a demerit of 1000 points from each student. Completion will give 1000 points to each student.’
1000 points was a large amount of points, and the apprehension in the room rose due to that. The people who hadn’t care much of the crime suddenly felt displeased with the thief.
“1000 points is a lot. Who did it?” Oda Nana sighed as she looked at the board.
Yurina wracked her head and frowned to herself.
From the back of the room, Risa spoke loudly enough that the rest of the class could hear, “Who do you think did it?”
Everyone turned their heads toward the cool Watanabe.
“1000 points is a lot of points. Altogether, if whoever did it got away, we would be losing 21000 points total.” Risa started, crossing her arms. “We know that the culprit has long, black hair, correct? That narrows it down to a few people. For example, Nagahama Neru.” Risa pointed her index finger to Neru.
Neru widened her eyes in surprise, “Eh?”
“Where were you yesterday afternoon? Do you have an alibi?”
“I was in my dorm room, reading.”
“Techi?” Suzumoto whispered to Yurina, wondering if she knew anything as Neru’s roommate.
“Hirate, were you there with her at that time?” Risa asked.
“No. I was in the library, but Neru was reading in our room when I entered the dorm room.” Yurina shook her head, frowning that Neru was being accused.
“No alibi then.” Akane said, sitting on her desk.
Suspicious murmurs travelled through the class. The girls gave Neru suspecting looks, and even Suzumoto’s group seemed a little uneasy and distrusting of Neru. Neru looked down at her feet.
Fuyuka said, “If you did it, you should just confess.”
“But, I didn’t do it…” replied Neru.
“We won’t blame you if you own up to it.” Another member of the class, Sato Shiori, added on.
“I didn’t do it.” Neru repeated her innocence.
Risa drawled out, “How do we know that? Isn’t it better if you just own up it?”
—People hate being punished for the crimes of others.
—One simple accusation and a jump in logic to a judgment of crime.
A clear voice interrupted the accusations, “Wait a moment.”
Chapter 13: Checkpoint 10
Hirate Yurina frowned as the mood in the classroom soured, making the girls more and more suspicious of each other. It was weird how quickly people started doubting Neru, but at the same time, it was normal how people wanted to find someone to blame.
The short haired girl couldn’t stand listening to her classmates anymore and stood up from her seat, pushing the chair aside. With a clear voice, she said “Wait a moment.”
Her words broke the class’s murmurs apart, creating a tense moment of silence.
“Neru didn’t steal the gradebook.” Yurina explained, punching a hole into the accusation. “What motives does she have to do that?”
“What motives do any of us have to steal something from the staff room? That doesn’t clear up anything.” Risa retorted. “The person in the video was wearing our uniform, so she’s one of us.”
“Neru doesn’t have piercings.”
“The person in the video had ear piercings.”
“Aren’t you just making that up? There’s no way you can see that in such a blurry video, and we can’t check it either.”
“Maybe so, but can you prove that the person in the video was Neru?”
“She doesn’t have an alibi.”
“Does everyone else have an alibi? They could be lying. There could be accomplices that help the actual thief create an alibi.”
“What motives do they have to do that?”
“We don’t know. They could be trying to undermine Neru or some other long haired girl in our class. The thief might even be trying to make trouble for the Keyaki class in general.”
“And how do we know Nagahama isn’t trying to make trouble?”
Yurina and Risa came to a standstill. Neither was willing to budge from their stance. While neither had anything against the other personally, they were extremely split on Neru’s innocence.
Finally, Sato Shiori interrupted the standoff, “Let’s not fight!”
For a long moment, silence filled the classroom. Then Risa and Yurina both sat down in their seats, standing down from the argument for the time being.
—Is it better to fight or agree?
Literature class went the same way as biology did. The girls were vaguely paying attention but at the same time, they were preoccupied with the drama going on with the crime, so they couldn’t help but check LINE.
Risa was looking at her phone under the cover of the book they were supposed to be reading and analyzing in class.
Nagasawa asked in the LINE chat, “So who’s the culprit?”
“Tecchan made some good points.” Akane noted.
Suzumoto joined in the conversation, posting a chestnut sticker with her words, “I don’t want to think it’s Neru.”
“Nagahama has no alibi.” Risa typed.
Habu wrote, “Accomplices?”
Ishimori Nijika dropped in with a thinking ostrich sticker, “Maybe Berisa since she doesn’t like Neru.”
“Risa wouldn’t do that.” Manaka retorted quickly.
Fuyuka added. “Neru is kind of sketchy.”
“But she’s nice.” Suzumoto posted another chestnut sticker, a worried chestnut this time.
“Tanuki-like?” Manaka joked.
Akane asked, referring to the site that Manaka had found a while ago from the photography club, “Ah, from the Sakamichi Keyaki class fan site?” Some normal students who were members of the Keyaki fanclub and had accounts on the strange fan site had described Neru as tanuki-like.
“Maybe the normal students are seeing something we’re not. Though didn’t Risa say that before?” Fuyuka wrote.
Suzumoto typed again, “Neru culprit theory.”
“Berisa culprit theory.” Nagasawa noted.
Berika joined in, “I want to take in the culprit.”
“Berika murderer theory?” Manaka said.
“Madagascar!” Berika inserted another Gorgeous joke sticker.
Nijika questioned, “Are you talking about that fanfiction on the fan site? Toku something?”
Fuyuka joked, “Risa-loving Nijika culprit theory?”
“Ehhh??” Nijika posted, not being particularly close or far from Risa as a friend.
“RisaNeru accomplice theory.” Suzumoto added, referencing the relationship Risa and Neru apparently had in the Tokuyama Daigoro story that someone had posted on the Keyaki class fan site.
Manaka refused, “Risa is mine.”
Risa looked up from her phone for a moment and shook her head, wondering if she was feeling too happy at Manaka’s words. However, her mood was still sour from her suspicion of Neru who she had a bad feeling about from the start.
“Anyways, 1000 points is bad.” Nagasawa wrote with the feeling of a sigh.
Fuyuka nodded in her seat as she typed, “I hope everything ends well.”
—Tempting fate. It would be good to end well.
The rest of the day was spent with an awkward mood in the class, but no big debates over who the culprit was happened again. The next day started, the message of points still large on the board, but with no progress in finding the thief, the girls gradually returned to normally paying attention to class.
Lunchtime arrived. As it looked as if everyone in Yurina’s lunch group had forgotten to bring a drink, they played rock paper scissors to decide who would go buy drinks from a vending machine. In the end Neru lost.
The short haired girl couldn’t help but see that her friends were uneasy handing over their points to Neru.
Yurina thought to herself that they definitely suspected Neru was the thief. Even if they weren’t making a big deal out of it, Yurina could tell that there was a sense of mistrust in the air.
She hurt, wondering if friendships were so weak as to be burdened by senseless accusations. She knew the answer by experience, but she didn’t want to think of that kind of conclusion to her new friendships in the Keyaki class.
“I’ll buy it.” Yurina stood up from her seat, listing out her friends’ typical drink choices with a weak smile, “Water, orange juice, soda, and oolong tea, right? My treat this time.”
Suzumoto said, “Thanks, Techi.” Oda Nana and Kobayashi Yui nodded along in thanks as well.
“Thank you.” Neru gave Yurina a grateful look.
The short haired girl acknowledged that thanks, and then she went off to find a vending machine where she could buy those things. Going through the hallways, there were other students going about their normal lives, the broadcasting club broadcasting, and even people practicing for clubs. Although Yurina saw a few people looking at her strangely, whispering excitedly, she tried to ignore them.
‘ Aren’t I the one running away from things? ’ Yurina thought to herself as she walked. ‘ It’s not Neru, right? ’
When she went to the usual vending machine, she found that it was out of order. When she went to another, it was also missing just the four items that she wanted.
In the end, Yurina found herself in front of a vending machine in the back of the school. It was outdoors, in a grassy area that no one seemed to use for eating lunch, and there was a small section of bushes near the vending machine.
Luckily, the vending machine had the place where the Keyaki class students could scan their points in. Yurina bought the four drinks plus a water for herself, looking at the continuous ‘-12’ points on her bracelet for only a moment.
As the short haired girl held the cool drinks in her hand, ready to hurry back to the classroom, she stopped in her tracks.
In the bushes, she spotted a hint of a black rectangular shape. Using her feet to part the leaves, she narrowed her eyes at what she saw. However, with her hands full, she decided that she would figure that out later, first hurrying back to the classroom.
—The item of the theft.
—Is that evidence for or against your precious person?
Chapter 14: Checkpoint 10.5
After school, Moriya Akane and Sugai Yuuka were walking through the hallways together, talking as they headed back toward the dorms. Akane’s tennis club meeting had been cancelled for some reason, and Yuuka hadn’t joined any clubs as there was no horseback riding club.
Yuuka sighed to her roommate, “I think whoever committed the theft should confess to it.” She rubbed her left wrist uncomfortably.
“Who do you think did it?” Akane asked.
“I don’t know.” Yuuka replied, “I don’t really think that Nagahama-san would, but…” She trailed off, not knowing what to say.
The two girls continued walking through the hallway. Suddenly, another student who wasn’t watching where she was going bumped into Yuuka’s shoulder, pushing her to the side a bit harshly.
“Ow.” Yuuka cried out softly.
“Ah, I’m sorr—” She started to apologize. Then her eyes widened as she got a better look at the pair’s uniforms, but rather than finish her apology, she shot the two girls a glare and spat out, “Watch where you’re going.”
The unknown student had short, dyed hair and piercings, appearing like a delinquent. Then, she stomped away before the Keyaki class pair could react.
Akane called after the delinquent, “Hey, you should watch where you’re going.” However, the response she got was a pair of middle fingers in her direction.
“The nerve of some people. So rude…” Akane grumbled. She turned to Yuuka and asked, “Are you okay?”
“Ah, I’m okay. Thank you.” Yuuka replied.
—In the end, it’s about hatred.
Night had fallen. Watanabe Risa and Shida Manaka were in their dorm rooms, both having showered and were on Risa’s bed, playing on their phones.
Manaka’s hair was still slightly damp, having only used a towel to dry her hair, and Risa could smell her roommate’s shampoo. It was a fragrant smell, vanilla if Risa smelled it correctly, and it was distracting.
“Hm?” Manaka looked up from her phone.
Risa caught herself and replied quickly, “Your shampoo smells nice.”
“Thanks,” Manaka smiled. “It’s a new scent that my usual brand released recently.”
Risa nodded. She felt her heart speed up a little at Manaka’s smile, and she wondered what was wrong with her. The short haired Watanabe put on a cool smile, feigning calmness.
The two spent the next few minutes quietly tapping on their smartphones.
Manaka rolled over on Risa’s bed after putting her phone to the side, getting closer to her roommate on the small bed, and she broke the silence by asking quietly, “Why are you so caught up with thinking that Nagahama is the culprit?”
“She’s suspicious.” Risa replied.
“...she’s suspicious…” Manaka repeated, looking away.
“It’s okay.” Risa said, “I’ll definitely protect you if Nagahama does something.”
Despite Risa’s words, Manaka didn’t look particularly pleased, “Thank you.”
The two spent a little more time lounging around on Risa’s bed. Manaka, who seemed bored, wrapped her arms around Risa and laid her head down on the bed. What she didn’t know was that Risa’s heart was beating nervously from the sudden contact.
A quiet time continued for a little longer. Risa’s alarm clock already read around 11 ’o'clock, so it was time to go to sleep. However, as Risa was about to say something about going to sleep, she noticed that Manaka had fallen asleep hugging Risa.
“Manaka, are you asleep?” Risa asked, but she received only breathing sounds as reply.
Although she could have, Risa didn’t push Manaka away to wake her roommate up. It would have been somewhat difficult as Manaka was hugging rather strongly, so in the end, after a few moments of trying to gently pry Manaka off, Risa gave up.
Risa turned off the lights, her bed being near the light switch, and whispered, “Good night,” turning in for the night.
—What is crime? What is accusation?
Suzumoto Miyu yawned as she shut off her alarm clock. The sun was already rather bright outside, but it was early morning and she was just getting up. When she looked around her dorm room, she saw that her roommate Oda Nana was waking up as well and her other roommate, Kobayashi Yui, was in the bathroom, showering if Suzumoto heard the water correctly.
The chestnut loving girl yawned. She looked at her alarm clock and around the room again. Then, she plopped back down onto her bed.
“Hey, don’t fall asleep again.” Oda Nana called out, repeating when she saw Suzumoto about to fall asleep again, “Suzumoto, don’t fall asleep again.”
“Dani, I’m sleepy.” Suzumoto groused.
Oda Nana replied, “Yea, yea. We have to get to class in an hour.”
Suzumoto nodded, getting off of her bed. Instead of getting ready for the day, she decided to walk over to Dani’s bed and take a seat on Dani’s lap. Then, she said, “I still want to sleep.”
Before Oda Nana could retort, Kobayashi Yui or Yui-pon walked out of the bathroom, hair still damp from her morning shower. She spotted her two roommates and sent them an odd look.
“Get off, Suzumoto.” Oda Nana got her roommate off her lap.
The three girls got ready for school, going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth, washing their face, and changing into their school uniforms. Of the three, Yui-pon finished the earliest, having woken up the earliest.
As they went through their morning routine, the three chatted.
Brushing her hair, Suzumoto made a squished face of displeasure, thinking about meeting with her classmates again today. “We still haven’t found the culprit.”
“Isn’t it Neru?” Oda Nana asked.
“Urgh, I don’t know.” Suzumoto replied. “But, she’s our friend, so I don’t want to think about if she actually did do it.”
Oda Nana nodded, “I don’t really want her to be the thief, but… She’s the only one without an alibi, right?”
The members of the class had mostly put down their alibis into the LINE group chat. Berika and Nagasawa had been together that afternoon. Akane had been with the tennis club, and Yuuka had been helping Aoi study. Although not all the alibis could be confirmed, they were there in the chat.
“Not the only one.” Yui-pon interjected, “She’s just the most suspicious one since she has long hair and she hasn’t been part of the class as long as everyone else.”
Suzumoto made a strange noise, “Ahhh, this is too much. Friends doubting friends is too much for me.”
“Hm.” Oda Nana hummed as she thought to herself. “Is it even someone in the class at all?”
“A normal student? That’s so many people…” Suzumoto sighed.
Yui-pon was done with her morning preparations, so she looked to her roommates and said, “The case will probably work itself out. We don’t know who stole the gradebook, and we don’t know if Neru is guilty at all, so we should just put these thoughts aside.”
After saying those words, Yui-pon’s great words as Oda Nana would put it, Kobayashi Yui walked out of the bathroom. The conversation about the theft ended there.
The new school day was beginning. Without much else in the drowsy morning, the spring sun of almost summer in the sky, the three roommates headed to breakfast and then to class.
—What disappears when you don’t see it?
Chapter 15: Checkpoint 11
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Hirate Yurina looked at the soundless clock in the front of the classroom with sullen eyes. The lights seemed dimmer than usual, and the blinds were over the windows as well.
She heard the whispers of her classmates as they talked about crime and punishments. They talked about theft. They talked about Neru. Yurina let her bangs cover her eyes as she tried to ignore the voices.
They were whispering so loudly that it sounded like someone was screaming, that she couldn’t tell whose voice it was. Whispers. Whispers. Whispers. Whisper—
She couldn’t stand it. When she looked behind her to look at the class, she heard more whispers, louder whispers. Yurina couldn’t tell if they were screams, whose screams they were, or if she was just pretending that she couldn’t hear the voice.
“Who did it?” Someone asked.
Another person asked again, “Who did it?”
Yurina shook her head.
“Who killed him?”
The short haired girl shook her head again with more force. The crime wasn’t a murder. It was a theft. She told herself. She tried to ignore the voices, blocking out the sound even as the words of “who killed him” turned into “you killed him” in her ears.
Then, she saw a familiar face ask, “Was it Yurina-chan?”
—It was a nightmare, just a nightmare.
Hirate Yurina had woken up early in the morning. She couldn’t sleep, so she decided to head to the school building early. Luckily, her roommate Neru was still asleep, so the short haired girl left a note in the dorm and exited.
The only people up and coming to school at this hour were members of competitive sports clubs doing their morning practices. Even then, there weren’t many people at school yet.
After dropping off her bag in the classroom, Yurina walked to the back of the school where the out of place vending machine she had went to before was.
She rustled through the bush that she had looked at before, and there she found the object she had seen last time was still there. Making sure that no one was around, Yurina picked up the black rectangle.
It was a black binder, and underneath, there was something that she hadn’t seen the first time. There was a bag with a familiar looking uniform inside.
First, she took a closer look at the black binder. It didn’t take long for her to figure out what it was; the binder was the stolen grade book.
Putting the grade book aside, she then reached for the bag with the uniform. For some reason, there was a copy of the Keyaki class uniform stashed away in such an obscure corner of the school.
Yurina thought to herself, ‘ Was this stolen? Who does this belong to? ’
Opening the bag, she noticed another two things inside with the uniform. One was a long, black wig. The other was a card. Her suspicions of these items belonging to the thief were evident by the thinking look on her face.
She took out the card and read it aloud, “Fashion club outfit borrowing rules…” The card was from the fashion club. “Keyaki class uniform.” The uniform was a replica borrowed from said club, and it was due back by the end of today. “Borrower…” There was a name at the bottom of the card, the name of the person who borrowed the uniform and that person’s classroom.
Although Yurina didn’t recognize the name, she could at least conclude that the person who stole the grade book was a normal student, not one of her classmates.
The short haired girl thought to herself for a few minutes. Even though she found the thief, she needed a way to take the thief in. If she just gave the items to the teacher, she wasn’t sure if the teacher would believe her. That was why she needed a plan.
“Ah…” She let out a small voice. Yurina smiled.
—Let’s take in the culprit.
The afternoon bell rang. The school day was over, and Hirate Yurina got up from her seat. She walked up to Neru and gestured. They were going to catch the thief, and Yurina had told Neru about the plan beforehand.
Together, the roommates walked through the school hallways to an empty classroom that no one had classes in.
Yurina went to a desk in the corner of the room and took out the bag with the uniform and wig as well as the grade book. Making sure she had what she needed in her pocket, she looked at the clock and waited. There were seven more minutes until the culprit was scheduled to show up.
Neru asked, “Yurina-chan, will this be okay? This is the grade book, right?”
“Hopefully, the plan will work out.” Yurina replied.
“Okay. I trust in you, so let’s catch the culprit.”
The door to the classroom opened and closed. Yurina’s eyes widened just a tiny bit with surprise. Watanabe Risa and Shida Manaka had entered the classroom.
“Hey, are you two the culprits?”
When class ended, Shida Manaka eyed her roommate, Risa who was glancing in the direction of Nagahama Neru. Manaka and Risa’s friend group plus Nijika who had recently been hanging out with Fuyuka were staying in the classroom after school for a while to chat and play cards.
Manaka felt unease in her heart as she looked at her roommate. When she saw that Risa saw Neru and Yurina get up to leave, Manaka noticed Risa get up from her seat as well.
The cool Watanabe casually said, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“Bye.” Fuyuka replied.
“Come back quickly,” Akane added, “I have club practice after this.”
The friends easily accepted that Risa was going to the bathroom even though Manaka felt that those words were a blatant lie. Without thinking, Manaka stood up from her seat as well.
Hurrying after Risa, Manaka blurted out, “I’m going to the bathroom too.” Even if that looked uncool, she couldn’t be bothered with that at the moment.
She went out into the hallway where Risa was and quickly went to Risa’s side. Risa gave Manaka an odd look but shrugged, continuing what she was doing without trying to pretend or shoo her roommate away.
The pair was tailing Yurina and Neru.
Manaka thought about reaching out to hold Risa’s hand, but when she looked at Risa, she saw that Risa was only looking in Neru’s direction. Thus, Manaka didn’t hold Risa’s hand.
They stopped in front of the classroom that Yurina and Neru had entered. The cool pair peeked at what their classmates were doing in the empty classroom. To their surprise, they found that Yurina had a black binder, something that looked like the gradebook.
Risa narrowed her eyes in suspicion, still watching.
“Did they steal it?” Manaka muttered.
Risa replied, “Let’s find that out.”
Without much thought, the cool Watanabe took Manaka’s hand and opened the door to the classroom. She entered the classroom and closed the door behind her, giving Yurina and Neru a suspicious look.
“Hey, are you two the culprits?” Risa drawled.
—Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.
Chapter 16: Checkpoint 12
Hirate Yurina frowned as she saw her two classmates enter the empty classroom. “We didn’t steal anything.” She put her hand on the grade book and said, “We’re going to catch the culprit.”
Risa raised an eyebrow sarcastically, “And that binder isn’t suspicious?”
“Bait. That’s the excuse?”
Manaka interjected bitterly, “Risa, let’s just see how their plan works out, okay?” She gripped Risa’s hand tightly before drawing her hand away from her roommate.
Risa paused for a moment before replying, “Fine.”
There was silence in the room for a moment. Yurina looked up at the clock in the unused classroom and made sure again she had what she needed in her pocket. The culprit was supposed to come soon.
She glanced over to the cool pair and back to the clock. Their interruption could possibly throw off her plan.
Click. Then, she heard a hand on the classroom door from the hallway. The thief was here.
The door opened, and an unruly looking normal student with short hair and piercings walked into the room. She looked a bit taken aback at seeing four Keyaki class members in the room, but she recovered a sense of bravado and sent the girls a mean glare, closing the door behind her.
Yurina spoke the girl’s name and asked, “Aren’t you looking for something, A-san?”
“Y-Yea, give it back.” The student scowled, walking toward Yurina. She started hesitantly, but seeing the other three girls not saying anything, the normal student regained her confidence.
“What do you want? The grade book you took from the staff room? Yurina picked up a black binder to show the student.
“What do you want?”
“Did you steal this?”
“Tch.” The student growled, “What proof do you have?”
Yurina set the binder down on a nearby desk and picked up the card, “For example, this card from the fashion club with your name on it. And the clothes you borrowed, a Keyaki class uniform replica and a wig.”
“That! Give it back!”
“So, you stole it after all.”
“Ah…” The unruly student stepped back, realizing that she had given herself away. She grinded her teeth upset. “Tch.” After a moment of quiet, with her hands balled in frustration, she spat, “Yea, yea. I stole it.”
“Yea, I stole the stupid book! I hate you Keyaki class girls, thinking you’re so great or something!” The student burst out in anger. She pushed Yurina, tearing the card with her name out of Yurina’s hand and grabbing the black binder off the desk.
Yurina stumbled back a little, caught by Watanabe Risa.
Yurina got to her feet and calmly asked again, “So, you stole it.”
“Yea, I stole it.” The normal student smirked despite being caught. “But you don’t have any proof anymore. I have the card and the grade book, so f**k the Keyaki class.”
“Yes, but they’re fakes.”
“The card is just a random paper of the same color I had in my pocket, and the grade book? I took the contents out of the binder and replaced it with white paper.”
The thief flipped through the binder, eyes wide as she realized what Yurina said was true. “D*mmit!” She cursed, throwing the binder and the fake card to the ground.
“Can I ask why you stole it?”
“‘Cause I hate you stuck-up girls! Just because you’re in an elite class in an elite school doesn’t make you anything special! Fan club? What a joke! What makes you better than me!? Especially that Moriya and her group!”
Yurina nodded, wondering what exactly Akane had done to offend the culprit.
“B-but, you still can’t pin this on me just because I happened to borrow something!” The thief desperately yelled.
“Actually, I can.” Yurina said, voice steady and calm as it had been for the whole conversation. She reached into her pocket and retrieve a small recording device. “You confessed, A-san.”
The blood drained from the thief’s face. She was visibly shaking. “F**k.” She cursed, stepping back weakly.
“It would be simplest if you just went to the teacher and owned up to your theft. He said he would be more lenient if you confessed.”
“A-as if I could do that! You’re such a goody-two shoes!”
Yurina didn’t say anything to that accusation although she disagreed vehemently in her heart.
“I-I… There’s no way I’m going to let this happen…” The culprit muttered to herself, fumbling around in her pockets for something.
The next thing the four Keyaki girls knew, the thief had a pocket knife in her hand and was charging at the nearest person to her in a last ditch attempt to get some sort of victory. That nearest person was Shida Manaka.
—A knife. Who killed him?
—A loss dragging down a loss into a hell of losses.
Stab. The culprit shakily dropped her knees, hands letting go of the knife as she realized what she did. She glanced up at the girl she stabbed, and she realized, she had lost.
Watanabe Risa’s eyes widened in shock as she saw the thief come toward Manaka with a knife, yet she couldn’t reach Manaka in time. The thief was too close, and Risa realized that she was somehow too far away.
She wanted to squeeze shut her eyes. She couldn’t bear to see her roommate hurt.
Before Risa realized what was going on, Neru ran in front of Manaka, grabbing the thief’s knife in her hand. Risa needed a moment to comprehend that Neru had protected Risa when Risa couldn’t do it.
Even though the thief had fallen to the ground, giving up, Risa was stuck in her realization that Neru wasn’t a villain. In fact, Neru was a good person, a complete oddball who would take a knife for a classmate. Risa thought to herself, ‘ Nagahama is strange, but… I was wrong about her. ’
Yurina ran over to Neru and began to fuss over the wound. She made a conflicted face and then said, “I’m getting the teacher.” She exited the classroom, disregarding the thief.
Risa walked over to Manaka and asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay.” Manaka replied.
Then, Risa turned to Neru who was standing awkwardly, trying to ignore the pain in her stabbed hand. “Sorry for doubting you. I was wrong.”
“Ah, it’s okay.” Neru replied, not knowing what to say.
“No, really, I’m sorry.” Risa pursed her lips. “You’re a good person, Nagahama. Thank you for protecting Manaka.”
“...Then, let’s become friends from now on.”
“That’s fine. Friends.”
—What makes up human relationships?
It was late afternoon, and even the students who stayed after school for club practice were heading home or to their dorms. Hirate Yurina walked beside her roommate, glancing at Neru’s bandaged hand.
After the short haired girl retrieved a teacher, the thief was taken away along with the evidence. Although the case of the theft was quickly solved with so much laid out in front of the staff, the four Keyaki girls were scolded for not telling a responsible adult and instead taking the matter into their own hands. Just like that, in a whirlwind, the grade book theft case was resolved.
The ‘+1000’ points on the bracelet was just further proof of the resolution.
Yet, Yurina felt that she had messed up badly. Originally, having found the items in the bush, she decided to leave a note for the culprit to meet her in an unused classroom. There had been a chance that the culprit wouldn’t come, but Yurina had bet on the chance that the culprit would discover the note and come to the classroom given that the fashion club outfit was supposed to be returned today.
During the confrontation with the culprit, Yurina was supposed to get Neru to run off and call a teacher so that the culprit would be caught confessing, but in the actual event, that didn’t happen. Instead, Neru got stabbed.
Neru spoke, bringing the short haired girl out of her thoughts, “Yurina-chan?”
“Neru?” Yurina replied.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, but… I got you hurt. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. You couldn’t have predicted that the thief would have a knife.”
Yurina nodded. She looked at Neru who held out her unbandaged hand, her non-dominant left hand.
“Let’s hold hands.”
The short haired girl took her roommate’s hand. She noticed that Neru’s hand was slightly trembling. It was warm, and Yurina protectively held that hand.
“...it was a bit scary. But I’m glad we managed to catch her.”
“Yea.” Yurina nodded. “Next time, I’ll protect you.”
“It’s okay. Hopefully, there isn’t a next time.”
Holding hands the whole way, Neru and Yurina returned to their dorms.
—I am unable to take on your pain.
The class LINE group was bustling, many of the girls joining in, asking about what had happened to make them suddenly receive 1000 points. Watanabe Risa looked at her phone, briefly typing an explanation.
“Hirate caught the culprit. It was a normal Sakamichi student. Manaka and I were there.” Risa posted.
Manaka added, “Neru got stabbed. She protected me.”
Then, a huge influx of questions appeared.
“There was a knife?”
“I knew it wasn’t Neru.”
“A normal student?”
“Why doesn’t Techi have a phone?”
“Neru’s not in the group either.”
Risa put her phone down on her desk. She looked over to her roommate Manaka who had also set her phone down. The two of them were in their dorm room, still a bit of time left before they usually ate dinner with their friends.
The cool Watanabe saw that her roommate looked a little down, but she couldn’t tell why.
Then, Manaka met Risa’s eye, looking away after a short glance. She bit her lower lip, feeling that she shouldn’t ask, but in the end, she opened her mouth and asked Risa, “Do you like Nagahama?”
“I don’t dislike her now.” Risa replied, “She’s good.”
“I see.” Manaka looked down at her lap. “Yea, Nagahama is a nice girl.”
The two were silent for a moment. Risa looked toward Manaka who was looking away. The cool Watanabe pondered on what exactly was going through her roommate’s head, wondering if Manaka was mad at her for being mean to Neru for such a long time.
Seeing Manaka stand up, Risa called out, “Manaka?”
“It’s nothing.” Manaka shook her head.
“I’m going to go outside for a little bit.” Manaka gave Risa a weak smile.
Risa stood up and reached for Manaka’s hand, “Manaka, you’re acting strange.”
“Risa…” Manaka’s shoulder was trembling and she faced away from Risa. She pulled her hand away before her roommate could take it. “It’s okay if you like Nagahama. You’ve been looking toward her the whole time.”
Risa’s eyes widened in surprise and she said, “I don’t like Nagahama like that.”
“Really?” Manaka replied dully.
Risa called out for Manaka again. “Manaka.” The cool Watanabe made a pained expression as if her heart was about to burst. She didn’t think that Manaka of all people would think that she liked Neru.
“It’s just that… recently, I’ve felt that you have no love for me anymore.”
“Manaka, you’re completely wrong.”
“How? You’ve been looking at her the whole time.” Manaka twisted around to face Risa. Tears welled up in Manaka’s eyes.
Risa retorted, taking Manaka’s hands. “I’m always looking at you.”
The cool Watanabe felt that her words were the truth. Even if she had always glanced at Neru suspiciously, she had always thought that Manaka was beautiful and fun to be with, to the point that Risa’s heart would flutter.
“Liar.” Manaka mumbled tearily.
Risa said, “I love you.”
“What?” Manaka looked away, not believing her roommate’s words. “Are we playing a game?” They had exchanged those words before when playing games with Fuyuka and Akane.
Risa repeated, dreading being rejected by the girl she realized that she had fallen in love with, “I love you.”
“Risa, you’re cruel.”
“I love you. I’m not joking around.” Risa shook her head. She looked down at her hands, afraid to see Manaka’s expression. “I love you. It’s just that you probably won’t return my feelings because we’re friends.”
“Stupid Risa…” Manaka put her head on Risa’s shoulder, using Risa to wipe away her tears.
Risa asked quietly, “Manaka?”
“I love you, Risa.” Manaka said. “I love you.”
Risa felt the butterflies in her stomach flutter even more than before. She was speechless with happiness.
“Risa, are you crying?”
“I-I’m not crying. I’m really happy.” Risa noticed the tears rolling down her cheeks, but she hastily denied them.
Manaka cried too, “I’m h-happy too.”
“Manaka, I love you.”
“Risaaaa…” Manaka threw her arms around her roommate in a hug.
The roommates stumbled as Manaka tried hugging Risa, and they fumbled around, ending up on the floor with Manaka pushing Risa down. They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment before Manaka gave Risa a light kiss on the lips.
Manaka blushed and she tried to avert her gaze, wondering if it was okay for her to have kissed Risa.
Then, Risa wrapped her arms around her roommate’s waist, pulling Manaka down to her and returning Manaka’s kiss.
They stared into each other’s eyes shyly for a moment. They shared another kiss, a longer kiss. It was still too short for Risa though as the cool Watanabe couldn’t help but savor the softness of her roommate’s lips. She thought to herself, ‘ Manaka is really beautiful. I love her. ’
As Manaka moved to get off of Risa, the two roommates got tangled with each other. Floundering around for a moment, they eventually rolled over to their sides on the floor so that they were facing each other.
Risa and Manaka started lightly laughing. Holding hands while relaxing on the floor, they felt a huge weight off their chests, and they could feel that an incident had been resolved—both the theft and a misunderstanding of love.
“Risa.” Manaka spoke up again.
Risa responded, “What is it?”
“I have to thank Nagahama.”
“For this afternoon?”
“No, for making it so I could tell you my feelings.”
“Yea. Me too.”
—A happy resolution exists too, right?
—Thank you, Neru.
END OF ARC I (NERU I)
When Kobayashi Yui first came to the Keyaki class, she found that she was the only person from Saitama in the class. There were a lot of people from different parts of Japan. Although she sat alone at first, she found that she quite enjoyed their company.
It had been only a week since the school term had started. Class had ended a while ago, and it was raining outside. She and her roommates, Suzumoto Miyu and Oda Nana, had been given cleaning duty, and they finished rather quickly given that there wasn’t really a blackboard to clean or anything.
Thinking about the rain, Yui realized that she hadn’t brought an umbrella.
Oda Nana hollered from across the room, “Yui-pon, I’m going back to the dorms now.” She was planning to finish reading a Murakami novel that she had started.
Kobayashi Yui sighed internally, wondering why she had offered to help distinguish herself, using the nickname Yui-pon, from the other Yui who went by Zuumin and Zumiko. It was a strange nickname; both Zuumin and Yui-pon were strange names.
“Are you coming?” Suzumoto asked.
Yui-pon shook her head and replied, “No, I’m staying at school a little longer.”
The roommates said goodbye and left the classroom. Kobayashi Yui was then alone in the Keyaki classroom. Looking outside at the rain for a moment, enjoying the pitter-patter sound of water droplets, Yui-pon started humming to herself.
She decided to explore the school building.
Walking around, humming lightly to herself, she looked out the hallway windows to see that the athletic clubs weren’t practicing in the rain. Some of the cultural clubs had yet to start for the new school year.
Yui-pon didn’t know if she wanted to join a club or not. She loved playing guitar and singing, but she didn’t think she wanted to join the light music club.
As she entered an empty hallway in the music section of the school, she heard the sound of piano and a singing voice. She didn’t recognize the song or the voice, but in her heart, she couldn’t help but find that voice wonderful.
Yui-pon went up to the classroom with the singer and peered in through the open door.
Imaizumi Yui was playing piano and singing amidst the sound of the rain. Even though she seemed like a silly person at first, to Yui-pon at the moment, Imaizumi was really entrancing. Her song seemed filled with emotion.
Then, she played a key wrong on the piano.
Yui-pon stumbled out of her stupor. Imaizumi Yui’s eyes met with Kobayashi Yui’s eyes. They shared a moment of awkward silence with only the peaceful sound of spring rain in the background.
That was the first time the two Yuis truly met each other.
—The world works in strange ways.
—People who perhaps would have never met before meeting.
It was break time, two days after the thief who stole the grade book had been caught. Kobayashi Yui was sitting with Imaizumi Yui near the former’s usual group of Oda Nana, Suzumoto, Hirate, and Neru.
The two Yuis had paper and pencil out, scribbling out lyrics and guitar chords. Despite all the drama that had existed in the classroom, they were writing a song.
Imaizumi sung, “ Do you know the Shibuya River? ” Then, she asked Yui-pon, “Does that sound right?”
“It sounds good. Maybe the next line could be ‘ You may have heard the name .’” Yui-pon replied, pondering to herself. It was the first time she had written an original song before, and she hadn’t sung many duets before either.
“What type of song should this be?” Imaizumi thought aloud.
Yui-pon nodded, “Good question.” She wasn’t quite sure either.
They looked at the classroom to try to find ideas. No one seemed to be acting any different than usual. Yui-pon looked toward the back of the room and noticed Watanabe Risa and Shida Manaka approaching Neru.
The cool duo was holding hands, and they seemed closer than before.
Risa asked Neru, “Do you have a LINE? You should join the class LINE group.”
It was a simple conversation where Neru finally joined the class LINE group. Yui-pon looked at the interaction, feeling glad for Neru that Neru was finally accepted by the class. Then, she turned back to Imaizumi.
“Maybe a song about trust?” Yui-pon suggested.
“That sounds like a great idea.” Imaizumi beamed. “Trust is important in love and friendship and really, everything, huh?”
Yui-pon smiled, nodding. Then, she had an epiphany. “Ah, ‘ the stream continues to murmur ’ might be a good line too.”
“ My love for you
Will continue forever .”
Because of this stylistic choice of "Yuichanz" when I first started writing Eccentric, Yuichanzu will be Yuichanz for this story.
Chapter 19: Checkpoint 14
The warm breeze and hot sun of summer entered the Keyaki classroom through the open window. It was already late June. Before the girls knew it, summer vacation was looming a month away.
Sugai Yuuka looked at her phone with a sigh. She had notifications from her various applications and some new messages from LINE group chats, but she had yet to receive a single note from her family since the start of the school term.
The bell had just rung for lunch. Everyone was moving their desks together to eat.
Yuuka’s roommate, Moriya Akane, moved her desk toward Yuuka. Akane wasn’t sitting with Watanabe Risa’s group today. “Hey, Yuuka.”
Koike Minami moved her desk over, “It’s finally lunch.”
“Math was hard.” The tallest girl in the class, Habu Mizuho, came over with Koike. “I don’t understand a single thing.”
Harada Aoi nodded to Habu’s words as she finished the lunch desk gathering, “I’m glad class is over.”
Engaging in small talk about their latest math quiz on the screen of their high-tech desks, the girls started eating their lunch. Their topics jumped around, but it was a lunch break like any other.
After Aoi took a bite out of her bread, she asked, “By the way, how many points do you have?”
Koike pressed the button on her bracelet to check and replied, “I have like 2,000.” She picked up a tamagoyaki from her bento, feeding Habu who sat next to her.
“How about Yukka?” Aoi turned to Yuuka.
Thinking for a moment, Yuuka replied, “Around 10,000.”
“That’s a lot!” Aoi exclaimed.
Habu questioned curiously, “Are you saving for something?”
“Well…” Yuuka smiled awkwardly.
Akane interjected to save her roommate from answering, “The conversion rate from points to yen is amazing. That’s… 120,000 yen.”
“Eh? That’s a lot!” Koike’s eyes widened.
Aoi smiled, “Sounds nice.”
“It’s kind of exponential or something.” Koike wondered aloud as she thought back to when she read the student handbook so long ago, “What’s it called?”
Habu held her hands over her ears once she noticed her friend from Kansai start talking about math, “Mii-chan, no more math…”
“Do your best, Habu-chan.” Koike gave the tall girl a pat on the shoulder.
The group laughed, and they continued chatting about the random things that happened in their lives recently.
—Secrets, secrets, secrets.
Lunch ended, and another class period started again. Sugai Yuuka was diligently taking notes on the lesson, drawing small horses in the margins of her notes to make them more interactive and aesthetically appealing.
Then, a small piece of folded paper landed on her desk. Yuuka looked around to see who threw the paper and noticed her roommate Akane give her a small wave. The horse loving Yuuka smiled in response.
Yuuka opened the note, and it read, ‘Yuuka, are you free this afternoon?’
The horse loving girl turned the paper around and replied, ‘I’m free.’ She tossed it back to her roommate.
However, the toss was a little haphazard, and Akane barely caught it. Yuuka sheepishly smiled and gestured apologetically, to which Akane replied with a gesture of ‘it’s okay.’ They were still in class, and Yuuka didn’t want to starting using her phone in class, so in the end, they were passing notes instead.
Akane’s next note read, ‘I have a tennis match this afternoon. Come watch.’ There was a cute drawing of a smiley face with a tennis ball.
‘I’ll cheer you on.’ Yuuka replied on another piece of small paper.
Akane wrote back, ‘I’ll definitely win!’
They continued exchanging notes for a while, but eventually, the roommates returned to paying attention to the lesson.
Watanabe Risa looked at her friend, Akane, who looked very happy after exchanging notes with Yuuka. Risa sighed, thinking that Akane was being too happy. Then, she noticed a note on her own desk.
‘I love you.’ It was in Manaka’s handwriting.
Risa flushed red and buried her head in her notebook to hide her embarrassed face. Then, she threw a note saying the same thing back to Manaka.
When the cool Watanabe peeked toward her roommate to see Manaka’s reaction, she couldn’t help but feel her heart race as she saw Manaka’s joyful smile upon seeing the words on the note.
In the front, Hirate Yurina had her bangs over her eyes as she trudged through taking notes in class. She wanted class to be over, even if this class wasn’t the worst of the classes they had to take. The short haired girl completely didn’t notice the note-passing behind her.
Neru looked over her shoulder at the class, giving a mysterious smile towards Yurina.
The short haired girl gave her roommate a confused looked, not sure what Neru seemed to be amused by in the classroom. Even when Yurina glanced back for a moment, she didn’t notice anything off, having not looked back when the other girls were passing notes.
Neru smiled again, gesturing that it wasn’t anything that important. She turned back to the lesson and thought to herself that her classmates really weren’t as subtle as they thought they were and that it seemed nice to be in love.
For a moment, that smile dropped. She thought to herself again, ‘ Love? ’
—What does a person deserve in this world?
Ding. Dong. Ding. Dong. The bell dismissing the last class of the day finally rang. Moriya Akane was filled with fighting spirit as she thought about how she wanted to win the tennis club’s tournament for today. They were doing a casual ranking tournament to encourage the club members to work hard.
Noticing Akane’s excitement, Fuyuka asked, “Akanen, tennis club?”
“Yea.” Akane replied.
Manaka lazily gave the competitive girl a thumbs up of encouragement, “Win it, okay? Fuu-chan will treat you to sweets if you do.”
“I’ll definitely win!” Akane laughed.
“Huh, when did I say that?” Fuyuka huffed but relented, “I’ll treat you to ice cream if you win. I’ve been wanting to try out the new ice cream flavor anyways.”
Akane cheered. As she waved goodbye to her normal friend group, she passed by her roommate and said, “Yuuka, I’m going on ahead. Come watch me, okay?”
“Okay. Ganbariki!” Yuuka made a cheering gesture.
Akane gave Yuuka a wordless look.
Yuuka mumbled awkwardly, pretending that she didn’t do such an embarrassing gesture, “Sorry.”
“No, that was great.” Akane shook her head and blurted out. “I’m going to do my best!” Akane hurried out of the classroom.
When she arrived at the tennis club’s changing room and changed into her tennis uniform, a clubmate mentioned that Akane’s cheeks were a little pink, joking that Akane was a bit too excited and ran over too quickly.
As the tennis club gathered at the school’s tennis courts, a summer breeze blew by again.
—To what extent…
Chapter 20: Checkpoint 15
The tennis ball hit the racket with a thud, flying across the net like a sparrow, landing, bouncing, and scoring the final point. The afternoon sun was bright, and Moriya Akane wiped the sweat that had gathered on her brow and smiled, hearing her name declared victor for the match, moving her along the bracket for the club’s mini-tournament.
Her opponent stepped up toward Akane amicably, “Moriya-san, it was a pleasure to play with you.”
“Good game, Kato-san.” Akane reciprocated the sportsmanship.
It had been a tough game that had lasted longer than the other matches in the tournament. Akane’s opponent was a girl who didn’t look athletic but was extremely athletic, but Akane managed to win with the sheer force of will and a burst of spirit that came when she saw Yuuka cheering her on.
From the viewing area, a normal student yelled, “Moriya-san is so cool!”
“Kyaa!” Her friend jumped up and down, making a commotion with some more girls. There was a lot of excited screaming.
Akane walked over to her roommate Yuuka, “Yuuka, how was it?”
“Akanen, you played so well.” Yuuka gave Akane a bottle of cool water, “Have some water.” Their fingers touched for a moment.
Akane smiled, taking the water and drinking it, “Thanks.”
The crowd shrieked, “Sugai-sama and Moriya-san!”
“Too photogenic!” Someone nearly fell over.
There was more girlish commotion, “Kyaa!”
Someone from the photography club came over with a camera and asked, “Moriya-san, Sugai-sama, can you pose for a picture?”
Akane exchanged looks with Yuuka. Seeing that Yuuka seemed okay with the request, Akane put an arm over Yuuka’s shoulder and made a V sign with her fingers. Yuuka smiled for the camera as well.
Snap. The photography club member took a photo.
“Thank you!” Look at the photo on the camera, the club member beamed and ran off after bowing in thanks to the two Keyaki class girls.
Yuuka smiled wryly, “Akanen, they’re really excited.”
“Yea, they are.” Akane laughed, thinking that it was good that the normal students and the Keyaki class often had different break times between classes.
The roommates spent a bit standing around and talking, but the referee for the tennis matches quickly called for Akane again, starting the next match in the tournament.
—Drifting away for just another moment.
Sugai Yuuka watched as her roommate Akane played. Although the horse loving girl’s eyes had trouble following the tennis ball at some points, Yuuka felt that Akane was really amazing. The focus in Akane’s eyes was so intense that Yuuka felt drawn in.
The ball hit the ground and the opponent missed. The referee called the points. The match continued.
As Yuuka watched, she suddenly felt her phone vibrate in her pocket.
She took her phone out to check what notification she received, thinking that she would properly check it later. Yet when she saw the notice on the screen, her eyes widened in shock and her hand shook a little.
It was a LINE notification.
It was from her family.
Yuuka opened up the LINE family group chat only to see a simple message from her older sibling saying, “I’m sorry, Yuuka.”
Following that, there was text saying that her mother, father, and sibling had left the group chat. Yuuka was speechless, the sound of the tennis match and cheering audience seemed to not reach her ears as she stared at the screen.
Even though it wasn’t as if there was no other way to contact her family, Yuuka didn’t know what to feel about them leaving the LINE group. She didn’t understand why either.
Then, she jerked back into reality when she heard the ball hit the ground and the referee call points. To her surprise, Akane had missed a swing. Yuuka noticed her roommate send her a slightly upset look.
Yuuka took a deep breath and put her phone back into her pocket.
“I’ll… I’ll figure it out somehow.” She said to herself. It didn’t sound convincing.
The tennis match restarted. The ball was served, and another intense volley of the tennis ball began. Over and over the net, the ball flew. Akane hit the tennis ball, yet the angle was off, so she nearly hit the ball out.
Akane felt the pressure on her grow. She wanted to win, but she was slipping. She wondered what Yuuka was worried about.
Yuuka saw the pained look on Akane’s face, and she yelled with all her might, “Akanen, you can do it!”
Thunk! The ball was hit by the racket again.
—Pushing down your own worries.
—Painful, painful. Even when they look at you like that?
Hirate Yurina walked hand in hand with Neru, heading back to their dorms after spending the afternoon in the library as Neru looked for reference books and Yurina started out studying a bit and ended up reading manga.
Remembering that their classmate, Moriya Akane, was doing a tennis tournament today, the pair decided to drop pass the tennis courts.
Yurina halted in her steps as she noticed a pair of normal students talking near the tennis courts away from the commotion of the tournament, which appeared to have ended. Neru looked in the direction of the talking pair.
One of the girls grumbled aloud, “What does Sugai think she is being so close to Moriya-san?”
Her friend looked at her as if she had grown another head, “Huh?”
“I mean, she’s from the Sugai family, and they’ve been doing pretty terrible recently. Compared to us, she’s nothing.” The grumbly girl fumed.
The friend laughed awkwardly, “Hey, hey. Don’t be so jealous. Didn’t their company end up getting merged into another company?”
The grumbly girl crossed her arms, “Exactly. The high really fall.”
“Geez, don’t be like that. Jealousy looks ugly on you.”
“I-I’m not jealous.”
“Okay, fine. I’m jealous. I mean, Sugai-sama is…”
The two unknown students chatted a little bit, and then they walked off. They didn’t notice that two members of the Keyaki class had accidentally listened in on their conversation.
Yurina frowned to herself before walking forward while holding onto Neru’s hand.
Chapter 21: Checkpoint 16
Moriya Akane felt nice and refreshed. She won the tennis tournament, ate a nice dinner with her roommate, and took a shower. She wasn’t sure at what point her friends decided to invade her room to celebrate.
Risa, Manaka, and Fuyuka made themselves comfortable on the floor using extra pillows as cushions to sit on. Yuuka was at her desk, writing something down in her diary, which she called a journal.
Risa said to Akane, pulling a confetti popper in the competitive girl’s direction, “Congratulations on winning!”
“Congratulations.” Manaka made more confetti go into the air.
“Does that mean that I have to treat you to ice cream now?” Fuyuka laughed, “Haha, congrats.” She also let loose a confetti popper.
“Hey, hey, you guys are making a mess on the ground.” Akane scolded her friends lightly. She wasn’t looking forward to cleaning the scraps up.
Manaka ignored Akane’s complaints, “Anyways, congratulations on winning.”
“Thanks.” Akane sighed.
They were throwing an impromptu party that celebrate Akane’s winning. Fuyuka even brought a small basket of random sweets and party favors. When Akane asked why they seemed so prepared, she received an answer from Risa.
Risa said, “It’s because if you lost, we would have thrown you a pity party.”
“Harsh!” Akane complained. “It’s not like I want to win that badly. I...”
“Want to win?”
“Yea, I want to win.” Akane relented.
The group continued chatting. Manaka had her head on Risa’s shoulder and was casually interjecting into the conversation, teasing her roommate. They talked about random things like how Fuyuka and Neru had been getting along recently or how there’d been some strange things on the Keyaki class fan site.
“Let’s play a game.” Manaka said.
Fuyuka offered, “How about the mozzarella cheese game?”
“That might get a bit loud.” Risa replied.
“Werewolf game?” Akane thought aloud before shaking her head, realizing that four people was just a bit too few for the werewolf game.
Fuyuka opened a pack of pocky, offering some to Manaka and Risa before turning to Akane, “Akanen, do you want some pocky?”
“It’s kind of late. I don’t want to get fat.” Akane replied.
“Terrible words, terrible words.” Fuyuka looked away, making a face that said she was ignoring the idea of gaining weight. “I also brought some playing cards.”
While the four talked some more, Manaka fed pocky to Risa. Akane kept glancing toward Yuuka. Fuyuka thought to herself that there must have been something in the water that made her friends go all mushy.
“We’re playing the aishiteru game then?” Fuyuka clapped her hands once as she announced what they seemed to have decided to play for the small party.
At the mention of the game, Yuuka turned her head toward Akane’s group. She then awkwardly turned back to her journal. Yuuka flushed and made a face of embarrassed agony that she would get so flustered by the idea of her roommate saying ‘I love you.’
Then, she felt a weight in her stomach as her eyes noticed again her phone sitting on her desk.
Knock, knock. There was a knock at the door. Akane got up to answer it, and when she opened the door, she saw Neru and Yurina holding a box.
“Oda Nana asked us to help deliver these to you.” Neru explained, looking at the label on the cardboard box, “Mikkabi mikan from her hometown.”
Neru and Yurina handed the box over to Akane who stumbled for a moment at the weight of the box. “Thanks. I have to thank Oda Nana for this later. Haha, how many mikan are in here to make it this heavy?”
“How many, that’s a good question.” Neru smiled.
Yurina nodded. She looked at Akane and added, “Congratulations on winning your tennis tournament.”
“Tecchan, thanks!” Akane beamed.
Fuyuka called out, “Akanen, who was it?”
Akane replied, “Tecchan and Neru brought mikan from Oda Nana.”
Manaka said aloud, leaning her head on Risa’s lap as she nibbled on a pocky stick, “Oda Nana. Dani. Camel. Why mikan? Is it even mikan season?”
“No idea.” Risa shrugged, both pleased and embarrassed that Manaka was using her lap as a pillow.
“Do you want to come in?” Akane offered to Yurina and Neru, “We’re playing some games, but it’s more fun with more people.”
In the end, the other pair of roommates got dragged into the small impromptu party, Manaka casually spraying them with the leftover confetti poppers.
Sugai Yuuka tried to shake away her worries as she joined in on the celebration party. She didn’t want to sour her roommate’s happiness by being visibly troubled in the corner as she liked seeing Akane’s smile.
The girls were sitting on the ground in a circle. Yurina was next to Neru. Manaka was next to Risa. Akane was next to Yuuka. Fuyuka somehow felt like she was surrounded.
After making 7 clean popsicle sticks with labels, Fuyuka announced, “Let’s play the King’s Game.”
Everyone drew out a popsicle stick and took a look at their labels to check who was the King in the game. Manaka grinned and turned her stick to show the group, “I’m the King.”
Manaka peeked over to see what Risa’s number was and nodded to herself. Akane playfully flicked Manaka, scolding her because the King wasn’t supposed to know who had what number.
“Okay, number 2 kiss number 6.” Manaka commanded.
If Fuyuka had been drinking water, then she would have spit it out in surprise. She should have expected the Cool duo’s one half to go for a curveball like that.
“I’m number 2.” Akane showed her stick.
Yuuka said with surprise, “I have number 6.”
As Fuyuka was about to say something to retort to the task, she felt a rather hard tap on the shoulder. She noticed Neru playfully making a sign to not say anything and let it play out.
Yuuka and Akane blushed. Yuuka closed her eyes, and Akane flushed even more. Thinking of kissing her roommate made her really nervous, and she realized that she wanted to do it.
Akane leaned in, heart beating. She moved Yuuka’s bangs aside and gave the horse loving girl a peck on the forehead.
Akane blushed and moved her head away from Yuuka’s, “Okay, I did it.”
Yuuka felt her cheeks flush, and she was afraid to open her mouth because she knew she would stumble over her words. She wondered why she closed her eyes like that as if expecting a kiss on the lips, and added to that, she noticed that her roommate smelled nice like always.
The game continued.
Chapter 22: Checkpoint 17
In the end, Hirate Yurina and Nagahama Neru decided not to continue intruding in Akane’s room and started heading back to their own room.
Neru casually asked, “Yurina-chan, if you had to kiss me, would you kiss me?”
“Eh?” Yurina nearly stopped in her steps as she looked at Neru in confusion.
“Like if you had been asked in the King’s Game to kiss me.”
“Kissing is something that people in love do right?” The short haired girl smiled wryly, “I don’t want to do something you don’t want.”
Neru replied, “I wouldn’t really mind.”
“It’s okay. There’s no need to say that.”
“Yurina-chan, I wouldn’t mind. Would you not want me to kiss you?”
“Neru.” Yurina started her reply calmly.
The short haired girl walked on ahead. Neru couldn’t help but feel the distance in the hallway between herself and Yurina seemed wide. They weren’t holding hands at this moment and Neru wanted to take Yurina’s hand, but she knew that if there was anyone to do that, Neru wasn’t someone who deserved to after what had been done.
Yurina said, “Don’t say that to me.”
“Oh.” Neru mumbled as she followed after her roommate. Yurina looked exhausted, and somehow, that was nothing out of the ordinary but just something that Yurina didn’t let people see very often.
“A kiss is for someone you love, so you don’t need to waste it on someone who won’t be loved.”
“Let’s head back to our dorm room.”
Neru put her hand on her head in exasperation. She thought wryly to herself that she had messed up. Then, she went after Yurina and the two returned to the dorm room together.
—Because ------ can’t have love.
Moriya Akane flopped onto her bed, her friends having left and luckily cleaned up their mess after themselves. They left with a final congratulations for her tennis victory and gave her the remaining party favors and snacks. Akanen had put those snacks and the mikan she got from Oda Nana through Yurina and Neru into the kitchen, a small one attached to the dorm room that was a bit bigger than the bathroom.
“Sorry if we were too rowdy, Yuuka.” Akane said to Yuuka who was preparing to go to sleep.
Yuuka smiled and shook her head, “No, it’s okay. It was fun playing those games with everyone.”
“That’s good.” Akane heaved a sigh of relief and extended a metaphorical hand out toward her roommate, “If there’s anything bothering you, you can feel free to tell me.”
Akane looked toward Yuuka. The former didn’t interrupt the latter but instead waited for Yuuka to continue.
“I guess I’ve been a little homesick recently.”
“You’re from Tokyo right?”
“Yes. It’s a little weird being homesick when home is so close by, but I miss my parents.” Yuuka fumbled over her words when she reached the topic of her parents but quickly deflected to Akane, “How about you?”
“This is probably the first time I’ve been away from home for so long.” Akane replied, “But, I kind of expected that I would be a little homesick because Miyagi could be closer to Tokyo.”
“Do you keep in touch a lot with your family?”
“Just the normal amount, I think.” Akane thought to herself for a moment. “My dad doesn’t text me like Mii-chan’s dad does.”
“It seems nice how Mii-chan’s dad sends so much.” Yuuka sighed.
“Penguin big service.” Akane jokingly said, referring to Koike Minami’s dad who always sent weird good morning messages with penguin emoticons that Koike would complain about.
They chatted for a bit more before turning in for bed.
The sun was barely just up when the sports clubs started morning practice. Like always, Moriya Akane attended morning practice with the tennis club. She had just finished jogging when another member of the tennis club came up to her.
The member requested, “Moriya-san, can I ask you a question?”
“Okay.” Akane shrugged, not seeing why not.
The clubmate thought for a moment, trying to find a good way to phrase the question, and then asked, “Sugai-sama, is she related to the Sugai Company?”
Akane raised her eyebrows in surprise. She didn’t know the answer to that question, so she could only respond, “I can’t answer that.”
“Sorry for bothering you then.” The club member sheepishly bowed and ran off again.
Akane stood for a moment, letting a frown grace her face. She had heard of the Sugai Company before somewhere, but she had never thought to connect it to her roommate.
She stood quietly, trying to pull up where exactly she had heard of the Sugai Company before. Not remembering, Akane pulled out her phone to search up the Sugai Company.
The main news articles she found on the business were nearly a year old, and they all talked about how the technology company had a merger with another company and many people from the Sugai Company were laid off. There were some rumours about why the merger happened such as internal strife or the CEO being sabotaged.
Clicking around in sites, she found an article on the Sugai family who ran the Sugai Company. Strangely enough, the rival company that the merger happened with was also owned by a branch of the Sugai family.
“Eh?” Akane let out a noise of surprise as she saw Yuuka’s name.
Unexpectedly, Yuuka was a part of high society. Akane pondered to herself for a moment about a story where a princess was cast away from her position down to the ground but eventually she would be swept away by a prince back to that golden royalty.
Then, Akane shook her head. In the first place, that imagery didn’t suit Yuuka. Rags to riches or riches to rags, Yuuka seemed like a normal person and even though Akane didn’t know much about company mergers, she was pretty sure that people didn’t plummet into poverty from a merger but rather had back-ups or could find new jobs.
“A prince…” Akane huffed, feeling a little irked at the thought of Yuuka’s possible future boyfriend. “I don’t like that.”
Akane put her phone away, and she continued her morning practice with the club, jogging some more.
Chapter 23: Interlude 4
Peering out the black tinted window of the car, sitting on the leather seats while the heating warmed the insides to protect against the chill of late winter, a long haired girl held a file with papers in her hand.
She was in Aichi at the moment, the car steadily driving through the prefecture. It was a long way from home, which was located in Kyushu. Yet, she couldn’t fully enjoy the taste of this different place.
The girl turned away from the outside. She peered down at the file in her hands. She had yet to read them through in the truest sense, having only glimpsed lightly at the papers inside.
Letting a sigh out of her mouth, the girl made up her mind and opened the file.
“Hirate Yurina.” She tasted the name, whispering it aloud.
The file was focused on a girl named Hirate Yurina. That much she already knew. When she opened up the file, she noticed a few pictures of Hirate clipped onto the first page.
One picture looked a bit older, Hirate with a childish short haircut. Hirate was smiling rather awkwardly as if being teased by someone good-heartedly. She was wearing the first year uniform of a local junior high school.
In the next picture, the junior high student had moved up a grade, her hair a little longer. In this picture, her smile looked a little exhausted, as if she was pushing herself to be someone she couldn’t be.
The girl in the car peered at the last picture, the most current one. Hirate looked pained. The girl in the car paused for a moment, squinting her eyes to scrutinize the picture. Rather than just pained, Hirate looked exhausted and even injured. However, the picture wasn’t very clear, and it was just a picture, so in the end, the girl in the car couldn’t put the whole story together.
Frowning, the girl in the car moved on with the file.
Name, birthday, and many other details were listed. For family, the Hirate family including the subject of the file also had an older son, a mother, and a father. There was a note of trivia of them having a dog. However, the older son was listed as deceased.
On further relations, it seemed that Hirate Yurina was rather popular with both the female and male populations of her school. She was the basketball team ace. Yet, something had completely cut those things off just over a year ago.
The girl in the car continued through the file, feeling more than just a little intrusive.
She entered the section of essays and notes written by the subject herself. There were segments of journals and school assignments including drawings and short scribbles. In addition, there were more pictures.
Surprisingly, the short haired subject of the file was smiling in those pictures. Beside her in a good half of them was a slightly older male, her brother. Another chunk of the pictures were with a female friend. The girl in the car wondered to herself why there were no pictures of Hirate Yurina with her parents except for those with her brother as well.
Then, the girl in the car started reading a short essay on family that was dated to about two years back. “Hirate Yukiteru.” The topic was the brother. “Beloved older brother.”
It was a cute essay, a bit clumsy in how it was written, but the girl in the car couldn’t help but feel that siblings were nice to have. The essay was mostly about the brother though.
Next, there were a few words about Hirate Yurina from other people, listed in chronological order. Firstly, the parents had said from years ago that their daughter was average compared to their son. A variety of others praised the girl while some more said she was normal or a bit darker than her brother.
Skimming through the comments, the girl in the car jolted in surprise at a sudden turn in negativity toward the subject.
Rereading a comment aloud, she couldn’t believe that the subject’s best friend would say such a thing, “The absolute worst…?”
The girl in the car turned her eyes away from the file for a moment, staring outside the window. Even though her employer hadn’t put all of the details in, she could put together the pieces of this Hirate Yurina’s existence from the file, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to continue.
She took a deep breath and resumed looking through the file.
She wasn’t doing a good deed from the start.
Chapter 24: Checkpoint 18
Light clouds were looming in the sky, hinting at rain to come. The bell rang, signalling break time. Hirate Yurina looked up at the board. Today, the scores on the latest quiz were up on the board and points were distributed again.
The short haired girl sighed and laid her head down on the table. She felt the hardness of the metal band around her left wrist as she tried to put her hands under her head. She hadn’t done well on the English quiz, which wasn’t too unexpected.
“Yurina-chan.” Neru came up to Yurina.
Yurina greeted her roommate with a mumble, “Neru.”
Looking at the board and back at Yurina, Neru offered, “We can study English together next time.”
Yurina paused for a moment, about to refuse but then she thought again. “Thank you.” She did need help with studying.
The roommates looked back at the quiz ranking on the board again. It was like normal, some classmates getting better, some not. Neru noticed that Yuuka had dropped almost ten places from her usual place as a member of the class who studied and got good grades.
Suddenly, the board flickered away from the grades. Instead, the usual man who made announcements was there again.
Neru flinched as the screen abruptly changed. Yurina looked toward the figure on the screen with a frown as well.
“I see everyone appears to be doing well.” He started with a fake smile. “Summer break will be coming up in a matter of weeks, and exams will commence before the break. These exams can be either taken as a boon or a bane. If they are failed, you will receive huge demerits. If you do well, then you will receive many points. I hope you will take advantage of this situation.”
“If you have read through your student handbooks, then you may have noticed that having a set number of points is a requirement for graduation. Do not forget to maintain your points so that you can graduate.
“An overview of the exams will be displayed on this board during your next break.
“This will be all for now.”
The figure on the screen disappeared, and the rankings from the quiz reappeared. However, no one was looking at those quiz rankings anymore.
Moriya Akane sighed as she heard about the upcoming exams. Even though the Keyaki class had a looser structure of learning with lectures on the board, she felt that she should have expected exams.
However, when she looked around the room, it looked like not everyone shared her opinion. Manaka had her face down on the desk in denial of exams. Suzumoto’s face was contorted in shock. Imaizumi looked half passed out. Yonetani, one of the smart girls in the class, was going along life as if she had expected exams being announced.
Harada Aoi was hanging by Yuuka’s desk, incessantly poking the horse-loving girl, “Hey, hey, hey. Yukka. Hey, hey?”
Risa came over to Akane and joked, “Ah, Aoi is being annoying to Sugai.” Then, the cool girl shrugged, “Better her than me, I guess.”
Akane raised an eyebrow and picked up a small eraser on her desk. The tennis girl tossed the eraser at Aoi’s head, “Hey, primary schooler.”
“Who are you calling a primary schooler!?” Aoi pouted and took Yuuka’s arm to complain, “Geez, Yukka, Akanen is bullying me.”
“Huh?” Yuuka looked up toward Aoi and back at Akane, “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.” She quickly put her phone away.
“Was the announcement of the exams that shocking?” Aoi wondered aloud.
“Exams? Um…” Yuuka fumbled over her words.
Aoi frowned, “Did you not pay attention?”
There was a silence. Then, another eraser came flying at Aoi’s head, and there was a small snicker of ‘bullseye’ from the area of Akane’s friend group.
“Hey!” Aoi pouted, sharply twisting toward the perpetrator.
Yuuka wryly smiled, “Akanen, don’t bully Aoi, okay?”
“Okay, okay.” Akane relented. “I’ll have Fuu-chan treat her to ice cream next time we go for some.”
“Akanen, don’t say that.” Fuyuka sighed, hitting Akane lightly in the forehead with an eraser.
“Never mind them, I guess.” Aoi grumbled before turning back to what she was originally going to say, “But, anyways, Yukka, Yukka, Yukka, listen to this.”
“What is it?”
Sugai Yuuka listened to Aoi’s ramblings half-heartedly. As Akane watched her roommate, she couldn’t help but let out another sigh. The clouds outside darkened more, and it started raining.
It was still raining into the next class period. The droplets didn’t cease but rather increased like the worries in Sugai Yuuka’s heart. As she couldn’t pay attention to class, the horse loving girl’s mind gradually drifted off to another rainy day.
She had just finished an activity with her friends in the horseback riding club when it started to pour. The mud of the horse area quickly stained her boots, and everyone retreated inside to wait for their parents to pick them up.
The long haired girl chatted happily with her friends. However, she felt that it was strange that her parents hadn’t come to pick her up yet. It was rather embarrassing because they always came early, gushed over their daughter for a while, and then headed home.
Pitter. Patter. At that time, Yuuka didn’t know how fitting the rain was after her happy time on the back of the horse.
Waiting, many of her friends had already been picked up by butlers or their parents. Yuuka hadn’t received any phone calls from her parents, and no servant from their household had appeared yet. She felt an itch of worry in her heart.
Yuuka’s friend noticed and asked, “Hey, Sugai-chan, no one has come to pick you up yet?” The friend’s butler had arrived.
“It doesn’t look like it.” Yuuka shook her head.
The friend inquired, “Do you want us to send you home?”
“Thank you, but maybe the traffic is bad today due to the rain.” Yuuka politely refused, “I can wait for them myself here. Don’t let me hinder you.”
Letting out a huff of exasperation at Yuuka’s politeness, the friend nodded firmly, “I’ll wait here with you then.”
They waited. The rain grew heavier, and the sky was dark. Even though it was early summer at this time as well, the rain made the air colder and wetter than normal, chilling Yuuka’s heart.
Finally, another car pulled up. Yuuka’s male distantly related cousin stepped out of the car with an umbrella and greeted her.
Yuuka’s friend unconsciously grabbed Yuuka’s hand when she saw the cousin’s sharp look behind his glasses.
“Cousin, what are you doing here?” Yuuka asked.
He replied, “Your parents had something come up, so I’ve come to pick you up.”
“Do you not trust me? We can call aunt to check again if you’d like.”
“No, it’s okay.” Yuuka shook her head, “It’s just somewhat rare for cousin to come out here since you don’t like horsebacking riding much.”
“It was a bit of an emergency.” His eyes were mirthful.
Yuuka bid friend farewell, and Yuuka and her cousin stepped into the car. In the car, they could still hear the sound of the rain and for some reason, the air conditioning was lightly blowing in the car.
“Do you not know?”
Yuuka was silent. She clenched her hands tightly in her lap but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything and affirmed her older male cousin’s words.
“Uncle is in the hospital right now. It seems that he overworked himself especially now that they are discussing a merger of the Sugai Company with mine.”
“No one told you? Your parents love you a lot, so they likely didn’t want to worry you.” He smiled, and Yuuka thought that it was a terrible smile, “You’re a beautiful young lady, Yuuka.”
The horse-loving girl didn’t know what to respond. She wasn’t sure why her cousin would add on such a praise for her, but in her heart, she felt that it was worse to be loved and not told anything by her parents. She didn’t want to have that kind of love.
Sugai Yuuka didn’t know when but some tears had gathered in her eyes.
Sitting up in her seat in the Keyaki class, Yuuka noticed that she had fallen asleep. Quickly wiping away her budding tears, she looked up at the board to at least try to pay attention to class.
It was still raining.
Chapter 25: Checkpoint 19
Three days had passed since the announcement of the exams. Habu Mizuho peered out from behind a bookshelf toward her classmates who were sitting in the library, reading books. In her hands, she had a copy of a manga about titans and she was both reading it and pretending to read it as she watched.
“Habu-chan, Habu-chan, what are they doing?” A sweet voice whispered to the tall girl.
Habu replied, “They look like they’re just studying.”
The owner of the sweet voice nodded. She had in her hand a manga with a penguin idol group. This girl, Koike Minami, stuck her head out as well to take a peek at her classmates at the table.
Together, Habu and Koike stared at their classmates, Sugai Yuuka and Moriya Akane. For some reason, Akane and Yuuka had an awkward gap in the form of a seat between them.
“...They’re really just studying.” Koike sighed as she looked at Akane and Yuuka, letting out a bit of her Kansai dialect as she asked, “What is this…?”
“I don’t know.” Habu replied with a whisper.
“Are they fighting? Yuuka’s been looking down recently.”
“A lover’s quarrel?”
“Habu-chan, you’ve been reading too much yuri manga recently, I think.” Koike giggled, “Hehehe.” Then, she made a face to herself and thought, “But…”
“Maybe it’s not a lover’s quarrel. But, what is it?”
Instead of answering her tall friend’s question, the penguin girl suddenly asked as she squinted, noticing, “Is Yuuka reading that book upside-down?”
As the pair whispered behind the bookshelf, Akane put down her book for a moment and looked behind her toward the bookshelves. She didn’t see anything strange as Koike and Habu had pulled their head backs just in time.
The tennis club girl turned back to her book. She glanced over to her roommate and noticed that Yuuka’s book was upside down, Yuuka furrowing her brows while not reading in the slightest.
Akane pointed out, “Yuuka, you’re reading the book upside down.”
“O-oh, oops.” Yuuka sheepishly smiled and turned her book right-side up. “Thank you, Akanen.”
“What’s on your mind?”
“...It’s… nothing much.”
The two of them went back to reading after an awkward moment. Akane didn’t push further this time, and the two watching from the back felt a little frustrated.
Habu and Koike peered out from behind the bookshelves again.
Habu whispered, “Are you sure that it’s not a lover’s quarrel?”
Koike nodded, “Maybe it’s a lover’s quarrel.”
Habu and Koike once again retreated behind the bookshelf to get a plan down. The two put away their manga and thought to themselves for a moment. The penguin girl hugged the tall girl as she pondered.
“Operation Find out What’s Making Yuuka sad!” Habu pumped her fist into the air lightly.
Koike nodded, “Let’s observe more to try to figure it out.”
As the two conversed, Aoi passed by their bookshelf.
“What are you two doing?” Aoi asked.
Sugai Yuuka checked her phone as she sat in the library. No matter how much she refreshed LINE, her family didn’t send anything. She couldn’t bring her fingers to press the button to call them either.
She looked toward Akane who was properly studying.
Yuuka respected her friend whose long eyelashes fluttered every blink while reading a book. Comparatively, Yuuka couldn’t focus at all. She rubbed her wrist with the wristband from the Keyaki class, and looked down at her book.
Her attention drifted off again.
At the time when the rain seemed like it would never stop, she didn’t know anything about what happened with her father that made him overwork so much that he ended up in the hospital.
Yuuka had gone into her father’s hospital room as quickly as she could.
“Yuuka!” Yuuka’s older sister called out to Yuuka.
Yuuka wrung her hands in worry, asking, “Is father okay?”
“He’s…” Her sister started, noticing their cousin standing at the door and not knowing if she should say the whole truth.
Yuuka’s father called out, pushing himself up as if to reassure her, “I’m okay.” However, his voice sounded weak and even sitting up looked strenuous.
Yuuka looked at her father. He had IV drips slowly feeding him nutrients, lots of machinery around him. Her mother was holding his hand tightly. He looked pale, his black hair greying and his face filled with stress lines. He tried to push away his condition with his smile, but Yuuka could only see that he was weak.
The horse loving girl wondered why it was that she hadn’t noticed her father’s health deteriorating.
“It’s okay, Yuuka.” Yuuka’s father said, “I will be better in no time. We can go horseback riding together next time.”
Yuuka nodded. She felt a weight in her stomach, as if despite her father’s words, he was somehow pushing her away. She wondered why he had to pretend to be strong in front of her.
The horse loving girl looked down at her feet.
Then, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked toward the owner of the hand and saw her cousin, eyes coldly smiling despite his neutral expression. A chill ran up her back, and she quickly turned away.
The cousin greeted Yuuka’s father and politely said, “Uncle, please make sure to take care of your health.”
“Ah, yes, Seiichirou-kun.” Yuuka’s father acknowledged that the cousin was there with a pause.
Yuuka noticed her older sibling strangely shooting their cousin a venomous look.
The two men in the room began to talk about business and the upcoming business merger. There was a tense mood as the cousin, Seiichirou, spoke confidently as if he had already won something
Yuuka thought to herself, ‘ They don’t tell me anything .’ She realized that she knew very little about her family members’ lives.
Rain started falling from the sky again. Pitter. Patter. Inside the library, Koike Minami, Habu Mizuho, and Harada Aoi all sat down on the floor, trying to figure out what was occupying their friend Yuuka.
Aoi sighed as if she was saying the obvious, “Shouldn’t we just ask Yukka what’s wrong?”
Koike frowned. “Can you ask? I don’t know if I’m reliable enough. I think she’d just worry more if I asked.” She knew that communicating was the most straightforward way to find out, but she didn’t have any confidence.
“Mii-chan…” Habu murmured.
“None of us are really that reliable, huh.” Aoi nodded, hugging her knees closer to her body, “Ah, this sucks.”
Koike quickly stood up and proclaimed, “If we’re always like this, nothing’s going to change. That’s why...”
Chapter 26: Checkpoint 20
A few light thumps echoed through the library. The sun was starting to set. Sugai Yuuka and Moriya Akane put away their books and pushed in their seats as they got up. The roommates exited the library together, feeling the air conditioned air of the library dissipate as they stepped into the hallways, where the windows were open, letting in a breeze.
Yuuka looked down as she walked. There was a gap between her and Akane.
Akane called out to Yuuka, “Hey, Yuuka.”
“What is it?” Yuuka responded.
The warm summer breeze rolled through the open window, blowing Yuuka’s hair a little, causing the horse loving girl move her hand to stop it. Akane’s cheeks flushed, not just from the warmth of the weather, but also from how pretty Yuuka looked. However, the smile that spread joy from one girl to another wasn’t properly present, so Akane couldn’t truly feel happy.
Akane pulled up her courage, her endless well of spirit that seemed to be unable to penetrate Yuuka’s wall of silence, and tried to breach the topic of Yuuka’s worries,“Recently, you’ve be—”
She was suddenly interrupted by a childish sounding voice, “Yuuka!”
When the roommates turned, they noticed Koike Minami coming along. Akane looked toward Yuuka again, but Yuuka had averted her gaze away from Akane.
Yuuka asked in confusion, “Eh? Mii-chan?” However, there was a hint of relief in her voice.
“Let’s head back together.” The penguin loving girl mumbled, feeling nervousness come into her heart. She lightly grasped Yuuka’s sleeve and looked up, “I… I have something I want to talk to you about.”
“Okay.” Yuuka turned back toward Akane after nodding to Mii-chan almost instinctively. “Akanen, I…”
Suddenly, Habu and Aoi crept up from behind Akane. They each grabbed one side of Akane. The two flinched as they noticed Akane’s dark look, feeling Akane stiffen up as if ready to throw them off. They let out a light sight of relief as they noticed Akane relax.
The two, Aoi and Habu, blurted out, “Akanen, come with us! Yuuka, we’re stealing her for a moment!”
“Fine, but Yuuka—” Akane sighed.
Yuuka gently cut off her roommate, “I’ll tell you when everything is finished, okay?” The horse loving girl smiled weakly and gave a light wave.
Akane didn’t say anymore. She just nodded and waved back, dragging Aoi’s hands up with her arm.
As Akane watched Yuuka go on ahead, she removed Habu and Aoi’s hands from her arms. Crossing her arms, Akane sent a sharp look toward the two girls and waited for them to say whatever it was that they grabbed her for.
Aoi awkwardly asked, “... are you mad?”
Akane replied, “I’m mad.” She flicked Aoi on the forehead.
“Ouch!” Aoi yelped.
Habu stealthily covered her own forehead and looked toward Akane. “We wanted to ask you something.”
“What is it?” Akane questioned.
“Yuuka.” Habu quickly replied, “Did you do something to Yuuka? She’s been acting strange.”
Akane retorted, “Huh? I want to ask that to you.”
Aoi butted in, “Well, you two are like an old married couple having a fight, so there’s no way there’s nothing happening.”
“What are you talking about?” Akane sighed.
“I’m doing the interrogating here!” Aoi pouted.
Akane flicked Aoi’s forehead again, “Stupid.”
“Hey!” Aoi yelled, “Really, really, really. Yuuka’s been looking depressed recently. What happened? Did you break up? Were you flirting with Fuu-chan too much?”
“Aoi-chan…” Habu tried to hold Aoi back.
Akane responded heatedly, “What are you talking about!?”
“Akanen did you do something to make Yuuka sad? Hey, hey.” Aoi continued prodding, ignoring Habu, “Did you two break up or something?”
“We’re not going out!” Akane finally burst, “In the first place, Yuuka hasn’t been telling me anything either, okay!?”
The tennis girl grabbed Aoi by the collar angrily and glared into Aoi’s eyes. Akane’s hands shook with anger, but at the same time, her eyes glistened with frustration. She tightened her grip on Aoi’s collar, nearly picking the smaller girl off the ground.
“What do you think I feel!?” Akane shouted.
“H-how am I supposed to know?” Aoi replied, feeling regret that she asked too much. “Akanen, you’re scaring me!”
Habu flustered in the background, trying to coax both of her classmates to calm down.
Akane let out her feelings without meaning to, “Even though I love her, she won’t tell me anything no matter how much I ask!”
Aoi was speechless.
Finally, Akane let out a trembling sigh. She turned her head away and wiped her hand over her eyes for a moment, acting as if there hadn’t been tears. She shook her head and sent another look toward the pair.
“I’m not going to apologize, but…” Akane scowled.
Clenching her fists, she ran off.
Aoi and Habu looked at Akane’s retreating back. The shorter girl looked down at the ground and sniffled. She held her arms guiltily and glanced toward Habu who was similarly looking down.
“...I think I did something bad.” Aoi mumbled.
Feeling a chill despite the warmth of summer, Yuuka looked up at the sky. The moon had already come up even if the sky was still darkening, but it was covered by the clouds. She and Koike walked together, the penguin loving girl clinging onto Yuuka’s sleeve.
Yuuka asked, “Mii-chan, what did you want to talk about?”
Koike blurted out, “Yuuka, has something been worrying you recently?”
“Ah…” Yuuka’s expression froze for a moment. She didn’t want to reply.
The penguin loving girl apologized, “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s just a little something. Don’t worry.”
The two continued walking back to the dorms. Yuuka looked toward Koike who was still cutely clinging onto her sleeve. The horse loving girl felt warm inside knowing that she was blessed with such good friends, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell them her worries.
“Yuuka likes Akanen, right?” Koike inquired, hypothesizing what could be worrying her friend.
Yuuka paused again, “Eh?” This time, it was from surprise, not from a hesitation to answer the question.
“If you’re worried about it, I’ll be supporting you.” Koike fumbled her way through her supporting statement, clenching Yuuka’s sleeve as if to show her conviction. “Even if you’re going out with Akanen, we’ll still be friends.”
Yuuka smiled wryly, “We’re not going out.”
Thinking of going out with her roommate, Yuuka’s heart beat a little faster than usual. However, for her, the truth of the matter was that they were not dating and likely wouldn’t.
Koike followed up shyly, “Then, you just like her?”
“I…” Yuuka stopped. She realized to herself with a dejected smile that she hid away from Koike, “Yes, I probably like Akanen.”
The penguin loving girl perked up, “I’ll support you!”
“I don’t think we can be together like that though.” Yuuka whispered.
—That would be nice if it could come true.
Chapter 27: Checkpoint 20.5
“Yurina-chan, do you get along with your family?”
“Liar. That really is a lie. Because you—”
Hirate Yurina was startled out of her thoughts by her roommate’s voice. The short haired girl’s chopsticks had stopped moving for a while, and despite the sound of her classmates talking in the dorm cafeteria, she had gone into her own little world. It was nighttime, and they were eating dinner.
Neru sat next to Yurina. Imaizumi Yui sat on Yurina’s other side. On the other side of the table, the three roommates, Oda Nana, Kobayashi Yui, and Suzumoto Miyu were also eating. Some of their other classmates were also in the cafeteria, but not everyone ate at the same time.
The short haired girl replied, pretending that she hadn’t zoned out, “What is it, Neru?”
“How many siblings do you have?”Neru asked with a smile.
Yurina paused for a moment. Just thinking about it made her chest hurt a little bit, but she mumbled out her answer, “I… had a big brother.” She thought to herself that Neru didn’t know, and that she didn’t want to tell Neru either.
Not noticing Yurina’s hesitation, Suzumoto grinned as she gently pushed Oda Nana, “See, Dani, Techi’s a younger sibling.”
“Okay, I lose. I lose.” Oda Nana relented, having predicted that Yurina didn’t have an older sibling. As Suzumoto gave her a clingy hug, she retorted half-heartedly, “Get off me, Suzumoto.”
“Eh~ but I love you so much, Dani!” Suzumoto laughed.
Oda Nana turned away toward Yui-pon, “Pon, save me!”
Oda and Suzumoto’s roommate followed to turn away and pretend that her roommates weren’t being weird like always, “What are you two even doing…?”
Imaizumi said in reply to Yui-pon’s helpless look, “It looks fun.”
After taking another bite of her food, Neru looked toward Imaizumi, “Zuumin, how many siblings do you have?”
“Four older brothers.” Imaizumi answered. “They’re a bit noisy, but I kind of want to go home and see them soon.”
Oda Nana turned the question to Neru, “How about Neru?”
“I have a big brother and sister.” Neru answered.
“Dani?” Suzumoto asked.
Dani replied, “I have a little sister.” She smiled, “She grows up so fast though.”
“Ehh, I’m jealous. Of your little sister. I want to be your little sister.” Suzumoto whined, still clinging to Oda Nana.
“Eh, what’s with that?”
Watching the roommates and their third roommate who was trying to ignore them, Neru giggled, “Miyu-chan can become an Oda without being blood-related to Oda Nana.”
Suzumoto made a strange face of shock before blushing profusely, burying her face into Oda Nana’s shoulder. Oda Nana took a moment to stare at Neru before sputtering incoherently in retort, blushing as well.
All the while, Yurina continued eating the food that had started getting cold.
Imaizumi got up at some point and changed the channel on the television in the cafeteria. She smiled to the other Yui and hummed along to Nishino Kana who was performing on the Music Station channel.
“Yurina-chan, what type of family name would you like to have?” Neru asked.
“Anything but Hirate.” Yurina replied. “How about Neru?”
“Nagahama is good, I think. Yurina-chan can join the Nagahama family and become one of us.”
— ----- doesn’t deserve this happiness.
The Keyaki dorms were far too vast for just 21 people, yet there they stood. Oda Nana walked through the building, feeling like trying out the gym. Suzumoto went toward the dance studio, eager to continue improving her dance that she studied since she was young, and her other roommate was with Imaizumi, the two of them headed toward the music studio that Oda Nana hadn’t realized existed.
Entering the gym, Oda Nana heard the sound of someone already inside, punching and panting.
She walked in, and to her surprise, she saw Moriya Akane in casual clothes, punching a punching bag in the corner as if the bag had murdered her family and her pet dog. The sweat on Akane’s forehead nearly made Oda Nana not notice the glistening in the tennis girl’s eyes.
Oda Nana headed toward a treadmill near the punching bag. She set down the two water bottles she grabbed beforehand and starting lightly jogging on the treadmill.
Vrmm. Vrm. Bang! Aside from the buzzing of the treadmill, the light blowing of air conditioning, and Akane’s mutilation of the punching bag, the gym was quiet.
Minutes passed. Akane’s breathing got heavier, and her face seemed flushed. Oda Nana didn’t know how long her classmate had been in the gym, but she noticed that Akane forgot to bring water.
Oda Nana slowed down on the treadmill and stopped her jogging. Reaching down to grab one of her bottles of water, she called out, “Akanen.”
Akane turned to look at Oda Nana, nearly getting hit in the face by the recoil of the punching bag that she had been hitting, “Dani?”
“Water, for you.” Oda Nana threw Akane the bottle of water.
Akane opened the bottle and took a drink, “Thanks.”
“It’s nothing.” Oda Nana shook her head, picking up the other bottle to take a sip. “Is there someone you want to punch right now?”
Akane nearly choked on her water with a laugh. “Yea. Just a bit. Myself mostly for being so useless.”
“You’ve already beaten your hands up enough.”
“This was dumb in hindsight.” Akane looked down at her knuckles, which were starting to bleed a little. “I don’t want to worry Yuuka more than she already is worried.”
“Akanen really loves Yuuka, huh.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“No way!” Oda Nana rejected the notion. “I won’t tell anyone if you are. It’s your secret to keep, but I don’t think you should keep it bottled up. It’s better being rejected than not knowing the rejection.”
“Are you talking about you and Yui-pon?”
“Ahaha, I won’t give up on my love.” Oda Nana’s shoulders slumped a little. “One day, she’ll see my dedication.”
“Dani, don’t be gross.”
“I’m jealous of how straightforward you are.”
Moriya Akane cried quietly.
Chapter 28: Checkpoint 21
The sun was bright and hot despite it being early morning. The Keyaki class girls filtered in and out of the air conditioned cafeteria for breakfast, some not even bothering with breakfast at all, just there to head out with their friends.
The television in the cafeteria flickered through channels before stopping on the news. There wasn’t much of interest on at the moment, so the girls let the news act as white noise behind their chatter.
A week had passed since Habu and Aoi confronted Akane, and they were still on unsteady terms.
Watanabe Risa looked toward Akane worriedly. Although the cool Watanabe didn’t let her worry show on her face, she was getting a little sick of Akane’s moping and spoke up, “Hey, Akanen, are you okay?”
For some reason, two people twitched at Risa’s voice, Akane and Aoi.
Risa stared at the two blankly, noticing a spark of animosity come between the two. She sighed internally, and Fuyuka, who was by her side, let out a similarly troubled smile.
“I’m fine.” Akane replied.
“You’re not fine at all.” Risa snorted.
Akane grumbled irritatedly, “I know. I know. I know.” She glanced over at Yuuka longingly, and she quickly looked away, stuffing a chopstick full of natto into her mouth.
“I’m going to make it fine.”
Risa relented. “Good.” She went back to her breakfast as well, carefully cutting up some French toast that had already been lathered with syrup.
Manaka called out from the other side of the table, “Risa, give me a bite.”
Not even waiting for Risa’s fork to come over to her, Manaka leaned across the table and ate the piece of French toast that Risa had cut. She grinned as if she had accomplished some great deed.
“You have some syrup on your lips.” Risa reached out toward her roommate with a napkin.
Yet, before Risa reached Manaka, Manaka licked her own lips, giving Risa a wink.
Watching at the side, Fuyuka gave both of them a friendly bonk on the head, and said, “Go flirt somewhere else.” On the inside, she was glad that the roommates were getting along. There was somehow a heavy feeling in this area of the cafeteria.
Sugai Yuuka ate quietly. She hadn’t realized when, but a large gap had been created between her roommate and herself. She glanced toward Akane, but she couldn’t keep looking.
She thought back to a time when she had felt alone.
At that time, she had come to the hospital after school in order to visit her father who was sick. They had all thought that he would be getting better soon, and the Sugai family would be back to being a healthy, happy family.
Yuuka, still in her school uniform, was outside her father’s door when she heard her mother talking to him through the door.
She stopped. Even though she knew that she could go in, she felt as if she couldn’t. It was because they always stopped talking when she came. It was because they tried to hide everything from her ears. It wasn’t soothing in the slightest, as much as she knew her parents may have just wanted to protect their daughter.
“Dear, are you sure that we shouldn’t?” She heard her mother’s voice.
Her father’s voice replied, “I know, but we can’t worry Yuuka like that.”
“I know that.”
“What do you think of Seiichirou-kun?”
“Father, I don’t approve.” Even her sister was in the room. “He doesn’t deserve her.”
“I don’t have much time left. The doctor says that I may not make another two years.” Her father said with a cough.
Yuuka stepped back in shock. She put her hands over her mouth to stop herself from making another noise. She couldn’t help but shake at the idea that her father would die, that it wasn’t just a small illness.
A nagging voice said in her mind that she should have expected it.
As Yuuka moved back, she suddenly felt a pair of hands on her shoulders. She flinched, twisting back and instinctively going to jab the man in order to get him to move away.
“Cousin.” Then she heard his voice.
Her cousin removed his hands and adjusted his glasses. He put on a disarming smile, but like always, the smile didn’t seem to reach his eyes.
Yuuka’s shoulders slumped, relaxing, and she let out a noise of acknowledgment, “Ah..”
“Don’t worry. Uncle will be fine. I’ll take care of you.”
Yuuka moved away from her cousin, but he gently reached for her hand instead.
“There’s no need to thank me. Only...”
His smile chilled her heart.
Yuuka was suddenly jolted out her thoughts when she heard her family name said in a familiar yet unfamiliar voice. It wasn’t any of her classmates. Then, she looked toward the cafeteria television, which was broadcasting something about her family.
She smiled wryly to herself that she had fallen to news stories and other people to find out about her family.
The horse loving girl looked toward the screen. Most of her classmates didn’t pay the news any heed, but she noticed that Akane and her friends were.
Her cousin Seiichirou was on the screen, being interviewed on the current activities of his companies. Meanwhile, the newscasters commented on his status as a very well sought after bachelor.
Yuuka thought to herself of a phone call that she had received a week earlier from him. He had said that her father was in worsening conditions, and the treatments were very expensive and were becoming difficult to pay for. Seiichirou offered a way for him to help, but he had a condition.
Yuuka shook her head. She didn’t want to think of it.
She glanced toward Akane and steeled her heart.
“We’ve suddenly received an urgent report.”
“The former CEO of the Sugai Company is currently in critical condition—”
She didn’t comprehend her own feelings at that moment.
She didn’t realize the loud sound of her standing up, and the silence that followed.
And she didn’t notice that she was crying when she ran out.
Except, Akane did.
Chapter 29: Checkpoint 21.5
The sky was dark, but still, it seemed that the world was sparkling with the light of the stars under the lights of the towering buildings in Tokyo. The girl let out a small puff of white as she breathed out into the winter air. Snow had yet to fall this year.
The girl with long black hair was walking aimlessly through the city. She wore the uniform of a affluent private school under her jacket, yet she wasn’t enjoy the festivities that came with the winter season like many of her other classmates.
Instead, her eyes were a red from crying.
No one paid the girl any heed. She was outside by herself because she didn’t want the people who would have paid attention to pay attention and worry about her.
She rubbed her hands together and breathed on them. The tips of her fingers were red. She had forgotten her gloves. The hospital was just two blocks away, but she didn’t want to head back to retrieve the gloves.
People were walking all around, chatting and laughing and playing music.
She sat down at a bench near a tree and wondered about her future. She didn’t want to be a burden on her family, but she knew that she was one. She wondered what type of job she would have in the future, if she could continue onto college, and all those other things.
The future seemed dark compared to the city lights.
Once upon a time, it had seemed endless, and even if she fell, no one would be hurt. She could just start again. However, now, her heart was filled with doubt.
At some point, the girl had starting looking down at her feet, losing her attention on her surroundings.
Fwaph. Then, a flyer suddenly flew into her face.
The girl fumbled to remove the flyer, but the wind seemed to be against her. When she finally got the flyer, her hair was a mess. She sighed, clumsily fixing her hair.
She took a look at the unlucky flyer, eyes widening in surprise at what was said on the paper.
She just didn’t realize that she had made her decision in that split moment.
“I want to be financially independent.”
“I don’t want to be a burden.”
She said very simply as she showed her family her acceptance letter to the Keyaki class.
The sky was light. Walking through campus in spring, the girl saw flowers starting to bloom and sakura floating through the light breeze. She wore a different uniform than she wore a year ago, and now there was a metal bracelet on her wrist.
She noticed her new classmates enjoying themselves across campus. The school clubs were recruiting at the moment. One of her classmates was even talking excitedly about micro-organisms with the science club. She looked around, politely declining the offers of the clubs.
The girl noticed her roommate, Moriya Akane, with her hair up in a ponytail, talking with the tennis club. The girl, Sugai Yuuka, felt that Akane looked very nice with her hair up.
As Yuuka was about to continue strolling along, Akane finished her chat with the tennis club and turned around, noticing Yuuka.
“S-Yuuka.” The ponytailed girl quickly called out to her roommate, correcting herself in how she called Yuuka. She jogged over.
Yuuka greeted her roommate, tasting the nickname as it rolled off her tongue, “Hello, Akanen.”
“Have you joined a club?”
“No, not yet. I wonder if there’s a horseback riding club.”
“I haven’t seen one yet, but let’s go look for it together.”
Yuuka took the hand that Akane extended toward her. It was warm.
Before she knew it, her heart latched on and didn’t want to let go.
Chapter 30: Checkpoint 22
Akane dropped her chopsticks, not minding that they clattered to the ground. She got out of her seat so quickly that she nearly tripped. When she saw Yuuka ran out, her mind had frozen for a moment, but she was still screaming at herself to chase after her roommate, to ask what was wrong even if Yuuka wouldn’t tell her.
—Even if Yuuka wouldn’t tell her.
A cold thought crossed her mind. Suddenly, she felt a slap on the back from Manaka of all people.
“Go.” Manaka said.
“I don’t need you to tell me that.” Akane nodded. “But, thanks.”
With that one second interaction done, Akane went after Yuuka. Using the muscles that she developed in morning trainings for the tennis club, Akane sprinted out the door. For a moment, Akane almost couldn’t spot her roommate.
Even though Akane knew that she was faster than Yuuka from those times that their gym teacher had the whole class run during class, Akane felt as if she couldn’t catch up to Yuuka. She pushed her legs to go faster.
“Yuuka!” Akane called out, ignoring her need to breathe while running.
They had exited the dorm building a while ago. Rather than heading along the paths toward school, Yuuka headed through the foliage near one of the school gardens.
The two girls entered the garden, still running. Although the light filtering through the flowers and trees made for a beautiful image, all they could focus on was the movement of their feet and that sound.
Yuuka’s shoulders shook with her hiccups from crying as she ran. She didn’t know where she wanted to go, but hearing Akane behind her, she didn’t want to face her friend or anyone.
Akane reached out her hand toward Yuuka and grabbed onto Yuuka’s hand without thinking. The two came to a halt in the middle of the garden.
They didn’t exchange any words. Yuuka’s hand simply slipped from Akane’s grip. The horse loving girl’s back was facing Akane, but Akane could still see that Yuuka was crying, Yuuka’s hands moving to wipe away tears that kept coming out. Akane’s heart was pounding from running, and she was breathing hard.
“Hey, Yuuka…” Akane quietly called
Yuuka shook her head and replied, sobbing, “Akanen… hic… go away.”
Akane hesitated for a moment. She looked at Yuuka’s back, the shaking shoulders. Akane didn’t want to see her roommate crying like this, and a part of her told herself to run away. Then, a mental bucket of cold water splashed her, slapping her for even thinking of leaving Yuuka.
Akane firmly replied, “I’m sorry, Yuuka, but I won’t go away.”
Yuuka shook her head again. Turning to look at her roommate for a moment, the horse loving girl wiped her tears again and again until her eyes were puffy red. She moved to run away.
Without thinking, again Akane grabbed Yuuka’s hand.
“Let go…” Yuuka whispered.
“I won’t let go.” Akane shook her head.
“My father is dying… and I… hic… can’t even do anything. J-just leave me alone.”
The tennis playing girl brought Yuuka closer into a hug, “I won’t leave you alone.”
Yuuka didn’t reply.
“Tell me what I can do. Tell me what’s troubling you.” Akane said strongly, “What happened to your dad isn’t your fault!”
“I-It is! Because I’m the worst kind of daughter…” Yuuka cried.
The horse loving girl smothered her face into Akane’s chest as she let out her tears, wailing incoherently. Akane held Yuuka, and she wished that she could just send Yuuka’s sadness away. Akane ignored the wetness from Yuuka’s tears that was staining her uniform.
Hiccuping a last few times, Yuuka took a deep and unsteady breath as her tears finally stopped for a moment.
“I’m sorry. I got your clothes dirty.” Yuuka mumbled, not looking up.
Akane still shook her head, “It’s okay.”
After calming down, Yuuka began to explain her troubles. She was hesitant to say, but once the dam was opened, the words spilled out along with her painful emotions.
Her family, the Sugai family, was rich and her father was the CEO of the Sugai Company. However, a few years earlier, her father fell very ill. The company went through many restructurings, ending with a merger that led it to fall into the hands of a cousin.
Her family, while not thrown into complete debt, was left in a harsh situation, with her father’s medical bills growing and their former rich lifestyle becoming more difficult.
Even despite their struggles, Yuuka’s family continued to pamper their youngest daughter, as if trying to protect her from the outside world. However, that pampering was like the harshest form of torture because Yuuka couldn’t help but feel a lack of trust toward herself.
She ran away. She told herself that she would separate from them, stop burdening them. She came to the Keyaki class.
Yet, when they stopped contacting her, she couldn’t help but worry. That her father was in deathly condition showed her just how foolish she had been, acting as if everything was okay in coming to the Keyaki class.
Yuuka finished spilling out her feelings.
Seeing Akane’s silence, Yuuka quietly pried herself away from Akane’s hug and gave her roommate a sad smile, “I’ve already come to my conclusion.”
“What do you mean?” Akane asked, her heart dropping.
Suddenly, Yuuka’s phone buzzed loudly in her pocket. She slipped it out and checked who the caller was. Her expression fell a little when she saw that it wasn’t her parents or sister, but she had made up her mind before he even sent a message.
“I’m quitting school.” Yuuka said.
“What do you… mean?”
“I’m… m-” Yuuka couldn’t get the words out of her mouth.
“A deal.” With the devil she didn’t name. “In order to help my parents.”
“You don’t need to make such a deal.”
“Akanen, I’ve already told you everything! There’s nothing that I can do! And there’s nothing that you can do!”
“Even so… I can’t accept that!” Akane retorted, hurting at the idea of losing Yuuka.
“There’s nothing else!”
“Yuuka, I love you!”
There was a deep silence.
Yuuka broke the silence with a small voice. “I’m sorry.”
Yuuka couldn’t bear to look at the expression on Akane’s face. She quickly averted her eyes and ran away. This time, she couldn’t hear Akane’s feet chasing after her, but Yuuka cried.
Akane watched as Yuuka left.
She brushed her hand against the stems of the roses growing in the garden. Suddenly, Akane felt a sharp pain in her finger, but that pain was far eclipsed by her own heart. She looked at the finger, at the droplet of blood welling up from a prick from the thorns of the roses.
“Is that it?” Akane whispered to herself.
She clenched her fists tightly and shook her head. She wouldn’t give up.
Chapter 31: Checkpoint 22.5
A day before the television in the cafeteria showed the news about Sugai Yuuka’s father, Saitou Fuyuka wouldn’t have expected the way her friend Akane’s relationship with Yuuka would develop.
It was a hotter day than usual, and as the bell rang, signalling one of the long class breaks, Fuyuka quickly went over to Akane. She was sick of seeing her friend brooding, and she felt like they needed a change of pace.
Fuyuka smiled, “Hey, Akanen. Want to go out for ice cream now?”
Akane nodded, “Sure.”
“Want to bring Aoi along?” Thinking back, Fuyuka joked about a request Akane made when Yuuka scolded Akane for bullying Aoi.
“No.” Akane scowled. “Don’t treat Aoi to ice cream.”
Fuyuka smiled wryly, “Okay, okay.” She had expected such an answer since she wasn’t blind enough to ignore the tension between Aoi and Akane that had gone beyond teasing recently.
The two girls got up to leave for the ice cream place on campus.
“Hey, we’re going to get ice cream. See you later.” Fuyuka called out to her friends who had migrated over to Yurina and Neru’s area this break period.
Manaka waved casually, leaning on Yurina, “Bye bye.”
“Bring me something.” Risa held up her wristband, signalling that she would pay later. She was sitting next to Neru.
After saying a few words, Fuyuka and Akane left the classroom. Soon enough, they were outside with the hot sun beating down on them.
“Geez, it’s hot!” Fuyuka complained.
Akane bantered in reply, “That’s why we’re getting ice cream.”
“Yea.” Fuyuka laughed. “Risa’s ice cream is going to be all melted when we come back.”
“She wanted a Haagen-Dazs, right?”
“Expensive ice cream for Risa-sama. As expected of King Mona’s Queen.”
“Pfft. What is that? The normal students write weird stuff on that site.”
“You’re also called Moriya-sama by some of your fangirls.”
“Not that much.”
“Risa has been getting annoyed with the -sama thing recently though.”
“Yuuka doesn’t really like the being called Sugai-sama either.”
The conversation trickled down. Fuyuka noticed the look that always appeared on Akane’s face when she talked about Yuuka. It was a worried face.
“Ah, we’re here already.” Fuyuka was glad when they reached the ice cream place. “What do you want?”
Fuyuka and Akane got their ice cream and sat down, allowing themselves to enjoy the cold sweets despite the weather. Fuyuka got a new flavor of ice cream sundae that had come out while Akane got herself a frozen yogurt.
“So, is it good?” Akane asked Fuyuka, looking apprehensively at the green parts of the ice cream sundae.
Fuyuka took a spoonful of the sundae and tasted it. “It’s surprisingly good. The green stuff is mint chocolate chip.”
They chatted for a while about mundane things like ice cream and whether or not dieting was effective.
Then, Fuyuka inquired, “You’ve been kind of annoyed with Aoi recently. What’s with that?”
“She kept prodding me on a topic that I didn’t want to talk about.” Akane sighed.
“I won’t ask then.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
A silence fell over the two girls. They continued eating their ice cream. Fuyuka was willing to drop the topic if Akane didn’t want to say anything.
“Actually, I’m worried about Yuuka.” Akane started.
“I don’t really know why, but she’s been really out of it recently. I wish she would talk to me about it. Every time I say that she can rely on me, it’s like she tries to run away.”
Fuyuka listened to Akane’s problems without judging. She offered a few suggestions like simply talking it out, but she felt that Akane probably tried that already. Nonetheless, Fuyuka encouraged Akane not to give up because she didn’t want to see her friend’s friendship fail.
Before long, they had finished their ice cream.
The two looked at the clock in the ice cream place, and they found that it was time to head back to the classroom lest they have to run all the way back.
As Akane pushed in her chair, she grinned at Fuyuka, “Thanks, Fuu-chan.”
“No problem. I didn’t do anything but listen.” Fuyuka shook her head with a smile. She looked forward to when Akane’s problems with Yuuka would be solved.
They headed back to the Keyaki class together.
In the classroom, Watanabe Risa took a look at her phone, noticing a LINE message from Fuyuka. Manaka had come over and placed her head on Risa’s shoulder, and Neru looked from the side, encouraging Manaka and sending Risa teasing looks about Manaka’s actions.
Manaka read the message with a snicker, “Queen Risa, the ice cream’s going to melt, so let’s go get some later instead.”
“Yea, yea.” Risa snorted, ignoring the nickname.
“I’ll be your king then. Right, Risa?”
“That…” The cool Watanabe was at a loss for words for a second, feeling her heart race from Manaka’s casual proclamation, but found herself retorting, “I’m the king. You’re the queen.”
“Yurina-chan, you should cover your eyes.” Neru covered Yurina’s eyes to protect her roommate’s innocence.
Risa scowled without much heat behind her expression, “Is there a need to do that?”
“Is there a need?” Yurina wondered as well, removing Neru’s hands from her head. She wasn’t really all that averse to Neru’s gentle touch.
“It’s okay.” Neru replied mysteriously.
The four continued talking for a while before Risa stood up from her seat and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“I’ll go with you.” Manaka said.
Just like that, the cool duo left the classroom. Walking through the hallways, they didn’t say much but enjoyed the quiet side by side. Risa took Manaka’s hand, and they continued forward.
The bathroom closest to the Keyaki class was for some reason out of service.
Risa frowned as it was fine in the morning, but she couldn’t pick out a reason why there would be some hidden motive for someone to make the bathroom suddenly out of order and saw it as just bad luck.
As the pair strolled through the hallways to the next bathroom, they noticed a young man chatting with another person.
Looking at the other person gave Risa a sudden jolt of phantom pain, but she felt that the other person seemed familiar. She and Manaka turned their eyes toward the young man who they had never seen before in the school.
Sakamichi was a girls’ school, so there weren’t any male students, and most of the male faculty was older. The young man wore a suit and a sharp pair of glasses. When he spotted the cool Keyaki pair, he turned to ask the other person about the two.
Not liking the aura that the glasses man gave, Manaka took Risa and turned around to find another bathroom somewhere else.
Chapter 32: Checkpoint 23
Sugai Yuuka’s tears streamed down her cheeks. She had run away again to some secluded place on campus, and she wondered if Akane followed. The horse loving girl didn’t see her roommate anywhere, so even if Akane had chased, Yuuka had escaped. However, she didn’t feel like she had escaped.
Looking around, there was only foliage.
Yuuka dropped down the ground, taking a seat. She knew that she looked like a mess, and she couldn’t be bothered to care about getting her uniform dirty.
She took her phone into her hand. All her troubles seemed to stem from the small device. In a spur of the moment, she threw it down to the ground, but it didn’t break.
Her family hadn’t contacted her. Yuuka should have called, but she didn’t.
The horse loving girl just sat there for a while. She stayed until it was even time for class to start. Although her metal bracelet buzzed with a demerit of points, she didn’t even glance at it.
Her cell phone on the ground shook with the sound of notifications.
Yuuka looked over to it without picking it up. Her friends were sending her worried LINE messages, yet she didn’t know what to respond and could only watch the words as they flitted by with the notifications.
Akane’s icon didn’t show up at all.
Just as a single sliver of disappointment showed up in Yuuka’s heart, she suddenly heard footsteps. Yuuka grabbed her phone and turned it to silent so she wouldn’t be noticed.
“Yuuka…?” Akane called out for Yuuka, searching.
Akane was searching and calling out for Yuuka, but from her dejected and somewhat sore-sounding voice, Yuuka could tell that Akane had been going on for a while. Yuuka stayed silent and waited for Akane to pass.
Yuuka berated herself for her actions.
She swiped the screen of her phone, unlocking it. She read through her classmates messages, but even she was aware that a message of ‘I’m okay’ meant nothing if she was clearly not okay. Thus, she didn’t send one at the moment.
Yuuka went to the chat she had with Akane. It hadn’t been touched much in the recent days, but just from the history, she could see the silly things they’d said through the past months together.
Yuuka flicked upward through the history and glimpsed over Akane’s words, ‘My special skill is saying food in a sexy way.’
She had responded at that time with, ‘Eh? What’s with that?’
Yuuka started drafting a message to Akane. The length grew from something one would send in a messaging app to something more like a letter. As she wrote, she let her fingers pour out everything else that she had held back when she spoke to Akane previously.
The words she wrote were her own cowardly feelings and hopes that perhaps Akane would be able to give her courage. Yuuka stopped for a moment, looking as the draft of her words automatically saved. She hadn’t had courage to talk to her parents, but her finger started toward the send button to Akane.
Then, the phone rang.
—Because you had already completed the deed.
—Can there be any hope anymore?
Yuuka picked up the call. The number that had appeared made her heart fall, but she picked up the phone nonetheless.
“Hello.” She greeted.
A male voice sounded out from the phone, “Hello, cousin. Although, I suppose I can call you Yuuka.” It was Seiichirou.
“Hello, cousin.” Yuuka greeted him again, not using his name. “What are you calling for?”
“You know what it is.” Seiichirou humored Yuuka. “Our engagement.”
“I’ve liked you for a long time, Yuuka. I’m glad that we can come together like this. Do you not agree?”
Yuuka could only mutely nod, forcing out some noise of agreement.
“There’s no need to worry about uncle. I will take care of you and his health. I won’t go back on our deal. I will make sure to dedicate resources to bring him back to health. The hospital payments won’t be an issue.”
“Anything for you, Yuuka.”
Yuuka replied softly. Through the phone, he sounded kind, yet she knew the chill in his eyes and how he had a hand in the fall of the Sugai Company. She couldn’t love him in the slightest, and there was someone else already in her heart.
“I’ve visited your school recently.” Seiichirou spoke.
“If I remember correctly, you are in the Keyaki class? It’s quite interesting, a class named after the zelkova tree.”
“It’s a new system as far as I’ve heard, but the class is held in positive regard by some of my acquaintances. Yet, I feel mixed about it.” He laughed. “All of the girls wear a metal bracelet around their wrist? That seems a bit barbaric. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. Yuuka, you won’t have to wear such a thing anymore.
“I will come to pick you up soon. I will arrive in Tokyo from a business trip tonight, so I will come tomorrow. The man in charge of your class offered for us to stay a few days longer, so if you would like, we can delay leaving the campus.”
“Thank you. I would like that.”
“Of course. You will be leaving that place soon, so one or two extra days won’t matter.”
Yuuka looked at the metal bracelet on her wrist. If she were asked about it, she wouldn’t have said she liked it. However, she didn’t hate it either, and parting with it now seemed like a symbolic parting with the bonds she had made in the Keyaki class.
Seiichirou’s words were like everything had already been decided. It had.
He suddenly asked, “When do you want to get married?”
“...I don’t know.”
“I suppose that was a sudden question. We can get married any time. Next year in June would be fine, and you could be June bride if you’d like. This winter or fall would also be fine. It will be extravagant. We can talk about the future heirs later.”
Yuuka’s words were stuck in her throat.
“My apologies. Our conversation will have to continue later. I have a meeting soon. We can talk much more later.”
“Yes. Good bye.”
—Future. What future?
—The person who was supposed to have the future was...
Chapter 33: Checkpoint 24
‘ I love you. ’
Her hands were trembling. She wondered how much she had cried these past weeks, but her heart still hurt. She gripped her cellphone in her hand harder and wiped those budding tears away.
Sugai Yuuka sat in her seat, trying hard not to glance at Akane. This was it. Today was the beginning of the end, and she didn’t want to face it. She had come into the classroom as late as she could as if trying to delay the inevitable.
Homeroom started, and an overview of the day played up on the board.
The day appeared like a normal day. The horse loving girl wondered if that was going to be how it ended.
Suddenly, the board flickered. Had she paid attention, Yuuka would have seen Yurina flinch and Neru deflate. However, she was too caught up in the feeling of apprehension that had settled in her gut.
The figure on the screen appeared like always.
He began speaking, “I am sad to announce this to the class, but a member will be leaving us prematurely.” He didn’t sound sad in the slightest.
Murmurs sounded through the classroom as girls started questioning their friends on who it was. Despite some of the clueless members of the class, some had a clue who it was.
Yuuka could feel Akane’s worried eyes boring into her back. The horse loving girl held her head down, but when she lifted it up, she noticed Neru looking at her as well.
The figure on the screen waited for the murmuring to quiet down a little before he continued, “I’m sure you are all curious as to who it is.” He paused. “Sugai Yuuka-san.”
Silence filled the room. The soundless digital clock seemed to tick by the seconds.
Then, sound exploded in the room.
Aoi burst up from her seat, mouth flapping open like a goldfish, but she didn’t know what to say. Her head swivelled back and forth between Akane and Yuuka until she grew dizzy.
“Eh? Wait, Yuuka?” Habu shook her head, asking Yuuka if she had heard correctly.
Yuuka was glad she had turned off her phone’s notifications as she knew the class LINE chat had to be going crazy. She looked away from her worried classmates, trying to block them out.
“Yuuka!” Akane called out.
Yuuka didn’t turn toward her roommate, “Akane…”
Just as they were about to have another confrontation, the figure on the board coughed into his fist to regain the class’s attention. “As you may have inferred, unfortunately, your classmate Sugai Yuuka-san will be leaving us soon.
“Today will be her last day of classes. However, she will be staying for a few more days to get ready to leave. As such, we have made the decision for classes to be optional to attend for the next two days.
“Sugai-san’s fiance will come to the classroom pick her up shortly. That will be all for today. Ah, do not forget about your exams.”
The screen then flickered off.
—The world is filled with ⌧⌧⌧
“Are you serious?”
Shida Manaka rose from her seat. The cool girl’s expression was irritated, and she started walking toward Yuuka. At Manaka’s sudden actions, Fuyuka stood up as well as if going to stop her, but Risa made Fuyuka halt.
Manaka stopped in front of Yuuka and repeated her words, “Are you serious?”
The long haired girl was quiet, not able to look Manaka in the eyes.
“Are you serious?” Manaka glared, grabbing Yuuka by the collar. “Is this how you’re going to deal with whatever you’re doing? What do you think Akanen feels!? You’re just r-”
Aoi hurried over and yelled, “Stop it! It’s not Yukka’s fault!”
“Shut up.” Risa coldly cut in.
Habu defended Aoi and Yuuka, “Hey! Who do you think you are?”
Manaka accused Yuuka, shaking the other girl, “Akanen’s been worrying for who knows how long, and this is what you do? A fiancee? Are you thinking about anyone but yourself?”
“I…” Yuuka didn’t know what to say.
“Yuuka, don’t worry.” Koike also joined in the fray, sending a frown toward her cool classmate, “Manaka, what’s wrong with you? Yuuka’s been worrying too!”
Seeing the mood get worse and worse, the classmates all starting to stand up out of their seats and choosing their sides, Fuyuka tried to interject, “Maybe we should just calm down a little…”
Sato Shiori agreed with Fuyuka, but their opinions were covered up by the agitation filling the room.
Oda Nana commented, “I kind of have to feel bad for Akanen.”
“But that doesn’t mean it’s Yuuka’s fault.” Imaizumi spoke. “I don’t know what they’re fighting over though.”
“Manaka’s right. I have to ask, who do you think Akanen is? She’s our friend.” Risa made her stance clear.
“Yuuka’s our friend too!” Aoi retorted, “Akanen, Akanen, Akanen! Yuuka has feelings too!”
Risa sneered, “Huh?”
Over the whole argument, Manaka had yet to let go of Yuuka. “Hmph.” She felt a little conflicted, but the displeasure from the way she saw Yuuka seemed to be making Akane sad override that inner conflict. “What are you even doing?”
Aoi said, “Just let go of Yukka already!”
Habu went over to the epicenter of the stress in the classroom and tried to get in between Manaka and Yuuka to get Manaka to let go. However, as the tall girl reached out, Risa slapped Habu’s hand away.
“I…” Yuuka mumbled to herself, unsure of what to say still.
Feeling that the tension wasn’t even close to going away, Fuyuka interjected again loudly, “Mona, Risa, we should calm down. Akanen hasn’t said anything.”
“Fuu-chan, be quiet.” Risa shook her head.
Manaka nodded along to Risa, “Yea, Fuu-chan, I want an explanation. Fiance, what? Is she serious?”
“Hey-!” Aoi butted in again but was suddenly cut off.
“Let’s stop.” Akane finally said.
The classroom door opened smoothly. Everyone stopped in their tracks, and a man wearing sharp glasses and a professional suit walked into the room. He looked at the girls strangely, questioning why they were standing up, and saw Manaka’s hands release from Yuuka’s collar.
His eyes appraised the class. Giving a cold smile, he then addressed the one he was searching for, “Yuuka, good morning. I’ve come for you. Have you said your farewells yet?”
Yuuka nodded to his greeting, “Good morning… cousin.”
“There’s no need to be so distant. Seiichirou is fine.” Seiichirou said. Seeing that he received no response, he continued, “I’ve come to pick you up. Perhaps it is a bit early, but would you mind coming with me? Our lodgings for the next few days have been prepared. We can move your belongings over there.”
His words came in a gentle question form, but there was no question in them.
He took Yuuka’s hand, lightly acknowledging the others in the Keyaki class, and made way to leave with her.
“I do apologize for interrupting. We will be going now.” He smiled, sending a chill down Manaka’s spine.
As Yuuka followed Seiichirou, heading out of the classroom, Akane’s voice cut through the classroom, speaking before Manaka or Risa, both having opened their mouths. “Yuuka.”
The horse loving girl stopped in her tracks. Seiichirou glanced at Akane uncaringly and allowed Yuuka to hear what he saw as her friend’s last farewell.
“I love you.” Akane proclaimed.
Seiichirou’s uncaring look changed minutely, his mouth curving down to a frown.
Yuuka paused. Then, she replied, “I’m sorry.”
Chapter 34: Checkpoint 25
Yuuka sat on the edge of a luxurious bed in the guest room prepared for her and Seiichirou. Rather than calling it a guest room, it was already an apartment. There were two bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.
The horse loving girl was glad that Seiichirou respected her enough for them to be staying in separate bedrooms. She felt the soft fabric on the bed sheets and looked at the silk canopy of the bed. It was nostalgic and should have been comforting but it was not comforting in the slightest.
Seiichirou was in the room with her, sitting in a comfortable sofa chair. There was a distance between the two very distantly related people.
The glasses wearing man smiled, “Yuuka, how are you finding these temporary lodgings so far?”
“They’re good, cousin.” Yuuka nodded politely.
“Call me Seiichirou. We are engaged, so you shouldn’t be so distant.”
“...” Yuuka didn’t reply, looking away from his eyes.
Seiichirou sighed. His eyes turning ice cold, he started, “Unless you’re already in a relationship with that girl? Then, we should just call off the engagement. I will have to apologize to uncle if that’s th-”
Yuuka interjected, “No!”
A small silence filled the room. Yuuka’s heart was in pain from anxiety. If she didn’t go with Seiichirou, she didn’t know what would happen to her father. It was like Seiichirou was holding her father’s health over her head to control her.
His lips curled up in amusement, “Show me.”
“Seiichirou, I don’t love her.” Yuuka choked out his name. Seeing that he still wasn’t satisfied, she forced out, “Seiichirou-sama…” Her throat felt like it was constricting with disgust, and she didn’t know at what point she had started feeling this way toward him.
“I see. If that’s the case, then you should be happy that we can be together. Perhaps you don’t love me like a lover yet, but time will strengthen our relationship, don’t you agree?”
“Yes…” She looked down at her lap, clenching her hands.
“You should smile, Yuuka.”
“Yes…” She looked toward him with a strained smile.
Seiichirou looked at the smile and returned something of a smile, but his eyes were still chilly. He rose from his seat and approached Yuuka. Then, he stopped. A ringing sound came from his pocket. He sighed, adjusting his glasses, and took his phone out. Looking at the number, he frowned.
He said to Yuuka, “Apologies. It seems I have a call I need to make.”
Finally, he left the room.
Sugai Yuuka let out a deep sigh and flopped down onto the bed, curling up. This bed seemed too large. She was used to seeing Akane nearby when she went to sleep. There had even been a few times when her other friends in the Keyaki class had slept over and invaded her bed.
The horse loving girl took out her phone.
She looked at the message that she had written but hadn’t sent. With a trembling finger, she pressed the send button, sending the message to Akane.
Yuuka whispered, hugging her phone closer to herself, “Actually, I do love you, Akane.”
“I love you.”
Moriya Akane’s lunch was untouched. She held her chopsticks in her hand, and the bento box was open. Her friends were around her, and the clock was still working. The world went on around her, but Akane didn’t have an appetite.
Akane’s group and Yuuka’s usual group were sitting close to each other, but it seemed like without Yuuka here, there was an unending chasm between them. Of course, there were other reasons.
“Akanen.” Risa sighed, unsure of how to console her competitive friend.
Fuyuka looked at Akane’s unmoving chopsticks and tried to convince her to eat, “If you don’t eat, then you can’t do anything.”
Akane nodded, “Thanks. I can’t do anything.”
“I don’t mean it like that.” Fuyuka shook her head.
“I know.” Akane said.
Manaka looked at Akane worriedly. Even though the short haired girl acted cool, she was actually very soft for her friends. She felt bad about blowing up at Yuuka earlier in the day, but unexpectedly, Akane forgave her.
Risa stuffed a piece of bread into Akane’s mouth, “Akanen, eat.”
Not able to spit it out, Akane chewed the piece of bread. It was actually pretty delicious, but she couldn’t put her spirit into enjoying her food.
Suddenly, her phone buzzed.
Akane checked her phone to see what it was. She pressed the notification, opening LINE, and read the message while trying not to shake. Her eyes reread the words multiple times to make sure that she hadn’t misread them.
“I love you.”
—I love you too much.
Brring. Brring. The sound of a phone ringing repeated. The first call hadn’t been picked up. The second to the same phone received the same lack of response. The phone had been turned off.
The third call hadn’t been picked up. Despite recalling the next phone a number of times, no calls had been picked up. That phone had accidentally been dropped and was yet to be replaced.
It was likely the eleventh call on the third number. It was yet another phone call that hadn’t been picked up. These calls all came from the same phone. The person calling all those numbers wasn’t giving up.
The amount of time that passed wasn’t a matter to her, but there was still some sort of time limit. Even if she had to call one thousand times, if she could reach the person that she wished to reach, then it would have been a worthy waste of time.
Brring. Brring. She didn’t know what number call it was.
Brring. Brring. The phone in a Tokyo hospital was ringing. Brring. Brring. It stopped and started once again. The nurse who had left for one moment to grab her slightly late lunch came back and found the phone ringing.
The nurse picked up the phone. She felt a little exasperated as she was just about to consume her lunch after spending long hours working, but she acknowledged that there were people who needed a nurse to answer calls more than she needed to eat at the exact moment.
“Hello? This is Shin-Tokyo General Hospital. How may I help you?” The nurse greeted the caller.
“May I contact the Sugai-san on Floor 6, Room 607?” A high school girl’s voice came through the phone, “I’m a classmate of his daughter, and something has come up related to her, but I haven’t been able to contact him through his cell phone or family’s numbers.”
The nurse was a little surprised. However, she heard the girl’s voice shaking and couldn’t help but feel for the girl, “Yes, I’ll put you through.”
“Thank you so much...” The girl seemed to have let go of a heavy weight.
—The words go through.
Chapter 35: Checkpoint 26
Akane looked at her phone in her hand. She had been able to call Yuuka’s family, and she found out that they had thought that not contacting Yuuka would be able to cut Yuuka off from worrying about them. She also found out that the Sugai patriarch was recovering from his illness.
She sighed. “Please, let this work.”
Neru was on the phone in the hallway during break. She nodded while saying ‘Yes’ to the person on the other side of the call. At one moment, she stopped to think.
Then, she said, “If you can, then please break him apart.”
Yuuka had just received a message from Akane when her phone rang. She looked at the number in surprise, but she picked up the phone call. “Father?”
Seiichirou finished his phone call. He looked at the time on his wristwatch and adjusted his glasses again. A small issue had come up within his company, and that caused him to be on the phone for two hours.
As he was about to return to speak with Yuuka, he suddenly heard a knock on the door.
The man headed toward the door that led to the hallway, and he opened to door. To Seiichirou’s surprise, there was a pair of tough looking men dressed in black suits, wearing sunglasses.
“What is it?” Seiichirou asked apprehensively. He felt that he had seen this pair before when talking with a supervisor of the Keyaki class recently, but he hadn’t spoke with the imposing duo.
One of the men in black said, “You are to leave the premises of this campus immediately.”
Seiichirou furrowed his eyebrows and started to ask indignantly, “What are you talking ab-”
The other man in black grabbed Seiichirou by the tie and dragged him out of the doorway, into the hallway, “Are you disobeying?”
“Unhand me this instant. I’ll have you know who I am-” A little flustered, Seiichirou tried to use his authority and money to threaten the pair.
What he received in return was a harsh blow to the side, making him choke in pain. Seiichirou wanted to fall to the ground in agony, but he was still being held by the tie, his neck restricted, almost choking him.
He looked at the two men in black, but they didn’t say anything.
“Who sent you?” Seiichirou spat out.
“Someone who has an interest in seeing you gone.” The man in black not holding Seiichirou spoke. Hearing a buzz in the communication device hidden in his ear, he repeated the words of his superior to Seiichirou. “Your existence has already been rejected.” He gestured to his partner.
At that gesture, the other man in black threw Seiichirou to the ground and began to pummel Seiichirou.
“Wh- AGHH!!” Seiichirou could barely grab a breathe to scream, but he couldn’t hold back the searing pain that was running through his body.
One man spoke, “Silence him.”
Seiichirou’s eyes were filled with fear. His glasses had been broken, discarded to the side, and his face was already a red mess. Even so, he didn’t want to die. Luckily, what he received was a piece of cloth stuffed into his mouth, preventing him from speaking, stretching his jaw painfully.
By the time they were done with him, he would have wanted to die instead.
The pair dragged Seiichirou away, throwing a bag over his head, to a place he couldn’t recognize. Then, he went through an hour of torture and interrogation. His fingers, arms, legs, and ribs were broken already, and it was like the person behind all of this didn’t care about the consequences of killing someone like Seiichirou.
Looking at the broken man on the ground, one man in black spoke to his partner, “Didn’t she say to do something?”
“Yes.” The other man in black replied curtly before giving a heavy stomp to Seiichirou’s pelvis, making a cracking sound of bone and an uncomfortable squish of an organ being crushed.
Seiichirou could not scream anymore, but his body still spasmed in pain. His dark pants were stained, but it was hard to tell if it was blood or some other liquid.
The man in black’s communication device buzzed. He replied, “Yes, sir. We’ll take him away. We’ve obtained all the information.”
—Did it cease to be interesting?
The door was locked. Yuuka had been twisting door knob for a while, having seemingly heard some strange sounds, but the door wouldn’t budge. Then, she heard a small beep that sounded like a remote control lock unlocking, and to her surprise, when she tried to open the door again, it opened.
The horse loving girl looked at the door, but she couldn’t understand how it worked. It didn’t look electronic in the slightest.
She walked out of her room. The place that had been prepared for her and Seiichirou seemed oddly quiet. She soon learned why.
A butler stood in the room and greeted Yuuka, “Yuuka-sama, Seiichirou-sama sends his apologies.”
Yuuka inquired, “What do you mean?”
“He was called away for an emergency business conference and had to leave right away for Hokkaido. If there is anything urgent to discuss with him, you may reach him through the phone.”
“I will escort you back to your dorms. Your belongings will be moved later.”
She said, confused, “Thank you.”
With the butler escorting her, Yuuka returned to her dorms. The butler quickly left as soon as they reached the Keyaki dorms, so Yuuka mechanically returned to the place where she and Akane had stayed since the beginning of the school year.
Yuuka stopped at the end of the hallway, stalling before moving on. She thought that herself that she ought to tell Seiichirou that she wanted to annul the engagement now.
Finding out that her father was recovering, that her family didn’t want her to marry Seiichirou, that she loved Akane, and all those things made her realize that she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she did marry him.
She called Seiichirou, telling him of her decision. To her surprise, he agreed. His voice sounded a little strange, but he agreed.
That was that.
Then, Yuuka stepped forward. She was heading home.
Chapter 36: Checkpoint 27
Moriya Akane woke up, noticing that the sky was already dimming. When all had been done for her, she had returned to the dorm room that belonged to her and Yuuka.
‘I want to walk home with you hand in hand. I want to keep living like that.’ Yuuka had written those words to Akane. That was why Akane decided that she would wait for Yuuka to come home in their place together.
When Akane had returned to the dorms, she took a seat on Yuuka’s bed, feeling that Yuuka’s half of the room appeared very empty. Smelling Yuuka’s comforting smell but missing Yuuka’s presence, Akane had inadvertently fallen into the land of dreams.
Akane got up from Yuuka’s bed.
Then, she heard the sound of the door opening. The tennis playing girl hurried toward the door. Eyes widening in happy surprise, she saw the person at the door.
“I’m home.” Yuuka greeted.
Akane pulled her roommate into a hug, “Welcome back, Yuuka!” She buried her face into Yuuka’s shoulder to hide her crying.
They shared a moment of quiet relief. It looked like everything had worked out fine in the end with Seiichirou. Akane felt Yuuka shaking.
“Are you crying?” Akane asked.
“Akane, you’re the one who’s crying.”
“Because I’m happy.”
After they finally stopped crying, the pair released each other from their embraces. Akane reached out a hand to Yuuka, and wordlessly, Yuuka took Akane’s hand. The two walked fully into their dorm room.
Akane said again, “Welcome home.”
“I’m home.” Yuuka replied.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The sky had turned dark, clear of clouds. Brilliant flowers of fire lit up the sky. Even though it wasn’t season yet for summer festivals and fireworks, there they were up on the sky. Through the windows, Yuuka and Akane could catch glimpses of the light show.
They had eaten a quick dinner together, making something in the kitchen in their dorm room.
“Let’s go to the roof and get a better look.” Akane took Yuuka’s hand.
The two headed up toward the rooftop. As they opened the door to the roof, they felt a slight breeze blow past.
The next batch of fireworks shot up into the sky with a whooshing sound as Yuuka and Akane walked across the rooftop, still holding hands, to the fence. Time appeared to stop for a moment as the fireworks flowered into an ephemeral ring of colors in the sky.
What wasn’t fleeting was the feeling of a beloved’s hand in their hands.
Yuuka smiled, “Beautiful…”
Boom! Boom! Boom! The sound of fireworks was overwhelming. Akane said something, but her words were covered up by the explosive sound.
Yuuka replied, but with the fireworks still going, Akane couldn’t hear Yuuka either.
The pair found themselves basically mouthing words with the background noise so loud. It was a little silly, so they started giggling, which turned into full blown laughter for a few moments.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Another set of fireworks went up. There were different patterns, circular ones, flower-like ones, bursts of color that seemed to spread and change in the middle of their movement.
Akane spoke again, trying to be a bit louder, but alas, she wasn’t quite loud enough.
Yuuka giggled, making another response.
Akane nodded, feeling somewhat fired up to get her voice across over the fireworks and hollered into the distance. “I love you, Yuuka!”
It just so happened that at that moment, there was a slight pause in the fireworks. The competitive girl’s words transmitted clearly to her roommate.
“I love you.” Yuuka leaned in closer to Akane.
Akane blushed, shouting to the distance again, “I love you!” Her words were aimed toward Yuuka.
“I love you!” Yuuka did the same.
Boom! Boom! Boom! The fireworks flew up again.
Akane turned over to Yuuka, loudly saying something with a smile. Her words were muffled by the fireworks. Then, she quickly kissed Yuuka on the lips. Akane blushed as she quickly moved her face away.
Yuuka’s brain short circuited for a moment, feeling Akane’s smooth lips. Seeing her roommate up close like this, the horse loving girl felt her heart racing. She wrapped her arms around Akane and pulled her into another kiss.
Boom! Boom! Boom! The two felt like fireworks were exploding inside their heads. Before they knew it, the fireworks show had ended.
“Akane, you beast…” Yuuka complained, setting her head down on Akane’s shoulder, breathing heavily.
Her lips were a swollen from all the kissing that they had done, and her clothes were dishevelled. On Yuuka’s pure skin, there was a trail of marks down her neck where Akane had fiercely attacked.
Akane blushed at the accusation. They hadn’t actually gone past much other than kissing.
They stood quietly for a minute.
When Yuuka and Akane finally parted from their embrace, Yuuka tripped over her own feet from exhaustion from making out, and she pushed Akane onto the fence awkwardly by accident. From an outside point of view, it would have looked like a role reversal where Yuuka was taking the top.
“Ouch!” Akane winced.
Yuuka worriedly asked as she regained her balance, “Are you okay?”
“It’s okay. I’ve had worse.” Akane got off the fence and reassured Yuuka. Akane gave her girlfriend another kiss on the forehead.
At that moment, they heard footsteps on the rooftop coming toward them. Akane took Yuuka into her embrace again due to surprise, and the roommates looked toward the people who were coming.
“Aka- Eh?” That was Manaka’s voice.
Hirate Yurina and Shida Manaka were looking for Akane in worry, and at last, they had found both Akane and Yuuka on the rooftop. The odd pair hurried over, feeling glad that it looked like everything was okay.
As soon as Manaka noticed Yuuka’s state, she quickly put her hands over Yurina’s eyes.
“What is it?” Yurina asked.
Manaka deadpan replied, “This is inappropriate for kids.”
“Hey!” Akane blurted out a retort. She let Yuuka go, and Yuuka straightened out her clothing. The pair was blushing red.
Manaka looked at her friend, “Is everything…?” She inquired if everything was okay, if Yuuka wasn’t leaving, if whatever had been plaguing Akane for the past while was fixed.
“Yea.” Akane nodded.
Chapter 37: Checkpoint 27.5
On the next morning, the Keyaki dorm’s cafeteria was extremely lively. The 21 girls didn’t have to attend class, but through some unspoken consensus through their LINE group chat, they had all come down to eat breakfast at a normal time.
Last night, after a day of worry over Yuuka’s sudden notice of departure, their group LINE exploded as soon as the unexpected fireworks show ended. Yuuka and Akane informed everything that they were okay, and no fiance was going to take Yuuka away.
In the cafeteria, Aoi tackled Yuuka with a hug and apologized profusely to Akane, who accepted the first apology, before she was finally pried away by Risa who couldn’t help but sigh and tell the immature girl that everything was okay.
The Keyaki class grabbed breakfast. Since there were many tables and a long period of time for eating, usually not everyone was in the same area during breakfast. However, today, it seemed as if everyone wanted to cling to Yuuka.
Habu let out a happy sigh, repeating the words she had already said, “Yukka, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Koike nodded before she glanced between the recently troubled roommates. Something seemed different, and the penguin loving girl had a bit of an idea, even more so when she thought she saw a mark on Yuuka’s neck. “Akane…” Koike asked like a mom questioning the boyfriend of her daughter, “Did you two…?”
“Mii-chan, you don’t need to-” Yuuka laughed shyly, pulling up her collar moreso.
“Yukka.” The penguin loving girl shook her head. All the time, Yuuka took care of her, so she held in her heart a desire to make sure that Yuuka was treated well.
Akane said, not afraid of an angry Kansai penguin, “I love Yuuka.”
“Good.” Koike nodded.
To the side, Yonetani commented, “Minami’s really protective, huh.”
Oda Nana covertly sent Akane a thumbs-up, “Good job!” That gesture caused Suzumoto to smile and Yuipon to give a wry sigh.
“As expected, it’s not right without our Sugai-sama.” Manaka grinned, looking at the unusually rowdy cafeteria. Even the classmates who sometimes acted like they didn’t care were present.
Yurina nodded, “Yes.” She liked the warmth of this class even if it had been unfamiliar at first.
“Like family.” Neru added, placing her hand on Yurina’s hand.
The roommates shared a smile.
Manaka ruffled Yurina’s hair, “Then am I the dad?”
“No, we’re the parents.” Akane interjected, pointing between herself and Yuuka.
“We’re the parents.” Manaka shook her head, linking arms with Risa who was chewing on some fruit.
Yuuka giggled, “We can ask Techi.” They had somehow decided that Yurina was the child of the family.
Yurina twitched, feeling a put off by the thoughts of parents. Yet, when she looked at the people around her, she felt oddly at ease. Neru gave Yurina’s hand a squeeze of support. The short haired girl didn’t give an answer but instead smiled lightly.
“Hey, how abo-” Ozeki suddenly spoke up only to get interrupted.
“Ozeki and Rina are the grandparents.” Risa said nonchalantly, feeding Manaka a piece of fruit, “Aoi is the pet puppy.”
“Hey~” Aoi pouted.
Getting into the mood of the conversation, Koike hugged Habu and jumped in, “Habu-chan and I could be great parents too. Don’t you think so, Techi?”
“This class is strange...” Yonetani held her head and stared at her classmates. She tried to share a gaze with Yurina of ‘we’re the normal people, right?’ but it seemed that the look didn’t go through.
Sato Shiori said, “I think it’s nice.”
Seeing her friend’s statement, Yonetani didn’t disagree. She looked toward Nagasawa Nanako, who shared the ‘Nana’ part of her name with Yonetani, and found Nagasawa and her roommate Berika nodding to Sato’s words while chewing on bread with chocolate.
“Everyone’s really kind.” Watanabe Rika spoke.
Nagasawa Nanako nodded, “Yea.”
“I’m glad I applied to here.” Rika murmured with a smile, hugging her whale plush doll Aoko to her chest, “Friends…”
“Yea.” Nanako offered Rika a chip from her bag. “I’m glad we’re friends.”
The sky was clear, the morning sun beating down not too hot. The Keyaki class resumed, seemingly back on track and normal again. The bell was just about to ring, the digital clock on the wall heading toward the start of homeroom.
Three seats were still empty in the classroom. Aoi, Yurina, and Neru hadn’t come in yet.
Aoi ran desperately through the hallway with a piece of toast in her mouth. She overslept in the morning, and her roommate hadn’t woken her up. That was a lie. In fact, her roommate actually left a sticky note on Aoi’s forehead saying that she gave up on waking Aoi up.
Nonetheless, Aoi rushed toward the classroom. Slamming the door open and collapsing into her seat, she huffed, “I’m not late!”
“Barely.” Risa commented to the side.
Aoi made an incoherent grumble of complaint to Risa’s word. Risa technically wasn’t wrong. As Yuuka rubbed Aoi’s back to comfort the not-a-grade-schooler-girl, the bell rang.
Yuuka wondered aloud, “Where are Techi and Neru?”
Homeroom started. As usual, an overview of the day came up on the board.
It was at that moment that the door to the classroom slammed open once again. Everyone’s eyes went toward the door, including Aoi who was finishing up her breakfast. A silence overcame the girls.
“We’re… not late?” Neru smiled sheepishly.
Neru entered the classroom, holding Yurina in a princess hold with arm strength that didn’t seem to fit the cute girl. The short haired girl being held looked away shyly from her classmates. Her hair was bed hair; she slept too well.
“Neru…” Yurina mumbled, arms still looped around Neru’s neck.
Feeling Yurina’s embarrassment and getting a little self-conscious herself, Neru deflected her classmates’ eyes and made a statement that sounded like a question as she looked at the board up front, “We still have exams next week?”
A different kind of silence filled the room this time.
In the end, everyone scraped past the exams without failing.
At the first moment that Yonetani Nanami met Nagahama Neru, she felt that she couldn’t be friends with the girl. Even with that awkward and guilty smile that appeared on the late arrival’s face, Yone couldn’t like Neru.
After that first quiz that the class took after Neru’s arrival, Yone felt even more wary about Neru. The organism-loving girl’s first impression of the new girl was just a gut reaction, but after the quiz, a prideful part of her felt upset to have tied with someone on first place.
Yone and Neru talked, introducing themselves to each other, calling each other ‘Yonetani-san’ and ‘Nagahama-san’ somewhat awkwardly.
Yone let the words out of her mouth, “I don’t think I can get along with you.”
“Oh…” Neru deflated.
Even though Yone wanted to convey her feelings directly to not hide away her distrust, she felt a little bad, “Nagahama-san, sorry.”
“No, it’s okay, Yonetani-san.”
When Neru went back toward Yurina, Yone couldn’t help but watch after the new girl. She kept feeling like she had been too harsh. When Neru was accused of theft and antagonized by Risa, Yone couldn’t stand up for her at all.
Yet, in the end, Neru proved herself to be a good person, getting stabbed protecting her new classmates during a confrontation with the real thief.
Yone watched as Risa later talked to Neru and added the girl to the class LINE. The organism-loving girl sighed. She hadn’t talked to Neru since her original declaration of incompatibility, but somehow, even the slightly delinquent-like Watanabe managed to get past her original misgivings.
The softer Watanabe, Berika, noticed Yone’s expression and asked, “Yone, are you okay?”
“You should talk with her.”
Yone wondered why she was getting this advice from Berika of all people. Yet, she couldn’t deny that the simplest thing to do was to talk with Neru, get to know the other girl better.
The library was quiet. It was about a week after Neru had gotten stabbed. Yone browsed through the reference books, searching for some math books. Although the Keyaki class was very loose on homework assignments, the girls had still been assigned some.
Yone got her math book and walked over to the tables when she noticed Neru sitting and studying as well. Neru still had a bandage over her hand.
“Hey, can I sit here?” Yone spoke.
Neru nodded, a little surprised, “Oh, go ahead, Yonetani-san.”
Together, they worked silently. It was awkward, and Yone kept taking glances at Neru reading. No matter how much time passed, neither one spoke to the other.
Even as Yone realized that she forgot her eraser and Neru lent her own to Yone, they didn’t really talk at all.
Neru was about to say something, “U-”
However, Yone coincidentally started as well, “Na-”
Both girls fumbled over their words, gesturing for the other to speak first. In the end, neither ended up speaking. Quiet reigned their section of the library work space until they had to return to the dorms.
As Yone entered the dorm room, she received a message from Nagasawa Nanako. Reading it, she couldn’t help but let out a sigh.
Then, the organism loving girl had a revelation, “Wait… am I worse at communication than Berika?”
As Yone found herself somehow always skirting around a proper talk with Neru, she didn’t know how to feel when Tsuchida-sensei paired her up with Neru for gym class on a whim. They were doing stretches.
“Nagahama-san… Hi.” Yone greeted Neru.
Neru greeted Yone, “Hi, Yonetani-san.”
Their greetings were so terrible that Risa sent a sharp look of ‘what in the world’ toward them, to which her partner, the other Watanabe, quietly made her stop.
Neru and Yone started doing partner stretches. They were quiet. It was like a repeat of the recent library experience all over again, but it was in gym class instead of a library.
Yone asked, “How’s your hand?”
“It’s getting better.” Neru responded, waving her injured hand a little.
Yone sighed, “...I’m sorry.”
Neru raised her eyebrows in confusion, “You don’t need to apologize for anything? It’s not like you stabbed me.”
“No, no, not for that.” Yone shook her head, “It’s… um… what I said back then.”
“It’s okay. I was the suspicious new girl, so…”
“That doesn’t make what I said okay. You’re really nice, and I judged you before I even knew you. I’m really sorry.”
“I forgive you for it.”
“How about you treat me to something as an apology? Then, everything can be good.”
Yone reluctantly agreed, “Okay.”
They finished up their stretches, still communicating clumsily, but it was a start. Yone hoped that one day, they would be able to become friends.
—Enemies to friends, and friends to enemies.
“Do you want a bite?”
“No, it’s okay.”
Knock, knock. A cool, early summer night found Yonetani Nanami knocking at her friends’ door. From the inside of the dorm room, Neru opened the door and welcomed Yone in.
“Yone-san, thanks for coming.” Neru’s roommate, Yurina, greeted Yone.
Neru asked Yone as she led the organism loving girl to the place in their dorm room where they were ready to spend a night studying, “Do you want some tea? We have snacks prepared already.”
A pile of notebooks, textbooks, and practice problems stood next to some snacks and juice boxes. Yurina was reluctant to sit down, wanting to run away from the evil studying, but with the class’s top scorers next to her, looking at her earnestly, the short haired girl couldn’t do anything else but condemn herself to looking at those incomprehensible equations on paper.
Yone smiled as she saw Yurina’s expression.
“Yurina-chan, let’s do our best.” Neru said.
The short haired girl nodded, “Yea.”
Watching the roommates’ exchange, Yone had a feeling that there was something strange going on. However, she also felt oddly relaxed at the harmony between them.
Yone wondered aloud, “What are we studying tonight?”
Neru responded, “The first test is history, right? We should probably start there.”
They retrieved the history books from the pile and laid them out, ready to study. From there, the three girls spent the night chatting, eating snacks, and studying. By the time Yone left to go back to her own room, Yone felt exhausted from laughing and smiling even though she should felt exhausted from studying instead.
END OF ARC II. (YUUKA)
Chapter 39: Checkpoint 28
The sun filtered through the windows brightly. Harada Aoi was rummaging through her locker in the back of the Keyaki classroom while Watanabe Risa sat on a random desk, scrolling through her phone.
They were the only two in the classroom on this fine summer day because summer break had started.
Risa glanced over to Aoi with a somewhat disinterested look, “What were you trying to find again?”
Aoi ignored Risa. “Aha! I found it!” After looking through her locker, she let out a noise of joy. Then, she accidentally elbowed the back of the locker as she grabbed the object, “Ouch!”
The locker gave off a hollow sound, but neither girl noticed. Risa sighed, sliding off the desk and walking over to Aoi who was cradling her arm, wincing. The cool, short haired Watanabe plucked the object out of Aoi’s hand and took a look at it.
“A camera?” Risa played around with the small black prism, turning it on.
Aoi nodded with an expression that seemed to be asking Risa to ask more, “Yea, I bought it recently.”
“For what?” Risa snapped a picture of what she felt was a dumb expression on Aoi’s face.
“Memories!” Aoi cheered, “We can’t let our high school life go by without making some memories, right?”
Risa nodded, looking through the near empty memory of the camera, “Uh-huh.”
“There’s been an inflation in the cost of things in points, so I thought I’d buy it before the price went up. Also, it’s summer vacation, so I want to take a lot of photos.”
“Hey, Risa, are you listening? You’re not listening right?”
“You’re really not listening! Hey, hey, hey.”
“Uh-huh.” Risa smirked.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She took it out, handing the camera back to Aoi. Risa read the LINE message that had been sent through the class group chat and showed it to Aoi who had left her phone back in the dorms.
“Eh? Yay!” Aoi smiled brightly as she read the message.
Risa made a vague comment, “The pool seems nice.”
Neru apparently asked some teachers in charge of the pool if the Keyaki class could use it. Since the Keyaki class was a special class, their gym class didn’t get a chance to have swimming lessons, so the only thing they could do was go there in their free time.
Amazingly enough, after asking about the pool, a reservation was made for the Keyaki class to enjoy a whole section of the pool with water slides and recreational items by themselves for a full day.
“Anyways, you’ve gotten your thing, right?” Risa started out the classroom door, “Let’s go back.”
“Risa, you’re such a meanie. Yea, I got the camera. Wait for me!”
The lounge area of the dorm, which was basically treated as the common room, was surprisingly rowdy. Although the dorm was filled with places that the girls could go, and the campus was large despite the restriction of staying on campus, much of the Keyaki class was hanging out there.
Hirate Yurina glanced at Neru who was looking at her phone. The short haired girl ended up staring, watching Neru’s soft eyes reflecting the light of the screen while hiding something more. Yet, undeniably, Yurina was mesmerized.
“Yurina-chan.” Neru seemed to have noticed Yurina’s look.
The short haired girl replied, a little surprised, “What is it?”
“Do you want to go buy swimsuits together today?” Neru asked. The class would be having fun at the pool tomorrow.
Yurina shook her head, “I’m fine with the school swimsuit, but if Neru-” She suddenly stopped.
Although the Keyaki class wasn’t going to have swimming lessons, swimwear was provided along with uniforms. The swimsuits weren’t normal school swimsuits, resembling wetsuits more, with short sleeves and form-fitting shorts.
“But?” Neru inquired.
Yurina shook her head, “It’s nothing.” Her heart sped up a little bit at the thought of Neru in a bikini.
“Okay.” Neru smiled, “But, I think Yurina-chan would look cute in a cute swimsuit.”
“No, Neru’s cute, but I’m not really...”
Suddenly, interrupting the roommates’ conversation, Aoi popped up with her camera, “Hey, hey, what are you two talking about?”
Neru answered Aoi’s question with a question, “Yurina-chan’s cute, right?”
“Techi’s cute.” Somewhat confused, Aoi nodded.
Manaka, intensely playing Pokemon on her 3DS while Risa watched, decided to chime in as well, “Yea, Techi is cute.”
“Cute~” Imaizumi strolled by, adding the conversation to her impromptu made up song that she was humming.
The short haired girl could only smile awkwardly at the praise. A poisonous voice in her heart whispered that this was just like before and would end just like before—a bunch of liars—even if these people were different and didn’t know about that time.
Snap. The sound of a camera shutter broke Yurina out of her thoughts.
“Oops.” Aoi grinned sheepishly as she looked at her camera. She accidentally clicked and took a picture of Yurina. It was framed weirdly, and the short haired girl’s expression was strangely melancholic as well.
Aoi remembered what she came over to bug the pair about, “Oh, yea! Can you two pose and let me take a picture?”
—Although I’d like to forget my memories.
The picture was quickly taken. Aoi promised Neru that she would send it to Neru through LINE later. Yurina had yet to get a new phone, and it looked as if the short haired girl wasn’t planning to get one anytime soon.
Just as the conversation began to wrap up, Aoi’s wristband suddenly showed a small point gain of ‘+100.’
A sound came on through an intercom, causing the girls to look around in confusion. This system hadn’t been used before, and the intercom was nowhere in clear sight.
The voice of the mysterious figure who usually appeared on the screen in their classroom spoke, “Congratulations on passing your exams and starting your summer vacation.”
“Do your best to make some good memories. Your youth will not last forever as life is fleeting. As there are no classes, a few of the venues to earn points will be unavailable for this time period.
“Instead, throughout the summer, a number of tasks will be provided for you to complete, allowing you to earn more points. Do take advantage of this situation. However, be careful not to make any mistakes .”
Neru frowned, glancing at her roommate.
“You won’t be able to move onto the next task without completing the previous.” The voice continued explaining. “The first task is to-”
Chapter 40: Checkpoint 29
Splash, splash! The feeling of muscles that hadn’t been used in a while burning was oddly refreshing. Kicking her legs, moving her arms, swimming through the water was still okay. She could hear voices on encouragement, but she blocked them out because she didn’t want to hear them turn into something else in her mind. Yet, she could still hear Neru’s voice.
Yurina swam furiously, spotting her classmates, Akane and Risa, just a little ahead. Through some flow of conversation, they had decided to hold a swimming competition.
The whiteness of the wall was just in sight beyond the coloring of swimming goggles and the blueness of the water. She extended her hand, reaching for the wall. She touched, and she stopped, letting her feet touch the ground, resurfacing.
Just two-three seconds before she reached the wall, a whistle had already been blown.
“You three are all too fast!” Yurina could hear Aoi’s surprised cry.
The short haired girl shook her head to shake some of the water off her hair. Then, she removed her goggles, letting it drop to her neck, getting out of the water. She sat down on the pool edge, feet in the water.
Suzumoto placed a towel on to Yurina’s head, “Good race, Techi.”
“Yea, it was fun.” Yurina used the towel to wipe her face. “Although, I didn’t win…”
Akane swam over with Risa in tow. The competitive girl’s eyes sparkled as if she found a new comrade who she wasn’t about to lose to, “Tecchan, you’re surprisingly competitive sometimes, huh.”
Risa hummed along in agreement.
Neru approached them, holding a cool bottle of water in her hand. “That was a good race.” She handed the bottle to Yurina, “Water for you.”
“None for us?” Risa joked.
Neru responded in a similarly light hearted manner, “Hehe, sorry.”
The Keyaki class was having a day of fun at the pool, this area reserved just for them for a day. Aside from having swimming races, the girls were playing on the water slides, lazing around on floats, and enjoying themselves outside of the water.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Harada Aoi was taking a lot of pictures of everyone having fun. She managed to catch the perfect moment of Ozeki style, Ozeki Rika falling into the pool in a stupid manner, entangled with Uemura Rina, coming from a water slide.
The slightly dark girl even nearly captured a picture where the Yuichanz couple in their class nearly kissed, although they hadn’t said anything about going out, and their faces were simply rather close. That moment was interrupted by Oda Nana.
Aoi grinned as she saw Risa being bugged by her counterpart. She snapped a picture of Manaka and Risa playing together, a picture that she would later look back on as those two flirting disgustingly in front of everyone.
“Techi, what are you doing?” Aoi walked along, almost stepping on her short haired classmate.
Yurina got up from her lying position and removed the towel from her face. “Taking a break.”
Aoi gave her classmate a skeptical look but didn’t comment on Yurina’s explanation. She took a seat next to Yurina and started chatting about random things in a way that would make the class’ most long-winded talker, Sato, proud.
Just as Aoi reached the high point of a story that she was telling to Yurina, they suddenly heard a soft voice scream. “Kya! Ah! C-cramp…!”
Their heads immediately turned toward the direction of the voice, finding Koike Minami flailing in the water, her leg having cramped up, leaving her in a tough spot. Before Aoi could even react, Yurina jumped into the pool.
As the penguin loving girl starting sinking into the water, Yurina grabbed onto Koike’s body and dragged her to the edge of the pool. Koike then held onto the edge of the pool.
Yuuka swam over with Akane and sighed in relief that Yurina had saved Koike.
“Mii-chan!” Aoi ran over, aiding Habu help their friend out of the pool.
“H-Habu-chan, Aoi-chan, that was scary…” Koike quickly latched onto her tall roommate and sniffled. She looked about to break out into tears, but she quickly thanked Yurina, “Thank you, Techi. Ouch, my leg.”
Then, she winced. The whole issue came from not stretching properly before playing in the pool, which caused her leg to cramp up.
“I can’t just stand by and do nothing.” The short haired girl stated.
“That’s a cool line.” Someone commented.
Yurina shook her head, “It’s a borrowed quote though.” She quietly refrained from elaborating on who it was borrowed from.
Habu helped Koike stretch and get rid of the cramp, leaving Aoi to feel a little sad since she hadn’t been able to help her friends with anything.
The bottom of the pool felt oddly cold and dark. Diving through the water, Neru felt out of place. Of course, a pool wasn’t the same as the water in her hometown, but as she stopped, feet touching the ground, she knew that there was something else.
Glancing at the bracelet on her wrist, Neru knew that she didn’t have to delude herself about anything.
“The first task is to deliver a package.”
That person had said something along those lines.
Neru glanced through the distortion of the water and saw her classmates playing around in the water. Fuyuka dived down for a moment and waved to Neru. Neru waved back with a smile before Fuyuka resurfaced.
Small bubbles of air floated up. Neru could hold her breath for a long time.
She squinted her eyes. For a moment, she thought that she saw something bright, but there was no such thing.
Neru noticed her roommate swimming listlessly. Grinning mischievously, knowing that the short haired girl had yet to notice her, she headed up through the water. As Neru got closer, Yurina noticed her with a look of pleased surprise.
Letting out a gasp for breath, Neru broke through the surface of the water. At the same time, Yurina also came up.
—Smiles are extremely precious things, are they not?
Chapter 41: Detour 1
The air conditioning buzzed in a classroom located at a wing of the building far from the Keyaki class classroom. Light filtered in from the windows but hit a collection of canvases, sketchbooks, and art supplies rather than desks.
A black haired girl whose hair was tied into pigtails sat at a stool, drawing. She wore the Sakamichi uniform, not the Keyaki class uniform, and a weak pair of glasses. On her paper, she sketched out water and a siren with the precision expected of the art club president. She paused, wondering what was missing from her mental image.
Quietly, she set down on her pencil and touched the paper, placing her index finger on the empty face of the siren. That was what was missing, but she knew not how to fill in the blank.
Then, the door to the art club room opened.
Hearing that sound, the girl with pigtails turned around to see who it was. Seeing another girl wearing the same uniform, her hair not tied up, the art club president smiled.
“Memi, there’s no one else here today.” The girl who entered the room came over to Memi and took a seat on a nearby stool.
“Yea, we don’t have any club meetings over summer vacation.” Memi explained. She was still at school, living in the dorms, due to her own circumstances. However, most students went home. “Manafi, did the literature club meet today?”
Mana nodded, “The president wanted to apply for the club summer camp.”
“Isn’t that for sports clubs to have an extra training camp?” Memi asked.
The club summer camp was an annual activity at the school that clubs go apply for. During the middle of summer break, a building in the school would be used for a pseudo-club dorm where each club that applied got a large room fit for the size of the participants of the camp. The sports clubs, as they still met over the summer, used the camp as an opportunity for a three day intense all-day practice and team bonding.
“Mostly.” Mana answered.
“The art club wasn’t going to participate. Is it fun?”
“The upperclassmen said that it was like a big sleepover. Apparently, last year, they wrote some crazy things in the middle of the night, but the teacher didn’t let them publish those stories for the school festival.”
“Eh, I want to read that.”
“I have a copy!”
“Can I borrow it?”
“Maybe this year, they’ll write fanfiction about the Keyaki class.”
“N-san on the site is actually that upperclassman.”
“I… did not expect that.”
The pair chatted quietly. Memi set her drawing aside and decided to cling onto Mana in a somewhat spoiled manner.
Mana smiled, “Memi, let’s participate in the summer camp together.”
“I guess I’ll intrude on the literature club for a bit.”
Chapter 42: Checkpoint 30
By the time the Keyaki class returned to the dorms, there was a dark package in the lounge area. Hirate Yurina stepped forward, picking it up, looking over the strange case at a number of angles.
“What is it?” Yuuka asked curiously.
Sato Shiori wondered aloud, “Is this the first task that we’re supposed to do?”
Coming up to the short haired girl, Aoi prodded at the package, crouching to look at it from below, “But, it’s just a dark box, isn’t it?” She gave it a jab in a slightly caved in area of the package, and a small cracking sound come out.
“Did you break it?” Risa half jokingly asked.
Just as Aoi was about to retort, Yurina shook the box. Out came a small portion of a white card with a bit of text written on it in small golden font.
The short haired girl removed the card from the box and murmured, “No, this is… a recipient.” Then, her eyes widened in surprise, causing her to drop the card by accident.
Neru picked up the card. “Yukiteru?” She read the name written in English letters on the top of the card. “I wonder who that is.”
“Let me see.” Imaizumi came up to the front as well, squeezing in between her taller classmates.
Neru read, “It says to deliver it to a persimmon flower blooming from a bud but not yet a fruit.“
“What’s that even supposed to mean?” Yui-pon asked Imaizumi.
The girls pondered about it for a while, some dropping in suggestions. However, as they had all summer and no one was hurting for points, the girls gave up rather quickly.
Akane shook the box, trying to pry it open to get some more clues. They couldn't even open the box, leaving the class curious about what was inside. Manaka took a seat nearby and made Risa sit on her lap while she laughed at her friend's frustration.
Yuuka took the box out of her roommate's hands and handed it back to Yurina, “Techi should hold onto it.”
“Huh?” Surprised, Yurina took the box.
“I don't think we're making progress like this, so we should probably stop and come back to it with a fresh head later.” Yuuka glanced toward Oda Nana who was trying to snap pictures of Yui-pon while Suzumoto snapped pictures of Oda Nana. She turned back to Yurina. “I think you're the best detective in the class.”
The girls who were still paying attention gestured in agreement.
Yurina eyed the box in her hands warily but nodded that she would hold onto it. When Neru returned the card, the short haired girl flipped it over to the blank side and tucked it back where it came from. She let out a light sigh that only her roommate noticed, but Neru said nothing.
—Please don’t say that.
Night fell late. The sounds of the cicadas outdoor in summer couldn’t be heard in the dorms. Harada Aoi stepped out of Yuuka’s room, closing the door behind her, closing off the sounds her friends playing cards, into the hallway.
Just as the childish girl let out a sigh, she suddenly heard a voice, “Aoi, what’s wrong?”
Kobayashi Yui was walking down the hallway. She held some clothes, a pillow, and some daily necessities in her hands. Yui-pon noticed an upset look on Aoi’s face.
“I-It’s nothing.” Aoi shook her head unconvincingly, but she redirected the conversation, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to sleep over at Zuumin’s place.” Yui-pon answered without elaborating. She was holding more than just one night’s worth of stuff.
The classmates shared an awkward moment of silence. Laughing a little at their unusual situation, they parted ways.
Aoi headed back into Yuuka’s room. She saw her friends waiting for her to rejoin their game. She couldn’t help but grin.
“We can’t start without you. Come on, hurry up.”
When Aoi and her friends stopped playing, time had gotten rather late. Yawning, knowing that it was way past her normal bedtime, Aoi made her way back to her dorm room. Fumbling with the door a little bit, she managed to get inside. The lights were off, her roommate already asleep.
Aoi quietly came into the room, sliding into her seat at her desk. Looking at the digital clock on the table, she could make out the time to be past midnight. She thought to go to sleep, but she wanted to do a little bit more.
Turning on her desk’s lamp to the lowest brightness setting, Aoi retrieved a small journal from her desk.
She started drawing a picture of what she did today like a picture diary. Aoi didn’t want to let her classmates to know about her diary since she was afraid that they would tease her for it. Her drawings weren’t the best, so she left some space to paste in a photo once she got some printed.
Suddenly, her roommate roused and mumbled, “Aoi-chan...? Still not asleep?”
“Sorry, Shiichan. I’ll go to sleep soon.” Aoi replied to her roommate, Sato. “I’m not bothering you, am I?”
Readjusting in her sheets, Sato returned to sleep, “No, it’s okay. Don’t sleep too late...”
Aoi started writing. ‘Today, I went to pool. I had lots of fun. We ate ice cream and played a bunch of games. Techi, Akanen, and Risa raced.’
Continuing, she jotted down the unlucky incident that occurred, ‘Miichan got a cramp, but I wasn’t able to help her. Luckily, nothing happened since Techi immediately jumped to the rescue. That was really cool, but I felt bad about how I wasn’t about to help.
‘I wonder if I’m a good friend sometimes.’
Aoi stopped her pencil. She shook her head at her 1:27 AM type of thought, but she didn’t erase that sentence.
She finished writing her diary for the day, including the strange task that the class received and the fun that she had with her friends. Although the writing was a bit unorganized, she closed her journal and tucked it back into its hiding place.
As she got ready for bed, tucking in under her thin summer blanket, Aoi smiled, thinking about her friends in the Keyaki class. She really loved those big sister-like figures who could sometimes be more immature than she was.
That was why she wanted to be with them.
Chapter 43: Checkpoint 31
With the summer sun bright in the sky, a yellow-green-ish tennis ball flew through the sky like a miniature blazing sun, going back and forth across the net. The Sakamichi tennis club was engaged in a match with another school’s, Majisuka, tennis club.
Akane intensely played against the other school’s player, a girl named Yokoyama. It was a somewhat rare chance as she couldn’t quite play at away games, the Keyaki class forbidden from leaving the large Sakamichi campus. Nonetheless, Akane was a bit of a secret weapon for home games on the tennis team.
Huffing and puffing, Aoi ran over to the tennis court spectating area out of breath. She complained as she reached the Keyaki class group that had come to watch Akane play tennis, “No one reminded me of this…”
Akane’s usual friend group and Yuuka had come along.
“We didn’t know if you wanted to come watch.” Fuyuka chuckled, “Well, you’re here now, Aoi. Not too late.”
“I guess that’s true.” Aoi pouted. She turned her eyes toward the tennis court.
The referee suddenly called, “Fifteen-love!” Akane fumbled up for a moment, letting the ball hit the ground on her side.
“Akanen! You can do it!” Aoi yelled out.
Following Aoi’s surprising lead, Yuuka cupped her hands around her mouth and cheered as well, “Akanen! Do your best!”
Akane wiped away some of the sweat on her forehead. She glanced at her friends happily. Even though her other schoolmates were also cheering, Akane heard her classmates. The competitive girl’s eyes lingered on her roommate for a little longer than the they did on the others, and the roommate pair shared a look of confidence for the game.
She went back into the game, burning with spirit.
Aoi watched the ball and the players intensely. She nearly got lost in the game until she heard the referee call out, “Game point!” Aoi had tuned out the other calls.
Risa casually tapped Aoi on the shoulder, “Hey, not taking any pictures?”
“Oh, yea.” Aoi blushed. She had forgotten about her camera in her enthusiasm for the match.
Using the camera, she snapped a number of pictures of Akane in action. Of course, she also took the chance to get some pictures of her classmates cheering. Before Aoi knew it, the match finished.
“Match set! Sakamichi’s Moriya wins the match!”
After Akane chatted with her opponent and shook hands in a friendly manner, Aoi and the others came over to congratulate her. Aoi made sure to get a nice picture of Akane being lifted up off the ground in cheers.
In the afternoon, Aoi walked through the school hallways with her roommate, Sato Shiori. Randomly wandering around, wondering what to spend her time doing after lunch, Aoi happened upon Sato and ended up offering to help move a painting for her. Thus, the two of them headed toward the art club room.
They passed by Neru who chatted with them for a bit. However, Neru seemed to be occupied with something. The latecomer was alone, but she received a phone call before she had to leave.
Aoi inquired, “Shiichan, you’re a member of the art club, right?”
“I’m kind of half a member. I’m not really an official member since I never really joined, but I still participate in the activities. I think I’m what they call an honorary member.” Sato rambled a little in response.
Aoi nodded, taking in the information.
They quickly reached the art club room. No one was present beside the canvases and art supplies spread across the room. Aoi entered, looking at the eclectic collection of works in various states of progress and completion.
She spotted a incomplete picture of a mermaid without a face. Something about the emotions in that piece of art struck her.
“Ah, what’s that one?” Aoi pointed at it.
“The club president’s drawing that. She’s in our year, but I respect her art.” Sato explained. “Oh, she’s named Kakizaki Memi.”
Aoi wondered at the spelling of the name, what kanji was used, but she let that thought flutter away. She followed her roommate through the art club room until they reached a canvas that was covered by a cloth.
Sato unclothed the canvas revealing a shining painting of a Keyaki tree, “This is the piece that we have to submit.”
Her mouth dropping open, Aoi’s eyes took in the painting, glittering. She felt that her roommate was really amazing as she herself couldn’t paint something like that.
The two of them successfully transported the painting to another room.
The sound of the basketball hitting the rim of the hoop, rolling around seemingly wobbly but entering nonetheless, was nostalgic. Hirate Yurina caught the ball as it bounced off the ground.
Holding the ball, attempting yet failing to spin it on her finger, the short haired girl sighed. She no longer played the game like she used to. As much as she could feel the texture of the ball, she could also feel a throbbing phantom pain in her hands and in her heart.
“Hey, Techi!” Then, a voice called out the Yurina.
Turning around, the short haired girl saw Aoi. “Aoi-chan.”
“You haven’t headed back to the dorms yet?”
“You haven’t either. I’ll go back later.”
“You like basketball a lot, huh?”
“Not particularly.” Had she been asked the questioned a few years ago, she would have answered yes, but at the particular moment, Yurina couldn’t choose a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ “I just played it a lot with… my family when I was younger.”
Then, Aoi’s stomach grumbled. She blushed in embarrassment a little. The sun had set, the sky beginning to darken. Of course, it was already time to eat dinner.
Yurina told Aoi, “You should head back before me and eat dinner.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to head back together?”
“Sure then. See you later, Techi.”
“Yea, see you.”
After Aoi left, Yurina dribbled the ball a little bit and went further back. Mentally imagining a game situation that she had once seen before, she moved and she tried to throw the ball. This time it missed, clanging on the rim but bouncing off.
She mumbled, “Hey, I wonder how you did it…”
Chapter 44: Checkpoint 32
Her eyes were intense, dark and endless. Even though that wasn’t quite the right way to describe them, even though the sky was already darkening, her aura still overwhelmed the artist.
‘ Ahh… this person is… ’ Such a thought perhaps fleetingly touched upon the artist’s mind. Yet, not from thought but rather from some sort of instinct, the artist was drawn to her and began to draw, drawn into a curiosity of an unknown.
Clang! Clang! Clunk! The ball entered the hoop.
Hirate Yurina wiped away the sweat on her forehead, her bangs a little damp. She let the ball hit the ground, bounce and roll to a stop on the empty court. Glancing around, she saw that it was already dark. Some lamps were lighting the campus, and the moon was covered by clouds that had appeared during the night.
Knowing that she couldn't just let the ball roll off, she walked over to retrieve it.
To her surprise, Yurina found a girl, a normal student, intently drawing while sitting on a nearby bench that faced the court. Pausing as she picked up the ball, the short haired girl stared at the artist. Black hair tied in pigtails, a pair of glasses, and light skin under dim lighting, the drawing girl was like a French doll.
“Oh.” Then, the drawing girl lifted her head, making a voice of surprise at seeing Yurina.
Yurina inquired of the girl, “What's your name?”
“Kakizaki Memi. You're Hirate Yurina-san, right?”
“I'm sorry if I intruded on you playing.” Memi smiled apologetically. She removed her glasses, rubbing her eyes a little as she had been focusing them too hard on her sketchbook. “I must have lost track of time when drawing.”
“You didn't intrude. What were you drawing?”
“It's a bit embarrassing… but I guess I can show you.” Memi opened up the sketchbook so that Yurina could see.
On the paper was a lonely moon in a starless night sky, too high above the flower covered ground to be reached. Even though there was no moon in the sky right now, Memi’s hands had moved. This was the image that she had thought of when watching Yurina. As much as she wasn’t drawing the short haired girl, she was.
Reaching the moon on the paper with her fingers, Memi spoke, “It’s only a draft though. I might change the drawing.”
“You’re amazing, Memi-san.”
“…are you like this with everyone?” Memi grumbled, feeling a little flustered with Yurina’s prodding. “Your fans will be surprised.”
“They'll just have to deal with it, Kakizaki-san.”
“You're very interesting, huh.”
It was Yurina’s turn to be embarrassed. “Eh…”
The pair looked up at the sky in silence. The clouds parted, showing the moon’s shadow. Yurina tossed the ball in her hands into the bin that it belonged in, watching it fly through the air with a clean curve.
“I’ll look forward to seeing the finished piece.”
Aoi wondered to herself why Yurina and Neru were such a mysterious pair of roommates. It wasn't that they were all that aloof or enigmatic, but there was just some sort of aura about the pair. Of course, it could have just been Aoi’s own late night thoughts. Walking out of the dorms for a stroll, she noticed Neru talking heatedly on the phone under the shadow of a tree. Both Yurina and Neru were out rather late. Aoi hadn't spotted the short hair girl back at the dorm yet.
“…I disagree…” Neru spoke, but Aoi couldn't catch most of the conversation. “…that person…” Neru hung up on the call with a huff.
“Neru-" Aoi called out to Neru.
“Aoi?” Neru interrupted Aoi, taking control of the conversation. “You’re out late.”
Aoi prodded curiously, “You are too. I’m just taking a walk. What were you doing?”
Needing to make up an excuse on the spot, Neru quickly replied, “Just calling a cousin.” She sheepishly smiled.
“Cousin?” Aoi was convinced. Hearing the word cousin, she couldn’t help but think about Yuuka’s situation where a strange man tried to break into her friend’s happy school life with Akane. Since Neru looked to be arguing, Aoi’s voice couldn’t help but hold a sprinkle of worry.
Neru quickly shook her hands in the air, gesturing reassurance, “Ah, it was nothing bad. He was just complaining about how his teacher caught him and his boyfriend kissing in the classroom after school. He’s a bit immature, so I ended up scolding him a little.”
“He has a boyfriend?” Aoi pouted, reassured, “Lucky~”
“We’re in a girls’ school after all.” Neru laughed.
“Yea. Techi’s the closest thing we have to a boy.”
“Yurina-chan is a cute, cute girl.”
“That’s mostly to Neru.”
“What can I say?”
“Oh, yea. Have you seen Techi though?” Aoi inquired. “She was out at the basketball court way out there, but she hasn’t come back to the dorms yet.”
“I haven’t seen her much the whole day. I’ll drop by there.” Somehow, Neru seemed distracted as she spoke.
Kakizaki Memi passed by a girl, a person who she had never talked to but could recognize, as she started heading back from the court. The artist paused for a moment, imagining painting water, a tumultuous ocean.
Nagahama Neru seemed a little different.
Pitter. Patter. Pitter. Patter. In the end, the moon was once more hidden behind the clouds, which let down a light summer rain. Hirate Yurina suddenly felt a pair of hands covering up her eyes coming from behind.
“Guess who.” The owner of the hands said.
Yurina gently removed the hands, “Neru. What are you doing here so late?”
“Looking for you.”
“I haven’t seen you for the whole day. Let me recharge a little.”
“Ah, it’s already tomorrow, isn’t it?”
Neru nodded, and then she looked up, putting a hand on her head to try to block the rain, “We should head back before the rain gets heavier.”
“Hey, Neru. Can I tell you something?”
Chapter 45: Checkpoint 32.5
“I used to have a big brother.”
“...yes?” Neru nodded. She felt as if she had heard her roommate once say something about that brother, but Yurina didn’t talk about herself very often.
“He was an amazing person.” The short haired girl didn’t try to block the rain at all. As Neru extended a hand, Yurina simply seemed to slip away. “He was older than me by only two years, the best brother that I could have had, the best person who everyone saw. He taught me a bunch of things, tutored me in the classes I was bad in and even introduced me to basketball.
“He always dragged me along to play. Since I was a pretty shy kid, he helped me make most of my friends. But honestly, it got a little annoying sometimes since I wasn’t good at basketball, and he liked to show off.
“But he was the best big brother I ever had.”
Neru responded, “I’d like to meet him some time.”
Yurina gave Neru a difficult to decipher smile, a sad smile that couldn’t be seen well in the night. The rain rolled down her cheeks, but the short haired girl didn’t cry at all.
At some point, they had been walking back. At some point, they had stopped walking. The rain continued to drizzle down lightly with whispers of sound, not pouring and cancelling everything out with noise. The roommates looked at each other, both with undecipherable emotions flying through a frozen face.
“Sorry, that was meaningless.”
Neru jokingly responded, “Yurina-chan, you were really bragging about him. It makes me a little jealous.”
“Sorry.” Yurina nodded, sheepishly. “Being at the court so late reminded me of this one time we got in trouble for playing too much.”
—I can’t tell her who I killed.
In a neighborhood in the Aichi prefecture, as the fireflies glowed sporadically in the grass and the cicadas chirped, a group of elementary school kids played into the night in the park. The streets were lit by street lamps and the glittering of the unseen stars.
Two boys, one with an androgynous face resembling Yurina and a stocky one, and a pair of girls, one with pigtails and one with short hair, the Yurina of the past, chatted on the basketball area of the park. The Hirate boy held a basketball in his hand.
The pigtails girl pouted cutely at the boy with the basketball, “Yuu-chan, it’s really late. When are we going home?”
The stocky boy pushed the pigtails girl to side and snorted, telling his male friend, “Hey, stop trying to do it.”
Originally, they had come to the park to play on the holiday. However, the boy, Yuu-chan, had gotten into his head to try to dunk backwards, in other words, a reverse dunk. He wasn’t even tall enough to do a proper dunk, but he wanted to try to get the ball in backwards.
“What are you talking about, Ren? Yuu-chan can totally do it!” The pigtails girl growled, pushing the stocky boy to the side in their usual playful argumentative style.
“Weren’t you just saying ‘let’s go home?’” The boy, Ren, grumbled and flippantly said, “Girls like you are so weird. Miki the weirdo.” He made a face as if the girl, Miki had cooties.
Miki grabbed Ren by the shoulders, “Hey! Who are you calling a weirdo!?”
“You’re a weirdo.” Ren stuttered before retorting.
Miki then turned to the short haired girl next to her and strongly called out, “Yurina, back me up here! Us girls verses Ren.”
“Eh?” The short haired girl was taken by surprise.
Miki took Yurina’s hand, “Come on, don’t be so boring. Be cool like Yuu-chan.”
Ren shouted, “Hey! No fair!”
Yurina didn’t know how to arbitrate the argument. Miki was her classmate and her closest friend, a friendship brought together by Yuu-chan who was Yurina’s brother. Ren was in the grade above them, but he was a nice boy who had protected Yurina from a garden snake.
Saving Yurina, her brother moved the arguing duo apart, “Don’t argue, you two.” He removed Miki’s hand from Yurina’s. “Can you apologize to Yurina-chan for grabbing her so roughly?”
“A-ah, okay.” Miki blushed under the dim lighting. Then, she turned to Yurina and quickly apologized, “I’m sorry.”
Yuu-chan smiled, “It’s okay if you head home first. I don’t want your moms to get mad at you because of me.”
Ren shrugged and waved, “See you later then.” He left.
Miki gave the Hirate siblings a ‘see you tomorrow’ and quickly headed home as well.
The Hirate siblings found themselves alone in the night. Yuu-chan’s name was Hirate Yukiteru. Only Yukiteru was referred to as Yuu-chan even when Yurina’s name shared the same ‘Yu’ sound.
Watching as her brother did his best to do the basketball move, Yurina found time passing.
She couldn’t help but wonder aloud, “Do you think we’ll get scolded when we get home?”
“Urk.” Her brother nearly dropped the ball and sheepishly laughed, “Well, I’ll make sure mom and dad know it’s my fault that you stayed out this late.”
Yurina shook her head, “No, it’s okay.”
“You’re too kind of a little sister.” He praised her warmly. “But I’ll definitely make sure they know, okay? Last time, they accidentally scolded you over the book I lost.”
Clink, clank! The sound of basketball filled the air.
Before long, Yurina’s brother’s forehead was filled with sweat, and he took a seat on the ground next to where Yurina had been watching, “I don’t really know if I can do it…”
“Um…” The short haired girl wasn’t sure what to say to cheer him up.
“Sorry for showing you your big brother’s uncool side.” The boy sighed before quickly brightening up with an idea, “I know! Yurina-chan, let me teach you how to do a jump shot.”
He tossed the basketball to Yurina who caught it in surprise. Yurina quickly threw it back to him, and he rubbed the back of his head with a grin. Demonstrating what a jump shot was, the siblings got to work, playing with the basketball.
At the end of the night, he completed his reverse dunk.
—I don’t want to become hated for not being like this.
“It’s okay.” Neru gave her roommate a sudden hug, whispering as if speaking about something else that Yurina had never told Neru about, “Don’t blame yourself for anything. It’s not your fault. You’re Yurina-chan, and I lo-”
The sky began pouring, a lightning strike broke through the darkness followed by a quick thunder.
Chapter 46: Checkpoint 33
The Sakamichi summer camp started, making little difference for the Keyaki class except for more festivity across the campus than usual and a little less people around. Akane was with the tennis club, sleeping over with them for the duration of the camp, so Yuuka had left the dorms early to send her girlfriend a love-packed lunch.
One way or another, Aoi found herself sitting in between Yurina and Neru in the cafeteria at breakfast. A week ago, when the pair had come downstairs looking a bit sleep deprived from staying outdoors too long even with some heavy rain, Aoi had joked and taken a picture for later blackmail and memories, but since then, a strange air had found itself floating between the roommates.
Neru asked no one in particular, “Can you pass me the ketchup?”
Yurina was poking at her food listlessly, staring up at the ceiling. She was closest to the ketchup but hadn’t moved. Thus, Aoi passed Neru the ketchup.
A few seconds passed before Aoi processed the monstrous actions occurring before her eyes with the ketchup in Neru’s hands, “Wait… You’re eating pancakes though?”
Neru wordlessly put the ketchup covered pancake in her mouth. With a sigh, she glanced at her roommate and down at her plate before continuing.
“Gross.” Sitting across from the three, Risa made a face at the inedible thing on Neru’s plate. Suzumoto also inched away from Neru without a word.
Aoi had finished her breakfast already, but she wasn’t sure if she should get up from between Yurina and Neru. The mood felt too stifling.
Across the room, Habu spoke excitedly to Koike, “Want to sneak in on the manga club and see what they’re doing?” The tall girl’s voice reached Aoi’s ears.
For a moment, Aoi felt soothed. She wished that she had sat with the otaku-ish pair, but then, a spark of inspiration hit her.
Hirate Yurina found herself walking through the hallways with Aoi as a barrier between herself and Neru. She was moving it mindlessly, but suddenly, she couldn’t help but feel the metal on her wrist and the fluttering in her chest.
“ I love you. ” The thunder had cut Neru off, but Yurina had heard her anyways.
Yurina shook her head mentally. Neru’s words hadn’t been love as much as like, a type of like that was used in confessions. These were intricacies of the Japanese language that the short haired girl never thought about, but regardless of what Neru meant, Yurina didn’t know how to reply.
Her mind filled with thoughts, she nearly walked into the wall.
Aoi called out to Yurina, “Techi, the literature club room is over here.”
The short haired girl spotted Neru giving her a worried gaze. The way Neru’s eyes seemed to pierce through Yurina was almost scary even though usually, that attentiveness brought a sense of security to Yurina’s heart. When Neru glanced away, Yurina’s heart unconsciously dropped.
They reached the literature club room.
A voice suddenly yelled out, “Puns! Let’s put some puns in there!”
Just from the bit that the trio could see through the door, the club room was full and very rowdy, an unexpected sight from a cultural club. With a bit of hesitation, Aoi opened the door.
“Wh-” A club member was about to question who opened the door.
Everything went silent as the club spotted the Keyaki girls. A few literature club members even suddenly hid away their writings and pretended that nothing strange was going on.
Yurina’s eyes swept across the room. She blinked a few times when she saw the artist Memi in a compromising position on top of another girl. When Yurina blinked again, Memi had gotten off the other girl and quietly apologized to the girl whose name Yurina barely picked up as Mana.
Aoi sheepishly grinned, “Sorry, we were just curious what all the clubs were doing during the camp.” She hadn’t expected the club to just topple over like that.
On the side, Neru had an amused but distracted expression that struck the writers in the club in the heart, inspiring a deep fanfic in their hearts. Yet, neither Neru or Yurina spoke.
Then, the short haired girl suddenly mumbled, holding her chin in deep thought, “Puns…” She pointed at Memi and asked, “Kakizaki-san, is your name the ‘kaki’ of persimmon and the ‘me’ for bud and the ‘mi’ for fruit?”
Surprised, Memi nodded, “Yes, it is.”
Confused, Aoi’s eyes darted between the two girls.
“Can you meet me at the basketball court from a week ago tonight?” Yurina said calmly.
All the clubroom’s eyes were on Memi in trepidation as if a love confession was about to occur in the night.
—I don’t know what to call my feelings for her.
After that visit to the literature club room, Aoi awkwardly walked through the hallways with the pair. Neru didn’t seem to be in the mood to visit more clubs, and Yurina seemed to be trying to ignore Neru’s mood. Aoi noticed when the pair’s hands seemed to reach out for each other only to move away as if shocked.
They split off, heading into different directions.
Aoi quickly followed after Neru. “Neru, are you okay?”
“I’m okay.” Neru smiled, shaking her head.
Aoi frowned. She didn’t need to look at the pictures in her camera to figure out that the smile was different from Neru’s usual smile; it was fake. “You can tell me. We’re friends.”
“It’s okay, Aoi. It’s nothing that you have to worry about.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Aoi visibly deflated.
Neru noticed, but she still chose to leave. She entered an unused wing of the school and looked out the window. The sun shined down brightly as if mocking her disconnect with her roommate.
Neru sighed, “I want to recharge.” She took out her phone.
Typing out a message, she thought to herself, “ She’s just solving the riddle. She’s just… not giving you a response. Let’s just take it back, so we can stop being like this. ”
Chapter 47: Checkpoint 34
The metal about her wrist notified her that the task had been completed as the box was handed over to the regular Sakamichi student Kakizaki Memi. As the sun was about to set, Hirate Yurina was about to leave, yet suddenly another regular student came out of the left field, tackling Memi down in tears and sobbing out a love confession.
Yurina froze for a second. Then, she quickly turned away, giving a departing statement of good luck to Memi or perhaps to the confessing girl and ran away.
Her feet kept moving, the air rushing past her, her dark hair that had been getting longer slapping her face. By the time she stopped, her forehead was filled with sweat. The sweat droplets rolled down to her chin, dripping off. The short haired girl put her hands on her knees and gasped for her breath.
“...eh, why did I run away?” Yurina ran her fingers through her bangs, covering her eyes with her hands, “Why do I keep running away?”
She realized quite simply that the painful feeling in her chest right now was jealousy.
The short haired girl spotted Neru in the distance. She couldn’t call out to Neru. Just acting distant in the morning had been painful enough. The idea of facing Neru again dug into her like the claws of a beast.
If she just kept pretending, then it would be okay. If she just closed her eyes and took another shaky breath, then she could keep living like before.
Words like love were just lies.
But she fell in love anyhow—
Inside, they could not see the night sky filled with stars. The moon was beautiful, wasn’t it. Those words that meant I love you couldn’t be heard—
“Is there something bothering you?”
A soft voice broke Aoi out of her stupor, the voice coming from beside her. In the dorm cafeteria, Aoi poked at her food listlessly while sitting next to her friends Habu and Koike. At some point, she had zoned out.
Aoi shook her head, “Ah, it’s nothing.”
“Are you sure?” Habu followed up for her close friend.
Aoi nodded, “Yea.”
She felt her face twitch because she was lying. Her internal hypocrisy gnawed at her, making her feel even worse about being upset over her other friends’ choice to not let her in and her inability to help.
Koike and Habu didn’t force the camera-wielding girl, but they shared a glance of worry.
Aoi looked toward the exit of the cafeteria. There, a short haired girl and a long haired girl were talking. Rather, Yurina and Neru seemed to be talking, whatever Neru saying causing the short haired girl to be taken aback and quickly run out.
Neru seemed to meet Aoi’s eyes before leaving as well.
“Hey, what are you worrying about right now?” A voice came from behind Aoi. Risa jokingly started to ask, “Not going to take nosy pict-”
Feeling her worries flood out in what should have been a normal retort in their usual conversations, Aoi inadvertently shouted and threw the camera at Risa, “I don’t need this thing anymore!”
“Oof! What?” The cool Watanabe caught the camera, scrunching her eyebrows in confusion at her annoying pseudo-little sister’s outburst.
Akane, grabbing dinner together with Yuuka this night, came over and asked, “Hey, what’s going on here?”
“Sorry for being nosy! I just wanted to-” Aoi stopped in the middle of her sentence. She froze before turning away and quietly walking out of the cafeteria.
Koike frowned at Risa, “Risa, why did you make Aoi cry?” Both of them had spotted the tears in Aoi’s eyes.
“I didn’t mean to make her cry.” Risa scowled. “What’s wrong with her today?”
Akane spoke up with her interpretation, “It’s because she’s a good kid who always wants to help fix other people’s problems even if she’s a bit meddlesome.” She gave a wry smile to Risa and glanced at Habu as well, remembering how she had gotten mad at Aoi before exams.
Risa shook her head, “No, you and Yuuka were just being annoying back then.” Risa starting walking toward the cafeteria door while holding Aoi’s camera carefully.
“You’re still going to apologize, huh.” Akane praised lightheartedly, “Risa’s also a good kid.” She gave Risa a light slap on the back to go on and find Aoi.
The cool Watanabe huffed, “Shut up.”
“Let’s continue being just friends like before.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
Aoi hugged her pillow, sitting on the edge of her bed with puffy eyes. Her roommate Sato had prepared a cup of hot chocolate for her when she calmed down and was floundering in worry over Aoi.
Aoi mumbled, taking the off-season hot chocolate, “Thanks, Shiichan.”
“Don’t worry about it, Aoi-chan. We’re roommates and friends, and I don’t like to see you sad.” Sato replied.
Sato’s long-winded answer brought a small giggle to Aoi.
Then, Sato asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to let Risa in and apologize?”
They could hear Risa at the door, knocking continuously.
Aoi shook her head, “I don’t want to.”
Sato laughed awkwardly. “I’ll tell her that.” Getting up from her seat, the long-winded artist went to the door to tell Risa that Aoi didn’t want to talk right now before coming back.
“You’re welcome.” Sato inquired, “Do you want to tell me what’s worrying you?”
By default, Aoi began with a rejection, but she changed her mind, “Actually… if you’re okay with listening.”
“Of course I’m okay.”
“Well, the thing is, every time I try to do something, I feel like I mess up a lot.” Aoi blurted out, “I wonder if I can call myself a friend since I’m so useless. When I see my friends worried or in trouble, I want them not to have problems, so I get myself involved, right?
“But, I keep messing up. Right now, even though I just wanted to let Techi and Neru make up, I think they’re fighting even more now.” Aoi continued.
The whole while, Sato nodded, listening attentively.
Aoi regurgitated everything out rapidly. By the end of her piece, she buried her face into her pillow and wouldn’t look up at Sato. A broken shard stuck in her heart whispered that perhaps her roommate would see her as a meddlesome annoyance too.
Yet, Sato gently hugged Aoi. “You’re a good friend, Aoi. Just the fact that you worry about your friends is important. Because sometimes, we’re just not ready to say these things to anyone, but knowing that someone cares can save people.
“I’m a little weak in the mental department, which is why I keep on talking for so long, but you’ve helped me a lot of times. You don’t abandon your friends. Even when I start rambling, you listen and chat with me. You help me out with art stuff too.
“I know that it’s hard to remember the good things over the bad things, but there are a lot of good things. Friends fight all the time, and we can be stupid by not talking it out even when it would be better to do it.
“You don’t need to take on the burden of everyone’s problems. You’re Aoi, and you don’t need to be a fix-all. Even though it really hurts to see our friends sad.
“I think it’s the same with everyone that it’s sometimes really hard to spit out what we’re thinking and agonizing over. Even though we should be able to communicate better. It’s a human thing, I guess.
“I’m glad you told me about your problems.” Sato finished flustered and worried that she had come off as lecturing.
Aoi hugged Sato back, burying her face into her roommate’s shoulder, and she smiled, “That was long.”
Chapter 48: Checkpoint 34.5
Hirate Yurina didn’t want to return to her room nor did she want to eat. Pacing back and forth just outside of the dorm, she looked up at the sky at the darkness. Her bangs had gotten messy and in the way of her vision when she ran away, but black on black was just black.
With a sad expression, her roommate had smiled awkwardly in a way that didn’t reach her eyes and extended an offer, “ Let’s continue being just friends like before. ”
Yurina had replied, “ I’m sorry. I can’t do that. ”
She didn’t stay long enough to hear what Neru had to say back.
—Because she liked Neru. Because she didn’t want for Neru to hate her selfishness. Yurina couldn’t give a decent answer to a confession, but she wanted to cling onto a chance.
She knew that she wouldn’t be able to give a proper answer to Neru’s confession, a dirty feeling constantly clawing at her throat at the idea of being able to be happy and enjoy love. She didn’t trust that Neru would even be able to bear being near her if Neru actually got to know the person that was Hirate Yurina.
“I like you.” Yurina kicked at the ground.
She liked the Neru who ate weird things, the Neru who said kind words, the Neru whose arms bent disgustingly, the Neru who would chat with her at night when she had nightmares.
“I like you, Neru.”
The Neru who she walked with under the rain. The Neru who had warm and soft hands. The strong Neru. The awkward Neru. Neru who always seemed to be there even when she wasn’t.
With turmoiled steps, the short haired girl wondered if Neru would come and find her. Yet, Neru didn’t come.
Yurina heard the door of the dorm building open. She quickly turned around to see who came out only to find Oda Nana stretching a bit, seemingly coming out for a breath of fresh air.
Oda Nana came up to Yurina and asked, “Eh, Techi? What are you doing?”
“Hey, Dani.” The short haired girl glanced up at Oda with a greeting.
“Wait, are you crying?”
Yurina shook her head, “I’m not.” She didn’t think that she was crying. Even seeing her friend’s worried expression and her own face reflected in her friend’s eyes, she couldn’t feel anything rolling down her cheeks. She wasn’t crying, but surely, there was an expression close to that.
“Did you and Neru fight?”
“No, it was just me being stupid.”
“You look like you’re going to start avoiding Neru everywhere you go.”
Yurina froze like a deer in headlights, caught in the middle of a crime.
“Everyone needs time by themselves, so don’t worry too much about it.” Oda Nana consoled Yurina. “But, you can’t avoid her altogether or else it’ll be harder to reconcile.”
“Thanks. Just tonight, I don’t want to meet Neru again.”
“Where are you going to sleep tonight?”
The clock ticked hours past midnight. Nagahama Neru sat on her bed and looked toward where Yurina would usually be. Her short haired roommate used to thrash and turn in her sleep a lot in the beginning but had begun to be able to sleep better recently. However, now she wasn’t even here.
Neru looked at her phone. A while back, she had received a LINE message from Oda Nana saying that Yurina was staying over at the three people room. Oda Nana tried to lighten the mood a little by making a pun that Yurina would definitely Neru , so Neru shouldn’t worry.
Having sent a relieved reply quickly after receiving the message, Neru should have had nothing else to do but sleep, yet she couldn’t fall asleep.
Her mind replayed the expressions that appeared on her roommate’s face when she confessed and when she rescinded the confession. Perhaps Yurina thought that she was good at hiding emotions, but Neru couldn’t help but see a myriad of pain and uncertainty on the other girl’s face.
Neru had consistently dug herself into a deeper hole.
Neru muffled her face in her pillow, “Even though I like Yurina-chan.”
If she took back that taking back of the confession, she felt like she would just be creating a bigger mess. She wasn’t supposed to be doing something like this. Really, she didn’t have the right to do something like this.
Her phone rang a special ringtone.
She didn’t need to look to see who had called. Lifting her face up, eyes reddish, Neru picked up the phone and asked coldly, “Why are you calling right now?”
Chapter 49: Checkpoint 35
Flipping through the photos on the memory chip of the camera, the girls in Risa’s room couldn’t spot Aoi properly in any of the pictures. There were pictures of everyone and even pictures of scenery and the school, but the person behind the camera had stayed behind the camera the whole time.
Risa sat on the floor with Manaka, Akane, and Fuu-chan looking over her shoulder as she went through Aoi’s camera.
The cool Watanabe let out a noise of frustration and tossed the camera onto her bed after finishing. “What’s wrong with her? That kid...”
“Aoi thinks too much about others.” Akane said, repeating something that she had said earlier to Risa in different words.
“Yea, I know.” Risa huffed, hugging her legs closer to her body and making a sullen expression, “I can’t believe she snapped at me like that though.”
Fuu-chan consoled Risa, retrieving the camera, “Don’t worry too much. Shiichan’s there. I’m sure Aoi will come around soon.”
“Should I be nicer to her from now on?” Risa wondered aloud, asking the question half to herself and half to her group of friends.
The cool Watanabe would often teasingly ignore Aoi or make snide comments, something that she did with all of her friends, but she questioned if she had been pushing the boundaries a bit and just hadn’t noticed Aoi’s sensitivity.
“Friendly teasing never hurt anyone.” Manaka leaned on Risa’s shoulder, speaking flippantly. Yet, in the end, she mumbled with furrowed brows, “But, yea, let’s do that.”
By the next morning, Aoi and Risa exchanged apologies. Although Risa tried to return the camera back to Aoi, Aoi refused the camera and quickly escaped by getting breakfast and sitting with Habu and Koike as well as Sato, her roommate.
Risa sighed, taking a seat next to Manaka who had gotten two breakfasts, one for herself and one for Risa.
Manaka joked, “If you sigh too much, the happiness will escape out of your mouth too.”
“Seems like they’re going to need some happiness supplements then.” Risa leaned on Manaka, pointing in the direction of the typically harmonious couple of Yurina and Neru who had come in through different doors but still managed to shrink away from each other.
Neru came over to Risa and Manaka, greeting them, “Good morning. Can I eat with you two?”
“Sure.” Risa nodded.
Sitting down with her food, Neru noted the camera still in Risa’s hand, “Is that Aoi’s camera?”
“Yea. Looks like she doesn’t want it anymore.” Risa grumbled.
“Oh.” Neru made a noise of surprise, realizing that she must have missed something last night. Half-heartedly, she started mixing ketchup with her yogurt.
Manaka gently took the camera out of Risa’s hands and grinned positively, “We just have to take pictures for her until she wants it back.” Fiddling with the camera, she managed to turn it on and get it ready to snap a picture.
Risa smiled at her girlfriend’s antics and pointed to Neru’s yogurt that was gradually getting painted a strange red, “Like this weird thing Neru’s eating.”
“Hey, it tastes good.” Neru retorted, placing a small spoonful into her mouth. The yogurt didn’t taste as good as usual.
Risa noticed the way that Neru’s face fell, and she glanced to the side, spotting Yurina eating with Oda Nana, Suzumoto, and Kobayashi. She mumbled, “That’s like the first week of school.”
That quartet ate together during lunch often somewhere from the start, but they had become a quintet after Neru joined the class.
Manaka took a photo of the quartet. “Huh, it’s blurry.”
“Let me try taking a picture.” Risa said, receiving the camera from Manaka.
She turned over to face where Aoi was sitting and focused the camera on Aoi. It was a pretty bad angle, but after a bit of figuring out the camera, Risa took a picture.
Neru got passed the camera, and she looked at the pictures, “Aoi’s pretty amazing with the camera. The framing and lighting are all nice.” Neru stopped at a picture, “Wait, what’s with this picture…”
She found a picture of herself and Yurina asleep on a large cushion in the lounge area. The short haired girl was making a peaceful face while clinging to Neru, probably having rolling onto Neru at some point during their nap since Neru didn’t remember getting hugged. On their faces were whiskers drawn in erasable marker, Neru as a tanuki and Yurina as an otter.
Neru tried to figure out when exactly this was from.
“Oh.” Risa stopped in the middle of a bite of food.
Manaka whispered conspiratorily into Risa’s ear, “Wait, we got found out…”
“No, she doesn’t know that it was us yet.” Risa shook her head and whispered back.
Neru sighed, completely hearing the roommates beside her, “Hey…”
“It got wiped off before you woke up.” Manaka waved off their little prank with an excuse.
Seeing Neru’s exasperated expression, Risa said lightheartedly, “Okay, okay, we won’t do it again.”
“Hm.” Neru made a non-reply hum and showed that she heard Risa. In her heart, she wanted to steal away the Yurina with otter marks on her face. That was impossible now.
As Manaka, Risa, and Neru ate breakfast, Akane and Fuyuka joined them. They were a bit surprised that Neru wasn’t with Yurina but quickly figured it out. With the way Neru glanced over at her roommate, they wondered if it was a love issue.
Then, the voice over the intercom came interrupting breakfast time as if knowing that all 21 girls had gathered. “Congratulations on completing the first task.”
“Your second task will be more straightforward. Please show your food preparation abilities tonight. You will be needing them in the future.
“The summer camp held at Sakamichi will have a joint dinner with a barbecue and other foods tonight for all of the participating students. Head to campus lot 46 around 5 PM to start preparing food. You may create your own menus but will receive demerits if it causes food poisoning.
“Ingredients and everything will be provided. Teachers will also be present to help. Do enjoy this experience.” With that, the intercom clicked off.
The girls started chattering, some finding the second task interesting and some worried that they would really actually give food poisoning to a bunch of people they hadn’t talk to before. The girls in clubs participating in the camp like Akane made troubled expressions on what to do.
Neru sighed, “He sounds like he’s having fun with this.”
Chapter 50: Checkpoint 36
Everyone gathered at campus lot 46. There were many cooking stations and ingredients already set up, and their home economics teacher greeted them, eyes glinting sharply to not disappoint after their lessons.
Aoi saw a literal pair of human magnets in front of her. Despite sticking closely usually, once a turnaround event occurred, they couldn’t stick together no matter what. Whenever Neru came close to Yurina, Yurina couldn’t help but sneak away even when Neru wasn’t specifically approaching her roommate to talk.
It would have been funny if it wasn’t sad.
Neru continued along with daily life normally except for her gaze consistently drifting to the short haired girl. Yurina was too flustered to realize how awkward she appeared around Neru.
As the cooking stations were made for two to three people each, the class started splitting up into groups, deciding who would make what. They had been informed that they should cook about 300 servings, a number that made the girls blanch.
Aoi was about to go to the pair when Yurina suddenly gained the courage to approach Neru herself.
Aoi heard the click of her camera. For a second, it seemed like the lens focused on her. She turned and saw that it had found its way to Fuyuka’s hands. Fuu-chan and the group were laughing happily.
Watching that, she felt like a bystander.
Suddenly, Sato came up to Aoi and pointed to a cooking station, “Aoi-chan, do you want to cook together? Nijika says she’s taking that station with Fuu-chan, so let’s go to the one next to that one over there.”
Aoi smiled, “Sure! What are we going to make?”
The roommates headed to the cooking station.
Meanwhile, another pair of roommates were talking in a much more stilted manner. Hirate Yurina had pushed down the butterflies in her stomach and approached Neru. As she saw Neru, her throat suddenly felt dry, and looking at the slight tiredness in Neru’s eyes that only someone who watched Neru all day would see, she couldn’t say anything at first.
That was why Neru started, “Would you be okay pairing up with me for this?”
“Yea.” The short haired girl nodded. She felt like her heart had been thrown into a tundra, a cold and unbreachable distance suddenly opening up from the way Neru spoke, words that lacked their usual intimacy.
They walked toward a cooking station. It was basically a kitchen countertop except portable with a stove, a sink, a table-like area, and even an oven. The ingredients were in an area behind the stations.
Silence fell between the two girls. Yurina glanced at Neru’s hand, but she barely reached for Neru’s shirt before stopping.
Neru asked, “Do you think sandwiches would be fine? It looks like Risa’s group is going to make curry rice, and Aoi’s group is making dessert.” Pairs and trios had grouped together to work together.
“Sandwiches are fine.” Yurina replied, putting on an apron.
She watched as Neru tied up her hair in a ponytail, a rare sight. Neru in an apron and with a ponytail was a warm sight.
They decided on making egg sandwiches and chicken katsu sandwiches after both saying what type of sandwich might be good. After googling how to make them and grabbing ingredients, the pair got to work rather separately.
“Neru…” Yurina mumbled, seeing Neru prepare the chicken.
Neru inquired, “What is it?”
“It’s nothing.” Yurina shook her head.
In the middle of the chicken preparation, Neru noticed, “Ah, I forgot the panko crumbs.”
Without even needing to be cued, the short haired girl said, “I’ll get them for you.” She quickly left the cooking station to the ingredients station.
At the ingredients area, Oda Nana and Aoi were picking up items. Aoi was getting extra sugar for the gratin that she was making, something that Tsuchida-sensei’s co-worker dubbed henninjin cake at his first glance at it. Oda Nana got some vegetables like paprika that Suzumoto had sent her out to get.
Yurina glanced about, not sure where the crumbs were.
Aoi noticed, “Ah, Techi, what are you looking for?”
“Panko crumbs.” Yurina stated.
Oda Nana pointed left of where she was, “They’re over there.”
“Thanks.” Yurina spotted what she was looking for after following Oda Nana’s finger gesture.
Oda Nana laughed cheerily, “No problem. Good luck.”
After grabbing the panko crumbs, Yurina returned to Neru. She gave the ingredients to Neru, and they continued working. Around them, they could hear their classmates voices and even some scents floating over.
“Is this how normal friends are?” Yurina asked Neru.
Neru shook her head, “I’m not sure.”
They smelled a faint scent of onions from the curry at Risa’s station stinging softly and sweetly. The onions had been cut a while ago. Quiet, the soft hum of cooking, savory smells, prickling sensations floated in the air around their eyes.
In a little over an hour, they finished making a few dozen sandwiches. Setting the sandwiches up on plates, the roommates took a seat in a pair of stools provided.
Some of their classmates finished while others were still finishing up the food.
“So, we’re just going to sit here and once the dinner event starts, we help serve food for half an hour before being invited to join in for the barbecue and other parts of the activity.” Neru spoke as if asking for confirmation on something she already knew.
Yurina confirmed, “Yes.”
Silence felt painfully awkward. There was only a bit of time left before the event was to start.
Yurina stood up. “I’m going to walk around.”
Neru didn’t follow.
The short haired girl didn’t want to disturb the classmates still making finishing touches, so she went and surveyed the lot. Barbecue stoves were definitely set up as well as a number of tables and chairs off to the side. She noticed a teacher rolling out a mini-fridge with an ice cream sticker on it.
A few normal Sakamichi students seemed to be trickling in already. A girl from the photography club jumped excitedly next to a model-like friend as she noticed that the Keyaki class was there.
A voice called out to the short haired girl, “Hirate-san, I didn’t know that the Keyaki class was participating.”
Chapter 51: Checkpoint 37
Hirate Yurina turned to see Kakizaki Memi and another girl wearing the normal student uniform. After Memi greeted Yurina, the short haired girl naturally greeted her acquaintance back and realized that she had either forgotten or just didn’t know Memi’s companion’s name, or better said, Memi’s girlfriend’s name.
Hearing Yurina’s pause, the other girl introduced herself, “I’m Takase Mana.”
“Nice to meet you.” Yurina replied, knowing that Mana knew who she was. She glanced at Memi and saw that the girls were holding hands and in Memi’s free hand was her sketchbook.
“Even Hirate-san noticed your sketchbook.” Mana pouted, clinging onto Memi, “You should pay more attention to Mana.”
“Sorry, sorry, Manafi.” Memi apologized to her girlfriend with a smile. Thinking for a moment, she turned to Yurina with a cheeky grin that showed her fangs and said, “By the way, I’ve finished the drawing, if you want to see it.”
That offhanded request from a while back had dropped the short haired girl’s mind, “Oh, yea.”
Before they could continue the conversation, Yurina felt a hand grasp her own and pull her away from Memi.
Neru appeared. “Techi, it’s almost time to start.”
Seeing the appearance of another popular Keyaki class student, Memi waved a see you later gesture to Yurina with her sketchbook hand, “We won’t bother you anymore.”
Mana followed Memi away, somewhat starstruck.
As Yurina went with back to the cooking station with Neru, she felt herself being dragged. Neru’s grip was scarily strong to the point that the short haired girl winced, and Yurina couldn’t decipher Neru’s expression as they walked.
Tearing her hand away from Neru’s as she stumbled at the abnormal walking pace, Yurina paused before they reached their station. That caused Neru to halt as well.
“Te-” Neru was interrupted.
Yurina looked Neru in the eye, “Neru, I want you to call me by my name.”
“Sorry, Yurina-chan.” Neru snapped out of the green emotions that had overtaken her during Yurina’s moment with Memi. She then realized that she had grabbed her roommate’s hand harshly. “Your hand! I didn’t accidentally hurt you, right?”
“No, I’ve had worse.”
“That’s really like something Akane would say.” Neru joked along the lines of the Yuuka-Akane parents pair talk that popped up now and then before speaking seriously. “But, painful things hurt, so…” She gently brushed her fingers along Yurina’s hand.
They returned to the cooking station. Around them, everyone else seemed to have finished their preparations as well. The roommates took their seats on the stools and waited for the event to begin, watching people trickle in.
With more people coming and the afternoon sun coming down, the temperatures felt high. Luckily, it was a relatively cool day, but they still made sure to keep some water nearby to prevent getting dehydrated.
A teacher made an announcement with a speaker that the dinner would officially start in ten minutes. If the students wanted to get food prepared by the Keyaki class, they would have to line up first and only get one serving until everyone got a chance to get food. Five minutes after the start, the barbecue would be allowed to start.
A festive mood filled the lot.
The normal Sakamichi students lined up, and soon enough, the event started. The few dozen sandwiches that Neru and Yurina prepared were gone quickly. Luckily, the students lined up relatively calmly, and nothing happened.
A few took the chance to talk with their idolized Keyaki class, but they were ushered away by their classmates like at a handshake event. Someone even dropped the phrase ‘TechiNeru’ by accident before being mobbed by hands trying to cover her mouth.
Thirty minutes hadn’t yet finished, but the sandwiches had.
Taking a sip of water from the water bottle at their station, Yurina suddenly felt her stomach grumble a little bit. She blushed, hearing the sound loudly, before setting down the bottle.
On cue, a hidden chicken katsu sandwich appeared before her mouth. Neru held it out for Yurina, “Here. You should eat.”
Yurina took the sandwich and bit into it, chewing. The flavors of the spices and meat melted in her mouth even though the food had cooled. Eating, she appeared like an otter.
Now that they were left alone in their own world bubble again, the short haired girl found herself getting nervous.
“Neru, you haven’t eaten either.” Looking at the sandwich that she took a bite out of, Yurina glanced at her roommate.
Neru responded, “We can barbecue food later. I’m not that hungry.”
Yurina put the sandwich in front of Neru’s mouth. Even though Neru didn’t take the sandwich back, the short haired girl kept her arm extended until her roommate took a bite of the food.
—Whatever normal is hurts.
The Keyaki class was finally free to join in on the event as the half hour passed. For some reason, Akane got into a barbecue competition with Nagasawa Nanako, so Yuuka helped distribute the barbecued foods, which prompted Aoi to join to help. Yuuka gave Yurina and Neru a heap of food.
Thus, the roommates sat and ate dinner.
Mana and Memi came over, Memi holding her sketchbook, “Hirate-san, Nagahama-san, good evening.” Mana and Memi introduced themselves to Neru after the greeting.
Watching the normal student pair, Yurina couldn’t help but feel a bit envious, remembering how they ended up having their love confession in front of her.
Memi flipped open the sketchbook and handed it over to Yurina to take a look.
Yurina took a look and her lips quirked upward a little before she returned the sketchbook to Memi. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”
“No, thank you.” Memi shook her head.
After a short interaction, Mana and Memi left the roommates to finish their dinner.
Eating quietly, Yurina watched at Neru used a napkin to wipe away some sauce that had gotten on her face. The short haired girl made sure that she hadn’t gotten any on her own. By the time they had finished eating, the teachers and some school committee students were distributing frozen treats.
Yurina went through the crowd and grabbed an ice pop that had two sticks and could break in half. She returned to her roommate and broke one in half to half to Neru, “Neru, here.”
Neru took the ice pop, “Thanks.”
They walked toward their classmates with a gap between their shoulders. It looked like their friends were already making a commotion, having congregated by coincidence.
“Yuipon, notice me…” Oda Nana was annoying Yuipon.
“Can you get out of the way of the camera a little bit?” Kobayashi Yui snapped a picture with Aoi’s camera and sighed as it turned out to be mostly Oda Nana’s head plus Aoi and Habu in the tiny corner that wasn’t her roommate.
Everyone laughed a little.
Before Yurina and Neru joined their classmates, Yurina stopped to speak, “We’re acting really normal, but is this really okay?”
If they pretended that nothing ever happened in the past few days, life would appear like normal. They would probably be able to continue as friends that were almost the same. The chasm that had opened up would close into just a crack. Yet that felt wrong.
“I don’t know.” Neru answered.
Yet they did know. Yurina’s feelings, Neru’s feelings, they were a kaleidoscope of their souls that created something just right, something strange like rainbow fish swimming in a pretty river where no fish swam.
Yurina took a deep breath. “Neru, I like you. I love you.” Looking Neru straight in the eyes, she poured out her heart, “If you’re okay with something like me, then, would you be willing to go out with me?”
—The person you’ve fallen in love with is...
Nagahama Neru gazed into Yurina’s eyes. It was as if the words, the confession, that spilled out were a dream. She only had one possible response with the way her heart beated.
“Yes. Please take care of me from now on.”
Like that, she learned that first kisses tasted like the fruit juice of ice pops mixed with embarrassing salty happiness.
Chapter 52: Detour 2
A second year student, Saitou Kyoko, jumped at the sudden outburst of sound coming from where the popular Keyaki class was, almost bumping into an underclassman. Luckily not having to regain her balance, when she glanced over at the fans of the Keyaki class, she laughed wryly with her deep voice.
Some girl shouted out, “I told you Hirate-san was on top!” In turn, she was quickly dragged away by her friends who told her to be quiet.
From what Kyoko saw, the Keyaki class’s Hirate Yurina kissed Nagahama Neru, an action that had caught the eyes of not only the Keyaki class but also the normal class girls. Kyoko jokingly thought to herself in an old man voice that those first year Keyaki girls were really innocent.
Then, she remembered that she had nearly bumped into an underclassman, one who was wearing a armband that signified her being part of the student council that was helping out in this event. In the end, spacing out, she walked straight into that younger girl.
“Sorry.” Kyoko apologized.
“No, it’s okay.” The underclassman girl shook her head before facing Kyoko straight on. The underclassman observed, a hand on her chin, “You have a really nice voice.”
“You’re welcome.” Without prompting, the underclassman student council member extended a self introduction, “I’m Kageyama Yuuka.”
“Ah, I’m Saitou Kyoko.” Kyoko responded, unsure what Kageyama wanted.
“Kyoko-san, huh.” Kageyama got to the point, “Can I ask you some questions? A survey about how you’ve been feeling about the summer camp this year?”
Kyoko laughed, finally thinking that she understood why the underclassman was talking to her, “Oh, you got stuck with survey work.”
“Well, it’s pretty interesting. I like knowing things, and it’s an excuse to talk to all sorts of upperclassman.” Kageyama grinned.
“Let’s get started then.” Kageyama dug out a small notebook.
Kyoko shrugged casually, “That’s fine with me.” She was a second year student, and she had the luck to have been interrogated by one of her upperclassman in the student council the year before on the camp event. Of course, that interrogation was really just some friendly asking.
“Okay, so, first is, what club are you in?” Kageyama asked, knowing that Kyoko was a second year from her school uniform.
“Noodle appreciation club.”
Kageyama paused, blinking rapidly in confusion for a good ten seconds. Then, she regained her calm, “What’s your favorite type?”
Kyoko knew that wasn’t a survey question, but she answered anyways, “I like Jiro’s ramen.”
“Oh, I’ll jot that down. How has your experience been here so far?” Kageyama resumed the actual survey taking.
Kyoko answered the questions.
“I think that’s about it. Do you have any questions?”
“Since you’re on the student council, do you remember when we have to turn in the application for the performing festival?”
“The cultural festival is still pretty far away, Saitou-san.” Kageyama laughed. Then she made a thinking face. “The secretary said that the schedule is packed this year, so I think the deadline is sometime before the sports festival. Applications haven’t started yet though.”
“You’re welcome.” After that, the underclassman made a quick bow and waved goodbye to Kyoko, hurrying off elsewhere.
Kyoko let out a huff of amusement and thought that Kageyama had something clever and sparkling on the inside. She heard a teacher announce that they had brought more refreshments since the refreshments had unexpectedly run out. Just as Kyoko was about to head over, she was tackled down by her best friend.
It looked like the night wasn’t over for talkative people.
“Kyoko, Kyoko, Kyoko, even though I’m tone deaf, I got praised!”
Chapter 53: Checkpoint 38
With the dinner event finished and the new couple formed, the Keyaki class had headed back to their dorm with a gain of points on their wrist devices. Before long, a week passed, and within that time period, the club summer camp had ended.
They were assigned a third task to assist the student council for a day, so the girls gathered at the student council’s large room.
At the head of the room, a tall third year student clapped her hands together to get everyone’s attention before starting to speak, “Thank you for coming to help. I’m the student council president, Sasaki Kumi.” Kumi looked at the twenty-one gathered girls, “Everyone in the Keyaki class only entered Sakamichi this year, so I’ll explain a few things.
“Around the end of summer vacation and the resuming of school, we tend to get a bit busy because of all of the events. Right after school starts, Sakamichi has its athletic festival, and pretty soon afterward, the cultural festival comes on.
“It’s not the busy season yet, but if we don’t get our loose ends tied up, we’ll be scrambling around to get those things done when we need to focus, so you all coming is a really big help. Many of our student council members are out vacationing right now too.
“I’ll tell you what specific tasks we need assistance on after splitting everyone into groups for efficiency.
“Oh, by the way, the student council has a special little thing planned for tonight, so everyone here can join in if they want.” With a smile, the president finished up her introduction.
The Keyaki class girls clapped. Aoi’s hands also clapped, but as she glanced beside her to her classmate Watanabe Rika, she couldn’t help but feel like the ditzy Watanabe hadn’t listened to a single word said. When Aoi glanced over to Yurina and Neru, she found them clinging to each other, fingers hooked together.
Quickly, they were all split into groups to help with the work.
Aoi found herself sitting in between Yurina and Neru, facing Risa and Manaka. For some reason, she felt like she was being a third wheel that was forcing a stop to the flirting by her physical existence.
They were given paperwork to sort through and told to do it leisurely.
“Did your previous schools have sport and cultural festivals?” Neru started a conversation.
“That’s nice.” Neru smiled wryly with nostalgia. “Mine was a really small school, so we didn’t really have a cultural festival. What did you do?”
“Ah…” Yurina let out a barely audible noise.
“Last year was… a haunted house. Although I just manned the entrance.” Risa said after thinking for a moment. Then she snorted, seeing Manaka’s face, “Hey, what’s with that disappointed expression?”
Manaka glanced away, “We also did a haunted house, but I was forced to be a ghost.”
“I want to see pictures of that.”
“That’s embarrassing.” Manaka gently swatted at Risa.
Aoi looked at the love birds in front of her with lukewarm eyes. She could just read Risa’s mind, which was going on non-stop about how adorable her girlfriend was. Naturally, Aoi was sure that Manaka's head had similar thoughts.
Neru then inquired, “How about you, Aoi?”
“Eh?” Aoi hadn’t felt the flow of the conversation coming toward herself. “Well, we did a mini arts and crafts auction. Our festival was only a half day thing.”
While chatting and working, they went through the afternoon. Before long, a few stomachs growled. No one knew how long they were supposed to help out, and seeing the student council members diligently chugging on, the Keyaki girls thought that they would keep going for a bit longer.
The door to the student council room suddenly opened. The president came in rolling a cart while another member rolled in another cart, the smell of food coming in.
President Kumi cheerfully said, “I brought ramen for everyone!”
To the surprise of the Keyaki class, the student council members collectively let out a groan, “Urgh…”
Laughing awkwardly, she raised a hand, gesturing for them to stop, and added, “And sandwiches.”
“Ohh.” The student council’s response to sandwiches was a little better.
“Come and get dinner.” The president said, causing the student council members to gather and get their food. Seeing the Keyaki class shyly sit there, Kumi called them over as well. “The Keyaki class too. There’s too much ramen anyways.”
The Keyaki class got their dinners.
As Aoi broke open her disposable chopsticks, a bowl of ramen in front of her, she couldn’t help but wonder aloud why ramen made the student council members cry out in agony.
A student council member passing by, a sweet girl called Sasaki Mirei, explained the ramen situation, “The noodle appreciation club gave us a lot of coupons for ramen. They’re so much we need help eating the ramen. Even though I’m bread…”
Aoi nodded, dumbfounded by the sorrow she felt in her new acquaintance’s voice.
“Aoi.” A voice from across the table called out to Aoi.
Aoi noticed that Risa had obtained her ramen and sat down with Manaka, “What is it, Risa?”
With a practiced ease, the cool Watanabe placed a vegetable in Aoi’s mouth, “Here.”
Aoi chewed and swallowed the vegetable. For some reason, Risa took that as a cue to feed all the things that she didn’t want to eat to Aoi.
Aoi couldn’t believe that she had to say the words that she said, “Hey, eat your vegetables properly.”
“Aoi-chan.” A chopstick from behind plopped some vegetables into Aoi’s bowl accompanied by a soft voice of a person walking by.
“Berika, not you too!” Aoi pouted, not wanting to eat the vegetables just like her friends. She turned to her short haired classmate to try to make an example, “Look, Techi’s properly eating her vege-”
While Yurina was indeed eating her vegetables, Neru was feeding Yurina. The couple that was acting like newlyweds froze in the middle of their flirting at the sudden attention. Neru blushed, and Yurina hid her face in Neru’s shoulder.
Aoi ate her vegetables and ramen, ignoring her crazy friends.
After dinner, the sun began to set, and before long, the sky was dark. The student council president once more went to the head of the room and made an announcement.
Chapter 54: Checkpoint 39
The student council president had happily announced the summer staple activity, encouraging everyone to participate so that they might be able to hold one as a summer camp activity.
The rules were simple. Given a flashlight and course area marked out on the ground with glowing stickers, each group was to find an amulet. The idea was that they could be timed, and the fastest returning pair won.
Aoi thought that the activity sounded like fun.
She had said to her roommate who had wisely chosen to sit out with the panicking Imaizumi, “How bad can it be? It’s like a outdoors haunted house, right?”
The student council had made the test of courage too scary.
Thus, at the moment, thought the Keyaki class had returned to the dorm, Aoi still remembered the terrifying ghost with an axe stuck in her head. Aoi had made sure to emphasize to the student council in the after-survey that they needed to tone down the terror.
Laughter filled the dorm lounge.
Rolling on the carpet with a sigh of relief that she didn’t see anymore ghosts, Aoi overheard a suspicious conversation from Risa and Manaka about Risa mercilessly killing a Diglett Aoi in a Pokemon battle. Aoi pretended not to hear.
Even as she stayed silent, none of their rowdy cheer was interrupted.
Snap. As Aoi started to sit up, she suddenly felt her field of vision filled with a blinding light. She sputtered out in surprise, trailing off as her sight cleared up, “Ow! What was that for…?”
“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t think flash was on.” Suzumoto apologized, holding onto Aoi’s camera. She had been about to take a picture of Aoi’s sleeping face, seeing as Aoi had stealthily snapped sleeping pictures of everyone else at some point. “I thought you were sleeping, so, you know.”
Aoi did not know. “Hey, no sleeping pictures, okay?” She puffed up her cheeks and hid her face behind her hands.
Manaka laughed as she joined the conversation, “It’s fine, isn’t it? We can make a family collection of sleeping pictures.”
“Mom. Dad. Kid. Daughter-in-law.” Risa lazily pointed to Akane, Yuuka, Yurina, and Neru before gesturing to Aoi. “Aoi’s the pet dog.”
Someone spoke up, “I think we’ve had this conversation before.”
“Oh, I see.” Aoi nodded her head sagely at Risa’s explanation. Then she whipped her head around to retort, “Wait, what? Hey, I’m not the dog!”
“Pet burdock root.” Manaka joked much to the chagrin of the other burdock root in the lounge.
Uemura gave her suggestion, somehow having received the granny role, “Pet little sister.”
“I’m okay being the little sister without the pet part.” Aoi puffed up her cheeks. She would have liked to be the pampered little sister more than the teased little sister, but her heart was content with the role.
Just like that, Aoi was coerced into pretending to sleep so that they could take a photo of her sleeping.
After taking photos to their hearts’ content, the class handed off the camera to Risa. Risa flipped through the photos, many of which she had seen and many of which were newly taken by her classmates recently.
Flippantly, she stated, “Hey, let’s print out these pictures.”
Aoi frowned, thinking about the embarrassing fake-sleeping photos that had just been snapped, “Eh, no way.”
“Didn’t you say that we should make memories?” Jabbing Aoi on the forehead, Risa dangled the camera in front of Aoi. “You didn’t take any photos with yourself in them, so we even made memories for you.”
Manaka snickered as she took the camera out of Risa’s hand, “Though Risa says that, aren’t some of them pretty crazy blurred? Mostly the group photos.”
“You know how it is when you have short people.” Fuu-chan laughed, gesturing to Uemura and Imaizumi followed by Habu. “Tall people.” Then, she gestured to her friend group. “And normal people. Right? It’s hard to get them in a frame.”
The ever-so-diligent Yone quickly retorted, “No, no, no, I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“Let me take the group photo then.” Aoi sighed.
“Well, there’s no point if you’re not in it.” Risa shrugged. Seeing the short haired girl about to say something, the cool Watanabe retorted before Yurina spoke, “Techi, you too.”
At Risa’s words, Aoi stealthily wiped her eyes. She suddenly spoke up in a clear voice, “You know, I love everyone in the Keyaki class.”
“Yea, I know.” Risa nodded casually.
“Hey, don’t interrupt.” Aoi automatically retorted.
Manaka held back her laughter as she consoled her girlfriend, Risa having a conflicted expression on her face.
Aoi continued, finishing up her declaration to her classmates, “Everyone’s a precious friend, and I’m glad that I met everyone. I’m glad that we became friends and that you’re okay with being friends with me.”
The lounge was filled with silence. Everyone looked at their burdock root, pet dog, little sister, more importantly, their precious though a little annoying at times friend in surprise.
Neru broke the silence, “It’s a given after all.”
Fuu-chan sniffled a little, smiling, as she wiped the corners of her eyes, “Of course we’re friends. Group hug?”
“I don’t really kn-” Yone, who was adverse to germs, started a rebuttal but was quickly piled on top of by her more rambunctious classmates.
Ozeki only added to the pile, “Eh? Group hu- oops!”
Yuuka barely avoided becoming a casualty of the situation. Holding the camera and handing it over to Aoi who was at the center of the hug, she smiled as she went to join the hug, “Why don’t we take that group photo right now?”
“Can we do it before I die?” Oda Nana choked.
“Ah, geez! My eyes are puffy right now.” Aoi broke out into a lopsided grin, “I guess it can’t be helped though.”
Nagasawa Nanako also whimpered in a dead voice, “Anytime now.”
Aoi turned the flip screen of the camera over and said the magic words, “Smile!”
Using the camera that she hadn’t taken pictures with in a while, Aoi took a messy selfie with herself half buried under her classmates. She was smiling so brightly that later when she looked at the chaos, she would get a little embarrassed and hide the picture away, but she would never get rid of it.
On the first day, still irritated by the metal bracelet around her left wrist, Oda Nana couldn’t help but fiddle with the device as she walked with the rest of her class to see dorm room assignments. She wondered if they would get single rooms, given that the dorm building was definitely large enough for twenty girls.
Her classmates made up a great assortment of people whose names she was doing her best to remember. Since they would be together for a while, Oda Nana was confident that she would get to know everyone soon enough.
Of her classmates, she noticed most the pretty girl with long hair and a soft, but somewhat sad default expression. Kobayashi Yui, that was the girl’s name. Maybe Oda Nana’s heart skipped a beat, but she was just drawn toward Kobayashi.
In her daze during the self introductions, Oda Nana nearly didn’t notice the darting gaze of yet another cute girl who glanced at her a number of times. If Oda Nana remembered correctly, that girl’s name was Suzumoto Miyu.
Oda Nana couldn’t help but sigh internally that she was among too many cute girls while she herself was only how she was.
The class found the room assignments. When Oda Nana glanced up, she couldn’t help but shake her head and look again. Everyone was in pairs except for herself and another girl named Hirate Yurina who had been in a seat near her.
Hirate was stuck all alone, a good thing or a bad thing, Oda Nana didn’t know since they were merely acquaintances.
Oda was however placed with two other girls, Suzumoto and Kobayashi. Oda Nana wondered if the supervisor had mixed up something, making a one and a three when the rooms could have been plain and simple, two and two.
Nonetheless, she went to her room later with her new roommates. Getting settled in, they reintroduced themselves and chatted, Suzumoto awkward, Kobayashi quiet, and Oda Nana brightening the mood.
As the three were roommates, they naturally spent more time together. Sitting close in the classroom, they formed a lunch squad with Yurina and eventually the late joining Neru.
Oda Nana loved hearing Kobayashi sing. The prettiest voice for the prettiest girl, she found the two Yuis who dubbed themselves Yuichanz together singing at times. A part of Oda Nana’s soul shined when she saw Kobayashi’s bright smile together with Imaizumi.
It wasn’t as if Kobayashi wouldn’t smile for Oda Nana. When Oda Nana took stalker-like photos of her roommate, Kobayashi at times would pose and giggle at Oda Nana’s antics. At other times, Oda Nana would be scolded or ignored for being weird.
Kobayashi never seemed to realize Oda Nana’s feelings.
Perhaps it was because Oda Nana was too forward about it. Oda Nana didn’t believe she wore her heart on her sleeve, but from the start, she had proclaimed the feelings she had for Kobayashi from her heart. At first, they might have been superficial, but bit by bit, Oda Nana fell for the awkward parts of Kobayashi, the teasing parts, the silly parts, the childish parts, everything, even the part that liked to be with Imaizumi.
Honestly, it hurt a little to be continuously shot down as a joke.
During a lunch break before exams, Suzumoto had come up behind Oda and started playing with her roommate’s hair. Suzumoto asked, “Hey, Oda Nana, who do you like the most in the class?”
“Of course it’s Yuipon.” Oda Nana replied smoothly with her usual expression.
Like always, Kobayashi gave a smile, an embarrassed but distant look that easily waved off Oda Nana’s feelings, “Thanks.”
Oda Nana was aware. Kobayashi Yui liked her as a friend at most. They didn’t shared the same feeling in the slightest. Even as Oda Nana noticed her classmates and friends slowly get closer, share secret little touches that no one saw, Oda Nana knew that her feelings weren’t being conveyed to Yuipon.
The next few moments went past her mind like the flow of water, normal chattering with little substance, glances at Yurina and Neru who seemed like they had some sort of chemistry going on. Suzumoto’s fingers running through Oda Nana’s hair felt nice.
That was until they reached a tangle, and Oda let out a yelp, “Ouch!”
“Sorry!” Suzumoto jolted at the same time, retracting her hands.
“It’s okay.” Oda Nana laughed and set out a question to her friends, “Should I cut my hair? I wonder…”
“I like it either way.” Suzumoto responded as if contemplating Oda Nana with various hairstyles.
Or it could have been, “I like you either way,” but those words went unheard as a choice decision. After all, Oda Nana knew that Suzumoto was kind.
By the time summer break rolled around and stayed firmly around, Suzumoto Miyu realized that she was embroiled in a troublesome situation. Rather, she had already known about it since a while back. She had developed feelings for her roommate, Oda Nana.
Thinking, she rolled over on her bed, wanting to go back to sleep. With summer and all, there was surely time to sleep in.
Nonetheless, she made sure to sit up for a glance around the room to check if her roommates had awoken. She saw Oda Nana quietly reading a Murakami novel, and she saw that Yuipon’s bed was made, no one there.
Then, Suzumoto remembered that Yuipon had gone off, ditching them for Imaizumi, for an extended sleepover between Yuichanz. Suzumoto shook off a barbed thought that suddenly crossed her mind. She was just groggy and half-awake.
The three of them were playing a game of charades, but only Yuipon wasn’t actually playing.
Suzumoto plopped her head back down on the pillow. Her eyes naturally drifted toward Oda Nana even as they started to close when she hugged her blankets, happily ready to sleep.
She asked Oda Nana, “What does ‘love’ mean?”
“Something more than ‘like,’ I guess?” Oda Nana only gave a glance away from her book before dropping back into it. Her words seemed absent mindedly taken out of her mouth, “Any guys you like?”
“Sounds like a foreigner’s name. Danny-kun. Am I really the closest thing to a guy our age around here?”
Suzumoto didn’t respond to that. After all, she didn’t see Oda Nana as a man. She wanted to see Oda Nana as Oda Nana, but at this moment, her words didn’t come out. With a yawn, she said instead, “Good night.”
“Good night.” Oda Nana chuckled.
Suzumoto went back to sleep. Rather than a game of charades, their intentions and words failing to reach each other, sometimes, it felt like a clogged up telephone game where each person chose not to hear the words that they didn’t want to hear or refused to respond.
Maybe she was playing the wrong game in the first place, dancing the wrong choreography, because maybe only she thought they were in the game while everyone else was just living their life. They were just being friends who had some skinship and joked about love, normal high school girls.
Suzumoto hoped that she wouldn’t see any nightmares. The sun had risen after all.
END OF ARC III. (AOI)
Chapter 56: Rest-stop
Ozeki Rika felt a strange feeling that she was intruding on some intense story filled with tragic love stories and a hidden enemy that had yet to be seen. It was just a feeling that she had as she fell out of bed in the morning to the sound of her alarm clock ringing for the first time in over a month.
She let out a strangled yelp of surprise, realizing that she had exited her dreams and awoken to her dorm room in the Keyaki class dorms.
Quick footsteps sounded from the direction of the bathroom she shared with her roommate. Hair still wet, in a state of half dress, her roommate Uemura Rina hurried out to check on Ozeki, “Ozeki, are you okay?”
“I-I’m okay.” Ozeki stumbled to her feet and averted her eyes from her roommate for a second with a blush, “Did you just shower?”
The short, fairy-like Uemura replied affirmatively with a smile, “Yea.” Then Uemura glanced at the time. “If everything’s okay, I’m going to finish preparing for class. We don’t want to be late on the first day back.”
“We don’t want to be late on the first day back.” Ozeki nodded. She blinked once. She blinked twice. It took a few moments for her still sleep-addled brain to comprehend that summer break was over.
Ozeki finally did. The date was starred on their shared calendar after all.
Throwing her stuffed animal Shimajiro back onto the bed haphazardly with her summer blanket, Ozeki jumped into action to get ready. She had thought it was strange that her alarm clock had rang. She had thought it was even stranger than her roommate was up before her.
“Why did I wake up so late!? I’m going to be late!!”
“I thought you had everything ready already.”
The classroom door slammed open right before the bell rang for the first homeroom back from break. Everyone was in their seats chattering, a few classmates wondering where the last two members of the class were. Their eyes went to the door to see Ozeki bolting in, running with her limbs flailing about grossly, followed by Uemura who looked out of breath and dying.
Ozeki flew into her seat, “Not late!”
Following, Uemura melted into her own seat, “Haah… Haah… barely in time.”
“I’m sorry, Rina. I set my alarm clock for the wrong time.” Ozeki apologized. “You should go ahead of me next time.”
“It’s okay. I can’t let you be late by yourself.”
“It’s not like we get detentions, only point losses for being late, so you don’t need to. But, thanks.”
After Ozeki spoke, the bell rang. She laid her head down on the cool surface of her desk and peeked over to Uemura who was resting her head on her hands, elbows on her own desk. Her roommate really was like a beautiful porcelain doll.
The usual man on the screen came on and said his thing, the words filtering in one ear and out the other for Ozeki.
“Try not to fall asleep in class.” He made a parting statement that broke an odd stifling atmosphere coming from the front of the classroom.
Ozeki jolted, noticing that she had lost a trivial 1 point as a scolding from the organizers of the Keyaki class. She hadn’t fallen asleep as much as lost herself in thought glancing at her roommate. Ozeki’s eyes suddenly met Uemura’s eyes, and she averted her eyes for a moment without thinking before looking back with a sheepish grin.
Uemura giggled at her roommate’s antics. The short fairy-like girl gestured for them to pay attention up front.
Before long, classes like before resumed. The teachers on the screen had them do a little pop quiz to test how much knowledge the girls retained over the summer. As if all of the teachers conspired together, the classes felt like one quiz after another.
Ozeki felt like she did fine, being one of the members of the class with average smarts. However, she could sense an aura of despair coming off of some of her classmates.
Ozeki didn’t have fun taking so many quizzes either. Only Yone seemed to be a little excited during their science quiz, but Ozeki’s eyes started spinning after the third picture of circular micro-organisms.
Break time was a well deserved reprieve from academics.
“That… was intense.” Ozeki let out a sigh of relief, sitting on top of Uemura’s desk as Imaizumi and Aoi somehow took over her own.
Imaizumi nodded, words coming out half in English after making up all her answers to the English quiz she just took, “Ikageso is pool.”
Uemura tried to bring up a positive, “But then we get the sports festival and cultural festival, so no more studying!”
“When are those again?” Ozeki wondered aloud.
“Weren’t you paying attention when he made the announcement?” Aoi happily puffed out her chest to explain, “The sports festival is in only two weeks. He said that we’re signing up for activities tomorrow.”
“I hope there isn’t anything too difficult.” Uemura said.
Imaizumi cheerfully spoke, “I think we can take it.”
“Confident, huh?” Suddenly, Kobayashi Yui walked over, placing her arms around her musical partner with ease.
“Yuipon.” Imaizumi greeted Kobayashi.
Ozeki said to Kobayashi, “Yuipon’s fast, right? I think we can leave the running events to you.”
Uemura laughed, placing her cool fingers on Ozeki’s hand, “At the very least, not us.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Ozeki Rika didn’t have a heart condition, not like that at least.
The next day came quickly, the sun still hot and bright, the seasons not quite transitioned despite the end of summer break. For homeroom, the Keyaki class had to assign or choose roles for the sports festival.
They were given a bit more information on the event, find that it was a one day event where the winning class got a special prize class trip. Unfortunately, even if the Keyaki class won, they wouldn’t be able to get the special four day trip to Guam due to Keyaki class rules. Instead, they would get points and a party.
As the girls didn’t have teachers in the real physical sense, one way or another, Sato Shiori and Sugai Yuuka were pushed up to the front of the classroom to organize who did what on the screen.
Yuuka gestured to the board, “Okay, so it looks like these are the events?” Touching it, she found that the screen had a touch screen, and they were supposed to go through each event listed and select participants from a checklist.
The two girls up front somehow figured out how to work the activity participant sign up program.
“I don’t know if this is the best way to do it, but maybe it would be good if we were to go through each event one by one and see who wants to do what. If there’s no one who wants to do something, we can just randomly assign someone.” Sato suggested.
“That sounds like a good plan.” Yuuka responded.
They started the process.
Ozeki looked at the list of events and tried to think of which ones she wanted to do. There were ones like the 100 meter dash, which were out of the running from the second she saw them. The cavalry battle sounded interested as did the costume race, but there was also some scavenger hunt event and the classic three-legged race.
Ozeki was brought out of her thought by Uemura’s voice, “What do you want to do?”
“The scavenger hunt sounds like fun.” Ozeki responded, “How about you?”
“I want to try the bread race, but I don’t think I can jump high enough to bite onto the bread.”
“Pfft.” Ozeki couldn’t hold back a laugh.
Uemura pouted, “Hey.”
“I just imagined it.” Ozeki found her roommate in front of her eyes to be too cute, and the image of her roommate trying to get bread dangling above her head was even more adorable.
Yuuka called out to the chatting roommates, “Ozeki, Uemura, do you two want to do the three-legged race?”
After silently confirming with Ozeki, Uemura replied, “That sounds like fun.”
“I’ll put you down for it then.” Yuuka smiled and fiddled with the board to select the pair for the event.
Before long, everyone had been assigned to their events. They had the next two weeks to get some practice in, and then, the sports festival would start without further ado. For the time being however, the girls had classes.
After the school day ended, Ozeki and Uemura found themselves outside, trying to practice. Tying their ankles together, the roommates nearly tripped over just getting up. They didn’t want to make an embarrassment of themselves at the actual event.
Stumbling over and over again, they weren’t in sync in the slightest.
Chanting to keep a rhythm, they still fell over for the nth time, “One, two. One, tw- Agh!”
It was good that they had thought to change into jerseys because their pants were getting covered in grass and dirt from each time they fell over.
With their ankles still tied together, the pair took a break and sat down on the grass, taking a sip of water and wiping away the sweat on their foreheads. They hadn’t made progress, tripping up after the first few steps, which was way worse than the average performance for a three-legged race.
Uemura tried to hug her knees only to realize that she was still tied.
“Let me undo it.” Ozeki untied their ankles. “This is probably enough for today?”
Uemura nodded, glancing away dejectedly, “Yea. Sorry for dragging you into this…”
“Don’t worry. We can do it. We still have two weeks.”
“But what if we still can’t get in sync with each other?”
“It’s only the first day, Rina.”
“You’re right.” Uemura exhaled.
Suddenly, the fairy-like girl’s eyes met Ozeki’s. Uemura looked straight at Ozeki’s face before starting to giggle, “Haha.”
“What is it?” The sound was pleasant like bells, but Ozeki was confused as to why her roommate was suddenly laughing.
“You have dirt on your face.” As Ozeki went to wipe away the dirt with her hand, Uemura laughed even more, “And on your hand, Ozeki.”
“Geez, that’s embarrassing. I was saying something good too.” Ozeki scowled.
Ozeki wiped her hand on her pants and used her shirt to wipe away the dirt that found its way onto her face. She scrunched up her nose in embarrassment, but her heart warmed up when she saw her roommate laughing instead of making that sad expression that didn’t suit her roommate’s face.
“Hehe, thanks, Ozeki.”
“We’re friends after all.” Ozeki felt like she said something stupid.
With only three days left before the sports festival, the class’s most competitive member, Moriya Akane went up to the front of the room during break. Taking a deep breath, putting on a serious look, she got everyone’s attention. Even Imaizumi who was singing random Nishino Kana songs by herself as Kobayashi listened stopped.
Ozeki glanced at Akane, wondering what Akane would say. She thought that she saw a wry smile on Hirate and Neru’s faces, the two on the cavalry battle team with Akane, having intensely practiced.
“I just want to say a few words.” Akane spoke with severity. “We. Are. Winning.”
The class was silent.
In a smooth movement, Akane walked away from the front of the room like she hadn’t said something normal in an absurd manner.
Ozeki felt a little bad for the cavalry battle team, knowing that they had definitely trained hard. The words slipped from her mouth a little louder than she wanted to her roommate, “I’m glad we’re not on the cavalry battle team with Akanen.”
“What did you say, Ozeki?” Akane seemed to have snuck up on Ozeki.
Ozeki back peddled, “Uh, nothing!”
Taking that excuse, Akane inquired of the pair of roommates, “How are you two doing?”
“We’re doing okay.” Ozeki tried to redirect her classmate’s attention, “Why don’t you remind Berika that she has to run?”
“Hm?” Watanabe Rika found herself suddenly brought into the conversation. Her mouth was filled with chocolate bread.
Akane looked back at Ozeki after glancing to Berika only to find that Ozeki had run off. “Ozeki, don’t run away!”
Wearing jerseys again, this time pants not dirtied, the pair managed to do it.
“We did it! Maybe we can win the event!”
A hug. She hadn’t caught a cold, but her cheeks were still pink.
The day of the sports festival finally came. Each class had a different color designation, and the Keyaki class sat in their area with green ribbons about their right wrists. The teachers gave the opening speeches at the field they were using for this year group’s part of the sport festival. A refreshments stand and an announcer’s stand were set up.
A pair of upperclassmen, Iguchi Mao and Saito Kyoko, were apparently doing the announcements while student council members were working together with the staff for the events.
“We have the Keyaki class here too. Isn’t this interesting, Kyoko? Though I bet Kyoko-” Iguchi chattered brightly.
“Let’s move onto the first event.” Saito Kyoko pulled the announcing back on track in a cool, deep voice. “First up, we have the 100 meter dash. Each class’s runner, please head to the designated line.”
Ozeki thought that the announcer pair had an interesting dynamic that somehow just clicked.
Risa went up to the starting line for the 100 meter dash, and when the whistle blew, she flew. Going neck to neck with another class’s runner, the cool Watanabe from the Keyaki class managed to win the race.
Everyone cheered. The Keyaki class started the festival off to a good start.
The second event was the bread race. Ozeki and Uemura’s events were in the latter half of the festival, but even just watching and cheering on their friends was a fun experience. They saw as their clumsy Watanabe Rika ran forward, jumped for the sweet bread hanging from the string, and ran to the finish line in a shocking third place with the bread in her mouth.
Happy screams erupted from the other classes at Hirate’s handsome looks while wiping away the sweat on her sweaty bangs, as the Keyaki class cavalry battle team dominated the playing field.
For some reason, there was a horse riding competition as well.
Aoi, Koike, and Habu participated in the ball toss, eliciting commentary on how adorable they were when doing their best together.
Finally, Ozeki’s first event came.
“Now we have our scavenger hunt. What sort of object or person will they be asked to find? From a snack to a crush, there’s a lot of things. If it was me participating and I got the prompt of someone I like, I’d definitely choose Kyoko!” Iguchi exclaimed, hugging her companion.
“Thanks.” Kyoko took Iguchi’s words calmly. “The rules for this event are simple. Drawing from a box, each participant gets a prompt for something or someone that they must find. When the whistle blows, the participant can go find the prompt item or person. Whoever brings their scavenged topic to the student council member, the one currently raising her blue flag over there, wins.”
“But, what if they can’t find it?”
“The participant can swap prompts. However, they must wait until the whistle is blown to swap prompts, and for each prompt swap, they must wait five seconds.”
As the instructions were explained by the helpful announcers, Ozeki went to the prompt box and starting line with the other participants. Putting her hand into the box, she drew out a slip of paper and opened it up to take a look.
She paused with a sigh. She really wanted to know who wrote the prompts.
Heart racing, Ozeki waited for the whistle to blow and signal the start. The Rika who was never called Rika in the class because there were two Rikas already knew what she was going to do. With Akane wanting to win that badly, Ozeki thought that she should do her best in the events too.
The whistle blew.
Ozeki darted over to where the Keyaki class was. She quickly found her roommate, Uemura, nursing a bottle of water.
The fairy-like girl questioned as Ozeki came over, “Ozeki, is your prompt a water bottle?”
Ozeki hurriedly explained, extending a hand toward Uemura, “No, actually, I need you for it.”
The short girl readily took Ozeki’s hand and followed along as they rushed to the student council member. “Okay.”
Ozeki handed the student council member her prompt slip, waiting for a confirmation. A confirmation she received, unexpectedly winning first place for this scavenger hunt event. She also received a complicated look from the student council member, but luckily, the student council member didn’t say anything.
Standing at the finish line area where the student council member was, Ozeki watched the rest of the participants scramble to not finish last. The scavenger hunt event concluded quickly.
As Ozeki and Uemura went back to where the Keyaki class was watching, Uemura asked curiously, “What was your prompt?”
“Um…” Ozeki, still holding her roommate’s hand, looked away, unsure how to answer. Her eyes darted around wildly. “It-”
She was saved by announcer Iguchi’s voice. “Next up is the three-legged race! I hope everyone practiced. Be careful not to trip.”
“Please head to the starting line area and receive your ankle ties from Tsuchida-sensei over there.” Kyoko finished up.
Ozeki made an excuse, “I’ll tell you after the three-legged race.”
Luckily, her roommate accepted it. With a soft smile and a light squeeze with her hand, Uemura let Ozeki lead the way to the starting line of their pair event.
“The truth is…”
She didn’t mean those words that way, but both of them were clumsy fools.
Uemura Rina watched the emotions cycle through her roommate Ozeki Rika’s face as they tied their ankles together for the three-legged race. From the start, she had realized that Ozeki was an earnest girl who let out her thoughts, the good and the bad.
When they settled in as roommates, it was Ozeki who talked with her and made her feel better when Uemura felt homesick. Ozeki had also been homesick, but Ozeki still made sure to put her attention to her new friend.
The Ozeki that was kind, the Ozeki that did stupid things, the Ozeki that did her best, the Ozeki that was a slob, Uemura thought that she saw so many sides of Ozeki, and she wanted to see more.
Uemura wished that she had been able to call Ozeki by her first name Rika, but by an odd turn of events, everyone had taken to calling Ozeki by anything but Rika due to the presence of another Rika in the class. A little part of the fairy-like girl whispered to herself that she would be a special existence to Ozeki if she called Ozeki by Rika.
She had spaced out.
Ozeki brought Uemura back into reality, “The race is going to start soon.”
Uemura stood up with Ozeki and said, “Let’s win this race.”
The starting signal sounded. Holding hands and counting a rhythm, Uemura and Ozeki speed-walked together toward the finish line. Their speed was only average, but they were staying on track better than the rushed pairs that were stumbling across the course.
Uemura gave Ozeki’s hand a reassuring squeeze that they were doing well.
Although in the end, they came in a close second place, the pair felt a sense of accomplishment wash over them.
The pair untied their ankles and returned to the Keyaki class’s spot.
The shorter girl stretched her arms, glad that her job was over for the sports festival, “Second place is pretty good, isn’t it?”
Ozeki nodded, “Yep.”
For a few moments, they shared silence. Uemura waited for her roommate to say something more. Usually, there was something more to be said.
Ozeki gulped nervously, “The truth is… the prompt was ‘One-sided love.’” She could barely be heard when she said, “I like you, Rina.”
“Not the friend-type, but I think something a bit more-”
Uemura couldn’t tell if those were tears starting in Ozeki’s eyes. Without thinking, Uemura cupped Ozeki’s cheek and leaned in for a quick kiss.
At that action, Ozeki went silent with shock.
The fairy-like girl blushed, “I like you too. Like this.” Uemura’s own heart was racing, wondering if Ozeki was going to accept once Uemura responded, wondering if they had perhaps cheated a little in the scavenger hunt.
“Eh?” Freezing, Ozeki’s eyes widened.
“I like you, Rika.” Uemura said. Ozeki’s given name felt right.
Ozeki seemed to wobble, unsure if this was reality, “Can you do that again?”
Uemura gave Ozeki another peck on the lips. This time, she could feel how soft Ozeki’s lips were. This time, the words of her true feelings rolled more smoothly off her tongue. “I like you, Rika.”
“Can you… again?”
The rest of the sports festival went by like a blur. Even though the Keyaki class didn’t win overall, Uemura felt like they achieved a victory. Their cheeks burning red, the roommates didn’t let go of each other’s hands, knowing that their feelings were mutual.
Uemura Rina hadn’t felt a strange feeling that she was intruding on some intense story. After all, she was living her own happy love story with the eccentric person that she had fallen for.
Chapter 57: Checkpoint 40
A school cultural festival was all that it should have been. Yet, her heart went cold at the silence around her as that person’s bitter sneer and that cracked phone screen revealed everything that she had been trying to bury away.
—It was all your fault.
—Did you really think you of all people could believe in friendship?
—Not when you-
She stumbled back a moment, her breath catching in her throat. The pain of that time back then seemed to come back like a ghost; it hurt inside and out. She wondered what she would see when she met their eyes. What she didn’t want to see was that so-familiar contempt.
This time, even if she hid behind a fringe, she wouldn’t be able to escape, but she still ran away.
For a moment, she caught her friend’s distracted eyes. At least one person would be too preoccupied with something else.
The class had just finished voting on what activity to do for the upcoming cultural festival. Amidst the flurry of suggested plays, games, haunted houses, and more, the ultimate winner of their vote turned out to be a butler themed cafe.
The event was four days long, two for just students and staff, two for guests of varying statuses as well. Within the event, there were a myriad of smaller events.
It was break time. No matter the upcoming event, the Keyaki class still had classes, albeit shortened classes in the morning until one week before the festival.
Kobayashi Yui sat on a desk with her partner Imaizumi Yui. The Yuichanz pair had just signed up for the performing talent festival on day two of the cultural festival. Whether or not they would make a new song for the event, they hadn’t decided yet, but without thinking, the pair had begun humming a song to themselves.
Kobayashi Yui tapped her fingers to the rhythm of the song as she watched the smile on Imaizumi’s face. Of course, by now, nearly no one in the class called the two Yuis by their family names, the short Imaizumi getting oddly worked up over nicknames.
Imaizumi called out to Kobayashi, placing her chin on the taller Yui’s shoulder, “Yuipon.”
Yuipon responded, “What is it, Zuumin?” She had been so entranced by Zuumin’s smile that she had nearly failed to hear her name be called.
“I just wanted to call your name.”
Yuipon’s words found themselves lost on her tongue before she quickly got herself together and asked another question. “Do you want to brainstorm about our song together after school?”
“KobaYui, Zuumin!” A cheerful voice broke through the two Yui’s conversation. Before Yuipon could even turn, Manaka dragged the usually cool Watanabe Risa over and smugly asked as if stating a fact, “Risa’s blushing, isn’t she?”
Risa sputtered, covering her face with the hand that she wasn’t letting Manaka hold onto, “Wait, why are you asking them?” The pink dusting her cheeks betrayed her affections for her girlfriend.
Manaka stated as she peered into Risa’s eyes, causing the blush to redden just a tad more, “I want to win.”
At that, Yuipon figured out that the cool pair had likely been playing the aishiteru game or some variation. Their friend group always got so rowdy playing games after all, and she had gotten wrapped in not few times along with other classmates like Nijika.
Yuipon glanced over to Zuumin for the judgement call. “So, what do you think?”
“Well, I don’t know…” The short Yui made a thinking noise, a small smile cracking through her feigned pondering expression.
Risa bluffed, “I’m not blushing.”
Zuumin turned back to Yuipon. “‘Aishiteru?’”
Yuipon blinked. “Huh?” Her cheeks reddened at the sudden word, her heart clenching as she saw Zuumin’s bright smile and laughter quickly after. She must have made a strange face.
“The verdict is Manaka’s victory!” Zuumin clapped her hands together as she proclaimed her decision.
Her smile appeared so open, yet Yuipon couldn’t decipher what the small girl who was her partner was thinking at all. Yuipon simply followed suit and clapped as well, “O-Oh. Congratulations on winning the game.”
Happily accepting the claps, Manaka commented to herself, “One hit KO from our class’s Imaizumi.”
Risa nodded. “Yes, yes.” She said to Yuichanz before dragging Manaka off, “We’ll stop bothering you two now.”
Just as quickly as the pair had rushed over, they returned to their usual corner of the classroom with their friend group, which had started getting excited over some other topic. That let Yuipon and Zuumin come back to their conversations with just the two of them until their break ended.
Humming a quick tune, Zuumin met Yuipon’s eyes. “What were we talking about before?” Due to the sudden interruption, it seemed their talk had darted away from her mind.
Yuipon replied generally, “The cultural festival.”
“It is coming up soon after all. We’re doing a butler cafe, huh. Yuipon, you’d look good in a suit.”
Zuumin nodded earnestly. The short Yui looked around the room to check who else would look good in suits, seeing Hirate in one corner, Habu in the next, and then a gathering of tall people with Manaka and friends. Finally, she grumbled, “Rina-chan is my only comrade as a short person.”
The taller Yui responded with a wry chuckle, “You’ll keep growing probably. I think Zuumin will look good as a butler too.”
Light hearted chatting filled the rest of their break. Soon the bell rang, signalling the start of class.
Yuipon slipped off the desk, standing and thinking that she had to return to her seat when class started. She turned to Zuumin who had also gotten off the desk and lifted a hand to wave a see you later.
“Let’s brainstorm our song together after school.” Zuumin said as the two Yuis waved.
In the end, she had remembered what they had been talking about.
Class soon started. Sitting in her seat, Kobayashi Yui let the words of the lecturer enter one ear and exit the other. Her eyelids grew heavy. When she saw a slip of white paper on her desk, she opened it up sleepily.
Reading it, she realized that it was a note from her roommate Oda Nana. Although everyone in the class with a phone had each other’s LINE and, despite the disciplinary failures of this attitude, it wasn’t particularly hard to secretly use their phones to chat during class, Oda wanted to have fun with some old fashioned note passing.
Yuipon dug out a pen and scribbled a little with it to make sure there was still ink. Then, she replied to the note, passing it back to Oda Nana.
The note went delivered to Suzumoto next. Soon enough, it was back to Yuipon and then to Oda and Suzumoto. As the small paper filled up, they replaced it with a new slip or sometimes a sticky note.
When Yuipon looked toward where their short haired friend was, she spotted Hirate Yurina sleeping. Neru who sat close by gestured with a finger in front of her mouth not to wake up Yurina.
Yuipon silently mouthed an affirmative.
A part of her wished that she could have a bond like the two roommates appeared to share. Another part felt surprised at that sudden thought. Yet another part began to think about a girl who had placed a new melody of the sun into her life. She shook away those thoughts.
Yuipon mused quietly, “I wonder what sort of dreams she’s having.”
Chapter 58: Checkpoint 41
Hirate Yurina couldn’t remember what she had been dreaming. As lunch rolled around, the groups within the class moving their desks together, the short haired girl offhandedly thought upon looking at Kobayashi Yui that the taller Yui in the class seemed to have been the main character for a first half of the dream. What the dream had been, she could not remember. Yet, she had slept more sweetly than expected on the hard desk.
Still groggy at having just woken up, at the slightest prompting from Neru, she opened her mouth and found a small homemade omelette be placed in her mouth.
Neru asked teasingly, “Yurina-chan, did you sleep well?”
The short haired girl nodded, chewing on the omelette that melted in her mouth with a sweetness not just from the flavor of the food.
Neru filled Yurina in, noting that her roommate and girlfriend had filtered out the beginning parts of the group’s conversation, “We were just talking about the cultural festival.”
“Like Yuipon’s performance with Zuumin.” Oda Nana piped up.
“It’s going to be a surprise for the talent show.” Kobayashi Yui said in response to Oda Nana’s statement. “Though we haven’t made our song for it yet.”
Taking in the information, Yurina said, “I’m looking forward to it.”
If the short haired girl had to comment, she would say that she liked hearing the two Yuis sing, something that had become a routine for the class whenever the pair was in the mood.
Offhandedly, the short haired girl noted that Yuipon was sitting with them today and Zuumin with Yuuka’s group. Yuichanz had been active, and Oda Nana had been lonely according to Oda Nana herself lately.
“Yuichanz’s first live performance at Sakamichi.” Neru stated as if tasting a phrase of words. She giggled, “We should record it so when you two become big hits in the future, we can brag about seeing it.”
Yuipon choked on her drink halfway through a sip.
Yurina added onto the joke that Neru started, “Yuichanz’s first single with the title track their first song Shibuyagawa.” She thought that it sounded quite doable.
“Ah, next is Yuichanz’s first Music Station?” Suzumoto wondered aloud.
“Yuichanz’s first photobook-” Oda Nana started.
Yuipon cut them off, embarrassed, “You’re all getting carried away!”
Oda Nana proclaimed, “I’m ready to be the official photographer any time now.”
“Aren’t you alread-” Suzumoto furrowed her brows in thought as she trailed herself off.
Neru quickly reached the same realization as Suzumoto, “Oh, that fansite…”
Letting out an exasperated sigh, Yuipon took a bite of her lunch. She pretended as if she hadn’t just heard what her friends had mentioned, not needing an exploration of her roommate’s usual antics.
Yurina shifted the topic, “By the way, what do you think the butler cafe will be like?” Happy to continue eating the bento made for her by Neru, the short haired girl waited for the conversation to move.
—Icarus fell when he flew too close to the sun.
—You haven’t forgotten, have you?
When lunch ended, the Keyaki class began the first stages of the cultural festival’s preparations. Along with explanations on the schedule, the rules on inviting guests and whatnot, as well as a Keyaki class specific reminder on points gained from the event, Sugai Yuuka and Sato Shiori went up to the front of the classroom to organize the group into committees in charge of the various parts of the preparations.
The event was a large one of four days. Day one was just for students and staff to enjoy like a test run. Day two was for guests of important people related to the school, and organized events were held on that day. Day three was for all guests invited. The final day was for students again with other miscellaneous events that did not require signing up.
Although the long explanation came from Sato’s mouth one way or another, the class ultimately decided to tack the handout with the information they received from a teacher somewhere on the wall in the classroom as a reminder.
Kobayashi Yui found herself in the group in charge of the crossdressing committee for the class’ butler cafe. Her short singing partner had found her way to the food committee. The third committee was the cafe layout organization committee with the artistic Sato and surprisingly skilled calligrapher Ozeki.
The crossdressing committee took over one corner of the classroom for their first discussion.
Nijika raised her hand to inquire as they started, “What does the crossdressing committee do?”
The group paused, silent. No one actually had a response beyond a rough idea that they were in charge of the crossdressing part of the butler cafe, and the name of their committee didn’t elaborate.
“Costumes, right?” Yuipon hesitantly put out, an awkward smile at the silence.
Koike then wondered aloud, “Characterization too?”
Habu clapped her hands together, understanding what her roommate meant, “Like a maid cafe where the maids have phrases and characters!”
“Like stage names?” Nijika asked as well.
“Let’s figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it first and go from there.” Yurina interrupted before the group got carried away, causing everyone to turn to the short haired girl.
“This looks like it’ll be fun.” Watanabe Rika softly said, causing Yuipon who hadn’t noticed her quiet classmate beside her to jump.
Yuipon nodded, “Yea.”
Peeking out the corner of her eye to where the food committee had gathered, she saw that Zuumin looked to be having fun as well, a bright smile fluttering across that girl’s expression. Yet, for some reason, she felt a little miffed upon seeing Oda Nana suddenly hug the short Yui from behind.
Zuumin noticed Yuipon and waved, mouthing almost indecipherably, “Let’s make this a success.”
Yuipon waved back, mouthing her own set of words and feeling silly that she had been so obvious as to be noticed. Then she tore her eyes away from the food committee’s corner, knowing she would watch entranced forever if she didn’t.
“Let’s make this a success.” Yuipon repeated her partner’s words aloud to no one in particular, Zuumin’s smile contagious, and looked toward Yurina who the team had entrusted leadership to.
Chapter 59: Checkpoint 42
After school, their time together finally arrived. The moments between had dissipated into a distant memory.
Fingers on the strings of the guitar, Kobayashi Yui absentmindedly watched her partner Imaizumi Yui narrate how the first day of preparations for the food committee part of the class had gone. They were alone in an unused music room to practice for the cultural festival.
With the afternoon sun filtering in through the drawn curtains, Zuumin’s smile seemed dazzling to the eyes. Lyrics fluttered through Yuipon’s head. The windows felt like they had opened, curtains blowing with the wind, sheets of music blowing away, and then it cut off.
Zuumin’s face was right in front of Yuipon’s. The shorter Yui asked, curiously, noticing that Yuipon’s hand on the guitar had fallen to side and that Yuipon was gazing off somewhere else. “Yuipon, are you listening?”
“Ah, sorry. I zoned out.” Yuipon sheepishly replied.
“That’s unexpected.” Zuumin giggled. “Should we move onto writing our song then?”
“That sounds good. Do you have a genre in mind?”
“I don’t know, but I like the song you were just playing on your guitar.”
The taller Yui paused in surprise. She murmured questioningly to herself, “I was playing something…?”
Yuipon’s fingers settled firmly on the guitar and began to play the song that she had not been aware she had been playing before. The notes, she had imagined them in a moment of boredom while waiting for something fun to come. “Do you mean this?”
“That’s right.” Zuumin nodded.
“I think it’s not quite right though.”
“If you change the chord during that second part, then maybe-”
“Because it’s supposed to be a duet. It’s missing the other part still.” Yuipon blurted out, interrupting Zuumin. “Let’s write the other part now.”
A little surprised at first, the shorter girl clapped her hands together with a big grin and cheered, “Let’s do it!”
The two of them, sitting cross legged on the ground, a little haphazardly, made their song together. This chord, that note, this melody that would match, the essence that was Yuichanz melded together before they realized.
“Should I write it down?” Yuipon wondered aloud.
Zuumin responded, “Eh, Yuipon, you know I’m terrible at reading sheet music.”
“Just the chords. Just the chords then.” The taller Yui said as she searched for a pen and paper to write. Shaking the pen before starting, she jotted down what they had created so far.
Zuumin who had been watching then suggested, “Maybe also the sheet music.”
“I like Yuipon’s handwriting.”
Yuipon lightly retorted, “Music notes are just music notes.” She didn’t see how a line and a circle and maybe a bar would be pretty enough to be liked. Yet she still dug out a sheet and began to outline the notes, digging into her brain to remember what they had been playing.
Zuumin pointed to the a place on the paper, knowing that Yuipon was writing despite her remark, “We can write the lyrics here.”
Yuipon hummed, “We need to write the lyrics first then.”
“Yuipon’s killing dreams here.”
“We’re not done with writing the song either though.”
“It’s okay.” The short girl stated with an odd confidence and sang a quick line, “For example, doesn’t ‘ The stars in the sky are beautiful because we can’t ever reach them’ sound good with here?”
“Isn’t that sad?”
“Just a little.”
“It’s like a love that won’t come true.”
“The tune is already melancholic.” Zuumin said. “But, wouldn’t it be nice to write a love song?”
“Love, huh? Have you ever fallen in love before, Zuumin?”
“Not really. Maybe there was that boy back in elementary school, but…” Zuumin trailed off, furrowing her brows, glancing at Yuipon’s eyes almost sparkling. “What about Yuipon?”
“N-” Yuipon wanted to answer, but she couldn’t. Instead she looked away and said, “Probably not anything that can become love.”
“I’ll cheer you on.”
“How about marriage? Do you want to get married one day?” Yuipon gulped, feeling sweaty palms, as she added on abruptly.
Zuumin didn’t notice Yuipon’s near stutter at the beginning of her sentence, instead saying, “It would be nice to. If I got married, I would want to get married to someone who can deal with my occasional unreasonable requests. If there’s marriage, I guess there’s kids? I think having two kids would be good since having an odd number would be lonely.”
“You’ve really thought far ahead.”
“What about Yuipon?”
Yuipon paused, her mouth feeling oddly dry, “I don’t know. I guess, maybe something like I’d want to keep my own family name for convenience?” She didn’t know what words were coming out
“I’m the opposite. Rather than Zuumin or Imaizumi,” Zuumin shook her head. “I want to be called Yui by the person I marry.”
“What a lucky person.” Yuipon said. Tapping the pen in her hand to the rhythm of their song, she pondered upon a sudden idea, “How about ‘Please marry me’ for a line? No, it doesn’t really fit.”
“ ‘Please marry someone better than me’ maybe.”
“And ‘ please forget about our good memories.’ ”
“This is too heartrending!”
“Let’s get back to writing the song. And make it a happier one!”
“Love isn’t all bitter or sweet. It’s bittersweet, right?”
“A sweet song would be nice though. I want to sing a happy song.”
Yuipon’s heart stung. “Yea, you really fit smiling.”
Zuumin replied, “That’s my line, Yuipon. I like Yuipon’s smile.”
“By the way, we’re performing this for the cultural festival, right?”
“This is really heartrending.”
“Like I said!”
“But it seems like a good song.”
“True. It really is.”
“It’s a little embarrassing to say this about something we wrote ourselves.” Yuipon noted after both of them had said their self-praises.
Zuumin laughed. Pumping her fists into the air, the short girl proclaimed, “Well, let’s make it an even better song then!”
Agreeing, the two of them returned to working on their song. Singing, playing the guitar, writing down notes, almost mixing up the papers, time passed. The afternoon sun began to redden outside the window, and before they knew it, the day had begun to end.
While Zuumin sang a section that they had decided to have the shorter Yui sing solo, Yuipon’s hands on the guitar that were playing a still barebones accompaniment unintentionally stopped. Zuumin’s acapella captured her ears.
The short girl finished her singing. She had noticed Yuipon’s hands stop. Looking toward the window, she said, “It’s already this late? Maybe we should stop for today.”
“Yui-chan.” Yuipon said in the start of an answer, words slipping off her tongue distractedly before her eyes widened with alarm that she had called Zuumin Yui aloud. “Sorry, Zuumin. I-”
Zuumin placed a finger on Yuipon’s lips. “Yuipon, keep calling me that?” Her mouth curved upward only slightly. “Just for now.”
“Sure.” Yuipon couldn’t say anything else to the heartbeats ringing in her ears.
She didn’t know why she heard the song they had just been playing in that smile when neither’s hand was on the strings of their guitars. Perhaps it was the sound of her own pulse. Nonetheless, their practice stopped for the day.