“Nako-chan, Nako-chan! Please tell me you didn’t forget me!” Bocchi cried out.
“No, for the last time, I didn’t forget who you are!” Nako replied. Her brusque response might have sounded a bit like a thug to those not familiar with her. It certainly did to the teacher, who got a shudder up her spine, and decided to leave the classroom at that moment, to head to the teacher’s lounge and leave her class to their lunch break.
“Waaah! I’m so happy!” Bocchi was in tears as she rested her chin on Nako’s desk and grabbed ahold of the sleeve of Nako’s sweater. “You didn’t look at me all morning, or acknowledge my existence, so I thought maybe you had forgotten me!”
“Geeze, do we have to go through this every d-”
“Nin! Nin!” Sotoka jumped into the conversation by throwing paper shuriken right at Nako. Each deftly thrown projectile found its mark, with the first one hitting Nako in the chest, the next the shoulder, and the next right between the eyes.
Nako winced. “Hey! Knock it off!”
“Heh heh heh!” Sotoka burst into laughter, and just kept at it. Thanks to her and Bocchi pulling an all-nighter, her arsenal was loaded up with enough ammunition for Fort Sotoka to keep up the assault until Nako’s forces capitulated in winter. Or at least until the end of the day.
“Seriously!” Nako pleaded.
A newcomer stood in their midst, and she cleared her throat to get their attention. Class Vice President Aru looked dignified and composed, and she wore a stern look as though scolding them for not noticing her sooner, given how dignified and composed she was, and what an important person she was. Of course, she may have put on airs, but at her core she was the sort of person who was-
“Unfortunate!” Nako yelled out.
Aru gave Nako an angry look and gave an irritated rebuke. “Yes, Nako. I’m unfortunate. My primary characteristic is being unfortunate. My entire character is basically being unfortunate. Because misfortune is a personality trait, and that definitely makes sense. Thank you for reminding everyone here of something we all already know, and for yelling it out loud enough for the whole class to hear, even though I’m trying to keep it a secret, and prove to everyone that I’m not unfortunate!”
“Um, sorry?” Nako said, a tad uncertainly. She hadn’t meant to press the wrong button. Well, she had meant to, actually, but she hadn’t expected the button to outright break Aru.
“Hiya!” Sotoka nailed Nako right on the cheek with a paper shuriken.
“Ow! Stop aiming for my face! You’re going to put my eye out!”
“Ha ha! Sotoka’s aim is true, so Sotoka can’t miss my mark! Not with Master Bocchi’s training!” Sotoka replied.
Nako growled, and she threw a couple of the shuriken right back at Sotoka. They missed horribly, but Sotoka was really into it, and pretty soon the two of them were in an all-out war, chucking shuriken at each other like crazy.
With a bored and dignified look, Aru gave the childish antics a sidelong glance, then turned her gaze to Bocchi. “Anyways, I’ve solved your problem. Feel free to sing my praises and admit that I’m not unfortunate.” She crossed her arms and smiled, looking quite proud of herself.
“What problem?” Bocchi looked up at Aru with puppy dog eyes. She trembled from the trepidation of what Aru would say, but she was also hopeful that something good would happen. Though she wasn’t sure what problem Aru was talking about, she knew she could count on her reliable, if somewhat unfortunate, friend for anything in the whole world.
“Ha ha!” Aru pulled out a blank piece of paper and held it out in her hand, with one pinkie extended, for Bocchi to see. When it slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor, Aru pretended not to notice.
“But Aru, this is just a blank piece of paper…” Bocchi gasped. “W-Wait… Does this mean… Does this mean you don’t want to be friends anymore?! Am I the problem you were talking about?!” Tears started welling up in Bocchi’s eyes.
“What?” Aru cried out. “No! How did you get that idea?”
“W-Well, because this paper is like our friendship, and you’re saying you want a blank slate. And the paper is also me. And you dropped me on the ground, so, so…” Bocchi chewed her lower lip, desperately trying to hold back her tears. “B-But if you don’t want to be friends anymore, what am I going to do? I promised Kai I’d become friends with the whole class, but if I can’t even keep the friends I have, I’ll never make it!”
“Right! That’s the problem this paper is going to solve!” Aru declared. “Your promise to make everyone in the class your friend!”
“This paper?” Bocchi asked as she picked the paper off the ground.
“So you’re still my friend, Aru?” Bocchi asked.
“Of course! Now, listen up.” Aru leaned in. “I’m class vice president, right?”
“Um, yeah, I guess so?”
“You guess so? Ugh, never mind.” Aru cleared her throat. “And as class vice president, I’m the most outgoing person in the class, right? And you might even say, I’m friends with everyone in the class? And that if someone else needed to be friends with everyone in the class, all they’d have to do would be to ask me to make it so?”
“Ummm….” Bocchi had to think really hard for that one.
“The point is, I’m going to make everyone in class sign this!” With some swift strokes of the pen, Aru jotted down a header in a fancy script that read, “Bocchi’s Friends”. With a big grin, Aru declared, “Everyone in class will sign this paper, saying they’re your friend, and then, tada! You can show it to Kai, and you can be friends with her again!”
“Wow! I never would have thought of that!” Bocchi gushed, sounding impressed. “Do you think that will really work?”
“Heh heh!” Aru crossed her arms and nodded in a gloating sort of way. “Yes, you just have to use your connections, my friend. And you’re friends with the most well-connected girl in school.”
“I don’t think someone as unfortunate as you can pull this off,” Nako chimed in, while in the midst of her battle with Sotoka.
“Don’t doubt me! I’ll show you that I’m not unfortunate!” Aru railed.
“Yay!” Bocchi cheered.
“Alright, so I’ll just go and tell everyone and collect signatures!”
Aru made to leave, but Bocchi caught her sleeve. “Wait, Aru! I have to go too, don’t I? If I’m not there, then it isn’t really me making friends!”
“Yeah, but…” Aru looked uncertain, and a tad dismayed.
“I can’t lie to Kai like that! I made a promise! But if I go with you and introduce myself to everyone, then it’s alright… I think…”
“Hmm…” Aru smiled and pointed two fingers at Bocchi. “Alright! Aru-Do-Your-Best-Beam! Let’s do it, Bocchi!”
“Al-Alright!” Bocchi got up from her desk and stood at Aru’s side. Her legs were already trembling. “I-I’ll try my best!”
Aru noticed that Bocchi was already having a tough time. “Just let your friend Aru do the talking. I’ll explain everything and everyone will be lining up to be your friend!”
“Alright! Wish me luck, everyone!”
“Good luck, Master!” Sotoka said, beaming brightly and giving a wave.
Nako could only groan underneath the mound of paper shuriken on her desk.
Aru and Bocchi went around the room, desk-to-desk, asking each of their classmates to be Bocchi’s friend and to sign their paper. Aru gave everyone a brief run-down of Bocchi’s situation, and how dire it was, while Bocchi just… stood there and nodded, growing redder and redder with each person they went to. Her nervousness and anxiety rose and rose, and holding her breath was all she could do to keep from passing out or barfing. Bocchi’s awkwardness was palpable; it even made Aru uncomfortable, and the whole endeavor took a toll on her as well. Fortunately, their classmates were all really nice, so when they saw how nervous Bocchi was, they offered a smile, or shook her hand, and wholeheartedly agreed to sign their names. All except for one.
“This is really hard, Aru-chan… I feel like I’m going to throw up and pass out…” Bocchi complained. She was quite pale, with a hint of green, and her hands were clammy and trembling. “E-Everyone’s so nice, Aru-chan, but, but… What am I going to do with so many friends? I can’t possibly hang out with all of them! I’ll end up disappointing them! P-Plus, I like the friends I have now, and… and I don’t even want to hang out with all my other classmates if it means losing the friends I already have!”
“You don’t have to worry so much, Bocchi! All our classmates understand that, and they don’t expect much from you! Being friends doesn’t have to be something demanding!”
“I don’t think I can do this, Aru-chan! It’s just too many friends! Waaaah!” Bocchi bawled.
Aru grabbed Bocchi around the shoulders and gave her a shake. “Stay with me, Bocchi! You have to be Strong Bocchi today! We’ve only got one more classmate to go, and then you and Kai will be friends again! As soon as the end of the day!”
“R-Really? Then I’ll do it! I’ll be Strong Bocchi!” Bocchi puffed out her cheeks and clenched her fists in front of her chest, looking determined tough it out.
Of course, that last classmate would prove to be a tough nut to crack.
“No,” answered Kako Kurai, head of the class discipline committee, after Aru asked her to be Bocchi’s friend.
Bocchi burst into tears.
“Wh-what? Why not?” Aru asked. At the same time, she put her arm around Bocchi to comfort the girl. She looked to Kako again. “I thought you and Bocchi were getting along great now!”
With an emotionless mien, Kako gave the two an askance glance. “It’s still my policy not to make friends. I want to be strong enough to live on my own.” Kako nodded and continued, “One shouldn’t have friends or enemies. Only acquaintances and adversaries. That’s the only way to be strong on my own.” After saying this, Kako went back to reading her student manual.
Aru stuck her face right in front of Kako and held her hands together, pleading. “Please, you just have to sign this paper saying you’re Bocchi’s friend! Bocchi and Kai can’t be friends again until Bocchi’s made friends with her whole class!”
Kako was a tad startled, but she soon composed herself. “I’m not going to lie and say I’m her friend when I’m not. That’s unethical. And maybe they shouldn’t be friends anyway. A real friend wouldn’t try to make you do something like this, especially not without thinking about the consequences for you and for everyone in your class.” Kako looked to Bocchi now. “This is what happens when you make friends: you end up getting hurt and abandoned. You should just try to be strong on your own, like I’m trying to do.”
“Grrr…” Aru growled. “Come on, Bocchi.” She grabbed Bocchi’s hand and dragged her back to her own corner of the room, where Nako and Sotoka were still having their ninja duel.
“How’d it go?” Nako asked.
“It went great,” Aru said shortly. “We got basically everyone in the whole class to be Bocchi’s friend.”
Nako could sense something was amiss from seeing Bocchi’s teary face. She waited for Aru to go on, but the class vice president was looking away from her now, with a look of concentration. “But?” Nako prompted.
“Shush!” Aru held up a hand to silence Nako. “Be quiet while I think!”
Aru was trying to come up with a new method of attack, but Bocchi went into defeatist mode. “Waaah! It’s terrible, Nako-chan! I’m never going to be friends with Kai again, because Kurai-san won’t be my friend!”
“Oh no!” Sotoka squealed. “Why, why, why? Why would anyone not want to be friends with Master?”
“Yeah, I kind of thought that might be the case,” Nako admitted.
“What do I do, Nako-chan?” Bocchi asked.
“Um…” Nako didn’t have the answer.
Aru bit down on her thumbnail and muttered her thoughts aloud. “Why do we even need to get her to be Bocchi’s friend? We got everyone else… And anyway, she and Bocchi are already friends, even if she won’t admit it… If we really need to, we could just sign her name for her… That would take care of this…”
Nako grinned. “Signature forgery sounds like a serious offense, Class Vice President. It would be unfortunate if you got impeached.”
“Quiet, Nako!” Angry, Aru pointed an accusing finger at Nako. “And don’t call me unfortunate!”
“You know…” Nako extended an arm outward and leaned back in her chair, looking nonchalant, as she matter-of-factly stated, “I’ve been thinking for a while that this whole thing about Bocchi making friends with the whole class is way too extreme. Kai isn’t really helping her out by expecting her to do that. I mean, even normal people don’t have that many friends, and it’s just not possible for Bocchi.”
“Ohhh…” Sotoka said, intrigued.
“W-Well, maybe… I don’t know what I’d do with that many friends…” Bocchi admitted.
“I think you’re missing the point, Nako,” Aru said. “Sure, it might be impossible for Bocchi to really be friends with the whole class, but if she learns to talk to everyone and be friendly with her classmates, it’ll help her. Kai is trying to help Bocchi get over her-” Aru’s eyes went wide, and she let out a shriek, which startled everyone else. “Oh no! Kai! I totally forgot! I was so confident that we’d get everyone to agree to be Bocchi’s friend that I told her! She’s coming here! Like, right now!”
Bocchi squealed, and Sotoka screamed (but only to show solidarity), and Nako raised an eyebrow.
“W-Wait, she’s skipping school to come here?” Bocchi asked.
“She said friendship is more important than school when I texted her, and that she couldn’t wait to be your friend again!”
“That’s unfortunate,” Nako said, smirking at Aru.
“I’m not unfortunate!” Aru yelled out. “I’ll show you! We’re going to settle this whole thing right now, and Kai and Bocchi are going to be friends again.”
“Really, Aru? B-But, I didn’t make friends with the whole class!”
“Hmm…” Nako leaned her chin against her arm and glanced towards the window. She looked irritated. But it definitely wasn’t because she was jealous of Kai.
“Yes, you have! I’m telling you, Kurai-san really is your friend! She’s just being stubborn!” Aru said.
“Stubborn, am I?” Kako said, wearing an irritated look at being slighted. While everyone else gaped at Kako’s sudden appearance, Aru gesticulated wildly and made excuses and apologies. Kako sighed, then she picked up the piece of paper on Bocchi’s desk. Kako’s face flushed as she scowled. “Look, I overheard you’re in a bind, so just this once, I’ll help you out and say you’re my friend.” She took a pen out and began signing her name.
“Huuuh?! Really?!” Bocchi grinned widely, but at the same time she turned pale and her head started to tilt back.
“No, you can’t pass out this time!” Nako said. She grabbed Bocchi’s collar and gave her a good tug.
“Can I throw up instead?” Bocchi asked, after the rough jostling, and almost having her face slammed into her desk.
Nako gave Bocchi an apologetic smile.
Trying to look dignified, Kako tilted her chin up and put her hands on her hips, but her face was still flush from embarrassment. “I-I’m still going to be strong on my own, so don’t think we’re going to be friends forever. It’s just for today, and that’s just to help you out so you can be friends with Kai again.” She turned and made to leave.
“Thanks so much, Kako-chan!” Bocchi said. Kako didn’t turn around, but her cheeks turned even redder.
Watching Kako go, Aru said under her breath, “What’s all this strength stuff about anyway? She reads too much Shonen manga…”
“We’re going to get strong too, right Master?” Sotoka asked.
“Mm-hmm!” Bocchi smiled and nodded.
“Who’s unfortunate now, Nako?” Aru asked, a gloating smile on her lips, as she brandished the piece of paper at Nako.
Nako was about to say something, but then a gust from the window blew the paper out of Aru’s hands, and out into the hallway. “Oh no!” Aru screamed. She ran out into the halls, snatching and swiping at the billowing paper to get it back, and all the while Nako was laughing so hard that she had to hold her hands over her sides.
After a short time, a new voice cried out from the doorway: “Bochiiiii!”
Bocchi knew that voice. She hadn’t heard it for such a long time, but it was that of her dearest friend. It was Kai! Bocchi stood up from her desk. Tears were already welling up in her eyes as she looked to the doorway, and there saw her old friend. Sniveling and with tears streaming down her cheeks, Bocchi cried out in a whimper, “Kaiiii!”
“Bocchiii!” Kai cried out again. She was crying just as much as Bocchi. The two ran towards each other and hugged.
“You really did it, Bocchi, didn’t you?! You made friends with your whole class!”
“Y-Yeah, we got everyone to sign this paper saying they were my friend, b-but Kai, we lost it!”
Kai sniffed and wiped away a tear. “It doesn’t matter, Bocchi. You did it! I can tell everyone’s your friend now.”
“S-So this means we can be friends again?” Bocchi said.
“I’m so happy!” Bocchi sighed. Then she looked up. “Wait. How could you tell everyone is my friend now?”
“Because they’re all staring at us,” Kai said.
“Huuuuh?!” Bocchi glanced around, wide-eyed, at all the stares she was getting from her classmates. There were warm smiles all around, but that was little comfort to Bocchi, who couldn’t take that kind of attention. Bocchi threw up.
It took a while for Bocchi to recover. She spent the rest of the day in the nurse’s office with Kai. But when school ended, Nako and Sotoka came to join them. Bocchi was so happy to see both of them, that she was ready to burst. Or maybe that was more puke trying to escape.
Nako looked a little sullen as she crossed her arms. But it definitely wasn’t because she didn’t want to be replaced as Bocchi’s best friend. “You know, it was kind of mean of you to do this to Bocchi. Saying you wouldn’t be her friend anymore unless she made friends with her whole class.” Nako definitely didn’t say that in order to create friction between Bocchi and Kai.
“I know, but…” Kai exchanged a glance with Bocchi, then burst into tears.
“Waah! Kai, don’t cry!” Bocchi exclaimed. But she couldn’t help but join in the waterworks.
“I’m sorry, Bocchi! But I read this manga…” Kai reached into her bag and pulled out a copy of the first volume of No Matter How I Look at it, it’s You Guys’ Fault I’m not Popular. “I… I read this, and I was worried that you’d end up a total weirdo like the character in this book! And I just had to do something!”
With a look of concentration, Nako took the manga from Kai’s outstretched hand and she began reading it. “Hmm… Wow, this really is… I guess social anxiety isn’t as cute as Bocchi makes it seem…”
Kai and Bocchi hugged again. “But’s it’s all fine now, Bocchi! Because you’ve made friends with everyone in your class, and you won’t end up like Kuroki, because you’re cured of your social anxiety!”
“Huh?” Bocchi’s eyes widened and she donned a dopy smile.
“Um… I don’t think Bocchi’s cured…” Nako said.
“Oh. But she’s better?” Kai said hopefully.
“I guess?” Nako said.
“I don’t feel better! I feel sick to my tummy!” Bocchi said as she rubbed her stomach.
“Don’t worry, Bocchi. Now that we’re friends again, I’m going to help you get over your social anxiety! I’ll stay by your side and do whatever I can to help!”
“Probably what you should have done to begin with,” Nako muttered under her breath.
“Thanks, Kai. And you too, Nako. And I want to get better at talking to people and making friends. But I think there might be limits too. I could die if I keep passing out and throwing up, so... Maybe we take things a little slower?”
“Whaaa?” Kai was stunned.
Nako nodded sagely. “Yes, you’re right.”
Bocchi was in for one more surprise that day. Or more like a whole bunch of surprises. All of her classmates, her new “friends”, stopped by the nurse’s office to wish she get well soon and to say goodbye before heading home. Even Kako showed up. It was quite exhausting for Bocchi to say goodbye to all of them, and after around the fifth one, she just waved mutely.
“This is awful, Nako-chan!” Bocchi said, more tears spilling from her eyes. “Why’s everyone being so nice to me?”
“Oh yeah…” Nako said. “They’re all your friends now. Come to think of it…” With a thoughtful look, Nako tapped her finger to her chin. With a slightly mischievous smile, she said, “From now on you’ll probably have to say good morning to every one of them.”
Bocchi turned pale. “Oh no! This is a nightmare! I have to start mentally preparing myself for when everyone says good morning to me! Wait, what if they don’t say good morning to me first?! Do I still have to say good morning to them?! Will they still be my friends if I don’t?!”
“Whoa!” Nako cried out. “Bocchi, relax! You don’t have to take it so seriously! It’s just morning greetings! Nobody’s going to get mad at you!”
Kai sighed. “Oh, Bocchi…”
“I got it!” Aru proclaimed as she snatched the paper out of the air. She donned a triumphant look for a moment, until she looked around and noticed she was in an unfamiliar part of town. “Wait, where am I?!”