It’s a harrowing fact in hindsight whenever I thought about it, but I did have an existence called a girlfriend during a certain period of my ninth grade.
She’s someone family-oriented and devoted. She’s a little on the small side, but she was rather pretty—if I boasted about her to a hundred people, about seventy of them will be envious. I did have such a lover before.
Why is this guy suddenly saying this? That’s what you’re thinking, right?
Okay okay, hold your horses. Let me explain the story to the very end. Will your thoughts remain unchanged then?
Here’s my prediction.
Your thoughts will change completely.
If not—the old me will be rolling in the deep.
—Kokkun, did you eat the pudding in the fridge?
That’s just a scene so ordinary in our daily life, anyone would yawn.
We just started dating back then, but our lives hadn’t changed that much. One day, I was enjoying myself at home after school, and she said that.
According to her, it seemed she put the pudding in the fridge.
And in my mind, I conjured a memory of myself finishing a pudding that suddenly appeared in the fridge.
I was so excited back then that I hastily stood up from the sofa.
—Sorry! I’ll buy a new one …!
—……It’s fine. I have mine.
So she said, and took out a pudding that wasn’t opened.
Now that she mentioned it, I remembered seeing only one though?
—Wait, there’s two of them?
So she sat at the dining table, ripped off the packaging, and munched it down.
She insistently refused to look at me in the eyes, and her cheeks were puffed, but probably not because she was eating pudding.
—…Eh, why are you so angry?
—I’m not angry.
Her voice was obviously a little tense. Back then though, I couldn’t figure out why she was angry.
And then, that night, while we were having dinner.
—I’ll take this!
She quickly snatched the fried chicken from my plate.
—H-hey! What are you doing!?
—What are you angry for~? You’re quite the glutton. Do you really want to eat?
So she waved the fried chicken with her chopsticks, smiling impishly.
W-was that revenge for the pudding incident back then?
And instead, I turned my face aside, looking a little displeased.
—Anyone will be angry about having something taken.
—I’ll return it to you then.
The chopsticks carried the fried chicken to my mouth.
Wait…I saw the fried chicken, and realized the truth.
—…The pudding in the afternoon.
—Did you buy it…just to do this?
Was that why she’s angry that I ate it?
She made a joke with a Cheshire cat grin.
—Now, what’s going on~?
Ahh…thinking back, I just felt chill up my spine.
I got goosebumps, my skin just shivered.
That definitely was the start of it all.
Back then, it was just a lover play that would make anyone smile.
But before I knew it, her feeding me with her chopsticks became a matter of fact.
And then I found myself using my chopsticks increasingly infrequently.
Until—I no longer had my chopsticks before me.
Kogure Kawanami died once.
But why did such a memory remain in my heart?
I woke up, covered in disgusting sweat, and was welcomed by the morning.
…It’s the dream from that time again?
I blocked the sun shining through the gap in the curtain with my hand. I hoped the cooling morning sun could chase away the memory of my nightmare, but it’s really so awful, it felt like a curry stain that just lingered in a corner of my mind.
I rolled my sleeves, checked my arms, and frowned. I had nettle rash, like vines growing on rocks.
It’s horrible to wake up like this.
I gloomily left my room, and found a fried egg wrapped in cling film on the dining table. Next to it was a note reused countless times ‘I’ll be a little late tonight. Settle your own dinner. From mom’.
Again it’s the usual morning.
I was completely awake thanks to the nightmare. I put the bread into the toaster, returned to my room, and changed into my uniform..
I put the toasted bread and cooled eggs into my mouth, dumped the milk into my tummy, went to the toilet, and tidied my appearance.
It was 8.40am by the time I took my bag and left the entrance.
And the moment I reached the corridor, the door next door was opened..
Appearing from there was a girl wearing the uniform of the same high school as me..
There was a shorty, not more than 150cm tall, and she glanced up at me the moment she noticed me.
I too responded with a glare.
The greeting between us was basically a hostile look with some added spice.
The ponytail shook slightly.
And at the same time, I looked away..
We walked in a single file down the corridor without any obstacles. When we arrived at the two elevators, one of them was opened, as though welcoming us in.
I got in.
The shorty girl didn’t.
She took the other elevator that arrived seconds later, and disappeared.
Once the elevator doors closed, a completely sealed room was formed, and I finally relaxed.
I looked up at the low ceiling with the white lights shining down on me, and a heavy, bitter breath came out from my mouth.
—To the ten million guys in the country who wish for a romcom scenario, if you can hear me, don’t forget these words.
Never, ever, date your neighbor childhood friend.
Akatsuki Minami, my neighbour next door, used to be basically family to me.
Most Japanese of this era are like this, but our parents usually weren’t home as they were busy with work, leaving for work early, and arriving home late. It ended up to the point where starting in elementary school, they tasked me to watch the house alone.
And it so happened that there was a kid next door of the same age—
It’d be difficult for us to not be on good terms instead.
Whenever our parents weren’t home, we spent time at each other’s place, playing, chatting, cooking, washing clothes, or basically doing nothing—that’s how we lived for several years.
And then we became middle schoolers.
And puberty happened.
I guess it’s very difficult to not have any romantic interest in her.
And in ninth grade, our relationship changed from childhood friends to lovers.
Well, I did enjoy the initial phase of that period. It’s my first girlfriend after all, the childhood friend whom I lived together with, and had some feelings for.
We were physically so close that we ended up making out 24/7. Whenever we were at home, we were clinging to each other. It was so disgusting that whenever I asked “I want to go to the toilet. Mind moving away?”, she would say something like “Nope. I’ll follow you too.”
But how long could we last in this situation?
I guessed the starting month or so was when I was happy about her clinging onto me like glue? If one were to think about it calmly, it’s annoying when someone’s so clingy just to accompany you to the toilet, right? Logically, if one actually thought about this with a cool head, they should draw a line called privacy, and pull a safe distance before continuing a lover relationship with restraint, right?
But Akatsuki Minami’s dictionary didn’t have the term ‘restraint’.
A month, and two, half a year later, she would continue to harass me all day long, latching onto my arm outdoors, and sitting on my knees whenever we got home.
We used to split chores, but then it ended up with her doing so.
All my meals ended up prepared by her.
My nutrition was micromanaged by her to a 0.1 kcal level.
My clothes every day were chosen by her.
The length of my hair was measured by her to millimeters.
And even when bathing, she not only scrubbed my back, she scrubbed me all over.
I woke up to her “good morning” every morning, and went to sleep with her saying “Good night”.
A meticulous lovey-dovey life? Enough with the nonsense.
I was just being a pet.
To her, I was her boyfriend, but I wasn’t human.
And so my body broke down.
I was hospitalized due to a perforated stomach, and the cause was stress.
I scolded her with all the vicious words I could think of when she came to visit me, and she broke down in tears.
And then, we were no longer lovers.
We were no longer childhood friends.
There’s only a physical condition that bound us, being neighbors.
Do you know that in Japanese, there’s a term that explicitly states this situation.
That’s—a living hell.
The moment I entered the classroom, my classmate Nishimura greeted me.
I would admit to being very social, so even in this Rakurou Private High, I managed to make any acquaintances, many girls in fact, and one of them was Nishimura, whom I talked to more often. (TN: Rakurou is a reference to Rakunan High School in Kyoto. Jouraku, 上洛, is a formal way of saying ‘marching to the capital Kyoto’)
“Oh, Nishimura? Morning…hm? You’re not using your usual shampoo?”
“Eh!? Y-you can tell!?”
“Well, I’ve been sniffing.”
“Ahaha! That’s disgusting ~!”
Nishimura laughed happily as she slapped my shoulder. I too laughed.
Nishimura’s fingers gently passed the tips of her hair.
“…I’m a little happy though.”
Her eyes looked diagonally downwards.
She gently caressed the tip of her hair.
Her lips gently eased.
And most importantly, the ears were red.
The moment I saw this, I shivered, and was engulfed in a frosty chill.
“…So-sorry, I need the toilet.”
“Eh~? You should have gone at home though—”
The unrestrained laugh caused the chills to intensify.
I exerted utmost effort in curbing my reaction, darted out of the room, and entered the guys toilet.
There wasn’t anyone else there in the toilet. I stood before the faucet, and nervously showed my arms in the mirror.
As expected, there was lots of nettle rash.
I turned the faucet, messily washed my face, and rinsed my mouth. It’s just to console myself mentally, but it’s really important. The icy water washed down all the chills and the nettle rash down the drain.
My experience in middle school caused me a great psychological scar.
That scar took the form of a ‘love emotion allergy’ that continued to torment me. It’s like how one would feel rattled by loud noises after returning from a battlefield. I would feel really uncomfortable whenever I could sense any feelings from a girl.
I probably would never fall in love again.
But I wouldn’t complain too much about it.
I was grateful for it instead. After such an experience, and this nature, I realized a truth to life as a high school student.
And that was—the true value of love wasn’t in experience, but in observing.
During noon break, that incident happened.
My classmate and friend Mizuto Irido put a packet of tea on the table of his stepsibling, Yume Irido.
“Now you got nothing to say, right?”
Irido-san stared at him intently in the face of these taunting words.
“…Why are you the one looking displeased? It’s uncomfortable.”
“You don’t want it? Fine, I’ll drink it all.”
Mizuto Irido said, reached for the tea, but before he could touch it, Irido-san hastily took the pack.
“I say, aren’t you forgetting to say something now!”
“…I’m expressing my sincerity here, alright?”
“Express it in words. Words!”
“Aren’t you the one who wouldn’t accept my verbal sincerity?”
Irido fumbled for his uniform pocket, took out three coins, and put them on the table.
A 50 yen coin, and two 10 yen coins. 70 yen in total.
“Here. This is interest.”
“Huh!? Hold up—”
Irido-san called for him, but he ignored her, returned to his seat, and opened his lunch box..
It’s his specialty, the no negotiation barrier.
At this point, even Irido-san couldn’t say anything.
“Let’s go then!”
She flipped her long black hair, looking furious, and left the classroom with her friends.
“What? Something happened?” “Who knows …?”
There were troubled voices in the classroom.
After the commotion near the start of the semester, Mizuto Irido and Yume Irido’s relationship as family made them so untouchable. Mizuto especially was completely aloof. Their grades were ridiculously good, and it’s no wonder that they seemed so unapproachable..
Well, half the reason for that atmosphere was due to me.
To those outsiders, the interaction just now was a headscratcher—but anyone at my level could easily guess the reason for it all.
I approached Irido, who’s eating his bento silently.
“Say…can’t you choose a better way of saying this?”
“…What are you saying?”
Irido answered somewhat rigidly.
Given the words ‘I’ll drink it again’ ‘interest’, it seemed he drank the tea Irido-san bought. It’s a common theme when living under the same roof..
He paid back Irido-san with the tea he drank, along with interest.
“70 yen huh…”
“…What, you’re annoying, Kawanami.”
I realized that I was unwittingly chuckling, and hurriedly covered my mouth.
Interest, 70 yen.
He’s giving her the change.
That tea costs 130 yen at the school’s snack shop—if he paid 200 yen, that’s 70 yen back.
This delicate pretty literature boy hurriedly ran off to the shop once noon break started, right before the tea sold out—all to apologize to Irido-san.
He could have bought that brand of tea at a convenience store, and he could have bought it before he arrived at school. He didn’t do that though, which proved that he was troubled the entire morning, wondering if he should apologize. Because of that, he ended up acting like that at the most critical moment—kuu kukuku!
I munched down my sweet bun for lunch, filled with utter bliss in my heart.
I’m a love ROM (Read-only member).
I’m a guy who lives to see other people’s romances while they’re still yet to mature.
It’s a short career thus far, but till this point, I’ve ‘read’ various pairs—from real life friends to online broadcast channels. Amongst them though—the pair of Mizuto Irido and Yume Irido, tugged most at my heartstrings.
I’ll die happy if I can watch over them, even if I have to whale using the earnings of my part time job. I rather use the money to dress up Irido than to dress up myself, and the payoff of seeing Irido-san’s reaction would be a billion times that.
Ahh, today’s meal is delicious too!
Irido closed his lunch box, suddenly noticed something, and stood up.
What happened? Usually, he should be reading ….
I looked towards the entrance where Irido was walking to.
The warm fuzzy feeling cooled immediately, and I straightened myself.
There’s a girl standing at the door, poking her face in.
There’s no doubt. It’s those uselessly overgrown boobs—it’s Isana Higashira!
That’s the housewrecker who started approaching Irido since last month or so…why are you here? Shouldn’t you be in the library with Irido after school or something!?
As a Mizuto×Yume shipper, I was ashamed to say this, but it seemed it became a habit for Irido and Higashira to meet up after school.
Even I couldn’t interfere with Irido’s daily life, and more importantly, Irido himself would be angry. I could only ignore everything that happened after school—after all, the little interaction after school couldn’t possibly beat the time he would spend with Irido-san in class or at home.
Or so I thought—what’s her deal during noon break?
“What is it, Higashira?”
Irido said to Higashira with a softer tone than when he spoke with Irido. He sounded like he was dealing with a little sister or a relative’s kid, instead of a lover or a friend, or maybe it’s just my bias at work?
“Erm, is that Irido’s girlfriend?” “Ehh, those jugs are big…” “Huh? It’s one thing that he’s living with Irido-san. He has a girlfriend now!?” “Heh~, they seem to be a match though?” “Those jugs are big …”
Shut up you outsiders!? She’s not the girlfriend!! Enough with the presumptuous words!!
But the people involved didn’t seem to have heard the nonsense flying in the classroom.
Higashira looked up at Irido’s face, and fidgeted as she put her hands on her skirt, ruffling it.
“No, erm~…I heard that you’re very disappointed, Mizuto-kun.”
“Me? From who?”
“I was asked to keep it a secret.”
“…Of all the friends you know of, there’s only one who’ll say such things.”
I could imagine a certain woman in my mind.
“I’m not really disappointed though…ahh whatever, I’m done with lunch anyway. Let’s go to the library.”
They continued to chat happily as they went down the corridor towards the library.
I walked out of the classroom, and stared blankly at their backs.
How did this happen…that tea scene should be enough for this break, right? There’s no need for anything unnecessary, right!?
Suddenly, I felt a chill run down my spine.
I turned behind because of it.
Akatsuki Minami was standing there.
She gave a victorious grin.
“What…! In the world are you doing…!?”
I dragged Akatsuki Minami to the back of the school where nobody was around, pinned her little body onto the wall, and stared at her.
Usually, girls would probably be terrified by this, but Akatsuki frowned and pinched her nose.
“Your breath stinks. Stay away from me.”
“Waargh! That’s really disgusting!”
I definitely didn’t skimp on oral hygiene. The bad breath Akatsuki spoke of was a lie, but she shoved me hard on the chest. Of course I couldn’t just back down here.
“You changed plans? You don’t want to marry Irido and be Irido-san’s little stepsister?”
“I haven’t given up on the plan, but to be honest, Higashira-san sounds like a more interesting idea, right? She got dumped, but she has an interest in romance for the first time after confessing, you see?…and furthermore, you figured it out.”
“Hey you! You’re using Higshira to disgust me because I found out about her!? You’re using others as your pawns!”
“I don’t want to hear this from someone who treats others as dolls, you know ~?”
Akatsuki sneered, taking me for a fool, and gave me a cold look.
“That’s disgusting. You’re leering away seeing others like that…what’s so interesting about other people’s love life?”
“It’s always interesting. So what?”
“Love isn’t for viewing, but for experiencing.”
“From you of all people?”
“…Hah. Move aside. I got to support Higashira-san.”
“You think I’ll move aside after hearing that?”
“I got no choice then.”
What? What do you mean you got no choice—but before I could ask, Akatsuki suddenly removed the band on her hair, undid her ponytail. I was confused, wondering what she was doing, but she retied the scattered hair on her shoulder, putting on twintails this time. She took out a pair of glasses from her pocket, and looked completely different. It’s like she’s a librarian this time…
What’s she doing? The moment I had this bad feeling.
Akatsuki yelled for some strange reason, and quickly lowered her head.
…Sorry? What sorry?
Right when my ears were getting all confused, I could hear incessant, annoying chatter.
“Ahhh~” “He failed~?” “Who’s that girl? Never saw her before.”
I could see a few heads poking out from the windows of the building, staring at us.
And then I realized.
It’s a trap!
Akatsuki nimbly ducked under my clutches, and hurriedly fled the scene.
She’s holding a phone in her right hand.
She summoned the spectators. She’s trying to establish it as reality.
She’s labeling me as the guy who got dumped!!
If I gave chase, I would be labelled ‘the bad guy who coerced a girl who rejected him once’. My high school life would be in complete darkness, and it’ll be really difficult to continue observing the Irido siblings nonchalantly, and I can’t stop the fools intending to get between them!
What do I do? What shall I do? Do I let her off now?
My brain cells started working at the maximum speed possible. Numerous neurons started to connect, and I got a divine revelation.
I called for Akatsuki to stop. There were stinging stares from the school campus, but my plan to get her to turn back succeeded.
…If possible, I really didn’t want to do this.
Even I would be hit by the recoil if I did that. Maybe I might be more hurt than before.
But even then…!
I pulled out my phone, showed it to Akatsuki—and smirked fearlessly.
“…Maybe I should delete this after all?”
I pressed the button.
And then—a voice came from the phone.
“Morning, Kokkun♥ We’re going to school again today♥ I’ll prank you if you don’t wake up~?”
Akatsuki wanted to scream to overpower the chocolate honey-like slimey voice coming from the phone.
And a different commotion came from the school building instead.
They’re probably surprised by our relationship.
If the relationship was just that I confessed to her, and she rejected me, then the words she recorded in my phone as an alarm when we were dating wouldn’t possibly exist to begin with!
“Goodness, Kokkun, you really like to fawn around♥ How about a kiss? No choice then, now…chuu ♥”
The black history aired throughout the school campus.
Akatsukis ears were completely red.
The mystified looks turned from me to Akatsuki, and the shorty girl violently stormed towards me.
Akatsuki glared at me.
She grabbed my wrist holding the phone, and dragged me away from the scene.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable…! You didn’t delete that recording after all!!”
“Just in case this happened!”
She insulted me harshly, and I posed like I was the winner.
We’re in another school block, where none of the first years were. The commotion then didn’t reach this place, and there weren’t anyone giving us weird looks.
“Don’t think you can act so easily in front of me. I can hurt myself for the sake of ensuring that those two get together.”
“…Shippers are disgusting.”
“Please call me a love ROM (Read-only member).”
“So I’m the only one hurt here!”
“Not at all.”
I showed Akatsuki my arms below the short sleeves.
The dark red nettle rash covered it completely.
“This happens to me whenever I hear those sickly sweet words of yours. To be honest, I feel like puking now.”
“Geh. You look bad!”
“No no no, stop stop! Swallow it back!”
Akatsuki’s little hand covered my mouth. My lips felt a cold palm, and the nausea worsened. Good thing it just remained in the throat and didn’t go any higher. Safe.
Akatsuki sighed, and went to my side, as though she had given up.
“…I got no choice now…grab my shoulder. I’m bringing you to the infirmary.”
“Don’t feel like puking now! This isn’t romantic in any way!”
“Oh, really…thanks for that …”
“Goodness…you don’t suit the part of a sickly character …”
“Whose fault do you think this is?”
“Okay okay, sorry.”
I used Akatsuki, who’s 30cm or so shorter than me, as a crutch, but it wasn’t too bad. I grabbed her slender shoulder, she wrapped her arm around my waist, and we went to the infirmary.
The nettle rash didn’t show any sign of appearing.
“What? You got the puke stench in your mouth. Don’t talk.”
“Watch out, I may end up puking on your head…say, even if you do manage to ship Irido and Higashira together, what are your plans after that?”
“…What do you mean?”
“You don’t really think you can marry Irido-san herself, right? You’re not going to be happy even if Irido-san’s still single.”
Akatsuki suddenly laughed sarcastically, and sideeyed me.
“What? You worrying about me now?”
“Impossible. The death of that love was on the streets that day…but.”
I weighed my words to be certain that my feelings could reach her precisely and clear.
“I don’t think you’re about to get Irido, so even if you do ship Irido and Higashira together, you don’t really benefit…aren’t you doing, something like, completely meaningless…just my two cents.”
I wasn’t worried about her.
I wasn’t pitying her.
But well…how do I put it. Reluctant to let go…probably.
The cause of it was because of her, but I was the one who chose that outcome…more or less, I realized that I bore some responsibility…
“…Since you can’t really talk, don’t come up with such a vague explanation.”
“Huh? Since when I can’t talk?”
“You only know how to be the smooth talker…but I’m no better at that anyway.”
I went silent.
…I could only talk in the sense that my words were fluent, but every single line was hollow..
She really could say such impressive things once in a while.
“Has the nettle rash subsided?”
I looked at where her finger pointed, my arm, and it’s true that the red rash on the arm disappeared completely. The nausea was gone.
“Ohh…that nonsense of a conversation made me much better. Thanks for sending me here.”
“You’re the one who started this.”
“Yo, play the loser heroine all you like then. Irido’s not going long with that, and Higashira’s definitely not thinking of that.”
“Who’s the loser here!!?”
I deftly avoided the body blow from Akatsuki, and left her side.
Akatsuki looked at me with a huff. What’s with that pouty look? At this point, I wouldn’t think that’s cute even if she looked like that—
And then, the petite body entered my clutches.
My body shivered.
…That’s how she addressed me as the childhood friend.
The head 30cm lower than mine immediately closed in. She tried her best to lift her body and pull her lips closely—Akatsuki muttered.
“(If I really fail—will you give me happiness?)”
My heart immediately went arrhythmic.
Whats with those words—
And before I could express my doubts in words, a shiver spread throughout my body.
“So be it then.”
I winced in agony due to the nausea, and Akatsuki hurried off.
I covered my mouth, lifted my head as I watched the little back, and saw an expression only I, the childhood friend, could understand.
It seemed that I unwittingly touched a sore point.
……Well, at this point, it didn’t matter to me.
I had to spend the fifth in the infirmary, and finally could return to the classroom when the sixth period started.
The moment I entered the classroom, I gave the shorty girl in the class a ‘look, there are some things you shouldn’t do’ expression, but naturally, she ignored me.
And so it was after school, and Irido took his bag, and stood up.
He’s going to meet Isana Higashira at the library. I couldn’t agree at all, but Irido would be fuming if I interfered too much, and I was really hapless.
Seriously…when it rains, it pours.
I endured the urge to let out a long sigh—and at that moment.
Mizuto Irido stood up, passed by Irido-san, and muttered something.
I couldn’t hear.
What reached my ears…was Irido-san’s reply.
“…Couldn’t you have said so right from the beginning?”
I barely managed to keep my waist down.
And I sprawled on the table.
It took me everything to sort out the overwhelming emotions inside me.
You apologized!? Even I forgot about that!! You’re amazing!!!
I lifted my head at the Debbie Downer of a voice.
Akatsuki Minami shot me a frosty look.
Huh!? Don’t get in my way! I’m not calling for you now!!
I really wanted to say that to her, but before I could, Akatsuki looked aside, covering the tip of her ponytail with her fingertips.
“But, well…actually, I shouldn’t have caused you to rest in the infirmary for the entire fifth period …”
She then brought the ponytail to her lips, and said,
“(……I might have, overdone it ……)”
The movement of her lips was shielded from everyone else, and only I heard that whisper of an apology.
My silver tongue couldn’t move at all at that moment.
And then, Akatsuki hurried off.
I could only instinctively watch her leave, like a dog chasing its tail.
—There’s no way to piece together this relationship again.
At this point, we wouldn’t argue with each other even if we ate each other’s pudding. At this point, we probably wouldn’t even feel guilty. It’s a matter of fact to both of us. That’s what we lost, and that’s the relationship the Iridos still had.
It’s not completely pointless after all.
We never got any happiness after all…but it’s not completely meaningless.
“I should be the one apologizing, you idiot.”
—Thanks to that period, we learned to reflect on our actions.