Hellping

   ◆ Mizuto Irido ◆

The day after we set up Kawanami and Minami-san.

The camp’s breakfast was a self-service buffet. Bread, fruits, ham, wieners, various kinds of light snacks were lined up in a row.

I gritted my teeth and resisted the urge to stretch as I put the croissant on my place, only to notice Kawanami freeze up while he was picking up the wiener.

I looked over at where he was looking

And over there was the sight of Akatsuki Minami, walking alongside that Yume..

Like Kawanami, Minami-san too froze up once she spotted him.

It’s to be expected of them I guess—they reacted really quickly. They immediately recovered, and nonchalantly went off in different directions.

Of course, we couldn’t let them off.

“Now where—”“—are you going?”

I grabbed Kawanami’s wrist, and Yume grabbed Minami-san’s.

Kawanami gave me a pleading look, but naturally, I didn’t let go as I yanked him to the table. Yume too dragged Minami-san along, and they sat at the same table.

We saw Higashira seated at the table, so I dumped Kawanami not too far away, while I sat next to Higashira.

Yume positioned Minami-san opposite Kawanami, and she sat opposite Higashira.

Yume smiled, looking please.

“We’ll leave it to you two ‘oungins’.”

“Leaving it to you~.”

Higashira chimed it as she stuffed the wiener into her mouth.

I cut the croissant, put it in my mouth, and side eyed at the expressions of the childhood friends.

Neither of them said anything. They didn’t even look at each other. The act of getting breakfast. They were so quick to get their breakfast, it’s obvious that they wanted to seize any opportunity to flee once they were done.

Why should we allow them to?

“You’re not greeting each other?”

The moment I voiced out, Kawanami and Minami-san’s lips shivered, and they side eyed each other.

“……Morning.”

“……Mornin’.”

“Who are you greeting?”

Striking further was Yume. Given the way she’s smiling, it’s obvious that her curiosity was overflowing.

Kawanami and Minami-san looked on bitterly—but in mere seconds, they responded with smiles, as though they were completely different persons, and greeted each other with cheery voices.

“—Morning, Acchan!”

“—Mornin’, Kokkun♪!”

“Pfft~!”

Next to me, Higashira couldn’t hold back her laughter, and she hunched over, shivering.

Yume covered her mouth with both hands, and at the very least, didn’t laugh out loud.

As for the childhood friends, well, they barely hung on with smiles, but as time passed, I could see Minami-san’s face twitching before me—and finally, she collapsed onto the dining table.

“Let me off already!! Really, let me off!! What is this!? Revenge!? For me going overboard with what I said!?”

Yume and Higashira’s smiles broke into gut-wincing laughter.

Naturally, it wasn’t revenge—it’s 100% goodwill. Well, what certain people think as goodwill can be deemed malicious to others. There are countless such cases out there.

I recalled the moment that started it off.

It was right when summer vacation started—when Yume of all people came to discuss this.

“What do you think of…Akatsuki-san and Kawanami-kun?”

“……Huh?”

It was noon when I heard Yume suddenly raise this question from the living room, so I frowned.

Even if she asked me what I felt about them, I really couldn’t answer anything other than a girl with a loose screw and a guy with a loose screw. That’s not the answer she wanted to hear though.

I pondered a little, and answered her question.

“A girl with a loose screw and a guy with a loose screw.”

“I’m not referring to this! And what’s wrong with them anyway!?”

Not my fault that she couldn’t get the answer even if she tried to think about it—but seriously, what answer was she looking for?

“I mean…those two are childhood friends, right?”

“I guess.”

“They look like they’re on bad terms, but the way they bicker at each other, I think they’re on good terms…actually, I want to know, what exactly…eh, what exactly is their relationship?”

“…So basically, you want to ask if those two can become boyfriend and girlfriend, right?”

“Yes yes yes!”

Ignorance is bliss. I never actually understood their relationship completely, but my guess was that those two were not too different from ours, maybe? But even if we knew this, how could we so naively pair them together as a love conversation—

…No, on second thought, there was one such person. That guy knows about my pain, but he’s just stoking the flames nonchalantly.

“I never expected you to discuss romance with me. Say, you don’t have any friends or something?”

“I don’t want to hear this from you of all people!…And, it’s not a romance issue. It’s just… Akatsuki-san may look like that, but she gets lonely easily. I want to patch her up with her childhood friend at least…”

Gets lonely easily, huh—from what I knew though, her personality was never this innocent..

Their issue was simply theirs alone, and we shouldn’t interfere frivolously—I should have said so, as per the concept of social etiquette…

But wouldn’t this be a good chance?

Wouldn’t this be a good chance for me to get back at that self-professed love ROM (Read-only member) called Kogure Kawanami who always nagged at me to the point where I wondered if I were a game character, to get him to experience how it felt like being ‘read’?

…Yep. That bastard Kawanami should occasionally learn how it feels to be the character read.

When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back at you. I’m definitely going to teach you this.

And before I acted, I decisively started my investigation.

I nonchalantly mustered a reason to visit the Kawanamis, and fished out various stories between him and Minami-san.

All he spoke of were crimes that caused me to shiver, but in any case, it seemed those two were once so close—they were practically siblings.

My target then was to ‘get the two of them to remember the relationship they once had’.

It would also get them to remember the black history they once had. Killing two birds with one stone.

The problem was, how would we do it? What could we get them to do to get them to remember their past—

At this moment, it’s usually the expert who would step in.

“That’s how it is, help us out here, Higashira.”

“I’m not some expert on childhood friends though…”

Higashira laid on my bed, my knees as her pillow as she flipped to the next page.

“Eh? Anyway, Minami-san and that frivolous guy are childhood friends?”

“In fact, yes. They insist that they aren’t close at all now though.”

“Haaa~…so there really are so called childhood friends in this world.”

“Why do you make it sound like any relationship is a legend to you.”

“Well, if we’re going by how I only heard about it, that is a legend.”

“Oh? So what kind of characteristics do you think childhood friends have?”

“Hm~ it’s useless even if you ask what kind of creatures they are. This is reality after all. Lemme think, like say…they had a marriage promise when they were young and innocent, or something?”

“If they made such a promise back then, they probably forgot all about it now.”

“Don’t say such things that ruin dreams!”

Higashira flailed her legs about, so I patted her head to console her.

“…And also, if we’re talking about stuff that may appear in reality…nicknames, of course.”

“Nicknames?”

“Those two address each other by family names now, but if they were on familial terms, isn’t that weird? It’s easy for them to mix them up with their parents.”

Bullseye. In fact, Yume and I addressed each other by name at home.

“And since they grew up together since childhood, it’s not weird to think that they would address each other with adorable nicknames, right? It’s the case for the protagonist and the heroine in the light novel I’m reading now.”

“Hm…so we need to figure out a way to revive the usage of nicknames.”

To be honest, I just asked in the spur of the moment, but I unexpectedly got a decent suggestion.

Nickname, huh—maybe we could think of an idea from this alone.

“Thanks, Higashira. We might need your help in the future…”

“It’s fine. As long as I chuck that frivolous guy aside with Minami-san, you’ll be mine alone, Mizuto-kun!”

“My rental fee’s really high.”

“We’re talking money here!?”

So, using the penalty game as an excuse, I thought of a way to get them to address each other by their nicknames.

I got Higashira to nonchalantly mention the game center to Kawanami, leading him on, and before we executed the plan, I discussed the entire plan with Yume.

“But your plan needs Akatsuki-san and Kawanami-kun to lose though? What are you planning?”

“I got an idea. Leave it to me.”

“Well I do, but…”

And so, everything was keikaku doori.

Kogure Kawanami and Akatsuki Minami shall revert as childhood friends during this camp.

“Things are proceeding smoother than I thought.”

Yume said while still unable to rein in her laughter.

It was during the break before class, after breakfast. Kawanami and Minami-san were completely had, and scattered off. Seeing those two  adaptable ones take such a physical measure, I understood then that the plan worked way beyond our imaginations.

We were at a corner of the grand hotel lobby, and intended to discuss our future plans.

“…But what’s with that?”

Once she started, Yume digressed.

“That?”

“Erm, that…”

Yume gently cupped her shoulder.

But well, I knew even without her asking—she was referring to how I nonchalantly grabbed her shoulder nonchalantly all to get Kawanami and Minami-san penalized.

“It’s as you see.”

I flatly answered.

“It’s the simplest, most effective method to give rise to the optimal outcome, considering all possibilities and costs, that’s all.”

“…I really hope you didn’t grab my shoulder while planning anything else.”

“Sorry about that.”

I gave Yume a rare sincere apology, and she averted her eyes with a humph, looking somewhat displeased. I just apologized for grabbing your shoulder. What are you unhappy about? Huh?

I purged this trivial detail to the corner of my mind, reverted back to our future plans, and the displeasure on Yume’s face slowly faded.

“But yeah…we should watch over them for a bit. It’s the first time I saw Akatsuki-san like that.”

“Pfft.” Yume couldn’t hold in her strange laughter as she said. It’s like Higashira, and now her, suddenly became Kawanami or something.

“And then…how about we try to get them alone? If we get them to be alone together now, it’ll be really awkward. Maybe we need to lead them on a little more, and once it warms up …”

Yume covered her mouth with a gently closed fist, and mumbled as she started to think.

For me, it didn’t matter if we let them be, but since she didn’t know how dangerous Minami-san could be—I should keep my eyes on them.

Seriously…being a love ROM (Read-only member) is unexpectedly hard.

Say Kawanami, what is it about Yume and I that is worthy of your effort?

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

Is this divine retribution?

Is this retribution for me wanting to marry Irido-kun, wanting to pair him with Higashira-san, and play everyone else like a damn fiddle?

“…K-Kokkun, what’s for next period?”

I should be used to greeting him like this. There’s no reason why I should be nervous.

Yep. After all, that’s how we addressed each other in our younger days—there’s nothing to be awkward about this.

But.

“Minami-chan, did you just call Kawanami, ‘Kokkun’?”

“Ugh.”

That was the first thing Nasuka-chan said right after class ended, and I ended up making a sound as though my stomach was trampled on.

Maki-chan so happened to be nearby, and her eyes sparkled as she closed in.

“I heard that I heard that! I didn’t mishear that, right? Are you two dating?”

“We’re not dating! This is, well, a penalty game……”

“A penalty game to use nicknames? Did you two get involved in a mixer or something?”

“Ahh~. I was wondering where you went last night ~.”

“Who would hold a mixer during the camp!”

I saw Maki-chan giggle, Nasuka-chan tilted her head, looking confused.

“You say this is a penalty game, but it sounds so familial to me?”

“Yep yep yep. Besides the way you address each other, I get the feeling that the mood around you two has become softer.”

“Arggh~! That’s why I kept my voice down! I was worried about that! These walls have ears …!”

“I think you two match each other though?”

“Same here ~. Kawanami might look very frivolous, but I think you should be able to deal with him, Akki.”

“Maybe those two might be sickening sweethearts when together, you know?”

“Ahh~, that too! That’s so moe!”

Those two were in complete delusion mode as they yapped away, and I had to cover my ears.

Gentler mood? Sweethearts?

How’s that possible? That me was dead.

Is it really possible…that a dead person can revive just by addressing others by nickname?

◆ Kogure Kawanami ◆

“…I’m tired.”

The moment morning classes ended, I was completely drained of energy.

Damn it, I wanted to prevent others from hearing it, but these walls have ears everywhere. Is it really that interesting to address someone by nickname!

I’d definitely eat alone for lunch. It’s a pity that I wouldn’t be able to see the Iridos, but I had to avoid being in the same situation with her like breakfast. If everyone was to see us eating together comfortably for lunch …!

Unlike the self-service buffet, the hotel lunch was based on register number. I was ‘ka’, and she’s ‘mi’, so we shouldn’t be at the same table—usually.

“…Why are you here?”

“…………”

I stared intently at the shorty girl seated opposite me.

Akatsuki turned her face aside, remaining silent, her face clearly showing how unhappy she was…it seemed this wasn’t what she wanted.

I looked at the seat she should be sitting at, but the girl who should be before me was seated there, smiling.

……I see. It seemed everyone was in on the act, huh?

I sat on the chair, and tapped the table to get Akatsuki’s attraction.

“(Oy, this is bad. Looks like this won’t end even after camp is over.)”

“(Well you and I were both the bullies. I guess it’s coming right back at us.)”

“(We can bet that they’ll forget during summer vacation …)”

“(Maybe for the guys, but the girls won’t forget. Absolutely not.)”

“(Looks like we have to put an end to this during this camp.)”

“(Ahh goodness. Come on, who’s the scaredy cat …!)”

Akatsuki took a deep breath, and seemed to have made up her mind.

I too gritted my teeth, and ordered my own body.

—We’re starting with our own play. Don’t be mistaken.

And once lunch started, the expected situation happened.

“Huh ~? Minami-san, you’re not going to go ‘ahh’ with your Kokkun ~?”

A certain girl yapped away, somewhat jokingly of course. She probably didn’t mean anything bad, and was just trying to tease. If Akatsuki showed any look of shame, this skit would get worse. Worst case scenario, this would end up as a ‘to be continued’ moment until the next semester.

We had to avoid this.

Let’s get this done as a one-off skit, and put an end to this.

And so—so what if I had to sacrifice a little?

Time to abandon all my shame on this trip!

“—Here, Kokkun. Ah~❤”

“Ahhh~”

Akatsuki handed over her spoon without hesitation, and I put it in my mouth without hesitation.

We smiled at each other, spoke with an extremely cheesy tone—and pushed ourselves to the limit as we replicated the embarrassing past sealed in our minds.

Once they saw this, the guys around us went all “Woah~” “Wew wew~!” and all the catcalls happened. Good good, not bad.

“How about it, Kokkun? Does it taste good~?”

“Hm~. Your cooking’s bad though!”

“Ahhh~. You never ate it though!!”

“Ack!!”

And while my foot got stomped on, laughter erupted around us. This damn woman, it hurts. She just hit me for real!

If I acted all embarrassed and fidgeted about, or even stammer away, that would spoil the show.

Let’s just go with the flow.

Let’s go with the flow, make sure nobody could get our true feelings, and end this skit at that moment, a one-time use item!

“Here, Acchan. Try this. Ahhh ~.”

“Ehh~. It’s a little unbearable though~♪ “

“Why!?”

“Kokkun, your smell is a little ~♪ “

“Don’t take advantage of this situation to spite me!!”

We acted like a stupid couple during lunch period, and riled up everyone to the best we could.

Thanks to that, probably.

Nobody really noticed that we finished our meals using each other’s spoons.

“You sure showed me something.”

After lunch ended, I was about to head to the toilet when Irido gave me a stoic look.

“I never thought you could avoid that in that manner. This is the first time I think you’re amazing.”

“…Heh, I said that we’re really sociable people, you know?”

“‘What they call being sociable is just grouping those who aren’t that sociable together such that they look to be on good terms’—huh.”

He actually remembered what I told him when he stayed over at my place.

“We don’t want the rumors to spread that far—we were worried about what would happen, but it looks like we’re worrying too much.”

“Yeah. Both of us aren’t as innocent as a certain person who could spend an entire day just fidgeting about. That’s a pity.”

Once I said that, Irido smiled for some reason.

“Well, even though you two are just fooling around, I guess you two are the only ones who can flirt with each other so openly.”

“Yes yes.”

I nonchalantly hid my hands behind me.

“Sorry. Mind letting me off here? My balls will burst.”

“Ahh, sorry. In more ways than one.”

I bade farewell to Irido, and hurried to the guys toilet.

Once I was sure nobody was around, I went to the urinal at the wall—not.

I turned the faucet, grabbed some water, and splashed it onto my face.

“…Damn it. I already said this wasn’t funny …”

It’s all just a prank, just a skit, a complete lie—there’s no reason for me to have any actual emotions to this.

But.

Kogure Kawanami, Kogure Kawanami, what’s with the nettle rash on your arms now—?

…Why were the creatures called humans so devoid of freedom? I knew that very well, I reminded myself over and over again, but just replicating the matter caused the old me to actually resurface.

I should have put an end to that past. I completely purged it. Or so I thought. I still couldn’t erase it from my mind—and more importantly, she showed that calm look …

I remembered the saying was, that guys remember, and girls overwrite?

In that case, my data should be completely gone from her memory…I’m so envious.

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

It’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing it’s embarrassing!!

I ran back to my empty, hopped onto the bed, and rolled about.

I did that in front of everyone…! Even the ahhh! Sounded so sweet!! Woooahhhh!! No no no no no, I should have graduated from that already!! Don’t make me remember it again!!

Just kill me…and erase everything I just did…ahhh, I finally managed to develop my high school life like this…

To be honest, even though I was so embarrassed, why was he able to act like nothing happened? That’s unfair, isn’t it? He didn’t even have any of that nettle rash! No matter how clingy I might act, he’s completely numb to me, right!?…When we first started dating, he would blush without warning…!

I bit at my pillow, feeling really frustrated, and the door opened.

“Akatsuki-san…? Thank goodness you’re here …”

“Ah…Y-Yume-chan?”

The moment I saw the soft flowing black hair, I hurriedly got up from the bed, and hid the pillow I gnawed behind me.

Yume-chan looked very apologetic as she looked down, saying to me,

“Erm…sorry. I didn’t think things would get out of hand…”

“Eh? Ahh, ahh~…it’s fine, it’s fine! This is very normal, very!”

“Is that so…?”

I wouldn’t have found it strange if she teased me like she did this morning. Yume-chan’s really a good kid. Haa~,  I like her. I want to be with her forever. The frustration Kokkun caused me is being purified by Yume-chan’s cuteness….

“Yeah~. It’ll be suspicious if I suddenly don’t do anything now. Let’s just keep calling him that throughout camp. I’m used to playing this character now. Well, Kokkun’s feeling the same too, right? Ahaha!”

“……Kokkun?”

“Eh? What?”

“No…I’m saying that you don’t have to call him that when he’s not around.”

“…Ah.”

I messed up.

“…………”

“D-don’t leer away just because you heard that, Yume-chan! I-I just didn’t think it through …!”

“Yep—fufu. You really didn’t think it through—pffffffttttt! So-so you two used to address each other like that…! Pfffkukukukuku!”

“Eh…!?”

H-how did she know that’s how we called each other…?

Yume-chan’s hand clenched as she brought it to her mouth, and she finally managed to rein in her laughter,

“After all, the moment we suggested to address each other by nicknames, you two started going all ‘Kokkun’ and ‘Acchan’, didn’t you—nobody told you to do that! Ahahaha!”

…That’s the worst mistake ever……!!

I buried my face into the pillow, and sensed that Yume-chan approached the bed.

“It’s not a bad thing, isn’t it? You can use this chance to address each other like before. That’s more like being childhood friends.”

“We’re not childhood friends!!”

“Don’t say something that makes you feel lonely …”

“…Say, Yume-chan.”

I buried my face into my pillow, and hushed my voice towards Yume-chan.

“Even if our relationship used to be good, it doesn’t mean that it’ll continue forever, you know? There are childhood friends who experience various setbacks and turmoil, and break the bonds between them.”

“But Akatsuki-san, you’re still able to talk to Kawanami-kun, and negotiate with each other, right? Your bond hasn’t been severed, has it?”

“…………Yeah, that’s right.”

“In that case, I think it’s a pity to immediately reject him …”

…To be honest, our relationship back then might be at a point where we could have slashed each other.

We’re neighbors, we’re just kids who can’t move away on our own, we’re students who can’t change our preferred schools. We’re childhood friends.—that’s why we kept the chance to meet again, that’s all.

…It’s not too late, right …?

If I could remain with him as a childhood friend, and accompany him like a lover.

……Can I still make it..?

◆ Yume Irido ◆

“Yume-san, Listen to me!”

Self study period, Higashira-san rushed towards me with vigor.

It’s a self-study period, but it’s not exactly free time, so there were teachers present to answer students’ questions. The teachers’ busy dealing with other students though, and we wouldn’t be scolded for any private chatter.

Given how she said, listen to me, it seemed she’s not talking about the lessons themselves.

“What is it, Higashira-san?…you look rather happy?”

“Ehe. Ehehehe. Not at all though? Ehehehe!”

Higashira-san’s facial muscles  were relaxed. That dumb smile was of one who aced an exam—or like one who succeeded with her confession.

How’s that possible? The moment I thought of that, Higashira-san asked.

“Actually, my classmates just asked me ~.”

“Eh? Asked what?”

“They asked me, ‘are you dating Irido-kun of class 7?’!”

I gasped.

Higashira-san ignored my situation as she continued on, her hands pressing her beaming cheeks.

“Ehe, ehehe. Do you look like lovers here~? Now this is a bother~! Ehehe! Even though this isn’t the case! Eheheheh!”

Look how happy she is. Even I started to feel happy looking at her. This feeling merged together with a strange anxiety that arose, and gave rise to a complicated ripple within me.

“…But well, you two are always together, so it’s only a matter of time…until such rumors occur. I’m a little surprised that you two are the target this time, since you aren’t exactly the type to stand out …”

“Actually, Mizuto-kun’s unexpectedly popular, you know? “

“Eh?”

What did she just say?

“Maybe it’s because he scored first for the midterms~? ‘He’s really smart, and looking closely, he does have a cute face!’ the girl who asked if we’re dating told me that. And she said ‘you’re on such good terms with Irido-kun, I’m so envious’…ueehehehe!”

Higashira-san smiled, clearly having let this get to her head.

I-I see…well….I did have this position since I entered this school as the top ranked. And since he got first in the midterms, it’s no wonder that he gained some popularity from the girls…

Eh? Popular? Him?

The fact laid before me was something I had difficulty accepting. Quite a few girls fancy him? No, given how he acts, he’s going to dump anyone who confesses. No no no, everyone else think he and Higashira-san are a couple, so confessing is—

“A-and so? Higashira-san…how did you answer?”

I asked, driven by an unknown sense of anxiety, and the smile appeared brighter.

“I did explain to her clearly. I told her ‘we aren’t dating’.”

“O-of course.”

“’We aren’t dating, we’re just ordinary friends on better terms than that’”

“Are you some actress revealing a love bombshell!?”

She’s basically announcing it! Nobody’s ever going to take her words for it, 100%!

The smile remained on Higashira-san’s face,

“But well~…I felt, a little, erm…good about it …”

“You’re completely carried away, right!? Don’t bluff me here!”

“But I’m not lying. I just explained it, like, I’m announcing my marriage or something…is there a problem?”

“There…isn’t one.”

If others would assume that Higashira-san was Mizuto’s girlfriend, the girls wouldn’t try to approach him, and it’s easier for him…that might be a good thing instead.

“If others think it’s this kind of relationship, that’s really effective.”

Higashira-san continued to smile as she doodled a corner of her notebook.

“I don’t really love Mizuto-kun, but when everyone else says this, I end up acting like a girlfriend. I think those two grew up together in the same environment.”

“Those two?”

“Minami-san and that frivolous guy. They’re childhood friends, boy and girl, you know? My guess is that people around them always teased them since they were kids.”

“…Yeah. I hoped that they would have such a relationship. That’s why I planned this …”

“I guess those without any childhood friends are envious to some extent.”

Higashira-san said “I’m done.”, put her mechanical pencil onto the table. Drawn on the corner of the notebook were a boy and a girl, smiling and chatting with each other through a window—‘a pair of childhood friends living close to each other’, probably. Nice art…

“It’s like how those without little sisters admire characters with little sisters. It’s rarer to see childhood friends of different genders though, compared to little sisters—I guess that’s the relationship everyone thought between them. Since everyone hopes for them to be like this, maybe they had some idea to respond to it.”

“Yeah. But whether they can really use this chance to develop into the relationship childhood friends have in manga, then…they’re still fictional characters after all, right? Like maybe, they just had that stupid couple act, and nobody’s really going to think that they’re actually anything more than that …”

“If that’s really the case, are they just acting when they addressed each other by their nicknames?”

I went silent…we hoped that they’ll just feel embarrassed about the nicknames, and get them to realize their own feelings. Why if they were just responding to our hopes without meaning anything else …?

“There’s one way to be sure though.”

Higashira-san ignored me while I was silently, and fingered her own doodle.

“—The childhood friends in reality definitely aren’t like that. Doesn’t feel like a dream though.”

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

If I were to say that I never had any illusions about a relationship between childhood friends, I’d be lying.

I always saw such similar scenes in manga and anime. Two people living in neighboring houses, growing up together like siblings, having lots of wonderful memories, and so attracted once I grew up—I did have such an ideal before, and all the wishes cluttered together. It’s called the wonderful dream of a childhood friend.

That’s the relationship Kokkun and I had.

The so-called childhood friends were unique existences becoming reality through the wishes and dreams of many people, who went all ‘that looks good~’—please tell me if there really are different gendered childhood friends who don’t think so. I will destroy that illusion of yours.

Actually, reality’s not exactly half different from fiction…

Everyone’s finding their own position in life. Leaders, pranksters, kid generals, class reps, and so on. We’re all playing roles we know, and we recognize others through the characters others play, saying lines not too different from the actors on TV or Vtubers, trying to get the mood to talk ….

That was how I knew Kokkun, through the character of a childhood friend.

I never could differentiate between fiction and reality, and always believed that my relationship with Kokkun wasn’t different from the extremely romantic ones commonly seen in manga and anime.

And that’s why—I did those things.

We’re childhood friends, we’re destined to be a match. No matter what I did, Kokkun would naturally accept me, understand me…that’s the misunderstanding I once had in my heart..

I knew. I really knew. I was a fool. But, but then…

I really did that…because I wanted Kokkun to be happy.

That’s really it.

So…please, believe me.

…Trust me, okay….

—Stop joking around. Like hell I believe you!! You know what you did to me, you imbecile!? You dared to say such words. Did your brains get flushed through or something!? Ah yeah of course it did!! Otherwise you would have prepared chopsticks for me before we ate, and you would have allowed me to go to the convenience store, or that rumors would spread just because I was alone with a girl while on duty!! Yeah yeah it’s all my fault, my fault, okay!? Damn you rotten girl, you fell for me just because we’re childhood friends!! Huh!? What’re you crying for!? I’m the one who wants to cry!! Return me the time you took from me already!!

◆ Kogure Kawanami ◆

For me, I wasn’t the kind of person to lack friends ever since I was aware of my surroundings.

I could naturally converse with others, get along, and didn’t really need to pay attention to my words. I didn’t know what fear was, what being shy was about, but in any case, it’s like no matter where I was, who I faced, I could deal with them as easily as I breathed. I was naturally born with this nature, the confidence to get along with others no matter where I was, and I didn’t have to work hard for it.

In hindsight, that might be a survival tactic.

There’s one thing I vaguely remembered. When I was a baby, I saw my mom coax me to sleep, and she let out a sigh before I fell asleep.

The memory stood out too much, and I wondered if it was a dream. It caused me to set a goal in life, somewhere deep in my soul.

I had to be strong enough to survive alone.

I had to avoid having others sigh for me.

It’s too natural to be a mere obsession. It was ingrained in my fundamentals, the synthesis of my soul, and directed my etiquette.

Thus, I wouldn’t feel lonely even at an unfamiliar place. Sometimes, when I was alone, I would be proud, thinking that I really was a lonely person.

But when I was with Acchan, there’a feeling of comfort.

It’s a little ridiculous since I said I never felt restless, but I felt that whenever I was with Acchan, I felt that every part of my heart found a place it belonged to.

—Acchan will definitely stay by my side, even if I don’t try to get along with her.

—Acchan will definitely stay by my side, even if I don’t work hard for it.

— Acchan will definitely stay by my side, even if I don’t say anything.

I felt completely comforted whenever I thought about this, as though I found a save point in a game.

Even though it was just mere arrogance.

“Oh.”

“……Ah……”

It’s break time, during the afternoon lessons. I left my seat for the toilet, and bumped into Akatsuki in the corridor.

I nonchalantly averted my eyes from her face.

There weren’t any other students around, and we didn’t have to continue with our stupid couple charade. Of course, I didn’t need to go with the old nickname ’Acchan’.

Ahh, that should be the case, but—what’s with this mood?

The back of my head went numb, and I was restless. I wanted to run away, but at the same time, the hesitation actually showed up.

It’s all the Iridos’ fault that we’re back to addressing each other in the manner we did the last time. The distance I finally set from Akatsuki was suddenly closed up again.

We broke up in a harsh manner. The bond we had for almost ten years was tangled in a mess, but even then, I didn’t want others to be worried about us. I never mentioned to anyone about Akatsuki, even to my parents. I even dismissed the stomach hole as stress preparing for the exam.

And Akatsuki, whom I could never have reunited with again, acted as though nothing happened to anyone else, and went on as normal—fortunately or not, I too had the ability to do so.

What they call being sociable is just grouping those who aren’t that sociable together such that they look to be on good terms.

Both she and I had the ability to do this—that’s why we appeared to be on peaceful terms, until this day.

But I never expected that…everything we worked hard for broke so easily.

The work we carefully crafted was torn apart by mere nicknames. At this point, I didn’t know what expressions I should use when facing her.

Go back to how it was before? I couldn’t.

Do what I did yesterday? I couldn’t.

At this point, I couldn’t figure out the character I should use against her, no matter how I looked through.

I couldn’t even think of a way to greet her. I ruffled the numb back of my head, and could only look around instead. I was frustrated about myself.

And then, a teeny weeny, worried voice reached my ear.

“……W-what are you panicking about?”

The narrowed eyes and harsh look appeared to be taunting me—but her voice clearly quivered, sounding troubled.

Akatsuki’s character was a mere hollow of the one she crafted to deal with me over the past months.

And this hollow was cracked all over, so unbearably tattered. Despite that, Akatsuki continued to attack me.

“That, was, just a joke, right?…If you’re embarrassed, just because of this little thing, that’s …”

“N-not at all. But, well, when I think about how even when nobody’s around, Acchan—”

“Acchan?”

“Ah, no! That was…I didn’t flip the switch—”

“No, erm, I don’t really mind. It’s just a penalty game after all. Hm?”

Her tone wasn’t as decisive as it was before, and was so troubled and hesitant. I guess she’s like me, not knowing how to deal with me. The stone cold wall she personally built showed cracks, so she could only try to bluff with the true feelings leaking through. That’s how she was, and so was I. It’s like how a boy and a girl, so synchronized in thoughts, made the same decision, that we returned to the past again, back to the time before we were dating—

—But, why?

“Well…oh yeah. If you’re really used to calling me like this, our classmates might overhear us…if the rumors escalate any further …”

You feel the same here? You feel awkward too? Look at you, that’s what you think too, right?

But—why was I feeling calm?

Why didn’t the nettle rash show up?

Why was my usual sensitive allergy so silent at this point?

And why—why were your words so feeble?

“Say, you’re troubled too, right? Actually, Yume-chan too thinks that if things get out of hand—”

Ahhh—, this is stupid.

“Yeah. It’ll be troublesome if things escalate. I’ll take note.”

“……Eh?”

“I’ll be troubled if Irido-san feels guilty too. You too, pay attention.”

It’s so stupid, ridiculously stupid. What was I fooling around for? Seriously, what game was I playing again?

Could we really have the relationship Mizuto Irido and Yume Irido have?

That’s different. Ours wasn’t as sweet and sour as theirs, and not something worthy of being admired. Ours was just crude, inferior, rusted, hopeless debris.

Why was I being affected by them?

We couldn’t have a repeat of that again.

“That’s it then. I’ll be going to the toilet.”

I gently waved my hand, and brushed by Akatsuki.

It’s too easy for me to do it, I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t stop. My heart didn’t rumble, and didn’t feel restless. Seriously…it’s relieving, and easy.

“Hey…wait…!”

“What?”

I stood, and turned back. After all, since I was called, I should turn back, right?

We’re not arguing after all.

Akatsuki opened her mouth, and wanted to say something, but she couldn’t say anything at all.

And so, she could only show a façade of a smile on her face.

“Nothing♪ Just kidding ♪”

“Woah, that’s disgusting.”

“Huh ~!?”

We smiled at each other, and turned away from each other, feeling calm.

“…Haa.”

I didn’t know who let out this sigh that entered my ears.

It’s really…stupid.

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

Trust me.

—I know I don’t have any right to say this.

Could I still make it? How naive was I?

We appeared to be back to the past, but at this point, we’re completely different creatures from before.

“…Haa.”

We were so happy back then.

When we were in elementary school—those days, I hadn’t thought about becoming his girlfriend.

Back then…I was… really happy…….

◆ Kogure Kawanami ◆

It’s the last night of the three days and two nights study camp.

We were assigned free time during this time. The school actually allowed us to go out, and it seemed preplanned that there was a shrine festival held near the hotel.

It’s clearly saying that ‘the school’s not going to organize a recreation activity to cheer you up, so just go enjoy yourselves at the festival, but you bear responsibility for your own actions’, basically.

It didn’t matter. For us, it’s a lot better than forcing us to study during our precious summer vacation—actually, it’s a good chance to invite out boys and girls for a summer festival date.

There’s no way I could let this opportunity slip.

I initially planned to invite the Iridos out to the festival.

This festival’s famous for the ridiculously large torch fireworks. These fireworks were bamboo torches received from the staff, held in the clutches, and the flames would fly into the sky, causing a fire shower. I heard that depending on the skills, some could shoot up to at least 10 meters. It’s definitely powerful and amazing. It’s a rare opportunity, so it’s not surprising why people would be invited to look at them.

Of course, those two wouldn’t want to go alone even if I planned so, so it’s time for the old tricks.

The five people who played that game would just go together.

Once we could lead them into the crowds, it’ll be my court next. I’ll pretend to lose them and get them alone. Our phones were confiscated, so it’s really difficult to regroup.

And so we left the hotel, and walked down the unfamiliar streets of the night.

“Ohohoho~♪”

“Too bad I don’t have a doggy translator here. What’s with that sound anyway, Higashira?”

“It means ‘it’s my first time going out at night with friends for the first time. I’m so excited~!’!”

“…Just to ask, are you confident in your sense of direction?”

“Don’t underestimate me. The area with no hills is the South, right?”

“That’s only a rule to be used in Kyoto. This is Shiga. Don’t get lost, okay?”

Unexpectedly, things progressed smoothly.

I thought Irido would realize my intentions and be unhappy about it, but I didn’t expect him to accept without another word—was he planning to go out with Irido-san to begin with? Was he waiting for an invitation?

I covered my mouth with my hand. Usually, I could control my expressions, but really, I couldn’t do so when I was having such happy delusions.

I could see Rakurou students everywhere in the night, but they were all dressed in casual clothes. Rumors had it that there were a few bold warriors who brought yukatas into the camp hotel, but it didn’t seem like such people appeared this time.

“Ahh~, I really want to see Yume-chan in yukata~. Shall we go to a festival together once we’re back in Kyoto?”

“Sounds good. The Gion Matsuri ended, but there are still chances to visit festivals.”

Akatsuki and Irido-san chatted happily as they walked in front of us. Irido might have reflected on his actions because of how things went overboard this morning—they didn’t try to drag us out and pair us together like they did in the morning.

I got saved. If anyone noticed us touring the festival together, those rumors would get out of hand…I had no confidence that I could remain calm.

“We’ll visit the festival later. Are you coming along, Higashira-san?”

“Eh? Ah, sure. Can I …?”

“You just need to wear a yukata! Do you know that you can’t wear underwear under the yukata?”

“Eh? That’s not a rumor …?”

“Just a rumor just a rumor~!”

“Akatsuki-san, enough with the lewd ideas. Higashira-san’s almost going to prepare herself for something weird.”

“I-it’s about my boobs after all, right!? It’s all just because of my body, isn’t it!?”

Higashira-san scampered towards Akatsuki in a huff.

The two guys Irido and I were left behind, and it got quiet.

“—Kawanami. Did something happen between you and Minami-san?”

It seemed he asked just to kill the time, and I answered before I actually thought about it.

“No? Why do you ask?”

“Nothing. Just thought of it.”

“What do you mean anyway?”

Haha, so I laughed it off, but Irido’s expression didn’t change.

“If you think that’s good, I don’t mind. I’m just the ROM today. I won’t interfere.”

Irido said, and hurried off towards where Akatsuki and the others were.

……Didn’t you already interfere much with your words? 

There’s nothing to complain about. That’s just a mistake, a misunderstanding. It’s just, me…being all delusional, right?

Since young, I set a rule for myself to never bother others, to never cause trouble for others. This was the basic character of me, Kogure Kawanami.

But…there was once when I felt a certain person was an exception.

For that one person, there wasn’t a need to play the character I designed for myself, and that I could be myself without being that character—there was one person I should deal with using my true self.

It’s really hurtful.

After all, I was the only one who thought so—

“Anyway, you should wear thinner clothes~! Your boobies specimens are crying ~!”

“Hyaaah~!? Wait, swiper no swiping! Swiper no swiping!!”

“Speaking of which, you’re dressed rather modest today, Higashira. The last time you visited my house, you only wore a tanktop under your parka.”

“Eh!? Wait, it was that thin under that parka!?”

“Woah, we got a woman wearing such revealing clothes in front of a guy.”

“This is slander! I-I may look like this, but I do sort between indoor and outdoor clothes!”

“No, Higashira-san, you can’t exactly visit a guy’s place while wearing indoor clothes.”

Akatsuki laughed happily as she fooled around with Irido and the others.

That smile on your face is just a character, right? That’s just a fake personality to go along with the mood, a fake smile. I always thought you’re the only one I could show my true self to, yet you always mislead others with the character you show to others. That’s why I never was able to see your true colors—

—Even so.

Another person in my heart started to refute.

Even so, even so.

Look at that smile. Hear the laughter. At least—

That’s better than when she cried in the ward room.

That’s better than when she quietly stopped being disappointed.

—She’s a lot happier now, isn’t she?

“……………………………………”

I looked up at the night.

The pretty moon was like a dream, so dazzling.

◆ Yume Irido ◆

We arrived at the summer festival, and I started to recall my first date.

I fell behind, got lost, gave up…and he found me.

Yes, he found me—and before then, I thought nobody in this world could notice my presence. In hindsight, the feeling I had back then was that I really felt that I was ‘found’.

I guessed that was when it started. I decided not to disguise myself, and gave up being my perfect self in front of him. I wanted to establish a world for two, between Yume Ayai and Mizuto Irido.

But the longer we continued at the dating status, the more obsessed we were about the term ‘lovers’, and tried to be ‘ordinary lovers’—but that meant that we couldn’t remain as our true selves.

Ahh, so I thought.

I realized then how difficult it was to maintain a natural, family-like relationship, for years.

The existences called childhood friends were already a miracle by themselves, right?

“Ah! It’s starting Yume-chan!”

Akatsuki-san pointed forward at a guy dressed in Happi, standing on a concrete bridge. By his feet was a large firework tube, lying flat and facing the surface of Lake Biwa.

Whoosh—! The sound rang, and the numerous dazzling, flashy, fireworks were fired at the lake. The man in Happi lifted it, and the fireworks flew towards the night sky like a mountain.

“Ahh—!”

I sideeyed Akatsuki-san while she cried out.

Akatsuki-san’s an important friend to me, and even when we graduate from high school, I wanted to maintain this relationship with her. I didn’t think it’s anything difficult, and she too surely felt the same.

And because of this, I felt I couldn’t replace that.

Just like how he seemed to me, and how he seemed to Higashira-san—the ‘him’ to Akatsuki-san was already decided a long time ago.

After all—Akatsuki-san only ever badmouthed him alone.

With a loud sound, the flames flying to the night sky disappeared into the darkness, and spread.

Once the lights vanished, the sky was engulfed in darkness once again, and I couldn’t get my bearings.

—Then, someone tugged at my shirt.

Ahh, why? I didn’t look back, but I already knew who it was. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone else in this world who was so adept at finding me.

“——, ————”

A little whisper.

I smiled.

I started to be a little jealous of Akatsuki-san.

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

The second tube of fireworks was lit, and light danced in the night sky again.

I continued to listen to the cracking flames, and glanced aside at Yume-chan’s face. The pretty face was shone upon by the flames, showing a clear shadow.

I didn’t know why I was so fond of Yume-chan either.

Maybe it’s because she’s so adorable, so kind, but there’s one thing certain; whenever I stood next to her, and looked at myself, I felt like I was redeemed.

I really did reflect on my actions.

This me wasn’t as self-centered. I did care about how others felt, and looked at the realest Yume-chan without any filter, without involving any wish. Well, there was once in April when I messed up, but I was just blinded by my own delusion, and didn’t actually harm Yume-chan. So, safe.

It’s fine. There’s definitely no problems now—as long I think about doing it, I can do it.

It’s all to…ensure that the happy days are not to be wasted again.

“……Eh? Irido-kun?”

I then suddenly noticed. I didn’t realize it as he was hidden under the shadow, but Irido-kun was standing next to Yume-chan. I thought he was hanging out with that guy, but guess not.

Their shoulders were touching each other. At that moment, the flames of jealousy burned within me, and I hastily suppressed it. Calm down, calm down, don’t overdo it.

“What~? Trying to mix with us girls? You’re quite the silent pervert ~.”

I said jokingly, latched onto Yume-chan’s elbow. That’s all.

This gesture wouldn’t have felt so happy—supposedly.

Yume-chan probably wouldn’t refuse if I did this much—supposedly.

Supposedly.

“Sorry, Akatsuki-san.”

Yume-chan suddenly pulled her arm away from my hands.

And then, she gently nudged my shoulder.

“Eh…? Yume-chan…?”

“If you have any complaints, I’ll hear you out next time.”

Yume-chan clearly pulled her distance from me—yet she smiled, as though she’s cheering me on.

“But you need to try your best along, okay?”

A hand grabbed me from behind, and pulled me back.

I didn’t know who that was.

And more importantly, I started to feel sad when I saw Yume-chan disappear into the crowd—

The flames rose.

The dazzling lights casted dark shadows.

And I was caught and swallowed by that darkness.

◆ Mizuto Irido ◆

“Thanks.”

So I said, and Yume answered with her usual, rigid voice.

“What’s there to thank? Didn’t Kawanami-kun ask you to do this?”

“…Somehow.”

Bam! I saw the tube fireworks fly into the sky, and recalled what I just whispered.

Kawanami has something to say to Minami-san.

“…Didn’t think you realized from these words.”

“Well, more or less.”

“More or less…”

Seriously, where does the real human heart lie at?

Character, persona, mask…there are various terms, as though indicating that everyone has a true personality, but when would that be used? When one person’s thinking alone? In that case, how’s that different from ‘a character of one who thinks alone’?

True heart, plain face, these are the crux of a person. Everyone hopes that they can be understood by a certain person, but this so-called true heart so happened to be something the person can’t discover on his own…

If it really existed, where it belongs is—

“—I guess it’s not in them.”

“Eh? What do you mean?”

“Nothing. Just a little philosophy.”

Under the moonlight, Yume’s face showed a stupid smile.

“Say, you’re a little, like that. What…Higashira-san said, chuuni?”

“I don’t want to hear that from you when you set David Bowie as your ringtone.”

“Th-that’s because it’s the main theme of the movie you recommended!”

Anyway, it’s all up to them.

Read Only Member.

We’d just watch everything without saying anything.

—Eh?

Did we just…naturally talk about our middle school days?

I turned around, and saw unfamiliar faces everywhere.

“…Say, where did Higashira go?”

“Eh?”

Yume too hurriedly turned back, and froze.

…I see. I see. I see.

“Looks like we’re born into a world where we have to find someone in a summer festival every time…”

“Ahh I’m sorry! This good enough!?”

◆ Kogure Kawanami ◆

I, Kogure Kawanami, have a dream.

I wanted to understand more than others, be more charismatic than usual, more devoted, capable of making anyone laugh no matter what I said—

—Such an ideal person couldn’t possibly exist in reality.

How long had I been friends with her? I couldn’t remember when it started, but it’s been almost a decade, and even though we were on such good terms that people called us childhood friends, what did I understand about her?

Cuteness? Devoted? A joker? Everything was just a facade, something that I wanted as an appearance! I…just took aspects from her to fit my wishes, looked at them, and dreamed.

And it was too late by the time I realized it.

She gave a cute smile, and her devotedness bounded me. The childhood friend I knew of hadn’t actually changed, but she became a foreign existence.

No, it’s not that she changed.

It’s not that she changed because she showed me her true self under the facade.

That’s how she always was. In any case, I was completely oblivious.

I just woke up from the dream on my own, and saw the cruel reality.

…Ahh, but, but.

The night streets, the lights blended in the darkness, everything appeared before my eyes.

The night we had our adventure, we looked up at the night sky, saw the pretty, dazzling moon, and the lights crossed us by.

I failed.

I thoroughly realized my own failure.

My nostalgia really no longer existed. The passion that grew that night vanished completely in loneliness. Filling that loneliness was an endless regret.

And thus, no matter how many times I had to say it, I would.

Childhood friends, forget about it. There’s nowhere to run away.

Childhood friends, forget about it. There’s no way to hide secrets.

Childhood friends, forget about it.

However, this dream was unforgettable.

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

I was pulled out from the crowd, and finally saw the face of the one who pulled my arm.

Kogure Kawanami showed his usual frivolous face, and stood in the endless darkness.

I saw the face 30cm taller than me, and I had to look aside. Why? I wasn’t too sure either. Maybe it’s because I felt I didn’t have the right.

I tried to struggle free from his hand, but his hand’s really big compared to mine. It’s so nostalgic to be wrapped by that hand, but it’s really something I should never remember at this point.

But Kawanami didn’t seem to have any intention to let go.

And instead, he exerted more grip—yet his tone sounded so relaxed.

“How about we walk around?”

Kawanami held my hand firmly, and walked away. I could only follow him forward, looking dazed.

There were a lot of private houses here, and the lights shining upon the street seemed full of life. It’s a completely different scene, but the starry night above and the fading noise caused me to remember everything that happened that night.

The day we had a family trip, the night we snuck out of the hotel.

And then…we made a promise as kids, which we couldn’t keep.

We  walked on, as though avoiding the crowds deliberately, and finally arrived at Lake Biwa.

It’s an empty place with nothing other than several benches on the concrete floor. We’re by the lake, and couldn’t hear any waves. Opposite the calm lake that’s like a black mirror, the street lights flickered a faint light.

Kawanami let go of my hand, put his hands into his pocket, and looked towards the lake vast as the sea, into the distance.

“I heard that there’s a bigger firework show in August. It might be too late to return to Kyoto if we go there.”

“…Kawanami, what are you planning?”

Did he drag me to this empty place just to chat?

I gave Kawanami a skeptical look, and he shrugged in a ridiculous manner.

“No, I’m not planning on anything, Acchan.”

…He’s still continuing with this penalty game? Even if he picked up this nickname, it’s all just a pretense…he knew that well.

“But…I just think this might be interesting.”

“…Huh?”

“Nobody actually comes here at this time, right? An empty night at Lake Biwa, sounds a little exciting. I think I got the Iridos alone now—though given Higashira’s personality, she probably got lost instead of leaving them alone.”

I couldn’t understand…I grew up with him, and he never could fool my eyes…but at this point, I couldn’t tell what he’s thinking at all.

I recalled how this morning, he saw through my clumsy bluff, and turned his back on me silently.

Did he not give up on me completely at that moment?

Did he realize that I was no longer that Akatsuki Minami who was ‘more interesting than a girlfriend’…?

“…Is that uneasy look on your face you true thought? Or a character?”

The sudden, frosty voice caused me to lift my face in shock.

Appearing in my eyes was a different look from that kind looking face…it’s a complete poker face.

“Since the time we’re kids, were you ‘Akatsuki Minami’, or ‘childhood friend’?”

I don’t know.

I don’t know about this either…

When we first started, it definitely wasn’t like that. Outsiders wouldn’t label ignorant kids as childhood friends一when we started, I did hang out with you without any pretense…supposedly.

But when exactly did it become vague?

You said I was more interesting than a girlfriend. Thus, I wanted to be an existence more interesting than a girlfriend. I wanted to become a fated existence, like those in manga and anime. That’s all, really…but …….

Before I knew it, I sensed that Kawanami’s blank face had become a blank hole.

The layers of facade on my thin face felt like they were sucked into that black hole…and even I, who lost myself ……——

“—Well, you definitely don’t know.”

Kawanami’s face showed an ironic smile.

“Which is the true being, which is the character? None of this matters. We just need to be happy. Right?”

I stopped.

This time, his face felt as dazzling as the sun.

“Let’s not do anything stupid now, right? I got angry because of some little stuff this afternoon. Sorry about that. I was just in a bad mood—it’s not your fault, don’t mind me.”

Don’t do this.

Don’t be so kind to me.

“But well, it’s fine acting as lovers once in a while, right??—I now understand how it feels to be read. It’s embarrassing to go all Acchan here Acchan there as a high school student though—”

It’s melting. My heart was melting. The urge to fawn throbbed in my heart. It felt like…I was going to revert back to my middle school days.

This was what I loved about Kokkun.

He always could pinpoint my feelings delicately. We could have argued for a moment, but he would try his best to patch up with me. He had many friends, but he always prioritized me at the most important moments. Him just standing next to me could sweep all the anxiety in my heart away—that’s what I loved about you, to a maddening extent.

So.

That’s why.

“—What are you apologizing for!!?”

◆ Kogure Kawanami ◆

Akatsuki’s yell immediately tore through the silence of Lake Biwa’s night.

“Why are you apologizing…! What are you admitting!? I should be the one in the wrong! No, everything’s because I’m a weirdo!! It’s all because I never thought about what you really wanted…!! B-but, why are you apologizing now…!!? You suffered so much that you had a hole in your stomach! How can you apologize for that!? If-if you do, what am I going to doooo ……!!”

Akatsuki shed large tears, and continued to scream, as though she was puking blood.

“You’re too decent a person!? Why did you have to drop by to clean my room!? Couldn’t you have broken up with me earlier…!!? Even though we’re in the same class, even though we’re neighbors, even though my mom asked you to do this, you could have just ignored me!! Why are you acting like nothing happened at all! You should have told your family first…!! You could have told them that you got hospitalized because of me!! You didn’t say anything, so uncle and aunty, still think, that we’re still childhood friends on good terms, right …!! I-it-it’s all my fault…I got you hospitalized right before the exams, caused you so much trouble everywhere, it’s all my fault…!! How am I supposed to face you now!? I don’t know, I don’t know at all!! I don’t know, and that’s why I can only continue to face you like I always did!! Even when I nearly caused trouble for Yume-chan…! I think you cleaned up my mess after me! You didn’t want to get involved in such trouble! You think this crazy girl is such a landmine!! You already knew very well!! Have you never thought of not getting involved with me!!!!??”

She yelled with all her might, from the bottom of her gut.

Akatsuki tore her throat, wheezed as she heaved her shoulders, and wiped her tears with her hands.

“But……but ……”

She weakly shivered…as though she’s seeking redemption,

“…The one thing I don’t want, is to be treated by you as an outsider…”

I immediately realized then…what she muttered was what she truly wanted to say.

And this…was the true being coming out from Akatsuki’s g.

I could understand. I could feel it.

After all—we’re childhood friends.

“Are you, done?”

I quietly asked her, but there was no answer.

In that case.

“This time, my turn.”

◆ Akatsuki Minami ◆

“——What are you apologizing for!!?”

A landmine-like growl caused me to lift my teary face.

“Wasn’t it me who scolded you and caused you to become a sobbing mess!? We spent ten years together, but wasn’t I the only one who never trusted you!! Of course, you’re rotten to the core! You’re a crazy landmine of a girl! There’s nothing wrong about that! Like hell I’ll date you a second time! But I’m rotten too!! Ten years!! I’ve been with you for ten years, but I never noticed how rotten you are!! I only know that you’re that cute, that you’re just nice to me, and nothing else! Isn’t this doofus of a blockhead a billion times worse than you!? Ahhh!!?”

It’s probably the first time I heard him lash out so badly since the time in the hospital.

But…what he yelled was completely different from before.

“I always wanted to apologize to you!! I always thought I went overboard, and I still have goosebumps! You make it sound like it’s all your fault!! I’m so pissed about this, you idiot! You think I feel good about getting a girl to apologize to me!? I should at least apologize too!!”

“Uuu……uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!”

What is that? What is that? What is that……!?

“E-enough with the jokes!! Wasn’t I the reason for this!? Wasn’t it my fault!? Why is it now your fault…!!?”

“I mean that I too bear some responsibility, you idiot!!”

“I’m not an idiot!! I’ve been teaching you how to study …!!”

“I’m calling you an idiot because you only think that being book smart is a show of how smart you are, idiot!!”

“Shut up you idiot!! You’re a hopeless idiot! You goody goody blockhead of a guy, what’s with that!? Even childhood friends can’t possibly know everything!? You’re definitely the victim!! Can’t you understand such a simple thing!?”

“You’re the one who didn’t understand, you fool!! You don’t understand because you’re foolish, you fool!!”

“Idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot!!”

“Fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool!”

It’s a mess.

We’re worse than grade school kids.

We’re immature, clumsy, stupid, foolish, brats.

But—we couldn’t stop this at all.

The words burst out from a certain corner of our hearts, like a dam, and I had to throw everything in my mind onto him. Everything else was thrown to the back of my mind. Nothing else existed, not the etiquette I had to disguise myself, nor the space for me to play my character.

Ahh—it’s so nostalgic.

How long was it since we argued like this? When you looked down on an anime I watched? I got lectured to the point of bawling, and when aunty scolded you, you also cried with me.

Or was it when I beat you in a game for the first time? You never thought you could lose to me, and I took a set while you were careless. I raised my nose at you, you got angry, and we argued again—

Why? Just why?

I was your girlfriend before, you? We used to be a couple. It was a short time, but didn’t we do things lovers should do? Didn’t we enjoy the time together as normal lovers? Didn’t we have sweet and sour memories?

But…just why, why was it that I was thinking about these useless memories ….

Our tears and snort flew, and insults flew away, and our insults were so simple, I started to reject if I should have read more books like Yume-chan—so I thought, and I was panting.

“……Haa……Haa……!”

“Haa……haa……haa……!”

We pant in unison, stared at each other, and even though we’re so tired, we tried to eke a voice from our parched throats—

Suddenly, Kokkun tumbled, and fell towards me.

“Eh …!? Ko-Kokkun……!?”

E-even though nobody’s around, you shouldn’t do this here—woah, you’re heavy ……!?

I then noticed that Kokkun lost strength in his body. He’s on the skinner side, yet his body was so sturdy, and he was boiling hot—boiling hot?

I looked at his face, and found sweat completing from his temples. He’s clearly looking very pale, unlike his body temperature. I felt something was amiss, so I checked his wrists, and as expected—there were lots of nettle rash on his wrists.

“K-Kokkun……!? Have you, been enduring—”

“Sorry…it’s kinda bad to call me ‘Kokkun’ now …”

I hurriedly shut up.

This guy had a ridiculous  allergy—or rather, PTSD, and couldn’t accept nor sense any romantic interest from others. But…anyone could have understood from how he yelled so much. Anyone could see from the initial feelings that still lingered…

Who started the rumor that guys remember and girls overwrite?

How could I overwrite this memory?

There were way too many memories. How many years would it take to cover up the memories that exceed the world population?

I heard that the older people are, the concept of time feels faster. If we count based on how humans physically feel time, people will have a new phase in life in their teens. If that’s the case, if I want to overwrite a decade’s worth of memories, that means I need to spend the rest of my life, right

How can I forget?

We…ended our relationship in the worst way possible…but we’re still childhood friends.

“…Our time as lovers was basically hell…”

A gasping Kokkun tried to hold up as he whispered at my ear.

“But…when we’re still brats, didn’t we make a Pythagoras device for our summer vacation homework…?”

“……Yes.”

“And when we played a phone GPS game, we went into the hills …”

“Yes…”

“And…we snuck out of the hotel during the family trip …”

“…Yes…”

“……I really enjoyed myself……”

“……Yes……”

Those were stories before he and I became boy and girl.

Those were the stories of us as childhood friends, before we became lovers.

“So many memories…seriously, there’s so many…but…everything…seemed like hell to us…because our relationship as lovers…didn’t work out…? Don’t you think so…?”

Susu, I could hear snivelling from the nose, and I doubted my ears.

“…I think…you feel lonely, right…?”

I never heard this shaking, teary, feeble voice.

Really, really…it’s the first time Kokkun cried, right?

“…Say, Acchan…?”

“What…?”

“…Do you still…remember, that promise…?”

The moment his voice called, Kokkun’s body lost all strength.

At that moment, I immediately stepped forward and hugged him from the front.

At that moment, our eyes were at the same height, and I practically grew taller by 30cm.

At that moment, the body wrapped onto me was too big for me to carry.

But as I looked at the night sky, it looked as brilliant as it was that day.

“…I do, Kokkun.”

Of course.

Would you want me to forget it instead?

◆ Kogure Kawanami ◆

“You finally woke up.”

I was woken up by a somewhat shocked voice, and slowly opened my eyes.

Acchan looked down at my face, under the glittering starry night.

I felt a hard word on my face, and there’s a soft feeling on the back of my head, so it’s probably the thighs. Seemed like I was resting on Acchan’s thighs, lying on the bench by the lake.

“…How long did I sleep?”

“Probably 30 minutes. Can’t tell since I didn’t bring my phone.”

“Ohh…no wonder I feel cold…”

I shivered. Even though it’s summer, it’s chilly to sleep outdoors in the middle of the night for half an hour. The heat and nausea that paralyzed me  before I lost consciousness had mostly faded.

“…If you’re fine, can you hurry and get up? My legs are getting numb.”

“Okay okay. It’s not comfortable to sleep on it—ouch!”

I reached out and touched the thighs that rested my head, and found that the feeling supporting my head was suddenly gone. The back of my head hit the bench.

While I was in pain, I felt a little surprised.

Her thighs seemed fatter compared to before, like the fingers were sucked onto it—I didn’t know it’s because she had muscles there, or that the fats that should have gone to her chest ended up at her thighs…but it’s close to what I like.

“Be gentler to a patient!”

“Who cares~. Try getting a girlfriend and get her to be kinder. Aren’t you popular?”

“You’re just rubbing it in, right!? If not for my nature, I’d—”

Akatsuki glanced aside at me, and said with a shrill voice,

“Sorry”

“…Why do you look a little unhappy?”

“Not really? I’m just sorry that I prevented you from having your happy harem high school life.”

A harem? Look, I’m not that popular? Who the hell do you think I am—

—……The one thing I don’t want, is to be treated by you as an outsider……

At this point, the image of the teary Akatsuki flashed by in my mind. Back then, my allergy went into overdrive when I heard Akatsuki’s scream…so, in other words, she’s still…that’s how it was. Basically, that jealous attitude she showed was—

“—Y-you, argh ……!”

I could feel the nettle rash appear on my arms again.

“I just had an ailment…be careful there …”

Adding insult to injury, even my head overheated…eh? I did have symptoms of fever in my allergy, but it’s the first time my head and cheeks turned hot. No, that’s definitely just a new symptom that so happened. It’s just part of the allergy. Definitely—

“—Pfft!”

Akatsuki suddenly chuckled, and her shoulders shivered as she giggled.

Ah…? Wh-what? While I was feeling confused, Akatsuki turned around.

She’s giving a mischievous smile.

“That was a character.”

“……Huh?”

“Huh huh~? Feels like you’re blushing a little there? I just pretended to act jealous there, you know ~.Aren’t you being too arrogant now, Ko~kkun ♪”

“Ohh…oohhhhhhhhhhh……!!”

I-I was had……!! She actually trapped me at this moment……!? That’s despicable ……!!

“Kokkun~, do you want me to give you a lap pillow? Alright, come on?”

“Stop ittttttt…!!”

Again I felt regret.

Why did I have her as my girlfriend?

I guessed I wouldn’t repeat this failure again for the rest of my life.

And so, no matter how many times it would take, I would insist.

— Never, ever, have your childhood friend as your girlfriend.

 

“—……Erm~~, can I~~~disturb for a while~……”

 

““!?”“

We heard a familiar voice in the darkness, and turned around in shock.

We found a figure standing under the moonlight. No doubt—it’s Isana Higashira.

The face with the usual stoic look couldn’t hide its embarrassment.

“I’m verrrrrrrryyyy~~~~~~~~sorry for disturbing you two while you’re flirting…but I’ll be really grateful if you can tell me where’s the shrine for the festival …”

“Hi-Higashira-san…? Wh-when did you start looking…?”

“From ‘Kokkun~, do you want me to give you a lap pillow?’—b-but you two don’t have to worry! I don’t have any friends I can spread this with! Though I think I’m someone with loose lips!”

“So basically you’re telling Irido-kun and Yume-chan! W-wait wait wait! It’s just a joke! Just a joke—!!”

◆ Mizuto Irido ◆

The itinerary for the study camp ended.

Third day, at noon, we left the hotel, boarded the bus based on the register number. Higashira looked really uneasy, but I couldn’t do anything since she’s from a different class. I would accompany her with the returned phones, just hang on.

Minami-san sat at the back of the bus, and Kawanami sat on an aisle seat. A girl suddenly called out.

“Ah, Minami-san~, you’re not sitting with Kawanami~?”

She’s still interested in that? I thought it ended yesterday. Well, I’d be sorry if this lasted for days after the camp…

While I was feeling worried, Minami-san immediately answered nonchalantly.

“Ah, we broke up!”

“So fast! Ahaha!” “Why? Why?”

“Hm~, difference in direction?”

“Are you some band!?” “Ahahahahaha!!” “Oy, Kawanami! How does it feel to get dumped?”

“Back to being an ordinary guy ~.”

“Are you an idol!?!” “Fuahahahaha!!”

…Well done. That’s the end of it all. Now we wouldn’t continue with this charade until the end of summer.

I put my elbow on the window sill, thinking so, and the phone beeped. Yume sent a message.

“Akatsuki-san and Kawanami-kun seem to be getting along well.”

“Seems that way.”

“I heard from Higashira-san that she saw them flirt around at a place no one was at. Are they actually dating?”

“Maybe?”

“Aren’t you too disinterested?”

“I’m actually disinterested.”

This incident got me to realize that I had no interest in romance at all.

“Yo, good friend.”

A guy greeted me tauntingly, and sat next to me. Obviously, it’s Kogure Kawanami.

“Stop calling me good friend. You’re the type who’ll help out when I’m bullied right?”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about at all, but I’ll say this first. I’m not the guy who’ll help out, I’m the guy who’ll prevent the incident from happening…thanks for last night.”

“I just personally buried the seed I laid.”

I really didn’t know what happened between Kawanami and Minami-san, but I could sense that their relationship was developing for the worse. I determined that the capable guy could resolve this though. That’s why I merely gave them a nudge in the back.

That assist had a positive effect, and it’s probably because of the power of communication—well, that didn’t seem to be the case. That’s definitely due to the great work of Kogure Kawanami.

“Given how you personally dealt with the seed you buried, can I ask you something?”

“What question?”

“So, where did you and Irido-san go last night?”

“…………”

I tried my best not to let him realize that I froze up. When I looked at the window, I saw a reflection of Kawanami’s disgusting smile.

“I wonder when you two returned to the hotel. I thought you would be looking around for the lost Higashira, so why is it that you returned first?”

“…We just had a feeling that Higashira might have returned to the hotel.”

“Another question then. Why did you and Irido-san get changed into your jumpers after you returned to the hotel?”

“…Because we bathed.”

“Even though Higashira got lost? When you’re so overprotective of Higashira?”

“…………”

“So, well, this means that you encountered an incident that you have to bathe, like say…you got soaked?”

I gasped hard.

Why was it that despite his sharp instincts, he still ended up arguing with Minami-san?

“So, what happened next is just my delusion, so you can take it as a BGM. I don’t remember it was raining last night, you see? In that case, I wonder if you two fell into the water together? Like say, hm, the lake or something. I remember there aren’t many lights around Lake Biwa, and it’s really dark there. So maybe you two were looking for Higashira-san there, slipped—”

Yume was the one who slipped, I wanted to help her, and I ended up soaked as well, that’s all.

“I remember that last night, Irido-san was wearing white clothing. You know, white clothing looks transparent when soaked.”

—The wet clothes clung onto her skin, and the colors that should be covered were exposed. I could see the colors of skin and blue under the moonlight, and it’s a cheap one of little frills. Yume’s soaked hair was on her face, so she followed my gaze, looked towards her chest, and obviously blushed even in the darkness, and covered her chest with her hands,

“It’s impossible to return to the hotel in such a situation. In that case, you had to find a place to squeeze your clothes—”

“Shut up.”

“Ugh!?”

I elbowed the guy seated next to me. He’s no longer a ROM. He’s basically narrating something he hadn’t witnessed at all.

—…D-don’t you ever, look over here…

It’s infuriating. It felt as if Kawanami understood us more than we did.

The one reading and the one being read—there are cases when people imposed their wills on others, and cases when the people being read will lie to themselves. There’s always a difference in the ideal self and reality. Thus, we by ourselves couldn’t possibly determine what is our true self.

The reason why humans have two eyes is because one eye along can’t capture the true state.

In that case, I may need a second eye to see the true state of my soul. Values, bias, wishes—everyone has only one eye for the heart, but they need two.

But if I find that my true self is different from what I hope—do I want to change then?

…Enough with the pointless thoughts, I guess.

Until then, allow me to live as I please, and choose whatever that can make me happy.

8 thoughts on “[Motokano V3] Chapter 9 – Childhood Friends? Forget about it. (Second Half)

  1. Though I have said this a bunch of times even when it was only in google doc form,

    Thanks for your hardwork, Ping-san!

    Glad to finish editing it along with ya in the end xD

  2. Thanks for the super quick and high quality translation!

    Damn, this series is such a perfect blend of comedy, seriousness and sweetness that I honestly can’t get enough of it. Can definitely see why Ping-sama prefers it over Tenshi.

  3. Ah HAHA, these ex-couples and their weird continuing interactions and flirting are almost killing me!

    Thanks for the SPEEDO BURSTO of many chapters, Ping-san, hope you don’t overwork or get too stressed though.

  4. Thanks for the recent chapters, too. This is definitely one of my favourite in general. So wholesome and interesting, I hope that you’ll release other chapters soon!

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