Hellping

After summer vacation, I went to the usual place, and you were there, waiting for me.

Everything wasn’t a lie.

The fact that you and I became lovers, the fact that we disagreed over trivial matters, the fact that we never saw each other during the summer vacation, the fact that the feelings that filled my heart on this day a year before faded badly, everything wasn’t a lie.

… Good morning, Irido-kun.

…Yeah. Good morning.

Everything was supposed to be a lie.

If everything was just my fantasy, an illusion… and not real… I could have tolerated my own actions.

But you were here.

I hadn’t seen you for over a month, and you said ‘good morning’ to me.

Don’t you understand?

Don’t you understand that—there’s no bigger despair than this?

—…Erm, did you finish…your homework …?

Even till this day, I thought I could rewind back to this moment.

Let’s pretend that the summer vacation never happened. I thought it would have been possible to go back to the relationship we had before that…I was about to say things that would make it possible.

But I couldn’t forgive.

I couldn’t forgive myself.

So…

 

—Yeah. I had nothing to do, so I was free.

 

You froze for a moment.

Thus began that long, drawn-out self-torment.

 

6:03 AM ■ Morning of the culture festival (Yume)

 

I squinted my eyes at the morning light shining through the curtains, and slowly got out of bed.

I wasn’t in my room. I was in the school’s nap room.

My eyes blinked away, and I looked at the clock. It’s six in the morning. It’s been a while since I woke up this early.

I looked around the room, and saw the girls preparing for CulFes sleeping quietly on the eight or so beds lined up in the room. Senpai and the others were considerate in letting us underclass girls sleep there when we had to finish up the work overnight. The boys, who were in the same year as us but had to sleep together in sleeping bags, booed at this treatment though.

I had a little more time, but I didn’t feel like falling asleep again. It’s the day of the culture festival, the busiest day for the committee. I had to get into the mood.

Anyway, I should go wash my face. I left the nap room quietly, wearing my jersey instead of sleepwear.

Before I went to the toilet, I peeked into the meeting room next door from the corridor. The committee members were divided into two large groups, boys and girls, sleeping together in sleeping bags. The conference room was much larger than the classroom, but the room still looked packed, and I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to sleep calmly, even if I wanted to try it…

“…Huh”

Everyone had been noisy the previous night, and nobody had woken up. However, there was one empty sleeping bag that was left empty. Surely, the one sleeping there was…

I washed my face at the sink in the bathroom. My face didn’t look bad. I was a little worried because I slept in an unfamiliar environment, but I seemed healthy.

When I returned to the quiet hallway, I felt something strange. In another four hours, the school would be crowded with people, full of noise and bustle. And yet, right now, the only sound was my footsteps…

It was the calm before the storm. I wanted to explore a little, so I decided to stroll around the school campus.

I walked down the frigid corridors, peeked into the classrooms and looked out of the windows.

I reached the landing of the stairs, and somehow raised my foot up. I didn’t plan on going out, and it’s an area I usually wouldn’t go to.

I turned around at the landing, went up the stairs, and found a door.

It was a door to the rooftop.

I remembered it’s usually closed. I remembered a senpai said that it’s open for this particular period, so that we could put the banners on.

Since that’s the only time I could get in, I might as well…

I grabbed the cold knob and gave it a twist, and the door opened easily.

“………………”

My eyes immediately caught neither the open space nor the blue sky before me.

Instead, I saw his familiar figure while he sat before the high wire fence.

“…Mizuto?”

Mizuto, wearing a jersey, was sitting with his back against the wire mesh, looking down at the ground with only his head drooping.

When he noticed and looked at me, “you…” he turned his eyes back towards the wire mesh.

After closing the door, I approached him and said,

“What are you doing out here? Aren’t you cold?”

“Yes, I am…I should have brought a jacket.”

“How long have you been here……?”

“About thirty minutes ago. I woke up early…”

It’s rare for him, a night owl…I guess he couldn’t sleep well since it was so cramped there.

“Are you okay…? If you didn’t sleep well, you can use the bed I was sleeping in…”

“The bed you were sleeping in?”

Mizuto gave a faint smile as though he’s making fun of me.

“You’ve grown up, huh? Have you gotten over your shame?”

“I-I’m fine! The bed in the nap room is shared!…And, now that I think about it, it might be a little too late for that…”

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking. What was I thinking, letting this man sleep in the bed I had just slept in~…!

“No thanks. I’d rather sleep in a sleeping bag than alone in a room full of girls.”

“Y-yeah…That’s true, too.”

I followed Mizuto’s stare as though I was intending to pass it off.

There was nothing in particular down there, except for a bunch of empty stalls.

“…Besides, I could have gone back anyway.”

Mizuto suddenly mumbled.

“But I was really uncomfortable…I just wanted a breather here. I feel more relaxed when I’m alone.”

—What are you doing here?

I finally realized this was the answer to my earlier question.

A breather, huh? It’s true that he, who was usually a loner, was suddenly thrown into the preparations for the culture festival in the midst of his youth. He might be restless if he didn’t have some time alone.

Well then, I’ll just take care of myself and get out of here—

—Not!

It’s my chance to get him to promise to go out with me during this culture festival! Well, we’ll be together for CulFes anyway… I’ve been putting it off for a while, but there’s no better situation than this.

“H-Hey.”

I stood next to the seated Mizuto and glanced at him.

“Have you promised to go to the culture festival…with Higashira-san or anyone else?”

“No, not really. She’s not going to be around much anyway, so she’ll probably try to hang out with me during her free time.”

G-great…apparently he didn’t want a culture festival date.

“Th-then…err, starting this afternoon! After we’re done with our shift at the stall!…Do you want to walk around with me? It’s CulFes after all…!—Ah, Higashira-san can come along too! “

I was so non-committal!

I had imagined myself being rejected because of Higashira-san, so I compromised at the very end!

B-but…well, it’s fine! At least I got to ask him out! Let’s think positive!

Mizuto glanced at me, 

“…… Yeah, Isana’s going to get all weird and sneaky again if I’m busy with CulFes and she’s not doing anything. Maybe it’s better that you’re here. If we’re on our own, we’ll probably end up holed up in the library.”

“I can imagine that…”

I couldn’t imagine Mizuto and Higashira-san going around, visiting stalls during the culture festival alone, not at all.

“So…it’s a promise, right?”

“Ah….”

Great! It’s not exactly what I imagined, but I did it!

As soon as I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders, I felt my body shiver. Maybe I was getting a little cold.

“Hey, shall we go back? It’s colder than expected here, isn’t it?”

“You’d better go back. You’re too weak.”

 

“I-I’m not as weak as I was in middle school…! I mean, what about you?”

“I’m still fine. Don’t worry, I’ll be back before I catch a cold.”

“I see…”

Feeling somewhat hesitant, I went back inside, leaving Mizuto alone.

And until I closed the door, Mizuto kept looking down at the school through the wire fence without doing anything.

 

9:18 AM ■ You look more mature than usual.(Akatsuki)

 

“Oooh~!”

I clapped lightly as I stood before an embarrassed Kawanami.

He was wearing a kimono and a hakama, and looked like a scholar. The bright hair color and the curly ends were still the same, but surprisingly, he didn’t look so bad. Unlike Irido-kun, he had the look of a dropout—well, some may like it, I guess.

“That’s rather nice. Glad you didn’t need a buzz cut for this.”

“Were you going to give me a buzz cut if it didn’t suit me!?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be a scholar? I mean, a scholar’s smart, unlike you.”

“A buzz cut won’t help with that!”

“That’s true. If that was enough to make you smart, you’d be a skinhead every time you took an exam.”

“Grrr…I have nussing to say.”

I chuckled, gently lifted the sleeve lightly with my fingers, and showed my appearance to Kawanami.

“So? What do you think?”

Of course, I too was being Haikara-san with the boots on.

I grinned and waited for the answer, but Kawanami gave me a blank stare, 

“Well, I saw it when you tried it on. It’s nothing new…”

“Compliment me as many times as you want!”

“Say, you, isn’t that a girlfriend thing?”

“Compliment me all you want, even if I’m not your girlfriend! Your flirty face is just for decoration!”

“Too bad, it’s just decoration!”

Kawanami frowned, tilted his head, and looked at my head.

I usually had a ponytail tied high, but there’s a little difference on this day.

“…You have a different ribbon, don’t you?”

“Isn’t it cute? It’s Japanese style to match this costume ~♪ “

“You look…ow! Hey, stop kicking me with your boots!”

“Don’t act like you’re used to dealing with women again!”

“You’re the one who’s trying to look like a woman, you idiot!”

I continued to deliver low kicks, “Oyyy.” and my friend Maki-chan came out through the curtain from the staff space,

“That couple over there~. It’s almost time for the show to start, so please stop your manzai and get ready~.”

“Who’s the couple?”

“I’m so sad, Irido-san is popular, Akki’s having a husband and wife manzai routine, and comedy, and even Nasuka has a boyfriend. It’s like I’m the lonely one! Oy oy oy…”

“Don’t worry, Maki-chan. You’re tall and good-looking.”

“There’s no point in being popular with girls!”

Maki-chan, a member of the basketball team, was tall and slender, and looked perfect in her hakama. Of course, she was a big hit with the girls. The thing though was that she wasn’t interested in the same gender.

“I want a boyfriend too! I wonder if I’ll get wooed today?”

“No wooing allowed.”

Kawanami said with a dumbfounded look.

“Besides, if you’re so quick to fall for such things, you’ll be in trouble. Don’t be so quick and end up trashy.”

“Eh……?”

Maki-chan opened her eyes wide, stared at Kawanami, and clutched at her chest.

…Huh?

“Eh? Uh oh, my heart just jumped. What’s with you Kawanami!? You’re just as frivolous as you look! Your wife’s going to be pissed!”

“Wife? Do I look like I have one?”

“Wahey~! We got an adulterer posing as a bachelor~!”

“……………………………”

I stared silently at the adulterer who was giggling along with Maki-chan.

…What’s with you? You wouldn’t praise my cosplay, but you say nice things about Maki-chan? Hmmmm…heh~…I see…

“(…I guess you’ll end up being wooed yourself anyway.)”

I’m not going to help him out anymore. I’m going to let him be remembered as the weirdo who vomits.

I turned away and tried to enter the staff area, 

“Speaking of wooing, you should be careful, too.”

Kawanami suddenly said to me in a slightly softer voice.

“You’ve got a pretty face, you know. Besides, the cosplay effect makes you look more mature than you really are—”

“Eh? Me? Mature—”

“—In any case, the boots make you taller.”

“………………”

“Ouch! Don’t stomp on me with those boots! You’ll crush me!”

I’ll crush you!

 

9:45 A.M. The Savior from Taisho (Isana)

 

And so the culture festival finally started.

Our class, 1-3, was a little unmotivated, so we decided to set up a photo exhibition with minimal preparation and manpower so that we could enjoy the festival by fooling around with the other classes.

Because of this, nobody blamed me for not doing much work, but I had no place to go and enjoy myself at on the day of the festival, that’s to say, this day, except to laze around in my own classroom…and then right on cue, the other girls who had too much time on their hands looked interested in something as they approached me?

“Hey, aren’t you going out to play, Higashira-san?”

“E-eh…well…”

“You’re waiting for your boyfriend, right? Irido-kun won’t have much time since he’s busy with CulFes, I think?”

“Ah, I see. Hey hey, what’s Higashira-san’s boyfriend like? I’ve never seen him before.”

“Well, some girls say he’s …cool, though personally I prefer him to be sturdier.”

“I didn’t ask you about your likes! Sorry Higashira-san! She has a muscle fetish! “

“What? Do you like muscles too!?”

“Ah-ahaha……”

Somebody save me! I’m being used as a conversation fodder by people whose names I can’t even remember! They’re the only ones who seem to be having fun, and I can only smile!

And then, maybe my heartfelt plea was received.

On the opposite end of the bustling corridor that was a stark contrast to our practically empty class that had become a rest area, a visitor appeared.

In a kimono.

In hakama.

He wore a haori and a school cap.

Dressed like a scholar—

—It was Mizuto-kun.

“…..Hyoooeeeee.” “Hueeee……”

As soon as Mizuto-kun walked in with his black haori fluttering, the two girls who had so animatedly talked finally stopped, and their voices were deflated.

I was the same.

I heard…about it. I saw a photo. But…but…!

—What is this perfection!!??

Is he a proper heir to some great family!? A good groom chosen by the parents!? It’s like those cases when the girl’s annoyed that the marriage partner is chosen, bumps into the guy before knowing he’s betrothed to her, goes all “I wish this guy is my fiancé ……” and it comes true! It’s him! He’s that guy!

Th-that shocked me…I was basically a girl in dreamland..

Mizuto-kun quickly looked around the classroom, found me, and quietly walked up to me….huh? I wasn’t dreaming? He’s really coming towards me! Ah! By the way, he’s my boyfriend!

“Isana”.

And ever since last time, he’s been calling me by my first name!

“I just came to check on you…were you in the middle of something?”

“…Ah ah ah…” “…Haaa haa…”

Mizuto-kun looked at them with his cold eyes, and the two who had been cackling just moments ago were as speechless as I was.

Mizuto-kun tilted his head lightly at this sight, and turned his attention back to me.

“I’m going to make my rounds now, so I’ll come back for you at noon…They made me wear this dress for publicity, but I really want to take it off ASAP.”

“””No way!””””

Everyone cried in unison.

Even I, who had only smiled at them, was in perfect harmony.

Mizuto-kun’s eyes went blank at our sudden unity, 

“Well, anyway, I just came to check on you. I’m glad to see you’re not in as much trouble as I thought. Well then.”

With that, Mizuto-kun simply walked out of the classroom.

The two of them, whose names I didn’t know of, stared off into the distance, 

“…I guess smart-looking guys are fine too…”

“…Right…?”

It’s really scary…how you can change someone’s fetishes with a glance…Mizuto-kun.

 

10:05 A.M. ■ The heart speaks louder than the mouth (Yume)

 

“Lookie look. It’s Haikara-san~!” “Wow, it’s true! It’s cute!”

I heard those voices again, and I felt my face heat up a little.

I thought I wouldn’t stand out too much while walking down the corridor in hakama and boots since there were so many cosplayers everywhere during the culture festival, but I was naive. This choice of costume really made us stand out.

“Goodness…! I’d rather serve customers than do this….”

“Don’t say things you can’t do.”

“Wha…! I-I can at least serve customers!”

I protested to Mizuto, who was dressed as a scholar. Et tu Mizuto, with that innocent face!?

Mizuto, who was wearing a cloak, had a placard hanging on his haori that read “Taisho-Romantic Cafe, Class 1-7!’. Akatsuki-san hung it on him back in the classroom before we patrolled as executive committee members. To be honest, it’s more embarrassing than the costume, so Mizuto and I swapped from time to time.

“Take a good look at me when our shift comes up. I’m a girl who can do it!”

“I know. I’ve heard you practicing at night.”

“Hurrrkkk…! D-don’t eavesdrop …!”

“Your fault for being so loud.”

This is why living together isn’t always a good thing. What do I do for Valentine’s Day? Where am I supposed to make chocolate?

During the culture festival, the most time would be spent on patrolling the campus. If there’s trouble, we solve it, if there are lost kids, we guide them. There’s no time for us to be shy.

That’s also the reason why I agreed to let Higashira-san join us. Because it’s a real date! According to senpai, some people started dating after CulFes.

I looked at my watch and said, 

“Ah…h-hey, we should get going soon.”

“Hmm?…Ahh, you mean check out the haunted house?”

“Yes! We don’t want to be late! Right!?

It is the job of the culture festival committee to check the safety of the events.

Yep, haunted houses have poor visibility, and trouble can easily occur. The committee members will drop by beforehand to ensure safety.

It’s our job! It’s definitely not for my personal benefit! It’s a job! I have no choice! I need to enter the haunted house alone with Mizuto…!

“Oh, you’re here?” Are you the CulFes committee?” Wow! Your costume is pretty~!”

We arrived at the class in particular, and found the receptionists waiting for us in front of a classroom that had been transformed into a frightening atmosphere.

It seemed preparations were cutting it close till the last minute, so we had to check it out at this time, right before the start of the culture festival…as expected, they’re working till the last minute, and it certainly looked very intricate ….

I was a little scared, but Mizuto spoke in a professional manner.

“Do you mind if we check it out?”

“Please do please do~!” “Please enter together~!!” Watch your step, and follow the path!” “… By the way, it’s very dark in there, so you won’t be noticed if you stick together for a bit.”

Woah! They’re stirring things up! This haunted house is for couples…!

“…Let’s go.”

After a subtle pause that showed his indecisiveness, Mizuto put his hand on the black curtain that blocked the entrance.

“Wa-wait a sec…!”

I hurriedly followed him through the curtain.

It was really dark inside. I couldn’t believe it was daytime. It was like a cave, but there was a light in the back that seemed to be guiding me… like a human soul. What’s that light? How was it made?

“They made the path obvious, huh ….”

Mizuto calmly got into work mode. Is this guy really okay with horror? Ah goodness, we should have gone to a haunted house at least once when we were dating!

I took a deep, quiet breath and spoke up adamantly.

“… Hey…can I hold your hand, please …?”

“Huh? Why?”

I’m the one asking ‘why’! What kind of reaction is that when someone is being cute and cuddly?

I attacked without hesitation.

“Look, it’s dark, you’re wearing hakama, and it’ll be troublesome if you trip and break something. So, just in case, let’s stay together…, okay?”

“… Well, okay. I get it.”

No sooner than when I heard that, I slid my own hand into Mizuto’s.

His hand was thin and delicate. I could tell it’s a guy though, since there’s a bit of ruggedness…I thought it got a little bigger since middle school.

When I tried to interlock my fingers with his, Mizuto glanced at me. I didn’t notice though. I’m oblivious, you know. I think you’re being overly self-conscious. Then, his gaze slipped away. Fufufu.

And so, the haunted house date began.

Splash…we walked down the dark narrow path while hearing water sounds echoing out of nowhere, And then—from a dim light that I thought was for guidance, the first assassin appeared.

“Huh!?”

I really didn’t intend to, but I clung onto Mizuto’s arm, naturally.

Within the dimly glowing curtain, a strange shadow that was clearly not a person passed through.

Speaking of haunted houses, I was expecting to see pale hands coming out of the fusuma sliding doors., and I thought I would be safe in the middle of nowhere. However, I was immediately caught off guard.

“…Oy….”

As I froze in surprise and a bit of remorse, I heard a faintly quivering murmur in my ear.

“How long are you going to cling onto me…?”

“Ah…s- sorry…”

No, wait. I always failed because I retreated. It’s the perfect situation for me, so why can’t I press on?

“Can I… go on like this for a while longer? It’s…scary ….”

“………What are you saying? Don’t you usually seek out books with dismembered bodies in them?”

“Mystery and horror are totally different!”

I stiffened my resolve and hugged Mizuto’s arm even tighter. Within the next three seconds—I finally realized that I was pressing my chest against his, but I lost my way to retreat. Woooahhh…it’s embarrassing, but I’d be figured out if I were to escape here…….

—Thump…thump…thump—

My heartbeat hastened. Did you hear it through my arm? Do you think it’s because I’m clinging onto you? Or do you think I’m just scared of a haunted house?

“……Let’s get moving. It shouldn’t be too long.”

Without giving me an answer, Mizuto walked off, pulling me along.

After that, the elaborate surprise trap continued. The ghosts suddenly jumping out at me was just the prelude to it all, and before I knew it, someone was following behind me. BAM BAM BAM! There were loud footsteps passing through. The changing tricks were really scary, and I wasn’t tempted by them anymore.

Just when I thought it was about to end, a door appeared in front of us.

It was the sliding door of the classroom. Beyond this would be the outside.

But—at the exit of hope was a sign blocking the peephole.

“The monster will be defeated by the pure love of Man, and the curse on the door will be broken. You should kiss each other on the mouth. If not, embrace each other.”

“…………”

“…………”

What the heck is this!?

You mean I can’t get out unless I kiss him? What kind of haunted house is this?

I had a bad feeling about this~….when we went inside, everyone was grinning strange for some reason….

I whispered discreetly to Mizuto.

“(Wh-what do we do…?)”

“(There’s no way we can do that. If it’s a kiss, it means we’re being watched.)”

Ri-right, of course. Thinking it over, the whole world knew that Mizuto was dating Higashira-san, and if I were to kiss, even if it’s just a pretend kiss, that information would leak out from somewhere, and it would mean that Mizuto was cheating on her…

“Then…we have no choice. Yep, we need to do this to get out!”

I said loudly, paused and said, I don’t wanna—

—Gyuu.

And then, I hugged Mizuto from the front.

It said we could hug as an alternative. Since I couldn’t kiss him, I could only do this. We had no choice. Right?

“O-oy…”

“Come on, hurry up. We need to hug each other…you too.”

“……Damn you….”

I laughed a little. I’d never seen anyone actually say ‘onore’ before.

—Gyuu.

I was engulfed within Mizuto’s arms from my shoulders to my back. I felt Mizuto’s warmth all over me, and a soft, happy feeling filled my chest. I was excited, I was relieved… ahh, maybe it’s the first time I’d been hugged like this since we broke up…

…thump, thump, thump…

The rhythm of his heartbeat was a little different from mine. I was sure it wasn’t just me, but that heartbeat got a little faster as time went by.

Pfft. I couldn’t help but chuckle.

And then, I couldn’t stop the mischievous impulse rising in me.

While our cheeks touched, I brought my lips to Mizuto’s ear.

“(It’s been a while. Does it feel good?)”

—THUD. That heartbeat jumped for a moment.

No matter how blank his face might be, the heart’s always honest. I had only seen him calmly do his CulFes work recently, so the frantic heartbeat felt even more adorable.

However, such enjoyment didn’t last long, click, for I heard the sound of the door being unlocked.

Mizuto immediately pulled himself away from me. I tried to peek at his face, but it was too dark, and he quickly turned away, so I couldn’t be sure.

Well…that makes two of us though, since I was glad he couldn’t see my face too.

~! What did I just say? Wasn’t that a little ecchi!?

“Thank you for your hard work!”

By the time we opened the door and walked out into the brightly lit corridor, we were subtly looking away from each other, and the mood was indescribably awkward.

“How was our haunted house!?” “It was well done! It’s going to be a sacred place for couples!”

As a member of the culture festival committee, I had to make a decision.

“…Basically, it’s fine, but please remove the last sign as it disrupts the public morals..”

“””Eeehhhhh~!”””

The girls screamed in frustration, while the boys looked at each other like, ‘Of course’. Yep, that’s right.

Mizuto and I left the haunted house class, and went back to patrol.

After a while, Mizuto, who had been silent, suddenly muttered to me.

“…That was….”

“Huh?”

“That was…just me being surprised that the haunted house was more authentic than I thought.”

…Did your heart beat faster after you hugged me?

Don’t be so boorish, 

“You’re scared, and you put up with it? For my sake?”

“No! I was just surprised—”

“So you were actually trying your best to endure it? O kawaii koto~!”

“That’s not it…argh!”

Really, it’s only the heart that’s honest, right?

 

10:56 A.M. ■ Can’t I do this much for you? (Mizuto)

 

After our little (really little) blunder in the haunted house, we continued our rounds, since I wasn’t going to spare Yume after she got carried away.

I’ve always thought that if I could eliminate one of the Three Great Desires, I‘d choose to eliminate the desire to sleep, since I could use the time to read or do other things. But at this point, I wanted to get rid of my sexual desire. It wasn’t the first time…that I was rattled by such contact. That’s a shame for an eternity.

As I walked through the hustle and bustle of the culture festival, my mind was distracted by something else.

Is Isana free at the moment? When I went to check on her earlier, she seemed troubled by the girls in her class talking to her—well, she’s a pro at killing time by herself, so perhaps I didn’t have to worry about her, but I’d like to pick her up earlier if possible.

“…..!”

I was about to pull out my phone to check the time when Yume paused for a moment…did she just wince a little, like she’s in pain or something?

“What’s wrong?”

“Ugh….. Nope. It’s nothing. I just tripped a bit…..”

It’s not like I didn’t know her well enough to take her empty smile literally.

I looked down at Yume’s booted feet and thought for a moment.

“…..You got a blister?”

“Eh? W-hy…”

“You’ve been walking around in unfamiliar shoes for an hour. Of course that’s a possibility.”

In fact, I should’ve thought of that in the first place. I hadn’t thought that far ahead…..

“The infirmary…is a bit far, huh.”

“I-I’m fine!”

“Shut up. First thing we need to do is to be sure. I’m sure there’s an empty classroom nearby. Let’s go.”

I grabbed Yume’s wrist and yanked her along, and she followed me without much resistance.

The corridor in front of the empty classroom was deserted, as if it were an air bubble. The school building was filled with so much hustle and bustle, but my footsteps could be heard in this area.

I opened the door and peeked inside, but there was no one in sight. I heard that every year, some students would hang out in these empty classrooms and skip the culture festival, but this one seemed to be empty for real.

“I don’t see anyone here. Good enough. Sit in that chair for a minute.”

“It’s nothing. I’m just a little sore…”

“Look, It’s bad when you’re in pain. If you can’t walk, it means more work for me, understand?”

“…You’re worried about yourself?”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“….Not really…”

I bent down in front of Yume, who was sitting in a chair, “Which one?” I asked, and Yume replied, “Right…..,” so I loosened the laces on her right boot.

After taking off the boot, I proceeded to the sock. I put my fingers on the elastic of the socks, “Wait…!” Yume anxiously watched on, but thanks to Isana, taking off a girl’s socks was pretty much easy peasy for me. Besides, didn’t Yume ask me to put her knee-highs on her before? Don’t act innocent now.

The sock came off easily, exposing her white foot. I lifted it gently, “Mm…” and Yume let out a ticklish moan.

“…There’s some redness on your inner ankle and around the base of your big toe…doesn’t look that bad right now.”

“O-of course, right? I’m fine.”

“That’s what you say now. We got our class shift after this, and given your personality, you’re going to put up with it at work even when the abrasion gets worse.”

“…..Nnnn………”

Yume fell silent, looking a little embarrassed.

Since it’s already this red, I felt I should do something about it. The best thing would be to change to a pair of shoes she’s fine with, but we don’t have any on hand right now…

“…Oh, right.”

I remembered something, rummaged through the pocket of my hakama, and pulled out something.

Yume raised her eyebrows lightly,

“…Band-aid? You have one of those?”

“Yeah, just in case a visiting kid trips over or something. You should feel a little better if you put this on for now.”

I put the band-aid on the area that was turning red.

Yume mumbled to herself as she saw me work.

“You’re…surprisingly thoughtful about people, aren’t you?”

“…Not really. It’s just that I don’t like crying kids, so that’s the first thing I thought of.”

“The truth is, you’re sweet…Higashira-san and I are the only ones who know about this, right?”

Once I was done putting on the band-aid, I picked up the sock, and stared at Yume’s bare foot.

“Then again, so what…what’s wrong with that?”

“You could’ve gotten to know everyone better. You’re not exactly friendly with the CulFes guys, are you?”

“That’s true, not like I can help it.”

I slipped the boot over her foot without looking up at Yume’s face.

“It’s a hassle for me when people think I’m easy to get along with. For me, it’s exhausting to talk to people.”

“What about me then?”

“It’s really tiring.”

“You’re my family, don’t be so harsh.”

Yume chuckled as she said this.

…I don’t need them.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t need ‘everyone’.

I’m not like you…I’m just built different.

I tied her laces, stood up, and Yume got up from the chair.

“How is it?”

Yume paced around the gap between the desks, looking at the plastered right foot.

“…Hmmm. I think it’s fine. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“Take it easy. It’s troublesome to diagnose you again.”

“You should be more honest and gentle.”

Yume gave a faint, weird smile, 

“Thanks.”

The memory of the moment when Yume nursed me back to health popped up In the back of my mind.

Yuni-san told me to thank her in person. But—I hadn’t been able to say those words to her.

I guess it’s easy for you to say it so easily though.

“………Yeah.”

I replied tersely and walked to the classroom door.

The only thing that brimmed from my throat was emptiness.

 

11:06 A.M. ■ For some reason, the genius classmate is gunning for my chastity (Yume)

 

Creak…

I left the empty classroom along with Mizuto, and just as we’re about to leave, I heard a creaking noise behind me.

“(Wait, wait, wait!)”

“Hmm?”

I stopped Mizuto sharply while muffling myself, and looked back at the empty classroom I had just left.

“(Is there anyone in the classroom…from earlier?)”

“Huh…?”

Mizuto furrowed his eyebrows suspiciously, and at that moment, there was another creak.

We looked at each other.

We crept closer and closer to the door we had just closed ourselves, and peered through the peephole.

And then…we saw it.

“—Well, Hahaha, that was scary.”

“… Please give me a break, Kurenai-san…”

A guy and a girl crawled out from under the teacher’s desk.

“”……!?””

They were hiding!?

They were under the table the whole time…while I had Mizuto touch my leg!?

Also, those two were very familiar.

The girl with a distinct asymmetrical hairstyle was Vice President Suzuri Kurenai.

The guy was the same guy who always accompanies her around, Treasurer Jouji Haba.

While those two…cuddling under the cramped teacher’s desk…while we’re in the classroom…?

“(Eh? Eh? What’s going on? Why are those two hiding…?”

“(Isn’t that because…it would be bad if they were found…?)”

Eh? You mean they didn’t want to be caught doing something? A guy and a girl alone together? In an empty classroom…?

Kurenai-senpai quickly slapped the butt of her skirt, sat down at the desk by the window, and crossed her legs leisurely.

Senpai herself was rather diminutive, and had a small bust too, but she had quite the feminine profile. In other words…well, if I had to choose my words…she’s thicc. She’s unexpectedly fleshy on the thighs, and she had her legs crossed despite her short skirt, which made it difficult for me to look at her. In fact, Haba-senpai looked away, and I too turned Mizuto’s face aside.

Kurenai-senpai was basically seducing Haba-senpai as she put her hands behind her back, unprotected.

“Well, Joe, now that you’ve inhaled all my scent, shall we continue?”

“No I didn’t, and I’m not going to.”

Haba-senpai clearly stated. I guess it’s the first time I saw him talk like this…speaking of which, what… continue? Continue what?

Kurenai-senpai chuckled.

“You shouldn’t lie, you know? Your nostrils were about two millimeters wide when you got down and buried your face into my chest. I’m sorry about that. I should’ve gone no bra beforehand in anticipation of that situation.”

“That’s a super unnecessary concern…what’s so fun about seducing me?”

“That’s a question I don’t understand. How can it not be fun to seduce a man I’m in love with?”

Love…? You said love!? You said it, didn’t you?

Kurenai-senpai teasingly put her finger on the ribbon.

“Or is my virginity not worthy of yours?”

What the—?

“(…Oy. Is this something we should be watching?)”

“(J-Just a little more! Just a little more!)”

At this position, Haba-senpai had his back turned to me, and I could barely see his face, but I could barely make out his reddened ears.

“…. I’ve told you many times, I’m the one who doesn’t deserve it. I don’t know what your whim is, but I’m not good enough for you, Kurenai-san.”

“You can call someone’s first love a whim. As I’ve said many times, you’re not as insignificant as you think you are. After all, I’m the one who approved of you, you know?”

“After all, I’m just a little mechanically-inclined, and nothing else—”

“Everyone has an ideal self.”

Suddenly, Kurenai-senpai said so.

Strangely, those words resonate strongly enough to enter my ears even though there was a distance between us.

“Whether you realize it or not, I think that the beauty of a person lies in the respect of those ideals Joe, your ideals are beautiful. That’s why you think you’re not so great in real life. You respect your ideals so much that you underestimate your reality. That’s the attitude that I call beautiful.”

Haba-senpai fell silent, and next to me, Mizuto too gasped.

The ideal, self…

I too had one. That’s why I grew my hair long, that’s why I fixed my shyness, that’s why I made friends—that’s why I confessed my love to him.

I wonder if Mizuto has one too.

Back in middle school, I thought he was a hero who could do anything. Even at this moment, with his abnormally high specs and seemingly little need for human help—he too had ideals he wanted to attain, and a reality in which he couldn’t attain.

“Even if that’s the case…”

Haba-senpai eked out a voice he hardly used, but was strong enough.

“The ideal me isn’t the one who loses to the lame temptations of a smart but crude classmate who becomes an animal while everyone else is working hard.”

“…I see.”

Kurenai-senpai tightened the loosened ribbon and hopped off the desk.

“I read in the reference material that passion flares when we indulge in pleasure while everyone else is working, but it seems I was mistaken.”

“Please discard that reference material ASAP.”

“Good grief. I’ll have to think of a new situation again. It’s hard enough to fall for a guy with such lofty ideals.”

“Please realize soon that it’s harder to be liked by a strange woman.”

Ah, uh oh, they’re coming this way!

We left the place while hushing our presence. Once we were far enough away to blend in with the hustle and bustle of the culture festival, we finally sighed.

“I’m surprised…I thought those two were always together, but I guess that’s their relationship…”

“I don’t think ‘that’s their relationship’ sums up everything…”

That’s true. I guess even Kurenai-senpai too had a romantic side to her…though it’s kinda crude.

“…I pity Haba-senpai.”

Mizuto muttered to himself.

“Eh? Why? Kurenai-senpai is definitely a bit of a weirdo, but she’s cute and nice.”

“Too nice is also a problem, you know.”

With that, Mizuto walked off at a brisk pace.

Are you saying that a high lofty flower is too good for him? It’s true that she had a different presence from others, and she did say so, but.

….I didn’t think it had anything to do with that.

I was able to become lovers with you back then, even though I thought that totally didn’t suit me.

 

11:34 A.M. ■ I’m happy that he’s popular, but that doesn’t mean I’m jealous. (Akatsuki)

 

“Ah…! You’re here!”

I was waiting in front of the classroom, and then Yume-chan and Irido-kun finally emerged from the crowd.

I waved to them, and they hurried towards me as they looked at the back door—where the guests would visit.

“Sorry, we’re a little late… Hey, isn’t that quite a huge queue?”

“Isn’t the queue like, crossing to the other class…?”

“That’s~right~! The line was longer than expected… so we added a time limit for each visit and added more seats in a hurry, but there’s too much demand~.

Thank goodness the class next door wasn’t using their own classroom for their item. If they had, the queues would be tangled up, and it’d be a mess.

“Wh-why…is it so popular?”

“It seemed word of mouth spread. The coffee that Kine-chan made was better than expected for a culture festival—and there’s the two of you walking around here and there, which made it more popular.”

When I waved my phone in the air and showed it to Yume-chan “Eh, ehhhh…~” she groaned, looking perturbed yet delighted. Irido-kun frowned in annoyance.

“Anyway, help us out here! We don’t have the manpower for this!”

“O-okay!”

I pulled Yume-chan and Irido-kun by the hand and brought them into the classroom. Then, 

“Ah, the girl from earlier…!” “Wow! It looks so damn good on you~~~!”

The store suddenly buzzed, and Yume-chan’s eyes went blank.

Pffft, you have quite the low self-esteem, don’t you, Yume-chan? You should be aware that you’re super duper cute~!

And of course, Yume-chan wasn’t the only one in the spotlight.

The moment Irido-kun showed up in his scholar costume, his work clothes, more than 70% of the female customers in the store whispered to each other, squealed away, or immediately hushed themselves by covering their mouths and puffing their cheeks.

Of course, Irido-kun ignored such reactions with a blank look. It’s annoying that he’s aware of his high specs, and more so for him to ignore such reactions.

We entered the staff space separated by a curtain, Yume-chan still seemed to be having a hard time understanding the situation.

“Ehhh…e-erm, there are surprisingly a lot of women here, aren’t there?”

“Yes, yes. Word of mouth is spreading, especially among girls. Thanks to this, the store has become a more female-oriented space. There’s no attempt to woo our staff that we’re worried about.”

Visitors came on an invitation basis, and the information shared by the system wasn’t as much as expected. Ultimately, it was all a futile effort on Irido-kun’s part.

“—You’re finally here, Irido~~~…!”

A group of boys entered the staff space, sounding vindictive. Like Irido-kun, the hall staff was serving customers in the same scholar outfit.

“The girls who came here after seeing you looked at us and went all ‘they aren’t as perfect, right?’ ‘the one we just saw earlier was better’…!”

“That’s right! You can’t become a scholar if you’re a normal high school boy!

“Take responsibility! Your presence is banishing us into the shadow realm! We need to stop you before you cause us more emotional trauma!”

So sad…

It seemed the boys had it tougher because they couldn’t disguise themselves with pretty colors like the girls. it was supposed to be a place for our acquaintances to meet, but because the Irido siblings were such good billboards, we had unfamiliar visitors coming over.

Kawanami, who’s becoming more popular because of how frivolous he was, smirked as he stood behind the boys crowding Irido-kun.

“There’s a crowd waiting for you. Go ahead and be the eyecandy, Irido.”

“…Haa….”

Irido-kun let out a languid sigh.

It’s not fair, I know. That looked good on him too.

“Understood. I’ll just serve as per what’s written in the manual.”

“That’s good enough. I think you can handle it.”

Kawanami stepped aside for Irido-kun.

And I too would nudge Yume-chan in the back, 

“You too, Yume-chan! Don’t worry, I’ll follow up on you even if you make a mistake!”

“I-I’ll do my best…!”

I pushed the nervous looking Yume-chan together with Irido-kun, who was wearing a school cap, out into the hall.

At the same time,

“Yes, yes, yes!” “I’d like to make an order~!” “I’ll have another one!”

The customers raised their hands in unison.

Woah. It’s definitely almost a bad joke.

The storm of orders suddenly overwhelmed them, and Yume-chan was in a panic.

“Wh-wh-what do I do…?”

“Go to the nearest one and start from there! We’ll take care of the rest! Here’s the order chit!”

I handed over the order chit and sent Yume-chan off to a nearby table. It was a group of three girls. I thought they’d be easier to deal with than boys or adults, but, 

“Wow! It’s so pretty even up close!” “What’s with her hair? It’s so well groomed!” “Hey, can I take a photo? I want to post it on Instagram!”

“Eh, ah, no, erm…”

“Yes, yes! Dear customers! Please place an order quickly! One Instax shot for 100,000 yen!”

Yumi-chan was instantly overwhelmed by the concentrated attack of the girls, so I came in to help. The girls all went, “It’s too expensive!” “It’s an acoustic guitar!” “Alright we give up~!” and laughed. We’re not running a real store, so it’s okay to treat the customers like this.

“A-Akatsuki-san, thank you~…!”

“You’re welcome. It’s not like you’re working at a real stall, take it easy! I’ll take care of you for a while!”

“Uuu, it’s not worth the trouble…”

You’re so serious. That’s what’s so cute about you!

Meanwhile, as for Irido-kun…

“One café au lait, one straight iced tea, is that correct?”

“Y-yes, of course…” “E-erm, a photo…”

“I’m sorry, but we don’t allow photos here….”

He said with a troubled look on his face, “Haaa…!” “N-no, it’s fine…” and the females were almost at their limits.

It was surprising. I expected him to be expressionless and machine-like, but I didn’t expect him to give a professional smile.

“You’re rather capable, Irido-kun. I’m not sure why you’re usually so cold to me.”

“When it comes to work, my interpersonal skills seem to be switched on. Same thing when I’m working on CulFes. …”

“…What’s wrong?”

I looked at Yume-chan’s face and saw that she had a conflicted look on her face, pouting a little while the edges of her lips relaxed.

Yume-chan covered her mouth with the order chit in embarrassment, 

“…It’s nice to see Mizuto being recognized by other people…but, it’s a little unpleasant seeing him smile at other girls…”

“…………”

WHY IS THIS GIRL SO CUTE!!!!!?????

“Oyyy Irido, come here!”

Kawanami, who was nearby, suddenly called Irido-kun over.

When Irido-kun came to him with a doubtful look, Kawanami stared back intently,

“You better…serve customers more coldly.”

“What kind of instruction is that?”

“Shut up! Didn’t you learn in your training not to sell your smile too cheaply?”

“It’s like Ran Ran Ru after dark.”

At Irido-kun’s calm retort, “pfft” Yume-chan let out a small giggle.

 

11:55 A.M. My working friend is completely different from usual (Isana)

 

Here I am!

I’m Isana Higashira.

I heard that Mizuto-kun and Yume-san were working their shifts from this time, so I came to the rumoured Taisho-Romantic café at classroom 1-7…

“It’s really popular…”

There was a really long queue at the entrance! It’s like a Mister Donut sale.

Well, I’ve never had the courage to go alone, much less to a cafe. I didn’t expect it to be so popular.

Could they excuse me for a moment and have a peek inside through the window? There were others who saw this long queue and were interested, so I was going to blend in and have a peek…

“…Ah…”

I found Mizuto-kun and Yume-san!

I did see Mizuto-kun before, but Yume-san looked really good too… haaa…. They used to date when in middle school, huh…woah, my heart’s racing for some reason.

There you go! Y’all look so different when you’re serving customers, I guess. When I met Mizuto-kun earlier, I felt like he was just wearing a costume, but he seemed like he’s actually working…no, I don’t think a real scholar would work in a café, but,

“Is this your entire order?”

“Y-Yes, …!” “That’s it! Yes! Thank you very much.”

“Please enjoy your meal.”

…Well..

Somehow…the vibe around Mizuto-kun is softer than usual. I’m not sure what to say.

What is it? What’s with that smiling face!? Where’s that salty Mizuto-kun who never raises an eyebrow no matter how I talk to him!? He’s only looking so kind to the customers! It’s not fair!

Well I guess he wouldn’t give such a look even if I asked him to…I didn’t have the courage to enter the store, and I didn’t have money, so I was just going to bite my tongue and peek. Please look at this, this is the reality of the woman who’s rumored to be Mizuto-kun’s girlfriend.

“—Huh, Higashira-san?”

“Unya!”

Suddenly, Minami-san appeared in front of me. I was so surprised that I turned my head aside.

Minami-san, like Yume-san, was wearing a hakama, with a ponytail and a big Japanese ribbon. Ohhh, it’s amazing how a different ribbon pattern can change the vibe of a person.

“What are you doing here? Aren’t you going to go inside?”

“I-I don’t have such guts though… There’s also a huge queue…”

“Haha~….since it’s hard to get in alone, you’re peeking at Irido-kun through the window? So? What do you think?”

“…I feel like I’m not looking at Mizuto-kun, and just looking at him makes me nervous. …”

“Ohh, good response. You still have a bit of a girly streak in you, Higashira-san.”

“I always have one. I’m just one of those girl friends who have crushes and marginalized every day!”

“What’s the difference between that and a girlfriend…?”

Minami-san said as she gave me a dumbfounded look of eyes half opened. The difference is that Mizuto-kun doesn’t seem to have a crush at all.

“Do you want to come in? I’ll let you in as a friend, okay?”

“No, no, no, it’s fine! It’s bad when other people are queuing!”

“I see. Hmm~…ah, I see. Are you free after this?”

“Eh? Ah, yes, until Mizuto-kun and the others are done with their work. …”

“Good enough. I’m almost done with my shift and have some free time. Come with me!… I need you to help me with something, okay?”

“Haaa…I don’t mind, but ….”

What do you want me to help you with, when I’m not even helping with my class exhibition?

“Now then, wait here for a minute, Higashira-san, I have to get changed.”

Minami-san gave a suspicious smirk and walked away. She approached Yume-san and said something like, “Hey, let me borrow that”. The latter replied “Eh?…Ah, I see. I’ll leave it to you,” and gave me a mysterious smile.

Ehhh…? What is it? What are you planning …?

While I was confused, a secret voice leaked out from around me.

“It’s Higashira…”, “Look, she’s Irido-kun’s rumored…”, “Ahh! That girl…!?”

…Hmmm.

I decided not to worry about my surroundings, but I was still uncomfortable. I might die if I stood up any more, so I left the window, feeling regretful, and retreated some distance away from the classroom of 1-7.

Minami-san, what are you planning to do…? I can’t stop worrying!

 

12:16 P.M. People may forget, but what goes around comes around (Mizuto)

 

Lunch break loomed, and we had to cut the queue. Once we dealt with the current queue, we could finally have a break. I promised to walk around the culture festival with Yume and Isana. Finally, I was free from the unfamiliar sales smile.

…Maybe not.

At the last moment, a troublesome assassin appeared.

“Oy, Irido. Someone called for you.

Kawanami came to call me in the staff area with a stupefied look.

“Called? By whom?”

“I dunno? Some really pretty big sister with a grade school kid. I don’t really know what I should call her…but anyway, what’s the relationship?”

Big sister.

Of all my acquaintances, there was one such person I would call her so.

“… Okay. I’ll go….”

“You look like you’re really embarrassed.”

“Of course—you’ll look like this too if your relatives came to your workplace.”

“… Ahhh….”

Kawanami seemed to have understood, for he took pity on me “Do your best.” and tapped me lightly on the shoulder.

I went out onto the hall that was less frantic than before, and found that Yume had already been caught by that person.

“—Come on, Chikuma, you have something to say to Yume, don’t you?”

“Eh, ahh, uuu…”

“Madoka-san, you don’t have to force him to say something like that… I’m sorry, Chikuma-kun. You don’t have to worry about it, okay?”

Sure enough, it was Madoka-san.

She did say she’d come, and Yume did send her an invite, but worryingly for us, she really did. And for some reason, she even brought her little brother Chikuma along. Poor little guy. He’s a shy kid, and I’m sure he wouldn’t feel comfortable at a high school culture festival.

I reluctantly joined the fray of a high school girl and a college girl surrounding a red-faced elementary school kid, “Ohhh!” and Madoka-san looked at me.

“Mizuto-kun! I’ve heard about your reputation~? I heard you’re the number one waiter in this restaurant~?”

“I don’t have a reputation, and it’s only a part-time gig for CulFes.”

“Again with that? Nihihi, I saw other girls going all kya kya at you. I’m so proud of you as a big sister.”

It would be too much of a hassle to deal with her, so I looked towards Yume instead and said.

“Don’t slack off for too long. There are still other customers here.”

“You’re really unsociable. Why don’t you be more sociable with Madoka-san?…Sorry, Madoka-san, there are more customers than I expected…”

“It’s okay. We’ll just sit here and watch! Get back to work~.”

Yume bowed and left Madoka-san’s seat, and Chikuma followed her back with his eyes…well, in general, it’s understandable that he’d admire a relative that suddenly appeared. In general, that is.

I too left the seats, and went to a customer who was waiting. Right at this moment, a seat was available.

“How many people?”

“Ah, just the two of us!”

Maybe they’re in middle school, probably first years. They were a pair of girls who hadn’t grown tall enough yet. One of them looked friendly, but the other one was always looking diagonally downwards, seemingly distressed. I guess these were our last customers for the morning.

As part of the ambiance, I led the middle school girls to their seats as they looked curiously at the Taisho era newspapers on the wall and the bookshelves containing the works of literary figures of the time.

There were quite a few middle school students in attendance. They got invitations from their older siblings or seniors, and basically treated this as an open campus visit. In other words, they’re potential future juniors—but I’ll have already graduated by the time these kids are in high school.

When I took my seat, the friendly-looking one smiled at me, just as I had expected.

“Onii-san, you’re really cool! It really looks great on you! Hey, don’t you think so too?”

“…………”

For some reason, the dour-looking one was staring at my face.

I had gotten used to the stares while dressed like this, but still, she looked at me like there was a crawfish on my face.

What is it?

So I wondered, 

“…Erm…”

The junior high school girl slowly spoke up while she stared at my face with her eyebrows raised.

“Have we…met somewhere before?”

“Huh?”

I couldn’t help but break out of my sales mode and show my true nature.

Have we met? Is that what she asked me?

I looked at the junior high school girl’s face again. Her hair was in a two-side-up style, a combination of long hair and twin-tails, and although her innocent face was rather nice, her tsurime eyes gave a tough impression.

I’d never been good at remembering people’s faces, but when they’re this young, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. I just wonder why people couldn’t distinguish the faces of growing kids.

“Sorry…but I don’t remember.”

“Oh, I see…”

The girl looked down with some disappointment, and the friendly-looking girl said,

“Eh? That’s unusual! I can’t believe you’re interested in a guy! You’re always looking at the boys in your class like they’re trash~!”

“It’s not like that…I was just mistaken…”

“Listen to me, onii-san! When she was in fifth grade…she saw an older couple in middle school kiss! She was so traumatized by it that she ended up bad with boys!”

“Wait…! You said too much!”

I see. So she’s just looking wary at me, huh… though that didn’t answer my question…

“I guess we’ll have a female staff member to serve you then. Will that be fine?”

“T-thank you very much.”

But the man-hating middle school girl kept staring at my face while I took her order.

I returned to the staff area after taking their order, and Yume gave me a stern look.

“…You talked for quite a long time, didn’t you?”

“They’re just talkative, that’s all. Well, now that there isn’t much of a crowd, we can spend some more time, right?”

“Hmmm…”

Yume glanced at the two middle school girls from earlier, 

“…They look like they’re first years.”

“Probably about there, yeah, I guess.”

“They’re so tiny.”

“That’s about right for seventh graders.”

“……You like middle schoolers?”

“I’ll punch you.”

It’s true that I once dated a middle school girl, but I too was in middle school back then.

I was in no mood to handle her strange insinuations, and I forced myself to get back to work.

“That middle school student doesn’t like boys with long hair. You should serve her instead.”

“Hmmm…so now I have man-hating girls to deal with…”

“That’s enough.”

Nihihi, I turned my head to the sound of laughter and saw Madoka-san looking at me, grinning. Seriously, you should learn from Chikuma… who’s quietly cooling down his tea.

So I thought, 

“—Ah.”

Chikuma, who was about to sip his drink, hit his elbow on the desk.

The saucer slid off the desk and landed on the floor with a crash—or so I imagined, 

“Whoa!”

A hand quickly reached out from the side and caught the saucer.

It was the man-hating middle school girl from the nearby seat.

She breathed a sigh of relief and held out the saucer to Chikuma.

“Here, take this. Be careful.”

“Ahhh….”

Chikuma took the saucer, and eked out a soft voice. Seeing this, Madoka-san said, “I’m sorry! Thank you! You too, Chikuma!” Chikuma looked up at the middle school girl with his face completely red to her ears from the shame of his mistake.

“Thank you, very much….”

“————Ugh.”

The middle school girl flinched somewhat, but muttered coldly, “…It’s nothing,” and returned to her seat.

Hmmm. She must be really uncomfortable with guys if she acts like that even to younger people.

When she was in the fifth grade, she witnessed a couple kissing….since she’s in seventh grade, then two years ago—

—Two years ago—couple—kissing—elementary school—

“…Hmm?”

What’s…bugging me at this point?

“I’ve got number two! Take it, take it, take it!”

The kitchen staff raised his voice, and the discomfort disappeared somewhere. What was that about?

 

12:48 P.M. ■Complimenting my female friends’ looks somehow made me feel defeated (Mizuto)

 

“Akatsuki-san?”

It was lunchtime, and the stall was closed for the time being. The kitchen staff groaned and hurried off to the nearest supermarket because we ran out of ingredients, and in the meantime, Yume and I went to the designated changing room to take off our costumes.

On the way, I received a mysterious message on my phone.

Yume looked at my phone screen from the side and said, 

“I have Higashira-san with me. If you want her back, come over to the automatic palm reading machine next to the stage in the courtyard.” …you like that kind of thing, don’t you, Akatsuki-san?”

“I was going to meet up with Isana anyway, so I guess that’s fine. By the way, what is an automatic palm reading machine …?”

What’s the point of that? Or did that class have a stall that automatically dispensed them?

Anyway, we went to the changing room, where we were finally released from our hakama.

I put on my uniform and left the men’s changing room, and Yume came out from the women’s changing room after a little while. She was wearing her uniform pleated skirt underneath, but a yellow class t-shirt on top.

Yume tilts her head at the sight of me.

“Where’s your class T-shirt?”

“I’m wearing it underneath….”

I tugged lightly at the collar of the shirt, revealing the t-shirt I was wearing underneath.

As I told Isana before, I didn’t really like this class T-shirt. However, its functionality was decent, and Yume loved to pester me like this, so I wore it without complaining—it’s better to keep it as an undershirt since we’re meeting someone who hates class T-shirts more than me..

We returned the costume to the classroom, and moved to the location designated by Minami-san.

There were orderly queues towards the stalls in the schoolyard, and beyond them was a stage for events. Plays, band performances, and other events were held here and in the gymnasium.

However, since it was lunchtime, there was no one on the stage. I crossed the deserted spectator area and walked around to the side of the stage, where I found a stall for automatic palm reading machines that was so close to the stage that I almost missed it.

Right next to it, blending in with the shadows of the planted trees, I saw Minami-san in a class T-shirt, along with Isana who had her back arched for some reason.

“Kept you waiting, Akatsuki-san. You too, Higashira-san…What are you doing?”

“…Uuu… it’s not me…Minami-san suddenly… …”

Isana’s shoulders were shivering as she muttered away, as though talking to the tree hollow.

I frowned and glared at Minami-san.

“… What did you do?”

“You’re scary! Don’t get angry, I just had her change clothes! You don’t trust me enough, do you!?”

On the contrary, I’d ask if she ever did anything to make me trust her.

If you ask me, Isana wasn’t wearing a uniform. Her upper body was mostly covered by a black cape, but her skirt was dark green like matcha, and there seemed to be a front cover over it. Clearly it’s more like a waitress outfit instead of a uniform….

“Come on, come on, Higashira-san! You got changed, so let’s show them! It’s all right! It looks great on you, don’t let Yume-chan’s eyes fool you!”

“Hyaaah!? I-I’m not ready for this. …!”

When Isana was forced to face forward by Minami-san, “Ohhhh! Yume clasped her hands together.

“Thank goodness it’s the right size!”

“It’s perfect! I was worried about the chest area though!”

It seemed my impression of her resembling a waitress wasn’t far off the mark.

She was wearing a cape around her chest, but it looked like she was wearing a white blouse with an apron-like dress over it that was open at the chest.

The clothes that strongly reminded me of Europe at first glance seemed familiar to me.

“Wait…the Dirndl…?”

It was the dress Madoka-san had wanted Yume to wear when we were looking for costumes at the university.

As I recall, the bust area was too wide open, so I stopped her from wearing it….but…

“………Ah, so it’s a cape.”

“You can’t walk out in this! Those Germans are crazy!”

Isana exclaimed, scrunching up the front of her cape to cover her chest.

Minami-san grabbed Isana’s shoulders from behind, “Nihihi.” and started laughing ominously.

“Don’t worry…swimsuits show much more exposure…be confident.… It’s not that you’re half erotic—nope, I’m saying you’re cute and adorable. …”

“You’re saying it’s erotic, right!? You almost said it!”

“Don’t you want Irido-kun to see you like that?”

“Uuu.”

“You’ve already awakened to that, haven’t you? To the joy of being told you’re cute by someone you like! If it’s just a friend, then he can praise you honestly without any hesitation~~~”

“Uuuuuu…”

“Your suggestion skills are really intimidating…”

Yume commented with a wry smile. Always with the unnecessary stuff, huh?

Feeling dumbfounded, I decided to help.

“Don’t force yourself. Even if it’s the same sex, it’s sexual harassment…”

“—Ju-Just a moment….”

Isana said in a faint voice, glancing at me.

“If it’s just for Mizuto-kun…then, just a little bit…w-well? Now that I think of it, I used to go out in tank tops during summer vacation. It doesn’t make much of a difference…, right?”

“Don’t ask me…”

She’s right in that it’s a more decent attire compared to the boyfriend shirt just days ago though.

Isana beckoned me over to her, and when I tried to approach her, Yume pulled the sleeve of my uniform.

“(You need to compliment her properly, okay? …You can’t stare at it for too long.)”

So which is it?…Really, how should I respond?

I let go of Yume’s hand and approached Isana. Minami-san too gave up Isana, leaving us alone in the shade cast by the midday sun.

Isana kept her hands on her cape and swept her eyes from side to side, then finally looked up at me with an upturned gaze.

“Th-then, if you’ll excuse me. …”

Gulp, Isana untied the straps of her cape…and I couldn’t help but feel nervous when she acted so solemn. Why at this time? What are we doing at the edge of the schoolyard in broad daylight?

While I was throwing unanswered questions into the void, Isana opened the front of her cape.

“…………”

“…………”

…… This, is …….

I knew it, I should have. I knew the Dirndl was designed to expose lots of the chest and the shoulders, but…would this be how Isana looked whenever she’s not dressed like a high school girl?

A white blouse trimmed with frills lifted her self-proclaimed G-cup bulge, completely exposing her cleavage. There was a small gap between her blouse and her breasts, and if I stuck my fingers in it and slid it down, the cleavage would pop out..

If that was all, it wasn’t much different from the way she was dressed during the summer vacation when she was so careless. However, the Dirndl is often worn by fantasy village girls in manga, and it suits Isana’s simple appearance…

“W-What do you think…?”

Isana asked with an anxious look.

Now, all I had in my mind was a single thought.

Somehow—I regretted it.

I just felt defeated that Isana, who was always dressed messily and was terrible at teasing me—would feel this way about me.

But…if I don’t tell her properly, Isana would have worn this for nothing.

I searched for words for a few seconds, but my lack of literary talent rendered my resistance futile.

“…… It looks pretty good on you. I think it’s cute.”

“Ueehh?”

Isana blinked in surprise, and her face was gradually flushed.

“R-really?”

“I’m not good at social graces. You know that, right?”

“Not ‘cute’ like a dog or a cat—”

“No.”

“…B-by the way… which part of it…?”

“The whole thing. It would be weird if I talked about it in detail.”

“………Uehe. Uehehe. Eh heh heh ……”

Isana was embarrassed, and went on a refrain alternating from a bashful grin and an otaku leer.

I looked away, feeling mysteriously defeated. I was glad she was happy though.

“Heh. If it strikes Mizuto-kun’s fetishes that much, maybe I should take off the cape for a while. Eheheh! It can’t be helped, it’s Mizuto-kun’s fetishes! Ehe!”

“… By the way, let me ask you something.”

“Yes?”

I confronted Isana, who had quickly gotten carried away, with the reality of the situation.

“What’s… going on with your underwear, anyway?”

I couldn’t see any fabric at… where the bra should be.

Isana froze for a while with the bashful smile still plastered on her face–and then closed the front of her cape.

“…I should keep it closed after all….”

“You should, unless you want to end up in the student counselling office.”

Good grief…thank goodness we stopped Madoka-san, really.

 

01:05 P.M. Complex girls

 

“Was it good, Yume-chan? I’d say it was.”

I stared at Higashira-san who had regained her senses and put her cape back on, and Mizuto who was giving a dumbfounded smile when Akatsuki-san discreetly asked me.

I showed a vague smile.

“Isn’t that fine? It’s probably already too late for those two.”

“Well, I guess so. Their affection levels are already maxed”

It’s a strange and complicated feeling that I’ve experienced many times before.

Seeing Higashira-san looking so happy made me happy too…but at the same time, I felt my heart tingling with envy, or even jealousy. God I wished that was me…

It would be really unpleasant if I was still unsure of my feelings and stance…But at this point, I had a clear idea of what I wanted, and could accept those mixed feelings. After all, it’s proof that I had come to like him again.

“… You’ve grown up, Yume-chan. I can’t believe you’re the same girl who was upset and cried when you called Irido-kun’s name.”

“No, well, I’m still anxious though.”

It’s just that I figured out how not to be bogged down by that. I just told myself that it’s alright.

For example, just now, you know, I was told I’m cute too. It seemed the Taisho-Romantic outfit really was within Mizuto’s strikezone. It’s fine after all. We’re evenly matched.

“Then, can you handle the rest from now on?”

Akatsuki-san said with a teasing smile, like she’s talking to a kid.

I feel like a kid even though I’m bigger than you—I swallowed the words and nodded back.

“Yeah, I’m okay… why don’t you go to Kawanami-kun?”

“Why would I do that? That cheerful guy’s playing with his other friends anyway!”

I tried to retaliate with some teasing, but she replied in a very stubborn and sulky manner. While she always acted like a guardian when it came to me, she’s jelly when it’s about herself…

“Good luck, the culture festival is still a long way from ending.”

“What are you trying to do?…Well, if I happen to see you, I might give you a little poke.”

Akatsuki-san turned her head away and waved her ponytail like a dog’s tail.

 

01:10 P.M. You can’t imitate a Natural little devil (Yume)      

 

After seeing Akatsuki-san off, the three of us decided to have lunch first.

“We’re closed now, but the food carts are still open, right?”

“I guess…. It’s not very cosy, but what can we do? We haven’t had lunch today.”

“Oh, …! C-can we go then? Can we? I want to eat takoyaki!”

Higashira-san seemed to like food stalls more than I thought. She’s so shy though that she can’t go around by herself…I know that feeling…

We went to a takoyaki shop and bought one serving for each person. It’s more expensive than frozen food, but we got enough money for today, so we should use it.

“It’s hot. Be careful.”

“Yes! Fu-fu…nom nom.”

Higashira-san’s a little taller than me, but the way she chewed on the hot takoyaki was kinda cute; she’s like a squirrel.

I guess I don’t have enough of this kind of cuteness in me right now…alright…

“…Nom!”

I covered my mouth with my hand as I took a bite of the takoyaki without letting it cool down.

Mizuto looked at me with flabbergasted eyes.

“You completely ignored your own warning.”

“Affuu…i-it’s hotter than I thought!”

I was trying to show that I’m not as dumb as he thought, but it was really too hot. My mouth might have been burned.

Mogu mogu, Higashira-san swallowed down the takoyaki as she put her hand over her mouth.

“I think I might have burned my tongue…”

“Oy oy. Are you okay?”

“Look at this~ …”

Mmm, she said.

Higashira-san suddenly opened her mouth and showed Mizuto her pink tongue.

Ehh? Th-that’s…! Eh? She’s not ashamed?

Mizuto peeked at Higashira-san’s tongue with an unconcerned expression on his face, 

“It’s definitely a little burnt. Cool it down with some cold juice or something.”

“Please~….”

It’s definitely cute and cuddly, but…that really surprised me…th-the…tongue….

“Mi-Mizuto…”

“Hmm?”

I tugged at the hem of Mizuto’s uniform.

All I had to do was open my mouth…and stick out my…tongue…..

“…I-it’s nothing.”

“Really? I’ll buy drinks, you can have this.”

Mizuto hands me a tray of takoyaki and heads for a nearby drink stall.

I was quietly disappointed, holding the tray in both hands.

…I can’t do this…I’m not Higashira-san…

“What’s the matter, Yume-san, nom nom?”

“Higashira-san…how are you so shameless?”

“Huh? Am I being criticized harshly by any chance?”

 

01:18 P.M. I’ve got nothing to do with this. (Akatsuki)

 

“Ahhh, this is boring.”

Maki-chan said unhappily as we walked down the crowded hallway.

“What happened to our friendship? Irido-san has to work, so I can’t blame her, but that Nasuka, she put her boyfriend before us!”

“It can’t be helped though~. They just started dating, you know. You shouldn’t butt in while they’re enjoying themselves to the fullest.”

“She doesn’t seem to be having fun at all though!”

It’s true that Nasuka-chan, who was going to meet her boyfriend, had the same expressionless face as usual.

“But it’d be cute if she’s actually fidgeting inside despite the expressionless face.”

“Ugh! That’s a sweet and sour thing to say! You’re making me want a boyfriend~!”

“Okay okay. Calm down, I’ll accompany you.”

“Uuu…I can’t get a boyfriend, but I can get a girlfriend. Let’s flirt with each other, Akki…”

“Yes, yes. Flirt, huh.”

I petted and comforted Maki-chan, who hugged me like a big dog. I know what it’s like to miss a friend. However, Nasuka-chan—and Yume-chan for that matter—weren’t the kind of girls who would forget about their friends just because they got boyfriends, so we should support them without being selfish.

We went around the culture festival. We laughed at Maki-chan as she gobbled up frankfurters from the food stalls, and then moved to the gym where there were band performances and skits going on.

“My senpai from the basketball team is going to play in a band~”

“Do you like him?”

“Not really. But since everyone around us is crowing about it, I feel like I’ll be left behind if I don’t watch.”

“Oh, I see. I guess he’s a very handsome and popular guy.”

“Nope, a female senpai.”

“Oof.”

I thought a basketball team and a band would be quite the chimera of all the popular elements, but it’s crazier than I thought.

The inside of the gym was dimly lit, and only the stage shone brightly. A large crowd of spectators was packed in.

“Unnu…I can’t see…”

“Do you want me to hold you?”

As I tried to tiptoe and look around, Maki-chan took my arm without asking my permission. Damn her—…she’s just flaunting her height! But thanks to her, I could see the stage. Some class or club was dancing.

And then, 

“…?”

I thought I saw a familiar head in the sea of spectators.

…No, I wasn’t mistaken. The way he fiddled with his hair…it’s definitely Kawanami.

And next to him—

“…………”

No, it didn’t matter.

It had nothing to do with me at all.

I didn’t know that he’s in there with Nishimura-san, who I often hung out with in class.

“Ahh, my arms are getting tired! Let me off!.”

Maki-chan lowered me to the floor and looked into my face.

“What’s wrong? You look so unhappy.”

“…Nothing, nothing at all.”

“Are you upset that I raised you so high without permission? If so, I’m sorry! I know you’re worried about your small stature. But I think your smallness is cute too!”

“Don’t comfort me like that! I don’t care about it!”

Indeed, I somehow knew that Nishimura-san seemed to be interested in him.

He often went to the bathroom while talking with Nishimura-san. That meant that he felt…her affection, and the allergy occured.

Wouldn’t he usually hate her for giving him rashes just by talking to him? I’d be sick of it. That’s why I’ve been trying to take care of him, but—

When the music ended, a portion of the audience broke apart and moved toward the exit.” Whoa, move move,” Maki-chan said, pulling me along to make way for the exiting crowd.

A wave of people flowed out of the building, and among them was the head I had seen earlier.

“Huh, Kawanami—and Nishimura?”

Kawanami said something, and Nishimura-san shrugged with a smile. He’s probably talking nonsense again. It’s the same kind of thing he would say to me—

“Wow, I knew that they’re close, but when did they—”

“…………”

“—Hee?…A-Akki? You’re scaring me…?”

“…No, I’m not.”

“Of course you are!”

It had nothing to do with me. I always knew he’s popular…and for a long time, that he’s a liar.

It’s not surprising at all that he’s quietly having a culture festival date while saying that love isn’t something he wanted to do, but to watch.

“There are fewer people now, Maki-chan, let’s go to the front while we still can.”

“Y-yeah…I can’t be cheering for senpai’s band like this flow ….”

I pulled Maki-chan’s hand and tried to move closer to the –and right on cue.

I heard a voice from outside the gym.

“Ah, they’re here! Kawanami~!”

“Oy~, you guys! Don’t get separated!”

“It can’t be helped in a crowd like that!”

I turned around and saw a group of about five classmates including Kawanami and Nishimura-san gathering near the entrance of the gym.

The group, a mixture of guys and girls, was noisily joking around as they left the gym.

“…Akki?”

Maki-chan, who was also watching them, looked into my face, 

“Thank goodness it’s not a date.”

“…It doesn’t even matter.”

“Ah ahh, guess I’m the only one who doesn’t get to enjoy my youth…”

“I said it doesn’t even matter!”

 

02:35 P.M. Past and Present. (Mizuto)

 

“Ahh, thank goodness we escaped safely. That was fun!”

“Yeah. I was really surprised when I realized the answers given so far were the hints for the final riddle.”

“Well, I guess it’s a common template, but how are we supposed to think of something like that?”

We walked out of the puzzle escape game class and shared our impressions. The three of us had been through a lot, but that escape game was outstanding. Maybe it’s because it suited our tastes, and also because it wasn’t just a cultural festival with its own internal flirting, it was an entertaining game with a lot of thought put into every detail.

“I’m really glad that Mizuto-kun and Yume-san were there! I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get in alone.”

“Goodness me, I too underestimated the culture festival. I didn’t think there was a class that could make something that good.”

“Right? I thought it was just an event where sunny characters just air out useless performances and cover them up with tension to make it more interesting for the audience.”

“Wait a sec, don’t you have a bad perception of culture festivals?”

I think it’s normal.

I walked along, and found myself in the courtyard. The seniors were performing, and a girl was singing some anime theme song with a powerful voice. With that as background music, Yume opened the brochure for the culture festival.

“Where should we go next? Many classes have already started their afternoon sessions.”

Isana tilted her head and looked up into the air.

“Hmm~… I’m a little burned out from earlier, so…”

“Yeah, I guess so. Maybe we should take a little break?”

“I see. Well, we’ve been walking around for a while after all…ah, I think I’ll go to the bathroom then. Are you okay, Higashira-san?”

“I’m fine~. Go ahead~”

“I’ll be right back, so wait around here, okay?”

Yume walked back into the school building. After watching her go, we leaned our backs against the corridor pillars and watched the seniors sing enthusiastically.

As we did so,

“Mizuto-kun, Mizuto-kun.”

“Hmm?”

At that moment, she turned around.

“Peek.”

Isana tugged at the collar of the cape that covered her chest, and showed a large glimpse of the cleavage on the Dirndl.

“…You’re into that?”

“Isn’t it erotic? I’m only showing it to you in public with many people, Mizuto-.”

“Looks like you’ve developed an unnecessary fetish…”

I shouldn’t have lavished praise on her so easily.

Isana seemed to be enjoying the situation rather than trying to outright seduce me, “Kufufu” laughed discreetly while covering her mouth.

“You can do what I just did, Mizuto-kun, against Yume-san.”

“Unfortunately, I have nothing to show.”

“No, no no, you don’t understand, Mizuto-kun. Both girls and boys get excited when they see breasts, you know.”

“I’m not excited.”

“Fufufu. Let’s put it that way then, for the sake of our friendship.”

She’s really annoying whenever she gets carried away.

“Well, even if you don’t, don’t you think you’re being a little too aloof? It’s a culture festival, aren’t you trying to win Yume-san over?”

“No, not at all…CulFes has been busier than I expected. I don’t want to get in her way…especially since the chairman seems to have taken a liking to her.”

“I think that’s an excuse…or maybe not. Well, I don’t think Yume-san feels you’ll be in her way though.”

“It doesn’t matter what I think.”

What should one focus on now…that’s not something that could be decided by a person’s feelings…

“Mmm.”

Isana stared at my face, her lips pursed in anger.

“Mizuto-kun, are you thinking of something stupid again?”

“I don’t think it’s as bad as you did the last time”

“The fact that you can understand me accurately means that you have a more troublesome personality than that!”

…Honestly, it’s hard to argue with that.

“You’re smart, Mizuto-kun, and you’re probably being considerate to those around you, but shouldn’t you care for yourself first? Everything else can wait, right?”

“I guess…you’re right, more or less.”

But…that’s merely a human way for those who had an ego.

That was merely a human way for people to believe in themselves.

I couldn’t bring myself to muster this nostalgic feeling inside me.

Because—you know what?

This was the memory of an inevitable failure.

“Hey, Isana, just take this as a joke.”

“Yes.”

“I’m telling you—maybe I really should have accepted your confession.”

“I’d be angry.”

“…I guess so.”

I raised the edge of my mouth in self-mockery. There’s no way such an easy way out would have come to pass—

“But.”

Isana continued to stare into my eyes.

“Instead, I’ll gladly accept if you confess to me, Mizuto-kun.”

I opened my eyes in surprise and stared back into Isana’s eyes.

“What’s…the difference does that make …?”

“Well…I guess it’s the difference between past and present?”

“…Past, and present?”

“There’s a difference between regretting past choices, save scumming as if nothing ever happened, and looking at me in the present and making new choices—I’m sure.”

…Ahh, I see.

Her words were very logical and easy to understand.

“I’ve changed quite a bit since I met you, you know, Mizuto-kun? And I prefer the person I’ve become since I met you. So, if you choose me, I will be happy to be your girlfriend or wife, and I will bring you into my home and do something naughty with you that day.”

“Your horniness is just blatant.”

“It’s important to me. Is it different for you, Mizuto-kun?”

It’s different.

What’s important to me—

—Ah, here we go again.

I knew that it’s different, but whenever I thought about it…I couldn’t think of anything.

“Hmm~…speaking of which, Mizuto-kun—”

“—Excuse me.”

Just as Isana was about to ask something, a low voice interrupted her.

Looking ahead, she saw a man in a jacket standing in front of her. He was probably in his forties…,and he had the air of a successful businessman. Was he someone’s parent?

“I’d like to ask for directions. …is it fine?”

“Ah, sure.”

I was wearing a CulFes armband on my upper arm. He must have spotted it, and wanted to talk.

As Isana’s presence faded rapidly, the businessman-looking man said

“Where is class 1-7?”

Our class?

Feeling surprised by this, I answered solemently as a member of the committee.

“It’s on the second floor of the school building over there. Once you go up the stairs, it’s the third classroom.”

“I see. Thank you for your help.”

The man then looked at Isana, who was cowering next to me, and smiled.

“You have a wonderful girlfriend. You should take good care of her.”

“Heiiee!”

Isana let out a small shirek and grabbed my clothes, probably scared by the sudden splash on her face.

“Well then. Thank you so much.”

The man disappeared into the school building.

I wondered if he was the father of someone in our class. He was a very friendly man, though.

“…Ehe. Ehe…he called me a wonderful girlfriend, Mizuto-kun!”

“Good for you.”

“Yes!…wait, that’s one line you’re not allowed to say, Mizuto-kun!”

I soothed the peeved Isana by taming her like a dog.

…You should take good care of her, huh.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

 

03:45 P.M. . There are two kinds of people in this world. (Yume)

 

After a restroom break, I visited some events with Mizuto and Higashira-san.

Time passed quickly as we watched a band play in the gym and the authentic maid cafe that we contested against during the presentation.

Noticing that it was now the time when classes usually ended, I said to Mizuto.

“Shouldn’t we be getting ready for the night party soon?”

“Ahh—it’s about time, huh?”

Mizuto too looked at the time on his phone and muttered to himself.

The after-party. The campfire. Tomorrow would be the clean up, and for us culture festival committee members, the preparation was the last leg for the day.

Upon hearing this, Higashira-san was clearly disappointed.

“I see…. I can’t blame you if it’s work…”

“What are you going to do after this, Higashira-san? A class party?”

“I don’t think our class has anything like that, and even if we did, I’d never go.”

Never? Is that something you say with confidence?

“Hmm…the after party is free to join, right? I’d like to see a bonfire though…”

Campfires are big.

“Since you’re here, why don’t you watch it until the end? It’s not like you have to dance.”

“But if Mizuto-kun and the others aren’t there, it won’t be any fun. … I think there’s an 80% chance I’ll go home straight away.”

“Then I’ll go with you.”

The moment Mizuto said that, “What? I turned around.

Higashira-san’s face lit up,

“Are you sure?”

“Once I’m done preparing, I won’t have any more work to do.”

“Then I won’t leave! Please contact me later~!”

Higashira-san said happily, and went back to her class.

I gave a puzzled look to Mizuto, who saw her off with a nonchalant face.

“Why did you make such a promise to…?”

“What?”

“Because—there’s the CulFes after party after the festival!”

Yes. It was always decided that there’d be an after party to celebrate the successful completion of the culture festival. It was the last event for the committee members who had worked so hard over the past few weeks to celebrate each other’s success.

There’s no way Mizuto didn’t know about this. I told him, “got it” and he nodded. I was relieved that he was willing to join the after party of the festival. And yet—

“There’s a class party after CulFes…and you contributed heavily. So why— “

“Is that work?”

There was emptiness.

Mizuto was looking at me with empty eyes of emptiness.

“Is that after party work?”

“Eh…no…it’s…not…”

“Then I’m free to go.”

“B-but!”

I found myself grabbing Mizuto’s uniform.

As if to hold him back.

As if to catch him.

“The senpais who took care of us…and we need to greet them, right…?”

“We can do that much tomorrow when we finish the cleanup and disperse.”

“B-but, all the time you spent to familiarize yourself with everyone will be for naught, right? You’ll be thought of as the guy who doesn’t get along with others. Is that what you want…?”

“What’s the problem with that?”

He wasn’t rattled in the slightest.

Mizuto’s eyes didn’t seem to sway emotionally, not at all.

“My CulFes work is done. It doesn’t matter what they think, right?”

“You’re making it sound like…you’re only getting along for work.”

“No, you’re right, it’s normal. I’m not that inexperienced to know that I need to show some familiarity, I won’t be able to do the work required…”

What the hell is this guy talking about?

Mizuto seemingly saw through my thoughts as he frowned.

“Let go…of my clothes. We don’t have time.”

“…Yeah. Sorry.”

I let go of Mizuto’s clothes.

At the same time, I felt as if his very existence had left me.

We would meet each other once we got home. We have classes in the same classroom every day.

But on this night, I’d be at the CulFes after party, and he’d be spending time with Higashira-san.

That’s it—I felt like it would be the end.

I felt like an insurmountable wall would be built between me and him.

“…Speaking of clothes.”

Mizuto tugged at the collar of his uniform and looked down at the yellow class T-shirt he wore inside.

“…Where am I supposed to return this T-shirt?”

“…….You can take it back home.”

That’s my immediate thought…usually.

“Oh…that’s right.”

After all these years, I understand now.

There are two kinds of people in this world.

Those who cherish the culture festival as a memory and those who pass it off as a troublesome event.

He and I were these two different kinds of people.

“…I’m sorry.”

I thought I heard such a voice.

I was certain it was an auditory hallucination.

After that, we walked in silence, grimly, to get the job done.

 

14 thoughts on “[Motokano V6] Chapter 5 – I’m sorry

  1. Ahh
    Reading this chapter,I felt complicated
    I am cheering for Yume,but Mizuto is tough nut to crack
    Thank you for the chapters

    1. Yeah. Fu*k Mizuto. Really hate his guts on this Volume. So fu*king coward that it’s really irritating.

      1. I bet he wouldn’t care, like he didn’t about anything else that’s irrelevant. Pushy people in general don’t get along with a loner anyway.

    1. Hmm,in this sense it is different from oregairu. Hachiman and yukino had similarities despite having their traits. But yume and mizuto have very different personalities. Yume in the past was just shy and introverted,but not to the degree mizuto is. You can find personalities (people)like yume much more than mizuto.He really is built different,not one of those chuuni types,he is what he is.
      Not saying they can’t become a couple,but for their chemistry to form,it will take some time, probably also with some circumstances which are unique.
      Ah,this chapter really makes me have mixed feelings. With this chapter I realized the gravity of words isana’s mom said about couples and love between similar people. It really will be tough for the partner of mizuto if you can’t have more commitment and very good negotiation between them unless she is like isana.
      I want yume and mizuto to be a couple, but isana and mizuto are also a good couple. Whatever happens,I don’t want another male coming in between mizuto and yume. It can end like oregairu without having angst and love triangles. I just don’t want other guy involved romantically between our main characters that’s all.

  2. Mizuto are just being “normal”, he know the comfort of being alone while also know the limit of not become that “jerk” in social situation.
    And sometimes when your partner is the “social” type but you just don’t have that much interest to other people can create guilt conscience. and yeah this thing kill.

  3. this repetitive back and forth is boring and tiring. now i’m just skimming over almost everything. best stop now. damn.

  4. Mizuto is really irritating, such a wimp and annoying guy. I hope he gets NTR’d, like some better dudes ends up fucking Yume and Isana with consent and he just cries like a bitch knowing it…………………

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