Friday, April 1, 2022

Please Leave Me Alone V2 Chapter 4 & Epilogue


Translator: Pingas
Editor: Roi Soleil


The final exam of the first term is over. There’s only around half a month left until the summer holiday. It’s kind of like a “digest competition” at this point. [TL: Shoka shiai (digest competition), where the champion is already determined before the season is over causing the remaining matches to be meaningless.]

Everyone is thinking about how they should spend their summer holiday. Perhaps the teachers can sense that the students have already lost the motivation to learn. The lessons aren’t as serious anymore, after giving us the revision notes for the next term, nearly every teacher allows us to self-study in lessons.

They must be thinking that everything we have learned will be forgotten during the summer anyway. Of course, they are mostly right.

On the day we got the final exam grade sheet, I gently sighed after learning I’m still the no.1 in class this time. I bet my rating will be excellent if this continues. However, I don’t really care as long as it’s not good enough to get a recommendation to universities.

My student number is all the way at the front. So, I’m fully prepared to go home long before the other students receive their grade sheets. I’m just waiting dazedly. It takes a long time to distribute grade sheets to 40 people.

I looked around out of boredom. There’s a group of people talking loudly. It’s Hoshigasaki’s group. I admire how they have endless topics to discuss in class every day.

I guess their grades immediately became a topic of conversation. They must have already told each other how they did, right?

Hiiragi is like the leader of that group. She looked at the sheet in Hoshigasaki’s hands.

“Huh? Ruri, didn’t you do super well this time?”

“That’s true. You did way worse last time.”

Of course. She was very serious during our study meeting in the family restaurant. It must be because of Hanamitsuji’s and Shiramine’s efforts, right?

Everyone praised Hoshigasaki. She scratched the back of her head in embarrassment.

“Eh, it’s not that good. I just barely touched the average.”

That really is not that good! Even though she said she took her studies seriously at the meeting. Also, I’m starting to wonder, Hiiragi-san, how did you do if you think she did super well?

“Come to think of it, you didn’t come when we invited you to karaoke during exam week.”

“Ahaha, sorry, sorry.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve been studying really hard?”

“Not really hard. I just worked a bit more than last time. It would be bad if I failed, you know?”

At this point, Hiiragi lowered her voice and mumbled.

“Did you go to a study meeting with Nanamura?”

“…Eh?”

Hoshigasaki answered after a moment of delay. Hiiragi squinted her eyes. This time, even though her tone is calm, her words are intense.

“Really? I can tell you went from your reaction. That’s hilarious.”

“W-Well, ...P-Prez and my friend from Class F were there too! We weren’t alone!”

“Ah, Prez? She has it rough too. So, what? You think it’s more fun to study with them than going out with us?”

“That’s…not true.”

Hoshigasaki’s voice slowly died down. I don’t know whether it’s my imagination. Her back seems to have shriveled up too. She looked at her hands worriedly.

“Ha, I’m saying you don’t need to hide it. Just tell us if you think it’s boring.”

“I-It’s not boring…”

“I really hate that you’re keeping something from us. Ah, boring. Let’s get something from the vending machine. Let’s go.”

“Eh, ah, …yes.”

Hiiragi urged them on. Everyone else hesitated, but they eventually left the classroom. Hoshigasaki tried to chase after them. She then gave up, sighed, and returned to her seat.

After seeing everything, I let out a deep sigh internally.

What the hell, Hoshigasaki and Hiiragi?



*

That night, as I’m changing into my home clothes after getting home, a Line notification noise came through on my phone. It’s not a message. It’s a call.

Who’s calling me? I grabbed my phone. The screen is showing “Kouya Hoshigasaki”.

I stared at the screen for a while. He seemed to have given up. The ringing stopped.

“Phew…”

It looks like I won this time. That was close. I would’ve really picked it up if it kept ringing.

Even though I’m curious as to why Kouya-san is calling me, it’s not something urgent if he doesn’t persist, right?

I continued changing. My heart feels like I just achieved something great. Ding, ding, ding. This time, the Line message notifications keep coming non-stop. What a terrible sound!

My eyes squinted as I looked at the notification bar. It’s showing, <Hey->, <Are you there?>, <Come over here.>

He’s insane… I was planning to ignore him. However, another message came through following a notification sound.

<I have Hodaka’s light novel.>

“Uwohhhh!”

I was so terrified that I screamed. Cold sweat dripped down my back. He called me once again.

The hostage is still in his hands. I have to pick up the call.

“Ohh, you finally answered.”

Kouya-san sounds relieved.

“Hey, uh, it’s not because I was ignoring you, okay?”

“That’s what you say when you really are ignoring me, right?”

“It’s not. My principle is that I won’t pick up unless called 3 times. However, since this is Kouya-san’s first time calling me, I went out of my way to pick up your second call.”

“Why are you saying that as if you're welcoming an important guest!? Also, doesn’t that mean you ignored my call?”

Kouya-san sighed on the other side of the phone and then cleared his throat.

“It’s a bit serious. Are you free?”

“What?”

“I want to talk about Ruri. Hasn’t she been acting weird lately?”

I see. This siscon has sharp eyes.

“Ah, I think so.”

“Do you know why?”

“Maybe it’s because she has some troubles with her friends.”

After hearing my answer, Kouya-san mumbled quietly. “I see…”

“I guess Hodaka won’t know the answer but is that because of her friend?”

“Hard to say. I can’t say Hoshigasaki isn’t at fault.”

Her relationship with Hiiragi’s group began crumbling after Hoshigasaki volunteered to be a Bunjitsu. If that’s the reason for their argument, Hoshigasaki certainly has responsibility.

Of course, the deeper reason is that she wants to change herself. However, this whole thing is because she didn’t tell Hiiragi. That’s why Hiiragi doesn’t understand how she should treat her.

I told that to Kouya-san. I shouldn’t talk about the core part with him at this stage. The relationships between the girls in the class are kind of tenuous.

“I got it. I don’t think there’s anything I can do now… Sorry, can you tell me if something else happens?”

“Got it.”

“Thanks. You are a great help.”

“Kouya-san really loves Hoshigasaki.”

“I guess. This is the responsibility of an older brother too. Well, I’ll leave things up to you.”

After that, Kouya-san hung up. I can do nothing even if you leave it up to me…

*

The situation still hasn’t improved.

The closing ceremony is next week. On this rainy day, all of the Bunjitsu got called to a meeting. I’m headed to the conference room after school when I overhear Hoshigasaki talking.

“Sorry, today I have to…”

I glanced at them. Hoshigasaki-san bowed with her school bag and apologized to Hiiragi.

It looks like Hiiragi’s invitation conflicts with the Bunjitsu meeting again.

“Hmph, sure, bye.”

“Ah, give it your all.”

I feel like the other girls aren’t replying sincerely. Hiiragi glanced at Hoshigasaki before quickly looking away.

While Hoshigasaki’s expression fell for a moment, she quickly forced it off her face. At last, she squeezed out a smile and waved at them.

“Yeah, thanks! See you.”

Hoshigasaki dashed toward me. I couldn’t help but look away. I’d be targeted if I talked to her in the classroom. That’s why I came out to the corridor first.

“Let’s go.”

I heard Hoshigasaki opening the door. I didn’t turn around and mumbled to myself. Hoshigasaki also answered with a “yeah”. After that, we left a bit of distance between us and departed.

Even though Shiramine forced me to be a Bunjitsu with her calculations, or should I say scheming, my life didn’t change a lot. I’m as lonely as ever. However, this is certainly within my expectations. Even if I’m a Bunjitsu, I can’t make friends right away, not to mention hang out with them.

The real busy period starts after the summer holiday when we have to prepare for the Cultural Festival. Right now, I just have to show up to occasional meetings. It’s fine even if I’m absent. However, I didn’t want Shiramine to be put in a tough spot when she recommended me. That’s why I plan to be present at every meeting starting today. Can someone please praise me?

Life is quiet on my side. As for Hoshigasaki, she has been having a rough time with Hiiragi since a few days ago. Although I didn’t interact with Hoshigasaki on my own, I couldn’t let this go.

Blaming myself like this is definitely arrogant. I gently shook my head and these thoughts away.

After a while, we came to a quiet corridor.

This time, I finally looked at Hoshigasaki. She lowered her head and stared at me.

“What’s wrong?”

“…Hoshigasaki, did you have an argument with Hiiragi?”

“Eh, uwah, I can’t believe Nanamura is observing me.”

Hoshigasaki put her hand next to her mouth. Her squinted eyes are full of interest. I answered in embarrassment.

“Not really. It’s just that you’re too eye-catching. I always see you whenever you’re in the classroom. Then, well, …how should I put it?”

I was stuttering. Hoshigasaki shook her head.

“Yeah, it’s fine.”

“…Really?”

I’m worried about her. However, how much should I intervene? In the end, do I even have the right to intervene?

First of all, I’m not smart when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Hiiragi even hates me. I don’t think things will go better after I throw a wrench in there.

Everyone is good and bad at something. Fixing a relationship with a friend is absolutely not something I can do chicly.

However, I can’t answer even if you ask me what I’m good at.

Hoshigasaki sighed and slowly looked out the window.

The rainy season is almost over, yet today’s weather isn’t good. Light grey clouds blanket the sky. The rain is pouring down.

“It’s not going well-”

Hoshigasaki mumbled to herself. I don’t know how I should answer. I remained silent.

“It’s going to be fine, Nanamura. Relax.”

“...Ahh.”

This is indeed what I want to hear. However, even though I’m relieved, I can feel she seems to be pushing me away.

“Other people aren’t responsible for this. It’s my fault. So…”

I followed her and looked out the window. The rain is being stretched into long strings. There’s no correct answer.

Even though a sunny sky is all we need to sweep away the melancholy in our hearts.

I hope for it, but I understand this alone can’t bring much comfort to people.

*

Hanamitsuji texted me on Line that night.

<Hoshigasaki-san looked really down today.>

She was indeed very depressed when she talked to me in the corridor, but she didn’t show that during the Bunjitsu meeting. I bet she couldn’t hide it from Hanamitsuji’s sharp eyes.

<Yeah, things aren’t going well with her classmates recently.>

<Is it because she volunteered to be a Bunjitsu with Nanamura-kun?>

<Maybe.>

A tinge of pain spread in my chest, but I ignored it. Hoshigasaki decided to be a Bunjitsu on her own. This has no direct relationship with me.

I didn’t tell Hanamitsuji that people knew Hoshigasaki was in our study meeting. Hanamitsuji will definitely stand up and help Hoshigasaki if she knows, after all. However, Hoshigasaki hopes to change herself. We outsiders helping her will be overstepping.

These excuses keep running through my mind.

<What do you think we should do, Nanamura-kun?>

<I can’t do anything.>

<Why?>

<Hiccups between friends aren’t something I can solve.>

I purposefully answered like I didn’t care.

Even if that sounds like I’m distancing myself from her, if I don’t constantly remind myself, I’ll keep mistaking that I have to help Hoshigasaki.

If I do that, I’m not respecting Hoshigasaki’s determination. I’ll literally be behaving like a light novel MC. Arrogant thoughts like that must be abandoned. Also, I indeed can’t do anything about this. I have no idea how to even approach Hiiragi.

Hanamitsuji answered after a while. At this point, I held my breath and gripped my phone.

<I want to help her however I can.>

This sentence appeared before the screen. I mumbled to myself, “Do as you wish.” Then, I left the message and ignored it.

*

The next day, I came to class just on time as usual. However, a ponytail girl is standing in front of me menacingly.

“Can I ask what’s wrong?”

It’s because she’s glaring daggers at me. I can’t ignore her. Anyway, let’s start by greeting her first.

“Good morning, Nanamura-san.”

“…Good morning.”

Although some people have started talking to me recently, maybe because I don’t normally greet people in the morning, somehow it feels embarrassing.

Kadotani ignored my feelings. She complained.

“Nanamura-san, class is about to start, alright?”

“There’s no point in arriving early, right?”

“I’ve been waiting here for a long time.”

Kadotani sighed dumbfoundedly. I’m really sorry about that, but you didn’t tell me beforehand. I’m not at fault here.

“Anyway, we don’t have time right now. Let’s add each other on Line first!”

“Eh? O-Ohh…”

“Ah, sheesh, I would’ve already added you if I knew this would happen!”

The bell rang while we were exchanging our contacts. Kadotani quickly returned to her classroom. What is she up to?

I walked into the classroom with my mind full of questions. Strangely, Kuno comes to talk to me next to the door.

“Nanamura, was that girl Kadotani-san?”

“Yeah.”

“You two know each other?”

“Ah, I guess. She’s a friend of a friend, probably.”

“Hmm, well, I don’t really understand, but it looks like you know a lot of people.”

“That’s impossible.”

At least no one beats me when it comes to who knows the least people. The people I know in this class can be counted on one hand.

While Kuno was being ridiculous he simply returned to his seat after saying that.

Kadotani called me to the courtyard during lunch.

I don’t know how it is in normal high schools. However, the courtyard in Higashidani High School isn’t occupied by normies. There are benches and trees scattered around here and there. However, people only take the courtyard as a shortcut when moving between buildings.

Honestly, nobody but weirdos would come out from an air-conditioned classroom and eat here during the hot season, right?

“Sorry, I’m late.”

A couple minutes later, Kadotani ran out from the building. The school rules clearly state that we can’t run on campus. However, for some reason, with such a sporty aura, Kadotani will probably be forgiven even when she runs.

We partnered up subconsciously and walked to the shade under a tree.

Even though there’s no one in the courtyard, you can see everything from the building. It’ll be troublesome if other people see Kadotani and me together.

“What do you want to talk about? Don’t tell me you’re here to complain about how bad you did in the final exam?”

I randomly threw out a topic. Kadotani smiled and shook her head.

“No! Actually, I did a bit better than last time. Thank you.”

“I didn’t really help you with your studies. It’s kind of ridiculous for you to thank me.”

I don’t think it’s worthy of excitement when she just did a bit better than last time. This girl, she didn’t even say how much better she did…

“Who cares about the results? I want to talk about something else today.”

“Something else?”

“Yes.” Kadotani sighed gently.

“Sora looks really upset whenever she’s on her phone lately. Nanamura-san, do you know why?”

“Ahh, well, …I can’t say I don’t know.”

After hearing that, I immediately remembered the message from Hanamitsuji. That girl really worries about Hoshigasaki.

“Hmph, Nanamura-san does know why Sora is so frustrated.”

“But I can’t just tell you. This is a private matter.”

After that, Kadotani crossed her arms and raised her head. She looked at me.

“I got it. Well, then I won’t ask why Sora looks so down. However, Nanamura-san, please help me deal with Sora’s problem.”

“W-Why me?”

“That’s obviously because I don’t want to see Sora so upset! Also, Nanamura-san knows the reason. You have the responsibility to deal with Sora’s sadness.”

“When did I become responsible?”

“I just made you.”

“Tyranny…”

“Anyway, if you can’t explain why Sora is so depressed to me, then I shouldn’t just throw myself into the situation, right? Instead, if Nanamura-san knows why, shouldn’t you have the responsibility to help Sora?”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

There’s no logic or any moral reason for it. She prioritizes her own feelings and throws the difficult part that matters the most to me. If you ask me whether I’m responsible for helping Hanamitsuji, I guarantee that I’m not.

However, even so, my heart softens when she’s asking me so earnestly.

Dealing with Hanamitsuji’s troubles means intervening in Hoshigasaki’s problem. This is too heavy for me, no matter how you think about it. I don’t think I can find a neat solution to this, alright? It’s just that being an observer is just as agonizing.

I suddenly thought of something. I spoke up.

“Let me ask you something.”

“What?”

“I’ve seen sides of Hanamitsuji that you haven’t. Will you be mad at me?”

Kadotani put her finger on her chin and started thinking about my question. However, she answered me shortly afterward.

“Hmm, a little, maybe? But I don’t want to fight for a position where I understand Sora more than anyone else. Sora has sides that I know and don’t know. I think that’s obvious.”

I see. She’s not going to fight for it. That makes a lot of sense. How can you use friendships to tell who’s better or worse?

“I got it. Thanks.”

“Well, can you deal with Sora’s problem?”

“I’ll try.”

This is both an answer to Kadotani and to convince myself.

*

There are only 2 days until the closing ceremony. It’s the last Sunday before the end of the first term. I came downtown to search for new releases and BDs in the bookstore.

I left the metro and took the shortest route based on my years of experience. This street is filled with specialty shops.

After quickly browsing several stores, I acquired a few interesting light novels. Just as I plan to walk toward the station and go home, I see two familiar faces waiting for the signal at the big crossroad with 3 lanes.

They are Hanamitsuji and Hoshigasaki.

It’s a holiday today. Naturally, they are wearing casual clothes. I want to praise myself for seeing those two in such a distant place.

I decided the moment they entered my sight.

Let’s get my ass out of here before they see me.

Even though I regret not being able to take the shortcut, I’ll just have to give my legs a workout today.

It’s because I know how awkward it is to bump into my classmates during a holiday! Most of the time, it’s me, alone, running into a group of people. I have an overwhelming numerical disadvantage.

Even though I also complain about how weird this kind of numbers game competition is.

So, I turned around and left.

Let’s retreat, but I can hear someone from behind.

“Is that N-Nanamura?”

The game is up.

I won’t walk over there, so I just standstill. They decided to come to me.

Hanamitsuji is wearing a wide cardigan with a fluffy dress. As for Hoshigasaki, she’s wearing a summer sweater with comfortable jeans. They seem to be holding paper bags from a clothing store. It looks like they are enjoying their day off a lot. They’re really a world apart compared to me, who only has a wallet, fan and light novels in his backpack.

“I didn’t expect Nanamura-kun to be here on holiday. Is there a festival here today?”

“Who do you think I am?”

My head already hurts after speaking to her for 5 seconds! I wouldn’t be here if there was a festival. I hate crowded places. I’d be more determined than ever to stay home if there really was one.

My mood got dragged back to when I was in the family restaurant with her on Monday right when I talked to Hanamitsuji. Goodbye, my peaceful holiday.

Hoshigasaki doesn’t seem to notice I’m extremely dispirited right now. She chatted with me cheerfully.

“It’s rare to see you here! Are you shopping?”

“Yeah, I just bought some light novels. Well, see you.”

I should scram. I raised my hand and bid farewell. Yet, Hoshigasaki spread her arms and blocked me when I tried to leave. She looks like an Anteater intimidating something.

“D-Don’t! We didn’t even get to talk!?”

“I feel like I shouldn’t interrupt you two during your outing.”

Hoshigasaki smiled and looked at Hanamitsuji next to her.

“We’re quite willing to be interrupted. Right, Sora-chan?”

“We just finished shopping. No problem.”

“Are those clothes?”

I glanced at the paper bags and asked. Hoshigasaki nodded excitedly.

“Yes! We just went through so many shops.”

“Can’t you just buy everything at one store? They are just clothes.”

I asked nonchalantly. However, both of them sighed with dumbfounded expressions.

“You really don’t know? Different stores have different clothes. Sora-chan and I have different tastes. We can’t both be satisfied at just one store.”

“I see. Then why don’t you just split up and go to different shops?”

“There’s no point in going together if we do it your way… Even though Nanamura-kun can’t understand it, it’s fun to just look at clothes, you know?”

I see… I don’t really understand the joys of shopping.

It’s also because I normally just buy light novels and manga. Not only can I just buy them whenever I want, but every store also has relatively similar stocks. You can even find deals where the whole series only costs 500 yen in old bookstores.

“Right, let’s go shopping, everyone!”

Hoshigasaki looked at Hanamitsuji and me. Her voice is pretty hyped.

“You girls aren’t done yet?”

Hoshigasaki pushed me forcefully with her right hand. I can’t help but complain.

“It’s fine. There’s a place I know where everyone can have fun!”

*

Then, Hoshigasaki brought us to the bookstore I had just visited. This store mainly sells light novels, doujins and manga.

Even though there are many similar stores, this one has the most female customers.

Unbelievably, there is a sizable chunk of female customers even in otaku bookstores. There are shops where it’s all males, while some have girls raising a cheerful ruckus as they shop around.

“No, why here?”

I’m curious about why she chose this place. Hoshigasaki answered calmly.

“It’s because Nanamura and Sora-chan both love this place, right?”

“Ah-”

Hanamitsuji put her hand on her forehead behind us. Her face is full of regret. Come to think of it, Hoshigasaki still misunderstands that Hanamitsuji and I know each other from otaku interests.

“But I just came from here.”

“I-I don’t really want to buy anything…”

“It’s fine! It’s fine! It’s nice to just look around.”

Hanamitsuji and I subtly conveyed that we didn’t want to be here, but she just overruled us.

This must be Hanamitsuji’s first time coming to a store like this, right?

She was shocked by the gacha machines next to the entrance when she arrived. Then, she held her breath when she saw the anime illustrations, posters, and trendy decorations in the store.

“I think…this place is amazing.”

Hanamitsuji quietly whispered. I nodded in agreement.

“Ahh, I was shocked the first time too, but I think this store welcomes girls and children too!”

“I can see a lot of girls and kids here.”

Hoshigasaki charged forward excitedly. We followed her as we chatted.

I just came to this store. The surrounding goods don’t raise my interest that much. On the other hand, it seems that Hoshigasaki hasn’t been here for a while. She stopped at the light novel new releases section as she browsed with a serious face.

“Hmm, there are a lot of rom-coms among the new releases. It’s the warring rom-com era.”

“What era is that?”

“Ah, does this cover look nice?”

“Oh, I’ve seen this illustrator on Twitter before.”

We chatted back and forth. As for Hanamitsuji, she’s comparing book covers since she has no love for light novels. She has an awkward look on her face.

“Eye-catching.”

“Indeed, this is much more vibrant than a manga’s cover.”

“I can’t tell the difference…”

“It’s fine. That happens to me as well, sometimes I can’t tell similar books apart and buy and bring one home that I don’t want.”

“That matters a lot, right?”

Hanamitsuji squinted her eyes. She seems to be saying she doesn’t get it. However, she laughed after seeing Hoshigasaki holding all kinds of light novels in her hands.

“Well, but it’s nice to be here.”

“…Yeah.”

After that, aside from a small crisis where Hoshigasaki asked Hanamitsuji, “Which one do you think is better?”, we had a great trip shopping at the bookstore after all. Even I got caught up in the moment and bought a couple more. I must have been influenced by the mood, right?

After browsing the bookstore for a while, we went to a relatively cheap chain café. This café doesn’t give away free stuff. But, anyway, cheap stuff is the greatest thing for students like us.

Is it because this is further away from the station? Or is it because the sun is setting? There are only a few customers in the store even though it’s the golden period.

Each of us ordered drinks as we sat around a small table. I sat on the hard circular chair while Hanamitsuji and Hoshigasaki sat on the sofa with their paper bags.

“Hiya, I had fun today! I even saw Nanamura today.”

Hoshigasaki said cheerfully. She lifted a glass of iced latte to her lips and took a sip.

“I think nothing good can come out of seeing me, right?”

“That’s not true. You know how happy it makes you to see a friend during the holidays.”

This is a feeling that I can’t understand since I’m too lazy to meet people during holidays. Hanamitsuji’s expression also turned soft next to her as well. It looks like the world thinks this is something to be happy about.

We chatted for a short while. Hoshigasaki said she wanted to eat something.

“Well, I’ll watch over our stuff here. You can go ahead.”

“Sure! Do you two want anything?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither.”

“Got it-”

She went to the counter with the windowed showcases. Hanamitsuji mumbled.

“I’m glad to see Hoshigasaki-san having such a good time.”

“You’re a kind person.”

Hanamitsuji is indeed worried about Hoshigasaki. That’s why she invited her out today.

“You must have invited Hoshigasaki to hang out because of that, right?”

“That’s part of the reason. It’s also because I’ve wanted to hang out with Hoshigasaki-san for a while now. This is just a good opportunity before the summer holiday.”

“So, what are you planning?”

“I haven’t figured out the details yet. If Hoshigasaki-san wants, I’ll drag her out to hang out with my friends from class. She even knows Hinata.”

“I see.”

I remembered her Line message, <I want to help her however I can.> It looks like this is her conclusion based on Hoshigasaki’s situation.

Even if Hoshigasaki can’t be part of Hiiragi’s group anymore, Hanamitsuji will still be there to be her friend.

Hanamitsuji is preparing for such an eventuality.

I have no opinion, so I just drank my ginger ale. Hanamitsuji gave me a cold stare and spoke up.

“Nanamura-kun, what are you going to do?”

“…What can I do?”

Even though Kadotani has urged me before, I still don’t know what I should do now. I don’t want to just sit there and do nothing, but I’m also not arrogant enough to think I can just solve this for Hoshigasaki.

I’m just a loner even after going back in time. Even if I pretend to be an MC and solve the problem, something bad will happen.

“I don’t want to pretend to be a protagonist and act like one anymore. She may think I’m just there to meddle and cause her trouble if I try to help her.”

In conclusion, Hoshigasaki and I still aren’t exactly close. In the end, this all happened because I pissed Hiiragi off. I’ve also thought that their relationship could’ve been fixed if I had just distanced myself from them.

However, Hanamitsuji sighed deeply after hearing me. Her eyes were full of disappointment as she glared at me. She scolded me.

“Hey, Nanamura-kun, you’re not thinking about this in the right way.”

“Am I wrong?”

“You keep going on about whether you’re a light novel MC or not. Who said people who aren’t fit to be protagonists can’t help people out?”

“Well…”

Speechless.

“That doesn’t make any sense. So what if you’re a normal person? If someone you treasure is struggling, you obviously want to help her out. Isn’t that normal?”

It’s like what she said. Who said side characters can’t help someone? That doesn’t make any sense.

“Also, you only ever say that you’re going to cause her trouble. Did you even think about how Hoshigasaki-san felt when she talked to you?”

Hanamitsuji looked at me sternly. I remained silent.

“She’s thinking ‘I want to talk to Nanamura-kun’. Do you think a person would talk to someone she didn’t want to even to the point of damaging her own reputation? Even though Hoshigasaki-san is really kind, she’s not dumb enough to not measure her own losses.”

“Hoshigasaki wants to talk to me?”

“I was really happy when you came looking for me during the trip. It’s because you didn’t want to end your relationship with me. I was really happy. That’s why I want you to believe Hoshigasaki-san doesn’t want to break off contact with you either. I want you to believe someone is willing to hang out with you.”

The fog in my mind has dissipated. I can’t look away from Hanamitsuji.

“It’s fine even if Nanamura-kun isn’t some kind of protagonist. It’s enough as long as you want to talk to Hoshigasaki-san. So, please help her out?”

“…Yeah. Thank you, Hanamitsuji.”

“No worries. This isn’t deserving of thanks. It’s just that I can’t communicate with Hoshigasaki-san’s friends. That’s why I have to leave everything to Nanamura-kun.”

“Even so, I still have to thank you.”

Our conversation ended. Hoshigasaki came back with a plate of Danish fruit biscuits.

“Sorry, sorry, the line to the cashier was really long.”

“It’s fine.”

Hanamitsuji said with a smile.

I drank coffee as I digested the argument between Hoshigasaki and Hiiragi, my conversation with Hanamitsuji just now and what Kadotani had said to me previously.

There are two days until the closing ceremony. It will be extremely difficult to break this stalemate before that happens.

But I can’t just lie to myself that this has nothing to do with me or that I can’t do anything.

*

It’s a day before the closing ceremony. The teacher took attendance and looked at the notes in his hand frustratedly.

“Hmm, there’s not really anything to talk about for the class assembly… You guys want to go to the zoo?”

At this moment, cheers erupted in the class.

“Yeahhhh!” “Zoo! Zoo!” “Wooooo!”

What’s with this lively atmosphere? …This classroom is already a zoo, right? I can hear monkeys screaming.

Ahh, this happened in my previous high school life as well… I sighed mentally.

It only takes a few minutes to walk from Higashidani High School to the zoo and botanical garden. Since it’s so close, going to the zoo is one of the time killers, along with self-study in the classroom and playing in the gym or playground.

Do these activities really enhance class cohesion? At least, I don’t think it’s working for me at all.

“Alright, alright, let’s calm down, everyone. The teachers have to play rock, paper, scissors to decide which class gets to go.”

The teacher told us before the first lesson started and left.

So, all of the lessons before the closing ceremony are over. The final class assembly of this term is here.

The teacher stepped back into the classroom briskly as the bell rang. He gave us a chic thumbs up. It appears the god of rock, paper, scissors was on his side today.

“Right, today we get to go to the zoo! Let’s go!”

“Yeahhh!”

My classmates are so excited that they don’t look like high school students anymore. While there’s not the slightest trace of a smile on my face, I’m a bit more excited than usual when I get up since I’m able to leave school before classes are over.

“Please be quiet when exiting the classroom.”

I packed up my things to go home after disbanding in the zoo. Even though I still have to return to pick up my bicycle, there’s extra freedom when I don’t need to run back to class again.

My classmates are walking in the corridor. They can barely contain their excitement.

The other classes are curious to see which class was lucky enough to get to go to the zoo. Some even pushed open the window and yelled down the corridor. “How nice! You guys can go to the zoo!”

My classmates also answered, “Jealous, right?” They showed off without holding back.

It’s lesson time already. Shut up.

No, saying that while not cheering with them literally sounds like I’m jealous of them. That’s why I didn’t say it out loud, but it’s not like I could tell this to anyone, anyway.

We left the school and went through a nearby crossroad. The zoo and botanical garden entrance can be seen before the slope. The botanical garden is closer to us. However, it’s only a few more steps to the zoo area.

After everyone entered the park, the teacher started taking attendance. The classmates can barely contain their excitement. Some of them are about to dash off right this instant.

Then, the teacher tells everyone not to leave the park before the class assembly is over. We should regroup at this entrance when class ends. After that, we’re free to do whatever we want.

There are no clouds in the sky. The weather is a bit too hot to say it’s warm.

Even though the rainy season just ended a few days ago, no one has any more memories of the rainy season right now.

The atmosphere in the zoo is pretty chill since it’s a weekday.

The zoo is probably more popular. Aside from a few grandpas and grandmas, only our class is in the botanical garden. Those cheering classmates of mine are obviously going to the zoo. They didn’t even look at the botanical garden when passing by. I’m sorry, botanical garden. I shall apologize, …sorry, I’m not staying with you either.

I’m strolling leisurely, after distancing myself from my classmates I arrived at the zoo as well. There’s the smell of beasts in the air, and I can even hear ape calls from a distance.

While I complained a lot, I felt like my childhood innocence had been awoken after entering the zoo. Perhaps it’s because this place is filled with happy memories from the past.

However, today’s not the time to enjoy the fun of the zoo. In an environment where teaming up and having fun is the default, there’s a person being left out who shouldn’t be.

I purposefully distance myself from my classmates and walk at the back to try and spot the person I’m looking for. Also, I don’t want to show everyone how lonely I am by staying in a crowded place. This last one only makes up 70% of my reason, okay?

I looked around and searched for that familiar person.

After entering the zoo, the first thing I see is the tanuki breeding garden. It’s built by digging a big hole in the ground. The crater is encircled by fences. You can see the tanukis resting in the bushes from above.

There are even animals that look like tanukis nearby, but those should be raccoons or civets, right? Honestly, I can’t tell the difference from afar.

I saw a familiar person by the railings.

“Hey, you’re late.”

“Shiramine.”

Her refreshing black hair is being gently caressed by the breeze. This girl is our class president. She’s not walking around with her friends.

Regrettably, she’s not the person I’m looking for. However, given this rare opportunity, I should still ask her if she’s seen her.

“Well, Ho-”

“Hoshigasaki-san is inside.”

Shiramine pointed towards a nearby concrete building the moment I spoke up. It’s different from the fences and outdoor breeding gardens. It’s a lonely and quiet island.

“Koala house.”

There’s a koala sign next to the building. It shows that this is the koala house.

Shiramine smiled after seeing my reaction.

“You’re really here. I was thinking I would go if you didn’t.”

“I can really feel that you’re a kind person.”

After that, Shiramine shook her head.

“Nope, it’s not what you think. I wouldn’t be worried about Hoshigasaki-san right now if she was the same person she used to be.”

“Is that the case?”

My jaw dropped after hearing something so unexpected. Shiramine continued calmly.

“I said that you were the only one who got hurt when Sakado started trouble. Hoshigasaki-san must have reflected on that too.”

“…I certainly didn’t think of that.”

Shiramine smiled bitterly. She turned to the koala house. Hoshigasaki is in there.

“But, she volunteered to be a Bunjitsu, and she solved Kadotani-san’s misunderstanding of you during the study meeting… Hoshigasaki-san seems to be changing herself too. Seeing such a person makes me wish everything could go her way. Even if she ends up being isolated by Hiiragi-san’s group, I’m very willing to hang out with her if she wants.”

I see. Shiramine has observed everything Hoshigasaki has done. That’s why she wants to help her.

“…You’re indeed a kind person.”

She didn’t answer me. She just put her hands on her waist like she wanted to end this conversation.

“It’s time to go, right? It’s better to talk inside than here.”

“You’re right. Thanks.”

I took a step forward after thanking her.

Perhaps things will end up better if Shiramine goes instead of me.

Even so, I should still be the one to do it.

It’s because I don’t want to miss Hoshigasaki.

The koala house is clearly separated between the bright breeding grounds and dark passages. There’s a glass ceiling over the breeding grounds. That seems to be the lighting for the entire building.

The gloomy passages are in sharp contrast to the breeding grounds. I can see a blonde girl standing in the corner.

“It’s her…”

I blurted out loud.

What is she doing here?

She didn’t notice I was approaching her. I called out.

“Hey.”

Hoshigasaki quickly turned around. She looked at me dazedly for a moment.

“…It’s Nanamura. What’s wrong?”

“That’s my line.”

After that, her expression became awkward. She smiled in distress.

I can tell her relationship with Hiiragi hasn’t been mended. However, I can’t just encourage Hoshigasaki to chase after them right now.

It’s already pretty weird for a loner to take the lead, but I don’t know how to talk this through otherwise. My head will hurt if she freaks out and tries to get me to leave.

“…I’m actually alone as well. Can we look around here together if it’s okay with you?”

In the end, I just said it like I had to. Why did I even say “actually”? I obviously came here alone.

“Eh? Oh, sure.”

Hoshigasaki was surprised at my suggestion, but she didn’t reject it.

“Just look around. I don’t own the koalas, okay.”

“Has Hoshigasaki seen koalas before?”

“When I was little. But I don’t remember it well.”

“It’s been a long time for me also.”

There are glass panes over the passageway. They cover a wide area enclosing a couple of trees. Some photos of the koalas are set up on our side. They have the names and birthdays of the koalas.

I tried to compare the photos to the koalas up in the trees. However, regrettably, I can’t tell them apart at all. Are there cool guys and ordinary dudes in the world of koalas too? …I’m just thinking about dumb sh*t right now.

There are a lot of koalas here. Some are creeping around the trees, some are feeding themselves scores of leaves, while some are just sleeping without caring about their surroundings. They are all living in their own ways.

“…T-That’s more koalas than I expected. I can’t tell which is which.”

“Me too. I thought koalas were rarer.”

Both of us looked at the koalas. We stopped. Perhaps neither of us wants to leave this place.

I have to take the opportunity and broach the topic.

“Have you still not reconciled with Hiiragi yet?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Hoshigasaki answered as if she didn’t care. However, I can sense she wants to say something more, even though she’s not looking at me.

“Will Nanamura help me if I say I want to reconcile with Yuria?”

She still didn’t look at me. She just threw a sudden question.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about troubled relationships. I’m an honest-to-goodness loner, after all.”

“Ahaha, you’re saying that again.”

She laughed and mumbled to herself.

“But I’m glad to hear that. I would’ve probably hated myself even more because of how big an embarrassment I’d be if you said you were going to help me.”

What Hoshigasaki said was so depressing that there wasn’t any resemblance of her in the park. I shook my head and swept away that sparkling scene from my mind.

I urged her silently. Hoshigasaki continued word by word.

“I want to change myself, but I can’t change who I am when I’m with Yuria. I’m not smart enough to present my truest self to everyone while maintaining my current relationships. Even though onii-chan is very good at this-”

“Hiiragi’s group doesn’t look like they accept light novels or otaku culture.”

“Haha, more or less. They just read Jump and shoujo manga from time to time.”

Hoshigasaki said that as she looked at the breeding grounds. There’s no koala there. Perhaps she’s staring at something beyond.

“I felt like I was a big liar when Sakado saw my light novels. You just lied to someone. That sentence hit me like a truck. That’s why I couldn’t explain things properly at that time.”

Hoshigasaki must have felt guilty for hiding things from Hiiragi for so long, right? That’s why she took Sakado’s criticism quietly.

Maybe that’s why Hoshigasaki refused to go to school in my previous life.

It’s just that there’s already no way to verify that at this point.

“Nanamura and Prez aren’t disguising yourselves at all. You two always look like there’s a unique self in you. Onii-chan is the same too. Yet, here I am, lying and confusing others. I start looking down on myself every time I think about that.”

Hoshigasaki mocked herself.

A unique self. Ah, I’ve seen a lot of chasing “the true self” in fiction too.

A certain character always tries to protect themselves with lies and secrets. Then, after a life-changing encounter, they finally manage to show their true self. People love stories like this because many of us think it’s bad to live by telling lies and hiding secrets.

“I always give up. I’m afraid something bad will happen when I tell the truth, …even though Yuria is really important to me.”

Perhaps it’s very nice to have a sincere friendship without any secrets.

However, is that the only correct answer?

“Who said you can’t be friends without telling the truth?”

“Eh?”

The “fake self” abandoned in stories is perhaps just hypocrisy that can easily be cast aside. However, in reality, people aren’t that simple.

“If lies and secrets are a part of a person, isn’t it too simple to just throw all of this away? There must be times when we must hide something to keep important friends.”

I’ve started interacting with people recently. That’s what I’ve been thinking. People will definitely get hurt if we never hide anything. Therefore, we must at least keep up appearances and measure the proper distance to avoid being hurt.

She also has a pretty big misconception about me.

“What’s more, it’s not like I’m not disguising myself from you at all.”

“Eh?”

“Even though you probably don’t know, I’m keeping many things from you. There are things that I must not say even in serious situations like this, and there are a lot of them.”

I can never say I went back in time with Hanamitsuji. We’ll definitely keep that a secret. Of course, like most high school boys, I’ll never publish the collections on my phone and PC.

“Also, I’m different when talking to Hanamitsuji than to you. I’m somewhere in between when the three of us are together. Moreover, I’m even more different when speaking to my little sister.”

Even I’m aware that I’m spoiling Satsuki too much. Hanamitsuji and Hoshigasaki might even freak out if I treated them that way. Maybe Satsuki hates me too.

Crap, I want to die when I think about that. Please don’t, Satsuki. I’m just worried about my little sister.

However, whether it’s an individual or a group, changing along with the environment shouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s more like a genuine relationship can only be constructed by adjusting ourselves based on differences between people and groups.

“In the end, what self even counts as a true one? I’m being myself when chilling in my room, but does that mean I’m not being myself when talking to people? There’s just a slight emotional difference. Talking to an individual versus a group generates different emotional responses too. So, which side is the hypocritical and shameless one? Who can say that both aren’t true, who can guarantee that one or both are false?”

“Well…”

Just because the reaction when talking to Person A is different than talking to B doesn’t mean it’s alright to arbitrarily draw both selves as false. Of course, I don’t classify it as a bad thing either.

“There’s no need to scold yourself for being insincere just because you’re hiding something.”

That’s why Hoshigasaki doesn’t need to be bothered by keeping secrets from someone, at least that’s what I think.

In the end, humans are creatures who pretend, conceal, escape and turn a blind eye to some things.

That’s why people are so stubborn about answers that even they know are false.

Just like me when I was on the trip.

“What about you, Hoshigasaki? What do you think?”

I sighed at this point. I slowed down, spoke in a gentler tone and asked her again.

“What do you think about talking to us versus when you’re talking to Hiiragi? Which one is your true self, and which one is a fake filled with lies? Is it not fun after putting on your disguise?”

“I…”

Hoshigasaki’s voice is trembling.

“I’m willing to believe both sides are true. Both of them are an inseparable part of who I am. I hope to own both of them at the same time.”

My shoulders relaxed after hearing this answer.

“If that’s the case, it’s definitely not bad for you to use two different faces, one when facing Hiiragi and the other when facing Hanamitsuji and me. I can guarantee that.”

“Yes, …thank you.”

Hoshigasaki is having a good time, no matter who she’s hanging out with. If that’s true, then even if she’s camouflaging herself, why not just treat all sides of Hoshigasaki as the real one?

How can someone identify a side of themselves as hypocritical just because they are keeping secrets?

“At least I quite like Hoshigasaki when you’re talking to me.”

“Eh, …really?”

Hoshigasaki’s cheeks glowed a faint red. She fiddled her fingers in front of her chest.



I was confused by her reaction, but then I realized what I had just said was terrible.

…Well, let’s just say it was clever wording.

“Hoshigasaki, you still want to be friends with Hiiragi, right?”

“Yes, I really love everyone.”

“Then it’s clear as day. Don’t give up your relationship with them, okay? You two will really miss each other if you let go.”

I strongly hoped that my relationship with Hanamitsuji wouldn’t end during the trip. That’s why I acted uncharacteristically.

And that’s why I can continue hanging out with Hanamitsuji.

Hoshigasaki can definitely do it too.

“I will. Thank you.”

Hoshigasaki raised her head and looked at me shyly. Yep, in any case, it’s good for you to smile.

“You won’t be alone even if you have to break off from Hiiragi. Not only does Hanamitsuji think of you as an important friend, but Shiramine has also said she’s worried about you too.”

“And there’s also Nanamura, right?”

Hoshigasaki smiled cheerfully. I’m embarrassed by her expression. Let’s just look away and pretend I’m suddenly in love with koalas.

“I…can. In the worst-case scenario, I can buy light novels with you again. We can exchange the new releases. That saves a lot of money too.”

“Ahaha, that sounds nice.”

“In the end, you said you wanted to change yourself last time, right? If that’s sincere, why not hold firm for a while longer? Even though things may not end well, you can come to talk to me at that time.”

“Yeah, I’ll try my best. Thanks.”

In the end, I didn’t help Hoshigasaki at all. I just listened to her for a bit and said what was in my heart.

I’m not a protagonist. I’m just a normal person who wants to relate to people. This is the best I can do.

Even so, as long as Hoshigasaki can move forward with just a bit more passion, I’ll be good.

After that, Hoshigasaki and I just stared at the koalas. Although we’ve been looking for a long time, there’s no reason to leave now.

…However, both of us completely forgot about one thing.

We aren’t the only two in this zoo today.

“Ah.”

I looked in the direction of the voice. Hiiragi’s group of girls appeared. They came back from the depths of the zoo.

The air in this area seems to have frozen over in an instant.

The girls have seen everything. Hoshigasaki and I are looking at the koalas. We have no excuses. She spoke up first.

“Who are you to Ruri? I really don’t understand you.”

“Well, I just bumped into Hoshigasaki, and we talked…”

“Ruri has been really strange lately. It’s all because of you, right?”

The other girls said that. Hiiragi stepped toward me determinedly. She’s standing before me now.

“Y-Yuria…”

Hoshigasaki stuttered next to us. Hiiragi ignored her. She squinted her eyes and stared daggers at me.

“Explain.”

“…We’re really just classmates.”

I answered. Hiiragi grew even more impatient. Her emotions are getting more intense.

“You mean you two can talk this much as normal classmates? Why do you think you can be with Ruri? What do you even have going for you?”

That hurts. I’m not planning to argue with Hiiragi here. Well, but it can’t be helped if we encounter each other. I’m not good at advance planning, anyway. I should just regain my momentum and hit her with a straightforward question.

“Hiiragi, you hate Hoshigasaki for hiding something from you, right?”

“Wha…?”

Hiiragi looked like she took a critical hit. She fell speechless. She must have sensed that Hoshigasaki just said something to me while keeping it a secret from her.

“You’re suspecting that you’re less important than me in Hoshigasaki’s heart, right?”

“…Yes, so what?”

Hiiragi admitted quietly. Hoshigasaki gasped next to me. “Eh?” Hiiragi reacted to that by giving her a sharp look.

“But that’s the truth! You’re keeping something from me and telling that to Nanamura instead, right!? Doesn’t this prove you think Nanamura is more trustworthy than I am!? Doesn’t that mean you don’t want me to interrupt you two!?”

“T-That’s not true…”

Hoshigasaki denied her with a weak voice. No, it’s more like she doesn’t know what to do. It’s just that she’s not good at making her own opinion known to others. Her pupils are shaking worriedly.

“Why is Nanamura closer to Ruri than me!? In the end, you…”

“Ah, stop! Hiiragi, let’s have a small contest, shall we?”

I stopped Hiiragi just as she was about to explode into a full-blown rage. I came up with that suggestion.

It’s not just because Hanamitsuji gave me a push earlier. I won’t allow myself to back down at this point after intervening so far.

“Ha!? Why do I have to…?”

“We can understand who’s more important to Hoshigasaki with this little competition. You hate this vague situation, right? I’ll show you.”

Hiiragi probably couldn’t understand such a sudden development. She squinted her eyes. However, she sighed after a while. She looked at me and said, “Let’s go.”

Then, I can only let this run its course. I took a deep breath and spoke up.

“Well, do you know when Hoshigasaki's birthday is?”

“Of course. August 4.”

“Really? I didn’t know.”

“Ha?”

Perhaps she didn’t expect my answer. Hiiragi gasped. However, I ignored that and continued the questions.

“Well, what does Hoshigasaki like to eat then?”

“…Cake, coffee and sweets. She really loves seasonal drinks too.”

“I see. I didn’t know.”

“No, what are you trying to say…?”

I can sense Hoshigasaki’s confusion from behind. However, I ignored her and continued.

“Next question. Which brand of clothes does Hoshigasaki like?”

“No shit, I’ve gone shopping with her!”

“I don’t know that as well.”

“Ah, sheesh! What the hell are you trying to say!?”

Hiiragi finally exploded. I spoke up calmly.

“Isn’t it clear? You know a lot more about Hoshigasaki than I do. You two have been together for so long, after all. Now, do you understand who’s more important in Hoshigasaki’s heart?”

“W-Well…”

Hiiragi fell silent. She has a complicated expression on her face. She doesn’t seem to find this acceptable.

“I’ll definitely lose to Hiiragi if we’re talking about who knows her more. That’s why you can relax.”

All of this is from when I talked to Kadotani about “she knows her more than everyone else”. Let’s call it “Operation How Can I Win Hiiragi”. Even though it’s an operation by name, I’m just exposing that I know nothing about Hoshigasaki. It’s not even an operation. I’m just self-destructing.

Silence ensued between the two for a moment. Hiiragi mumbled.

“So, you’re telling me to ignore what Ruri is hiding from me and befriend her again?”

“I don’t know. That’s none of my business. It’s a problem between the two of you from now on.”

It’s time to leave after showing off. Let’s leave the aftermath to the people in question.

Hiiragi looked at Hoshigasaki with a poker face. Hoshigasaki looks really nervous. They stared at each other for a while. Then, Hoshigasaki sighed and spoke up.

“Sorry, Yuria. I’m actually keeping a lot from you.”

“Yeah, I know. Honestly, I’m a bit angry about this.”

“…I can’t tell you everything, but I’ll try my best. Actually, Nanamura is friends with my brother. Both of them love reading light novels.”

“Ruri’s brother?”

“Yeah.”

Then, Hoshigasaki came up with a plausible story that wasn’t true.

Kouya-san and I are friends. We lend each other light novels and Hoshigasaki helps pass light novels between us. At that time, Sakado accidentally saw Hoshigasaki bringing a light novel to school. At that time, Hoshigasaki and I didn’t have any direct interaction in front of the class at all. I helped Hoshigasaki just as she struggled to come up with an explanation. With that, my name and reputation sunk into the mud and Hoshigasaki was trying to improve my reputation.

Even though this lie isn’t a total fiction, she’s not revealing everything either.

Kouya-san and I are friends. To be precise, we both share the same hobby. That’s true, but that’s not how Hoshigasaki and I met each other. Also, Hoshigasaki didn’t tell her she loves light novels too.

This is the best Hoshigasaki can do for now, right.

Hiiragi seems to have accepted what she said.

“Is what she said true…?”

Hiiragi mumbled to herself and looked at me. I ignored everything else and nodded first. Now’s not the time for me to talk. However, Hiiragi slowly approached me.

“Nanamura, …I’m sorry about everything from before.”

Hiiragi deeply bowed down before raising her head awkwardly. She scratched her cheeks.

“From what I’ve heard from Ruri, it looks like you’re a great person.”

“N-Not really. I want to ask you for compensation now, for example.”

“Uwah, my head hurts from hearing that. …Well, but it’s not like I can’t let you pick a drink from the vending machine over there. You also helped Ruri as well. Thank you.”

She said that before returning to Hoshigasaki. This time, their faces got closer together. They are saying something that I can’t hear. I sighed deeply at this reconciliation.

Hoshigasaki is still hiding something from Hiiragi.

However, it’s alright now. I don’t want to believe they can’t construct an important relationship because they don’t confess everything to each other. That would be too lonely.

Keep a proper distance, explain things that shouldn’t be kept as secrets, don’t say things that shouldn’t be said.

I think this is what we should do to be truly considerate of each other. Believing total honesty is for the best means you’re not thinking straight, right?

Even if cracks may appear in their relationship in the future, they have ample time to reconsider their relationship.

Evaluating their relationship based on the varying situations, revealing secrets at the right time, and telling the other person what they want to know.

Perhaps this is already a healthy relationship.

In the end, I realized I did nothing once again. The weird challenge I had for Hiiragi was just for her to be aware of her own biases. That’s not why she reconciled with Hoshigasaki.

It’s just that, I think this is the proper distance between them and me, right?

With that, I secretly left the koala house. Everyone except me is mending their relationship with Hoshigasaki. What face should I even make to stay there with them?

Unfortunately, based on my short experience with life, I can’t find any correct answers aside from leaving them to themselves.

*

The zoo incident is over.

The Monday family restaurant meeting is already routine. Even if it’s a day before the closing ceremony, it's still on. Hanamitsuji and I sat before each other. My sweat immediately turned cold upon entering the air-conditioned store.

“Hoshigasaki is doing well.”

We filled our cups from the drink bar. I took the opportunity when she was taking a break and opened the conversation.

Hanamitsuji’s eyes brightened up. Her mouth quickly left the straw she had just put into the cup of iced tea.

“Really!? What happened!?”

I briefly explained what happened today. Like about what Hoshigasaki was bothered about, what I said to her, what I said to Hiiragi. I told her everything.

The most important thing is that Hoshigasaki knows what she wants to do now. She wants to get closer to Hiiragi. That’s enough, right?

The ice cubes in Hanamitsuji’s iced tea had almost melted by the time I finished explaining everything. They made a clinking sound against the glass.

“I see. Hiiragi-san also understands now.”

“She’s not a bad person either.”

She’s just a little too obsessive when it comes to Hoshigasaki. That’s why she came to warn me. In a sense, the way she views Hoshigasaki is like how Kadotani views Hanamitsuji.

Hanamitsuji started drinking iced tea. Phew, she exhaled in satisfaction.

“Anyway, we don’t have to worry about her now.”

“I wasn’t that worried in the first place.”

“Lies. Nanamura-kun, your face looked really sad lately.”

“Are you serious?”

I can’t believe she knows from my expression alone… No, allow me to explain myself. How can I pretend everything’s fine when all of them are asking me what’s wrong with Hoshigasaki? Sigh, when did I become Hoshigasaki’s guardian?

“In the end, I left everything to Nanamura-kun again… I didn’t help at all.”

Hanamitsuji said that self-deprecatingly. I quickly refuted her.

“That’s not true.”

“Eh?”

Hanamitsujij’s eyes bulged. She’s surprised. I looked away from the cup and to her instead.

“You gave me a push.”

Hanamitsuji said it in the café yesterday. Even if I’m not a protagonist, I can always help her if I want to relate to her. She gave me a push.

“I would’ve really missed out on the opportunity to help Hoshigasaki if I didn’t talk about that with Hanamitsuji yesterday. So, this has a lot to do with Hanamitsuji, alright?”

Hanamitsuji smiled after I said that. Her expression is filled with relief, shyness and a dreamy sense of warmth.

“I see… Perhaps you’re right.”

Maybe this is the smile I’ve been wanting to see all along. I was surprised by this flash of thought and quickly chugged the remaining cola. It’s not fizzy anymore.

My mouth feels especially sweet. This tastes completely different than the usual cola.






The closing ceremony ended peacefully. Everyone had already disbanded before noon. We are all happy school’s out.

The long-awaited summer holiday is finally here. I should leave the classroom. I have to go home and chill, after all. So busy.

My classmates are all chatting excitedly. As I put on my school bag the extrovert group came into view.

The girls are standing at the front of the classroom and chatting casually.

Of course, Hiiragi is among them. Hoshigasaki is laughing happily next to her as well.

Even though I don’t know how much their relationship has improved after the setback, it looks like Hoshigasaki is working on it and that it’s on the mend. This way, I can enjoy the summer holiday in complete relief.

Hoshigasaki suddenly turned towards me as I was thinking about that. I hastily looked away, but Hoshigasaki didn’t mind at all. She raised her voice.

“Hey, Nanamura!”

After that, the whole class looked at me in confusion.

I knew this was going to happen. While Hiiragi and her group know about my relationship with Hoshigasaki, other classmates have no idea about what happened yesterday.

After that, Hoshigasaki looked at Hiiragi. She nodded as if she was confirming something. Hiiragi nodded back at her as well and gently pushed her forward by the shoulders.

Hoshigasaki took something from her desk. She walked toward me. Everyone is giving us curious looks. Sweat began to drip down my back.

“W-What?”

“Something.”

Hoshigasaki is holding a black plastic bag.

The lively classmates all got quiet. I feel like the temperature in the classroom has dropped.

Hoshigasaki hesitated for a moment. She took a deep breath, made up her mind and reached her hand into the bag.

She took out a light novel.

“Onii-chan said this one is interesting.”

“…Light novel.”

Hoshigasaki nodded after I said that.

“Yeah, didn’t he tell me to pass light novels to you?”

She looks incredibly serious right now. Ah, that’s what she is trying to do. I almost laughed out loud. I didn’t expect she would do this in a classroom filled with people.

Seriously, whether it’s Hanamitsuji, Shiramine or Hoshigasaski, everyone around me certainly loves meddling in other people’s business.

“You’re right… Say hi to Kouya-san for me.”

I answered Hoshigasaki calmly.

“Yeah, you can give it back at the Bunjitsu meeting. Well, see you.”

Hoshigasaki turned around and stepped forward. Immediately, a group of girls gathered around her. They opened their arms and brought her to the corner of the classroom.

“Hoshigasaki-san! What does this mean?”

“What is the relationship between Nanamura-kun and Hoshigasaki-san…?”

Hoshigasaki smiled apologetically at the barrage of questions. However, she puffed up her chest and answered.

“Well, Nanamura and I actually knew each other from a while ago. I’m sorry for keeping it a secret.”

“Eh! Why!? Why!? What happened?”

“My brother and Nanamura both love reading light novels. That’s why they are kind of close. As for me, since I’m in the same class as him, I’ve been passing light novels between them. I was feeling quite embarrassed about it, though. That’s why I didn’t make it clear earlier.”

“So, it’s the same for those found by Sakado-san?”

Hoshigasaki nodded at the question.

“Yeah, those light novels were supposed to be handed to onii-chan from Nanamura, but everyone saw them in the end. Nanamura was isolated by everyone when I freaked out. However, I can speak to Nanamura properly in class these days.”

“That’s why you’ve been talking to Nanamura-kun.”

“That’s right. Also, onii-chan has influenced me a bit, and I’m also reading light novels now. They are actually quite interesting.”

At this point, Hoshigasaki stopped for a moment. This time, she raised her voice so everyone in the class could hear, not just the girls.

“Right, Nanamura!”

Why are you throwing the ball to me right now!?

Everyone looked at me again. It can’t be helped. I’ll play along with you at this point.

“Yeah, she’s right. It’s quite fun…”

Even though I imagined myself looking determined and cool before I spoke, my words and bearing were utterly pathetic.

Even so, my classmates know what I mean.

“See? I’m sorry for keeping this a secret from everyone. Also, Nanamura, I owe you an apology for letting this drag on for so long without an explanation. Terribly sorry.”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

After that, Hoshigasaki mumbled, “Thank you.” She closed her eyes.

She raised her head a moment later. Her expression showed she was in incredibly high spirits.

“But Nanamura really isn’t a bad person. He’s a super kind boy. I’ll be very happy if everyone can understand that.”

Hoshigasaki bid farewell to me and picked up the school bag next to her desk. She walked to the door to meet up with Hiiragi’s group.

For a moment, Hiiragi seems to be observing me. However, she quickly looked away and left a few seconds later.

“Let’s go sing karaoke. We waited a long time for summer.”

“No, right? We can still sing even if it’s not summer.”

“What songs do you want, Ruri?”

“Hmm, me? What should I sing?”

Then, they just chatted as they left the classroom.

Weird laments can be heard around the room. Then the quiet classmates got rowdy once again.

The otaku group is at the front of the classroom. Tashiro talked loudly with his friends.

“A gal who can understand otakus, …like those reprinted manga on Twitter?” “They are actually real. My life is full of hope!” “You’re impossibly hopeless.”

I should leave before this gets troublesome, right? I walked to the entrance, but Kuno from the Baseball Club blocked the path.

“Wait, wait, don’t go, Nanamura! Eh? Nanamura and Ruri are like that!?”

“Ahh, yeah.”

“No, right! When did you become friends with Ruri’s brother…?”

“Alright, let’s leave this to tomorrow.”

“Oi, hey!”

I went around Kuno and left the classroom.

“Isn’t it the summer holiday tomorrow!?”

I can tell that he wants me to stay, but I don’t care. Sheesh, I’m glad today’s the last day of the term. …At this time, Shiramine raised her hand. She has been leaning on a wall in the corridor.

She’s holding her bag. I guess she must have run into all the commotion as she was coming back. She just watched the entire thing through the corridor window, right? What a chill girl.

“Hey, you’ve been showing off since yesterday.”

“Showing off what?”

“No need to be humble. Even Hiiragi-san was seduced by you too…”

“Please stop.”

“You really only know how to get close to girls. Don’t tell me you’re into bondage play?”

“Who’ll be into play like that!?”

I retorted, but Shiramine’s lips curled up joyfully. After that, she looked at the classroom and urged me. “Let’s go.”

Both of us walked silently for a while. Shiramine spoke up when we were in the middle of the corridor.

“It looks like it won’t take you long to be part of the class again.”

“It’s hard, right? We’re talking about me, after all.”

“I wish you were not so confident about that…”

Shiramine smiled bitterly.

“Well, see you then. I guess I can still continue dealing with you in the second term.”

“Sorry, but please take care of me. Shiramine is the person in charge of Nanamura, after all.”

“I don’t remember being such a weird ‘person in charge’.”

Shiramine raised her hand when she was about to go upstairs.

“See you. I’m going to the library.”

“Ahh, see you in the second term.”

“Have a nice summer holiday.”

She waved and left. I walked toward the exit of the building.

Even though the conversation in the classroom only lasted a few minutes, I could clearly sense that the status of Hoshigasaki and I had changed.

Hoshigasaki wasn’t trying to help me.

She’s just progressing toward her future. She mustered her courage and told the truth to my classmates. That alone had already changed my life.

We’re always under other people’s influence for as long as we live.

A voice came from behind the pillar while I was thinking about that.

“Thanks for the work.”

“Uwah!”

My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I looked in the direction of the voice. Hanamitsuji is standing there with a bright smile on her face.

“W-Why are you here…?”

“I just saw Hoshigasaki-san walking with her friends. I asked her whether they were hanging out and she said yes excitedly.”

“Really?”

“I’m glad to see that they made up.”

“Yeah, I don’t need to endure any more internal mental torment.”

“Can’t you just be genuinely happy for them?”

Hanamitsuji laughed awkwardly. I looked away.

Come to think of it, we’re talking in school. Doesn’t she think this will cause her trouble?

Perhaps it’s because the question is written on my face. Hanamitsuji looked around and answered.

“What’s wrong? We’re both Bunjitsu.”

“Yeah, right.”

At this time, my phone suddenly vibrated in my pocket. I took it out and received a totally unexpected notification.

“Uwah, are you serious?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, …it’s-”

I let Hanamitsuji look at the screen.

It shows <Ruri Hoshigasaki is inviting you to join “Class 1A Line Group”.>

“Isn’t this nice? By the way, you are still not in the class group yet…?”

Her eyes contain a subtle sense of pity, but now’s not the time for that. I’m invited to the class group… and the invitation is from Hoshigasaki.

Come to think of it, Hiiragi didn’t stop her from doing that, right? Even though I don’t mind you inviting me, it’s another matter of whether I’ll join.

“What if I press reject?”

“Why are you rejecting it!? Join them.”

“Line groups are too heavy for me.”

“That’s the first time I’ve heard a Line group is too heavy for someone.”

Beneath the pressure bearing down on me from the person beside me, I reluctantly pressed “Join”. The brand new chat screen shows <Nanamura has entered the group chat>. I feel embarrassed at the thought that the whole group can see this. Someone will definitely think, “Eh!? There are still people who aren’t in the group yet!?”

Although I considered whether I should greet everyone, this would raise too much attention. Let’s just leave it there. I can reply to them when Hoshigasaki and Shiramine start nagging me when I get home.

I put back my phone as I prepared to leave. However, someone’s tugging the bottom of my summer uniform.

I turned around. Hanamitsuji is looking at me with a slightly nervous expression.

“…What?”

“C-Can we go to the family restaurant together? That old place.”

“Today’s not Monday.”

“I want to go. It’s already summer, alright?”

“How is that related?”

I replied, but I didn’t mean to reject her. Hanamitsuji seems to have understood that too. She nodded gently.

We walked to the exit as we chatted about all kinds of things.

“Right, Nanamura-kun, do you have any summer holiday memories?”

“Only the memories of going on trips with my family.”

“I see. Well, then you’ll be a bit busier this summer. It’s not just the work for Bunjitsu. Also…”

“Also?”

“I’ll drag you around and we’ll have fun together.”

Hanamitsuji showed a mischievous smile as she looked at me. Her fragrance seems to be floating in the air. I’m so attracted to it that my head feels dizzy.

These are all things that I’ve never understood before.

Everything that happened in the first term, the contacts I’ve saved on my phone, Hanamitsuji next to me, I’ve never understood these people and things before.

At the early stage of my return, I planned to repeat my lonely life like last time.

From now on, my high school life won’t be the same as the one before.

Sweat appeared on my forehead as I walked shoulder to shoulder with Hanamitsuji.

“It’s hot…”

Come to think of it, this summer holiday will be longer than any I’ve experienced so far.


Previous Chapter | Main Page | Vol.3 unconfirmed

No comments:

Post a Comment