The Girls Who Traumatized Me Volume 1 Chapter 4

Chapter Four: “True Intentions and Suspicions
 
The next day, feeling completely recovered, I was about to go to school when my sister called me at the entrance of the apartment building. Although we go to the same high school, we don’t go to school together. If anything, I’m usually the one who leaves the house before my sister in the morning because she’s not much of a morning person.
 
I wonder if she needs anything from me?
 
“Hmm…”
 
As I looked at her questioningly, my sister held out her hand to me.
 
Ah, I see. She must be asking for compensation for taking care of me while I was sick yesterday.
 
She went out of her way to buy various things for me yesterday. I feel bad that I caused her so much trouble. I took out my wallet and placed a thousand yen bill in my sister’s hand.
 
“Huh?”
 
“Sorry, just kidding.”
 
You’re right, 1000 yen isn’t enough, is it? Let me change it to a 5000 yen bill instead.
 
“Are you making fun of me?”
 
Uh-oh, I seem to have made her angry. Wrinkles formed between her eyebrows. Unlike guys, girls have a lot of expenses. It’s only natural that I should give her something extra as compensation for nursing me back to health. That’s what I was thinking when I took out a 10,000 yen bill from my wallet, but my sister’s anger increased sharply.
 
“Please forgive me with this amount?”
 
I held out my entire wallet to her. Since I don’t spend much money on a daily basis, it shouldn’t be a problem. I’m Yukito Kokonoe, a guy who never went through a rebellious phase. If my sister needs it, I’ll gladly give her as much as she wants.
 
In the first place, I’m just a worthless human being who only causes her trouble. I should just be grateful that she allows me to go to school properly. My policy is never to go against my family.
 
“I didn’t say I wanted money, you know?”
 
“Then…what should I offer you?”
 
“What makes you think I want anything from you?”
 
“I’m so sorry, stupid little brother.”
 
Of course, I wouldn’t be able to understand my wise elder sister’s deep intentions. I will work harder.
 
“You have just recovered from your illness. I’m worried, so let me hold your hand and walk with you.”
 
“Have you lost your mind?”
 
Am I a kindergartener? I can’t keep up with the completely unexpected reaction. As a high school student, if I were to walk to school holding hands with my sister, it would cause another problem. My sister is famous for her beauty. It would invite unnecessary speculation. Besides, I couldn’t possibly hold hands with my sister.
 
If I did, it would be just like that time…
 
“I can’t do that…”
 
“You still don’t trust me?”
 
“That’s not it.”
 
I can’t rely on my sister’s kindness and spoil myself. The fact that she cares so much about me, even though she dislikes me, is more than enough. I won’t ask for anything more.
 
Anyway, my health has fully recovered. I turned on my heels and went to school.
 
For I know that only sorrow awaits me there.
 

 
“How did it come to this?”
 
“You’re the talk of the school right away, Mr. Popular.”
 
As soon as I entered the classroom, the cheerful, handsome boy mocked me. Having to deal with this uproar first thing in the morning after just recovering from an illness was brutal. My sister was very stubborn today. She must have been seething with anger that I refused to hold her hand no matter what. She forcefully clung to my arm and it was impossible for me to shake her off with her firm grip. As a result, I ended up going to school this morning looking like a stupid couple.
 
Sure enough, it quickly became a hot topic and rumors spread like wildfire. The only good thing is that I got to enjoy the soft sensation of my sister in my arm, but the accumulating fatigue outweighs that. Not worth it. I spent the first period dead tired. After class, I was called into the hallway by an upperclassman I’d never met before.
 
“Sorry to call you out like this. I’m Mizuguchi, a sophomore. Are you really the little brother of that Yuuri-san girl?”
 
“I don’t really resemble my sister very much.”
 
“I was surprised this morning because I thought your sister had a boyfriend. Did something happen?”
 
“I caught a cold, so my sister was worried about me, that’s all.”
 
“Are you feeling better now?”
 
“Yes, I made sure to rest well yesterday after taking the day off, so I’m full of energy now, but that ruckus this morning left me a bit drained.”
 
“Heh heh. Well, she’s a popular girl, so that makes sense. Still, your sister is quite the worrier, huh. It’s nice that she cares so much about the family, but it must have been devastating for you, little brother.”
 
“Even I was shocked by my sister’s eccentric behavior.”
 
“I don’t have much time, so I’ll be brief, but I have a favor to ask of you. May I?”
 
“Is it about confessing to my sister?”
 
The fact that someone is asking me about something related to my sister leaves no room for doubt. Yuuri-san looks like our mother, and she’s quite beautiful. During middle school, there were times when she was asked questions like, “Does your older sister have a boyfriend?” We don’t talk much on a regular basis, so I don’t know much about her personal life. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had a boyfriend.
 
“I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but can you call Yuuri-san for me?”
 
“Do you really have to rely on me for that?”
 
“You may not know this, but she won’t come even if I call her. She doesn’t read love letters, or she just ignores them. That’s what she’s famous for, in a way.”
 
“Who is this horrible person? Oh, wait, you mean my sister.”
 
“Yes, she is, but it’s more like a weakness caused by being in love, you know? Even if she were to refuse a confession, isn’t it kind of unpleasant to not even be given the chance?”
 
Although she was my elder sister, her attitude was far too unpleasant. Still, there must be some universal truth in the fact that she’s popular. I took a quick look at Mizuguchi-senpai, but he didn’t seem barbaric. She approaches people with ease and makes a pretty good impression. I just made trouble for my sister, and I don’t know what kind of reaction I’ll get, but once in a while, I should be the one to make amends.
 
As a cupid, supporting my sister’s romance is also my duty as a little brother!
 
“I understand. Please leave it to me, Senpai!”
 
“Will you do it, my boy?!”
 
“We’re only a year apart.”
 
“Just pretend you didn’t hear that part.”
 
Mizuguchi-senpai seems to be a really good guy.
 

 
“Haaah!”
 
“Did you just let out a weird scream?”
 
“Quiet, you.”
 
“What’s with that tone…?”
 
My friend Satomi looked at me in confusion, but I had no time for that right now. After double and triple checking, there was no mistaking it, the e-mail was from my little brother.
 
Could it have been sent by mistake? The thought crossed my mind, but there’s no way he would send a message with this content to anyone but me: [I have something important to discuss with Yuuri-san]. However, I still found it hard to believe because my brother hardly ever sends me emails. On the rare occasions when he does, it’s only to exchange necessary information, so receiving a message like this was a first.
 
“What should I do…I’m not wearing makeup today.”
 
“Isn’t that how you always are? It’s rare to see you so panicked, but did something happen between this and this morning’s incident?”
 
“From now on, it won’t be so rare. But still, I wonder what he could want…”
 
“Huh, what do you mean? Do you want to go to school like that every day from now on?”
 
“I would like to, but… Wait, could the incident this morning have been [ane katsudou]?”
 
I suddenly realized. This morning, my brother tried to give me money for some reason.
 
Roughly speaking, there is something called [Papa Katsudou] in this world. It refers to the act of giving someone money and going out to eat with them, that kind of thing. Could my brother have proposed [ane katsudou] to me? It is said that the nature of the arrangement changes depending on the amount, but I have no idea what the current rates are. Now that I think about it, my brother first offered me a thousand yen bill. He ended up offering me his entire wallet, but I’m curious what he was hoping to get from me with that original 1000 yen.
 
I wonder what he wanted me to do. Oh no, I shouldn’t have refused outright!
 
I can’t stay like this. I took my makeup bag out of my bag and rushed to the bathroom. This was the first time my brother called me. I don’t know what he wants to talk about, but I can only approach it with the utmost sincerity. I waited for school to end, my heart racing with anticipation.
 

 
“Yukitooo, where are you?”
 
The emergency stairwell was quiet as usual. I looked left and right, but I couldn’t see my brother anywhere.
 
“Thanks for coming, Yuuri-san.”
 
I thought I heard someone call my name, but there was no time to worry. The final bell hadn’t rung yet, so I considered sending him a message, but I also wanted to wait. This unknown guy who suddenly showed up was getting on my nerves.
 
“I wanted to tell you something…”
 
“Who are you?”
 
“You don’t remember me? I’m Kyouichi Mizuguchi from the next grade. We used to be on the beautification committee together, remember?”
 
“I don’t know you. I’m busy, so could you go somewhere else if you don’t need anything?”
 
“Wai-wait a minute! I called you here, Yuuri-san. I asked your little brother to get you to come to me.”
 
“Huh?”
 
At this point, I finally became interested in Mizuguchi standing in front of me.
 
–What did he just say? Did he asked my brother ?
 
“I like you a lot. Please go out with me!”
 
“Did you say Mizuguchi? You used my little brother?”
 
“N-no, it’s not like that. He just cooperated a little because I didn’t think you’d come if I was the one who called you and…”
 
“Don’t mess with me! Don’t involve my brother in stupid things like that!”
 
“I just wanted to confess my feelings to you…”
 
“Then you should have done it directly! Why did you call me to a place like this? Have you threatened my brother or something?”
 
“I didn’t threaten him or anything like that!”
 
“Who knows. Enough!”
 
Ignoring Mizuguchi, I started to run. I have to get home right away.
 
By then, I had completely forgotten that I had just rece confession.
 
“Um… so what’s your answer?”
 
Mizuguchi, left behind on the emergency stairs, was at a complete loss.
 

I wonder if my sister’s romance went well. Yes, yes, I’m in a very good mood. From now on, I will try to do one good deed a day! Buddha probably said something like that. Although they say it comes from Buddhism, my family is not religious.
 
Hurried footsteps approached my room and stopped in front of my door. Without even knocking, the door was forcefully flung open. My sister had changed out of her uniform into a tank top and was standing there in a sumo stance. Oh, so it went well?
 
“Yuuri-san, welcome home.”
 
“You weren’t forced into anything by that Mizuguchi guy, were you?”
 
“? Senpai just asked me to call Yuuri-san, that’s all.”
 
“Thank goodness…”
 
“Have you and Senpai finally become lovers?”
 
“As if I care about guys who try to use you!”
 
My sister spat with a really ugly expression. Looks like he was disliked. What happened, Mizuguchi-senpai? My sister sat down next to me for some reason.
 
“But Senpai seemed to be a decent guy.”
 
“Huh? So what? Are you telling me to go out with him or something?”
 
“Um…”
 
Although I never said anything like that, her eyes were scary, so I shut my mouth. I have no choice but to keep quiet.
 
“If you want me to do something, you don’t need to give money or anything, okay?”
 
“Thank you? Um, hmm?”
 
Anything I want her to do? My sister’s cheeks were slightly red. I don’t need money? Come to think of it, we had a similar exchange this morning. Hmm, my wallet must not have enough money for what my sister wants. Maybe there’s something she wants to buy? I’ll cooperate to the best of my ability!
 
“Then should I take some from my savings?”
 
“Savings? Do you really want me to do that much?”
 

“I don’t really spend much money…”
 
“Still, that’s too unhealthy! I understand. I’ve made up my mind. Whatever it is, I’ll do it for you. You don’t need to use any money, so just tell me anytime.”
 
“I, I understand, thank you?”
 
“It’s okay. It’s just what I want to do for you.”
 
My sister left the room with a delighted expression on her face, and her whole demeanor changed to overflowing with tender love. She came and went like a storm, but I didn’t really understand what she was talking about until the end.
 
…What does she mean by unhealthy?
 


 
“Yukito, let’s have a showdown in the 1500m race next!”
 
The cheerful pretty boy’s expression was as refreshing as the clear sky above. The weather is great today.
 
“Why don’t we do a seated forward bend stretch instead?”
 
“I don’t understand what you mean by why don’t we. Don’t you think it would be interesting to compete in flexibility?”
 
Many students had gathered on the school grounds. Today we were conducting the new physical fitness tests to measure each individual’s physical abilities. We had already completed several events.
 
Personally, I had been worried about my grip strength, but it had returned to almost my original level.
 
I looked over at the cheerful, handsome boy next to me. Why do I have to compete against this athletic prince charming who excels in all sports? I’m okay at basketball, but not very good at most other sports. When it comes to running, I have no chance against the cheerful pretty boy in the sprints, even though I can run long distances. The fact that he chose to run middle-distance races, knowing full well that this was the case, is frankly annoying. I was about to make a snide remark when the girls cheered.
 
“That’s Kamishiro. Amazing.”
 
The cheerful, handsome boy looked very impressed, so I followed his gaze.
 
In the middle of the crowd was Shiori Kamishiro. Looks like she got a good score in the standing long jump.
 
“She’s a monster when it comes to physical ability. No wonder.”
 
“With those training abilities, it’s a waste that Kamishiro is in the go-straight-home club.”
 
“I agree, but… hmm?”
 
Despite the bursting energy and dazzling smile, there was something about Kamishiro’s demeanor that bothered me.
 
“Oh, hey! Yukito, where are you going?”
 
I briskly walked over to the group of girls.
 
The cheers immediately faded to silence and they looked at me suspiciously at my sudden intrusion.
 
“Kokonoe, what’s wrong?”
 
“Yuki? Why are you over here …… “
 
“Kamishiro, you don’t look well. Are you okay?”
 
Kamishiro’s movements clearly lacked strength. It was obvious to anyone who knew her at all. Still, the fact that she was able to achieve those scores was impressive, but Kamishiro originally had the potential to do even more. She was a girl who could do more.
 
“Huh? No… I’m totally fine! See, full of energy!”
 
She looked anything but energetic, but then I remembered.
 
“I see. That’s right, you were good at lying.”
 
“–!?”
 
“Sorry for bothering you.”
 
I was fully aware that my words were cowardly. But it might be useless.
 
I spontaneously asked out of concern, but on second thought, a dark loner like me worrying about her would be nothing but a nuisance. She’s probably thinking something like “Crawl back to the mud puddle, you bottom feeder! I was just being annoying. I dampened the spirited mood.
 
“W-wait! Sorry Yuki, I lied!!”
 
When I tried to leave, a desperate Kamishiro grabbed me back.
 
Her face had turned completely blue, she seemed to be feeling really unwell now.
 
“Look, I just forgot to eat breakfast this morning. It’s really no big deal…”
 
“That’s bad enough.”
 
“I just didn’t want to worry anyone! I won’t try to put it off again, I promise…”
 
“Did you oversleep or something?”
 
“I was a little busy this morning…and last night I only had a cup of instant noodles…”
 
“You’re a growing teenager. What are you doing?”
 
“Sorry. You’re right, there’s no point in hiding things and worrying about them.”
 
“What are your three sizes?”
 
“….Huh? Last time I measured, the top was 91 cm… Oh Yuki! I know you’re just teasing me! We can talk about such things in secret later, okay?”
 
Ah, so she’s going to tell me. I just blurted it out because I got caught up in the flow, but…
 
“Shio-rin, were you really not feeling well?”
 
“Y-yeah… It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t move or anything, but I guess I’m not in the best shape.”
 
“I didn’t notice at all. And yet I made a fuss about it, sorry Kamishiro-san.”
 
“It’s my fault. I didn’t mean to hide it, I thought I might be okay, but…”
 

Kamishiro apologized to Yukito. The people around her looked worried as well.
 
Now that I know she’s not really sick, that’s enough. For a big eater like Kamishiro, not eating breakfast and having low energy is quite characteristic of her, but judging by her condition now, she should be able to get through the remaining fitness test events without any problems.
 
“Hey Kokonoe, how did you know Kamishiro-san wasn’t feeling well? She didn’t look like it to us at all.”
 
“Yeah, I couldn’t tell at all.”
 
Sakurai and the others gathered around and asked me to “tell them for future reference.”
 
To be able to show that level of consideration, as expected from a cheerful people. I pointed to one of Kamishiro’s things.
 
“When Kamishiro is happy or in a good mood or having fun or bursting with energy, her ponytail bounces around enthusiastically. Look, it’s all limp now, right?”
 
“Now that you mention it, you’re absolutely right…”
 
“There’s no way my ponytail has any kind of dog tail-like function or anything!”
 
Everyone, including me, made displeased faces.
 
“Huh? Um… did I say something weird? I don’t really get it, but…”
 
“Haah…jeez.”
 
Honestly, don’t be like that, Kamishiro. It’s not funny at all.
 
“Okay, these are the faces of people trying their best not to make the obvious retort, [It’s more like a horse’s tail than a dog’s].”
 
“How is that my fault?”
 
“You want to waste calories on a lame retort when you’re not feeling well?”
 
“I feel like I’m being treated unreasonably here…”
 
Kamishiro sulked for a bit, but the good thing about her was that it didn’t last long.
 
“Actually, it was just good observation. You’ll all be able to notice such things some day. For example, if I don’t pay enough attention and don’t notice that my sister Yuuri-san has cut her fringe a little, I’ll be punished for disrespect.
 
She immediately gets in a bad mood. I hope you’ll experience her asking “Who do you think you are?” with a frightening look when you miss a slight change and have to desperately search for what’s wrong, just like I did. It’s by continuing to pay attention to her moods like this that my observational skills have been honed. It’s all thanks to Yuuri-san’s training.
 
“Don’t overdo it.”
 
“Yes, sorry for worrying you.”
 
This should ensure that she doesn’t overdo it and that everything goes smoothly. The people around her won’t let her be careless either.
 
But for some reason, Kamishiro’s risky behavior made me feel uneasy.
 

 
“I’m very worried.”
 
After school, Me, Kamishiro and Mihou were summoned to the teacher’s office. Standing in front of us was a stern looking Sayuri-sensei.
 
“Sensei, what’s wrong?”
 
“Yes, I’m angry.”
 
“………… Oh.”
 
” ………… “
 
There was an awkward silence.
 
“If you’re embarrassed, you don’t have to say it.”
 
“You’re the one who made me say it!”
 
I’m sorry, Sensei. I apologize silently in my mind.
 
“Well, I’ll be blunt anyway. Why are the two of you in the Go Home Club?”
 
A completely unexpected topic caused us to exchange glances. Kouki and Kamishiro were standing next to me.
 
“Why? It’s common for introverts to be in the Go Home Club, right?”
 
“You’re not as much of an introvert as you might think.”
 
“Yeah, really.”
 
“Yeah. Seriously.”
 
“Just the other day, I became best friends with Shakado, who’s also in the introvert club…”
 
“When did you become friends with Anya chan, Yuki?”
 
“Introvert and all… That’s great and all, but just get along with Shakado.”
 
By the way, Shakado is a reptile-loving, introverted girl. She was adored as the class mascot because of her charm.
 
“I’m thinking of joining the same club as Yukito.”
 
“I want to be a manager in the same club as Yuki…”
 
“Don’t get me involved!”
 
Sayuri-sensei pointed at us and looked annoyed.
 
“Are both of you threatened by this troublemaker?”
 
“Isn’t that a bit harsh?”
 
“It’s your own fault. Earlier, the athletic coach came to my office and asked about you two. I told him that you’re in the Go Home Club. You’ll probably be recruited sooner or later, so think about it.”
 
“You’re the one who challenged me unnecessarily.”
 
The failure was that Mihou accidentally set a good record in the unexpectedly heated 1500m race. Well, he’s really cool and handsome, so what can you do?
 
“What are you going to do, Yukito? Are you going to join the athletic club?”
 
“That’s why I said I’m in the Go Home Club. You can do whatever you want.”
 
“Then maybe I’ll pass, too.”
 
“Sensei, I think he’s strange. He has a strange face.”
 
“I don’t know about his face, but what about Kamishiro? I hear she has an impressive record. I think you’ll get more recruitment offers from now on.”
 
“Well, I’m not sure about the club right now…”
 
Kamishiro looked at us with an apologetic expression.
 
“Seriously, I don’t know what kind of relationship you guys have, but you don’t have many opportunities for youth. Don’t have any regrets.”
 
“Don’t worry, Sensei. You can still have your youth!”
 
“You really only say unnecessary things, don’t you?”
 
I unintentionally irritated her again. I thought I was supporting Sayuri-sensei, but it seems I stirred up the hornet’s nest.
 
But at that point, I still underestimated the situation. The anomaly had already started.
 


 
“So you are the rumored Kokonoe.”
 
The next day. When I arrived at school in the morning, I was approached by those upperclassmen for some reason.
 
“With your height, volleyball is the only way to go. Do you understand?”
 
“Could it be that I’ve been reincarnated in a giant world?”
 
“Get a grip. This is reality.”
 
“That makes it even harder to understand.”
 
I wondered if this might be a honey trap, but it quickly became clear.
 
“Kamishiro-san would join our club if you gave the okay, right?
 
“What’s with this weird proxy-like system?”
 
“Oops, let me take this guy over here.”
 
I was rescued from my predicament by another upperclassman. A boy this time.
 
“Thank you very much. You saved me.”
 
“Don’t worry about it. If we could convince you, Miho would surely join as well, so we, the track team, have no choice but to get serious.”
 
“Ah, that guy is no good either.”
 
“I tried to recruit Kouki first, and he readily agreed if you joined the team.”
 
“That solar panel pretty boy traitor!”
 
“Hey now. We asked him first, you know?”
 
“You think there’s such a thing as a reservation when recruiting promising new students?”
 
“Hmm. In that case, we have no choice but to use any means necessary.”
 
The upperclassmen walked back and forth. And then more upperclassmen appeared.
 
“Crap. They beat us to it! Wait. He’s ours for the soccer team.”
 
“How about doubles for the tennis team with a shot at nationals?”
 
“Let’s play baseball together!”
 
How many of those are there? Don’t try to take me away in a group!
 
“Lack of personnel. That must be the negative effect of the declining birth rate… Whatever! That’s how it is!”
 
I tried to flee when the bell rang, signaling the start of class. What’s wrong with this school?
 

“Then why are you so tired first thing in the morning?”
 
When I got to class, the original culprit, the LED face, spoke to me.
 
“Maybe I should weld your face.”
 
After explaining the morning chaos, he burst out laughing like it was the funniest thing.
 
“Sorry Yuki. I didn’t think it would turn out like this…”
 
From the seat next to me, it seemed like Kamishiro had listened and apologized, but with Kamishiro, I can’t bring myself to get angry.
 
“It’s not going to go on like this forever…right?”
 
Not to brag, but my premonitions tend to be accurate, you know. And usually for the worse.
 

 

 

 
“Okay, it’s time to change seats. Take this opportunity to get along.”
 
The classroom buzzed with excitement at Sayuri sensei’s announcement. It was a big event that affected everyone equally.
 
New interactions often begin with a seating change. Some saw it as a chance to get closer to someone they’re interested in.
 
We went up one by one and drew lots. The result was so-so. Nothing like the blessed protagonist privileges of a window seat in the back row, just an ordinary seat a bit forward from the center. Sakurai and Mineta came to sit there.
 
“Alright, nice! Kokonoe, you’re stuck with me, buddy~”
 
“Mineta girl, yeah totally. It’s like fate, you know, really deep connection and stuff.”
 
“Um, you don’t have to force yourself to use Gyaru-speak Kokonoe-chan…”
 
“? I thought it was essential for communication, but I guess not huh.”
 
“You don’t mistakenly think of gal girls as some kind of exotic creature, do you?”
 
“Even though I’m the one being treated like a strange animal. Ahahahahaha.”
 
“Ahahahahaha–wait, you know I don’t think that about you, right?”
 
“Kokonoe, your dark humor is not funny at all.”
 
“Is it really such a big joke?”
 
“So you’re self-conscious…”
 
For some reason, the cheerful pretty boy sat behind me. And Takahashi was sitting next to him.
 
“Finally, I can join this group too. Nice to meet you!”
 
“No entry for non-gloomy guys.”
 
“That’s a bit unreasonable…” Takahashi grumbled.
 
Why is he calling us a group when I don’t remember forming one…
 
After the shuffling stopped, Sayuri sensei spoke up.
 
“It’s good to be excited, but it’s time for exams. Study hard. Because of you three, I have a hard enough time in the staff room getting chewed out by the club advisors.”
 
“Shakado, don’t give the teacher any trouble.”
 
“Hehe…o-oh, that was me….S-sorry Sayuri sensei….”
 
“It’s you, Kokonoe Yukito! Don’t take it out on Shakado!”
 
“!?”
 
“Wipe that fake surprised look off your face. Anyway, I want you all to do your best to avoid makeup tests if possible. They’re a pain.”
 
As Sayuri sensei left, I asked the dazzling guy behind me.
 
“By the way, Baka Number Two, how are you doing with the tests?”
 
“Can’t know without trying, but should be okay, I guess. How about you, Baka number one?”
 
“Why am I number one? I can’t tarnish my sister’s reputation.”
 
“You seem to have it rough…”
 
“Y-Yuki!”
 
The familiar face on the seat next to me had a pitiful expression.
 
“Could you… teach me to study?”
 
Shiori Kamishiro, Baka Number Three, was weak in studying.
 

 
“Well, at the request of Number Three, we’ll be having a study session today, it seems.”
 
“I’m assistant number two.”
 
Half-hearted applause broke out. What’s so funny?
 
“Number three. What exactly does that mean?”
 
“Um… when I said let’s have a study session… everyone wanted to join as well…”
 
Kamishiro had a blank expression. There was a crowd of people behind her. Wow, this girl is really popular.
 
“Kokonoe, we’ll join too, ‘kay. Oh, by the way, I’m number four. Carne is number five.”
 
“This is lame! Do we really need numbering?”
 
“Oh, so am I number six? The advisor gets mad when I fail tests.”
 
“Hehe…I’m number seven. I’ve never gotten more than 60 points on a test before…”
 
“Number eight.”
 
“Cut it out, Suzurikawa. By the feel of it, you should be number seven. Sorry Shakado, I’ll give it to you.”
 
“What’s with this obsession!? It doesn’t matter, right? Let’s just hurry up and do it!”
 
Quite a few people stayed in the classroom after school. Too many with nothing better to do.
 
I absentmindedly wrote questions and answers on the blackboard.
 
“To be clear, these questions will be on the test. Memorize them.”
 
“Huh?”
 
Everyone had stunned expressions.
 
“Um, how do you know that?”
 
“Because they’ve been test questions for four years in a row. They’ll probably use them again this year.”
 
Just because it was on last year doesn’t mean it won’t be on this year. It’s easy to think that way, but in reality the likelihood is low. Since the curriculum is set, the content to be tested is also set.
 
If the same questions come up year after year, it means they are much more important. You can’t make bizarre test questions that don’t assess understanding of what was taught in class and still call it a proper test. The wisdom of past tests is exactly what’s essential to test taking.
 
“I received last year’s test from Yuuri-san. It’s a paid resource, but she gave it to me as a special favor.
 
Not long ago, Yuuri-san said, “The test is coming soon. Here, take this,” and handed it to me.
 
She probably wanted to make sure that her little brother wouldn’t be embarrassed. To put it mildly, she’s an angel.
 
With that as a starting point, I researched past questions and identified the ones that are asked every year.
 
“Wow Kokonoe, that’s amazing! Thank you!”
 
“Hehe…truly divine…”
 
“Much appreciated, much appreciated…”
 
“From now on, be sure to bow when you see Yuuri-san. Do not be disrespectful at all.”
 
I’ll take this opportunity to praise my sister. Praise and worship her disciples!
 
“Now I’ll explain the teachers’ pre-test cues and hints they drop during class…”
 
“Y-Yuki-sensei! Um, isn’t this really a study session?”
 
For some reason, Number Three… this is complicated. Kamishiro protested.
 
I said that it’s extremely important to pick up on the signals that teachers give during class before tests, but apparently, Kamishiro sees it differently.
 
“………………………So what is it?”
 
“You see, a study session is like… everyone teaching each other things they don’t understand… right?”
 
I see, I get it now. Hmm. I looked up at the ceiling. Looks the same as always.
 
“………………………Well, I don’t have anything I don’t understand.”
 
“He just said it!”
 
“Uwaaahn. kana, I hate Kokonoe!”
 
“There, there, Miki-chan.”
 
“That’s correct, Yukito.”
 
My assistant, the cheerful pretty boy, has the same opinion, huh? My assistant?
 
“Uwaaahn. kana, I hate Kouki too!”
 
“There, there, Miki-chan.”
 
“No, Kouki! Don’t let Yuki brainwash you too!”
 
“Oh, you’re right. When did I…”
 
This happy pretty boy is crazy disloyal.
 
“Uwaaahn, Elizabeth. I hate the happy pretty boy!”
 
“Um…I’m not going to do that, okay? So please don’t look at me with those eyes?”
 
“So we’re rivals after all, huh?”
 
“I don’t know this attitude, but no!”
 
As expected, oil and water with the happy guy Elizabeth. He was my natural enemy.
 
“Haah. I thought that would happen. Let’s just get started.”
 
Suzurikawa began to take charge, looking fed up. Number Seven was an excellent disciple.
 
“Suzurikawa-san, can I ask you about this problem?”
 
“Oh, yes. This is…”
 
Suzurikawa-sensei was excellent. She was adept at teaching. However, whether out of reserve or not, Kamishiro kept directing her questions at me or the assistant instead. I was worried, so I secretly asked Elizabeth.
 
“Sakura…Elizabeth. Aren’t those two on good terms?”
 
“You’re the one who asked that Kokonoe!? And you started calling me Sakurai, right? Right!?”
 
“Kokonoe, that’s not true. The two of them are rivals.”
 
“I see. Just like me and Sakura…Elizabeth.”
 
“You’re doing that on purpose, right? No, it’s on purpose, right!?”
 
The study session ended smoothly.
 

 

 

 
For some reason, I was on my way home with Kamishiro. The reason is that I’m being stalked. I’m the victim here.
 
We stopped at the park, and I shot some hoops on the sand basketball court there.
 
It had been a while. I felt nostalgic for the texture of the ball.
 
I clenched and unclenched my hands several times to check. There was still a subtle discomfort.
 
“Not that it matters…”
 
I don’t have any lingering attachment to basketball, which I quit long ago, but as expected, lack of practice dulls the body.
 
I’ve kept up my routine of running and weight training, but mindlessly shooting hoops like this is mentally relaxing and organizes my thoughts in a smarter way. The aerobic exercise is really amazing.
 
“Yuki, I’m done warming up!”
 
“I can’t believe she actually followed me here…”
 
“I was looking forward to this!”
 
Kamishiro was ready to go, but I was worried.
 

She must want to release the stress that had built up from the unusual mental work. Her expression was one of joy.
 
Sure, we had talked about it before, but hadn’t it been more along the lines of “If we get the chance, we’ll go”? Of course, I’m the type who wouldn’t go. Anyway, even today, the truth is I’m just here to clear my head. Is it really okay for me to involve Kamishiro in something like this? While I was worrying for a while, a voice called out to me from behind.
 
“Oh, Yukito, long time no see!”
 
“Hyakuma-senpai?”
 
I was called by name from behind. There were a few people gathered there. They were all familiar faces to me.
 
The one I called Hyakuma-senpai isn’t my high school classmate. He belongs to a street basketball team that often practices on this court. He’s currently a university student. We met in middle school when I was practicing outside, and we’ve played together many times since then.
 
“Are you going to join the basketball team in high school?”
 
“No, I’m a dark guy, so I’m in the go-home club. I haven’t come here much since I started high school.”
 
“I see. Busy time, huh? Well, do you have time today? Let’s play together!”
 
“Yes, please take care of me.”
 
“That cute girl with you, is she your girlfriend or something?”
 
“G-girlfriend…it’s not like that…”
 
“Oh, more of a subtle vibe?”
 
Kamishiro shook her head and said she didn’t want that. Well, how should I answer that?
 
It would be too unfortunate for Kamishiro no matter what. I don’t want her to get the wrong idea. Well, the safest thing to say is that she’s a classmate. But just as I thought that, my mouth fell open. I’m an idiot, a big idiot!
 
“Kamishiro is a dog.”
 
“What are you talking about, Yuki?”
 
“To be into such a play at your age…”
 
“N-no, that’s wrong! That was Yuki forcibly…! It’s not what you think…”
 
“Yes, as you can see, she has no collar. A stray dog.”
 
“Why are you fanning the flames!? Hey, I have pedigree papers, you know!?”
 
She’s not a dog!
 
“She’s actually my classmate.”
 
“As eccentric as ever, I see.”
 
Ignoring Hyakuma-senpai, who was trying to hold back his laughter, I received fierce protests from Kamishiro. I’m very sorry.
 
“Geez! I’m Kamishiro Shiori. I used to play basketball, too, and I thought it would be fun to practice with Yuki today… so I came along.”
 
“Oh, I see! Well, Kamishiro-san, do you want to join us? We practice a lot at this place too. I guess you could call us Yukito’s streetball buddies.”
 
“I didn’t know that. Please take care of me!”
 
“All right! Having a girl makes it more exciting. Let’s divide into two teams. We’ll take it easy. You two be on this side.”
 
“Got it.”
 
“Yes!”
 
I felt a slight excitement at the rare game. It had been so long that I had almost forgotten what it felt like. Unlike gym class or club activities. A game played for the sheer pleasure of it.
 
This feeling was “fun”. I was glad that I still had those feelings in me.
 

 
“I’m exhausted…haa, I’m out of shape…”
 
“Don’t let your body get cold. That’s right, stretch slowly and hold for ten seconds.”
 
“Ow ow ow ow ow. You’re pretty strict with that stuff, huh Yuki?”
 
“Since I get injured so often. I’m very careful about it.”
 
“….Sorry.”
 
“I didn’t mean it badly.”
 
Playing with Hyakuma-senpai and the others was a nice change. After about an hour of moving at full speed, I was drenched in sweat.
 
Kamishiro and I did cool-down stretches in the place after we parted with the senpais. As I felt my muscles gradually relax as I loosened them up.
 
“Yuki’s going straight home after this?”
 
“My body craves sugar. Crepes.”
 
“We’re getting food? I’ll come with you!”
 
After waiting for the sweat to dry, we walked for about ten minutes to get to downtown. Our destination store was easy to find. It may be questionable to snack right before dinner, but orexin, secreted by the brain, formed a separate stomach for sweet things.
 
I ordered a delicious crepe with chocolate, caramel, banana, and ice cream toppings. As I happily devoured it, Kamishiro’s face turned red next to mine for some reason.
 
“Kind of feels like we’re on a date, huh?”
 
“I don’t like sweaty dates.”
 
Of course, since I’ve never been on one, I don’t know what a date is really like.
 
Maybe there are sweaty dates in the world that I just can’t imagine with my limited imagination. It was a dark guy’s limit. Speaking of which, I’m at the age where I have to worry about underarm sweat.
 
We started walking back while eating crepes. Kamishiro walked slowly, with reluctant steps.
 
I couldn’t just leave her behind and run ahead, so my pace naturally slowed down as well.
 
“I didn’t know Yuki had such friends.”
 
“Pretty bold for a loner. Hehehehehe.”
 
“It doesn’t look like you’re laughing with a straight face!”
 
“But you know, there are things you don’t know everything about with anyone.”
 
“Yeah…I guess. But I want to know more about Yuki! Today was fun. So, so much. I felt like I was back in middle school. I was happy to be together.”
 
“It had been a while, so I had fun too.”
 
The honest words poured out unfiltered. Kamishiro gasped.
 
“Then let’s do it again! I’ll be your manager!”
 
Somehow, I had expected it to go that way. I can understand why Kamishiro is so fixated. But it doesn’t make sense. Such a relationship would only be unfortunate for Kamishiro.
 
“Kamishiro, I did this of my own free will. As long as you didn’t get hurt, it’s okay. I’ve said it many times, but you don’t have to worry about it.”
 
“It’s not that. This is just me being selfish. I want to see Yuki play again. I want to see you running around the court. I want to see you holding the ball and shooting. That kind of selfishness.
 
“As I’ve said many times, I lack motivation. I don’t have any goals that I want to achieve.”
 
“What if I became the reason? Would you do it?”
 
“I guess it depends on the circumstances. The go-home club is comfortable, and I’m getting used to being lazy.”
 
“I feel liberated because I was always in club activities before, but still…”
 
“The recruitment invitations from the seniors are annoying, but I understand why they want to recruit you.”
 
Kamishiro is different from me. She has many people who need her. A blessed physique. The athletic instincts to make full use of it. For a sports club, she’d be a talent they’d drool over. She wouldn’t be wasting her talents at the Go-Home Club.
 
And more than anything, her cheerful personality would probably save a lot of people.
 
–Just as I once was.
 
“You used to smile so much more. A sad face doesn’t suit you.”
 
“–!”
 
The crossroads. As we approached the intersection, trying to escape that sad expression, I took a step forward – and something hit me in the back.
 
“It’s not guilt or anything! I want to be with you. I like you Yuki! Isn’t that okay?”
 
I could feel the warmth of the hand on my back over my shirt.
 
“That confession back then wasn’t a lie. But it’s different now. Why did I say such a thing? Ridiculed by my friends, embarrassed, trying to protect myself, seeing only myself. I didn’t understand anything. That falling in love could be so painful.
 
“Kamishiro?”
 
“It’s not just the injury. Even after that, why didn’t you say it was my fault?”
 
Kamishiro steps forward after leaving my embrace from behind. She takes my right hand and holds it delicately as if it were a precious jewel.
 
The fact that I was injured and disappointed everyone’s expectations was my own fault, and that will not change.
 
The cause was such a trivial thing. There’s no reason for her to worry about it.
 
“Thank you for protecting me twice. Because you shielded me, Yuki, I’m able to be here like this. I also feel guilty. I want to make amends as well. But more than anything…”
 
Tears welled up as she squeezed my hand tighter.
 
“To fall for you like this, without doubt or hesitation. That’s my true heart. Can’t you understand that?”
 
“The elevated heart rate is just because we were exercising…”
 
“We have already cooled down. Accept it properly.”
 
Kamishiro had a serious expression on his face. No objections were allowed. There was no room for lighthearted remarks.
 
Like a morning bell, Kamishiro’s heart was racing. It wasn’t just her hand. At that moment, I noticed for the first time that her body was trembling as well. I don’t understand. What should I do? What can I say to convince her? I couldn’t find the words to tell Kamishiro, who was now closer to me than ever before.
 
“You have cream on you.”
 
“….I was wondering when you’d notice.”
 
“That’s way too obvious.”
 
“….I wanted you to wipe it off for me.”
 
I gently wiped her cheek with my finger.
 
“You told me before, right. Why you started dedicating yourself to basketball.”
 
Just out of heartbreak. For such a shallow reason.
 
“What if I became the reason this time? Would that not work?”
 
“Kamishiro?”
 
“I’ll find it. What motivates you. Because we can’t leave it like this. I don’t want it to end.”
 
Kamishiro’s hand clasped mine more tightly. It had more strength than I had expected, a strong will.
 
I hadn’t forgotten, but I was reminded again. Kamishiro is a sports club girl through and through.
 
Even though she should have a place where she belongs.
 
“When you say motivation and stuff, it can include sexual stuff, huh?”
 
A terrible statement I made even though I said it myself. I won’t be able to make excuses if I’m labeled as a misogynist. Kamishiro will probably give up on me after this. I can only hope for that.
 
“Alright.”
 
She should give up on me.
 
“If that’s what motivates Yuki.”
 
Please just give up on me.
 
“Believe in me. I love Yuki. It’s not a lie. It’s not a way to make amends. That’s my wish.
 
I pray to the heavens. I wonder why things never go as bad as I want them to.
 

 

 

 
I knew Kamishiro was suffering. That’s why we shouldn’t have reunited.
 
Every human being has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Constitution of Japan.
 
Not interacting and forgetting each other was surely the best choice. And yet why.
 
Feelings of “liking” someone are ambiguous. A fleeting fantasy that eventually cools. I can’t even remember my feelings of liking Suzurikawa. And Mom got divorced too.
 
The divorce rate in Japan is apparently around 35%, but even if you swear eternal love when you get married, it’s so fickle in reality. Those feelings fade away like an illusion. Reality was that cruel.
 
“Which one do you think Yukito should get?”
 
Before I knew it, I had been taken advantage of. Looks like I’m being treated to cake.
 
On my way home, I happened to run into Himiyama-san, and before I knew it, I had been taken to her house. With a smiling face, she invited me in, but when I tried to refuse, she made an incredibly sad face. As someone who believes in ladies first, I had no choice.
 
“I’ll take the Mont Blanc, thank you.”
 
“Fufu. Then I think I’ll have the rare cheesecake. I’m so glad to see you today.”
 
The interior of Himiyama-san’s house was quite different from the last time. The cardboard boxes had been put away, and the furniture and decorations were now completely feminine.
 
And this time, for some reason, she sat right next to me. In fact, she scooted over and sat right up against me. Make no mistake, she’s trying to seduce me! The scent of the perfume was gradually wearing down my resistance. I’m done, I don’t want to do anything.
 
This is the age of social distancing. The personal space of a dark loner like me should be about three times that of a normal person, but Himiyama-san didn’t care. If anything, our thighs and such were in close contact. Himiyama-san was a woman of total intimacy.
 
“Eating alone is so boring, you know?”
 
“Yes, it is.”
 
Why did she say it like a question? Was it an implicit “It’s boring for you, so come play with me” kind of invitation? Himiyama-san seemed to lack self-awareness of her own beauty. After the satisfying sweat of playing basketball with the senpais, now I’m sweating cold sweat.
 
“Sorry, I’m sweaty, you know. I was working out a little earlier.”
 
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t mind it at all. Has a youthful feel to it.”
 
She was in a good mood. She likes sweaty? Is she into fragrances or something? I’m in critical danger here. I have to get out of here right now.
 
But I can’t… I don’t want to move…
 
Mom is beautiful, but Himiyama-san is beautiful too. Flawless skin even when the resolution is increased to 8K. State of the art. No matter how much time passes, beautiful people stay beautiful. That’s cheating.
 
In the past, when Mom came to the school for parent-teacher conferences, I couldn’t look her in the eye because she was too beautiful. There were many other parents there, but no matter how impartial I tried to be, Mom was definitely the most beautiful. For some reason, I was very embarrassed. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t turn around to look behind me, and I just kept staring forward at the blackboard.
 
Mom spoils me. She doesn’t want me to be disturbed. She buys me things for no particular occasion, even if it’s not my birthday or Christmas or anything. Thanks to that, there’s never anything in particular that I feel I want.
 
“Yukito, won’t you stay for dinner?”
 
“I really can’t, it would be inappropriate. My mother has prepared food as well.”
 
“You’re right. Too bad. It was so sudden, I can’t help it. Could I invite you properly again sometime? Would you come then?”
 
“Yes.”
 
The answer is no. But since I’m Japanese, I can’t say no under the circumstances.
 
By the way, Mom has been working from home, so she’s in the house a lot more now, and she cooks dinner properly, too. Since I was the one doing most of the cooking, my cooking skills had improved rapidly, so it’s a shame that I don’t have many opportunities to show them off lately.
 
“Yukito, is something bothering you? You have such a difficult expression.”
 
“That reminds me, didn’t Himiyama-san have a fiancé before?”
 
“It’s just Yukito now.”
 
“I’ve dug my own grave…”
 
“I’ll bury you with me in it.”
 
“Thank you very much. I know this is terribly rude and may upset you, but I wanted to ask you what you think of your former fiancé now.”
 
“Oh my, are you interested in me?”
 
“I was wondering what that ‘like’ feeling is. My mom got divorced too.”
 
“Do you have someone you like? Or confessed to or something. Wait a second.”
 
Himiyama-san walked from the living room to the bedroom. After the door closed, there was a rummaging sound for about five minutes before Himiyama-san came out. I involuntarily choked on my Mont Blanc.
 
“What’s going on? Embarrassing for my age, I know.”
 
“W-why would you do such a thing?”
 
“From your reaction, it looks like Yukito is [not ready yet].”
 
“Hiii!”
 
Himiyama-san, who came out of the bedroom, was wearing clothes that would kill me. No matter how mentally resilient I may be, like a Ryuuzetsuran orchid that only blooms once every sixty years, there is a limit.
 
“Fufu. I secretly bought this. Does it suit me?”
 
“I-it looks very good on you. So much so that my mind is about to collapse.”
 
“It’s going to collapse?”
 
She whispered in my ear. Like rock being drilled by a drill, my mental barriers were being chipped away bit by bit. Nooooo my evil spirit begone! Begone! What remained were worldly desires.
 
“Please overlook this, I beg you!”
 
I could only plead desperately with a deep bow. My lifeline was at its end.
 
“Has it perhaps enlivened you?”
 
“I’ll refrain from commenting.”
 
I look down. It’s no use. No matter how I phrase it, it will end up as a dirty joke.
 
“Well, yes, I used to love him. But there were things I couldn’t do anything about, and there was something that couldn’t be filled with love alone. We had to separate. That’s all.”
 
“Has that feeling completely disappeared?”
 
“I have probably given up on it. That’s why all that remains now is the fact that I once loved him, separate from my feelings. I think that’s how it is.”
 
“I can’t understand that.”
 
“But there are still feelings that remain. Things that can’t be erased, like hurting someone.”
 
Himiyama-san pats my head. She has a somewhat caring, yet sad look in her eyes. I don’t know Himiyama-san well enough to ask what that means.
 
“Don’t you think you don’t need to think about it so much? At least as a student, I think it’s allowed to prioritize your feelings as freely as you like, and no one will blame you for it.”
 
Do I have something like that?
 
On the way back, Himiyama-san sees me off with a disappointed look. She’s undeniably a good person, but her sense of distance is completely broken. I mean, she must like me, right? I’ll engage in some self-deprecation and say that it’s hard for a guy who’s never had a girlfriend, but that’s my life story.
 

My son came home a little later than usual. He told me he had gone to Himiyama-san’s house. It seemed that she had invited him over. It seemed like a simple neighborhood get-together, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something more to it. After all, that boy has bad luck with woman. He’s unstable and has a certain fragility. And it’s my fault that he turned out that way.
 
No matter how much I regret it, I can’t regret it enough. A child’s personality is formed in early childhood. How much love did I give at that time? By the time I understood, it was too late. I was indulgent because she was my second child.
 
“Mom, today I wanted to tell you…”
 
“I’m sorry, it’s too late today. Let’s talk tomorrow, okay?”
 
“Yes.”
 
He wanted to tell me something. He tried desperately to put his thoughts into words.
 
“Today…”
 
“Today it looks like I’ll be home late, so will you have dinner with your sister first?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
I was busy with work and it was an important time to get on track. Using that as an excuse was all it was. By repeating such things, I eventually realized that he had stopped talking to me altogether. I foolishly thought it was part of growing up.
 
And there were times when he leaned on Yuuri, his older sister. The roles of a mother and a sister are different. I had forgotten that she could never replace me. Yuuri was still a child. As a result, Yuuri also reached her limits and overflowed.
 
And then that incident happened. The Yukito after that was like a completely different person. Something was missing. Since then, I’ve had days of uncertainty, wondering if I can communicate properly with my son. It feels like no matter what feelings or words I use, nothing really gets through to him. His dull eyes seem to reject me.
 
On birthdays and Christmas, a child would normally pester his parents for something he wants. Yuuri always said there were things she wanted. But Yukito never asked for anything. There were times when he even forgot his own birthday. He didn’t care about himself. He looked down on himself. He felt like a useless existence.
 
This fear led me to buy him things that he seemed to want at different times.
 
But what I really should have done wasn’t that. I knew that.
 
I froze when I went to a school visitation day. While other children looked back in embarrassment and talked to their mothers, Yukito looked straight ahead without even looking at me. There was no conversation until I spoke to him. Maybe he thought I wasn’t even there.
 
My lackluster behavior led to a scolding from my younger sister, Sekka, who then decided to take my son away. We had a fight, but Sekka’s arguments were valid, and I couldn’t deny that I had neglected to take care of him and had not given him enough love. From then on, the child lived with Sekka for a month. Since then, Sekka has been very worried about Yukito. More than that, isn’t she worrying too much? She’s always affectionate with him, even dangerously so, and her eyes are strangely teary.
 
I couldn’t help but feel the same kind of aura from Himiyama-san as my sister. It may be too late now. But I still have to face my son once again. My work has become more remote, and I have much more time to be with my son. I can’t waste this opportunity. No matter how late it is, even if I can’t reach him, I can’t miss the chance to give him the love of a mother. Even if it’s too late.
 
I can’t help but feel a strange rivalry with Himiyama-san. I am the mother of this child. I’m not going to give that up. A feeling of fear and possessiveness wells up in my chest.
 
“How about we take a bath together sometime?”
 
While my son is bathing, I interrupt to wash his back. I wonder when was the last time we took a bath together like this. I’ll wash his hair. I’m washing his back. Ah, just doing that makes me feel so precious.
 
“Isn’t my home supposed to be a darn safe haven?”
 
Oh, what’s wrong? My son’s cry echoed in the bathroom.


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