“Three people, huh? I guess I really am unpopular.”
After entering the shopping mall we were supposed to meet up at, I let out a sigh after spotting the people gathered in front of the “Uzabukurou Elephant.”
It was Thursday, at around 1pm in the afternoon. Even though the place was filled to the brim with people, there were two girls who stood out like diamonds. Although I had argued that it would have been fine to walk together from our apartment complex, both of them overpowered me with irrational arguments. What terrible inefficiency.
One girl had bright, golden-yellow hair, big, round eyes, and glittering skin that perfectly symbolized her cheerful, lively attitude: Kohinata Iroha. She was wearing headphones around her neck.
And right next to her was a girl who was clearly displeased as she shrugged her shoulders. She had silver hair with a hint of blue, pure-white skin that made you think she never went outside, and an outfit consisting of anti-summer long sleeves and thigh-highs: Tsukinomori Mashiro.
—Ozu and Sumire. Those bastards had the nerve to skip out.
When I asked them about it, Ozu somehow had started watching a presentation about some new overseas technology and was unable to stop, and Sumire gave an excuse something along the lines of “I’m accumulating my strength for the next summer doujin convention,” which basically meant that she was busy binge-watching some shota anime or something equally useless. And here I, Ooboshi Akiteru, was, having lost to a presentation and shota. I think I need better friends.
Well, Ozu was probably weirdly being considerate for some reason, such as saying that he had some business so that Iroha and I could be alone together. Even though we don’t have a relationship like that… I don’t really need consideration like that, but thanks.
And for some reason Mashiro is here as well. But she doesn’t really seem to be in a good mood… Well, I can’t blame her for that I guess, considering that she arrived early and had to wait with a girl whom she had just met a day prior.
I had tried my best to get Ozu to come along, which was why I was running a bit late like this. Let’s try to greet them cheerfully to help get them back into a better mood.
“Ah, Senpai, you’re so late! How could you make a girl wait like that?!”
“You both are so in sync when you’re bad-mouthing me.”
What was that atmosphere from before about then? And Mashiro-san, I thought that you would grow a bit kinder to me from the other night, so why are you already starting the verbal abuse?
“I told you via LINE that I would be running late, right?”
At the welcoming party, I had exchanged LINE details with Mashiro. I was assaulted by a deep sadness upon seeing that her friend list was completely empty. It was like she had gotten excited and made an account, but didn’t have the courage to ask anyone for their contact info.
—I had tried my best to explain why I was late. However…
“It doesn’t matter. Whatever the reason, Mashiro hates what she hates,” Mashiro pouted with no sign of her mood improving.
…Maybe I had been swept along with Iroha’s flow, but it seemed like I once more needed to reevaluate if I needed to put a bit of distance between me and these two. Well, let’s try pushing it a bit more, I guess.
“Let’s forget about that. The cinema is on the upper floor, right?”
Today’s plan is perfect. First, we’re going to go to the annex cinema ‘Tokage Cinema’ and watch a movie. After that, we’ll stuff ourselves with some fast food junk in the second floor food court while talking about what we thought about said movie. Finally, we’ll walk around window-shopping, looking at clothes and weird knick-knacks, or we’ll go to the game center. When it’s time to go home, we’ll be nothing less than fast friends. Or at least, that’s the plan.
As an aside, I really feel like it’s impossible for me to get closer to them in any way. If I can just make Iroha satisfied, then that’s all that matters.
“Alright, now that everyone’s here—”
“Wha—?! What are you doing?!” I asked.
“What? I’m just linking arms, that’s all. Since we’re friends, it’s only natural~”
“Don’t act like we’re girls who are friends! This is weird no matter how you look at it!”
“Even if you say that, I’ve never had any girl friends before, you know? I don’t know how skinship between girls works~”
Iroha looked up at me with a grin as she leaned against me like a cat.
Though it seems like she’s actually wearing a bra this time, this softness is enveloping my arm completely!
This overwhelming feeling cannot be ignored no matter how I try to force my thoughts elsewhere! Although withstanding it for a short time indeed sounds plausible, I’m shaking at the prospect of my sense of reason being obliterated from being exposed to this wicked softness for the rest of my life. While I forcefully glared at this little devil, who had clearly found out my weakness as a virgin, my arm was pulled deeper and deeper into the soft temptation, like a magnet sinking into iron filings.
And suddenly, just when I was starting to build up a resistance to it, I was blindsided by a pincer attack that I wasn’t prepared for in the slightest.
Now my free arm was also under attack. And it was being attacked by none other than Mashiro, who was desperately forcing her eyes shut with an >< expression. The softness of her chest was miserably nonexistent. The only real feeling I got was the fluffy sensation of her clothing. Adding to this feeling that was like touching a perfectly-groomed dog’s beautiful fur, there was also a sweet, milk-like aroma directly assaulting my brain cells. I felt a odd sense of calmness that reminded me of when my mother used to sing me lullabies to get me to sleep.
—What is this?
A flower in each arm. The attention of everyone nearby was focused on us, and it was no wonder why. Their gazes were slowly starting to hurt, so I tried to pull away, but—
“I-If this is something normal… that friends do… Then Mashiro also…”
“It’s not normal!”
“M-Mashiro doesn’t believe you. If Iroha-chan is doing it, then Mashiro will do it too.”
She’s not listening at all…
If I couldn’t get Iroha to let go, I’d have no way to try to get rid of Mashiro. While Mashiro was flushed red from ear to ear, Iroha kept clinging to me as if trying to compete with her. If Mashiro is really that embarrassed, she should just let go. Well, I guess reasoning won’t work with her. When I had finally given up on resisting Mashiro, I felt the other side shaking.
“Ahahahaha! What is this, a harem!? Senpai is totally a shitty harem protagonist right now! Ahahahaha!”
It was the shaking of laughter.
With our arms still linked, she hugged me from behind with her open hand, laughing.
“Fuuuu–! Fuuuu—! Fufu, ahahahahaha! I-I can’t, my stomach hurts…!”
“You’re laughing way too much! If you know how weird it is, then let go! You’re just as embarrassed, aren’t you!?”
“I—don’t—want—to! If it troubles Senpai, then I don’t mind embarrassing myself~!”
Why do you always have to be such a pain?! How would I even explain this kind of scene to the guys from school? Or worse, how could I explain it to Oji-san?!
Aware of the risk that faced me, I tried my best to shake her off of me, but she had me in a perfect lock. Seeing that I couldn’t escape even though I was squirming all over the place, she let out a giggle and lifted up an arm to point forwards.
“Alrighto~? Then let’s gooooooooooooooo~!”
“Shit… I keep losing against her…” I grumbled while standing in front of the ticket machine at the Tokage Cinema.
That feeling of breasts from earlier was no longer. While I was being showered with gazes of envy and bloodlust during our walk to the cinema, Iroha had brought up a deal that I couldn’t refuse.
—If you treat us to the tickets, popcorn and juice, I’ll free you, okay?
Since my shame gauge was already filled to the brim, I immediately accepted. The moment I had known that it would just be me and two girls, I was ready to treat them to an extent, but Iroha using me to this degree still doesn’t suit me.
“Which one do you want to see?”
Looking at the electronic blackboard, which listed all the movies that were available today, I asked Iroha and Mashiro which they’d prefer. And, after they thought about it for a second—
“ ‘The Enemy’s Name.’ ”
“ ‘Classic Jaws: Dancing to the Tune of the Shark.’ ”
“…Your opinions sure are in complete contrast.”
(TLC: Yes, the first one is a ‘Your Name’ reference)
“A male-female pair of soldiers from opposing sides of the army switch bodies, learn about the circumstances of the other party’s countries, and try to bring peace. They end up as lovers in the end—it’s a super hit with over 200 million tickets sold! If you’re a couple, this is definitely the one movie to watch!!”
“We’re not a couple.”
“You could even watch this movie as friends, and say ‘Ahhh, there are only couples around us, how tiring~’ while cursing your own unpopularity!”
“I don’t want to display my unpopularity in public…”
While Iroha was forcefully recommending the movie she wanted to watch, Mashiro also stepped forward.
“Going along with the mainstream opinion when choosing a movie is boring. If it’s summer, it has to be sharks.”
“Why should I have to watch such a shitty movie on this precious holiday?!”
“Iroha-chan doesn’t get it. Watching a low-budget B movie while crying and imagining the low production costs is fun…”
“Isn’t that a bit too pitiful!?”
To be honest, I couldn’t care less. However, the war between them continued.
“Are you really satisfied with tropey developments that are made to induce tears? That’s way too systematic. It’s no different than cutting onions,” Mashiro said.
“Muuu, saying ‘I’m cool cause I go against the mainstream’ makes you seem only more lame, Mashiro-senpai.”
“…Then, what exactly is the charm of ‘The enemy’s name’, Iroha-chan? Not using the words of other people, what makes this movie so attractive to you?” 𝒊𝓃𝗻𝘳𝘦𝐚𝐝 𝒄o𝓶
“Ahhh~ are you starting a fight with me? You want to have a battle with me, right? Don’t blame me when you cry later, okay? I’ve watched more movies than you can imagine!”
“…After breaking into my home and using my Netflix subscription, that is.”
“Senpai’s home is my home, or something like that~”
It looked like a jolt of electricity ran through Mashiro’s body.
“Watching movies… at Aki’s house…? More than Mashiro can imagine…? Are you there that frequently…?”
“Exactly~! Almost every day!”
“Hey Iroha, knock it off.”
That phrase is a one-hit kill for a loner. I mean look, Mashiro’s face turned as white as chalk.
Since I was starting to feel bad for her, I tried to lend her a hand.
“I mean, our way of thinking is just too different. In order to move forward without starting a fight, there’s but one option.”
As Iroha glared at me with a dubious look on her face, I told her the one weird idea I had thought of.
“Everybody will just watch whatever movie they want, and we’ll meet up here when everyone is done. It’s perfect, right?”
To begin with, everyone has their own taste in movies. You have no obligation to go along with anyone else’s tastes. The idea of the three of us watching one movie together is in itself highly inefficient to begin with. Maybe it was because neither of them were convinced by my argument, but they remained quiet for a bit.
“Then it seems like everyone is onboard. Then, to each his own freedom—”
“And rejected~!” “Yeah, rejected.”
“Rather, how did you even think of that idea?! Why would you think that you would go to the cinema with friends, and then everyone would just go and watch the movie they want to see?! What nonsense is this?!”
“A bastard man who doesn’t understand a girl’s heart should just die.”
Iroha’s intense rebuttal and Mashiro’s calm yet fierce verbal abuse shattered my male heart.
There really has to be limits to how heartless you can be, you two.
In the end, it was decided with a majority vote (rock paper scissors) that we would be watching ‘The Enemy’s Name’. That movie filled with gunpowder, empathy, gunshots, love, and screaming lasted for about two hours, and we actually had a lot of fun. Though Iroha’s shit-eating grin while we exited the cinema was annoying as hell, the movie was still good entertainment. Since it was already time to eat lunch, we went to the food court to rest a bit and eat. Although it was packed full of people, we somehow managed to get a four-person table next to a window.
“Ah, could you let me through? I drank too much cola.”
“The toilet, huh?”
“Okay, that’s a minus point~”
“I get a delicacy minus point because of that? The women’s society is way too strict.”
“Senpai is just too lax~ Is Mashiro-senpai fine not going?”
“Y-Yeah. Mashiro is fine.”
“…Is that so? Well, make sure that your bladder doesn’t swell up too much. I’ll be going, then~”
You say I have no delicacy, but you openly say words like bladder’?
Once Iroha vanished into the crowd, Mashiro put one hand on her chest and let out a sigh.
“Were you nervous?”
“Yeah… Mashiro still isn’t good with Iroha-chan.”
“Ah. Yeah, she can be annoying.”
“N-No, that’s not it. Mashiro knows that she’s not a bad girl. Rather, Mashiro feels bad because she still isn’t good with her.”
After that welcoming party, my relationship with Mashiro had improved quite a bit. Before, she wouldn’t so much as spit in my direction, but now I’m occasionally allowed to hold normal everyday conversations with her. Though she returns to her previous attitude from time to time, it doesn’t take long for her to calm down again. But a huge part of that was probably because we were the same age, in the same year, and in the same class. Suddenly befriending everyone else might be too much of a hurdle. Not to mention that Iroha and Mashiro mix about as well as water and oil.
“I would say that it’s pretty normal to have trouble dealing with Iroha. Even I have problems with her from time to time.”
“You’re wrong. It’s not like that.”
Looking at her hands and gripping her thighs, she forced out a quivering voice.
“That intense attitude makes Mashiro remember a friend she hated.”
Ahhh, so that’s what it was.
The incident that forced her into becoming a shut-in is still lingering in the back of her mind, and she’s projecting it onto Iroha.
“Though I have no intention of forcing it out of you, I’m willing to listen if you want to talk.”
What happened? Because of whom? What did they do to her?
I knew that if she wanted to talk, what she would say would be very heavy and personal, so I steeled my resolve to listen to the very end.
However, only silence followed.
Mashiro’s eyes started to get damp, and her mouth was still shut tight. She was probably trying to formulate the words that she wanted to say, and just when it looked like she was about to talk—
“Ohhhh? If it isn’t Tsukinomori-san~”
The confident look on her face shattered into a thousand pieces.
Mashiro’s shoulders twitched. Her lips lost all color, and it looked like she had seen a ghost.
—I’d never seen this expression on her face before. This clearly wasn’t on the same level as the toilet incident. This wasn’t an expression of anger or fury.
Her eyes were brimming with fear.
“Kyahaha! And she’s with a man!”
“Dropping out of school and still getting all lovey-dovey with a man at lunch? What a shitty joke, ahahaha!”
Two girls spoke out with voices so loud that my head started to hurt.
One had a flashy hair colour. A high school girl.
The other one had rather normal hair that didn’t hide her spiteful eyes. The personification of a gyaru.
You could tell at a glance that they weren’t here to play nice as they approached Mashiro.
“Eh, what is it~? I can’t understand you if you don’t stop mumbling~?”
“Is this guy Tsukinomori-san’s boyfriend? Hmmm?”
Without holding back, that high school girl brought her face closer to mine. It was a face with layers of makeup that didn’t suit her at all. She had absolutely no fashion sense. Maybe it was perfume, but some disgusting smell was tickling my nose.
“Ahahahahaha!!! What a surprise! They really suit each other~!!!”
“He looks like the type who watches anime or reads books in the corner of the room! And gets all horny because of some idol!”
“Ahhh, what a poor dude! He’s only able to become friends with someone like her! Don’t you feel sorry for him?”
So people like this exist outside of fiction? They don’t even know how to properly behave in public. They’ll have it hard once they step out into real society. The relaxed attitude that beauties and handsome men have is terrible, but the personalities of these pigs really are the worst.
—No wonder Mashiro is having trouble dealing with them. They probably belong to the group that bullied Mashiro before. Then, are they bullying her out of envy? Mashiro is indeed a beauty, so they must feel like there’s a rift between them. Also, she had mentioned that she went to a famous all-girls high school before, right? How tragic that girls with fucked-up heads like theirs can actually go to a rich girl’s school.
While thinking these thoughts, I looked at them, eyes filled with pity.
“…For some reason, this guy’s eyes are pissing me off.”
“Did you get mad because we told you the truth?! Ahahaha! How about you use your fists then? Ahaha!”
“Hehehe! Wait, stop. It makes me remember that video! My stomach hurts! Ahahahaha!”
Is that so? Then I won’t hold back.
I buried my fist deep into that disgusting girl’s face. Even her ten layers of makeup didn’t help soften the impact, and her nose ended up in a weird position. After she collapsed onto the floor, I kept hitting her blood-drenched face with full force, completely ignoring her cries for help. Once those cries stopped, I turned to the other bitch and gave her a body blow head-on. When she collapsed, I did the gave her the same treatment.
—Or so I fantasized. But this is what I really wanted to do. When I look at Mashiro’s frightened face, I can’t help but think of how refreshing it would be to pummel some common sense into them with my fists. Sadly, this is a country that is based on a strict set of laws: Japan. Using physical violence as a countermeasure for verbal abuse is a crime. Imagine what my future would look like if I really took that course of action. These little pigs certainly aren’t worth throwing everything I’m trying to build away like that. That’s why I took the more peaceful option.
“And why exactly are you here being a bother? Can’t you read the mood?”
“…Hmm? What’s your problem?”
“Uwaa, so cool. That’s a wonderful boyfriend you’ve got there, Tsukinomori-san.”
Though I somehow I had gotten one of the girls to shut up, the more gyaru-looking one kept bothering Mashiro. So she won’t back down with just a bit of glaring on my part. Really, such a bother.
Like she had just remembered something, the gyaru suddenly changed the subject.
“Hey hey, Mister Wonderful Boyfriend-kun, have you heard? You know, about that?”
“Ahhh, I want to know too!? Did she make you read that cool (LOL) novel too?”
Suddenly, Mashiro’s face stiffened, and she glared at the two girls. Now her gaze was filled with something besides fear.
“Ehh? I can’t hear you~”
“So you kept it a secret from your boyfriend, huh? Sorry for telling him~”
When Mashiro tried her best to stop them with a weak voice, both of them roared with laughter.
If an outsider like me can be annoyed by hearing their laughter once, it must be even worse for Mashiro herself. This was probably what every day looked like before she transferred. No doubt about it, anybody would stop going to school after being exposed to something like that.
A novel… Though I don’t know the details, this must be related to why she wanted to transfer schools. Though I was interested, I wasn’t planning on letting those two blabber on.
“—Will you stop it already?”
Raising my voice, I glared at them with a hostile gaze.
“W-What is it? That’s such a serious face.”
Both of them flinched. Maybe they realized that I was actually pissed. It seemed like they really were nothing more than pigs, and right now they felt the killing intent of a wild animal.
“Everything about you—your voices, your faces, and your personalities—are such a pain. Get lost.”
“W-What’s up with that!”
“My pack of boys are really strong, you know!”
“And what of it? Shall we see whose team is the most dangerous?”
I wasn’t lying. After all, my team is very dangerous, in a lot of ways. A teacher who draws Onee x Shota doujinshi gets about a 98 on my danger meter.
“W-What do you mean by dangerous…?”
“H-Hey, isn’t this pretty bad? This guy’s face looks serious.”
Both of their faces lost their colour. Just how honest can you be? Apparently they’re fantasizing about what I said all, on their own. One small provocation has them shaking all over the place. I didn’t expect that.
“E-Ewww. Aren’t you an idiot for getting so serious?”
“…Hey, let’s go. I don’t wanna be involved with this creep anymore.”
Leaving their usual vocal vomit behind, they walked away.
“Though that was a bit more than close, we somehow managed to pull through… Are you okay, Mashiro?” I asked Mashiro, watching as the two girls grew disappeared into the crowd.
However, Mashiro continued to shiver, not answering my question. She must’ve been really scared. In this scenario, I had no clue what to do besides showing concern. I wonder if I would be able to do better if I had more experience with love and women like Oji-san does. Just like Iroha said, I had no idea how to handle a woman’s heart, so I was unable to do anything appropriate.
“So stuff like that was why you dropped out of school.”
“What novel were they talking about?”
In the end, I just decided to ask about what had interested me the most.
However, Mashiro just jumped up from her chair and ran off.
I stretched my hands out to stop her, but I couldn’t manage to grab ahold of her arm. My hand grabbed empty air. She vanished even faster than when I had chased her yesterday.
Just now, she had met those girls who bullied her in her previous school, and she had once more run off to be alone. It looked like she never wanted the subject of the novel to come up.
And right then, Iroha returned.
“Senpai, what happened?!”
“Iroha, did you see what happened just now?”
“I just caught a glimpse from afar, but I got the gist of it. You suddenly were cornered by some bad-looking girls, and when you were done talking, Mashiro-senpai suddenly stormed off—”
“So you got most of it. That saves me a lot of time.”
This was really different than what I had expected to happen on a day when we should be getting closer as friends. I can’t just ignore Mashiro like this. She certainly didn’t seem fine, and if I can somehow help relieve her trauma, then I want to do that. And my annoying Kouhai seemed to share that same sentiment, it seems.
“Let’s look for her, Senpai!”
“Yeah…! I’ll take the upper floor; you search the lower!”
With these few words, she agreed to my plan, and we split up.
She was nowhere to be found. No matter where I searched, that silver hair of hers never entered my view. Did she manage to hide behind other people while she went down the escalator? Maybe we just barely missed each other… No, stop thinking about that. Iroha has the bottom floor covered. I have to trust her and focus on the top floor. Really, it’s only been trouble with Mashiro lately. It feels like I’ve just been chasing after her these past few days. Just how long does this Snow White plan on running away until she’s satisfied?
I decided to stop grumbling to myself. I wiped away the sweat on my forehead and continued searching. Alas, I had no success. Just where in the world did she run off to?
“Searching blindly for her is pretty ineffective, huh?”
I arrived at that conclusion. I stopped running around aimlessly and started thinking. In order to accomplish Oji-san’s mission, I have to look after Mashiro. I’ve been constantly chasing her these past few days, both figuratively and literally. If I use the knowledge that I’ve gained during that time, I might be able to find her.
The day of the welcoming party, while trying to run away from me, she entered that back alley. And after that, she ran up the riverbank.
…Is this it?
Though I didn’t have much evidence, it was potentially useful information for this game of cat-and-mouse. Rather than blindly searching, I decided to follow that intuition.
The place she had chosen to run away from me was a dark back alley. And the second hint was that it was a high place she ran off to. That just means I have to search for the highest, darkest place in this shopping center!
And I didn’t even have to think about which theater she would be in. There’s only one movie she would want to watch. Of course, it all made perfect sense now.
The perfect place to watch idiotic humans being drenched in their own blood and screaming for help.
“F*CK!!! FU*K!!! FUC*!!!”
“OH MY GOD!!!”
The moment I set foot into this dark place, I was assaulted by a flood of vulgar screams, sounded similar to something ripping and tearing, and calm, yet somewhat shocked gasps. It was something like a small box which could fit around 100 people.
Of course, there was only one movie that could produce all those sound effects; ‘Classic Jaws: Dancing to the tune of the shark.’ Walking through the rows of seats, there was one person who stood out, and I sat down next to her. It was the highest row the farthest in the back, where you could see the entire screen. Without any change in her expression, Mashiro just resolutely gazed at the screen and watched the movie.
“Is it fun?”
I called out to her in a quiet voice so as to not bother the other people there. When I did, she answered without even glancing at me.
“……It’s the best.”
“You really look like you’re having fun.”
“The girl who just died was a popular member of the cheerleading team, and she was always bullying an otaku boy.”
“It’s like she was born to end up as prey.”
“She had it coming,” Mashiro said. She didn’t look happy at all.
I sat down next to her and also started watching the movie.
The characters onscreen right then were a blonde-haired gyaru, who would definitely end up as shark food soon, an otaku boy who looked like he was destined to survive, an older Chinese woman, a comic-relief black person, and some actors whom I might’ve seen before.
A completely useless scene started playing, which showed them driving a car while listening to music. Mashiro chose this time to open her mouth. She probably knew that this scene would continue for a while.
“…Why did you come here?”
“To watch a movie.”
“Stop lying, you stalker.”
But immediately after she spat out those words…
“…I’m sorry. I’m always bad-mouthing you,” she apologized with a grimace.
“Saying what you want to say to the people who deserve it is way better than forcing yourself to hold back. Since our relationship only goes as far as the contract and the promise, you can say whatever you want to me. So don’t worry about it.”
“You must’ve wanted to say the same kinds of things to the girls from before, right? ‘Mind your own business.’ ‘Leave me alone.’ ‘Hating me is okay, but don’t interfere with my life.’ ‘Don’t follow me everywhere, you damned stalking bastards’—and so on.”
“……Yeah.” Still grasping her knees, she softly nodded.
The shell-earrings on her ears were faintly shaking. And with a self-deprecating smile, she started speaking to me.
“When Mashiro was younger, she was afraid of strangers… she couldn’t talk to other people… and because she wasn’t able to make friends, Mashiro was always alone—”
She continued to search for solitude, but she felt bad for her parents paying the school fees, so she still went to school.
“A-And, you know, Mashiro just forced her eyes away from that daily life. Trying to escape from reality, she started writing novels. Normally, she would only do that at home, but since she was always alone in the classroom, she thought that she might as well work on it. And when she took out her notes, those girls from before saw them—and started spreading the information in the classroom—”
Her shaking, teary voice gave out at the end of the sentence. Those traumatic memories had probably assaulted her again. In this moment, it was painfully obvious how much she had suffered because of the other girls’ pointless jealousy.
“Those novels that Mashiro used to run away from reality… she didn’t want anyone to find out about them. She was told all sorts of things—‘So you’re just a loner,’ ‘How pitiful you are,’ and whatnot—it was horrible. Even Mashiro has pride, you know. She knows that she doesn’t have any value, and that she can’t compete against those outgoing, always-happy girls. But, being ganged up on like that still hurts…” Sniff, sniff.
Burying her face into her knees, she hid her crying face. She probably didn’t want me to see her like this. She wanted to protect her pride, and did this as a way to shelter herself. I understood. She was afraid of showing weakness. To her, it looked like everyone around her was strong. To her, anyone who’s weak is supposed to be all alone. She probably isn’t even aware of it. It’s probably a subconscious belief.
That’s just who Tsukinomori Mashiro is.
“You know, I don’t mind those kinds of novels.”
“Actually, I know another person who started writing novels in order to run away from reality. And right now, they’re working as a professional writer. I’m even one of their fans. Have you heard of the author Makigai Namako?”
“Ah… Y-Yeah. Well, that’s…”
“If you have the slightest interest in otaku culture, you’ve probably heard of him. He’s a super-popular author at UZA Publishing.”
And even more than that, he’s a reliable member of the “5th Floor Alliance.”
“One time, he wrote ‘I want to destroy this joke of a reality, which is why I wrote this book’ in his afterword. I was really moved when I read that… Why do you think that was?”
“M-Mashiro doesn’t know. Why?”
“Because I sympathized with the contents of the novel completely.”
“Eh?” Mashiro’s eyes opened wide.
“I completely agreed with the values depicted in the novel. Other people were a bother to oneself. Those bastards were never happy until they had destroyed everything you’d worked hard for… I could sympathize with everything: The discontent towards society, and the pissed-off attitude.”
“So Aki’s the same…”
“And I’m not the only one who thinks that. After all, the novel was a huge hit.”
To be honest, it’s not like I’m a professional book critic. Reading a book does take time, after all. Even so, there are times when I’m fascinated by books like that one. It felt like it cut deep into my heart, perfectly synchronizing with the discomfort that young people in today’s world have—
And while I was going on and on about how great Makigai Namako’s charming writing style was…
“M-Mashiro understands already, so stop.”
For some reason, Mashiro stopped my fanboying with a face as red as a tomato.
“Sorry, I got a bit too into it. The contents of it are just so similar to your situation right now. Though that person is actually a guy, and the circumstances might be slightly different, he still wrote novels to escape reality. And he’s garnered empathy from countless other people. So don’t you think that’s proof enough that there’s nothing for you to be embarrassed about?”
“That’s… But, that person just writes behind a pen name, right…? He might just be some random loser hiding behind that name. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing for him if the people around him found out that he wrote something like that?”
“Well, I can’t exactly stop an author from feeling embarrassed about what he writes. But I won’t deny his hobby. Not to mention that there are countless other people supporting him, so please understand that.”
She touched her earrings, her cheeks still coloured a faint red. But she immediately changed her expression.
“Aki is… okay. But, that girl… Iroha-chan, Mashiro can’t help but think that she’s the same way.”
“The same as those obnoxious girls from before?”
“……Yeah. Sorry, Mashiro knows how rude it sounds. But she gets the feeling that we wouldn’t be able to fit in well with one another…”
I see. It’s true that the annoying attitude Iroha uses around me might be comparable to what those girls were doing. Disregarding the trouble that she’s making, just so that she can get the biggest kick out of it… That’s something that they might have in common.
If someone who didn’t know any better saw something like that, then it’s no surprise that they would misunderstand.
“If Mashiro gets friendly with Iroha-chan, she will probably just start teasing her sooner or later… As soon as Mashiro starts thinking that, her body freezes up and she starts talking and acting defensively.”
I softly put my hand on Mashiro’s head, who was still shaking and speaking with a crying voice.
“It’s true that she’s an annoying girl, but she’s fundamentally different from those other girls.”
“If Iroha really starts hurting you with her teasing, tell me. If that one-in-a-million chance really happens, I’ll lecture her so much that she starts crying.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. She’s annoying, but she’s not a bad person. Do you really think that a person like me, who works in the most efficient way possible, would put up with her if she really was that bad of a person?”
“Relax, and follow me,” I said, holding out my hand towards her.
For a moment, Mashiro only gazed at it without saying a single thing.
Slowly but steadily, she placed her hand on top of mine.
Though the movie was still playing, we left the cinema and went to the first floor of the shopping mall. I had sent Iroha a message that I had found Mashiro, but I still hadn’t gotten a ‘read’ confirmation.
Is she still searching around on the first floor? I have to tell her that I found Mashiro as soon as possible. I wouldn’t want to worry her any further.
While still firmly grasping Mashiro’s trembling hand, I glanced around at my surroundings. Though Iroha’s figure would normally stand out, this mall’s size was not to be underestimated. And unlike Mashiro, with her hair colour and weird fashion sense, Iroha looked more like a typical high school girl.
But then I heard a cackling voice which made me stop in my tracks. At a rest area near the stairs, I spotted two girls sitting on a bench. Another girl with bright hair was standing in front of them, talking to them. The members of this group were the girls from before and Iroha. I ducked into the shadows, close enough to clearly make out what they were talking about.
“What’s with you? Are you a friend of Tsukinomori-san?”
“No, we’re not friends at all~”
In response to that wary question the girl had asked, Iroha just let out a giggle. When she did, the other girl seemed relieved, and her friend regained her talkative attitude.
“Ohh, I seeee~ Were you in the same class as her before she transferred? Why are you searching for that gloomy girl~?”
“Ahh, don’t tell me… the guy?!”
“Ahhh, I see! So Tsukinomori-san was together with her boyfriend after all~”
“Ohhh, is that so~!”
With a grin on her face, Iroha gleefully talked with the other girls. In response, Mashiro softly whispered.
“See, that same face… they’re totally the same.”
“I wonder… Just keep watching.”
Now this is where the real fun begins.
“Then, you two are the worthless trash who were unable to catch up to Mashiro-senpai, I see~”
With a smile still plastered on her face, Iroha dropped this bombshell.
The two girls’ eyes opened wide. The same was true of Mashiro. Everyone except for Iroha and I looked like they had no clue what was going on.
“On one side, we have the beautiful and cool Mashiro-senpai, on a date with her wonderful boyfriend on this blissful holiday, and on the other side, we have a couple of shitty brats with their shitty personalities, wasting their precious lives, continuing to be human trash… Ahhh, God, how cruel!! This is just too cruel to watch!!”
Raising her hands up in the air like she was praying, Iroha spoke like she was singing towards the heavens above. The two girls were starting to get pissed from clearly being ridiculed by Iroha’s musical performance resembling a musical.
“Y-You, are you looking for a fight?!”
As one of them forcefully stood up from the bench, brimming with fury, Iroha just pushed her finger against the girl’s chest and brought her face closer.
“Don’t you dare waste your breath with that half-assed resolve of yours, you small fry.”
The tone of Iroha’s voice changed completely. Just like the voice of a gang leader in a manga or movie, it was deep and heavy, and it reverberated deep inside your stomach. A super-cool voice that you wouldn’t expect from someone who normally talks all frilly and girly.
“I-Iroha-chan…? W-What’s this about?” Mashiro whispered.
“It’s something like a special skill of hers. Though it’s nothing more than a bluff, it should be more than enough.”
This is the secret weapon of the “5th Floor Alliance.” The one who holds a rainbow of voices: Our voice actress. It should come as no surprise that she was responsible for the voice of every single character in our game. Yes, even the male characters. One of those male characters had the voice of a murderous yankee.
In response to Iroha’s verbal attack, the girl once more sat down, her knees giving way.
“D-Don’t tell me, that man from before…?!”
“Tsukinomori-san has some really scary people backing her up?!”
Unable to move, both of them just looked up at Iroha, their eyes filled with fear and despair. However, Iroha wasn’t quite done yet.
“I heard about everything you little shits did to Mashiro-senpai. You’re really nothing more than trash wearing human skin, huh?!”
“Y-You just said that you weren’t Tsukinomori-san’s friend…”
“True, I’m not her friend just yet. But that doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
There was an overwhelming aura surrounding Iroha.
“I just can’t stand it, you know. You bastards are rotten to the core. I’m sorry, but I just have to ruin that shitty makeup of yours until your true ugly faces shine through. Come on, grit your teeth, you damned bitches—”
“I’m… sorry. Forgive… me.”
Iroha raised her fist, and the two girls squeezed their eyes tightly shut.
“Let’s stop right there,” I said.
When I stopped her by grabbing her wrist, she turned around to glare at me.
Oooooh, scary. Even though this is nothing more than a fake personality of hers, it’s still scary.
“Ha, ha, no… No…!”
“So…rry… I won’t… do it…anymore…”
When I looked over at the girls, they were cowering on the ground, their makeup running because of their tears, their ugly faces visible from where the makeup had washed off.
“It’s just like I said. I have the annoying ones on my side. I’d really advise you to leave Mashiro alone. If you happen to run across her in the city by chance, you’d better not call out to her. I won’t ask you to make up for what you’ve done, so just act like you don’t know her and it’s fine. Okay?”
In response, the two girls nodded furiously.
“Alright, treaty established. That’ll be all. See ya.”
“I’m very sorry!!!”
After we quickly shook hands, both of them stood up and dashed away. After they disappeared into the distance, Iroha lost all the strength in her arms.
“——Senpai, nice timing… You really saved me there…”
As if that attractive male voice from before had just been a joke, her knees buckled from underneath her and she sat down on the floor.
“What kind of kamikaze attack was that? That was way too dangerous. Everything would’ve been over with if you’d hit them.”
“I have absolutely zero fighting skill, after all! Haaah, I’m glad that you came before they figured out my real character.”
“Really, what a bothersome Kouhai.”
Yes, that yankee persona she had assumed was no more than acting. Even if she could apply pressure with her vocal strength, that fist of hers was nothing more than that of small fry. If they were to find out how weak she really was, everything she had built up would’ve crumbled to the ground. But for Iroha to go this far—
“You must’ve been pretty pissed too, right?”
“Of course I was. Those pieces of trash messed with another person’s life so much that the victim became a shut-in. I could barely keep myself from vomiting right there. I still can’t calm myself down, and I can’t read the atmosphere in the slightest. Luckily Senpai can, so I don’t have to worry about it~”
“You always have to leave everything to me, don’t you?”
“And Senpai is totally fine with it, right? I’ll have you take responsibility~”
“Well, I don’t really care… And Mashiro, how are you? This is Iroha.”
When I raised my voice and called out towards the person who was hiding in the shadows, Iroha let out a surprised gasp. Her face formed an awkward expression when she saw Mashiro trotting towards us.
“So Mashiro-senpai saw that, huh? I’m sorry for doing something all on my own.”
“…No, Mashiro also… has to apologize.”
“Eh? For what?”
“Mashiro had the wrong idea about you. She thought that you were the same as them—”
“But I was different, I guess.”
Yes, Mashiro had misunderstood. She had thought that sooner or later Iroha would act like those other girls and bully her. But that wasn’t the case. Kohinata Iroha would never have ill will of this level. Everything she did was nothing more than putting her acting skills to use.
Iroha’s (my friend’s little sister’s) annoyingness wasn’t half-assed. Her true annoyingness wasn’t just something like ‘Ahhh, she’s annoying but also kind of cute.’ That is just the tip of the iceberg.
—And there is absolutely no need for her to direct this ultimate act of malice towards Mashiro. After all, she’s a good person.
There is absolutely no way that Iroha would unreasonably show malice.
And Mashiro must’ve guessed that as well. Though she still didn’t seem to be comfortable, she tried to smile at Iroha, and said.
“Please, become friends… with Mashiro.”
“Ehehehe, of course~”
And just like that, Mashiro became friends with my friend’s little sister.
…It looks like there’s another complicated relationship in my life, huh?
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: I wonder if everything’s going well?
[OZ]: You’re this worried?
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: Iroha-chan and Mashiro-chan are personifications of an outgoing beauty and an antisocial beauty, respectively. Both of them have their own charms, but I think that they’ll have to confront each other at some point.
[OZ]: It’s fine. Since they’re polar opposites, the distance between them is exactly the same. The hidden negativeness of the outgoing type, and the strong desire of the antisocial type, with Aki stuck in the very middle. That’s why he’s managed to build up a group like this. It’s because he has the strength to do so—He managed to play it off pretty well this time, too. Somehow.
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: And just like that, another girlfriend candidate has appeared beside him…
[OZ]: As long as the relationship between the candidates doesn’t get cold and stuffy, and we get a pleasant, cheerful battlefield, that would be best. I can watch that kind of battle unfold with a smile on my face.
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: You have such a deep understanding of all of this, I see.
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