Chapter 2:

Sachio's Laughter

Paradise on Earth


While I’m standing here in the gymnasium with Sachio (since Yasashiku tagged along just for the trip and left—and Nori went to the bathroom) and gawking at the famous girl’s volleyball team as they practice their little hearts out; it’s probably a good opportunity to talk about a more unorthodox member of the little group I have, Shizu Sachio.

Out of all the girls I know, my friendship with Shizu Sachio by the standards of everyone in my class, a miracle if not a cosmic anomaly. As mentioned previously, Shizu Sachio historically didn’t attend school in person, at least not really, only a few days a week maybe. This was common enough last year to the point where everyone thought it was weird when Sachio did show up for class. For most of last year I simply didn’t pay any attention to her, unlike some of the other people in our class who thought it best to spread rumors about what she was doing.

“Don’t you think Lil’ Shizu smelled a little funny today?”

“Kind of dirty, like a man yeah?”

“Well, you know what they say about the quiet ones.”

“She probably didn’t give herself time to shower because they were so ‘busy.’ Gross!”

People would call her Lil’ Shizu because they thought being overly friendly was morbidly funny or something, she didn’t have any friends so that had something to do with it, I’m sure. I didn’t particularly like the rumors, but I didn’t do anything about it either, it wasn’t my place to intervene. I mean I said it before, I want normalcy, and defending a student who wasn’t interested at all in helping herself was the last thing I needed.

Things changed when I was assigned to sit behind Sachio on the right side of Class 2-B in January. Where we became in-class partners basically by default whenever Sachio would attend in person since Daitan was moved to one of the window seats near the front. English, a subject you do group assignments regularly, is one of my best subjects—so Sachio and I would quickly finish our work and then have time to talk afterward. Something she became comfortable with early on after listening to one of the many discussions Daitan and I would have during lunch. Incidentally, it was a different Sindam conversation (Daitan’s a fangirl she just refuses to admit it), in which Sachio asked me to clarify my position on later in the day—our friendship came very naturally after that.

I’m not sure if Sachio has ever identified as a Hikikomori—she’s mentioned Welcome to the NZJ! as one of her favorite shows in the past, and is something she finds incidentally funny because the main character and I share the same last name—but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she did until recently, because Sachio has seen way more anime and read substantially more manga than me, not to mention the Visual Novels and Otome games. I honestly don’t understand how this girl has the energy to get up in the morning, let alone reach her second year of high school with how much time she’s spent on her hobbies. I feel like if she were to have anymore, her eyeballs would turn to dust from how dry they would be. Daitan, who is into guns, has genuinely asked me in private if it would be irresponsible to try to get Sachio into it as well because she’s afraid that girl is going to explode from reaching “obsession capacity.” Yasashiku did as well but for a different thing, and inquired it in a way more abrasive to me but less extreme overall.

Speaking of whom, Yasashiku sat behind me during the same semester I met Sachio but didn’t start talking to me until near the end of the term when she needed my help. I’ll have a better opportunity to talk about her another time I’m sure, but what’s important to know now is that this was at the tail end of her “gyaru-detransition” after a year of being class vice-president. But suffice it to say, Yasashiku sometime shortly after Golden Week, when she had already been added to the friend group and I guess felt like doing something about it—made an announcement before class that she would “Rip out anyone’s $#%^ through their &*@!#^$” and so on, if she were to hear of any bullying in the class ever again. This episode made the class president at the time look so incompetent they resigned out of embarrassment, making Yasashiku the acting president who no one dared to challenge when the issue of new elections came up. Following this Hayami said some things to Sachio that I didn’t get a chance to hear, changing her absence percentage (by my standards of course) from 80% when I first met her, to 30% after spring break, to attending school full time again.

Because of this or maybe even slightly before that now thinking reflexively, Yasashiku and Sachio have shared a strange connection that I don’t entirely understand but is none of my business.

Given the circumstances of everything, I’m glad Sachio and I are friends, though I do recognize that society would decay into an Akihabara dystopia if there were too many people like her. But her standing next to me on the sidelines of a gymnasium is perfectly fine for me.

***

Wham!

Kaiyo successfully spikes the ball over the net, sending it smashing into the ground and eventually bouncing off the wall behind the players. leaving her teammates on the other side of the net further in despair because they haven’t been able to score at all, at least since I showed up.

“Kaiyo come on! You have to at least let us score once!”

“Well, that just means you have that much farther to go to be anywhere close to my level! Gahaha!” she exclaims with brazen confidence as she finishes with an evil laugh. After which she looks over at Sachio and me and shows us the V sign along with a huge beaming smile.

How are her teeth so pearly and straight?

Sometimes I feel like Kaiyo was born in a tube genetically modified instead of her bitchy mom.

Her words on the mom front, not mine.

I’m sure my parents wouldn’t vouch for her anyway.

Sachio and I wave back in response, and I call out for her to keep doing her best.

The volleyball team then continues their practice game, Sachio and I continue one of our petty conversations about anime.

Getting to the question I was probing prior to the spike, “As I was trying to say before, you still haven’t explained why.”

“What do you mean? I just explained this to you.” Sachio answers as sincerely as she can while still being baffled at my stupidity.

“But I still don’t understand why Basuna annoys you so much.”

“Ehhhhhh!?” Sachio vocalizes loud enough that the people in our class would be genuinely concerned about her health, but not to the degree to take her to the nurse. At the same time, she moved her fingers to her temples and adopted the most confused, baffled, and wide-eyed expression I’ve seen from her so far.

“I think that’s a reasonable question!” I defensively exclaim.

“Maybe it’s a good thing Daitan walks home alone.”

“What is that supposed to mean?!”

“I feel like she would have a lot to say about what you just asked me, and all of it would hurt your feelings.”

“I don’t think Daitan cares about anything except making fun of me so she probably would hurt my feelings, but not about what I asked!”

You know I was concerned about being too loud when I started bringing people to Kaiyo’s practices, isn’t that funny?

I will say at least Sachio found our conversation pretty funny, as my last line made her giggle for a little bit.

The normally rare “tee hee” of the wild Shizuous Sachious.

I just come across them more frequently than most it seems.

Heck, she might’ve been laughing when I was messing around with Yasashiku in the classroom, who knows? I wasn’t paying too much attention due to the considerable acid I was dealing with.

When she stopped her giggle parade I grilled her again, “Seriously though—why?

Sachio takes a second to think while putting her hands on her hips and letting in a deep breath.

You know, despite Hayami having a reputation Sachio doesn’t cut a bad figure either. Not that I didn’t know that of course, I got to see her in sleepwear during spring break and while it was loose in its own way, one got to see enough to understand.

She looks at me finally and incites her own question, “How do you think Basuna felt during the second arc, or even during the first groping scene?”

“How would I know? She’s an anime character, she’s not real.”

“But does she like, exist just for you?”

“Well, no I guess, but that’s beside the point. And I know you aren’t against fanservice so don’t try playing that.”

“I’m not no,” Sachio says sincerely with a kind, yet self-assured smile on her face. “But what makes her special?”

“that she’s pretty?”

“Of course, but why is she with the main character?”

“Because they were around each other all the time since she is one of the best players in the game.”

“Yes, because she is strong!” Sachio emphatically asserts as she flexes her biceps. “Basuna is supposed to be strong, but the story makes her weak—that’s why she annoys me. It’s one thing to be powerless in general, but it’s another if power is taken away from you by things beyond your control. I feel like eventually, you wouldn’t understand what it means to have power at all anymore, at least if it keeps happening. I think Basuna is really cool and seeing her like that is disrespectful towards her. Does that make sense?”

“Is that so?”

Genuinely, that is an interesting take. And surprisingly well spoken for Sachio who doesn’t normally talk like this even when anime is brought up in conversation, whether that be with just me or the rest of the gang.

If nothing else, Shizu Sachio is confident about her anime.

That’s probably true to a depressing degree.

“Yeah, it makes sense.”

“I’m so happy you understand thank goodness,” Sachio utters with relief along with the second big smile today, with teeth this time. Arguably one bigger and more content than the previous. “I haven’t really had a chance to speak about thoughts like that before so I’m glad my first attempt was with you.”

It makes me really happy too.

I’m glad she feels understood.

But what she said made me think.

I decided to propose the reasonable question that, “Hey, Doesn’t BL do the same thing to uke’s all the time?” Since I know Sachio is into stuff like that.

“Submitting to a seme is completely different!” Sachio proclaims.

“Implying they want to!”

At the moment I get a tap on my left shoulder and hear a “Uhm”

“Ahhh—!” I scream before being immediately embarrassed. Turns out Nori is back from the bathroom; she was gone for a long time, what the heck?

Mrs. Ishikawa, the coach, already blew the whistle signaling the end of practice and was busy giving the girls feedback for the day.

“I heard you two talking about semes and ukes, is that correct?”

“Uhm… yes.” Sachio mumbles as if she’s going to shatter glass by answering any louder. Notably, she’s now solely staring down at the shiny gymnasium floor. I can’t tell if it’s out of shame or embarrassment, probably both.

And even though Sachio is pretty pale already I haven’t seen her this colorless in a long time. Kaiyo once joked that she’s “whiter than IceTap zone” when she gets like that.

It’s true, but noticeably less funny without Kaiyo next to me to lighten the mood.

“Oh, so that’s the kind of group you guys are?”

“I don’t like BL personally,” I quickly interject to get my position out as fast as possible.

“No I mean,” she leans in and whispers, “otaku.”

Sachio and I both immediately look at each other surprised. I can understand why she got that impression since the conversation between Sachio and I was a continuation from when we asked Yasashiku what she thought of season one of Sword And O-line on the way to the gym. Hayami basically bullied Yasashiku into watching it on my behalf just in a very coy fashion. Yasashiku doesn’t really watch anime, but Sachio and I have slowly been inducting her into the world of otaku. Which seemingly has brought the two of them closer together since Sachio has been successful in getting Yasashiku to read more Shojo manga, so they bonded over that. It’s honestly a relief for me because I was worried Hayami was going to have to police Yasashiku all the time in the LIME group.

Oh, and in case you were curious: Yasashiku liked season one, I think the show is fine and gets better in later seasons, Sachio doesn’t like it at all as expected. I think Kaiyo has seen it, but I haven’t asked for her opinion and Hayami has not seen it, she just thought it would be funny to tease Yasashiku I think.

I’m still a bit shaken by the question since I’m not used to a girl saying that in real life in a way that isn’t negative, but I think, “I mean… kind of. Not intentionally or anything there just happens to be enough of us,” is a reasonable enough response.

“Oh, cool! Though the reason I asked was because I like Boys Love and it seemed like you were crapping all over it Sato,” she says as she puts her hands on her hips and gives me a “Don’t act like I didn’t hear you,” kind of look.

“Not necessarily but I can. BL has never seemed interesting to me.”

“What isn’t interesting about the affection two men can only have with one another?”

“Uhm, everything?”

“What!?”

“How is what I’m saying controversial?”

“’ How is it not?’ is what you should be asking Mr. Sato!” Nori interrogates as she points her right index finger at me.

“Okay, then explain to me what you think makes it so great.”

Sachio and I have already talked about this a little bit, but she hardly changed my mind back then. I’m curious as to what this Chikako Nori can say that will supposedly show me the true path.

“Boys Love is pure love! It is an honest expression of a near universal emotion that almost all human beings share. BL is majestic in that way. It is more than a genre of fiction, it is a manifestation of the desire to love and be loved by others in a raw, ungendered way! The soul of man can be found in a Kon x Gillua doujinshi, you simply have to find it in the pages!”

This girl is far more passionate about BL than I initially thought.

Nori then proclaims, without a hint of irony—and if I’m to be more accurate, with great pride, “Honestly, instead of ‘Boys Love’ they should be calling it ‘Beautiful Love!’”

She affirmed that in English.

What does she take me for?

Don’t smile all self-satisfied like that!

Sachio didn’t mind at all, in fact, she’s loving the support from what I can tell. Since she hasn’t interrupted Nori at all and stopped staring at the floor entirely.

“One of these days, one of us will show you the wonders of BL and how magical it can be,” Nori tells me after everything.

“I feel like in order for that to happen you’ll need to try out a different BL, Boys Lost—because you’ll have to kidnap me in order to get me to watch that stuff.”

“Perfect, all I need is some rope.”

“You already took kidnapping into consideration!?”

“Well, I already own the handcuffs and duct tape.”

“Is this a weekly habit of yours?!”

“I’ll have you know I already have a subscription to Boys Lost.”

“There’s a streaming service for that too now!?”

“It’s $3.99 a month.”

“That’s cheaper than the rope!”

I hear to my right what I initially think is a sneeze but is actually Sachio failing to hold in her laughter. At the same time, Nori also bursts into laughter but it’s more like an intense guffaw if anything, it honestly was so unexpected that I started cracking up myself. It’s strange, it felt like the world drank a glass of laughter after going through a five-year humor drought, it was fun. And Nori laughed so sincerely like life became meaningful to her again.

After we’re done cackling like a bunch of weirdos inside of a gymnasium at the end of the girls’ volleyball practice, Nori feels comfortable enough to express that, “I like you two, would you be interested in adding me on LIME? I don’t have any friends here and I feel like it would be nice to be around people who share my interests.”

“Sure,” Sachio and I both agree in unison.

While we’re exchanging LIME accounts, Kaiyo briefly grabs my attention as her team is now walking out of the gym to get changed and I know she’ll want to confirm if we’re walking home together today. I do successfully find her amongst the dozen other tall women in white and black practice uniforms, and she gives the thumbs up that tells me I need to get ready to leave myself.

“Nori, it was nice meeting you, but I think I should head home now,” Sachio remarks more comfortably than I expected, since Nori is basically a stranger after all.

Nori responds in the most content tone I’ve heard her all day, “You’re right I should probably head back too.”

“Wait, didn’t you want to talk to the coach of the volleyball team?” I ask confused.

Nori stares at me caught off guard for a second, and then quickly replies with “Oh yeah! I had so much fun with you two I forgot about that for a minute there. Thanks for reminding me, have a good day!” she yells back at us as she starts running towards Mrs. Ishikawa.

Sachio and I leave the building together into the desolate late afternoon heat. The days are still long so it isn’t orange outside or anything and the clouds have long since passed, more like an oppressive yellow being blasted into our eyes and skin. Why anyone would want to walk into the torturous summer immediately after profusely sweating inside a comparatively cooler gym is beyond me, I’m out here for two seconds and my forehead is already getting wet. Sachio’s is too, which is something I’m sure she’s not used to experiencing being exposed like she currently is. Since her bangs would hang over her eyes before she changed her hairstyle. She did trim them in early March to where you could consistently see everything and that was definitely new for her; she was timid in a way similar to when we first met for a few days. Sachio definitely handled the more recent transformation significantly better in my opinion.

Nevertheless, after Sachio and I reached the school gates we said our goodbyes to each other and parted ways. After which I only waited a few minutes for Kaiyo to eagerly run up to me and start asking questions about the new girl (I have to explain who she is since we aren’t in the same class), and why she was yelling about gay men and talking about kidnapping me.

I can already tell that Chikako Nori will have an interesting effect on my friend group if she ever joins in the future, that’s for sure.