Chapter 3:

Our Second Meeting (fin.)

Why I Write

“Hi, Kocchan!”Bookmark here

Mari offered me a small wave with her dainty hands—then setting down her bunkobon with a comically-proportioned blonde heroine on the cover, the Class 1-A student took a seat.Bookmark here

Exactly where the raven-haired senpai just was.Bookmark here

“Ah, how warm... It’s nice, isn’t it? The heat of another person.”Bookmark here

That can be misconstrued in many ways, I wanted to say.Bookmark here

But exposing the sexual undertones of innocent comments wasn’t something society looked particularly kindly on, and unless you had the (metaphorical) balls of Yukimura Kiku—it’s not a concern you can ignore so easily. So I just nodded.Bookmark here

“Interesting book you’ve got there,” I said.Bookmark here

It looked like a dish best served with a locked door and tissues. Not a tearjerker, though, just a regular jerker.Bookmark here

Mhm,” Mari cooed. “I really like the art.”Bookmark here

“The art? Not the writing?”Bookmark here

“Of course, I respect the writing too… somewhat. But the art. It’s just brilliant, you know.”Bookmark here

“But the art is… never mind.”Bookmark here

I felt a pang of doubt.Bookmark here

It was probably the same thing my sister felt when she confronted my parents about the existence of Santa Claus. You’ve been lying to me my whole life! Except now I played the role of my sister.Bookmark here

“Sorry to ask this so bluntly, Mari—but do you happen to like girls?”Bookmark here

“Why would that be blunt? I’m a girl, so of course I like girls. I’ve always liked girls. Most of my friends are girls.”Bookmark here

“Hmm.”Bookmark here

Her response made it seem unclear if she actually understood the concept of homosexuality, but regardless, I was sure she was into guys.Bookmark here

Not just a surety—an irrefutable fact.Bookmark here

“Enough about females. Can we talk about Kiku-chan? I want to hear all about your chat with her.”Bookmark here

She just said, ‘enough about females’, didn’t she?Bookmark here

“You mean Yukimura… senpai?Bookmark here

“Yes. Kiku-chan.”Bookmark here

“Do you always call her that?”Bookmark here

“Of course. Kiku-chan and I are best friends!”Bookmark here

A questionable statement, compounded by several questionable acts.Bookmark here

Her sudden interest in heroines with giant celestial objects attached to their chests.Bookmark here

Her observation of Yukimura Kiku from afar.Bookmark here

Her distinction between a ‘girl’ and Yukimura Kiku in her mind.Bookmark here

“…And what does Yukimura-senpai call you?”Bookmark here

“Tsujimoto-san.”Bookmark here

“And the two of you are best friends?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

Mari flashed me one of those radiant smiles reserved for dental ads, or for maidens fantasizing about their crushes. A budding lesbian romance.Bookmark here

That would be the logical conclusion.Bookmark here

“Mari… You’re not in love with Yukimura-senpai, are you?”Bookmark here

She laughed it off like I was being preposterous. “Of course not! You know that, Kocchan.”Bookmark here

I didn’t have a clue as to how she expected that of an average person.Bookmark here

Let alone me.Bookmark here

Giving a coy smile unbecoming of her genki girl persona, Mari pointed at the book’s ‘center of gravity’—and by that I mean right at the heroine’s chest. “What do you think of this, Kocchan?”Bookmark here

“Looks like a typical harem to me.”Bookmark here

“Not the book.”Bookmark here

“You want me to talk about the character’s boobs?”Bookmark here

“Not the character.”Bookmark here

“...Yukimura-senpai’s boobs?”Bookmark here

“......”Bookmark here

I know why I said that, but I’ll never tell anyone why.Bookmark here

“...No, Kohei-kun.”Bookmark here

“It’s here! The unsubtle switch from Kocchan to Kohei-kun!”Bookmark here

She used the entire book to wave me off. “Hormones aside, I’m talking about the fact that a light novel from a relatively unknown author is available in this library. What do you think?”Bookmark here

“To be honest, I’m surprised they even have light novels.”Bookmark here

The school had a sprawling library that was comparable to a good university’s. Even then, I was under the impression that schools weren’t keen on stocking their shelves with otaku stuff—so you could imagine my surprise when I found out Kitazawa had a dedicated section for it.Bookmark here

“...Kocchan, the library at our middle school had light novels.”Bookmark here

Or maybe that was just because I’d never actually bothered looking around a library before high school.Bookmark here

“I was obviously referring to light novels with covers like that. Obviously.” Bookmark here

“I can tell when you’re lying.”Bookmark here

“Does it have to do with me looking stupid?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“Sorry, that was a strange thing to ask.”Bookmark here

I felt like Erwin Smith asking Eren Yeager a question. She stared at me with a quizzical look—then discarded her confusion with a vigorous headshake.Bookmark here

Wet dog-like.Bookmark here

Mari spoke. “In any case, you’re right that it’s weird the school would stock a light novel like this. It’s not exactly mainstream—which leads me to believe a student requested for it.”Bookmark here

“Is it really not popular, though? I’ve read it before.”Bookmark here

“...Please stop with the 'self-unaware protagonist' act.”Bookmark here

“Right. My bad.”Bookmark here

What Mari was referring to was the fact I was a light novel connoisseur.Bookmark here

Only she knew this, since I treated it like a badge of shame. I’d explicitly instructed her to never mention it to anyone else—and that was probably why I felt disturbed when that genki girl started reading one within eyeshot during my conversation with Yukimura.Bookmark here

Coincidentally, a copy of this one sits on my bookshelf.Bookmark here

Mari smiled. “So you’ve read it, huh? What did you think of the writing?”Bookmark here

“Not the art?”Bookmark here

Mari un-smiled. “Mizuhara-san.”Bookmark here

“...I thought the writing was flawless from a technical perspective. It was obvious from the prose that the author was a step-up from the rest, though sometimes the MC had some really weird inner monologues. More importantly, it felt like the characters were especially flat, even with the ‘anime logic’ treatment. Like the guy never really interacted with girls in his life—a loser’s projection, basically.”Bookmark here

It was a fairly hypocritical thing to say.Bookmark here

Since I’d only ever had one female friend my entire life.Bookmark here

Maybe two.Bookmark here

“The guy?” she asked.Bookmark here

“Would a girl write a generic school harem?”Bookmark here

“What if the girl was socially inept?”Bookmark here

“...I still can’t picture it.”Bookmark here

Mari smiled, then placing her finger at the bottom of the paperback, she pointed to the name of the author. Kasumi Kazumi.Bookmark here

“So, like I asked earlier before it got derailed—how was your conversation with Kiku-chan?”Bookmark here

“Oh.”Bookmark here

Now I understood what Mari was getting at.Bookmark here

Why her genki girl act was so sloppy today.Bookmark here

Why she said she liked the art, not the writing.Bookmark here

Why she had such unbridled interest in Yukimura Kiku.Bookmark here

“...She’s a very interesting person, I guess.”Bookmark here

“Interesting enough to be a published author at sixteen?”Bookmark here

“Definitely.”Bookmark here

“Do you still maintain what you said about the author?”Bookmark here

“...No. I think I was just being critical for the sake of it.”Bookmark here

“Was it a decent read?”Bookmark here

“More than that. It was an amazing book.”Bookmark here

“Do the main character’s struggles make more sense now?”Bookmark here

“Possibly.”Bookmark here

“Do you think I could write like that?”Bookmark here

At that moment, I finally stopped staring at the cover of Our First Meeting and made contact with Mari’s eyes. I instantly noticed their hazel beauty—and how desperate they looked.Bookmark here

They were staring, screaming, kicking constantly against me. Tell me. Tell me now. Tell me I’m the best. Bookmark here

Tell me I can do it.Bookmark here

And just like that, a memory flashed into my brain.Bookmark here

It’s spring, the sakura trees are not yet blooming, and romance is thick in the air. Under the confession tree with the promise of a new school year ahead, one close friend says something to another that threatens to redefine their entire relationship.Bookmark here

Kohei-san.Bookmark here

Just like how a small spark can grow into a flame, engulfing everything in their path, shaping the world like how a blazing sunrise vanquishes the night...Bookmark here

Tell me you love me too.Bookmark here

...some sparks are just destined to die as soon as they are born.Bookmark here

I said, “I’m not sure about that.”Bookmark here

Back then, it was about idealism.Bookmark here

I couldn’t see myself with Tsujimoto Mari.Bookmark here

This time, this non-answer, this rejection—it was about something else.Bookmark here

Kasumi Kazumi.Bookmark here

Kasumi Kazumi.Bookmark here

Yukimura Kiku.Bookmark here

Back to Tsujimoto. She’s smiling... again.Bookmark here

“I knew you would say that. At the very least, I thought it’d be nice if I told you what I’d been up to recently—and you know, as thanks for honouring my weird request regarding Kiku-chan.”Bookmark here

“Don’t mention it.”Bookmark here

I might have been projecting, but something about her expression seemed wistful. Then she finally put the novel on the desk.Bookmark here

Which got me thinking...Bookmark here

“So, you have Literature Club tomorrow, right?”Bookmark here

“I do.”Bookmark here

“And what do you actually do in Literature Club?”Bookmark here

“Well, I’ve been there once. Basically, you just read a book every week, and then you bring it there to... Hey. You’re not going to ask me if you should join the Literature Club, are you?”Bookmark here

I scrunched up my face.Bookmark here

If you felt like it, it was definitely the kind of decision that could change your life.Bookmark here

For someone who’d never spent so much as a second thought on extra-curriculars, for someone who was content with just scraping by in his life—maybe it was the kind of crossroads where if you picked the correct path, you could end up on the track to true redemption. A special connection.Bookmark here

Maybe it was that kind of decision.Bookmark here

“And if I said yes?”Bookmark here

“Then I would… I would probably… No, I’d gladly welcome you with open arms, Kocchan.”Bookmark here

It was unclear whether her pauses were intentional, or simply because she needed time to think—regardless it added a profound dramatism to her words.Bookmark here

Amplifying their importance.Bookmark here

I remember giving it a good think.Bookmark here

In hindsight, it couldn’t have been more than ten or twenty seconds at most.Bookmark here

But at the time it really felt like I was at a chessboard.Bookmark here

Pondering a move that would set the tempo for the rest of the game.Bookmark here

The game called my life.Bookmark here

“Nah. I’m not really interested in joining any clubs.”Bookmark here

“I see. That’s very like you.”Bookmark here

Even if there was any hope embedded within her earlier sentence, it didn’t mean anything—not anymore. It was officially closed with her cold-blooded statement.Bookmark here

A regurgitation of a fact.Bookmark here

A brief sub-plot in a book.Bookmark here

Done and dusted.Bookmark here

I wish it was as simple as that.Bookmark here

“So, Kocchan. I’m going to stay here and finish preparing my analysis on Our First Meeting for club tomorrow. What about you?”Bookmark here

“I’m going to go home now.”Bookmark here

And finish my analysis for Wednesday, I wanted to add.Bookmark here

But obviously, that was something off the cards. Not with the emotional weight of our conversation.Bookmark here

And that.Bookmark here

That was the last spoken line.Bookmark here

The end of my second meeting.Bookmark here

With Yukimura, born after a weird 5-minute meeting on the first day of school, and a badly explained request from a once-close friend to learn more about Kitazawa High’s Ice Queen.Bookmark here

With Mari, born after a weird 20-minute meeting on the last day of school, and a badly explained request from a close friend to become their lover.Bookmark here

Like a normal person, I picked up my schoolbag, slung it over my shoulder, and left.Bookmark here

And that was that.Bookmark here

Fact Two: Our Second Meeting (END)Bookmark here

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