Chapter 17:

Closing the Distance

Cat's Hour ~猫の時間~

I furrowed my brows when I felt a warm touch of light hitting my face. A groan escaped from my lips and I put my hand on my face to cover my eyes against the light.Bookmark here

Morning already…?Bookmark here

I rolled over to the other side in hopes of dozing back to sleep.Bookmark here

Mmm, I don’t want to get up yet…Bookmark here

I was about to fall asleep again when I feel a silent and calm breathing in front of me. Bookmark here

Hmm? Is it a cat?Bookmark here

When I opened my eyes, Mikejima-kun’s sleeping face greeted me.Bookmark here

His sleeping face was a peaceful sight. I got a closer look at his face, different from how his forehead wrinkled when he’s awake out of annoyance as it was natural for him, he looks like a child right now. He doesn’t look like he has a care in the world.Bookmark here

I blinked in confusion. Bookmark here

Eh?Bookmark here

When everything sinks on my mind, I quickly freaked out. I feel blood rushing to my face as I get up quickly. Bookmark here

T-that was so close!Bookmark here

Why are we in that position?! That was embarrassing! Bookmark here

I clenched my chest out of reflex to settle my heart that started beating rapidly. That was not good for the heart!Bookmark here

Calm down, Hikari! Analyze the situation first! Bookmark here

I took a deep breath to calm myself. Despite making a noise when I freaked out earlier, it doesn’t seem like Mikejima-kun wakes up. Bookmark here

That was good. I don’t know how to face him if he ever woke up first. I should remain my distance from him.Bookmark here

I looked around to observe the place we’re in right now. Bookmark here

It seems like we’re in an unused classroom. There are desks and chairs lined up on the corners of the room. There are papers scattered on the floor where we are lying down. However, I find the structure of the room peculiar. Bookmark here

It’s different from the structure of classrooms in Nekoji Academy. Bookmark here

Are we still on the school that we know?! Bookmark here

As I searched for more clues, I noticed that there are bunch of canvas and easel stocked on the room. There are also paints, brushes and other tools all over the place.Bookmark here

Is this an art room? I have been to the school’s art club several times before, and with what I’m seeing now… Bookmark here

As I thought, there’s really something wrong here.Bookmark here

I patted my clothes to search for my phone.Bookmark here

Eh?? Why am I wearing a summer uniform?! This isn’t a Nekoji Academy uniform!Bookmark here

Calm down, let’s see what I have on my possession right now. I searched my pockets and was relieved to see that my phone and Mom’s bell are still here.Bookmark here

Phew. That was reassuring. I won’t settle down if lost my bell again. Bookmark here

I turned on my phone and see if I can make a call. Bookmark here

“Geh, there’s no signal.”Bookmark here

I glanced outside and confirmed my suspicions, we’re not in Nekoji Academy right now. Moreover, it’s not spring anymore. The sakura trees outside are not blooming, with the harsh light coming from outside, it must be summer.Bookmark here

I pulled a chair from the corner and took a seat there while watching over the sleeping Mikejima-kun. I was far from him but even with this distance, his sleeping figure looks so defenseless. Bookmark here

The last thing I remember was investigating the AVR with him. Then, we met a dangerous ghost and…Bookmark here

I unconsciously touched my neck to check the wound that I remember before passing out.Bookmark here

Eh? My wound… it’s gone?Bookmark here

I glanced towards Mikejima-kun’s direction. I can’t see his cat ears and tails anymore. Bookmark here

Did I lost my ‘sight’? Bookmark here

No… there’s something else. In the first place, where in the world are we right now? Bookmark here

“Urgh…” Mikejima-kun groaned.Bookmark here

“Good morning, Mikejima-kun.”Bookmark here

“Uhh… what a horrible dream…”Bookmark here

Seems like he was still half asleep.Bookmark here

“Is this dream something like investigating with Terushima and encountering a ghost in the AVR?” I asked innocently.Bookmark here

“Yeah…” he mumbled and lets out a small yawn.Bookmark here

I just smiled at his direction until he was hit by a realization. Bookmark here

“Whaaa–! What the hell?!” he freaked out and crawled farther from me reflexively.Bookmark here

I just sighed at him. “Unfortunately for you, it’s not a dream. We’re lost in nowhere so if you know something, say it.”Bookmark here

“Y-you… you didn’t touch me, did you?” Bookmark here

He sunk more in the corner and hugged himself as if he was a girl being molested by a pervert. He gave me a frightened look while he shivered in his place.Bookmark here

“Hah?! Why would I do that?! Do I look like a pervert to you?!” I blurted out at him.Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“W-wow…”Bookmark here

“I mean, you really look like a pervert. When you look at cats, it seems like you’re going to do something bad!”Bookmark here

“Oi! That’s…!” Bookmark here

I was just about to say something in my defense when I realized that there are times that I acted like that with cats. Haha, I just dug my own grave.Bookmark here

“That was for cats! Cats are the epitome of beauty! It was a stare of admiration!”Bookmark here

“That sounds like something a pervert will say…” He squinted my eyes at me.Bookmark here

“It’s not!” I whined at him. “More than that, can you explain what’s going on here already?! We’re not in our school, right?!”Bookmark here

After he lets his guard down for a moment, he started talking to me normally.Bookmark here

“I see now…. Damn it, that ghost got us!” he snapped.Bookmark here

“Haha, who do you think is responsible for that?” I laughed sarcastically.Bookmark here

“What do you want me to say? I won’t take it back!” Bookmark here

“Okay, okay, settle down.”Bookmark here

“A shitty game is a shitty game! It was garbage!”Bookmark here

Oh god… that was the reason why we ended up here. Can’t he at least lower his pride for once?Bookmark here

“Oh… kay… I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t think I want to know either. Just enlighten me about what’s going on right now,” I sighed in depression.Bookmark here

He was so stubborn about it that it was hard to deal with him now. How passionate can he become because of a game?Bookmark here

“We are inside an illusion.”Bookmark here

“Eh?! Illusion?! Oi, I thought those ghost can’t harm humans! I ALMOST GOT KILLED AND NOW THIS?!” I unintentionally raised my voice out of agitation.Bookmark here

My eyes widened when I realized what I have done. Mikejima-kun flinched with my sudden outburst as he covered his ears out of fear.Bookmark here

“S-sorry… that was too much. I didn’t mean to raise my voice.” Bookmark here

An awkward silence permeates in the room. He’s still covering his ears while he closed his eyes tightly as he sunk on the corner farther.Bookmark here

Now, I really look like the bad guy here… Kurokawa-senpai will definitely kick me out if he learned this. It’s funny how I fear Mashiro-senpai before that I watched my movements around Kurokawa-senpai and now in the same situation again, except it was Mikejima-kun that I should be careful around.Bookmark here

“G-grudge…”Bookmark here

Eh? Is he finally talking again? Bookmark here

“Don’t push yourself too much if you don’t want. I’ll just go with your plan so let’s talk about how we can go back, okay?” I diverted the talk into another topic. “Oh, that’s right! Do you know where is this room?”Bookmark here

He stayed silent for a while before answering, “Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Really? Where is it?” I stared at him in anticipation.Bookmark here

“Game.”Bookmark here

Eh…Bookmark here

What?Bookmark here

Is he serious? Bookmark here

“Come on, Mikejima-kun. It’s not the time to be joking… ahaha…”Bookmark here

“It’s not a joke. It was the same place in Last Heroine. There is an event in the game that takes place in the art room of the school.”Bookmark here

“Uhh… sorry, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”Bookmark here

“Of course you can’t, normies like you won’t understand!”Bookmark here

I don’t know what’s wrong with what he said but I feel insulted just now. Is he speaking some language that I don’t know?Bookmark here

“A-anyway, if we’re inside the game then the condition to return to reality is clearing the game, right?” I asked curiously.Bookmark here

He nodded at me.Bookmark here

“Then, what was this game about? How can we finish it? Did you already clear the game before, Mikejima-kun?”Bookmark here

“I threw away my copy without finishing.”Bookmark here

T-then… are we doomed?! Why did he throw it?!Bookmark here

“It was so trashy that I stomped on it, crushed it with a bat and threw it in the ocean.”Bookmark here

“W-wow… is it that horrible?” I deadpanned.Bookmark here

“You bet! I gave it one star rating on the net. That was some bullshit waste of time!”Bookmark here

He continued ranting on and on to vent out his frustration about the game. As someone who doesn’t know the tricks and turns of the gaming world, I just nodded my head once in a while to make it seem like I was listening.Bookmark here

I don’t understand a thing!Bookmark here

“By the way, Terushima, can you see something on top of my head?”Bookmark here

“Ha? Ah? Sorry, I’m not listening.”Bookmark here

He squinted his eyes at me.Bookmark here

“Nothing! I see nothing! Ahaha…”Bookmark here

“Are you sure?” he suspiciously said. “Something like a status bar or a heart meter?”Bookmark here

“What was that? I can’t really see anything though… I’m just wondering why did your cat ears disappeared…” Bookmark here

I stared on top of his head intently.Bookmark here

“Y-you’re doing it again! Stop staring!” He tightly closed his eyes and whined at me.Bookmark here

Eh? What did I do?Bookmark here

“You’re acting like a pervert again! Stop it!”Bookmark here

He pointed his finger to me out of conviction.Bookmark here

“Oops, does my expression really look like that? I can’t really control myself when it comes to cats. Anyway, what’s with the sudden question?”Bookmark here

He looked away and closed his eyes before heaving a deep sigh.Bookmark here

Is he okay?Bookmark here

“I can see it,” he simply said. “I can see a status bar on top of your head.”Bookmark here

I tilted my head in confusion. Bookmark here

What is he saying again?Bookmark here

“It was like this…”Bookmark here

Mikejima-kun explained that this is the illusion made by the otaku ghost based on his favorite game which is ‘Last Heroine’. It was something that you called a dating sim where the main character is a high school student and raising the affection of heroines in order to have a happy ending. Bookmark here

He also said what makes this game bad from badly written character settings for the heroines up to the ridiculously impossible plot that there was supposedly only one heroine, so the rest that didn’t get chosen will die out of nowhere. And if the affection level also went down, the heroine will also get killed.Bookmark here

It was supposed to be a mystery romance game where the MC saves the heroine from death but for some reasons, the creators just throw crap together and call it a game then put it in the shelves. That was according to Mikejima-kun.Bookmark here

Honestly, it was too much information for me to process so I just noted what caught my attention the most.Bookmark here

“Oh! So Mikejima-kun is the main character, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. That seems right.” He nodded at me.Bookmark here

“How about me? Am I one of the heroines?” I asked excitedly.Bookmark here

“No,” he answered blankly. “You’re Friend A. You don’t have significant role here.”Bookmark here

I sighed in depression. Seems like I’m just a background character here. At least make me a heroine! In what terms am I lacking? Bookmark here

Oh wait… I don’t really have anything special anyway. Is that the reason why I didn’t became a heroine? Bookmark here

“What are you getting down for? Isn’t it good since you won’t die here? The heroines will die if the main character failed to gain their affection,” he reasoned out to me.Bookmark here

“I know that! But it feels like an insult, y’know! We’re both sent here so why am I just a background character?” I whined at him.Bookmark here

“Terushima, do you really have a death wish?”Bookmark here

“That’s not all! If I’m a heroine then you can just gain my favor and we can go back quickly!”Bookmark here

Mikejima-kun was taken aback by what I just said as his eyes widened while he stared at me intently.Bookmark here

“Terushima…”Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

Is he going to admire me? Well, I guess I’ll accept it if he put it nicely.Bookmark here

“You’re actually thinking for once, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

I feel a vein popped up in my forehead. Bookmark here

This bastard! He’s really getting on my nerves intentionally!Bookmark here

“You bastard… I’m going easy on you since we’re in a tricky situation. Will you shut up if you’re not going to say anything good?” I smiled menacingly to give him a threat.Bookmark here

He pressed his lips in a flat line and fell silent. I just sighed to myself out of frustration. Bookmark here

What are we going to do now? Bookmark here

Since Mikejima-kun is the main character, everything was on his hands now. I don’t know a crap about this so I’m leaving everything to him.Bookmark here

After a moment of silence, I decided to ask him something.Bookmark here

“By the way, Mikejima-kun, how are you going to gain affection from the heroines in the game?”Bookmark here

When I asked him that, his eyes shone brightly as if a switch on him has been flipped. He went on and on again that I just deadpanned and slightly regretting asking.Bookmark here

“Ahem! You can gain affection just like any other dating sims, but because this is playable in a console with touchscreen back in the day, there are special tricks to gain affection,” he started in a matter of fact tone.Bookmark here

“Wow… you sure know your thing…” I sarcastically said.Bookmark here

“Of course! Anyway, there are three ways to do it. First is…”Bookmark here

He stopped in the middle of talking as I noticed his face started turning pale.Bookmark here

“Hmm? Are you okay Mikejima-kun? Why did you stop talking?”Bookmark here

“I-it was…”Bookmark here

Seriously, what’s wrong with him? He just stopped explaining in the middle! Wait…Bookmark here

I froze in my place when a sudden realization hit me.Bookmark here

“Mikejima-kun, what were those three ways you’re talking about?” I seriously asked him as I gave him a determined glare.Bookmark here

“I-interaction… s-skinship… r-romance…” he whispered in hesitation but enough for me to hear.Bookmark here

I feel like my eyes will pop out at the moment when I realized what he just said.Bookmark here

W-WHAT THE HECK?!!Bookmark here

That was a call for disaster in our situation! And with Mikejima-kun as the main character in that kind of game… we’re good as gone!Bookmark here

Given that Mikejima-kun is afraid of women, it was a lost cause! This might be an illusion created by that ghost but… Bookmark here

I know for sure that his fear still remains real. Because if it’s somehow different here… he wasn’t supposed to be afraid of me first.Bookmark here

We might be talking normally for quite some time now but that’s just because there’s a good distance between us that he seems a little comfortable in the least. If there’s a moment that I will get closer to him, he will start trembling in fear.Bookmark here

More importantly, those heroines…Bookmark here

Haaah… what should we do?Bookmark here

Ahaha, can we just throw ourselves in the rooftop and go back in reality?Bookmark here

In the middle of the silent atmosphere in the room, Mikejima-kun stayed in the corner and hugged himself in comfort. He’s looking down more than I expected.Bookmark here

I worriedly stared at him. Bookmark here

Will we be fine like this? Bookmark here

I can’t just think of anything but sigh in our situation. Bookmark here

No! Damn it! This is no time to feel so hopeless!Bookmark here

I stood firmly and got his attention.Bookmark here

“Mikejima-kun, are you just going to sulk here and not do anything?! You said it, right? You said that you’ll clear this game! Why don’t you keep your word?!” I burst out which made him flinch.Bookmark here

On normal circumstances, I should be stepping down already… but I won’t. Not now.Bookmark here

I don’t care if push comes to shove. Not all the time he could just succumb to his fear like this. Bookmark here

We’re still young right now, but the reality will definitely be harsher than this. And in that reality, Mikejima-kun will definitely have a hard time surviving.Bookmark here

“I-it was scary… I can’t do it…” he mumbled.Bookmark here

He covered his ears as if denying what I’m going to say to him.Bookmark here

“You can’t do it or you DON’T WANT to? Which is it?”Bookmark here

“W-what… WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!” he yelled while still cowering in fear. Bookmark here

He soon lift his head and faced me. He was glaring at me but… there are tears streaming on his cheeks.Bookmark here

“YOU ARE ALL THE SAME!! WOMEN ARE ALL THE SAME!! JUST BECAUSE WE’RE MEN DOESN’T MEAN WE’RE ALWAYS STRONG!! WE ALSO HAVE WEAKNESSES… Why… why… don’t you understand… no one understands… it was scary… it was painful…”Bookmark here

Mikejima-kun cried. It was cry full of agony. I can also feel something stirred inside my heart.Bookmark here

And before I know it…Bookmark here

Drops of tears also wet my cheeks continuously.Bookmark here

“Why… why are you crying?! Aren’t you supposed to be laughing? Hah. You’re supposed to be making fun of me right now! I’m pathetic! I’m weak! Now that you know my weakness, why aren’t you laughing?!” Bookmark here

Every words he uttered was painful. Bookmark here

I bit my lip in frustration and clenched my fist tightly.Bookmark here

“Mikejima-kun… do I… do I look like I’m having fun right now?” I said in between my sobs as tears continued pouring down.Bookmark here

He fell silent as he stared at my crying face. His mouth agape as he was frozen in confusion upon seeing my reaction.Bookmark here

“Mikejima-kun… I’m not invalidating your fear. I don’t know what kind of pain you suffered because I’m a woman myself… but for me, Mikejima-kun is a brave person.” I smiled, a hint of surprise painted his face.Bookmark here

“Brave…” he mumbled in awestruck.Bookmark here

“Un! That’s right!” I beamed at him and wiped my tears. “Mikejima-kun is brave, you confronted me even with your fear of women. Isn’t that brave enough? Though, it was lame of you to collapse afterwards.”Bookmark here

His eyes widened in shock but soon, a smile formed on his lips as he lets out a small chuckle before wiping his tears.Bookmark here

“You! You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?!” he whined at me like a child being teased by his friend.Bookmark here

“Pfft. It’s compensated though, I praised you so it’s fine to insult you for once,” I reasoned out.Bookmark here

“You’re taking your revenge! As I thought you’re horrible!”Bookmark here

“Hah?! Who’s more horrible among us? You called me ‘bitch’!”Bookmark here

“You said that you won’t ask for apology!”Bookmark here

“But I didn’t say that I won’t get back to you!”Bookmark here

We continued throwing insults among each other for a while after that. However, the atmosphere is not that suffocating compared to before. Right now, it seemed like how friends fool around each other without hard feelings.Bookmark here

We laughed, and we continued until we ran out of insults to throw to the other side. I can’t help but smile to myself.Bookmark here

I feel like I’ve gotten a little closer to Mikejima-kun.Bookmark here

Mikejima-kun is actually just a child. He just wants to be normal, not being looked down upon because of his weaknesses, being treated indifferently, and not having prejudices about him. Bookmark here

I think, I understand this part of him… for I, also hate being treated horribly because of prejudices.Bookmark here

We’re two peas in a pod, aren’t we?Bookmark here

We still remained a distance from each other, but with this development, even a farther distance feels close enough as if we’re beside each other. It feels non-existent.Bookmark here

“Mikejima-kun,” I called, a questioning look painted his face as he glanced towards my direction. “I have two requests for you.”Bookmark here

He looks confused about what I said but he still nodded his head in agreement. “F-fine, let’s hear it.”Bookmark here

“First, you must clear this game so we can return to reality.”Bookmark here

He looked away from me, bit his lip in hesitation before answering, “But…”Bookmark here

“That’s not what I want to hear, Mikejima-kun. You’ll do it or not? Give me a clear answer, either of the two will be fine,” I said at him with a smile.Bookmark here

He fell silent for a while before he swallowed a lump in his throat.Bookmark here

“What if… I don’t want to do it?”Bookmark here

“Then, I’ll think of something myself.”Bookmark here

“That…!”Bookmark here

“Are you fine with it?”Bookmark here

Knowing his pride, I doubt that he could accept my proposal. Of course, he still don’t like women and that very woman will save him. His ego won’t accept it.Bookmark here

“W-what are you going to do?”Bookmark here

“Secret.” I beamed at him.Bookmark here

He furrowed his brows at me and took a deep sigh, “Argh! Fine! I’ll do it!”Bookmark here

See? He took the bait!Bookmark here

“Good!”Bookmark here

He still looks hesitant about this agreement that we reached. It was only natural because he still feared women and this game is all about interacting with them closely.Bookmark here

“It will be fine! Mikejima-kun will clear it, right? You already played a lot of games before so this will be easy for you! Just think of this as a game, this isn’t reality so just think that your fear doesn’t exist here,” I said in a matter of fact tone.Bookmark here

“…thank you…”Bookmark here

Hmm? What is it? Bookmark here

“Did you say something?”Bookmark here

“Nothing! It’s nothing!” he frantically denied as he furrowed his brows in annoyance before looking away from me. “A-anyway, what about the other one?”Bookmark here

Seeing as how desperate he was to change the topic, he’s definitely hiding something. I just shrugged it and think about the current situation.Bookmark here

What is he asking again?Bookmark here

“You said it yourself! Why do you look clueless!”Bookmark here

“Ahaha…” I chuckled awkwardly and stared at him hesitantly.Bookmark here

“What is it? You’re suspicious!”Bookmark here

“When you overcome your fear in the future, let me give you a good slap, okay?”Bookmark here

“Eh?” Bookmark here

He was taken aback by what I said but I just smiled at him.Bookmark here

“Here I am thinking that you’re not half-bad but you’re still horrible! Cruel!”Bookmark here

“It was reasonable! You’re causing a lot of trouble, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

“Urk! P-please go easy on me…”Bookmark here

With that, we came into an agreement that we are going to finish this game and return to the reality no matter what. We started making plans to clear this game and before we know it…Bookmark here

A huge event will soon take place…Bookmark here

“MIKEJIMA-KUN! LET GO OF ME ALREADY!! JUST RETURN ALONE! Please… don’t push yourself anymore…”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.