Chapter 18:

Role Change

Cat's Hour ~猫の時間~


I dipped a brush on the black paint in the palette. With few touches on the canvas, I smiled to myself as I finished a painting.

“Uwaah! It’s done! Aaah~ it’s so cute! As I thought Yami is really cute!” I dreamily said as I admired my own painting of Yami.

I glanced over Mikejima-kun’s direction, it’s been a while since he started writing something on the scraps of paper in the room. I think it was something that you call a game plan. Not that I know what he is writing anyway.

Moreover, I’m so proud of myself with the painting that I just finished!

I was bored out of my mind for a while now because Mikejima-kun is doing something on his own. In order not to bother him while he was thinking, I decided to mess up with the art tools scattered in the room.

After getting a canvas and an easel, with some paints and brushes, I made a painting of Yami.

“Heeh… you can actually draw, Terushima?” Mikejima-kun commented as he stood behind me in middle of my daydreaming.

“Oi, if you’re not going to say anything good, shut up.”

I didn’t realize that he was already done with what he’s doing since I’m so absorbed with a masterpiece that I just made.

Heh. I should be praised for this.

But expecting something like a praise from this guy here is a lost cause. I’d rather praise myself instead.

Anyway, Mikejima-kun decided to try closing the distance between us. To be honest, he can actually come closer to me without having any reactions, but that was just because he’s keeping his reactions to himself to act tough. It’s not actually helping him.

Still, as long as I won’t touch him, we’ll be fine with each other.

However…

Our problem right now are the heroines of this game. With what I can understand from his explanation, a physical touch is needed to raise affection.

Is he still going to be okay?

“Oi, what was that look? Are you doubting me right now? Just after you gave that speech…” he said as he emphasized what I just said earlier.

I feel blood rushing to my face out of embarrassment.

This guy!

“F-forget about it! You can piss off for all I care!”

“Chill, I was just teasing you. Anyway, it’s unexpected that you can actually do art.”

“Why do you sound like you’re not expecting something that I can do well?!”

“You’re plain.”

“Urk! I… I can’t deny that…” I looked away from him. “W-well! I was doing it when I was a child.”

“Did you stop?” he asked nonchalantly.

I stared at the painting. A solemn smile formed on my lips.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

I swallowed a lump on my throat before letting out an awkward chuckle. “Ahaha… well… what was it? I already forgot, it was a long time already.”

He glanced at the painting as if studying it intently. There was a moment of silence between us. I know that he doesn’t buy my excuse but he didn’t try to press further.

The truth is, I didn’t stop it because I want to. When I was a child, Mom asked me to stop it. Up until today, I don’t know what was the reason why, it might be better if I won’t find out.

In the midst of the awkward silence, I desperately diverted the conversation.

“Oh, that’s right! Something is bothering me since earlier. Why did you agree to work with me when Irosaki-sensei mentioned Kurokawa-senpai? If you don’t want to do it, you don’t need to do it.”

He heaved out a deep sigh and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

Somehow, that looks like someone trying to make up an excuse.

“Do you know something about Kurokawa-senpai’s situation?”

As I mention that, he flinched. There it is, he knows something.

I stared at him suspiciously and anticipated an answer from him.

“F-fine! I’ll talk! Stop staring!” He put his hands in the air as if surrendering himself.

I’m not trying to charge you with anything. What’s with that over reaction?

I just deadpanned at him. He took a deep sigh as if gathering courage to speak. Seriously, I’m not going to do something! That reaction really makes me the bad guy here!

“W-well… when I accused you back then, Tsuki-senpai defended you and explained kaichou’s circumstances, he also mentioned your cooperation with it. But don’t misunderstood! I’m still not trusting you!”

He was calmly explaining at first but when it comes to later half, he became flustered that he frantically showed his contempt to me again.

Ah, he was ‘that’. I see now.

“W-what are you looking satisfied for?!”

“Nothing.” I just simply said. “Anyway, I think that proves my innocence about your accusation that I’m seducing our senpais. Don’t think I have ulterior motives… well, except playing with cats, I don’t have anything else.”

“For some reasons, I can’t believe you’re saying that with a straight face.” He deadpanned.

“Is that so? I can talk about cats 24/7, you wanna go?”

“Pass.”

“Come on! Don’t be such a killjoy!” I whined at him.

He just shrugged and ignored me.

How unbelievable! He’s not interested in cat talks?! Impossible!

“Say, Terushima…” he called while fixing the papers that he wrote earlier.

“What?”

“Why are you going to such lengths in helping us? You’re free to leave the student council and not associate with us again… but then… why? Isn’t it troublesome?”

He was looking down with a darkened expression when he asked that. Our eyes didn’t meet so it’s hard to read what he was thinking at the moment. I just know one thing, I should answer him honestly to clear his doubts about me.

“Well, I don’t find it troublesome. I don’t really have something great of a reason so you might find it lacking.”

“Is it the cat ears?”

“Hmm, I won’t deny that it was my reason at first. I really love cats so I don’t think I’ll get here without the cat ears.”

He stared at me in disgust. Well, it was expected.

I just smiled without a care about his reaction.

“But… as I got to know everyone, I got to see them as they are. When Kurokawa-senpai gave me a tour around the school, we actually saw you on the training with the swimming team, he was really proud of you, he was proud of everyone. At that time, I thought that he was really a great senpai. Not to mention that his working speed was outstanding.”

“Kaichou…”

“On my first case with Mashiro-senpai, I saw his desperation when it comes to Kurokawa-senpai. He might not be good with expressing himself but he cares about everyone in his own way. He can be quite frightening at times though.”

He remained silent as I continued with my monologue.

“When I was about to leave because of family circumstances, Toujo-kun lifted my spirit. He has a serious side so I’m slightly confused about it considering how different he was from his cheerful personality, but he was the mood maker of the group. He was playful and sociable, there are times when he was a pain but he’s not half bad.”

Looking back on it, I’m guessing that Toujo-kun has two different personalities, but still both of them are considerate with other people. The playful one might go overboard at times though.

“I really have fun whenever I help Haibara-kun cooks. The first snacks that we made is threatening, but it was still fun. I actually learned from him that you guys all know each other from middle school, you have such great friends, Mikejima-kun.”

His lips agape as if he wants to say something but it might be hard to put into words.

I looked up in the ceiling and smiled to myself.

“I don’t really have a special reason why I’m helping you. To be honest, I’m envious of everyone in the student council, you already shared a long time with each other. Of course, I also thought that I’m barging in the status quo.”

I stretched my hands in the air as if reaching into something invisible and touching it with my hands.

“I never had that kind of friendship before so having friends like that was a subject of my jealousy. However, I also admire your friendship. I might be an outsider but I want to support you all. For that friendship to fall apart… I don’t want to think about it.”

“Terushima… do you really think about us…?” Mikejima-kun mumbled in disbelief.

“Uuunn! It was frustrating!” I whined, closing my eyes tightly and frowning like a child.

“Thank you.”

I froze for a moment and turned to look at Mikejima-kun slowly.

“Just now… did you just say ‘thank you’?”

“I… it’s just your imagination!” He looked away from me quickly, his ears burning red.

Heh. Is he blushing? So he also has this cute side to him. Fufu.

“What’s with that smug look?! Quit it!”

“Mikejima-kun, not honest~”

__

“THAT DAMN GHOST! HE SET IT IN HARD MODE!”

Mikejima-kun started losing his cool and scattered the things in the art room to vent his anger. I just remained silent in the corner, worriedly watching over him.

This game is the kind where heroines naturally flocked to the main character. Of course, Mikejima-kun already encountered two of them. However, because he’s still not used to interacting with women, his discomfort is obviously written all over his face. The heroines somehow noticed this, causing their affection level to drop.

You can probably guess what happened to them.

As for Mikejima-kun, he was saying something like ‘this isn’t on the normal mode but hard mode instead’.

“A-ano… calm down first, Mikejima-kun… let’s think about it calmly, okay?” I tried to talk to him mildly.

“HOW CAN WE BE CALM LIKE THIS?! THERE’S ONLY ONE HEROINE LEFT!” he raised his voice aggressively which even made me flinch.

When he noticed my reaction, his eyes widened as he looked away quickly.

“My bad… I didn’t mean to raise my voice.”

“I-It’s fine…” I stuttered. “A-anyway… why don’t we see how the last heroine is doing? She may be our hope to clear this game… right?”

A look of concern painted his face as he glance at me. He looks worried about me that I can even imagine his cat ears drooping down. It’s too bad that I can’t actually see them right now, probably because of the illusion.

“Aren’t you sacred?” he asked out nowhere.

I was taken aback by the sudden question but after seeing the look of determination in his eyes, I sighed before answering. “I would be lying if I said that I’m not scared. However, that also goes for you, so I don’t have the right to whine now. Let’s just do our best, okay?”

“What if… what if we failed again? What if we can’t go back anymore?” he said while still looking down.

“That won’t do!” I huffed. “Mikejima-kun will clear this no matter what, then we’ll return in reality! Of course, I will also slap you like what we agreed upon.”

“You’re really looking forward to slap me, aren’t you?!”

“Of course! But if worse comes to worst, I’m sure the others are worried about us right now. They will definitely notice that we’re missing.”

“That…” he said in hesitation.

“Hmm?”

“N-nothing… you really put too much trust to the others, you’re too naïve,” he whispered. Just when I was about to react, he changed the topic quickly. “Let’s see what we can do for now.”

“A-ah… yeah…” I just awkwardly agreed.

__

There are three heroines in this game. A clingy gyaru, a cheerful childhood friend, and a studious honor student. The gyaru and the childhood friend already got eliminated. The only one left is the honor student. According to Mikejima-kun, she was the hardest one to get along with, probably because honor students have high standards or such.

“There she is.”

We peeked from the entry way to the rooftop. A girl in ponytail was sitting in the floor of the rooftop, she was wearing standard glasses, as expected from the honor student. She was also having her lunch alone.

“Don’t let your guard down, this event is our only chance left.”

“Event…?”

“Yeah, the main character went to the rooftop because he forgot his lunch money and went here to pass time before the next class. There he find the girl having lunch with herself. As an honor student, she has a strong sense of responsibility so she shared her bento with the main character. The two of them ate together, it was that kind of event.”

Wow… seems like something out of a romance novel. Oh, I nearly forgot that we’re inside a game right now.

“Will you be fine, Mikejima-kun?”

He bit his lip as sweat started forming in his forehead. “I… I don’t know… I’m still scared… if I mess up—”

“It’s fine.”

“Eh?” His eyes widened as he stared at me.

“It’s fine if you mess up. The fact that you tried and gave you best is already enough. As I thought, Mikejima-kun is really brave.” I smiled. “No matter what happened, I won’t blame you for anything. This is partly my fault so I’m also responsible.”

He nodded, a look of determination was shown in his face. “You’re really strange, Terushima.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

With a final glance, he waved at me. “Well then, later. I have an event to finish.”

“Good luck.”

He walked outside and met with the heroine. I was left there and watched the two talk so happily among themselves. Mikejima-kun looks so natural, he was doing great holding his fear inside.

I smiled to myself and felt proud like a parent would.

I raised that child! I couldn’t wish for more!

I closed my eyes, turn around and took a few steps before stopping for a moment.

“Why don’t you show yourself? You’re sabotaging that guy’s effort for a while now. Quit it already,” I said to nothingness as if I’m speaking to someone.

That is, because there’s actually someone here.

“Heh. I didn’t expect that a girl like you would find out.”

A guy showed up, he has a slouchy figure and wears glasses. He has a dark expression in his face with a menacing smile, he laughed like from before. It was the otaku ghost.

I glared at him while he just chuckled at me. I wonder if I can hit him right now, should I try?

“I don’t know about this world so I’m not sure how things work. However, I found it suspicious that those two heroines disappeared right after meeting Mikejima-kun. According to the original plot, the main character will save them from death, and yet, we didn’t even got the chance to save them. You’re playing dirty from the start.”

“Looks like I got found out,” he smiled creepily. “But what of it? Are you going to interrupt the event to tell that to your friend?”

“No. You’re an evil spirit, aren’t you? When you said your condition that you’ll pass on if he cleared the game, it was the only wish you have, am I right?” I asked him.

“Heh. That’s right.”

He smiled haughtily and took a step closer to me. I step back in reflex. What is he planning to do?

“But I won’t let it end easily. That guy is making the game boring as it is.”

He was standing in front of me right now, with only a few centimeters apart. I didn’t falter to his threat, I held onto my resolve and stretched my hands in his way. I won’t let him go in the rooftop and interrupt them!

“You have some guts trying to stand against me. Did you forget that I’m the one controlling this illusion?”

“What—"

“Why don’t we spice things up?” a creepy smile formed on his lips.

He let out a chuckle and snapped his fingers.

Out of nowhere, we’re already in the rooftop outside. I was standing on the edge of the rooftop as the ghost grabbed my shoulder and held it tightly.

It hurts! Damn it!

I was about to fight back when I saw in my peripherals how high up we are right now. Any misstep will definitely cause me to fall to my death.

My sight happened to catch Mikejima-kun and the heroine talking peacefully in the farther side of the rooftop. It doesn’t seem like they noticed us yet.

“Now then, let’s get his attention.”

My eyes widened upon hearing what that ghost said.

“Real or illusion, which one will he choose?” he chuckled to himself ominously. “Oi! The mikeneko over there! Look what I have here!”

No matter how much I wish for our gazes not to met, it was inevitable.

His eyes widened and his mouth agape in disbelief. All colors left his face as he stared back at me.

A small smile formed on my lips as I mouthed ‘win this’ to his direction.

“Well then, bye!” the guy said to me as he pushed me off the edge with everything he got.

A slight feeling of relief that the ghost lets go of me was short-lived as I found myself falling from a height. I stretched my hand to hold on the edge of the rooftop in desperation. Of course, I don’t want to die yet!

Just when I was nearly touching it…

My hand didn’t manage to reach it.

Crap! I missed!

I closed my eyes tightly. Am I going to die like this? Damn it! Irosaki-sensei, you lied!

Out of nowhere, a sudden tug on my hand threw me back to reality.

“Terushima!!”

When I looked up, Mikejima-kun’s desperate face greeted me. His brows furrowed as he gritted his teeth while trying to pull me up.

Both of his hands are holding mine tightly as if not wanting to let me go. It made me feel glad that he came to my aid. I was thankful.

But…

His hands are trembling.

It was obvious how much he’s pushing himself right now.

Moreover, if he was here… that means…

“Mikejima-kun… the heroine…”

“WHO CARES ABOUT THAT BITCH?!” he shouted loudly.

“You can’t go back if she will die!”

“What are you… what do you mean ‘I’ can’t go back?! There’s no point if I’m the only one who can go back!”

I looked down, I could see the height that I’m going to fall from, the moment that MIkejima-kun lets go of my hand. Honestly, it was enough to make me cry and pass out from fear.

Mikejima-kun’s hands… it was cold. I could feel his hands trembling in fear. Of course, he’s touching a woman. He has phobia, this much reaction is expected…

But why… why won’t you let go?!

Damn it!

“MIKEJIMA-KUN! LET GO OF ME ALREADY!! JUST RETURN ALONE!” I yelled with everything I got, but my voice softened unconsciously. “Please… don’t push yourself anymore…”

His grip slightly loosened. It seems like he’s going to let me go. I closed my eyes and waited for my free fall exhibition.

However, he didn’t let go.

“Oi! Mikejima!” I looked up and saw him, his face is pale and his lips are tightly pressed together.

Eh? Don’t tell me…

“O-oi! Are you going to vomit?! Don’t you dare vomit on me!”

He shook his head intensely, he also tried to pull me up forcefully, I could feel cramps on my arm now. Ah, damn it! Let go already!

When he managed to lift me slightly, he bowed down and I could hear sound of throwing up coming from his direction.

Ah, so he’s really feeling nauseous, isn’t he?

“If you don’t feel good, why won’t you let go already?!”

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

“I don’t have one! It’s because you’re pushing yourself!”

“Look at me, Tersuhima,” he firmly said.

As I glanced to him, I noticed a vomit stain on the side of his lips. Disgusting.

Wait, that’s not all!

Drops of liquid fell to my cheeks. Is it rain? Or tears…?

He’s crying…?

“I won’t let go! There’s no more heroine left! That ghost got her as well!”

Eh…? That means… we failed?

No way…

“Terushima… why don’t you become my heroine instead?”

My eyes widened. My sight was blinded by the sudden intense ray of sunlight so I didn’t see what kind of face he was making when he said that. Still, I could hear sincerity from his voice.

He’s definitely talking about clearing the game, but I still felt my heart skipping a beat.

I smiled to myself. I stretched out my other hand and put it on top of his. I want to calm his trembling hands. It was for a while but he wasn’t shaking anymore.

“You’re a likeable character, aren’t you, MIkejima-kun?” I said, feeling slightly relieved. His hands aren’t shaking anymore but the tears from him continuously hitting my skin started to get annoying. He was also letting out small sobs.

“Geez! Stop crying already! As long as we could clear the game, I’ll be Mikejima-kun’s heroine! There!”

“That’s not… whatever!”

Ding!

“Congratulations for clearing the game!” The ghost floated beside me.

“Eh?” Mikejima-kun and I reacted in unison.

Before that, can someone pull me on the safer place now?! I don’t really like dangling in the air like this!

“Oh… I see. It’s a secret route!” Mikejima-kun said.

“Right! Right!” the ghost agreed.

Cut it out! I don’t understand what you’re talking about!

“Enough of your otaku talks! Pull me up already! I feel like my heart will drop any second from now!”

“Oh… okay– SHIT!”

“WHAT THE––KYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Before we know it, the two of us are falling in the air already.

“Terushima, you’re heavy!”

“Rude! How could you say that to me after saying that cheesy line earlier?!”

“Pffthahahaha! The two of you are getting along very well, aren’t you?”

“You damn ghost! This is your fault!”

“My bad. Also, I have a name, it’s Ono.”

“Who cares about that?! We’re falling!”

“Tch. I don’t get why you became a heroine with your lack of femininity. Whatever, thank you for clearing the game anyway,” he passively said.

With a snap of his fingers, a bright light enveloped us while we are falling.

“Thank you, you two. Also, sorry for almost killing you. I went too far, my bad!~”

This ghost! You’re lucky that you’re a ghost! I’ll strangle you back in your next life!

__

The light soon dissipated, Ono-san was nowhere to be seen. He definitely passed on already.

We found ourselves standing in the Audio Visual Room, hand in hand at that.

The two of us stared at each other, laughed in unison, before collapsing on the floor.

“Haha, I’m tired…” Mikejima-kun said.

“That was scary…” I added.

“It’s finally done…”

“Yeah, Mikejima-kun’s crying face looks horrible. You’re actually a crybaby, aren’t you?”

“Same to you! You’re not the one to talk when you look awful when crying as well!”

We continued bantering until the feeling of exhaustion hits us.

I stared at the ceiling, this is definitely our reality, right?

I still remember the door of AVR flying open before I passed out from exhaustion. Looks like Mikejima-kun is also the same. I remember hearing everyone’s voice but since I’m slowly losing my consciousness, I didn’t understand most of what they said.

At least I’m relieved that we’re back on reality now.

But…

My masterpiece!! My pride and joy!! Uuuu… it was left inside that illusion!

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