A month has passed since Sis’s birthday party, and I haven’t spoken to Yukawa since then. That day after we returned to the party, I handed Sis her phone back and then tried to shake everyone off to avoid any more conversations, but I couldn’t shake her off. She kept following me the whole party. I for the most part only listened while she kept babbling about her favorite anime and manga, something about the last of humanity fighting a giant monster, and some masters and servants fighting a holy war. I haven’t seen any anime or read any manga in a long time, so I had no idea what she was talking about, so I just listened on and on without saying much myself. When I think about it now, I’m surprised how did manage to do it, but then again, it’s not like I had a choice, after all, I did try to ditch her, but she just wouldn’t let me go. I wonder why she was so persistent. But it’s been a month since she has spoken to me, so I don’t think it was anything, she was probably just teasing me. My reaction however is still a mystery to me. I definitely gave her more attention than I normally give others. Why did I treat her differently? I have no idea.
The last month hasn’t been boring at least. My friendship with Kenzo has significantly improved, to my surprise, he did visit me at the mansion occasionally. I haven’t talked to him about what happened five years ago, and I don’t plan to, it’d be too embarrassing and if we can get over it without discussing it, then why not? It’s almost nostalgic, the first time we met we became friends just like that without ever discussing his first outburst, and now we’re trying to fix our five-year-old broken friendship.
But that’s not all, I’ve also made some new friends. As I’ve said before, I sit on the second seat in the second column, to my left, on the second seat in the third row sits Shun Tomonaga, yeah that guy with a nasty personality, I still don’t like him much but I’ve been able to tolerate him, thanks to the one who sits to my right, second seat first row, Nozomi Matsui. She is rank five, which makes her one of the toppers. And guess what her strongest subject is? Maths, which basically makes her my most dangerous adversary, but despite that she and I have become good friends. Mostly because she isn’t like Tomunaga. Even though she is superior to me in a subject she doesn’t brag about it, in fact, she is quite humble and helpful, whenever I don’t understand something, she helps me understand it rather than rubbing it to my face like Tomunaga.
And as it happens, Tomunaga and Nozomi are childhood friends, so I, her new friend, and he, her old friend both have her as a mutual friend, so we’re forced into conversations and hence I have to tolerate him. And yes, I call her by her first name, she asked me to do so herself, she also calls me by my first name too. I can say that other than Kenzo maybe she is my other best friend here. Especially since I spend more time with her than I do with Kenzo, considering she sits right next to me.
I’m in our classroom, chatting with the two of them when another new friend walked to us.
‘Hey, I heard they’ll be revealing our results from yesterday’s physics tests.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘I’m really freaked out, my test didn’t go so well, what about you guys?’
‘It was ok, considering it was a surprise test.’
‘I know right? And not only was it a surprise test, but the time limit was so tight too, I barely had any time left for the last question’
He is Haru Sasaki, St. Stephen’s first year’s rank three, that’s right he’s one of the toppers as well. There’s always a guy in every class who pretends he hasn’t studied or his test went bad but ends up scoring better than most if not the best, well he’s that guy. But if we neglect that one quirk, he’s a nice guy. And with him, I’m now friends with three of the five toppers. The only exception is the class vice rep Chizuru Yukawa.
But it’s not like I was trying to befriend only the toppers. I’ve known Kenzo from before coming to this school and Nozomi sits next to me, as for Sasaki, he’s in the same club as me. Both Sasaki and I are in the science club, Tomonaga and Nozomi are in the mathematics club while Kenzo is in the soccer club.
Being a guy who tries to avoid getting into any conversations, I only make friends so I don’t end up completely alone. So, I have Nozomi and the others in the classroom and Sasaki in the clubroom.
Our conversation was interrupted when the results Sasaki was talking about arrived. My score was 99%, amazing, right? No. Even with a score this high, my rank was 4th in the class. The top three, Kenzo Ishiguro, Haru Sasaki, and Chizuru Yukawa all got 100% scores. In just the short time of a month, my rank has fallen from 2nd to 4th, just as I feared, I’m no match for them. In just a month two of them bested me, who knows where I’ll be by the end of my term. At this rate, I have no chance of staying a topper and getting into the same college as Sis. I’ll remain the second class everyone has branded me if not worse.
SHUN- ‘Buddy what did you do? How did you mess up this bad? From second rank to fourth already, at this rate, you might lose your title of a topper. I might take your place soon.’
This guy… Just keeps reminding me why I hate him so much. I still have a better score than him, what makes him so confident? He’s still at the same 6th rank he started on. But… I have to agree, that he’s not completely wrong either, even if he doesn’t improve and just maintain his position, if I keep dropping, he’ll eventually take that title.
NOZOMI- ‘Hey! Don’t you think you’re being rude?’
SHUN- ‘Oh, come on I’m just kidding, we often talk like that, he doesn’t mind. Right buddy?’
NOZOMI- ‘You’re just putting words into his month.’
SHUN- ‘What? Now how did you get to that.’
They kept debating, but I stopped listening. It’s not something ‘We often do’, it’s what ‘you always do’. Every opportunity you get, however small it may be you never miss it. And I do mind, but I don’t say anything because even I understand that most of the time you’re right. I came to this school to prove that I’m every bit as capable as my father and sister, that I’m not second class, I came here to prove that to everyone who treats me like Tomonaga. So that they would stop criticizing me. But instead, I just keep giving them more chances. I wanted to stand head-to-head with my idols, so that along with everyone else, they would also notice me, acknowledge me as their equal. But even after trying so hard, if this is the best, I can do then maybe they were right, Tomonaga and everyone who criticized me, and I think, subconsciously even I had known, I’m no match for them. I’ve managed to get this far only thanks to my memory, but it takes more than that to reach their level. They are true geniuses, compared to them I’m just a worthless…
‘Hey, Takase come with me!’
Suddenly interrupting my thought process, I look up to see the one whose presence freezes my brain, Chizuru Yukawa.
‘What? You didn’t hear? Come with me!’
‘Wha… Where? Why?’
‘Ishiguro is absent today, so I need your help with something.’
‘Huh? With what?’
‘Arr… you ask too many questions, just come with me, it’s moving some projects and stuff to the teachers' room.’
She grabbed my hand pulled me just like last time. She gave most of the stuff to me and carried about 20% herself. It was annoying but I didn’t say anything. Well, I’ve always been the type to keep the complaints to myself. But it seemed to me like she did it on purpose, I could see a little glee on her face. Maybe she was messing with me. What a weird girl. I still don’t get it, how the hell is she one of the toppers? Actually, not only her, all of them, how do they do it? Father, Sis, and Kenzo, how is he the top student when bunks so many classes, he’s been absent about three times in just last month, it’s like he only attends enough classes to maintain his attendance. And Yukawa, this girl who was rank four when the school began but is now competing for the top spot. It’s like she and I have swapped places. No that’s not it. She’s always been better, it was just a fluke that I managed to get rank two in the entrance exam. These people have always been better than me.
‘Come on! Mr. slowpoke, at this rate we’ll miss the next class. Hurry Up!’
‘Well, if you had at least tried to distribute weight evenly,’
‘Aren’t you a man? Do you want to make a lady carry something so heavy? Man Up!
‘Who do you think you are, Cinderella? We’re both only high school students! And besides this is your job!’
‘Oh, you don’t need to tell me, I’ve been doing my job diligently the whole month and I had to do all the work by myself on the days your best friend was absent. You should’ve taken responsibility and offered to help me. But I had to ask you.’
‘Why is it my responsibility when he’s absent?’
‘Who else can you of think of.’
‘I don’t know, anybody else.’
‘Then you, it is.’
‘Your thought process is out my comprehension.’
Our fruitless argument continued as we headed towards the teacher’s office. We even kept conversing as we returned to our classroom. It’s weird I don’t understand why it’s so different with her, but in her presence, I start to behave oddly. I wouldn’t ever have a conversation with anyone else for this long, especially if it’s such a pointless discussion. Just what makes her so special, so special to me?
It's the 5th of July, two more months passed and in those two months Kenzo was absent for more than ten days, including today, he bunks about once every week, and each time he does, Yukawa asks me for help. It’s annoying, she always makes me do most of the work and still complains all the time. But even though it’s annoying, for some reason, I find that whenever I’m with her, the time flows by faster.
As our last class for the day was about to begin, our group of four, me, Tomunaga, Nozomi, and Sasaki were having a pointless chit chat. Well for the most part they were doing all the talking, I was just listening.
‘Takase! I’ll need you after school today, so don’t go home, Ok?’
Said the girl who appeared out of nowhere and used another command seal on her servant. And without even listening to my response returned back to her seat. I’ve been completely at her will for the last two months, she kept making me do all her work. I mean why doesn’t she asks Sasaki? After all, he sits right in front of her. Sasaki sits on the second seat in the fourth column right behind Kenzo and Yukawa sits right behind him on the third seat of the fourth column.
SASAKI – ‘Well, looks like you’ll have to stay late again today.’
‘Why does she always ask me? Has she ever asked you for help, Sasaki?’
SASAKI- ‘Nope, actually I don’t think I’ve ever even talked with her that much.’
TOMUNAGA – ‘Maybe, it’s because you’re rank two, when rank one is absent, I guess you’re the obvious next choice.’
Oh, yeah. That must be it. He’s right. I’m rank two which makes me the obvious choice in the absence of rank one. I guess it was just that. Huh? Am I disappointed? Why?
NOZOMI – ‘It could be that she likes you, Akio.’
SASAKI – ‘Look at that reaction! Could it be that you like her?’
‘What? What are you saying? Don’t be stupid!’
TOMUNAGA – ‘Don’t tell is this really the case? You’ve fallen for Yukawa?’
‘No, that’s ridiculous, I only help her with class rep activities. That couldn’t mean…’
NOZOMI – ‘Then why do you never turn her down, Akio? Isn’t it because you actually enjoy spending time with her?’
‘No! I don’t turn her down, because it’s my responsibility. To help her when Kenzo is absent because I’m his friend.’
SASAKI – ‘How does that make it your responsibility. They are class reps, so they are responsible for their duties. What does this have to do with friendship?’
‘Huh… Well, I know him so it makes it my responsi…’
NOZOMI – ‘We all know him! We may not be his best friends, but we are his acquaintances. And you tell me you would have done it if someone other than Chizuru had asked you. ‘
‘Hhh… I don’t… I don’t know.’
SASAKI – ‘Let’s see. Would you do it if Tomunaga had asked you?’
TOMUNAGA – ‘Hey!’
NOZOMI – ‘See? It's definitely love. Our Akio has fallen in love.’
‘Is that really it? What I’ve been feeling, is it love?’
SASAKI – ‘Oh, how I envy you. You’ve found your high school love. That’s like the most important part of high school life.’
TOMUNAGA – ‘What are you talking about? I’m sorry dude, but Chizuru Yukawa is way out of your league.’
NOZOMI – ‘Stop talking nonsense, Shun!’
TOMUNAGA – ‘What do you mean nonsense? Yukawa is the vice class rep, a competitor for the top rank, not to mention exceptionally gorgeous. If it were a normal school, all the boys would’ve been after her. But here they are all focused on improving their ranks, and so is she. Do you think she’s gonna get involved in a romantic relationship? No way. That girl is aiming for the top spot, and if you wanna maintain your position you should also refrain from love affairs. With these stupid mindsets, you will never survive here.’
NOZOMI – ‘Stop it, Shun!’
SASAKI – ‘Yeah, dude you’re going too far.’
TOMUNAGA – ‘Oh, don’t worry this kind of thing is normal between us, right buddy?’
Yeah, he’s not wrong. This is common between us. He always, always rubs it in my face, how inferior I’m, how much weaker I’m getting. But he is also the one who always gives me the truth. He’s completely right. Yukawa is out of my league. She is a girl who is completely focused on her goal, and it shows in her results. She’s been improving ever since coming here. I on the other hand have only gotten worse, how can someone like me hope to get someone like her. And even if I could I don’t have time for romantic relationships either. I have a goal of my own. I must put aside these feelings I have developed and work hard towards that goal. It’s no time to be fooling around, not when we have our exams in less than a week.
It's 11 O’clock at the night and I’m sitting next to my study table trying to concentrate to no avail. No matter how long I stare, how many times I read it again and again I can’t seem to grasp any of this. How do they do it, Kenzo, Sasaki, and Yukawa? Yukawa. She was 4th rank when the school started and now, she is competing for the top spot. How did she improve so much in such a short time? Whenever I’ve talked with her, she always seemed like a carefree girl, a little weird in the head, and possibly a little sadistic. But I don’t really get the sincere vibe from her. She always talks about manga, anime, video games, and other pointless stuff. I haven’t consumed any of that in years, and, she enjoys herself and maintains her studies. How is she so amazing? What can I do to be like her? She is too amazing.
It's the 20th of July, the last day of school before the summer vacation starts. I’m sitting on a bench outside the school building. Our first exams at St. Stephen’s are over. The results came early today, my rank has fallen to 4th. The tests have given me a hint, but now it’s official. It’s harder than I thought. Competing with these geniuses, and living with my failures. It’s too much. And it’s only the start. At least for now, I’m still in the toppers. But if this keeps up, I might end up at the bottom maybe worse. What if I failed? Will I ever be able to face father again? And Sis, she has high hopes for me, how will I look her in the eye after messing up so bad? She hoped we’ll get to spend our birthdays together again once I’m in the U.S with her, but will I be able to make it?
How did I not see this coming, throughout the time I tried to study for the exam, I was unable to focus, even for a second. Right, whenever I tried, my mind went to Yukawa. She’s what I kept thinking about. Every time I tried to focus, she came to mind. If… if this really is love, then it’s destroying my life. And yet even just a thought of her makes my heart flutter, it puts my mind at ease and I feel calm. But if all love does for me is bring me down, then I have to get rid of it. But can I do it?
‘Why are you sulking alone out here?’
Says the girl I was just thinking about, standing next to me in her school uniform. Even though I know that these feelings I’ve developed for her are what’s holding me back, I can’t help but be flustered in her presence. I can’t help but feel good. In her presence, no logic works in my brain, only feelings remain, feeling I have for her. In her presence, I can’t even think about not seeing her again.
‘You need something?’
‘Why do you never answer that question?’
‘Because I’m not sulking!’
‘Will you stop lying.’
‘I’m not lying to you.’
‘Not to me, to yourself!’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Huh, Nothing. Why haven’t submitted your confirmation for the school trip?’
‘Oh, I will.’
‘When? Today’s the last day of school, the trip starts next week, you know. Are you coming or not?’
‘Hmm… Are you… coming?’
‘Oh, I see. Hmm… I’ll submit it later today.’
‘Ok… just make sure you do, all right?’
‘Ok, see you later then.’
‘See you later.’
With that, she went back in to complete her responsibilities before school ends today. Just a minute ago, I planned on getting rid of these feelings, my love for her. And now when she asked me a simple question, whose obvious answer from someone who just got three places behind should’ve been ‘no’, I asked for her decision, I think subconsciously I want to spend this trip with her. What do I do now? I don’t know what’s right for me. How do I find that out? Should I ask someone? But who? Who do I have that I can ask for help from?
When I asked myself that question, one name came to mind, Kenzo. However, our friendship now might be, he is the only one with whom I could even think about talking about stuff like that. At the very least I can’t share it with any of my other friends. Not with Tomunaga around.
I haven’t talked to them since the results came out, because I know at least how Tomunaga’s gonna react, and I’d really like to avoid that. But for now, seems the only person I can turn to is Kenzo. And with that mindset, I go to look for him. I guessed he’d be in the Soccer club room, and I was right. Since he is the class rep, I decided I’d submit my confirmation to him, and while doing so, it’d give me an excuse to bring out this topic.
‘Mind if I interrupt you for a second?’
‘Akio? What are you doing still on campus? I don’t think you have any club activities. Don’t you have to prepare for the trip?’
‘About that, I’m not sure if I should go on the trip.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Hmm… How don’t know how to say this.’
‘Say what? Are you sick?’
‘No! I’m not sick.’
‘Then what is it.’
This is too embarrassing, maybe I should just drop the idea. Besides what’s it gonna do anyway.
‘It’s nothing, forget it!’
‘Are you blushing?’
‘Wha! No! What are saying, I’m not blushing! I’m not blushing at all. Why would even think that?’
‘Woa! You’re definitely blushing and you're flustered. Wait, is this what I think it is.’
‘No! It’s definitely not what think it is. What do you think it is by the way? Whatever it is, that’s not it.’
‘Oh no! That’s definitely it, right? Stop trying to deny it. I know I’m right.’
Oh god! He saw right through me! Was I being this obvious? At any rate, what should I do now? The cat’s out of the bag, gotta deal with it now. No going back!
‘Well… maybe it’s a little bit what you think.’
‘Oh my god! I feared this day will come. Listen Akio, I respect your feelings, believe me, I do but I'm really sorry man. It can’t happen!’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Ok, Akio, there’s nothing wrong with how you feel, and I do like you as a friend, but I’m sorry man, I… huh… I’m not into… I’m not like that, man!’
‘Again, what are you talking about?’
‘Oh god! I’m not into guys Akio! I can’t go out with you, I’m sorry!’
The dumbass was bowing with both hands joined as he apologized for not being able to return the feelings, I never had for him. This was probably the only time my brain froze like this outside of Yukawa’s presence, although this time I had a clear understanding of the reason behind it. The sheer stupidity of what he thought it was, and I partially agreed to it too! God damn it! How did he get that idea?
‘HOW DID YOU GET THAT IDEA?’
‘Don’t you huh me, dumbass, it’s not what you thought! It’s not even close!’
‘But you said it’s a little bit what I thought, didn’t you?’
‘No, it’s not. It’s not remotely close to that. And if what you said was a little bit of what you thought? Then what exactly did you thought of?’
‘Oh, that you want…’
‘No! never mind, just stop right there. It’s not that, Ok? It’s nothing like that.’
‘Then why were you blushing?’
‘I was not, and even if was, why would I be blushing to you?’
‘Because you’re gay? I mean you are right? You have to be.’
‘What do you mean ‘I have to be’, I’m not, why would you think that?’
‘Well, as far as I can remember, you never showed any interest in any girl at all. And you were always hanging around with me, so I presumed…’
‘We hanged around when I was eight. That’s from when you remember me. You expect me to be attracted to girls at that age?’
‘Well, maybe no, but even now. You’re friends with Nozomi, right? And you often help Yukawa out too, both of them are crazy hot, but have you felt that way? Have you got the hots for any of them?’
‘Well, Nozomi is my good friend, and I do have the hots for Yukawa!’
‘I mean… I hmm… I… I like her… I think…’
‘I mean… I’m in love with her…’
‘You’re pulling my are leg, are you?’
‘No… I do have feelings for her.’
‘Like for real! Like real romantic feelings?’
‘Hmm… is there such a thing as unreal romantic feelings?’
‘Oh my god! So, you really love her?’
‘Why are you being so dismissive about it, don’t tell me, do you have feelings for her as well?’
I didn’t even consider the possibility, I mean they are both class reps. I mostly only help her on the days he’s absent, but he is the one who mostly works with her. No matter how much of a bunker he is, the time he spent with her is still much more than what I have. Could it be that my biggest rival in ranks is also my rival in my love life? Could it be that he also likes Yukawa?
‘Nah! Not really.’
‘I mean it’s not like I dislike her either, but personally, I’d say she’s an 8 out of ten. Nozomi’s the real deal, Yeah, she is definitely a 10 out of 10, and Fukuda and Yuki and Naoka, oh they are all 10 out of 10, and Aoki, and Fujiwara Oh my god! They are 11 out of ten and…’
‘I just discovered ‘ureal romantic feelings’ do exist, they are found in perverts.’
‘But enough about them. You like Yukawa! That’s amazing. I didn’t know she was your type. In fact, until now I thought you were gay.’
‘I know. You already told me.’
‘But really, good for you man! You’re living the 'high school life'. It’s about time you started enjoying life.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Nothing, forget it. But then why are you doubtful about going on the trip? It’s your big chance!’
‘What ‘big chance’?’
‘Don’t you know? School trips are perfect for getting close to the one you love. It has many opportunities to confess your feelings too.’
‘Is that so, huh?’
‘What? That’s seriously a surprise to you? Man, you’re a novice!’
‘Hey, give me a break! I don’t know much about this stuff, Ok?’
‘I know, that’s what makes you a novice.’
‘So… you think I should go on the trip?’
‘You’re still doubtful, of course, you should! In fact, this trip just got way more interesting.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Well, as your friend, I’ll try everything I can to help you get together with Yukawa. And that’s going to be fun.’
‘Why would it be fun for you?’
‘Well, just the idea of you falling in love is surprising as it is, and getting to see you confess your love to her and possibly start going out is beyond exciting.’
‘Anyway, submit your confirmation, ok? I really don’t understand why you were being doubtful?’
‘Ok, I’ll go on the trip.’
Learn to read between the lines. I thought you understood me. Revealing my love interest to you was hard enough. But talking about my falling ranking, that’s beyond that. At least I can’t bring it up for discussion. But seeing how excited he was, I’m starting to feel a little excited as well. I’m still not sure if going after Yukawa is the right choice or not, but I think I won’t find out until I try. Guess this is my Schrodinger’s cat moment. But I think, I’ll open the box, and see for myself. At the very least I’ll try going this path and if it turns out to be the wrong one, I’ll have to live with that.
I returned home and am sitting in my room. Sis is not home, apparently, she’s out with her friends. So currently I’m all alone.
Now that I’ve submitted my confirmation and have made up my mind, I’ll have to prepare for the trip as well. The trip will last for three days and two nights. I’ll need to pack a change of clothes, my toothbrush, and other necessary things. I guess this is the first time going on a school trip, up until now I haven’t even considered going on one. I had no reason to. I wouldn’t have this time either if it wasn’t for Yukawa. The last time I went on a trip was the one to Switzerland with my father. Something I don’t even want to remember about. I hope this time it’s different. If I’m going to confess to Yukawa, I first need to at least get to know her better. Up until now I’ve only been working with her and having casual chit-chat, but nothing more. Come to think of it, she knows even less about me than I do about her. We haven’t even talked about me. But then again what is there to talk about in my life? Like she has always said, my life is incredibly bland. But she did know my sister. I wonder how do they know each other. Maybe I can start a conversation by asking her that. I hope she doesn’t know about my family's conditions. I don’t wanna face her with that.
I’m still confused about what I should do, if going along with my heart is the right choice, I don’t know. But I don’t think I’ll be able to just forget about her. It was just this afternoon that I was considering that notion but just one visit by her and my mind changed completely. I’m unable to understand myself. What is it that I truly want? My only goal in life has been to reach the same level as my father, to become as magnificent as my sister. But am I starting to see a new purpose in my life? This isn’t right. Yukawa and my own goals are different matters altogether. She must have her own goals, right? And she is working towards them, I need to do the same. Whatever my feelings towards her maybe, I need to focus on my development as well, and if I go down that path then I’ll have to consider her a rival too. But no matter what I tell myself, I still feel so attracted towards her.
I’m starting to look forward to this trip. I wonder will I be able to convey these feelings to her? Who knows? For now, I’m just excited at the thought of spending those days with her. My first school trip, my first trip in five years, with that special someone. I wonder if she’ll return those feelings to me?