Chapter 10:

Chapter 8 - Budding Conflicts

Youth


1Bookmark here

Let us briefly go back in time.Bookmark here

A time before Alice went to meet the Student Council and before Yuugo and Shigure reunited.Bookmark here

Monday, September 19. 12:57 PM.Bookmark here

It was lunch break. The high noon sun floated proudly in the sky. It flaunted its sweltering rays to the mortals below who may be unfortunate enough to be the victim of its unrelenting heat—the sensation felt like being cooked alive. Amidst the hellish conditions, a person stood against a wall; he was Kyousuke Sugawara.Bookmark here

He flapped his white dress shirt to fan himself, letting air seep through to provide comfort against the heat. Sweating profusely, he scratched his golden hair. Although the sun did not directly hit him, it still felt like absolute hell. The only reason he was even outside, exposed to the natural elements, was because someone had called for him. That someone was quite a problematic person.Bookmark here

“Yo, sorry for making you wait. Kyousuke,” A man said, waving his hand in the air.Bookmark here

“What do you want, Shigure?” Kyousuke eyed him and asked. Shigure did not return the same gesture and only clicked his tongue.Bookmark here

“Come on, don’t be like that. I exclusively came here to visit you guys. Won’t you welcome me better?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t care about that. Can we just get on with it already? This heat’s killing me.”Bookmark here

“If you’re so impatient, then this will go nowhere.”Bookmark here

“How did you even get inside? Did that tie fool everyone?” Kyousuke wiped his brow with his hand. With his other, he pointed a finger towards Shigure’s attire. A plain white dress shirt and black pants, while standard, what set it apart from the rest was the burgundy tie. The same summer uniform that students from Samejima Private High wore.Bookmark here

“This shabby little thing proved quite a useful disguise. It would’ve been more difficult if it was winter.” Shigure waved his tie, boasting his crime like it was some sort of achievement. Kyousuke sighed and repeatedly flapped his shirt.Bookmark here

“After saying you won’t see us again, yet here you are, after a year...” Kyousuke briefly paused.Bookmark here

“What really is your problem?” he asked coldly.Bookmark here

“Nothing really.” Shigure casually shrugged. Kyousuke crossed his arms and squinted, giving Shigure an aggressive glare, but any sort of intimidation vanished in the presence of Shigure. Even his aura was enough to instill fear in those around him.Bookmark here

Kyousuke, however, was unaffected. He heaved a disappointed sigh. Uncrossing his arms, he prepared himself to leave.Bookmark here

“Come on! We’re friends, right? Can’t our reunion last a tiny bit longer?”Bookmark here

“If you don’t need anything, then I’ll just leave. Such a waste of time...” Kyousuke began to walk away. Having his lunch break ruined and forced to reunite with a person he wanted to forget, it was understandable that he wasn’t in a good mood.Bookmark here

“You do realize that you’re not in any position to refuse me?” Shigure gave an eerie grin as he spoke. Kyousuke turned his head around with a dumbfounded expression.Bookmark here

“What...?”Bookmark here

Kyousuke replied with silence, just looking him straight in the eye.Bookmark here

“Is that a threat?” he asked.Bookmark here

“I wonder, what do you think?” A smile emerged from Kyousuke’s face. He knew what type of person Shigure was—he knew he wouldn’t do that.Bookmark here

“Hah. Sorry, but I’ll be the first to call out your bluff.”Bookmark here

“Bluff?”Bookmark here

“Don’t act dumb. I know you. You’re not the type of person to involve innocents in your mess.”Bookmark here

It was because he knew him that Kyousuke could confidently make that statement. They had been together through their elementary years together, and no matter what the situation was or how desperate he became, he had not once seen Shigure take it out on a person who wasn’t involved.Bookmark here

However, that was a flawed mentality.Bookmark here

How could he be so sure that the Shigure right now was the same person he was before? He considered that possibility but ignored it.Bookmark here

“One year is a long time, Kyousuke. People change frequently, and they can change significantly in that period,” Shigure said.Bookmark here

“Who are you to say that I have not changed?” he continued with unwavering determination.Bookmark here

“I...” Kyousuke was inadequate in comparison. He couldn’t find the proper reply, being caught off-guard—his confidence began to falter.Bookmark here

“If you won’t believe me, then...” Shigure reached for his pockets, taking out his phone. He then began scrolling through it and showed an image to Kyousuke.Bookmark here

“You must know who this is, right?” Kyousuke adjusted his eyes to focus on the picture. His eyes widened as he saw the photo displayed on the screen.Bookmark here

“I mean, it is your girlfriend. Himiko Ueno.” Sweat trickled down Kyousuke’s neck, not from the heat but from anxiety.Bookmark here

“W-Where did you get that?” Kyousuke gulped and asked.Bookmark here

“Where else? LINE.”Bookmark here

Kyousuke repeatedly blinked his eyes in confusion because it wasn’t possible. He couldn’t have found a picture of Himiko in LINE. Panic set in. Not only did the blistering heat make him sweat like a pig, but the situation unfolding right now only added to that.Bookmark here

“H-How? B-But, Himiko’s LINE account is...”Bookmark here

“Private? Yeah, it is, but you know whose account isn’t?”Bookmark here

The moment those words left Shigure’s mouth, Kyousuke understood. He was careless.Bookmark here

His own LINE account was not private. Open to the public, for everyone to see.Bookmark here

“You mean…”Bookmark here

“That’s right, yours.”Bookmark here

He gritted his teeth. Cornered like a rat as he was, he could do nothing. There was a possibility that this was a bluff, but he didn’t want to take that chance. For now, he would comply.Bookmark here

“She’s definitely a hottie. You’re one lucky bastard.” Wolf-whistling, Shigure examined Himiko’s photo, top to bottom.Bookmark here

For the people he cared for—for his friends. For Himiko, for Takuya, for Yuugo—Kyousuke couldn’t let Shigure do as he pleased.Bookmark here

“What is it that you want...?” Kyousuke asked.Bookmark here

“S-e-c-r-e-t. We don’t have much time right now. Hmm, let’s see.” Shigure closed one of his eyes and placed a hand on his chin as he sank into thought.Bookmark here

“I know! Why don’t we meet up later in my favorite cafe in Shibuya? Let’s make it 5 PM. You remember it, right, Kyousuke-chan?” Kyousuke narrowed his eyes at Shigure’s horseplay.Bookmark here

“Fine. Also, don’t call me that.”Bookmark here

“No fun, are you? Well, I’ll look forward to it then,” Shigure cackled.Bookmark here

2Bookmark here

Monday, September 19. 4:52 PM.Bookmark here

A few hours had passed since the initial conversation between Kyousuke and Shigure.Bookmark here

Kyousuke wandered down a barren and dimly lit street in Shibuya, attempting to locate the cafe. It was Shigure’s favorite cafe in Shibuya. A place where he, Shigure and Yuugo would frequently go, but that was years ago—he had already forgotten where it was but vaguely remembered this street.Bookmark here

After asking sketchy bystanders, he eventually located it. The building looked scruffy and disheveled, the neon light sign barely even lit up. Kyousuke peered through the windows, spotting no figures of people inside, only a lonely cafe worker behind the counter. Kyousuke pitied him for working in such a run-down establishment. He probably wasn’t getting paid enough.Bookmark here

“Is this really the place?” he asked himself. He sighed and tried to open the door. It proved to be more difficult than he thought. He pushed again with a lot more force, and he was able to open the door.Bookmark here

As he thought, the place was desolate. However, there was a sole customer inside. He was in a position that made it hard to spot from the windows. It was Shigure, who sat at a table near the counter. Kyousuke slowly approached him. He seemed to be enjoying himself, bringing a cappuccino to his mouth and slowly sipped.Bookmark here

Kyousuke rested his bag on the floor beside the vacant chair opposite Shigure. Stacks of cups lay sprawled across the table. There were at least 13 cups. Kyousuke shifted his gaze from the cups to Shigure.Bookmark here

“You’ve been enjoying yourself, I see,” Kyousuke remarked. Shigure cackled in response.Bookmark here

“What gave you that impression?” He cackled again. He sets his drink on the table and eyed Kyousuke. “How could you keep me waiting?”Bookmark here

“This was the agreed-upon time—you just decided to have a feast while waiting.”Bookmark here

“Tch...can’t even have fun when around you.” Clicking his tongue, Shigure took his drink and gulped it down. He revealed another cappuccino from behind the stacks. He motioned for the employee behind the counter and ordered another drink.Bookmark here

“What d’ya want? I got some cash to burn today.” He took the menu and passed it to Kyousuke. Kyousuke narrowed his eyes at Shigure. He didn’t have time to mess around. He wanted this to end as soon as possible.Bookmark here

“No tha—”Bookmark here

“That will be a Coffee Frappé then please, oh and make it two.”Bookmark here

“Huh?!” A loud thud reverberated in the cafe as Kyousuke slammed his hands on the table. The stack of cups nearly fell. Soon after, aching pain followed, overwhelming his fingers and palms.Bookmark here

“Oww that hurt...”Bookmark here

“What? You don’t like Frappé or something?” Shigure asked.Bookmark here

“Were you even listening...?” Kyousuke heaved a deep sigh and continued, “It’s whatever...”Bookmark here

“Why don't you take a seat, and we can begin?”Bookmark here

Kyousuke complied and sat on the chair. It was uneven and in terrible condition. He felt like one of its legs would snap if he continued to apply more pressure with his weight. He looked around—the whole place was basically in shambles. Broken and missing tiles, chairs were missing from the tables—the area just looked dreary.Bookmark here

From the tiny bits of memories that he could recall, the cafe had changed significantly. It seems time took its toll on the place. The employee looked a bit happy, at least. It was a stark contrast to everything else, probably because Shigure had bought everything on the menu.Bookmark here

“This place is in pretty bad shape...”Bookmark here

“No shit. But I still really love coming here.”Bookmark here

“Did you really have to buy everything?”Bookmark here

“Don’t blame me. I just wanted to enjoy it, one last time.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“This place’s apparently closing down soon. Nobody ever comes here anymore. I at least wanted to show my appreciation—before it’s all gone...”Bookmark here

“Pfft…” Kyousuke chuckled.Bookmark here

“You really loved this place, didn’t y—” A wave of nostalgia hit Kyousuke. He accidentally dropped his guard. When he realized it, he covered his mouth with his hand.Bookmark here

“You know. I miss the times we all would laugh together like this, with not a single care in the world. Where we would put our problems aside and just have fun,” Shigure said.Bookmark here

“However, like the seasons. Like this cafe. Change is inevitable. I just find it unfortunate that it ended with us on the opposite sides.” He looked around the cafe then locked his gaze out the window with an uncertain look as he sipped his cappuccino.Bookmark here

“I didn’t want it to end up like this either… I...” Kyousuke muttered.Bookmark here

“It’s just… what happened a year ago… what happened five years ago… it was nobody’s fault...” He struggled to speak those words, words that bore such deep-rooted pain and regret.Bookmark here

As he spoke those words—vivid images flashed through his mind.Bookmark here

The image of Yuugo raising his fist as he was atop Shigure, who laid on the cold ground with a bloodied face.Bookmark here

The image of a young Yuugo in an isolated hospital lobby, wailing.Bookmark here

Memories that he would rather forget, moments he wished had never existed. Why must things be this way?Bookmark here

Kyousuke was young, naive and powerless at the time. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t do anything—no, it wasn’t a matter of if he could—it was that he chose not to.Bookmark here

“You think so?” Shigure asked.Bookmark here

“We couldn’t do anything. There was nothing we could do...”Bookmark here

“I don’t want to hear that from someone who just stood and watched.”Bookmark here

“I...” He could not come up with a response. After all—that was the undeniable truth. Justifying himself with a petty excuse despite not lifting even a single finger to help was something that went beyond hypocrisy.Bookmark here

“I know that...” He gritted his teeth—and dug his nails into his hands.Bookmark here

“That’s why...”Bookmark here

“You want to change it... is that right?” Shigure interjected. Kyousuke lifted his head. His eyes met with Shigure’s as they locked their gazes, like two wild animals about to clash. However, from the fragrant smell of Shigure’s cappuccino to the ruined yet nostalgic setting—it exuded a calming atmosphere.Bookmark here

“That’s good...” he continued.Bookmark here

“H-Huh? Why are you suddenly being nice for some reason?” Kyousuke asked with a look of disbelief on his face. Shigure took a sip of his cappuccino and cackled.Bookmark here

“I’m honestly rooting for you, really.”Bookmark here

“I can’t get a read on you at all… and I thought we used to be close.” The two young men began to laugh. They laughed like they had never before. Despite their strained past, the bond they shared—could not be erased so easily. No matter how much they tried to convince themselves. That bond of friendship engraved itself onto their hearts—onto their souls.Bookmark here

If only things stayed like this. If only things never went the way they did—if only that suffering never came to pass. They would all surely laugh together, with no care in the world.Bookmark here

Was it right to wish for a perfect fantasy?Bookmark here

Was it right to run away from an imperfect reality?Bookmark here

“Excuse me, here’s your Frappé.” An unfamiliar voice cuts in their conversation. It was the cafe worker. In his hands were the two coffee Frappés that Shigure ordered. He placed it on the table then returned to the counter.Bookmark here

“I think this is the perfect time to move on to the main course, wouldn’t you say?” Shigure asked and gulped down the rest of his cappuccino.Bookmark here

“Yeah, let’s.” Kyousuke chuckled. He brought the Frappé to his mouth and took a sip from the straw.Bookmark here

“I’d like to say something first,” Shigure said. Kyousuke replied with a nod and continued sipping his Frappé, seemingly content like a child given candy by his mother.Bookmark here

“The threat was just a bluff.” They eyed each other for an awkward minute before Shigure sighed and clarified.Bookmark here

“So you’re free to leave if you want. Although, whether you believe me or no—”Bookmark here

“I believe you,” Kyousuke firmly stated. Shigure was taken aback for a moment at his immediate and confident answer.Bookmark here

“You’re quick to change your mind,” Shigure grinned.Bookmark here

“You’re never changed at all. No, that’s not quite right—you’ve grown up, I guess.” Kyousuke pursed his lips and forced a smile.Bookmark here

“Not a compliment at all.”Bookmark here

“You’re much better than me, at least.”Bookmark here

“Heh, you’re unbelievable. That just means I can be straightforward about it.” Shigure stood up from his seat, then bowed deeply. On reflex, Kyousuke leaped from his seat with widened eyes. Shigure’s unexpected show of formality left him in an utter state of disbelief.Bookmark here

“Please, I need your help.”Bookmark here

“W-what are you doing?!” In a panic, Kyousuke yelled.Bookmark here

“Please, I need your help.”Bookmark here

“Nobody told you to repeat yourself! Also, you said it was straightforward, but this is too vague! No, just stop this. It’s embarrassing.”Bookmark here

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call Shigure a troublemaker throughout most of his life—in fact, calling him just a troublemaker wasn’t correct. A delinquent perhaps was a better thing to call him. When he was young, he would pick fights with people older than him, skip classes and talk back to teachers and adults—suffice it to say, he was a person incapable of respect. Kyousuke had no choice but to hear him out. After Shigure’s display, that was the only choice he had.Bookmark here

“Fine, fine. Just tell me, damn it, what is it?!”Bookmark here

“Heh, you were scared as shit.” Shigure straightened himself.Bookmark here

“Could you stop making fun of me already?” Kyousuke complained. The tense air between them vanished as they returned to their bantering.Bookmark here

“Sorry, sorry.” Shigure cleared his throat then continued, “Actually, I’m moving out of Tokyo on November 21.”Bookmark here

“Huh? W-why is that?”Bookmark here

“Something came up. I’ll tell you and Yuugo eventually, but for now...”Bookmark here

“For now...?”Bookmark here

“I don’t wanna leave behind any regrets, which is why I’ve been touring the place. I also haven’t gone to school for over a year now.” Shigure paused for a moment, then bowed slightly.Bookmark here

“That’s why I need your help,” he pleaded.Bookmark here

“Kyousuke, help me in convincing Yuugo… that nothing was ever his fault.”Bookmark here

There was no mistaking that this was his genuine feelings. He had tried countless times to help, and he failed every time. The incident a year prior was one, and it had ended in disaster—that was why he wasn’t going to make the same mistake.Bookmark here

“All he does is moan about how everything is his fault. It’s hard to watch. So, for the time I have left here, I’ll make him finally drop that stupid mentality.”Bookmark here

There was no deceit in his tone, words, or actions. Ever since they were young, Yuugo had always kept his problems to himself. To his friends, to his family—he did not want to be a bother. So he secluded himself from everyone and decided to bear all the suffering alone.Bookmark here

“Will you help me?” Shigure asked again and reached out his hand.Bookmark here

“I’m begging you. This is something that I can’t do alone.”Bookmark here

Silence followed. Kyousuke only stared at Shigure’s outreached hand. He wasn’t contemplating—he already knew what he would say to his request. His thoughts lay somewhere else.Bookmark here

“When was the last time you asked for my help again?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Never.”Bookmark here

“Never, huh? I already knew that I was always useless.” Kyousuke gave a pained smile. His own regrets and flaws—it was only himself who understood himself best.Bookmark here

“That’s why...”Bookmark here

From this point onward, he’ll change that. Bookmark here

“I’ll help.” He took Shigure’s hand as confirmation.Bookmark here

“Thanks. I’m counting on you, partner,” Shigure said as he slowly raised his head.Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

3Bookmark here

Tuesday, September 20.Bookmark here

“Crap, I woke up late.” Yuugo cursed at himself as he scanned his phone. It was 7:06 AM. He hurriedly got out of his futon, picking up the dirty laundry and dishes on the floor, and left the room.Bookmark here

Scanning the living room, he noticed it was empty. He took his dirty clothes and threw them inside the laundry basket, then washed the bowls.Bookmark here

After washing the dishes, Yuugo walked over to the small dining table. The papers his mother was working on were gone, replaced by a bento with a letter affixed to it.Bookmark here

I cooked you some lunch and prepared your breakfast already. Take this as an apology for everything. I made sure to include everything you liked, so I hope you enjoy the bento. I’m sorry again, Yuugo.Bookmark here

-MomBookmark here

“I’m just a burden...” Yuugo muttered.Bookmark here

One would usually be ecstatic upon being cooked a meal by their own mother. However, Yuugo felt the opposite. After the childish tantrum he threw last night and now—he had only continued to burden his mother with unnecessary things. His mother who was always busy, his mother who was always hardworking, his mother who always puts on a brave face—to his mother, Yuugo felt like deadweight.Bookmark here

Suddenly. A high-pitched creak rang out. Yuuto came out of his room that was next to Yuugo’s, to the right. He was buttoning his dress shirt. The two briefly made eye contact before both of them averted their eyes. A thick, awkward air permeated the apartment—not once had they exchanged even a single word.Bookmark here

Yuuto passed by Yuugo, not even giving him a sidelong glance. He stopped by the door to put on his shoes.Bookmark here

A fleeting memory flashed across Yuugo’s mind.Bookmark here

“I’ll apologize tomorrow...”Bookmark here

It was what he had told himself last night before falling asleep. Yuugo hesitated, unsure of what to do. He just needed to apologize. Such a simple thing, yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it.Bookmark here

“Nii-san! Wait!” Yuugo called out to him as he was about to leave.Bookmark here

“Yuugo...”Bookmark here

“I...uh…” Choking on his words, Yuugo froze up. He took a deep breath and let out a deep sigh. His body shuddered as he tried to look Yuuto in the eye.Bookmark here

“I...sorry,” he said in a low voice, barely audible enough to understand. To outsiders, it was arguable if his apology was genuine or not, but for Yuugo, a person who frets about menial things and takes the blame for everything, it was undoubtedly true.Bookmark here

“Sorry for the trouble I caused...” He cast his gaze downwards.Bookmark here

I’m sorry. Just how many times had he repeated that phrase in his life?Bookmark here

When Yuugo was a child, he had a friend he held dear to him—that friend passed away due to a genetic condition. It was inevitable. He knew that; Kyousuke and Shigure knew that—that friend especially knew. It was only after that passing when Yuugo developed that habit.Bookmark here

He decided that an apology would be the best solution instead of creating redundant drama. If he apologized for everything, no matter how little, that would avoid trouble. That was his solution.Bookmark here

“No, I’m sorry too.” Yuuto forced a smile.Bookmark here

“Don’t be late for school,” he added.Bookmark here

“But…” Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

“It’s nothing...”Bookmark here

I can’t agree with your decision.Bookmark here

That was what he was about to say, but he bit his lip and kept it to himself. Those words, those feelings, those burdens—cast aside, they were locked away in the deepest parts of him. He wasn’t going to repeat what he had done the night before, the pain, the guilt—he didn’t want to experience them again.Bookmark here

If it offers him even a bit of salvation, if it offers others even a bit of peace of mind, then he’ll put up with it. The invisible wounds, caused by those locked up words, those bottled up feelings, those heavy burdens—he’ll endure all of them.Bookmark here

“If you say so... I’ll be going now, ittekimasu.”Bookmark here

“I-itterashai…” Yuugo stammered.Bookmark here

At Yuuto’s departure, Yuugo placed a hand on his chest and heaved a long sigh.Bookmark here

4Bookmark here

“Bro, you sure you’re alright?!” Tetsuya asked.Bookmark here

“I’m fine, I’m fine. No worries.” Yuugo replied.Bookmark here

He felt the slight warmth from the sunlight seeping through the windows. The dazzling light blinded his sight, and he turned his head away.Bookmark here

“You almost missed morning assembly! I thought something happened and you couldn’t come to school. You didn’t even read any of my messages!” Tetsuya spat—like a mother scolding her child. Yuugo had seen Tetsuya’s messages the night before but didn’t bother replying to them, as he was busy chatting with Alice at the time.Bookmark here

“S-sorry for worrying you.”Bookmark here

“U-uhm...”Bookmark here

The sound came from a familiar voice. Takuya approached them slowly.Bookmark here

“Sorry, Boss and Tetsuya... for yesterday. I kinda lost control of myself.”Bookmark here

“Nah, don’t sweat it.”Bookmark here


“It’s not your fault, Takuya.”Bookmark here

Tetsuya and Yuugo reassured him with those words. Bookmark here

Kyousuke eyed the group from afar; his gaze met with Yuugo’s for a moment before he averted his eyes, causing Yuugo to furrow his brows.Bookmark here

“Kyousuke...?”Bookmark here

“Good morning...” Shintaro Murayama said in a dejected manner as he entered the room. He was Class 1-B’s homeroom teacher; he had messy brown hair and dead black eyes with dark circles that seemed to stare into the void. He yawned and placed his documents on the teacher’s desk.Bookmark here

“Stand up...” he yawned once more, then sat himself. Takuya and Tetsuya return to their seats. The students one by one stood up clumsily and greeted him in the same gloomy fashion.Bookmark here

“Let's get on with attendance quickly… cause… there are some things we have to do.” He continued to yawn repeatedly. Just from his looks alone: his clothes were wrinkled, his face and persistent yawning seemed to suggest he hadn’t slept—his capability as a teacher was questionable. The students in Class 1-B have already grown accustomed to it.Bookmark here

Naoki Aikawa, the class representative, brushed his silver hair. He went to the front and proceeded with the routine attendance checks.Bookmark here

Afterward, Shintaro called for everyone's attention.Bookmark here

“So, first period is going to be vacant for today.” He took a marker and began to write on the whiteboard.Bookmark here

Cultural Festival Preparation.Bookmark here

“As you all know, the Culture Festival is only a month and a half away from now. It will be held over two days, November 5 and 6.” Shintaro said in a robotic voice. The students all listened, not because they were engaged, but because they were bored out of their minds. The only sounds present were Shintaro’s voice, shoes repeatedly tapping on the ground, and yawns.Bookmark here

“We've decided to spend the first period of today to prepare and plan. Every class will have to turn their classrooms into attractions and... Ah well, whatever, you know where this goes, so” Shintaro seated himself, then took out a sleep mask from his bag and wore it. He slouched lazily and began to doze off.Bookmark here

“I'll leave... the rest to you all...” he mumbled.Bookmark here

The students wore unsurprised looks on their faces, and they collectively sighed.Bookmark here

“Ah, well. If anyone has any ideas to propose, feel free to raise your hand,” Naoki took the center stage as the class representative. At his proposal, not a single one of the students raised their hands to offer up a suggestion. He lowered his head in defeat but lifted them again as he saw a student raise their hand.Bookmark here

“Yes, you there! Sakurako-san!” He slammed his palm on the table and yelled in enthusiasm, causing Shintaro to jump in surprise at the noise.Bookmark here

“Keep it down, you...” He slightly raised his sleep mask and squinted at Naoki.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry, sensei...”Bookmark here

“Damn it, disturbing my nap...” Shintaro scratched his hair and sighed, then went back to his nap.Bookmark here

“Uh… please continue then, Sakurako-san.”Bookmark here

“Ah yeah, why don’t we just do uh… I dunno, a haunted house?” Hitomi Sakurako suggested as she twirled her lush amethyst hair with her fingers.Bookmark here

“A haunted house? Seriously? Is that the best you got?” Naoki asked.Bookmark here

“Ha? You’re the one who asked for suggestions, and I gave one!”Bookmark here

“Put a bit more effort into it, at least!”Bookmark here

“At least I gave one unlike you!”Bookmark here

They exchanged barks like immature children. However, this was a common occurrence. Naoki and Hitomi weren’t exactly on good terms and frequently argued over petty things.Bookmark here

“E-Excuse me...”Bookmark here

In an attempt to put an end to their dispute, a soft voice spoke.Bookmark here

“Yes, Sasaki-san?”Bookmark here

“I...uh… hm...” Hikari Sasaki’s slender and petite body fidgeted. Her eyes darted as she shook her head.Bookmark here

“Sasaki-san...?”Bookmark here

“M-maybe… we can do… a c-cafe...” She stammered, her entire face flushed red from embarrassment.Bookmark here

“W-what?” Naoki replied. He blankly stared at Hikari, his eyes blinking repeatedly.Bookmark here

“Eeek…!” Hikari squealed. She sat down and tried to cover her blushing face with her hands.Bookmark here

“Ah, sensei! sensei!” Tetsuya raised his hand and called out.Bookmark here

“Don’t call me sensei… what is it, Tetsuya?”Bookmark here

“If we’re doing a cafe, why don’t we do a maid cafe?”Bookmark here

Naoki was nearing the end of his patience.Bookmark here

“Listen...”Bookmark here

“We’re not doing a cafe! Not a maid cafe nor a haunted house, you hear?!”Bookmark here

“You guys come up with the most basic ideas! Think of something different!”Bookmark here

Naoki’s rants continued relentlessly. Before long, chaos ensued as an argument between the class broke out.Bookmark here

“Naoooki...” Shivers ran down Naoki’s spine as he heard that eerie call. Suddenly, he felt a weight on his shoulders and something that slowly wrapped around him.Bookmark here

“You’re a good kid...” He felt his breath touch his neck as he whispered to him. He slowly turned his head, fearing the worst.Bookmark here

He gulped not once but twice.Bookmark here

“S-s-sen-sei..?”Bookmark here

Awaking from his slumber, Shintaro had his arm wrapped around Naoki’s shoulders with a creepy smile that indicated anything but good intentions behind them.Bookmark here

“You’re a reeeallly good kid, you know?”Bookmark here

“I-is t-that s-so...?”Bookmark here

“What did I tell you before…?”Bookmark here

“I-I-I...”Bookmark here

For disturbing the peace of his slumber, he would enact judgment upon Naoki. Or so that was the line he was repeating in his head.Bookmark here

Yuugo rose from his seat and began to walk out of the room.Bookmark here

“Oh, Yuugo, sup?” Shintaro shifted his attention away from Naoki and asked Yuugo.Bookmark here

Yuugo halted and replied, “Just going to the bathroom,” he said.Bookmark here

“Yuugo, are you going to the bathroom?” Tetsuya ran after him and asked.Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Sweet, I’ll come with too.”Bookmark here

5Bookmark here

Yuugo and Tetsuya made their way to the bathroom, which was just up ahead. The reason why Yuugo left was not solely because he wanted to go to the bathroom. He wanted some peace and quiet right now, away from all the noise.Bookmark here

They arrived and did their business.Bookmark here

“Yuu-kun, wanna go get some snacks?” Tetsuya asked. Yuugo nodded in affirmation. They reached for the Elevator, just a classroom away from the male’s bathroom on the 3rd Floor. Samejima Private High School was one of the few High Schools in Japan which had an Elevator. The purpose was not solely for ease in traveling between floors but also for students with physical disabilities unable to use the stairs.Bookmark here

“Yo, if it isn’t Goyuu and...”Bookmark here

“Ha! Weird otaku guy, das rite.”Bookmark here

Shiori from Class 1-A called out to them. With her was Sayuri Shimizu, another one of Alice’s friends.Bookmark here

“Oh it’s just you, Shinomiya-san,” Yuugo said. He turned his head and made eye contact with the person with Shiori.Bookmark here

“...and, you’re uh...” He tried to recall who she was and felt bad for not being able to remember her. She was with them on their trip to Akihabara, but she never really spoke much.Bookmark here

“I’m Shimizu-san. Good morning to you, Katsuragi-kun.” Sayuri said and bowed.Bookmark here

“Ah, yeah, Shimizu-san. Sorry for forgetting...” Yuugo rubbed his nape and apologized.Bookmark here

“I-It’s no problem at all.”Bookmark here

“Just? Wat’s dat supposed to mean?” Shiori interjected.Bookmark here

“Uh, it’s nothing. Anyway, what’s with this Goyuu thing?”Bookmark here

Yuugo was suddenly caught off-guard by Shiori’s confusing jargon. Or perhaps it pertained to something else rather than a word, he wondered. Similarly, Tetsuya was in that same state of perplexion, unable to comprehend after being called the weird otaku guy.Bookmark here

“Is yer nickname, of course! It’d be confusing if I start calling ya Yuu and mixin’ it up with Toyuu-senpai.”Bookmark here

She openly admitted, which only further confused Yuugo. They had only met a few days ago, and yet, here she was giving him a nickname like they were best friends. He wasn’t offended, just surprised. Shiori was a peculiar person—that’s what he thought of her.Bookmark here

“Toyuu? Yuu? How close do you think we are? Just call me Katsuragi! Or do you just like giving everybody nicknames?”Bookmark here

“Ya betcha”Bookmark here

While her uniqueness was not unwelcome, Yuugo was simply unsure how to react to her strange habits and mannerisms.Bookmark here

After being given an even more weird nickname, Tetsuya could not say a single word in their entire exchange.Bookmark here

“Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Time out!”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“Why am I the weird otaku guy?” Tetsuya pointed his index fingers at himself as he asked that question.Bookmark here

“Cuz you’re the weird otaku guy, das wat.”Bookmark here

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Tetsuya’s protests persisted. Shiori approached him in slow steps. With every step she took, Tetsuya took one step back, eventually pinned against the wall. They were now face-to-face, although they had almost identical height—Tetsuya was like a small animal in Shiori’s monstrous presence. A prey about to be devoured by a predator.Bookmark here

With no way to escape, Shiori pressed her face closer to Tetsuya’s. Viewing the scene at a certain angle gives the impression of a couple kissing. However, the scene unfolding right now was anything but that—no lovey-dovey couples, no sweet kisses.Bookmark here

Shiori had one of her eyes squinted, and the other widened. She stared at Tetsuya’s frightened face with an aggressive and frustrated expression.Bookmark here

“Don’t question it, just deal with it, ya ungrateful prick,” She said. Tetsuya’s entire body shook from the pressure, from the intimidating aura emitting from her body.Bookmark here

“Uuuuuuuuh.” Tetsuya dropped to his knees, defeated.Bookmark here

“How pathetic...” A voice remarked. Tetsuya lifted his face—his eyes met with Sayuri’s, who glared at him in disgust. Looking down on him like he was an ant. He promptly stood back up and approached Sayuri, causing her to take a step back.Bookmark here

“Pathetic?”Bookmark here

“Gross. Would you please stay away from me?”Bookmark here

“Are you two out to get me or something?! What did I ever do to you?!” Tetsuya scratched at his hair like a madman. Sayuri squinted, then sighed.Bookmark here

“You’re an eyesore. Shiori-san, let’s go.”Bookmark here

She attempted to end the conversation. However, Shiori had no reply and only stood in place, in awe at Sayuri. She didn’t think that such an innocent girl like Sayuri was capable of speaking such hurtful words.Bookmark here

“Woah, Yurishan, wat’s gotten into ya all of a sudden?” she asked.Bookmark here

“You think you can just leave after all that verbal abuse? I think it’s only fair I get to have my payback, don’t you think?” Tetsuya began to make a repeated grabbing motion with his hands like how some anime character would inappropriately touch a woman’s boobs.Bookmark here

“P-Pervert!” she shouted. Her face began to flush.Bookmark here

“A creep, a weirdo, someone who doesn’t follow the school rules, and worse of all, a pervert...” She relentlessly struck Tetsuya’s feelings with those verbal jabs.Bookmark here

“How was it possible for a person like you to be accepted here?” she finally asked.Bookmark here

“If you got a problem with me, then say it to my face directly!” Tetsuya challenged her, to which Sayuri accepted. She took a deep breath and prepared the onslaught of words to say in her head.Bookmark here

“Properly button your shirt! Always put on your tie! Your hair is longer than ear-length! Fix your posture!”Bookmark here

With no hesitation, with no regard to the other’s feelings—she let out those words that mercilessly pierced through Tetsuya’s spirit. For the first time, he had begun to falter. For the first time, his happy-go-lucky persona began to fall.Bookmark here

“Your face is annoying to look at. Your voice is a pain to listen to. Stop preying on girls inside that messed-up head of yours...”Bookmark here

Sayuri panted heavily after her rant. Tetsuya only remained silent and tried to process everything she said.Bookmark here

“Damn, Yurishan just went in...”Bookmark here

Silence took over, but not long after, Tetsuya spoke.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry...” he said and lowered his head.Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Sayuri blinked repeatedly. She did not expect him to apologize. Pursing her lips, she narrowed her eyes and looked away from Tetsuya.Bookmark here

“Eh, ah… L-let’s just go, Yuugo,” he suggested. His usual energetic self brimming with life—had now been lost. Her words were like sharp knives that cleanly cut through his heart.Bookmark here

“Tetsuya?”Bookmark here

Abruptly, Sayuri started to walk away without saying a word.Bookmark here

“Ah, wait! Yurishan!” Shiori tried to reach out her hand—those fingers only clutched air.Bookmark here

“Sorry bout dat boys. Have to bail now.” She pressed her hands together as an apology.Bookmark here

“Oh and… Alichi is down on the first floor...” She whispered in Yuugo's ear.Bookmark here

“Alichi?” he asked.Bookmark here

“I mean Alice, ya idiot.”Bookmark here

Yuugo didn’t understand the reason why she was telling him this. However, he shrugged it off and didn’t question it further.Bookmark here

“Anyway, cya later.” She left the two boys with those parting words, then strode past them, down the corridor to catch up with Sayuri.Bookmark here

“Tetsuya, are you alright?” Yuugo asked.Bookmark here

“Hmm? Uh yeah! Of course! I’m fine, I’m fine!” Tetsuya tried to reassure him, but even to Yuugo, someone who had difficulties understanding others’ feelings, Tetsuya’s act was painfully obvious.Bookmark here

“Who the hell does that girl think she is? Just saying all that shit. She may be cute, but her personality’s god awful!” Tetsuya grumbled.Bookmark here

“Anyway, are you gonna go back to class, Yuugo?” Yuugo paused for a moment before giving his reply. He recalled what Shiori had just told him.Bookmark here

“No, I don’t think I’ll be of any help...”Bookmark here

“Yeah, same. Wanna go walk around for a bit?”Bookmark here

“Sorry, there’s something I’ve gotta do.”Bookmark here

“Alright, I’ll go on first then.” Yuugo nodded in reply. Tetsuya waved his hand and proceeded down the halls.Bookmark here

6Bookmark here

Shiori and Sayuri were back in their classroom in Class 1-A. They were discussing the scene that had occurred just a few minutes ago.Bookmark here

“Ya definitely went too far there, Yurishan,” Shiori reprimanded.Bookmark here

“I said what had to be said, but I might have got carried away a bit.” Sayuri did not falter in her belief. Perhaps it was more stubbornness—her refusal to accept her wrongs.Bookmark here

“A bit? Ya massacred him. Just go apologize or somethin.”Bookmark here

Words were like invisible blades. They directly strike one’s core—one’s heart. Even the worst of pains were incomparable to the mental and emotional scarring caused by such words.Bookmark here

“Why should I apologize to someone like him? Hmph!” Nevertheless, she refused to back down and pouted her face.Bookmark here

“Yer one tough nut to crack, eh. Tho, he seemed quite sad after all that shit ya spouted.”Bookmark here

“In the first place, you were the one who started it!”Bookmark here

“Hah, guess yer right. Sorry haha.”Bookmark here

“It’s not like I hate him or anything. I just find him extremely annoying.”Bookmark here

That was how Sayuri viewed him. However, going as far as to insult him was uncalled for. In truth, she felt a tint of regret with what she did, but she vehemently tried to deny it for no good reason.Bookmark here

“It’s people like him that are hurtin the most in da inside,” Shiori said.Bookmark here

“Whenever I see him, his persona feels forced and fake,” she continued.Bookmark here

“Who cares?” Sayuri rested her head on her hand.Bookmark here

Sayuri was a strong-willed yet stubborn girl. Being the sole daughter of a congressman and an attorney, she wielded a strong sense of justice. However, as her parents were very busy—she had always been alone in their traditional Minka mansion.Bookmark here

“Yer really harsh Yurishan, try to care bout him a bit more.”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

Naturally, compared to a troublesome person like Tetsuya, he and Sayuri were night and day—complete opposites.Bookmark here

“Can’t convince ya if I can’t, but ya must have also noticed rite?”Bookmark here

“That doesn’t matter,” she firmly stated. Bookmark here

“Anyway, let’s just move on. We should be preparing for the cultural festival and the play.” Crossing her arms, Sayuri said. Shiori gave a deep sigh.Bookmark here

“Roger,” she replied.Bookmark here

Cover

Youth


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