Chapter 8:


Stars of Aoba

I like mornings. The air is usually nice and breezy. The sun is barely up, so there’s no worry about heat. And the best part is that there’s usually no one to bother me when I revel in the thought of being the sole entity in the classroom.

Well, that is what I normally would say. These few days have definitely not been peaceful or quiet, but it’s a different kind of fun I enjoy.

And by fun, I mean racking my brain out for ideas for Umeno’s campaign.

Right on schedule, the three of us – me, Umeno, and now Hayato – gather around my seat as soon as we get to school.

“Alright, let’s begin today’s strategy meeting,” I declare, opening my notebook for whatever idea we might bring to the table. Since the race ended, we’ve been going at it for only a few sessions, but I can proudly say that this notebook has been filled quite a bit. “Any new ideas, guys?”

As for our morale, on the other hand…

“I give upppp…” sighs Hayato, lying face-down defeated on his desk. “We’ve been brainstorming for a week now, but we have nothing. Nothing, I tell you! Just face it, the guy has no cracks.”

“Come on, I’m sure there’s something that we have an advantage over him! Academics aside, what about, uh… attitude! I’m sure Umeno’s hard-working personality can…”

“Dude, what are you talking about? Have you seen Ryuuro interacting with the student body?”

“W-well, what about, uh… looks! ...”

“I don’t think I’m that good-looking, Suzuki-kun…” Now it’s Umeno’s turn to get depressed all over.

“Admit it, man, you’re grasping at straws at this point,” and to add insult to injury, Hayato continues. And I hate that he’s correct. But dang it, I’ll keep trying anyway! Just because he’s correct doesn’t mean he’s right! There has to be something we can use!

Ugh, why does Aoba have to be so limited? Beating Ryuuro in academics is out of the question, there are no extracurricular points to add, we’re severely behind him in terms of popularity, and we don’t even have a good first impression on anyone!

A timely hit on the head shocks me out of my negative spiral. As I turn upward, a disappointed Tsunagi has already stood next to me.

“Ah, sorry,” the first to answer isn’t any of us in class C, but Umeno. “I’ll get back to…”

“Don’t worry, it’s not time for classes yet. And besides, this is your campaign, right? You should at least make use of whatever you have,” the redhead gestures towards the empty seat diagonal to mine. “The one in this seat usually doesn’t come until the bell, so you’re good for now.”

“… Thank you, um, …”

“Tsunagi Jouko. We’ve seen each other at the race last week, but I believe this is our first official meeting.”

“… Tsunagi-san. Nice to meet you.”

“Same here. Now, about that campaign of yours…”

“… But aren’t you helping Ryuuro-san with his campaign?” Umeno asks, tilting his head in confusion.

To be honest, if he didn’t go for it, I would anyway. I mean, why wouldn’t I, when that fancy new camera is dangling on her neck already.

“Well, first of all, who says I’m helping you with your campaign? I’m only here to state my thoughts, and if you wish to follow, then it’s your call.”

Pausing herself to catch her breath, Tsunagi continues.

“And besides, it was a one-and-done deal. I never agreed to help him run his campaign… not that he needed my assistance anyway, frustrating as it might sound.”

“Haha, it’s the genius effect at work alright,” I let out a heartfelt chuckle. To see the one always out to get me finally having a taste of her own medicine (well, somewhat) is refreshing indeed. But don’t get me wrong; I’m not a petty person at all, no sir!

As payback for the laugh, I get hit on the head again.

“Use that energy to think of a campaign you dolt.”

“We’ve been trying for a whole week and a half, you know.”

“… Lemme see that notebook of yours,” pointing towards the object on my desk, Tsunagi asks.

All three of our heartbeats skyrocket as the girl flips through the pages, its rustling sounds akin to the whispering winds of a horror flick. And just like the jumpscare scene usually seen in such movies, just when we least expect it, Tsunagi comes to a shocking conclusion.

“I see a lot of points you can use in here, what gives?”

“What do you mean?” With a puzzled look, all three of us ask at the same time.

“I mean, these are all Umeno-kun’s qualities, aren’t they? They’re good enough.”

“Well, of course, they can’t be bad quality, but how would they stand a chance against that guy?”

“Hah…” shaking her head in disappointment while letting out a sigh, the redhead gestures towards us. “You guys really don’t know a thing about campaigning, do you?”

“Well… not really, no,” Umeno gives a defeated answer, while Hayato awkwardly diverts his gaze, whistling a random tune to distance himself from the embarrassing truth.

In the end, I’m the one to ask in return.

“What do you suggest, then?”

“Simple. Campaigns, the same with scholarships, recommendations, job applications, heck, anything would have the same principle. Just because in actuality you might be worse off than another applicant, what matters is that you present yourself better than them. Ryuuro might be better in almost all aspects, but from what I’ve known, he hasn’t done too much within the student body itself. Take this chance to shed a better light on yourself, and use that leverage to compete.”

“Shed yourself in another light, huh…” Tsunagi’s words seem to have triggered an idea within me. I can feel that I’m getting close…

“That’s it! Campaign flyers!”

“Wait, no…”

“Think about it! We need more publicity, right? What better way to do it than with flyers?”

“Listen to me, Suzuki…”

“Print and I can get those around in no time!”

“Can you guys calm down…”

“I… I think it might work! Great idea, Suzuki-kun!”

“Ugh! I give up! Sure, have at it!”

“Thanks, Tsunagi… wait, where is she?” As I turn around to express my gratitude for the idea, the girl has already stomped her way back to her own seat, crossing her arms while purposely looking away from us.

“Well, anyway, now to design our flyer…” seeing no way to reconcile at the moment, I return to the matter at hand. “So… anyone knows how to draw?”

“… I can’t draw.” Umeno regretfully shakes his head.

Hayato, meanwhile, stays silent for a brief moment, before smacking his fists onto his palm in a stroke of genius. “I remember!”

“You can draw?”

“No, but there’s a person in our class that does! Origami Kamiya, winner of the National Junior Painting Award!”

“Origami-san, huh…” I mumble, thinking back to our unconventional meeting around a week ago. “I don’t think she likes me, though…”

“Man, you really suck around women, huh? Tsunagi is one thing, but Origami too?”

“W-well, she could just be shy around people,” I give out a weak excuse.

“Yeah, I doubt it,” a cheeky grin from Hayato sends my blood boiling.

“Oh, yeah? Well, if you’re so great, then why don’t you ask her?”

Before neon boy can answer, and in turn sends our conversation over its tipping point into an argument, a surprise suggestion comes from a raised hand by Umeno:

“Um… I think I should be the one to do it.”

“Umeno? Are you sure?”

The introverted, borderline anti-social Umeno, actually stepping out? Am I dreaming?

“Y-yeah. It is, after all, still my campaign… so I have to do it. I can’t rely on you guys forever…”

“Umeno…” Look at him, all grown up now. I could cry tears of joy. But no, I have to hold it in. Those are best saved for our victory.

“Go for it, then. Good luck!”

“Oh, and speak of the devil. Here she is!” Hayato’s timely notice turns our attention towards the classroom door, where the black-haired glasses girl quietly enters the room, purposely avoiding the crowd in front of her.

“Well, good luck!” Both Hayato and I give an encouraging thumbs-up to Umeno, who swallows a gulp of air in fear and anxiety.

“H-here I go!”

Letting out a few fighting words, Umeno pumps himself up and approaches the girl in question.

“H-hi. My name is…”

“P-please excuse me!” The attempt is shut down before it even has the chance to start. However, unlike her encounter with me, I can clearly see the flustered sound in her voice and the redness that spreads to even her ears as Origami scurries away from the classroom like a mouse escaping a maze.

“Oh, so she is shy around people…” Hayato exclaims as Umeno embarrassedly exits the classroom also, not even turning towards us to say goodbye.

“Well… what now?”

Just as the words leave my mouth, a timely savior arrives much to the dismay of us two.

“Hey guys! Whatcha doing?” The white-haired boy pats me on the shoulder in a friendly manner, as if forgetting that the intense bet between us even existed in the first place.

“H-hi, Shiraku,” I let out an awkward smile. Risk of dislocating my shoulder aside, it’s really hard to hate the guy when he’s basically the embodiment of “leave the past behind” like this.

“I saw Kami-yan running from our classroom, was there anything wrong?”

“We were trying to ask Origami-san for Umeno’s campaign… wait, Kami-yan?”

“Oh, oops,” an embarrassed laugh comes from Shiraku as he scratches his head. “I should have gotten rid of that way of saying, huh…”

“Are you guys childhood friends or something?”

“Well… it’s a bit hard to explain. But if it’s for your campaign, I can at least tell her beforehand, so she wouldn’t get jumpscared like just now.”

“Thanks… but should you help out your opponent like this?”

Another heartfelt laugh from the boy answers my question. “Nii-chan wouldn’t mind that at all! If anything, he’s glad to have his competitors putting up more of a fight. And it’s not like he’s gonna lose anyway.”


I can’t wait to knock the smile off that smug glasses’ face.

“Well, anyway, here’s the address. Come in the afternoon, and you should meet her. I’ll tell her about you guys.”

Ei Ruan