The Web Novel Club
The next day, after the final bell at school rang, Natsuki gathered her courage and stood outside the door to Room 3-109. The Web Novel Club would be beyond this door.
The act of opening a door - it can stick around in your mind, long before it even happens. Ever since she woke up that morning, Natsuki knew this moment would come. Enthusiasm and anxiety swirled around her all day, with every glance at the clock signifying the approaching hour. The arrival of a certain time is inevitable; the moment you’ve been waiting for, whether it’s from excitement, dread, or a mix of both, will eventually arrive right in front of you.
Natsuki had imagined opening the door countless times all day. The time had come to make it reality.
Or maybe it could wait! Natsuki pretended to sneeze into her sleeve.
Oh no, a cold! Don’t want to infect anyone. How considerate I am!
But then she sighed. Which wolf inside her would win right now - the one filled with excitement as she went to bed, or the one filled with anxiety when she woke up that morning?
Natsuki had come all this way. She knew the only way to move now was forward.
The door handle felt cool on her hand. Realizing too late she forgot the words of greeting she mentally practiced all day, Natsuki stepped through the door, arriving on the other side.
She wasn’t sure what she expected. Based on their earlier antics, she suspected a comical scene of Masako and Yumiko at each other’s throats, but she instead found them working at a computer calmly. In this typical classroom with only a few desks, a sitting Yumiko had a laptop set up on one, squinting at the screen. Masako stood behind her, offering what sounded like areas of improvement and words of encouragement.
The sound of Natsuki closing the door behind her brought the duo out of their seeming trance. Masako waved and Yumiko clapped her hands.
“You actually came,” Masako said with a wry grin. She darted over to Natsuki, who almost stumbled back as Masako placed her hands in hers. “We were facing that manga-style thing where we needed one more club member, otherwise we’d be disbanded. If you didn’t come today, we would've had to go find you.”
“Hunt you down!” Yumiko exclaimed.
Masako raised Natsuki’s trembling hands and nodded at Yumiko. “We’d be like a tracker and his bloodhound!”
Yep, these are the antics I’ve been expecting, Natsuki supposed almost helplessly as Masako clapped Natsuki’s hands together with a cheer.
But it’s kind of nice.
As Masako stepped away towards the chalkboard, Natsuki remembered bits and pieces of her practiced entry to the club room that day. She ducked her head and bowed forward.
“Um…please take good care of me!”
When Masako didn’t say anything, Natsuki glanced upwards; she found Masako looking down at her, grinning. The club chief suddenly hoisted Natsuki back up, threw an arm around her shoulders, and directed her attention to the whiteboard.
“I’ve laid out our goals for you this semester,” Masako proclaimed, using a marker as a pointer. “Step one - get computer! Step two - write! Step three - profit!” The loose strands of hair on her forehead seemed to bounce around as she spoke in her animated, fast tone.
Natsuki slipped a hand into her bookbag. “Um…let me just write that down-”
“No time!” Masako interrupted. “We can get started on it today. Do you have a laptop?”
Natsuki realized she couldn’t even complete step one. Not wanting to admit the truth, she rummaged around her bookbag with a nervous look.
“Ahaha…it’s, it’s in here somewhere…”
From her desk, Yumiko raised a hand. “Do you need help looking?”
Masako side-eyed her. “...it’s a bookbag, Yumiko.”
Natsuki finally admitted defeat. “No, I don’t own a laptop.”
Masako’s grin never wavered. “Do you at least own a computer?”
“I have one at home. A big one. With the monitor and…you know-” She motioned with her hands. “That big box where all the computer guts live.”
“Ah, I see.” Masako rubbed her chin and paced around the front of the classroom. “I suspected we’d run into that issue. We only have two computers right now, unfortunately. I spoke with Professor Takeshita - you might meet her soon, she’s our club advisor - and she said she could arrange getting a spare computer for our third member. But with all the clubs and everything, it might take a few weeks.”
“Months!” Yumiko added.
“We don’t want anything to delay your journey!” Masako declared to Natsuki, raising a fist. “So, President Masako has authorized Treasurer Masako’s proposal to use some of our club funds to buy a computer!”
Yumiko clapped in a show of public support for the motion. Natsuki raised her hands in protest. “You don’t have to buy a computer for me. Aren’t those things expensive?”
Masako patted her on the shoulder. “Have no fear. My aunt just got a new laptop and offered to sell her old one to me.” She glanced away for a moment, and as bad as it sounded, Natsuki found a new look in her eyes - an ambitious sort of intelligence. Masako seemed lively, fun-loving, carefree, but that brief look indicated there was much more going on beneath the surface.
“They call it a pork barrel,” Masako explained. “If we don’t use our club’s money, then our budget goes down next year. So, we need to find ways to use it all!”
Yumiko listened along to the president’s explanations, then suddenly frowned. “I thought I was the Treasurer!”
Masako shook her head. “You’re the Secretary.”
“Oh…” Yumiko thought about that. “What does the Secretary do?”
“You take notes,” Masako explained. She grinned at Natsuki, letting the new member in on this big, grand game of words she played with her slower-witted friend. “You mean haven’t been taking minutes on the first official, full-strength meeting of the Web Novel Club?”
Yumiko raised her hand.
“A minute is what they call notes in a meeting.”
Yumiko lowered her hand. She switched over to a different writing document on her laptop, cracked her knuckles, and gave her computer an intense look.
She then raised her hand again. “Can you repeat everything you just said?”
Masako started laughing. “Just debit computer for 3,000 yen and credit cash for the same amount.”
The sound of Natsuki letting out an involuntary giggle interrupted the conversation. Masako tilted her head toward the new member, who quickly tried to quiet herself, but laughter now poured out.
“I-I’m sorry,” Natsuki stammered out. “I guess…I didn’t know you had this side to you, Masako.” Natsuki felt the need to quickly elaborate on that. “I mean…you have so much passion. But I didn’t realize you know about a lot more things than just writing.”
Natsuki feared that she said something that would keep her up tonight, staring at her ceiling, but Masako simply smiled and pushed the loose strands of hair out off her forehead. “There’s a great, big world out there. There always has and always will be. And one of my favorite parts of writing is that it lets me interact with that world.”
She swung the marker around like a swashbuckling buccaneer. “I will never be a knight fighting with a sword. But by writing, I can just get a glimpse of it. I won’t ever loot deserted temples or get into car chases, but I can through writing. I will never grow up in a different country, but I can write an entire story set in a foreign high school with foreign characters and foreign customs.”
She raised a hand toward the lights up on the ceiling. “There’s an intangible feeling out there. Wanderlust and homesickness don’t do it justice, but think along those lines. That’s my whole point. Words can help turn the intangible into tangible, even if it’s just a small glance at it.”
As light poured through the windows, bathing Masako in its color, one word flashed across Natsuki’s mind - maturity. Earlier, Natsuki had supposed self-confidence was the only difference between them. But that wasn’t the case, or maybe there was another dimension to it. Maturity. Masako knew things about life that Natsuki didn’t. Or perhaps, for the first time, Natsuki realized that there were things in life she didn’t know about.
Natsuki also realized she really wanted to learn these things.
Masako clapped her hands in realization. “Let’s go get the laptop now, Natsuki! It’ll be a good team-bonding exercise! My aunt’s place is about a twenty-minute bike ride from here.”
Reality brought Natsuki out of her daydreams. “Eh?”
The reality of five minutes later, when Yumiko hoisted her onto the back of Masako’s bike outside the school, hit Natsuki even harder. “Ehhhhhhhh?”
Masako slid onto the seat, resting one loafer on the pedal, the other on the ground.
“M-Masako!” Natsuki exclaimed. “I’m not good with things like this! I don’t even own a bike.”
“Then you’ve never experienced a bike ride,” Masako answered. She let the ringing of her bike bell answer Natsuki’s next protest.
Masako looked back at Yumiko. “Now, remember, the only reason you’re not going is because you refused. So you better not get lonely.”
Yumiko crossed her arms and nodded smugly. “Fufufu~, Masako. I refused so I could decorate the club room-”
“Without my oversight, right?”
Masako sighed, then grinned and nodded at her friend. “Don’t go crazy.”
With that settled, Masako looked back up at Natsuki. “I know we threw you on here, but if it’s really that much trouble, we can walk or take the train.”
Natsuki wiped her forehead. Masako had a point - Natsuki had never experienced a bike ride in a long, long time. She decided in elementary school she didn’t feel safe on bikes. But can you really make decisions at that age? She didn’t even remember why she disliked bikes. But she did, and that feeling carried all the way to high school.
But why? The only thing stopping her from riding a bike was a feeling from ten years ago. Natsuki decided in the here and now that she wanted to test the waters, to feel things she never felt before.
Sitting behind Masako, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Masako’s stomach. “I’m ready.”
“...you’re crushing my ribs.”
Natsuki went red and loosened her grip.
Masako laughed, then flexed a hand around the handlebar. She kicked off the ground, that loafer then sliding onto its pedal as the bicycle began moving smoothly.
Yumiko offered a salute. Natsuki held on for dear life. Masako pedaled the bike through the school gates.