Chapter 22:

I Was Browsing AnimeTable As Usual

The Web Novel Club

The Friday before Mitsuko left, Miyazawa Regional High School held its closing ceremony to end the first semester. It would be a short day - a few hours of club time, then the ceremony. Natsuki really wasn’t sure why the school couldn’t just let them go on vacation, but on the positive side - and positives seemed really hard to come by nowadays - she did get to see her clubmates one last time before summer break.

As she approached the door to the club room that morning, Natsuki shuddered. Her last meeting with Yumiko ended on poor terms. She had never been in a fight like that before - she wasn’t sure how things were supposed to go afterwards.

Natsuki scratched her head, then felt her face, that feeling occasionally still appearing below the surface. After Fuyuki revealed its true identity as jealousy, Natsuki's face felt a little better. The feeling still came and went, but at least she knew what to call it now. And that helped take the edge off, just a little bit.

Should I apologize to Yumiko? Does she want me to apologize?

Natsuki knew that she said some things that she shouldn’t have said. And she didn’t really think Yumiko was stupid, and she knew that Yumiko only called her stupid because it was the heat of the moment, too. Looking back, it seemed like a dumb argument - but even dumb arguments have consequences.

And those consequences could be found when all three members had gathered in the club room to count the hours down until the closing assembly began. Leaning against the board at the front of the room, Masako looked back and forth at her two silent clubmates sitting far away from each other; Yumiko had her arms crossed, her head proudly turned away from Natsuki. In turn, Natsuki sat in sullen silence at her desk, twiddling her thumbs and sighing glumly.

“Let me guess,” Masako supposed. “You guys got into an argument during finals week when both of you were exhausted and at your wit’s end. Yumiko is too proud to apologize and Natsuki is too anxious to apologize."

Yumiko grunted and turned her head even further away. Natsuki sighed and sank lower into her seat.

“C’mon, you guys,” Masako said. “You’re not really mad at each other anymore, you’re just both burnt out and overtired.”

“You seem awfully chipper,” Yumiko commented. She crossed her arms even more, tight enough to serve as a hydraulic press.

Masako shrugged. “I’m just me. You know how it is.”

Natsuki briefly glanced up at Masako - because Yumiko was right that day in the food court. She had no idea how it really was with Masako. If she could fake smiles, maybe she could fake a lot of things.

Seeing that she made no headway with her clubmates, Masako shrugged again and started typing on her laptop. “I see. I guess you guys wouldn’t really care about this writing contest I just found.”

Natsuki and Yumiko immediately perked up, then hastily retreated back to their sullen and arrogant states, respectively.

“I Was Browsing AnimeTable As Usual,” Masako read aloud from her screen, “Then I Realized My Web Novel Could Become a Manga.”

That certainly got Natsuki's attention. She had always wanted to see an adaptation of her works. Slowly, not to give her true feelings away, she started listening. She briefly glanced over at Yumiko, who was already briefly glancing at her.

“ is hosting this contest,” Masako explained. “If you win, there’s a chance your work could be adapted into a manga.”

She noticed the interest in her clubmate’s eyes. “Hmm, I could go on, but the sense of hostility in the clubroom right now is really throwing me off.”

Natsuki and Yumiko gave each other a long look. Natsuki took in a deep breath, feeling small as Yumiko examined her as if she was under a microscope.

“...I-I’m sorry,” Natsuki finally said, her face flushed. “I shouldn’t have said those things in the food court. You’re actually really inspiring, Yumiko.”

Yumiko’s proud mask dropped away, and she quickly turned her head so nobody could see her face. Suddenly, she stood up from her desk and closed the distance between her and Natsuki. She slammed a foot on the top of Natsuki’s desk, her face burning a bright red.

“Don’t get the wrong idea, but I’m sorry, too!” she exclaimed. “I knew you were tired and struggling. I should’ve been more considerate.”

Natsuki raised her hands. “It’s…it’s okay. I was the one who started it.”

Yumiko smiled and extended her hand out. “Friends?”

Natsuki nodded and gladly took it. “Friends.”

As they shook, Masako gave a firm nod of approval. “Excellent. Now that everybody’s square again, let’s go over the contest.”

Natsuki and Yumiko joined Masako at the front of the room and read about the details of the contest alongside her. Participants could submit stories for three categories - school, romantic comedies, and cyberpunk. The contest required a minimum of 25,000 words and a maximum of 75,000. And the deadline-

“August 31st?” Natsuki exclaimed. “But August starts tomorrow. I don’t know if I could write that many words in a single month…especially after everything I just did.”

Yumiko nodded as well, giving the screen a frown.

“Well, the contest opened June 1st, so it’s really on us for not noticing,” Masako supposed.

Yumiko chimed in with a smug smirk. “Actually, as club president, you really should be on top of these things-”

Yumiko yelped, Masako’s fist making the sound of a falling anvil when it collided with her head.

Natsuki noticed that Yumiko made another good point earlier today - Masako didn’t look all that tired. Dozens of loose strands of her hair now covered her forehead, far more than earlier in the semester, but besides that…well, she looked a little tired, but not the same sort of exhausted that Natsuki and Yumiko felt.

Since she looked relatively fresh, Natsuki had to ask. “Masako, are you going to enter the contest?”

Natsuki wondered if she had said something she shouldn’t have said, but Masako didn’t seem concerned. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t really have any story ideas for those categories. And besides, you’re right - 25,000 words is a lot to write in a single month.”

Now that she had given it some thought, Yumiko’s frown had disappeared. Natsuki could imagine gears spinning in her head.

“But we have the whole month off,” Yumiko realized, ambition appearing in her eyes.

Masako shook her head. “We’ll have homework and cram school.”

“But summer days and summer nights are so long!” Yumiko pleaded. “You should do it, it’ll be fun!”

Masako looked uneasy. “I don’t know. I haven’t written anything in so long.”

That’s when Natsuki realized something. “But that’s not true, Masako. You wrote that story about me when we met at the club fair.” Natsuki’s eyes lit up. “You were really inspired back then. And you wrote so quickly! You’re still so good at writing, you just need to find some more inspiration! You should give it a shot!”

Masako mulled it over. “Alright,” she finally said. She raised a finger. “But on one condition.”

She pointed that finger at Natsuki. “You have to join, too.”

Natsuki joined Masako in pointing at herself. “Me? But…you have a chance of winning, Masako. You too, Yumiko. There’s no way I can win, so why would I join?”

Yumiko put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I know it’s easy for me to say oh, it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun, so I’ll say it this way - have some confidence in yourself, Natsuki. You’re not a beginner anymore. Well, technically, we’re all still beginners in the grand scheme of things, but you - you’re not a doe anymore. It’s like you’ve gone from buck private to regular private.”

Masako nodded. “On average, you’re written something like 2,000 words a week for four months now. You’ve gained a lot of experience. You should feel proud about your writing, it’s come a long way.”

Natsuki looked at her shoes. “But I still feel like there’s so much more to learn…and my stories don’t ever get popular.”

But then she looked back up and saw her friends smiling at her. That made the decision a little easier.

“But I’ll give it a shot.”


The Monday after Mitsuko left. Summer vacation was already a few days in, but Natsuki had done very little for the contest so far. Less than little, if you really think about - nothing at all. To be fair, her clubmates recommended taking the weekend off to recharge her batteries.

Part of her did feel a little better now that she had some time to recover. But most of her felt even worse now that Mitsuko was on the other side of the country.

And Mitsuko wasn’t even the only departure. Natsuki had been so wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of the last month that she only realized Fuyuki’s day of departure had arrived that very morning.

Fuyuki stood by the door to leave their apartment, holding her heavy softball bag easily with one hand. “Thanks for making breakfast this morning, Natsuki.”

Natsuki nodded. “It’s the least I could do. You’ve been a big help this past month. I’ll miss you, you know.”

Fuyuki grinned. “Me too. But softball camp only lasts a week. I’ll be back before you know it!”

“Get me some souvenirs!” Natsuki called out as Fuyuki left through the door. Fuyuki laughed, waved goodbye, and shut the door behind her.

That just left Natsuki in an empty apartment in complete silence. A huge weight suddenly landed on her shoulders; she trudged toward her couch and collapsed onto it.

Mom and Dad are still away at work…Fuyuki’s gone…Mitsuko’s gone. It’s just me. It’s all I’ve ever really had.

For a long time, Natsuki had nobody but herself, and she had no intention of ever ending up like that again.

Positives, think about the positives. Mom and Dad have to come home sometime, Fuyuki’s back next week, and Mitsuko…I like to think that I’ll see her again. And Masako and Yumiko are still here with me. We’re even meeting up later today to brainstorm ideas for the contest.

That managed to inspire Natsuki a little, so she pushed herself up on the couch and thought about possible stories for the contest.

School, rom-com, cyberpunk. Let’s see…


I could modify Time Cop for cyberpunk, but I think it would be a good idea to start with something fresh.


To put it bluntly, Natsuki came up empty.


Well, I do go to one. I could write a story about a funny little club getting into wacky hijinks like the ones you see in anime…you got the nervous wreck, the proud tsundere, and the one that holds them all together…

Yeah, school might be nice…but could I win with it?

Natsuki rubbed her face. Why can’t I just go back to writing for the sake of it? Why do I put so much emphasis on views and success?

Due to force of habit, Natsuki pulled up the view counter for her most recent story. No change, of course.

Natsuki sighed and collapsed back into a laying position. Not raising her head, she searched with her hand until she finally found the television remote. She fumbled around with it until the television turned on. Baseball highlights, the August heat, and the chirps of cicadas lulled her to sleep.


Natsuki woke up to her phone ringing. She wiped her face, trying to gather her thoughts. Naps were always fun at the start, but you paid the price when waking up - you felt hot and disorientated.

Natsuki suddenly gasped in fear - had she overslept her meeting with her friends today? She bobbled the phone in her hands, managing to catch the time - it was still an hour too early for it.

She brought the phone to her face. “Hello?”

“Hey, Natsuki, it’s Masako,” she said. “So, about tonight…Yumiko got grounded for the whole month.”

Steward McOy