The Web Novel Club
“Oh yeah,” Masako said as the three girls, now in their fall uniforms, walked down the long hallways of the high school. “I forgot to mention this, but I showed my aunt Masatake your Time Cop story, Natsuki.”
At the start of the school year, hearing that would be enough to make Natsuki’s face turn a full-on red. This time, she only had a light flash of scarlet across her cheeks.
“Did she like it?”
Masako nodded. “She enjoys history, too, so she got a big kick out of it. And get this - she wants to paint the fight scene in the pyramid tomb.”
“P-p-paint a scene from my story?” Natsuki repeated, her face turning a full-on red. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Masako grinned. “She wants you to be the first to see it when it’s complete.”
As Natsuki went quiet, a happy embarrassment washing over her, Yumiko hooked an arm around her shoulder. “How about that? You got some fan-art for your story, Natsuki!”
Natsuki’s heart skipped a beat, giddiness rushing through her. Unfortunately, when the girls turned the corner and arrived in the school lobby, that feeling was tempered by rapidly-rising anxiety.
Thanks to a tip from their friends in the Graphic Design Club, the Web Novel Club knew that the class rankings had been posted on the bulletin board in the lobby far before the rest of the school did. Only a few other students gazed at the rankings when the three girls arrived; those who came from before them broadcasted mixed looks of disappointment and excitement.
Natsuki wasn’t sure which feeling was waiting for her. But, either way, she really did try her hardest. She had reason to be proud, no matter where she ended up in the rankings.
Instinctively, Natsuki scanned the middle board for those in the fiftieth to one hundred ranks. Her heart plummeted as she went down the list; she arrived in the sixties, seventies, and eighties yet there was no sign of her name.
Natsuki went to look left with a face full of shame, but then-
“Hey, Natsuki, check it out!” Yumiko exclaimed.
Refusing to believe it, Natsuki snuck a glance left, and then her eyes widened.
“36th place!” Yumiko cheered for her. She grabbed Natsuki’s shoulders and shook her disbelieving friend back and forth.
“Hard work actually paid off,” Natsuki mumbled, still in a daze. Then something rose within her, from her heart, reaching her mind, spreading to her fingertips - a mix of pride and pure happiness. She rocked a little on her feet, feeling utter elation. All those upward feelings transformed themselves into a wide grin on her face, one that would remain there all day.
“And hey, you got 9th!” Natsuki realized, looking up at the top of the rightmost side of the rankings.
Yumiko let out a cocksure “heh-heh-heh” as if it was nothing, but Natsuki knew how many hours and effort she put into it to achieve that ranking.
Yumiko gave a relaxed smile and spoke a little more softly (and less smugly) now. “My mom’s starting to mellow out. She used to be all about first place, but she told me last night that she’d be happy with top ten. Baby steps!”
Natsuki and Yumiko cheered for each other, then remembered there was a third member in their club standing next to them.
Neither girl wanted to ask Masako how she did. Masako saw the look on their faces, then gestured with her head toward the leftmost board.
“Sorry, Masako,” Natsuki offered.
Masako shrugged. “It’s alright. We all earned our rankings." Natsuki saw a brief flash of ambition burn in her eyes. "I think for this semester, I’m going to push myself the same way you guys did. I’ll be in your care.”
Natsuki wasn’t used to this much praise and happiness in a single day. She slid her shoe across the ground, feeling like the giddiness inside her would burst out somehow like a flooded Tama River. But even if it did and she ended up looking stupid, she knew her friends wouldn’t care.
And from the look on Yumiko’s face, it seemed like she wasn’t used to this much praise and happiness in a single day, either.
“Group hug!” Yumiko declared. She opened her arms wide, then laughed when the other two girls didn’t look as enthusiastic as she did about personal contact. “C’mon, c’mon!”
Natsuki was easily persuaded by someone confident repeating themselves, so she grinned and joined the hug. And with two pairs of eyes waiting expectantly, Masako sighed and joined in as well.
“You guys ever feel like you’re alive?” Yumiko asked, embracing both of them.
Natsuki and Masako looked knowingly at each other.
“Can you believe it, folks?” the television broadcaster announced in a rapid-fire, excited tone later that day, long after the sun had set. “After twenty-six long years…your Miyazawa Sparrows are your reigning champions!”
As confetti rained down upon the Sparrow players in their stadium, Fuyuki literally jumped off the couch and started karate-chopping the air. “We did it! We did it!” She grabbed the front of her Sparrows jersey and shook it back and forth at her three companions on the couch.
Natsuki was all smiles, too. Masako and Yumiko weren’t as big of sports fans as the Kondo sisters were, but they understood the importance of this moment, too.
Fuyuki laughed and pulled Natsuki off the couch. The two sisters danced together, Fuyuki twirling Natsuki around breathlessly.
“We won!” Fuyuki exclaimed.
Natsuki nodded and laughed with her. As they spun around, hand-in-hand, Fuyuki realized something that felt more important to her than a championship victory.
“Natsuki!” she exclaimed. “That’s a genuine smile you’re giving me right now!”
Natsuki wasn’t very athletic, so that brief moment of dancing required a moment of sitting on the couch armrest to catch her breath. She understood what Fuyuki was trying to say; the smile remained on her face.
“You know, I’ve been making a lot of those recently.”
Fuyuki continued to laugh, beaming her own wide smile at her friends, then gasped. “I have to tell Mom and Dad!”
“They can probably hear you already-” Natsuki trailed off as Fuyuki skipped away, barging into their parents’ room to tell them the good news.
That just left the high school girls. After a moment, Masako stretched and yawned. “I think that’s curtain call for me.” Yumiko nodded alongside her.
The time was approaching midnight, so it made sense to leave now to catch the last train home. “Thanks for coming,” Natsuki said as she started cleaning up the snacks and drinks that was par for the course of watching a big game.
Masako and Yumiko stuck around to help her, then headed for the door. “You guys ready for the November writing challenge?” Yumiko asked, sliding on her loafers.
“That’s the one where you have to write fifty thousand words in a single month, right?” Natsuki asked.
Masako nodded as she threw a heavy jacket on. “Yumiko has something like that locked down, but we’ll have to push each other, Natsuki.”
Natsuki nodded. “You can count on me!”
She didn’t want to put a damper on the mood, but Natsuki had something she wanted to ask before her friends left. “Hey, Masako…is everything at home okay?”
Masako gave her usual shrug. “It’s the same as it’s always been. But I’ve changed, at least. And if I’m going through stuff, maybe my parents are, too. My dad never leaves his couch, but I’ve been sitting next to him a lot more nowadays. And sometimes my mom even comes to sit with us.”
“I’m glad,” Natsuki said, feeling warmth in her heart.
“We’re living in some good times,” Yumiko said. For the first time ever, there was an element of wistfulness in her voice. “I wonder if that’ll ever change.”
Natsuki already knew the answer to that. “We’ll take life one day at a time.”
Yumiko grinned as she opened the door. “What a smart fella you are. Almost as smart as me! Take care, Natsuki!”
“You too!” Natsuki called out to her.
With that, Yumiko slipped out the door and into the night sky.
That just left Masako and Natsuki. On a night like this, in a sea of good feelings, words spontaneously come out of you. Feelings turn tangible, because you want to let someone important to you know how important they really are to you. You want to share that good feeling.
“Thanks for everything,” Natsuki and Masako said in unison to each other. After a moment of quiet, both girls started laughing.
Masako stepped through the door. “Good night, Natsuki.”
Natsuki smiled and nodded. “Good night, Masako.”
Masako stepped out into the night, calling out for Yumiko to wait up.
Natsuki closed the door slowly, feeling content with everything on this fine night.
That’s when an idea came to her. As Fuyuki enthusiastically yelled about the exciting plays of tonight’s game to their parents, Natsuki returned to her own room. She smiled at the sight of her laptop then booted up her computer, looking for a particular word doc.
Natsuki felt happy about how her story for the contest turned out. But that night, she realized she wanted to put one more finishing touch on it. Since the contest rules stated that the story couldn’t be changed after August 31st, Natsuki decided to indulge herself by editing The Web Novel Club's original word doc.
There was a feeling she wanted to inscribe to conclude that story. That proud feeling, the feeling that comes when you finally hit the natural conclusion to a story, not an abrupt, unplanned ending. The feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of leaning back in your chair as you look upon your first completed work.
When she scrolled down to find the concluding paragraph of The Web Novel Club, Natsuki’s fingers found the keys with ease. It was a simple phrase, but Natsuki smiled at it all the same.