Chapter 1:


My 2D Idol Is My 3D Girlfriend

One entire hour had passed since I got out of bed, but I quickly lost track of time as I went about with the daily motions. Changed into my school uniform, ate breakfast... That sort of thing. Pains me to say, but I also ended up losing myself on my phone, and a supposedly quick check of the notifications turned into 10 minutes of scrolling before I snapped back to reality. But the clock was still ticking, and so I eventually had to wave my parents goodbye while they attended to their own routines.

My mind was still hazy, from a not-so-rare lack of sleep. But the moment I stepped outside and into the embrace of the spring sun, which was getting warmer by the day, did I feel like my day was truly starting. That didn't make me feel any better. All I knew was that I was supposed to keep to the sidewalk as I traversed the neighborhood toward the train station. Because my mind was wandering in another place far away, thinking about miscellaneous things that I couldn't recall even if I wanted to. Except for the reason behind my restless night, which was not only very apparent but was fun enough for me to take note of it.

In that reminiscing mood, I checked my phone one more time and did an anxious sweep on all my social media to check the reception of my newest artwork – the reason for my restless night. Looking at the screen, I'm actually pretty sure I did that 20 minutes ago, but that would be admitting defeat to my own anxiety, so let's pretend that I didn't.

When it comes to being online and posting my work, I enjoy the simplicity of thinking of myself as a "good enough", competent artist that fosters a community of people that enjoy what I post. Of course, if I could make money doing just that, I would be happy. That was not the case yet, though.

I finally boarded the train, which was about halfway full – or empty? – and in no time found myself walking through the gates of the aged school building. That's about as uneventful of a day as it gets. One realization that I had not too long ago was that the vibrant hues were reserved for my computer screen, and the outside world looked mostly gray to me. That's how I feel about the whole morning so far, as well.

"Haruto, good morning!"

It was Souma Inoue, a charismatic classmate who had just transferred that year. It pains me to admit that I don't have particularly close friends, but he apparently really liked me. I think it all started one day when I caught him looking over my shoulder while I drew something during lunch.

"Souma, Aoki. Good morning." In my head that sounded way more lively, but now I realized the extent of my sleep deprivation.

Souma was a normal boy, his hair was fairly short but he was taller than me. Aoki, on the other hand, really liked to tie her hair in a ponytail with colorful and cute ribbons. I think that's her trademark at school where everyone has to look the same.

"Another sleepless night of work, am I right?" He sighed." This guy here is quite the artist, Yuina. He will not admit it to you, so take my word for it."

The girl's gaze flew from me to Souma and back to me, her excitement visible. I felt my cheeks getting warmer while I wrestled with a mix of shyness and pride. Before I knew it, I was adjusting his backpack on my shoulders.

"Really? I love art! Here, let me show you something I made so you can critique it. How does that sound?" She darted towards her backpack before we could utter a word.

Souma offered me a comforting smile, and soon she was back with four bag pins.

"This one is my favorite, though." Aoki handed me a hand-drawn pin in light pastel colors, almost as if it was old paint fading away. Well, that's a rather funny-looking bunny... All of them used similar colors, but the drawings were different. It was... cute? The lines on the bunny were a bit shaky, one eye was too far left. Maybe you can't "undo" in real life – what a shame. The slippery surface probably doesn't help either.

"It's really cute." I genuinely thought so, but for some reason, the words came out funny.

"Come on, Haruto, show her one of yours!"

I wasn't exactly excited to do that, but those two were. So with a drawn-out breath, I hoped to exhale the shyness away. From my bag, I pulled out my school notebook, quickly flipping through blank pages to find the random sketches and doodles. Aoki walked over, from beside Souma to my side. She was a tall girl. Aoki looked down from my shoulder, her ponytail brushing against my shirt.

"I like this one." She pointed, touching the paper, and stopping me from turning the pages. "Who's that?"

Souma gave us a small wave and went to his desk, getting tangled in more conversations along the way. He had enough friends for the both of us.

"Oh, it's no one in particular. I was just trying to come up with an idol design. Maybe for a manga or something..." I shrugged, trying to downplay it a bit.

"Hmmm" She whispered. Her eyes lingered on it for several seconds, running her fingers over the paper, tracing the girl's pencil-shaded detailed outfit and hair.

"You know, there's this one girl that I watch..." She finally continued. "Do you know what a VTuber is?"

I was hoping I could reply while facing her, but I stopped myself when I took notice of how close she was. But even without looking, the girl's voice gave it away that she felt a bit shy saying that out loud.

"Yeah, I've watched a few. I'm always online, so..." I laughed.

"Great! So, yeah. This drawing reminds me of her. Her name is Momo-chan."

The chime rang, and all the students started moving to their desks, and we weren't the exception.

"That's not a particularly distinct name for me to remember." I dared to tease her. In response, she poked at my shoulder.

"I know! It's even crazier to think that she's actually growing without the back of a big agency, or something like that."

I sat down at his desk and watched as Aoki lowered herself, resting her chin on her hands. Apparently, we weren't neighboring classmates? I finally noticed after many weeks. Shame on me.

"I'll send you her channel after school today, then you can tell me what you think!"

My mind went blank and I forgot everything about art and VTubers – "Did I just get a girl's contact by accident?"

Aoki tilted her head wondering what happened, but didn't say anything. I just laughed it away and quickly wrapped up the conversation before the teacher arrived.

The entire exchange was brief and straight to the point, but my lack of energy in contrast to her upbeat and excited attitude made it seem much grander than it should've been. On the bright side, that gave me a surge of energy for the day ahead. But unfortunately, I ran out of steam very quickly anyway, and my head was left with a mess of boring subjects on one side, and my passions and new acquaintance on the other, both wagering war on my exhausted mind.

Syed Al Wasee
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