After school, I did exactly as red instructed and went to the courtyard. Ryo had to stay back because he got in trouble with a teacher and it was going to be some time until Akari arrived. It was just me for the time being.
In the center of the plaza I noticed a lone milk crate. The crate was orange and made of plastic. For something so plain and ordinary looking, it seemed incredibly out of place.
Red suddenly popped his head out of my backpack.
"I searched all day for a soapbox, but this was the best I could do." He said.
"When did you get in my bag?"
"That's not important. You need to get on that crate right now and start attracting some attention. This is peak traffic through here at this time."
Classes had just ended for the day and all students on campus had to pass through here on their way out. Red actually chose the perfect spot.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
He stabbed me in the back of the neck with a mechanical pencil.
"Don't try and get out of this. I'm trying to write a manga here. We need to try some new material or this story is going to get dry and besides, you need the practice anyways, so it's a win-win."
"Even if, What am I supposed to say?"
"Do what any politician would... Just tell people things they want to hear."
"That seems a bit dishonest."
"Who cares, it's not like your opponents have exactly been playing fair."
"I can't argue with that."
I took a deep breath and stepped up onto the milk crate. Instantly my chest got tight and my stomach felt like it had a lead block in it.
"G-good a-afternoon everyone." I said.
Red, who was still in my bag, spoke in my ear.
"You need to speak up a bit."
I cupped my hands to amplify my voice.
"I'd l-like to t-talk about the i-issues facing this s-school."
A group of guys took notice of me. They were laughing amongst themselves. I could hear one of them say,
"Puke boy just doesn't know when to quit."
"Keep going, don't let these guys get to you." Red said.
"Does a-anyone h-have s-something they want to d-discuss?" I continued stammering on.
A small crowd started forming around me.
"You gonna puke again?" Someone shouted.
It seemed like people were gathering to mock me rather than hear what I had to say.
Red nudged me,
"Now that you have a crowd, actually say something of substance. Maybe even attack your opponent a little."
My mind was drawing a blank. I didn't know what to say, so I blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"V-vote for m-me and all your wildest d-dreams will come true."
My audience blankly stared at me. None of them probably knew what that even meant and to be honest neither did I.
My knees started shaking. I could feel the vomit starting to force itself up my throat.
Red took notice,
"Fight through it Kuro. Don't embarrass yourself again."
It took everything I had to swallow it back down. Some members of the crowd started laughing. My eyes started tearing up and I began to feel off balanced and lightheaded, as if I was going to pass out again, but then I heard a voice,
"Why are you running in the first place?"
It was Akari, she managed to blend in with the crowd.
"Placing a plant in the audience, why didn't I think of that?" Red said.
For some reason, hearing her voice helped me regain my composure.
"I-I'm running because I b-believe I can do a better job than P-president Sato."
I couldn't stop stuttering, but I was at least able to spit out a half decent talking point.
"What makes you think you can do better than Sato-san?" A random student in the audience asked.
"As h-her former secretary, I w-was instrumental in i-implementing her agenda. W-without me, she wouldn't have a-accomplished nearly as m-much as she has."
This sparked some chatter amongst the students.
"Is that really true?"
"Puke boy makes a good point, maybe Sato isn't what she makes herself out to be."
"He's that pervert kid the newspaper talked about though. He might just be lying."
There was an actual discourse happening among the group. Not all the comments about me were positive, but at least I managed to get people talking.
I continued speaking,
"The r-rumors about me are lies that th-the school p-paper published. Th-they aren't t-true."
One student up front looked at me doubtingly.
"The school paper has never lied to us before. Can you show us some actual proof?"
It never occurred to me, but I realized that a majority of the students at this school will just believe anything they read.
"W-well… no… I d-don't have any physical evidence, but I'll sw-swear on my w-word."
"So we're just supposed to take your word?"
The student didn't seem to buy what I was saying. There was some chatter in the crowd. A handful of students seemed like they believed me, but most still seemed skeptical.
"W-what if I h-had proof?"
"Sure, I'll believe it when I see it."
A number of students nodded in agreement. I'd have to hunt for something concrete enough to clear my name. I intentionally left out accusing Sato for now, since I unfortunately I had nothing to connect her to the article.
The group of students continued conversing for a while until they eventually dispersed. I quickly ran to the bathroom, where I unloaded my stomach into the toilet. At least on the bright side, I managed to not puke in front of all those people.
"Nice job Kuro! It wasn't perfect by any means, but at least you were able to finish without making a total idiot out of yourself."
Red was patting my back as I was slumped over the toilet.
"It was thanks to Akari. If she didn't show up, things probably wouldn't have gone well." I said.
"Just keep this up and maybe you'll start to make a dent in the polls."
After cleaning myself up, I went out into the hall where Akari was waiting for me.
"You managed to survive," she said.
"All thanks to you. You really saved me back there."
"That was nothing. All I did was speak a single sentence."
"Even if, I probably would have thrown up and passed out again if it wasn't for you."
She got a grin on her face.
"Well then, since I saved you, maybe you can do me a favor right now."
"Sure, I owe you big time anyway."
She started rummaging through her small red backpack as she spoke.
"It seems like there are some people at my school who still aren't entirely convinced you're my 'boyfriend' because I still keep getting confessions. Obviously, we need to make our fake relationship more convincing."
"How are we going to do that?"
She pulled a bento box out of her bag.
"I don't get it. Are you going to eat that or something?"
"No you are. Girlfriends are supposed to do stuff like this for their boyfriends. I need to just get a few pictures of me feeding you this homemade lunch."
"Uh... Sure no problem."
I was a little nervous. Even if our relationship was fake, I never had a girl want to feed me before.
She opened up the box. It contained an assortment of rice, vegetables, and little hot dogs, all put together in a beautiful arrangement.
She had a set of wooden chopsticks with a hot dog and some rice held in between. She held her phone in her other hand. My face got a little flushed as she brought the tips of the chopsticks towards my mouth. She got close to make sure we were both in the frame of the picture. I took a bite of food in my mouth. It tasted... horrible! In fact it was probably the worst thing I ever tasted.
I tried not to let it show on my face, but the food tasted like it was cooked in a toilet. As much as I wanted to throw up again, I couldn't. I knew she put a lot of effort into this. Even if this was just to get a picture, I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I put on a fake smile as she took the picture.
"This is perfect! I'll post that on social media later... So I'm curious, how was the food?"
"It was...uh... tasty... The flavor was really... interesting."
"That's great to hear! That was my first ever attempt at cooking. I wasn't sure how it was going to be. You can have the whole thing if you want."
I'll give her the benefit of the doubt since it was her first time cooking, but I couldn't help but wonder if she actually took the time to taste what she made.
"Oh... Uh... my stomach is still a bit off from throwing up. I'll... save it for later."
I politely took the box and put it in my bag. As soon as I got home though, I was going to make sure this unholy concoction was destroyed with fire. No one should ever have to endure what I just tasted.