Chapter 64:

My Childhood Friend has Learned a Valuable Lesson.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

In the blink of an eye, I'm right in front of Ayame, holding my arm out, staring lasers at the guys who've surrounded her. "She's with me. Back off."

They're not leaving. Oh, no. Please don't tell me I'm gonna have to get in another fight. I really, really don't want to have to fight someone again...

I've gotta intimidate them more...please let this work. "Did you hear me? I said she's with me, and she's not interested in you creeps. Get out of here."

Thirty seconds pass. They're still not leaving. I guess I've resigned myself to what's going to happen at this point.

I hop into my fighting stance. I'm not sure that I could take all of them at once, but I can definitely buy enough time for Ayame to escape, or the cops to arrive. And I can definitely knock at least one of them out. Pickup artists are creepy losers. I'm not gonna feel bad about beating the shit out of any of these guys.

Are they gonna rush me? They're not moving. We're standing there staring at each other.

Suddenly, I hear Ayame snicker. I whirl around and she's still sitting on the ground, but with her head turned away and her hand over her mouth, trying unsuccessfully to stifle her laughter.

What is wrong with her? There's absolutely nothing funny about this!

"Hey, do you understand what kind of situation you're in right now?!" I hiss, bending down toward Ayame. "You need to get out of here! Go find security!"

She turns toward me and it looks like it's taking every bit of strength she has to not break down into howls of laughter. "This isn't what you think, Haru-kun...pffffft...these guys are my friends..."

"They're WHAT?!" I whirl back around, quickly glancing at each of the guys surrounding the two of us. It slowly dawns on me that they aren't dressed like flashy pickup artist douchebags normally are. In fact, they look a bit nerdy, and they all look confused. I don't think they’re trying to pick a fight.

"They're from another circle I used to help out with..." Ayame finally pulls herself to her feet and suddenly breaks down in her typical shrill, birdlike laughter. She can barely get any words out between ragged breaths, she's laughing so hard. "You really did the...'I'll protect you' really...went...'get away from my...girlfriend'..."

What in the world is so FUNNY?! I don't care if she knows them or not. They were cornering her and hitting on her, and she was in danger, so I did what any decent man would do in that situation! Why is she LAUGHING?!

Suddenly, the guy right in front of me, wearing glasses and a blue oxford over a t-shirt, finally speaks. "We're part of a doujin circle called Rei-Ou. I'm Morota and these are Shuuo, Raijin, and Kuwa. Kuri-chan used to help us out with backgrounds and shading and stuff like that."

"I don't care whether you know her or not." In a split second, I'm right up in this guy's face. "You don't get to treat a girl that way. Especially not my childhood friend. Get out of here and I better not catch you hitting on her again."

"But...we weren't hitting on Kuri-chan..." The guy looks genuinely confused.

"Don't play dumb. I saw everything."

"We weren't trying to hit on her...that was an inside joke back from when she used to help us."

"Hold on just a minute. A what?"

Behind me, Ayame starts howling with laughter again, forcing out words between birdlike chattering. "He...squared up! He actually squared up! Morota, run! Before he...hen-ties you in a knot..." Her words cut off as she laughs like a hyena.

"Shut up, Aya- I mean Kuri!" I feel like my head is going to explode. None of this makes any sense. I quickly whirl back around to the guy named Morota. "You'd better explain this 'joke'. Start talking."

The guy actually looks a bit scared, but he gulps. "It comes from when Kuri-chan first joined us...we had let her watch us do the backgrounds for our pages for a while, but page 5 of Happenstance was the first background she did on her own. We sold that one at last year's Spring Comiket. We were on a video call with her when we showed her what we wanted her to do and she insisted on us acting the scene out so she could 'grasp it' or whatever she called was pretty awkward at the time, but looking back on it, it was hilarious..."

That sounds like something she would do, I don't like where this is going. "Wait a minute...that doujin that you were talking about. What's in it?"

Ayame, finally recovered from her laughing fit, pipes up from next to me, with the biggest grin on her face that I’ve ever seen. "It's about this shy girl who gets cornered by this group of pickup artists and then she gets-"

“Don’t say another word.” I know exactly what she’s gonna say. Stuff you should never discuss in public. “You are disgusting. I regret ever defending you."

I whirl back around to Morota, staring daggers at him. "So you let a high school girl work on some R-18 stuff, huh? I ought to go ahead and knock your teeth down your throat, creep. And then drag your body to the nearest police station."

“It wasn’t R-18!” The guy looks around frantically. “We never let her touch the explicit stuff!”

“Yeah, like I believe that. Grit your teeth, loser.”

Immediately, Ayame’s cry freezes my fist in midair, right before I can slam it into this nerd’s face. “He’s telling the truth! It was the first time they drew something clean!”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because I’ve got the whole thing downloaded on my phone!” She thrusts it out to me, screen-first. “Take a look for yourself if you don’t believe me!”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me-” I slowly scroll down the page. The second I see one nipple I’m knocking each and every one of those creeps out, and then I’m gonna go find their booth in the main hall and destroy it, too.

Here it comes…they’re definitely about to get naked here…no, not here? It’s coming…I can just feel it…

…She was right.

The doujin’s completely clean. It’s a parody. There’s not even any nudity. And it’s the correct one, too- all those guys’ names are on the last page.

My mouth must be open all the way to the floor, because Ayame smiles triumphantly. “See? Nothing lewd at all. And I would know, I read everything else they made too-” Ayame’s voice suddenly trails off, and she nervously looks to the left, nervously looks to the right, and then goes, "Ah...uh...oopsie...ehehehe~"

As soon as she sticks her tongue out and winks, I flick her. Hard. "Shut up about that stuff, you damn pervert!"

Rubbing her forehead, she stares at me in a pout. “Aren’t you the pervert? You were the one who assumed it was porn without ever seeing it!”

Don’t turn it on me! That’s a natural assumption to make when the guys drawing the doujin look like sex offenders, and you’re one of the biggest perverts I’ve ever met…anyone would come to that conclusion!

She quickly turns to Morota. "Sorry for not introducing you sooner. This is Number One, one of the members of our circle. He's a bit of a worrywart and he's old-fashioned and he gets mad easily...but I hope you'll forgive him. He means well."

Oh, for the love of...I seriously can't believe her, now she's acting like I'm the one who's causing trouble...

"Sorry you got the wrong idea." The guy next to Morota, with longer hair, quickly nods. "We were taking a break and we saw Kuri-chan out here all by herself and she looked really upset so we were trying to cheer her up. You weren't getting any sales, were you?"

"You're right..." Ayame nods, downcast.

"It happened to us at first, too. We know exactly how it feels."

"...Thanks, you guys."

This is ridiculous. Doujin people are all absolutely insane.

"Hey, by the way," says the third guy in the group, "we're going to go celebrate a job well done after the market closes...your circle's invited, if you want."

"Even though we didn't sell anything?"

"It's not about the's a reward for all the hard work that everyone did."

There are few places that I'd like to be less than at an afterparty with these losers. "We'll pass-"

But before I can finish, Ayame cuts me off. "Sounds like fun!"

You have got to be kidding me.

"Aya- Kuri, we need to go back."

She doesn't listen to me and keeps talking. At this point, I've had enough. I didn't want to go for physical removal, but I'm on my last nerve. I don't want to spend another second around these weirdo doujin artists.

I gently grab Ayame by the arm and she suddenly stops talking, turns around, and blushes bright pink. Instantly, my cheeks grow hot, too.

Damn it, why is that expression so cute? It doesn't fit her! Nothing about her is actually cute!

"Oh, right...I've gotta get back to our booth...see you guys..." Ayame quickly turns back to the Rei-Ou members and nods her goodbyes before finally turning to leave with me.

Thank the Buddha it's over.

We're almost all the way back to the conference room before Ayame finally speaks, hesitantly and softly. "Haru-kun...are you mad at me?"

"Take a wild guess."


"Seriously. What in the world are you getting up to when I'm not watching you? Working for creeps like that who draw smut for disgusting otakus." It almost makes me sick thinking about it. A high school girl hanging around those guys.

“I only helped them out for one winter!” She waves her hands, flustered. “It’s all in the past.”

“And it better stay in the past.” I can't stay mad at her for very long. It's like getting angry at a dog or a little kid...and I could have handled that situation better. I think those weird guys were legitimately playing a prank between friends...a completely messed up one, but still, an actual joke, and I jumped in there and made a total fool out of myself.

"So long as I'm part of your circle you had better not be drawing any of that filth." I sigh in exhaustion as we walk down the corridors of the Big Sight, which are less crowded than they were this afternoon (but still pretty crowded).

"I promise." It's at this point that she perks up. "Since it gets you all hot and bothered~" She immediately giggles.

"No, it doesn't. That has nothing to do with it." My issue, which I'm not going to say out loud, is that we're high school students so we obviously can't sell anything lewd or we'll get in trouble. But if you're smarter than Ayame, you probably figured that out. Like I have said many times before, I am not a prude. I'm not opposed to dirty stuff in principle. What sets me apart from Ayame is that I have a functioning brain that allows me to consider the possible consequences of my actions before I do them.

"You're blushing..." Holy crap, Ayame's close all of the sudden. “Baka-Haru.”

"I am not!"

When we finally make it back to our booth, I catch sight of my sister and her friends standing in front of it. Must be close to closing time.

She turns her head to the right, sees me and Ayame fighting our way through the crowd, and practically skips over to me. She's smiling from ear to ear and is beaming so much she's almost glowing. I stop in my tracks, taken aback.

You've probably realized this by now, but this isn't how she normally acts.

"Hey Niichan, how's the doujin sales going?" She whirls around, putting her hands behind her back and stretching forward with a great big smile.

"Not very well," I sigh.

Immediately, Ayame chimes in. "We haven't sold a single one..."

"But you tried your best, didn't you, Ayame-san? That's the important part!"

Ayame stops dead in her tracks with her big eyes wide and stares at my little sister in shock for what seems like a century. This is weird as hell. Kaede usually gives Ayame a massive berth whenever they're around each other (not like I blame her) and here she is acting like she's Ayame's best friend.

Suddenly, Ayame bolts toward my sister, wrapping her in a big hug. "Kaede-chan! You're such a good girl!"

My sister doesn't try to get away, or kick Ayame, or do anything that someone normal would do when faced with a rampaging idiot. She just stands there wrapped in my childhood friend's hug with a peaceful expression on her face.

Is that actually Kaede? Did she get hit on the head or something? Is she an impostor? Hear me out, I know it sounds crazy, but I'm starting to suspect that the Kaede right in front of me is somebody impersonating her and my little sister is actually bound and gagged in some basement right now.

For the sake of my own sanity, I've gotta ask her this. "Kaede, weird question, but when you were little, we made that secret hideout in the woods behind the elementary school. Do you remember your 'treasure' that you found?"

"Yeah, it was an old crushed can, and it was blue and red." Kaede immediately replies as Ayame lets go of her. “Why are you asking?”

That's my little sister, alright...but why on earth is she acting like that?

"Uh…no reason. I guess the info session went well?"


"You look like you've had a lot of fun today."


When we get back to the booth, it starts getting even stranger.

Takeno-senpai nods as we approach, saying, "There you are. I thought something might have happened."

"Nope, we're fine!" Ayame responds cheerfully.

That's debatable.

Suzuran, still in that skimpy costume and still holding the sign, hesitantly says in her breathy voice, "W-w-w-we sold a doujin while you were gone..."

"For real?" Ayame's eyes sparkle as she quickly ruffles through the stack of magazines still sitting on our table. For the record, I don't think we actually sold anything. I think Suzuran is trying to make Ayame feel better.

"We did! There's one missing! We actually did! Hey Tora- I mean Number Three, sorry, who bought it?"

"It was a normal-looking guy," Takeno-senpai muses, putting a finger on his chin. "He didn't say much. Pretty nondescript."

"How long ago?"

"Maybe fifteen minutes."

Ayame surveys the still massive crowd, looking rather disappointed. "Aww, he's probably gone by now...I wanted to thank him. But I can't believe we actually sold something!"

"Congrats," Takeno-senpai replies with a resigned smile.

"No, congrats to you, too. We all worked together on this."

"You're right."

When I look down at my watch, the red LEDs read 3:55. They probably made the closing announcement while we were outside. "We should start packing up our stuff. It might take a while to get out of here."

As we're breaking our booth down, Ayame stops, puts a finger on her chin, looks up at the ceiling, deep in thought, and peppily says, "What do you guys think about the afterparty?"

"No." My reply is instinctive. "We've gotta get home." And if this is what I think it is, I don't want to be anywhere near those creeps.

"Afterparty?" Takeno-senpai, rolling up the banner, stops for a second.

"Some members of another circle that I know invited us to come hang out with them after the event's over. I messaged one of them a little while ago and they said they were going to do karaoke."

"That doesn't sound too bad."

"Absolutely not." This time, my reply is even more forceful.

"I-I-I'm not g-good with s-singing...I'd rather s-s-sit and w-watch..." Suzuran mumbles.

"What about you, Kaede-chan?" Ayame looks at my sister, who's standing nearby, watching us pack up intently.

"It sounds like fun."

"What about Saya-chan?"

Asahi is standing a few steps back from my sister, looking like something's on her mind. She's not acting like herself, either. She hasn't tried to tease me or mess with me since we met back up- instead, she's been off in her own little world. It's weird.

Next to her, slumped over, is Maebara, white as a sheet. Some things never change.

Kaede shrugs her shoulders. "She's fine with it."

"Then it's decided! We're meeting them at the north entrance to Shimbashi Station-"

"No, it's not decided." I quickly butt in. "We need to go home. It'll be late by the time we get back."

"But I think it'll be fun...please, Niichan?" Kaede looks up at me with pleading eyes. Seriously, she never acts like this.

"It's 6 to 1, Haru-kun," Ayame says smugly. "You're overruled."




Please, someone make it stop. Ayame's just as bad at singing as she is at drawing. Worse, even. I'm considering sticking pens in my ears at this point.

I think she's the only one that's having fun. Well, her and the guys from Rei-Ou. There's about ten of them and they're all passing the mic around between them. Not that I mind. I have enough sense to realize that people don't want to hear me butcher pop songs from the eighties. Unlike someone. No prizes for guessing who.

The members of the Nakamachi Tomodachi (minus their leader) and my little sister and her friends are all seated near the back of the room while Ayame and the guys from the other circle are partying it up in the front. Kaede's starting to return to normal. She's not looking as bubbly and smiley as she was an hour or so ago. I think Ayame's caterwauling sucked the life out of her.

Okay. She's off the mic. Thank God. It's pretty awkward in here to begin with. The guys from Rei-Ou have been super apologetic and cautious around me and I'm starting to feel bad.

"Hey, do you guys want anything?" Kaede, sitting next to me, holds out the drink order tablet. "They've got food, too."

"Just a tea, thanks." Takeno-senpai looks pretty dang uncomfortable, but he's keeping it together.

"I-I'm fine for n-n-n-now..." Suzuran fidgets nervously in her seat.

"Saya, what about you?"

Asahi doesn't respond, instead staring off into the distance.


"Oh! Sorry. Orange soda."

"Okay." Kaede taps away at the tablet. "Niichan?"

"AwOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO 5-6-7-0-9..."

Oh, God, she's back.

"Earplugs. And an aspirin."

All I can do is cover my ears until the screeching stops as Kaede looks on with concern.

At long last, it's finally over...wait. She's going again. Oh, no.


Stop it. Please.


Kill me. Kill me right now.


Two days later, I'm laying on the couch in the living room, doing nothing in particular while the cicadas sing outside and the Koshien blares on the TV. Summer break's almost over, which means I'm going to spend it doing absolutely nothing. No more doujins, no more circles...I'm spending the rest of the break in peace.

Man, what a day that was.

Starting off with me dragging myself out of bed at 6 am on a Saturday just to get teased by my sister's annoying gadfly of a friend, and ending with Ayame screaming anime theme songs until my eardrums almost ruptured. The guys from Rei-Ou actually ended up being nice...or at least they left me alone, which counts as nice. Like I said before, they were really apologetic toward me, and that's made me feel worse and worse the more I think about it.

I mean, seriously, I jumped right in there like I was Ayame's...boyfriend or something...ugh. I've gotta forget about that.

After Ayame's "concert" finished, the Rei-Ou guys wished us "kids" a good night before they told us that they were going to do "adult things" and heading off toward the bars. Then we went home and for the next few days Mom looked like she was bursting at the seams trying to hold in her desire to make me tell her everything that happened, but she didn't ask me anything other than if I had fun.

It was a crazy day where a lot of ridiculous stuff happened, but I can't say I hated it.

"Yamamoto hits one deep! Back goes Murakawa, to the wall...he's not gonna get there! Kyoto-Nijo on the board first! It's a three-run shot by Yamamoto!" The TV erupts with announcer excitement as I slowly reach into the bag of butter-flavored chips in front of me, pop one in my mouth, and chew it with all the speed of a depressed sloth.

I've been loosely following the tournament. I haven't had time to watch like I normally do with all the otaku crap going on, but Nijo looks good. It's just the first inning and they're already on cruise control. And it's a semifinal. I don't see anyone else giving them trouble, especially when they’ve got that center fielder. That makes twenty-nine homers so far. He's a beast.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Who's trying to call me- It doesn't matter. I'm not picking it up.

"Slider gets away from Kubota, ball one." These chips aren't my favorite, but they're not bad.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Sorry, not answering.

The batter grounds out, the TV goes to commercial, and I flip over on my back, looking straight up at the ceiling, stretching out. Man, this is relaxing. It's so hot outside, but it's nice and cool in the house. I could stay like this forever.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Ugh, again?

Just forget it. I'm not doing anything today but laying here.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.


As I sit bolt upright, the name on the caller ID catches my eye.


That's weird...she usually sends me LIMEs.

Still not answering, though.

A second after the buzzing stops and the screen goes black, my phone vibrates to life yet again and Ayame's name shows up on the screen.

She's not gonna stop until I answer...

Fine. Ugh.


On the other end of the line, Ayame's voice is shaky, breathless, but excited.

"Haru-kun, you're never gonna believe it."


"A miracle happened."

Steward McOy