Chapter 12:

Just Friends

Hanging by a Thread

"Asahi-kun!" a voice shouted at me.

Three knocks came from my door. I opened my eyes only to immediately close them. I turned my body around so I wasn't facing the window. It's too early for sunlight right now.

Again, three knocks on my door.

"Asahi-kun!" the same voice shouted again. "He's not still asleep, is he?"

"Probably is," another one said. "We did do a lot yesterday. All the other students collapsed as soon as we got back to the inn."

"Tsk. So fragile."

They kept muttering to each other behind the door, but I could no longer hear them. Slowly, I began drifting back to sleep.

The next second, I found myself waking up in a dark room. I tilted my eyes to see the night sky beyond the window. Did I really sleep the whole day? No, the teacher would've come to wake us all up. Maybe they forgot about me.

"Asahi-kun," a voice whispered into my ear.

Panicked, I turned to see Lana sitting right on top of my waist. All she's wearing is short yukata with seemingly nothing to cover up her legs.

"L-Lana-chan?!" I exclaimed.

When I tried to get up, something pulled me back down. I nearly broke my neck twisting to the left, where I saw Chloe lying down right next to me with her arms wrapped around my arm. Like Lana, she's wearing a loose yukata that nearly exposed her breasts.

"Asahi-kun..." she smiled softly.

"Wh-what are you guys doing?!" I shouted. "Let go, Chloe-chan!"

Suddenly, I felt a tug on my other arm. Alice was also lying down next to me with her yukata completely untied. While her breasts were covered for the most part, the middle was exposed all the way down to her stomach.

"Asahi-kun," she said extremely seductively.

My heart felt like it was ready to explode. What is this? Never in my life did I imagine this would ever happen to me. Nonetheless, I can't allow it. This is way too sudden!

No matter how hard I tried, my arms wouldn't move. Their strength is unbelievable.

Lana began slowly leaning down. She grabbed my face with her lips slightly puckered.

"Come here, Asahi-kun..." she whispered.

I shut my eyes, and it felt like my entire body was falling through a hole.

My eyes opened once more, but they were forced shut due to the painful coughs that began forcing themselves out of my mouth.

"Asahi-kun!" someone called out. "Are you okay?"

It took a few seconds, but I regained full consciousness. What I saw next nearly sent me back. Chloe was looking down at me with eyes full of worry. I blinked once. Then twice.

"Chloe-chan...?" I gulped. "What are you... doing?"

"I've been here for an hour," she popped a smile on her face. "You looked like you needed a better pillow."


It didn't take long for me to realize that what I'm currently resting my head on is not the same pillow I threw myself on last night. I was wondering why I felt so elevated. Also... I'm lying on Chloe's lap?!

My body sprung up like a mousetrap that had just been set up. Sitting in front of me was Alice, who turned from her book to stare at me with those sharp and obscurely judgmental eyes.

She shut the book and smiled. "Good morning, Asahi-kun."

"Good... morning," I mumbled.

"Took you long enough," Lana grumbled from the left.

She was lying on her side near the door with an arm in a crook, her head propped on her hand. Planted on the floor in front of her was a large tablet playing random reels on the internet.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Was yesterday really that bad?" Alice scoffed. "Suck it up. It was just a little bit of fieldwork."

"So... nothing significant happened last night... right?"

"Hm? Not that I recall."

"Okay... good."

I began to relax a bit. So all of that was a dream, but why did it feel so real? I've never experienced anything like that before.

Alice pressed her fingers on her chin as she studied me meticulously. "Hm..."

"W-what?" I gulped.

Her face suddenly bore the most bewitching smirk. With a playful tone, she said, "Asahi-kun. Did you perhaps... have a fun dream last night?"

A subtle jolt sent a chilling wave throughout my entire body. How in the world did she figure that out?

"N-no..." I answered—a useless attempt to conceal my guilt.

"Really?" Alice giggled. "Then... you wouldn't mind if I took a look, would you?"


I absolutely can not let them know. I dread to think what would happen. Before I could say anything else, Alice's eyes began glowing. I quickly turned my head away, only to see Lana enjoying the show from the sideline.

"Eh?" Lana grinned, prolonging that sound. "What are you trying to hide, Asahi-kun?"

"Nothing!" I grunted. "I just don't want you looking through my memory."

"So you do have something to hide."

"N-naturally. Doesn't everyone?"

Alice and Lana both looked at me suspiciously. I turned around and Chloe seemed more or less clueless about everything.

"Fine. You win this time, Asahi-kun," Alice backed off and said. "If you don't want us to know, then so be it. But... I have a good guess as to what your dream was about."

"It's really not what you think," I sighed.

"I think otherwise. I won't judge, so don't worry. You are a boy, after all."

"What did you... dream about?" Chloe muttered while covering her chest with her arms.

"Nothing! Let's just drop it."

Lana dropped her head to the ground and laughed. This probably won't go away for a while, and neither will the lingering image that is still so vivid in my head. How could I have such a dirty dream about them? They're not like that. If anything, I can't help but feel like I've insulted them just by having that dream.

Yesterday went by faster than I thought. We took a hike around some parts of the peninsula, mostly around one of the many shrines and temples scattered around the forest. For the latter half, we spent it doing subtle field work on a farm like pulling out weeds and rolling around wheel barrels full of soil. As intense as it was, the chill winds of autumn's end made it bearable.

As for today, I'm not sure what's on the agenda. Our schedule so far has been pretty spontaneous. We weren't supposed to do all that fieldwork yesterday, but the farm was right there, so the teacher called a vote. Surprisingly, an overwhelming amount of us voted to do it. I guess we didn't pick Kunisaki for nothing.

I pulled out my phone and began scrolling through random posts on social media. I often do this whenever there's nothing better to do. It's become a habit, albeit an unhealthy one.

It's not that bad. I'm sitting down, comfortable, just doing whatever. But... why does it feel like I'm being watched?

My eyes tilted over to Alice, who, for a very brief moment, was looking at me, and immediately turned back to her book. Lana was doing the same thing, but it was less obvious since her body was facing towards me. Chloe was staring out of the window, but I could've sworn I saw subtle movement coming from her side.

"Okay, what is it this time?" I said.

"Hm? What do you mean?" Alice asked, but it was so clearly guilty.

"I noticed you guys looking at me. Is there something on my face?"

"Nonsense. There is nothing wrong with your f..."

She abruptly twisted her head away. I rubbed both sides of my face to find nothing there. Perhaps it's something else.

"Did I... do something wrong again?" I gulped.

With a deep breath, she said quietly, "No... Nothing at all."

I turned to Lana, and it looked like she was concentrating way too hard on that tablet. This is so awkward.

"Alright, everyone, wake up!" we heard the teacher shout from outside the door. "We've got a long day out in the field today. Hope you guys are ready for some nature preservation. Haha!"

"I guess we'd better get dressed," Lana said. "Let's go, girls."

The other two agreed, and they promptly teleported back to their own room. That was strange. Normally, they'd say goodbye. Maybe I did do something wrong, but... nothing comes to mind. I'll apologize anyway when I get the chance.

I quickly went down to the restroom to brush my teeth before the other boys in my class got there. I don't wanna stick around for them to start running their mouths about the girls as they always do.

After that, I scurried back to my room and got dressed. While we are gonna be doing fieldwork, it's almost sixty degrees outside. I debated my choice of clothes for a moment. Pants or shorts, hoodie or no hoodie. I decided to go with some sweatpants and a hoodie over a T-shirt. If anything I can just take the hoodie off later.

I opened the door and peeked into the hallway. No one in sight. Looks like everyone is either in the restrooms or changing in their rooms. I made my way through the hallway and towards the lobby downstairs. There, I met the teacher, who was waiting for us.

"Ah, Yoshino-kun!" he grinned. "That was quick. It hasn't even been ten minutes yet, and you're already down."

"I just wanted to beat the traffic," I said. "I'm not the most patient guy when it comes to crowds in a small space."

"I've noticed. Hah... but I bet you aren't so tough if that crowd happens to be the three sisters, eh?"

For a moment, I lost my balance and almost fell on my face. Even the teacher is teasing me about them. If that's not the ultimate embarrassment, I don't know what is.

"I-it's not like that," I stuttered. "We're just friends."

"Just friends?" he laughed. "Sure doesn't look like it."

"That's impossible."

"What? Surely, you're joking. They definitely have a thing for you. It's as clear as day!"

"No. They're on a level of their own. Whereas I... am not someone who can be loved."

By the time I realized what I just said, it was already too late. Even though he's my teacher, we've never once sat down and had a real conversation. I can't believe I just spilled my heart to him.

With his wide eyes slightly crossed and his mouth ajar, the teacher said, "Sit down, Yoshino-kun."

"Sir-" I managed to say before he interrupted me.


His whole demeanor changed. That commanding tone made it hard for me to disobey his order, and reluctantly, I sat down next to him.

"What did you mean by that?" he asked solemnly. "You're a great kid, Yoshino-kun. You're smart, maybe overly reserved, but you're a respectful and kind young man. What could've possibly happened for you to think like that?"

I bit my tongue. I don't deserve such compliments. Even if I present myself in a way that is deserving of such praise, I know deep down who I am, and I am not those things.

"Sir... have you ever been alone to the point where you began hating everyone around you?" I asked. "Because I have."

He said nothing as if waiting for me to finish what I had to say. So, I continued. "My whole life, I've always been surrounded by people, both adults and kids who are my age. However, none of them ever knew my name. Even when I tried, my presence was ignored. Am I overly reserved? I don't think so. I think I'm reserved just enough so that I won't get hurt anymore."

After a deep breath, he replied, "I can't comment on what happened because I've never been through what you have. Your past is your own. I have no right to simply tell you to change. However, I will say that you are not alone anymore. You realize that, right?"

My mind trailed back to the girls. I remember clearly every single time they've smiled at me. I remember how I felt a wave of happiness whenever I would open my phone to see them blasting the group chat with their quirks. They would invite me out at least two times a week ever since we started getting closer. I can't deny it at all.

"Yeah," I finally said. "I do realize that."

"Then you're one step closer to recovering," the teacher said. "Although I understand why you think the way you do, I have to ask... do you really think the girls feel nothing towards you?"

"I'm sure. They're the most popular girls in the school right now, even among the upperclassmen. Why would they... like... me...?"

I hesitated as memories of the recent past began playing themselves in my head like a slideshow. How many times have I openly called the girls beautiful right in front of them? That's not something that friends just say to each other, right?

Not to mention the number of times we've been physically close to the point where it became natural that they would do something weird. I'm almost certain normal friends don't do that either.

And then there's the day of the Autumn festival when all three of them kissed me on the cheek. I've never seen anyone else do that unless... they were in some kind of romantic relationship.

I threw my head down, covering my mouth with a hand in disbelief. It's impossible, isn't it? I'm just a human, and they're freaking goddesses. They can't have feelings for me. No... I don't believe it, but why does my mind keep trying to convince me otherwise?

"Asahi-kun," a voice said.

I immediately shot up, and once again, I was left speechless by their appearance.

Chloe is wearing an oversized cyan hoodie, a short white skirt, and black stockings that rose up to her thigh. The colorful cloud designs dotting the entire hoodie resemble a mesh of cotton candy. That outfit matches her soft personality like no other.

Lana has on a white windbreaker over a yellow T-shirt while wearing a pair of jean shorts. As unconventional as it is to have a jacket and shorts on, it looks amazing. Combine that with the cap she's wearing, this is the very definition of streetwear, and no one can ever pull it off as well as she does.

Alice's favorite color must be black or something. All she's wearing is a black sweater and tight black leggings. The sweater was zipped halfway up, revealing the crop top she was wearing underneath. I swear, she can wear anything and it'll look gorgeous.

Would it be weird if I called them beautiful? It's what I think, and I've said it so many times before. However, now that I'm thinking about their feelings, it sounds weird to me. Should I still say it?

"Hello, sir," the girls said one by one as they bowed their heads.

"Hey, hey! Congratulations on being the second group of kids to make it down here this morning," the teacher laughed. "Unfortunately, Yoshino-san has already taken first place."

"So it seems," Alice smiled as she fixed her eyes on me. "Have you already thought of a reward for him, sir?"

"Hm... Nothing comes to mind, but I bet you've got something, don't you?"

"If you'll allow me."

"Well, by all means! Don't let me keep you."

Alice approached me, bent her body forward, and grabbed the backrest of my seat.

"Asahi-kun," she whispered.

"Y-yes...?" I gulped.

"Congratulations on being the first."

She slowly leaned forward. Even though I saw her coming right in front of my eyes, I couldn't move a muscle. Her eyes shut, her mouth slightly opened, and she landed a short peck on my cheek. That coy smile was all I saw when she stepped away.

"Alice!" Lana shouted. "That's not fair."

"Oh?" she giggled in response. "Then you should've done it first. All is fair in love and war, dear sister."

"What...! Asahi-kun! You'd better win something else!"

"L-like what?" I hesitated to say.

"Anything! Whatever the teacher decides to bring up next."

"Hah! Oh, don't you worry," the teacher hollered. "I'll turn anything into a competition if I can help it."

"Make sure it's one that Asahi-kun can win," Chloe smiled.

"You bet!"

With that, the girls left to go wait outside, leaving me in utter disbelief. The teacher rested one of his hands on my shoulder.

"You still think they don't have even the tiniest hint of feelings for you?" he asked sarcastically.

"I kindly request that you not make this worse than it already is, sir," I grumbled.

The Goddesses of Fate... might like me? I can't say for sure that I myself like them that way, but... I can't necessarily deny it either. There's no way for me to tell whether these are my own feelings, or just my mind telling me how I should feel. My head hurts from thinking about all of this.

"I'm gonna wait outside as well," I sighed.

"Have fun," the teacher said with a massive grin. "Don't get into anything spicy just yet. We've still got a long time before nightfall."

I made myself outside while he laughed at his own joke. I didn't think the teacher would have that kind of personality. It's partly my fault since I never bothered to try and figure it out.

My head turned left, then right. Along the empty street, some folks were going about their daily life. One lady was sweeping her patio, and another was sitting on a bench, feeding the birds that happened to pass by. However, the girls were nowhere in sight.

I sat down on a wooden table and rested my head on my arms. Chill winds brushed through my hair, seeping into the small gaps in my hoodie. I've always liked the cold weather. However, it's hard for me to embrace it right now. My face is still hot, and my heartbeat hasn't slowed down.

Suddenly, something poked through a hole in the table. It's... a red thread? It's just like the one that kept popping up at the fall festival.

I reached my hand out to grab it, but it disappeared right when I was about to. Why am I suddenly seeing these threads?

"Hello, Asahi-kun," Chloe said.

My eyes rolled out from under my sleeve to see her sitting next to me with a soft smile. The rest of them sat down at the same table, each holding a small cup in their hands.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Green tea," Lana answered while stirring her cup. "A kind old lady offered them to us as we were passing by."

"Were you guys taking a walk?"

"Something like that," Chloe replied. "We wanted to get a good look around. This place reminds me of the old days."

"How was it like back then?"

"Hm... apart from everyone wanting to kill each other? It wasn't that bad."

I forgot all about feudal Japan until she said that. Apparently, a lot of messed up things happened back then. Now that I think about it, aren't these girls the one who writes the fate of every human? If that's the case, they're the ones who caused all the bloodshed and turmoil in all of human history. I probably shouldn't bring that up.

"By the way," I said. However, the words I wanted to say wouldn't come out.

"Asahi-kun?" Chloe called.

I tried to say it again. Still nothing. That's strange... I wanted to ask them about the red thread I keep seeing, but it's like an outside force is keeping me from talking about it.

"Never mind," I said.

"Alright, kids, we're moving out," the teacher approached us and said. Behind him was the rest of the class, all dressed and ready to work in the cold.

For the next hour, we hiked across the town and into the forest beyond, where another shrine was stationed. A tour guide was leading the way, telling us all about the history of each significant monument we passed. I noticed that about half of us weren't even paying attention. I can't complain since I'm one of them.

I was never one to be impressed by nature. Even now, I'm only able to fix my attention for three seconds at most before moving on to the next sight. It's beautiful, for sure. I'm just not an outdoorsy kind of person.

Every time the girls saw something new, they pulled me over to show me. I'm now convinced that they've never been outside of a city before. The smallest things caught their attention. While the journey itself was mediocre at best, the girls made it somewhat bearable.

We stopped at a massive orchard that nearly touched the horizon. Hundreds of fruit trees sprung from the verdant pastures in perfect symmetry while tall maple trees dotted the landscape.

"Whoa!" Lana exclaimed.

"It's so beautiful!" Chloe cried joyfully.

"Alright, kids! This is where we're gonna be spending the rest of the day," the teacher turned around and said. "Hope you're ready to get your hands dirty."

We made our way through the orchard and towards the farmhouse, where an old couple greeted us with a heartfelt introduction. They gave us each a bag of maple saplings and tasked us with planting them all around the field.

"Listen up!" the teacher shouted. "You heard the farmers. Get to planting those maple trees, but don't put them too close to the fruit trees. And of course, you know me."

He subtly eyeballed me while putting on a huge smile.

"Split up into teams of four! Make your way around the orchard and plant as many of them as you can.

After that declaration, everybody scrambled off to make their teams.

"Teams of four, hm?" Alice chuckled. "How convenient for us.

Chloe ran over to me and grabbed my hand. "Shall we?"

"Hey, Chloe! Let go of him!" Lana chided.

"Run, Asahi-kun!" Chloe laughed.

"W-what...?!" I exclaimed as she began dragging me across the field.

Calm down, Asahi. They're just messing around and having fun. It's nothing more than that.

We found a nice empty area surrounded by a bunch of apple trees. I don't think there could be a better spot. It's kind of exciting to think about how it'll look once the maple tree is fully grown.

"Alright," I said. "Let's plant one here.

Chloe took a single sapling and knelt down on the ground. Lana dug a hole with a small shovel she got from the farmhouse. After Chloe planted, Alice lifted her fingers to form a small raincloud right above the sapling.

"This... feels a bit like cheating," I mumbled.

"I forgot to grab a watering can," Alice shrugged. "This'll have to do."

"It is what it is, I guess. Let's get to the next area.

Right as we were about to leave, Lana yelled, "Wait, wait!"

"What? What is it?" I asked.

"There's something I wanna test out!"

With a huge grin streaking across her face, she pointed her palm at the buried sapling. Strings of green light shot out of her fingertips and seeped into the moist dirt. Suddenly, the sapling that we planted literally just a minute ago sprouted into a fully grown maple tree.

"Wha..." I gasped under my breath.

"Uh..." was all that came out of Lana's mouth.

I panicked and turned around. It doesn't seem like anyone is around us.

"Turn it back! Quickly!" I urged as quietly as possible.

"I-I don't know how to!" she panicked. "Demeter didn't teach me that!"

Alice quickly lifted her hand and released a faint aura that surrounded the tree. Almost just as immediately, the tree shrunk to a sapling that was just beginning to sprout.

"Oh, my goodness..." I sighed.

"Oopsies," Lana giggled shamefully.

Just then, the teacher popped up from out of nowhere and examined it.

"Whoa!" he exclaimed. "This little bud is already sprouting! At this rate, it's gonna be a full-grown tree within the year. You guys worked some magic on it or something?"

"Uh... I... guess so?" I answered with the most uncertainty I've ever had.

"You know what they say, with a little bit of love, these guys will grow in no time. Haha!"

He walked off to examine the other saplings, and we could now breathe a sigh of relief.

"What do you mean Demeter didn't teach you?" I scoffed. "How does Alice know and not you?"

"B-because! I wasn't... paying attention... at the time," she mumbled.

That was way too close. If the teacher had been any second earlier, there's a good chance he would've seen that tree spring up from out of nowhere.

"Let's hold off on magic for the rest of today," I said.

"Aw, come on, it wasn't even that bad," Lana whistled.

"Wasn't that bad?"

I held a finger at her forehead and flicked it, forcing a yelp out of her.

"W-what was that for?" she mumbled as her lips curled.

"For being a dummy," I chuckled.

"D-dummy?! Get over here!"

She ran around trying to tackle me while I kept evading her and using only an arm to keep her from reaching me.

"Chloe, Alice! Formation B!" Lana shouted.

"Huh? Oh! R-right!" Chloe nodded her head as she held her fists up.

"Don't get involved!" I laughed.

It was too late, though. Alice threw out two fingers, and a silver thread flew around my arms, pulling and tying my wrists together. Suddenly, Chloe appeared in a flash of light and grabbed me from behind. Now that I was completely immobile, Lana finally managed to tackle me to the ground, taking Chloe with us.

We rolled across the ground and landed right next to the trunk of a cherry tree. With each passing second, we let out heavy breaths, but the smiles wouldn't leave our faces.

Alice walked over and knelt down in between my legs, both elbows jabbing her leg as she propped her head on the hands.

"Almost," she giggled.

"What in the world is formation B?" I scoffed.

"It was one of the few tactics we made just in case you ever decided to run away from us."

"Yeah, that's not weird at all."

Lana latched onto my right arm and shut her eyes.

"Let's rest for a bit," she sighed. "I'm tired."

"What if someone sees us?" I asked.

"What are they gonna say?"

Chloe moved closer to me and leaned her head on my shoulder.

"You, too, Chloe?" I said.

"Just for a bit," she mumbled drowsily.

"We did walk a lot today," Alice said. "It wouldn't hurt to rest for a while. I'm jealous, though. Chloe and Lana are hogging you all to themselves."

"A-actually, yeah... Can you guys move a bit?"

But they wouldn't listen. Their eyes remained closed as their breathing decelerated. Is it even possible to fall asleep that fast? I have to stay awake in bed for at least an hour before I can fully fall asleep.

"Uh... guys?" I called out once more.

"Just leave them be," Alice said. "They're heavy sleepers."

Now that I'm thinking about it, this weird position I've found myself in is like something straight out of a TV show. Two beautiful girls are holding onto me while I'm lying down.

My heart is beating so fast that it could probably wake them up any second now. The worst part is that there's nothing I can do to calm down. I'm stuck in this position until they wake up.

"Alice," I whispered, "help me out here."

"Sorry," she scoffed. "As much as I'd like to, my sisters will be sad if they wake up without you next to them."

"Why? There's... no reason for that."

"And why do you think so?"

She knelt down next to me and carefully lifted my head, sliding her legs underneath so I could rest on her lap. Those emerald eyes loosened and gazed intimately at me.

"You once asked me something, Asahi-kun," she said. "When I said that you were very dear to us, you asked me what that means. Would you like to know?"

The sinking feeling of anticipation began to wash over me. I remember asking that question, but I never really thought about it after that. It was always just another one of those incoherent things they would often say, and they never bothered to elaborate on any of it.

Finally, I said, "Yeah."

That smile grew wider, and she shut her eyes. "To put it simply... You make us happy just by being here, Asahi-kun. You were always there to brighten our days. You made us laugh, you gave us comfort, and you brought us closer. Eventually... it got to a point where we didn't want to spend another day without you."


"Yes, Asahi-kun. You."

What do I even say to that? I never would've imagined that's what they meant. It's not like I do that much, so...

"Why?" I asked. "What am I doing that makes you feel that way? I'm just... me."

"Indeed," she giggled. "That's exactly it. You are you, and that's why we feel that way."

"That's not really an answer."

"Too bad. That's all you're getting out of me. Now, get some rest. You're going to need it once they wake up. "

Reluctantly, I shut my eyes, and as soon as I did, I felt myself fading.

That's strange... I've never fallen asleep so fast before.