Chapter 31:

The Otaku In a Ceremony

Love, Manga & Blackmail: A Secret Otaku's Countdown To Romance!

“Isu creamu… Isu creamu… Isu creamu!”

“Come on, behave yourself, geez…”

Mari wiped Chiaki’s mouth from the excess of chocolate ice cream on her cheeks, before the cat-eared menace proceeded to stuff her face with it again a moment later.

“Hm, ice cream has too many calories, so this is a one-time thing…” Chihiro muttered to himself, while going to town with a colored Popsicle.

Under the shade of a nearby tree in the park, we sat on benches, catching our breath after our final classes before exams. Our group of normies came up with the idea to boost our spirits for the upcoming finals by treating ourselves to ice cream.

This heat though, was probably almost enough to melt my rocket cone on the spot.

“Haruhi-kun, here.” With a smile, Sumi passed me a tissue just in time, preventing the cream from making a mess on my hand.

“Oh, thanks Sumi.” I passed her a grateful smile, in return.

After our date, Sumi and I carried on as usual, though I couldn't help but feel that my feelings toward her were somewhat…


That night in the amusement park was like a cold shower. Every waking moment I thought back to it, I was always reminded of my…



Even despite her aversion to otakus, I came to the conclusion I didn’t deserve a girlfriend in the first place.

She was honest, and I was a liar.

Given our mutual reluctance to discuss it, the rest also stayed tight-lipped, even though they were in the loop. Only God knows how much I was grilled, during the usual girl-talk, though.

“Hm, say…” Chihiro mused, having already licked his Popsicle stick clean like the secret glutton that he was “…The annual pre-exam ceremony is about to take place.”

“Oh…” I raised a brow, remembering.

“Chihi said something sensible for once!” Riku was left simply amazed by his friend’s surprising brain capacity.

Mari nodded with a smirk.

“We’re going, right?”

“I… don’t mind.” Sumi nodded.

“Let’s go, let’s go! I bet there will be a lot of treats there like last year!” Chiaki said, jumping at the idea.

Mari sighed, wiping the latest chocolate off her friend’s face again. “Seriously, Chiaki…?”

“Then it’s settled.” With a cocky smirk, Chihiro flipped his hair.

His hair wasn't THAT long, but it still elicited the same reaction from me and Riku.


“Haruhi-kun…” Sumi's voice was gentle, her eyes searching for mine, “You’re coming, right?”


I winced for a second.

If I were honest, I was not quite sure if I was too hot on the idea.

Yet, what better was there to do?

I had been avoiding their invitations lately, that much was true, so it felt like it was time to join in on the group activities again.

“Sure.” I gave a nod, while Chiaki cheered.

“Yesh! Haruhi is making his comeback! His greatest comeback!”

“Reference?! Wait… Chiaki! Again?!”

Even though the cream on her cone had already vanished, it seemed the spirited girl somehow managed to smear even more chocolate on her face.

Everybody laughed absentmindedly, while I took out my phone and shot a quick text.

Are you coming to the annual pre-exam ceremony?


Not long after, my phone pinged with a response.

Not feeling like it


“Ah…” A sigh escaped me.

I was almost… disappointed.

But I couldn’t be with her in front of everyone anyway, so… why?

“Something the matter, Haru-chan?” Riku asked, looking over at me.

“Ah, nothing…” I laughed dryly.

Why was Ichika always on my mind lately?


“Have fun, Haru!” My mom saw me off, as I adjusted my black purplish yukata and smoothed down my hair.

“Sure, see you later.” I waved back, as I met Chihiro and Riku outside my door.

“More food for me…” Kotone gave an evil smirk before the door closed, and my family proceeded with dinner.

“You’re late.” Chihiro arched a brow, dressed in his black yukata, while Riku, in his blue one, chuckled.


The three of us made our way to the venue of the mini festival ceremony from there.

Said ceremony took place in a small shrine not far from the town's edge, nestled within the grounds beside a famous expansive beach. It aimed to wish "good luck" to students facing their final summer exams in their third year, though second years were usually included. Freshmen had more time before graduating.

For us third years, it was our second and final ceremony. It had a distinct twist from the purification ritual in late June called Nagoshi No Harae, reflecting our town's unique religious customs. Each of us selected a paper doll to keep, and the ceremony commenced with a shrine maiden's dance, purifying and dispelling ill luck across the shrine's grounds. Next, we tossed our paper dolls, which symbolically carried the impurities, into a fire by the beach.

Before receiving our omamori, the exam good luck charms known as gakugyo-joju, we offered a coin and a prayer in the offering box.

Prior to all this, the vacant area beside the shrine was adorned with lanterns, charms, and a grand Torii gate. Festive elements lined the space: light refreshments, finger foods, vendors grilling takoyaki, and ping pong tables. Although there was an official tournament last year, the school seemed to skip it this time around.

Believe it or not, Mari had won.

She wasn’t particularly good at sports per say, but table tennis seemed to be her specialty. There was no doubt she would have won the unofficial tournament this year too.

“Woah! It’s even livelier than last time!” Riku was taken aback by the sheer number of students in kimonos and regular clothing, mingling by the beach, grounds, enjoying takoyaki, and playing table tennis under the warm red lights.

One such person was Mari, who smirked at us as we approached, and wiped some sweat off her brow with slight disgust.

“Took you long enough!” She quipped, waving her red racket and fanning herself with her hand. She looked lovely in a slightly open burgundy yukata, her typically flowing hair elegantly pulled into a bun.

Mari, sweat, and physical exercise were a triplet of mortal enemies, yet she seemed to tolerate both if it meant showing off her table tennis skills.

“Hmph, aim your complaints to the guest star…” Chihiro pointed at me, scoffing, “I’m never late!”

“That’s a lie, hehe…” Riku added, earning a glare from the guy in question.

I scanned the perimeter, while my friends engaged in their usual idle chatter.

Soon, I found Chiaki and Sumi over by the side, talking with a few underclassmen.

Chiaki was making her usual exaggerated gestures, while Sumi and the other girls laughed.

Sumi donned a pink yukata, a red ribbon holding up the right side of her hair. Chiaki opted for a yellow one, her hair styled in playful pigtails, which suited her lively demeanor quite well.

The soft, moody lighting, the soothing waves, and the aroma of incense and delicious food blended to form a soothing yet lively atmosphere.

Soon, the girls spotted us and trotted over.

“The team is in the building!”

Chiaki cheered, as Sumi smiled sweetly.

“Glad you could make it.”

We all exchanged our greetings, relaxing in the slight salty breeze.

Yet something was amiss.

It felt… weird.

What was this feeling?

My eyes travelled across the venue, as I scanned the newcomers. There were some 3rd years I didn’t recognize, as well as some underclassmen too.

“There’s a lot of people this year!” Chiaki beamed, while Mari nodded.

“Apparently, this is a joint ceremony with 2 other schools in the area.”

“Joint, huh?” I muttered.

So that’s the reason for all those unfamiliar faces.

This ceremony wasn’t exclusive to our high school; in fact, it was a tradition across the entire cluster of towns in this region. A combined ceremony made sense.

Yet, even in this sea of people, my thoughts always spun around that ONE.


She was missing, and it felt… peculiar.

I shook my head.

I needed to forget her for a few hours, sheesh, what was up with this?

Just as I had that thought, a group of familiar faces descended the steps toward the shrine.


It was Kirara, Kota…

And Ichika.

She had her hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail, and her unruly bangs were neatly clipped to the side. Swapping her glasses for contact lenses, along with her white yukata with pink petals, accentuated her charm in a rather… unusual fashion.

I had never seen Ichika dress up like that for an outing before.

My heart beat against my chest with excitement and a hint of something… else.

Everyone was going to see her charm, her beauty.

Her emerald eyes unconcealed. Her figure in a yukata.

Up until now, only I could see her looking so beautiful.

Why was my chest tight at the thought?

But more importantly… why was she here?

Kirara in her own green yukata, and Kota in a regular shirt and jeans, followed Ichika past the steps and across the shrine.

Damn it, they are coming here?!

Suddenly, the realization of the complications that would arise from gathering everyone together hit me.

What was I to do?

Taylor J
Mario Nakano 64