Chapter 33:

The Otaku and The Past

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

Was Chihiro hitting on… Ichika?

I gulped involuntarily, as I watched him chat up my fake girlfriend. Ichika turned around at his prompting, regarding him with caution.

Chihiro was a womanizer, so this was typical behavior of him… however, I found my eye twitching slightly.

Why was this making me angry? Why was the sight of Chihiro hitting on Ichika right before my eyes so infuriating?

Suddenly, Chihiro clasped her hands in his, flashing his usual charming smirk at her. Kota looked on between them, a worried smile on his face.

“Chihiro-kun is as bold as ever…” Sumi commented, while Riku nodded.

“Haru-chan, do you think—“

Before he could finish, my body had acted on its own, propelling me forward. Without hesitation, I walked in their direction. It was as if I were in a trance, my mind clouded, my feet leading the way. My eyes remained locked on the two.

“Oye, Haru-chan!”

I ignored the calls, and pressed on.

Was Ichika… enjoying this?

As soon as that thought swept across my mind, and I got close enough to overhear them over the crowd going wild, I saw Ichika brush his hands away, her expression displeased and sour.

“Ah, no thanks.”

I heard her say, a wry smile on her face.

Chihiro on the other hand looked on in horror, yet stopped and recollected himself.

“Huh, I must have misheard you from all this roaring!” He waved at the crowd around them.

“No, I don’t think you did…” Ichika sighed. “By the way, your hair looks like a mop.”

“A mop?!”

“Ichika?” While the ikemen before her stood shell-shocked, Kota asked, while Ichika retreated away from the crowd and towards the flapping waves of the beach.

“Just taking a walk…” She shrugged, her eyes momentarily brushing over me before quickly shifting away. I approached Kota and the annoyed rich boy.

“Smooth move, man.” I patted Chihiro on the back, who growled.

“Came to rub it in, didja?”

If there's one thing Chihiro despises, it's rejection. He elegantly stormed back to the bench, leaving me alone with Kota without another word.

Kota chuckled slightly.

“Well that was… unexpected. He’s your friend, right?”

“For the record …”

I chuckled, while Kota followed suit.

"You and Ichika always seem to find yourselves in peculiar situations, huh?" He smirked at me, and as I looked back, I watched her silhouette disappear into the night, blending with the soft glow of lanterns hung along the sand

Could Ichika have purposely broken away from the crowd so that I would approach her? The thought brought an unexpected smile to my lips—a silly, goofy grin.

"Well, maybe I'll take a little stroll too…” I whistled merrily, glancing back at the ongoing battle and cheering crowd.

As my friends either teased or comforted their disheartened handsome friend I seized the opportunity to make my exit. Kota and I exchanged a knowing look, and he nodded in understanding, as if he could read my intentions. 

Sand crunched beneath my sandals, sinking as I approached the plank pathway tracing the beach's edge. Along the way, I passed a few couples seeking seclusion. Eventually, I spotted my pretend partner sitting in the sand, her knees drawn close to her chest.

“Hey.” I greeted casually and she turned to the voice with a start.

At first she remained somewhat silent, almost too surprised to speak. Then her face softened, and she turned back to the waves.

“What’s up?” She watched the seawater caress the sand with each new wave.

“Sorry on behalf of Chihiro…” I started, chucking “He’s kind of a dork.”

“And a womanizer?” She watched the seawater caress the sand with each new wave, a grin on her face.

“And that too.” I nodded.

“And a self-centered ass?”


Why was this turning to a Chihiro diss contest?

Ichika then laughed, her giggles as clear as spring water carried by a current.

“Sorry, just wanted to see how far you’d agree…”

“Hm.” I smiled sitting next to her.

Was it just me, or was she in a slightly better mood than earlier?

Observing her, I noticed Ichika inhale deeply and cast her gaze between me and the sea several times.

"You know, I really enjoy this place," she exhaled, wearing a coy smile. "I come to this shrine with my mom quite often... and sometimes on my own."

I didn’t utter a word, almost tongue-tied by Ichika’s wistful smile.

“The atmosphere helps me think…” she chuckled before her eyes swept the surroundings, taking note of the couples in our vicinity.

“Say, are you a… womanizer too?”


That comment came out of left field.

I wondered how to respond for a moment.

“I guess?” I shrugged, and I noticed her face falling. “Or at least was?”

I couldn’t quite explain it as I would have wanted.

“Look, I’ve been close with girls before, sure. But, that was in the past…” I replied, nodding while my gaze drifted upward. The night sky, away from the city's lights, felt strangely tranquil. The stars twinkled brightly. I could see why Ichika was fond of this place.

“I just followed whims. Instincts. I guess it was just something I always wanted to achieve, and when I changed… then it became a thing. Constant.”

Glancing around, I observed the couples surrounding us. Their intimate gestures, the kisses, and the entwined hands.

Was it just physical or were they actually in love?

Was I… ever in love?

“When you changed?” Ichika pondered, her voice soft as she buried her face in her knees. Her gaze met mine, her emerald eyes glowing like precious gems. In that moment, the lively atmosphere of the nearby table tennis match faded into the background.


I soon realized, I had dug my own grave.

I had said something very specific, at a very bad point in time.

I didn’t want to speak about my past.

I stood up, brushing the sand off my yukata.

"Let's take a walk," I suggested, extending my hand to help Ichika up.

We strolled away from the excited cheers and the bustling crowd, distancing ourselves from the embracing couples and the vibrant lights. With each step, it was just the two of us beneath the glassy moon, and the dark velvet waves of the ocean.

“Were you different… before?”

Walking a step behind me, Ichika broached the topic once more. She carried her geta with her, her feet deftly navigating the sand, unburdened by footwear.

I wasn't particularly keen on delving into my past, that was for certain.


Yet with Ichika, I felt like I could. Like I should.

Like she would see the real me, just like she always did.

That if it were her… just her, then she would understand.

“How so?”

She asked, while I came to a halt.

Facing the sea, I breathed in the salty air, memories rushing back to me like a tide.

“When I was in middle school… I was short, kinda plump, and wore glasses because I thought they looked cool.” I chuckled bitterly at the memories. “I was honest about my feelings though… I was an otaku that never hid it. I was proud.”

“Y-you?” Ichika stuttered in disbelief.

“Yeah...” I nodded. “And of course I was an easy target.”

Ichika remained silent, and I was grateful for it. I didn't want to meet her gaze as I revisited those bitter moments.

"I used to get teased a lot... People would steal my things, like keychains and bag straps, and toss them in the trash, destroyed…" I explained, rubbing the back of my head. "You know, typical stuff… It wasn't that big a deal."

I gulped as I continued.

"The final year of middle school was tougher. The teasing escalated, and I ended up isolated. Towards the end of the year, everyone would point and laugh at me, whispering and snickering," I recounted with a sigh. "All because I was an otaku.”

"I remember wondering why they didn't like me. Had I done something wrong? I was just being me," I continued, shaking my head with bitterness. "But that's exactly why it stung so much. It took me a while to get it... it was painful. Painful to be yourself. Putting yourself out there." I admitted with a nod. "That's when puberty hit me, I guess," I added with a slight laugh. “I got taller, slimmer, and my good genes helped with my acne and face too.”

“You mean..?”

“Yeah. And then, in high school, nerd Haruhi decided to turn over a new leaf. A whole new person,” I looked at the sky, at those glistening, sparkling dots. They appeared to be near, yet so far out of reach. Blink and you could miss them. Blink, and they could already be gone. Just like my true self.

“Thus, I tried to be popular. I crafted a shield, hid the vulnerable Haruhi behind it, and became something else. Someone popular, someone loved. Someone… with friends.”

I heard Ichika gulp.

“And truth be told I reveled in it all. The attention, the love letters, the jealous stares – it fueled my ego and kept me going." I sighed. "Before I knew it, my whole identity had shifted. Time flew by, and I lost sight of who I really was. One day, looking in the mirror, I didn't recognize myself anymore. I had lost touch with 'me' somewhere along the line."

“But even so, I never dug it up. I was… afraid.”

I stole a quick glance at Ichika. Her eyes were fixed on my back, her expression a mix of surprise and intrigue.

“That’s why honestly, I was amazed to hear of your ambition.”

“My ambition?” She furrowed her brows. “You mean wanting to become a doctor?"

She blushed slightly.

I nodded, almost hesitant.

“I realized you were silently thinking ahead. Of what you are and what you wanna be. You were putting yourself out there, making efforts.”

I let out a chuckle.

“That was when I realized… I probably couldn’t be honest like that.”

Taylor J
Mario Nakano 64