Chapter 34:

The Otaku is Free

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

“Couldn’t be honest…?” Ichika seemed to grow concerned at my words, as I gave another nod.

“Sometimes… I just can’t differentiate between the real Haruhi and the façade I’ve built. I don’t even know who I am… so how am I supposed to know what I REALLY want for myself?”

“I couldn’t even differentiate between the true Haruhi…”

I turned back towards the sea trying to find comfort in its serene ambience.

Why was I spilling my heart out so easily? Could it be… I actually wanted to talk all along? Could it be I just wanted someone to listen?

I let out a breath, feeling the emptiness in the air around us. As silence settled, a cold began to creep into my heart. Did I scare her off?

But even with that thought, I couldn't muster the courage to turn around. Maybe it was for the best...

However, before I could dive into self-pity, I felt a soft touch against my back. Gradually, a person's weight leaned against me, and a pair of arms encircled my chest. Ichika's head rested against my back, and her voice reached me, soothing and sweet.



She giggled, yet her tone was conflicted.

“You don’t know who the true Haruhi is?”

I found myself nodding.

Another soft laugh. "You're no one," she stated, her embrace tightening. "And you're also both, all at once."

What… did she mean?

A moment of silence passed.

“You’re handsome, and athletic. Charming, and you know how to talk to people and get what you want.” She nodded her head, her forehead brushing against the fabric of my yukata. “But…”

“I knew there was a but coming.”

Ichika chuckled silently again, almost as if holding something back.

“You’re also a nerd. A hopeless otaku that drools over magical girls and worships them on… shrines?”

I couldn’t really deny that. Besides, it didn’t hurt as much when Ichika said it.

“Guilty as charged.”

“Yet, bad or not, those are the aspects that make up who you are. The real Naruse Haruhi is all of those things combined. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular, or a nerd. You’re you…”

I found myself flinching at those words, my heart racing, as I turned back to the sea, searching for guidance. For a hint... Something…

"Haah..." I let out a deep breath.

Could the answer really be that simple?

"Maybe you're right."

“Not maybe, silly.”

I couldn’t see her face, but this embrace beneath the moon somehow made my head feel fuzzy.

“I don’t know what you want to do in the future… And you probably don’t know either but…” She took a deep breath. “Just don’t be anything you don’t want to, anything you’ll regret.”

Something I’ll regret?

“Be who you wanna be, and don’t worry about the rest.” She nodded, in between a small pause. Her voice was getting lower for some reason. “And if somebody tells you otherwise, and forces you onto a path that is not your own…”

She took a deep breath.

“Leave and don’t look back.”

“Leave, huh?”

I could feel her nod. Her delicate arms, yet firm grip sent shivers down my spine.

“But…” She bit back something, her embrace lingering for a moment longer before she let go, stepping back in one fluid motion.

“That’s why I…” I turned around to see the reason she seemed to be struggling, and found a pair of glassy, emerald eyes looking back into mine.

“I need to let you go.” Her words were whispered like a fragile secret, yet they echoed with the weight of a thousand shattered thoughts. Her tears over-spilled, casting streams of crystal down her flushed face.

“Eh?” Those words pierced me, freezing me in place. With a delicate swipe of her sleeve, she brushed away a few tears.

Was she fighting back tears all this time?

“I’ve been using you all this time… Holding you by a weakness so painful to you…” She winced, and took a step back. “I used you for my own gain… Oblivious to your situation.”

“I’m just a coward, running away from my problems, and turning your own misery into my benefit…”

“Ichika…” I studied her broken face. Something within my chest ached so badly seeing her so distraught.

With eyes red and puffy, she nodded to herself. Then, with a determined resolve, she pulled out her phone and started tapping on the screen, the fluorescent light casting a glow on her face

“As of now… I relieve you of your duties…” She said, and made a final tap. “As a pretend boyfriend.”

She flashed me the screen, that read with bold letters.

Image successfully deleted.

The image of me falling to the ground, along with my manga, hat, and bracelet, disappeared from the screen. Gone. Forever.

“I need to… face my father.” Ichika turned her back to me.

My heart burnt with pain, and I felt my eyes grow hot.

Why… was I sad?

Ichika had no leverage on me.

I was finally free.

I could go back to…

What exactly?

My fake life?

My persona?

Away from my otaku self.

Away from Ichika.

Suddenly, I realized the answer I wanted to grasp was moving further and further away from me. And the girl before me was doing the same.

“Ichika!” I reached out and grabbed her hand, clenching my teeth.

“E-eh?” Now it was her turn to be surprised.

“Are you… ready to face your father?”

I could see in her face as it contorted, that she actually wasn’t.

Hesitation. Uncertainty.

“I am…” She averted her gaze, and her eye twitched. She always did that when she lied.

“Don’t lie.”

“Ah…: She exhaled. “I dismissed you… didn’t I?” Her voice broke slightly.

“I don’t care.” I replied firmly.

“What?” Ichika stood there baffled.

“I don’t care.” I repeated, my resolve burning brighter within me. “What if I wanna help you anyway?”

“What are you going on about?” Ichika shook her head, “You’re free!”

“I am not!” I replied.

“With you… I seemed to find what I didn’t know I needed all this time. Or at least grasped it. Now when I’m so close to actually realizing… You want me to let go?”

“And what IS that something?”


Ichika relaxed, smiling slightly.

“You wanna do this for you?”

“I don’t know…” I wavered slightly, realizing that even I didn’t know the extent of my motivations. “What I do know, is that I wanna help you too, just like how you helped me.”

Ichika slightly blushed at that response, yet smiled nonetheless.

“I don’t know.” She replied bitterly, “Let me think on it…”

Her hand slipped away from mine, and she eyed me with a slight hint of uncertainty, yet tenderness as she withdrew. With brisk steps, she returned towards the venue, the light. While I was left still shrouded in darkness.

“What are we then?”

I found myself asking, as an inescapable void formed within my chest, sucking at every fuzzy feeling the last few tender moments had forced to surface.

“Agh!” I kicked at the sand, watching the particles sparkle and scatter across the water.

“At least… she didn’t leave me for good.”

I muttered.

There was something. A darkness within my head. A pain inside my heart.

Some sort of hope, and greater bit of anguish.

Thoughts of the future, memories of the past already set in stone.

My mind was all painted with images of Ichika, flickering images of her smiles, and playbacks of her laughter as if coming from an old hazy radio.

Something within me was brewing.

It wasn’t just about discovering myself. It was about…

Ichika too.

That I was sure of.

And I needed some time to myself.., to grasp those feelings too.

With a sigh, I made my way back to the venue, where the ceremony was about to take place.


"You're so dumb!"

"Look who's talking! Your hair is totally basic!"

"What's wrong with green?! It's way better than stuffing your bra to look attractive—"

“Now you’ve done it!”

Some three or five people tried to break Kirara and Mari up as they argued even after the end of the match. The result; a draw. No penalties, however.

I approached my friends slowly, musing.

“Still going at it?”

“Welcome everyone!” A voice boomed and made static across some speakers, as Mari and Kirara stopped fighting, huffing, and everyone directed their attention towards the person holding the microphone.

It was our school principal, who also happened to be affiliated with the politics in town.

It seemed the ceremony was about to be underway.

As the attention shifted to channeling personal hopes, a young shrine maiden graced the scene.

Drums and bells accompanied her graceful movements, her white kimono a striking splash of purity and grace... Though I'd witnessed this last year, it didn't move me as much this time.

Perhaps it was something else entirely.

My gaze flickered to Ichika, who stood motionless, not meeting my look. The shrine maiden bowed and withdrew.

Another shrine attendant stoked the flames of a sizable fire in the center of the beach, and one by one, students approached with their paper dolls tightly clutched, forming a line. Just as the paper dolls had absorbed the negativity through the maiden's dance, we placed the dolls in the flames. Wanting, perhaps, to think that our bad luck would be overturned by this small, yet meaningful gesture.

“Come on, Riku…” Chihiro grumbled, as the boy in front of him took his sweet time searching for his paper doll on his person.

“Ah, I can’t find it!”

“No bad luck banishing for you…”

I sighed, while the rest started laughing. Was it that funny?

Right after that, each of us moved to the shrine offering box, one at a time, and offered up a coin that fell with a clank on the wooden container.

Clasping our hands, we silently offered a prayer.

I too, clasped my hands, and tried to chase the ill feelings away from my heart.

What do I wish for?


Success in what?

I took a deep breath, and bowed along my prayer.

May I find success… in being myself.

I tapped my hands once more, and straightened up.

“Here you go. May Amaterasu guide you.”

Another shrine maiden handing out the omamori charms smiled at me, and offered me mine.

I bowed, and descended the staircase.

“Haruhi-kun!” Sumi grinned, trotting over to me “What did you pray for?”

“Ah…” I was taken aback by her beaming face, her sparkly eyes.

“Something… I wish I could achieve.”

I smiled bitterly, while Sumi cocked her head but didn’t press further.

“I just wished for the exams to be over, but don’t tell anyone.”

I wanted to chuckle at that silly comment.

If only exams were my main concern…

The ceremony had concluded.

The exams were beginning.

The future looked… uncertain, and mine even more so.

Taylor J
Mario Nakano 64