Chapter 46:

Haruhi Comes Clean

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


Afterward, Ichika and her parents left for our hometown, in the dead of night, as Kirara described it. I observed the car's headlights leaving the hotel driveway, considering whether I should run up and stop the vehicle, hoping it was her. But my thoughts circled back, leading me to the same conclusion, and I wouldn’t move an inch.

Not a single inch.

As my friends questioned me about what had transpired between Ichika and me, and what secrets I had kept from them, I chose to remain silent. I pretended to be tired to avoid the conversation. I felt myself retreating back into my shell, as the night slowly passed by.

My eyes stayed open, fixed on the window, watching.

A few minutes before sunrise, a text made my phone buzz. I jumped at the sudden notification, and flipped through the messaging app.

Yet it wasn’t Ichika, but Sumi.

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“Good morning, Haruhi-kun…” Sumi greeted me shyly, as she waited by the beach where I had found Kirara the other day. Thankfully, she wasn’t around to complicate things.

The sun was barely up and shining, casting only a faint glow across the golden sand and crystal waves.

“Good morning.” I mustered a smile towards her, while the girl before me tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Can we… talk?”

Talk, huh?

Trying not to overthink it, I shrugged.

“Sure, I don’t mind.”

Sumi visibly relaxed as I agreed.

“I know this may not be the best time, but Haruhi-kun…” She started, while I stood opposite of her, the waves from the sea slightly caressing my feet as they bubbled up on shore.

Sumi fidgeted and fidgeted, trying to somehow find the right words to say. I knew that look…

"I..." She began again, her voice faltering. Finally, with a determined nod, she blurted out, her voice clear and sincere, "I like you! Will you go out with me?"

Ah.

I stared at her blushing face with the same expression, despite the void of guilt spreading throughout my chest.

This was Sumi. Yumikawa Sumi. A beautiful, gentle girl. A girl at which one point, I even thought I had feelings for.

A girl so perfect, so delicate, you thought no one deserved her.

But I had come to know both the beauty of a rose and the sting of its thorns. Now that rose was confessing her love to me. Or was she? Were those words really meant for me?

A silence lingered between us as we locked eyes, neither of us saying a word. Sumi took a deep breath and spoke up again.

“I’m sorry for springing this on you like that… It’s just that, I’ve had these… feelings for a while and… I thought it was finally time.”

She struggled to form the words, her voice trailing off several times.

“You’re not… dating someone else, right?”

Dating someone…

“Thank you, Sumi.” I managed a smile, as I made a point of not looking away from her. Not running away.

For the first time in forever… I wanted to be honest.

“Thank you, truly. You are an amazing person…”

It seemed her lips curled up involuntarily at my words.

“I’m not dating anyone…But I’m afraid, I’m not the one for you.”

Her delicate, angelic face instantly dropped into a surprised frown.

“W-what?”

I had my head downcast. I was no longer the confident Haruhi she knew. But someone else, someone vulnerable. She had never seen the thorns of a rose. She had never had the chance to fall out of love.

She didn’t know the real Haruhi. Nobody did… But it was time, I showed them.

"I'm sorry, Sumi. I really believe that we wouldn't make each other happy. And as conceited as it might sound, I can't commit to a relationship that I can't see a future in. I'm tired of pretending...”

“But… why?” Sumi managed to ask, her gaze downcast.

Why…

Why indeed. This was the question I had struggled to answer for so long, always searching but never finding. Yet now, after thinking it through all night, I think I finally do.

“I want to be myself.”

For the first time, I had voiced something completely foreign for so long.

I felt… ready.

Ready to be honest. No matter what.

“I am in love with someone else… I’m sorry.”

Sumi’s face contorted slightly, as if trying to fight the words themselves.

There was no way I couldn’t hurt her. Love and honesty did not work like that. And I couldn’t suck it up and lie to her either. Not anymore. I had to be honest, even if it meant hurting her.

I sighed, and looked off by the side. I saw a few heads pop up around a rock, and then popping back down.

Just as I had thought, everyone was here.

The girls had followed Sumi out the room, while Chihiro and Riku had followed me. It seemed everyone was thirsty for answers. And answers, I finally planned to give.

“Hey, you fools! Come over here!” I shouted at the 4 idiots hiding, eavesdropping.

They slowly emerged, apologetic.

“Sorry, Sumi…” I bowed at the still dumbfounded girl before me.

This was the final act. The home stretch. And I had decided, after so long, to finally shed this stupid mask, and be done with it.

No matter how hard it was.

No matter how painful it might get.

Ichika faced her fears, her insecurities.

So why was I still here wallowing in self-pity?

“Can everyone hear me loud and clear?” The still dumbfounded group before me nodded, still apologetic but eager to listen.

They all formed a line opposite of me, and I gulped down the ball of nerves and began.

"I'm an otaku. A hardcore one, at that.” I pulled a certain pink bracelet out of my pocket, and fastened it on my wrist. Without breaking face I continued. “This was the secret I’ve been hiding. The leverage Ichika had on me.”

The declaration hung in the air, and despite the heaviness of the moment, I mustered a small smile. "This is me. I tried to be someone else, but I can't anymore. You might think I'm weird, or a nerd, or whatever..."

I sighed, still resolute. "I just want to be myself. I'm done with the act. And if you all don't like me for who I am, then I don't care.”

My voice carried over towards the street, and across the empty shore. My friends stood shell shocked.

There. I had said it. For the first time, I was honest with myself. With everyone. No more lies. No more play pretend.

“Haruhi-kun… you like anime?” Chiaki cocked her head, while Mari sighed.

“Ah…” She shook her head, and stomped her way over to me, I anticipated an outburst, something hurtful. But I was ready. Ready for anything. I couldn’t back down now.

Instead of all that however, Mari turned around, and stood beside me.

“Heh, you know…” She blushed slightly, “Manga aren’t that bad.”

“Huh?” Chihiro uttered, shocked. “M-Mari?”

“Eh?” Sumi too, stood still.

“Uhm, I guess mechs are cool, right?” Riku grinned awkwardly.

“Huh?!”

“I mean Kota showed me some games that I thought were nice… and besides, who cares who is what, anyway?”

Riku walked over to our side too, loud and proud.

What was happening?

“But… Otakus are the nerds!” Chihiro pointed at us, too stunned to comprehend. “First Haruhi and now all of you?”

“I don’t mind!” Chiaki skipped over to us too, hiding behind Mari, “Besides the actual Otakus, aren’t that different from us, right?”

“Not that different…!” Chihiro glared.

Somehow, I had gathered the bulk of the group with me. Mari nudged me slightly.

“You know, we wouldn’t abandon you for being an otaku, right?” She gave me a wry smile.

“Silly Haru-chan!” Riku added with a laugh.

I did… I was prepared to be alone again. But as I looked at my friends, all those thoughts, those fears, seemed so silly right now. So childish.

I wasn’t just an otaku. I was Haruhi.

“You know, you owe Sumi something though…” Mari pointed to her friend.

Right, I had turned HER confession into MY own little confession.

I did feel bad for that…

The sun now had fully taken its place across the horizon, casting its glow upon the shore, and making Sumi’s crimson eyes sparkle with unshed tears.

“Sumi…” I voiced, and bowed my head low. “I’m sorry for being dishonest. And I’m sorry that you had to know like this. I’m sorry your confession turned into this mess…”

I made a pause, as I straightened back up.

“But I wanna be me. And I, am already in love with someone else.”

“I… see.” Sumi nodded, a sad smile playing on her lips.

“There is someone who accepts me the way I am… And as much as I’d like to be the perfect one for you, I’m just not. I’m just Haruhi. And it was high time, I realized.”

As if on cue, a ringing sound interrupted the silence. It was my phone. I answered it to hear Kaori-san's voice on the other end.

“Haruhi-kun! Ichika is missing! Do you know where she could have gone?!”

“Missing…?” I muttered.

Again?

No, this time was different. I could feel it.

Slapping my cheeks to snap myself out of my thoughts, I knew what I needed to do next.

There was one last stop I had to make before I could wrap everything up.

I hung up the phone with Kaori-san and turned towards everyone.

“I need to…”

“Go.” Mari heaved a sigh. “Don’t worry, we’ll cover for you.”

“I’m not covering for— AAAH!”

Before he could finish, Mari was already dragging Chihiro away by the ear, flashing me an encouraging smile.

“Sumi, let’s go build in the sand, yeah?” Chiaki grabbed Sumi's hands and whisked her away, despite her protests.

My heart ached at the sight of Sumi's crestfallen expression, but I had to move forward. I couldn't keep pretending to spare myself and others from pain. It was painful, yes, but it was the truth.

I glanced back at my friends. They were a motley crew, but they were my friends, and they accepted me for who I was. I could only hope that things would remain this way after everything was said and done.

Turning away, I began to walk. I was Naruse Haruhi—an otaku. But not just that. And I was determined to be honest, no matter how difficult it might be.

“You better come back for the evening shift, though!” Mari called out, cupping her hands around her mouth.

I gave a thumbs up and hailed the nearest taxi. As it pulled up, I opened the door and was met with a familiar face.

“Hey. Kiddo!”

A burly taxi driver smiled back at me from the driver’s seat.

“Oh, it’s the handsome young man again…”

Another familiar granny waved from beside me.

“What? What are you two doing here?!”

Safe to say I was taken aback.

“It doesn’t matter, does it? Now where do you need to go?!”

I gave him the quick rundown, as the driver nodded.

“Heh, you’ve never seen a faster driver on this earth, kid! You can count on me!” He revved the engine, as the taxi shot down the road.

“Woohooooooo!”

The granny pulled a pair of sunglasses seemingly out of nowhere, while I gripped the seatbelt and braced myself.

Ah, here we go again…

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