Chapter 74:

My Best Friend Needs My Help Badly, but I Don't Know What to Do.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

It’s four-thirty and I can’t focus.

I’m sitting in the middle of MRC, trying to draw the main character of my newest one-shot, Code 87b: KuROi-WiNG. Manabu-kun is a completely ordinary high school boy who gets hit on the head one day by a falling miniature UFO and then wakes up to realize that Lapis, a tiny alien (cute girl, of course) has turned his right arm into a laser cannon by accident and now he’s forced to battle the forces of evil if he ever wants to get his peaceful life back. Or something like that. I’ll figure it out when I get the designs all set. This one’s going out to Monthly BanBan. I’ve already got Eastern Sunset in the contest, so this will help my chances of winning even more.

…But I can’t get the design down. I keep drawing Manabu, but every time I do he just looks way too cool- not anything like the shy, dorky student I imagined. I keep erasing his face, and his hair, and drawing them again, but every time he winds up looking way too cool and confident. Like a guy who would be the center of attention, not the one getting ignored in the back of the class.

Someone like Takkun.

That’s why I can’t focus! I mean, my one-shots are super duper important, but so are my friends! The story he told me is crazy, but it’s also unfair! Totally, crazily, entirely unfair! How could people do that to a poor, struggling family that’s just trying to get by?! I know it sounds kinda like the plot to a tearjerking movie, but it’s not- it’s my friend’s life!

…And just like what happened with Ryou, I can’t do anything to help him…

“Shiritori? Are you doing alright?”

I turn around and Kakihara-senpai is standing over me, looking down at my drawing. She hasn’t been coming to club a lot lately. I think it’s because of all that entrance exam prep stuff that seniors do. I probably do need to start thinking about that before too long…but future plans can wait when there’s anime to watch. Ehehehe~

“Yeah, Prez. No problem!”

I can sense she’s picked up on my heart not being in it today, because her brow furrows slightly. “I guess so. I thought you might have been writer’s blocked today…you’ve spent most of the last half-hour staring off into space. I wanted to give you some advice if you needed it.”

“I’m just doing some brainstorming. Creative thinking, you know. Just like the best manga artists out there. You know Kujimoto-sensei does everything off-the-cuff? He thinks up something cool and then BAM! Screwdriver Man. I’m trying to learn from the masters.”

“I’m aware. I read that interview too.” She peers closer to the sheet of paper I’ve been working on for the last ninety minutes. “Can I ask who that is?”

“It’s the main character of my latest one-shot. It’s about this kid who gets turned into a galactic policeman with a laser cannon for an arm by an alien and he has to zap monsters if he wants to get turned back again.”

“Is he supposed to be a flashy kind of guy?” She looks Manabu’s design up and down.

“Not really…he’s a shy ordinary student.”

She pulls back, rubbing her chin, deep in thought. “I think it might be funnier if he’s a player. Or a popular kid…or at least someone who has enough spine to push back against the situation he finds himself in. Of course, I could have completely misinterpreted your intentions. You are going for comedy, right?”

“Yup. Sort of. You know me too well, Prez. Hehehe…” Kakihara-senpai is a legitimate genius. She could figure out my story just from one look and a bit of information from me. Or maybe it could be that my stories are too predictable- No, shut up, Haru-kun in my mind! This idea is actually gonna win for sure! Or at least get an honorable mention!

“That’s what I figured…I’m not saying that having a shy boy who gets constantly dragged around as the main character in a madcap comedy is bad, but it’s been done a lot before. I think changing his personality slightly will make him a better straight man. Not telling you how to write…but if you’re stuck just try it.”

Uuu…the Haru-kun in my mind was right…he’s wounded my maiden heart yet again…sniffsniff

“Thanks, Prez,” I reply, averting my gaze kinda sheepishly.

“I’ll be at MRC this next Thursday, if you want me to review your work.”

“Not Tuesday?”

“No, unfortunately.”

“College stuff?”

“Not exactly…” She bends over, closer to my ear. “Don’t go bragging about this to everyone, please…but I’ve got my final interview with Sakubunsha on Tuesday afternoon. I think they’re gonna publish me once I graduate. I’ll tell everyone about it after it’s over.”

Excitement swells up inside me like a bomb and it takes all my willpower to stop myself from screaming “WHOAAAAAA, CONGRATS!” But I keep quiet. Kakihara-senpai would be embarrassed if I immediately spilled the beans. Besides, I expected this to happen. She’s already won a national newcomer one-shot contest, so it was expected that someone was gonna publish her. And she’s really, really good at writing and drawing. But I didn’t expect that the publishers of Janp would attempt to snatch her out from under Jitsuensha’s nose.

“Congrats, Prez!” I do my best to make sure that no one else but Kakihara-senpai overhears. “As soon as you get published, I’m gonna be your biggest fan! I’m buying every copy of everything that you put out!”

She goes slightly red in the face and turns away from me, adjusting her glasses ever so slightly. “There’s no guarantee I'll ever get published…but thanks, Shiritori. I really appreciate it.”

She’s so modest. Obviously, she’ll end up writing the next N*ruto. She’s so talented.

Quickly dipping her head, she ducks away from me and moves over toward Suzucchi, who’s glaring at her piece of paper with laser-focus. Whoa. I didn’t pay much attention before, but Kakihara-senpai’s got some big boobs, too. Almost as big as Suzucchi’s. I wonder who would win in a K*ijo? Or a bounce battle? Heh.

“Suzuran, how’s it going?”

“I-I-I-I finally started on the shading f-for m-m-m-my first page…”

“Looks good. I like the contrast. The right amount of shading is a hard thing for newcomers to pick up, especially in a fighting series. Sometimes artists with years of experience will either not shade enough, or shade everything too much. You picked it up really quickly.”

“I-I-I-It’s n-not a f-f-f-fighting series…”

Kakihara-senpai’s eyes widen slightly. “Really? Sorry. I thought it was from this page.”

“W-well, K-K-Kouki…that’s t-t-t-the hero…h-he does martial arts…b-b-but the s-s-s-story is a r-r-romance…”

“I thought it was a shonen from how well you shaded the page. My mistake. Sorry.”

“I-it’s f-f-f-fine…”

“Did you do any art when you were younger, by any chance?”

“I-I-I helped my s-s-sister with a-ads for my family’s s-s-shop…b-but that’s all…” Suzucchi’s quiet voice trails off.

Kakihara-senpai’s face contorts with visible disgust, even though she tries to turn away so Suzucchi won’t see. “Interesting. Are you planning to enter your manga in any contests?”

“N-no…” Suzucchi nearly disappears below the table. “I’m n-n-not that good…”

“You don’t have to be good. It’s a learning experience,” Kakihara-senpai replies. “Call me if you need any help, okay?”

“O-o-o-okay…” As Kakihara-senpai walks over to where the second-years are sitting, Suzucchi, red as a strawberry, just looks relieved that she’s gone.

All right…Suzucchi’s passion and hard work has inspired me to get going again! Time to draw the best, wackiest one-shot ever-

I can’t do it. I take one look at my main character and my motivation drops to zero. I start thinking of Takkun and what a horrible situation he’s in and I can’t draw a single thing. It would be too unfair…for me to keep thinking about myself when he’s in trouble.

Why does the world have to be so unfair to people who haven’t done anything wrong? Why can’t it be like Janp, where the heroes can win?

That’s why I prefer fiction…because the real world is cruel and people are so awful to each other for no reason.

Behind me, the otaku second-year duo start babbling about their latest Fantasy Fighting Series That Will Pierce The Heavens, or something like that. Normally, I’d go over there and ask to read it, then make a polite suggestion that they vote for me in the next contest I enter…but I really can’t today. Too much on my mind.

The minutes tick by and tick by, and then my club mates start packing up their stuff to leave, and then Suzucchi, quiet as a mouse, dashes out the door, and then it’s only me and Kakihara-senpai.

Slowly, our club president stands up from her desk, stretching, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear, and packing up her stuff to leave, before she catches sight of me, still spacing out, staring at a rough drawing.



“It’s six-thirty.”

“Oh, sorry!” I quickly stand up, gathering my stuff. “I got a little sidetracked. Ehehehe~”

My president stares back at me with even more concern in her eyes this time around. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”

“Don’t worry about me!”

“All right…” The president’s voice trails off as we exit. “See you Thursday, Shiritori.”

“You too!”

We go our separate ways down the hallway. There’s only a few people here by this point as the sun is almost completely down. As I walk toward the school gates, I can’t think of anything else but Takkun…

Takkun and the floppy! I knew I was forgetting something!

Oh please, let someone from the Computer Club still be there! Please don’t let them have gone home early!

I make the trip from the front lawn to the Computer Club room in under a minute, by my estimates. I think that’s a new personal best for me. If that tracks…ha- oh, who am I kidding, that wasn’t even good. I can’t do that today. Not right now.

I slide the door open, expecting to be hit with an empty room and disappointment, but instead there’s a single person standing in between the gajillion monitors that line a row of desks and the ocean of tangled wires that run every which way to stacks of hard drives and power units and boxes and things that I don’t even know what they’re for pushed into the corners of the room. That’s not even getting into the drones and GPUs and smart watches and stuff like that all thrown every which way everywhere you look. This room looks like something that Rein would plug into. I’ve never watched Rein, but that’s what she does, right? If anyone would know how to repair something, it’s definitely these guys.

“Shiritori-san? Can I help you?”

The angry monster made out of computer parts engulfing the room makes the girl in the middle of it look even better by comparison. Straight, dark hair, perfect grooming and clothes, a cute face, even without makeup- and the ribbon. Today it’s blue. Sometimes, when I want to draw a responsible character, the first person I think of is the class representative.

“Do you guys do…uhh…repairs?”

The lights are all off in the room, and Sudou’s clearly ready to go home, but she responds politely, “Not usually, but I can take a look at it. What do you need help with?”

“I’ve got this…” I quickly ruffle through my bag, throwing out papers (but not the latest volume of Middle School MxM). Oh well, they were just homework, I don’t need them. The real important thing is right here. Small, square, encased in purple plastic, with tape and permanent marker all over it. “There’s something on it, but it keeps crashing my PC whenever I try to run it.”

“A 1.44MB? Hmm.” She takes the floppy out of my hand, closely examining it. “What OS are you using?”

“Binbows 10. The latest and greatest.”

“I’m a little worried about viruses from what you said, but it’s more likely that you're running incompatible file types. We've got a PC-97 somewhere in here." Still holding the floppy, she strides gracefully over to the wall of PCs, pressing a button on a desktop tower, and an old CRT monitor whirrs to life, coating the room in blue light. "I'll boot into safe mode just to make sure."

The computer makes several electronic chirping noises, before revealing a series of files. Sudou slides the floppy disk into the tower, then her fingers fly across the keyboard as windows rapidly open. It's incredible. With those fast-twitch reflexes, she could be a Sm*sh champion.

“I already have a disk image, so if the worst happens I can just restart.” Sudou doesn’t turn to look at me, instead continuing typing.

...It's awkward. I know I said I admire Sudou...but we're not exactly close, and we don't have many things in common. And I can't stop thinking about Takkun.

So instead, I just stand there in the dim blue light as she hunches over, rapidly typing. Then, a window opens, she double-clicks, and a series of distorted graphical squares appear on the screen.

It worked! Sort of. It looks glitched.

Sudou frowns, quickly typing a few more things, and then the screen turns black, with the windows replaced with scrolling code. She quickly types more, then the desktop is back.

"The file's corrupted, but all the data is still there." She turns to me as the disk ejects. "We should be able to get the important stuff out of this...I might see if one of the other first-years would like to do it. It would make good practice. We can get it to you by next week. Does that sound alright?"

"How much?" I don't have money right now...I spent it on games. But I bet if I beg Dad, he'll give me some more.

"We can't take payment. It's against school rules…but helping a fellow student out is fine."

"Oh. I see."

Sudou pauses, then looks straight at me, and mutters, "Shiritori-san, is something troubling you?"

" really...hehe."

"Is it Aikawa-kun?"

Eh? What? How did she know that?!


"It is Aikawa-kun, isn't it?"

"Well, no, I swear-"

"Shiritori-san, I know something's wrong. Aikawa-kun has looked bothered all week, and you've been spacing out the past few days, too. You can tell me what's going on. He's my classmate, too."

"Well...his mom owns a hair salon and they're in a bunch of debt. I mean a bunch of debt. I mean Cowboy ZeZop debt. There were these shady guys who his mom owed a bunch of money to and they're taking the business and their house as payment and they threatened her and they threatened him and they threatened his little brother and sister, and now they're gonna have to move far away while the bad guys raze their home and turn it into a base for evil's crazy!"

Sudou's forehead creases as she puts a hand to it. "I thought it had to be family matters. The announcement was way too urgent and the timing is wrong for it to be something ordinary. Especially when you consider how Aikawa-kun has been acting. I mentioned something about it in passing to him, and he reacted."

Aw, crap. Takkun told me not to mention this to anyone else, and I just let it fly without even thinking. Can you really blame me? Sudou makes you want to trust her just by looking at her!

"Can you keep what I just said a secret? Please? It's just...Takkun told me not to say anything to anyone else, but I want to help him, and I don't know what to do...please?"

All is not lost. I have a disaster plan. If she tells everyone, I'll just make a cute face and go "oops, I messed up, ehehe~". It works on Dad. I bet it'll work on Takkun, too. Boys are easy to read.

"I want to help him too."


"Like I said. He's your friend, but he's my classmate, too."

"I know, but what are we going to do?! There's criminals and stuff involved, and dangerous people, and...uwah! It's too much!"

Sudou looks down, deep in thought. "I know it seems hopeless at first, but neither of us should give up. Keep thinking, Shiritori-san. I'm sure you'll come up with something."

You see why she's trustworthy? I didn't even ask her to give a shonen protagonist line, and she just did! If she's not letting herself despair, I can't, either. It's okay to fail, but you can't give up. Giving up is what kills you. Thanks for teaching me that, Uruma-kun.

The door slides open with a swish, and Sudou nods as she leaves. "See you tomorrow, Shiritori-san."

"Yeah, you too!"

Okay, Ayame. Pull yourself together and start thinking. You've got someone that needs help right in front of you!

Steward McOy