“drip, drip, drip.” I could hear the sound of rain through the school windows.
Meikoku High School, the public school I attended, is located on a hill, and when the weather is nice, you can view the city around the station and the ocean beyond. However, the view from the third-floor classroom window was dyed grey today, and the light from the firefly lanterns bounced off the window glass more brilliantly than usual.
It has already been two months since I started high school. The dry season is no more. Puddles of water could be seen left at right on the school grounds. Yes, it was now the rainy season.
I’ve recently been spending a lot of time and money on this app. It’s a game in which you must level up your character, but it’s also a game where player talent makes a huge difference in whether you win or lose. Of course, improving your ranking takes a lot of work, and you can’t help but extend your playing time.
During my lunch break that day, I was organizing my friend’s list in the game. As a friend, you may participate in cooperative battles, exchange items, and chat. However, since the quota is limited, I’m sorry to announce that I have to unfriend individuals who don’t check in frequently or whose rank is too far away from mine. Because the majority of my friends are individuals I’ve never met or talked to before, I don’t feel guilty about unfriending them.
I was carefully arranging my friends with my index finger when I came to a halt under the name of one person.
It was the only person on my friend’s list whose face I could identify, a real friend, I could say.
『Toi-chan joined three days ago.』
『Toi-chan』is a name that Toiro frequently uses in games and on social networking sites. The last time she checked in to the game was three days ago.
I was the first to get into the game, and Toiro quickly wanted to play it, so she downloaded it. She was extremely passionate about the game at first, but she hasn’t been logging in lately.
Recently, Toiro seemed to be busy with her friends at school. We were both members of the going home club, but she seldom visited my house after school or on weekends, so she probably didn’t have much time to play games.
I didn’t realize Toiro was so far back that she didn’t have time to play games….
As for me, I’ve been leading a fulfilling life by completing the pile of single-player adventure games on my desk as well as my smartphone games. I’m having trouble sleeping, or rather, it’s painful for me to sleep.
I stared at her name for a while, but I didn’t unfriend her and closed the app screen.
The rain continued to pour throughout the night.
“Now, what should I do…..”
I was alone in my room, unsure of what to do. One of the trading cards I’ve been collecting will be included as an extra in a magazine that comes out tomorrow.
I’m sure the convenience store near my house doesn’t have the magazine I’m looking for yet. In my experience, they aren’t lined up till the next day. Even if I walked out there in the rain right now, I’d most likely be wasting my time.
But there is always a possibility. The reality that there are people who could have bought it elsewhere makes my heart fret.
In any case, I’ll get it in the morning. But since it’s a popular product, I’m afraid it might be sold out by the time I get there. More importantly, I’d like to see the actual card as soon as possible.
…… I hope Tenpo will make an effort not to enable basic flagging since it would create this kind of problem.
I sat at my study desk for a few minutes, gazing at the space above me and wondering.
That’s when it happened. With a bang, the room’s door was slammed open from the outside. I became startled and immediately straightened my posture as I jumped on the chair. I turned around to see my sister, Hoshino Rina, standing there.
“Here’s the question.”
My sister said in a quiz-like manner.
“Why am I so angry?”
Ignoring my dubious gaze, my sister continued to adjust the texture of her permed blonde hair with her hands. She is wearing a jersey as sleepwear, and her face was pale, implying low blood pressure. Her eyelids looked a little heavy, indicating she is a nightie. The colourful fingernails peeking out from the crevices of her hair are so long that they could kill a person if you pushed them.
“Because there was a man who came in during the daytime, calling you ma’am.”
“Hah? Is that some kind of joke?”
With all her might, Hoshina Rina, my sister, gazed at me. She placed an intense amount of pressure on me. I guess this is the so-called ‘flying cancer.’
My sister is a seventh-year college student who has been staying in Japan for several years. She was a delinquent in high school, hanging out with the Yankees and playing around during the night. My sister, who had a pretty good face and style, was the object of admiration for the delinquent boys. She settled down when she took the opportunity to take the university entrance examinations. Still, even now, she has not lost her nightlife habit, and on the days when she does not have university classes, she usually goes home in the morning and sleeps until nightfall. I’ve heard that she works part-time at night serving men, but I’m not interested, so I don’t know much about it.
“I don’t know. What is it? Are you mad at me?”
“Yes, I am. Didn’t you get my message?”
When she said that, I reached for the phone that I had left on the bed. I checked the screen, and sure enough, there was a notification from the messaging app.
“What are you going to do for dinner? I have money.”
“Wow, what’s with this cool line?”
If you have money, you have money. That’s what some CEOs use when they try to satisfy their unlimited desires. I’d love to go into a card store and say, ‘Give me all the goodies in this store. I have money.’
“No, you don’t understand. Mom said she was working late today and gave me money to have dinner with her; I asked her what I should do with it because she was going to be late, and she hasn’t responded at all, plus I’m hungry.”
My sister said all this while yawning loudly. Are you hungry or tired…I’m sure it’s both.
When I glanced at the message, I noticed that she had sent it around 30 minutes ago. I hadn’t seen it since I was using my computer to access social media. Finally, I understood why my sister was so irritated.
“Dinner. It’s a pain in the ass to make, so why don’t we just eat at a convenience store?”
“Yeah. Well, hurry up and get on it. I’m already tired of waiting.”
It was true that I made her wait, so punishment was inevitable.
She proceeded to take out two 100-yen bills from her pocket and placed them on the bed.
“I’m a pasta girl. Why don’t you bring an umbrella?”
With that said, she left the room.
Umbrella? …..oh yeah, it’s raining.
I’ve taken on something troublesome. But, well, I can still see whether the magazine is still available. In any case, I don’t think they’ve sold it out yet…
I let out a small sigh and reluctantly started preparing to go out.
Sure enough, the store didn’t yet line up the magazine I was looking for. That was expected, yet it still left me feeling a little disappointed. I bought just dinner for the two of us and hurried out of the store.
Should I go to a convenience store a little farther away? No, it’s probably just a waste of time anyway.
It was when I walked out of the store’s parking lot with my umbrella in my hand, thinking about such resigned thoughts.
Suddenly, a voice called out to me from ahead. I raised my black umbrella and looked over to find Torio standing there with a plastic umbrella, having seemingly just passed by. She was dressed in her school uniform, with a long-sleeved sweater wrapped around her waist, and carrying her black backpack, which she used to go to school.
“Oh……are you on your way home now?”
“Yeah. I was playing with Urara-chan and the others. It got pretty late.”
“You’ve been through a lot, well then, good night.”
“Well, it was fun, though. I haven’t been to Masaichi’s house lately.”
Toiro and I naturally pointed our toes towards the way home. As we started walking side by side, Toiro began talking to me.
“Hey, I was pretty popular, wasn’t I?”
“‘Uh, well, yeah,……. Sure, I’ve heard rumours about you being popular.”
The discussion we had over spring break before starting high school was not a mistake. According to a rumour I heard by chance, Toiro had been confessed to by boys several times in middle school. However, she had never said yes to any of them and was therefore known as the untouchable flower.
When there was no response, I looked over to see Torio grinning at me, “Mufufufu.”
“~Heh. What do you think? Is it possible that you have fallen in love with me, Masaichi? Hmmmmmm~”
“I’ll take a picture of you at home, create an image to compare it with the walruses and distribute it to everyone.”
“Please don’t interfere with my business.”
We walked home, joking and chatting the whole way. It was a nostalgic and rejuvenating experience. We got to the front of our houses in under five minutes. We came to a halt just at the edge of our residences’ walls.
“Come to think of it, have you played any app games lately?”
“Ah, yes, about that. I haven’t been able to play much lately. But I want to have another cooperative battle with you again.”
“There’s a big difference in our levels.”
“No! I’m definitely playing today! I’d like to go to your room now, but…..is it a little too late?”
After saying that, Toiro looked at the clock on her phone, appearing as if she was in distress.
That’s fine with me. I’ll probably go back to my room and play phone games anyway. Dinner can wait if Toiro is coming.
However, Toiro, on the other hand, shook her head from side to side as if she had resolved herself.
“I’m a little tired today. I think I’ll take a break.”
Then, “Good night!” She saluted and placed her hands on the gate of her house.
“You’ve been busy, haven’t you? Are you feeling okay?”
Just before we parted ways, I asked her, and she grinned and nodded as if everything was fine.
I went back to my room and sat down on the chair of my study desk. Suddenly, the image of Toiro lounging on the bed behind me flashed through my mind. Her belly button peeked out from the hem of her blown-up clothes, and she was reading a comic book on her face. However, the weight of the book was too much for her to bear for long, and she soon fell asleep—the usual, ragged figure of Toiro, which was a familiar sight to me.
I turned around, but of course, there was no one in the bed.
I wondered if she was overexerting herself. I was worried about that. The fact that she has been coming to my room less often than before suggests that she’s probably having a harder time with high school than in middle school.
“You’re the kind of person who likes to laze around at home, right?
The words I muttered absentmindedly fell onto the floor, with nowhere to go.
It was three days later that I had an unforgettable incident.
It had been raining on and off that morning.
With students being unable to go outdoors for lunch, the classrooms are much louder than usual. The boys who usually play soccer in the schoolyard at this time of day were running wild in the back of the classroom today.
Sarugatani had gone out to play with Taniya in another class, so I figured I could focus on my game during the break……. I snapped my neck and huffed. Then I glanced behind me to see what the noise was all about.
“Let’s go next, curveball!”
“Oh, no! No, seriously, it’s a magic ball!”
“I wonder if there’s a tournament for cap baseball. We can definitely win that, can’t we?”
“Let’s go to Koshien! Let’s go play cap baseball!”[Tl notes: Koshien is a baseball park located in Nishinomiya, Japan]
…..These people are playing a baseball game using plastic bottle caps. The bat appears to be constructed from an empty two-litre bottle. I mean, look at how crooked the pitcher’s throwing cap is! How are they supposed to play the game correctly?
So this is the indoor playground of people at the back. I’m impressed by the range of things they can do.
But it’s not only the rampaging that’s noisy. Loud voices were echoing throughout the classroom as if the boys were trying to assert their existence. As if to appeal to the girls in particular that they have an interesting conversation at the moment.
If I had to, I would have fallen in love with cap baseball and devoted my entire youth to it. I could fall in love with those guys if they were that sporty. With this in mind, I looked around to see how the girls they were appealing to would react.
That was when I noticed something was different in the classroom.
The percentage of girls was lower than usual. Or, more precisely, the females at the top of the caste, including Toiro, were not present. The number of girls in the classroom had decreased by around five, yet without them, the room’s brightness seemed to dim considerably, which was odd.
I wondered if they had gone to the restroom, bought something, or met friends from other classes.
In the end, everyone was back in the classroom before the lunch break was over, and I didn’t pay any attention to them, my thoughts going to the contents of the trading card box that will be released at the end of the month.
The box of cards I’m aiming for is produced overseas and is limited to a total of 500 units, and it has already been decided that there will be no resale, so the cards included in the package will be pretty rare. It’s estimated that only about 100 of these will make it to Japan, so it’s going to be very difficult to get one. These days, more and more people buy them and then resell them right away, and if you can’t buy them at the store price, you will have to consider buying them at several times the price on flea market apps or auction sites. As much as possible, I don’t want people to be lured to such resellers…….
After school that day, I stopped by the card store to check on the sales and marketing methods for the box. On the last Saturday of the month, the first 100 people to arrive will receive a lottery ticket with their number written on it at 9 a.m. The next day, they will feature the winning number on social media and their website, and the winners will be able to purchase the box in exchange for the lottery ticket. I found out that the number of people who can buy the tickets was not yet determined, so I decided to line up early in the morning despite my concerns.
I was strolling home, performing a mental replay of the morning. Unusually, a visitor was leaning against the gate, waiting for me.
“Well, well, well. You’re late. Masaichi-Kun. That bag is from the card shop in front of the station, Tendo, isn’t it? Did you have some kind of harvesting problem after keeping this Otome woman waiting?”
I can only think of one person who would visit me. What could she possibly want? It had stopped raining, but under the lightly cloudy sky, Toiro had been waiting for me.
“‘I don’t have any money. I just bought a few packs, that’s all. What’s wrong with you? You could have told me in class, and I would have gone straight home.”
“Then what’s the point of my surprise?”
“Surprise? Do you mean the neighbour who always comes by my house?
“A very pretty girl was waiting for you like a loyal dog.”
When I tried to let it go with a “yes, yes, yes,” Toiro puffed out her cheeks and turned her face toward me from one head down.
“So, what do we do now? Do you want to take a little walk?”
When I asked her this question, she looked bewildered, as if the air had been knocked out of her.
Apparently, my words were a surprise. I wondered if Toiro thought I would invite her over to my house. However, I knew from the beginning that Toiro wanted to move somewhere else.
She had been coming over to my house for many years, and of course, she was very close to my family, and even when I wasn’t around, she’d typically ask someone else to come into my room without my permission. Today, my sister is at home again. However, the fact that she did not do so and instead waited outside indicated that she was not in the mood to do anything in my room.
“Why don’t we go over there, to the riverbank where we used to play when I was a little girl?”
“Yeah, okay. I hope the rain hasn’t made the water level too high.”
We went to a neighbouring riverside at Toiro’s suggestion. We both started walking empty-handed after throwing our schoolbags at the front entrance of my house.
The scent of damp asphalt lingered on the road. Drips and drops of water dripped from the power wires that encircled the city like a net, and the waves spread in black pools of water.
When we eventually reached the riverbank, we walked a little closer to the river, treading on the damp weeds with our shoes. A flat rock large enough for two individuals to sit side by side was nearby. We sat down on the rock close to each other, avoiding the hollows where the water had collected.
Then we sat in silence and looked at the river. The river, albeit somewhat inundated by the rainy season’s drizzle, was still flowing gently and peacefully. The continuous sound of the river, the scent of lush grass, and the croak of a tree frog. As I sat here, I felt nostalgic, as if I were back in my childhood.
For a while, I just let nature take its course and let the nostalgia wash over me. During that moment, she didn’t appear to say anything to me.
“…So, what happened?”
I had no choice but to call out to her.
“……Well, I was just thinking of how little time I’ve spent with Masaichi lately.”
“No, no, don’t be like that. What’s bothering you? Is it about your friends or something?”
“Ahahaha …. Well, I find popularity to be a pain in the ass.”
Toiro glanced forward and finally began to speak about the thoughts she had been suppressing all this time.
“You’ve been busy lately, haven’t you?”
“Yes. That’s part of it, but I also get caught up in the mess of love and romance between men and women.”
“Love….you mean that sort of love mess?”
“Yes, it’s a love affair. I’ve been arguing with him, jealousy. Why is the man I adore so much expressing his love to her? It felt like I was in a comic book. Like what? Is there some sort of sickness that suddenly makes you want to be an adolescent in high school? Something like that.”
It seems that a lot of things were happening around Toiro without my knowledge. What type of accident causes you to become enraged, especially when someone confesses to you…?
“The other girls in my class were complaining about it during lunch break today. Urara and the others protected me and calmed the situation down, but I’m not interested in that kind of talk in the first place, and I don’t want to be involved in it. Lately, when I hang out with my friends, boys often join us, and I wonder if they think we’ve already become friends just because we hung out together once.”
That’s why there were so few girls in the classroom today during lunch. I have no idea what type of problems girls get into with each other, but I could tell from Toiro’s expression that it’s pretty embarrassing. This was especially true given Toiro’s apparent lack of interest in such trivial conversation.
“So that’s what happened…….”
When I murmured to her, she jokingly replied, “That’s correct, brother……” But the fatigue in her relaxed voice told me that it was the best she could do at the time.
I was wondering what I could say to Toiro to help her.
She, on the other hand, caught me off guard and said something that exceeded my expectations.
“……Hey, we’re young and familiar with each other…… Should we just go out with each other?”
Time stopped for a moment.
What did you just say? Go out with you….?
“What…what do you mean?”
“That’s a surprise. You were the one who said something first.”
Toiro stood up and held up the index finger of her left hand.
Surprise?…. That’s not important.
Is this a confession? If that’s the case, how do I respond to……? It’s my first time, and I’m at a loss for what to do. I mean, how long have we known each other?
“Oh, ho, ho, so do you like me?”
I stammered as hard as I could.
“L…L….Like?! It’s that kind of……stuff, you know, please listen to yourself.”
Toiro’s face flushed as if she was panicking. Then she fanned her cheeks with her hands and continued to speak frantically.
“I mean, I like it; after all, we spend a lot of time together after school, and we’re generally together on holidays, too.”
“We’ve been doing that a little less lately.”
“Oh my god, Masaichi, were you shy?”
Toiro gave me a grin as if she was just getting back into the swing of things. Ugh…..
“I’m not lonely; I’m glad I got rid of my stack of games; In fact, I’ll happily spoil the games you’ve been dying to play for a long time.”
“Please don’t do that……”
“Please lend me the one you finished again”, Toiro adds.
“Well, since we’re going to be together anyway, why don’t we simply pretend we’re dating? That way, other boys won’t regard us as objects of love and devotion, and you won’t be tempted to go out with other girls.”
“I see. That’s how it is. But I think being with someone is different from going out with them……”
“So it’s just pretend, pretend. It’ll still be the same as before. We might have to do some things together to fool around a little bit, though.”
I see. I understood the intent of Toiro’s proposal. If you’re getting into trouble with love, The objective is to find a partner first, so you don’t attract boys around you.
But guess what? No matter how hard I try, there are numerous obstacles to overcome when it comes to dating. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, and I’m not sure I can take it. Is it just me who takes everything so seriously? But, if possible, I’d prefer to avoid having my time-limited by antiquated tastes.
As I was looking reluctant, Toiro pushed my body to the side and stared into my eyes.
“Hey, Masaichi, you don’t have any girls you like anyway, so there’s no harm in going out with me, right?”
“Wait, don’t assume there isn’t.”
“Oh, so there is?”
“…… No, I’m not. So then what’s the benefit of doing this?”
“The benefits, of course, are that you can legally make out with pretty girls. Welcome to freedom.”
“Who’s the pretty girl? And what the hell do you mean by legal?…..”
“Yes, yes. Very cute.”
“I’ve been brushed off!”
“I keep telling you. I’m the type of guy who views reality face first.”
If I start pretending to be in a relationship with someone, how will I be seen at school in the future? What’s more, I’m with a beautiful girl who is popular in school (for some reason). There’s also the possibility that the boys who have been eyeing Toiro will turn against me. All I want to do is to continue living a peaceful life as an otaku in full swing.
I knew better than to say yes. That’s when I decided to keep moving my mouth.
“Mmm-hmm. Well, to be honest, I’ve already assumed that you’ll be reluctant. But how about this?”
Toiro smiled at me, the corners of her mouth slowly forming a grin.
“What is it?”
I wondered whether Toiro had taken advantage of me without being aware of it. Feeling uneasy, I enquired about it. Toiro then began muttering something in her mouth.
“End of the month …… card store …… lottery.”
That string of words was all too familiar to me.
“You’ve been looking into it?”
“Of course. How long have I been your childhood friend, Masaichi?”
Toiro informed me about the lottery for the card box I planned to try for at the end of the month. The fact that she’s bringing it up means that I may not be able to…..
“I contacted your favourite store to inquire about purchasing the limited edition box of cards that you usually collect; do you want me to stand in line with you at the end of the month?”
‘Gulp’, I choked up. It’s a lovely and practical offer.
Toiro, although being an otaku, is not interested in trading cards. That is why, when there is a lottery or a restriction on the number of cards she can buy, I frequently attempt to bargain with her and urge her to buy them for me, but she would always say no. Toiro was a morning person, and she was the sort of person who would never prioritize sleeping till the afternoon on weekends and vacations.
“…… Will you be up in the morning?”
“Yes. Just once.”
“So, in exchange…I have to be your boyfriend throughout this period?”
“That’s right. You get it. As long as we’re together, I’ll help you collect your cards, Masaichi.”
“What did you say?”
“I said. Negotiations are over. In return, you must do your part.”
Toiro made a child-like smiling face and presented it to me.
I, on the other hand, inwardly gave a big gut-punch. Now I have a better chance of winning the lottery. And if both of us were to win, we might even be able to choose to keep one of the boxes without opening it. Just thinking about it makes my collector’s spirit tingle.
In an attempt to make amends, I’ve caused you some problems…
But in any case, I knew I had to help Toiro. We’ve known each other since we were kids, but she’s never been one to talk about her problems with anyone. I guess she’s been piling up her problems and finally decided to come to me for help. There was no way I could ignore her.
First and foremost, if Toiro is genuinely in need, I will gladly offer her a helping hand, no questions asked. I’m not sure whether there’s anything I can do to help, though…
“But..if we’re faking being a couple…could you make it work?”
I asked, feeling a little worried.
“We’ve been together longer than most people in love. We’ll be fine!”
Toiro’s hair flutters in the breeze as she gives me a thumbs up. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it. I noticed that the evening sun, filtering through the thin clouds, was gently illuminating the city.
Thus, my childhood friend and I became a couple for the first time from that day onwards.
But we didn’t know what a couple’s relationship was supposed to be like――。
Oh, I did it, I did it……
I, Kurumi Toiro, was squirming around on my bed in my room, pressing my face against my pillow.
I’ve done it. What was that in the evening? “Should we just go out?” Oh my god. Why did I say such an embarrassing thing? Just thinking about it makes my face hot to the touch. All I had to do was simply explain the situation to him and ask him to pretend to be my girlfriend.
It was now nighttime. After talking with Masaichi, I went home, ate dinner, and took a shower. Afterwards, I laid down on my bed when I suddenly felt a rush of embarrassment flowing through me.
“Well, well, well. It worked out fine, didn’t it? All right. Let’s get back to it. Ho……”
I attempted to play the part of a joyful person on my own, but I still couldn’t blow it off.
But the mission itself went well, and that was a relief.
–Now I can start spending time with Masaichi again tomorrow.
I told Masaichi that I was having problems with love, but the real reason was quite different.
Recently, I’ve been spending less and lesser time lazing around in my room with Masaichi. It’s because now that I’m in high school, I have more and more friends that ask me out every day…….It’s nice to hang out with my friends once in a while, but I really wanted to spend more time with him relaxing and participating in otaku activities.
Or rather, I liked the time we spent together.
We’d spend more time together if we pretended to be a couple. It also gives me a reason to refuse invites from my friends because I’m with my boyfriend.
I thought it was a pretty good idea. While it was true that I’ve received confessions from boys I don’t know and had girls who have nothing to do with me attack me, I can use this as a reason to ask for help. I know that Masaichi is kind and a little vulnerable to my requests. I felt a little guilty about taking advantage of him, but he would forgive me for helping him with his hobbies and for being an otaku with him.
That was the reason why I said 『Will you go out with me?』
“Ah～, that was too much.～”
When I think about it again, I did something really bold on the spur of the moment.
I don’t harbour any sort of romantic feelings for him, but he is a very dear childhood friend to me.
Masaichi and I are now a couple. Well, we’re pretending to be. I wonder what will happen from now on?
In the end, she tilted her head to the side and gazed up at the sky, seeking to enjoy its pure elegance.