〈６〉A Date Between the Two People Who Deceive the World
The fourth floor of Meikoku High School, located on a hill, offers a view of the ocean during the clear weather.
The end of the rainy season brought a day of clear skies for the first time in a long while. As the evening sun gently set into the ocean, the sky turned a deep, purplish blue.
“Ah, the scenery is really nice today. Isn’t it beautiful?”
Toiro and I were sitting across the table from each other, staring out the window as we shared in our delight the beautiful scenery in front of us. From a distance, Toriro’s big eyes appear moistened, reflecting the setting sun.
“Well, it is beautiful.”
As I replied, I turned my gaze away from the window and looked at Toiro’s profile.
There is an appeal point on our school website titled “A school with a view of the ocean.” Despite being a public school, we had a beautiful cafeteria on the fifth, or top, floor.
To allocate the school budget for such a useless place only to be used by couples…? Is this school really going to be okay? I’d like to see more private internet booths with computers for everyone to use. That way, I’ll be able to play online games during my lunch break, which I usually avoid since they don’t run that smoothly on my phone, and I’ll be content.
However, I could no longer complain about any of that.
After finishing my cleaning duty, Toiro came by to ask me for advice, and here we are, taking advantage of this sanctuary only meant for couples.
“So, why did you go through the trouble of bringing me all the way out here?”
“Well, I thought this would be the right place for a meeting between the two people who deceive the world.”
“Whoa, that sounds pretty cool. But if that’s the case, wouldn’t you want to go to one of our rooms to discuss this? You wouldn’t want our discussion to be leaking out, would you?”
“But you know, in our situation, it’s not easy to focus at home. That’s why we should discuss important matters outside.”
True, there are too many appealing and perplexing objects in our rooms. As soon as I get home, I would turn on my computer and delve into the internet world, which Toiro follows. And, while we each have our own interests, we usually play a game together once in a while when we have the chance.
Was this the reason why I waited outside of her house instead of going into her room when Toiro asked me to be her temporary couple for the first time?
Fortunately, there weren’t many people in the cafeteria at the time. Just a few couples scattered around the sofa seats in the four corners, much like a dating place. Given the circumstances, we, who were deceiving the world, may not stand out very much at this cafe.
On the table was my coffee and Toiro’s choice of Latte. I chose iced for both of us. Summer was already around the corner, and it was about time for us to change our uniforms.
“So…what’s this meeting about? is it about our relationship?”
When I asked Toiro this question, she scratched her cheek and smiled bitterly, “Hehe…”
“That’s right. I have a feeling that something’s wrong. It seems that people are looking at our relationship with suspicion and distrust.”
“Ah…so they’re suspicious, huh…?”
Well, it was only last week that Nakasone Urara asked me a lot of questions in the cafeteria, so it comes as no surprise to me. Furthermore, I’ve also heard rumours in the classroom as to why we were dating.
However, the situation Toiro showed me was much worse than I could’ve anticipated.
“Take a look at this.”
Toiro fiddled with her phone and turned the screen towards me. What was displayed was a screenshot of a post on a social networking site.
[Why are they together?]
[Are they really together?]
[There’s definitely something going on.]
I read all these comments as I scrolled down.
“This is what I get for casually muttering about girls who appear to be at the same school as me. Besides, my friends around me seem to be pretty suspicious too.”
Toiro takes a small breath.
“I see. Seriously…we should have just been honest and pretended that we were childhood friends turned love interests in the first place. There’s a risk that people will find out that we’re cooperating, but it solves the problem of not coming up with a connection between us and the suspicion of being too close when we’ve just started dating.”
“That’s true…But it’s already too late. I’ve already told my friends that we’d just begun dating, and I’d like to hang out with you after school a little while to get to know you better.”
“Ah…my bad, I didn’t notice.”
It can’t be helped that it’s already gone this far. However, the situation has become far more complicated than before.
As I was thinking about what to do, Toiro snapped her fingers right in front of my face.
“We let our guard down a bit. No big deal, we just need to practice our lover moves a bit more.”
“Yeah, that’s where I’m coming from. I suggest a weekend outing to the shopping mall near the station! To learn what dating is all about and to get closer to being a normal couple.”
D…d-date…..a date…!? That’s not a word I’m familiar with!
“Yup, it’s got to be a date! When a girl says she’s going shopping, she’s generally a luggage carrier, and when she eats rice, it’s generally an unspoken fact that the man must treat her…and if you pay for everything with a velcro wallet, you’ll just get frowned upon, is what I mean by date, …”
“Isn’t the prejudice towards dating a little too high!?”
But it’s true…I read about it online. It’s a shame that I had to give up my favourite tri-fold Velcro wallet in the past since I grew concerned about it after viewing it.
“I don’t go shopping very often, you know. My very first shopping trip was on the web. Do you have any recommendations for shopping sites?”
I wasn’t really in the mood for any of this, so I tried coming up with an alternative plan.
“Hmm? What are you on about? Anyway, I would have preferred it if we could leave in the afternoon, but there’s your ‘lottery’ at the card store this weekend, right? Since it’s this weekend, we have no choice but to leave in the morning.”
“Oh yeah! That’s right!”
Hey, idiot! That was dangerous. What were you trying to do?”
I had it scheduled on my phone and my calendar at home, but I accidentally forgot about it when the date suddenly came up.
It was initially necessary for me to pose as a couple with Toiro to be eligible to enter the limited edition lottery. It didn’t occur to me she would take advantage of my current state and bring me on a date with her.
“Why don’t you try shopping outside the rainforest of the Internet for a change?”
Toiro grinned, saying that everything was within her expectations.
[Is the outside of the rainforest really a great area to obtain a membership along with some anime and other free real-life material…? I doubt that.]
However, in the end, I ended up rolling around in the palm of her hand as we went on a weekend shopping date.
“Hmm? Excuse me!”
It was the day of our date. As soon as I saw Toiro come out of her house with her pointy toe slip sneakers, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow.
She was dressed elegantly in a long pleated skirt, a soft white t-shirt with the hem tucked in, and a light pochette slung over her shoulder. Though she was casually dressed, her waist was constricted, and her features were prominent. The half-updo she had on her hair matched her flower earrings, which swayed along with the curls on her sideburns.
It was an entirely clean and neat appearance, unlike the typical Toiro I see every day. I couldn’t help but be taken aback.
“Uhm…who are you….?”
“You’re still saying that!? Of course, you have to dress like a first-class player! It’s a date after all!”
“Yup. This is my favourite outfit, which I frequently wear when I go out with my friends.”
“So the one that you always wear in your room is considered second-class?”
“Those are for the retired player’s who left the battlefield.”
“You don’t even play that much…”
Having said that, Toiro does have many sweatshirts and T-shirts with hairballs on them, so it seems that the expression “Retired from the battlefield” isn’t so wrong after all.
“Well…for ‘first class’…It looks really good on you..”
I muttered to myself in deep admiration. As expected of a high school girl who is popular with everyone, she seems to be very careful about her fashion. There was something about the Toiro of today that caught my eye.
――Even if you were to look at it from a subjective viewpoint, you can’t deny that she looks pretty cute and adorable.
“Oh, already starting with the ‘lovers move’, I see?”
Toiro’s tone contained a hint of teasing.
“Hmm? No, I’m serious.”
When I said that, Toiro seemed surprised for some reason.
The moment she thanked me with a look of confusion and disbelief on her face, I realized what was happening.
――Wait, did I just naturally compliment Toiro on her outfit….?
In a way, it felt like how I usually praise her when she performs well in a game….but isn’t that precisely what ‘couples’ do, complimenting each other on their outfits at the beginning of a date?
“Come on, let’s go.”
When I became conscious of the fact, I became really embarrassed and immediately turned around and started walking.
Toiro replied as she followed on behind me.
“Masaichi is dressed as usual.”
Toiro said as she walked.
“Yeah, it’s easier for me to move about in.”
I looked down at my clothes: a grey T-shirt, camel-coloured cotton pants, and simple white sneakers. Years of use had dulled the colour slightly.
“But it’s a date. Why didn’t you get dressed up.”
“This is my battle uniform, you know.”
Many of the town’s bookstores and card shops are small and crowded.
If you don’t dress casually, you might get caught up by the crowd and drop your merchandise. Furthermore, if you wear tight denim shorts or a jacket over a t-shirt, you might find it challenging to move around and lag behind other consumers.
……But, truthfully, I just don’t have a lot of clothes to wear.
“Battle!? Well, it’s better to dress comfortably. Then let’s go shopping!”
Toiro replied, hopping forward before standing next to me as if regaining her composure.
The weather today was clear and sunny. There is undoubtedly no better day for a date.
From the very start of the morning, the card store was crowded with many people, but we managed to secure our hands on a lottery ticket.
“Oh, I’m definitely going to be on edge for tomorrows lottery….”
“If you win, will you thank me?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure which ticket is which since I took both of them at the same time. But I’m grateful to you, Toiro. You saved me.”
“Good! If I win, you owe me calories for making me wake up so early.”
“Are you okay with sweets or chocolate…?”
As we were having this conversation, we went over to the largest shopping mall in town.
It was just after ten o’clock in the morning. After walking through the station building from north to south for about ten minutes, we reached our destination.
“So, where are we going?
I asked as I slung my shoulder bag back over my shoulder.
What kind of dates are the most popular couples having together? Many men and women are walking about holding hands, but where do they go to have fun?
There are around 200 tenants, a big restaurant area, a food court, and a ten-screen cinema complex on the top level. There are so many options that it’s difficult to decide where to go.
“I’ve been asking my friends what kind of dates are they having. Why don’t you take a look at those?”
“Really? What’s it like?”
“Let’s see, let’s see. Going to a clothing store and picking out clothes for each other, eating a parfait together at a coffee shop, going to a pet store and talking about the dog that you’re going to get in the future.”
“Only that last part seems to be awfully random!”
Toiro seemed to be very motivated to pull of the ‘lover’s move’ on this date. I wanted to help her with that, so I decided to go on the dating course that she suggested.
But I’m not really interested in clothing, though…
The third, fourth, and fifth levels appeared to be occupied by the tenants of the clothing business. We took the elevator to the fifth floor. But as soon as the door opened and we landed on the fifth floor, I couldn’t help but freeze in my tracks.
A colourful electric display was shining brilliantly in the vicinity. There was the raucous sound of numerous noises combining to form a mega sound wave. And then there was the sound of cheering and laughter that drowned out the noise.
I muttered, and Toiro nodded.
“So, there was an arcade at the end of the fifth floor, huh. Well, the clothing store is over there.”
As Toiro said this, she began to move towards the aisle on the left, but her gaze remained fixed on the arcade as if some unknown force was drawing her. Eventually, when the angle of her neck was almost 180 degrees, she stopped in her tracks.
I was following behind Toiro and stopped as well.
“What do you think of…..?”
Toiro muttered in a low voice as if she was struggling to suppress something.
The pop music from the UFO catcher was repeatedly playing. I watched as Toiro’s body slowly turned around as if being lured by the cheerful melody.
“How about we perform our lover’s move next time?”
Toiro eventually said.
“But…is that really okay with you?”
“It’s not a matter about it being ‘okay’ or ‘not’. Can you control yourself after looking at that, Masaichi?”
“No, honestly, I can’t stop the tingling all over my body…”
That’s right. I would play all day at the arcade if I could. When I was in junior high, I was addicted to arcade games, and if you ask me whether I liked them or not, I would say wholeheartedly, “Yes.”
“I think there’s such a thing as an arcade date…..yeah, let’s do that today!”
Toiro and I were the kinds of people who loved to play video games. With how long she hasn’t played, I guess she just couldn’t take it any longer.
“Yes!” Toiro made a small victory pose with both her hands and immediately turned a full 180 degrees on her heels, and headed for the arcade.
“Masaichi, let’s play right away!”
“I’ll take whatever comes my way. I hope you don’t regret coming down all the way out here, okay?”
“It’s what I wanted to do in the first place. So hey, what’s that?”
Toiro pointed to the arcade version of Mario-race, which we often played together at home. It was the first time that I had ever played in an arcade. I heard that you could take a picture of your face after you pay the money, and during the race, your face is displayed instead of the character icon.
“Loser has to buy the winner ice cream from the vending machine. How about it?”
We immediately went to the machine, put in the hard currency, and selected the in-store game.
The screen shifts to a photoshoot, and I made a serious expression, while Toiro makes a goofy face as she rests her hands on her cheek, transforming her face into an octopus. At this point, I felt like the battle had already begun.
I selected the same character that I often use at home, and when Toiro intuitively chose the seaside course, the race began.
“Ah, no! Turn, turn, turn….!”
“Oh my god, it’s so slippery! What’s up with the CPU speed!?”
Looking back, this was the first time I played this game on a steering wheel. It was also the first time I sat in an arcade seat with speakers in the back of my head, and the realistic sound of the engine and drifting made me feel excited. However, the feel of the controller was completely different from the one I usually use. Just a slight turn of the steering wheel, and the kart would almost spin around in a tight circle.
“Damn, we got off to a good start, but we’re getting overtaken.”
“I’ll just have to hope for the right item. ――Ahh, I couldn’t get it!”
The CPU was catching up to us, and we were falling behind. But none of us wanted to give up. No matter how hard the CPU attempted to beat us, we were the ones controlling the game. Once we got used to the controls, we began racing properly.
“Take that, Masaichi!”
“I’m guarding properly. Whoa! What was that! I just looked behind me and saw a crab!”
“Heh, heh. It’s dangerous to drive while looking over the side. Oh no! I was using an item and dived over a cliff.”
Every move Toiro made with her kart was met with a yelp next door.
“Look, they’re not just couples. It’s a full-blown childhood friend move at home! In public!”
Perhaps embarrassed, Toiro glanced around. I took my eyes off the screen for a moment, and before I knew it, there were a bunch of little kids waiting for their turn.
I think that it’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that when you’re playing games, your genuine feelings start to leak out.
Toiro remained quiet for a while, but her voice emerged again as she became more immersed in the game.
While we were fighting it out on the screen, I made it to the third lap- the last lap. Toiro and I were taking turns overtaking each other. It was becoming a game of luck with the items that we were finding along the way.
“Damn…if it was my usual controller…”
“Oh, no, Masaichi, are you not used to the controls? I’d say our basic gaming skills are about the same, is it not?”
Damn, I always win when I’m in my room, and if I lose, Toiro will definitely get carried away. With my pride on the line, I can’t afford to lose.
As I moved the steering wheel, I let out a sigh of relief.
Calm down. I’ve already found a way to ensure my victory. If you thought I didn’t do anything during my first or second laps when I wasn’t used to the controls and kept crashing into the wall, you were mistaken.
I’m going to make up for our difference at once!
My cart was running along the sandy beach. There was an ocean on my right, and to my left, are the mountains. Just behind me, Toiro was drifting her cart as she tried coming closer and closer to me.
I turned my steering wheel to the left at once. Toiro shouted, “Hah!?”
There was a mountain in our direction. If you were to look closely, you could see a tiny hole in the mountain, leaking light. The front wheels of my cart rode up the slanted rock in front of me and plummeted into the tunnel.
“Argh, Masaichi! A…a…s-shortcut!?”
“HAHAHA! If you were to examine the course map closely, you would notice that this tunnel goes right through the mountains. It’s an obvious shortcut! Why do you think I kept hitting the wall so much? To find this loophole, of course!”
To be precise, I only realized the hole’s existence after going off course so many times.
“It’s not fair! That’s a road only the locals know! That’s a foul!”
Sssshhhhhuuussshhh, say what you want. Once we get out of the tunnel, we’ll be at the finish line. The winner deserves justice. I’m sure the ice cream on someone else’s treat will be just as delicious.
“Oni! Evil Akuma! Bastard! Past life slug! Next life bug!”
“What kind of swear words are those!?”
Toiro, who had been calling me names, just said something was unusual. Thinking it was odd, I glanced sideways at her.
Her sideburns hid her expression. However, the corners of her mouth were slightly up, as if she was smiling.
What is it? How can you smile in such a situation?
Eventually, I exited the tunnel and stepped out into the big bright world. However, as soon as I landed on the ground from the mountainside exit, my cart immediately began spinning. It was getting out of control super fast, and in the end, it sent me spinning into the ocean.
I was sure I saw it the moment I slipped. On the ground was an ice block, an item to make the cart slide. Even though I was playing, I turned my head towards Toiro.
“Fufufufufufu~. You made a big mistake if you thought I wasn’t going to do anything. You know, I thought to myself, ‘since Masaichi’s going to use that tunnel, why don’t I set a trap?’ If I’m finally going to win against you, let this be the time! So I set a trap, and look, I’ve won!”
I tried using all my strength, leaning against my left shoulder, to steady my vehicle. As I came back from the sea, Toiro’s strange octopus-like icon passed by in front of me. Looking at her expression, it really was an eye-catching performance…
In the end, I couldn’t keep up with them, and Toiro was the first one to finish. To be fair, the CPU’s were the ones filling up the top ranks, while Toiro and I were battling for the bottom, but she was still happy with the end result.
“Yay! I beat Masaichi in a race! It feels so goooood!”
Behind me, a group of little kids were curiously looking at the frolicking high school girl.
I never thought I would lose in this type of game. I’d like to keep going and get my revenge right away, but the little children behind me were waiting their turn.
I staggered out of the machine, feeling weak and exhausted.
After the ice cream break that I bought for Toiro, we went to a gun game where we can kill zombies, a rhythm game that involves the beating of drums, and a quiz game where you competed against people from all across the country.
――Since any game is fun as long as I’m with Toiro.
After we were done frolicking around with the arcade games, we wandered over to the UFO catcher section.
“Do you want to play something?”
I asked Toiro, who was admiring the prized anime figures which were being given away.
“Well, these things are pretty hard to get, and it’s cheaper to buy them, right?”
Toiro pressed a button on a nearby claw machine and looked at the stuffed animal inside.
“That sounds a little depressing, and isn’t that something we wouldn’t want on a date?”
“No, I’m just a realist. Stuffed animals are cute, but their price makes them less cute.”
As she said this, Toiro left the enclosure. However, the moment she was about to walk down the hallway, her eyes widened. Suddenly, she turned around and walked towards me.
“What is it?”
As I was lost in my confusion, Toiro leaned in towards me and whispered into my ear.
“Mayu-Chan and her friends are at the entrance.”
I looked over and noticed three girls from my class and another girl from another class who I recognized walking into the arcade. They seemed to be heading in our direction.
I was about to look into Toiro’s face to see what she was going to do.
Toiro whispered gently, taking hold of my right arm as if she was embracing me. The smell of sweet and savoury incense drifted softly along with the movement of the air.
I could feel something soft wrapped around my entire arm.
Before I could make out a proper reply, Toiro raised her voice.
“Masaichi, Masaichi! Get me that cute toy!”
Due to Toiro’s rather loud voice, Mayu-Chan was now looking at me directly. Toiro, on the other hand, pulls my arm and approaches the machine she was staring at previously, without giving me a chance to say anything further.
“I want this. I want this. It’s so cute!”
“Didn’t you just say it would be cheaper to buy something like――!!”
Toiro stomped on my foot as I was about to speak, tightening her hold on my arm even more. When I looked over at her, I noticed that she had a slight blush on her cheeks.
“Let’s take it! Let’s decorate the house!”
So I guess we are supposed to act like a couple having a good time. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t really blame them for being suspicious of our relationship nowadays.
But then again, you were a UFO catcher denier just a few minutes ago, and now you’ve changed so quickly……
My classmates seemed to be paying attention to me. They directed their gazes at me with a stubbornness that made me wonder who the man next to Toiro was. Feeling strangely uncomfortable, I casually untied Toiro’s arm.
But, regardless of how you look at it, I now have to play the part of Toiro’s boyfriend.
I took a small breath and turned my head towards the UFO claw machine.
“I was expecting you to be the first person to go over to the ‘candy pusher jackpot’ game over there, Toiro.”
In front of me were two stuffed animals(Shiba-Inu dogs) shaped like beans. One was a male with a bandana wrapped around his head, while the other was a female wrapped around with a ribbon. They were a little larger than your average small dogs and were at a comfortable holding size.
“That’s rude! I’m a girl too, you know! I’m just as interested in kawaii as anyone else. I really like the plush animals, so I thought I’d put them on Masaichi’s bed. See, doesn’t it look soft and comfortable, and it seems like it has just the right amount of cosiness as well!”
“So you’re going to make it a pillow after all….”
Toiro took out her wallet while laughing at my words, [Did they find out?] She placed the 100-yen coin into the slot and stared back at the acrylic panel. [Hmmm] Looking back, it seems that our classmates no longer care about us and went on minding their own business since the act of playing a UFO claw machine is considered a ‘couple move’ on its own.
“Can you get it?”
“Don’t worry. I just need to use one finger to get it.”
“That’s because you just need to push a button. I’m feeling more and more anxious after each one of your remarks!”
“Okay, it’s decided! Here we go!”
It took Torio a few moments to decide, but she pressed the button immediately as soon as she had made up her mind. The abdomen of the stuffed animal was being held firmly from both sides with the claw.
“Okay, we’re right on target.”
Torio smiled and nodded.
“You’ve got a firm grip all the way down to the belly.”
I walked around to the side of the machine to check the status of the catch claw.
The arm, however, had no power at all. One stroke, and that was it. It just stroked the surface of the stuffed animal with its silver claws and came back with nothing.
“What the hell!?”
Toiro stuck both her hands and her forehead directly on the acrylic board.
“This catch claw has a very low power setting.”
“You mean it’s too early for humankind!?”
“No….anyway, don’t get too upset over this. Look at the way the claw is swinging. The possibility of taking it exists. Have you noticed how the stuffed animal moved just a little when the arm was raised? You have to repeat that move again. That’s how you get it to the drop.”
It would be pretty rare if you could get the prize in a single go considering it’s a UFO catch claw machine. If people caught all the prizes like that, the arcade would be in the red.
“It only moved a few millimetres? How long will it take!?”
“There’s a trick to moving it.”
As I said this, I took out my wallet. I put in 500 yen and touched the button with my finger. If you put in a batch of credit ahead of time, you can get a one-time service.
“You see the drop-off on the left? So first, lower the right arm so that it just barely catches the stuffed toy, and then use the force of the arm closing and moving upward to pull it to the left.”
This time, the stuffed bean moved.
“There is a special technique where you can use the UFO catch claw by itself to push the stuffed toy, but this platform is set to a decent limit and will stop halfway down, so use the claws on the arm.”
“Oh! I think I’m starting to see something!”
Toiro peered into the enclosure, her eyes sparkling.
“Well, it’s going to cost you money.”
Having said that, I got a little better at it and continued to play. Toiro paid out the next 500 yen.
“Masaichi, you’re really knowledgeable about all this. Why?”
Toiro turned around, looked up at me and asked.
“I used to collect anime figures and stuffed animals way back when I was in Junior high. I still don’t know how much I’ve spent…”
“Oh, you mean the ones in the closet?”
“You knew about them!?”
“Yes, sometimes when I have to borrow clothes from you, Masaichi, I have to open the closet, right? And when I do, I see a stuffed plushie of a pretty girl staring at me.”
“It’s so horrible to hear that!”
I’m sorry I treated you so poorly after everything you’ve done for me! It arose from the fact that I wanted to spend a lot of money to rescue and care for them, but my room was way too small, and I couldn’t find a place for it. I’ve been taking them out regularly, caring for them and loving on them, you know?
While I was preaching my thoughts, the stuffed toy got caught in the jaws of the catch claw. Okay, great, follow the procedure, use the claw to push the back end of the stuffed animal. And then――、
“Almost there, almost there……Yay!”
The plush animal dropped to the ground unharmed. Toiro struck a victory pose and returned my gaze before stooping to pick up the plush toy.
Toiro seemed to be more excited than I expected.
..What a child
But I also noticed that I was feeling kind of happy about it. Besides, I’m feeling a little proud after being praised by Toiro. Well, I suppose anyone can get it if they spend enough money.
Going to an arcade and playing the UFO catcher with a girl. It’s a sight you typically see in manga’s and novel’s, but could it also happen in real life? Not with a two-dimensional girl, but with a beautiful girl in real life――
Whenever I was alone, I would always immerse myself in such thoughts.
“Woof-woof, thank you for rescuing me, Masaichi.”
Toiro pressed the stuffed animal on my face, causing it to cling to me. I was having difficulties breathing, so I pushed the stuffed animal away, to which Toiro moved a step back and looked at me.
Oh? This hand…feels pretty soft…so that’s what she meant…
“……This guy is just right for a pillow.”
I can’t keep this guy in the closet if he’s this useful…
Then I’ll have to keep this one in my room forever――。
Toiro and I ended up playing at the shopping mall till around five o’clock in the evening that day.
When we left the arcade,
“I’m hungry! What do you want to eat, Masaichi?”
“Well, maybe ramen.”
“Huh? That’s not very fitting for our first date as a couple!”
“Then what else do you want to do?”
While we were having this conversation, we headed for the restaurant district.
It was lunchtime, and we had to wait in line, but we passed the time by playing app games and eventually got our ramen. After that, I went into a toy store to check the latest games and then chilled out at a quaint store that sold miscellaneous goods and books. I remembered that a new edition of a novel I wanted was out, so I went to an anime store that offered the limited edition specials.
Before I knew it, time flew by in an instant.
Just before we left, Toiro said [We need proof of our date to show everyone]. So we went back to the arcade to take a picture at the picture booth. Toiro was in charge of the picture sheet, and she cut the sheet in half. The images I received showed me awkwardly posing with a weird smile on my face, while Toiro was winking at me with her lips pouting in excitement.
And now we’re on our way home, walking side by side.
While the air outside, which had been heated during the day, was still stuffy and hot, it felt comforting to my body, which had been cold for so long.
Housewives with shopping bags, students on their way home from club activities, and older men in suits, who were probably working on their days off. The people coming and going in front of the station at dusk all seemed to be in a hurry. In the midst of all this, we walked leisurely towards our homes as if we were satisfied with the day.
“Is this how a couple’s date feels like?”
I suddenly wondered and asked Toiro.
Well, I was in shambles from the start the moment I succumbed to the allure of the arcade.
Toiro made a pondering gesture as she placed her index finger to her mouth, and then she glanced at me and smiled gently.
“Hmm, well, it’s okay if it’s like this. The most important thing for us is to have fun!”
“Is that how it is?”
“That’s how it is.”
If Toiro says so, then it’s all good. Well, I don’t even know what normal couples do on a date. So I guess this is fine.
As I was thinking about this, Toiro opened her mouth and whispered in a small voice next to me.
She took a small, carefree step forward and looked back at me. I came to a complete halt.
“If that’s not enough, do you want to hold my hand?”
“What, your hand?”
Her sudden suggestion made me squeal in confusion.
“Yes, this is the most popular move among couples. Oh~, Masaichi, are you embarrassed?”
Toiro replied in a teasing-like voice and grinned as she looked at my face. Her wide eyes reflected my characteristics.
“I’m not embarrassed! What are you talking about?”
Even though I said that the beating of my heart was rapidly accelerating, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to stop this feeling that has been attacking me so often lately.
“Ohh~, then why do you look so flustered? Was it too embarrassing for the inexperienced Masaichi-Kun to suddenly hold hands with a cute girl?”
“No, I’m not. Who’s the cute one?”
In an attempt to make up for it, I held out my open hand and said briefly [Here]. Then, Toiro’s soft, cold hand gripped my hand from my index fingers to my little finger.
There was a brief period of mysterious silence. I averted my gaze, but I could still feel her hand in mine. She turned her head slightly and seemed to be staring at the hand she held.
――Oh man, I’m so nervous……
Eventually, we started to walk step by step, hand in hand.
“……reminds you of when you were little, doesn’t it?”
“Ah, yeah. We used to go out to play somewhere while we were holding hands.”
“Wasn’t there a lot of river tiles in that neighbourhood? We used to catch the crayfish and keep them at your house, Masaichi.”
“That’s right. I remember looking for bullfrogs a lot when I was a child because I didn’t know where they were despite hearing them all the time. You were surprisingly active when you were little, weren’t you?
Thanks to Toiro’s innocent talk about our past, the tension between us slowly dissipated.
“I was super active. I used to travel a lot by train. All over Japan, all over the country, all over the place.”
“Travel….? That’s the one, isn’t it, about the Kuri rando game! I thought something was off when you said that. It’s pretty time consuming, and it’s the ultimate indoor game.”
“Haha, we used to do that so much! I still haven’t gotten my hands on the Kuri rando game yet…”
“Wasn’t I pretty addicted to it? But there were numerous occasions when I believed it was merely a recollection from my meeting with Kuri rando that I had misplaced.”
Hey, let’s do it again sometime. Oh yeah, in a hundred years or so.
When we made such a promise, it was as if we were children again. As we continued to talk about the past, we strolled through the residential area tinted with the western sun. The aroma of dinner drifting from several households triggered sentimental recollections for me. It was almost time for the street lights to come on all at once.
When we were in elementary school, we used to walk hand in hand along this road. Back then, such a thing was a matter of course.
I wondered whether I was the only one who enjoyed the feeling of my partner’s hand now that it was a different size. I found myself thinking about it by myself.
As soon as I arrived at school, I told my group of friends about my date with Masaichi.
However, their reaction was a little different from what I expected.
“Wow, a shopping mall date, that’s nice.”
“I want to hang out with Toiro too. Next time I’m going bowling with the boys from the basketball team, do you want to come with?”
Kaede and Mayuko began talking about some handsome guys on the basketball team after saying this.
It surprised me how simple their responses were. I was prepared to be bombarded by many questions regarding what happened on the date, my current relationship with my boyfriend, etc.
“The date…hey, did you have fun?”
Only Urara-chan asked me that, but she was soon pulled into the conversation with Kaede and the others.
There were a lot of rumours about Masaichi and me when we first started going out, but I guess it’s already become a low-profile topic. People don’t seem to be very interested.
On the other hand, they were more interested in the ‘handsome classmate’, the ‘ace of the athletic club’, or the ‘delinquent kid’ who minorly stands out. Everyone seemed to want to talk about these boys. They were all gossiping about whether or not they liked the boys or not, whether or not they had any desire to go out with them, or whether or not they wanted to be held by them…
By the way, among the boys in the basketball team was Kasuga Kashibe, the one who Kaede was interested in, so I’m sure that their gossip was related to that.
――Well, whatever, that’s Okay. I’m the only one who understands how good Masaichi is.
With that thought in mind, I gently held the photo album I had missed the chance to show my friends from the top of my pocket.
After school, Toiro came to my house again. She was sitting on my bed and holding on to a stuffed plush Shiba on her lap, the one that we won from yesterday’s arcade.
“Yo, what do you want to eat, I’m going to the convenience store, so I’ll get you whatever you want, Okay?”
“Hmmm…how about a steady supply of potato chips! And….raisin butter sandwiches too! I’m not sure if I’m in the mood for any chocolate or not?
I’d like to drink something carbonated, too.”
“All right, I’ll get you all of it!”
“Really? All of it!? Yay!”
I’m feeling pretty good right now. I won the lottery at the card store, where we went to get the raffle tickets together on Saturday.
I opened and sealed the card that I had purchased in exchange for the raffle ticket and looked at it on my study desk when I stopped and started preparing to go to the convenience store.
“It’s nice to be able to get so absorbed in cards and games. That purity is one of the good things about you. I respect you, Masaichi.”
“Hmm? What’s up with you all of a sudden? Are you complimenting me?”
“How about some takoyaki?”
“You’re getting carried away――but I’ll let you off the hook! Just this once.”
[Just for today, I’ll take you on a ride. It will be the first and last time in my life that I’ll ever see such a soft-hearted, gullible Masaichi.]
“Well, you always have to have a will of your own. I can’t help but notice how dazzling and honest Masaichi is, doing what he wants to do.”
That was what Toiro said.
At the same time, I wanted to answer back, “Hmm?” Toiro opened her mouth as if she remembered something.
“Oh yeah, I’m going out to play with Urara-Chan sometime. I haven’t set a date for it yet, though.”
[I’d better tell her before I forget] Toiro added.
“Well, that’s it. Be careful not to get caught up in all that talk about love and jealousy. Also, take care of yourself. Try not to get too tired from playing around too much.”
“I mean, it’s been a while since you hung out with your friends, right?”
Now that I think about it, ever since we started pretending to go out, Toiro has been coming to my room almost every day.
“Well, you know. I have a very important ‘boyfriend’. Oh, and of course, we girls play together, right?”
“Your boyfriend is a fake. Well, you’d be right in terms of lover moves if you kept the guy NG.”
Perhaps Toiro was somewhat unhappy with my answer, but then, she puffed out her mouth. However, her expression immediately turned complicated.
“……I know. There are still people who seem to be suspicious of us.”
Even I, whose brain was the size of a goldfish, knew that there were people who suspected our relationship. Then again, there might be more active rumours going on behind the scenes.
“Are your friends saying anything to you about it? Since we ended up going out for a regular date on Saturday. Let me know if there’s anything else I should do, Toiro.”
The moment I said that, Toiro’s eyes blinked, and then she broke into a smile.
“Thank you. Well, despite my suspicions, I’m having a pretty relaxing time at school right now, so I guess our plan is a success so far.”
“Is that so? Well, if you think that it’s okay, it’s okay. In fact, aren’t we more couple-like than all of the other couples out there…”
As I said this, I glanced at the legs of Toiro, who was sitting on the bed.
Toiro tilted her head and followed my gaze with a curious look on her face――oh, she noticed.
The stuffed plushie that Toiro was holding earlier had flipped up the skirt of her uniform. I could see her lime-green underwear. I was wondering whether I should’ve pointed it out.
Saying this, Toiro held down her skirt with one hand.
“Shouldn’t you be a little more embarrassed for a couple who has just started dating?”
Toiro seemed to be deep in thought, lowering her eyes as she fixed her skirt.
I frowned, wondering if there was anything up with Toiro’s mysterious pause. Did I say something wrong? Just as I was about to anxious, she lifted her lowered forehead.
Her eyes looked moist as if she was in heat.
“M-masaichi…maybe there’s more to it…to being a real couple.”
When Toiro moved her body, the stuffed plushie that she had in her lap dropped to the floor. It bounced down to my feet, and I picked it up and stood up to put it on my bed.
“No, beyond that is…….”
I slowly placed the stuffed plushie onto my bed, and that’s when――
I was caught off guard when Toiro yanked on my arms, which made me slump over, and then she threw my hands on the bed.
I panicked at the suddenness of the situation.
Toiro shifted her body on the bed and hit the sheets with her free hand.
(A reverse kabedon)
“The next step beyond that…do you want to try it?”
Without letting go of my arm, Toiro stared at my face.
I’m not so dumb as to not know what that means. But I’ll try to play dumb. I can’t imagine what’s beyond that, or even beyond that at all. I don’t have the courage to ignore that and take a step forward.
But Toiro wouldn’t let me.
“Masaichi, time to perform our ‘lovers move’.”
“What are you――”
What are you thinking about? Before I could even finish, Toiro pulled me down again and forced me to lay down on the bed. I think the reason I couldn’t resist was because of Toiro’s strong tone that was evident in her tone.
This was a lover’s move, and it’s not right to resist.
I obeyed the sooting tone of Toiro’s voice.
Following after me, Toiro laid next to me. The springs of the bed creaked and squeaked. A soft and gentle scent, perhaps a soft and gentle agent or shampoo, danced softly in the air.
I looked down slightly, and Toiro looked up, and our gazes entwined with each other.
Sinking silence followed.
The distance between us was approximately 10 centimetres. Toiro’s shimmering breath and exhalations were brushing against my lips. I couldn’t move my body because it felt like I was touching another person body.
――Wait, what the heck am I talking about? I’ve been holding hands with Toiro, carrying her on my back, and bathing together ever since she was a little girl.
No, that’s wrong. The past and present are not the same. I lowered my gaze to escape from the large eyes that captured and reflected mine. Then, my eyes fell on Toiro’s gently swelling breast. I heard from Sarukaya that they were of a decent size and that even in her school uniform, they appeared to stand out.
After staring at it for a while, I hurriedly looked away. This time, I was at a loss as to where to look.
It’s no good. No matter how much I try to treat Toiro as I did when she was a child, the girl I knew as a child has somehow grown into a more defining woman.
――No, no, no….the other party is Toiro, right? What am I thinking about…
As I was about to start panicking, Toiro let out a gasp.
“Okay, that’s it! Masaichi, your face is bright red?”
She clapped her hands and sat up.
“Yup, that’s it! Like a rehearsal, I guess? …..Hey, were you expecting something, Masaichi?”
Toiro chuckled as she placed her fingers onto her lips.
I, on the other hand, continued to lie down. My whole body went limp and weak.
Was that a joke?
As was the case with our date the day before yesterday, it seems that Toiro has a lot of leeways to tease me. I wonder if she’s not embarrassed.
I’m secretly relieved, but at the same time, I’m kind of regretful in an unnatural way――。
――Yikes, that was just plain embarrassing.
As we stared at each other, I tried my best to hold in my embarrassment to prevent it from showing on my face. I could feel the heat in my cheeks rising the entire time.
To be honest, it was pretty bad when I saw his pants. But if it was just my underwear, I could still endure it while giving a curt reply. I’m sure we were more used to seeing each other’s underwear than most high school couples.
While we were lying down on the bed and looking at each other, I couldn’t stop feeling nervous. Our relationship was already going beyond the boundaries of childhood friends. I’m glad that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t show too many facial expressions. I’m the one who brought myself into this situation, and if he finds out that I was embarrassed, I’ll die even more.
I was trying my best to be strong and mount him, but mentally I was at my limit. I stood up and fixed the stains on my uniform while secretly taking deep breaths to regulate my breathing.
――Normal mind, normal mind
Maybe for couples who have just started dating, seeing or being seen in their underwear is probably a pretty serious matter. After that, things may get a little awkward or get a little more ‘naughty’. In addition to that, I’ve heard that if you haven’t just started dating, it’s normal for you to do things “beyond” the normal scope of dating.
Then, what about Masaichi and I――Childhood friends who are a rotten match for each other.
I was irresistibly curious, and I felt like I had to try it out for some reason. I tried to imagine a loverly development and tried to practice it…
――I was so thrilled.
You could see the difference in the size of our bodies when we were lying close to each other. Masaichi’s shoulders are surprisingly broad. If he were to hug me like this, he would completely contain my body in his chest.
Well, the last time I held hands with him, it was very tiny.
But when I held his hands now, I was a little surprised. He looked so different from the old days. For some reason, I was impressed that Masaichi had grown up too.
I was also impressed that I was growing up.
As I was thinking about it, I felt strangely nervous and became a little fidgety.
――No, no, no, no.
This relationship between us is not real.
“I’ll go shopping with you! It would be wrong if you had to buy me everything.”
I called out to Masaichi, who was still slumped in bed. I may have teased him a little too much.
I think it was a bad idea.
It’s just that we didn’t realize it, but before we knew it, we had grown both physically and mentally.
That’s why I secretly reflected on the fact that I shouldn’t have played such a joke in our current relationship.