〈７〉A confession based on false pretences.
Forty-one minutes and thirty-nine seconds.
A brief chime would sound at the end of class when the wall clock’s hands above the blackboard indicate the correct time.
The school bell usually rings every 40 minutes in an hour, but the classroom clock was slightly off. You would learn to take notice of trivial matters such as this after entering high school for a period of time.
Whenever the class became boring, I would stare at the clock’s second hand until it hit the dismissal time as I counted down in my brain. If I had any friends at all, I would say, “Now!” Though they would be pretty annoyed if I made a smug face when the bell rang.
It was the sixth period, and there were only 2 minutes left till the end of class.
As I stared at the clock, I wondered what I should do next.
Today Toiro had something to do after school.
So I guess I’ll just head home after school, but this is the first time in a long while I’m going home alone.
Should I check out the new book at the bookstore, go to the card store in front of the station, or go straight home to continue the novel game I haven’t played lately?
…..There were so many things I wanted to do, but all of them felt lacklustre for some reason.
I had spent so much time with Toiro in the past few weeks that I didn’t know what to do when I was alone.
Three, two, one. The chime rang as scheduled.
At the junior high school I attended, there was an SHR homeroom at the end of the day where the teacher would talk to the kids about their difficulties, but there was no such homeroom at Meikoku High School. This isn’t a replacement, but the whole school is supposed to do a cleanup after the end of class, and each student is supposed to clean up their allocated area before leaving or returning from club activities.
Well, once I get home, I’ll just let my mood take over. I would lay down in bed and play around with my phone, pick up a comic I randomly found and read it, and if I get tired of it, I would just play my games. Free time without a purpose is somehow exciting in its own way.
With that in mind, I headed off to sweep the stairs. While the tennis players in my group stopped sweeping to chat with one another, I cleaned the floor quickly and efficiently. However, I don’t blame them for slacking off since I already did most of what they were supposed to do.
The only thing left for me to do is a fair bit of cleaning and then I’m officially free.
I stowed the broom away in my locker and walked up and down the stairs, feeling as if I were stretching out my wings and flapping them. It was when I changed my shoes and went outside.
I saw a familiar figure hurrying pass me.
For some reason, my temporary first girlfriend was walking down the side street of the Meikoku school building and heading towards the backyard, with her backpack on as if she was all set on going home.
I heard that you had some business going on in school…but what are you doing in the school backyard?
I was lost in thought for a few seconds. My toes pointed towards the direction Toiro ran to.
She appeared to be in a hurry, so I had to quicken my pace when trailing her.
After passing through the roundabout in front of the elevator, I passed by a brick flower garden and followed Toiro to the side of the school building. The moment I reached the corner of the building, I leaned my back against the wall and slowly peeked around the corner to see what was going on.
Toiro and a boy I didn’t know of were facing each other.
I couldn’t help but let out a small squeak.
But before I could realize what was going on, someone grabbed my arm from behind.
When I turned around, I was surprised to see a girl with wavy golden hair.
In the blink of an eye, Nakasone was staring at me with her index finger placed on her mouth. Signalling me to stay quiet. Then she walked around in front of me and started to peek into the backyard, just like I had done earlier.
I wondered if Nakasone knew that Toiro had something to do after school. She seemed to be planning to steal a glance at her, just like I did.
The gap between us was getting smaller, but it couldn’t be helped. It would be better if we didn’t avert our eyes from this situation.
I put the back of my hand over my mouth and breathed hard, trying to keep as silent as possible as I looked over Nakasone’s shoulder at the scene in the backyard.
I wonder who it is. It was a face I’d never seen before. I couldn’t help but try to look over his head, but of course, there was no name displayed above. This isn’t a game, you dimwit…
From the colour of his tie, I could tell that he was a second-year senior. He had short, bright hair, which he had styled, followed by a sturdy body that showed off his muscles even through his clothes. The way he wore his uniform gave off a sense of flirtatiousness, but at the same time, he also gave off a refreshing feeling as if he was doing some kind of sport. He was the type of classic normie you’d find anywhere.
Why would Toiro be with such a well-built macho?
The answer soon became apparent.
“I’m pretty popular. What do you think?”
Apparently, the senior was confessing his feelings to Toiro.
Toiro, on the other hand, remained silent and stared at the senior’s face. Then she gradually lowered her gaze. She paused for a few seconds, as if in thought, before facing the senior,
“I’m sorry. I don’t know you, senior, and I don’t understand why you would confess to me.”
It was a simple brilliant refusal, but…
“That’s a good question. You’re bright and beautiful. You stand apart from the rest of the students, and there are whispers among the second-year students that you are the novel successor to the fame of Meikoku high. I’ve heard you may or may not have a boyfriend, but you should join me. I’m certain that you and I will be the perfect fit for the school’s official recognition.”
The senior refused to back down.
Apparently, this guy confessed to Toiro, and he didn’t care if she had a boyfriend or not. Just how confident is he? I’m curious as to whether his brain was composed of only muscle.
And in the face of such an exchange, I felt an irresistible tingling sensation deep in my chest.
“I don’t think it’s the real me that……senpai is looking at. Also, as I said, I have a boyfriend, so I’m sorry. If you’ll excuse me.”
Toiro then tried to leave, but the senior stopped her from leaving, saying 「Wait」.
“Haven’t you heard? Your boyfriend is a plain and sloppy man. You should be with me instead of that guy.”
I felt a rush of heat at the back of my brain’s spinal cord as if it were on fire. My mouth moved reflexively, but I couldn’t say anything. The feeling in my chest was intense, yet my legs refused to move an inch.
At the edge of my vision, I saw a shadowy figure jump out.
“Hey! What do you know about Toiro?”
Nakasone leapt out and shouted at the upperclassmen.
“Did you confess to her just because you’ve heard such petty rumours about her boyfriend? That’s pretty stupid.”
Toiro’s mouth dropped open. Her gaze turned to the corner of the building where Nakasone had leapt out. I thought to myself [Oh, no], but it was too late. The moment she saw me, her eyes widened.
“I mean, you’re being rejected, so why don’t you get the hell out of here and go somewhere else? Stop being so persistent. Toiro is my ideal, and I will never let her get together with someone like you!”
The senior looked like he wanted to say something, but Nakasone’s swordsmanship made him turn around reluctantly. He disappeared into the backyard, probably intending to go through to the other side of the north school building.
And as the senior walked away, Toiro was the first to open her mouth.
“You were following me…..Urara-chan?”
“Didn’t I tell you not to follow me? Didn’t I promise you I’d tell you everything later?”
“No, well, I just happened to be passing by, and I saw you at……”
“There is no point looking for any excuses.”
Apparently, Nakasone had known that Toiro was going to confess in the school backyard. In addition, she had told her not to follow her. Nakasone shrank back as Toiro turned to face her and scolded her for breaking her promise. I’m not sure where all that bravado she had disappeared to when she was confronting that senior earlier.
“That was because I was worried about you.”
Nakasone said that with a pout and quickly turned around. She seemed to be running away from the crime scene.
She did a half-run and ran past me.
“Why didn’t you say anything? Is this what you really want?”
A small voice, wrapped in the wind, reached my ears.
“If you’re really dating Toiro, you owe it to yourself to make her happy.”
She left behind those words as she walked away.
Not a moment later, Toiro came running up to me.
“Ah, she got away. I wanted to offer my thanks to her…”
“…Are you really okay with leaving her alone?”
“Yeah. It’s not like I’m upset with Nakasone, but she isn’t the person you think she is, she’s not that strong, and I’m sure she’ll apologize to me tomorrow. But, in reality, it’s more of my responsibility for worrying her, so I guess I’ll just apologize to her tomorrow.”
How can Nakasone not be strong…..it sounds pretty unconvincing to me after she went toe to toe with that senior student. Well, I suppose some hidden sides can only be seen when you are genuinely in a close and forgiving relationship.
“And why are you here, Masaichi?”
“Er…I was just on a stroll, and it was just a complete coincidence――”
“You guys suck at making up excuses!”
Unable to fake it, I confessed that I had seen Toiro and had followed her.
“It’s not like I was trying to hide anything. A girl in my class asked me for advice, so I went to the backyard and was surprised to find him waiting for me. He must have asked the girl to call me. It was pretty troublesome. I’m sorry for taking up your time.”
I nodded my head and said, “Let’s go back together.”
We walked out of the school gate, shoulder to shoulder as usual. However, our walking pace was slower than usual. For a brief moment, there was silence, and the air was somewhat awkward.
“Toiro, about that senior just now…”
“Was it really okay for you to say no?”
This was something that had been bothering me for a while now.
“Oh, you mean the confession?”
I nodded my head when Toiro asked me about it.
“Ah, no. When I arrived at the back of the school building, he was bending and stretching all alone by himself. And the first thing he said was, Stretching is good for you. It’s pure skinship with your muscles. The moment I heard that I knew he must be a weirdo.”
“What the hell is that? That seems like something you’d say before a monstrous boss fight begins.”
“Ah, I see what you mean! It’s like something that a senior muscle fanatic would say before he engages you in battle.”
“Yes. Then, after the fight, he would say,『cool down to build up a trustworthy and dependable connection with your muscles』 or something along those lines?”
Hearing this, Toiro let out a small chuckle. I was so overjoyed that she immediately pictured the same thing as me right away, and my cheeks naturally relaxed. The awkwardness in the air cleared up.
“Moreover, he smelled of cigarettes and tobacco, which is unbecoming of a muscular character. It was pretty much impossible at that point. I don’t want to be involved with any delinquents.”
“What a mush of a character. Self-contradicting, or whatever you want to call it…”
The conversation with Toiro went on as usual.
If I had to think about it, it felt as if all the tightness in my chest was disappearing.
But even so, the misty feeling that stuck down in the bottom of my chest would not go away.
That night, I was lying on my back in my bed in a dark room with the lights turned off, using my phone’s hands-free feature to make a call.
『That’s right, Masaichi. It’s exactly as you imagined. I’m sorry to tell you this, but many people are talking about how ――”If that man can get it on, so can I.”』
Sarukaya’s voice reverberated in the backdrop of a quiet room with no games playing.
“……Just as I thought.”
『That’s right. I didn’t dare tell you because I didn’t think it was worth mentioning to you, but…….for instance, Kasuga of class two. I heard that he was telling his friends that he’s interested in Toiro-Chan. 』
“Eh? Wasn’t Kasuga dating Kaede?”
Kaede is one of the girls in Toiro’s group. Toiro frequently refers to her by her first name, making it difficult to recall her surname.
『It doesn’t seem like they’re dating. Kaede is the serious type, but Kasuga is the type who’s a bit more flirtatious and plays with girls all the time. And well, now he has eyes on Toiro.』
I couldn’t help but groan. A friend’s confession of love is the one thing Toiro tries to avoid the most. She came to me to be her fake boyfriend since she didn’t want to deal with love difficulties in the first place.
『I’m always available for advice, okay? I’m proud to say I’ve got a reasonably moderate amount of information.』
With that, Sarukaya concluded the call.
Silence filled the room.
My usual routine involves going home with Toiro every day after school, playing some games, and having her leave before dinner. But when I was alone that day, I didn’t feel like doing anything. I tried to read Manga after dinner, but I couldn’t focus at all, so I laid down and stared blankly at the anime pictures on the wall before turning off the light.
No matter what I tried doing, all I could think about was Toiro.
Why do people continue to doubt and disregard me even though Toiro and I are dating, though tentatively, for the first time?
I was confused, but generally, aware of the cause.
I’ll admit it.
To begin with, in terms of the school’s popularity, Toiro and I are like heaven and earth. We’re not even close to being on the same level. Since we didn’t even tell anyone about us being childhood friends and her interest in all things otaku, there seemed to be nothing common between us. Thus, many students couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was such an obvious gap between us and wondered why we were dating.
And today, someone actually confessed to Toiro. This was the situation that Toiro has been trying to avoid the entire time. Despite taking measures by having me pose as her ‘fake’ boyfriend, the other individual ignored my existence completely and continued to be extremely tactful with Toiro.
I’m not helpful at all. In the end, I’m just going to end up annoying Toiro even more. In reality, my plain, gloomy self is dragging Toiro down, the one bright star among the masses.
――If you’re really together, you owe it to yourself to make her happy.
The words that Nakasone said to me weighed heavily on my mind.
To be honest, I don’t mind being in a fake relationship with Toiro that is an extension of a lingering, rotten relationship. It feels pretty comfortable to me. However, if we continue to do this, we may eventually run into problems that we may be unable to recover from.
I have zero confidence that I could make her happy now.
It was then I heard a knock on the door
I wondered who it was as I sat up.
[Who the hell could it be at this hour?] If I listened carefully, I could hear my mom doing the dishes, and I knew dad hadn’t come home from work yet.
Hoshino Rina? That’s impossible. I know that woman well enough to know that she doesn’t even know how to knock.
With a click, the door opened, as I gave a short reply in disbelief. The woman with a black shadow on her face in the corridor’s light was
“Oh, it’s you…….”
It was my sister, Hoshino Rina.
“Why do you look so surprised. It’s just a visit from someone who lives in the same house.”
She turns on the light and walks into the room. She must have just gotten out of the bath since her hair is damp and smells like flowers from shampoo, and she has a towel wrapped around her neck.
“No, I didn’t think it was you. Where’d you learn to knock?”
“What? Are you trying to pick a fight with me? I can knock, don’t make fun of me.”
“……Well, two knocks are the number of times you have to acknowledge the presence of someone in the bathroom.”
“Eh? You’re too stingy. I’ve come all this way. And this place is like a toilet. It stinks.”
“It doesn’t smell. So, what the hell are you doing in a toilet that doesn’t even have a bowl?”
While I was talking to her, she plopped herself down right next to me on my bed. In contrast, I stood up like a bouncer and moved away. Then Hoshino Rina turned her eyes to me.
“I came all this way because my brother looked like a sourpuss.”
“Sourpuss…..? That’s none of your business.”
“Yes, it is. You ruined the taste of dinner.”
During dinner today, I was particularly troubled by matters concerning Toiro. Perhaps my facial expression and mood conveyed what I was feeling, and it also seemed to bother my sister.
“It’s Toiro-Chan, right?”
When I replied [Not really], she snickered.
“I know that much. How long have we been brothers and sisters? We’ve been together longer than you couples, Masaichi.”
Given how I looked, she was right on the money. I couldn’t say anything back to her.
“Well, the only thing that would worry you this much would be that girl. You’re not the kind of person who gets worked up over every little matter. You could choose to avoid it if you wanted to. Even so, there’s one thing you can’t avoid: her.”
Hoshino Rina shares the same non-stressful demeanour as me. However, the way she handles things is vastly different. While I strive to avoid all causes of stress and avoid becoming involved with them, my sister is the type who confronts the source of stress head-on and tries to solve it.
However, since we came from the same roots, we could kind of understand what each of us was thinking.
“I’m indeed worried about Toiro, but even so, it’s none of your business. This is my own problem.”
When I said that, my sister narrowed her eyes and looked at me, [Hmm~]
I gulped and waited to see what she would say. Then Hoshino Rina stood up from the bed.
“….Well, it’s all up to you, you’re free to do whatever you want. Since you say it’s your problem, I will just leave you to it .”
As she spoke, she started heading towards the door.
[You’re free to do whatever you want.] As I was pondering about this, Hoshino Rina turned around.
“But one thing is for certain: your feelings matter. What you feel is what you want. Don’t betray those feelings.”
[I’m pretty curious about you and her, so let me in on the developments] she said as she left the room. Once again, I found myself in a dark room with no lights on.
My jaw dropped since I didn’t believe I would ever hear this kind of advice from my sister.
Eventually, I let out a small sigh.
――What I really want to do, huh?
In the end, I couldn’t even play the role of Toiro’s boyfriend. Unlike me, that foolish girl has refined herself as the person who would be known as Toiro Kurumi, the famous idol of Meikoku high. I hadn’t done anything extraordinary enough to earn the right to stand next to her.
….I can’t keep losing my bearings.
I pondered about it for quite some time while I gazed at the moonlight pouring through the curtains. Eventually, I couldn’t sit still any longer, so I went outside in my pyjamas.
The night wind was tepid, like if the heat from the asphalt that had warmed me up during the day had melted away.
After I put in a message, Toiro immediately noticed me and came outside. Was she playing a game on her phone perhaps? Toiro emerged from the front door wearing nothing but her loungewear, a jersey. Her hair was a little messed up from lying down, but as soon as she spotted me staring at her, she began fixing it with a comb.
“What’s wrong? Why in the middle of the night? Did you…perhaps miss your beloved girlfriend?”
“You mean tentative girlfriend? And no, I’ve come here to talk.”
I saw a small nervous shadow moving around Toiro’s eyes. I walked through the yard and opened the gate to the street.
While staring at her face, I took a deep breath in and out. Eventually, I began to share what I had been contemplating in my room.
“I think I’ll get you in trouble if I continue pretending to be your boyfriend.”
My status at school was vastly different from Toiro’s. If we stay together, I’ll simply be dragging her down and damaging Toiro’s reputation. My friends would also continue to doubt me. I carefully picked my words as I told Toiro these facts.
“Hmm, I don’t really care about that, though? Even though people call you plain and gloomy, Masaichi is still Masaichi, and I still like spending time with you.”
I’m pretty grateful that Toiro said that to me. It kinda makes me feel a little woozy inside.
But that doesn’t mean I can keep being a burden to Toiro.
“So, you don’t have to worry about it either, Masaichi. I’m sorry I got you involved in something so strange.”
I shook my head at Toiro’s gentle voice.
I’m not sure what Toiro expects from me as her Tentative boyfriend. Maybe she doesn’t want me to make her happy at all but simply wants me to stay with her to avoid men.
I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how much I thought about it. So――。
“From here on out, it’s entirely up to me.”
I made such a preamble.
I squeezed the palms of my sweaty hands and opened my mouth.
“――I want to be someone who can stand proudly next to you. Toiro, I want to be a man worthy of you. So…please raise me up to your level!”
In my moment of distress, when I became focused on what I really wanted, this solution finally came to me.
I don’t know how much Toiro expects from me. But I want to help Toiro in any way I can. She may not want me to make her happy, however, I would still like to make her happy if possible.
This was a completely one-sided request from me to Toiro.
“Wah, a man worthy of me?”
Toiro repeated my words with a puzzled look on her face.
“Yes. A man deserving of being your boyfriend. You know, from the way you look and the way you act. I think I’d be a little better off if I learned something from you, someone who has established herself so well in school. But…of course, it’s all for the sake of our lover’s move!”
As I said it, I felt embarrassed. I could feel the heat on my cheeks rising, so I hurriedly added that last sentence.
“Look, I know you’re doing this for my sake. But it’s okay for you to stay as you are. We can come up with a good story as long as Masaichi knows what he’s meant to do.”
“No, that’s not going to do. We have to get rid of any discomfort people are feeling from us as a couple. It will be impossible for us to keep our peace of mind amid all this scrutiny. It’s time for us to reconstruct our plan.”
This was also a strategy for Toiro and me to remain together in the future.
My goal is to be seen as a couple by those around us and to continue being a tentative couple in a dignified manner.
That was my wish.
And if that happened, wouldn’t it take care of the gnawing sensation I had when that senior and Toiro talked after school today? That was something I had been considering as well.
“Please make me a boyfriend who is suitable for you, Toiro.”
With that, I turned to face Toiro again and bowed my head.
A man worthy of me? So that we can stand next to each other?
Masaichi suddenly said such a thing, and my brain went into a panic.
Eh? That almost sounds like a confession. But isn’t this different since this is a condition of being my temporary boyfriend? I’m feeling somewhat embarrassed now.
During the game in Masaichi’s room and on the way home, I felt that he was feeling a little discouraged, and it seemed like many things were worrying him.
Indeed, Masaichi is not the most prominent person in the class, nor is he the type of person who is popular with girls. His position in the classroom is clearly different from mine. As soon as we announced our relationship, some girls started giggling.
Even so, I still like him as a childhood friend, and I want to stay with him forever. However, I know that there were a considerable number of competitors.
And it may have placed a great deal of pressure on him. I didn’t mean to put such a significant burden on him…I’m sorry.
Masaichi was now bowing towards me. His adorable hair whorl hasn’t changed since then. It reminded me of the times when both of us were still children, making me want to stroke his hair.
“It’s a huge exaggeration to say that I deserve it. Who do you think I am? I’m Toiro, the lounge queen that enjoys every minute of her life sleeping. A ‘worthy’ boyfriend would probably amount to nothing more than a pillowcase for me.”
I can’t believe I’m saying all this!
“No, you aren’t. Despite hiding your true identity, you are a highly brilliant and popular person, and—you’re surrounded by many. In a way, you’re my ideal.”
Masaichi looked up and said this to me with a straight face.
[Your my ideal] Ahhhhh, I’m soooo embarrassed. Masaichi, you’re not the kind of character who would say something like that!
…… But he’s dead serious.
My face clenched up a little as I reflected on this.
“But, Masaichi, you’re busy with all the things you want to do, aren’t you? Playing games, reading novels…”
“Of sure, I’ll continue my Otaku activities. However, on the days you instruct me to do anything, I will definitely take a break from them. It makes no difference to me how frequently or how long it has to take. When I get some spare time again, I’ll just try my best to be an Otaku.”
“Ah, I see. I see….”
What strong will.
It seems like he has no intention of backing down, huh?
Although I have no idea who I really am, that made me very happy. Masaichi’s desire to change and his direct request for advice was pretty cool.
I mean, if I’m molding him, that means he’s going to be the kind of boy I like!
Typical otaku fashion, extreme black hair, and an indoor person who has only ever shown interest in games and Manga?
The more I thought about it, the more I began to look forward to it.
“Thank you for choosing to stick with me. Since I’m going to do this, I will take full responsibility and make you into a man no one can make fun of! Can you keep up?”
“Otakus can be very stubborn if they’re interested. I’ll do it.”
With that, the two of us bumped our fists together and smiled.
As a result, we carried out our strategy to convert Masaichi into the ideal boyfriend.