It had been two weeks since the personality exchange phenomena had ended, and it was supposed to be a routine morning for Kiriyama Yui.
She woke up from bed (before the alarm clock started ringing).
Just to be sure, she checked that she hadn't swapped personalities with someone (even though there was no need to do that anymore).
She went to the toilet (which had absolutely nothing to do with constipation).
She washed her face and brushed her teeth (she applied lotion on her face and used dental rinse on her teeth).
She ate breakfast (toast, salad, and two bottles of milk).
She got changed (thanks to a change of her shampoo, her chestnut-colored long hair that she prided herself on felt softer than usual).
She left home.
She thought that it would be nice if today was a normal day, and believed that it would probably be the case.
However, that expectation was shattered immediately when she went to school.
A light blue postcard-sized envelope had been placed inside her shoe locker.
After staring at the envelope that was leaning on her indoor shoes, Yui closed the shoe locker.
"M-My eyes are playing tricks on me, right?...... F-For sure, that's definitely it."
While grumbling quietly to herself, Yui opened the shoe locker again.
As expected, the light blue envelope was still there.
A deformed white cloud and a small bird were drawn on it, making it really cute.
The sound of her heart was loud in her ears.
A shoe locker, a letter, and the predictable contents within....... but wait. In these current times, is this kind of old-fashioned thing still done? It would be fine if a girl did it, but a guy? I'm quite uncomfortable, no, I'm really uncomfortable about this. Well, what other content could be in this letter? But there’s e-mail, so what could he only tell me by letter―
Yui grabbed the letter with godlike speed and stuffed it into her bag.
Looking over, it was the startled face of Yui's best friend in her class.
"......Morning. What's with that weird reaction and loud voice early in the morning? You're drawing so much attention."
"Ah, errr...... Sorry."
"Whatever. And what did you just put in your bag―"
"Nothingǃ Nothing! Not at all!"
Yui was trembling and shaking her head.
"Yes, yes, you did put something in your bag, didn’t you?"
"Eh, like I said, you’re wrong."
"If you’re going to say that I’m wrong, at least be a little better at lying."
With a smart remark like in a two-person comedy act, Yukina hit Yui's chest with a snap.
"Hah, it's okay to be pure, but Onee-san is concerned about your future. I'm afraid that you'll be deceived by a bad man someday."
That's not true...... started Yui, but she abruptedly stopped and chewed her words.
"Sorry, sorry. Don't sulk. You don't have to show me if you don't want to."
"I'm not sulking!"
"Ah~ every single thing about you really is cute. Come on, shall we quickly go to the classroom?"
"Ah, b-before that, I have to go to-"
"What do you have to do so early in the morning?" asked the doubtful Yukina. Yui shook her off and went to the area behind the east side of the school building, where she could be alone for now.
The toilet would have been fine too, but for some reason, she didn't like the idea.
The reason was the atmosphere.
Yui once again stared fixedly at the light blue envelope.
Could this be 'that'? Impossible. As her mind went around in confused circles, her body became hotter.
Turning it over, she noticed a red heart seal.
Already, no matter how you see it, it's a love le...... No, no, that's wrong. It hasn't been confirmed yet.
Calm down. There's a chance that I'm jumping to the wrong conclusion. Yui warned herself and took two deep breaths.
"Well, anyway, I wouldn't know if I don't try opening it, right?"
Yui dishearteningly whispered to herself and peeled off the seal.
Without missing a beat, she hummed a tune as she removed the contents of the envelope. A piece of stationary paper was inside.
Contracting her eyes, she immediately opened the piece of stationary paper and scanned the first line.
The possibility of it being mistakenly placed into her locker disappeared. It was definitely addressed to herself.
Next was the question of what kinds of words there were dancing  in the letter. While suppressing her increasing pulse, Yui moved her eyes to the next line. Even if it's 'that', there's no way the main point will be written so suddenly. It would probably tell me to meet up somewhere. Anyway, Yui slowly prepared herself mentally and read the―
"I like you as a love interest. Starting today, for one week, I will be waiting outside the auditorium after club activities have finished. Please come when it's convenient. If you do not come, I will give up. Also, if you can, please do not speak of this to anyone."
"I read it in one breath! It's a love letter through and through! And a confession in a letter?ǃ Are love letters supposed to be like this?ǃ"
She panicked slightly.
Anyway, even though there’s no point in it, I’m going to do some karate poses.
"Ha! Ya! Ei!"
Alright, I’ve calmed down a little...... Not really. I totally haven't calmed down.
I've been completely confessed to. Even when I've tried to avoid it. It's not like I've never been confessed to. Especially after becoming a high school student, Aoki or Aoki or Aoki has constantly been saying "I like you" and "I like you".
But still, I can't date a boy yet.
I can't declare that I've overcome my androphobia, so I can't do it.
"......I have to reject him directly, right, even though he said that he likes me...... Ahh...... I'll feel so sorry for making it awkward, really."
But if I don't even allow him to speak on equal grounds because "He's a guy" before actually meeting him, he probably won't accept it.
So I'll have to make up some random lie, Yui thought as she felt a sinking feeling.
"Ah, come to think of it, who sent this......"
Realizing that she hadn't checked, Yui read the name that was written on the bottom of the stationary paper.
"Class 1C Oosawa Misaki"
Did I read it wrongly?
Yui looked at the clear sky, blinked a few times, and read the name again.
"Class 1C Oosawa Misaki"
"Er.................. a girl?"
It's not a boy but a girl.
I'm also a girl.
A love letter, from a girl to a girl.
Kiriyama Yui received her first love letter since she was born and was confessed to by the same gender for the first time in her life.
That was what happened on that autumn day.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
After receiving a confession from a love letter, Kiriyama Yui was lost in thought throughout all of that day’s classes.
Up until now, I haven't dated anyone.
Exactly around the age where I started to notice love, a certain thing caused me to feel the fear of men.
The period when I saw men as some other type of creature and felt that getting close to them would make me feel sick lasted for one whole month.
After the overly strong reaction against men disappeared, I still couldn't stand being approached by a man at my worst. To me, men continued to be a scary existence that was different in nature.
Since I felt that way, there was no way I could like a man.
That is why I couldn't think about things related to "love".
When a friend tells me a love story, I would think, "I certainly can't relate to that" - and listen without much interest.
That is a different world where I can't touch.
However, now, various things have happened and my androphobia has faded. I was thinking that I could perhaps gradually move forward.
I've promised an important friend. That was for sure.
Then again, there's no way that this thing infecting my body for so many years could just disappear overnight. Even now, I haven't reached the stage where I can consider accepting the date or not.
What if the love interest turns out to be a "girl" ---- My own reason for not being able to "love" would be blown away completely.
What a paradigm shift.
No doubt the biggest discovery of the century.
Frankly speaking, if I can love, ......I wouldn't rule out trying to experience it.</em>
But, but, Yui shook her head.
Love between the same gender is somewhat awkward. That won't work. It's weird. Love is something between opposite gender. That was obvious. ---- Was it? It probably wasn't a hard rule. In this day and age, there are a few countries where same sex marriage is accepted, after all. But it won't work. As I thought, it won't work. ---- But why wouldn't it? What's the reason? Nothing comes to mind. As I thought, you can't make a baby ...... But is that what we're looking for from a high school romance? No, that's not it. Then there's nothing wrong with another girl, right? But I'll be seen by everyone around. ---- Do I have to care about what everyone thinks? What's the purpose of "love"? What is "love" in the first place? -----.
Being hit on the head, Yui came to her senses. Before her eyes was Yukina, who had an exasperated look on her face.
"Homeroom is already over. Are you going to stare into space forever?"
"Eh? Ah...... it's true."
Everyone in the class was preparing to go home, and the hasty ones had left already.
"Haah, did you really not notice? Your head has been in the clouds all day."
"Whatever, You don't have to apologize. Come on, hurry and prepare to go home. Let go together for part of the way...... ah~. As I thought, I can't. Because my prospective lover-kun is here."
"Lo, lo, lo, lo, lover, what......!"
"Why are you always so confused? Well, see you tomorrow...... except that it's Foundation Day, so there's a break. See you the day after tomorrow, then. Don't get it wrong and come to school. Oh yes, we had a short talk with Fujishima-san during lunch, and we decided to postpone our visit, don't you remember?"
"Eh? Ah, Foundation Day......"
"......You seem to be in somewhat bad condition today, huh. I'm really worried if you'll remember what I said. Ah, whatever. I'll mail or phone you at night so that you don't forget. See ya."
Yukina left Yui's side.
And then in her place, an idiot came.
"Yui~! Let's go to the clubroom~"
The boy with delicate features and a slim figure smiled gently as if he was happy about something. That was Aoki Yoshifumi.
"Ahh......, it's you?"
"What's with that rotation?ǃ Aren't you happy that you can be with me in the club after this?ǃ"
"Not one bitǃ"
"T-That's being too frank......"
Aoki hung his head with a jerk, then almost instantly raised his head and laughed. Seeing his actions, Yui started thinking.
If this guy knows that I've been confessed to by a girl, what would he do?
This guy has always been repeatedly saying that he likes me.
What is he thinking, saying that he likes me?</em>
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
After school, in the Cultural Research Club room.
Even though all five CRC members have gathered today, they were each doing their own thing.
Yaegashi Taichi, as usual, was reviewing the things he had learnt today and preparing for the next day's classes.
"Alright, I'm done with this for now."
For a moment, Taichi put down his mechanical pencil and looked around the room while stretching.
Right next to Taichi were Nagase Iori and Aoki Yoshifumi, who were having an Othello battle.
Approaching the end of the game, the board was practically filled with white pieces.
"Fufufu, what are you going to do, Aoki-kun? Surely you're not going to present me with two straight perfect games?"
Nagase said in a villain-like voice. Matching her swaying body, the tied-up hair behind her swung around.
"Strong......! Too strong, Iori-chan......!"
By the way, Taichi had also dominated Aoki. (But of course, not with a perfect game).
Rap, tap. Noticing the sound of someone hitting the table, Taichi turned to face the other direction.
"Hey, Yui. What have you been doing? You look distracted."
Stretching her back and facing a laptop, Inaba Himeko, stared at Kiriyama Yui after a sidelong glance.
"Eh, uh, I wasn't doing anything in particular."
Exposed by the keen gaze, Kiriyama squirmed restlessly.
Comparing Inaba, who generally gave off a sharp and cool impression, with Kiriyama, who was like a small animal, I started to imagine a pit viper looming over a scared hamster.
"You've been making rummaging sounds the entire time, haven't you?"
It was exactly as Inaba said. Since she came into the club room, Kiriyama had looked off for the past one hour or so. She wasn't doing anything, but just being fidgety.
"Noth, nothing particular……"
"What's more, you've been repeatedly glancing inside your bag."
"Wh-What are you saying, Inaba? I wasn't looking. Really. Yeah, really. For sure, really."
While babbling on, Kiriyama dragged the bag across the table to herself. It looked as if she was moving it away from Inaba.
......Her intention was surprisingly easy to read.
"There's something in the bag~."
Nagase peered into Kiriyama's bag, which had been pulled towards her.
"No, no, don't!"
A panicking Kiriyama lifted the bag up and away from Nagase.
And, in that instant, "something" lightly fell from the bag, but Kiriyama did not notice it. Instead, Inaba noticed this "something" and picked it up. It was a light blue envelope.
"Ehhh, I'm somewhat curious~. Come on, tell us what's inside~"
With a childishly sparkling smile, Nagase poked Kiriyama.
"What, what? I want to know too!"
Aoki also took advantage of this opportunity and added his voice into the mix.
While the three of them were making a racket, Inaba, with the envelope in her hand, started to check the contents of the envelope without any hesitation at all.
That action was too spontaneous, and Taichi did not have the chance to stop her.
"Eh, 'I like you as a love interest. Starting today, for one week, I will be waiting outside the auditorium after club activities have finished.' ---"
"Wait, why?ǃ Huh?ǃ Inaba, Stop!"
"Yui, you received a love letter?ǃ Wheet-whooǃ Way to go!"
"Who is it?! Who is the guy who dares approach Yui while knowing of my existence?ǃ I shall not allow thisǃ But I accept the challenge as a rival!"
Because it was confirmed that Kiriyama had received a love letter, the temperature in the room rose. Frankly, Taichi was also curious about it.
"There's no big deal having your love letter read, is there? It's only saying that someone likes someone else. 'When it's convenient, please come. If you do not come, I will give up.' ---"
"I said don't read it!"
Kiriyama swooped down on Inaba to snatch her love letter, but she twisted her body and resisted.
"Come on, it shouldn't be something you would dislike that much! Good griefǃ 'Also, if you can, please do not speak of this to anyone. Class 1C Oosawa Misaki' ......Oosawa Misaki?"
Suddenly, Inaba stoppped moving.
Even Nagase and Aoki, who had been making a ruckus, stiffened, as if the pause button had been pressed. Incidentally, it was the same for Taichi.
"That’s......, that's why I said not to read it....."
"Oosawa Misaki...... the Misaki-chan in the Track and Field club and in our class?"
With a dumbfounded expression, Nagase muttered.
Oosawa Misaki was a classmate of Taichi. She was a lanky sports girl with short cut hair that really fit her. If Taichi wasn't mistaken, she had chosen to specialize in hurdles.
"......I, I didn't think that reading this love letter would be this bad...... Sorry. We definitely won't spread this, so......"
Inaba, someone who hardly accepts her own errors, was honestly reflecting on her actions. She returned the stationary paper to the envelope and quietly handed it to Kiriyama.
The room was trapped in an unspeakably unpleasant atmosphere.
"No, well, it's that, I suppose." After sputtering some meaningless words, Inaba spoke again in a forcefully cheerful voice.
"In, in any case...... There's nothing that can be done, now that we know already. And Yui is worried about how to reject her, right? As an apology, we'll assist as much as possibleǃ"
"Huh? Ahh......, well, yeah......"
Looking at the wrong direction, Kiriyama mumbled.
"Hey, don't hold back. You can't be seriously having a dilemma about whether to reject or not, right----"
Surprised, Kiriyama jumped up.
"No way, you...... you really think it could work?"
"You're wrong, ummm...... uh."
Yui hid her flushed face.
Aoki leant forward with so much force that he flipped the Othello board.
"Wait a second, Yui! You have that kind of preference?ǃ"
"No! That's not it! ......It's not like that but, wh-when I tried thinking about why a relationship between two girls wouldn't work, I couldn't think on a reason......"
"There's no reason, but it's obvious that it's best for a girl and a guy to be together, isn't it!"
As an advocate for Kiriyama's love, Aoki was flustered. Naturally.
"B-But, if I tried a relationship with a girl, I'd understand her thoughts and be more at ease, right...... On the other hand, I don't understand what guys are thinking, and that makes me insecure......"
"If it's between girls, you won't be able to do 'that stuff', which is more important than dating! It has to be with a man!"
After Aoki shouted, Kiriyama started to look frightened in a way that she hadn't before.
It looked like she had taken some kind of shock.
"Ah...... In the end that's what guys are interested in. As I thought, men are...... dirty."
Kiriyama whispered quietly.
For their lack of expression, her words were sharp and piercing.
"No, I didn't mean it like that, I mean."
Kiriyama ignored Aoki, who was trying to explain, and put the love letter back into her bag.
"I'm going home for today...... Bye."
Leaving behind those words, Kiriyama exited the club room.
The door shut with a slam.
Ready to chase after Kiriyama, Aoki instantly stood up and immediately sat back down in his seat.
"I-I've done it...... But it's not like that's all I have in my mind......"
Bang, Aoki hit his head on the table.
"Seems like she misunderstood in a really weird way, huh---"
Nagase raised her eyebrows with a troubled expression.
"I don't think that what you said was completely wrong, and I understand why you said that with so much spirit, but...... The timing and the way you said it were pretty bad."
Inaba sighed and continued.
"If Yui goes down "that route" ...... It'd be your fault, Aoki."
"Is, is that even possible?ǃ If that happens...... this is bad...... By simple calculations the number of rivals has increased by two times......"
"You're worried about that?"
Taichi absentmindedly said.
"No, but as I thought, there's no way she'll open her eyes to "that route" so simply, right! Yui also realizes that it probably won't work if she's not with a man, right! And then she'll come around to me, probably!"
"Sorry to rain on your parade when you're being so extremely positive, but I believe the latter has quite an uncertain factor."
Taichi murmured, just to be sure.
"Maybe? Who knows? It may look like it's not so bad, but on the other hand---"
Inaba cut off her words and looked at Taichi's direction for a moment.
"---that girl has androphobia, and the reality is that she more of less holds a distrust for men. You could say that Yui has the factor that allows her to be easily connected to "that route". In any case, there are many sensitive adolescent boys and girls who misunderstand and believe that they're on the other side."
"My Yui won’t be......"
"It's not 'my'...... Also, Inaba, that's an absolutely lofty view. You're one of those sensitive teenagers yourself."
Occasionally...... or rather, frequently, Inaba forgets that we are the same age.
"I think that, even if Yui runs down "that route", I'll give her my support for sure."
"Iori-chan, you're already assuming that Yui will run down "that route"!?"
"Even so, that Oosawa girl...... That's quite unexpected...... Come to think of it, recently in class, I've noticed her talking to Fujishima too frequently."
Surprised, Nagase's body shook in response to Inaba's monologue.
"Why...... is Fujishima-san...... entangled in this?"
Having boldly announced in front of Taichi that she was interested in both genders and that she was interested in Nagase, and was for some reason reputed as "The go-to for love advice Fujishima-san", was the class 1C class representative, Fujishima Maiko.
By the way, since that incident with Fujishima, Nagase's attitude towards her had become weird.
"Well, I've only noticed them talking. Fujishima, huh? I've recently heard some weird intel about that girl. Anyway, if Fujishima is entangled in this......"
"......Then Yui probably won't be able to return to this world already. What if she's in the evil clutches of Misaki-chan and Fujishima-san......!"
"Really, what on earth is Fujishima?"
That was something that Taichi had recently become increasingly curious about.
"Boohoo~, stop saying unlucky things, Inaba-chan and Iori-chan~"
"Don't cry, you depressing thing. However, with Yui's personality and this flow of events...... If it becomes worse, we'll move right away. It'd probably be good to place her under observation...... and prepare for the possibilities."
Inaba muttered with a pensive look. Next to her, Taichi also felt uneasy about this strange development.
Kiriyama is leaning towards the bisexual Fujishima's argument of "Isn't it also possible between girls?"
What on earth is going to happen?</em>
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
Having left the club room, Kiriyama headed towards the sports grounds on foot.
Hiding in the shadows of the sports storehouse, she observed the track and field club's practice.
Yui found Oosawa Misaki's figure immediately. She knew what Oosawa looked like since their two classes are combined for physical education, and Oosawa is a good athlete and the type to stand out from the rest.
With large strides, she used her entire body like a spring and jumped over the hurdle.
A tall frame, short-cut hair and well-defined facial features.
The appearance of her legs, which were like those of a while goat, stretching out of the shorts on her tightened body, looked so cool that Kiriyama, who was of the same gender, was charmed.
"Ah...... oh noǃ"
Oosawa's leg got caught on one of the hurdles and she fell with a loud crash. Is she okay?
Indifferent to Yui's concern, Oosawa stood up without showing any signs of pain. She then replaced the hurdle in its original position as if nothing had happened.
She slapped off the sand on her body, and lightly waved her hand, as if saying "I'm fine" to the other girls from her club rushing to her.
As a finishing touch, Oosawa clapped her hands to get rid of the sand, then quickly walked away.
She was totally cool.
"If I had to choose, I'd have to say that she seems like she'd be popular with the same gender......"
Why did she choose me?
I think that I'm unworthy of her attention.
...... Huh? If I'm thinking about being "unworthy", then...... Have I put girls into my "dating choices"?</em>
"I don't know anymore......"
Yui grabbed her hair as she looked at the boys and girls on the sports ground.
Boys are generally rugged, big, and scary, and also somehow...... dirty.
I think that they're different living creatures from me.
I can't imagine what I'm thinking.
Of course, I know that I don't only think badly of them.
Thanks to a friend, I know that I shouldn't be that scared of them.
But while that may be true, there's no way that I can think of wanting to be right next to them.
On the other hand, girls look soft and are cute. I have peace of mind when they're close by, and I want to hug them tightly.
Honestly, I think that I want to be together with them.
......The more I think, the more I feel that girls are better than guys.
But as I expected, it would be really weird ---.</em>
"There's nothing weird about it."
Shocked, Yui leapt up in response to the sudden voice.
She turned towards the direction of the voice.
A girl with refreshing eyes and glasses that seemed to really fit her image stood in front of her. Her hair was bundled up at the back of her head and held up in the front, revealing her forehead.
"Errr, I believe you’re the class representative of Class 1C......"
"Have I never met and talked with you like this, I wonder? Greetings, Kiriyama-san. I am Class 1C’s representative, Fujishima Maiko. Nice to meet you."
Fujishima lowered her head and bowed.
"Thanks, you too. You’re polite. I am Kiriyama Yui."
"It's fine, I understand. Right now, you are worried about being trapped in the fetters of this mundane world. I know that much."
"Eh?ǃ Wh-Wh-What are you talking about?ǃ"
"Weren't you having troubling thoughts just now?"
"C-Certainly, that's true...... wait, why do you know?ǃ Did I even say anything?ǃ"
"Someone of my stature will hear the whispers of eager love can be followed. It's not important, so don't worry about it."
"......I'm really curious about it, though."
What should I do? This kid is weirder than I thought.
"Anyways, for me, whether it's biological or ethical, those kinds of deep topics don't matter."
"Err, what on earth are you trying to say......"
"The important thing is, is there 'love'? That's all."
"Is there...... 'love'......?"
Those were stupid and clumsy words, but for some reason, they penetrated my heart.
"I will always be an ally to a girl in love. So don't worry about the small matters, and only focus on finding the important things. Right, it's all up to you now, so I'll be going."
Fujishima raised her glasses with a snap and then headed for the school building.
What was that all about?
"Wait a minute...... why was Fujishima even in this area?"
It's a mystery.
In the end, while Yui had drawn no conclusions about how to reply, the time to leave school arrived.
Music signaling the end of club activities and the school day resounded, and each club was wrapping up their practice.
In any case, it would be better to directly meet Oosawa Misaki to hear the details, among other things. Deciding to do that, Yui headed to the back of the designated auditorium and waited for Oosawa.
The sun had almost sunken and it became dimmer.
However, where Yui was standing, the light shining from the interior of the auditorium was bright is enough to distinguish the faces of people a small distance away from her.
"It's here, right? Ah~, what should I do? The Track and Field practice is already over, I think. Almost time, I wonder..... There is a chance that she might not come...... Even though I came all the way here, what if the love letter was actually a prank......! I-If that's true, what should I do......?ǃ I’m such an idiot----"
Surprised at suddenly being called, Yui jumped up. Why is it that I've been encountering similar scenes today?
From the direction of the sports grounds, Oosawa dashed with amazing speed and stopped in front of Yui.
"So-sorry. Did I make you wait......? I didn't think that you'd come at all......"
"No, not at all."
Unable to find words to continue, Yui lowered the tone of her voice.
Looking at Oosawa from up close, Yui found her to be a beautiful and cool girl. Oosawa seemed to be more than ten centimeters taller than Yui.
That girl in front of her eyes was now incoherently saying "Ummm, well, that, this......"
Oosawa, who had a cool and composed expression during her club practice, was now blushing.
......A somewhat hazy feeling rose in her chest.
"Y-You read the letter and came, right?"
"Sorry, ...... Really. Suddenly writing something like that and giving it to you...... It surprised you, right......"
"Don't apologize. That...... did surprise me though."
"You didn't think it was troublesome?"
"If I thought it was troublesome then I wouldn't have come here. That's why it's alright."
Yui kindly said. The tearful expression on Oosawa's face softened in an instant.
Yui's chest choked up.
What's with the throbbing of my chest?
"Anyway, I don't really understand the situation......"
Since Oosawa looked so awfully unstable, Kiriyama was able to stay slightly calm. If not, she would be the one panicking.
"Y-Yeah, you're right. Umm, I l-like you, Kiriyama-san...... It'll be good if we could go on a date...... I was thinking."
"......Wait, Wait a second. Do you mean as lovers? But we're both girls."
"......Yeah. I went to an all-girls middle school though...... And it seems like I'm somewhat popular with girls...... And various things happened...... Inside me, I have this feeling...... that being with girls is fine."
Yui wanted to ask about the "various things", but she put it aside for now.
"But, but I only felt that way while at the all-girls school. And because I entered a mixed-gender school, I thought it would be over, but...... Then I saw Kiriyama-san...... and then......"
Oosawa said while avoiding eye contact, and glimpsed at Yui's face.
Yui was caught by the eyes filled with hot tears, and she felt "something" thumping in her chest.
"I-I have never confessed to anyone before...... Since I've only been courted, I wanted to try it myself...... I wanted to try and forget about these feelings, but...... as I thought, I couldn't lie to myself...... In the end, Fujishima-san gave me a push from the back, and I became determined."
Why is Fujishima's name coming up here?
Well, whatever. Putting aside unnecessary things, Yui opened her mouth.
"Erm...... Yeah, amazing, I know. Er, I'm happy that you have such positive feelings for me. But why me? I mean, I think we've only interacted during physical education classes. I don't remember having a conversation, either......"
After Oosawa fidgeted with her limbs for a while, she resolutely stared at Yui.
That look was the same one Oosawa had during her competitions.
"During physical education class, that time you were running for the long jump...... Kiriyama-san's jump was probably something I won't forget for the rest of my life, I think. That overwhelming speed and decisiveness, the gutsy form you had when dancing through the air...... I was really moved by that. ‘Is there any living thing in this world that beautiful?’, I thought."
"T-too much praise!"
Yui put her hands on her cheeks, which had become really hot.
"With so much strength hidden in that small body, as well as that extremely powerful jump, Kiriyama-san was seriously amazing, I thought...... From then on, my eyes seemed to always follow Kiriyama-san...... I saw you as a girl with great reflexes and cuter than any other girl...... By the time I noticed...... I was completely...... in love with you!"
Unable to resist until the end, Oosawa shut her eyes.
After her statement, her cheeks were dyed pink and her body softly trembled.
Isn't this girl a little too cute?
Or perhaps I should say, completely ----</em>
Yui heard her desire switch flip with a click.
Can this cuteness come from the likes of men?ǃ
"Umm...... why did you suddenly make a fist......?"
"Ah, don't mind me. I'm just talking to myself."
This is bad. This girl. She's really cute.
The impression of Oosawa's amazingly boyish outer appearance and cool attitude while talking was really strong.
And yet, right now, that Oosawa has changed into her little girl chick mode. Is that even possible?
THIS IS BAD.
"And...... well. If you aren’t opposed to the idea, would you go on a date with me once? You don't know anything about me, but I hope you can make a decision here......"
"Date? If it's a date, then no problem!"
Yui replied, and Oosawa's face brightened in a flash.
"R-Really?ǃ Are you sure?ǃ"
"You're cute, so it's all okay!"
Cute is justiceǃ
"T-then, tomorrow is Foundation Day and we don't have school, but...... are you free?"
"Errrm, I did have plans with friends...... ah, no, that's wrong. I did have plans but they were cancelled. I believe Fujishima-san did have something on------"
Huh...... Fujishima-san again? Just before, it seemed like Fujishima-san's name appeared in every important point......?
Well, that's alright.
Anyhow, it's because cute is justice!</em>
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
Directly in Taichi's line of sight were Kiriyama and Oosawa, enjoyably talking about their plans for tomorrow while walking off.
Confirming that they had left, Taichi came out of hiding with Nagase, Inaba, and Aoki.
The four of them had spied on Kiriyama's and Oosawa's entire exchange with anticipation, preparing for the worst.
"She's opened her eyes to it! She's gone! She's gone yonder! Gawd, Misaki-chan sure is popular! She's soooo cute!"
Completely breaking character, Nagase shouted in a fake Kansai dialect. It looked like she was really excited.
"Well, I feel like it's not so bad as it seems."
Beside him, Aoki grabbed his head and moaned.
"I'll stop them by hook or by crook......ǃ And then I’ll bring Yui back to the pure, right path......!"
"Their relationship...... might work."
Inaba let out a sigh and said.
"Inaba-chan?ǃ Why are you saying that with such a serious tone?ǃ"
"Well, isn't this kind of development fine? If you think about it, Yui would able to have a new character."
"That's exactly what I can't agree with, Inaba-chan!"
"Even so, Yui is Yui, right? I think that it'll work too."
"Iori-chan's pure spirit is too dazzling! That's it! Certainly that may be so~"
"Cheer up, Aoki."
"Taichi! They said that in a way that assumes that I already lost and became depressed, didn't you?ǃ By the way, sympathy is the most damaging! But not yet, I still haven't given up yet!"
"Haha, so why not give up now?"
"Huh......? Iori-chan, doesn't that seem too merciless? You're poking me with a poisoned needle while smiling fully, aren't you?"
"That's why you should cheer up, Aoki."
Taichi said to him once more.
"If you continue being kind to me, I'll cry, y'know? I'll cry?"
"Alright, let's stop bullying Aoki now."
"As I thought, you guys were just playing with me......"
With a jerk, Aoki kneeled down in response to Inaba's words.
Taichi didn't actually had the intention of bullying Aoki, but...... he decided not to say that. Inaba would probably make fun of him if he did. You live and learn.
"If they truly want to be together, then I don't plan to say anything. It's just that Fujishima has intruded, and I can't just sit and watch. Especially if it might be Yui's significant turning point."
"I, I agree! I agree! I think it'll be a great idea to tail them on their date tomorrow!"
"Ahh, that's true."
"But, isn't tailing them on a date not so good? Morally speaking."
"Taichi. Are you stupid? Are you going to let this interesting event slip away?"
Inaba stared at Taichi with scornful eyes.
"Huh? Wasn't I just saying something correct?"
That was supposed to be the case, but the atmosphere in the room somehow seemed to imply that Taichi was mistaken.
"While saying those words, Inaba is actually extremely worried about Yui, right?"
While Nagase grinned and laughed, Inaba clicked her tongue with a dissatisfied "Tch".
"Whatever, I don't really care about what happens...... In any case, I'll be tailing Yui on her date tomorrow! Any of you want to come, come!"
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
It was the day after finding the love letter in the shoe locker and being hit by the surging waves of developments.
Today is Yamaboshi High School's Foundation Day, so there's no school.
Many students see it as a god-sent holiday, and will fully enjoy that one day.
However, Kiriyama Yui did not have that option. That morning, after getting up from bed, her brain was occupied and packed with worries, and her head was fit to burst.
"I went with the flow and said okay to the date yesterday......"
After waking up from her sleep, the somewhat calm Yui whispered to herself in her room.
"......What if I gave her some strange expectations?"
Without thinking deeply, she had naively accepted that "Well, even if it's called a date, it's only two girls going out for fun, right?"
But, Oosawa definitely intended to do more than that and planned to have a proper "date".
This is a fully-fledged date.</em>
"What should I do......? I haven't had a date before~"
On her chair, Yui's hands and legs clattered around.
"Date...... date? Huh...... what is a date? Is meeting people a date?"
She had become unclear about the definition of the word. It didn't matter at all, but Yui was curious, and she took out a thick dictionary from her bookshelf.
"Err- 'date'...... 'date'...... here it is."
(1) Specific day, day and time.
(2) A meeting between a man and a woman on a decided day and time. A lover's rendezvous.</strong>
Yui closed the dictionary.
"A lover's...... rendezvous......"
So it was such a huge thing......!
But we're not a man and a woman!
We're just two girls!
I want to consult with someone. But I don't know who to ask, what should I say, and how to say it. Sure, a normal love story would be fine, but since this is such a serious matter, it's difficult to tell it to someone frankly and completely.</em>
Yui thought back to Oosawa's bright smile yesterday when they had parted.
What kind of emotions does Oosawa have while going for this date?
And how should I prepare my heart to accept Oosawa's feelings?
Date. Dating. Affection. Love.
There's too many things I don’t understand.</em>
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
It was just before 1PM.
All members of the CRC except for Kiriyama Yui had gathered at the commercial complex in the suburbs.
This was the place where Oosawa Misaki and Kiriyama had promised to have a date.
The complex was complete with a shopping mall, movie theatre, bowling alley and a combined entertainment facility. It has been judged to be a spot that gives people no trouble for entertainment options.
Since it was quite a distance away, it wasn't exactly "a regular hang-out spot for Yamaboshi High School Students". Because of that, the chances of bumping into acquaintances there was low, and it was ideal for Yamaboshi High School students on a date (according to Inaba, who has a hobby of collecting and analyzing information).
Taichi and the 3 others lined up and took up their positions in the landing of the staircase. Their field of vision included a plaza with a fountain. They were supposed to wait till 1:30PM.
"How will it turn out, I wonder. What do you think? The one who said all that about leaving them alone but came along anyway, Yaegashi-kun?"
Inaba asked in a scornful tone.
"If you’re going to tail someone, then it would be better with two or three than going alone...... sorry. I mean, it's mainly because I was intrigued and I don't like being left out. Yes."
Taichi stopped giving excuses after being stared at by Inaba.
"I don't want you here if it’s only half-heartedly and you’re only half-interested. This is a battlefield, after all."
"Aoki is too excited about this, for sure."
Taichi, who had binoculars hanging down his neck and had been doing warm-up exercises up till now, retorted at the earnestly observing Aoki.
"Ah--, when will Yui introduce us to Misaki-chan, I wonder-?"
"You've said the same thing yesterday, Iori-chan, but on the inside, you really believe that those two are already dating?ǃ"
"It is a date...... am I right?"
"Those two match completely well, I think."
"Nagase...... If this goes on, Aoki seems like he'll lose his energy, so please leave this teasing for later."
"Yes, sir. If Taichi says so, I have no choice."
Nagase raised her hands with a mischievous smile.
If Aoki faints in agony from this kind of jab, I wonder what will happen if he gets hit by a real megaton punch?
"By the way, talking about the problem at hand, with four of us tailing them...... isn't it easy to get found out?"
"It's fine, don't worry."
Inaba nodded to Nagase's question with confidence.
Since she was Inaba, she was probably thinking of some sort of strategy. What kind of strategy----
"How should I put it, girls in love can only see themselves."
----Or lack thereof.
"I think that might be pushing it, though......"
Taichi couldn't help but play the straight man. Is this Inaba's style of tomfoolery?
"I see, as expected from Inaban."
"......And you guys agreed with her?"
"Is my view out of sync with everyone else's?" Taichi wondered with a little worry.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
As the afternoon drew near, Yui was endlessly troubled with her worries.
In the end, anxious about her worries, Yui ---- became completely serious.
Anyways, there's no way that she could break a promise, so she went to the date. She decided to leave anything happening afterwards to chance.
In the corner of her head, a faint voice said, "Isn't this just deferring the problem? I'm not resolving anything, am I?", but Yui chose not to care about it.
Choosing what kind of clothes to wear was another difficult question that stood in her way.
To say the least, it's a date. (And the other party is a girl.)
Dressing shoddily is absurd. Even so, Yui also didn't like being thought of as dressing too flashily.
At the end of her intense deliberation, she chose a simple style, with a checkered shirt that had a collar and cuffs, and a pleated skirt.
This kind of style is probably just right.
Once again, a voice echoed in the corner of her head. "Aren't you just choosing someone within reach, since worrying will only waste time?" Yui also paid this voice no heed.
Yui arrived near the meeting place twenty minutes before the promised time.
It was a weekday, and it wasn't completely devoid of people, but it was still quite a sparse area.
"Err, that's the square with the fountain. Wah, this is quite nerve-racking."
Yui looked around restlessly while walking and then turned around. It was at that moment.
In front of the meeting spot, she unexpectedly came across Oosawa.
Since neither of them were mentally prepared, they panicked.
Then, Oosawa took one, two deep breaths.
And with a wide grin, she laughed.
"Good afternoon, Kiriyama-san. Let's enjoy today."
She said, as her smile grew deeper.
She wore a pair of rolled-up denim pants with a cut and sewn shirt, and a grey casual jacket on top.
That's quite, or rather, pretty cool-cute. (A compound word that combines cool and cute.)
Yui’s tension gauge shot up instantly.
"I might just suddenly do...... a lead-off punch."
"Eh? What are you talking about?"
"It's fine, don’t mind me. Anyways, good job."
Huhu, Yui let out a laugh unconsciously. A cute girl is really a sight for sore eyes.
"Kiriyama-san sometimes has these weird switches, huh...... With that said...... I quite like it."
"Stop, stop, even with that kind of compliment......"
Yui waved her hands in front of her face. Her face was burning.
"By the way, the timing of our arrival was completely in sync, you know. I actually wanted to have an exchange like 'Did you wait?' 'No, I just came too.'"
Oosawa stuck out her tongue and smiled.
Yesterday’s nervousness seems to have calmed down.
Oosawa seemed to give off the atmosphere of her usual self.
Well, at school she has a stiffer, or rather, cooler impression. Today, it can be said that Oosawa is more of her natural self.
The fact is that Oosawa is showing me expression that she doesn't usually show.
For some reason, Yui’s chest tightened a little.
It was a fresh new feeling that she has not felt until now.
"But on the other hand, arriving here with the same timing...... totally feels like destiny."
"De...... destiny, that's...... uwawa."
Her head boiled with a whistle.
"Ahaha, I'm just kidding. If that can be taken as destiny, we'll have innumerable miracles today."
"Eh? Ah, right."
"Well, we won't get anything done just standing here talking, Shall we go?"
Oosawa walked off and Yui followed.
That’s great. It seems like Oosawa is taking the lead. That's a help, since I don't know what I should do.
Yui let out a sigh. At the same time, she thought, "I wonder what a date is", as the anticipation inside her heart expanded.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
While hiding behind cover, Taichi and the three others watched over the figures of Oosawa and Kiriyama, who were smoothly on a date.
Oosawa and Kiriyama had chosen to start with window shopping. Now, they entered a stylish department store.
Taichi had been worried about whether they could successfully tail them, but they unexpectedly managed somehow. Perhaps those two were that engrossed in their own personal world.
"......Even so, this is too close."
Taichi said while being careful with the volume of his voice.
While Taichi and the Tailing Squad were paying heed to not getting caught, they had approached their targets to the distance of only one shelf. It was so close that Oosawa and Kiriyma’s conversation could be heard.
"Don’t you want to listen to their conversation once? To get a feeling of their mood."
Inaba's so calm and composed. I want to ask what her confidence is based on.
"Even so, it’s four people......"
"That’s why I said it’s better if you didn’t come."
"Well, I have the duty to watch over so everyone doesn’t do anything rash......"
"What’s with that pseudo-Tsundere-girl-template pronouncement? Don't you think it's lame when you said it yourself?"
"I’m not lame at all."
......that's what I want to believe.
"Oi, you two are loud, I saidǃ"
Nagase noticed the two and then tilted her head.
"Huh? I think something like this has happened before......"
"In any case, you three should be quiet. Seriously."
Placing his two hands behind his ears, Aoki focused his eyes.
......Really, if they make any more noise, I'll beat them up......
The whisper of a female voice that was neither Inaba's nor Nagase's could be heard.
Taichi turned around. But there was no sign of anyone around. Could it be that he was just imagining things?
"Ah, look. Don't you think these glasses look cute, Kiriyama-san?"
"Oh, they really suit you, yeah. You look super intelligent!"
"Really? Thanks. Kiriyama-san, try them on, too."
"Eh? I wonder if glasses would look good on me......"
"It'll be great. Try them on."
"Hmm, fine...... How do I look?"
"As I thought, they look great on you. Here, try looking at the mirror."
"Ohhh...... it's better than I thought."
"Shall I take a photo with my phone?"
"Eh~? You don't have to. More importantly, isn’t that cup over there cute? Let’s go look."</em>
Oosawa and Kiriyama headed towards another shelf.
They went to an open area, so Taichi and the others didn't try getting closer.
"If sound effects were added, it would be kind of like 'Kya~Kyu~Fufu'"
"Yeah, I also have that feeling when seeing them from a distance. It looks like they're having fun."
Inaba whispered and Nagase responded with a nod.
"No, not yet. Rather, that atmosphere I get is that they're still only friends......!"
"Aoki, even if you don’t get depressed, we’ll think of a way together to rob your love back."
"Inaba-chan, are you already thinking about what to do after my defeat?ǃ"
"Truthfully speaking, defeat is weird way to say it."
Taichi said to no one in particular.
"Misaki-chan is a good kid, I think~. Ah, shall we get Misaki to join the Cultural Research Club at this point? I don’t mind if she's in two clubs."
As usual, Nagase said something random.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
Before heading into the entertainment complex, Yui and Misaki took a quick break.
"I’ll go buy us something to drink, ‘kay?"
Leaving Yui sitting on the bench, Oosawa walked away.
Yui thought of following her, but she wanted to do some thinking alone.
She watched Oosawa's back disappear from sight.
That's the person I'm on a date with, she thought as her chest felt fuzzy.
"What's with...... this?"
Whispering to herself, Yui pressed her hands around her chest.
Her heart was beating in quick thumps.
It's nothing, it's just two girls having fun.
I've gone out so many times with just one friend.
You can't say that there's anything weird about this.
The things I'm doing are the same as when I'm going out with a friend. It's not like there's any special meaning behind this just because it's a date.
Then why does my heart beat so fast when I'm aware that this is a date?
It's like I'm seeing the world differently when I'm walking with the person who said that she likes me.
Am I...... in love...... with Oosawa?</em>
"No, no, that's a mistake. That can't be."
There's no way I love her yet. Of course, I like her because she's great, but that "like" is not the "like" from a romantic feeling, I think. Probably.
Then when would I be said to "have come to like someone romantically"?
I don't know.
But right now, I understand that "love" is quite a good thing.</em>
"......Hmm? What...... is this...... spicy smell? Tchooǃ"
It's a good thing that I sneezed when Oosawa isn't around, Yui thought as she felt more relief than necessary, and somehow felt queer.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
Oosawa walked off on her own, leaving Kiriyama on the bench.
That situation was seen by Taichi and the others from the second floor balcony.
It looks like their window shopping has finished. The place Kiriyama was sitting at was in the middle of the path to the entertainment facilities. It appeared that they planned to head there next.
"Ah, that's the expression of a girl in love."
Inaba said as she observed Kiriyama seeing Oosawa off.
"A girl in love, you said...... I can't...... I can't take any more of this......!"
Aoki quickly started stomping towards the direction of the stairs.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
"Don't stop me, Taichi...... even if I lose, I can't let it end this way, can I?"
"Calm down, Aoki."
Nagase stepped in to block his path.
But Aoki ignored the obstacle and ran off.
"We'll have just one more fight......! I can't die and leave things this way----ouch?ǃ"
And then he fell dramatically.
"Ow ow ow...... What the heck?ǃ Someone's foot suddenly flew out from behind the pillar......"
"I understand your 'love', but I hope you don't get in the way of those two's romance. We're getting to the good part, after all."
A pair of glasses glinted in the sunlight.
The revealed figure was the person who was perceived to be overseeing this matter from the beginning: Class 1C President, Fujishima Maiko.
"You finally came out, Fujishima."
Next to a surprised Nagase, Inaba showed a fearless smile.
"Fujishima...... Wait a minute, did Inaba actually anticipate this development?"
Taichi asked, as he remembered the weird feeling and the avant verrais from earlier.
"Of course. Firstly, tailing those two today had the greater implication of restraining Fujishima. Moreover, it was to prevent any weird intrusions from turning this situation in a weird direction."
"I didn't know at all...... You could have told me."
"It's unthinkable that I would turn this in a weird direction. It's the correct one."
"I think common sense wouldn't say that a relationship between girls is right. What do you think, Fujishima-san? Ahaha."
Nagase said. For some reason Nagase's intention of escaping Fujishima's lock-on slipped in and out of sight.
"Common sense...... is useless in front of 'love'."
"Ugh...... It's no use...... The female frontal attack didn't help."
Nagase pressed a hand to her forehead and looked up at the sky.
Fujishima raised her voice.
"There is no way I'll let you get in the way of Oosawa-san and Kiriyama-san."
"Then, then what about my romance---"
"Aoki-kun, right? I'll ask you one thing, are you loved by Kiriyama-san?"
"Loved by...... I wonder......"
"In that case, you are not qualified---."
"What, what qualification---"
"That's right, Aoki."
Inaba cut into Aoki's words and continued.
"Fujishima, you don't have the qualification to find fault with Aoki yourself."
"That, that's right! You're good Inaba-can! And now I'll just go down to Yui......"
"As I said, you can't."
Fujishima blocked Aoki's path.
"What are you doing, Aoki?! How can you not break through a girl like her?"
"Use a feint! Feint and go right! Do it, Aoki!"
"Inaba...... and Nagase too...... Aren't you forgetting the original goal?
Taking a sideward look at the two making a racket, Taichi murmured.
"You people didn't understand what I said......! In that case I have no choice but throw this......"
Fujishima took something out from the bag on her shoulder.
"Eat this! I thought this might happen, so I made this last night. It's quite mild and there's no problem if you clean and rinse it off. But I'm afraid that you will have to do so, and you will be delayed. Pepper bomb! Take that!"
"Cough?! Cough?ǃ Cough! Achhooo! Cough?ǃ"
Having taken Fujishima's attack bodily, Aoki started choking and sneezing.
Fujishima lobbed another pepper bomb in Taichi and the other's direction.
"Cough! What are you doing! My...... my eyes......"
"Cough cough! What, why are we also......!"
Inaba and Nagase took damage and were in agony.
"Huh? I thought I was considerate enough and tweaked with the composition to make it mild. Was the amount too much, I wonder? Ah...... achooǃ"
"Cough!...... If you have any consideration and common sense, then don't use it at all!"
Taichi retorted with all his might.
"......Well, now you've been immobilized. In the meantime, you will lose track of Oosawa-san and Kiriyama-san...... Ah. Dammitǃ Right now, Oosawa-san and Kiriyama-san are resting, so they're not moving either......!"
Once in a while, Fujishima displays her airheadedness at unwanted times.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
In the amusement zone, Yui and Oosawa had taken up the challenge of a reaction-based game and were pressing lighted buttons while looking at the screen.
"Hit hit hit! ......Hit!"
An electronic sound signalling the end of the game rang, and Yui stopped pressing the glowing buttons.
And then a more ostentatious electronic sound rung.
It seemed that the record from Yui and Oosawa's co-op play was the highest score in that machine's history.
"Yes! Aren't I quite amazing?"
"Quite doesn't even come close to describing it, Kiriyama-san…… You were in charge of seven out of the ten buttons, and you didn't have a single miss. What kind of god-like reflexes do you have......?"
Oosawa had gone beyond surprised and was nonplussed.
The commotion around them reached Yui's ears.
"Aren't those kids amazing?" "Woah, what's with that score?ǃ" "Can you even get that kind of score on this game?" "I was watching, and that small long-haired kid is sick. That's some inhuman skill......"
Somehow, they've drawn attention to themselves.
"Shall we go over there?"
Yui nodded to Oosawa's suggestion, and they moved to escape the spotlight.
"Ah, can I go to the toilet?"
Oosawa said as they saw a toilet sign on the way.
"Alright, I'll be waiting here."
All alone, Yui raised her hands and she stretched her back with an "Ahh".
It was really fun, at least for now.
"If it's like this, I wouldn't mind doing this many times...... just kidding."
Am I really?
But what if it really is possible?</em>
That thought floated around in Yui's mind.
I don't know the meaning of a date.
I also don't know if dating a girl is a good thing.
But it's certain that Oosawa said that she likes me.
I also certainly had fun playing with the person who said she likes me.
What if we call playing together like this a date?
If we don't do anything weird, and if it's fun, then Oosawa would be happy, and it probably wouldn't be bad.
Not particularly thinking deeply----.</em>
"......Huh? I somehow feel like I've heard that voice before......"
It could be heard from the other side of the area.
If it's an acquaintance......, I don't want to be found.
Yui thought as she walked towards the direction of the voice to confirm whether it belonged to an acquaintance or not.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
"You guys...... as I thought, you have not given up yet. You are still going to get in the way of their romance, huh?"
"Screw off, Fujishima. What was that physical assault for?"
In the amusement zone, where there were various arcade game machines, pool tables, billiard tables and a darts corner, Fujishima and Inaba were staring daggers at each other.
After getting hit by Fujishima's pepper bomb attack, Taichi and the others ended up having to rush to the washroom, which slowed them down for a fair amount of time.
After that, Taichi and Nagase tried to calm the irate Inaba, as well as Aoki, who was on the verge of a KO and saying his last words, "My youth is over......". They tried searching the amusement complex where they thought Oosawa and Yui were heading to, but they encountered Fujishima yet again.
It seemed like they had been ambushed.
"Shouldn't you just give up? We should let those two do what they want."
"It's fine if they're doing what they want, but I can’t see anything but them doing what you like. How about it, Fujishima?"
"Once again, that's wholly unexpected. I respect their desires the most."
"And by that, you'll draw Yui in to 'that world'? Can you proudly say that it’s correct? While she's still not tainted, shouldn’t we return her to the healthy path?”
"What is a 'healthy path'? Who in the world decided on that? Even if we make an argument on that, I don't think we can reach a conclusion."
Fujishima let out a sigh and turned the palms of her hands upward.
"That's true. Well, since it turned out like this...... we can only have some sort of competition to decide!"
Inaba pointed at Fujishima vigorously.
"Ohh, 'When the talking becomes complicated, then we fight'. Isn't that the pro-wrestling way of thinking......!"
"Taichi, no one understands your pro-wrestling example, so just drop it."
Nagase pointed out.
However, I am not worried about self-respect.
There are things that a man can't let slide.</em>
"Sure. What kind of contest? I'm fine with whatever you choose."
"Am I being underestimated...... Well then, we'll have a competition filled with true ability, so how about table tennis?!"
"Okay. If I win this, you will have to accept Kiriyama-san and Oosawa-san's relationship."
"Then if our side wins, I mean, if Inaba-chan wins, then you'll have to accept me and Yui's relationship......"
Aoki, who had been revived unnoticed, said.
"Do whatever you want. I don't plan on losing, anyway."
"Ohhh, go for it! Good luck Inaba-chan! By the way, should I fight too?ǃ"
"It's not your turn, Aoki. I'll give her a crushing defeat with these hands!"
"Finally, class 1C's "official leader" Fujishima-san and "secret leader" Inaban will clash......! I'll spread the result to everyone in class tomorrow!"
Nagase had completely become just a curious onlooker.
In that way, Taichi and the others had become unusually excited.
So excited that they've forgotten their original motive.
"----You guys, what the heck are you doing......?"
A dusky voice filled with killing intent rang out.
Taichi looked over his shoulder to see Kiriyama, whose anger had broken through the critical point.
After making such a racket in the same room as the target we were tailing, of course we would be noticed.
"I thought that you came out here just to hang out, but that doesn't seem to be it, am I right......?"
Kiriyama spoke as the sides of her mouth twitched upwards.
"Yaho...... Yui. Ummm, where's Misaki-chan?"
Nagase asked timidly while making an effort to be cheerful and friendly.
"She was going to the toilet. And when I thought I heard a familiar voice......"
Kiriyama's tone was blurred with anger even when speaking to Nagase.
She has probably never been this angry before.
"What are you guys deciding on your own?!?"
The livid howl seemed to rattle the surrounding arcade machines.
"K-Kiriyama...... This place may be somewhat loud, but that volume will cause trouble to other people......"
"Shut up, Taichi! What are all of you doing here, anyway?ǃ"
"W-We don't want Yui to go down the dangerous path, so......"
"What dangerous path!? First of all, what I do is decided by me alone, isn't it?ǃ I especially don't remember getting instructions from Aoki!"
"You used 'especially' for me...... Guh!"
"What's with this side saying that 'I will date Oosawa-san' if they win and the other saying that 'I will date Aoki!' Don't say what you like!"
"I was only clearing an obstacle for you two......"
"Even if you're only involved a little, don't fool around with me or I'll sock you, Fujishima-sanǃ"
"......This is a person who's written off as mildly serious when she's actually dead serious...... Apologize, Yaegashi-kun."
"Why are you making me apologize to her? Apologize yourself."
"That's enough, I don’t want to repeat again so everyone disappear from this place! Get lost!"
Kiriyama stomped on the ground.
"I'll decide things for myself!"
Staring at the teary-eyed Kiriyama, Taichi and the others fell dead silent.
Kiriyama was serious, but we may have been fooling around a little too much. Everyone reflected on it.
That's what I thought, but with a snap of her fingers, Inaba made a gun shape with her hand and pointed it at Kiriyama.
And then she calmly opened her mouth.
"That's it, Yui. That's right, Yui."
"What, what is it?"
Kiriyama faltered at the indiscriminately meaningful words.
"It's something for you to decide. Something you must decide on."
Inaba moved one step forward and looked Kiriyama square in the face.
"I will help you choose a path as much as I can. However, the final decision is yours to make. The responsibility of that final decision is also yours."
"What are you saying...... What the heck are you saying......"
Whispering in a wavering voice, Kiriyama tightly pursed her lips.
"That's all I'm going to say...... And tailing you was probably overdoing it. Sorry. We'll withdraw for now. Fujishima too, yes?"
Inaba turned in a circle and looked behind her.
"Oh well. I was emotional, and I may have been too passionate. For that, I am sincerely sorry. To Inaba and the others, I am also sorry."
Fujishima lowered her head, and from the direction of her mouth came the words, "See you at school, then." She then graciously withdrew.
She is absolutely unable to step out of place, and she properly reads the atmosphere, so it's impossible to detest her. That was Fujishima.
"We'll also be going before Oosawa returns. Come on."
Prompted by Inaba, Taichi and company said words of apology and left.
Lastly, Taichi took a glance to check on Kiriyama. She seemed angry, troubled, and looked like an abandoned dog. It was an expression that Taichi couldn't understand.
"Is this fine?"
Taichi questioned Inaba.
"It's okay like this. Actually, in order to make her say those words and be self-aware, we purposely put on that act to make ourselves conspicuous, didn't we?"
"Did you really plan that far ahead......?"
As always, Inaba is an amazing girl. As I thought, she's always one step above us.
Nagase looked at Inaba with still eyes.
"Inaban. What happened just now only went that well by chance, am I right?"
After Inaba groaned once, she purposely faced away and started whistling.
"......Hey, Inaba, what does that mean?"
Taichi looked at Inaba with suspicious eyes.
"Who cares?! More importantly, Taichi and Iori have to make a final decision as well! I don't know if you two are just shy, but recently, aren't you two flat-out not having any arguments with each other!"
"I-It's not like thatǃ" "I-It's not like thatǃ"
Covering each other's outbursts, Taichi and Nagase looked at each other and blushed.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
Yui left the building together with Oosawa.
The red light of the evening sun illuminated the streets.
"Haa. Today was fun, Kiriyama-san. Thank you so much."
Oosawa faced Yui with a refreshing smile.
"Yeah...... That's right......"
"Kiriyama-san, you didn't look well back there. Was it boring, I wonder?"
"No! You're wrong! It's not like that, I really had fun."
Yui frantically denied.
"But...... I'm just a little tired, that's all."
Although it was actually because of what Inaba said to her.
"Sorry! I made you accompany me even when you were tired."
"No! Noǃ I'm alright. I didn't hate it one bit. Don't apologize."
"......I see. Thanks."
Oosawa wore an invigorating smile.
Cool. That's the best word to describe her face, but her smiling face is really feminine and cute, too.
Once again, Yui felt that she was a pure and good girl.
It was a fact that she once viewed people who come to like the same gender as weird.
However, those kinds of feelings have completely disappeared.
Really, she's a normal and good girl.
And she said that she liked me---</em>
Yui stopped walking and started to speak.
"That decision...... did it require a lot of courage? Confessing to the same gender, I mean."
After listening to Yui's words, Oosawa stiffened like a sculpture.
It was as if she wasn't breathing.
And in the next moment, a shining teardrop fell from the eyes of the beautiful frozen sculpture.
"Yeah...... I was really scared...... That's because it isn't normal...... If others know about it, they will think of me as weird...... I thought that there was no chance that you would accept. But because I like you, I consulted with an old friend and Fujishima, and then......"
Oosawa gloomily smiled as teardrops rolled down her cheeks.
Her crumbling face was really beautiful, Yui thought.
"Ahaha, why am I crying? ......Sorry, I'm going to the toilet for a while, wait for me!"
Oosawa sprinted out.
In an instant, she lost sight of Oosawa. As expected of the Track and Field Club.
Yui was in two minds about whether to chase after her, but she gave up and decided to wait here, as she was told to.
Yui leaned on the railing at her side.
The slightly warm evening air felt good.
"It took that kind of courage to confess to me......"
Especially since it was to the same gender?
Or is a confession something that requires lots of resolve in the first place?
You have to muster all of your courage, but you can only hope that you succeed. Is that "love"?</em>
At that moment, her phone's vibration function started up.
It was a mail.
The sender, Aoki Yoshifumi.
"I will respect the decision that you make. But, as I thought, I like you, Yui. I want to have a lot of fun with you. Not in a weird way! (That's important) Sending you a message in the middle of a date is against the rules, but I really wanted to tell you that. Sorry."
It was a mail without any emojis.
Yui looked over the text again three times.
Aoki has said that he liked me many times. He has confessed to me so many times.
He doesn't get discouraged even after being rejected, and he keeps trying again and again.</em>
A thought occurred to Yui, and she opened the contact list on her phone.
She felt guilty about talking with someone else while she was on a date, but she pressed the button anyway.
"Yui?ǃ What's wrong?ǃ What happened to the date?ǃ"
Aoki’s voice could be heard from the receiver.
A little too loudly.
"Hey, I'm going to ask something a bit weird, will you listen?"
"I'm open to Yui's favors every day of the year, any time, anywhereǃ"
Aoki surely has a refreshing, full smile on his face right now.
"When you say you like me, what kind of feeling do you have? ......Sorry for asking about this kind of thing."
The voice in the receiver was silent for two breaths.
"Is this a serious question?"
"Yes, it is."
Another pause that lasted two breaths.
"I don't usually look that affected, but the truth is that I'm really nervous. That's because I'm saying 'I like you' to the person I like. If that person seriously rejects, then what should I do...... I'm scared of that. What you really think...... I don't know."
With Aoki and even other guys, we were all in the same boat.
No one knows what other people are thinking.
It's an obvious fact. Gender doesn't matter here.
Seriously saying "I like you" is scary for anyone.
But by mustering courage, this can be overcome.
That is "Love".
There's no way I will understand it all.
But I do understand something.</em>
"But then," Aoki started as his tone changed to a bright one.
"Above all, there are fun parts too! How should I put it, this thrilling, mind-blowing sensation! A life without a wildly racing heart is boring, isn't it?! Something like that."
That was somewhat laughable, Yui thought as she grinned a little.
"I understand, thanks."
I had no idea what I said "thanks" for. That word was probably packed with various thoughts and feelings that I wanted to transmit to Aoki.
"You're welcome. Uh, I don’t know what that was useful for, though!"
......Except that I think he didn't get it. What a disappointing guy.
"Again, sorry for asking about weird things. Bye bye...... Just wait a bit more."
"Eh? What was the last thing you---"
Not wanting to get a return call, Yui turned off her phone and put it into her pocket.
Not long after, Oosawa ran back.
Yui stood up.
She looked straight at Oosawa, whose eyes had become slightly red. It was suddenly difficult to breathe.
"Sorry...... for suddenly crying."
"Ah, me too. I asked about something I didn't know the meaning of, and then......"
After exchanging apologies, in the tension of the moment, Yui let her words slip.
"You know, I have something to talk about."
Oosawa's face stiffened, but she seemed to have resolved herself soon after. She said "yeah" and nodded.
"You know, I...... have androphobia."
The CRC members were the only ones at school who knew about it, but she was fine with telling Oosawa, too.
An astonished expression rose on Oosawa's face.
"A while back, something happened. From then on, I was afraid of being touched by—or, in extreme cases, being approached by—a man."
"Ah, don't look so sad! I'm alright already. The truth is, thanks to a certain boy, it recently became a lot better. So I suppose you could sort of say that I "had" androphobia...... I think. Now I'm only slightly scared of males, I think?"
I really think that I've become like that.
"That's why, until now, I hadn't dated anyone. I've also never fallen in love. Because of the fact that my androphobic self was ill-fated for love, I avoided and escaped from it."
"I've never thought about why 'love' and 'romance' exist."
Even though a person who said "I like you" was always, always beside me.
"I also didn't even accept the feelings of the person who said 'I like you'. It was impossible...... Using that as an indulgence, I didn't even properly face him."
Oosawa was silently listening to Yui.
"And even though everyone each had various thoughts for me...... I......"
I thought I was supposed to move on after the androphobia goes away. Even so, I still naively continued living in this peaceful atmosphere.
"You know, I just noticed that today. It was really too late, but thanks to Oosawa-san, I have finally noticed it."
Thank you for that. I conveyed that message to Oosawa, who kindly smiled.
"I don't know what 'like' or 'love' or 'romance' are. But from now on, I want to properly face them. Properly face them, and think about them."
I shall stop running away and deceiving myself.
I shall respond to the truth with seriousness.
"And then, I will at least be able to understand the feelings of Oosawa-san or other people when they say 'I like you'. At that time, I...... will want to date someone......, I think."
After saying that, Yui lowered her head.
"......That's why I'm sorry. The me right now still can't accept Oosawa-san's feelings. I don't want to make a decision with half-hearted feelings. I've probably been saying selfish and inconsiderate things, but sorry."
I think I managed to say the things I wanted to convey.
This is the first step to properly facing something important.</em>
Yui raised her head and waited for Oosawa's response.
"......Umm, have I been rejected, I wonder?"
Oosawa made a strained laugh and tilted her head.
"Eh, erm, it's not about rejecting or not...... ah." Come to think of it, that was an extremely annoying answer.
"Err...... sorry. We can't date, so it is a rejection...... But, It's not like I hate you, Oosawa-san...... errr."
Looking at Yui, whose mind had gotten really entangled, Oosawa giggled.
"Sorry, just kidding, just kidding. It's something you can't answer, so it's fine. I'll wait for Kiriyama-san to...... give an answer...... And more importantly......"
Oosawa had started out with an excessively energetic voice, but now it suddenly withered.
"......Is it alright......if I am...... a girl?"
It was a weak, trembling voice.
"......Can I say it straight up?"
Yui asked. After a few seconds of silence, Oosawa replied, "Go ahead.”
"I still don't know now."
I still don't know anything yet.
But I don't want to use this ignorance as an excuse to run away.
Oosawa's mouth was wide agape for a short moment.
"......And I thought I wouldn't even get an OK...... That answer was outside of my expectations."
A suppressed laugh spurted out from the two of them.
"Ah, but really, thank you. For seriously accepting my feelings. I thought it would be really awkward and that I would be laughed at, but......"
Oosawa sighed and loosened her cheeks.
"Kiriyama-san, I'm glad that I came to like you."
"Wait, wait, like......! Like, you said......!"
Saying it to me again, it's embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing.
But at the same time, I'm -- happy?</em>
"I'll wait. Until you find an answer that you can accept yourself."
"Yeah, thanks. And...... thank you...... for saying that you like me."
Both of them held out their hands.
And tightly grabbed each other's right hand.
It was warm and soft.
At the same time, their chests felt hot.
I'll never forget the feeling of this hand for the rest of my life, Yui thought.
<div align = "center">◇◆◇</div>
She quietly opened the shoe locker.
There was nothing but her indoor shoes.
Haaa, Yui sighed as she stroked down her chest.
Of course. It would be troubling if she received another love letter immediately. That would be an exception in an exceptional situation.
Yui jumped up and turned behind her.
Yukina stood there with an astonished face.
"Oh, morning, Yukina."
"Is it your habit nowadays to react with a weird voice when being called by your friend in the morning?"
The two lined up and headed towards the classroom of class 1A.
On their way, when they passed by class 1C, Yui took a glimpse inside the room.
She was there.
It was Oosawa Misaki.
Oosawa was having a conversation with the class president of class 1C, Fujishima Maiko.
It looked like she was laughing happily.
"What is it?"
"Today at lunch break, could you tell me about the boyfriend you are dating now?"
"What, why are you looking so puzzled?"
"That's because......, don't you always really dislike that kind of topic?"
"Well, yeah, but...... It's fine, just tell me."
Yukina placed her hand on her chin and smirked.
"Yui, You...... have fallen in "love", huh?"
"That, that, that, that's not it---"
"What?ǃ Yui?ǃ Love?ǃ I think I just heard a theme I cannot ignore?ǃ"
It was Aoki Yoshifumi.
"Don't get in my waaaaay!"
Yui used her bag to smack Aoki under the chin.
"Gah!" Aoki moaned as he fell backwards.
"Come on, do you have to be so irritating in the morningǃ"
"You two are always the same...... So, you fell in love?"
"But, your face is red?"
"Ah, yes, yes. I totally get it. You don't have to struggle...... But it must be something like that, yes?"
"You're really wrong, I said!"
"What's with that attitude when you asked me to tell you about my love, huh? Well, it's okay, but then I'll thoroughly speak fondly of him~. The truth is, before, my boyfriend was---"
What is "love"?
I still don't get it myself.
But it's undoubtedly something amazingly good.
That's because, when Yukina did a false start even though she was supposed to tell her stories at lunch break, her face was beaming and relaxed.</em>