Y1 Vol 1 Chapter 2 | Welcome to the School Life of your Dreams

“Ayanokouji-kun, do you have a moment?”

She came. She was here. It was terrifying. I’d been feigning sleep during class, pondering society’s true purpose while I pretended to nap, when the devil approached me. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 played in my head, music that captured the sense of people fleeing from pursuing demons and the desperation that comes at the end of the world. Right then, it was the perfect accompaniment.

Even though my eyes were closed, I understood. I could feel the devil’s presence as she waited for her slave to awaken. So, as a slave, how exactly could I get out of this situation?

My computer-like brain instantly executed all the calculations to arrive at the answer I most needed.

Conclusion: I’d pretend not to hear her. I had dubbed this the “Sleeping Strategy.” If she were a kind girl, then she would say something like, “Aw, well, there’s nothing to be done. I’d feel bad to wake you, so I’ll forgive you. ★” “If you don’t get up, I’ll kiss you!” would also be okay.

“If you do not awaken within three seconds, I will bestow additional punishment upon you.”

“What do you mean, ‘punishment’?” I asked.

In an instant, I’d abandoned my “Sleeping Strategy” and yielded to her threats of force. Well, at least I offered some resistance by not meeting her gaze.

“See, you are awake after all, aren’t you?” she said. “I know enough that I’m afraid to make you angry.”

“Glad to hear it. Well then, may I have a little of your time?” “If I refuse?”

“Well, even though you have no right to veto such a decision, I suppose I would be exceptionally displeased.”

She continued with, “And when I am displeased, then I will prove a major obstacle to your school life, Ayanokouji-kun. For example, I might set a great number of thumbtacks on your chair. Or, when you go to the toilet, I might splash water on you from above. Or stab you with the needle of my mathematical compass. Those kinds of obstacles, I suppose.”

“That’s nothing but harassment, or rather, bullying! And besides, that last one sounds strangely familiar, because you’ve already stabbed me before!”

I reluctantly sat up at my desk. A girl with beautiful, sharp eyes and long black hair that framed her face stared down at me. Her name was Horikita Suzune, a student of the Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing High School, Class D, and my classmate.

“Don’t worry. That was only a joke. I wouldn’t splash water on you from above.”

“What’s more pressing are the thumbtacks and the compass needle! Look at this! There are still marks from when you stabbed me the last time! Will you take responsibility if it scars me for life?” I rolled up my right sleeve and displayed my forearm to Horikita, so she could see the scars she’d left behind.

“Evidence?” she asked. “Huh?”

“What about the evidence? Did you decide I’m the culprit without evidence?”

She was right; there was no evidence. Even though Horikita was the only one in class close enough to stab me with a needle, I’d be hard-pressed to call that definitive proof…

Well, I needed to confirm something first anyway.

“So, I’m required to help you? I’ve thought on it again, and, after all, I—”

“Ayanokouji-kun. Would you prefer to regret while you suffer or regret while you despair? Which would you like more? Because if you refuse me and force my hand, it will be your responsibility.”

I was stuck with Horikita’s two completely absurd choices. It appeared she would not accept any delays. Though it was a mistake to make a deal with this devil, I gave up and obeyed.

“All right, then. What am I supposed to do?” I asked, filled with trepidation. Her requests no longer surprised me. I certainly didn’t like how this situation had turned out, but… I thought back to when I’d met this girl two months ago, on the day of the entrance ceremony.

2.1

April. The school entrance ceremony. I rode the bus to school, bobbing and shaking in my seat. While I looked idly out my window, watching the city’s scenery change, the bus picked up more and more passengers.

Most of them were young people wearing high school uniforms.

There was also a frustrated salary worker, who looked like the type to have once mistakenly groped someone aboard a crowded bus. An unsteady elderly lady stood in front of me, wobbling so badly I thought she was in danger of falling.

Considering I’d known how packed this bus would likely be, I supposed I was simply reaping what I’d sown by getting on.

I was fortunate to have found a seat, but it was still crowded. I forgot about the unfortunate elderly woman and patiently waited to arrive at my destination, my mind clear as a passing stream.

The weather was especially fine today, not a single cloud in the sky. It was so refreshing that I nearly fell asleep then and there.

However, my gentle respite was promptly obliterated. “Excuse me, but shouldn’t you offer up your seat?”

My eyes, which were about to close, snapped back open. Huh? Could this person be angry with me? But I realized that it was someone else being scolded.

A young, well-built blond man of high school age had sat down in one of the priority seats. The elderly woman stood right next to him, and another woman stood beside her. This second, younger lady appeared to be an office worker.

“Hey, you there. Can’t you see that this elderly woman is having trouble?” the office lady said.

She seemed to want the young man to offer up his seat.

Her voice carried quite well throughout the quiet bus, attracting several people’s attention.

“That’s a really crazy question, lady,” the boy said.

I wondered whether the boy was angry, unobservant, or just painfully honest. In any case, he grinned broadly and crossed his legs. “Why should I offer up my seat? There’s no reason for me to do so.”

“You’re sitting in a priority seat. It’s natural to offer up those seats to the elderly.”

“I don’t understand. Priority seats are just that: priority seats. I have no legal obligation to move. Since I’m currently occupying this seat, I should be the one who determines whether or not I move. Am I supposed to give up my seat just because I’m young? Ha! That reasoning is nonsense.”

He didn’t speak like a normal high school student. His hair was dyed blond, which made him stand out.

“I’m a healthy young person who certainly wouldn’t find standing inconvenient. However, I’d obviously expend more energy by standing than I would by sitting. I have no intention of doing such a pointless thing. Or are you suggesting I should act a bit livelier, I wonder?”

“Wh-what kind of attitude is that to take with your superiors?” she demanded.

“Superiors? Well, it’s obvious that both you and the old woman there been alive longer than I have. There can be no doubt about that. However, the word ‘superior’ implies that you’re referring to someone of a higher position. In addition, we have another problem. Even though our ages are different, wouldn’t you agree that you have an impertinent attitude and are being extremely rude?”

“Wha— You’re a high schooler, aren’t you?! You should be quiet and listen to what adults tell you!”

“It’s f-fine, whatever…” the elderly woman mumbled.

She apparently didn’t want any further commotion and tried to calm the office lady. But after being insulted by the high school student, the younger woman still seemed very upset.

“Apparently, this elderly woman is more perceptive than you, which is nice. Also, I haven’t given up on Japanese society yet. Please enjoy your remaining years.”

After flashing a pointlessly vigorous smile, the boy slid his earphones in and began listening to rather cacophonous music. The office lady now clenched her teeth in frustration. Though she tried needling the boy by arguing further, his smug, self-important attitude remained fixed.

At any rate, I had to at least partly agree with the boy.

If you ignored the question of a moral imperative, it was true that he wasn’t legally obligated to give up his seat.

“I’m sorry…” Desperately fighting back her tears, the office lady apologized to the elderly woman.

Well, it was all just a minor incident on the bus. I was relieved that I hadn’t been caught up in the situation. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about giving up my seat for an elderly person.

Clearly, the egotistical boy had won. At least, everyone secretly thought so.

“Um… I think that the lady is right.”

The woman received unexpected support from someone standing alongside her. The helper, a girl wearing my high school’s uniform, gave her brave and frank opinion to the boy.

“And the new challenger is a pretty girl, eh? It would seem that I’m rather lucky with the fairer sex,” the boy said.

“This poor woman appears to have been suffering for quite some time now. Won’t you offer up your seat? While you might consider such courtesy unnecessary, I think it would contribute greatly to society.”

Crack! The boy snapped his fingers.

“A contribution to society, you say? Well, that is a rather interesting opinion. It’s certainly true that offering up one’s seat to the elderly could be viewed in such a positive light. Unfortunately, I have no interest in contributing to society. I care only for my own satisfaction. Oh, and one more thing. You’re asking me, the one in the priority seat, to give up his spot, but couldn’t you simply ask one of the other people seated on this crowded bus? If you truly cared for the elderly, then something like priority seating would be a rather trivial concern, wouldn’t you agree?”

The boy’s haughty attitude remained unchanged. Both the office lady and the elderly woman simply wore bitter smiles in response. However, the girl didn’t back down.

“Everyone, please listen to me for just a moment. Won’t someone give up their seat for this woman? It doesn’t matter who. Please.”

How could someone pour so much courage, determination, and compassion into so few words? That was no simple feat. The girl might have seemed like a nuisance to those around her, but she appealed to the other passengers earnestly and without fear.

Though not in a priority seat, I was near the elderly woman.

I imagined if I raised my hand and offered my spot, then the matter would be settled.

However, like everyone else, I didn’t move. None of us had thought it necessary to move. The boy’s attitude and remarks aside, everyone on the bus had, for the most part, agreed with him.

Now, of course, the elderly have undeniable worth to Japan. But we, the youth, will continue to support Japan into the future. Also, considering that our society ages more and more every year, you could say that our youthful value only increases. So, if you were to examine both the elderly and the young and ask yourself which group is more valuable, the answer should be obvious.

That’s really the perfect argument, wouldn’t you say?

But still, I wondered what the others would do. As I looked around, I saw two kinds of people: those who had pretended not to have heard anything and those who looked hesitant.

However, the girl sitting next to me was different. She alone wasn’t swept up by the confusion. Her face remained expressionless.

While I unintentionally stared at her, our eyes met for an instant. Even without speaking a word, I could tell that we shared the same opinion. Neither of us considered it necessary to give up our seat.

“E-excuse me. You can have mine.” Shortly after the girl’s appeal, a working woman stood, unable to bear the guilt any longer, and offered up her seat.

“Thank you very much!” the elderly woman said.

The working woman smiled, lowered her head, and guided the elderly woman to the now-vacant seat.

The elderly woman expressed her gratitude repeatedly, and slowly sat. Watching the scene unfold from my peripheral vision, I crossed my arms and closed my eyes. Soon, we arrived at our destination, and all the high school students began to disembark.

As I got off the bus, I saw a gate formed from natural rock waiting just ahead. All the young boys and girls dressed in school uniforms were passing through this gate.

The Japanese government had created the Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing High School with the express purpose of developing future leaders. This would be my school from now on.

Okay, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath. All right, here we go!

“Wait!”

The instant I tried to take my first courageous step, someone called out to me. It was the girl who’d sat next to me on the bus.

“You were looking at me. Why?” she asked. She narrowed her eyes while we spoke.

“Sorry. I guess I was just interested, is all. I mean, you didn’t think about giving up your seat to the old woman, did you?”

“That’s right. I didn’t consider giving it up. Is there something wrong with that?”

“Oh, no, not at all. I didn’t intend to give up my seat, either.

In fact, I firmly abide by the philosophy of letting sleeping dogs lie. I dislike trouble.”

“You dislike trouble? Then I don’t think you and I are anything alike. I didn’t give up my seat because I thought it would be pointless. That’s all.”

“But doesn’t that seem worse than just not liking trouble?”

“Perhaps. I’m simply acting according to my own beliefs.

That’s different from someone who just dislikes trouble, like you. I don’t want to spend any time around people like you.”

“I feel the same way,” I muttered.

I had only wanted to share my opinion, but I wasn’t too keen on going back and forth with her like this. We both sighed and proceeded to walk in the same direction.

2.2

I disliked the entrance ceremony and imagined that many first-year students probably felt the same. The principal and the students exchanged excessive words of gratitude, there was far too much time spent standing in lines, and, with so many irritating things to deal with, it all felt like a huge pain in the butt. But those weren’t my only complaints. The entrance ceremonies for elementary school, junior high, and high school all mean the same thing: the start of another major trial for children. In order for students to enjoy their time at school, they must make friends, and there are only a few key days after the entrance ceremony to properly do that. Failure to do so signals the beginning of a rather tragic three years.

As someone who dislikes trouble, I decided I’d like to establish proper relationships. Unfamiliar with the notion, I’d spent the day before in preparation, running through different scenarios.

For instance, should I burst into the classroom and actively start talking to people? Should I secretly pass around a slip of paper with my email address, so as to better befriend someone? Someone like me needed to practice, because this environment was so different from what I’d experienced thus far. I was completely isolated. I had ventured alone into a battlefield, and it was do or die.

Looking around the classroom, I walked toward the seat that bore my nameplate. It was at the back of the room, near the window. A good place to sit, generally. As I looked around, I saw that the room was already halfway filled with students. The others were either immersed in their class materials or already talking with other people. Perhaps they’d all been friends beforehand or had only recently gotten acquainted. Well then, what should I do? Take action during this free time and try to meet someone? In front of me, a rather rotund boy sat at his desk, hunching over.

Perhaps it was my imagination, but he appeared lonely.

The boy exuded an aura that seemed to shout, “Please, someone be my friend!” However, if you just went up to someone and start talking, you might be bothering them. Should you wait for the right time? But then you might wait too long and be left friendless. I just had to… No, no, wait, I couldn’t be hasty. If I started a thoughtless conversation with someone I didn’t know, I ran the risk of making a serious social gaffe.

Not good. I was trapped in a downward spiral.

In the end, I couldn’t talk to anyone at all. At the rate things were going, I’d be completely alone. Had I heard someone say, “Is he still all alone?” Had I heard chuckling? Perhaps it was all in my head. What on earth are “friends,” anyway? Where do friends come from? Do people become friends after sharing a meal together? Can you become friends with someone after you walk to the bathroom together for the first time? The more I thought about it, the more I wondered: What is friendship? Is it something deep and meaningful? I tried to piece it together.

Trying to make friends is incredibly bothersome. Besides, don’t human relationships tend to form naturally? My thoughts were in utter disarray, as though a raucously loud festival was being staged inside my head. While I sat lost in a haze, the classroom quickly filled. Fine. Whatever. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? After a long period of conflict, I finally began to rise from my seat. However…

Before I knew it, the rotund, bespectacled boy in front of me had started to talk with another classmate.

Wearing a bitter smile, I realized that there was no new friendship to be cultivated there. I’m happy for you, Glasses-kun. It looks like you made your first friend.

“I got beaten to the punch!”

I was at my wit’s end, stuck in useless navel-gazing.

Reflexively, I let out a deep sigh. My high school experience seemed poised to be exceptionally dour. Then, someone sat down beside me.

“That’s quite a heavy sigh, considering the school year has only begun. Meeting you again makes me want to sigh.”

It was the girl who’d fought with me at the bus stop and then walked off.

“So, we were placed in the same class, huh?” I mumbled.

Well, there were only four classes for all of the first-year students, after all. Statistically, it wasn’t impossible for us to be together.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Ayanokouji Kiyotaka.”

“You just went ahead and introduced yourself?” she said. “Well, this is the second time that we’ve spoken. Isn’t it fine

for me to do so?”

I had wanted to introduce myself to someone anyway, so it wasn’t as though I could just keep quiet. Besides, in order to become familiar with my class, I had to at least know my neighbor’s name…even if she was this audacious girl.

“Do you mind if I refuse?” she asked.

“I don’t think sitting next to someone for an entire year without knowing their name would be comfortable.”

“I disagree.”

Shooting me a glance, she placed her bag on her desk.

Apparently, she wasn’t going to tell me her name. Lacking any interest in the classroom, the girl simply sat upright in her chair like a model student.

“Do you have a friend in another class? Or did you enroll here all on your lonesome?” I asked.

“You’re a curious one, aren’t you? You won’t find talking to me very interesting, though.”

“If I’m bothering you, you can just tell me to be quiet.”

I wouldn’t introduce myself if it made her angry. I thought that the conversation was over, but then the girl sighed.

Apparently, she’d changed her mind. She turned her gaze on me and introduced herself.

“I’m Horikita Suzune.”

For the first time, I got a good look at her face.

Wow. She was cute. Or rather, she was beautiful. Even though we were in the same grade, I’d have believed it if you told me she was a year or two older.

Such a calm, cool beauty.

“Let me tell you about myself,” I said. “I have no particular hobbies, but I’m interested in just about anything. I don’t need many friends, but I think it would be nice to have at least a few.

And, well, that’s about it.”

“Spoken just like someone who avoids trouble. I don’t think I could ever like such a person,” she said.

“Jeez, I feel like you trashed my entire existence in one second,” I muttered.

“I pray this will be my only upset.”

“I sympathize, but, unfortunately, I don’t think your prayers will be answered.” I pointed to the classroom entrance. Standing there was—

“This seems like a rather well-equipped classroom. It would appear to live up to people’s expectations, hmm?” Yes. The boy who’d quarreled with those women on the bus.

“I see. This certainly is bad luck,” she said.

This troublemaker had been placed in Class D with us.

Without seeming to notice our presence at all, he went over to the seat labeled “Kouenji” and sat. I wondered if such a person had ever considered even the idea of friendship. I tried observing him for a little bit. Kouenji put his feet on top of the desk, took a nail file from his bag, and hummed while he treated his fingernails. He acted as though he were completely alone.

Apparently, the rude comments he’d made on the bus had been an accurate reflection of his opinions. Within ten seconds, more than half the class had begun drawing away from Kouenji. His imposing nature dominated the space. Looking over, I saw that Horikita’s gaze had lowered, and she seemed to be reading one of her own books. Oh, shoot. I’d forgotten that conversational back-and-forth was one of the basics of maintaining interest. I’d squashed one of my chances to become friends with Horikita.

Leaning down, I glanced at the title of her book: Crime and Punishment. Now that was interesting. A story that debated whether it was right to kill someone, so long as it was done for the sake of justice.

So sad. Perhaps Horikita’s taste in books was reflected in her personality. Well, at any rate, we’d introduced ourselves, so perhaps we could at least become neighborly. After a few minutes, the first bell rang. At that precise moment, a woman entered the classroom. When I first saw her, my initial impression was that she firmly believed in discipline. If I had to guess, I would have placed her age at thirty. She wore a suit and had delicate features. Her hair seemed long, and she’d tied it into a ponytail.

“Ahem. Good morning to you, students. I’m the instructor for Class D. My name is Chiyabashira Sae. I usually teach Japanese history. However, at this school, we do not change classrooms for each grade. For the next three years, I will be acting as your homeroom teacher, so I hope to get to know all of you. It’s a pleasure to meet you. The entrance ceremony will be in the gymnasium one hour from now, but first, I will distribute written materials with information about this school’s special rules. I will also hand out the admissions guide.”

The students in the front seats passed back the familiar documents I’d received after being accepted.

This school differed from the multitude of other Japanese high schools in a few key ways. Here, all students were required to live in dormitories located on school premises. Also, except for special cases, such as studying abroad, students were forbidden to contact anyone outside the school. Even contact with your immediate family was forbidden without authorization. Naturally, leaving school grounds without permission was also strictly forbidden.

However, the campus also came equipped with many excellent facilities. With its own karaoke spot, theater, café, boutique, and more, you could easily compare this school to a small city. The campus spread over more than 600,000 square meters.

This school boasted another unique feature: the S System.

“I will now hand out your student ID cards. By using your card, you can access any of the facilities on campus, purchase goods from the store, and so on. It acts like a credit card.

However, it is imperative that you pay attention to the points that you spend. At this school, you can use your points to buy anything. Anything located on the school premises is available for purchase.”

Our points, loaded onto our student ID cards, acted as a kind of currency. The lack of paper money would prevent many students’ financial troubles. However, students needed to keep a watchful eye on their spending habits. At any rate, the school provided these points free of charge.

“Your student cards can be used simply by swiping them through the machine scanner. The method is simple, so you shouldn’t get confused. Points are automatically deposited into your account on the first of every month. You should all have received 100,000 points already. Keep in mind that one point is worth one yen. No further explanation should be necessary.”

The classroom erupted.

In other words, we had received a 100,000-yen monthly allowance from the school upon admission. I’d expect nothing less from a massive institution run by the Japanese government.

100,000 yen is a rather large sum of money for a high schooler.

“Shocked by the amount of points you’ve been given? This school evaluates its students’ talents. Everyone here has passed the entrance examination, which itself speaks to your value and potential. The amount you’ve received reflects the evaluation of your worth. You can use your points without restraint. After graduation, however, all of your points return to the school.

Because it’s impossible to exchange your points for cash, there’s no advantage to saving them. Once points have been deposited into your account, it’s up to you how to spend them. Do as you like. In the event that you don’t want to spend your points, you may transfer them to someone else. However, extorting money from your peers is not allowed. This school monitors bullying very carefully.”

As bewilderment spread among the students, Chiyabashira- sensei looked over the room.

“Well, it appears no one has any questions. I hope that you enjoy your time here as students.”

Many of my classmates could not hide their surprise at the large amount of points.

“This school doesn’t seem as strict as I thought,” I muttered.

I thought I was talking to myself, but Horikita looked in my direction. She must have imagined I was speaking to her.

“This school is extremely lenient, isn’t it?”

Despite all of the restrictions, like being forced to live in the dormitories, being forbidden to leave the campus, and being prohibited from contacting anyone on the outside, no one here seemed to have any complaints. In fact, you might even say that we’d been given such preferential treatment that it was like we’d been transported to paradise. Of course, the Advanced Nurturing High School’s most impressive statistic was its near 100 percent placement rate for students advancing into higher education or entering the workforce.

This government-sponsored school’s thorough guidance of its students hoped to ensure a better future. In fact, the school heavily advertised this. Many of its alumni went on to achieve fame.

Typically, no matter how famous or impressive a school might be, the areas of specialization are limited. For example, one school might specialize in sports or in music. Another might focus on something related to computers. However, at this school, any student could hope to succeed, regardless of their field.

Only this school had that kind of name-brand value. I’d assumed that the atmosphere would be cutthroat, but the majority of students looked like typical kids.

No, that wasn’t quite right. After all, we’d been capable enough to pass the entrance exam. If we could reach graduation day peacefully, without incident, then we would have achieved our goal… Was such a thing really possible, though?

“This is almost too much preferential treatment. It’s frightening.”

As Horikita spoke, I realized I felt the same way. We hardly knew anything about this school. It was as if a veil of mystery shrouded everything. Because a school like this could make any wishes a reality, I’d thought some kind of risk would have to be involved.

“Hey, hey! Do you want to check out a store with me on our way back? Let’s do some shopping!” one girl cried.

“Sure. With this much, we can buy anything. I’m so glad I got into this school!” another said.

Once the teacher was gone, the newly rich students began to grow restless.

“Everyone, can you please listen to me for a moment?”

A student with the air of an upstanding young man quickly raised his hand. His hair wasn’t dyed. He looked like an honors student. Based on his appearance, I got the impression he wasn’t a delinquent.

“Starting today, we’re all going to be classmates. Therefore, I think it’d be good for us to introduce ourselves and become friends as soon as possible. We still have some time until the entrance ceremony. What do you say?”

He’d just done something incredible. The majority of students were lost in thought, unable to speak up.

“Agreed! After all, we still don’t know a thing about each other, not even our names,” someone shouted.

After the ice had broken, the previously hesitant students began to speak.

“My name’s Hirata Yousuke. Back in junior high, lots of people called me Yousuke. Feel free to use my first name! I guess my hobby is sports in general, but I especially like soccer. I’m planning on playing soccer here, too. Nice to meet you!”

Hirata had effortlessly introduced himself to the class. He seemed exceptionally brave. And he’d talked about his love for soccer, too! His level of popularity must’ve increased two, no, maybe four times. Why, the girl seated next to Hirata had hearts in her eyes! If someone like Hirata became our class’s linchpin, I wondered if he’d keep everyone honest and motivated until graduation.

Someone like him would probably end up dating the cutest girl in class. That was how these things typically went.

“Well then, I’d like everyone to introduce themselves, starting from the front. Is that okay?”

Although the girl at the head of the class looked a little bewildered, she quickly made up her mind and stood. Or rather, she’d been pressured, in response to Hirata’s words.

“M-my name is…Inogashira Ko-Ko…”

The girl, last name Inogashira, seemed to freeze during her introduction. Was she drawing a blank, or had she not considered what she was going to say beforehand? As her words halted, she paled. It was rare to see someone get so incredibly nervous.

“Do your best!”

“Don’t panic! It’s okay!”

Kind words poured out of our classmates. But it seemed to have the opposite effect on the girl; the words stuck in the back of her throat. The silence continued for five seconds. Ten seconds.

You could’ve cut the tension with a knife. Some of the girls started giggling. Inogashira was paralyzed with fear. She couldn’t move a muscle. Another girl spoke up.

“It’s okay to go slowly. Don’t rush.”

Although it might seem kind, saying, “Do your best!” and, “It’s okay!” it actually conveys a completely different meaning. To someone who is extremely nervous, “Do your best!” and, “It’s okay!” can actually seem forceful, as if indicating she needs to match her classmates. On the other hand, saying, “Just take things slowly. Don’t rush,” allows her to take things at her own pace.

After that, the girl calmed down and regained her composure. She took a few small breaths and tried again.

“My name is Inogashira…Kokoro. Um, my hobby is sewing.

I’m pretty good at knitting. I-It’s nice to meet you all.”

She was able to finish without stopping. Looking alternately relieved, delighted, and embarrassed, Inogashira sat down. Other introductions followed hers.

“I’m Yamauchi Haruki. I competed in table tennis during elementary school, and in junior high I was the ace player on our baseball team. I was number four. I got hurt during the inter-high school championships, though, and I’m undergoing rehab now.

Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t think that the number of his baseball uniform was essential information…

Besides, I’d thought the inter-high championship was a national sports competition for high school students. Junior high school kids were supposed to be ineligible.

Was he trying to crack a joke? He seemed like a talkative guy who got carried away pretty easily.

“Well then, I’m next, aren’t I?”

The cheerful girl who stood up was the same one who’d told Inogashira to go slowly and calm down. She was also the same girl who’d helped out the elderly woman on the bus that morning.

“My name is Kushida Kikyou. None of my friends from junior high made it to this school, so I’m alone here. I’d like to get to know all of your names and faces right away and become friends as soon as possible!”

While most of the students had only said a few words of introduction, Kushida continued to talk.

“My first goal is to become friends with everyone. So, after we’re finished with introductions, I’d love for you to share your contact information with me!”

She wasn’t just saying that. I could tell right away that this girl was the type to open up her heart to anyone.

Her encouraging words to Inogashira hadn’t been platitudes, but a genuine reflection of her feelings.

“So, after school or during vacations, I want to make all sorts of memories with lots of people. Please feel free to invite me to lots and lots of events! Anyway, I’ve talked for a long time, so I’ll end my introduction here.”

She said it as though she knew I’d been critiquing everyone’s introductions. I felt strangely uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure why.

What should I say when my turn came? Should I make a joke? Should I go into it with really high energy in order to get some laughs? No, that wouldn’t work. Going out of control would just ruin the atmosphere. Besides, that didn’t really fit my personality anyway.

The introductions continued while I wrestled with my anxiety.

“Well then, next up is…”

As Hirata looked encouragingly toward the next student, that student glared back. His hair was dyed a fiery red. He both looked and sounded like a delinquent.

“What, are we a bunch of little kids or something? I don’t need to introduce myself. People who want to do that can go ahead. Just leave me out of it.”

The red-haired guy scowled at Hirata. He had quite a presence, his attitude intense and overpowering.

“I can’t force you to introduce yourself, of course. However, I don’t think that getting along with your classmates is a bad thing. If I’ve made you uncomfortable, I apologize.”

When Hirata bowed his head, some of the girls glared at the guy with red hair.

“Isn’t it fine to introduce yourself?” one of them snapped. “Yeah, yeah!”

As I’d expected, the pretty-boy soccer star had captured most of the girls’ hearts in the blink of an eye. However, half of the male students started to look angry, probably out of jealousy.

“Shut it. I don’t care. I didn’t come here to make friends.” The guy with red hair got up from his seat. It seemed he had no intention of getting to know anyone. Several other students followed suit and left the classroom together. Horikita got up and briefly glanced my way. When she realized I wasn’t moving, she started to walk out the door. Hirata looked a little lonely when he saw Horikita head out.

“They’re not a bad bunch. It’s my fault. I was being selfish and made people do this.”

“No way. You didn’t do anything wrong, Hirata-kun. Let’s just leave those guys be, okay?”

Although some people had rebelled at the idea of introductions, the students who remained were happy to continue. In the end, things wrapped up in a rather ordinary fashion.

“I’m Ike Kanji. I love girls, and I hate pretty boys. I’m currently in the market for a new girlfriend. It’s nice to meet you! All the better if you’re a cutie or a beauty!”

It was difficult to tell if he was joking or not. At the very least, the girls looked at him with revulsion.

“Wow. You are so cool, Ike-kun,” one girl said, in a completely emotionless voice. Of course, her statement was 1000 percent false.

“Seriously? Seriously? Oh, man. I mean, I thought that I wasn’t bad or anything, but…heh heh.”

Apparently, Ike thought that she was being serious. He blushed. Instantly, the girls started to laugh.

“Oh, wow. He’s cute, huh, everyone? He’s looking for a girlfriend!”

Dude, they’re making fun of you. Ike continued to jovially go along with the teasing. He didn’t seem like a bad guy, though.

Next up was the combative boy from the bus, Kouenji.

While inspecting his bangs in a hand mirror, he combed his hair. “Excuse me, can you introduce yourself?” Hirata asked. “Hmph. Fine.”

He smirked like an aristocrat, displaying his impudent attitude. As he shifted in his seat, I thought he might leave, but Kouenji placed both of his legs on his desk and introduced himself.

“My name is Kouenji Rokusuke. As the sole male heir to the Kouenji conglomerate group, I will soon be tasked with carrying Japan into the future. I sincerely look forward to making your acquaintance, ladies.”

He aimed his introduction solely at the opposite sex, rather than the entire class. After hearing that he was rich, some of the girls looked at him with sparkling eyes, while others regarded Kouenji as if he were nothing more than a weirdo. That was only natural.

“Starting today, I will mercilessly punish anyone who makes me uncomfortable. Please exercise proper precaution so that you may avoid that.”

“Um, Kouenji-kun. What exactly do you mean when you say, ‘anyone who makes me uncomfortable’?” asked Hirata, who looked uneasy at the word “punish.”

“I meant exactly what I said. If asked to give an example, well… I would say I hate ugly things, for instance. So, if I saw something ugly, I would do just as I said.”

Fwish! He flipped his long, flowing bangs. “Ah, thank you. I will be careful then.”

There was the guy with red hair, Horikita, Kouenji, Yamauchi, and Ike. Apparently, this class was full of people with bizarre idiosyncrasies.

I, too, was especially peculiar, in that there was nothing peculiar about me. I had wanted to be free, free as a bird, but prior to this I’d languished in a cage. I had wanted to fly into the expansive open skies. If you looked out the window, you could watch birds gracefully soaring… Well, not right now, but in general. Anyway, that’s the kind of guy I was.

“Well then, time for the next person. Can you please introduce yourself?”

“Huh?”

Oh, shoot. My turn had come while I’d been daydreaming. Students turned, waiting for my introduction. Hey, hey! Don’t look at me with so much anticipation. Oh well, I might as well try my best.

Clack! The chair rattled as I stood.

“Um. Well, my name is Ayanokouji Kiyotaka. And, uh, I don’t really have any special skills or anything. I’ll do my best to get along with all of you. It’s, uh, nice to meet you.”

Well? Was that my introduction? I’d failed!

I instinctively buried my head in my hands. I hadn’t had time to construct a proper introduction because I’d been too busy daydreaming. It was the worst possible intro. It didn’t attract attention, and absolutely no one would remember it.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ayanokouji-kun. I always want to be friends with everyone, just like you. Let’s both do our best, okay?” Hirata responded with a refreshing smile.

Everyone clapped. Their applause felt somewhat like pity, which strangely pained me. Despite that, however, I felt kind of glad.

2.3

Even though people said this place was tough, the entrance ceremony was the same as any other school’s. Some important people offered words of thanks, and the ceremony concluded without incident. Then, it was noon. After we received some general information about the campus, the crowd dispersed.

70–80 percent of the students headed toward the dormitories.

The remaining students quickly formed into groups. Some made their way to cafés, while the louder ones went out for karaoke.

The hustle and bustle quickly died down. On a whim, I decided to swing by the convenience store on my way back to the dormitory. Of course, I went alone. I didn’t have a chaperone, or acquaintance, or anyone like that.

“My, what an unpleasant coincidence.”

Entering the convenience store, I ran into Horikita once again.

“Come on, there’s no need to be so hostile. Anyway, did you need to buy something?” I asked.

“Yes, just a few things. I came to get some necessities.”

There was no shortage of things you needed when starting life in a dorm, especially if you were a girl. Horikita took various necessities like shampoo off the shelves and promptly threw them into the basket she was carrying. I’d thought she would choose higher quality items, but she only took the cheapest options.

“I thought girls usually made a fuss over what kind of shampoo they bought.”

“Well, that depends on the person, doesn’t it? I’m the sort who doesn’t know when you might need money,” she replied.

She shot me an icy glare that seemed to say, Could you please not inspect other people’s purchases without their permission?

“At any rate, I was terribly surprised that you stayed for introductions,” she said. “You didn’t look like the type to hang out with a circle of classmates.”

“I decided to participate precisely because I don’t like trouble. Why didn’t you introduce yourself to them, Horikita? You could have gotten to know several other students, and it would have been a chance to make friends.”

Quite a few of the students had exchanged cell numbers, too.

If Horikita had participated, she would probably have become quite popular. What a waste.

“There are several reasons why I objected, but I suppose it might be better if I simply explain, hmm? My introduction might have sown discord, depending on how things went. Thus, doing nothing avoided creating more problems. Am I wrong?”

“But, statistically speaking, there was a high probability that you could have hit it off with everyone after introducing yourself,” I said.

“How did you arrive at that conclusion? Actually, if I argue this with you now, we’ll just end up in an endless debate. Let’s say that the probability of making friends was high, like you said. So, how many people did you get to know?”

“Ugh…”

She gazed at me.

That was a rather splendid argument. The fact that I hadn’t yet exchanged contact information with anyone worked in Horikita’s favor. It proved there was no guarantee that introductions led to friendship. I instinctively averted my eyes.

“In other words, you have no evidence to support your claim that self-introductions lead to making friends, do you?” she asked. “Besides, I never intended to make friends in the first place. If I have no need to introduce myself, then I also have no reason to listen to anyone else’s introductions. Have I convinced you?”

That reminded me of the disastrous first time I’d tried to introduce myself to Horikita. Come to think of it, it might have been a miracle that I’d managed to get her name.

When I asked her if I shouldn’t have introduced myself to her, she shook her head. People tended to have hidden depths, no doubt about it. Horikita might have been a more solitary, more aloof person than I’d imagined.

We roamed around the convenience store without looking at each other. Even though she was somewhat uptight, being with her didn’t feel uncomfortable.

“Whoa! There’s even an amazing selection of noodle cups here! This school is super convenient!”

Two rather noisy male students stood before the instant foods. They tossed a veritable mountain of noodle cups into their basket and made their way to the cash register. Besides noodles, they’d stocked up on snacks and juice. Hey, it’d be nearly impossible to go through all your points; better to spend them.

“Noodle cups. They have so many kinds.”

These were definitely one reason I’d come to the convenience store.

“So, do boys really like this kind of stuff? I can’t imagine that it’s healthy,” Horikita said.

“I like them just fine, I guess.”

I picked up a noodle cup and examined the price tag. It said 156 yen, but I couldn’t tell whether that was expensive or cheap.

Even though the school referred to its credit system as points, the prices were all listed in yen.

“Hey, what do you think? Is this price high or low?”

“Hmm. I’m not sure. Why, is there something curious about it?”

“No, I was just wondering.”

The store’s prices seemed reasonable. One point appeared to really equal one yen. Given that the average freshman’s allowance was around 5,000 yen, the amount of money we’d received seemed impossibly large. Horikita, noting my odd behavior, gave me a quizzical look. I grabbed a noodle cup to avoid suspicion.

“Wow, this is enormous. It’s a G Cup, huh?”

Apparently, that stood for “Giga Cup.” Just looking at it made me feel full. On an unrelated note, Horikita’s breasts were neither small nor huge. They exquisitely straddled the line between the two. The perfect size.

“Ayanokouji-kun. Were you thinking about something stupid just now?” she asked.

“Er. No?”

“I felt like you were acting strangely.”

She could sense my inappropriate thoughts just by looking at me. She was a sharp one.

“I was just wondering whether or not I should buy this.

What do you think?”

“Oh. Well, I suppose that’s fine. Anyway, do you really think you should buy that? This school offers far healthier food options. Don’t you think it’s better to avoid eating junk?”

Like Horikita said, I had no reason to eat junk. However, since I had an irresistible urge, I took one package of regular-sized instant noodles with “FOO Yakisoba” written on it and tossed it into my cart. Her attention wandering, Horikita moved away from the food and began hunting for daily essentials. I planned to use witty jokes to score more points with her next.

“If you’re looking for something a cut above the rest, how about this razor with five blades? I bet it’d do the job.”

“Why in the world would I want to shave with that?”

I grinned smugly and pretended to shave an imaginary beard, but she didn’t laugh. Far from it. Instead, she looked at me like I was dirt.

“Look at me,” she said. “I don’t have anything to shave. Not on my chin, not under my armpits, and not down there.”

I mumbled hesitantly, my spirit crushed. It looked like my jokes failed colossally with women.

“I have to say, I’m a little envious of your ability to babble inanely to someone you’ve only just met.”

“Well, I feel like you’ve been saying stupid crap, too, and you only just met me.”

“Is that so? I’ve merely stated facts. Unlike you.” She calmly tossed my words back at me, shutting me up. To be fair, I had said some random nonsense. The smooth, eloquent Horikita, on the other hand, was always well-spoken, no matter how you sliced it.

Horikita chose the cheapest face wash. I would have thought girls cared more about that kind of thing, too.

“Don’t you think that this one is better?” I took an expensive cream off the shelf and showed it to her.

“Unnecessary.” She refused it. “Well, but—”

“I already said it was unnecessary, didn’t I?” she snapped.

“Yes…”

I gently returned the face wash as she glared at me. I thought I could carry on a conversation without making her angry, but I’d failed.

“You don’t seem adept at socializing. You’re terrible at conversation.”

“Well, if it’s coming from you, then it’s definitely true,” I grumbled.

“That’s right. I consider myself, at the very least, to have a good eye for people. Normally, I wouldn’t want to hear you talk anymore, but I will put in a painful level of effort to listen to you.”

I’d said that I wanted to be her friend, but, apparently, she didn’t feel the same. With that, our conversation abruptly stopped. Two new girls entered the convenience store. It was a little strange, but I became aware of something crucial: Horikita really was cute.

“Hey. What’s up with this?”

While looking around the store, desperate for a new topic, I’d found something strange. Some toiletries and food had been tucked away in the corner of the convenience store. At first glance, they appeared to be the same as the other items, but there was one big difference.

“Free?”

Horikita apparently also thought it strange, so she picked up one of the items. Daily necessities like toothbrushes and bandages had been stuffed into a clearance bin and labeled “Free.” The bin was also marked with the proviso “three items per month.” These were obviously different from the store’s other goods.

“They must be emergency relief supplies for students who use up their points. This school is so incredibly lenient,” I said.

I had to wonder how far their leniency extended, though. “Hey, shut it! Just wait a sec! I’m looking for it right now!”

A sudden, loud voice drowned out the store’s peaceful background music.

“Come on, hurry up. You have a line of people waiting on you!”

“Oh, yeah? Well, if they have any complaints, they can take it up with me!”

Apparently, trouble was brewing by the register. A dispute had broken out between two young men who were glaring at each other. I recognized the one with the thoroughly ill-tempered look on his face. It was the student from my class, the guy with the red hair. He had his hands full of noodle cups.

“What’s going on here?” I asked. “Huh? Who are you?”

I had meant to appear amicable, but the guy with red hair scowled at me. Apparently, he was under the mistaken impression that I was an enemy.

“My name’s Ayanokouji. I’m from your class. I just asked because it sounded like there was trouble.”

At my explanation, the red-haired guy looked somewhat mollified and lowered his voice a little. “Oh. Yeah, I remember you. I forgot my student ID card. Forgot that it pretty much acts as our money from now on, too.”

I looked at his empty hands. He’d put the noodle cups away.

He started to leave, probably heading back to the dorms, where he’d likely forgotten his card. To be honest, the fact that the student ID was necessary for payment hadn’t yet sunk in for me, either.

“I can pay for you. I mean, it’d be annoying if you had to head all the way back to the dorms. I don’t mind.”

“That’s true. You’re right, it’d be absolutely annoying.

Thanks.”

The store wasn’t particularly far from the dorms, but by the time he got back there would be a long line of students buying lunch.

“My name’s Sudou,” he said. “Thanks for helping me out. I owe you.”

“Nice to meet you, Sudou.”

Sudou handed me his noodle cup, and I walked over to the hot water dispenser. After watching our short exchange, Horikita sighed, aghast.

“You’re acting like a pushover right from the start. Do you intend to become his servant? Or are you doing this to make friends?” she asked.

“I didn’t care about making friends. I just wanted to help. No big deal.”

“You don’t seem to be afraid.”

“Afraid? Why? Because he looks like a delinquent?” I asked. “A normal person would try to keep someone like him at a

distance.”

“I guess, but he doesn’t seem like a bad person to me. And you don’t appear to be scared either, Horikita.”

“It’s mostly defenseless people who stay away from those types. If he acted violently, I could rebuff him. That’s why I don’t withdraw.”

Horikita’s words were always a little difficult to understand.

To begin with, what did she mean by “rebuff”? Did she carry pepper spray to keep off perverts or something?

“Let’s finish our shopping. We’ll be a bother to the other students if we dawdle,” she said.

Wrapping things up, we presented our student ID cards to the machine by the register. Since we didn’t have to deal with small change, our transaction was speedy.

“You really can use it like money…” I said.

My receipt showed the price of each item and the remaining amount of points. The payment had gone through without any problems. I poured hot water into my noodle cup while waiting for Horikita. I’d thought it might be tricky, but opening the lid and pouring hot water up to the line was simple enough.

Anyway, this school was eerie.

What merit could every student possibly have that would warrant such a massive allowance? Considering that there were about 160 people enrolled in my grade, simple calculation suggested that there were 480 people total in this school. That alone would mean 48 million yen each month. Annually, that would equal 560 million yen. Even for a government-supported school, that seemed like overkill.

“How does the school benefit from giving us this much money?”

“I wonder. The campus has more than enough facilities for the number of students, and I wouldn’t think it necessary to hand out so much. Students who should be studying might slack off.”

Perhaps it was some kind of reward for working hard and passing a test or something. Indeed, student motivation might increase if offered an incentive. However, the school had just handed out 100,000 yen to everyone, with no strings attached.

“I won’t tell you what to do, but I think it would be best to avoid wasting your money. It’s difficult to fix frivolous spending habits. Once a person gets used to an easy life, they find they need more and more. When you lose it, the shock can be great,” Horikita said.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

I didn’t really intend to waste money on miscellaneous junk, but she had a point. After paying and exiting the store, I found Sudou seated outside, waiting for me. When I saw him, he gently waved me over. I waved in return, feeling somewhat embarrassed, yet happy.

“Are you really going to eat here?” I asked him. “Of course. It’s just common sense.”

Sudou perplexed me with his matter-of-fact reply. Horikita sighed in exasperation.

“I’m going back. I’ll be stripped of my dignity if I spend more time here,” she said.

“What do you mean, ‘dignity’? We’re just high school students. We’re ordinary. Or, what, are you the high-born daughter of some noble family or something?”

Horikita didn’t flinch at Sudou’s harsh tone. Seemingly irritated, Sudou set his noodle cup on the ground and stood.

“Huh? Hey, listen to people when they’re talking to you!

Hey!” he said.

“What’s his problem? He just suddenly got angry.” Horikita said this to me, ignoring Sudou. This was apparently too much for Sudou, who started to shout.

“Hey, get over here! I’ll smack that smug look off your face!” he yelled.

“Look, I’ll admit that Horikita has a bad attitude, but you’re taking this too far.”

It was apparent that Sudou’s patience had run out. “Huh?

What was that? She has a bratty, obnoxious attitude. That’s bad, especially for a girl!”

“For a girl? That’s rather outdated thinking. Ayanokouji, I would advise you not to become his friend,” Horikita said. With that, she turned her back on Sudou.

“Hey, wait! You shitty girl!”

“Calm down.” I held Sudou back as he actually tried to grab Horikita. She made her way in the direction of the dorms without stopping or glancing back.

“What the hell is her deal? Goddamn it!” he shouted. “There are many different types of people, you know.” “Shut it. I hate those stuffy, too-serious types.”

He continued to glare at me. Sudou grabbed his noodle cup once again, ripped off the cover, and began eating. Just a little while ago, he’d fought in front of the register, too. He probably had a short fuse.

“Hey, you guys first years? This is our spot.”

As Sudou slurped his ramen, three boys called out to us.

They seemed to have come out of the same store and were carrying the same brand of noodle cups.

“Who are you? I was already here. You’re in the way. Get lost,” Sudou barked.

“You hear this guy? ‘Get lost,’ he says. What a cocky little first-year punk.”

The three laughed in Sudou’s face. Sudou shot up, slamming his noodle cup against the ground. The broth and noodles splashed everywhere.

“‘First-year punk,’ huh? You tryin’ to make fun of me, huh?!”

Sudou had an extremely short fuse. If I had to judge, he seemed like the type to immediately threaten anyone or anything that crossed him.

“You’re awfully mouthy, considering we’re second-year students. We already put our bags here, see?”

Plop! With those words, the second-year upperclassmen students put down their bags and guffawed loudly.

“See, our stuff’s here. Now, beat it,” one of them said. “You got a lot of guts, asshole.”

Sudou didn’t back down, unfazed by being outnumbered. It looked like fists were going to fly at any moment. I, of course, didn’t want any part of it myself.

“Oh, wow, scary. What class are you in? Wait, never mind. I think I know. You’re in Class D, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, so what?” Sudou snapped.

The upperclassmen students exchanged glances and burst into laughter.

“You hear that? He’s in Class D! I knew it! It was a dead giveaway!”

“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean? Hey!”

As Sudou barked at them, the boys grinned and stepped backwards.

“Aw, you poor things. Since you’re ‘defective,’ we’ll let you off the hook, just for today. Let’s get going,

guys.”

“Hey, don’t run away! Hey!” Sudou shouted.

“Yeah, yeah, keep on yapping. You guys’ll be in hell soon enough anyway.”

Be in hell?

They appeared calm and composed. I wondered what they’d meant. Previously, I’d been certain this school would be filled with upper-class young men and women, but there seemed to be plenty of rowdy, combative people like Sudou or those upperclassmen.

“Ah, damn it! If those had been nice second-year students, or cute girls, that would’ve been great. Instead, we had to deal with those annoying morons.”

Sudou didn’t bother to clean up his mess. He thrust his hands into his pockets before heading back. I looked at the wall outside the convenience store, discovering two surveillance cameras.

“This might lead to problems later,” I muttered.

Reluctantly, I bent down, picked up the cup, and started cleaning up the mess. Come to think of it, as soon as those second- year students found out Sudou was in Class D, their attitudes had changed. Although it ate at me, I couldn’t explain it.

2.4

Around one pm, I made my way back to the dormitory, my home from that day onward. At the reception desk, I received a keycard for Room 401 and a handbook containing information about the dorm’s rules, then boarded the elevator. I quickly flipped through the handbook, which only detailed the most basic things that we needed for our daily routines. The dates and times for garbage disposal were listed, as well as a notice about avoiding excessive noise. I also saw notes about not wasting water or electricity, and so on.

“So, they don’t place restrictions on electricity or gas usage?”

I’d assumed that the school would deduct the cost from our points. This school really went to great lengths to have a perfect system for its students. However, I was a little surprised that they’d implemented co-ed dormitories. After all, this was a high school, so the rules stated that unsuitable romantic relationships were frowned upon. In short, sex was strictly forbidden…obviously. I mean, a member of the clergy wouldn’t say that engaging in illicit sexual activity was okay.

While I privately doubted that such pampered students could develop into fine, upstanding adults, it would be wise to make the best of the situation for now. My room was about eight tatami mats wide. Also, though this was a dorm, it was the first time I’d lived alone. I refused to have any contact with the outside world until graduation. Considering my situation, I unintentionally cracked a smile.

This school boasted a high employment rate upon graduation, and its facilities and student services were unmatched throughout the country, making it the preeminent high school in Japan. I found such things trivial, however. I’d chosen this school for one fundamental reason.

At this high school, people were not allowed to contact students without permission, even if they were friends or immediate family. I greatly appreciated that. I was free. In English, they would call it, “freedom.” In French, they would call it, “liberté.”

Isn’t freedom simply the best? When I wanted to eat something, I could eat it. I almost didn’t want to graduate. Before being accepted, I’d honestly thought I would be been fine either way, that the difference between passing and failing would have been trivial. But my true feelings finally welled up. I was glad to have been admitted here.

No one else’s eyes or words would ever reach me. I could start ag—no. I could begin anew entirely. A new life. I resolved to enjoy my time here to the fullest, but without drawing attention to myself. Still in my uniform, I dived into my already-made bed. I felt far from tired, however. I was so incredibly excited about my new life that I was unable to calm down. My eyes remained wide open.

Written on August 15, 2022