Y1 Vol 1 Chapter 5 | Friends

“Kikyou-chan, do you want to stop by a café on our way back today?”

“Sure, let’s go! Oh, but wait just a minute, okay? I want to invite one more person.”

Kushida headed toward Horikita, who was putting her textbook into her bag. “Horikita-san, would you like to come with us to a café today?” She asked.

“Not interested.” Horikita threw Kushida’s invitation back in her face, with no room for ambiguity. Couldn’t you just lie and say you were planning to go shopping, or that you were waiting for a friend?

Despite the harsh rejection, Kushida kept smiling.

This wasn’t a particularly unusual scene. Ever since the entrance ceremony, Kushida had regularly tried to invite Horikita to do fun things with her. I thought it would be nice for Horikita to accept an invitation at least once in a while, but perhaps that was just a bystander’s selfish interpretation. No one had ever met with anything but rejection when they’d tried to invite Horikita.

“I see. Well then, I’ll try inviting you again another time.”

“Wait, Kushida-san.” Surprisingly, Horikita called out to Kushida. Had she finally given in? “Don’t invite me again. It’s a bother,” said Horikita coldly.

However, Kushida didn’t appear saddened. Instead, she smiled as she answered, “I’ll invite you again.”

Kushida then ran back to join her friends, and they left the hall.

“Kikyou-chan, just stop inviting Horikita-san. I hate her—”

Just before the door closed, I faintly heard one of the other girl’s words. Horikita, who was right next to me, must have heard as well, but she gave no indication that she cared.

“You won’t try to invite me places, will you?” she asked.

“Nope. I understand your personality well enough. It’s pointless to even try.”

“I’m relieved to hear that.”

After Horikita finished getting ready, she walked out of the classroom by herself. I absentmindedly stuck around for a little while, but soon grew bored and got up. Time to go home, I thought.

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

Hirata, who was still hanging around, called out to me when I passed by. Unbothered, I responded to him softly. It was unusual for Hirata to notice me.

“It’s about Horikita-san, actually. I was wondering if something was wrong. Some of the girls were talking about it earlier. Horikita always seems to be alone.”

Maybe it wasn’t Kushida especially. Perhaps Horikita was just the kind of person who strongly disliked company.

“Could you possibly tell her to try to get along with people a little?”

“Well, that’s up to the individual, isn’t it? Besides, Horikita isn’t really making trouble for anyone else,” I replied.

“You’re right, of course. However, many people have voiced their concerns about it. I absolutely do not want any bullying in our class.”

Bullying? Such talk seemed premature, but perhaps there were signs of it. Was he warning me, then? Hirata looked at me with the purest of intentions.

“Well, I think it’d be better for you to tell her directly rather than talk to me, Hirata,” I said.

“You have a point. Sorry for bringing it up.”

Horikita was always alone, day after day. If this continued, within a month she’d be like a tumor in our class. However, this was Horikita’s personal problem and something I probably shouldn’t involve myself with.

5.1

After leaving class, I went straight toward the dormitory.

Kushida, who was supposed to have left with a friend earlier, appeared to be waiting for someone while leaning up against the wall. Noticing me, she smiled like always.

“I’m so glad! I was waiting for you, Ayanokouji-kun. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about. Do you have a minute?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure…”

She couldn’t be confessing her feelings for me, could she? Nah, there was about a 1 percent chance of something like that.

“I’ll just ask you outright. Ayanokouji-kun, have you seen Horikita-san smile even once?”

“Huh? No, not that I can remember.”

Apparently, Kushida had come to talk about Horikita again.

Thinking back, I didn’t recall ever seeing Horikita smile once. Kushida took my hand in hers, closing the distance between us. Did she smell of flowers? I breathed in an extremely pleasant scent.

“You know, I…I want to become friends with Horikita-san,” she said.

“I think she guesses your feelings. At first, a lot of people tried reaching out to her, but now you’re the only one.”

“You seem to know Horikita-san pretty well, Ayanokouji- kun.”

“It’s not like I’m watching her or anything, it’s just that you tend to learn a lot about the person who sits next to you.”

Girls were girls, after all, and they’d been really eager to form groups since the first day of school. They were also more aware of cliques and social circles than guys, and in this class of about twenty people, four held the most influence. You could claim they put up a façade, that they weren’t genuinely being themselves.

However, Kushida was the exception. She definitely held favor within each group, but more than that, she was tremendously popular with everyone. She was persistently warm and gentle toward Horikita, as part of her continued efforts to become her friend. That wasn’t something an ordinary student could do. That was probably why everyone adored her.

Plus, she was really cute. Cuteness makes everything better.

“Didn’t Horikita already warn you not to try again? I don’t know what you can say to her next time,” I said.

I knew that Horikita wasn’t the type to mince words. If approached, she would probably respond harshly. To be honest, I didn’t want to see Kushida hurt.

“Won’t you…help me?” she asked. “Uh…”

I didn’t answer right away. Normally, I would immediately agree to such a cute girl’s demands. However, since I was the type to avoid trouble, I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t want to see Horikita hurt Kushida by saying something merciless. I thought I’d turn her down to avoid any later heartbreak.

“I understand how you feel, Kushida, but…” “So that means…you can’t?”

Cute + Pleading + Upturned Eyes = Lethal.

“Well, I guess I don’t have a choice. Just this once, okay?”

“Really?! Oh, thank you, Ayanokouji-kun!” she cried.

Kushida’s face lit up.

She was cute. Even though I’d agreed to help her, I was still the kind of person who preferred to remain in the background. I shouldn’t do anything reckless.

“So, what exactly are we going to do? Even if you say you want to be friends with her, it’s not that simple.”

Personally, I wasn’t equipped to know how to make friends.

“You’re probably right… Well, first I think we should try to make Horikita-san smile,” Kushida said.

“Make her smile, huh?”

Smiling means letting your guard down in front of another person, even if just a little. Such a relationship could most likely be referred to as friendship. Kushida seemed to understand people well, especially when it came to making them smile.

“Do you have an idea how?” I asked.

“Well, I thought you could help me think of something, Ayanokouji-kun.” She giggled sheepishly and lightly smacked her own head. If she were an ugly girl, I would have been totally turned off, but Kushida made it charming.

“Smile, huh?” So, because Kushida had asked, I was going to help her make Horikita smile. Was such a thing possible? I wondered. I doubted it.

“Well, anyway, after class, I’m going to try inviting Horikita out again. If we wind up back at the dorms, though, I’ll have no idea what to do. Is there any place that she wants to go to?”

“Ah. Well then, how about Palate? I’ve gone to Palate often, and Horikita might have overheard us talking about it before.”

Palate was one of the most popular cafés on campus. I had heard about Kushida and the other girls going there often after class. And if I’d heard about it, then Horikita must have also been aware.

“How about if you two went to Palate and ordered, and then ‘bumped’ into me by chance? Would that work?”

“Probably not. I think that might be expecting a little too much. What if your friends helped out, Kushida?”

The instant Horikita noticed Kushida’s presence, she would probably get up and leave. I thought it’d be better to create a situation that would make leaving difficult. I told Kushida my idea.

“Ooh! That certainly sounds like it would work! You’re so smart, Ayanokouji-kun!” she cried. Kushida nodded in agreement while she hung on my every word, eyes sparkling.

“Oh, no, I don’t think my plan has anything to do with being smart. Anyway, that’s what I was going for.”

“I understand. I’m excited for the result!”

No, don’t expect too much. That’ll be trouble.

“If you try inviting her, Kushida, she’ll probably refuse you outright. So, how about I invite Horikita?”

“Okay. I think that Horikita-san trusts you, Ayanokouji- kun,” she said.

“Why do you think that? What proof do you have?”

“Well, I guess it just looks that way to me. She seems to trust you more than anyone else in the class, at the very least.”

That doesn’t mean I’m best suited for this task, though.

“That’s only because I was able to talk to her, but that was a coincidence.”

I’d just happened to be seated next to her on the bus. If that hadn’t happened, then I probably wouldn’t have talked to her.

“But don’t you meet almost every person for the first time by chance? And then they can become your friend, or your best friend…or even your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your family.”

“That’s true.”

I supposed that was one way to look at it. Coincidence had allowed me to talk with Kushida like this. Therefore, it was possible that Kushida and I might eventually become lovers.

5.2

Classes had ended. The other students left for their various after-school activities, talking to one another about where they would go. Meanwhile, Kushida and I exchanged looks, signaling each other to go ahead with the plan.

“Hey, Horikita. Do you have some free time after class today?” I asked.

“I don’t have any time to waste. I have to go back to the dormitory and prepare for tomorrow.”

Prepare for tomorrow? I was pretty sure all she did was study.

“I wanted you to go somewhere with me for a little bit.” “What are you after?”

“Do you think that by inviting you out, I’m after something?”

“Well, when you invite me so suddenly, I naturally have my doubts. However, if there is a specific matter that you wish to discuss, I wouldn’t mind listening.”

I didn’t have anything to talk about, of course.

“Well, you know that café on campus? The one with a ton of girls? I don’t have the guts to go there all by myself. I kind of get the feeling that guys are banned from entering there or something. Don’t you?”

“I certainly can’t argue that most of their customers seem to be women, but aren’t men also allowed to patronize the café?”

“Well, yeah, but no guy goes there alone. Only if they’re with friends who are girls, or if they’re someone’s boyfriend.”

Horikita tried to recall what Palate was like, seemingly lost in thought for a moment.

“You may very well be right. It’s unusual for you to express such a well-reasoned opinion, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“But I’m still interested in it. So I wanted to invite you to come along with me.”

“I suppose that’s natural, since you supposedly have…no one else to invite, correct?” she asked.

“That makes it sound like I’m imposing on you, but yeah.

Basically.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Well, that would be that. I’d have no choice but to accept. I can’t force you to give up your private time, after all.”

“I understand. Your issue with the café is certainly accurate.

I can’t stay there for too long, though. Is that all right?” “Sure. We’ll be quick.”

In my mind, I added the word “probably” to that last thought. If she knew that Kushida was involved in this, Horikita would probably have some strong words for me. I’d begun to think that, since I was able to talk to Kushida, I might be able to make friends with Horikita myself. Besides, whether it was a café or a lecture hall, Horikita always came with me, even as she complained about it. For someone like me, who had difficulty making friends, this was probably a miracle.

The two of us left the classroom and made our way to Palate on the first floor. Girls began to congregate there, one after another, enjoying their time after class.

“There are so many people here,” Horikita said.

“Is this your first time doing anything social, Horikita? Oh, yeah, I suppose it would be. You’re always alone.”

“Was that supposed to be sarcastic? How childish.”

I’d meant to engage in some playful ribbing, but apparently that was impossible for Horikita. After we placed our order, we both got our drinks. I ordered the single serving of pancakes.

“Do you like sweets?” she asked. “I just wanted to have pancakes.”

I didn’t particularly like or dislike cakes and stuff, but I needed a believable reason.

“There aren’t any open seats, though.”

“I guess we’ll just have to wait a bit. Oh, never mind. There are some open seats over there.”

I noticed that two girls quickly got up from their table, and I hurriedly went to secure our spot. Horikita passed around the table. I set my bag down on the floor, took my seat, and looked about casually.

“Hey, I just thought of something. If the people around here see us like this, they’ll probably think we’re a couple…”

Horikita remained expressionless, or rather, cold. Being in such crowded surroundings was making me anxious. As I considered what was about to happen, my stomach started to hurt.

I thought I heard the two girls sitting next to me say, “Let’s go,” before grabbing their drinks and leaving. Another patron sat down immediately. It was Kushida.

“Ah, Horikita-san. What a coincidence! And Ayanokouji- kun too!” she said.

“Hey.”

Kushida had given us a simple greeting, maintaining the ruse that this was a coincidence. Horikita regarded Kushida with narrowed eyes, then slowly turned her gaze toward me. Of course, this was something that Kushida and I had planned out in advance. Kushida’s friends had already secured four seats for us ahead of time. When I arrived at Palate, I sent them a signal so that they could make two seats available. After some time, the other girls next to me left, giving Kushida a chance to come and sit down. As a result, our meeting looked like it’d come about via coincidence.

“Did you come here together, Ayanokouji-kun? Horikita- san?” Kushida asked.

“Yeah, we just happened to. Did you come by yourself?” I asked.

“Yeah. Today, I—”

“I’m leaving,” Horikita said.

“H-hey, we just got here, though.”

“You don’t need me now that Kushida-san is here, though.

Right?”

“Hold on, that’s not a problem. Kushida and I are just classmates.”

“You and I are just classmates, too. Besides…” She gave Kushida and me an icy look. “I don’t like this. What are you plotting?” She’d seen through our plan and was trying to get me to admit it.

“N-no, it was just a coincidence,” Kushida said.

Kushida shouldn’t have said such a thing. Asking, “What do you mean?” and acting ignorant of Horikita’s prodding would’ve been the better response.

“When we sat down earlier, I saw the two girls seated here were from Class D, along with the two girls seated next to us as well. Was that just a coincidence, too?”

“Oh, wow, really? I didn’t notice at all,” Kushida said.

“Also, we came straight here after classes ended. No matter how much those girls rushed, they could only have been here for about one to two minutes at the most. It was far too early for them to get up and leave. Am I wrong?”

Horikita was even more incredibly observant than I’d thought. Not only did she remember our classmates’ faces, but she’d quickly grasped the situation.

“Um, well…” A bewildered Kushida signaled for me to save her somehow. Horikita noticed. Any further deception on our part would just make it worse.

“Sorry, Horikita. We planned this.”

“I thought as much. I thought this whole thing was a little suspicious right from the start.”

“Horikita-san. Please be my friend!” Kushida just came out and asked her directly, no longer trying to hide anything.

“I’ve already said this many times. I want you to leave me alone. I have no intention of becoming friends with anyone in class. Can you not understand that?” Horikita said.

“Always being alone is a very sad way to spend your life. I just want to get along with everyone in class.”

“I wouldn’t deny you your wish, but it’s wrong to try forcing people into something against their will. Being alone doesn’t make me sad.”

“B-but…”

“Besides, do you think that I would be happy if you forced me to become your friend? Do you think that feelings of trust would arise out of something forced?”

Horikita wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t that she couldn’t make friends, but that she considered them unnecessary. Kushida wanted something, but Horikita would not reciprocate.

“It’s my fault for not being clear enough with you, so I don’t blame you this time. But if you try this again, please keep in mind that I will not forgive you.”

As she said that, Horikita took her untouched latte and stood up.

“Horikita-san, whatever you say, I really want to be friends

with you. When I saw you, I felt like it wasn’t the first time we’d met. I wondered if you felt the same way,” Kushida mumbled.

“This is a waste of time. I find everything you’re saying unpleasant.” Horikita raised her voice, cutting Kushida off without mercy. Even though I’d told Kushida I would help her, I had absolutely no intention of butting in. But…

“I kind of understand your thoughts on the matter, Horikita. I’ve actually often wondered if friends are really necessary,” I said.

“You’re saying that? You’ve been trying to make friends since day one.”

“I won’t deny it. However, you and I are similar. I wasn’t able to make friends until I came to this school. In junior high, I never knew anyone’s contact information or hung out with anyone after class. I was always alone.”

Kushida was visibly surprised when she heard me say that, like she couldn’t believe it.

“I think that partly explains why I was compelled to talk to you,” I said.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard something like that.

However, even if you and I share some things in common, I think we took different paths to reach this point. You wanted friends but couldn’t get them. I considered friends unnecessary, so I didn’t make any. Saying we are similar would be incorrect. Am I wrong?”

“No. But telling Kushida that she was being unpleasant is going too far. Are you really okay with this? If you choose not to get along with anyone else, you’ll be alone for the next three years. That sounds pretty painful.”

“It will be my ninth year in a row of being alone, so I’ll be fine. Oh, and if you include kindergarten, it would actually be slightly longer.”

Had she just nonchalantly dropped a bombshell? That she’d always been alone for as long as she could remember?

“Can I go now?” Horikita asked.

She sighed deeply and looked straight into Kushida’s eyes. “Kushida-san, if you don’t try to force me into anything, I

won’t be rude. I promise. You’re not stupid, so you understand what I’m telling you, right?”

With one final simple “Well then,” Horikita left. Kushida and I remained in the noisy cafe.

“Well, that was a failure. I tried to lend a helping land, but it was pointless. I guess she’s gotten too accustomed to being alone,” I said.

Kushida wordlessly collapsed into her seat. However, she instantly recovered, and her usual smile returned.

“It’s okay. Thank you, Ayanokouji-kun. It’s true that I wasn’t able to become her friend, but…I was able to learn something important. That’s enough for me. I’m sorry, though. I feel like Horikita-san might hate you now because you helped me.”

“Don’t worry about it. I just wanted Horikita to consider the benefits of friendship.” Thinking it’d be inconsiderate for the two us to hold up table space for four people, I moved to sit next to Kushida.

“Even so, I was shocked when you said that you didn’t have any friends, Ayanokouji-kun. Is that true? I didn’t think you were like that at all. Why were you all alone?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, it’s true. Sudou and Ike are the first friends I’ve ever made. I still don’t really know if that’s my fault or the fault of the circumstances I was in.”

“But when you made friends, did it make you happy? Is it fun?” Kushida asked.

“Yeah. There are times when I find it annoying, but sometimes I feel like I’m happier than I was before.”

Kushida’s eyes sparkled as she smiled at me, nodding her head in agreement.

“Horikita has her own way of thinking. There’s probably nothing that we can do about that.”

“Do you really think so? Is it not possible to make friends with her?” she asked.

“Why are you desperate to be her friend? Kushida, don’t you already have more friends than everyone else? There’s no reason to focus on Horikita.”

Even if it meant that she wouldn’t be friends with everyone in class, she didn’t need to try so desperately.

“I wanted to be friends with everyone. Not just the people in Class D, but the students from other classes, too. But if I can’t become friends with one girl in my class, then that means I’ll never achieve my goal…”

“Just think of Horikita as a special case. Your only option is to wait for a real coincidence to come along.”

Not something forced, but a natural event that would connect the two of them. When that time came, they might possibly become friends.

Written on August 15, 2022