Y1 Vol 1 Chapter 9 | The Failures Mobilize Once Again

The air was rich with the aroma of new tea. (I’m grateful for your continued patience and cooperation, dear reader.) A month and a half had already gone by since I started high school. For the most part, my days had passed without incident.

“Hey, can you hear me? Is your head okay?”

Horikita rudely smacked my forehead, then touched a hand to her own head.

“You don’t seem to have a fever,” she said.

“Of course I don’t! I was just lost in thought, that’s all.” I let out a deep sigh, already regretting that I’d told Horikita I’d help her. I suppose there was no use crying over spilled milk. I’d offered to help as a means of encouragement, but, thinking back, it really struck me as being out of character.

“So, my honorable tactician. What should I do, hmm?” I asked.

“Let’s see. Obviously, we’ll need to persuade Sudou-kun and the others to participate once again. That means you’ll need to grovel and beg for them to return.”

“Why should I have to do that? You’re the reason the group split in the first place.”

“The reason we split was because they couldn’t take studying seriously. Don’t get that twisted.”

Jeez. Did she even intend to help Sudou and the others?

“We’ll never get them back without Kushida’s help. You understand that, right?”

“I understand. Sacrifices are inevitable,” she grumbled.

She appeared to hate the idea of Kushida’s involvement. Still, she agreed despite her dissatisfaction. This was a major compromise for Horikita, who didn’t want Kushida getting close to her at all.

“Okay. Can you get Kushida-san to help us immediately?” she asked.

“Me?”

“Of course. We made a deal. You agreed to be my workhorse until we reach Class A, so you have to do as I command.”

I didn’t remember making that kind of deal. “Here, look at this written contract.”

Wow, a real contract. It had my name and my seal on it and everything.

“You realize they could charge you with forging documents, right?” I asked.

I tore up the contract and tossed it away. Horikita got up and went over to Kushida, who was tidying her desk.

“Kushida-san. There is something I would like to talk to you about. Would you care to have lunch with me?” Horikita asked.

“Lunch? It’s unusual to get an invitation from you, Horikita- san. Okay, I’ll go.” Kushida didn’t waver at all. She walked with Horikita toward the school’s most popular café, Palate.

That was the scene of Horikita’s previous anger, when I’d invited her under false pretenses. Horikita said that she’d treat Kushida, and paid for her drink. Of course, I had to pay for myself.

“Thank you. So, what did you want to talk about?” Kushida asked.

“I’m putting together another study group for Sudou-kun and the others. Will you help me one more time?”

“What’s your reason for doing this? Is it really for Sudou-kun and the others?” Kushida clearly understood that Horikita likely wasn’t doing this out of altruism.

“No. This is for me.”

“I see. So, you look out for yourself as usual, Horikita-san.” “You won’t help someone whose motives are selfish?” “You’re free to think whatever you like. I just didn’t want

you to try to lie to me. I’m glad you were honest. Okay, I’ll help. We’re classmates, after all. Right, Ayanokouji-kun?”

“Y-yeah. You’re really helping us,” I muttered.

“There’s something I want to ask you though, Horikita-san. You’re not doing this for your friends or to get points. It’s so you can get to Class A, right?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t believe that, though. I mean, isn’t it impossible? Oh, I’m not saying you’re stupid, Horikita-san. How do I put this, though? More than half of the class has given up, you see.”

“Because the gulf between us and Class A is so vast?”

“Yes. To be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine how we’d catch up. I’m not sure we can even get any points next month. It’s disheartening.”

Horikita smacked the table. “I’m going to do it. Definitely,” she said.

“Ayanokouji-kun, are you aiming for Class A, too?” Kushida asked.

“Yes. He’s working as my assistant.”

Horikita had given me a title without asking me.

“Hmm. I understand. I want in, Horikita-san.” “To help us with the study group.”

“No, not for that. I want to work on getting into Class A with you. I want to help with everything else you’ll be doing.”

“Huh? But…”

“So, you don’t want me to join?” Kushida asked.

She looked at Horikita with wide eyes, prompting her to answer.

“Fine. If everything goes well with the study group, I’ll accept your help moving forward,” answered Horikita.

Kushida probably had some ulterior motive. Even so, Horikita understood that she had no choice but to acknowledge Kushida’s value. Having coaxed a victory from the usually stubborn Horikita, Kushida excitedly sat up.

“Really?! Yay!” Kushida cheered, a look of genuine delight on her face. She looked really cute this way. “I look forward to working with you again, Horikita-san! Ayanokouji-kun!”

She extended her left and right arms toward us. A bit perplexed, Horikita and I shook Kushida’s hands.

“Getting Sudou-kun and the others on board again will be a problem, though,” Horikita said.

“Yeah. Considering the current state of things, it will probably be difficult,” I agreed.

“Well, can you leave that to me? It’s the least I can do after you’ve let me join you,” Kushida said.

I felt a little overwhelmed by how quickly Horikita and Kushida were moving.

Kushida took out her cell phone, ready to leap into action immediately. Soon after, Ike and Yamauchi arrived, looking like they were on cloud nine after receiving Kushida’s invitation. As soon as they saw Horikita and me, though, they looked me square in the eye. They seemed to silently ask, Did you tell her about the chat?! I thought it’d be better to keep quiet. Their guilt might help in getting them to fall in line.

“I’m sorry for calling you two over. I have something to ask you, or rather, Horikita-san does.”

“Wh-what is it? What do you want from us?!” What an overreaction. They backed away in fright.

“Are you two joining Hirata-kun’s study group?” Horikita asked.

“Huh? S-study group? No. I mean, studying’s so boring, and Hirata is annoyingly popular. Besides, we planned to cram the day before. Things should work out. We’ve gotten by since junior high doing exactly that.”

Yamauchi nodded at Ike’s words. They were counting on an all-nighter to save them.

“That certainly sounds like an idea you two would have. But if you do, it’s highly likely you’ll be expelled.”

“You’re acting the same as usual,” Sudou said, showing up. He glared at Horikita. Apparently Kushida had caught Sudou in her honey trap as well.

“You’re the one who should be worried, Sudou-kun. You don’t seem to have any fear of being expelled.”

“I know that. Drop it, or I’ll beat the crap out of you. I’m busy with basketball now, anyway. I’ll be just fine if I cram before the test.”

“C-calm down, Sudou. Okay?” Ike was acting like he didn’t know what they’d said in the chat.

“Sudou-kun, won’t you try studying with me one more time?

You might manage to squeak by if you pull an all-nighter, but if that fails, you won’t be able to play basketball here anymore.

Right?” Horikita asked.

“Well, I…I don’t want any of your stupid charity. I haven’t forgotten the bullshit way you spoke to me the other day. If you want me to join, I want an apology first. A completely honest one,” said Sudou, displaying open hostility toward Horikita.

Although Sudou probably realized the danger he was in, he couldn’t dismiss Horikita’s insults. Of course, Horikita would never give him an apology. No one could ever take pride in saying something that untrue.

“I hate you, Sudou-kun.” “What?!”

Instead of apologizing, she spat harsh words at Sudou, throwing fuel on the fire.

“However, our mutual abhorrence is trivial right now. I will teach you for my own sake. You will do your best for your own sake. Am I wrong?”

“You really want to get up to Class A, then? Even if that means inviting someone you hate, like me?” he muttered.

“Yes, exactly. Otherwise, why would anyone willingly involve you?”

Sudou grew more openly annoyed in response to Horikita’s incredible bluntness.

“I’m busy with basketball. The others on the team never take study breaks, not even before a big test. I can’t fall behind everyone else by doing something as boring as studying.”

As if she’d predicted Sudou’s remarks, Horikita opened her notebook and showed it to him. On the page, there was a detailed schedule leading up to the test.

“During the last session, I noticed that style of studying didn’t work for you. None of you understand the fundamental basics. For example, it would be like tossing a frog into the ocean. The frog wouldn’t have any idea where to go or how to swim.

Also, I understand that taking time away from your hobbies will only add to your stress. Therefore, I’ve come up with a plan.”

“What kind of sorcery did you use to come up with that? All right, tell me the plan.”

He could make time for studying and club activities. Sudou, believing such a thing to be impossible, snorted in amusement.

“The test’s two weeks from today. You’ll all study every day during class like your life depends on it.”

I couldn’t believe what Horikita had said. No one else could, either.

“You three don’t usually work seriously during class, do you?” she asked.

“You can’t know that about us,” Ike objected. “So, you work seriously?”

“Well… No, we don’t. We just sit around ‘til class is over.”

“So, in other words, you waste six hours a day doing nothing. Rather than struggling to study for the one or two hours available after class, we’re wasting a far larger and more precious period of time. We must use this time better.”

“Well, certainly… Theoretically that would work, but…isn’t that unreasonable?”

Kushida was right to be worried. They wasted time precisely because they couldn’t study normally. If they couldn’t manage to discipline themselves during class, I doubted they’d be able to understand the problems by themselves.

“I can’t even keep up with class at all.”

“I know. So we’ll hold a short study session during our free time.”

With that, Horikita turned to the next page, spelling out the details of her plan. After first period, we’d all meet up and discuss what we hadn’t understood in the lecture. During the ten-minute break, Horikita would explain the answers to those questions.

We’d repeat the process over the next several periods. Of course, this wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Since Sudou and the others couldn’t keep up naturally, they might not be able to learn the material in such a short time.

“W-wait a minute. I’m kind of confused here. Is this really going to work?” Ike could tell this would be difficult.

“Yeah. I mean, won’t it be impossible to understand that stuff in just ten minutes of break time?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll compile answers to every question and make them easy to understand. After that, Ayanokouji-kun, Kushida-san, and I will each teach you individually, one-on-one.”

If we used this system, we might just be able to make them understand in short blocks of time.

“It’s just a matter of explaining the answers. You two can handle it, right?” Horikita asked.

“But I still don’t think we can do it in that little time.

Studying’s so hard.”

“One class period covers surprisingly little content.

Typically, there’ll be one page of notes, two at the most. If you narrow it down to only the things that will be on the test, you can probably whittle it down to a half a page of information. If we somehow end up not having enough time, we can always use our lunch period. I’m not saying that you have to understand the material. I just want you to memorize it. During class, you must focus on the teacher’s voice and what’s written on the blackboard. Forget about taking notes for right now.”

“So, you’re telling us not to take notes?”

“Trying to memorize things is surprisingly difficult when you’re writing down notes.”

She was probably right about that. A focus on note-taking would simply waste precious time. At any rate, Horikita had laid out a plan that didn’t use up any time after school.

“Just try. Give it a go before you say no.”

“I don’t want to. I’d rather spend my time differently than a bookworm like you. Besides, I don’t even think I could learn to study with such a simple, cheap trick.” Horikita had carefully come up with a plan tailored to the three of them, and yet Sudou still wouldn’t agree.

“It seems you’ve misunderstood. There are no shortcuts or cheap tricks when it comes to studying. You just have to spend your time carefully. That applies not only to studying, but to everything else as well. Or are you telling me there are shortcuts and cheap tricks in something like basketball?”

“Of course there aren’t. You only improve by practicing, all the time.” Sudou inhaled sharply, surprised by his own words.

“For people who can’t focus or work seriously, it’s impossible. However, you put all of your effort into basketball. I want you to apply some of that effort to studying, even if it’s just a fraction of what you have. Put in the effort so that you can continue to play basketball at this school. Don’t throw away your own potential.”

Horikita’s compromise was small, but real. Sudou hesitated.

However, his pride still got in the way. He seemed incapable of agreeing to the plan.

“Yeah, I’m still not doing it. I get what you’re saying, but I’m not convinced.”

Sudou made to turn around and leave, and Horikita couldn’t stop him. If he left now, the study group was probably dead.

Normally I’d stay out of it, but this called for drastic action. “Hey, Kushida. Do you have a boyfriend?” I asked.

“Huh? What? I don’t. Why would you suddenly ask me something like that?!” she cried.

“If I can get fifty points on the test, will you go out with me?” I extended my hand to her.

“Huh?! Wh-what are you saying, Ayanokouji! No, date me, Kushida! I’ll get fifty-one points!” Ike cried.

“No, no, me! Go on a date with me! I’ll show you! I’ll get fifty-two points!” Yamauchi said.

Kushida immediately understood my plan.

“H-how embarrassing… I don’t just judge people based on something like test scores, you know?” she said.

“But they need a prize for trying. Look at how eager Ike and Yamauchi are. They’d probably be motivated by a reward.”

“W-well then, how about this? I’ll go on a date with whoever scores highest on the test. I like people who work really hard, even when they don’t like doing it.”

“Whoa! Yes! I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” Ike and Yamauchi breathed heavily in their excitement. I called out to Sudou.

“Hey, Sudou. What about you? This might be your chance.”

That was a bit subtler than yelling, Do you want to date Kushida?

I generally understood Sudou’s personality, but it was still difficult to predict whether he’d agree. So I had to find some common ground.

“A date, huh? That doesn’t sound too bad. Jeez, guess I don’t have a choice. All right, I’ll join,” Sudou said, his voice small. He didn’t turn around.

Kushida sighed deeply in relief.

“Remember, boys are the simplest creatures on earth.”

Horikita probably agreed with me. We welcomed Sudou to our group.

9.1

The study group seemed to have gotten off to a good start.

Of course, no one suddenly loved studying or found great joy in it. However, they all did their part to avoid expulsion so they could continue to spend time with their friends. The Idiot Trio started changing their behavior. They frantically repeated everything written on the blackboard, wracking their brains to understand the problems.

Sudou occasionally came close to passing out during class.

His head would bob up and down as he started to doze, but he managed to stay awake, likely because of his professional basketball dreams. Most people would laugh at such high aspirations, but he chased them earnestly. Many of the first-year students, fresh from junior high, didn’t have a “dream” yet. Many had only the vaguest notion of what they wanted their future to be. At least Sudou was already working hard in pursuit of his dream. That was worthy of praise.

How exactly did this school define an exemplary student? At the very least, people didn’t pass or fail based solely on academics. Considering the fact that Ike and Sudou had been accepted into the school, that much was obvious. If the school enrolled students talented in other areas, though, it was odd that they’d have a system in place to expel students for just one failing grade. At least, that was how I saw it.

Unless the system itself was a lie, there wasn’t much I could conclude. Could they be creating such problems for students like Ike and Sudou solely so they could overcome them? It likely wasn’t that simple. Both the small test we’d taken and the classes, so difficult for those like Sudou, posed problems.

Once the afternoon class had ended, a satisfied-looking Horikita gave a small nod and glanced at her notes. Apparently, she’d compiled everything together. Even though Horikita was teaching the Idiot Trio, she wanted the best possible results. That was her nature. Our class’s evaluation would improve, as would the individual students’ abilities. However, trying to get perfect scores was absurd. We didn’t intend to reach that far. Helping Ike and the others avoid failing was the best we could do.

When the lunch bell rang, everyone made a mad dash for the cafeteria. Our break was forty-five minutes long. After lunch, everyone had agreed to meet in the library for a twenty-minute study session. At first, we’d planned to study in the classroom.

However, for better concentration, we decided to avoid noise and use the library.

However, the main reason was that Horikita wanted to avoid Hirata. His study group also met during lunch, and if we were reviewing materials nearby, they’d likely try to talk to us. Horikita absolutely did not want that.

“Horikita, what are you doing for lunch?” I asked. “Well—”

“Ayanokouji-kun! Do you want to eat lunch together? I don’t have any plans today!” Kushida unexpectedly hopped out in front of me.

“Ah, okay. Well then, do you want to eat together with Kushida—” I began.

“I already have plans. Please excuse me.” Horikita stood and stalked out of the classroom by herself.

“I’m sorry, Ayanokouji-kun. Was I possibly…being a bother?” Kushida asked.

“Oh, no. Not at all.” bye!

Kushida waved to Horikita’s retreating form, as if saying, Bye

Had she planned that, by chance? After I’d discovered Kushida’s secret, she’d been rather blatant about keeping tabs on me. Though she said that she believed me, she might still suspect I’d tell someone. Kushida and I went to the café to get lunch together. When we arrived, the absolute flood of women overwhelmed me.

“What’s going on? There’re an insane number of girls here,” I said.

I’d say 80 percent of the customers were girls. “This isn’t really a place where boys come to eat.”

The menu included items like pasta and pancakes, food that only girls would like. Athletic people like Sudou would probably complain about the small portions. There were a few guys, but you could say that they were either coupled up or playboys. Every guy here was either alone with one girl or surrounded by multiple ladies.

“How about we go to the cafeteria after all? I feel kind of uncomfortable here,” I said.

“You’ll be fine once you get used to it. It seems like Kouenji- kun comes here every day. See?” Kushida pointed to a table in the back, where Kouenji sat surrounded by girls. He looked just as grand and imposing as ever. I’d never seen him around during lunchtime. Was this where he went?

“He seems really popular. Those girls around him are all third years.”

Kushida was surprised, too. I overheard some of the conversation between Kouenji and the older girls.

“Here, Kouenji-kun, say ‘Ahh!’” one of them said.

“Ha ha! Just as I thought, more mature girls are the best.”

He certainly didn’t act shy at all around the third-year ladies.

Rather, he ate his food while they practically pressed up against him.

“That guy is really something else,” I muttered.

“His name seems to be going around lately. People are talking about him.”

I see. So, were those girls after his money? “What a sad world.”

“Those girls are just being realists. You can’t afford to eat on dreams alone,” she said.

“Are you a realist, Kushida?”

“I’d say I’m a bit of a dreamer. Something like a knight in shining armor would be nice.”

“A knight in shining armor, hmm?”

We sat as far away from Kouenji as possible.

“What about you, Ayanokouji-kun? Do you like girls like Horikita-san?” she asked.

“Why’d you bring up Horikita?”

“Well, you’re always with her. Isn’t she cute?”

Well, I certainly thought she was cute. On the outside, though.

“Know something, Ayanokouji-kun? You’ve caught the girls’ eyes for a little while now. You’re on a first-year students’ ranking chart.”

“Caught their eye? Me? Also, what the hell kind of ranking?”

Apparently, we men had been rated without even noticing.

Was it like the ranking we’d made for the girls’ breast sizes?

“Well, there are lots of different rankings, you know? The hot guy rankings. The rich guy rankings. The creeper rankings. And—”

“Okay, that’s enough. I don’t think I want to hear any more.”

“Don’t worry. You’re ranked a respectable fifth place in the hot guy rankings. Congratulations! By the way, Satonaka-kun in Class A is in first place. Hirata-kun’s in second. The third and fourth place boys are in Class A. I feel like Hirata-kun gets lots of points because of his looks and personality.”

I’d expect nothing less from the Class D star. Even girls in Class C and above noticed him.

“Is it okay for me to be happy about that?” I asked.

“Of course. Oh, but you also ranked pretty high in gloominess.”

“Let’s see…” I looked at Kushida’s cell phone. There really were a lot of different ranking charts. I saw a rather disturbing ranking titled, “Boys Who Should Die.” Better not look at that one.

“Are you not really happy about it? You’re ranked fifth.”

“I guess if I cared about popularity it’d be different, but I don’t really feel anything.” Besides, no girl had ever placed a letter with a heart sticker on it in my bag. “So, does everyone participate in this?”

“Well, not everyone, but lots of people do. I don’t know the exact number of votes, though. The comments are also anonymous.”

In other words, many unknown variables made it difficult.

“I think you’re probably at a disadvantage, Ayanokouji-kun.

From my point of view, you’re definitely attractive enough to be considered a hot guy, but I don’t think people would say you’re as beautiful or stand out as much as Hirata-kun. You’re not exceptionally smart, you don’t have exceptional athletic ability, and you’re not a great conversationalist. There’s something missing, some element of attractiveness, you know?”

In other words, there was nothing appealing about me at all. “Ouch. I feel like I just got stabbed in the heart.”

“S-sorry. I probably should have held back a bit.” Kushida appeared sheepish. “Hey, Ayanokouji-kun. Did you have a girlfriend in junior high school?”

“Would it be bad if I didn’t?”

“So, you didn’t have one? Ha ha, no. No, it’s not bad.” “Rankings, huh? What would the girls think if the boys did

something like that?”

“They’d probably consider them the lowest of the low.”

Her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Well, that was to be expected. If the boys ranked girls by cuteness, the girls would vehemently object. There was a definite double standard at play. At any rate, Kushida didn’t seem to be treating me any differently than she had before. I’d thought things might have changed since discovering her secret side.

“Hey. You don’t have to force yourself to talk to me if you don’t want to,” I said.

“No, it’s not that I don’t want to. Talking to you is fun, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“Didn’t you say that you hated me, though?”

“Ha ha ha, yes, I did. Sorry, but that’s how I really feel.” Well, that hurt. Even though she was smiling, she hated me.

This was the worst.

“To tell you the truth, I invited you out to lunch today because I wanted to check with you. Hypothetically, if you had to choose either Horikita-san or me as your ally, whom would you choose, Ayanokouji-kun? Would you choose me?”

“I’m no one’s ally or enemy. I’m neutral.”

“There are some situations where you can’t avoid trouble by staying neutral. It’s wonderful to oppose war, for example, but you may find yourself in the middle of turmoil at some point, you know? If Horikita and I happen to clash, I hope that you’ll cooperate with me, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“When you say that…”

“Anyway, try to remember that I’m expecting your help.” “Expecting, huh? If you were to ask for my help, your first

priority should probably be to explain the situation.”

Kushida, still smiling, emphatically shook her head. “First, we’d need to build a relationship of mutual trust.”

“I suppose.”

Neither Kushida nor I understood each other yet. Perhaps in the future, I’d come to have deeper knowledge of her.

9.2

We gathered in the library one minute later than we’d agreed. Everyone had their notebooks open, ready and waiting. The library was a popular study spot, it seemed. First through third years fought to move up in the rankings. I understood it with a glance.

“You’re late,” Horikita said. “Sorry, the crowds were tough.”

“You two didn’t eat lunch together, did you?”

Ike turned to us, his eyes suspicious. Kushida and I had actually eaten together, but perhaps it was better to keep that information private.

“Yes, we did. We ate lunch together,” Kushida said.

It would have been better if she’d said nothing. Sure enough, Ike and the others glared at me, their discontent plain to see. Ike looked at me like I was his ancestral enemy. Horikita spoke without glancing up.

“Hurry,” she said. “Okay.”

At Horikita’s cold command, I sat down and took out my notebook.

“I thought I might need more help on this, but geography is actually pretty easy.”

“Chemistry wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be, either.” Ike and Yamauchi sounded pleased.

“Most of the problems boil down to memorization, right?

You can’t solve many problems in English or mathematics if you don’t understand the foundation, though.”

“Don’t let your guard down. I think there might be current events questions on the test, too.”

“Current…events?”

“Events of the recent past related to politics or the economy.

That means that the questions may not be limited by what’s written in the textbook.”

“Ugh, isn’t that against the rules? That means we have no idea what’s going to be on the test, doesn’t it?!”

“So that’s why you should study everything.” “I suddenly hate geography…”

While the test might cover current events, I thought it’d be fine to ignore them for now. If you worried too much, you’d likely miss out on something important and suffer for it.

“Shouldn’t we hurry it up?” I asked. We were wasting precious time talking about this or that.

“Yes. We’ve been wasting time because someone was late.” “Are you still harping on me for that?”

“Here’s a question for everyone. Who came up with inductive reasoning?”

“Um. It was that guy we learned about in class before, right?

That was…” Ike wracked his brain and spun his mechanical pencil.

“Oh, that’s it. That one guy. His name made me super hungry.”

“Francisco Xavier! Or something like that, right?” Sudou asked.

Close, but no cigar.

“I remember! Francis Bacon!” Ike cried. “That’s correct.”

“Yes! I’m definitely going to get a perfect score!” “No, not really…”

If we all managed to keep up this pace for another week, everyone might just avoid failing.

“Please be mindful of your health, everyone. If you get sick, you’ll have less time to study!” Kushida understood that we had no wiggle room left.

“Don’t worry. Not about those three, anyway,” Horikita grumbled.

“Just as I’d expect from you, Horikita-chan! I feel like you’re starting to have some faith in us!”

Actually, she probably meant something more like, “Idiots don’t catch colds.”

“Hey, quiet down. Your yammering is getting annoying.” A nearby student turned to look at us.

“Sorry, sorry. Guess I got a little carried away. I’m just so happy I got something right. Did you know that Francis Bacon was the guy who came up with inductive reasoning? I won’t lose points on that question!” said Ike, laughing foolishly.

“Huh? Hey, could you guys be Class D students, by chance?”

A group of boys all looked over at us at once. Sudou, seemingly irritated by this, sounded mildly angry as he said, “So what? What’s the big deal if we’re in Class D? Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, no, there’s no problem. I’m Yamawaki, from FClass C. Nice to meet you.” Yamawaki chuckled. “I have to say, I’m glad that they separate the classes in this school by ability. That way I don’t have to study with losers like you.”

“What’d you say?!” Sudou’s anger flared.

“Don’t get mad. I’ve only spoken the truth. I wonder… If we happened to fight, how many points would you lose? Oh wait, you guys don’t even have any points to lose, do you? In that case, you’d probably be expelled, right?”

“Fine with me. Bring it!”

Sudou’s shouting attracted attention and looks of disgust. If things got much worse, then the teacher would probably hear about it.

“He’s exactly right. We’re not sure what’ll happen if you create a ruckus. You should remember that you might be expelled as a worst-case scenario. I don’t particularly mind that you’re bad- mouthing us, but you’re in Class C, right? Honestly, you shouldn’t really brag about that,” Horikita said.

“Clearly there were errors of calculation in placing Class C and A. But you guys in D are on a completely different level.”

“That’s quite an inconsistent standard of measurement. The way I see it, everyone outside of Class A is lumped together.”

Yamawaki stopped laughing and now glared at Horikita.

“Wow. For a defective product that can’t make a single point, you’re pretty sassy, aren’t you? Did you think you could say whatever you like just because you have a cute face?”

“Thank you for your wholly incoherent and irrelevant statement. I was never very concerned about my appearance until now, but after being praised by you, I must say I feel rather uncomfortable.”

“Tch!” Yamawaki slammed the table and stood up.

“Hey. Relax. If we’re the ones who start fighting, then word will get around and we’ll be in trouble.” The other Class C students tugged at Yamawaki’s sleeves, holding him back.

“You do know that you’ll be expelled if you fail the next test, right? I’m looking forward to seeing how many of you get kicked out.”

“Unfortunately for you, no one from Class D will be expelled. Before you worry about us, though, perhaps you should worry about your own class. Pride cometh before the fall.”

“Ha ha ha! Us, fail? Don’t joke around.”

“We’re not studying just to avoid failing. We’re studying so we can improve our test scores. Don’t lump us together with you,” Yamawaki said. “Also, being happy because you know who Francis Bacon is? Are you nuts? Why are you studying things that aren’t even on the test?”

“Huh?” Horikita looked stumped.

“Wait, do you guys not know what’s on the test? No wonder you’re called defective products.”

“That’s enough out of you.” Sudou, on the verge of really losing his temper, grabbed Yamawaki by the collar.

“Hey, hey! You’re really going to get violent even though it’ll lose you points? You’re okay with that?”

“We don’t have any points to lose!”

Sudou pulled his arm back. Uh oh. Was he really going to beat the crap out of this guy? I knew I should stop him. I got up, then—

“Okay, stop. Stop!”

A female student shouted at us. Sudou stopped in response. “What? This doesn’t involve you. Stay out of it,” he said.

“Doesn’t involve me? I’m trying to use the library, so it does involve me. If you want to get violent, might I suggest that you do so outside?”

In response to the blonde beauty’s disinterested yet logical argument, Sudou let go of Yamawaki.

“Besides, don’t you think you’re provoking him? If things continue like this, I’d have to report it to the school. Do you want that?”

“S-sorry. We don’t want that, Ichinose,” Yamawaki said.

Ichinose. I’d heard that name once before. Wait… That was the Class B student who’d been talking with Hoshinomiya-sensei.

“Come on, let’s go. If we try studying here, we’ll catch the stupid going around.”

“Yeah.”

With those last words, Yamawaki and his group left.

“If you’re going to study here, please act like adults. Thank you,” Ichinose said.

Watching her gallant departure, I had to nod in admiration. “Unlike Horikita, she managed to keep everyone in line.” “I didn’t intend to create chaos. I only spoke the truth.”

The truth had led to chaos, though…

“Hey. He said that this question wasn’t on the test, didn’t he?”

“What do you mean?”

We exchanged looks. Chiyabashira-sensei had told us that material about the Age of Discovery would be on the test. Horikita and I had written that down.

“Does this mean that each class gets a different test?”

“That seems unlikely. The test should be the same for everyone in the same grade.”

Horikita was right. The same fundamental problems from the five main topics should be featured on everyone’s midterm.

Otherwise, it’d be unclear how to judge our aptitude. Had Class C learned that the test would change before anyone else?

Or was Class D the only group being left out of the loop? We were mystified in the light of this new information. What if every class’s test had different social studies questions? No… What if it wasn’t just social studies? What if all the test questions were completely different? If that were the case, then we’d wasted a whole week’s worth of studying.

9.3

We dismissed the group ten minutes before our lunch break was over. We packed up and headed toward the faculty room. We needed to confirm exactly what the test would cover.

“Chiyabashira-sensei, we have an urgent question.”

“Quite the theatrical entrance. You surprised the other teachers,” she said.

“I sincerely apologize for the sudden intrusion.”

“It’s fine. We’re in the middle of something, so please keep it brief.” Chiyabashira-sensei continued to write in her notebook.

“Chiyabashira-sensei, last week when you told us what material the test would cover, did you make a mistake? A little earlier today, some Class C students told us that the test’s material would be different than what we were expecting.”

Chiyabashira-sensei listened in complete silence and didn’t even bat an eyelash as Horikita spoke. Then, she put down her pen.

“That’s right. The test’s topics changed last Friday. Sorry, I must’ve forgotten to inform you.”

“What?!”

She scribbled something down on a page in her notebook, tore it out, and handed it to Horikita. She’d written down textbook page numbers that referred to material we’d already covered in class. Most of the new material was from before we’d started the group, stuff that Sudou and the others hadn’t learned.

“Thanks to you, Horikita-san, I was able to correct my mistake. I’m grateful to all of you. That’s all. Thank you.”

“Wait a minute, Sae-chan-sensei! Isn’t it way too late for this?”

“I don’t think so. You still have one week. If you use that study time wisely, it should be easy. Right?”

Chiyabashira-sensei tried to shoo us out of the faculty room without the slightest hesitation. However, none of us moved.

“Even if you stay, nothing will change. You understand that, don’t you?” she asked.

“Let’s go.”

“B-but, Horikita-chan! We can’t just accept this!”

“As Chiyabashira-sensei said, staying would be a waste of time. Instead, we should begin studying the revised test materials.”

“But!”

Horikita turned on her heel and left the faculty room, Sudou and the others reluctantly following after her. Chiyabashira-sensei didn’t even glance at us as we left. I’d thought she would apologize for making such a mistake, but she didn’t. If anything, I’d thought that some of the other teachers might react to this incident.

Despite the fact that this was a pretty serious mistake for a homeroom teacher to make, none of the other teachers seemed to care. Hoshinomiya-sensei was seated nearby. Our eyes met. She gave a small smile and waved hello. Well, that was something, at least. However, I didn’t think that our teacher had simply forgotten to tell us what would be covered on the test.

When I stepped into the hallway, the afternoon class bell rang.

“Kushida-san. I have a small favor I want to ask you,” I said. “Hmm? What is it?”

“I want you to tell the rest of Class D about the changes to the test.”

With that, I handed her Chiyabashira-sensei’s paper with the textbook numbers.

“That’s fine, but…is it okay for me to do it?”

“You’re the best candidate we have. There’s no doubt in my mind. Besides, we can’t take the test when we don’t know what’s going to be on it.”

“Okay, I understand. Leave it to me. I’ll tell Hirata-kun and everyone else.”

“I’ll get ready for tomorrow. By then, I should have narrowed down everything we’ll need.”

Horikita tried hard to appear calm, but I could sense her anxiety. That time we’d spent studying had been squandered, and we were back to square one. Plus, we now only had one week left.

However, our greatest concern was keeping the Idiot Trio motivated.

“Horikita. I know I’ve been difficult, but I’m counting on you.” Sudou bowed to Horikita as he spoke those words. “Starting tomorrow…I’ll take a break from club activities. Will that work?”

“That…”

Considering that we had only one week left and time was of the essence, it was a rational decision. However, the offer so surprised Horikita that she couldn’t immediately accept.

“Will that really be okay with you? It’ll be a lot of work.”

“Studying is a lot of work, isn’t it?” Grinning, Sudou patted Horikita’s shoulder.

“Sudou, are you serious?” she asked.

“Yeah. I mean, I’m pissed at our homeroom teacher and those jerks in Class C now, too.”

You could call this a blessing in disguise. After being backed into a corner, Sudou had finally developed a positive attitude about studying. He probably realized if he didn’t do his best, he couldn’t pass the test. His declaration inspired Ike and Yamauchi.

“Guess we don’t have any choice. We’ll try harder, too,” Ike

said.

“I understand. If you’re prepared, then we can work

together. However, Sudou-kun…” Horikita coldly removed Sudou’s hand from her shoulder. “Please do not touch me. If you do so again, I won’t show you any mercy.”

“You’re not cute at all, lady…” “We’re definitely gonna do this!” “Yeah! Me, too!”

Kushida, who also seemed motivated, stuck out her fist. “Come on, Ayanokouji-kun. You do your best, too!” she cried.

“Huh? No, I—”

“Don’t tell me. Did you already give up on studying?” “I’ve thought about it a little.”

“You promised you’d work with me. Did you forget?” asked Horikita while glaring at me.

“I’m not a good teacher. People have different strengths and weaknesses, right?”

To be honest, Horikita and Kushida were better teachers than I was. I didn’t consider myself really capable of tutoring others.

“Your test scores weren’t that bad, were they?”

“There isn’t much time left, so it might be more effective if Horikita and Kushida work together to teach those three rather than tutoring one-on-one. Also, something else is kind of bothering me.”

“Something bothering you?”

What had happened in the faculty room was far too serious for me to overlook.

9.4

When lunchtime came, I jumped to my feet and headed toward the cafeteria with purposeful strides.

“Where are you going?”

Kushida had noticed me rushing out of class and followed.

She popped up before me, stopping me in my tracks. “It’s lunch. I thought I’d go to the cafeteria.” “Hmm. Mind if I go with you?”

“I don’t really mind. But there are a lot of other people you could ask, you know.”

“It’s true, I do have a lot of friends to eat lunch with, but you don’t have anyone, Ayanokouji-kun. Even though you’d usually reach out to Horikita-san, you haven’t talked to her today. The other day, didn’t you say something was bothering you about what happened in the faculty room? What was it?”

Kushida, as usual, was quite observant. To be honest, I hadn’t wanted to do this with anyone, but I decided that Kushida was probably fine. I’d come to learn her secret by sheer coincidence. She wouldn’t do anything stupid.

“I can tell you if you promise that you won’t tell anyone else.”

“I’m good at keeping secrets.”

Kushida and I headed to the cafeteria together. We navigated our way through the crowd and finally reached the meal ticket machine. I bought tickets for two portions but didn’t line up at the counter. Instead, I went to the side of the vending machine and looked at students perusing the menu.

“What is it?” Kushida tilted her head and looked puzzled when I began studying the machine.

“This might answer what was bothering me.”

I continued observing students as they bought lunch sets from the ticket machine. After I’d observed about twenty students, my target appeared. He purchased his meal ticket and walked to the counter with heavy, plodding footsteps.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said. “Hmm? Okay.”

We quickly exchanged our tickets for our meals and sat down in front of the heavy-footed student.

“Um, excuse me. Are you an upperclassman?” I asked.

“Hmm? Who are you?” The student regarded us calmly, a look of complete disinterest on his face.

“Are you a second-year student? Third-year?” “Third-year. Let me guess, you’re a first year?”

“I’m Ayanokouji, from Class D. You’re also in Class D, aren’t you?”

“What’s that got to do with you?”

Kushida looked at me with surprise, as if asking, “How did you know?”

“Because he’s limited to eating the free meals. It’s not very tasty, is it?” I asked. He was eating the free vegetable meal set.

“What do you want? You’re really irritating.” He took his tray and made to stand, but I stopped him.

“I want to ask you something. If you listen, I’ll show you my gratitude.”

“Gratitude?”

The cafeteria’s hustle and bustle drowned out my voice. The students were all engrossed in chatting pleasantly with their friends.

“Do you still have the problems from the midterm test from the first semester of your first year? Or, if not, do you happen to know someone from your class who does?”

“Do you even understand what you’re asking?” he said.

“It’s not particularly strange, is it? I didn’t think it was against school rules to study using old test problems.”

“Why are you asking me?”

“That’s simple. I believed I’d have the highest chance of success if I worked with someone who doesn’t have any points. Honestly, that free vegetable meal doesn’t look good. Of course, things would be quite different if you actually liked eating the vegetable set. What do you think?”

“How much are you going to pay?”

“Ten thousand points. That’s as high as I’ll go.”

“I don’t have the old test problems, but…I know someone who does. If you want him to help you, though, you’re going to need to offer at least 30,000 points. If you’ve got that, you’re fine.”

“I’m afraid that 30,000 is a no-go for me. I don’t have that much.”

“How much do you have?” “Twenty thousand.”

“Then 20,000… no, 15,000 should do. Nothing under that.” “15,000, huh?”

“If you’d go so far as to ask for old test problems from a stranger, then you must be pretty desperate, huh? Well, the school will mercilessly expel any student who gets a failing grade. None of my classmates are even here anymore.”

“I see. I understand. I’ll pay the 15,000 points.”

“Then we have a deal. Of course, I’ll have to ask you to transfer the points in advance.”

“Fine, but if you do anything to stab us in the back, I won’t forgive you. Even if you’re an upperclassman, I’ll do anything and everything I can to make sure you’re expelled.”

“You’re a freak. Fine, I get it. Besides, when you transfer points, there’s always a record of it. If rumor spreads that some first-year students ripped me off, it’d look bad.”

“All right then. Since I’m paying you 15,000 points, can you toss in a little bonus? I want to see the answers to the surprise test that we took after being admitted.”

“All right. I’ll toss that in, too. I think that your concerns are pointless, though.” It seemed he understood what I was after.

“Thank you very much.”

After we made our deal, he quickly left. He probably didn’t want to be noticed.

“Hey, Ayanokouji-kun? What you did just now. Was that really okay?” Kushida asked.

“It’s no problem. School rules allow point transfers, so there was no violation.”

“You might be right, but isn’t getting the old test problems cheating?”

“Cheating? I don’t think so. If the school didn’t allow it, they would have outlined it in the school rules to begin with. Also, I felt more confident after seeing that third-year student. That is to say, it’s not unusual for students to barter points like this.”

“Huh?”

“My request didn’t particularly surprise him, and he accepted quickly. This probably isn’t the first time he’s negotiated like this. Not only did he have the answer sheet for the first-year midterm exam, but he also had the answer sheet for the mock test we took after being admitted. If he saved those, it’s clear why.”

Kushida’s eyes widened in shock.

“Ayanokouji-kun, what you did was unexpectedly daring.” “It’s just a bit of insurance to prevent Sudou and the others

from getting expelled.”

“But, if the old test answers are useless, then it will have been for nothing. I mean, the past test questions are old, aren’t they?

They might be completely unrelated to what’s featured on this year’s test.”

“The problems may not be exactly the same, but there will definitely be similarities. I noticed a hint on that last mock exam we took.”

“A hint?”

“You noticed the really difficult problems alongside the simple ones, right?”

“Yeah, I did. The final questions, right? I didn’t understand them at all.”

“I did some investigating, and I found that those questions were on the second- and third-year students’ tests. In other words, a first-year student generally wouldn’t understand how to solve them. Wouldn’t it be pointless for the school to purposefully throw us problems we can’t solve? Those questions aren’t there simply to measure our academic ability. Now, suppose that the problems on the mock test we took were exactly the same as the problems on the old mock test. What would happen?”

“If I’d seen the old test, I would have been able to answer every question,” she said.

The same thing would likely apply to the midterm exam as well. Shortly thereafter, that third-year student sent me a message with an image file attached. It was the old test questions.

First, I checked the mock test. The key was whether or not the last three problems were the same. Kushida must have been curious as well, because she drew closer and tried to peek at my phone.

“Well? Well?” she asked.

“They’re the same. Every single word is identical. The test from that year and this year are exactly the same, in every way.”

“That’s amazing! So, if we show this to everyone in class, that would mean an easy victory! We should show this to all of our other friends, not just Sudou-kun!”

“No, we’ll hold off. We won’t show it to Sudou and the guys yet.”

“Wh-why? You went to all of the trouble of using up so

many of your points for this!”

“If they learn that the old test questions would be effective, their motivation to study would go up in smoke. We need to be wary of overconfidence. After all, even though the mock tests were identical, it’s possible that the questions featured on the midterm this year might not be the same as last year’s.”

These old test papers were insurance. “Okay, then how will you use them?”

“I’m going to release them on the internet the day before the test. We tell everyone that the problems from the old test are generally the same as the ones on the new. Then what do you think will happen?”

“That night, everyone will be hunched over their desks, frantically trying to memorize all of the problems!”

“Exactly.”

The students with a poor grasp of the basics probably wouldn’t be able to memorize everything in a single day.

However, we weren’t shooting for perfect scores this time around. The crucial thing was to avoid failing. If we got greedy, we might end up digging our own graves.

With this plan, we could probably get everyone in Class D to pass.

“When did you come up with the idea to get the old tests?” she asked.

“I considered it when we learned that the test material was going to be different. However, I had a hunch back when they first told us about the midterm exam.”

“Huh?! Way back then?”

“There was something very peculiar about the way Chiyabashira-sensei told us about the test. As our homeroom teacher, she had a clear understanding of everyone’s grades and academic performance. Despite that, she seemed absolutely certain when she told us that there was a way for us to pass this test. In other words, she indicated that there was a surefire way for us to save everyone.”

“And that’s…the old test papers?”

“This might be related to why Sudou, Ike, and Yamauchi were admitted to this school despite being academically poor. Even if they couldn’t get good grades by studying ahead, perhaps there were other means of addressing the problem, a backup plan they could use to avoid expulsion. This meant that it was possible for anyone to get a near-perfect score if they could get the old test papers. That’s what I took from the situation, anyway.”

“Ayanokouji-kun, you really are an incredibly observant person, aren’t you?”

“I’m just cunning. Besides, I didn’t believe that I could pass the midterm without some help. I was just looking to make things easier for myself.”

“Hmm.” Kushida grinned like some gears were turning in her mind.

“I have one more favor to ask. Could you please tell everyone that you got the old test papers, Kushida? I want you to say that you got them from a third-year student you’re close to.”

“That’s fine, but…are you okay with that, Ayanokouji-kun?”

“I like to avoid trouble. I don’t want to stand out. Besides, our classmates trust you, Kushida. I think it would be better if you told them.”

“I understand. If you say so, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“Thanks. Don’t say anything else, though. We need to avoid drawing too much attention.”

“Okay, we can keep this secret between us.” “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

“Don’t you feel that a strange bond of mutual trust forms between people who share a secret?”

“I don’t know about that. I sure hope so.” “Thank you,” replied Kushida.

I didn’t really know what she meant by that.

Written on August 15, 2022