Y1 Vol 2 Chapter 2 | The Sudden Beginning of our Tumultuous Troubles

The timing couldn’t have been worse.

While searching for a place to take a good selfie, I stumbled into something. Even a certain famous, diminutive detective would have held his breath when witnessing such a tense situation.

The whole thing had started about ten seconds ago. Someone made a trivial comment, which upset the other party. That led to vicious insults, which turned into a fistfight. No, a “fight” wasn’t the right way of putting it. The other three male students lay on the floor, writhing in pain. A red-haired boy stood over them, looking down in victory. It was an entirely one-sided ordeal.

His right fist was covered in blood from the students he’d pummeled. This was the first brawl I’d ever witnessed. In elementary school I saw boys quarrel with each other in class, pulling clothes and pinching arms. This was different, though. I could feel the tension in the air.

Though I was terrified, I began capturing the scene with my camera. The shutter didn’t make a sound. After taking the pictures, I asked myself what I was doing. I couldn’t think clearly in my panicked state. I tried to quickly get away. However, my brain no longer seemed to function properly. My legs didn’t obey my command to move, like I was paralyzed.

“He he, so. Do you really think that this is the end of it, Sudou?”

Despite being barely able to move, one of the male students on the ground tried to taunt Sudou.

“Do you wanna make me laugh? You’re in the sorriest state possible.

You want to go for another round, huh? Next time I won’t hold back.”

Sudou-kun grabbed the beaten boy’s collar, and brought him closer. They were eye-to-eye now, only a few centimeters apart. Sudou looked as though he was going to kill and then devour his opponent, which was so overwhelming that the defeated boy looked away.

“Are you scared? Did you really think you’d beat me if you had more people?”

Sudou-kun snorted, dropped the student, picked up his bag, and then turned and walked away as if the defeated three completely disinterested him. My heart rate skyrocketed. Well, that was natural. Sudou-kun was headed for my hiding spot. My potential escape routes from this building were limited.

I had the idea to turn back down the staircase I’d used to come up here. However, I still couldn’t move, and my window of opportunity was closing. I’d heard that that when someone was involved in a crisis, his or her body would lock up, exactly like what was happening now.

“What a waste of time. Tiring me out after practice. Give me a break,” Sudou-kun said.

The distance between us was closing. He was only a few short meters away.

“You’re the one who’s going to regret this later, Sudou.” The boy’s words stopped Sudou-kun in his tracks.

“Nothing’s more pathetic than a sore loser. No matter how many

times you come at me, you won’t win.”

He wasn’t bluffing. He clearly had the confidence to back up what he said. After all, Sudou-kun had emerged victorious and unscathed from a three-on-one fight.

Tomorrow was the first of July, but given how much I was sweating you’d think summer was already here. I remained completely still in my hiding place. Sweat poured down the nape of my neck. I decided

to leave calmly, quietly, and without panicking. I’d hate it if someone were to spot me and involve me in this mess. If that happened, it would cast a dark cloud over my otherwise peaceful school life.

I left the scene quickly and carefully.

“Is someone there?”

Sudou-kun, sensing my movement, looked to where I’d been mere moments before. However, I’d successfully escaped by a hair’s breadth. If I’d lagged a mere two seconds, he probably would’ve seen me.

2.1

Mornings in Class D were always lively, because most of the students were far from studious. Today they were being even more raucous than usual. The reason was obvious. We were about to finally get points for the first time since we’d come to this school.

My school, the “Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing High School,” has adopted an unprecedented system known as the S-Point System. I’ll explain that in a bit.

I took out my school-provided cell phone, launched the pre-installed school app, and logged in using my student ID and password. I then selected the option “Balance Inquiry” from the menu. From here, you could do many things. You could check your current personal balance, or you could see how many collective points the class had. There was also a function that enabled you to send points to another student.

There were two types of points listed. One of them was marked with

a “cl” at the end, which was short for “class.” These were also

referred to as “class points”—not points that an individual student possessed, but rather, points that the class had accumulated together. Class D had had zero class points since June. No points at all. The other points were marked with a “pr” at the end, which stood for “private.” These were our individual points.

On the first day of every month, they multiplied the cl points, or class points, by 100, then deposited that amount into our private point accounts. We used these private points to purchase daily necessities, meals, even electrical appliances. At this school, points are currency. They are very important.

If you didn’t have any private points, you were forced to live day-to- day without spending money. You couldn’t use real currency anywhere on campus. Because Class D was sitting at zero points, we hadn’t received any private points for the month, and thus had to get by without cash.

When we first started here, we had 1000 class points.

If we had kept those points, we would have received 100,000-yen worth of points each month. Unfortunately, our class points fluctuated every day. Many things caused a reduction in points, like talking in class or getting a low score on a test. As a result, Class D had zero points when May came around. Things had continued in that vein until now, July 1.

In addition to determining our monthly allowance, the class points were used to measure our class’s merit. The classes were ordered by class points, in descending order from A through D. So in the event that Class D managed to get enough points to surpass Class C, our class would probably be promoted from D to C for the next month.

Moreover, should we finally manage to get all the way up to Class A, then we’d have the chance to attend the college of our choice, or to get the job we wanted.

When I first heard about this system, I thought it’d be important to accumulate as many class points as possible. Private points would grant us only personal satisfaction. However, my perspective changed when I bought a point for the midterm test.

I’d been able to purchase a point for Sudou on that recent test. If I hadn’t, he’d have just barely failed. When I realized that the school would allow me to purchase exam points, I understood that our homeroom teacher, Chabashira-sensei, hadn’t been kidding when she told us, “At this school, you can buy anything with your points.”

Ergo, holding onto private points meant that it was possible to favorably change your situation. Upon further consideration, you could likely purchase more than just test points.

“Good morning, everyone. You all seem more restless than usual today.”

Chabashira-sensei strode into the classroom as the homeroom bell rang.

“Sae-chan-sensei! Do we have zero points again this month?! When I checked this morning, I didn’t see a single point deposited into my account!”

“Oh, so that’s why you’re all so restless?”

“We worked ourselves half to death this past month! We passed the midterm, so why are we still at zero points?! No one’s been late or absent, and no one’s talked during class, either!”

“Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen to what I have to say first. You’re correct, Ike. You have all worked harder than ever before. I recognize that. Naturally, the school understands full well how you all feel.”

After being admonished by the teacher, Ike shut his mouth and sat back down.

“Well then. Without further ado, here are this month’s point totals.”

She put a paper up on the board that listed the point values, starting with Class A at the top. Excluding Class D, all of the other classes had nearly 100 more points than last month. Class A now sat at 1004 points, slightly above where everyone had started when we were admitted.

“This isn’t good. Could they have figured out a way to increase their

point total?!”

My neighbor, Horikita Suzune, appeared solely focused on the other classes. However, Ike and most of the other Class D students didn’t care much about the other classes’ points. The important question for them was whether we had received more class points. That was it.

Written next to Class D was our point total: 87 points.

“Huh? Wait, 87? Does that mean we actually went up? Yahoo!”

Ike excitedly jumped up and down the instant he saw our score.

“It’s too early to celebrate. All the other classes saw a similar

increase in their points. We didn’t close the distance at all. This might

just be a reward first-year students receive for getting through the

midterm. Every class seems to have gotten at least 100 points.”

“So that’s what happened. I thought it odd that we’d been awarded points so quickly.”

Horikita, who hoped to reach Class A, didn’t appear pleased with the result. She wasn’t smiling.

“Are you disappointed because the gap between the classes has widened, Horikita?” I asked.

“No, that’s not it. We managed to get something this time, after all.” “Get something? Get what?” asked Ike, now standing.

Horikita, after attracting everyone’s attention, fell back into silence. It was as if she didn’t wish to provide an answer. The class leader, Hirata Yousuke, answered for her.

“I believe that Horikita-san is referring to the deductions we incurred throughout April and May. In other words, we didn’t see a reduction in points for talking in class or being late.”

The sharp-witted Hirata hadn’t missed a beat. Splendid.

“Ah, is that so? I suppose that even if we got 100 points, a lot of deductions would’ve brought us down to zero.” Ike, after this simple explanation, raised his arms in victory. “Wait. But then, why didn’t we get any points?”

He lobbed his original question again at Chabashira-sensei. It was indeed strange that we hadn’t received 8700 private points in our accounts.

“Well, this time there was a little trouble. The first-year students’ point distribution has been delayed. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait a bit longer,” she said.

“Huh? Seriously? If this is the school’s fault, then shouldn’t we get some kind of bonus as compensation?”

The students grumbled in discontent. Once they found out that they would be getting their points, their attitudes had changed dramatically. There was a significant difference between 87 points and no points.

“Don’t blame me. This was the school’s decision, there’s nothing I can do about it. Once the trouble has been resolved, you’ll receive your points. If there are still points left, that is.”

There was deeper meaning behind Chabashira-sensei’s words.

2.2

Once lunchtime came around, everyone went to eat. Lately, I’ve come to believe that dining with friends is actually the most difficult aspect of student life. Take Kushida Kikyou, for example. She’s extremely popular and has many friends, both girls and boys. She gets in-person invitations, along with constant invites over the phone and through email. Even though she’s unable to respond to everyone and sometimes has to turn people down, when she eats with friends she appears to have a real life.

On the other hand, you’ve got people like Ike and Yamauchi, who aren’t very popular with girls. They eat with their group of guy friends, including Sudou and Hondou, almost every day.

Meanwhile, I don’t really belong anywhere.

I’d say I’m friends with Kushida. I’m friends with Ike and Yamauchi, too. Though I eat with them on occasion, I wouldn’t say it’s a

frequent occurrence. Generally speaking, it’s the kind of relationship where the other party asks, “Want to have lunch?” or “Are you free after class?”

I didn’t really mind near the start of the school year. Before I’d made any friends, it was only natural that I would be alone. However, now I was experiencing a strange phenomenon: I had friends, yet I was still on my own. It was an uncomfortable experience.

If I happened to be absent on a day when we formed groups for a school trip, I’d possibly end up left out. Did they all consider me a low-tier friend? Or was our friendship all in my head? Those were my thoughts.

Nervous and anxious, I unintentionally looked at Ike and the others. I’m over here, guys. It’s okay for you to invite me. My glances were filled with selfishness and anticipation. I was flooded by feelings of self-loathing. Reminding myself that I should know when to give up, I averted my gaze. Pathetic scenes like this played out daily.

“You’re still not used to it. You’re as pathetic as ever, Ayanokouji- kun.”

My neighbor shot me a somewhat cold look.

“You seem completely used to solitude,” I replied. “I’m quite fine, thank you.”

I meant to sound sarcastic, but Horikita took it as sincere. The majority of our classmates had already formed their own groups, but a few students were still all alone. That offered some relief. Horikita wasn’t the only loner; Kouenji spent most of his time alone, too. On first starting here, he’d enjoyed the company of girls from other classes and grade levels. However, once he ran low on points, he began to spend most of his time in the classroom.

He was the sole heir to the Kouenji conglomerate group, one of the largest corporations in Japan. He didn’t love solitude, but rather, loved himself and cared little for others. I respected that he didn’t seem bothered at all by being alone. He was currently completely lost in examining his face in a hand mirror, his daily routine.

Aside from him, there was a quiet girl with glasses. At one time Ike had made a ruckus about how large her breasts were, but because she was considered plain, everyone quickly lost interest. She was always alone, and I’d never seen her talk to anyone. Just the other day, she’d been eating by herself, hunched over her bento box. She was one of the few students who made her own lunches.

Just then, my neighbor took a bento box from her bag and opened it. Lately, Horikita had been making her own lunches rather than going to the cafeteria, too.

“Doesn’t it cost quite a bit and take a lot of effort to make your own lunch?” I asked.

Although they weren’t exactly high quality, the free meals offered in the school cafeteria were a form of relief for students who’d used up all of their points. There was no merit in a homemade lunch, which consumed time and your own points to make.

“I’m not sure about that. The school supermarket provides free

ingredients, you know.”

“Wait, so you made this with free stuff?”

Horikita simply opened her bento in response. It didn’t have much in

the way of meat or fried foods, but it looked tasty.

“Don’t tell me. Not only are you a bright scholar, you’re an accomplished cook as well? That doesn’t seem to fit your personality.”

“Anyone can cook by looking up a recipe in a book or on the Internet. Our dorms come equipped with all of the necessary tools, as well.”

Horikita didn’t waste any more words trying to impress upon me how much of a genius she was. She simply took out her chopsticks. I guess it all seemed so obvious to her.

“But why did you decide to go through the trouble of making your own lunch?” I asked.

“The cafeteria is noisy. It’s much more relaxing to eat here, wouldn’t you say?”

Toward the start of the year, many of the students had gone to the cafeteria to buy bread or lunches, but facing a shortage of points an overwhelming number of students got the free meal set. Looking around, I could see that only a few students remained in the classroom.

Was this Horikita’s preferred environment? One where Ike and the others weren’t around?

“Do I already miss riding the big cafeteria-bound wave of students?”

“You’re always staring out at the ocean, but you don’t have a surfboard. You lack even the determination to ride the wave, don’t you? And you talk about missing it? You’re awfully full of yourself.”

I wished I had a comeback for that, but I couldn’t argue. I just wanted

her to cut me a break.

2.3

Unlike lunch, my time after class felt surprisingly pleasant, since I didn’t have to worry about interacting with anyone. Even if I went straight back to the dorms, I didn’t stand out at all since several other students did that, too. There was some value in being able to vanish like a ninja into a crowd. If I hung toward the back of some group of friends, I could pretend I was one of them.

“How pitiful.”

I was pretty pleased with myself for being able to so skillfully pretend that I had friends, but there really wasn’t anyone at this school who cared about my pretense in the first place.

“Sudou. I have to talk to you about something. Come to the faculty room,” Chabashira-sensei called out to Sudou, who was trying to beat a hasty retreat from the classroom.

“Huh? What do you want with me? I’ve got basketball practice now.” Sudou languidly opened up his bag to show off the sports uniform inside.

“I’ve already spoken with the advisor. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to, but you will face the consequences later.”

Chabashira-sensei’s threatening words set Sudou a little on edge. “What? Will this be over quickly?”

“That all depends on you. The longer you stand there, the more time you waste.”

It seemed as though he had no choice but to go with her. Sudou clicked his tongue, and followed Chabashira-sensei out of the classroom.

“I thought that he might have changed, but I guess Sudou’s the same as ever. Wouldn’t it have been better if he just got kicked out?”

I didn’t know who was talking, but I could hear some people in our class mumbling to themselves. I’d thought the midterm had united our class as a group, but it must have been my imagination. It was a shame.

“Do you think so, too? That it would have been better if Sudou-kun

were expelled?” While she spoke, Horikita started putting her

textbooks in her bag. There probably weren’t that may students who took their textbooks with them to class every single day. Sometimes I thought she was too serious.

“I don’t really think so. What about you, Horikita? You were the only

person who gave Sudou a helping hand.”

“Hmm. Well, we still don’t know whether our points would go up as a class, really,” she replied, disinterested.

When Sudou had faced expulsion during the midterm, Horikita had helped him by purposefully lowering her own score and spending her own points to buy him a passing grade. I’d never imagined her capable of doing something like that.

We got up from our seats at the same time, and walked out of the classroom together. We occasionally went back to the dorms together, though I couldn’t remember when that ritual had started. Since we didn’t have lunch together or just casually hang out, I found it odd. Then again, we had the same path back to the dormitory.

That was probably why we walked together.

“I’m a little worried about what Chabashira-sensei said this

morning,” Horikita said.

“About our points being delayed?”

“Yes. She said that there was trouble, but did she mean that it was a problem for the school, or a problem for us, the students? If it’s the latter, then…”

“You’re overthinking things. We haven’t caused any real problems lately. She even said so herself. I doubt Class D would be the only ones not to get any points. It’s simply the school having an issue.”

Even if there was a cause for concern, even if only the first-year students had had their payments delayed, Class D probably wasn’t the issue. Probably.

“I hope that’s the case. Trouble directly affects our points.”

Horikita spent every single day thinking about how to increase our points. She wasn’t concerned with private points, of course, but class points. She wanted to get up to Class A. I wouldn’t say that it was impossible, but right now it was a very long shot.

However, we still had hope. If Horikita did discover a reliable method for increasing our points, that would be a huge boon for Class D. Furthermore, our classmates would come to place more trust in Horikita, and she’d make friends. It was a win-win situation.

“That reminds me. You should join in the chat now and again. You’re the only one who hasn’t caught up in a long time.”

I took out my phone and launched the group chat app. We’d invited Horikita to join after the midterm exam. Kushida had doubted whether Horikita would actually participate, since she hated talking with others. Despite the attempts at friendship, Horikita hadn’t participated at all.

“I’m not interested in the slightest. Also, I keep my notifications turned off.”

“Is that right?”

Well, apparently she hadn’t intended to participate in the first place. She probably didn’t delete the app because it would send a notification to Kushida and the rest of the group if she did. Horikita was free to decide for herself whether she would participate, so I didn’t press the matter any further. I wasn’t really qualified to judge, anyway.

“You’ve been quite talkative lately, Ayanokouji-kun.” “Really? I thought I’ve always been like this.”

“It’s a slight difference, but you’ve changed.”

Although I hadn’t intended to change, I probably had undergone a slight transformation since starting here. Especially with how I got along with Horikita… Well, I wouldn’t say that we got along, but I didn’t really feel uncomfortable around her. If she were another girl, I probably wouldn’t have been able to converse normally. I’d have gotten nervous and fidgety.

That was why I only talked with people to whom I was close. More than anything else, though, I was grateful for a relationship where being silent didn’t worsen the mood.

“Did something make you change?”

“I wonder. Well, if I had to think of a reason, I guess I got used to attending school, and then I made some friends. Also, Kushida was probably a big influence.”

When I was only around the guys, sometimes we barely talked, or didn’t talk at all. When Kushida was around, people were always talking, and the collective mood brightened.

“You seem to be getting along quite well with Kushida-san. Aren’t you bothered, especially knowing about her other side?”

“I admit I found it shocking when she said that she hated you,

Horikita. But I think it’s only natural that everyone has people they like and people they hate. There’s no point being concerned about it. I mean, you still pretend to get along well with Kushida-san even though she said she hates you, right?”

“Hmm. Well, you may have a point there. It’s true that I hate you, too, Ayanokouji-kun, yet I talk to you normally. I don’t really mind, then.”

“Hey…”

What the heck? It really hurt when she said it straight out like that.

“That’s what I’m getting at. If someone says that they hate another person, it’s fine. But if someone says that they hate you, don’t you feel a little bad?” she asked.

“Were you testing me?”

Horikita started combing her hair in a way that looked rather deliberate. “I don’t have any intention of getting in her way, but Kushida-san and I are like oil and water. I think it’s better not to associate with her.”

In other words, she probably wouldn’t join a group chat with Kushida

in it.

“Why does she even hate you in the first place?” I asked.

They hadn’t had much contact since school began. So when had she started hating Horikita? I mean, Kushida said that it was her goal to get along with everyone in class.

“Who knows? She probably doesn’t know that much about me.”

That might have been the case. But even so, I sensed that there was something between Kushida and Horikita.

“If you’re that curious, why don’t you ask her yourself? Directly?”

Horikita asked.

That was impossible. Kushida Kikyou was normally a sweet, angelic girl, but I had glimpsed a different side to her. It was difficult to even imagine when you saw her gentle smile or heard her pleasant tone, but I recalled the vicious comments she’d spat out. Horikita probably didn’t know about that.

“No need. I’m fine with the Kushida we have now,” I said. “What you just said was really disgusting, you know that?” “Yeah.”

Even though I’d spoken the words, I did feel disgusted with myself.

2.4

After a nice dinner in the dorm cafeteria, I headed back to my room. There, I took out my phone and checked my remaining balance. My account total was displayed on the screen. I saw that I had 8,320 private points. It hadn’t changed since this morning. Considering that we’d started the school year with 100,000 points, this was an incredibly low amount. I had nearly bankrupted myself just to buy the point Sudou needed to pass.

“It would be pretty great if we got those 87 points,” I muttered.

Converted, the points came to roughly 8700 yen. Although that

wasn’t a giant improvement, it was still big bucks.

As I was playing around on my phone, my door suddenly swung open.

“Save me, Ayanokouji!” Sudou stood there, his face beet red.

“Why’re you here? Actually, forget that – how did you even get in?” I’d locked my door when I got back to my room. I hadn’t forgotten,

because I made it a habit. Had Sudou smashed through the wall or something? Just to be sure, I checked my door to see that it wasn’t broken. It looked completely fine.

“This the room where our group meets, isn’t it? Ike and the rest of us

made duplicate keys. Didn’t you know that? Everyone else in the group has a key, too.”

He spun the keycard around in his hand.

“I learned this extremely important fact just now,” I grumbled. It seemed my room was no longer safe. People could invade whenever they pleased.

“Anyway, forget about that right now. I’m in serious trouble! You have to help me!” he cried.

“No, I can’t forget about it. Hand over the key.”

“Huh? Why? I bought this with my own points. It’s mine.”

What an illogical argument. Even if you’re ignorant of committing a crime, it’s still a crime. Friendship doesn’t mean automatically allowing people to do whatever they want.

“If you need advice or you’re worried about something, why not ask Ike or Yamauchi?”

“I can’t ask them. They’re stupid.”

Sudou slid to the floor with a thud.

“Buy some carpet, will ya? My butt hurts,” he muttered.

I had no points to waste on interior design. Even though my room had seemingly been designated as our group’s meeting spot, we hadn’t gotten together once since the party. Even if I went out and bought a carpet, I’d have been the only one sitting on it. Just imagining that was surreal.

As I stood up to make some tea, the doorbell rang. Kushida, the Madonna of Class D, poked her head through the entrance. She looked as cute as ever. She saw Sudou, who was still sitting on my floor.

“Oh, Sudou-kun’s already here,” she said.

“Hey, Kushida, I want to ask you something. Do you perhaps have a duplicate key to my room, too?”

“Yeah, I do. That’s so we can meet up here… Wait, did you not know about that, Ayanokouji-kun?”

She took a key card from her bag and showed it to me. I didn’t spot any differences between her key and mine. They were exactly the same. Apparently Kushida thought I’d given permission to make these keys.

“Umm, well…should I return it to you?”

She apologetically handed over her key.

“No, it’s okay. There’s no point if you’re the only one who returns a key. Sudou doesn’t seem to want to hand his over.”

Wasn’t it fine for Kushida to have a key, anyway? I suppose that in the delusional part of my brain, giving her a key made it feel like she was my girlfriend. Men certainly are devious creatures.

“Since Kushida came, too, can we move on to the topic at hand?”

Sudou asked.

“All right, I guess there’s no getting around it. So, what do you need

to talk about?”

It wasn’t like I could bluntly turn the two of them away. Sudou began

talking slowly, wearing a meek expression.

“You know how our homeroom teacher called me today? Well, it’s… Uh… The truth is…I may be suspended. For a long time, actually.”

“S-suspended?”

That was unexpected. Compared to how he’d acted at the start of the year, Sudou had been rather well behaved lately. He didn’t sleep in class or talk during lectures, and he was doing well in his club activities.

“Did you insult Chabashira-sensei, by any chance?” I asked.

Sudou had been upset when Chabashira-sensei stopped him from going to basketball practice. With that in mind, he might’ve said something reckless.

“That’s not it.”

“Then what? Did you grab her by the collar and threaten to kill her or

something?”

“That’s not it, either.”

Another denial. I hadn’t expected that.

“It’s probably worse than you’re thinking…”

My first two guesses had been pretty serious, so if it was something

worse, then…

“Oh, I got it, Ayanokouji-kun. He viciously beat Chabashira-sensei and

then he spit on her!” Kushida cried.

“That’s horrible. I mean, your wild ideas are way too awful, Kushida!” “Ha ha, I’m only joking! Sudou-kun wouldn’t go that far.”

Even though I expected Sudou to immediately deny what she said, he seemed shocked by Kushida’s joke. That was proof that something really was wrong.

“What happened?” I asked.

“To tell you the truth, I beat up some kids from Class C yesterday.

Then, I got suspended. The suspension is probably my punishment.”

Kushida was also shocked by Sudou’s words. She shot me a look. I

couldn’t immediately process the fact that Sudou had gotten himself

into trouble again.

“You beat them up? So, uh, why did you do that?” I asked. “Just so you know, it wasn’t my fault, okay? The jerks in Class C

started it and tried to pick a fight with me. I just responded to the situation and turned the tables on them. Then they said that I started the fight. They’re a bunch of liars.”

Sudou still hadn’t quite collected his thoughts. While I understood the gist of what he was saying, I still didn’t know the fight’s details or how it started.

“Just wait a minute, Sudou-kun. Can you please start over, and go a bit more slowly?” Kushida encouraged him to calm down and tried to get him to tell us the story.

“Sorry, I guess I just kind of skipped to the end and left a lot out.”

Sudou took a deep breath and started over.

“I was talking with the club advisor about being a regular for the summer tournament.”

I’d heard that Sudou was good at basketball, but I hadn’t expected

him to become a regular already.

“A regular player? That’s amazing, Sudou-kun! Congratulations!” “Well, nothing’s set in stone yet. It’s just a possibility for now.” “Still, that’s amazing. We’ve only just started school.”

“Yeah, I suppose. Actually, I was the only first-year student nominated to be a regular player. Still, it’s not like it’s definite. Anyway, when I was on my way back to the dorm, Komiya and

Kondou, who’re in the basketball club with me, called me over to the special building. They said they wanted to talk to me about something. I could’ve just ignored them, but I mean, I occasionally talk to those two guys during basketball. I thought it’d be better to just hear them out. So of course, I went to meet with them, right?

Then, there was this Ishizaki guy there, waiting for me. He’s Komiya and Kondou’s friend. They said that they couldn’t stand that someone like me from Class D had been chosen as a regular. They threatened me, and said to quit basketball or there’d be a lot of pain in my future. I refused to quit, I beat them up, and now I’m here.”

It was a rather hurried explanation, but I got the gist. Apparently Sudou was satisfied with his story.

“So then they painted you as the bad guy, Sudou-kun.”

Sudou-kun nodded, an exasperated look still on his face. So the students in Class C had started the whole thing, and when their attempt to threaten Sudou had failed, they’d resorted to force. In

other words, an act of violence. However, Sudou was an experienced fighter, so he’d managed to completely overwhelm them without breaking a sweat. Of course, they’d been injured. Since there was no evidence of what had happened, they’d lied the next day and told school officials that Sudou had beaten them up for no reason.

“If Class C started this, then Sudou-kun isn’t at fault.”

“Right? I seriously don’t get this. I can’t believe that teacher, either!” “We should tell Chabashira-sensei tomorrow. We should tell her it

wasn’t Sudou-kun’s fault,” Kushida said.

Things probably wouldn’t be so simple. Sudou must have already told the school what he’d just told us. But because he lacked clear evidence to support his claim, the school might still decide to punish him.

“Sudou, what did the school say when they heard what happened?”

“They said they would give me until next Tuesday to come up with proof. If I can’t do that, they’ll say I’m at fault and I’ll be suspended until summer. On top of that, the whole class will lose points, too.”

Apparently the school had decided to wait for evidence. However, Sudou appeared more worried about his basketball dreams than his suspension, or our class’s loss of points. I guess he couldn’t bear the thought of his youth being squandered.

“What should I do?”

“Sudou-kun, you didn’t lie to the teacher, did you? I mean, it seems strange. They didn’t believe you even though you said you didn’t do anything wrong. Right?”

I felt bad for Kushida. She looked to me for affirmation, but I couldn’t

respond the way she wanted.

“Well, I wonder about that. I don’t think it’s quite that simple.”

“What do you mean, you wonder? You’re not doubting me, are you?”

“Well, the school doesn’t trust you, right? It wouldn’t be that odd for

someone in your class, like Kushida, for instance, to support you even if you’re lying. After all, they don’t want their points to go down.”

“Well…you might be right about that, I suppose.”

Our current troubles wouldn’t be resolved merely by discovering who’d started it. Perhaps those three students might face a one-

week suspension themselves, as punishment. Those three guys had claimed they were beaten up. Without ironclad proof that Sudou

wasn’t at fault, he would definitely be punished. That meant only

one thing.

“Even if the other party is at fault, it’s still highly likely that Sudou will

take some of the blame.”

“Huh? Why? It was legitimate self-defense, wasn’t it? Huh?!” Sudou, clearly unable to understand, smacked the table. Kushida’s

shoulders stiffened in response.

“I’m sorry, I just got a little mad.” After seeing Kushida’s frightened

expression, Sudou sheepishly apologized.

“But…why would Sudou-kun still take some of the blame?”

“Sudou hit them, but they didn’t hit Sudou. I think that’s a big part of it. In such a case, claiming it as legitimate self-defense is difficult. Had they come at you with a knife or a metal bat, I think things would have been quite different. Self-defense means that you have the right to defend yourself against sudden, dangerous attacks made against your person. So, I don’t think we can really claim that this was self-defense.”

How much consideration would be given in this situation?

“I-I don’t understand, though. I was up against three people. Three! That seems plenty dangerous.”

They’d likely take the number of people into account, but this was a delicate case. If the school were willing to place more weight on the number of people who’d attacked, Sudou could be declared innocent. However, it was dangerous to be optimistic.

“I think the school might have offered an extension because they

found it difficult to make a judgment at this time.”

As for the current proof, the key was in the injuries Sudou had given those three other students.

“I guess that their plan is to severely punish Sudou for punching them, huh?” Kushida said.

“Whoever reported it first has the advantage. The victim’s testimony can work as evidence.”

“I still don’t get it. I’m the victim here! Being suspended isn’t some kind of joke! If I’m punished for this, forget being a regular player. I won’t even be able to play in the tournament!”

Those Class C students had purposefully allowed Sudou to beat them up in order to crush him. They wanted to destroy Sudou’s chances of becoming a regular, even if that meant they might face some restrictions of their own. That was what I imagined their plan to be, anyway.

“Let’s just come out and ask those three Class C students to be honest. If they feel like what they did was wrong, then surely they’d feel guilty about it. Right?”

“Those guys aren’t idiots. They won’t be honest. Goddamn it, I won’t ever forgive them! Those damn nobodies!”

Sudou picked up a ballpoint pen from the table and, with a loud crack, snapped it in two. I understood that his blood was boiling, but that was my pen…

“If trying to explain the situation won’t work, then we’ll need to find ironclad proof,” I said.

“Yeah. It would be nice if there was evidence that proved Sudou-kun wasn’t to blame.”

That’d be very nice, because then our suffering would end. However,

Sudou didn’t deny anything. He looked like he was deep in thought.

“There might be something, though. This might just be a misunderstanding on my part, but when I was fighting those guys I felt something…odd. Like someone was nearby, watching me.”

He didn’t sound entirely confident.

“So there might be an eyewitness?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I don’t have proof anyone was there, though.”

An eyewitness. Hmm. If someone had seen everything, then that’d be great news for us. However, depending on how things went, it might drive Sudou further into a corner. For example, if the witness only saw the aftermath of their fight, that might spell Sudou’s end.

“What should I do?” he asked.

Sudou buried his head in his hand. Kushida broke the heavy silence.

“There are two ways we can prove your innocence, Sudou-kun. The first way is to simply get those boys in Class C to admit that they lied.

Since you weren’t at fault, it’s probably best to get them to acknowledge that.”

That was absurdly idealistic.

“Like I already said, that’s impossible. They won’t admit they lied.”

Like Sudou said, if they confessed to lying just to get someone else in

trouble, they’d probably end up getting suspended themselves.

“The other idea is to find the eyewitness you talked about, Sudou- kun. If someone happened to see the fight, then we should be able to get to the heart of the matter.”

Well, that was probably our only realistic plan.

“So, how do you intend to look for this eyewitness?”

“Asking people one by one? Or we could simply address each class as a whole,” Kushida said.

“It would be great if someone just stepped forward, but…”

Since we’d been talking for quite some time, I started rummaging through the cupboard. I took out the instant coffee and tea packets that I’d bought at the school convenience store. Sudou wasn’t really a fan of coffee, though. After preparing a kettle of hot water, I put everything on the table.

“This might sound kind of shameless, but…can you guys not tell anyone about this?” Sudou asked sheepishly. He took a cup and started blowing on it to cool it off.

“H-huh? You don’t want us to tell anyone?” Kushida asked.

“If word gets out, it’ll definitely get around to the basketball team. I don’t want that to happen. You understand, right?”

“Sudou, even then, I—”

“Please understand, Ayanokouji. If I can’t play basketball, I have nothing,” Sudou pleaded, placing his hands on my shoulders.

Even if word didn’t get out, this wasn’t going to stay contained. If people found out that Sudou had used violence, they most likely wouldn’t accept him on the team.

“But won’t the students in Class C talk about how Sudou-kun was

violent? I mean, that would work in their favor, I’d think.”

That’s exactly what I was thinking. It wouldn’t be strange for them to talk about it amongst themselves, since that helped them and would hurt us. Sudou buried his head in his hands once again, as if to say “Seriously?!”

“What if word already got out?”

“No, at this stage it’s probably only being discussed by the school and the people involved.”

“Why do you think that?” Sudou asked.

“If those guys in Class C had intended to spread rumors, we probably

would’ve heard about it already.”

Representatives from the school had received a report and called Sudou in after class. There hadn’t been any word about the incident this afternoon. At the very least, word probably hadn’t spread much.

“So you think we’re safe for now?”

How long would that last, though? Even if the school issued a gag order, word would eventually manage to get out. Before long, it’d spread. Right now, the only thing I could say with certainty was—

“Sudou-kun, I think it would be better if you kept your distance,”

Kushida said.

She seemed to understand everything.

“Yeah. It wouldn’t be good if the accused tried anything,” I replied,

agreeing with Kushida.

“But, if I dump this on you guys—”

“I don’t think it’s being dumped on us. We want you to rely on us, Sudou-kun. I don’t know how much we can do, but we’ll try our best. Okay?” Kushida said.

“All right. I know this is a bother for you guys, but I’ll leave it to you.”

He seemed to understand that he’d only complicate things by getting

involved.

“Well, we’ll head back to our rooms. I’m sorry for barging in here.”

“Don’t worry about it. I just think it’s weird that you made duplicate keys.”

Sudou slid the key back into his pocket; he wasn’t going to return it.

Maybe I should put a chain lock on my door.

“See you tomorrow, Kushida.” “Yeah, bye-bye, Sudou-kun.”

Sudou-kun left with a somewhat sad look on his face. His room was only a few doors down.

“Well. Aren’t you heading back, Kushida?” I asked.

“I have a few things I wanted to talk to you about, Ayanokouji-kun. You didn’t seem very enthusiastic about helping Sudou-kun.”

As Kushida looked up at me with uneasy eyes, I had the sudden urge to embrace her. I stretched my back out and tried to shake those thoughts.

“There’s just not much I can do. I mean, I can only really respond to Sudou’s story. If it were Horikita or Hirata here, they’d probably be able to give expert advice.”

“Maybe, but Sudou-kun came to you, Ayanokouji-kun. He came to you before Horikita-san, Hirata-kun, or even Ike-kun.”

“I don’t know if I should be happy about that or not.” “Hmm.”

For an instant, Kushida’s glare turned icy, which perplexed me. I remembered that Kushida once directly told me that she hated me. She always wore a gentle smile, so I occasionally forgot about that. But I might get burned if I forgot about it entirely.

“I think it might be better if you made more effort to blend in,

Ayanokouji-kun,” she said.

“I’m trying, more or less. I just haven’t been able to. Like right now, I

didn’t have the guts to promise that I’d help.”

She didn’t share my anxiety about eating alone during lunchtime.

Still, Kushida probably understood how I felt.

“Kushida, you’re going to help, aren’t you?”

“Of course. We’re friends. So what will you do, Ayanokouji-kun?”

“Remember when I said it’d be better to talk with Horikita or Hirata? Well, Sudou hates Hirata, so that makes Horikita the obvious choice.”

Though I doubted even Horikita could come up with a good enough plan to resolve this issue.

“Do you think Horikita-san will help us?”

“Don’t know. We’ll have to ask and find out. I don’t think she’ll just quietly stand by and watch as Class D collapses. Probably.”

I lacked conviction. After all, this was Horikita we were talking about.

“I know that you’re trying to dodge the question, but you’ll help, too. Won’t you, Ayanokouji-kun?”

I thought I’d managed to steer the conversation in another direction,

but Kushida quickly brought it back.

“Is it okay if I’m useless?”

“You won’t be useless. I’m sure you’ll be useful, somehow.” She didn’t clearly state how I’d be useful, though.

“So what should we do? Sudou-kun said that it wouldn’t help, but I think it’d be good to talk with the three students he fought. To tell you the truth, I’m friends with Komiya-kun and the others.

Therefore, it might be possible to persuade them. Hmm, it may be

dangerous, though.”

Kushida couldn’t dismiss the idea of a conversation.

“It’s risky. Aside from the question of who started the fight, those three reported it to the school. That means they have the upper hand. Also, I just don’t think it would work, since they started it.”

Getting them to admit they lied to the school wouldn’t be easy. If the school found out, Class C would face a severe penalty. They wouldn’t do something so foolish.

“Well then, I guess looking for the eyewitness is our best bet.”

That would probably be just as difficult as persuading those three to tell the truth. Without any details to go on, finding the eyewitness would be next to impossible. Going around asking, “Did you see

anything?” would be a waste of time and effort.

No matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with any

solutions.

Written on August 15, 2022