Y1 Vol 2 Chapter 3 | Weak Point

The bad news just kept coming. During homeroom the following morning, as Chabashira-sensei was about to leave, she assaulted us with one of her infamously brief and off-hand announcements.

“I have an announcement for you all. There was a bit of trouble the other day, an incident between the student sitting there, Sudou, and some students from Class C. In short, there was a fight.”

The classroom erupted. Depending on the degree of responsibility that Class C saddled him with, Sudou could face suspension, and we might see a reduction in our class points. Chabashira-sensei laid the whole situation bare for the class. Her face was so devoid of emotion or interest when she spoke that there was a certain serene beauty to it. She inserted no personal bias whatsoever when she addressed the class, and explained the situation from a position of neutrality.

“Umm. So why hasn’t this issue been resolved already?” Hirata asked

a rather reasonable question.

“The complaint came from Class C. They claim that the fight was one- sided. However, when we spoke to the accused, Sudou said that their claims were false. He insists that the students Class C called him over and started the fight.”

“It wasn’t my fault! It was self-defense! Self-defense, I tell you!”

shouted Sudou as he shouldered his classmates’ icy glares. “But there’s no evidence of that. Am I wrong?”

“What evidence? I don’t have any.”

“So in other words, we don’t yet know the truth. Therefore, we have put our decision on hold for now. Our response, and the punishment, will come when we find out who was at fault.”

“All I know is that I’m innocent. If anything, I ought to receive a settlement for my trouble.”

“So speaks the accused, but I wouldn’t say that you have a high level of credibility right now. If there is an eyewitness, as Sudou seems to believe, then the situation may change. If anyone here witnessed the fight, please raise your hand.”

Chabashira-sensei continued talking in a robotic, flat voice. No students raised their hands in response to her question.

“Too bad, Sudou. It appears there are no witnesses in this class.” “Looks that way,” he grumbled.

When Chabashira-sensei cast a doubtful look at Sudou, he glanced downward.

“In order to check for witnesses, every teacher will inform their classes of the details of this incident.”

“Huh?! You’re telling everyone?!”

The school probably had no say in the matter. Because Sudou had insisted it was a false charge and brought up a potential witness, the school had to be sure. For Sudou, who had hoped to hide the situation, none of this was good.

“Damn it!”

Sudou’s plan had already fallen apart.

“Anyway, that is all. We’ll make our final judgment next Tuesday, taking into account any eyewitnesses and evidence. With that, let’s end homeroom for the day.”

Chabashira-sensei left, and Sudou followed right after her. He probably realized that if he stayed in the classroom, he’d lose his temper with someone.

“Man, isn’t Sudou just the worst?” Ike was the first to talk.

“If we lose points because of Sudou, will we be at zero again this month?”

As uproar enveloped the classroom, and things started to get out of hand. If we ended up losing points because of this, Sudou would most likely become the sole target of our class’s frustrations. Naturally, Kushida didn’t want this to happen.

“Everyone, can you please listen to what I have to say?” Kushida stood and tried to silence the commotion.

“What our teacher said seems to be true. Sudou-kun may have been in a fight. However, Sudou-kun was dragged into it.”

“Kushida-chan, what do you mean? Do you believe Sudou?”

Kushida conveyed yesterday’s story to the whole class. She told them how Sudou had been chosen as a candidate to play regularly on the basketball team. She also described how some students in the

basketball club were envious of Sudou, and how they’d called Sudou out and threatened him in order to make him leave the team. She also explained that Sudou, acting in self-defense, had punched their lights out.

Most of the class listened to Kushida’s heartfelt words in silence. If Sudou or I had tried to explain the situation in the same manner, we probably wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. However, not

everyone in class easily believed the story. Sudou’s typically poor behavior made it difficult to swallow, no matter how reasonable it sounded.

“I’d like to ask you all again. If anyone knows someone who saw what happened, whether it’s someone in class, a friend, or an upperclassman, please tell me. You can contact me at any time. I would sincerely appreciate it.”

Even though she’d basically said the same thing as Chabashira- sensei, the class had a very different response. She had an innate ability to connect with people. Her presence glowed so bright that I could almost feel it.

Instantly, silence enveloped the classroom. The first to speak wasn’t

the eyewitness, but Yamauchi.

“Hey, Kushida-chan. I just can’t believe what Sudou said. I think he lied so he could justify what he did. He talked about beating up kids all the time in junior high. He even told us how much fun it was to beat people up.”

After Yamauchi voiced his concerns, the rest of the class murmured their dissatisfaction with Sudou in turn.

“I saw him grab some kid by the collar just because they bumped into each other in the hallway.”

“I saw him cut in line in the cafeteria and lash out when someone

tried to tell him that wasn’t okay.”

Kushida’s appeal for Sudou’s innocence didn’t seem to have reached anyone. They’d already hung Sudou out to dry, because he was probably going to lose them their hard-earned points.

“I want to believe him.”

Hirata, the class hero, uttered those words as he stood in support of Kushida. His appearance was dashing, and he clearly wasn’t drunk on the same anti-Sudou Kool-Aid as everyone else.

“If a student in another class were casting doubt on him, I could understand it,” Hirata said. “But I think it’s wrong to doubt a fellow classmate right away. Shouldn’t friends do everything within their power to help someone in need?”

“I agree!”

Karuizawa, heroic Hirata’s girlfriend, called out in agreement,

brushing her bangs aside with her hand as she spoke.

“If it were a false charge, that’d be a problem, wouldn’t it? In any case, you’d feel bad for him if he were innocent, right?”

If Kushida lived by the softness of her heart, then Karuizawa lived by the strength of her will. Perhaps it was because of Kushida and

Karuizawa’s influence that many of the girls started to express their

support.

This was typical of Japanese people. They would follow suit when someone took the lead. Though they probably mocked him in their hearts, they would help Sudou a little bit. Sudou’s critics stopped, at least for the time being. Hirata, Kushida, and Karuizawa had attracted the rest of our class’s admiration.

“I’ll try asking my friends!”

“Well then, I’ll try asking the upperclassmen I know in the soccer

club!”

“I’ll ask around, too.”

Starting with those three, we launched our investigation to prove

Sudou’s innocence. Well, I guessed I didn’t have to take a turn. I

wouldn’t be any good at this, anyway. Better to just leave it to them and fade out quietly.

3.1

“I planned to fade out… But…”

Lunch. For some reason, I’d gotten mixed up with our usual group in the cafeteria. Our group consisted of myself, Kushida, Horikita, Ike, Yamauchi, and Sudou. There was no getting around it. When lunchtime came, Kushida had invited me with a smile. She’d said, “Want to get lunch?” I’d said okay, of course. I mean, I didn’t have any choice in the matter.

“You seem to get yourself into trouble time and time again, Sudou- kun.”

Horikita gave an exasperated sigh. Naturally, we were discussing how

to prove Sudou’s innocence.

“Well, guess we don’t have much choice. As your friends, we’ll help you out, Sudou.” Although Ike had been against Sudou in the beginning, his attitude had completely changed. That was definitely because Kushida had appealed to him and asked him to help.

Ignorant of Ike’s true feelings on the matter, Sudou still apologized.

“I’m sorry, Horikita. I’ve caused trouble for you again. But it really wasn’t my fault this time. All I did was blow up those Class C jerks’ plans.”

Sudou spoke to Horikita with indifference, almost as if he were

describing someone else’s problems.

“Sorry, but I don’t feel like helping you this time.” Horikita flatly

refused Sudou’s pleas for help. “For Class D to rise through the ranks, it’s important to recover the class points we lost as quickly as possible. However, we probably won’t get any points now, thanks to you. You hindered those plans.”

“Wait. You might be right about that, but I’m not the one at fault here! Those guys picked a fight with me! What part of that is my fault?”

“You keep focusing on who started the fight, but that’s a trivial detail. Did you never consider that?”

“What’s trivial about it? It makes all the difference! I didn’t do

anything wrong!”

“Is that so? Well, best of luck to you.”

Horikita picked up her untouched tray and stood.

“So you’re not gonna help? I thought we were friends!”

“Don’t make me laugh. I’ve never once considered you a friend. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than being around someone who doesn’t recognize his own stupidity. Goodbye.”

Horikita appeared more exasperated than angry. She let out a deep sigh, and left.

“What the hell is her deal?! Goddamn it!”

Unable to direct his rage anywhere else, Sudou slammed his fists on the cafeteria table, spilling a nearby student’s miso soup. The student glared, but when he saw how scary Sudou looked, he remained silent. Yep. I could understand that feeling pretty well.

“I guess it’s just up to us.”

“I knew for sure you’d understand, Yamauchi. I’m really counting on you too, Ayanokouji.”

Apparently I was second to Yamauchi, judging by the “too.” Well, I guess I didn’t find that particularly surprising.

“Even if you ask me to help, you do know that there’s not much I can

do, right?”

My self-deprecation was apparently ineffective.

“You’ve been like that since yesterday, Ayanokouji-kun. Won’t you

say something, Ike-kun?”

“Well, I…I mean, it’s certainly odd that Ayanokouji thinks he’s not going be useful. At least him being there is better than not, I guess? Probably?”

Just as expected, Ike couldn’t come up with how I’d be useful. I looked over at Kushida smugly. It was like I was showing off a talentless person’s power.

“This is a little disheartening. I thought that preparing for that test

together brought us all a bit closer,” said a disappointed Ike.

I watched Horikita sit down further away, looking slightly irritated.

“I don’t understand Horikita at all. What’s her deal, Ayanokouji? Why is she acting like that?”

I had no idea how to answer. Did they think I was her user manual? I took a huge mouthful of rice to avoid the question.

“It’s pretty weird, though. Horikita wants to get to Class A, right? Saving Sudou-kun means we’d get more points, so why wouldn’t she help?”

“Is it because she hates Sudou? I mean, she just said she didn’t consider him a friend.”

Disliking Sudou probably wasn’t the reason. But everyone seemed to have misunderstood the situation. They thought she wouldn’t help because of personal reasons.

“I don’t really want to think about it, but I guess it might be true.” “Kushida, Horikita is…”

Unthinking, words started spilling out of my mouth. Kushida looked at me, her interest piqued.

“Horikita-san is…?” she asked.

“Ah. Well, this might not be relevant, but I’d like to say something. I think that Horikita usually speaks in a rather brusque manner. But I think…that you guys misunderstand her.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“I think that she wouldn’t help without any reason to do so.”

“Wait, what are you talking about? You keep saying I think over and over. Are you just guessing?” Sudou abruptly cut into the conversation. Since Horikita was definitely on his mind, he probably wasn’t too pleased about her rejection. It wasn’t difficult to explain, but how to go about it? Horikita probably realized something when the teacher told us about the incident. This incident had happened for a reason. And the ending that Horikita saw…

Well, the possibility of a happy ending was almost nonexistent. After realizing that, she’d probably been cold towards Sudou on purpose. However, if I told them that now, they’d probably become discouraged. It would only lead to bad things. Since I couldn’t figure out how the discussion would go, I was hesitant to explain.

Horikita probably hadn’t wanted to crush their spirits, so she’d left. “Well… Yeah, I’m just guessing like you said, Sudou.”

“So what? You don’t have a reason?”

“Horikita is smart, right? So I think she probably had some idea.” “What idea? To toss me out like the trash?”

“Whoa, hold on. Let’s not criticize anyone. It’s only natural that Ayanokouji-kun would stick up for Horikita-chan, since they’re together all the time. She’s important to him, right?”

Ike wore a mischievous, spiteful grin. It was like he was mocking me. Sudou grew increasingly irritated, and clicked his tongue before reaching for his food.

“Well, it’d be great if a witness stepped forward. The teachers are going around and talking to each class about the incident. When they do find someone, things should get settled quickly.”

I understood the wishful thinking, but would it really be that easy?

To be honest, we faced a mountainous hurdle. It wasn’t unreasonable for Horikita to throw in the towel. Besides, even if there had been a witness, it’d be checkmate for us if that witness happened to come from Class C. It would be natural for a Class C student to hide the truth in order to protect his or her fellow classmates. This school was a hierarchy, after all. It was unlikely that an individual’s guilty feelings would outweigh the disadvantages of their class.

Even if the witness came from a different class, the problem would be how much he or she saw. If the eyewitness had seen the whole event from a completely neutral perspective, then that would be a different story. But…

“Ah, sorry. I have to go for a bit. I’m going to try asking my upperclassmen friends if they saw anything.”

With that, Kushida rose from her seat.

“You’re trying your absolute hardest for someone like Sudou, Kushida-chan. That’s so cute.” Ike, completely enchanted, remained transfixed on Kushida’s backside as she walked away.

“I should seriously confess my feelings for Kushida-chan…” he

murmured.

“No way. You seriously think she’ll stoop to your level, Ike?”

Yamauchi said.

“I have a better chance than you.”

There wasn’t much difference between them. “If I dated Kushida-chan… Ahhhhhh….”

Ike began to lose himself in fantasies, drooling. He was most likely thinking about rather indecent things.

“Hey. Why are you fantasizing about my Kushida-chan like that?” “N-no, I’m not…” he said, but he looked love-struck.

“H-hey, what are you fantasizing about?! Spill it!” Apparently

Yamauchi couldn’t stand the fact that Ike could do as he pleased in

his fantasies.

“What do you mean, what am I fantasizing about? Obviously, I’m thinking about cuddling her. Naked.”

Apparently he was able to envision the scene thanks to the power of male delusions, or something.

“Damn it! I won’t be outdone! I’ve also thought of a few things!” This wasn’t exactly ethical.

“Stop it. Don’t touch my Kushida-chan with your filthy hands!”

In some ways, I felt a little sorry for Kushida. She was most likely the subject of their nightly fantasies.

“I think the best thing about high school is the girls, after all. I seriously want to get a girlfriend sometime soon. If I get myself a girlfriend by this summer, then I can go to the pool with her! That would be the best!”

“It would be best if Kushida-chan were my girlfriend… It would be the

best if she were my girlfriend…”

Yamauchi said it twice. It must’ve been important to him.

“But wait. Since Kushida-chan is so cute, don’t you think she’ll get a boyfriend any day now?”

“Don’t say that, Yamauchi! Besides, it doesn’t look like she has one yet, so we don’t have to worry,” replied Ike with confidence, though it seemed more like he was trying to reassure himself.

“Do you want to know? I bet you both want to know.” “Know what? What do I want to know, Ike? Tell us.”

Ike whipped out his phone with an air of unavoidable weariness.

“You can track your registered friends’ locations on your school phones.”

Ike searched for Kushida’s present location. Shortly afterward, details about her position were displayed on the screen. A marker appeared on the cafeteria.

“I check regularly, even on the weekends. I pretend to run into her

by chance. I do that to make sure she doesn’t have a boyfriend yet.”

He crossed his arms and wore a confident smile. What he was doing sounded just like stalking. Another step forward and it would be appropriate to involve the police.

“Realistically, Kushida-chan is just out of our reach. She wouldn’t stoop to our level. But what if I aimed for one rank below her?”

“Yeah. Well, I couldn’t have an ugly girlfriend.”

“Yeah, when I think about us walking together side-by-side… She’s gotta be at least a 7 outta 10.”

I guess Ike and Yamauchi both really wanted girlfriends. Their fantasies might have been delusional, but they couldn’t give up on their high hopes.

“Ayanokouji, do you want a girlfriend?” “Yeah, I guess. If it were possible.”

If I had a girlfriend, I probably wouldn’t suffer so much.

“Just to be sure, there’s really nothing between you and Horikita?”

Sudou thrust his chopsticks towards me as he asked that question.

“Nope.”

“Really?”

He pressed again, almost like he didn’t believe me. I shook my head

emphatically.

“Okay, fine then. I guess I misunderstood. I thought you were clinging to her too much. That’d be a bother for Horikita.”

I didn’t recall clinging. Especially not to Horikita.

“Are you really okay with Horikita, though? I mean, she’s cute and all, but…she seems kind of boring, you know? I can’t stand someone as dull as her. She wouldn’t want to go to the pool or go out on a date or anything,” Ike said.

“You guys don’t know anything. Horikita is hands down better than Kushida, anyway.” Sudou crossed his arms and nodded, boasting about his personal preferences. “I mean, if it was any other guy, she’d probably turn them down. But if you were her boyfriend, then it’d be okay, right? Then she’d show you a secret side that no one

else gets to see.”

“I see… I feel like I can imagine that. So cute.”

Yamauchi glanced at Horikita and got lost in his delusional fantasies.

“But the Horikita of your dreams seems to have tossed you aside, Sudou.”

“Well, I guess so. Damn it! Now I feel all depressed.”

“Well, I don’t really have anything to say. The number of rivals for

Kushida-chan just decreased by one.”

Ike was multitasking, keeping a lookout for those 7 out of 10 girls while keeping Kushida as his primary target.

“So Ayanokouji, if nothing’s happening with Horikita, is there anyone

you like? I mean, Sudou likes Horikita, and Yamauchi likes Kushida-

chan. You gotta take stock of your rival’s targets, after all.” “Anyone…”

Nobody really came to mind. I tried to seriously think about it for just a little bit. If I had to choose someone, I probably would have

picked…Kushida? She was the person I talked to the most, so that was only natural. But knowing that she didn’t like me, I couldn’t really imagine things progressing.

“Nope, no one,” I answered.

However, Ike and Yamauchi looked at me doubtfully.

“Do you really think there’s a guy out there who doesn’t have a crush on a girl?”

“No way. That guy doesn’t exist. Don’t hide the truth from us, Ayanokouji.”

“Unlike you guys, I don’t really know any girls apart from Horikita and Kushida.”

“Well, I guess you’re probably right. I haven’t seen you talk to other girls.”

I found it rather depressing that they were so convinced.

“Let’s introduce you to some girls!” Ike put his arm around my shoulder and spoke with confidence.

“Isn’t it kind of pathetic that you’re trying to introduce me to girls when you don’t have a girlfriend yourself?”

“W-well…yeah.”

“Hey, Sae-chan-sensei said that we’d have a vacation this summer, right? I’ll definitely get myself a girlfriend then. Kushida-chan, if possible. Or some other cute girl I haven’t seen yet!”

“Me too, me too! Even if she’s the lowest of the low, I’ll get myself a girl…and then I’ll enjoy that lovey-dovey high school life!”

“When should I confess my feelings to Horikita?”

The three of them freely talked about the objects of their affection.

“We should have a contest to see who can get a girlfriend first. The winner will have to treat everyone to a meal! Sound good?”

I wondered if participating in such a shameless competition would actually make me their friend. It sounded difficult.

“What’s up, Ayanokouji? You’re not really thinking about skipping out on this contest, are you?” Ike said.

“No, I just wondered why the first person to get a girlfriend has to

treat everyone else.”

“Well, it’s like this. Think of it as sort of an Envy Tax on the guy. Get it?”

“A guy is happy when he has a girlfriend. Since he’s happy, he happily treats people to stuff.”

Although it was fine for them to get all excited, Sudou’s problem still hadn’t been resolved.

3.2

After school, the class divided into groups to meet up with people and ask around. However, there weren’t that many helping to search for an eyewitness. Hirata and Karuizawa led the Hero & Gal Team, while Kushida led the Beautiful Girl & Entourage Team. They

intended to search the campus themselves. Even so, it’d be difficult

to get results in such a short span of time.

There were around 400 students in this school. Even if you left out everyone from class 1-D, it wouldn’t make a big difference. Finding everyone would still be difficult even if you included break times, lunch, after class, and early morning.

“All right, I’m going to the dorms.”

“Are you really heading back? Horikita-san?”

Horikita nodded without hesitation, and promptly left the classroom,

just as one would expect. She didn’t quail under everyone’s gazes, which all expressed variations on “You’re leaving?” She would probably grow up to be a fierce woman, the type that leaves social outings without reading the room and concludes meetings exactly on time.

“Well then…”

If Horikita’s tactic was to stride out of the classroom with confidence,

mine was the opposite. I tried to slip into the shadows.

“Ayanokouji-kun.”

I had tried to exit stealthily through the classroom. I’d tried to be swift as a ninja, but had been discovered. Kushida stopped me in my tracks, a slight hint of unease in her voice.

“What? Do you need something?” I asked.

I’m sorry, Kushida. I’m going to steel my heart and refuse your

invitation. And then I’ll go back to the dorms. “You will…help us out, won’t you?” she asked. “Of course.”

I couldn’t refuse. Slightly upturned eyes + pleading = lethal. I couldn’t help but feel like Kushida was controlling me. Irresistible. No matter how someone might resolve not to fall asleep, for example, they would still drift away after 24 to 48 hours, tops. Sooner or later,

no matter the person’s willpower, they’d exhaust themselves. In other words, everyone has their breaking point. It’s a human mechanism.

After I was done excusing myself, Kushida made a suggestion.

“I want to get Horikita-san to help us out this time. Can you try

asking her again?”

“But she already left.”

They’d failed to stop her mere moments before. Was it already time for revenge?

“Yeah. I want to chase after her. If Horikita-san helps, I think she’ll make a big difference.”

“Well, I can’t argue with you there.”

“If we take the time to convince her, do you think we’ll have a chance?”

If she wanted to try again, I didn’t really have a right to stop her. I

nodded.

“Ike-kun, Yamauchi-kun, could you two please wait here? We’ll be back right away,” Kushida said.

“Okay!” the boys chorused.

You certainly couldn’t claim those two were friendly with Horikita.

Kushida seemed to notice that.

“Let’s go.”

Kushida took my arm, and we left together. What in the world was this unprecedented feeling of elation? For some reason, I thought I heard Ike and Yamauchi angrily yelling at me, but it must’ve been my imagination. Heh.

By the time we’d made it to the building’s entrance, Horikita was nowhere to be found. I thought she’d probably left. She wasn’t the type to stop for anything, so she probably headed straight towards the dorms. I made my way past students putting on their shoes, getting ready to go home. Most people strolled in groups of two or more as they headed back, but I glimpsed a lone figure walking with confidence. It was Horikita.

“Horikita-san.”

I hesitated, but Horikita responded at once.

“What is it?”

Apparently she hadn’t thought we’d chase after her. She turned,

looking surprised.

“I really want you to help us with Sudou’s case. Is that possible?” “I thought I already declined? A few minutes ago, no less.” Horikita

shrugged, as if expressing how idiotic she found us.

“I know you did, but…but, I think this is necessary to reach Class A.” “Necessary to reach Class A, hmm?”

Horikita looked unconvinced. She didn’t seem to be listening to

Kushida.

“You’re free to run about for Sudou-kun’s sake. I’ve no right to stop

you. However, if you need help, try someone else. I’m busy,” Horikita

said.

“Busy? But everyone else is busy with Sudou’s case right now,” I

blurted out, earning a glare from Horikita.

Her eyes seemed to say, Why are you still talking?

“I have an important daily routine, so I need my alone time. It’s unpleasant to have that time stolen from me.”

Just the answer I would expect from an unabashed misanthrope. If she’d simply said she didn’t like spending time with other people, that would’ve sounded like an excuse.

“Even if I step in and save him now, he’ll land himself in trouble again. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? You seem to think that Sudou-kun is the victim here, but I think differently.”

“Huh? But isn’t Sudou-kun the victim? Besides, it would be bad if he

were lying.” Kushida didn’t seem to understand Horikita’s meaning.

“Maybe the Class C students really did start this fight, but Sudou-kun was also one of the perpetrators.”

“W-wait. What do you mean? Wasn’t Sudou-kun dragged into the fight?”

Horikita slowly turned her gaze towards me, her expression saying

good grief.

No, I didn’t say anything. I averted my eyes as if trying to escape.

After a silent moment, Horikita spoke in an exasperated voice.

“Why was he dragged into the fight? This problem will persist until we understand that fundamental question. Got it? I do not wish to help until that question is answered. Since you weren’t able to

convince me, why don’t you ask the guy standing next to you? Even though he pretends not to understand what I’m thinking, he probably does.”

Please stop saying that I understand you. Kushida looked at me, unable to hide her confusion. Her expression seemed to ask what I knew. Come on, Horikita, don’t say anything unnecessary…

Horikita began to walk off, indicating that the rest was up to me. Kushida seemed to have finally listened to Horikita, and stopped chasing after her.

“Sudou-kun is a perpetrator? Is that…true?” she asked.

Kushida turned to me, as if asking me to save him again. Since Horikita had revealed that I was feigning ignorance, things were probably going to be a pain in the butt. Besides, I’d gladly give Kushida my bank PIN if she asked for it with such a cute expression.

“I understand a little of what Horikita meant. At the very least, Sudou

does share some fault in this case. He’s the type who gets angry

easily, right? Whenever he’s faced with someone he doesn’t like, he lashes out, and speaks and acts in an aggressive, domineering way. When I heard he was being considered for a regular spot on the basketball team, I was both surprised and impressed. No one disagrees that he’s an incredible player, but if he acts so arrogant and prideful, some people will come to hate him. Those who work incredibly hard for their spot would probably see Sudou as a rather disagreeable person. Then there are the rumors, right? People say that Sudou’s been fighting people since junior high. I haven’t met

anyone who knew Sudou at his previous school, but considering how many people are talking about it, there might be something to the rumor.”

People didn’t hold a very good impression of Sudou.

“This was bound to happen eventually. That’s why Horikita said Sudou was a perpetrator.”

“So…his typical behavior, plus his repeated actions, led to this

situation, then?” Kushida asked.

“Yeah. As long as he continues to antagonize those around him, trouble will inevitably follow. Also, if there’s no proof, then people will use his image against him. In other words, they’ll judge him based on their impressions. For example, let’s say there was a murder case. There are two suspects. One of them has committed murder in the past, while the other is a good, upstanding citizen.

Based on that information, who would you believe?”

If asked, nearly everyone would give the same response.

“Well…I’d pick the upstanding citizen, of course.”

“The truth might be different. However, the less information you have upon which to base your judgment, the more you have to rely on whatever meager information you have at hand. That’s what’s happening here. Horikita cannot overlook the fact that Sudou doesn’t recognize his flaws.”

I didn’t think this was exactly a “you reap what you sow” situation,

though.

“I see. So that’s what she meant…”

Kushida gave a small nod.

“So Horikita-san isn’t going to save Sudou-kun because she wants to

teach him a lesson?”

“I guess so, yeah. By punishing him, she wants him to understand himself better.”

Kushida understood, but clearly didn’t agree. It seemed like she was

a little angry, balling her fists in anger.

“I don’t agree with abandoning Sudou-kun just to punish him. If she’s

dissatisfied with him, I think she should at least talk to him directly.

That’s what friends would do.”

I didn’t think that Horikita considered Sudou her friend, though. Besides, Horikita wasn’t the type to teach through kindness. She didn’t feel an obligation to others.

“You should act according to your own principles, Kushida. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to help Sudou.”

“Yeah.”

Kushida nodded without hesitation. She would extend her hand to a friend in need as many times as it took. It sounds simple, but it was actually difficult. Only someone like Kushida could do such a thing.

“However, I think it would be better if we carefully considered

whether or not to directly point out Sudou’s problems. If he doesn’t actually take the time to reflect, there’s no point. There are certain realizations you can only come to on your own.”

“Okay. I understand. I’ll follow your advice, Ayanokouji-kun.” Kushida arched her back and stretched; I’d changed her thinking. “Okay, let’s go hunt for the witness.”

We returned to the classroom, and rejoined Ike and Yamauchi.

“Huh? So, you couldn’t persuade Horikita?” Ike said. “No, I’m sorry. I failed,” Kushida replied.

“No, no. You don’t have to apologize, Kushida-chan. We should be

fine with who we already have.”

“I’m counting on you, Ike-kun. Yamauchi-kun,” Kushida appealed

with sparkling eyes. The two of them gazed back, love-struck.

“Okay, so where should we start?”

Randomly searching for a witness would be ineffective. It would’ve

been better to come up with a plan before starting our search.

“If no one has any objections, how about we start by asking around Class B?” I asked.

“Why Class B?”

“Because that’s the class that would most want a witness.” “Sorry. I don’t quite understand, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“Between D and C, which class most threatens Class B? Or to put it another way, which class is more likely to threaten B’s place in the ranking?”

“C, of course. So we should ask C last, I suppose. But why not start

with Class A?”

“We know too little about Class A. I don’t think they’d want to get involved in a troublesome affair that might negatively impact their points. It’s also possible that Class A students don’t care, as they feel no connection to what goes on between C and D.”

Of course, I still didn’t know if we could trust Class B. If they had a particularly cunning person, he or she might have devised a plan to defeat not only C, but Class D as well. Even if that plan didn’t exist, I believed we ought to prepare countermeasures based on that idea.

“Well then, let’s go to Class B right away!” Kushida cried. “Stop.” I reflexively grabbed the back of Kushida’s collar. “Nyaa!” Surprised, Kushida let out a cat-like yelp.

“So cuuute!” After seeing Kushida’s adorable reaction, Yamauchi had hearts in his eyes. She was probably being adorable on purpose… Despite thinking that, my heart pounded like crazy.

“It is certainly true that your excellent communication skills are indispensable. However, this isn’t the same as casually strolling into another class and trying to make friends.”

“You think so?”

If the witness was willing to help Class D for nothing, or if they were friendly, then there’d be no need to worry. However, it the witness was a calculating person, then he or she might not agree to help. We wouldn’t know whether that person would assist Class D unless we tried asking, though. Even if we went to Class B to talk…how would things turn out?

“Do you know anyone in Class B?”

“I do. I’ve only gotten to know a few people, though,” Kushida said. “Well then, let’s talk to those people first then.”

We absolutely did not want word to get out that Class D was frantically searching for witnesses.

“Wait, ask them one by one? Wouldn’t it be way easier to ask

everyone at the same time?” said Ike. He didn’t seem to like this

roundabout way of doing things.

“I also think you’re being too negative. I do think it’s a good idea to ask Class B, but I also think we should ask several people at once. If not, we may not find the witness in time.”

“I see. You might be right about that. We should do what you think is best, Kushida.”

“I’m sorry, Ayanokouji-kun.”

Kushida clasped her hands together apologetically. She hadn’t really done anything wrong, though. It was only natural that we’d have different opinions on the matter. Besides, in times like these the

majority should decide what to do. Kushida’s plan had convinced me,

so I withdrew my own.

Suddenly, I felt a sensation, like someone was watching me. I turned around.

About one third of our class remained in the room. Nothing here seemed especially odd. Still, I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was bothering me, or who’d given me the feeling of being watched.

3.3

The first classroom we visited had a slightly different atmosphere. Although it looked fundamentally the same as ours, it felt as though we had come to an alien place. It was a bit like soccer; clearly the difference between a home and an away game in soccer was no

trivial thing. We also didn’t know if the students around us were friend or foe. Even Ike and Yamauchi appeared to be shaking in their boots. They simply stood frozen in the classroom doorway, unable to move.

Kushida was the only one who remained unfazed. In fact, she found her Class B friends and, with a smile on her face, waved to them and headed over. What an incredible attitude. I wanted to learn how to be like that. She chatted with people regardless of gender, exactly how she acted in Class D.

No one was more jealous of this than Ike and Yamauchi. Kushida was happily chatting with people who were clearly more attractive than they.

“D-damn it! There are way too many guys after my Kushida-chan.

This sucks!”

What was he talking about? His Kushida?

“Don’t panic, Ike. It’s okay. We’re in Kushida-chan’s class, so we’re one step ahead of them!”

The pair, comrades in vexation, grasped each other’s arms.

Although there were only about 10 people left in the classroom,

Kushida began explaining Sudou’s case. All things considered, the atmosphere in Class B wasn’t that different from Class D. Certainly not what I’d expect from a class full of honor students. They didn’t seem especially formal. In fact, many of the students seemed to do as they pleased. Although they were free to act however they wanted within school regulations, I’d expected their hair and clothing to be a bit more reserved. Instead, however, some students had dyed hair, and…well…certain girls wore rather short skirts.

As the saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Or perhaps they were superior to Class D in more than simple academics.

This school was far too mysterious. Thinking about these things was a pain in the butt. Anyway, I had only come here to accompany Kushida today, so I thought it best to leave things to her. I moved further away from the doorway to evade Ike and Yamauchi’s notice.

“I wanna go home.”

I didn’t want them to hear me grumbling to myself. From outside the window, I could see the Track and Field Club running and working up a sweat. The air conditioning inside school was especially effective, so I didn’t really feel like going out.

“Wow, those guys in the sports club really work hard, huh?”

Ike, having scouted around Class B, joined me in looking out the window. He was an especially capricious person, so waiting probably bored him. “I think people who participate in clubs are stupid,” he said.

“Why would you say that? You know such a statement will alienate about half of the students here, right?” I didn’t know the precise numbers, but I estimated at least 60 to 70 percent of the students in this school participated in clubs.

“If you like exercising, then what’s wrong with just doing it as a

hobby? What benefit is there to undergoing such a harsh regimen?”

I thought it odd to view club activities solely in terms of benefits or drawbacks. Besides, there were many benefits to participating in a club. You gained the skills necessary to build relationships with other people, and you also got to experience victory and defeat. These were things you couldn’t learn just by studying alone. Besides, someone who never participated in clubs and only went straight home after class could probably stand to learn that lesson.

“You’re probably right,” I said.

I waited for a few minutes until I received Kushida’s report. I certainly didn’t expect what she told me.

Written on August 15, 2022