Y1 Vol 2 Chapter 6 | Truth and Lies

The day our fate would be decided was here. Before anything else, I wanted to confirm that Sakura was coming to school. When I entered the classroom, I saw the same thing as always. Sakura sat quietly alone, so as not to get roped into other students’ conversations. Her expression seemed even gloomier than usual. But in any case, she’d still come to school.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Ah, yeah. I’m fine.”

I wondered if she was nervous. She seemed composed, if not completely calm.

“I thought that things would be tough if I were absent today, so…”

She understood that the entire class would be upset if she were absent, so she’d made the painful decision to come to school. I imagined it would be impossible to tell her not to think about Sudou and the others.

“Don’t forget what I said yesterday. Testify for your own sake, more than anyone else’s.”

“Yeah. I’ll be okay.”

Ike and Yamauchi looked over at Sakura with great curiosity. Of course, that was because they now knew of her idol identity. Sakura was probably sensitive enough to notice this. She looked like she’d guessed that Ike and Yamauchi had discovered her identity. Oh no…

But Sakura just wore a thin smile and quietly mouthed the words,

“It’s all right.” She was aware that we knew of her double life. Maybe working as an idol had made her sensitive to subtle changes in a room.

6.1

As the bell rang for the end of class, Horikita and I stood up.

“Have you prepared for this, Sudou-kun?” “Yeah… I’m good. I was born ready.”

As if mentally preparing himself for what lay ahead, Sudou closed his eyes and folded his arms. But then he slowly opened his eyes again.

“You might call me a complete idiot and make fun of me, but I’m me.

If you have something you want to say, say it now.”

“Don’t do anything selfish. Actually listening right now would be the clever thing to do, yes?”

“Ugh, you always act so high and mighty, lady.”

When you saw them like this, it did seem as though they fought like cats and dogs. But at the very least, Sudou didn’t hate Horikita. If he did he would’ve absolutely refused her help, no matter how advantageous her offer.

“Do your best, Horikita-san. Sudou-kun.”

Horikita didn’t respond at all, but Sudou pumped his fist to show resolve. I turned to check on Sakura who was still sitting down, her body rigid. She stood, her lips trembling slightly.

“Yeah… I’m okay. Thank you…”

Sakura was far tenser than I’d expected. If she was in this psychological state before the meeting had even begun, she might not be able to speak satisfactorily.

“Let’s go. We’ll make a bad impression if we’re late.”

The discussion was scheduled to begin at 4:00 PM. It was already 3:50 PM. We couldn’t afford to take it slow. When the four of us got to the faculty room, a teacher waved at us to come on inside.

“Yahoo! Hello, Class D students!”

The homeroom teacher for Class B, Hoshinomiya-sensei, gave us this happy-go-lucky greeting. “It seems like something rather incredible has happened, hmm?”

Her eyes sparkled, as if she enjoyed sticking her nose into other

people’s business. (Well, she did).

“What are you doing this time?” Chabashira-sensei muttered.

“Oh no. I’ve been found out already, huh?”

Chabashira-sensei glared over at Hoshinomiya-sensei as she exited the faculty room. “Whenever you sneak out, that’s around the time I start to feel suspicious.”

Hoshinomiya gave a cute wink, as if saying, Teehee, you got me! “So I guess I can’t join in, huh?”

“Of course you can’t. You know that outsiders cannot participate.”

“Aw, that’s too bad. Well, that’s all right. The results should be out within the hour, I guess.”

Chabashira-sensei forcefully pushed Hoshinomiya-sensei back into the faculty room.

“Well then, shall we be going?” she asked us.

“We’re not going to do this in the faculty room, are we?”

“Of course not. This school does have rather complicated rules, but in cases such as these a settlement is reached between the homeroom teacher of the class in question, the concerned parties, and the student council.”

Horikita froze the very moment she heard the words “student

council.” Chabashira-sensei turned and glanced sharply at Horikita’s

face.

“If you want to stop, now’s the time, Horikita.”

Sudou, who didn’t understand why Horikita would react that way, looked confused. It was almost as if a giant question mark was floating above his head. Our teacher, as usual, had revealed an important detail right at the last minute.

“I’ll go. I’m fine.”

Horikita quickly glanced at me. Her look probably meant something like, Don’t worry on my account. We left the first-floor faculty room and walked up three floors to the fourth. A placard that read “Student Council Room” was affixed to the wall near the doorway. Chabashira-sensei knocked, and we went inside.

Even though Horikita had winced, she immediately followed us. Inside, long tables had been arranged in rectangular formation. The three students from Class C had already arrived and were seated.

Beside them sat a bespectacled male teacher in his 30s.

“Sorry we’re late,” our sensei said.

“It’s before the scheduled start time. There’s no need for apologies.” “Have you already met?”

Sudou, Horikita, and I did not know the teacher.

“This is Sakagami-sensei, the homeroom teacher for Class C. Now

then.”

One lone male student seated in the back of the room attracted

everyone’s attention.

“This is the student council president.”

Horikita’s older brother, without so much as even a glance at his sister, pored over the documents on his desk. Horikita directed her gaze at her brother for a short time, but when she realized that she wasn’t his focus, she lowered her eyes and sat down in front of the Class C students.

“Well then, I would now like to discuss the violent incident that occurred last Tuesday with the members of the student council, the involved parties, and their homeroom teachers. You may begin the proceedings, student council secretary Tachibana.”

Secretary Tachibana, a woman with short hair, gave a slight bow.

“Of course, considering the magnitude of this dispute, there are times when the student council president will take over. There are several unusual things about this incident. Other than that, the bulk of the proceedings will be handled solely by Tachibana, as usual.”

“Because I am quite busy, there are certain agenda topics upon which I will defer. As a general rule, though, I would prefer to attend to these issues, as I’m entrusted to lead this student council.”

“So, this is all by chance?” Chabashira-sensei smiled as she said that, but Horikita’s older brother never wavered. On the contrary though, Horikita—Horikita the younger sister, I mean—couldn’t hide her trembling. Considering they were brother and sister, the odds were not in our favor. In fact, I couldn’t help but think that this situation was extremely disadvantageous, as Horikita couldn’t demonstrate her usual prowess here. Our expectations had been thoroughly shattered.

If the student council president acted, there’d be nothing we could do, even if we didn’t like it. He’d enrolled in Class A and immediately taken office as secretary for the student council. In December of his first year, he became the student council president after receiving an overwhelming amount of support in the election. Although some senior students had naturally voiced their displeasure, our current, hopeless situation spoke to his incredible abilities.

Secretary Tachibana summarized the situation from both sides in an easy-to-understand manner. There wasn’t any need for further explanation.

“Based on the aforementioned facts, we would like for you to identify which version of events is true.” After completing her explanation and the preface to the proceedings, Secretary Tachibana turned her eyes toward us in Class D. “Komiya-kun and two other members of the basketball club went to the special building after Sudou-kun called them there. There, they claim to have been beaten up in a one-sided brawl. Is this true?”

“What those guys said was a lie. I was the one that got called over to the special building,” Sudou said. “That day, after practice, Komiya and Kondou asked me to go to the special building. Honestly, I thought it was kind of annoying, but I also thought it might’ve been because they were always hostile towards me. So, I went to meet them.”

Sudou wasn’t one to mince words. Normally, Horikita would have been disgusted by his casual way of speaking, but judging from her trembling she didn’t hear him at all. Sakagami-sensei, Class C’s homeroom teacher, stared in wide-eyed amazement.

“That’s a lie. Sudou-kun called us over to the special building.”

“Don’t screw with me, Komiya! You were the one who called me, you jerk!”

“You don’t seem to remember your position here.”

Sudou, irritated, impulsively struck his desk. Immediate silence followed.

“Please calm down, Sudou-kun. Right now, we’re merely listening to what both parties have to say. Komiya-kun, we ask that you too

please show some restraint, and not interrupt.” “Puh, fine…”

“Both parties insist that the other called them over, so the accounts conflict. However, the stories share some commonality. There was a dispute between Sudou-kun, Komiya-kun, and Kondou-kun, correct?”

“I wouldn’t call it a dispute. Sudou-kun’s always picking fights with us.”

“‘Picking fights’?”

“Sudou’s better at basketball than we are, so he’s always bragging about it. We practice with everything we’ve got, but it doesn’t exactly feel good when he makes fools out of us. So we often butt heads.”

I didn’t really know the details of Sudou’s club activities, but when I saw the veins popping on his forehead, it was rather obvious that they were lying. Next, Secretary Tachibana spoke to Sudou.

“Not one bit of what Komiya said was true. Those guys are just jealous of my talent. When I practice, they constantly get in my way. That’s the truth.”

Naturally, both sides claimed that the other party was at fault.

“Both sides have given their grievances, but now we have to come to a judgment with the collected evidence.”

“Sudou-kun beat us senseless. It was a one-sided fight.”

Class C seemed intent on focusing the discussion on their injuries. The three students did seem to have black-and-blue faces. That was undeniable.

“That’s a lie. They attacked first. It was self-defense.”

“Hey, Horikita,” I whispered to Horikita, who remained mute and kept her head down. Clearly, this situation was really bad. If we wanted to stop Sudou from getting carried away, we had to take action sooner rather than later. However, she showed no reaction. It was as if her mind was gone. Did her brother’s mere presence truly have this much of an effect?

I flashed back to those two talking behind the dormitory. I didn’t really understand the depth of the situation, but I suspected that Horikita had chased after her extremely talented brother, enrolling in the same school to make him recognize her abilities. But regardless of her hopes and talents, the younger sister in Class D was still very far away from her brother, the Class A student council president. To prove herself, she’d have to rise up to the same arena as him.

“If Class D has no further proof to offer, would you mind if we

continued the proceedings?”

If the student council and the teachers continued to sit in complete silence, their judgment would almost certainly be merciless. To prevent that, we needed Horikita to rouse herself into action.

However, our team’s most crucial member withered and shrank

before her older brother.

“It would seem there’s no objection, given the arguments we’ve heard thus far.” The student council president finally spoke.

Horikita’s older brother seemed as though he wanted to draw a conclusion as soon as possible.

“Regardless which party called the other over, the fact remains that it was a one-sided fight between Sudou and the other students. We can clearly see that from the injuries they sustained. We have no choice but to come up with a conclusion based on that.”

“W-wait! I can’t accept that! It’s just because those guys were a bunch of wimps!”

The moment that Sudou uttered those words, I saw Sakagami-sensei smile.

“Then can it really be considered self-defense when fighting against

opponents of such unequal strength?”

“B-but, hey. I was fighting against three people! Three people!” “But only the Class C students were hurt.”

This was getting worse. I resigned myself to the fact that I might be killed later for doing this, but I got up slowly from my folding chair and stood behind Horikita. I stretched my arms out and grasped her sides as hard as I could.

“Hyah?!” Horikita cried out in an abnormally girlish voice. However, this was not the time or place for me to focus on that. Since she hadn’t yet regained her sanity, I grabbed her more forcefully and tickled her.

“W-wait. S-stop, stop!”

No matter how upset or dazed a person was, if you stimulated the body enough, they’d come back to her senses. Even if they didn’t like it. The teachers seemed somewhat taken aback by my actions, but right then I didn’t care. When I believed I’d roused her enough, I let go. Horikita, looking like she was about to cry, glared at me with startling intensity. I’d had to force her, but I knew it was essential to return Horikita to her usual self.

“Get a grip on yourself, Horikita. We’re going to lose at this rate. You have to fight!”

“Tch…”

Horikita, looked at Class C, then the teacher, and then her brother as if finally understanding our situation. It seemed to dawn on her just how desperate our situation was.

“Excuse me. May I ask a question?” she said. “Do you mind, president?”

“I’ll allow it. However, please answer more quickly next time.”

Horikita slowly rose out of her chair.

“Earlier, you said that Sudou-kun called you over to the special

building. But who exactly did Sudou call, and why?”

Komiya and the other Class C students looked at one another, as if saying, Why is she asking that question now?

“Please answer.” Horikita added those last two words to reinforce her aggressive style of questioning. Secretary Tachibana allowed it.

“Kondou and I don’t know why he called us over. When we’d just finished up for the day and were changing, he said he wanted to talk to us for a minute. Wasn’t the reason just that he didn’t like us?”

“So then, why exactly were you in the special building, Ishizaki-kun? You’re not on the basketball team, so you have no connection to this case. I’d think your presence there would be rather odd.”

“That’s… I came as a precaution. There were rumors that Sudou was violent. He’s also in better shape than we are, physically. I had to go, didn’t I?”

“So in other words, you felt the situation might turn violent?”

“Yeah.” They answered in unison, almost as if they’d expected these questions. It appeared that the Class C students had thoroughly rehearsed for this conference.

“I see. So you brought along Ishizaki-kun as your bodyguard, since he was reputed to be rather good at fighting. Just in case there was an emergency.”

“It was to protect ourselves. That was it. Besides, we didn’t know

that Ishizaki-kun was known for being good in a fight. We just considered him a reliable friend.”

Horikita quietly listened to their responses, as if running various simulations in her head. Then she immediately made her next move.

“I do have some knowledge of martial arts, if only to a certain extent. I understand that when you’re fighting against multiple enemies,

victory becomes exponentially more difficult. So I don’t understand how you were defeated so handily, how the fight could be so one- sided, when you had a skilled fighter like Ishizaki-kun with you.”

“Because we didn’t intend to fight.”

“The primary factor in triggering a fight is the collision of the ‘energy’ between opponents. In the event that you don’t have any intention of fighting, or that you’re nonviolent, the probability that you’ll be hurt should be very low. Especially when there are three of you.”

Horikita’s opinion was very objective, grounded in evidence, rules, and her own logic. On the other end, Komiya fought back with his own weapon, real evidence.

“That way of thinking doesn’t apply to Sudou-kun. He’s exceptionally violent. Even if we were nonviolent, he’d still be mercilessly violent. That’s what happened.”

He peeled off the gauze that covered his cheek, exposing the scrapes underneath. No matter how many reasonable arguments Horikita made, his injury gave powerful evidence.

“Are you finished with your claims now, Class D?” said Horikita’s older brother coolly. After staying silent while Horikita gave her argument, his words were few and icy. His look seemed to suggest that if that was all we had to say, it would’ve been better not to say anything at all.

“It’s true that Sudou injured the other students. However, Class C started the fight. There is one student witness who saw the entire incident and can attest to this.”

“Well then, Class D—if Class D’s witness would please enter?”

Sakura, looking worried and restless, walked into the student council room. She looked down at her feet, as if scared of danger.

“1-D, Sakura Airi-san.”

“I thought I’d heard something or other about a witness, but you’re a Class D student?” Sakagami, the Class C’s homeroom instructor, snickered while wiping his glasses.

“Is there a problem, Sakagami-sensei? “No, no, please. Go ahead.”

Sakagami-sensei and Chabashira-sensei exchanged looks.

“You may begin your testimony, if you wouldn’t mind, Sakura-san.” “Y-yes, okay… Well… I…”

She stopped speaking. A period of silence followed. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Sakura steadily looked further downward, and her face became increasingly pale.

“Sakura-san…” Horikita, unable to take any more, addressed Sakura. Unlike before, the words didn’t seem to reach her.

“Apparently she didn’t witness anything. More of this would just be a

waste of our time.”

“Why are you in such a hurry, Sakagami-sensei?”

“I want to speed this along. If we waste time, my students will suffer. These students are the joyful heart of their class, so I’ve no doubt that their many friends are worried about them. Also, they’re striving to improve their basketball skills, and we’re depriving them of valuable practice time. As a teacher, I can’t overlook this.”

“I see. You’re probably right about that.”

You’d think that Chabashira-sensei would ally herself with Class D, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Instead, she nodded in apparent agreement with Sakagami-sensei.

“You’re certainly right that this is a waste of time, so I suppose we

have no choice. You can come down now, Sakura.”

Chabashira-sensei ordered Sakura to leave, almost as if she’d lost interest. The student council members didn’t ask for a delay or anything. The writing was clearly on the student council room wall, and it spelled Class D’s defeat. Sakura closed her eyes tightly, as if she couldn’t bear it anymore, as if she regretted her own weakness. Even Sudou, Horikita, and I felt like this was impossible for Sakura, and mentally resigned herself.

Then, it happened. An unexpected voice reverberated throughout the room.

“I definitely saw what happened!”

It was certainly Sakura’s voice, though it took me several seconds to recognize it. What most struck me was the volume of her voice.

“The students in Class C threw the first punch. There’s no mistake about that!”

Sakura’s words had a force that belied the image she’d presented at first. She spoke so desperately that you wanted to believe she was telling the truth. She certainly made me believe it. However, much like a magical spell, the effect lasted for only a few minutes. If the audience remained calm, it wouldn’t be difficult for them to see through it.

“Excuse me, but may I say something?” asked Sakagami-sensei, raising his hand.

“Normally, teachers are asked to speak as little as possible, but this

situation is just too pitiful. Student council president, do you mind?” “I’ll allow it.”

“In regards to what you’ve said, Sakura-kun, I do not necessarily doubt you. However, I have one thing to ask. You’ve stepped forward to testify as a witness, but you were rather late in doing so. May I ask why? I would think if you really did see something, you would have

come forward much earlier.”

Sakagami-sensei harped on the same point that Chabashira-sensei had.

“That’s… Well, that’s… I didn’t want to get involved…” “Why didn’t you want to get involved?”

“Because I’m not very good at talking with other people…”

“I see. I understand that. However, I’d like to say something else. You’re not good at talking with others, and yet when the week was nearly out you stepped forward as a witness. Doesn’t that seem rather odd? To my mind, it seems Class D secretly put a story together and are having you act as a false witness to give phony

testimony.”

After conferring together, the Class C students answered that they’d

thought so, too.

“That’s… I’m just…telling the truth…”

“No matter how poor your communication skills might be, I can see you haven’t testified with much confidence. Is that because you’re tormented with guilt, because you know what you’re saying is actually a lie?”

“N-no, that’s not it…”

“I’m not blaming you. You were probably forced to lie for your class’s

sake, to save Sudou-kun. Weren’t you? If you come forward and confess honestly to us now, you won’t be punished.”

The teacher’s relentless psychological attacks just kept coming. Of course Horikita raised her hand.

“That is not the case. It is certainly true that Sakura-san is not good at speaking before others. However, it is precisely because she witnessed the incident that she is standing here today. Otherwise, she most likely would not, even if we’d asked her. Don’t you think that if we needed someone who could speak boldly, we would have found a replacement?”

“I don’t think so. There are excellent students in Class D, students such as yourself, Horikita-san. By setting up a person like Sakura-san as your witness, it would establish a sense of realism that you

yourself could not.”

Sakagami-sensei probably didn’t actually believe this. However, no matter what response we volleyed back, I was convinced that he’d do anything to block us. Just as I’d felt from the start, a Class D witness did not carry enough weight. No matter how many times we stressed the truth, they would say that we were lying. If the testimony came from someone on your side, they wouldn’t accept it.

Had we run out of options? Sakagami-sensei gave a hostile grin as he began to sit back down.

“If you want proof… I’ll give it to you!”

Sakagami-sensei froze in response to Sakura’s words.

“Please, let’s not force this situation to continue. If there really was

evidence, you would have presented it at an earlier stage—”

Sakura loudly slammed her hand on the desk, and threw down what looked to be a few small, rectangular pieces of paper.

“What are those?”

Because she’d produced something other than words, Sakagami-

sensei’s expression stiffened for the first time.

“This is proof that I was in the special building that day!”

Secretary Tachibana walked over to Sakura. Though she hesitated at first, she then reached for the paper. No, those weren’t pieces of paper like I’d thought. They were photos.

“President.”

After looking at the photographs, Secretary Tachibana handed them over to the student council president. Horikita’s older brother, after looking at the pictures for some time, laid them out on the desk so that we could see. We saw Sakura in those pictures, but this Sakura wore a lovely expression that looked both similar and dissimilar to the Sakura with us now. It was the idol, Shizuku.

“I’m…I was looking for places where no one was around so I could take pictures of myself. The pictures also show the date and time, which proves that I was there when I said.”

The date on the pictures definitely showed that they’d been taken in the evening one week ago. That would’ve been around the time that Sudou and the others finished their club activities for the day.

Horikita and I unintentionally gasped in response to this new evidence. We began to see changes in the three Class C students, who up until now had been playing the part of victims. They were visibly shaking.

“What did you use to take these photos?” asked Sakagami-sensei. “A digital…camera.”

“You can alter the date rather easily with a digital camera, though. If you manipulated these photos on a computer, you could effectively set them at the time and date of the incident. This are inadequate

evidence.”

“But Sakagami-sensei, don’t you think this photo is different?” Horikita’s older brother slid out one of the photos we hadn’t yet seen, and handed it to the teacher.

“Th-this?!”

The photo showed the fight itself; clearly there was no need to nitpick the time. The setting sun bathed the hallway in dusky light. The picture seemed to show what had happened immediately after Sudou hit Ishizaki.

“I think that you’ll believe I was there after seeing…this.” “Thank you, Sakura-san.”

This picture had absolutely saved Horikita as well. To rescue such an

overwhelmingly disadvantageous situation…

“I see. Well, you do seem to be telling the truth about witnessing the incident. That much I simply must accept. However, I can’t ascertain how the situation started from this picture. This doesn’t prove that

you saw the entire incident.”

It was certainly true that this picture made it look like the fight had

already ended. We couldn’t call this definitive evidence.

“So, what do you think, Chabashira-sensei? Why not look for a

compromise here?” Sakagami-sensei asked.

“Compromise?”

“I’m convinced that Sudou-kun lied in his testimony.”

“You jerk!” Sudou stood up, looking ready to fly out of his chair, but finally grabbed hold of his own arms and pinned himself down.

“No matter how long we go back and forth, we’ll never reach an agreement. We won’t change our testimony, and your side won’t

give up or admit that you conspired with the witness. In other words, you won’t stop. It’ll be an endless cycle of saying that the other side is lying. In addition, the picture is too inconclusive to be considered definitive proof. Therefore, I suggest we compromise. I do think that the students from Class C are responsible for some of the blame here. There were three students up against Sudou, and one of them has a history of fighting, which is a problem. So how about two weeks of suspension for Sudou-kun, and one week of suspension for my students? What do you think of that? The weight of the punishment is different, of course, but I think that matches the

difference in sustained injuries.”

Horikita’s older brother stayed silent as he listened to Sakagami- sensei. It seemed that Class C was willing to compromise only

halfway. If we hadn’t had Sakura’s testimony or evidence, Sudou-kun probably would have been suspended for over a month. Asking for less than half of that made this a considerable concession.

“Don’t screw around! This isn’t a joke!” Sudou raged. “Chabashira-sensei. What do you think?” Sakagami-sensei didn’t even glance at Sudou.

“We seem to have already reached a logical conclusion. There’s no reason to refuse Sakagami-sensei’s proposal,” Chabashira-sensei said.

His proposal was certainly a reasonable compromise. Horikita looked up at the ceiling, as if quietly mulling over everything that had gone on so far. No matter how much we resisted, Sudou wouldn’t be acquitted entirely without conclusive evidence. Horikita had known this from the very beginning.

She had concluded that we needed to reach a compromise. For a Class D student, Horikita was quite impressive.

However, if she was aiming to make it to Class A, she couldn’t give up here. I hadn’t intended to speak out until the very end, but I decided to lend a helping hand, perhaps out of respect for Sakura’s earlier courage.

“Horikita, are we really out of options?” I asked. “ “

Horikita did not respond. Well, did she even have any words left?

“I’m not very smart, so I can’t really come up with a solution. I do, however, think that we probably should accept the compromise that you have offered us, Sakagami-sensei,” I said.

“Right,” Sakagami-sensei replied with a smile, pushing his glasses back up his nose.

“We have no definitive proof of Sudou’s innocence. I suppose I should say such evidence just doesn’t exist. If this event had occurred in a classroom or the convenience store, a greater number of students would have been around to see it, and there probably would have been sound evidence. There’s no record of anyone watching this scene unfold. Since this event took place in the special building, where there weren’t any people around, there’s nothing we can do.”

I sighed deeply and shook my head. I looked straight into Horikita’s eyes, and she gazed back at me. I spoke as if we were accepting defeat.

“I understand why we’re having this discussion. No matter how much we appeal to the contrary, Class C won’t admit that they lied. Sudou won’t admit that he lied, either. We really would just keep going

back and forth. Honestly, it’s getting to the point where I would’ve

been happier never having had this discussion in the first place.

Don’t you agree?”

Horikita cast her eyes down. I wondered what she was thinking. If she took my words only at surface value, then things would end here.

“So, that’s it, yes? Well, Class D representative Horikita-san. Please give your opinion on the matter.” Sakagami-sensei had taken what I’d said literally. In other words, as a declaration of defeat. For Class C, victory meant not allowing Sudou to be acquitted. The teacher’s expression indicated that he had won this match.

“I understand…” Horikita answered, slowly looking back up.

“Horikita!” Sudou cried. It was the roar of a man who, more than anyone else, did not want to admit defeat. He couldn’t. However, Horikita did not stop there. She continued with her closing remarks.

“I think that Sudou, who caused the incident, has a problem. He doesn’t ever stop to consider his actions, which inconveniences everyone around him. He has a history of getting in fights. He’s the type to raise his voice and fists right away whenever something displeases him. In the event of an uproar such as this, well, it should be obvious who caused it.”

“H-hey!”

“You need to understand, Sudou. Your attitude caused all of this.” Horikita glared intensely over at Sudou, almost as if to outdo Sudou’s own ferocity. “This is why I wasn’t motivated at all to help Sudou-kun in the beginning. I knew that even if I forced myself to lend a hand, he would just repeat the same mistakes again and again.”

“A very honest answer. The matter seems settled now, wouldn’t you say?”

“Thank you very much. Please take your seat now,” Secretary

Tachibana said to Horikita.

A period of silence followed. After that came Sudou’s clearly irritated bellow. And then, even after five, then ten seconds of waiting, Horikita did not sit back down.

“Will you take your seat now?” Secretary Tachibana asked Horikita to sit once again, as if she suspected that Horikita couldn’t hear her. Yet Horikita still did not sit. She fixated on the teachers, continuing to stare right at them.

“He should reflect on his actions. However, not in this particular case. When I say he should reflect, I mean that he should look back on his past actions. In regards to this particular incident, however, I don’t think Sudou-kun did anything wrong. This was not an unfortunate event that occurred merely by chance. I’m convinced that this was a deliberate move made by Class C. I have absolutely no intention of meekly accepting defeat.”

Horikita broke the long silence with these haughty words.

“So then…what do you mean?” Horikita’s older brother looked at his

younger sister for the first time. Horikita did not shrink under his

gaze. She probably felt that this wasn’t the time to be frightened, that she had to be brave in front of Sakura. Or perhaps she could see the path to a final resolution?

“If you did not understand, I will say it once again. We claim that Sudou-kun is completely innocent. Therefore, we cannot accept his suspension from school, even for just one day.”

“Ha ha… What can I even say? We did this intentionally? What a bizarre claim. Apparently, the student council president’s younger sister can’t help but spew nonsense.”

“Sudou-kun is the victim, just as the witness testified. Please do not

make any errors in your judgment.”

The Class C students began to shout insistently.

“Don’t screw around! I’m the victim here!”

Sudou, compelled by the shouting, raised his own voice again. The objections came fast and furious. Everyone understood that we would not find a solution this way.

“That’s enough. Continuing this discussion would just be a waste of time.” Horikita Manabu looked at us as if we were just swapping lies in a giant mudslinging match.

“What I’ve learned today is that each side has an exact opposite claim. In that case, one side is propagating an extremely malicious falsehood.”

D or C? Which class was lying to the school? If this fact became known, the consequences would be greater than suspension.

“I’ll ask you, Class C. Have you lied to us today?” “Of…of course not!”

“Well, what about you, Class D?”

“I haven’t lied. Everything we’ve said has been the truth.”

“Then we will regroup here for a retrial tomorrow at 4:00 PM. If by

then it hasn’t been clearly established which party has lied, or in the event no one admits that they were at fault, we will pass judgment based on the evidence we’ve collected thus far. Of course, in that case we may have to consider the possibility of expulsion from this school. That is all.”

After offering that statement, Horikita’s older brother ended the proceedings. If the trial was set to reopen at 4:00 tomorrow, that was a very small window of time in which to uncover new evidence.

“Would be possible to have a little more time before we

reconvene?” Horikita asked, raising her hand. She hadn’t protested,

but she had made an offer.

“If this matter required some extra time before retrial, then the student council president would have offered a sufficient grace period. In other words, the amount of time granted should be enough for this case. Extensions are only offered under special

circumstances,” answered Chabashira-sensei, folding her arms. It appeared she’d taken the student council’s intentions into consideration.

We were told to leave. Everyone looked dissatisfied as they exited the student council office. Sakagami-sensei approached Sakura, who seemed to be on the verge of tears. He said something very cold to her.

“I want you to reflect on the fact that many students will be involved in this due to your lies. Also, if you think that we’ll go easy on you if you start crying, then I am afraid you are being foolish. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Sakagami-sensei and his students left, leaving those words hanging in the air. The Class C students repeatedly complained that the

witness’s lies were far too much on their way out, almost as if they

wanted Sakura to hear them. Silence enveloped the student council room immediately afterward. Sakura, trying to stifle her voice as best she could, burst into tears.

“I tried my absolute hardest to speak up during the discussion, but do we even have a chance? Horikita?”

“I won’t give up. I will keep fighting to support your testimony until the end,” Horikita said.

“You understand that we won’t solve this problem just by being stubborn. Won’t that just hurt more people in the process?”

“I have no intention of losing. Well then, I must excuse myself.”

With that, Horikita turned and left. Sudou followed. I left the student council room alongside Sakura.

“I’m sorry, Ayanokouji-kun… If I’d only stepped forward in the very beginning, everything would have been fine, but… Everything turned out this way because I didn’t have the courage.”

“It would’ve ended the same even if you had stepped forward at the beginning. They would’ve fought to discredit your testimony simply because the witness came from Class D. The result would be the same.”

“But!”

If they suspected Sakura to be a liar, she probably wouldn’t be able to save Sudou by herself. Overcome with emotion, Sakura started crying, large tears rolling down her cheeks. If Hirata were here, he probably would’ve kindly offered her a handkerchief. Strangely enough, this scene seemed to mimic the time Horikita had collapsed briefly when reunited with her brother. It was a moment of deep déjà vu.

Why was this world divided into winners and losers? I’d already

witnessed many victories and defeats, and had seen how closely joy and sorrow seemed to be linked to those outcomes. I couldn’t just

abandon Sakura, so I decided to wait until she could move.

“You’re still here?”

Horikita’s older brother and Secretary Tachibana came out of the student council room. Secretary Tachibana began locking the door with a key.

“What are you planning to do?” “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I thought that when you came here with Suzune, you’d unveil some kind of master plan.”

“I’m not exactly Zhuge Liang or Kuroda Kanbei. I don’t have any plans.”

“So does that mean when Suzune claimed Sudou was completely

innocent, she was merely getting carried away?” “Hyperbole, you mean? I don’t think so.”

“I see.”

Strangely enough, though my exchanges with Horikita’s brother up to now had been short, our conversation continued. Though he’d left a bad impression on me during our first meeting, I found him easy to talk to now. Perhaps this was to be expected of someone who had climbed the ranks to become student council president. He had a superior understanding of human nature.

“Then there’s what you said, Sakura.” Horikita’s brother turned to Sakura, who’d stifled her crying. “Eyewitness testimony and pictorial evidence certainly carry weight during deliberation. However, please keep in mind that how much we value the evidence is determined by how much we trust in its believability. No matter what you do, the

evidence’s legitimacy is reduced because you are a student from Class D. No matter how detailed your account, we cannot accept it as

one hundred percent true.” Basically, he was calling Sakura a liar. “I-I…I just…told the truth…”

“If you can’t prove it, then it’s little more than nonsense.” Sakura hung her head low in frustration, crying once again. “I believe her. I believe Sakura’s testimony,” I said.

“Since she’s a Class D student, it’s only natural that you would want

to believe her.”

“I didn’t say that I want to believe her. I said I believe her. Those

mean different things.”

“So can you prove it? Can you prove she’s not lying?”

“That’s not up to me. Your sister will prove it. If Sakura isn’t lying,

then she will find a way to convince everyone.”

Horikita’s brother chuckled softly, then smiled, as if to suggest such a thing couldn’t be done.

After Horikita’s brother and Tachibana left, I approached Sakura,

who still was not able to move.

“Come on. Chin up, Sakura. There’s no use in crying forever.” “But…it’s all my fault… Hic.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. You just told the truth. Right?” “But… I…”

“I’ll say it one more time. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

I crouched slightly so I could meet Sakura’s eyes. She lowered her head once more, like she didn’t want anyone to see her tears.

“I believe in you. I’m grateful that you came here today. Thanks to you, we now have a chance to save Sudou and our classmates.”

“But… I… Wasn’t I completely useless?”

Just how little confidence did this girl have in herself?

“I believe you because you’re my friend.”

I put my hand on her shoulder. Turning her around somewhat forcibly, I tried to make her look me in the eye.

I repeated it with conviction. I told her, “Do it for yourself.”

“I let you see something so embarrassing…”

Sakura, walking next to me, had stopped crying. She now wore a sheepish smile.

“It’s been such a long time since I cried in front of someone. I feel a little relieved, actually.”

“I’m glad. When I was a kid, I used to cry in front of people all the

time.”

“I had no idea that you were like that, Ayanokouji-kun. That’s completely unlike the image I have of you.”

“Yeah, I cried a lot. Maybe 10 or 20 times in front of other people.”

I’d been frustrated and embarrassed, but I’d been unable to stop crying. However, people who cried could grow stronger and move forward. Sakura seemed to be the type who bottled up her feelings. This incident might have been an important step forward for her.

“I was really happy…when you said that you believed me.”

“It’s not just me. Horikita, Kushida, and Sudou do, too. All of our classmates believe you.”

“Yeah… But you came out and told me directly, Ayanokouji-kun. You

said it.”

Sakura wiped her eyes once again, probably because the tears blurred her vision.

“You gave me courage. I was happy,” she said, with a small smile.

When I heard that, I felt relieved. Even if we could’ve saved Sudou just by forcing Sakura to come forward and pushing her into an uncomfortable situation, it wouldn’t have been a perfect solution.

The two of us lapsed into silence. Neither of us was very good at

making conversation. However, it didn’t feel strange or unpleasant. “U-um, well… I don’t think I should be saying this now, but…”

Just as we neared the entranceway, Sakura opened her mouth.

“Actually… I… Right now…” “Yahoo! You’re really late, huh?”

Ichinose and Kanzaki were waiting for us by the entranceway. They

must’ve been on tenterhooks about the trial’s results. “Were you waiting for us?” I asked.

“We were wondering what happened.”

I stopped and turned to Sakura. “Sorry, Sakura. Can we continue this later?”

Sakura opened up her shoe locker and looked inside. She turned her face to me. “Oh, no, it’s nothing. I just…wanted to say that I would try my best. I’ll be brave.”

With this quick answer, she lowered her head and left. “Sakura?” I tried to stop her, but she hurried out the door. “I’m sorry. Was this a bad time?” Ichinose asked.

“No, it’s fine.”

I described the events that had transpired in the student council room.

“I see. So, you rejected the compromise, huh? Class D is insisting on Sudou’s innocence until the very end?”

“Well, if Sudou even got as little as one day’s suspension, Class C would win.”

In other words, the compromise had been a trap. A sweet trap set to lure us to our defeat. The two of them didn’t seem convinced, though. Kanzaki in particular insisted that we’d made the wrong choice.

“The fact remains that he hit the other students. Your opponents made a concession because of corroboration from the witness and her evidence. You should’ve accepted the compromise.”

“But like Ayanokouji-kun says, Sudou’s suspension would be a loss for Class D. If Sudou were suspended due to his bad behavior, then his chances of being a team regular would probably vanish. He’d be back to square one.”

“He might not just be sent back to square one. It might be worse, actually. If the school knew both sides shared the responsibility, they’d take that into account when assigning punishments. However, if Sudou’s share of the blame increases tomorrow, it’ll be bad news.”

Neither of them were wrong. Either we appealed for his innocence, or we accepted the deal. One of those was the correct answer.

“I see. I think so, too.”

“If you think so, shouldn’t you have stopped it?”

“If you’re brought back into a retrial, you’ll inevitably lose. Just like Kanzaki says, obtaining a not-guilty verdict is virtually impossible.”

No matter our testimony, no matter how passionately we made our claims, we couldn’t win on that point. It wasn’t about just winning or losing anymore. We’d come to an impasse on the battlefield.

“Are you still going to fight? Even without new evidence or testimony?”

“Our leader gave us her decision. We’ll fight to the bitter end.”

Horikita wasn’t stupid. She already knew well enough that this

extension wasn’t a victory. Yet she’d still made the choice to press forward, intending to fight on. That Class D was prepared to face the difficulties ahead was proof of our readiness.

“Hmm. Well, I don’t think we’ll be able to obtain any more leads, but I’ll go check what information I can gather from the Internet.” Though it wouldn’t have been odd for her to wash her hands off us at this point, Ichinose laughed and still offered her cooperation.

“I’ll do my absolute best to look for more evidence or another

witness.” Even though Kanzaki would have opted for compromise,

his cooperation also remained unwavering.

“You’re still willing to help us?” I asked.

“We’re in too deep now. Besides, it’s like we said before. We can’t forgive liars.”

Kanzaki nodded. These were really good people.

“I sincerely appreciate the offer, but it’s not necessary.”

Horikita, who I thought had returned to the dorms, suddenly stood alongside us. Had she been waiting for me?

“Not necessary? What do you mean, Horikita-san?”

“We cannot get Sudou acquitted. Even if a new witness were to

come from Class A or B, it would be impossible. However…there is something I would like you to prepare for us. It is the only possible

solution.”

“Preparing something?” “That’s—”

Horikita proceeded to explain to us what she wanted. The previously

calm Ichinose’s expression now stiffened. “Oh… That’s going to be a really hard request.”

If Ichinose was this hesitant, perhaps it truly was unreasonable. Kanzaki fell silent and appeared deep in thought.

“I understand that I’m in no position to ask this,” Horikita said. “The burden I’d be placing upon you is exceptionally great. But—”

“Ah, no. Well, this should be within the range of what we can do, I

think. That’s because I plan to figure out what’s happening to Class

D. I’ve got tons and tons of things I want to know, but… Well, maybe it would be better for you not to tell us why?”

“You’re certainly right about that. Well then, if I can convince you,

will you cooperate with us?”

Horikita continued to explain the details of her solution to Ichinose, Kanzaki, and me. Why was it necessary? What would we use it for? What was its purpose? After Horikita had finished, Kanzaki and Ichinose stood lost in silent thought.

“You should understand the risks as well as the usefulness of this strategy,” Horikita said.

“When did you come up with this?” Ichinose asked.

“Just before the deliberation ended. Only by chance, though.” “That…an incredible move. I went to the scene of the crime and even

I didn’t think of that. Or, I guess I should say, I was completely in the dark about it. It wasn’t even close to what I could imagine.” Ichinose appeared to understand the plan and its intended effect. However, her expression was still distant, and she still seemed to be thinking.

“An unusual idea. You can probably anticipate the results, too. But does such a thing even exist?” she asked Kanzaki, who seemed a little shocked.

“It might be contrary to your ethics and morals, Ichinose.”

“Ha ha, yeah. You might be right. It’s a change for me. But…it’s certainly one way of doing things.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought as well. It’s something that never should have been done.”

Were they going to lend us a hand? There were lies baked into this strategy. For someone like Ichinose, who hated lying, it was a harsh request.

“Well, since a lie started all this trouble, maybe it’ll take another lie to close the books on this incident. That’s what I think, anyway.”

“Mmmhmm, I see. An eye for an eye, a lie for a lie, yeah? But is that even possible, I wonder? I can’t imagine such a thing would be easy to obtain.”

“Don’t worry about that part. I’ve confirmed it,” Horikita said.

Had she left the student council room immediately to ascertain whether or not it was possible to collect the proof she needed?

“If you ask the Professor to assist us, it should be good. I’ll talk to him.”

Horikita gave a slight nod. She apparently didn’t have any objections.

“Hey, Kanzaki-kun. Did you help us so that we would outpace Class

C?”

“Yeah. That’s right.”

“But I was just thinking, perhaps what we’re doing right now might end up coming back to bite you in the ass later?”

“That could happen.”

“Man. I completely neglected to calculate the fact that Class D has a

girl like you.” Ichinose, after complimenting Horikita, took out her cell phone with a look of slight amazement. “I’ll lend this to you.

Please return it later.”

With that, she affirmed her willingness to help.

“Sure. I promise.” Horikita, grateful for the assistance, accepted it without any hesitation. “Well then, Ayanokouji-kun. There’s something I’d like you to help me with.”

“If it’s not something really bothersome, sure. I’ll help.”

“Helping others is fundamentally bothersome and time-consuming.” In other words, I needed to prepare myself. I didn’t see a way out of

this, so I hesitantly decided to yield to Horikita.

“Okay, let’s g—?!”

I received a shocking blow to my side. The pain was sudden and intense. I tumbled into the corner as if blown by a stiff breeze.

“I’ll forgive you for touching me this time. However, next time I’ll pay you back double.”

“Wha— Ah, ah!”

The pain stole my voice, as if I weren’t allowed to argue. Wait, when she said she’d pay me back “double,” she meant her blows would be twice as hard as now? That was unimaginable!

Dumbfounded, Ichinose watched the whole spectacle. She looked at Horikita as if the girl were something terrifying. Remember that well, Ichinose. Horikita was a woman without mercy… Gulp.

Written on August 15, 2022