Y1 Vol 2 Chapter 7 | Only One Solution

The summer sun hanging in the sky was dazzlingly hot. As I took each step along the tree-lined path to school, my body screamed in agony. Sweat poured down my face. A cheerful student ran alongside and overtook me. She certainly looked lively. Alternatively, perhaps she was crazy? I probably wouldn’t run even if I were being chased by the apocalypse.

Just beyond the trees, light filtering down through their leaves, a lone female student was sitting against the handrail. She looked over at me. How could this beautiful girl be so good at positioning herself against the scenery? The thought occurred to me to capture this idyllic scene in a photograph. However, I didn’t have the guts to take her picture.

“Good morning, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“Were you waiting for someone, Horikita?” “Yes. I was waiting for you.”

“I guess if you wanted to confess your feelings, it’d be best just to get the words out.”

“Are you an idiot?” she spat. I felt hotter than ever. “Everything will be decided today,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“I was thinking…maybe I made a mistake. The wrong choice…” “Would you be happy if we’d compromised?”

I didn’t want to think about it, but Horikita continued. “If Sudou-kun is penalized for this, it’ll be my responsibility.”

“So you do worry about things like this, huh?”

“The truth is that we’re gambling. I’m a little anxious of the outcome. Are you okay?”

“We have the strategy you proposed yesterday. Ichinose will be there, too. We’ll manage.”

I lightly patted Horikita’s shoulder and continued walking.

“Hey—”

“Hmm?”

“Nothing. After we settle this case,” replied Horikita, as if she’d been

about to say something. She shut her mouth.

7.1

I noticed a change as soon as I set foot inside the classroom. Sakura, who usually made it to school just in the nick of time, was already sitting at her desk. Had she come here early for any specific reason?

Horikita also looked shocked to see Sakura. Moreover, Sakura’s body language itself… Well, she looked the same as usual, but I felt like she was sitting up straight, as if ready for something. It was such a subtle difference that you couldn’t really call it a change. It was so miniscule that if you told me I was imagining it, I would say you were right and drop it.

Just as we were about to pass Sakura’s seat, she looked up. Instead of a proper greeting, she meekly raised her hand. For someone like Sakura, that seemed an appropriate response.

That’s what I thought, until—

“Um… Good morning, Ayanokouji-kun. Horikita-san.” “G-good morning…”

That was the first time Sakura had given a morning greeting. I was so shocked that my response stuck in my throat. Our eyes didn’t meet, but she still desperately tried to squeeze out the words.

“What’s with her?” Horikita muttered.

“Maybe because of what happened yesterday, she took a step forward on the path to adulthood?”

Sakura, who rarely spoke in front of others, had boldly given testimony in a tense environment. She’d likely taken the opportunity for some self-reflection.

“People don’t change so easily. Trying to change yourself is virtually impossible.” Horikita’s brief but realistic statement shattered the lovely image I’d created. As I was no idealist myself, I thought Horikita was mostly correct. There was no truly major difference between the today’s Sakura and yesterday’s.

However, it certainly wouldn’t be true to say she was exactly the same. In order to change, first she had to think about changing herself. She had to want to change. There was no mistaking that.

“As long as she doesn’t overdo it, I think it’ll be fine,” Horikita said. “Overdo it?”

“If she tries to do what isn’t possible for someone like her yet, she’ll just set herself up to fail.”

There was a mysterious yet convincing power to Horikita’s words,

almost as if she were speaking from experience.

“Well, as a loner who loves her solitude, you’re very persuasive on this topic.”

“Do you want to die for good?”

Perhaps she didn’t come from solitude, but rather from hell…

I observed Sakura from a distance. She wasn’t yet in a state where she could easily greet other students. Just as I’d expected, she didn’t spontaneously become sociable. Would it be better if she didn’t

force herself? Certainly. She didn’t usually talk to anyone, but she gave us a greeting. What another would consider a trivial action was a tremendous mental and physical strain on Sakura.

It was hard to think that this wouldn’t have an effect on her. Then again, she might split at the seams if she tried to force herself to change too much. We should take care with how we executed our strategy.

7.2

It took approximately 30 minutes for the discussion to start. I stood and began to leave the classroom, heading to meet someone at a certain rendezvous spot. Before I left, I decided to have a word with Sakura.

“Sakura. Are you heading back now?” I asked as she prepared to

leave.

“Ayanokouji-kun… We’re having the trial today.”

“I’m not participating.” I told her that I had to do some trivial work behind the scenes.

“I see…” she murmured.

Sakura cast her eyes down, as if she had something on her mind. She looked a little odd, like she was nervous. It was as if she couldn’t settle down.

“What’s wrong?” “Huh?”

“Sakura, you don’t really need to testify today. There’s no need for you to be so worked up, right?”

Sakura looked like she was sweating.

“It’s because everyone’s doing their best. I thought I’d do my best, too.” It felt like that she was saying that to herself, rather than to me.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“Well, if there’s something I need to move forward… I’ll do it.”

Even though I’d asked what she was thinking, Sakura wouldn’t give a

clear answer. I wanted to ask why she looked uneasy, but the cell phone in my pocket vibrated. My alarm told me the time. I couldn’t stay any longer.

“See you later, Ayanokouji-kun.”

Sakura’s words and bright smile seemed so unlike her. They left me

with an unpleasant feeling.

“Hey, Sakura. Do you have any time later? I wanted to talk to you about something.”

The words felt like they were being squeezed out of me. Sakura gently shook her head.

“I have plans today. Maybe tomorrow?”

If she assured me that she was fine, I couldn’t exactly keep contradicting her. I really had to be going. I turned my back on Sakura and headed off.

It was past 3:40. With classes over for the day, I went to the special building. This place had become increasingly hot and humid as the summer wore on. If things proceeded as planned, then the person I was expecting should arrive soon. Shortly thereafter, three guys showed up, all grumbling about how unbearably hot it was. They appeared happy, though, wearing optimistic expressions.

That was because the three of them had received emails from the class sweetheart, Kushida. Had the message contained an invitation to go on a date? Or perhaps, even more insane, a romantic confession? They were probably dreaming of such things. When they saw me, their fantasies were crushed.

“What’s going on? Why are you here?”

Apparently they remembered me from the student council room. Ishizaki, the group’s leader, stepped forward as if to intimidate me. He was rather forceful when no one was around to see.

“Kushida won’t be here. I asked her to send an email to compel you all to come.”

Ishizaki looked incredibly ill-tempered as he closed the distance

between us. “This isn’t funny. What did you do this for, huh?”

“If I hadn’t used an underhanded method, you would’ve just ignored me, right? I wanted to talk to you.”

“Talk to us? Why would we want to do that? Has the heat scrambled

your brain or something?”

Ishizaki, who clearly was affected by the heat, grabbed his shirt and flapped it.

“No matter what you do, you can’t hide the truth. Sudou called us over here and beat us up. That’s our answer. Now he needs to quietly accept his punishment.”

“I have no intension of arguing. That would be a waste of time. I fully

understand that neither Class C nor Class D will retract what they claimed yesterday.”

“So why do this? Are you going to abduct us so we miss the trial? Or are you going to have a bunch of people surround us and threaten us with violence? It’ll be just like that time with Sudou.”

Oh. That was a rather interesting idea, but it would only work as a stopgap measure. Such threats wouldn’t work against these people. Quite the contrary; they looked like they’d welcome it. If they were the victims of another attack, they’d probably find a way to make their situation even more favorable.

“Just give up. See ya later.”

Understanding that Kushida would not be coming, the three turned and tried to leave, but one other person stood in their way.

“I think you guys might want to consider that idea, actually.”

Ichinose, who’d been waiting for all of the players in this drama to appear, quietly stepped forward.

“I-Ichinose?! What are you doing here?!”

The Class C boys were shocked. Given the unexpected appearance of someone from Class B, their shock was reasonable.

“What do you mean? What if I said that I’m here because I’m

involved in this case?”

“Ichinose, you’re a celebrity.”

“Ha ha. Well, I guess I’m well known among the members of Class C.” Since the Class C students hadn’t expected her to be involved, it

looked like tension was rising between them. They were clearly starting to lose their composure.

“This incident had nothing to do with Class B, right? So butt out…”

But unlike when they’d spoken to me, their threats sounded weak.

They sounded desperate to get away.

“You’re certainly right that Class B has nothing to do with this. But

how do you feel about involving so many people in your lies?”

“We didn’t lie. We’re the victims. We are. Sudou called us out here

and beat us up. That’s the truth.”

“So evildoers remain obstinate until the very end. It’s about time for you to pay the piper!” Ichinose declared, making a wide-sweeping

gesture with her right arm as she did so. “You lied. We can all see through you. You got violent in the end. If you don’t want that fact to become public knowledge, withdraw your claim right away.”

Even though I hadn’t explained every detail, I felt that things would

be fine in Ichinose’s capable hands.

“Huh? Withdraw? Don’t make me laugh. What, were you half asleep when you came up with that argument? You can’t just claim something and make it true. Sudou started the fight. Right?”

Ishizaki looked to his two accomplices, who immediately answered,

“That’s right! That’s right!”

“Did you know that this school is one of the leading government- sanctioned institutions in Japan?”

“Of course we do. That’s why we tried to enroll here.”

“In that case, you should try using your heads a bit more. Your aims were obvious right from the start, wouldn’t you say?” Ichinose grinned and talked with greater animation, as if relishing this. She walked slowly towards the three as she spoke, like she was a famous detective revealing the true culprit in an investigation.

“Didn’t you think that the school’s response to this incident was rather strange?”

“Huh?”

“When you raised the issue with the school, why wasn’t Sudou punished immediately? Why give an opportunity to escape by granting a grace period of several days? What do you think was the reason?”

“Because he lied to the school and cried for mercy. If they hadn’t

given him the time as a formality, we, the victims, would have won.”

“Is that really true? I wonder if you had a different aim, a different

purpose.”

The windows in the hallway were all closed. The sun, still high in the sky, glared down upon us, increasing the heat and humidity.

“I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about. Ah, damn it. It’s so hot!”

One’s ability to think, that is to say, to concentrate, decreases as heat increases. One cannot exhibit sufficient logical, creative thinking outside of a comfortable environment. The more content you cram into your head, the more your brain will overload.

“Whatever, I’m out of here. I’m going to boil alive if I stay.”

“Is that really okay, though? If you leave this place, you might regret it for the rest of your life.”

“What do you want, Ichinose?”

They didn’t seem to understand what she was getting at.

“Don’t you understand? The school knows that you’re lying, Class C. They’ve known from the beginning.”

This statement probably came as a surprise to them. None of them had imagined such an outcome. Ishizaki and the others looked at each other for a few seconds, then snorted with laughter.

“Don’t make me laugh. We lied? And the school knows it?”

“Ha ha ha ha. You guys are so funny,” Ichinose said. “You’ve been dancing to my tune all this time.”

“That’s a nice try, Ichinose. But we’re calling your bluff!”

“I have actual evidence,” Ichinose continued, unfazed by Ishizaki’s

threats.

“Oh? Well, let’s see it. Show me what evidence you—”

They thought there was no way we had any evidence, of course. Even after what Ichinose had said, they weren’t shaking. However, when she began to speak, their defeat was decided.

“Did you know that there are security cameras installed everywhere around the school? It’s a measure they’ve taken in order to monitor what we do every day.”

“Yeah. So what?”

They seemed to have already known about the security cameras. Ishizaki and the others appeared unconcerned.

“Well, then. Did you not see that?”

Ichinose looked to a spot near the ceiling a little further down the hall. Ishizaki and the others tracked her gaze.

“Huh?”

They voiced complete disbelief. A security camera hung in the hallway and occasionally swung from left to right, capturing everything.

“That’s too bad, isn’t it? If you want to set a trap for someone, you’d need to do it in a place without any cameras.”

“Buh, wh-what camera?! You’re lying! But, there weren’t any

cameras in the other hallways, were there?! It’s weird that there’s only one installed here! Right?!”

Ishizaki looked back at his two accomplices, seeking their opinion. They nodded, confirming that yes, Ishizaki was right. They wiped sweat off their faces as they answered.

“You can’t trick us like that. You guys installed that camera yourselves!”

“You’re right that, by and large, cameras aren’t installed in most of this building’s hallways. However, there are exceptions, and several places in which security cameras have been installed, like in front of the faculty room and the science lab. Obviously, there are many valuables stored in the faculty room, you know? Additionally, the science lab has many chemical products. Since the science lab is on this level, it’s only natural that a camera would be installed here.”

For the first time, Ishizaki and the other seemed to be at a loss for words. Ichinose did not fail to notice how they faltered.

“Have you looked back there, behind you? There’s one there too, right?”

Ishizaki and the others looked down the hall as instructed, and saw a camera. Of course, that camera was monitoring the hall’s opposite end.

“So if we’d installed a camera, like you said, would we have prepared one on that side, too? Besides, how exactly would we have prepared surveillance cameras when we can’t even leave campus in the first place?”

We were cutting off their escape routes one by one.

“Th-that’s impossible… That… I mean, we…checked back then… We should have…”

“This is the third floor, but did you really check? Maybe you only looked at the second or the fourth? Perhaps the cameras were truly set up here as a trap?”

The three were holding their heads and sweating far more than normal.

“Also, you realize that you just destroyed yourselves, right? Normal people wouldn’t think to check whether there were security

cameras, right? That’s basically admitting your guilt.” Ichinose

delivered the finishing blow.

“So, so… That time… No way…”

“The security cameras couldn’t record the sounds of your voices, but they definitely captured the decisive moment you threw the first punch.”

The cuffs of their uniforms were completely drenched with sweat. Ichinose passed the baton to me. My my, they probably would’ve been better off just talking to me, huh?

“The school’s waiting, right? Go ahead and tell us the truth. After giving you a grace period, the student council president himself asked if you had lied. If you think back, don’t you realize that the student council saw through everything?”

The three of them were probably frantically wracking their brains to recall what happened at the meeting. Of course, the student council had not seen through their lies at all. However, the student council had their doubts about who was telling the truth. If the Class C students interpreted that question to be focused squarely at them, it lent itself a certain credence.

“That’s… I didn’t hear about anything like that! It’s all over!”

Komiya buckled. Leaning against the wall, he slid down to his knees.

Kondou held his head in his hands. They all seemed to recognize

what was happening. Or so I thought, but Ishizaki wasn’t buying it.

“W-wait a minute. I’m still not convinced. Okay, let’s say the security cameras did capture some footage. You should’ve been able to prove Sudou’s innocence without having to really do anything, right? You didn’t need to call us out here to tell us this. You could have just presented it at the trial. But you guys called us here, right?”

“Innocence? That depends on what you’re innocent of. We know that both parties took damage during the incident. No matter the circumstances, Sudou hit the three of you. That’s undeniable. Of

course, if the security footage can prove that Sudou wasn’t the one who called you three over here, he’d probably receive the lightest possible punishment. However, his position as a regular would still be threatened. He might not be allowed to participate in tournaments.”

Sweat poured down Ishizaki’s forehead like a waterfall. We were hot as well, but comparatively much better off than these three. Their temperatures kept rising as we cornered them.

“What the hell? Well then, if it’s like you people say, the security footage shouldn’t be any trouble at all, right? We’ll be fine as long as we can get Sudou suspended for even one day.”

“If that happens, you might be expelled. Are you fine with that?”

Clearly they hadn’t thought that part through, and didn’t notice the

dilemma they faced.

“If someone checked the security camera footage, it would expose

your lies. If that were to happen, chances are good you’d be expelled. Anyone could see that.”

“Wha—!”

“W-wait, why expelled? You didn’t say that we lied!” Kondou was

trying to save himself, his voice weak and strained.

“The school is testing us. They’re testing to see if we can solve problems, and what kind of conclusions we draw. Don’t you think that’s consistent with everything else in this case?”

“Why would… I-I definitely don’t want to get expelled!”

“H-hey, Ishizaki. It’s not too late to tell them we lied! If we do, the

school might forgive us!”

“Damn it. This is ridiculous. Admit that we lied? Well, fine. As long as Sudou’s punished, I’ll prepare myself for the worst punishment possible, an honorable sacrifice! It’ll all be over for Sudou!”

In other words, Ishizaki wouldn’t withdraw. Instead, he’d press

forward.

“It’s rather early to draw a conclusion. We’ll give you one last

chance. There’s only one way to save both Class C and Class D.”

“Like hell we’d do that!”

If the incident existed, it would be impossible to save everyone. In

that case, it would be better if the incident didn’t exist at all.

“There’s only one way to resolve this issue. Tell the school that you wish to withdraw your complaint. If you do that, the school will not bring forward the security camera footage. If there’s no complaint, no one can be punished. Additionally, if the security footage is never brought up, Class D benefits, too. As we already know, if the security footage were brought produced, Sudou would still face some degree of punishment. In other words, Class C and Class D can come to a

compromise together. The school can’t investigate if they can’t watch the video and see that you lied, right?”

“Ahh, ahh… Just…let me call…”

A shattered-looking Ishizaki took out his cell phone. However,

Ichinose sternly told him no. She wouldn’t give him time to think. We

had to finish this now.

“Well, you’re not being very cooperative. Therefore, we have no choice but to prepare. We’ll have the school confirm the security footage right away, and you’ll be expelled.”

I nodded in agreement. Kondou and Komiya grabbed Ishizaki’s arms. “Come on. Let’s just accept Ichinose’s idea, Ishizaki!”

“W-wait. If I don’t check with that person, it’ll be bad,” he murmured.

“We’ve already lost! I don’t wanna get expelled! Please, Ishizaki!” “Damn! Fine… We’ll withdraw. It’ll be fine if we withdraw!” Ishizaki fell to his knees.

“Well, let’s head to the student council room right away. We’ll go together.”

We went to the student council room, the three C students sandwiched between us. If we took our eyes off them for even one second, they might contact someone for advice. When we finally reached the student council room, we pushed the three inside.

Horikita had put everything together really well.

7.3

“Whew! I feel so much better! Thanks so much! Thanks for giving

me such a huge role! I was so happy!” Ichinose cried.

“Well, it was more like you just did as you pleased, Ichinose.” “Ha ha ha, yeah. I guess so. But the case is closed, eh?”

Yeah, it really was.

“I was wondering what you were up to when you asked me to lend you some points yesterday.”

We returned to the hot and humid special building and set up a stepladder.

“I couldn’t believe you wanted to install security cameras.”

Yes, that’s right. The school hadn’t actually installed those security cameras. Ichinose and Kanzaki bought them, and together with the Professor, installed them during our lunch break. Ishizaki and the other two students were terrified of leaked footage from the cameras, but those cameras were fakes.

I was surprised at first that the school sold such equipment. Then again, while you wouldn’t think of using them for crime prevention, they could be useful in measurement and recording. In other words, study tools. Perhaps calling them network rather than security cameras would make it easier to comprehend.

The heat had compromised the Class C students’ ability to think. They’d been in crisis mode, without a chance to relax. In addition, they’d felt psychologically threatened during that standoff. There

was no way that they would have figured out we were bluffing. Even

if they’d doubted it, they had no time to investigate.

“When the day comes, you guys will probably become formidable

rivals for Class C, Ayanokouji-kun.” “If such a day ever comes, I guess.”

However, Ichinose might well be in Class A by then.

“If Horikita-san were in Class B, we might have gotten to Class A right away.”

“Probably.”

I removed the camera and handed it down to Ichinose, who steadied the stepladder.

“I’ll definitely return the points I borrowed. Just tell me when you want them.”

“Sure. As long as you pay me back by graduation, it’s fine. So what are you going to do now? Wait in front of the student council room?”

“Probably…”

I suddenly remembered seeing Sakura. She’d said that she had plans today, but what in the world was she doing? Earlier, when she’d been waiting for me after class, what had she wanted to tell me? She seemed like she’d resolved to do something, judging by her

expression. Right? She’d said she had courage. But what for?

The feeling plagued me, as if the back of my head were going numb while my thoughts swirled.

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me. There was one thing I wanted to tell

you, Ayanokouji-kun.”

Before Ichinose could say anything, though, I was already running away. Whatever she wanted to tell me, it was going to have to wait.

“Huh?! W-wait a minute!”

Even though she couldn’t understand what was happening, for some

reason Ichinose followed me.

7.4

My phone’s tracking data displayed the entrance of the electronics store. Not to be put off, Ichinose came running after me and stuck close. As we approached our destination, I was incredibly winded.

I had to stop and catch my breath. Just as a precaution, I signaled Ichinose to be quiet.

“Please don’t contact me anymore!”

“Why would you say something like that? You’re my treasure… Ever since I first saw you in a magazine, I’ve loved you. Meeting you again here, I felt like it was destiny. I love you… I can’t stop feeling this way about you!”

“Stop… Please, stop it!” Sakura shouted. She took something out of her bag. Letters. It looked like dozens…no, hundreds of letters. I wondered how many this man had sent.

“How do you know my room number? Why do you keep sending

these?”

“Why? Of course I would know your room number and send you letters. It’s because our hearts are connected.”

Sakura had probably been suffering ever since she started school here. Her fan knew her identity, and she had to deal with his attention every day. However, Sakura had had enough and, thanks to her newfound courage, was going to break away. She’d decided to free herself from him here and now. Her resolve made sense now.

“Please stop it. It’s bothering me!”

She tossed the bundle of letters to the floors, rejecting the man’s

unrequited love.

“Why… Why would you do something like that? Even after I wrote out my feelings to you!”

“D-don’t come any closer!”

The man closed the distance between him and Sakura. He walked with an intensity that made it look as though he were about to attack. Latching onto Sakura’s arm, he shoved her up against the store’s shuttered door.

“I’ll show you just how much I love you now… If I do that, then you’ll understand, Sakura.”

“No, let me go!”

Ichinose tugged on my sleeve. Apparently, we couldn’t leave things alone any longer. I’d wanted to wait until we could catch him in the act with something definitive, but it looks like I had no choice. Taking Ichinose’s arm, we strutted out like a delinquent couple. While walking by, we took pictures with our phones, our cameras clicking repeatedly.

“Ah, looks like we caught them! That old guy’s doing something naughty!”

“Huh?!”

Sakura was completely dumbfounded after hearing me speak in the unfamiliar tone of a delinquent. It was incredibly embarrassing, but I dealt with it.

“Ooh, ‘Adult harasses high school girl.’ I can just see the headlines tomorrow; it’ll be a huge scandal!”

“N-no! That’s wrong. You’re wrong!”

“Hmm, it certainly doesn’t sound wrong. Does it? It kind of looks that way, don’t you think?”

Ichinose tried to match my performance, but her tone was cruel. The man, now flustered, hurriedly pulled away from Sakura. But we were prepared with our cameras.

“Wrong? I don’t think so. Whoa, look at all those letters! Gross. Are you a stalker?”

She pinched her nose as she picked up the letters, as if grabbing someone else’s socks. She picked them up by their corners, using only her index finger and thumb.

“You’re wrong. It’s just…yeah, that. She said she wanted someone to teach her how to use a digital camera, so I said I’d teach her one-on- one. That’s all.”

“Hmmm.”

I drew closer to the man, pressing him up against the shutter.

“Me and my girlfriend saw everything. So we took pictures. If you show your face to that girl again, or send her any more disgusting letters, we’ll expose you. Got it?”

“Ha ha ha ha! What are you talking about? I really don’t…know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t know what I’m talking about? You’re not weaseling out of this, old man. If you so much as raise a hand at or even just ogle this idol, that’ll be the end for you. I’ll beat the shit out of you. Got it?”

“Eek!”

After he completely lost his will to fight, I deliberately gave him some time to escape.

“G-goodbye! I won’t do that ever again!”

The store clerk raced back inside the store to get away from us. With the source of her terror gone, Sakura suddenly looked exhausted.

She looked like she was going to topple over and collapse, so I hurriedly grabbed her arms and held her up.

“You did really well.”

I’d preached at her a lot, but that was probably unnecessary now. She’d been trying to vanquish the suffering she’d faced on her own. I had to consider her feelings.

“Ayanokouji… kun. Why are you here?”

“I’m really glad that I exchanged contact information with you.” I took out my phone, which showed Sakura’s location.

“I guess I’m no good after all… I couldn’t do anything by myself in the end.”

“That’s not true. It was really cool when you threw those letters to the ground.” I pointed to the mess of multicolored paper scattered everywhere.

“Hey, hey. Who’s this mystery person you mentioned? Some idol?” Ichinose tossed one of the disgusting letters to the ground, tilting her head in confusion.

“That’s…”

Although I didn’t want to hide anything from Ichinose, I hesitated to speak without Sakura’s permission. However, Sakura met my eyes and gave me a slight nod.

“Sakura over here was an idol when she was in junior high. Her name was Shizuku.”

“Huh?! Idol?! That’s amazing! She’s an entertainer! Ooh, shake my

hand, shake my hand!” Ichinose was filled with childlike excitement. “But I never appeared on TV or anything…”

“Even so, that’s so amazing! I’ve never thought about becoming an idol or anything.”

I didn’t know about that. I thought that Ichinose had the face and

figure for it… No, rather, I thought she had the necessary qualities.

“When did you realize, Ayanokouji-kun?” Sakura asked.

“A little while ago. Sorry. Several other people in class realized, too.”

Since she was going to find out eventually, I decided to just tell her.

“I think I’m actually glad about this, though… It’s been hard to lie.”

If this situation had given Sakura the ability to finally remove her mask, then it was a good thing.

“At any rate, you were way too brave. I was going to have to step in

if something happened.”

“Ha ha… Yeah, you’re probably right. I was so scared.”

The girl who had openly cried in front of me yesterday was now laughing in a rather peculiar way. She laughed while seemingly on the verge of tears.

“Ayanokouji-kun… Don’t look at me with such strange eyes.” “Strange eyes?”

“Never mind, it’s nothing.” Sakura didn’t clarify, but she wore a slightly happy smile on her face. “Do you think everyone would notice if I came to class without my glasses, and changed my hairstyle?”

“I think there’s a possibility that people at school might panic when they notice…but I think it’ll be fine.”

I suddenly pictured a beautiful girl, with tons of spectators rushing forward to catch a glimpse of her. She had a gentle disposition, and qualities that would make boys naturally crowd around her.

“Whoa… You’re so amazingly cute! You make a completely different impression without your glasses!”

It seemed as though Ichinose had looked up Shizuku on her phone. She seemed excited by what she found. Even though the incident with Sudou might have endangered our class and highlighted our lack of unity, at least it had given Sakura a chance to grow. Maybe it was all worth it, in the end.

Wait. I really wasn’t the type of person to think like that. Or, perhaps, I should say that I didn’t know what kind of person I was in the first place. Was this the real me? I felt a bit confused.

“Sorry. For being quiet for so long.”

“It’s nothing you have to apologize for. We don’t have to talk about it. However, I think that now we have the type of relationship where we can talk about things. If you’re suffering or if you feel lost, you

can talk to me. You should consult Horikita and Kushida, too.”

Behind me, Ichinose purposefully flopped over in an exaggerated manner.

“So, you’re telling her ‘You can talk to me.’ I wonder what you mean?”

I had no answer for that.

“Okay. I understand,” Sakura murmured.

“Ah, I’ll help out too.” Though Ichinose didn’t know her too well, she

still smiled at Sakura.

“I’m Ichinose, from Class B. It’s nice to meet you, Sakura-san.” Sakura looked a little hesitant, but shook Ichinose’s outstretched

hand.

“By the way, didn’t you want to tell me something in the special building a little while ago?” I asked, thinking back to my conversation with Ichinose.

“Ah yeah, that’s right. There was something important I wanted to talk to you about.”

Ichinose took a moment to catch her breath, and then adopted a serious look.

“I probably shouldn’t be saying this right now, but…there was someone pulling the strings behind this whole Sudou incident.”

“Pulling the strings?”

Because Ichinose looked so deadly serious, I didn’t think this was just

a hunch of hers.

“To tell the truth, there was a dispute between Class B and Class C students before. That time, though, the school didn’t get involved. Someone named Ryuuen-kun masterminded that one.”

“Ryuuen? I don’t recognize the name.”

“That’s because he hasn’t seen any reason to reveal himself just yet. There’s no reason that you’d know him.”

Ichinose, who always looked so bright, now appeared somber and grim.

“I’m the most vigilant of all the first-years here. I think he set up Sudou-kun to look like a liar, and instigated the dispute with Class B. This was all his handiwork. He doesn’t hesitate to hurt other people for the sake of his own interests. He’s a formidable opponent.”

“When Class B had trouble, did you manage a peaceful resolution?”

“Somehow, yeah. However, if you looked at it like a game, I can’t say whether I won or lost… Anyway, I think because what he devised was easier to see through this time, I’ve started to understand how this school is structured. You should be careful.”

I didn’t know who this Ryuuen was, but he was undoubtedly a very dangerous opponent. Someone who developed merciless strategies that could lead to our expulsion if we missed a single step.

“So if anything ever happens, you can come to me for help. Talk to me whenever you need it.”

“Yeah. I’ll keep that in mind.”

7.5

Sudou-kun and I arrived at the student council room 10 minutes before deliberation began. Tachibana-san was the only other person there. I saw no sign of other students, or my older brother.

“Oh jeez, I’m so nervous. How about you, Horikita?” Sudou asked. “I feel the same as ever.”

This case would be settled today. I knew that it was not going to be easy, especially for me. I’d declared that Sudou was completely innocent, after all. If my strategy failed, it would be for nothing. I thought that there was some value in sticking it out, so I’d come up with this plan during this extension period.

If this strategy failed, though, it would likely devolve into a verbal battle where we hurled abuse at each other. In the end, the result would certainly be worse than the compromise that had been proposed at the previous hearing. Sudou-kun would hate me then. Well, he’d be barking up the wrong tree. Still, I would have to acknowledge his complaints, because the appeal to the council was my responsibility.

Alternatively, I supposed that if Sudou-kun himself wished it, there was the possibility of meeting them halfway. They’d probably want to shorten his suspension as much as possible. If we made that the focal point of our discussion, we might be able to arrange for Sudou- kun’s sentence to be lightened as well.

Reconciliation was another name for defeat. Still, if the person in question wished for it, we would have no choice.

A short time later, the student council room doors opened. My heart started pounding at double the speed. My older brother… My words stuck in my chest and would not come out.

Even though I should have understood it, I felt attacked. I was wracked with various symptoms such as trembling, nervousness, and dizziness. But I couldn’t repeat yesterday’s mistakes.

I turned my eyes from my brother. There were other opponents I should have been facing.

“Oh, my. I see that the boy from yesterday isn’t here.”

Next came the Class C teacher, Sakagami-sensei. Chabashira-sensei

was with him. “What happened to Ayanokouji, Horikita?” she asked. “He’s not participating.”

“Not participating?”

Chabashira-sensei turned to the vacant seat with a puzzled look. She seemed concerned by his absence, as if the proceedings would be

meaningless without him. No, not exactly meaningless, but… It was vague, but I had the gut feeling that what Chabashira-sensei was seeing was the evidence of Ayanokouji-kun’s involvement.

“Well, even if he’s not here, the results will be the same.” I didn’t

want to admit it, but I did it almost as if to shake off the shadow.

“Well, whatever. It’s up to you guys to decide.”

Both teachers took their seats. We would begin deliberation as soon as the Class C students arrived. When that time came, how would the battle go? Well, that was simple. We would object to what the other side had to say. We would reiterate that the other side was lying, and then pierce through those lies before claiming that we were the ones telling the truth. That was it.

It would be the same for both sides. Through lies, we would arrive at the truth. This was a battle between truth and lies. We could bandy about ideas, but there could only be one solution.

Finally, the students from Class C arrived. They were all sweating, as

if they’d been hurrying.

“You made it just in the nick of time,” said Sakagami-sensei to his students with a slight sigh of relief. “Well then, we would like to resume deliberations on this case, from where we left off yesterday. Please take your seat.”

Tachibana-san urged the students from Class C to sit down. However, they didn’t budge. Instead, they remained standing in front of Sakagami-sensei.

“Can you please sit down?” Tachibana-san repeated her request, but the three did not move.

“Umm… Sakagami-sensei.” “What is it?”

It wasn’t just me. Everyone else noticed that this situation was

strange.

“Would it be possible not to hold this trial?”

“What are you…? What in the world do you mean?” Sakagami-sensei stood up in response to this unexpected request.

“Did you want to come to an agreement? Or did you already do something to the effect?” My older brother gazed sharply at the Class C students. However, the three boys shook their heads in unison, signaling that no, they didn’t want to compromise.

“We realized that we weren’t really saying anything worthwhile

about which side was at fault. Our complaint was a mistake.

Therefore, we’d like to withdraw it.”

“You’re withdrawing your complaint?” Chabashira-sensei chuckled as she spoke. She wore a thin smile, as if she found something amusing.

“What’s so funny, Chabashira-sensei?” Sakagami-sensei did not seem to like her attitude, glaring at Chabashira-sensei in irritation.

“Oh, excuse me. I was just surprised because I hadn’t foreseen this. I figured we would argue all day until one side collapsed, or until we could propose an acceptable compromise. However, unbelievably, they’ve said that they want to withdraw the complaint.”

“Teachers, members of this student council, we are sorry to have taken your time. However, after careful consideration this is the conclusion we’ve all come to.”

The three’s ardent appeal signaled that their will was strong. It seemed that Ayanokouji-kun and Ichinose-san had handled things quite well. I tried to act calm and collected, without letting my relief show.

“Surely you can’t accept this. You did nothing wrong. Sudou-kun caused all of this through one-sided intimidation and violence. Do you plan to just quietly sit there and take this?”

As if realizing something, Sakagami-sensei turned anger-filled eyes towards Sudou-kun and me.

“What did you do? Threaten my students with violence so they’d withdraw their appeal?”

“Huh? Don’t screw around. I didn’t do anything,” Sudou said.

“There’s no way that my students would withdraw their complaint unless you had. Tell us the truth. If you do that, then we can do something about it.”

“Sakagami-sensei…we’re going to withdraw the complaint no matter what you say. Our decision won’t change.”

Sakagami-sensei, as if unable to comprehend what his students were saying, hung his head low and sat back down.

“If you say that you’d like to withdraw your complaint, we will accept it. It is certainly rare to cancel deliberations during a case, but we can do it.” My older brother, the student council president, tried to remain calm and composed.

“Wait. I don’t get it. Why are you guys just withdrawing your

complaint like that?”

I grabbed Sudou-kun’s arm to prevent him from uttering another

word. “Horikita?” “Shut up.”

I had no time to explain, unfortunately, so I pulled strongly on Sudou-kun’s arm and sat him down.

“If you wish to withdraw your complaint, we have no intention of

fighting it. We accept.”

Although I could understand Sudou-kun’s dissatisfaction at being brought to trial based on a lie, if the complaint was withdrawn there would be no winners or losers. This was what we’d been working toward.

“However, according to regulations, we will require a certain payment of points in order to cover of miscellaneous expenses incurred over the course of deliberations. Are there objections to this?”

This was the first time we’d heard of such a thing. The students from Class C looked upset, but came to a conclusion right away.

“We understand… We will pay.”

“Very well, the proceedings have come to an end. We will now call this discussion closed.”

While we waited for the curtains to fall on this rather abrupt end, I wondered who could have predicted such an outcome. Meanwhile, I saw Chabashira-sensei direct a rather bold smile at me.

“Sudou-kun,” I said. “You will no longer face suspension. The school will not consider you a problem child. You will be able to participate in club activities from today onward. Right?”

I looked to Chabashira-sensei for confirmation.

“Of course. The same goes for the students in Class C, naturally. Youthful zeal is a good quality. However, the next time you think about causing problems, you should remember this incident as an example. Do not forget. Okay?”

She emphasized this point strongly to both sides. Sudou-kun looked rather dissatisfied, but nodded. I supposed that his joy at being able to play basketball outweighed his dissatisfaction. Kushida-san and Hirata-kun’s actions would be rewarded as well.

Sakagami-sensei slowly left with his students. The moment the door closed, it sounded like he started hounding his students for answers. But that didn’t matter. We wouldn’t have to deal with any more idiotic appeals after this, most likely.

“I’m glad, Sudou,” Chabashira-sensei said, sounding grateful.

“He he. Well, of course!”

“Personally, I think you should have been punished,” she added, rather harshly. Her words condemned Sudou-kun, who was still joyful over his victory.

“The reason this incident occurred at all is because of your behavior. Who told the truth and who lied is trivial. It’s important that you don’t let this kind of thing happen again. You do understand that, yes?”

“Yeah…”

“However, admitting your own faults isn’t ‘cool.’ So even if you acknowledge that your personality was partly to blame, you act tough. You get stronger. That’s fine. However, if you act like that, you won’t be able to make real friends. Eventually, Horikita will abandon you. She’ll leave.”

“That’s…” I wouldn’t exactly call us friends.

“There’s strength in admitting your mistakes, Sudou.”

Chabashira-sensei had tried to reach out to one of her students for the first time, as a homeroom teacher. I think that Sudou-kun understood what she was saying, even if unconsciously. He hung his head low and sank in his chair.

“I understand… If I hadn’t acted that way in the first place, then I

wouldn’t have hit those guys. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal. I

knew that, somewhere.”

When this first came up, he’d asserted that Class C had lied, and had

continued to say only that.

“I always fought all I wanted for my own satisfaction. But it’s not like that anymore… I’m a Class D student, and my personal actions affect the entire class. Now I’ve experienced that firsthand…”

Sudou-kun might actually be dealing with a great deal of anxiety and

stress in ways I couldn’t see.

“I won’t cause problems again, sensei. Horikita.”

Those were the first penitent words I’d heard out of Sudou-kun’s

mouth. I wondered if Chabashira-sensei was surprised. If so, she shouldn’t be. Sudou-kun might have understood this much, but he was still Sudou-kun. A person couldn’t change in just one day.

“You shouldn’t make promises so casually. You’ll cause trouble soon again.”

“Tch!”

Our teacher, who was rather perceptive about Sudou-kun’s shortcomings, rejected his promise.

“What do you think, Horikita? Do you think that Sudou will become a

model student?”

“No, I don’t.” I agreed with the teacher without hesitation. However, that wasn’t all I had to say. “However…Sudou-kun certainly made some progress today. He admitted he was at fault. So I’m sure that he’ll grow more tomorrow.”

“Y-yeah…” he said.

“I’m glad to hear that, Sudou. It looks like Horikita hasn’t abandoned you yet.”

“No, I’ve already abandoned him. I just won’t allow him to run loose anymore.”

“Wh-what does that mean?!” Sudou-kun scratched his head and smiled, as if he just shaken off something heavy. “Well, I’m gonna get going. I have club activities. See you later, Horikita.”

With those words, Sudou-kun hurriedly stepped out of the room and into the hallway. He was not remorseful. He was definitely going to cause trouble for us again soon. He was a nuisance.

“May I leave now, Chabashira-sensei?”

“Wait just a moment. There’s something I want to talk to you about, Horikita. You two leave first, though.”

Chabashira-sensei urged my older brother and Tachibana-san to leave.

Once they were gone, she looked deeply interested, crossing her arms before her on the table.

“So. What methods did you use, Horikita?” “What do you mean?”

“Don’t try to dodge the question. They wouldn’t withdraw their complaint without a reason, would they?”

“I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

We’d fabricated a lie because we were backed into a corner.

“So it’s a secret, hmm? Well, allow me to change the question. Who

came up with the strategy that defeated Class C?

“Why do you care about that?”

“Ayanokouji isn’t here, so I’m a little curious.”

Chabashira-sensei had been rather preoccupied with Ayanokouji-kun ever since we started school. I could somewhat understand why, now.

“I don’t want to admit this, but Ayanokouji-kun…might have something exceptional to him.”

I surprised myself by saying this, which could be taken as an admission of defeat. However, our victory would not have been as decisive without him.

“I see. So you recognize that, hmm?”

“Is that surprising? You were the one who first put me together with Ayanokouji-kun, Chabashira-sensei. You did it because you couldn’t overlook Ayanokouji-kun’s potential, right?”

“His potential, hmm?”

“Though he does try to hide his ability by pretending to be an idiot, for some mysterious reason.”

Yes, he was truly incomprehensible. I could not find meaning in such behavior. It was likely that he was simply being absurd.

“There are various things to consider. But if you want to reach Class A, I’ll give you one bit of advice.”

“Advice?”

“The students in Class D all have some kind of defect, more or less. To borrow an expression used by others in this school, Class D is an assemblage of people that could be called ‘defective products.’ You already understand this quite well though, don’t you?”

“I don’t intend to admit that I have a defect. But I do understand.” “Well, what do you think is Ayanokouji’s defect?”

Ayanokouji-kun’s defect…One thing immediately came to mind.

“We’ve already established it. He already knows what his own defect is.”

“Oh? And what is it?”

“He ‘dislikes trouble,’” I answered, with confidence. However, I felt a strange sense of discomfort that I couldn’t explain.

“He dislikes trouble, hmm? Is that what you perceive when you look at Ayanokouji?”

“No… It’s because he said it himself.”

Chabashira-sensei snorted and chuckled. She spoke again, her tone firm.

“Well, Horikita. Let’s try to learn as much as we possibly can about the boy called Ayanokouji, without delay, shall we? Otherwise, it’ll be too late. You already seem to have fallen into Ayanokouji’s trap.”

“What do you mean?” Fallen into his trap? That was nonsense.

“Why do you think Ayanokouji purposefully got scores of 50 points across on the board on his entrance examination? Why do you think Ayanokouji is helping you? Why do you think that Ayanokouji doesn’t put himself forward as a superior student, despite having superior ability? Is Ayanokouji Kiyotaka really someone who ‘dislikes

trouble’?” “That’s…”

If he truly wanted to prioritize peace and tranquility, then why score 50 points in all subjects and allow himself to draw this much attention? Had he deliberately poked his nose into this incident as well? I wondered if he ought to have been carefully monitored, like many other students. As Chabashira-sensei said, his behavior didn’t fit the pattern of someone who “disliked trouble.” That unconscious realization must have been the cause of my earlier discomfort.

“In my personal opinion, Ayanokouji is the most defective student in Class D.”

“He’s the most defective?”

“Higher functioning products are more difficult to handle. If you misunderstand how to handle him, the class might be completely destroyed in short order.”

“Chabashira-sensei, do you really understand what about him can be

considered defective?”

“Get to know the person called Ayanokouji. What is he thinking? What focal point does he base his actions around? What is his fatal flaw? There’s definitely an answer there.”

Why was Chabashira-sensei telling me such things? As our homeroom teacher, she usually appeared unaware of and unconcerned with her class. But, if someone so disinterested thought

this way, then…

Chabashira-sensei said nothing more.

7.6

I waited outside the student council room until the meeting had concluded. The students from Class C and Sakagami-sensei left first, with Sudou following a little while later. He wore a bright, cheerful expression.

“Looks like it went well,” I said.

“Man, I don’t understand what happened, but Horikita did something for me. Right?”

I nodded.

“I knew it. I knew she’d come through for my sake. Heh heh heh.” He looked incredibly happy. “Well, I gotta head to my club. We should have a party tonight.”

“Yeah.”

The next people to exit were the student council president and Secretary Tachibana.

“Excellent work.” I thought we’d just exchange a light greeting, but the president stopped in his tracks to address me. “I have approved Class C’s request to withdraw their complaint.”

“Is that so?” I said. “Well, I guess miracles do happen.”

Horikita’s brother remained still and looked me in the eyes. I couldn’t

tell what he was thinking.

“So this was all to prove that Sakura wasn’t a liar, as you said? I suppose if Class C withdrew their complaint, then talk would spread quite naturally. If Sudou or Sakura weren’t the liars, then Class C

was.”

“Your little sister handled things well. I didn’t do anything.”

“If that’s your answer, then I’m impressed. Even though it’s a simple story.” The unflappable Secretary Tachibana clapped her hands.

“Tachibana. Do you still have one seat open for secretary?”

“Yes. A first-year Class A student applied the other day, but was

rejected after the first interview.”

“Ayanokouji. If you wanted it, I would appoint you to the position.”

I was surprised, but Secretary Tachibana appeared even more shocked than me. “S-student council president… Do you really mean that?”

“Do you disapprove?”

“N-no. If you say so, I have no objections. But…”

“Nah, I hate troublesome stuff. Besides, being in the student council is no joke. I want to lead an ordinary student life at this school,” I replied.

Secretary Tachibana was even more shocked by my response.

“Huh? Are you refusing an invitation from the student council president?!”

“Well, I’d just never do anything that I’m not interested in…”

I didn’t do what I didn’t want to do. Besides, there was no reason to invite me onto the student council in the first place.

“Let’s go, Tachibana.” “Y-yes.”

Their interest in me had apparently run out with my refusal, so they left. A short time later, Horikita and Chabashira-sensei appeared.

Chabashira-sensei just gave me a slight glance, leaving without saying anything in particular.

“Yo.” I raised my hand as I greeted Horikita, but was met with an intense glare the likes of which I’d never seen from her before. She quickly returned to her neutral expression, though.

“What were the results?” I asked.

“You’d already know, right?” she replied.

“I’m glad to hear that. Looks like your strategy worked well.” “Hey, Ayanokouji-kun. Am I just your puppet?

“My puppet? What are you talking about?”

“Ayanokouji-kun, you brought up the idea of surveillance cameras in the classrooms. Next, you took me to the special building and made me realize that there were no cameras. Then, you guided me to the idea of inventing false evidence, so that we could parse the truth from lies… When I look back on it now, that’s all I can think of.”

“You’re overthinking it. It’s just coincidence.” “Who are you?”

“What do you mean, who am I? I’m just a guy who dislikes trouble, right?”

I realized that I had gotten involved a little too much this time. I’d need to reflect on that. The always-sharp Horikita probably guessed my thoughts, to some extent.

I had to dial it back a little. I just wanted my life here to be peaceful.

“Someone who dislikes trouble. If that’s—”

As Horikita started to speak, a male student walked towards us. This was not a conversation that we wanted overheard, so both Horikita and I fell silent. We waited for him to pass, but the guy stopped in front of us.

It wasn’t on accident. He had black hair, styled so it was worn long. He appeared to be around the same height as me, maybe a little taller. I glanced at his profile and noted that he wore a wide grin. His smile looked ominous.

“Setting up a camera? You really did something funny, huh?” The boy didn’t even turn to face us entirely as he spoke.

“And you are?” Horikita asked the mystery student, seemingly

perturbed.

“Next time, I’ll be your opponent. I look forward to it.”

The boy walked on without answering Horikita’s question. We never got a clear look at him. We were only able to watch in silence as he walked away.

“Well. I’ll be heading back now.” I had the feeling it would be better

for us not to be seen together, and turned my back on Horikita.

“Wait. We’re not done talking, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“I’m done talking.” I kept going without looking back.

“You promised, right? You promised you’d help me reach Class A.” “You sort of forced me to. You helped Sudou in this case, too. Right?” “That’s not what I meant. I want to know what you’re thinking.”

“I’m thinking ‘This is annoying,’ and ‘I don’t have any motivation to do this.’ Stuff like that. That’s what I’m thinking. Even if you took back what you said just now, Horikita, I do intend to live my life quietly. Whether we aim for Class A or whatever, that’s it.”

I’d hoped that answer would satisfy her, but Horikita didn’t listen.

“If you really hated drawing attention, you wouldn’t make all this

effort to get involved. You say you’re someone who ‘dislikes trouble,’after all. Yet you act all evasive and non-committal even while you help me. Why?”

I assumed that this change in Horikita’s behavior was Chabashira- sensei’s doing. She was probably pulling the strings here. I wouldn’t be surprised if she knew about my past.

“I thought that I should help the first friends I’ve ever made.

Probably.”

If I kept talking, I might say something unnecessary. I walked faster.

By now, I had reached one absolute conclusion. If Horikita were truly aiming for Class A, it would be impossible under our present circumstances.

We’d received a declaration of war from some guy apparently known as Ryuuen. This could be just the start of a cunning, audacious, and brutal attack. He would probably stand in our way as a vigilant enemy in the future.

Then there were Ichinose and Kanzaki from Class B. They were two capable people who took only small, indirect steps. Ichinose probably had more plans lined up in her ambition to reach the top than I could imagine. It was impossible to fully understand how we’d landed in this situation, or her methods and process.

I didn’t understand what she wanted, but her goals would most likely prove a huge obstacle for us. In other words, it was fair to say that trying to reach Class A in three years was hopeless. Even if we tried to tackle this situation head-on, then…

“Ugh!”

I unintentionally let out a small noise. I really was an idiot.

What was I getting worked up for? I had arbitrarily started analyzing Class D and considering the options. I didn’t want to. I mean, she was the one who chose this school, right? Horikita and Ichinose were aiming for the top, not me. All I wanted was an ordinary, regular life where nothing ever happened. Otherwise? I couldn’t do this.

I knew more about me than anyone else. I knew just how defective, just how foolish I was. I was a horrible human being.

Written on August 15, 2022