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introduction
 

“It’s already been seven years since then, huh……”
 

I pull out the yearbook from the back of my closet and mutter this to myself.

On the cover is the name of my Alma mater, and my current workplace, “Sakuragaoka High School.”

“So nostalgic. The design hasn’t changed at all, either.”

If I were to compare it with the yearbook that had been passed out in the faculty room the other day, I wouldn’t be able to tell which was mine. The differences are as slight as spotting a light tan.
 

“Never really had the chance to look through this again since graduating.”

I’m about to open it up for the first time in a while, but my slightly trembling fingers only lift the cover.

“…… Gosh, aren’t I being a bit too nervous here?”

I laugh softly and turn my eyes downcast.

After taking a deep breath, I slowly turn the page.
 

“Wow, everyone’s so young!”

Of course, it isn’t anything like looking at a kindergarten or elementary school yearbook, where some people might be almost unrecognizable. Still, there’s something innocent about the smiles of my friends in the photos.

My short, soft hair hasn’t changed, but compared to now, I had a much more demure look back then.
 

During high school, I’d often hang out in a six-person group of three girls and three guys.

Nowadays, we still meet up to talk about the old days, or catch up with each other.

Except for one person.
 

“I wonder how they’re doing……”

We hadn’t met since graduation, but I always remember them smiling bright like the sun.
 

When I close my eyes, my memories of high school come back in vivid detail.

The memories of those bright, bittersweet days where I’d always given it my all.

 

 

Enomoto Natsuki

Birthday: June 27
Horoscope Sign: Cancer
Blood Type: O 

Loves to exercise and draw manga. In the Art Club. Currently has one-sided feelings for Yuu, but can’t bring herself to be honest about them.

practice 1
 

It all started with a letter.

Placed in her childhood friend, Setoguchi Yuu’s shoe locker—a love letter. He had been called to the back of the gym during the lunch break, been confessed to by a cute, underclassman girl with short hair, and come back to the classroom afterwards.

“I just turned her down, seeing as how entrance exams are coming up, too.”

Natsuki let out a sigh of relief when Yuu reported this in a plain tone.

However, her heart immediately went wild again. Although he pretended like it was nothing, her childhood friend was blushing in a way she’d never seen before.
 

I thought for sure that Yuu wasn’t interested in love or anything like that……

Even after school, the words that Natsuki had held back still lingered in her heart.

Since she was so focused on video games, manga, and club activities all the time, she’d never really talked to him about love and things before. She realized that was the only reason why she assumed he wasn’t interested.
 

He may have turned down the confession this time, but who knew what would happen next time.

It was at that moment that Natsuki decided she wouldn’t run away anymore.

‘…… I’ll confess today, for sure!’
 

Taking a deep breath, Natsuki looked up at Yuu’s back.

It was thirty minutes before school let out, and they were the only two at the shoe lockers.

She had their mutual childhood friend, Serizawa Haruki, who was in the Film Club with Yuu, agree to go home by himself today. Well, more correctly, he had gotten fed up with her and forced the two of them to be alone together.
 

‘…… I feel like my heart could leap out of my chest……’

As she gripped the front of her shirt, the beating of her heart made it feel surprisingly close.

Underneath the track pants that she wore under her skirt, her knees knocked against each other.

What do I do? Maybe I should just wait until tomorrow.’

For a moment, her weak side bubbled up.

Recalling her childhood friend’s embarrassed face, she was somehow able to stand her ground.

In her head, she knew that when it came to romance, timing was crucial. She’d seen in shoujo manga how a potential couple would miss their chance because they waited too long.
 

All she needed was a moment of courage.

On the other hand, regret would last a lifetime.

‘—I, Enomoto Natsuki, will now carry out the plan!’
 

“Yuu! Do you have a minute?”

As the light of the sunset streamed in through the window, Natsuki forced out those words.

Yuu turned around slowly, and with a strange look on his face, their eyes met.

“What’re you being so formal for?”
 

Natsuki tightened her posture so that her voice wouldn’t tremble, clenched her fists and then said,

“I’m sorry it’s so sudden, but…..”

She knew that Yuu was probably feeling nervous, too, because of how the atmosphere between them felt different than usual.

Taking a deep breath, Natsuki looked straight at him and said the words that she had been holding back for so many years.
 

“I’ve liked you for a long time now!”
 

She said it. She’d finally said it.

Even without having to look in a mirror, she knew that her face was burning red.

Unable to stand it, she averted her gaze, and this time, she could hear the sound of her heart pounding in her ears. It was louder than before, making her wonder if even Yuu would be able to hear it at this rate.

As she slowly lifted her face again, Yuu stood completely still, as if taken aback.
 

Their eyes met in an instant.

Yuu didn’t seem to realize the reality of it yet, and practically breathed out his next word,

“…… Huh?”

That one word was in the form of a question, but it was more than enough.

Yuu is… embarrassed….!?’

It had to be just her over thinking that his face appeared redder than when that underclassman girl had confessed to him.

In reaction to this unexpected turnout, Natsuki was also at a loss for words.
 

I…. I have to say something…..’
 

She cast her gaze sideways and tried to search for the words, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a nonsensical sound.

“Ju…. Ju….”

“Ju?”

Yuu, whose face was still red, tilted his head in confusion.

Although he was close to 180 centimeters tall, that cute behavior really suited him.

I want to pat his head…..

Even Natsuki was surprised at the thought that had suddenly popped up in her hand. She knew that she couldn’t think straight right now. At this rate, she’d end up blurting out something unnecessary.

Before that could happen, she quickly changed the subject.
 

“Just kidding! There’s no way that’d actually be true! Did I get ya good?”
 

I’ve really done it this time,’

She thought immediately.

No, but just now, that was just another strategy…..’

With that fleeting thought, Natsuki realized something.

Right, it was the same in both love and war.

So she wasn’t running from the enemy; she was just buying time for the next strategy.

More specifically, this time’s confession rehearsal had been a surprise attack.
 

Yuu widened his eyes, and as if trying to take in Natsuki’s statement, blinked several times in a row.

After a little while, he tousled his hair some and returned her gaze with a sharp look.

“Natsuki…. You’re really……”

Natsuki heaved a sigh of relief at his tone of voice that sounded half-shocked and half-embarassed.

Good… He thinks it was a joke…. right?’

She pretended not to hear the painful twang her heart made and cracked a smile.
 

“Just now, that was a confession rehearsal.”

“Huh? Rehearsal?”

“So? Was I cute? Did your heart skip a beat?”

Going along with the flow, she peered into Yuu’s face, and he looked back with a cold and hard stare.

In times like this, it was actually tougher when the other didn’t say anything. In a panic, Natsuki’s smile weakened.
 

“D-don’t look at me like that….. I’m sorry…..”

“So you’re gonna get serious?”

“……Eh?”
 

This time, it was Natsuki’s turn to become speechless.

Her heart pounded loudly. Almost painfully.

Was that a joke? Or…..
 

“I was kidding. Now we’re even.”

Just as she thought she saw him grin, Yuu’s hand came down on her forehead with a chop.

And like it was part of a comedic sketch, Natsuki let out a cry at the blow.

“Gyah!? Hey, Yuu, go easy on me, would you!?”

Blatantly ignoring her complaint, he said, still with a sour look on his face,

“So, who’re you doing the real thing with?”

“The real thing? You mean the confession?”

“Yeah. The fact that you’re rehearsing means that there’s someone else, right?”
 

Natsuki’s breath stuck in her throat, seeing how easily he’d believed the lie she’d thought up on the spot.

But she knew it was her own fault for calling it a rehearsal.

Even so, and even if it was as a joke, she didn’t want to be told that she had someone else she liked. Not from Yuu.
 

Natsuki pushed down her complicated thoughts and true feelings, and clenched her fists again.

And at the same time, she faced Yuu, who was waiting for an answer with a broad grin, and unleashed a round of blows on his ribs.

“There’s no way I can tell you!”

“Ow ow!!”

Natsuki bent over to meet eyes with her childhood friend, who was now slouching, and as usual, set out to secure their next promise.

“Hey, c’mon. Help me practice~”

“….. Guess I’ve got no choice. But in return, treat me to ramen.”

“Eh~ So stingy!”

“It’s a cheap price to get to practice with me, don’t you think?”

“Wow, are you saying that for real?”
 

Saying whatever they liked to each other, they would always end with a smile. It wasn’t that they’d decided on this out loud or anything, but it was like an unspoken rule between them now.

But, today was… kind of…..’       

Along with a dull pain, her heart was crying out like it had been stabbed with needles.

It’s so stressful to fall in love with someone. And it’s even more stressful to say how you really feel.

 

The sunset that day was red enough to make one’s eyes sting.
 

                                                       ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

Listening to the afterschool bell chime, Natsuki let out a huge sigh.

Shoot…. I totally slept through math today.

Although she’d gone to bed early yesterday, she’d woken up countless times throughout the night.

And to make things worse, she hadn’t had any appetite at breakfast or lunch.

Isn’t this just like a girl in love? Well, actually, it is, but…..’

Rehearsal or not, she had finally confessed yesterday.

And the one she had confessed to had been her childhood friend, the recipient of her long-time unrequited feelings. He must have been nervous the whole time, much more than she could have imagined.
 

The one good thing is that we can still talk like before.’

Natsuki lived close to Yuu, and their seats in the classroom were close, too. Actually, she sat right in front of him.

Whenever they passed printouts down the rows during class, they’d always end up face-to-face. And if she fell asleep during class, he was close enough to wake her up before she got hit by the teacher.

‘….. Come to think of it, I feel Yuu slept a lot today, too.’

She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw that surprisingly, even Yuu had a bed head, which swayed in the wind that blew in from the window. If she told him, though, he’d get self-conscious about it, so she decided not to say anything.
 

“Yuu~ Are we going straight to the clubroom?”

During lunch and afterschool, there were always people gathering around Yuu’s desk.

Right now, Mochizuki Souta, nickname: Mochita, came running up like a puppy.

Yuu, Haruki, Souta, and Natsuki were all childhood friends.

In particular, the guys had all joined the Film Club together, and chatted with each other with the same closeness they’d had when they were young.
 

“I have to stop by the faculty room, so you and Haruki go ahead first.”

“You’re gonna ask about the report for summer vacation, right? In that case, we’ll tag along too,”

Haruki grinned at Yuu’s words, smiling like a brightly beaming sun.

“Yeah. Alright then, let’s go!”

Souta nodded lightly and took a hold of Yuu’s arm.

Pulled along by the other two, Yuu left the classroom.

As Natsuki gazed after their departing figures, she mumbled unconsciously, “How nice…..”
 

“The guys might get along well, but the girls won’t lose to them, you know?”

She felt a tap on her shoulder, and then a soft, pleasant-sounding voice at her ear.

“Nacchan, let’s go to the clubroom, too?”

After that, she was prompted by a modest, but gentle and kind voice.

“Akari, Miou……”
 

When she turned around, she saw her two friends standing there, smiling cheerfully.

The dark-haired pretty girl, Hayasaka Akari, and Aida Miou, with her soft, cute hair. They had met during high school, but since they had all joined the Art Club together, they’d become fast friends.

They all had things in common, but Natsuki also felt that they were friends that supported each other.

They must have come up to talk to me first since I’ve been spacing out since this morning…..’
 

Instead of thanking them verbally, Natsuki flashed a wide grin.

“Yeah! I wonder if Eri-chan-sensei is already at the art room? We’ll be in trouble if we’re late~”

“Sensei’s been really enthusiastic, saying things like, ‘This year for sure, let’s get the gold!’”

“Wow! Miou-chan, you sound just like her~”

With the tapping of their footsteps against the tile, the three of them went out into the hallway.

The reason for their slight busyness was the art contest after summer vacation.
 

Ever since the school had been established, there had never been a year where Sakuragaoka High’s Art Club hadn’t won a medal.

However, the club activities were far from being like Sparta.

Rather than encouraging techniques on how to win, the club advisor, Matsukawa-sensei, always made sure to give advice on sticking close to your original idea. Natsuki felt that she was trying to maintain a purely enjoyable creative environment.
 

In the club, the president, Akari, and the vice president, Miou, demonstrated a considerable amount of talent.

The previous president and vice president had chosen successors, but because Akari and Miou had so much past recognition for their artwork, there had been an unanimous decision to appoint them instead.
 

On the other hand, there were many members that didn’t have any interest in painting, ceramics, sculpture, or things like that. Because there wasn’t a Manga Club at the school, a lot of students joined just because they wanted to draw illustrations or comics.

Since those types usually worked at home, most of them were like ghost members.
 

Natsuki attended club meetings often, but as for her position, it was probably in the grey area.

She liked drawing comics, but she also liked painting on a huge canvas, too.

They were both different in their own way, and if someone were to ask her which she liked better, she wouldn’t be able to answer. It was like trying to weigh her preference of red bean paste and whipped cream on a scale.

I like both, so I want to do both. I thought that was fine, but…..’

To be honest, lately she worried about what her place in the club was.

She wasn’t like Akari and Miou. In the end, wasn’t she only half-baked compared to them?
 

                                                       ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

There were only a few first-years and second-years in the art room.

In the corner of the blackboard, there was a scrawled message reading, “I’ll be on a business trip today. See you tomorrow,” and Miou’s shoulders slumped upon seeing it.

“Too bad Sensei isn’t here today…. I wanted to ask her opinion on some colors.”

“Miou-chan, looks like you’re finally making some good progress,”

Akari peered over at the canvas set up on the easel and commented in admiration.

“Since I went with a bigger canvas this time, I still need to add more to it. What about you, Akari-chan…?”

Miou paused in setting up her paints and looked over to see what Akari was doing. Just like yesterday, she only had a sketchbook, pencil, and eraser arranged in front of her.

Akari shrugged her shoulders and forced out a laugh.

“Well, I still haven’t come up with a good idea yet…”

“You’re fast at working once you have the sketch done, so it’ll be just fine.”
 

‘…… I wish I had talent like those two.’

Natsuki sat at a desk with her cheek cupped in her hand, and merely spaced out listening to her friends’ conversation.

Although she was exhibiting something for the contest as well, her canvas and even her sketchbook were still completely blank.

She knew that the diligent Miou, and the creative Akari, too, already had numerous rough drawings done in their sketchbooks.

Natsuki was the only one that truly couldn’t come up with anything.
 

“By the way, Nacchan, did you manage to tell Setoguchi-kun yesterday?”

Natsuki’s shoulders shook a bit at Akari’s sudden question.

“Ah, actually, I wanted to ask about that too. But I didn’t think it’d be a good idea to bring it up in the classroom,”

Miou’s brush stopped moving, and she shyly joined the conversation as well.  

“It’s nice to be in the same class as the guy you like, but at the same time it’s so inconvenient~”

She suddenly felt embarrassed to suddenly be talking about her crush so openly.

Natsuki felt her face grow hot, but when she remembered what had happened yesterday, it immediately cooled down.
 

“Arghh~~…… Let me tell you all about that~”

“What is it? Do tell.”

Akari also changed her voice to play along with Natsuki’s exaggerated tone. Miou couldn’t help but laugh too, and the mood became a light and relaxed one.

Natsuki recounted what had happened in a joking tone, taking away the seriousness of the situation.
 

She told them about how she’d confessed, but then lied about and said it was all just a rehearsal, and about how Yuu had believed her and was going to keep helping her practice.
 

After listening to her story, both Akari and Miou had their mouths hanging open.

“…… Confession rehearsal, huh? You’re sure done something bold again,”

Miou’s peeked out from her short bangs with round eyes and blinked them in astonishment.

Natsuki laughed loosely and continued,

“And then after that, we ate at that ramen place in front of the station on the way back! It was really good…..”
 

Upon hearing the phrase, “ramen place in front of the station,” Akari reacted suddenly.

Leaning against the desk, she asked with shining eyes, “Do you mean the newly opened one? Their ramen is the best! Good choice!”

“It was my treat, though….. Wait, this isn’t good at aaaall!!”

As Natsuki corrected herself and held her head in her hands, Akari nodded deeply with a serious face.

“You’re right. It would be a bit much to treat every time.”

“Akari-chan, I don’t think that’s the real problem here…..”

Natsuki calmed down at Miou’s calm and steady indication.

Clearing her throat, she started over with explaining what she had wanted to do.
 

“I said it was a confession rehearsal because I wanted him to start seeing me as a girl….. But since we just went slurping ramen at the counter, nothing’s changed! He’ll just say that my gender is Natsuki again!”

Unable to hold it in any longer, she wound up mostly shouting at the end.

Akari smiled brightly at Natsuki, who had stood up from her chair, crying out in agony.

“It’ll be okay. You’re cute when you stay silent, Nacchan.”

“But then that’s being too submissive, so that’s not good at all!”

“For now, let’s just calm down, okay? Come on, close your legs.”
 

With pale and slender fingers, Miou gently pushed Natsuki’s legs closed, which stood apart like a crab. Even at a glance, she could see that Miou took good care of her fingernails.

Her hands are really like a girl’s….’

It wasn’t only her appearance, but in terms of her personality as well, Miou was the more feminine one. She was also the one that had suggested Natsuki wear track pants under her skirt, since she often moved around so recklessly.
 

“And how about you and Haruki, Miou?”

Natsuki was really curious about how her close friend and her childhood friend seemed to get along quite well.

They were in different classes, and they didn’t have lessons together, either. If they ever saw each other, it was only whenever Haruki came over during the breaks to hang out with Yuu and Souta.

But even still, they go home together almost every single day.’
 

Natsuki had tried asking Haruki about it before, too.

Although he was usually so easygoing, he had avoided her gaze when she’d asked, and given a dodgy answer.

“It just works out that way, I guess?” He’d said.

The way he answered really made it seem like he was hiding something…..’

In the first place, Haruki was very caring and brotherly, but when it same to girls, that was where the line was drawn. He mostly hung out with guys, and the only exception to that was his childhood friend, Natsuki.

He’d said that he and Miou had things in common to talk about it, but that couldn’t be the only reason.
 

Miou, too, couldn’t seem to calm down once her relationship with Haruki was brought up.

“Huh!? I-I… Things are going normally!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

As Natsuki quickly pried for more answers, Miou’s face turned bright red.

“It means what it means! So, what about you, Akari-chan?”

Miou’s voice shook as she plainly changed the subject around.

“Huh?”

Akari blushed and her eyes widened, but she soon took on a cheerful tone and said,

“Oh, don’t worry about me right now. More importantly, we’ve gotta think about Nacchan’s confession strategy!”

As if she’d said it too early, Akari quickly took her pencil and scrawled something on a blank page in her sketchbook.

Seeing the words, “Confession Strategy Part 2,” Natsuki felt an itch at the back of her nose.

“Akari-chan, thank youuuu. I won’t give up……”
 

“Yuki-chan~! We’ll help out too, okay?”

“Should we pull out the weeds?”
 

As if to interrupt Natsuki’s declaration of resolve, they suddenly heard shrill voices coming from the window.

Wondering what it could be, all three glanced at each other, and then hurried over to the window.

“Those were some pretty loud screams. Is it a celebrity or something? Are they filming here?”

Looking outside uncertainly, they saw a crowd of people in front of the flowerbeds.

And in the center of the circle of girls was—
 

“Isn’t that Ayase-kun? He sure is popular…”

“He looks completely different after cutting his hair.”

Both Akari and Miou were honestly surprised with the transformation of their classmate, Ayase Koyuki.

It was normal for someone to attract so much attention after daringly changing their looks, but since he had a timid personality, he seemed to be having some difficulties adapting. Despite being in the same class, they rarely ever heard him talk, so it was to be expected.
 

When I first met Akari, too, it was actually pretty awkward, but she turned out to be really nice and never stops smiling…’

As for Miou, she didn’t talk with guys much, other than Haruki. When she was with Natsuki, she would sometimes get to talk with Yuu and Souta, too, but she wasn’t the type to start conversations on her own.

Even though Koyuki-kun’s such a nice guy…. What a waste!’

For Natsuki, who lent and borrowed manga from him, the situation was a downright frustrating one.

That’s why she would always get heated up when talking about him.
 

“‘After cutting his long hair and changing his glasses to contacts, he’s actually really cool-looking!’ You don’t even see that kind of thing in shoujo manga lately anymore. Koyuki-kun sure is amazing!”

“Nacchan, so that’s that part you’re impressed about?”

As Miou smiled wryly, Akari added on,

“Come to think of it, you exchange manga, right? Since you sit close to each other in class, too, did he talk to you about it?”

Because of her own quiet demeanor, Akari spent a lot of time watching others around her.

While she was impressed by her classmate suddenly being in the spotlight, Natsuki also started to talk about the troubles that he’d had to go through because of it,

“Koyuki-kun’s really nice, and he’s a good person. So even though he’s been pressured into joining clubs, he’s actually really worried about how to turn down those invitations without hurting anyone’s feelings.”
 

“….. That seems complicated.”

Miou had actually delayed her own reply while she’d been weighing various options.

Unable to come up with an idea either, Natsuki furrowed her brows and nodded in agreement.

“Anyway, why did Ayase-kun decide to cut his hair all of a sudden? Did he want to change his personality before the last summer vacation of high school?”

As usual, Natsuki just laughed at how naturally and straightforward Akari said things.

Miou was the only one that seemed bothered by something, and muttered quietly,

“…. I wonder if that’s really the only reason why.”
 

                                                       ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

Yuu averted his gaze from the whiteboard that was covered in questions and tasks, and stared up at the ceiling.

The topic at hand was their graduation project, and also their new movie.
 

Why did the heroine decide to confess to the protagonist?

In the first place, why had she fallen in love with him?
 

Although these red-circled sentences were about events in the movie, they stabbed mercilessly into his heart.

Since yesterday, he hadn’t been able to get Natsuki’s “confession” out of his head.

A confession rehearsal… Of all people, why am I her practice partner?’

The fact that there was a rehearsal meant that there would be a real confession.

And this meant that Yuu, who had been chosen as the practice partner instead, wasn’t a favored candidate.
 

Taking a thinking pose, he glanced at the faces of the others seated at the table.

Although, the only other guys I ever see Natsuki hang around would be them…..’

Serizawa Haruki, Mochizuki Souta, and the only girl in their group, Enomoto Natsuki. They’d known each other since before they’d even started taking notice of the opposite sex, and even now, they continued to acknowledge that they were childhood friends.

He had no complaints about that, and even after they’d entered high school, they hadn’t tried to put distance in their relationships or anything. So to suddenly act distant now would make things uncomfortable.
 

And besides that, their familiarity with each other was a double-edged blade.

Up until now, Yuu had always teased her (half intended as a joke, half out of embarrassment) about her gender simply being "Natsuki.”

But now that was all coming back to him. Because they both took each other for granted so much, wouldn’t Natsuki have also started to see his gender simply as “Yuu”?

At the very least, the fact that she’d chosen him as a practice partner meant that she saw him as a male, but that also meant that she hadn’t considered him at all for a love interest.

Who knew that the graduation of your childhood friend would bring all this…..’
 

As he let out an unconscious sigh, Souta, who was good of hearing, responded,

“Yuu, you’re actually taking this pretty seriously, huh? You don’t have to think so hard about it, you know.”

He felt a chill run up his spine, as if Souta had known that he was thinking about Natsuki just now.

When he saw the whiteboard in front of him, he remembered that they’d been discussing about the movie. Praying that his restlessness wouldn’t be given away, Yuu slowly opened his mouth,

“….. Well, I think that the heroine needs to have a proper mindset, right? So it’d be a good idea to work that out.”

“That’s true but, Yuu, you’re basically more of a variety person, aren’t you?”
 

There was some truth in what Souta was saying.

Yuu loved big Hollywood films and comedy movies, but when it came to romance movies, none came to mind.

On the other hand, Souta watched movies of many different genres, and loved romance movies, in particular. He was the type to collect the screenplays and DVDs of his favorite works.

Haruki was different from both of them. He liked to watch edgy films that showed in independent cinemas. Out of the three of them, he was actually the one that went to the theaters the most.
 

When they’d first gone to their adviser saying that the three of them would be making a movie, the first thing he’d expressed was his doubts, wondering if they’d really been able to do it. He’d laughed at their serious tone, but they understood where he was coming from.

Truthfully, they’d had difficulty deciding on a theme.

In the end, Haruki had been the voice of authority and decided that they’d go with a love story.

“I’ve never filmed one before, but why not give it a shot?”

Even Yuu, who had been against Souta’s idea at first, found it hard to disagree after having Haruki tell him that.

For starters, their motivation to make the Film Club in the first place was because they’d been so taken by his talent.
 

It all started two years ago, in the fall of their first year in high school.

The short film that Haruki had secretly released on the internet had quickly spread amongst the students during the summer break. And after some critics had caught rumors of it and published blog and magazine articles about it, it got the attention of even more people.
 

He did say before that making movies was one of his hobbies.’

If might have just been to hide their embarrassment, but after seeing the flm, Yuu and Souta became desperate about getting Haruki to make the next one. They’d fallen in love with Haruki’s film.

The club that they’d made on a whim, too, was promoted to an official club after lower classmen started joining the following year. With the environment around Haruki improving so rapidly, he started making movies with even more enthusiasm.
 

He’s popular amongst the girls, so maybe even Natsuki is….’

He glanced over at Haruki, who sat in front of him.

Haruki was different from his usual calm, lion-like self, and instead sat silently with his arms crossed, giving off a nervous and tense air.

While he had probably overheard Yuu and Souta’s conversation, he hadn’t moved an inch.

He sure is focused…. Wonder what he’s thinking about.’
 

As if aware of Yuu’s staring, Haruki turned towards him.

No, he’s not looking at me but….

Haruki stared straight at the whiteboard and seemed to be mumbling something to himself.

A moment later, he jumped up from his seat, and his chair fell over with a splendid sound.
 

“I’ve got it! What we need is a picture!”
 

Yuu and Souta both tilted their heads at Haruki’s sudden outburst.

“Wait, where would we use that?”

“What kind of picture do you mean?”

Haruki had a habit of exclaiming his ideas without further elaboration, often leaving everyone else confused.  Even for these two, who were used to it by now, it was extremely difficult to figure out what he was thinking.
 

Instead of answering their questions, Haruki only clicked his tongue in annoyance.

“Why didn’t I think of this? With all these resources we have, there couldn’t have been any other answer.”

He seemed to be getting annoyed all on his own, and slapped his forehead with a sigh.

Although he was speaking dramatically, both Yuu and Souta knew that he could just naturally come up with ideas without needing to calculate anything. In this way, he could focus all of his time and effort into actually making the movie.

This guy’s really something…..’
 

Having been too overwhelmed to move at first, Yuu then picked up a memo pad to jot down the idea before they forgot them.

“We’re going to have the heroine paint the picture, right? So we’ll need someone from the Art Club now, instead of the Drama Club.”

“Yeah, someone that can only be honest within the canvas.”

As he listened to Haruki talk as if he knew this fictional character in reality, his hand with the ball pen stopped moving. It looked like the heroine had already started to come to life inside his head.

“Then we’ll have to include the canvas in the first scene. It might be completely white at the beginning, but as she spends more and more time with the protagonist, it becomes more vivid.”

“Yeah, yeah! Rather than using a bunch of crappy lines, it’d leave more of an impact if we focus on the visuals. I think the audience would be able to relate with it a lot easier, too.”
 

Even Mochita gets really lively when we start talking about things like this…’

Yuu felt impressed as he quickly summarized what the two of them were saying.

Before, he’d been impatient because it felt like they were just flaunting their talent.

But after realizing that he didn’t have passion or talent like them, those gloomy feelings faded a bit. They hadn’t completely vanished, but he’d mastered how to cope with them.
 

Just like when they’d used to play at the secret hideout, they didn’t have to compete over every little thing.

It was enough to acknowledge that he was jealous.

If not, he’d start to think of it as real envy, and then it would be over.
 

“—The ideas are all looking good, so next is how we’re actually going to get the pictures.”

By the time he’d noticed, Haruki and Souta had run out of ammo for their ideas.

We’ll add in the parts we missed when we put it all down on paper later.’

As he thought about their upcoming tasks, most of it was concerning how they’d produce the pictures.

Among the underclassmen, there was a skilled guy that was an expert at making props and things. But the other two hadn’t even mentioned him probably because they didn’t think his style matched the one they were going for. 

We probably want someone that’s more like… ‘Look, I’m a girl in love’!’’
 

At that moment, Natsuki’s face suddenly came to mind.

Although it had only been for practice, Natsuki who had confessed yesterday was, without a doubt, “a girl in love.”

So much that she almost seemed like a completely different person.
 

“….. We could ask Natsuki, or someone else in the Art Club, couldn’t we?”

The other two looked up in astonishment at Yuu’s utterance.

And then, they shouted at the same time, “That’s it!”

“Just as I’d expect for you, Yuu. The ideas of someone with connections are really something else.”

“You have connections with her too, don’t you? It’s just Natsuki.”

“Uh, that’s not exactly what I meant… Anyway, did you even hear what I said? I meant that people that are outgoing and know a lot of people already have things set out for them to begin with.”
 

He got the gist of what Haruki wanted to say, but it was a little embarrassing to actually accept those words.

Just as he was hestitating on how to react, Souta spoke up with a light laugh,

“So, it’s like he’ll always have someone to rely on?”

“Doesn’t that make it seem like he’s always leaving it to other people?”

“But relying on others also means that others can rely on you, too. After all, people that try to do everything on their own are hard to approach, right?”

This time, Yuu couldn’t help but hang his head at those straightforward words.

 Both Haruki and Souta nodded together in agreement, “Yeah, that’s Yuu’s special quality.”

G-give me a break already….’
 

He had to change the subject, or he was going to die in a fit of anger.

Without any particular plan in mind, Yuu immediately opened his mouth, and at that moment, there was a knock at the door.

Good timing…..!

He started to get up to answer it, but stopped short when he guessed who it might be.

Souta looked at this watch, and also seemed to remember who the visitor would be.

“Looks like someone’s here to pick you up,”

When Souta smiled knowingly at him, Haruki’s face turned to an unpleasant one.

Mochita’s pretty uptight today, too…’

As if Yuu’s shrug acted as the signal, Haruki jabbed Souta in the forehead.

“Ouch!”

“I’ll ask her about it our way home.”

After completely ignoring Souta, Haruki slung his bag over his shoulder and headed for the door.
 

Ker-chak, thunk.

The door that didn’t fit properly opened with its usual racket.

When they glanced over, they saw Aida Miou waiting there like Hachiko, the faithful dog.

“…. Take care,”

Yuu called after Haruki, who seemed happy somehow, and he waved back over his shoulder.

When the door shut again with another series of loud noises, Souta slumped down on the desk in exhaustion.
 

“I bet he’d never let Aida open that door herself,”

Souta mumbled this in amazement, and realizing the same thing, Yuu nodded.

“It’s not like girls wouldn’t be able to open it, but it is pretty heavy.”

“Haruki’s a real gentleman when it comes to those things.”

“….. Are those two going out?”

“Beats me…”

Still being all friendly with the desk, Souta mumbled a dismissive answer.

That’s weird. Mochita’s usually the first to bite when it comes to these things.’
 

Before he could try to ask what was wrong, Souta spoke up,

“Yuu~… Have you ever heard about ‘a single love continuing for a long time?’”

“Uh, love?”

 Yuu could only blink in confusion at the sudden and unexpected question.

As if he hadn’t expected an answer in the first place, Souta said the correct answer himself,

“They mean ‘unrequited love’…..”
 

Unrequited love.

As he repeated the word silently to himself, his heart hurt as if something had grabbed it.

And with that pain, he became aware of his feelings for Natsuki.
 

‘….. If it’s unrequited, it makes sense that it’d continue for a long time.’

Even if she confessed, it wasn’t guaranteed that they’d get together.

And even if they did return each other’s feelings, who knew how long it would last.

I think I read in some book somewhere that couples usually only last for three months, and for married couples, it’s three years.’

It was said that the chemicals in your brain that affected romance ran out after about that long. Of course, it seemed to vary from case to case, but he did find it strangely convincing in a way.
 

In the case of unrequited love, that was something you had to prepare yourself for.

You could continue liking the person, or you could end it at your own timing.

It’s a little sad, but it’s one way of dealing with it….’

Souta probably felt the same.

Yuu hadn’t asked him about when it’d started, but he also had some one-sided feelings for someone.
 

Souta’s crush was Hayasaka Akari, who was also close friends with Natsuki and Miou.

So although they had countless opportunities to talk, for some reason, Souta would always clam up in front of her.

When asked about it, he’d say things like, “Akarin… she’s too cute…. So nervous… I can’t do it……”

Haruki and Yuu couldn’t help but laugh at how obvious he was being, but since Hayasaka was a bit of an airhead herself, she didn’t seem to notice anything either.
 

I feel like Hayasaka can also be kind of weird sometimes…’

Her record of boasting several awards as the president of the Art Club probably had something to do with it, but peoples’ general impression of her was something like, “I don’t really get her, but she’s kind of amazing.” Maybe it was her extraordinary talent, or how she did daring things every so often, but something about her was a lot like Haruki, too.

Among the guys, she was said to be basically “a really cute girl when she’s silent,” but he’d heard that there were more than a few guys that secretly had their eyes set on her.

From what he’d heard from Natsuki, though, her stance was more like, “Friendship over love! Art!”
 

“….. Did something happen with you and Hayasaka?”

He’d meant to just ask what was going on, but these words seemed to make Souta sink even lower.

There was a dull sound as his cheek dropped down on the desk, and then his hollow voice as he said,

“Yeah… It’d be nice if something happened……”

“Yeah, okay, I get what you mean, so you don’t need to say any more…”

Patting Souta on the shoulder, he stood up from his seat to start getting ready to go home.

As he faced the open window, lively voices streamed in through it.
 

“Geez, is Ayase going to be okay…..?”

“Huh? What’s wrong with Yukki?”

Souta pulled himself to his feet and joined Yuu at the window.

Yuu made some space for him, and then pointed outside, “There.”

It took his eyes a moment to focus, but once he saw it, Souta was taken aback.

“Dang, he’s surrounded by girls…. They’re not from his club or anything, right?”

“Hm? Isn’t he in the Going-Home Club?”

“No, he ended up joining the Gardening Club a while back.”

“Huh…. I guess he’s got it easy for him if he can even score high in the National Mock Exams.”
 

It was only afterwards that he realized he’d said something rude.

His tone hadn’t been a pleasant one, and his choice of words didn’t sound too nice.

He stole an anxious glance at Souta to see if he’d noticed, and with his luck, their eyes ended up meeting.

“That’s unusual, for you to say something like that. Are you worried because he and Natsuki get along?”

“That’s not it!”

Blurting that out in reflex, Yuu was taken by an increasingly stronger impulse to hold his head in his hands.

Souta just couldn’t help but laugh at his friend’s all-too-obvious actions.
 

He hadn’t talked with Ayase Koyuki all that much, but he knew that he and Natsuki shared the same taste in manga.

Because of his sister, Hina, and Natsuki’s influence, Yuu read a lot of manga as well, but when it came to magazine features, publishers, and deep conversations, he was at a total loss. Koyuki seemed to be left out of the loop often, and whenever Natsuki went up to talk to him, he always gave them as much space as possible.

It’s not like he’s a bad guy or anything, but there’s just something that gets to me….’
 

Standing beside Yuu, who was staring in careful observation, Souta squinted his eyes against the bright sunlight outside.

“Whatever the reason is, it’s amazing he could completely transform himself like that,”

As he said this, Souta used the ledge of the window to rest his chin in his hand.

Although his eyes seemed to be focused on Koyuki, he was probably thinking about something else.
 

“I personally think that you’re fine the way you are, Mochita,”

Yuu said, and as if making an escape, went back to the desks to get his bag.

Souta seemed shocked, and immediately shouted after him,

“Wait, Yuu, say that one more time!”

“Say what? Sure you weren’t just hearing things? Hey, take care of the window and curtains, would you?”

“Yuu, you don’t have to get so embarrassed about it!”

“…… Have you forgotten that I’m the club president, and therefore I have the key for this room?”

“Wahh, alright, I’m coming! So please don’t lock me in hereeee!”
 

Yuu laughed inwardly to himself, realizing that he was acting pretty stupid.

But it was also true that this kind of mood wasn’t a bad thing, either.
 

It was harder than he imagined to keep dealing with how hopeless he was when it came to talent or love.

But it’s not like I can just give up, so it’s useless either way…..’


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