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Ayase Koyuki

Birthday: August 28
Horoscope Sign: Virgo
Blood Type: A

Natsuki’s classmate. In the Gardening Club. He’s changed his appearance and personality a lot recently, making him the topic of talk amongst the girls.
 


 

practice 3

It was a blazing hot day at the beginning of the following week, as well.

Even just from walking down the corridor, beads of sweat formed at the back of Natsuki’s neck.

‘They shouldn’t only turn on the air conditioning for the faculty room, but the rest of the school, too…..’

The mere memory of the paradise she’d been in moments ago was enough to take her away from reality.

Although she’d been fine with both the heat and the cold when she was younger, she couldn’t handle the extremes of either at all now.
 

“Ah, it’s a jet stream!”

Akari, who was walking in front, pointed at the sky and turned around.

“Wow! Pretty…..”

Hearing Miou’s exclamation, Natsuki was the last one to look up, squinting her eyes against the brightness.

“With the sky this blue, you can see it really clearly, huh?”

“Right? Don’t you think it looks like a line left by a giant white brush?”

“…Yeah.”

In contrast with Miou and Akari’s excited voices, she answered in a dull monotone.

‘Crap, I did it again…..’

Feeling their gaze shift from the clouds to her, she quickly spoke up in a more cheerful voice.
 

“It’s almost time. If we don’t hurry, Haruki’s going to have a fit!”

Natsuki said, and took off in a light run towards the art room.

Hearing the footsteps of the others following behind her, she let out a sigh.
 

She’d been acting like this since that morning.

What Yuu had said about “cheering her on” would suddenly come to mind, dulling her emotions.

‘I know I shouldn’t let it bother me so much, but….’

Just like how humans aren’t able to control the weather by will, handling emotions could be just as difficult.
 

‘The meeting’s going to start soon, so I have to get it together….’

She slapped both of her cheeks, and putting on a determined face, went to open the door of the preparation room next to the art room.

Their adviser, Matsukawa-sensei, had let them use it exclusively so that they wouldn’t disrupt the other club members.

‘I didn’t think she’d be too approving of it, so that was surprising.’
 

Before coming here, she had gone to the faculty room to report the request from the Film Club.

While it was her job as the adviser of the Art Club to suggest they focus on the contest right now, Matsukawa-sensei had also expressed her support for their collaboration with the Film Club.

‘Is it because it’s better the more exposure our work gets…?’

Of course, she was happy that others would want to see her work, but unlike Akari and Miou, who regularly won awards, it was still a challenge for Natsuki, who lacked the confidence that they had.
 

But despite all that, the reason that she’d decide to hear the Film Club’s request was because she couldn’t get what Yuu had said yesterday out of her head.

“I like your drawings.”

Yuu hadn’t said that he liked her, but the drawings that she drew.

Even still, she had been genuinely happy.

That was why she had decided to attend the meeting, even though she knew she probably wouldn’t be picked.
 

Yuu and the others were already waiting out in the hall, and playing with a handheld fan.

“Yo. Sorry to take up your time when you’re all busy preparing for the contest.”

Even while saying these commendable words, Haruki grinned with toothy smile.

Used to his usual joking tone, Natsuki laughed and shot back at him,

“If you’re really sorry, then at least treat us to something to drink.”

“Ah, that’s right. Sorry, we should have thought of that….!”

For some reason, it was Souta, instead of Haruki, was the one who had hurried to reply.
 

Haruki waved his hand in the air, holding Souta back.

“Mochita, you’re such a nice guy. You don’t have to do whatever Natsuki says, you know.”

“You really are a nice person, Mochita. But it’s fine to just let Haruki take care of this kind of thing.”

It was just after Natsuki replied, having been outdone by Mochita’s kind offer, when they heard Yuu cough, and then speak in a frosty tone.

“Haruki, and Natsuki, too, would you two quit it for a minute? Can’t you see that you’re leaving out Hayasaka and Aida?”
 

At Yuu’s words, Natsuki saw that Miou and Akari, who had come a little later, were standing there looking a bit lost.

They seemed uncertain about when to jump into the conversation, but also generally overwhelmed by how quickly it was moving. On the other hand, it was easy for Natsuki, since she’d know Haruki since they were childhood friends.

“S-Sorry! I didn’t mean you two hanging.”

Natsuki unlocked the door to the preparation room, and urged Miou and Akari to go inside.
 

Yuu followed after them, but Haruki seemed to remember something and stopped short.

“I’m thirsty now after talking so much. Mochita, let’s go.”

“R-Right!”

Nodding awkwardly, Souta’s face was burning bright red, possibly because of the heat. If so, it would be a good idea to go get something to rehydrate themselves, just like Haruki said.

Yuu looked like he was about to say something, but in the end, he just waved Haruki and Souta off.
 

“For starters, I’ll give a basic explanation about the project.”

Being the only one left behind, Yuu started to talk with a friendly smile on his face.

In doing so, Natsuki saw the tension leave Miou and Akari’s shoulders, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

‘Good, they’re back to their normal selves again…’

Yuu’s natural personality probably had something to do with it, but it might’ve also been the impact of Natsuki confessing to them her own feelings that they seemed at ease while he talked.

‘If it were me, and Miou told me that she liked Haruki, for instance… I’d be happy, too.’

There were times when he could be annoying, but she couldn’t deny that he was one of her prided childhood friends.

If, by any chance, Miou and Haruki started going out, she might start feeling even more self-conscious than she did now.
 

By the time Yuu had finished his brief explanation, Haruki and Souta came back carrying several water bottles.

Natsuki had said it as a joke, but it seemed like he really was treating them. Taking the water bottles gratefully, Haruki, the director of this work, began to explain the kind of images they were looking for.

“The setting is that the heroine, who’s never been in love before, starts showing changes in her art after meeting the protagonist. We want to appeal to the viewers by using pictures to show the delicate, and subtle changes in the heroine’s feelings towards the protagonist.”

Haruki seemed to have a firm vision in mind, and expressed it without faltering.  

A bit overwhelmed, Natsuki turned to make eye contact with her two close friends.
 

They would be creating the effect he was aiming for through their art.

It was hard just to imagine how challenging that would be.

At least for Natsuki, it was rare that she could successfully convey an emotion to the viewer from a single picture. And even when she could, pulling it off with just penwork would require a great deal of skill.
 

Miou and Akari both had hard looks on their faces, as well, and seemed to be thinking about something.

Haruki looked at them each in turn, and then asked calmly, as if discussing the day’s weather.

“Say, what color do you think love is?”

“Huh? What color…?”

His sudden question didn’t make much sense. Natsuki was about to ask him for clarification, but when faced with his piercing, straight-forward gaze, she couldn’t find the words.

“…Pink, I guess?”

Saying the first words that name to mind, Haruki gave a strong nod.
 

As if encouraged by that response, before long, Miou also answered,

“Love can sometimes be bitter, or painful, so I think blues and blacks would be used, too.”

Haruki nodded with interest, and lastly, looked at Akari.

“What do you think, Hayasaka?”

“I’d say… gold, I guess.”
 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Yuu and Souta widen their eyes at Akari’s unique sense.

Miou seemed surprised, too.

Haruki was the only one whose expression turned serious. He rested his hands on the desk and leaned forward in interest.

“What makes you think that?”

“It pretty, and shiny, but it rusts when you leave it alone for too long, right? And when it shines too brightly, it can be blinding, so I think that’s similar to how love can be.”
 

It made sense, but at the same time, it didn’t. That was Natsuki’s honest opinion.

The other members seemed to also feel similarly, and were unable to come up with a response.

All except for Haruki.
 

“Oh…? I never thought I’d meet someone that thinks the same way as me.”

After muttering this in astonishment, Haruki laughed shyly.

He looked satisfied, like he’d just found a comrade.

‘Looks like Akari’s got this one.’
 

Natsuki glanced over at Yuu, who seemed to snap out of his daze before starting to get the meeting back in order.

“So that’s the general idea… For the time being, would you mind showing us some of your actual works?”

‘Hmm… just “for the time being,” huh?’

Although she’d picked up on his way of phrasing it, it would probably only ruin the mood if she said anything. Instead, she pretended like she hadn’t heard it, and brought a flat smile to her lips.

“We’ll bring a few different things, like oil paintings, and sketches.”

Although it wouldn’t just be Yuu’s words, maybe their impression would change once they actually looked at their work. Also, she knew that it wasn’t any of her business, but she wanted Haruki to notice Miou’s charm, no matter what.
 

Making eye contact with Miou and Akari, they both nodded, and all three of them stood up.

Once they’d brought their works from the art room, something like a screening process began.

“Now presenting the first contestant, Enomoto Natsuki!”

Before anyone could say anything, she volunteered first.

‘After all, when it comes to talent, it’s a showdown between Akari and Miou.’

She’d given up on getting in the way of that, and since she was starting to feel pessimistic about the whole thing, she wanted to get it over with quickly.
 

At least, that was what she’d thought, but surprisingly, what she heard were positive comments.

“The expressions in the characters you draw are really lively. That’s the kind of thing I like to see.”

The first one to speak was Haruki.

Souta and Yuu nodded, and continued by saying things like, “The colors are nice,” and “It has a good design, too.”
 

Taken by surprise, Natsuki was slow in reacting.

She could feel her voice shaking, but she spoke as cheerfully as she could.

“W-Wow! You all sound like real art critics making comments like that!”

As if she’d just said something funny, all three of the guys laughed a bit.

‘I really wanna ask why! But, I’m also scared to know…’
 

Without saying another word, Haruki suddenly reached his hand out.

“It was an honest compliment, you know. It’s not often that I get the chance to, after all.”

He ruffled her hair playfully, and immediately, she started to feel like a puppy or a kitten being patted on the head. Even so, somewhere deep down, she felt a bit embarrassed.

“Ehh? You should praise me more on a regular basis!”

This time, Natsuki was able to make a well-timed comeback, and she did a mental victory pose.
 

Checking her surroundings, she saw Souta holding his stomach, doubled over in laughter.

She heard Miou and Akari laughing, too, and let out a sigh of relief.

It seemed like the tension that had formed in the room earlier had been eased.

‘….Huh? Oh yeah, what about Yuu?’

“So it was Haruki, huh…..”
 

As if to cut through her thoughts, the words Yuu muttered rang clearly in her ears.

Natsuki couldn’t figure out who those words were directed at, though, or even what he was talking about in the first place.

However, the feeling that there had been an a misunderstanding washed over her instantly.
 

“Um, Yuu….?”

Calling out to him hesitantly, Yuu’s shoulders shook slightly.

“….Alright, that’s enough with the flirting.”

“Huh?”
 

She froze in place at his words. She was used to Yuu’s jokes, but she never would have imagined him to say that she was flirting with Haruki, of all people.

‘Did it look like we were fooling around to him…?’

Since Yuu was the only really responsible one here, he must have felt that the tension, which Natsuki had personally felt to be a bit suffocating, to be necessary for the seriousness of the screening process. In that case, it would be Natsuki and Haruki’s fault for distracting everyone.

Haruki also muttered bluntly, “Crap,” and knitted his eyebrows together.
 

“Th-Then, next up is Aida-san.”

Noticing the tense atmosphere, Souta changed the topic. He looked at Miou’s works, which were displayed next to Natsuki’s, and commented, “They’re very delicate drawings.”

Yuu and Haruki followed suit, and once more, a peculiar tension filled the room.

‘This is probably for the best, but….’

It wasn’t that Natsuki wanted to make another commotion, so she didn’t plan on arguing with Yuu.

But, although she couldn’t put it into words, she couldn’t help but feel something bothering her.
 

As if she was onto something with her bad premonitions, the unexpected surprises continued.

Unlike his positive comments towards Natsuki’s works earlier, Haruki’s comments on Miou’s works were harsh.

“Don’t the expressions seem kind of stiff?”

Even Souta and Yuu seemed taken aback by Haruki’s unreserved statement.

“I’d say it’s more like they look very well-defined, you know?”

“Oh, there’s landscapes, too.”

Despite the other two’s efforts to bring up the good points, Haruki had only sharp words to say.

“The technique is good and all, but… they feel more like references.”
 

Afterwards, Haruki was mostly silent when it came to Akari’s pieces.

No matter which work he looked at, he only said, “Looks nice,” and then proceeded to stare at each one.

Glad that the unexpected developments had come to an end, Natsuki also fell silent and turned towards the works.

‘They want to appeal to the viewers through pictures, huh…. It feels like Akari showed that she was fully capable of pulling that off…’
 

In the end, just as expected, Haruki chose Akari to draw the pictures.

Akari herself seemed to have lost all of her excitement, and had become completely shy. She hid behind Natsuki, and spoke to Haruki from a distance.

“Um, Serizawa-kun… Could you tell me a bit more about the movie? Otherwise, I won’t fully understand the heroine’s feelings, and it might be hard to convey the right mood in the pictures.”

“Convey the right mood, huh… Yeah, these two things go hand-in-hand.”

Although he’d left out the specifics, the gist of what Haruki meant still got across.

‘Haruki probably sees Akari as a comrade.’
 

He was smiling just like he used to when they would play in the secret fort they built when they were younger.

As you grow older, finding someone that shares your point of view on things becomes harder. That must have been why Haruki was genuinely pleased to have met Akari, who shared a similar mindset as him when it came  to creative activities.

‘Then, what about Miou….?’

What did Haruki think of Miou, who went home together with him nearly every day because they had things in common?

Natsuki had the urge to ask about it right this moment, but as she thought about the feelings of her close friends, she hesitated. Besides, it wasn’t something an outsider like her should be poking her nose into.
 

‘I wonder how Miou’s feeling right now….’

Looking over, Miou was beside her, smiling softly as usual.

However, both her hands and legs were shaking slightly.

“….Miou…”

Even though she wasn’t sure what to say to her, she wound up saying her name out loud.

Startled, Miou looked over at Natsuki, and then hid her hands behind her back.

“…Let’s start cleaning up.”

As she said this with a smile, Natsuki couldn’t think of anything to say after that.

She pretended not to have seen anything, and instead, shouted loudly in her head.

‘Haruki, you moron!’
 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

In the end, the meeting concluded in about an hour.

To Natsuki, it had felt almost twice as long, so she’d been surprised when checking the time on her watch.

‘Both Miou and Akari seem spaced out since the meeting ended…’

They’d gone back to the art room, and started working on their own art again, but they still all seemed distracted.

While they each had their own separate reasons, it was clear that the meeting earlier was the cause. In the end, her childhood friends had caused trouble, and Natsuki couldn’t help but feel bad about it.
 

‘They said we’d meet up again at a later date, but they really only need to see Akari from now on, right?’

Feeling unsettled, she decided to text Yuu to make sure.

Natsuki wouldn’t mind helping out, but unlike working on small props like she’d done before, this job wasn’t exactly one that could be shared. Also, whether it was Miou, or Akari, she felt like, no matter what, it’d end up awkward.

‘Somehow, things have gotten so crazy….’
 

“No wonder the cicadas stopped crying. It’s started raining,”

Miou muttered this so quietly, it was nearly inaudible.

She might have even just been talking to herself, rather than to anyone in particular.

Akari must have thought the same, since she didn’t reply until a little while later.

“There’s a lot of clouds, too, so it might start raining really hard for a while…”
 

After she’d sent the text, Natsuki looked out the window when Akari mentioned the clouds.

“You’re right. There’s so many rain clouds…. What should we do? Wanna just go home for today?”

Turning around, both of them voiced their approval. There was still a while left until dismissal time, but since none of them could focus, there wasn’t much point in staying much longer.

“Alright, then let’s get going! Ah, Miou, you’re with us today, right? We should go home together with the three of us more often.”

Speaking in a deliberate cheerful tone, Natsuki smiled at the other two.

Akari nodded lightheartedly as always, and after a while, Miou smiled, as well.
 

When they walked out to the school gates, just as Akari had predicted, it started to rain harder.

As if countering the sound of raindrops on their umbrellas, Natsuki let out a huge sigh.

“Geez, I’m totally worn out today~”

“It’s probably mental stress. With the contest coming up, and having your work critiqued right in front of you.”

Hearing Miou’s response, she felt her blood run cold a bit.

Even though she’d tried to avoid bringing up Haruki, it’d been completely spoiled.
 

As Natsuki tried to think of how to reply, Akari spoke up first instead.

“Serizawa-kun must really think fondly of you, Miou-chan.”

Not noticing that Miou had stopped in her tracks, Akari continued in her usual, somewhat leisurely tone of voice.

“I don’t think there’s many people that could be so straight-forward…”

“But, I felt like he was being a little… insensitive about it…. y-you know…?”

Natsuki spoke up on reflex, but feeling her own comment might’ve been insensitive, she hurriedly trailed off at the end. If she was trying to cover it up, maybe it would’ve been better to have just laughed it off.
 

‘Was that okay….?’

Miou had started walking again, but she’d hidden her face under her umbrella.

Akari kept on walking ahead, and continued talking.

“Isn’t it because he thought that Miou-chan would be able to handle it?’

“Ah….!”

Akari’s words made her realize a reason that made sense, and she raised her umbrella up.

‘Yeah, that’s right! Haruki always gives a lot of critique for the works he likes!’

Whenever the four of them watched movies on DVD together as childhood friends, Haruki always had a lot to say about the ones that he brought. Natsuki found that a bit hard to understand, but he probably couldn’t keep quiet about it because of the fact he liked them so much.

Putting it in Yuu and Souta’s words, he was just a tsundere.
 

“Haruki can kind of be a contrarian sometimes, or kind of a tsundere, you know?”

She raised her voice a little so that Miou, who was walking a little slower than them, could hear, too.

But when she didn’t reply at all, Natsuki became a bit worried and looked back at her.

“….Akari-chan, you sure observe people a lot, huh?”

As she looked at Miou smiling a little sadly, she saw something like lightning flash briefly in the sky.

‘Could it be that Miou’s jealous of Akari….?’

Miou might not be conscious out of it herself, but could she actually be feeling some jealousy?

Judging by the conversation in the preparation room, Haruki and Akari seemed to think in similar ways. And even just now, Akari has proved that she understood Haruki even more than Natsuki did as one of his childhood friends.
 

‘Would this count as a love triangle?’

As she tried to calm her quickening heartbeat, Natsuki looked over at Akari.

Akari realized that the other two were lagging behind, and stopped walking so that they could catch up.

“….I wonder what it’s like to be in love. Must be nice….”

Akari’s words, which were nearly drowned out altogether by the sound of the raindrops, echoed in Natsuki’s eardrums.

In contrast to her words, a shadow was cast over Akari’s expression.
 

‘H-Huh? Just now… Wait, then that means….’

Quickly thinking back to all their previous conversations, it was true that Akari never really talked about her own experiences with love. In fact, she always avoided the topic completely.

If Natsuki’s guess was correctly, then it wasn’t actually a love triangle at all.

‘But, doesn’t this mean that Akari might have trouble drawing the pictures for the movie…?’
 

“Enomoto-san!”
 

His voice cut through the surrounding air like thunder.

She was familiar with the voice itself, but she couldn’t remember ever hearing it so loudly. Turning around on instinct, Natsuki prepared herself for it to be someone other than who she expected.

However, the one that came running towards them was just who she’d thought it was.
 

“I’m glad I caught up to you…”

“Koyuki-kun! What’s up?”

“When I stopped by the art room, I heard that you’d already gone home… Um, I got this yesterday.”

Ruffling through his bag, Koyuki pulled out a small paper bag.

Natsuki took the paperbag from him when he held it out to her, and then looked back at him in confusion.
 

“Can I open it?”

“Of course. I want you to have it.”

Although she found that a little strange, Natsuki opened the paper bag and looked inside.

“This is the limited booklet! Koyuki-kun, you won?!”

Inside was the limited edition booklet that had been made to commemorate the tankobon publication of the manga they were both fans of. It was a rare gem, given out to only a handful of applicants from the campaign.

“I didn’t think I’d win when I sent in an application, but it looks like I got really lucky.”

Natsuki jumped up and down a bit in excitement, and Koyuki nodded shyly.

“Wow, this is amazing! I never thought I’d get to see the real thing in person!”

Staring at the cover with interest, Natsuki let out a gleeful sigh.
 

“Nacchan, you seem really happy.”

“Yoshida-sensei, right? I remember you saying you were a fan.”

Akari and Miou, who were watching the exchange from the sidelines, peeked at the booklet in Natsuki’s hand with smiles of their own.

“Yep! Yoshida-sensei’s the best when it comes to gag manga!”

“I remember you saying that, so I thought you’d like to have it…”

Being told this once again, Natsuki let out a small gasp.

“But, Koyuki-kun, you’re a fan too, right? So you should be the one to keep it.”

It was bad if it seemed like she was reluctant about giving it back, so she held out the paper bag to him.

However, Koyuki-kun only shook his head, and refused to take it.
 

‘What should I do? It’s going to get wet from the rain at this rate…’

Since it couldn’t be helped, she took it back, but she still felt bad about receiving it for free.

As she stared intently at Koyuki, he soon broke eye contact and looked away.

“In return… Well, it might be selfish of me to say it like that, but….”

Speaking quietly and looking downwards, it was like he’d gone back to how he was before he’d cut his hair.

Since it seemed like he was having trouble saying it, she took a chance and urged him on in a lighthearted tone.

“Hmm? What is it? If it’s something that I can do, I don’t mind at all.”
 

Koyuki took a deep breath, and as if he’d made up his mind, raised his face again.

There wasn’t anything to hide his face anymore, like long bangs or glasses.

Underneath his passionate and serious gaze, Natsuki felt her heart beat loudly.
 

“During summer vacation, do you want to go out somewhere? W-With just the two of us, if possible….”
 

The moment he asked that, she felt her heartbeat quicken, and heat gather in her face.

‘C-Calm down, Natsuki! It’s just Koyuki-kun, right? It’ll be like hanging out as friends.’

Natsuki put a hand over her shirt to quiet her thumping heart, and gave a small nod.

“I-I’m looking forward to it….!”

Koyuki’s face lit up at Natsuki’s response.

“Well, alright then! I’ll text you about the details later.”

As if it was too early to discuss it right now, Koyuki quickly ran off.
 

Listening to his retreating footsteps against the rain-drenched concrete, Natsuki looked up at the roof of her umbrella in a daze.

‘What was that just now?’

“So, an invitation for a date, huh?”

As if in response to her thoughts, Miou mumbled this with perfect timing.

Natsuki let out a strange squeak of surprise, and started to feel even more self-conscious.
 

“I don’t think it’s really like a date or anything….”

When Natsuki muttered this in protest, Miou poked her cheek.

“Not very convincing when you’re blushing like that, you know?”

“Like I said, it’s not like that!”

“In that case, I’ll come along, too. That way, you won’t be nervous, right?”

As Akari innocently linked arms with hers, Miou let out a loud sigh.

“It’s true that Nacchan won’t be nervous, but wouldn’t that make you feel bad for Ayase-kun?”

“Huh? How come?”
 

Natsuki only paid half-attention to the conflicting conversation between the two, and started thinking deeply to herself.

Up until now, she and Koyuki had gotten along as two friends that shared the same interest in manga. She was sure that he felt the same way, and earlier, he hadn’t brought up the word “date” even once.

‘I’m just overthinking it….! Yeah, it’s fine to put it like that, right?’
 

But what if she was wrong?

That question lingered in the corner of Natsuki’s mind, but she tried her best to ignore it.

She couldn’t let a one-sided misunderstanding ruin their friendship.

‘It’s okay, it’s okay…’

Reassuring herself, she said cheerfully to the other two,

“Once it’s summer vacation, let’s hang out as the three of us! Promise?”

 

The last summer vacation of her high school life, was right around the corner.


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