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Serizawa Haruki

Birthday: April 5
Horoscope Sign: Ram
Blood Type: A
 

Natsuki’s childhood friend. In the Film Club. The mischievous older brother type. Makes movies in excellent taste.

 

—–

 

practice 8

Patience, don’t rush.

Muttering the words under her breath like a spell, Natsuki was intent on keeping her hand moving.

Finally, together with the sound of the minute hand overlapping with the hour hand, she let go of the tone cutter in her hand.

“I-I finished~!”

Done with all the work at last, she collapsed on her bed.

Her shoulders and arms ached from the overuse over these consecutive days, but now that she was finally able to give them a rest, the pain felt dulled. Strangely, even the fatigue felt like relief to her.
 

Moving only her neck, she looked over at the clock on top of her desk.

It felt like it was around midnight, but to her surprise, it was about two hours later than she’d thought.

‘Ack, when did it get this late….’

She was shocked at how fast time had gone by, and also impressed on how focused she’d been.
 

She’d do what she really wanted to do, and find confidence in herself.

That was what she’d promised herself, but it had been a lot more work than she’d expected.

In any case, she’d had Koyuki read her manuscript. Since he usually read a lot of manga, all of his advice had been a great help. And more than anything, he cared like it was his own work, and she felt that it was thanks to his encouragement that she was able to keep drawing.
 

‘Once it’s morning, first I’ll send a text to the three of them….’

As she thought about how she’d announce it to them, another face popped up in the back of her mind.

‘Maybe I should tell Haruki too, since we’ve both done confession rehearsals.’

It had been the day before the contest results had been announced that Natsuki had done the confession rehearsal with Haruki in the classroom after school, so that would make it two weeks since then.

Even though there were only a few days left in October now, it still didn’t look like Haruki had confessed to anyone.
 

‘Knowing him, he probably has some reason why he hasn’t, though.’

Remembering how surprised her childhood friend had been about how much courage he’d needed just to practice confessing, it was very possible that he hadn’t been able to take that final step.

‘If I’m able to set a good example here, will I be able to give Haruki that push he needs?’

And then he’d be thankful to her, and maybe start being a little nicer to her?

No, he’d probably just scoff at her and say that it was none of her business.
 

Unable to cool down at all, whimsical thoughts kept popping up one after another in her head.

Natsuki rolled on top of her sheets, flipping over from stomach to lie on her back.

“….I wonder if Yuu’s already asleep.”

Suddenly curious, she quietly rushed over to the window.
 

Careful not to make a sound, she opened the curtains to look at the house next door.

Seeing a faint light from the window of the corner room of the second floor, it appeared that Yuu was still up studying.

“Wow, you’re at it all night tonight, too….”

Before, she would have texted him to tell him that, but now, she only mumbled it to herself. Ever since what had happened over the summer, the invisible wall that had formed still towered between them.
 

‘But, once tomorrow comes….’

She’d knock down that invisible wall and go to see him.

And this time, it wouldn’t be a rehearsal; she would confess to him for real.
 

“You’d better be ready for me, Yuu!”
 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

“Nacchan, there’s a bunny in your bento!”

Akari’s eyes sparkled when she looked at the apple in Natsuki’s bento box that was spread out across the long table in the art preparation room.

“Today’s the decisive battle, so I begged my mom to make it for me!”

Natsuki raised a tightly clenched fist and nodded proudly.
 

Hearing the words “decisive battle,” Miou paused in the middle of eating her sandwich.

“C-come to think of it, you would always have one whenever there was an exam or something, right.…?”

“Ahaha! Miou, how come you’re the one sounding so nervous?”

Natsuki burst out laughing, and before long, Akari and Miou started laughing along with her.
 

During the lunch break, Natsuki had asked their advisor, Matsukawa-sensei, if they could check out the preparation room.

Since she had to teach the art elective class during fifth and sixth period, Matsukawa-sensei had quickly unlocked the room for her.

‘Sorry, Eri-chan-sensei! I just really wanted to prepare myself for this!’
 

Friday afternoons were electives, and naturally, Natsuki and the others chose art.

Yuu usually chose to go home early on Fridays, but due to the deadlines for the film club, lately, he would often stay until the last school bell.

But Natsuki had still sent him a text that morning just in case they ended up missing each other.
 

“Honestly, I was so shocked when I saw your text.”

“Saying something like, ‘I finished the manga, so I’ll be confessing today,’ right?”

Seeing Akari and Miou nod in agreement, Natsuki tilted her head.

“Huh? How come? Didn’t I already tell you guys that I’d confess for real once I finished it?”

“Geez, Nacchan!”

“Yes?”
 

Akari, who was sitting in front of her, suddenly called Natsuki’s name with a stern look on her face and leaned forward.

She then pointed directly below Natsuki’s eyes.

“You haven’t been sleeping enough, have you? So I was thinking it might be better if you put off the confession to another day…”

“Both Akari and I can only cheer you on from the sidelines, so we’re worried, you know?”

Before she’d noticed, Miou, who was sitting beside her, was looking at her with a serious expression, as well.

Her vision started to blur from the tears that sprang up at the two’s kindness.
 

“…Akari, Miou, thank you so much. I’ll… I’ll do my best!”

“Nacchan, we’ll be rooting for you!”

Akari grabbed her hand and started muttering chants under her breath as if to give her blessings.

Seeing this, Miou also extended her hand, and said with a determined expression that she rarely ever used.

“I also looked up ways with help with nerves, so if you’re worried, just tell me.”

“Miou-chan, prepared as always! It’d be a real disaster if she confessed to the wrong person because she was so nervous!”
“…I don’t think you can blame that on nerves. That’s just called being careless.”

Miou made a sharp retort to Akari’s airheaded joke.

It was just a silly exchange, but Natsuki felt her shoulders easing up.

‘It’s like they’re telling me to just act like I usually would, just like they’re doing right now.’

It was great that she was pumped up for the real confession today, but she may have gotten a little too worked up over it.

Feeling more thankful towards her friends than any words could possibly express, Natsuki posed with her forefinger and thumb sticking out.
 

“It’ll be fine! After all, today’s horoscope said that Cancer was the most favorable sign!”
 

While Natsuki had a wide grin on her face, as if to show her confidence in choosing this day in particular, the others showed no reaction whatsoever.

After a short silence, Akari and Miou gingerly asked,

“So, could it be, the reason that you chose to confess today…”

“Was because your sign was the most favorable in today’s horoscope reading…?”
 

“Yep, that’s right!”
 

The horoscope on the “Morning News” was usually always right. For Natsuki, there was nothing more dependable than that.

‘Huh? They’re still not showing any reaction…’

Were they worried because it seemed like she was only relying on the horoscope?

‘Well, in that case…’

Natsuki pulled out a plump pouch from her bag.
 

“Naturally, I made sure to have a counter-plan for my lack of sleep, too. Tada!”

When she opened the pouch, things like mascara and lip gloss came pouring out. And just in case the cosmetics that she owned weren’t enough, she’d also packed things that she’d secretly borrowed from her mom, as well.

“I can hide my bags, and if I make my eyelashes all curly, too, I’ll be good to go!”

As Natsuki hurriedly pulled the cap off of the mascara, the two seemed to break free from their paralysis and shouted,

“Hold on! You have to wash your face first!”

“And don’t forget the foundation, too! Actually, you’ll be fine with just using powder!!”

As Akari and Miou’s shouts echoed around, sadly, the bell signaling the end of the lunch break chimed.
 

As the promised hour drew closer by the second, all Natsuki could hear was the pounding of her own heart.
 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

In the hushed classroom, Yuu sat alone with a stack of documents.

The sunlight streaming in from the window warmed his back, making it seem like the first day of winter was still far off, instead of just around the corner.

‘Guess one of the few good things about our classroom is that it gets a lot of sun, I guess.’
 

The Film Club, which wasn’t even three years old yet, was Sakuragaoka High School’s newest club.

The only empty classroom that was available was at the end of the hall on the highest floor, making it a little difficult to access. And on top of it all, it was currently being used as a storeroom.

After a bit of work, which Natsuki had lent a hand with, they’d managed to shape it into the club room that it was now.
 

‘…Come to think of it, Natsuki slept in class again today.’

For the past few days, it seemed like she hadn’t been getting enough sleep, and there’d often be dark circles under her eyes.

He’d assumed that she was pulling all-nighters to prepare for recommendations and entrance exams, but even when they were only waiting for the acceptance letters now, the bags under her eyes showed no signs of fading in the slightest.

‘I could find out right away if I just asked her in person, but…’

Ever since he’d heard from Souta that Haruki had confessed to Natsuki, he’d done all he could to put distance between them. Whether it was because of jealousy or out of spite, this was just something that he’d decided to do until he felt confident with himself.
 

‘Still, I can’t help but be curious about how Haruki’s confession went.’

Anyone would be curious about whether the person they liked had gotten together with someone or not.

However, even with the confession, he’d been surprised at how little Haruki and Natsuki’s behavior around each other had changed. They did seem a little closer than before, but only as childhood friends and nothing more.
 

‘And I got some weird text from Natsuki, too.’

Picking up his smart phone from the desk, he opened up Natsuki’s text.

There was no title, and body of the text was brief.
 

“Could I ask you for a favor tomorrow?

Wait for me in the classroom at 6:20 PM.”
 

The time that she’d appointed was five minutes before the last school bell.

He couldn’t imagine what she could have planned for him there, at that time, at that place.

‘Does she want to do one last confession rehearsal before the real thing….?’

Was that why she’d picked out the specific time and place, to set the mood for it?
 

‘…There’s still some time before then, so guess I’ll clean up a bit.’

It didn’t matter how much he mulled it over, the answer wasn’t just going to come to him so easily.

Going back to glaring at the work schedule that he’d made at home, not even one minute had passed before he was pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration.

It’d been one week since the Student Council had heard about their new movie to commemorate their graduation, and offered to hold a screening for it the day before the ceremony.

‘I was surprised that Haruki agreed to it to easily.’
 

At first, Yuu and the rest of the Film Club had been against it.

They’d rather the audience be people that were personally interested in seeing the movie, but being an event arranged by the Student Council, the programming didn’t hold any particularly special meaning.

The moment after he’d finished hearing the offer, Haruki hadn’t bothered with beating around the bush, and had sharply turned them down.

“If we have it screened the day before the ceremony, there’s a high chance that there will be a bias with the viewers, right? Since we’d like it to be viewed with an open mind, that’d be a problem for us.”
 

Still, the Student Council President wouldn’t back down, and passionately insisted,

“But I’m a fan of the Film Club!”

“What, really? Wow, thanks!”

The first one to be won over was Souta.

He was the most honest and simple-minded of the three, and started grinning at the Student Council President after that comment.
 

‘Geez, Souta fell for that way too easily.’

Despite what he’d said, it was obvious that Haruki was on the fence about it.

Yuu had been keeping quiet the entire time to hold his position, but he hadn’t been able to keep up seeming like a really stubborn tsundere.

The president, seemingly encouraged by their change in behavior, started speaking even more heatedly than before.

“We really respect you, and all we want is your movie to be watched by as many people as possible!”
 

In the end, those words had been the winning move, and their graduation commemoration film would now be screened for the whole school.

‘Well, it’s great that we accepted the offer and all, but this schedule is insane…!’

To make matters worse, since it was an event sponsored by the Student Council, they had to have regular staff meetings to ensure the movie would be finished on time.

In the worst case situation, even if they didn’t make it for the graduation ceremony, they had until spring break to finish it.

And that was how Yuu and the others, who had previously been taking it easy, were now running around like their pants were on fire.
 

“But if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that Mochita doesn’t have the makings of a director at all.”

Yuu let out a weak laugh.

The next moment, as if on cue, the door shook.

Lately, the door was in worse shape than ever, and as it opened with a groaning sound, Haruki peeked in, panting with his shoulders heaving.

“H-Hey… Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Ahem! It’s, uh–good work.”

He was going to have a quick word with Haruki once he showed up, but he realized that now wasn’t the time for that.

Yuu cleared his throat and fought back the words bubbling up in the back of his throat.
 

“Took you a while. What kind of detour did you take today?”

“Uhh, yeah…. Anyway, where’s Mochita?”

Although curious about Haruki dodging the question, something he rarely did, Yuu went along with the change of topic.

“At the briefing session for those who passed the entrance exams.”

Proving that his confidence hadn’t been just for show, Mochita had been the first out of the three of them to pass the recommendation entrance exams.
 

“…You just took the exam for general admissions, right, Yuu?”

At the sudden question, he wondered whether or not he should ask the reason for it this time.

However, he remembered what he’d heard from Souta and paused.
 

“I heard that Haruki might be studying at a university in America.”
 

Even up to this day, neither Yuu nor Souta had heard Haruki mention anything about that himself.

Haruki would bring up his ambitions on his own when the time was right. While that did give him the strength to inspire those around him, it also only made it look like he needed support for his own case.

It was like they were all fighting on their own, and Haruki had the strong resolve to hide his strategy until he sure that it would yield results.

‘That’s probably why he hasn’t said anything to us.’
 

Convincing himself of this, Yuu smiled as if nothing was wrong.
 

“Chances are low, but I’ll try applying for a recommendation next month, too.”

“….I see.”

“Yeah.”

The conversation came to a halt there, and the sound of Haruki pulling a chair out echoed unpleasantly.
 

‘This… This is awkward…. I never thought I’d have try to hard to come up with something to talk about with Haruki.’

Naturally, he couldn’t mention Natsuki’s name, but somehow, it felt like taboo to bring up anything about Miou, either.

But all that aside, the two of them were close childhood friends.

There were times when he’d intended to choose a completely random conversation topic, and they’d end up relating to it in some unexpected way. In fact, just yesterday, they’d started off talking about a quiz, and yet somehow Natsuki had almost come up in the conversation, sending him into a state of panic.
 

After Yuu spent several more minutes of silent distress, Haruki suddenly spoke up.

“Do you remember that video I made that year?”

“Huh? Yeah, that documentary on the baseball club, right?”

The short film that Haruki had shown him in the winter of their second year was a work that he’d produced entirely on his own.

He remembered it being a beautiful film centered around the music and pictures, and dialogue kept to a bare minimum.
 

“Come to think of it, didn’t you say that you submitted it for some kind of contest? Are the results…”

Suddenly, this had become the topic of conversation.

And as his question shifted to one of conviction, his next words slipped away from him.

‘Wait, so the reason that Haruki’s been feeling so uneasy lately is because….’
 

Haruki nodded with a slight grunt and finished Yuu’s sentence.

“I won the grand prize.”

“Congratulations… right?”

Yuu asked in a shaky voice, and Haruki forced a laugh and a faint shrug.

“Mm, thanks. I’m pretty happy about the fact that I won, too.”

“Then, what’s the problem? Was there some kind of additional prize or conditions that came with it?”

He was pretty certain that he knew what it was already, but he had to make sure.

Impatiently, he stood up and walked over to Haruki.
 

In contrast with Yuu, who was visibly upset, Haruki answered in a voice laced with light laughter.

“Sharp as always, Yuu. The bonus is that I’ve been invited to study abroad for college.”

“…Have…. you already told the others about this?”

“No, you’re the first. I plan to tell Mochita about it tomorrow, too.”
 

While listening to his heart beat to an unsettling rhythm, Yuu asked in a husky voice,

“And what about Natsuki….?”

“Mm, I’m not sure about letting her know. Knowing her, she’ll just worry.”

“What do you mean by that…?”
 

Was he denying all responsibility even after he’d confessed to her?

He felt like he could scream, but seeing the somehow sad look on Haruki’s face made the breath catch in his throat.

‘Ugh, there it is again… Why do I feel so uneasy…?’   
 

Why did Haruki seem so hesitant now, when he was usually one to face everything head on?

Was it because he thought he couldn’t do something he couldn’t take responsibility for?
 

‘…Ah! It all makes sense to me now.’

As if it’d fallen straight down from the sky, the answer suddenly came to him.
 

Most likely, the one that Haruki liked was Miou.

But ever since the contest, he realized that he couldn’t just confess to her without fulfilling a responsibility.

‘When I asked if he was going out with Miou or not, he didn’t say anything, but he didn’t deny it, either…’

No, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to answer; he couldn’t.

He probably wasn’t worried about Yuu and Souta spreading rumors about him liking Miou, but he probably thought they’d badger him about why he hadn’t confessed to her yet. If that was true, then the only thing he could do was keep quiet about it altogether.
 

“And what would be the point in asking? If I told you that I was going out with Aida…. No, that’s not right. If I said that I liked anyone other than Natsuki, you’ll feel relieved, right? And then what?”
 

Haruki had been genuinely encouraging Yuu that time.

Saying that, even if I can’t do it, make sure that you do.
 

“Yuu, you really like Natsuki, don’t you? Then have a little more confidence in yourself.”

He wasn’t saying something irresponsible.

He was just giving him a push from behind, as a childhood friend, and as another man.
 

That was why Yuu looked Haruki in the eye and said back to him,

“Don’t you dare leave behind any regrets either, then.”
 

Haruki widened his eyes slightly, and then let out a soft laugh.
 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

After Akari and Miou saw her off, Natsuki headed up to the 3-2 classroom.

As she climbed the quiet staircase, her heart beat faster the closer she got.

By the time she made it to the door of the classroom, her heart was pounding so fast, it felt like it might leap out of her chest.
 

‘This feels just like before.’

Clenching the front of her shirt, the memory of the scenery from that summer day came flooding back.

Underneath the track pants she wore under her skirt, her legs were shaking.
 

‘But it won’t be like last time…’

It had been three months since she’d started doing the confession rehearsals, and now, winter’s footsteps were approaching.

Day by day, the environment that surrounded Natsuki and the others were changing.

‘I’ve changed since then, too!’
 

Just like when she stood up on the diving board when swimming, Natsuki slowly took in a deep breath.

In her head, she heard the “On your marks, get ready” call echo in her head, and using that as her timing, she threw open the door.
 

“Yuu! Sorry to have kept you waiting!”

“What’s with you, all fired up? It’s like you’re ready for a duel or something.”

Letting out a laugh, Yuu put down the book he’d been reading on the desk.
 

‘A duel… huh… I guess it does seem that way.’

Strangely agreeing with his observation, Natsuki walked briskly over to Yuu’s window seat.

Yuu stood up from his seat as well, and waited for her to reach him. It’d been so long since they’d talked alone like this. Just feeling his eyes on her made her face start to heat up.
 

“So, what kind of favor did you come to ask for today?”

Once Natsuki was only about three steps away, Yuu asked this in a teasing tone.

Natsuki stopped, and held out the envelope that she’d been holding under her arm.

“I finished this last night.”
 

Yuu seemed surprised somehow, and blinked in confusion.

He simply stood there with a blank look on his face for a while until Natsuki impatiently waved the envelope in his direction.

“Oh, yeah, sorry….”

She’d finally gotten him to take the envelope, but he still looked puzzled.

Though she thought that strange, Natsuki started to explain the contents of the envelope.
 

“That’s the manuscript that I mentioned before. Will you be the first one to read it?”

Her voice was cracking because of how nervous she was, and she couldn’t smile normally like she usually did, either.

But still, it was important that she’d taken this first step, Natsuki told herself as she waited for Yuu’s reply.
 

“If this is a ‘rehearsal’ too, I won’t read it.”
 

The words she heard in response were unexpected.

Feeling like she’d been stabbed in the chest, she unconsciously took a step back.

‘No, I shouldn’t be feeling hurt right now.’
 

This was what she deserved for treating Yuu so poorly the whole time; he wasn’t at fault here.

She knew that, but the fact that she wasn’t being taken seriously made tears threaten to spill.
 

“Then…. if it’s the ‘real thing,’ will you read it?”
 

She said it. This time, she finally managed to say it.

Curious about Yuu’s reaction, she looked up to see a sad look on his face.

“‘Then’….? Natsuki, are you really fine with this?”

“Of course, I’m saying that it is, aren’t I?”
 

‘What is it that’s making him act like this?’

Puzzled, Natsuki kept on pressing him, but he just looked even more disappointed.

“….I feel like I don’t really understand you anymore.”

“Th-That’s my line! What exactly are you trying to say here?!”
 

What Yuu said had set her off, and without thinking twice, she shot back heated words at him.

Yuu immediately looked annoyed, and as if trying to calm down, he ran his fingers through his hair.
 

‘How did it turn out this way….?’

It was like they weren’t even on the same page.

In all of her confusion right now, all she knew was that the situation had gone beyond her understanding.

Holding back the urge to cry, Natsuki looked down at her feet.
 

“….The teachers are going to lock everything up soon, so let’s just go home for today.”

Sighing, Yuu turned around and started walking away.

He left the envelope with the manuscript on Natsuki’s desk as he passed by it, and was about to leave the room.
 

“Wait!”

Before she could think twice about it, Natsuki caught up to him and grabbed his wrist.

She stopped him from walking any further, but he didn’t turn back around. She tried to make him turn towards her by force, but she wasn’t strong enough to even get him to budge.

‘I can’t stand it ending like this, without being able to tell him how I feel….!’

Realizing that this might be her last chance, she yelled towards his motionless back.
 

“Everything I said about a confession rehearsal was a lie! You’re the one that I like, so much that I can’t take it!”
 

Yuu turned around and stared back at her with wide eyes.

Natsuki felt like running away, but she bit down on her lip and held her ground.

“I-I’m not very girly… get jealous easily, and I don’t like it when I’m not taken out on dates often… I’m a self-centered idiot that gets worked up over stupid stuff, but…”
 

As she spoke, the tears kept on building up.

Was she crying because she was sad, or just because she couldn’t hold back her emotions anymore?

All she knew was that she had feelings for Yuu, feelings of not wanting to be hated by Yuu.

And that was why challenging the limits of those feelings.
 

“But I want you to go out with me!”
 

She could hear distressed breathing, separate from the violent beating of her own heart.

Yuu opened and closed his mouth a few times, searching for the right words.

Every second felt like an eternity, and Natsuki could feel her mind drifting off somewhere far away.

Her entire body started to feel weak, and her grip on Yuu’s hand loosened.
 

‘Maybe… it really is hopeless.’

Knowing how kind Yuu was, he was probably thinking of how to reject her without hurting her feelings.

If she just lied again and said that this was another rehearsal, Yuu wouldn’t have to feel burdened by it. It was worth considering to pull back one more time, and rethink her strategy.
 

‘….No, if I do that, nothing’s going to change.’

She told herself that it was for Yuu’s sake, but in reality, she was just trying to avoid getting hurt.

Though she hated to admit it, she knew how weak and unfair she could be. She couldn’t keep lying to herself anymore.

And more importantly, if she ran away now, all of her hard work up until this point would have been for nothing.

‘I’ve already decided that I wasn’t going to run away anymore.’
 

Biting on her lip, Natsuki looked back up at Yuu.

Yuu seemed to have made up his mind as well, and no longer seemed so troubled.

Natsuki was captivated by the firm, determined look in his eyes.
 

“Obviously, I’m the only one that could put up with you, right?”

Yuu’s stiff expression broke, replaced with one that looked like something between laughing and crying.

‘He’s the only one…? Then, that means….’

As Natsuki stared back at him in a daze, he patted her on the head.

When she looked up at him with eyes filled with both uneasiness and anticipation, he pulled her into his arms.
 

“Wh– Huh?!”

“I finally caught you,”
 

She heard Yuu’s quivering voice say from above her.

She could feel his warm hands behind her head and her back, and in front of her, was Yuu’s shoulder.

‘W-Wait, this is….’

Finally realizing that Yuu was hugging her, her tear-stained cheeks filled with heat again.

‘Ah… I can hear Yuu’s heartbeat.’

Just like how Natsuki could hear the beating of his heart with her ears, Yuu must have felt her heartbeat, as well. Standing close to each other like this, she felt like their separately beating hearts were gradually starting to beat in sync.
 

“Natsuki,”

Yuu said in the kindest voice she’d ever heard him speak in.

She nodded a bit, and he strengthened his arms around her.
 

“Me too, I feel the same way.”

“….I’m glad.”

 

That day, Natsuki held hands with Yuu for the very first time.

Not as childhood friends, but as boyfriend and girlfriend.

 

—–

 


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