Chapter 1: The Arrow of Love
The 23rd of December. Clear skies. Waking up in the morning was extremely pleasant. It was almost unbelievably refreshing, and even though I had just gotten up. I was wrapped up in comfort and it felt as though I were still in a dream.
It was the first change that occurred to me. So, what changed? If people ask me that, I would resolutely answer 'No'. But, it's not like nothing's changed. The truth is, there had been a change. A dramatic change. I, Karuizawa Kei, no longer have a horrible past chaining me down.
To be more precise, it's not quite that. I have gained a power that won't lose to the past chaining me down. That is, yesterday, the events of the closing ceremony that ended the second semester. I was called out by Ryuuen and the others, and received acts of bullying. It sounds lame when I put it to words like this but it is a fact that it happened. I hit rock bottom.
At this school I ran away to seeking salvation, I thought I would once again be dropped down into hell. And then, I heard various things. And amongst those, the shocking one was, that Manabe and the others who bullied me were in fact guided by Kiyotaka. At first I despaired, and even anger came out. But.....in the end I was saved.
By the hands of Kiyotaka. The ones waiting for me as I safely descended from the rooftop were the former student council president and Chabashira-sensei. It wasn't like they had anything to say to me, it was just their concern so that the eyes of unrelated people would not fall on me. Honesty, without their care, I doubt I would have safely made it back to the dormitory.
The only thing they told me was that those two were acting based on Kiyotaka's instructions. I think it's because they realized it was the only way to calm me down. Those events on the rooftop. The seeds that the me who was bullied by Manabe and the others had planted. If I had the power to shake off my past, I would have been more resolute then. It would have ended without what happened back in middle school being found out.......no, that's not it. Basically, I was in the wrong. To act tough, I continued to take on an arrogant attitude.
Towards that, even if Manabe and the others feel displeasure it couldn't be helped. It was a method I chose to avoid bullying. And the demerits of that.
A sigh like that came out. But it's not a bad sigh at all. How should I put it? It was a sigh filled with emotion, no. I can't really put it into words well.
There's only one thing I'm certain about. That is, even when I'm asleep, even when I'm awake. Inside my thoughts, Kiyotaka is always there.
Ever since yesterday, it was burned into my mind and I couldn't part from it.
"...more like, mou, how should I put it, this is foul play.......".
Even though my body temperature should be normal, for some reason, my body became hot. To suppress the amount of heat in my body, I closed my eyes. Ayanokouji Kiyotaka. 1st year Class D. At first I didn't even think anything of him. Just a classmate without a shadow. Sometimes the topic of him being cool did arise, but I was never interested. And besides, those classmates soon forgot about Kiyotaka.
In our modern world, communication skills are a large factor in one's popularity. That is something that is fundamentally lacking in Kiyotaka. No matter how good he is at sports, if it's not accompanied by other elements, the degree of his popularity will not extend any further. That's why with Yousuke-kun in the lead too, Class A's Tsukasaki-kun and Class B's Shibata-kun are more popular by an order of magnitude.
But the real Kiyotaka is not bad at socializing, he's really smart, he's very mature, he's very rational, he's also good at sports to the point he won't lose even to the senior students, and also, he's strong to the point it's almost unbelievable.....there are also ruthless and cruel parts to him, but......even so, in the end, he'll save me.
Could it be, I, before I knew it, about Kiyotaka---
"No, no, no, no. No way, no way!".
Holding my face which had become red, I shake my head intensely left and right. As my face became red, I panicked......I'm almost like a maiden in love.
It's not like I'm denying romance. I'm also a girl who wants to properly fall in love too. But, how should I put it, there's a part of me that cannot admit that I'm looking at Kiyotaka with those eyes.
"That's right. It obviously can't be the case. It's because of him that I experienced terrible things.......".
On the contrary, I'd like him to thank me for not holding a grudge against him. On top of that, to steal my heart away too, I cannot forgive such indulgency.
Standing in front of the mirror, I combed my hair which had become frizzled after waking up.
"But, I'm also too much of a good person, aren't I?".
Even if they happened to bear the fault, I wonder if an ordinary person would forgive Kiyotaka for what he did? Probably impossible. It's obvious that it'd be impossible. On the contrary, they would probably hold a grudge against him. It's only because it happened to be a deeply generous person like me that he was forgiven. Just be satisfied with that, Kiyotaka. Speaking out loud like that in my head, I shook off those wrongful delusions.
It's just, I cannot breach the subject of having forgiven him already in front of Kiyotaka.
On the contrary, I wonder if I should go bother him a bit. Pretending to be angry at him a bit for having been manipulated sounds good, after all. And also probably, the next time I see Kiyotaka's face, true anger might actually emerge too.
As I was mulling over that, a chat arrived on my phone.
"Today at 11 o'clock, thanks in advance Karuizawa-san".
"Ahh, I see. There was that".
It was a contact from my classmate, Satou Maya-san. Before tomorrow, the 24th, as a notice today, I received a contact from Satou-san telling me she wanted to meet me as she had something to consult me about.
Normally, because I got along with a different group from that of Satou-san, our exchanges were by no means, deep.
Of course, as classmates, we do get along fairly well, but it's the first time I've been called out like this to meet with her.
"But even so, I sure am healthy".
Yesterday, underneath the cold sky, from the top of my head I had countless buckets of water dumped on me and even though such a horrible thing happened, I'm still perfectly healthy to the point I'd like to praise myself for it.
Naturally, after being chilled down to my core I took a bath to warm myself up, but a normal girl probably would've caught a cold and even if they slept for three days straight it wouldn't be strange.
"It's because I'm too used to such treatment.....just kidding".
I realized that sort of masochistic talk smoothly come out. The 'me' up until yesterday. That is, the 'me' that had thought she had changed but in fact had not changed at all.
I was always terrified of being bullied, always cowering. Deep inside my heart, a darkness had always been spreading out. But now, I can say it clearly. I wonder if I was able to change even a slight bit. Taking off my pajamas, and now in my underwear. At that moment, the scars carved into my white body inevitably came into sight. Even if I didn't want that, I would end up seeing it. Every day, I confronted these scars, my feelings sank and I started to want to die. But, I never minded them as much as I did yesterday.
Even though I hated that scar that much, regretted that much and felt that much sadness. In just one day, I can't even believe I would change this much.
"But even so, I can't show this to a boy..........".
If they happened to see such a scar, the opposite sex would end up drawing away. The body of a girl is supposed to be soft and fluffy and beautiful.....This would end up crushing that illusion.
I'm sure even a hundred years worth of love would cool off. No, I had no intention of showing it to anyone else though.....I stored it away in my heart like that. It's just.....I might have not shown it on my expression.....but, Kiyotaka was different.
Even though he saw this scar of mine, he never even once spoke his disgust. Is it just that he didn't say it? Or was it just because it was dark on board the ship? Or just lying? Did he think deep inside that it was disgusting? Or could it be he really did not think it was disgusting at all? Affirmations and repudiations repeat inside my head. But there was no way an answer could be found for that. Just repeating my soliloquy, I realized something important.
"Speaking of which that guy, he touched my body with his hands didn't he?".
Back then, I didn't have time to think, but isn't this a splendidly unbelievable thing? He touched my thighs, my uniform was almost taken off.....I was treated like a germ or a pest by the girls, and I was not protected by the boys either. The whole class, the whole school year, did not even see me as a human, much less see me as a girl. Even though I've never even properly held hands with a boy before, what the hell has he done to me I wonder.
"Really, mou, mou, mou! I'm thinking about it again! I'm such an idiot!".
Once again, let's put a lid on the matter of Kiyotaka and seal it away. I'll do that. That was just an accident so I have to forget about it. I passed my hands through the cloth and smoothly proceeded with changing.
Having taken some time to prepare, I headed towards the destination with a trot. The Keyaki Mall that welcomed the winter vacation was overflowing with students. Most of the students seem to have come here to play, as there were far more people than the usual holidays.
"I guess that's true. There's nowhere else to play but here".
All the necessities have been gathered here so I have no complaints but there's no novelty here.
Having somehow made it in time, called out to the Satou-san who was waiting with her phone in hand in front of the cafe that was our meeting spot.
"Good morning, Satou-san".
"Ahh, Karuizawa-san! Good morning!".
Satou-san's eyes lit up as she waved her hands at me. Perhaps she went to the hairdresser but her hair was beautifully arranged. Just with that alone, I ended up imagining various things.
It was yesterday night that Satou-san called me asking for consultation. Both my mind and body were worn out, but I kept quiet about that fact. Of course I would. The fact that I was called up to the rooftop and showered in cold water was something that 'never happened' as far as anyone's concerned. In other words, looking at it from Satou-san's perspective, I have to be the usual me. That's why although I could have turned down the consultation request, I decided to accept it. And besides.....since a while ago I've been curious about Satou-san's actions.
"Sorry, for calling you out suddenly".
"It's no big deal. Don't worry about it".
"It's a great help to me if you say that"
Together with Satou-san, who seemed happy, as planned we entered the shop. Although it was full, conveniently a pair happened to be leaving too in exchange so we were able to properly enter.
"It's really crowded~".
I said that out loud without thinking. It was exasperatingly successful.
"In the winter vacation, I wonder if all the school years don't have anything like exams".
Towards the Satou-san who said that, I too, had the same question.
During the summer vacation, we 1st year students immediately set out on a voyage on board a luxury cruiser. But, this time, from seeing students across all school years, it seems as though no special exams were being conducted.
I wonder if this school, too, is giving us this service at least for the winter vacation. Or could it be that at the end of this year and the start of the next, some kind of exam would begin? If so, I'd hate it.
"If you haven't eaten breakfast yet, order lots and lots ok? I'll pay for everything".
Satou-san tells me not to hold back with a smile. And just as she said, I ordered an American scone and a cafe au lait, and the two of us, near the center of the shop, sat in a small table for two.
"So what's the consultation you wanted from me?".
A consultation that she'd go as far as to buy me a meal, I wonder if it's going to be a significant request. Correcting my posture slightly, I leaned in with my ears.
"Hmm, yeah. The thing is, you see? The truth is......soon I'll be going on a date".
Satou said then cut in with that.
Even as I was surprised, I suppressed my tension and asked in return.
While blushing, Satou-san nodded two or three times towards me. I felt a bad premonition, as expected I've hit the mark. And her partner, if I'm not misreading this, is.
"Umm, with who?".
It seems Satou-san's been waiting for me to ask her that.
"It's Ayanokouji-kun, you see. It's a surprise.....right?".
Satou-san murmured that, seemingly shy yet happy. Suddenly, I could feel a light tinnitus in my ears, but I pretended to be calm.
Taking the scone I had just received into my hands, I bit off a larger bite than usual. A fragment broke off and fell onto the tray. I then poured the cafe au lait into my mouth which had become dry.
"Heh.........so Satou-san's aiming for Ayanokouji-kun. That's a surprise~".
Of course I had realized that Satou-san had fallen in love with Kiyotaka. But, as since she's never consulted me directly before, answering like that was the safest.
"Right? I'm also a bit surprised by myself too. But, during the sports festival, there was the relay, right? Looking at his running figure, my heart was pounding, you see".
Satou-san was speaking with such excitement to the point I felt embarrassed while listening to it.
That figure of hers was indeed that of a 'Maiden in Love'.
"But, doesn't he lack a presence? If it's Satou-san, there should be other, better boys more suited for you. Like, Tsukasaki-kun from the other class, how about him?".
Even across our school year, he was hailed for a period of time as a considerably handsome guy.
He's been a hot topic recently, how about him? I recommended that to her like that.
"That's no good. It seems only a while ago, he's begun dating a senior student who attends the same club as him".
I see. So he's already been taken, that's why I haven't heard any rumors about him. Even a popular idol on the television, male and female alike, as soon as they find themselves a lover, their popularity plummets.
"So that's how it is. Then, how about Satonaka-kun? He should be free even now, right?".
"Yeah, I do think he's cool but......something's just not clicking with me there".
Even though I suggested several other popular guys, Satou-san showed no signs of being moved at all. It seems Satou-san isn't judging Kiyotaka solely by his outer appearance. Really, at this rate it's almost like I'm saying Kiyotaka's outer appearance is inferior to that of Doujou-kun or Satonaka-kun......right now he doesn't stand out much but if you compete only by outer appearance alone, without a doubt Kiyotaka is top class.
In other words, Satou-san, who's fallen in love, has realized that fact, huh......For boys and for girls alike, the outer appearance of their partner is their status. I'm going out with such a cool boy, I'm going out with such a cute girl, just with that alone one's personal evaluation will also rise. Just as I had gained more than I had imagined from going out with Hirata-kun. With this timing, if Satou-san were to go out with Kiyotaka, at this point, Satou-san's evaluation might also rise too.
If Kiyotaka shows off his talent and starts standing out, than in itself would make his evaluation even higher than that of Hirata-kun. Kiyotaka's been gathering more attention ever since the relay but the current situation is, he's not gathering the attention of as many girls as expected. The expression of him normally having a quiet attitude and talking only with Horikita-san, those factors don't quite connect to the boom of the girls.
Next, like Ike-kun and Yamauchi-kun, and Sudou-kun. Hanging out with friends like that who are seen in an exceedingly bad light by the girls is also a minus impression.
In any case, up until now Satou-san shouldn't have had that much contact with Kiyotaka. But despite that, falling in love with him and all that after just one act in the relay, isn't it a bit too shallow? I know Kiyotaka much more than her. His true nature, or more precisely, his deep, dark nature. Satou-san should have no idea about that. Ahh, mou. This is wrong, this is wrong! That has nothing to do with this. I have no reason to speak badly of Satou-san, and I'm in a position where I have to cheer her on.
Why? Because I am Hirata Yousuke's girlfriend. Because I have no reason to interfere with someone else's romance. That is why I, as Hirata-kun's girlfriend, as the leader-like existence of the girls of Class D, I cut in to Satou-san.
"Hearing this may seem a bit like that but, are you seriously aiming for him that much?".
If I didn't know about Kiyotaka's identity, undoubtedly I would have asked something like that.
In response to that question, Satou-san without any hesitation, answered with a nod. It seems she's hardened her resolve, and Satou-san was not approaching Kiyotaka as some joke. Such a thing, I had already long realized it though.
"Isn't it a good thing that you've found someone you like? And besides, right now Ayanokouji-kun should be free too".
"That's right, that's why I thought this might be my chance. If some other girl also falls in love with Ayanokouji-kun then.....I was thinking like that and I got into a hurry".
If one consults a friend or a best friend regarding romance, there are fifty thousand episodes in this world of having the boy they like be stolen away. It's not a strange thing that Satou-san is being cautious of that. As for me who has a boyfriend that's competing for 1st or 2nd place in our school year, I would have assessed the risk of that happening being as low as possible.
But even so, to think it would even come to a date during the winter vacation, this was beyond my expectations. That Kiyotaka, even though he didn't seem interested in Satou-san, even though the rooftop incident happened he still agreed to go out with her. The paper bag containing the straws, I unconsciously ended up tearing it apart.
"......could it be the consultation, has something to do with that date?".
Hearing that, Satou-san's eyes lit up and she nodded. Ever since a while ago, she's been too dazzling.
"Yeah. You know, like the secret behind making a date a success? I was wondering how I should do it. How did you end up dating Hirata-kun, I want you to tell me various things regarding that".
In Class D, the only ones who have clearly announced their relationship were me and Yousuke-kun. Even if she sought help from her friends in the other classes, Kiyotaka, or rather Ayanokouji, who's that? Something like that is the most that could happen. In other words, Satou-san relying on me is also something that couldn't be helped.
"Karuizawa-san, you started dating Hirata-kun soon after you enrolled right?".
"Yeah. I guess so. It's nothing special though".
"It is something special. It's really amazing, I really respect you for that!".
Saying that, Satou-san, almost as if engulfing both my hands, grasped them.
"That is why that skill, please instruct me in it!".
"It's not something that can be called a skill though.....".
In the first place, I cannot answer a single one of Satou-san's requests. The me who escaped from the ugly bullying of my middle school period approached him, having resolved to switch over from the bullied side to the side where I would not be bullied. Looking back on it, I was very lucky.
It was also an act that stemmed from determining that Yousuke-kun was not that kind of person but it really was a high-stakes gamble. If, when I had asked him to let me take on the false girlfriend role, and he had refused me, the result would have been something different from what it is now. And not just harshly dumping me, he might have even exposed my bullied past to everyone. Yousuke-kun is someone who treasures harmony from the bottom of his heart, and is the type of person to make it into an ideal.
Feeling like he could save me by pretending to be my boyfriend, he gladly accepted it. That's why I accepted him, and chose to be protected under that umbrella of peace. The girlfriend of Yousuke-kun, who's the center of the class. That title was far more effective than I had imagined. At first, there was envy and grudges coming from the girls of the class, but that too, soon disappeared.
Remembering what was done to me, I took a high-pressure attitude towards various students. Even in shopping, pestering for small change, things like that I traced them all.
And so, I was able to make the throne of the leader of Class D's girls my own.
But, the me who created a false status, clearly have things I can do and things I cannot do. That is why, even if Satou-san requests a romance lecture from me, there's nothing I can do to answer.
For someone without any experience in romance, there's no way they would know the techniques of romance. Since we were dating, to make the fact that we are "dating" common knowledge, we repeatedly went on pretend dates, but my heart was not there.
That's why I don't know what is right and what is wrong now. But I don't want to betray Satou-san's expectations. I don't want her to think I'm a newcomer to romance. If it were me from a while back, I would have probably boldly shown off the knowledge I heard from magazines or the television. Almost as if it were a date I had experienced, I would have been able to talkatively speak about it by replacing it with me.
But, now it's gradually changing. Towards Satou-san, towards someone who's placed their trust in me, I don't want to make random statements like that. Recently, I had grown tired of the me who had been acting bullishly and arrogantly, for a moment, I wanted to talk about something true. But I cannot breathe a word about that. In this school, I have to remain Yousuke-kun's girlfriend and act boldly. That is why I have to continue to tell lies I don't want to tell.
Do I really mean that?
Right now, is Yousuke-kun's existence still truly necessary to me?
At a time like this, unnecessary thoughts like that were floating into my mind. The only dangerous elements to me at present, Manabe and Ryuuen's group, have been eliminated thanks to Kiyotaka's strategy (?). In other words, the story of the bullying will not come forth anymore. And besides, from now on, even if something were to happen, Kiyotaka will surely come and save me, I have that sense of safety too.
The fact that I'm Yousuke-kun's girlfriend is a lump of privileges but if I remove that, I wonder if there is the possibility of having my status in this school robbed from me. Of course, if it becomes a matter of having been dumped by Yousuke-kun more or less that might be lame, but I feel like depending on the 2 of us talking it out, it will go well.
If that happens, things will clear up for me and I will become free. And if I become free, I can finally pursue my true love. In other words, I cannot afford to be thinking such things now. Because the Satou-san in front of me is expecting a good answer from me while waiting. I can contemplate the meaning of continuing to go out with Yousuke-kun later.
The unnecessary thoughts that have disturbed me countless times, this time, I will drive them into a corner.
"After hearing you out what I thought is, instead of going on a trial date, Satou-san wants to go on a real date with Ayanokouji-kun with the intention of going out with him, right?".
In other words, a date meant to seduce Kiyotaka.
"What should I do to make it go well?".
Let's think seriously. A way for Satou-san to go out with Kiyotaka......umm, that guy, I wonder what needs to be done to seduce him.
He's an existence that's clearly divided from other men. I wonder if he'll be interested in ordinary romance.......or perhaps, he might surprisingly be the sort of guy that longs for that sort of ordinary romance?
Since it can be taken either way, making a judgment on this is a difficult task. As such questions floated up and disappeared repeatedly in me, Satou-san brought out a phone.
"I wonder if I was being too vague? Umm, you see, since I'm an amateur at this, I'd like to think of a date plan. Please help me with the decision".
And while lowering her head, she shows me the date plan written on the phone's memo screen.
Meet at 12 o'clock -> Lunch -> Movie Theater -> Shopping -> Confession underneath the Legendary Tree -> Present
It seems overwhelmingly simple, but it was written like that. Firstly, I interjected with the thing I was most concerned about over everything else.
"Wait a minute. Are you planning on confessing to him on the first date?".
"I was thinking of going with the whole intention of hitting and breaking......only if the courage comes out on that day though".
As I was thinking she should deepen her relationship with him more bit by bit, she went in with a short-term decisive battle that was far beyond my expectations.
"Isn't it going too fast? I think it's not too late if you do it after 2, 3 dates. You might be able to realize some disagreeable aspects about your partner too".
Of course, girls with romantic experiences sometimes seem to make decisions on the spot too. But Satou-san, in regards to romance, seems to be closer to a beginner, I think it's better for her to take it slowly.
But, there's not much credibility in that coming from a fellow beginner like me........But she seems rushed about the result, or more like I felt as though she were prioritizing her charm.
Could it be, Satou-san might possibly want to make her girlfriend debut in the 3rd semester.
"And also, what does this underneath the legendary tree mean? By any chance, is it one of those if you swear your love you'll be bound forevermore things?".
I wonder if such an urban legend steeped tree exists in this school. Even if such a mysterious power exists, in this day and age where one cannot see their future, being guranteed to be bound together for 10 years or 20 years cannot be said only to be a good thing.
If it turns out that the man you've married is a useless one to the point you want to divorce him, being forced to be married to him for life seems more like a curse. "It doesn't seem like it's that famous though, I found it while looking through the school's bulletin board. That, if you confess in front of that tree, it will definitely succeed. And what's more, there are quite a lot of reports like that".
Heh........I didn't know about that. Since I've also become interested in that, I'll be investigating it.
And when I did, it seems it really does exist, in the school's chatroom bulletin board, there were several cases where a confession went well that were written there. It seems when this school was first founded, some big shot donated it and it was transplanted here. It seems the age of that tree exceeds 8 years.
"Speaking of which, there were several excellent trees like that weren't there.......".
Normally I wouldn't even be conscious of such a tree. The time of confession has to be in the evening before the sun sets. From 4 o'clock in the afternoon to 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Around that time, the condition is that no one else must be around. If that condition is fulfilled, the confession has a 99% chance of succeeding, it seems.
But the 99% part does sound really fishy.
"But even so, isn't it quite difficult? The timing of this confession".
"That's right, I guess. It says if someone else unrelated is there at the moment of confession, things won't go well".
In this time period, the presence of people is quite intense so the timing seems difficult. On top of that, it wouldn't be strange too if there were other boys and girls attempting to execute this legend.
One would have to connect the conversation well, and guide it so that only the 2 of you would be left. Naturally, something like this is just a superstition, and I think of it as a superstition. But if it's to make a once-in-a-lifetime confession succeed, it's a feeling like grasping at straws. I too, if it comes to victory or defeat, would want to raise my possibilities even if it's only by 1%.
"Hey umm, what's your reason for falling in love with Ayanokouji-kun?".
"Ehh? Why are you asking?".
"No, sorry. It's because I don't know anything about Ayanokouji-kun, you see. I wanted to get an image of him. About what part of him you fell in love with, like that. You know, if hear it, maybe it might be useful for my advice about your date plan, right?".
As I asked her that, Satou-san whispers back while hiding her cheeks inside her hands, looking shy.
"Umm---.....first of all, isn't he cool? Normally he's quiet and mature. And also, he runs very fast.......and in the tests too, he was above me so it's not like he's an idiot.....you know, I naturally think Hirata-kun is better than that but the other boys are all mostly childish".
She's probably talking about Ike-kun and Yamauchi-kun and the others. Regarding that point, I'm also convinced. To the point I can't even believe we're the same age. Most of our male classmates are like children. That's why around this period, a large majority of girls become disillusioned with their classmates and go running towards their seniors.