Youkoso V9 C3

No Intention of Changing

TL: Graze
Editing: Graze


On Thursday evening, I saw Ichinose while heading back to the dorms.

Ichinose is usually always surrounded by students of both genders. However, today she surprisingly appeared to be alone. For some reason, I couldn’t sense any of her usual ambition in the way she was moving. I wonder if the reason she’s alone is because she took the initiative to stay away from her usual groups of friends? At the moment, she’s definitely the person in our school year who’s flooded with the most attention.

Thoughtlessly involving other people in your own rumors may lead to them getting caught up in a second disaster.

It wouldn’t be surprising for Ichinose to think something like this. I thought back to Kanzaki’s conversation with Hashimoto a few days ago.

Should I try calling out to her? I thought about doing so, but…

I felt a presence behind me and decided against it.

I took out my phone and turned on the camera.

Changing the active camera from the one on the back of my phone to the one on the front, I nonchalantly took a peek at the situation going on behind me.

There were two first-year students on their way back to the dorms.

One of them was Hashimoto.

He was just walking normally, but given what happened the other day, it’s difficult to think of this as a coincidence.

Is he tailing me?

However, while I was in the processes of confirming that, the other student began to approach me.

She was walking up to me without the slightest bit of hesitation.

I immediately turned off the camera and put the phone in my pocket.

“Ah, um, Ayanokouji-kun. Do you have a moment…?”

The person who called out to me from behind was my classmate, Mei-Yu Wang.

Because her name can be difficult to pronounce, people refer to her as ‘Mii-chan’. Though calling her that in my mind is already somewhat embarrassing.

“Right now… Are you free for a little while? I have something I’d like to consult you about.”

Consult with me? She and I have barely ever spoken with one another until now.

You could even say this was practically the first time she came to talk to me face to face.

It doesn’t seem like there’s someone other than her either…

Looking over, Ichinose continued walking back to the dorms without noticing me.

At this point, jogging over to catch up with her would just end up looking strange.

“I’m sorry, you’re busy aren’t you…”

“No, I’m just heading back to the dorms. It should be fine.”

With that, Mii-chan looked a little happier as she let out a sigh of relief.

As I was speaking with Mii-chan, Hashimoto passed us on the way back to the dormitories.

However, he didn’t look in my direction or say anything.

“So, you said you wanted to consult with me about something?”

“Speaking about it here… It’s somewhat…”

She restlessly looked around at our surrounding. It seems like talking while walking back to the dorms isn’t suitable for what she wants to talk about.

“Is that so?”

As I expected, it wouldn’t be possible to ask her something like: ‘Since the dorms are pretty close by, would you like to talk about this in my room?’

Moreover, I can’t suggest something like going to Mii-chan’s room instead.

“What do you want to do?”

Instead of making the decision myself, I decided to just let Mii-chan choose where we go from here.

After a little thought, Mii-chan suggested a location.

“How about the cafe… if that’s alright with you? Though we might be somewhat late in heading back home afterward.”

Since she herself wanted to go to the cafe, I didn’t have any particular reason to decline.

Even if I’ll be a little late getting back, the walk only makes a difference of 5 to 10 minutes, which isn’t a big deal. Following Mii-chan’s suggestion, we headed off to Keyaki Mall’s cafe. Though, we’re just two people who don’t know each other very well. We ended up walking somewhat of a distance away from each other instead of side-by-side.

(Introduction End)

(Part 1)

As popular a location as ever, we arrived at the thriving cafe.

Even if I’m somewhat lacking in common sense, as an ordinary high school student, I’m able to understand something like this now.

This cafe is a branch location for a super-major company outside of the school, particularly popular among girls in the social world. Outside of here, the price per cup is expensive for high school students, so it’s not something they could afford to be drinking very often. For a high school student who isn’t working at least part-time, they’d only be able to afford coming here a few times every month. However, because students at this school receive ‘money’ corresponding to how many class points they have, many students can afford to come here as long as they aren’t in a particularly dire financial situation.

Due to that, it’s inevitable that the cafe would be thriving every day.

Though, it wasn’t so full that we were unable to find a place to sit. We ended up taking a pair of seats facing one another. Mii-chan never tried to match my line of sight. Instead, she stared at the cup of coffee I had ordered that I was holding in my hands. I suppose she and Airi are similar girls. If I inadvertently pressure her too much, it might make it harder for her to say what’s on her mind. I decided not to break the ice and waited for Mii-chan to initiate the conversation.

Meanwhile, I told her I was going to get up for a second and get some sugar from the counter.

There, I took a single pack of sugar.

Without letting my eyes wander, I confirmed that Hashimoto had also come to the cafe.

It’s unlikely that he would have just so happened to suddenly want a cup of coffee.

Without a doubt, Hashimoto was following me.

Was he sent by Sakayanagi in order to monitor me? No, that doesn’t seem very likely. Sakayanagi currently doesn’t want to spread information around about my existence. Plus, even if she wanted to keep tabs on me, she would have forced Kamuro to do it. If Sakayanagi has a grasp on what type of person Hashimoto is, it’s understandable why she wouldn’t think he’s the right choice for something like this.

She shouldn’t be under any sort of rush to tell Hashimoto about me and risk having him then disclose it to a third party.

If that’s the case, is he following me based on his own judgment?

Back during training camp, I don’t remember doing anything that would necessarily attract any of his attention.

To him, I should have been just another member of the group. Ryuuen, Ishizaki, Albert, and Ibuki. I considered the likelihood of any of them saying anything to him one by one, but none of them would have said anything.

Well… It’s not like I’ll be able to come to any conclusion by thinking about it now.

However, sooner or later it seems like it’ll become an issue that I’ll have to deal with, one way or another.

For now, I’ll ignore Hashimoto and focus on my conversation with Mii-chan.

I returned to my seat after about a minute, and immediately as I did, Mii-chan broke the silence.

“Hey… Uh, it’s about Hirata-kun.”

About Hirata, is it?

“I was hoping you’d tell me a few things about him…”

“You know, Hirata and I aren’t particularly close to each other.”

I responded to her immediately in order to draw the line, however, she responded by giving me a surprised look.

“But then, why did Hirata-kun advise me that Ayanokouji-kun was the most reliable person in the class?”

“…Oh really?”

“Yeah. He said that Ayanokouji-kun was the most reliable and level-headed person in the class. He spoke really well of you.”

While it makes me happy to be praised by Hirata like this, if things like this continue to spread around I feel like it’ll develop into something troublesome. However, I understand why Hirata would give my name to Mii-chan.

There are plenty of reliable students, but in the particular case of Class C, it gets somewhat complicated.

Considering the other boys, it’s not surprising that Hirata would look me as the next most reliable student.

Still, it’s about Hirata, huh?

From my earlier conversation with Haruka, I can more or less guess what it’s about.

“Recently, Hirata-kun and Karuizawa-san, uh… broke up with each other. Have you heard about it already?”

“Naturally.”

What about it? I pretended as though I didn’t understand where she was going with this.

“T-That, well…”

After faltering with her words several times, she finally began to speak about the real issue at hand.

“…Do you know if there’s anyone, H-Hirata-kun likes right now?”

It appears that this was what she had been wanting to ask about. In this case, which answer is the correct one to respond with?

Although I thought something like that for a moment, I immediately came to the conclusion that giving a genuine answer would be for the best.

“I don’t think so.”

“R-Really!?”

“Of course I can’t say so with absolute certainty, but as far as I know, there’s nobody. Besides, he’s just been dumped by Karuizawa. It would be too early for him to like someone else already.”

While I was speaking, Mii-chan gradually calmed down.
ln_vol_09-06
“Is it alright if I ask you just one thing out of mere curiosity?”

“Y-Yeah.”

“When did you start liking Hirata?”

“Eeeeeh!?!?”

Did I ask her something strange? Mii-chan’s face turned bright red as she went into a panic.

“W-W-W-Why would you ask such a thing?”

“Oh no, if you don’t want to answer, you-”

“-Right after the entrance ceremony?”

-don’t have to.

“I’m… a little clumsy…”

A single encounter with Hirata was the only trigger she needed to fall for him.

Mii-chan spoke openly.

“…Something like that… I guess.”

“Is that so?”

Although there are various uncertainties, one thing’s for certain. She was attracted to Hirata’s gentleness.

“But-”

Mii-chan had been blushing as she talked about meeting with Hirata, but her expression clouded over suddenly as she was brought back to reality.

“I… I don’t think I’m good enough to become Hirata-kun’s girlfriend…”

“Why?”

How am I even able to ask that? I’m surprised that I’m even able to speak up.

“Because there are too many rivals… Besides, I’ve never been in love before or anything…”

Even though she’s overflowing with feelings of love, it doesn’t seem like she has the courage to take action.

And while I don’t want to think that a lack of prior experience with love is a handicap, it definitely has some effect.

“Well, Mii-chan… Wait, is it alright for me to be calling you Mii-chan?”

“Oh no, you’re totally fine. Everyone calls me that. Even though both my parents are Chinese, they both like my Japanese nickname, so even they call me Mii-chan.”

That is to say, she isn’t half-Japanese or anything like that?

“Are you studying abroad?”

“Yeah. When I was in my first year of middle school, my father came to Japan on business.”

So she moved to Japan with the rest of her family?

“Have there been any difficulties with that? Like a language barrier or something like that?”

“It was pretty hard at first. I was more concerned about making friends than the difference in languages. However, there were a lot of people who were pretty good at English at the middle school I enrolled at, so I was able to make friends there.”

Speaking of which, I seem to remember that Mii-chan was pretty good at English.

It seems that on top of communicating with others in English, she managed to master Japanese perfectly over her 3 years of middle school. I’ve heard that Chinese students have to endeavor through a school system much more rigorous than Japanese students do.

I wonder if Mii-chan has been able to smoothly integrate into Japanese society because she’s received that a high level of education.

Beyond this, she just needs to work on her communication skills like Airi.

“I wonder if I have a chance…”

“Speaking realistically, shouldn’t you have a pretty decent chance?”

“Really?”

“I didn’t lie. However…”

“H-However!?”

While it will probably make her feel anxious, I still have to explain the difficult part of all of this.

“Hirata’s a good guy, isn’t he?”

“Of course.”

“Because of that, don’t you think he’ll be more careful next time he’s considering going out with someone? It is Hirata we’re talking about. He may be feeling responsible for it, like he was unable to keep Karuizawa happy.”

Mii-chan nodded as though a revelation had just fallen upon her.

“You’re right. Along with that, confessing so soon… I don’t think I’d be able to handle it.”

“I know you’re worried about what potential rivals might be doing, but you’re probably going to be rejected if you get impatient and confess to him so soon.”

I advised her to approach things slowly and steadily until she has a solid foundation to work with.

Of course, it’s really the type of situation where you’ll never know unless you ask.

However, I can’t really see Hirata being in any sort of rush to associate himself with another girl at the moment.

The odds are that he’ll end up rejecting the majority of the girls who confess to him.

In that sense, those who slowly stay on the attack will have a greater chance at victory.

“…I guess I had you a bit misunderstood, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“Misunderstood?”

“You know, you’re usually really silent and you don’t say much… Kinda giving people the impression that you’re someone really scary. But after meeting with you face-to-face like this, I can tell that you’re actually super approachable and that you’re seriously listening to what I’ve had to say…”

It seems like she’s complimenting me.

However, instead of seriously listening to what she’s been talking about, it would be more accurate to say that I’m just doing an unconscious analysis of the contents of the conversation. I’m only examining each piece of information and deciding whether or not it will be useful to her later on. If she feels like I’m listening to her carefully, that’s all the more convenient for me.

Does she want to go deeper? It feels like now I have the chance to ask all kinds of thing.

“Oh? Mii-chan and… Ayanokouji-kun?”

Just as I opened my mouth and began to a few other questions, first-year Hiyori Shiina from Class D appeared. I shut my mouth without saying anything.

“Hiyori-chan. Hello!”

Hiyori-chan. Mii-chan. From their close way of referring to one another, they seem to be rather close.

“Are the two of you, by any chance, on a date together?”

“N-N-No! Not at all Hiyori-chan!”

Mii-chan stood up in a panic and desperately waved her arms in front of her to deny the question.

Seeing her reject it to such an overwhelming extent hurt my heart a little bit.

“In that case, is it alright if I join in?”

“Of course! …Are you alright with it?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you very much.”

Hiyori smiled happily and sat down in the chair next to Mii-chan.

“You two are quite the curious combination. What kind of things have you guys been talking about?”

“Oh… Uuuuh…”

It seemed like it was hard for Mii-chan to say that we had been talking about how to handle the person she likes.

“I’m interested in China, so I’ve been listening to her talk about it a little bit.”

“About China… is it?”

“Yeah. It’s one of the countries I’d like to visit someday, so I thought I’d hear about it from someone who’s from there.”

I sent a look over to Mii-chan as if asking for her confirmation. She hurriedly nodded two or three times in response.

“China’s nice isn’t it? I’m also pretty interested in it, with it having things like the Great Wall of China and all.”

Hiyori put her hands together in front of her and smiled.

Hiyori’s interest in the topic really went beyond my expectations.

“Speaking of China, the wall is definitely a spot that can’t be forgotten. Though, personally, I’d like to go to Pingyao Ancient City.”

“Pingyao Ancient City?”

It seems like Hiyori’s first time hearing of the place.

Mii-chan, on the other hand, widened her eyes in surprise at the fact that I knew of the place.

“Even though it’s a World Heritage Site, the fact that you know about it…”

“It’s just a something I heard about.”

“By the way, are the two of you… friends?”

Mii-chan asked the two of us after seeing Hiyori and I talk naturally with one another.

“Yep! We’re reading buddies.”

“Well, you’re not wrong.”

“Reading buddies…?”

Mii-chan had an expression on her face that was telling us she didn’t understand.

However, she immediately turned that confusion into positivity with her next question.

“Isn’t it great to be able to make friends across classes?”

It’s likely that she hadn’t had any friends outside of her own class until the training camp occurred.

“I think so too. School life can be more than just everyone being hostile towards each other.”

Inter-student competition is one of the foundational basics of Advanced Nurturing High School.

Here, most students have a strong tendency to see students outside of their own class as rivals.

However, this time around, the number of students who have opened their hearts to those from other classes has increased.

To some extent, the true aim of the school has become obscured and hidden.

Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any rules like the ones we came across at the training camp. However, I can hardly say for certain that this won’t be the cause of any negative impacts in the future. When you’re forced into a confrontative relationship with others, creating these half-baked friendships could possibly end up causing some adverse effects.

(Part 1 End)

(Part 2)

“Thank you for today, Ayanokouji-kun.”

“No, I’m the one who should be saying thank you for letting me hear what you had to say about China.”

“Ah. I-I see. Right.”

I unintentionally thanked her in response, prompting Mii-chan to shyly scratch at her cheek with her finger.

“I’ll head up after taking a look at my mailbox.”

I parted ways with Mii-chan and Hiyori as they headed to the elevator.

I get around to checking my mailbox one or two times a week.

Of course, other students also check theirs at a similar frequency.

Most of the stuff that comes in the mail was from the school. However, there are students who used the mail to exchange packages with each other or have things delivered by shopping online.

Though, I wasn’t checking for any ordinary reason like that.

“Nothing today either, huh?”

I started regularly checking my mail ever since my father visited this school.

After all, it wouldn’t be strange if he tried to get in contact with me soon.

As there was nothing particularly special in my mailbox, I headed back over to the elevator, only to find that Hiyori had chosen to wait up for me.

“Do you have a moment?”

“Sure.”

We moved to the lobby’s sofa just in front of the elevator.

“I had wanted to ask you about something earlier, but hesitated because we were in front of Mii-chan…”

Being a little bit mindful of her surroundings, Hiyori did a sweep of the area before speaking up.

“That thing going on right now with Ichinose-san, have you heard anything about it?”

“Heard anything? If you’re talking about those strange rumors, then I guess I know the rough details.”

“Yeah, those. Do you know who’s spreading them around?”

“No… I don’t know.”

It would have been easy to name Sakayanagi or Hashimoto, but I decided against it.

“Honestly, I don’t want to see Ichinose-san tortured like this anymore. She’s the type of person who’s even willing to be friendly to somebody with barely any friends, like me.”

If I’m remembering things correctly, Hiyori and Ichinose were in the same group during the training camp. I guess that after eating the same food and sleeping in the same room as one another, she would feel a stronger bond with her than she would with other students.

“Ayanokouji-kun.”

There was some kind of hidden determination in Hiyori’s eyes.

“When I first came here, I didn’t like this behavior that the school encourages, where we hurt others. But now, I think it’s necessary to fight from time to time in order to protect your friends.”

“That’s true. After all, there’s no way to be able to save everyone.”

“Even though we’re mutual enemies with Ichinose-san, there must be something we can do to help her. I haven’t been able to think of how yet, but… would you be willing to cooperate with me?”

“Cooperate, huh? If that’s the case, then you should consult Horikita.”

As I said so, I considered introducing them to each other.

“Horikita-san, is it?”

However, Hiyori’s expression didn’t lighten up.

“It’s possible that Class C might also be willing to help Ichinose.”

In which case, it’s possible that it might then turn into a situation where all 3 classes are willing to go up against Class A.

However, Hiyori still didn’t show any signs that she was happy with this.

“Aren’t you able to do something about it yourself, Ayanokouji-kun?”

“I don’t have any influence over Class C at all.”

“Is that right?”

She tilted her head to the side questioningly.

“For the girls there’s Horikita, and for the boys there’s Hirata. You’ll have no choice but to go to one of them about it.”

“I see…”

Hiyori’s shoulders dropped as her expression changed to one of disappointment.

“Dissatisfied?”

“No… just, I’ve never really gotten to know Horikita-san or Hirata-kun… But if it was Ayanokouji-kun, I thought…”

Her shoulders dropped even further as she grew silent. It wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do what I can’t do.”

“No… After all, I was only thinking as convenient for me, and spoke without considering things for you.”

After saying so, she bowed her head.

“For the time being, would you like me to start the conversation with them for you?”

“Really? You would do that for me?”

Despite asking me that, Hiyori then changed her mind.

“I’m sorry, let’s do it at another time. If our conversation helps spread things any further, we may end up troubling Ichinose by just that much more.”

“Yeah. That may be true.”

Those guys waging war against Ichinose… As things stand now, I don’t know what move they’ll make next.

Tactlessly stimulating the situation without knowing anything would be counterproductive. There’s also the concern that Ichinose’s rumors are closer to the truth than they appear.

(Part 2 End)

(Part 3)

After returning to my room, I received a text message from Horikita.

[You around?]

Even though I didn’t respond to her, another message came flying in.

[Since the message has been marked as read, I’ll just continue talking as that’s more convenient. Ichinose-san will be coming to my room tonight. Will you come?]

Such an unexpected message.

At first, I had only intended to read what she sent, but I chose to give a proper response.

[What developments took place to lead to the current situation?]

[We’re in an alliance with Class B. It’s only natural that we’d lend a hand given the current state of affairs. But, this time we don’t know the full story. Therefore, I was thinking of hearing about it from the person herself.]

So, she got in contact with Ichinose and asked her if they could meet together in person.

She had made quite a bold move.

It’s easy to refuse.

If I ask Horikita about it later, she’d tell me what Ichinose tells her.

Though, that doesn’t mean Horikita will learn everything.

Even Kanzaki, despite how close they are, doesn’t seem to know all the details about Ichinose.

In which case, would asking her directly bring me closer to the truth?

The problem is that if I put my foot in the door here, I’ll end up getting involved.

What should I do, I wonder?

After thinking about it for a little, I sent a response back to Horikita.

[What time?]

[Seven.]

A bit late.

I’d have to be careful so as to not be seen by any of the other students.

[Understood. I’ll let you know when I’m on my way.]

I decided to meet Ichinose together with Horikita.

(Part 3 End)

(Part 4)

After that, I leisurely relaxed in my room until the appointed time.

When the clock showed five minutes until seven, I left, headed toward Horikita’s room.

At almost the same time as I got off the elevator, Ichinose arrived in the elevator beside me.

“Ah! Good evening Ayanokouji-kun.”

I lightly raised my hand in response to her greeting.

“I’m sorry to intrude.”

“Ahaha. But I’m also the one who’s intruding upon you here, so it’s fine.”

After saying so, Ichinose took the lead as we went to Horikita’s room and rang the doorbell. We immediately heard the lock on the door turning from the inside.

“Please come in.”

The plan was to meet at seven. Because of that, there wasn’t anything particularly suspicious about us both arriving at the same time, so Horikita invited us into the room without saying much.

I sat down properly on the floor.

I’ve visited Horikita’s room before, but it doesn’t seem to have changed very much since then. Her room was very similar to my own, very monotonous and simple.

“I’m sorry for asking to meet with you on a weekday night, Ichinose-san.”

“But aren’t you doing this out of consideration for me in the first place? You don’t need to apologize.”

The feeling I got from meeting Ichinose face-to-face so far was that she’s the same as she’s always been.

“Though… If this goes on too late, it’ll start to affect things tomorrow, so I hope you’re not looking to chat for too long… To start things off, there have been various worrisome rumors going around about me recently.”

“Yes. Do you know who has been spreading those rumors?”

Without beating around the bush, Horikita directly asked Ichinose.

I was curious to see whether or not Ichinose would answer the question honestly.

“I absolutely can’t speak with certainty here, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s Sakayanagi-san.”

Surpassing my expectations, she gave a clear response to the question.

If she was any less than half certain about it, she wouldn’t have said any name in specific. She isn’t the type of person who would speak ill of others without any sort of reason to do so.

I was also able to come to a conclusion based on her response.

That is, at the very least, Ichinose has been able to see that someone, in particular, has been spreading the rumors about her.

“Sakayanagi-san… What makes you think it might be her?”

“To put it simply, I guess it’s because she declared war on Class B. Do I need to give you any other reason for it?”

Horikita should know that Sakayanagi has an aggressive, warlike personality.

Considering the fact that she took the initiative to deepen the conflict in her own class in order to defeat Katsuragi, it’s easy to imagine that in order to defeat Class B, she would focus her assault on Ichinose, their leader.

“No. That reason alone is more than enough.”

Because Horikita thinks the same way I do, she didn’t see any reason to pry any deeper into that matter.

“So she’s circulating these absolutely baseless rumors, forcing you to have to bear responsibility for the damage?”

“Uhm… How do I put it…”

“Are you not going to deny the rumors?”

“Sorry, Horikita-san. I’m not able to tell you anything about that. Horikita-san and Ayanokouji-kun are friends, but you’re still students from another class. We may be in a cooperative relationship with each other right now, but sooner or later, we’re destined to fight against each other.”

Ichinose seemed like she was willing to answer anything Horikita asked, but she ended up refusing to answer this time.

But I guess that was the natural choice to make.

“I don’t mean to force you to say anything here, but you do know that silence can be interpreted as though you’re saying the rumors are true, right?”

“That’s at the liberty of Horikita-san and everyone else to decide after hearing the rumors for themselves. However, I have absolutely no intention of giving this matter any excessive amount of energy. Sakayanagi-san’s strategy is to stir up Class B, I think the correct solution for dealing with it is to simply stay silent.”

Ichinose showed us a smile, her conduct as natural as always.

The harassment going on here wasn’t anything special. It was a typical type of bullying that happens everywhere, and there was no perfect solution to it. You can aggressively deny the rumors, or you can simply stay silent, but in the end, the peanut gallery will make a fuss anyway, relying on speculation to fill in the gaps as they see fit. Due to this, Ichinose made the choice to simply not say anything and wait for time to pass.

“I had thought to meet with Horikita-san today and tell you this so that you’d avoid carelessly getting involved. If I continue to stay silent, yet the people around me start attracting more attention to it, the situation will take longer to settle down. Most importantly, there’s just no need for Class C to get involved with Sakayanagi-san in order to help me out. I’ll be fine.”

Ichinose nodded firmly, her smile entirely unchanged.

“…I understand that your will is strong. Anyone who gets caught up in such despicable rumors would undoubtedly take damage from them, regardless of whether they’re true or not. Nevertheless, you’re not just thinking of yourself, but everyone around you as well.”

“I am not that noble a person.”

Looking a little embarrassed, Ichinose continued.

“So, Horikita-san and the rest of Class C can continue doing things as usual. I will clean up my own mess.”

After saying this, Ichinose stood up.

It seems that she chose to come over today just to let Horikita know not to interfere any further.

“Do you know about what’s been going on with Kanzaki and the others?”

Despite thinking it might be unnecessary, I decided to interfere a little bit.

“Kanzaki-kun?”

“A few days ago, he confronted Hashimoto from Class A and earnestly asked him to stop spreading the rumors around. No, it may have gone past simply asking earnestly.”

“I see… Kanzaki-kun is very gentle. I told him I was alright. I didn’t think I needed to say anything more to him.”

“It’s probably not just Kanzaki-kun. A number of your classmates are probably struggling to find some way to help you, for your sake.”

Even though this should’ve been the first time Horikita had heard of the situation with Kanzaki, her speculation should be accurate.

“Then I’ll just have to go speak with my classmates again. If you don’t mind, could we stop our conversation here?”

“Are you really okay with this?”

Just to be sure, Horikita asked Ichinose a final time.

“Of course.”

Ichinose answered without hesitation.

“Thank you for your concern. And to Ayanokouji-kun as well, thank you for coming out for my sake so late at night.”

“No. I simply tagged along.”

Horikita didn’t stop her from leaving this time.

Ichinose wished us a good night and left the room.

“I wonder if there’s truly nothing we need to do.”

“Well, it’s hard to say.”

Based on Ichinose’s behavior, it doesn’t look like she’s any different than usual.

Instead of trying to stay strong, it’s more accurate to say that she’s trying not to think about it. That’s the impression I got from her.

“What do you think I should do?”

“Are you asking for my opinion?”

“Yes. I want your genuine opinion.”

Horikita spoke without hesitation.

“In that case, you shouldn’t do anything.”

“For what reason?”

“If Sakayanagi is the source of the rumors like Ichinose says she is, getting involved in this situation may prompt her to set her sights on Class C.”

“That makes sense, but what if Ichinose-san is defeated by Sakayanagi-san? Won’t she then turn her attention to Class C, anyway?”

What she’s getting at is that Sakayanagi will ultimately end up targeting Class C regardless of whether we help Ichinose or not. An inevitable conclusion.

“It is possible that, sooner or later, our class will end up being targeted. But when that time comes, the troublesome leader of Class B will have also been dealt with. That’s something to be thankful for in its own way.”

“…So you’re saying it doesn’t matter what happens to Ichinose-san? You’re being quite cold-hearted.”

“Cold-hearted? Isn’t that a good term to describe how you acted when you first enrolled here? It’s different when it comes to helping out a classmate, but Ichinose is a student from another class. She’s an opponent who we’ll eventually have to fight and defeat. If she’s defeated by someone else, as long as there’s an upside to it for us, we don’t have any reason to be worried about it.”

“We have a beneficial relationship with her. Until Sakayanagi-san and the others fall from Class A, getting into a one-on-one conflict with Class B-”

“Aren’t you just being idealistic?”

For our cooperative relationship to cause Class A to conveniently fall down to Class C, allowing our classes to climb to the positions of Class A and B before finally facing off with one another. Such a fantastic story is nothing more than a pipe dream.

I don’t know if it has to do with external circumstances, but Ichinose herself is turning away anyone attempting to help.

If this conversation had happened with the Horikita from earlier this year, she would have probably stopped pushing the issue any further when Ichinose tried to leave the first time.

How, and why, did she get to the point where she can think something like this?

Well, she’s been aiming to improve her relationship with Kushida for the better, so I can make a good guess.

“You should leave it alone.”

“That… makes sense…”

Horikita should also understand that this is the right thing to do.

That’s exactly the reason why she didn’t make any strong objections to it.

This time, we did our part as partners of the alliance by showing our concern for Ichinose and offering her our assistance. That should be sufficient enough. Class C can quietly catch up to the other classes, so long as we don’t do anything to stand out. Slowly drawing closer while those at the top take each other down is a wise strategy to take here.

However, at this point, the important thing is that I don’t offer any assistance with that.

I only told her this because she asked me for my opinion. Horikita is the one who ultimately decides what our class will do from here.

That said, in all probability, Horikita will decide against becoming any further involved with Class B.

After all, she doesn’t have the ability to be able to change Ichinose’s situation for the better until Ichinose herself decides to change strategies.

“I’ll head home as well. A lone boy can’t be staying in a girl’s room this late at night.”

It was getting close to 8:00 PM. Things would get troublesome if I was seen here this late.

“Yeah…”

Horikita, lost in thought, responded to me without paying me much attention.

Horikita has begun to change little by little.

However, the changes are still too extreme right now. Her tendency to lose sight of herself and get unnecessarily influenced by her surroundings is becoming more and more prevalent.

For the time being, Horikita will have to work hard to get along together with others.

Beyond that, I wonder if she’ll be able to reach her true self?

That’s what’s important.

After I left the room, I could see the figure of Ichinose standing before the elevator.

While wondering if she had been waiting for me to come out, she waved me down with a smiling face.

“Over here!”

She called out to me in a low voice, and as I approached I was essentially dragged into the elevator along with her.

Ichinose pressed the button for the first floor and we started to descend to the lobby.

“Can you keep me company for a little bit?”

“I don’t mind but… where are we going?”

“Hmm. Let’s go outside for a bit, okay?”

We disembarked at the lobby. Since there was nobody around, we went straight outside.

The sun had already set completely. In the dark, Ichinose and I walked to one of the rest areas on the way to the school buildings.

“I understand that it’s cold outside but… I don’t want to attract any attention.”

“I know. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Ah… well, how do I say this… I truly am sorry.”

As soon as she got her words in order, the first thing out of her mouth was an apology.

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I guess it’s because I’ve troubled Horikita-san and Ayanokouji-kun, as well as everyone else from Class C. These rumors have caused everyone so much unnecessary worry. Anyhow, please forget about it.”

“Isn’t this what you said to Kanzaki and everyone else as well?”

“This is simply the very best option available to me. This is the stance I will take until the rumors have subsided.”

Upon saying that, she looked at me, eyes blazing with determination. When she puts it like this, I can see why Kanzaki and the other students from Class B who have been supporting Ichinose would have no choice but to listen to her.

“Actually, that’s everything I wanted to say… It’s cold, isn’t it? Let’s go back.”

“Alright.”

We only chatted for a short time.

Ichinose urged me to head back first so we didn’t arrive together, so I ended up returning to the dormitory ahead of her.

(Part 4 End)

(Part 5)

The people surrounding my daily life started getting busy.

I wasn’t actively doing anything to interfere with that, just passing the time by passively drifting along with my surroundings.

And although it is somewhat difficult, the everyday life that I’ve been looking for may look something like this.

I had a premonition that, somehow, I’d manage to arrive at an answer to my question.

However, a concerning event happened to take place around this time.

Nighttime. The cell phone I left by my bed vibrated quietly.

The time on the clock was just past one in the morning. I checked to see who was calling me at such an unnatural time, only to find that it was a number I hadn’t registered as a contact.

However, there shouldn’t be any way for an outside number to get through to my phone.

The cell phones provided to the students by the school should only be able to dial out to a designated list of phone numbers. They’re also set up ahead of time to only accept calls from other phones used by the school. All of this is based on a setting with the phone itself that can’t be changed. This is all to avoid any possibility that the student might have accidental contact with the outside world.

It isn’t a particularly rare feature for phones to have. It’s based on a security system that’s usually used when young children are given their own cellphone. In other words, it means that this was a call from someone on campus who I’d never registered as a contact in my phone before.

It was impossible to determine whether was a student or one of the teachers.

“…Hello?”

Being cautious to some extent, I picked up the phone while still groggy from having just woken up.

I pressed the phone up to my left ear.

I wasn’t able to hear anyone speaking on the other end.

The silence continued.

And still, the only sound that reached my ears was the very faint sound of breathing.

As I waited for the other party to make a move, the silence had continued for about 30 seconds.

“I’m going to hang up if you don’t say anything.”

I gave out a fair warning as I was getting tired of sitting on the phone in silence.

“Ayanokouji Kiyotaka.”

The other party spoke my full name.

It was a voice that I had no memory of ever hearing before.

But based on the sound of the voice, I don’t think they were an adult.

In which case, it follows that they were a student.

“You are…?”

I asked in return.

The call went back to silence.

And then, the caller hung up.

“Even if you’re just going to say my name…”

It would be impossible to dismiss this as someone having accidentally called the wrong number.

“In other words, you’ve finally started to take action…?”

Exactly who the other person was didn’t matter anymore.

That man’s strategy. I can see he’s begun to make his move against me.

Though, the strange part of this is why he would let me know he’s coming.

If his goal is to force me to drop out of school, it would make sense that he would approach this more like a surprise attack.

Going about it like this can only mean he intends for me to take it as a threat.

That man… Is there anything outside of his reach?

Either way, he’s already begun to make his move.


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