■Chapter: Kengo Mashima■

 

The city of Kamimura is a so-called snow district, and every winter, there is a ridiculous amount of snow, so much so that until April, there was still muddy, d***y snow all over the town.

 

Because of this, the cherry trees bloom very late in the year, and therefore, in early May, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

 

I look down at the schoolyard from the window.

It is dimly lit, musty, and not exactly a good place to eat, but I like the … quiet.

The quietness lets me feel the changing of the seasons.

 

“… I might try making Sakura-mochi.”

 

I wonder if I too have been hit by the spring weather.

I peck at a lump of sesame paste of rapeseed blossoms in the corner of my lunch box, talking to myself.

The same taste as usual, the same lunch break as usual.

 

Just when I thought that everything was peaceful and safe…

 

“…Mmm.”

 

I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and I put down the chopstick at once.

…Has someone come here again?

 

“The door is locked.
You can’t go up to the roof.”

 

The owner of the footsteps stopped.

Usually, this is enough to make them turn back around…

Somehow, the footsteps were getting closer.

 

“?”

 

Did they not hear me?

I was about to warn them again when … I recognized the unexpected figure coming up the stairs.

 

“Takane Saki?”

“…Hello.”

 

I called out her name, and she bowed and bobbed her head, still looking as no-nonsense as ever.

 

“Why are you here …?”

 

Her appearance was so unexpected that I froze in my seat.

Then she came silently up the stairs.

She came up the stairs without saying a word and sat down next to me.

 

“Oh, hey…”

“I asked ……………..
Tatsuki Iwasawa-kun and Kawariku Arakawa-kun.”

“What?”

“I was told that Mashima-kun has lunch here on the staircase in front of the rooftop during his lunch break.”

 

Surely, only those two would know that I have lunch here.

So…, you’re saying…

 

“Did you come all the way out here to see me?”

“I wanted to return … this.”

 

Saki Takane offered me a neatly folded handkerchief.

 

“From that time …, thank you very much …”

“… Oh, I see.”

 

I understood.

The handkerchief was the one I gave to Saki Takane about a week ago.

 

“I told you you didn’t have to return it.”

 

It smelled like fabric softener.
The fabric had been washed and carefully ironed.
How very neat.

I see, she wanted to return this to me.
Then I can understand why she wanted to return it to me at lunchtime when I would be alone.

Ah, I feel better now…wait.

 

“Takane Saki, why are you opening that sweet bun?”

“It’s lunchtime.
I’ll eat here, too.”

“No, but…”

“But? What is it?”

 

When she stared straight at me with those absorbing eyes, I looked away.

 

“… If you stay around … me, you’re going to start up some more strange rumors.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Nonsense.
How can you not be bothered by rumors that have no basis in fact?”

“…I don’t mind.”

 

I looked at her in surprise at her strong refusal.

Saki Takane was … somehow looking away only from the neck up…

I cannot see her expression, but her barely visible left ear is tinted red like an unseasonal autumn leaf.

Come to think of it, something like this has happened before…

 

“Either way, no one would come to such a musty, moldy place.”

“I see, that’s true too.”

 

I’m finally running out of reasons to adamantly refuse her.

Besides, I have another idea as to why she would bother to visit me, the Discipline Committee Chairman.

 

In all likelihood, she probably came to me for advice regarding the previous issue… the rumors about the previous incident.

If that was the case, of course, I couldn’t let her down.

 

“Well, I’ll take your word for it and continue with my lunch.”

“…Yes, please don’t mind me.”

 

I pick up the chopsticks again and resume eating in silence.

There is also the matter of the last time I was in the crossroads.
This is a more sensitive topic than I thought.
Let’s refrain from forcing her to talk about it.

Wait for her to start talking naturally.

 

“…”

“…”

 

…But still, it was a strange situation.

For some reason, I, the hated and stiff Chairman of the Discipline Committee, am having lunch alone with that “Takane Saki”.
We are having lunch alone together, almost touching each other’s shoulders at this very moment.

Of course, I understand that Saki Takane is not having lunch with me because she likes it.

 

However, if you … think about it, it’s the first time I’ve had lunch with someone since I entered high school.

 

“…Mashima-kun.”

 

Suddenly, Takane Saki opened her mouth.

 

“Why are you having lunch here?”

 

I understand that this is a chat to relieve tension before getting down to business.

 

“I’m sure everyone in the class would feel more at ease without me.”

“Yes?”

“As the chairman of the Disciplinary Committee, it is my duty to point out any disorder in the class.
But at the same time, I think it’s okay to relax a little at lunch time.”

“… Huh?”

“In short, it would be stifling for everyone to have a rigid person like me in the classroom during the lunch break.”

 

So during lunch break, I have lunch here by myself.

And I warn the occasional “student who, under the influence of a drama or anime, tries to enter the off-limits rooftop.” 

 

“… I don’t think Mashima-kun is disliked by anyone.”

“The same thing was said to me by Yuka Sesenami, Tatsuki Iwasawa and Kawariku Arakawa.”

“But you still think you are disliked?”

“I’m flattered, but that’s what being a Discipline Committee chairman is all about.”

“Why did you go to such lengths?”

“Someone has to be hated in order to maintain order.”

“That’s a hard thing to do.”

“Not really.”

 

Conversation is interrupted.

The hustle and bustle of classrooms in the distance, the sound of cherry trees swaying in the wind, the shouts of the soccer team practicing on their own in the schoolyard, the chirping of birds, and the sound of the tennis team hitting a white ball with their rackets…

A fresh breeze blows in through the window.

 

“… That bento, is it homemade?”

“This? I’m embarrassed to admit that it looks like an old man’s meal.”

 

There are sesame paste with rapeseed, saury grilled in saikyo style, pickled turnip, and Japanese butterbur boiled and seasoned.

I can’t say it myself, but it was not a very high-school-like lunch.

 

“It’s not that.
It looks delicious.”

“Thank you, today’s was rather well done.”

“Eh?”

“What is it?”

“Is it homemade by Mashima-kun…?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, really? You’re so good at it, I thought your parents made it for you…”

“My parents are gone, I’m at my aunt’s house, helping her with her housework.”

“Oh, … I’m sorry…”

“Why are you apologizing?”

 

After I said that, I thought I was done.

Takane Saki’s expressionless face was still the same, but even I could tell.
I made a mistake in my response.

Just because I myself am accepting, it doesn’t mean that the people around me are too.

I am in the position to consult with others, but I can’t believe I made someone feel awkward by talking about myself…

 

“Sorry…”

“No, you mustn’t…”

 

I’m not suited for this kind of chatting…

 

Anyway, if this continues, Saki Takane’s mind will remain closed.

Something, something that will change the subject …?

 

“Wait, what’s that, the big pufferfish like…”

“Maritozzo.”

“Mari…”

“Maritozzo.”

 

She answered me with a devouring smile.

 

“I’ve only heard of the name, but is this it?”

“It’s a new product from Daigoya.
It’s a very popular sweet on social networking sites right now.”

“… Popular on social networking sites right now?”

“I don’t know much about it, but I think that trend ended a long time ago.”

 

Kamimura City is a rural area, too rural to stay in touch with the latest trends.

Recently, such trends have been whispered about among the citizens of Kamimura…

 

“Maritozzo is a traditional Italian pastry whose origins date back to ancient Rome.
In Italy, where it originated, it was customary to hide an engagement ring inside this sweet, which is how the word “maritozzo” came to be…”

 

… Whatever it is, Takane Saki seems to be enjoying it, so I won’t say anything outlandish.

 

“I’ve never seen you talk so much.”

“Wow, was I talking that much?”

“You didn’t realize it? You seemed to be having a lot of fun.”

“Did I look like I was having fun…?”

 

Saki Takane, perhaps having something on her mind, began to rub her cheek with her fingers.

The way she rubbed her fingers across her well-groomed face was so baby-like it was comical.

 

“I’m not a big fan of fashion, so I’ve learned a lot.
By the way, aren’t you going to eat it?”

“I’d like to eat it, but…”

 

Saki Takane stared at the Maritozzo with a small crease between her eyebrows.

What on earth is she doing? I thought for a moment and then realized.

I thought about it for a while and then realized that it was too big for her little mouth.

 

“How about splitting it in half, top and bottom, and scooping the cream with the top half?”

“Oh, I see!”

 

Saki Takane immediately started scooping the cream as she was told.

She must have been very hungry, and although her Noh mask is as usual, her eyes still sparkle as she takes a bite of the bun.

 

“It’s delicious, with berries and walnuts.
This is revolutionary.”

 

She split the bread in half and even gave me a report on the results, her cheeks puffing out like a hamster.
The cream was sticking to the edges of her mouth because she had eaten it all at once.

 

Her mysterious and unexpectedly childlike side made me involuntarily smiled…

 

“Ah!”

 

My eyes meet Saki Takane’s.

Oh shoot, it’s not a good idea to stare at a girl eating.

I was about to rush to utter an apology when…

The next moment, I was so shocked that my thoughts were blown far away.

 

“I have never seen… Mashima-kun’s smiling face before, hehe.”

“Wha…”

 

It was a shock, a shock.

It was like being struck by lightning, and all I could do was to be at a loss for words.

 

…Saki Takane is laughing.

With some cream on the edge of her mouth.

She was as innocent as a child, mischievous and innocent.

She was so innocent and mischievous like a child, she was so shy that she would “crumple” up her well-prepared Noh mask and her beautiful face without hesitation.

And that smile… directed at me, of all people…

 

“You look like that when you smile.”

“It’s … nothing out of the ordinary.”

 

There’s no way it’s normal.

I looked away and did my best to return the gesture, barely able to do so.

 

At … such close range, I saw the smile of the person I love for the first time.

 

“…? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing, I was just spaced out.”

 

I feigned composure and went back to my lunch again.

Am I an idiot?

Saki Takane had come to me for serious advice, so why am I getting carried away?

First of all, I was rejected by Saki Takane, wasn’t I?

I shoved the sesame paste with rapeseed blossoms, which had turned into a lump, into my mouth in one go.

 

“Thank you for the food.”

 

I chanted with my hands together, gathered up my bento, and stood up.

 

“Eh!? Are you going already?”

“Oh, I’m sorry for interrupting.”

 

No, it was Saki Takane who came later.

 

“But,… but isn’t there still half of the lunch break left…!?”

 

I’m sorry, but I have to do my job as a Discipline Committee member, I have to go around the school and change the bulletin boards… and also think about the motto for May.

 

“Motto…”

 

Although it is not well known, the creation of a monthly motto is one of the important jobs of the public discipline committee members.

 

Incidentally, the motto for April was “Connect with greetings and egos by the way.”.

…I was frightened to think that such a motto had been posted all over the school for a month.

It was a rare occasion when Kawariku Arakawa wanted to do it, so I gave him a try, and this is what I got.

How could “by the way” possibly come at the end of a sentence? I was so annoyed that he wasted syllables like that.

 

“So that’s why I’ve got to go.
That was the most enjoyable lunch I’ve had in a long time.”

“Oh…”

“As I said before, I’m always available for advice for students as the chairman of the Discipline Committee.
Now, I know this is a moldy place, but please take your time.”

 

I concluded with an unusual joke and walked down the stairs.

I knew it would be better if I and Saki Takane didn’t spend time together.
It’s because they will spread strange rumors and gossip again.

 

… But today’s lunch was the most enjoyable I’ve had in a long time, and I mean it.

It was so unlike me that I will be sad to eat lunch alone again tomorrow…

 

“…Well, wait a minute!”

 

I was just about to reach the landing of the staircase.

I was startled by the sudden loud voice and turned to see Saki Takane looking down at me from the top of the stairs.

 

She looked like she was in a hurry or something.

 

“I! Today, there’s something I really want to talk to you about…!”

 

Saki Takane rushed back to her feet.

That’s when it happened.

 

“Ah!”

 

She stood up, and as she did so, a book slipped from her lap.

 

“Oh, shoot, oh, my God, oh, my God.”

 

She reflexively reached for the falling book, but … this was not a good idea.

If she had left it alone, the book would have simply fallen at her feet.

But her right hand, which she thrust out vigorously, hit the book, and it was launched high into the air.

 

“Oh…”

 

In a world moving in slow motion.

A book soared up, drawing a beautiful parabola.

It made a nice sound.

It landed at my feet right on the dance floor.

I was on the dance floor.

 

“…”

 

Just as everything on earth cannot defy gravity, my gaze naturally fell to my feet.

Then I saw …

A book with so many sticky notes that it might be better to describe it as “growing”…The cover of the book.

 

“Waaaaaa!?!?!?!?!?!?”

“Whoa!?”

 

Where in the world does such a voice come from in her slender frame?

A scream so loud that it echoed throughout the school came roaring from overhead.

The volume of the voice was so loud that it made my shoulders shake with fright.

 

“What the …?”

“~~~~~~~Tsu tsu tsu!!!!.”

 

Saki Takane runs down the stairs at a tremendous speed.

Her face was red like a boiled octopus, and she was squeaking violently in her shoes.

And then, in the blink of an eye, she reached the landing.

 

“Hmph!”

 

The “book” was retrieved from under my feet, where I was standing in a daze, with a speed that was almost too fast for my eyes to notice.

 

“Hmph…! Whoo…!”

“… That, Saki Takane.”

“Did you see that!?”

“That…”

“Did you see thaaat!?”

 

… The very definition of the word “fierce”.

 

“No, well, I saw …”

“You saw …!”

 

This time, Saki Takane’s face turned pale.

If there were a contest to describe a face that looked like the end of the world, she would be sure to win.

And it was precisely because she was so convincing that I was overwhelmed.

 

“… I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of.”

 

It took me a while before I could utter my next words.

 

“I was rather impressed that you not only studied schoolwork, but psychology as well.”

“… Heh?”

 

Takane Saki raised her voice and looked at me.

 

“… Psychology?”

“I saw the word psychology on the cover, no?”

“What, ah, that …… ho, what else?”

“What else? It was only for a moment, so I didn’t know if it was … Oh, there were sticky notes on it, you’re a studious person.”
“He…”

 

Saki Takane made a distracted sound and collapsed in place nimbly.

I don’t know what it is, but …

 

“Anyway, we have mid-term exams next week.
I know this may be an unnecessary intervention for you who have excelled in your grades, but don’t forget about that one too.”

“Hyahi!”

 

That airy sound is a reply? Saki Takane.

Anyway.

 

“See you later.”

 

This time I went down the stairs and left the place.

It was the middle of the lunch break.

The dust and dirt flying in the air shines in the sunlight coming in through the window.

I’m sure … it’s all right now.

 

“It was a close call…”

 

I know I’m repeating myself, but I’m not very good at telling lies.

That book that Saki Takane dropped.

How could the word “psychology” be so small among all those fancy words in the title of the book?

 

─ ─ Say goodbye to timid love! A new generation of love strategies! Be irresistible from now on! Super Love Psychology Course!

For the girl you’re interested in, for the boy you’re interested in─ ─

 

“I read the whole thing…”

 

And even the full paragraph in the obi!

 

“Is Saki Takane trying to be irresistible…?”

 

No, it’s hard to imagine that, since she is still outrageously popular.

If that is the case, it is natural to assume that she has a liking for someone in particular.

It’s for you, that girl I’m interested in.

 

“I see that… Saki Takane has someone she likes too.”

 

A self-mocking smile broke out.
Of course, that’s right.

Even Takane Saki falls in love.

This is not an unexpected aspect, it’s just a normal thing.

And I am a fool for recognizing such a natural thing after all this time.

Even so, a guy who is thought of so much by Saki Takane is a very lucky guy.

 

I don’t know who Saki Takane is interested in, but if I look at the sticky notes all over that book…, I can see it.

 

She likes this guy a lot.

 

What kind of person does … Saki Takane like?

Is it someone I know? Someone my age? How long have they known each other?

Is he smarter, better at sports, more pure of heart than anyone else?

I felt a sudden urge to pull my cheeks into a tight line.

 

“It’s not my problem.”

 

What was wrong with me?

Whoever Saki Takane falls in love with has nothing to do with me, right?

This kind of onlooker’s guts, the same kind of people who are happy to spread false information about Takane Saki, is not nice.

… No, it’s not the same as onlookers’ guts.

I’m sure I’m jealous of someone she likes…

 

“Whoa.”

 

Just as I was coming down to the first floor, I felt a shock on my back.

I turned around to see what was going on, and there was…

 

“Hah … haha …!”

“… Saki Takane?”

 

There she is.

I guess that she still hurried to follow me, even though she was in such a public place and someone might spread strange rumors about her.

Breathing hard and drenched in sweat

 

“I … also … always eat lunch alone … and I …”

 

Still exhaling in agony, she spun her words in a broken, frantic fashion, and then, with a few words, she said.

 

“You said …… that you had a good time ……?”

 

Then she looked me straight in the eye with those jewel-like eyes of hers and said strongly.

 

“Then…! Let’s have lunch together again!”

 

I wonder who told me that Saki Takane is a mysterious girl.

Apparently, everyone was wrong about her.

 

Saki Takane falls in love.

She learns about love from how-to books, is embarrassed when her love for someone is revealed, is hurt by unscrupulous rumors, cries, and even smiles like a child when she smacks her cheek with the most popular sweet treats.

She may even feel lonely eating lunch alone.

 

Maybe she is a much more normal girl than I thought.

 

“… Cream, it’s on you.”

“What!?”

 

Saki Takane immediately blushed and covered her mouth with both hands.

Of course, she would be embarrassed if someone of the opposite s*x pointed out that she had whipped cream on her mouth.

Such a gesture was so cute that I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

 

“From 12:50 to 1:10, that’s 20 minutes.
I have lunch there every day.”

 

“Eh…”

 

“I’ll see you later, if you don’t mind me going to that moldy place with you.”

 

Saki Takane, who had proposed the idea herself, didn’t think I would actually agree to it.

She was stunned for a while, but as she looked at me, her expression brightened…

 

“…Yes!!”

 

She replied with a smile like a beautiful sunflower.

… Apparently I need to change my mind.

The hated chairman of the Discipline Committee and the flower of the school.

There was no way we could have matched, but we lived in the same world.

After all, what does it mean?

 

“I’ll see you next time.”

 

Apparently, even though I’m a jerk and she rejected me, I’m allowed to call myself a friend of Takane Saki’s until her problems are resolved.

 

“…How could this happen?”

 

Fifteen minutes before the end of lunch break.

When I returned to my classroom, I had a deep crease between my eyebrows.

As soon as I took my seat, I was quickly surrounded by all the boys in my class, well, if you look closely, there were a few boys from other classes as well, including Tatsuki Iwasawa and Kawariku Arakawa.

It was a perfect encirclement, as if to say that not even a single mouse would escape.

And then…

 

“…Hey, Mashima! What’s your relationship with Takane-san?”

 

As you can see, I am being interrogated in a tormenting manner.

 

“How can you people be so stupid …!”

 

I let out a loud sigh.

I should have known this was going to happen when… Saki Takamine asked Tatsuki Iwasawa and Kawariku Arakawa about my whereabouts…

I underestimated the influence of Saki Takane…!

 

“Takane-san’s came to Class C! She was looking for you!”

“I heard she had a really worried look on her face!?”

“Seriously, did you call Takane-san to a place where no one would be looking?”

“Some of us saw Mashima dragging Takane-san around the school!”

“Have you kissed her yet!?”

“Is this a breach of the rules!?”

“Is she under your supervision!?”

 

I held my head in my hands and groaned.
I was so dumbfounded that I couldn’t even say anything.

How can they come up with one made-up story after another without getting tired of it…?

 

If I couldn’t talk back to Saki Takane, who went out of her way to consult with me in public, in consideration of her reputation, I would have just said whatever I wanted to say…!

 

And then, after thinking this much, I had a flash of inspiration.

Oh, yes, Saki Takane…?

 

I managed to peek through the noisy opposition surrounding me to see the window seat where she was sitting.

There, I found a … surprising sight.

She was also surrounded by girls in her class, though not as much as I was.

 

“The boys are so bad.”

“Saki, are you okay?”

“If that monster does something weird to you, just talk to us right away!”

“What? Ah, that, I…separately…”

“What? Come to think of it, I think this is the first time I’ve talked to Saki.”

“Oh, actually, me too.”

“Oh, yeah! Let’s exchange MINE! There’s a group of girls in our class, and I wanted to invite you, too!”

“Oh, uh, um, …”

 

Although her Noh mask remained unchanged, the image of Saki Takane communicating with the girls was there, albeit in a timid manner.

 

…<”Maybe Kengo’s work has helped to overwrite the rumors.”>

 

“… I see what you mean.”

 

Now I think I finally understand what Arakawa was talking about.

I am a stiff and hated chairman of the Discipline Committee anyway.
It doesn’t make much difference if everyone hates me a little bit more now.

If I can make the person I love happy, that’s great.

 

She won’t have any more trouble finding someone to talk to.

But what the heck, it’s a little disappointing to think that Saki Takane no longer needs to have lunch with me after what just happened…

 

“And you know what? Saki Takamine came into C class with a bloodthirsty look on her face and asked me and Arakawa! She asked us where Kengo Mashima was! The look on her face! I knew it! That’s right! The beginning of Mashima-kun’s special guidance…”

“You again, guidance… !”

“Gheeee!”

“Whoa! Mashima’s out of control!”

“Hold him down, hold him down!”

“Tatsuki’s face is like a traffic light.”

 

I was tightening the screws on Iwasawa, my classmates were trying to restrain me, Arakawa was laughing at me, and the girls were giving me cold stares from afar.

There was no such thing as public morals at all, and the lunch break of Class B was very noisy.

 

“… Gross.”

 

…And in the midst of all this commotion.

My gaze caught the figure of a guy walking out of the classroom, looking very displeased.

 

“…What are they getting excited about, they’re really …stupid?”

 

Second floor, men’s restroom.

Voices are leaking from the locked stall on the far side of the restroom.

The occasional dull sound and vibration heard is probably the sound of him kicking the wall.

I also hear some other strange clicks and noises, but I don’t know what … this is.

 

“I feel bad…It’s cold…”

 

With a clunk, the door to the stall opens and he steps out.

Then he looks at me.

 

“What …?”

 

He let his voice trail off.

…Oh, I get it.
I know what that mysterious clickety-clack sound is.

It was the sound of nail biting.

Behind me, Iwasawa gasped, “Oh!”

 

“From what I’ve heard …, nail biting is often triggered by psychological stress and pressure.
I’m genuinely curious because I use instruments to trim my nails… What do people with a biting nail habit do with their bitten nails? Do they spit them out there? Or do they just swallow them?”

“What the …!?”

“In any case, as chairman of the Discipline Committee, I can’t recommend it from a hygienic standpoint.”

 

Takumi Tsubone, 2nd year class B…

 

He backed up and slammed his back against the wall.

 

“The Discipline Committee…? What do you want…!?”

“No, it’s nothing important… I’ll tell you straight out…”

 

With a refreshing smile, Arakawa answered his question.

 

“To be honest, you were the one spreading rumors about Saki, weren’t you? Takumi Tsubone…”

“Huh? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t know!”

 

Takumi Tsubone raised his voice in a biting tone.

The childish intention to overpower with a loud … voice is obvious.

 

“What’s the point!? What is the basis for such comments…?”

“Let’s see, Class 2A: Ryohei Kumikei, Shinaraya Shirou, Class 2B: Kawahaba Tougo, Kokode Ide, Akebono Michika, Shima Mizuho, Class 2C: Kinkana Yarika, Momokawa Kawayasuno, Sasahira Masaya.”

 

Iwasawa listed the names in an unobtrusive manner, the blood drained from Takumi Tsubone’s face at once.

 

“There were a few others my memory is a little fuzzy on, but I think this is the only one I can confirm with certainty.
They all said they heard rumors about Takane Saki from you.
I think you spread it around a little too loudly.”

“… Oh, I heard it from a friend, too.”

“That’s not true.
The malicious rumors about Saki Takane are definitely coming from you.”

“How do you know that!?”

“Our Iwasawa’s love of gossip has led him to have an unusually wide network of contacts, so much so that he has acquaintances in every class, not only in our upper high school, but also in the middle and lower secondary schools.”

“After all, rumors can only be passed on by word of mouth, right? Then, once you have some idea of the source of the rumors, you can trace them one by one, just like unraveling tangled earphones, and you’ll find out who the source is, right?”

“…!?”

 

Takumi Tsubone exclaimed.

…That’s easy to say, but as far as I know, the only person who could pull off such a tedious and daunting task in just a few weeks is Tatsuki Iwasawa.

Perhaps because of his amiable personality and appearance, he is very good at getting inside people’s heads, and he enjoys doing so.

His drawback is that he tends to be a troublemaker, getting involved in unnecessary matters and spreading rumors…

 

“When you were a freshman, you went around spreading strange rumors about Takane because you were upset that Saki had rejected you.
You were so flamboyant that your name came up right away.
The only reason I kept you in the dark until today was simply to solidify the evidence.”

 

He is the biggest contributor to this case…

 

“Eh…”

 

Takumi Tsubone grunted in frustration and glanced toward the exit.

I don’t know what he was going to do, but he gave up as soon as he saw Arakawa, the ace of the basketball team, waiting behind us.

 

“Takumi Tsubone, I want to say at the outset that we are not here to sanction you, much less to criticize you.
That would be an overstepping of our authority.
We’re just here to inform you.”

“Come on, man! Just say it!”

“I’ll tell you in a nutshell, I’m going to report this matter to the class B homeroom teacher, Onnukuide-sensei.”

“What!?”

 

His face turned white as he went beyond pale.

 

“Subsequent disciplinary action will be under the jurisdiction of the homeroom teacher… I will be going to report to them after homeroom today… It may be inappropriate for me to mention this, but I encourage you to accompany me.”

 

Malicious slander and defamation of classmates with clear malicious intent.

This is clearly beyond the scope of the Discipline Committee members’ supervision.

 

Iwasawa’s work had provided more than enough evidence, and there was no way for him to get away with it now.
The reason why I told him in advance is because I was trying to show him some warmth, but he didn’t want to do that…

 

“…No, that’s not right.”

 

Apparently he was not convinced …

Takumi Tsubone turned his bare hostility into a crooked, sneering smile.

 

“Well, I’m only human, so I’m bound to gossip a little or two…! You guys do it too! … No! I don’t remember.
I don’t remember, but you’re right, I may have spread a few bad rumors about Takane Saki… but not all of them!”

 

Did he find some kind of chance to win in that “not all” part?

Takumi Tsubone’s eyes immediately lit up with a sparkle.

 

“Not all … of them! Not every single one of the rumors about Saki Takane came from me!”

“I heard from Iwasawa … that all the rumors, especially the malicious ones, seem to have originated with you.”

“But that doesn’t make it an offense! Everyone does it! It’s just that it escalated a bit… Why just me? Why me? Why should I be the only one to be blamed? And you know what they say, where there’s no fire, there’s no smoke! Maybe it’s true!”

“… I see your point.”

“Right? Then …”

“Whatever it is, it’s not up to us.”

“…..”

 

Since it appears that he still doesn’t understand, I’ll make it clear.

As I said before, this is just a notice.

Everything I have just told him is a final decision, nothing more, nothing less.

 

“If you wish to accompany us to Onnukuide-sensei to report, please speak to one of the members of the Discipline Committee before going home , okay?”

 

Thus, our work is now done.

…The end of lunch break is near, so let’s leave early.

 

“Wait!!!”

 

He grabbed me by the … shoulders.

Takumi Tsubone changed his expression to one of anger and a devilish look on his face.

 

“In the first place…, it’s that girl’s fault!”

 

Iwasawa let out a sigh for the first time in several occasions.
The usually breezy and bashful Arakawa had a look on his face that I’ve never seen before.

“That girl … is so stuck up! She doesn’t even have any friends! She’s always alone and probably doesn’t even have a boyfriend! She was so pathetic that I told her that I wanted to go out with her, but she just rejected me so easily!”

“… Hey.”

 

I said in a low voice.
But Takumi Tsubone showed no sign of closing his mouth.

 

“She said she’s apologizing because she has someone she likes! You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re a bum! You can’t do it anyway, so why don’t you just go with me…!”

“Stop with the …”

“But why are you coming here of all people…! You know him? You know about the guy Takane Saki likes and you came here to make fun of me, right? You really have a bad personality!”

“Stop it.”

“What about …? You really don’t know? Ha ha! Then I’ll tell you! She’s got really bad taste! You know something? Saki Takane likes…”

 

Takumi Tsubone was not able to say what he wanted to say.

I had grabbed him by the chest before he could say the name.

 

“I’m suggesting that you stop while I’m still speaking rationally.”

 

I’ve said it before, but it seems that when I’m in a bad mood, I have a very frightening look on my face.

 

Takumi Tsubone opened his eyes and let out a brief shriek, “Hee”.

“You are free to think what you want about Saki Takane, but…”

 

Saki Takane fell in love.

She learned about love from how-to books, is embarrassed when her love for someone is revealed, is hurt by unscrupulous rumors, cries, and even smiles like a child when she smacks her cheek with the latest sweets.

 

…And sometimes I feel lonely eating lunch alone.

So…

 

“You’re the only one who feels that way, don’t force it on anyone else.”

 

Flatten.

Takumi Tsubone falls to the tile floor, falling without effort.

The series of commotion surrounding the malicious rumors about Saki Takane has thus come to an end.

 

…Ten days have passed since then.

The mid-term exams were over, and after the holidays, the atmosphere in the class had calmed down.

Even in a snow bound country like Japan, the cherry blossoms have almost completely fallen and become foliage.

Flowers are for leaves.

 

“… I didn’t make any sakura-mochi after all.”

 

The dimly lit staircase in front of the rooftop.

In other words, I was spending my lunch break at my usual place and muttered to myself.

In my hand was the Maritozzo I had bought yesterday.

This was a seasonal product, with brightly colored green tea cream and azuki beans sandwiched in between instead of fresh cream.

 

It was the first time for me to buy this kind of sweet bun, but when I tried it, I was surprised to find that the rich cream was not too sticky and tasty.
The matcha flavor that came through my mouth was refreshing.
It was a new discovery.

 

“I guess anything can be tried.”

 

Maritozzo, eaten while overlooking the leafy cherry trees in the schoolyard, was also surprisingly pleasant.

 

“… Maritozzo, summer is here, and milk for tea….”

“Did you say something?”

“Whoa!?”

 

I almost lost my Maritozzo when a voice suddenly called out to me from a blind spot.

This voice is …

 

“Takane Saki …?”

“Yes…? It’s Saki Takane…?”

 

There was Saki Takane, coming up the stairs somewhat shyly.

 

“…Why?”

 

I tracked down the person who was spreading malicious rumors about Saki Takane, and now Saki Takane could speak in class.

Shouldn’t she no longer have to have lunch with me…?

 

“You said we’d have lunch together again… Could it be that you were joking?”

 

Seeing her eyes moisten slightly, I hurriedly deny it.

 

“No! I thought you had forgotten about it because it had been so long since then…”

“How could I forget? I was studying during my lunch break because it was before the exams.”

“Oh, well, that’s very impressive…”

 

I am puzzled, but Saki Takane sat down next to me and started to spread her lunch box on her lap.

Today is not Maritozzo day, it seems.

 

“… Homemade?”

“I don’t usually cook, but when I saw that you were making it, I thought I’d give it a try.”

“I love cooking.
I love the fact that if you follow the recipe exactly, you won’t fail.
The feeling of accomplishment you get when you follow the recipe exactly, and it tastes exactly the same as the last time… Hey, wait! What is that warning-colored thing?”

“It’s an omelet! I tried to sweeten them and failed!”

“Oh, I see, the sugar must have burnt, or you put too much in it.”

“I like my omelets sweetened about as much as dessert! …? Is that Maritozzo?”

“I saw you eating it and thought I’d give it a try.
I don’t usually eat this kind of sweet buns…, but it’s better than I thought it would be.
It goes well with strong tea.”

“…Fufu.”

“What’s wrong?”

“No, I just thought we were thinking along the same lines.”

“Okay…”

“…”

“…”

 

Silence fell between us.

I pondered in silence as I chewed on my Maritozzo.

One possible reason for Saki Takane to have lunch with me … is that some problem she has is still unresolved.

 

I was devastated, unbeknownst to others.

What kind of trouble is … she in?

 

“…That, what?”

“?”

“…Speaking of which, how did you do on your exams?”

“… I’m terrible at world history.”

“I’m not good at modern writing, I can’t possibly understand the author’s feelings, and it doesn’t make sense that there is more than one answer.”

“…Mashima-kun, you’re in first place in your class, aren’t you?”

“Well, that’s true…”

“…”

“…”

“Do you enjoy eating with me …?”

“… It’s fun.”

“Okay…”

“…”

“…”

“What is it…?”

“Actually, there’s someone I like.”

“Geee!!”

 

I choked.

I try to get a glimpse of Saki Takane with my eyes going black and white, but she is poking at a black egg omelet with her familiar Noh mask.
I can’t read her emotions.

 

“… It’s a one-sided love of mine, though.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s tough…”

 

… Not good.

I’m sure I made a big show of it in the infirmary and said that there is no right or wrong in asking for advice, whether it’s about love or anything else,…

I was just making an analogy, I didn’t expect to be asked for advice in this area!

 

“…”

 

I am in a headache.

I don’t mean to boast, but I’ve never been involved in any kind of love conversation in my life, so I have no idea what to do!

I mean, isn’t Takane Saki asking the wrong person for advice?

I’m that uptight Discipline Committee chairman! Saki, you’re 100 times more popular than me!

But …

 

“It’s hard to get noticed …”

 

I’m glad she went to the trouble of relying on a person as disliked as I am.

And to get that kind of look on her face…

I was not going to stop myself from answering.

 

“Have you ever heard of the … Stinzer effect?”

 

As soon as I said those words, Saki Takane for some reason got very defensive.

 

“Shhhh, shhhh, I don’t know.”

“Well, you were reading a psychology book the other day, so I was wondering if you knew about the Stinzer effect, which is a psychological effect that changes the impression you make depending on your position relative to the person you’re talking to.”

“Ha, huh …”

“For example, if there is a table for four people, the person sitting directly in front of you is ‘hostile,’ the person sitting diagonally across from you is ‘neutral,’ and the person sitting next to you is ‘friendly’.
Well, to put it simply, if you sit side by side, you are more likely to have a close relationship with the person you are sitting next to.”

 

Yes, just like we are now.

 

“Some say it’s simply because of the physical closeness, but in my opinion it has more to do with eye contact.”

“Eye contact…?”

“If two people sit side by side, they can see the same thing.”

 

Our eyes naturally turn to the fresh greenery in the schoolyard through the window.

There are some things that can only be understood from the same point of view…

 

“Mashima-kun…”

 

So…

 

“You might want to start by sitting next to the person you like.”

“…………………… Yeah?”

“Well, you’re an attractive girl, so I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

 

I don’t know what kind of guy Takane Saki is interested in, but I’m sure she’ll be fine.

I think it’s okay… why do you look at me like that?

 

“I feel … kind of heartbroken.”

“I know you’re the hardest worker of all.
I’m rooting for you.”

“Yes…”

 

After all, anyone who is thought of this way is a lucky guy.

As I chewed on a green Maritozzo, I was deeply jealous of him.

Anyway, for the time being, I was allowed to call myself Saki Takane’s friend.

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