Is that pretty lady Kazetani-kun’s girlfriend…?
Hiyuki ran as if she was escaping from Ao’s side and returned to her old mansion. She sat before her old desk inside the tatami laden room and sulked.
Not a… high schooler, is she in college…? Maybe she is a working adult… Older than Kazetani-kun, her breasts are so big, and she looks so cute… Her clothes are fancy and cute too… Her voice is sweet and pleasant… She addressed Kazetani-kun as Ao-kun.
When Ao invited Hiyuki to the aquarium, she felt as if she was in a dream.
She had been thinking since the day before on what she should wear. Should she prepare a lunch box? It would be a long train ride, what should she talk to Kazetani-kun about? Because she was too worried and nervous, she couldn’t look at him in the face when Ao arrived with a bright smile, and she felt her heart beating intensely.
Kazetani-kun looks different than when he is in school.
He merely changed from uniform to casual wear, but Hiyuki was really conscious about this part and her heart raced.
In the train, Ao was worried about Hiyuki and kept finding topics to chat with her, but she couldn’t answer properly and her expression became stiffer and stiffer. She hated that part of herself and was at a loss on what to do, and ended up venting all those emotions on Ao.
Hiyuki was sure that Ao must think of her as a troublesome and moody girl. He must regret asking her out to the aquarium. He would definitely not go on a date with her again.
Hiyuki’s was on the verge of breaking down with her chest overflowing with negative emotions, but Ao apologized to her first.
Kazetani-kun… is really gentle.
That was how he usually was.
Always smiling calmly, greeting everyone with a loud voice, listening to others happily and giving appropriate responses to prompt the speaker to continue.
That’s why the classmates around Ao all seemed so happy, and both boys and girls would talk to Ao.
Ao wouldn’t say anything malicious or show preferential treatment. He was cheerful, gentle and fair to everyone.
Because Ao was such a person, that was why he could accept Hiyuki who was ostracised in class and avoided by everybody.
──Hyonomiya-san used the pen name Yoroisame and submitted the work ‘The lonely me came to an alternate world, becoming the hero, demon king and the emperor of a harem paradise’ into the contest ── I saw this manuscript when I was working as a screener
When Hiyuki heard Ao said that, she felt embarrassed and shaken, so she answered ‘you got the wrong person’ and ran away. After school, she waited for Ao at the bicycle lot, mustered up her courage to talk to him and received his kind reply.
Just one work is fine, please teach me how to write light novels. Ao even accepted such a shameless request with a smile. They arranged to meet in a cafe after school for the next two months where Ao would teach her on writing her manuscript.
Kazetani-kun… is really kind and has a warm, gentle heart… He said that I can use varying font size, multiple punctuation, onomatopoeia and leave blanks freely...
No matter what, Ao won’t reject the other party outright, and will affirm with them first.
Not just light novels, but that was the way he was with his relationships with others and his attitude with life, which seemed so bright. Even though she felt this way, the pain in her chest was agonizing.
Kazetani-kun and I… are complete opposites...
In the cafe that was a secret to just the two of them, Hiyuki always ordered chrysanthemum, while Ao switched up his drink every time.
They had a gap between them even in a place like this, which made Hiyuki’s heartache. Ao definitely didn’t know that.
Hiyuki yearned for Ao so much and her inferiority complex tormented her feelings really badly.
──Kazetani-kun… You are… a broad minded person.
When she muttered those words, she felt so distanced from Ao and so lonely.
But I felt really close to Kazetani-kun in the aquarium, it was so joyous.
The two of them watched the Kitefin sharks, ate together in the underwater restaurant, and shouted in the dolphin show for the first time.
She felt so happy after experiencing so many firsts.
So blissful yet so sad.
Under the glow of the blue lighting, Ao who was watching the aquarium tank beside her was dyed the same colour.
── We… seemed to be under the sea.
── ... That’s right.
In that moment, she felt that she was in the same place as Ao, and was watching the same thing with same emotions. She thought that she would be pulled away from him again if they went back to land. The thought of that tore at her heart.
── I… Don’t want to go home…
She said something terrible.
── I just want… to stay here like this.
This is really embarrassing, how could I say that?
She explained hurriedly that she was conceptualizing a scene in the novel to cover it up. Even though Ao acknowledged with a smile, Hiyuki still felt her face was so hot that it could spit fire.
And after that, on the return trip back on the train, she wanted to get a bit closer to Ao before the fun time ended, so she asked Ao what kind of novels he liked.
── Well… Probably stories with foreshadowing.
Ao answered, and so Hiyuki decided in her heart to be someone who was great at using foreshadowing, so Kazetani could read her work happily and enjoy her writing. And so, she told Ao:
── I will work hard… and write a story with a perfect foreshadowing.
── I hope… Kazetani-kun… will like it.
That was the confession that took all of Hiyuki’s effort to make.
I can’t say that I hope he will like me as a person… that’s too much to ask… at least, I hope he can like the novel I write...
What a pitiable and terrible way of thinking.
I actually said that to Kazetani-kun.
Ao made a troubled expression.
He seemed to be at a loss for words. When he was about to say something, that woman called out to him with a sweet voice, then hugged him.
Ao called her Aeka-san
Would he address a woman he wasn’t close by their first name?
And would a woman hug a boy she wasn’t dating?
Ao didn’t seem to mind, and looked at that woman worriedly. As if he couldn’t see Hiyuki anymore.
Seeing Ao being so intimate with the woman was agonizing for Hiyuki, who ran off after saying ‘sorry’.
When she reached home, she was slightly late for her curfew. Her grandmother waiting outside the entrance asked Hiyuki sternly: ‘Why are you so late? What did you do? Is this really because of school?’
Her grandmother wouldn’t let the matter rest if she didn’t understand and manage Hiyuki’s schedule. She always wore her kimono perfectly, was tall for women her age and kept her back straight. Her grandmother glared at Hiyuki with her usual air of authority, tense face and sharp shining eyes. Hiyuki slumped her body naturally, and her soft voice turned even weaker.
Hiyuki said she rested in a shop for a while because she felt unwell. Her grandmother chided her for not returning earlier if she felt unwell.
“Are you still feeling unwell? Where?”
“Just a slight headache… But, it’s… already fine.”
Hiyuki replied and then helped her grandmother prepare dinner as usual. She sat opposite to her grandmother and ate her dinner nervously in silence. Her grandmother seasoned her food mildly, and she couldn’t tell the taste on days like this.
Her grandmother’s bony hand held her chopsticks gracefully as she ate dinner with her back straight. Hiyuki slumped her body before her grandmother and stuffed the tasteless food into her mouth.
She then put away the dishes, returned to her room alone, and started thinking deeply about what happened when she parted with him.
Hiyuki looked sadly at a photo in her hand.
When she met with something sad or unbearable, she would always look at this photo ──
On the photo was a three years old Hiyuki wearing a cute frilly blouse, a pink short dress and a flower patterned bag slung across her back.
Hiyuki was holding her mother’s hand with a slightly nervous face.
Her mother was out of the picture, only her long dress and her graceful, slender hand was visible. Her mother had pale and fragile skin, and would wear gloves on days when ultraviolet rays were strong. She was wearing one in the photo too. Hiyuki liked her mother’s smooth and fragrant gloves a lot, and would secretly wear them often.
The photo captured a water tank from the aquarium, and a grey tail with a white edge was visible. That was a Kitefin shark.
There were other photos she took with her mother, and in those pictures, both Hiyuki and her mother were smiling happily. But Hiyuki kept looking at this picture because this was the last time she went out with her mother, a memorable photo. Because she couldn’t forget what her mother said to her in front of the Kitefin shark aquarium.
With big bulging eyes, covered in grey tough hide and a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, the Kitefin shark was a malicious and scary creature to the young Hiyuki.
── Erm, mama, it’s scary…
Hiyuki hated and was afraid of this aquarium, but her mother who was always so gentle used a firm and strict voice to explain that Kitefin sharks were strong creatures that acted alone.
── You have to be strong, just like a Kitefin shark.
Her mother must have said that so suddenly because she knew she would be hospitalized soon and wasn’t long for the world.
One year ago, Hiyuki’s father fell in love with someone else and divorced her mother. Her mother sent her to a childcare center and started working. But her health was frail and doing so wrecked her body, so she went to her mother’s home with Hiyuki in tow.
Hiyuki’s grandmother lived alone in this big, old and cold mansion. In the beginning, Hiyuki lived together with her mother and grandmother. But after her mother’s health turned for the worse and she got hospitalized, she started living with her grandmother. In the end, her mother wasn’t discharged from the hospital.
Hiyuki thought that her mother knew her time was short, that’s why she told Hiyuki before the Kitefin shark tank that day that ‘you have to be strong’.
Her mother’s voice might have been strict and cold, but it sounded very sad.
After her mother passed away, whenever she looked at the photo she took back then, Hiyuki thought to herself that she was alone now and had to be strong.
Just like the Kitefin shark in the deep sea, she could survive even without companions.
Her grandmother was over seventy and was a strict person. After Hiyuki’s mother passed away, she tasked Hiyuki with many chores.
Moping the corridors with a cloth, wiping the windows, weeding the grass in the courtyard. In the spacious mansion with many rooms, these were laborious tasks.
On top of that, Hiyuki had to help in the kitchen. She cut her hand with the kitchen knife often in the beginning, and her grandmother said:
── That’s because you are using the knife wrong, it is your fault that you cut yourself, so don’t cry and beg for sympathy from others.
Her grandmother chided.
When the young Hiyuki was afraid of sleeping in a huge room.
── I will treat you as an adult, and an adult showing weakness is ugly. I won’t listen to your complaints, so prepare yourself for that.
Her grandmother brushed her off coldly.
Her grandmother’s words were always dismissive, can’t do this, can’t do that, always speaking about things that were prohibited. Even the way she held chopsticks, sat on the tatami and how to walk was strictly enforced.
When Hiyuki and the other kids went to the house of a friend she made in kindergarten to play, her grandmother would ask in detail what Hiyuki played, and what snacks they ate when she got home. After that, her grandmother would visit the other party’s place with high class snacks.
── Thank you for taking care of my granddaughter. I heard she ate plenty of snacks, but children from my house must not eat desserts or cakes sold in the market, so please don’t feed them to my granddaughter in the future.
This happened time and again, and in the end, no other kids invited Hiyuki to their house to play.
── Mama, you can’t offer Hiyuki anything to eat.
── Hiyuki’s grandmother is very strict. The kids who went to Hiyuki’s house to play were scolded: Put your shoes properly! So scary. And the only snacks in their place are steamed bun and black beans which are not sweet at all and not tasty.
There weren’t any kids who came to Hiyuki’s place to play. In primary school, no one spoke to Hiyuki in class.
Hiyuki gradually became an introverted child, and didn’t know what expression to show when she was with a crowd.
When she realized it, revising her homework with a tense face with her mouth shut at her seat was a natural thing to do.
Things didn’t change in middle school, Hiyuki’s expression became colder and stiffer, spending her days without conversing with anyone.
During winter in her third year of middle school, she discovered light novels by chance, which injected a ray of light into Hiyuki’s grey life.
After much hesitation, she chose a book with her limited allowance and read it repeatedly after buying one.
Her grandmother thought that things like anime and manga would lead to deprivation. When Hiyuki was in primary school and received a notebook with a manga character printed on it during a sports meet, her grandmother furrowed her brows and ordered her sternly to ‘throw that away’.
If her grandmother knew that Hiyuki was reading light novels with anime style covers, she would definitely prohibit it. All of Hiyuki’s important books would probably be thrown away.
That’s why Hiyuki kept her light novels and printed manuscripts discreetly, and would never read light novels or work on her manuscripts at home.
Hiyuki decided she would read and write light novels outside, and adhered to that principle.
She probably entered her work into a newcomer contest because she wished others would know. She hoped that someone will know that she who looked gloomy, cold and boring could write a bright and cheerful story too.
She wished that others would know that even though she had never exchanged emails with friends, she still knew how to use varying sized fonts, emoticons and multiple punctuations.
But the comment sheets she received noted that: the main character was unpleasant, the story and wordings were cheap and uninteresting. Her unpleasant self could only write unpleasant stories. Hiyuki suppressed her voice to avoid her grandmother from hearing her, and cried in her blanket.
For Hiyuki who didn’t have freedom and any confidence, there was only one person who could accept her, and that was Ao.
Kazetani-kun isn’t gentle to me alone...
Ao was kind to everyone.
Everyone liked Ao. Because Ao would never hurt anyone and will always find their good points. It felt happy being with him.
If Hiyuki was a Kitefin shark in the deep ocean, then Ao must be the infinitely vast azure sky.
Kazetani is broad.
But I am narrow.
Ao won’t like someone like her. What Ao prefered were cute cheerful girls similar to him. Like the person who called out to him with a sweet voice and hugged him today.
I am just… hoping for something all by myself...
She felt she wasn’t good enough for Ao who was beloved by everyone. That’s what she thought, but maybe…
“It is enough that Kazetani-kun is willing to accompany me in writing my manuscript, I have to be content…”
She muttered to herself as she looked at the photo of her mother holding her hand with a lady-like white glove. Her eyes slowly shut and didn’t open again.
The next morning, Hiyuki came to the computer early in the morning as usual to work on her manuscript. But her fingers paused after typing a phrase, and time passed without her making much progress.
I have to go to class...
She turned off the monitor, opened the door of the computer lab and found Ao standing there with a sheepish face.
“Good morning, Hyonomiya-san”
Ao came all the way here to wait for Hiyuki and greet her, which moved Hiyuki. But she recalled immediately about the woman yesterday, and was unable to reply good morning properly.
Hiyuki mumbled in a gloomy voice, which made things awkward and uneasy. The two of them fell into silence, and Ao took the initiative to speak again.
“I am sorry about yesterday, you must be surprised by the stranger that popped up suddenly. That person is someone my uncle knew at work. From the game company I mentioned that introduced the manuscript screening work to me.”
To Hiyuki’s ears, Ao’s words were vaguer than usual.
Would someone you know at work hug your nephew out of the blue…?
When that woman with voluptuous breasts came to her mind, Hiyuki felt a stab of pain deep within her modest chest.
She muttered softly:
“... Self study is about to begin.”
And then left by herself.
Ao felt conflicted as he couldn’t explain to Hiyuki about that woman.
Hyonomiya-san seems distanced today, it feels strange...
That night, Ao was reading manuscripts in Sakutaro’s place
The publisher sent the boxes of manuscripts to Sakutaro’s place this time, so Ao screened them over there.
Usually, he would dive right into the work, but today, he realized he kept thinking about Hiyuki.
When he went to greet Hiyuki at the computer lab in the morning, she showed a cold expression, and didn’t meet Ao in the eyes.
It was the same at the cafe after school. Hiyuki who usually orders Chrysanthemum picked the bright pink rose nectar tea instead.
“Ara, not drinking Chrysanthemum today?”
When Ao said that, Hiyuki became fidgety.
“… I, I want to try something different occasionally.”
She replied in a stiff voice.
Ao looked at the print out of Hiyuki’s manuscript.
“The scene where Subaru and the heroine Cyan become aware of each other's feeling is captivating, a great sequence. I think it would be better if there are more substance. For example, explaining to the readers what attracts them to each other.”
Ao said, and Hiyuki showed a cold and gloomy face.
“Ehh, too hard to understand?”
“... Can you be more specific? What do you mean?”
Hiyuki said with her eyes down.
This was the first time he heard Hiyuki reply in such an icy tone, which surprised Ao.
“How about listing out the reason they like each other. If you can describe this point clearly, then the development of their mutual love would be more convincing. First, why does Subaru like Cyan?”
“Because when he was all alone, Cyan found him.”
“Yes, after Subaru was thrown into a different world all of a sudden, the first one he met was Cyan. That is a good reason. Anything else?”
“Cyan is kind, and helped him.”
“Yes, that’s easy to get.”
“...When everyone dismissed Subaru, thinking that he is ‘different’... Only Cyan accepted him and spoke up for him.”
“I see, it is only natural to admire her then.”
“... Because Cyan taught him many things.”
“Yes, that feels right.”
Ao nodded with a smile.
“Cyan is popular, cheerful, gentle…”
Hiyuki peeked up. Her eyes that were looking at Ao seemed very depressed and sad. Ao’s chest hurt a little when he saw that. At this moment, Hiyuki moved her lips that had a mole beside it, and said softly:
“Her smile… is like the blue sky.”
She then lowered her gaze immediately.
When he saw the depressed expression Hiyuki made in that instant, Ao felt the depth of his chest squeeze tightly. His emotions wavered a little, and he said:
“The reasons Subaru likes Cyan is sufficient, anyone will definitely fall for her for these reasons.”
Hiyuki held her Kitefin shark mechanical pencil tightly and lowered her head.
“Next, let’s think of the reasons why Cyan like Subaru. What does Cyan like about Subaru?”
There was silence.
Hiyuki still kept her mouth tightly shut, and seemed to be suffering as she kept quiet. Ao called out to her worryingly.
“... Cyan, would never like… Subaru.”
Hiyuki kept her head down as she continued in a somber voice.
Ao felt confused. If the heroine didn’t like the main character, the work would fall apart.
“... Because, no matter how much I try to think of the reason to like Subaru… I couldn’t find any of his good points… gloomy… cold… dull in conversation… sulks easily… no one likes him, he is just a weirdo who came from god knows where…”
Hiyuki’s voice and expression turned stiffer and harder. A cold light could be seen from her lowered eyes.
“It is natural for Subaru to like Cyan, but Cyan who is beloved by everyone would never like Subaru.”
Ao understood that Hiyuki had a deep emotional complex, and why she projected herself onto the lonely main character.
However, Ao didn’t understand why she became angry all of a sudden and completely dismissed the main character.
Ao felt troubled, and Hiyuki’s cheeks turned red.
“I-I… will go back for today.”
She packed her stationeries and left the shop.
She then stood up and told Ao:
“Kazetani-kun, it’s fine if you don’t greet me in the morning… Kazetani-kun and I aren’t compatible.”
Hiyuki said in a cold tone, which rendered Ao momentarily speechless.
Incompatible… well, I don’t really match Hyonomiya-san at all...
Hiyuki didn’t seem to be herself today, but when she said ‘incompatible’, Ao felt really hurt.
She doesn’t need my advice for her manuscript anymore…? Did I offend Hyonomiya-san unknowingly?
If not, the introverted Hiyuki wouldn’t say all that. Because Ao thought about these things over and over in his head, he took much longer than usual to finish one manuscript.
He opened the laptop he brought from home, ran the comment sheet program and prepared to type in his overall comments. However, he kept hesitating: would these words hurt the author? Would writing it this way sap the author’s will to ever enter a contest again? Could he make the right call in such a condition? Maybe this work was worthy of submitting to the second round. His hands on the keyboard kept stopping.
When he first started screening, he would run into such a dilemma often. When he first started, he was too happy and submitted the manuscripts without much thought. From the second time onwards, he knew his judgement would affect the fate of the manuscripts, and the pressure would make his chest feel stuffy.
In most situations, the screeners were the only ones who would read the manuscripts in the first round. If Ao fail the manuscript at this stage, no other screeners would ever see this manuscript again, unless the author submitted it to another contest.
He wasn’t a writer or an editor, but just a student who likes light novel. Was it really ok for Ao Kazetani to decide this?
Especially when several works were in the borderline of being ‘recommended to the second round’, Ao would lose sleep and hesitate over which work to send.
Should it be the work with better writing and structure?
Or the creative submission with immature techniques?
If the work Ao didn’t choose was a masterpiece that should win a prize──
However, the works he submitted after much hesitation had never made it past the second round. The manuscripts that won prizes in the end were those he felt: ‘I have to let more people read this’, and sent to the next round without any hesitation.
Some of such manuscripts would not make the cut too. Ao would feel vexed about such a result, but when the work won a newcomer prize in another contest, Ao would be happy from the bottom of his heart. He believed that works that should be read by everyone would definitely be published, no matter which route it took.
Even the stories Ao was very confident of would fail too.
However, the entries he sent in hesitantly had never passed the second round. In the past three years, after reading over a thousand manuscripts, that had never happened.
After doing the job of a screener more than ten times, Ao’s confidence in his judgement grew. He would send works that would definitely make it into the second round without any doubt, and only submitted works that made him hesitate when there were no other choices. If there were multiple works that made him hesitate, he would follow his judgement at the moment and screened out the works accordingly.
Every works had their merit, and every work was interesting.
There were no boring works in the world.
This point had never changed.
And so, Ao continued his screening work.
But… He would be confused at times. When the contestant learned of the result, those who could enter the second round and those who failed at the first round would feel differently.
Hyonomiya-san was troubled because she never made it past the first round, which made her complex even worse. Judging from that, there should be plenty of participants who were depressed.
Ao wanted to at least write in the comment sheet: Your work is definitely not worthless. I enjoyed reading it. Even though the results this time is regrettable, it doesn’t invalidate future potential completely.
In actual fact, there was a contestant who failed the first ten times, and won a prize on the eleventh time.
How should I write it to convey this point to the contestants… How can I avoid hurting him… and help them a little?
The more he thought, the more he was at a loss.
The way Sakutaro saw it, if someone became discouraged and stopped writing, then their passion was only that much, and there wasn’t any need to worry for someone like that.
Apart from story creation, there were many other hobbies and interest in this world which they could go into instead.
Ao felt that Sakutaro’s opinion was very practical.
However, when he thought about Hiyuki with a mole beside her lips, her gaze down and her head lowered sadly, Ao’s hand would unconsciously stop.
── Cyan who is beloved by everyone would never like Subaru.
I want to help Hyonomiya-san because I want her to make it past the first round and gain confidence. However…
Ao mumbled to himself, and a sweet voice sounded in the room at this moment.
“Hmmm, Saku, I am hungry, let’s go eat~”
“Ah, just a while more.”
“Let’s have Chinese food, I want to eat chilli prawns, Saku must foot the bill okay?”
“Alright, it will be my treat if you behave yourself.”
“Eiko will be good, woof, master~”
Sakutaro sat before the desk surrounded by computers as he worked, while an adult lady with a cute aura and curly lashes sat right by his leg. With a hand on Sakutaro’s knee and her cheeks rubbing on Sakutaro’s waist, she barked like a puppy in a tone that could melt anyone. Ao felt dizzy when he saw this scene.
“Uncle Saku, I better read this in at home.”
Ao took as much manuscript he could carry, and prepared to leave.
“Don’t be like that, let’s eat together Ao.”
“That’s right~ Ao-chan.”
Sakutaro and the other person said unhappily. They weren’t being polite, they really didn’t mind even if Ao was in the same room, which was obvious.
But I mind──
That’s the way Sakutaro’s lover Aeka had always been.
Aeka, stage name Kanno Aeka, worked as a voice actress. Ao addressed her as Aeka-san, but Sakutaro called her ‘Wawa-chan’ or ‘Wanko’, based on her real name ‘Wako’.
Aeka might look young, but she had worked many years as a voice actress. She had been dating Sakutaro for a long time too, frequenting Sakutaro’s house when Ao was still in primary school, long before Ao started working as a screener.
Since they had been going out for such a long time, becoming more steadfast lovers would be a good idea. The two of them were getting old too, so marriage would be nice. But they would fight and split up every now and then, and get back together like glue again.
The main reason would be Sakutaro’s getting into a good pace at work, and ignoring everything around him. Aeka who liked to be cajoled couldn’t stand that, and would erupt emotionally.
── I want to break up with Saku-san!
That would happen. Even Ao knew that Aeka wanted Sakutaro to plead her to stay, but Sakutaro would give an unexpected answer:
── Yeah, okay.
He would look at the monitor and answer without missing a beat. This would enrage the already fuming Aeka who would say ‘Unbelievable! Saku-san is an idiot!’, making a bigger mess.
── I will really break off with you~ I don’t want to see you again~~
Aeka would then run off in tears. That’s how the two of them co-existed.
Even though she says she didn’t want to meet again, they would still do in their workplace.
Aeka was rather active in the normal genres, and she was rather famous for her portrayals in R18 games she took on with a different alias, a popular voice actress with numerous parts every month. When Aeka first entered the adult gaming scene, she took on the role of main heroine for a game Sakutaro created, and so the two of them became acquainted.
Before she made her name for herself in normal genres, she decided to use an alias in an adult game, and act out erotic scenes with a voice. Even though she was the one who made that call, her sense of defeat and self pity started welling up. She couldn’t perform as well as she wanted, and the voice director asked her for a retake.
── Hey Aeka, throw your unnecessary pride away and shout it out loud.
To help Aeka relax, the voice directly said in a direct tone intentionally. But this hurt the already tense Aeka.
At this moment, Sakutaro who was at the scene of the recording said casually:
── No, pride is necessary.
Aeka who was perking up her ears in the recording room heard a male voice said nonchalantly:
── Without pride, it is impossible to create good works. This is the same for acting, so I hope she can act with pride.
He then smiled warmly at Aeka.
“Don’t you agree! I will fall for him! Definitely fall for him! Head over heels! Her words and smile back then had been replayed in my mind thousands of times!”
Aeka said to Ao vexingly after the fact.
── That’s too much, Saku-san is making me out to be the bad person. He is only concerned about acting cool.
The voice director acted depressed, and with the other staff fooling around a little, the atmosphere cooled down and the recording ended smoothly.
Aeka’s heroine was well received by the players, and the R18 scenes were deleted in a remake into an all age game. It then became an anime, so Aeka took on the role openly and was listed on the credit as Kanno Aeka.
The anime earned rave reviews too, and Aeka became a popular voice actress in normal genres and the adult gaming scenes. She could maintain her pride and perform, no matter which realm it was.
Using this chance, Aeka took the initiative to confess, Sakutaro accepted her and the two became lovers.
“But Sakutaro told me right then that he would say that to other rookies too. He didn’t intend to woo me, and just said that naturally. That’s why he is called the rookie killer in the industry! Isn’t that awful? Why didn’t anyone warn me before I fell for Sakutaro!?”
Ao who was a middle schooler back then felt troubled to be pressed by her.
From the perspective of a nephew, Sakutaro always had women by his side. Sakutaro thought it was a hassle and didn’t pursue them, it was the ladies who approached him on their own.
And so, after breaking up with Aeka, other woman would appear in a time so short that it surprises Ao. Aeka would then become jealous.
“I don’t like Saku-san being with other women.”
And they would get back together…
Aeka hugged Ao in the middle of the road yesterday because Sakutaro who was in a hellish work period cancelled a date with Aeka at the last moment as usual, which drove her mad.
Ao was unfortunate enough to run into Aeka who left Sakutaro’s condo.
Maybe as a voice actress playing the role of girls full of personality that didn’t exist in the real world affected her, or maybe that’s how Aeka really was, she would ignore the eyes of others and move like an actor.
Ao had already gotten use to her. Even though she was crying as she hugged Ao yesterday and making a huge scene, she made up with Sakutaro today and was flirting with him today right before Ao.
Ao couldn’t stand it anymore.
“You two go ahead, I’m not feeling it today.”
Ao said unhappily.
“Oh, what a rare sight to see Ao-kun being so unhappy. Did you get in a fight with the super pretty girlfriend you were dating yesterday?”
Aeka said something really off.
She didn’t care about Hiyuki yesterday and kept crying while hugging onto Ao, but she was actually aware of her.
“T-That’s not a date!”
Ao had an awkward expression, and Sakutaro laughed heartily.
“Oh, that silent and cool girl? Hmm, so she is that pretty of a lady.”
“She is as pretty as a doll. White skin, long slender limbs, great figure. It’s hard to find celebrities of that calibre.”
“Oh, so that’s the girl Ao is wooing. And so? Feeling down because things aren’t going smooth with her?”
Sakutaro seemed to have notice that Ao was troubled when he was reading the manuscript. Ao couldn’t underestimate his uncle in such a situation.
“I already said that’s not it. Hyonomiya-san is writing a light novel, and I am giving her advice. We went to the aquarium yesterday to look for reference material. Anyway… Hyonomiya-san already told me that she doesn’t want me to talk to her in school…”
He blurted it out unintentionally.
Sakutaro and Aeka opened their eyes wide.
“Ao-kun, she told you something that nasty?”
“Just what did you do, Ao?”
Since he already said that much, Ao figured he might as well discuss it with them, and continued:
“She doesn’t want me to talk to her… Did I do anything that made her say that… I don’t know. We had a fun time in the aquarium, the atmosphere was peaceful on the trip back as we chatted. Nothing strange happened after exiting the station…”
Under the faint glow of the setting sun, Hiyuki seemed exceptionally bright, her cheeks red as she said shyly that she hoped Kazetani-kun will like it, so she would write a fantastic story with foreshadowing. Aside from that──
“However, when I greeted her in school this morning, her reaction was cold… After school, we went to the cafe we frequent to discuss her manuscript. She suddenly showed a sad face, saying the heroine would never like the main character before heading off.”
When he thought back about Hiyuki saying ‘we are not compatible’, Ao felt a stab of pain in his chest and turn quiet.
“Hey, Ao, could it be…”
“That should be it.”
After hearing Ao out, the two adults showed a complicated expression.
Sakutaro was a bit surprised, while Aeka looked apologetic.
They seemed to have figured out why Hiyuki was unhappy──
“So why is Hyonomiya-san treating me so coldly all of a sudden?”
Ao asked seriously, and Aeka answered with gentle eyes that protected the boy warmly:
“Because she is jealous, Ao-kun.”
“What’s the matter Hiyuki, you are not moving your chopsticks.”
Hiyuki who was sitting on the tatami opposite her grandmother for dinner rounded her shoulders when she heard her grandmother chiding her.
Holding a bowl with her bony hand, her grandmother looked at Hiyuki with sharp eyes.
“Still feeling unwell?”
Her tone seemed to be accusing Hiyuki, making her slumped back. It had been like this all this while, when Hiyuki caught a cold, her grandmother would say: ‘It’s your fault for neglecting your health and catching a cold. Take care of it yourself.’ She didn’t act like other mothers who would prepare hot water or ice packs for their child.
Hiyuki could follow her grandmother’s instructions and take flu medicine from the medicine box, cut apple to eat by herself, and rest alone in the wide and quiet room.
If she showed signs of discomfort or low spiritedness before her grandmother, she would be lecture for being too frail and not taking care of herself.
That day when they visited the aquarium, Hiyuki returned home slightly later than her curfew. So she made an excuse that she felt unwell and rested a little before returning home. Her grandmother said her health was bad because Hiyuki made her body did something uncomfortable. Her grandmother asked her persistently back then.
She would have to go through the same thing if she said she felt unwell again.
“I beg your pardon, I am just thinking about something.”
Hiyuki answered with her head bowed. Her grandmother said in a stern voice:
“It is rude to think about things during meals, you will make the one eating with you unhappy, so don’t do that.”
“... I am sorry.”
“What are you thinking about?”
“... Mathematics is hard.”
Her grandmother looked straight at Hiyuki again.
Hiyuki felt a chill on her back as if she had been seen through.
Her grandmother then said in a stern voice:
“If you study properly in school, you can get good grades even if you don’t go for extra tuition. You feel your school work is hard because you are not working hard enough.”
“... I apologize, I will work hard and not take it easy.”
As she bore the gaze of her grandmother, she managed to finish the plain tasting dinner. After keeping the utensils, she could finally be by herself in her room.
But she would think about Ao this way.
Kazetani-kun already said ‘good morning’ to me… I always hoped my classmates would greet me naturally…
── It’s fine even if you don’t greet me in the morning…
She said that to Ao.
No matter how kind and gentle Kazetani-kun is, that must be a surprise.
When Ao asked her to list the reason why the heroine like the main character, she couldn’t think of any and her heart was filled with despair.
It was natural for Subaru to like Cyan.
Cyan was as gentle as Ao, a girl as broad as the blue sky, someone anyone would like.
But just like it was impossible for Cyan to like Subaru, Ao liking Hiyuki was impossible.
Ao said he wasn’t popular, but that wasn’t true. Plenty of girls like Ao, including that woman ──
She wasn’t his uncle’s co worker, but actual a lover that’s older than Ao.
She felt ebbing pain deep within her chest, someone annoying like her wasn’t suitable for the popular Ao. Hiyuki fell into deeper despair, thinking that it was unbearable for Ao to waste time on someone like her.
Kazetani-kun’s girlfriend… I hate it when Kazetani-kun meets with other girls alone after school...
The next morning, Hiyuki still didn’t make any progress on her manuscript.
She felt that the world full of things she like and had slowly built up with Ao had lost its luster.
It’s such trivial everyday scenes, a boring story that keep dragging on… I don’t want Kazetani-kun to see this.
Hiyuki turned off the power and left the computer lab.
She entered the classroom right before self study was about to begin. Ao who was talking with the classmates around him lift his head and looked at Hiyuki. Hiyuki averted her eyes in a hurry and sat down at her seat, then peeked at Ao. Ao just happened to be looking at Hiyuki again ── his expression was weird as if he had something stuck in his throat.
Kazetani-kun seemed to be very bothered by what I said yesterday...
Hiyuki felt apologetic as the ache in her chest throbs, and the two of them locked eyes.
That moment, Ao’s face turned red.
This was the first time Hiyuki saw Ao turning red like that, and Ao turned his face away quickly.
Kazetani-kun… Is he angry about what happened yesterday…?
She was the one who said those mean words to Ao and avoided him, but when she saw Ao averting his face so bluntly, Hiyuki still felt her chest hurt, and had the urge to cry.
After that, Ao would peek at Hiyuki from time to time. When he met Hiyuki in the eyes, he will turn his head, and the process would repeat again.
Whenever this happens, Hiyuki would hold her Kitefin shark mechanical pencils tightly, shutting her lips tight to endure the throbbing pain in her chest.
After school was out, Hiyuki left the classroom first, and sent a message to Ao from outside the building.
‘Sorry, manuscript not progressing, let’s take a break today.’
After sending the message, Hiyuki felt sadness fill her chest.
Maybe writing the manuscript together with me is a burden on Kazetani-kun. His girlfriend might have said something, but Kazetani-kun is too embarrassed to tell me he can’t meet me after school anymore. That’s probably why he keeps looking at me as if he had something to say...
The more she thought about it, the more it made sense to her. Even the weather was turning gloomy as Hiyuki walked out the school gate with her head low.
“Ah, wonderful, I found you.”
She suddenly heard a cute voice.
“You are really prominent, I saw from a distance away. The air about you is very different from the other students. Ah, sorry for finding you so suddenly, I am the friend of Kazetani-kun who is in your school year. I am Kanno Aeka, can I borrow some of your time?”
The cute woman older than her who hugged Ao tightly at the station was standing before Hiyuki smiling.
She was dressed really cutely today, wearing a fashionable mini skirt and sleeveless blouse which suited her. After hearing it once again, Hiyuki found her voice really sweet and charming.
“I am a voice actress, do you know what that is?”
Voice actress! Kazetani-kun is dating a voice actress?
“Sorry… I don’t watch television.”
“Ahh, it’s fine, voice actress aren’t that famous. Oh right, I’m here to clear some misunderstanding.”
Hiyuki’s heart pounded hard.
Kazetani-kun only accompanied you to write manuscripts after school and visit the aquarium because he is kind to everyone. Please don’t misunderstand and think you are special, I am Kazetani’s girlfriend. That’s what she wants to make clear...
No matter how Hiyuki thought about it, that’s the reason Ao’s girlfriend came to see her.
“It’s about Ao-kun…”
As I suspected.
Hiyuki’s chest tightened for a moment.
“I am not ──”
Misunderstanding. When Hiyuki was about to say that.
“The one I am dating is Ao-kun’s uncle, Ao-kun is just like my little brother.”
“I fought with Ao’s uncle frequently, and I am always the one who cries; Ao-kun is really gentle and consoles me, so I would unconsciously make him baby me. I am older than him, so this must look strange. I am reflecting on this, but Ao-kun doesn’t look like Saku-san, but is similar in some ways. When Ao-kun treats me kindly, it is like Saku-san treating me kindly, which soothe my heart.”
Aeka’s sweet voice sounded provocating, and Hiyuki who was already wavering fell into deeper chaos.
What is this person saying? Kazetani-kun consoling her…? Because Kazetani-kun is like his uncle…? Kazetani-kun treating her well soothes her heart, so she kept asking him to baby her...
Images of Aeka pressing onto Ao as she hugged him in tears flashes in Hiyuki’s mind, and her heart kept pounding.
This person is the lover of Kazetani-kun’s uncle, but is having an affair with Kazetani-kun...
Her brain was heating up.
“I… I have to go.”
“Ah, wait, I’m not done yet.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
Anyway, she didn’t want to hear her sweet voice anymore. Just thinking about Ao being NTRed made her chest hurts. As Hiyuki walked past Aeka with a tensed face──
She heard Aeka said that.
Next was Ao’s voice.
“Hmm? Aeka-san, what are you doing at our school?”
“I have something to say to Hyonomiya-san, but I think I am being detested.”
“Hmmm? Ah, Hyonomiya-san?”
Ao called out to Hiyuki from afar.
Hiyuki hastened her pace.
But Ao was riding a bicycle, and caught up in no time.
Fog like rain started drizzling from the grey sky. Ao rode his bike alongside Hiyuki as they passed through the rows of cherry blossom trees. He said to Hiyuki:
“Hyonomiya-san, I am sorry, I didn’t thought Aeka-san would look for you. What did she tell you?”
Ao looked ragged and his face flushed, probably because he gave chased with all his might and didn’t catch his breath yet.
“... She said that she is the lover of Kazetani-kun’s uncle, and Kazetani-kun is like her little brother…”
Hiyuki didn’t stop and her face remained tense as she answered in a cold low tone. Ao said in a hagged voice again:
“That, that’s right! Aeka is my uncle’s lover… What else did she say?”
“Kazetani-kun is this really okay?”
Hiyuki turned back and said in a rather strong tone, which made Ao open his eyes wide.
Falling in love with your uncle’s lover, Kazetani-kun is so pitiable.
Raging emotions boiled in her head and her chest hurt so much as if it was being torn apart.
“I don’t like this, Kazetani-kun being cuckolded…”
Tears were welling in her eyes, but Ao would be troubled if she cried here; Hiyuki averted her face and ran away from Ao as fast as she could.
From behind her.
Came Ao’s shout, but she didn’t turn back.
“It’s all Aeka’s fault, things are even more troublesome.”
In Sakutaro’s place, Ao who was massaging his temple said in a bitter voice.
“Hyonomiya-san is too delusional, just how did she interpret into me two timing between Ao-kun and Saku-san? Is her imagination too wonderful, or is she too stubborn.”
The culprit Aeka didn’t reflect at all, and got straight to the point.
Sakutaro had a bemused look as well.
“How I wish I could experience this type of love comedy in high school.”
Ao felt like telling Aeka that Sakutaro had no interest in high schoolers and he only dated college girls and working adults.
But doing that would only increase his problems.
“Hyonomiya-san is a serious person, and easily swayed by others. She will believe others easily, and is suspicious of things.”
“What a troublesome girl.”
The troublesome woman Aeka said. Ao felt weak, and Sakutaro told him:
“Since you understand her so well, then as the main character of a love comedy, you have to make a manly move now. Between ‘going’ and ‘waiting’, you have to choose ‘going’. By the way, if you choose wait, it would result in a force bad end.”
“Don’t compare my life with your video games.”
“Oh really? But life is like a video game, and it is one without a reset button. If you don’t take any actions, she will continue to misunderstand and drift away from you.
Ao wanted to refute, but couldn’t find anything to say.
I don’t want Hyonomiya-san to misunderstand that I like Aeka.
The next morning, Ao waited for Hiyuki in front of the computer lab, but Hiyuki didn’t turn up.
Just before self study was starting, Ao returned to the classroom to find Hiyuki at her seat with an icy face.
Aeka said that Hiyuki was jealous two days earlier, so Ao was very concerned about it yesterday and kept peeking at Hiyuki. When their gaze met, he would blush, and then repeat this foolish cycle. His classmates kept telling him: “Ao is looking at Hyonomiya again.” “It’s impossible to woo Hyonomiya, just give up.” “I will introduce a girl to you, she’s not as pretty as Hyonomiya, but she is cheerful and will get along well with Ao. She looks cute too.”
However, Ao was determined today, and stared right at Hiyuki.
Before today, he had never felt such strong emotions for a girl ever.
When he was in the second year of middle school, he had a crush on the girl in his neighbouring class. That cheery girl with bright eyes frequently dropped by Ao’s class to play.
Ao felt her hearty laughter was wonderful and heard it a lot. That girl would talk with her friends and stopped in the middle, then turn Ao’s way with a sweet look, making his heart skip a beat.
The two of them happened to be in the environmental beautification committee, and when they cleaned the meeting rooms together, he started talking to the girl closely. That girl took the initiative to converse with Ao, which filled him with expectations.
Ao thought that he liked that girl.
But the one she liked was Ao’s friend.
She dropped by Ao’s classroom frequently in order to see his friend. Her sweet gaze thrown in Ao’s direction was directed towards Ao’s friend who was beside him.
She only befriended Ao because she wanted to ask Ao to help hook her up.
── Kazetani-kun, you will help me right?
When the hopeful eyes were looking at him, all the foreshadowing Ao didn’t notice came to light all at once. This was a heavy blow to Ao, and he couldn’t answer immediately.
And so, with Ao pulling the strings, she won the heart of Ao’s friend. The two of them became lovers right before summer vacation begins.
With his friend busy dating her, the first half of summer was really boring for Ao.
That was why he completed his homework early.
Ao could have rejected her back then and told her how he felt. However, he didn’t make that choice.
I like you, and can’t support your love with someone else. Ao couldn’t say these words.
Not because he was concerned about his friend, or he wish for her happiness.
These were all excuses. Ao just thought that his feelings wasn’t stronger than hers. Ao had never hated anyone.
He could talk to anyone easily and befriend them.
However, doesn’t that mean he didn’t especially like anyone? That unease creeped into his mind. Even if he fell for someone, would he step aside like he did in his second year of middle school if the other party harboured stronger emotions?
‘It has to be this person’, in Ao’s life, had he ever experienced such intense emotions?
── Kazetani-kun… there isn’t anyone you hate right?
── No matter how childish or boring a story is, Kazetani-kun can enjoy it…
When Hiyuki asked him that, Ao’s heart skipped a beat, and he felt uncomfortable.
── Is it interesting, Ao?
── Yes! Every one of it is interesting!
When he saw Ao engrossed in the manuscripts, Sakutaro said in a bitter voice and expression:
── Is that so… All of them are interesting?
Ao felt the same way when Sakutaro said that.
No one he hated, all the works were interesting to him. On the flip side, there weren’t anything he felt was special, or was attached to.
He felt ashamed about the way he was, that’s why he was attracted to the passion imbued in the manuscripts kept in these boxes.
However, at this moment, Ao developed intense feeling for Hiyuki that he was not willing to back away from.
After waiting impatiently for the first period to end, Ao stood up and walked towards Hiyuki.
When they saw what Ao was doing, all his classmates were shocked and looked at them.
Hiyuki also sat in her chair, looking up at Ao with a baffled expression.
Ao never thought that he would be so close to Hiyuki in the classroom. And his face right now must looked so serious and stern.
What the hell is he doing? Their classmates gulped as Ao grabbed Hiyuki’s hand.
“I have something to say. Hyonomiya-san, please come with me.”
Hiyuki opened her lips that had an endearing mole besides it. She probably wanted to say something, but she couldn’t utter a word as her lips trembled.
Pulling her arms that were so slender it might break at any moment, Ao hurried along the corridor during the period break. The students they passed by and poking their heads out of the classroom all had a surprised face as they stared at the two of them.
Ao went up the stairs and headed for the roof.
The door to the roof was locked, so Ao stopped before it, placed his arms on either side of Hiyuki to block her retreat path.
Hiyuki slumped her shoulders.
The baffled look in her eyes had turned into confusion.
Ao said in a serious voice:
“Aeka is my uncle’s lover, I am not in love with Aeka, won’t fall for her, and would not be cuckold by her!”
Hiyuki still couldn’t say a word. Even if she wanted to escape like last time, with Ao blocking her in and
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