The Domino Effect.
October 10, Wednesday.
Winter had arrived as it did every year, and with it arrived the sense of freedom which exposed the quaint feelings suppressed by the torturing heat of summer. Men and women donned in jackets and mufflers crowded the streets, enveloped in their partner’s arms, they enjoyed the perfect contrast of cold and warmth, embracing the beauty of nature and their partner at their peak.
I may not be one of the people enjoying a refreshing morning walk with one hand holding a dog’s leash and the other holding lover’s hand. However, I wasn’t too disappointed or agitated watching them walk by us, talking and giggling as they created their world for them alone.
Disappointment isn’t what I felt, it was envy. I envy and admire couples, very much so. I look forward to the day when I will be in my loved one’s arms, enjoying the warmth provided by his protective body, sheltering me from all the cold in this world.
“Hello? Earth to Miya? Hello…”
“Oh~? Is that Kawashima-kun I see~?”
“Fufufu~ It’s so fun to see you like this… I wonder what the boys who were harshly rejected by you would say if they were to see you like this?”
“Y-You! Chi-chan! That’s not funny, okay? You are being mean right now!”
Pomf Pomf Pomf
“A-Ah~! Stop hitting me! You aren’t the frailest girl around, you know!? It hurts.”
Chiaki complained while raising both her hands in the air in an attempt to parry my attacks.
“Hmph! You better remember.”
“Okay, okay, I understand, Princess.”
“Sorry, okay? Leaving that aside, what are your thoughts on the sports day this weekend? I didn’t expect the school to conduct the cultural festival, sports day, and school trip in such quick succession.”
“True~ First the cultural festival, then the tests, and now this. After the sports day, we have the three-days-four-nights school trip. And after the trip comes the midterms… Sigh~ I regret not having fun during the summer holidays…”
“Fufufu~ Who told you to learn cooking and housework in the summers, huh? You even ignored us to learn how to cook and clean to please your dear and lovely, Takumi~ Oof~! That’s quite the serious glare you’ve got there.”
“I was just kidding~! It’s not like you were the only one learning how to do things for Kawashima-kun during the summer holidays.”
“Don’t bring Minami into this argument. Leave her pure self be.”
“Ara~ Pure self, she says…”
Pomf Pomf Pomf
“Every student has to participate in a minimum of one event, be it an individual event or a team event. Since our school has an overwhelming attendance of students, there will not be any events involving students of two different years. I am sure you are smart enough to understand what I mean by that. The first-year students will compete on Friday, that is, the day after tomorrow, followed by the second-year students on Saturday, and third-year students on Sunday.”
Machida Minoru, the homeroom teacher for our class, is a cheery man in his early thirties. With his short-cut black hair, sharp jawline, athletic build, and energetic atmosphere, one would find it very difficult to associate him to a subject other than physical education.
Machida-sensei, regardless of being in his prime, remains a slave to his hand as his relationship status continues to be a painful single. However, this isn’t a tale that I have heard from someone else or is something that I made up… Machida-sensei is one of those teachers who is very frank with his students and doesn’t hesitate to share the matters concerning his personal life. Albeit a bit unique, his approach is quite well received by the students, especially the boys who relate to his worries and support his search for a suitable partner.
“We have about five-hundred first-year students and ten sections, A through J. What we are going to do is that we going to divide these five-hundred students into five teams of one-hundred students each, and all of these teams will go up against each other with the final goal of winning the first prize for their respective year. Now, the basic premise is the same every year, however, how we divide the students is unique or at least is made to seem unique. This time, we’ve decided to pair up two classes and have them go up against the rest of their peers. Oh, and the pairings have already been determined by a draw.”
The class was thrown into an uproar by the information delivered by a nonchalant and carefree Machida-sensei. It was reasonable for Machida-sensei, who has been a part of Haru High School teaching staff for over seven years, to be unaffected by this affair. However, for all of these students and myself, being a freshman in high-school, it would be our first actual high-school sports day. As the discussion among students continued to escalate at a frightening degree, Machida-sensei indifferently dropped another lethal bomb.
“The good news is that our comrade in this battlefield will be the one class that has been keeping us from declaring ourselves the best first-year class… The only class that rivals us in all respects, be it sports, studies, or other scholastic or co-scholastic fields… Class 1-E.”
The discussion died down and the class descended into a deathly silence. With each their thoughts, Machida-sensei calmly spoke up, breaking the previous terrifying silence.
“Now, I am sure you must have many things to talk about and discuss amongst yourselves, however, let’s hold back from doing that right now since the homeroom is about to end. You can have the afternoon homeroom and use it for your planning. Us teachers will have our things to do after-school, so make sure that your voices don’t reach the staff room.”
As soon as Machida-sensei concluded his warning, the bell signifying the start of the first period rang out.
The class representative’s voice rang out in the chilly atmosphere.
As soon as Machida-sensei left the classroom and closed the door behind him, the class one again was thrown into chaos.
“Class-E!? Seriously!? Are they just gonna hand us the win!?”
“It’s painful to say this myself, but it’s a fact that 1-E can easily crush us. To others, it would seem like we’re equals, but only we know that reality of the situation. Out of the top fifty on all the tests, more than twenty-five spots are always dominated by Class 1-E. The only reason why we can be compared to them is that Kobayashi-san has always been at the top of the charts.”
“Yeah… And about sports… They have seven regulars in their class, and that’s not even considering Aoki and Kawashima. Though Aoki is slightly better than Kawashima, it’s an undeniable fact that both of them are absolute monsters on the field.”
“Looks like we don’t have to worry, huh? If it was an inter-class competition like the cultural festival, we would’ve been crushed.”
“We got crushed in the cultural festival as well. They were second, and we were fourteenth, and that too was possible only because Kobayashi-san pushed herself to the limit. Our only strong point was Kobayashi-san’s smile, while they pulled out a high-class restaurant with awesome food, awesome service, and awesome eye-candy for both the genders.”
As soon as the final bit was uttered, the gasps of realization filled with air.
I felt a chill run down my back as soon as I heard my beloved’s name being uttered by multiple girls in complete sync. I whipped my head and glared at the girls who were still in a daze, seemingly looking forward to Takumi’s presence on our team.
This was another change that came about because of the video of Minami’s incident going viral among the students of our school.
A strong and handsome man who is proficient in cooking, academics, and sports. A man who can stand up to protect a lady. A man who can silence full-fledged members of society and make them run with their tail between their legs.
Truly, he is a man worthy to be courted. ‘Husband Material’, this was the atrocious nickname given to Takumi, one which has spread across all the classes of all the years along with the video to justify this annoyance. Now, the once unknown and unpopular Takumi is gaining popularity and recognition for his above-average abilities which were previously ignored by all.
Takumi being popular should make me happy… But… I am scared… Scared of the consequences which come with popularity… The expectations… The labels… The eyes of people… However… Most of all… I am scared of losing him.
The sixth period came to a much-appreciated end as the teacher gave us our homework and left the classroom with large strides. With her departure came the much-awaited discussion period allocated to us by the school.
“Hey, is it alright for us to conduct this discussion by ourselves? Shouldn’t we invite the guys from Class E as well?”
“Well… I mean… It isn’t necessary to have a group discussion. We can just have our students participate in events of their choice and leave them be.”
“But what if our participation list overlaps? Events like a long-distance marathon, fifty-meter sprint, javelin throw, etcetera, have a very tight restriction on the number of participants from each team. Since we only have tomorrow to practice, we wouldn’t want to waste time on a pointless debate, right?”
“Yea, I got it. You’re right. The competition will be held day-after-tomorrow, and if we make any unintentional mistakes, it would be very hard to correct them afterward since we’d be pressed for time.”
“However, it won’t be very effective to have our classes assemble without the top students present. Aoki-kun, Fujiwara-san, Tomita-kun, Goro-kun, and the other leading students would most probably miss the meeting, making the meeting pointless. From our class, Kobayashi-san and Yukimura-san are likely to miss the meeting as well since they hang out with Fujiwara-san together after school.”
“Yoshimoto-san, why don’t you send a message to your friends in class E and ask about the meeting. If sufficient students are ready to tag along, then we can meet up somewhere since school is about to end.”
“Okay, I’ll just straight-up call Minako-chan.”
Saying so, Yoshimoto-san retrieved her phone from her bag and called Ose Minako-san from class E.
Well, they decided for themselves that Chiaki and I wouldn’t attend without even asking for our opinions. It doesn’t matter since we don’t want to attend. They can just put me up in any competition and I will do my best in securing first place. I say that, but deep down, there is a part of me that wants to do one of those mixed events with Takumi.
“Hey, Miya, what do you think about this?”
“About what, Chi-chan?”
“About this meeting… It seems fun. How long has it been since we’ve mixed with people other than us three?”
“Three? Isn’t it five? No, it’s six if we consider Takara as well.”
“I meant outside. How many times have you interacted with your ‘Takumi’ outside of school?”
“But he won’t come, so what’s the point? He has work to do, and if Takumi doesn’t attend, then there is no way that Aoki-kun will.”
“Well, you are ri-”
Amid our little one-on-one, Yoshimoto-san called out to me with an energetic voice.
“What is it, Yoshimoto-san?”
I stood up from my seat and made my way over to the group of students who were looking at me with their expectation-filled eyes.
“Here, Fujiwara-san wants to talk to you!”
Yoshimoto-san gleefully handed me the phone. My mind blanked for a second since everything was happening so fast.
What snapped me out from my trance was a gentle and fluffy voice coming from the other side of the phone’s display. In a panic, I hastily brought Yoshimoto-san’s phone close to my ear and said in a flustered manner.
“U-Uh… Y-Yeah? M-Minami? It’s me.”
[Ah, yeah. Miya, we should attend this meeting as well. All the regulars, even those who wouldn’t normally come, are taking part in it.]
[Well… Aoki-kun is coming~! That’s why~!]
“That’s good. Why are you so excited though? It’s just a simple discussion.”
[Are you an idiot? Why do you think Aoki-kun decided to join the meeting? Has he ever gone out without Takumi-kun?]
“Don’t tell me…”
As soon as she mentioned Takumi’s name, both our voices turned into meek whispers, making sure that no one else would be able to catch on to our discussion from either side.
[Yep. I don’t know why, but Takumi-kun said that he’d come, and as if the domino effect, everybody else, including me, decided to join in… And it seems we’re going to the karaoke facility in front of the mall, they have those big halls which can accommodate up to fifty-sixty people for rent.]
“Fuck that. Tell me, is the information true?”
[Umm-hmm… I was the one who asked him to come, he was about to decline, but it seemed as if he remembered something and said that he doesn’t have work and wouldn’t mind tagging along. Once he said that he’d come, Aoki-kun and Takara-san said they’d come as well. And when I said that I’d go, all the regulars simultaneously agreed to attend.]
“Is that so…? Well… Takumi is coming, right? That’s all I needed to know…”
[Fufufufu~ That’s what I said.]
“Ok, see you then.”
I walked over to Yoshimoto-san again and handed her the phone. She looked at me with eyes that sought an answer. I smiled and said.
“Chi-chan and I will go. Please take care of us.”
“Kobayashi-san is coming~~~!!!”
The boys cheered and celebrated while I was left stranded in the middle of the men parade. I looked over at Chiaki, who mouthed with a smug expression.
“You deserve this.”
“This… And this… Yes, instruct them to produce one-hundred million devices for the launch, and then we’ll order more if the demand is high.”
“Takumi, isn’t one-hundred million too low? Our last product sold around seven-hundred million devices.”
“It’s only been five months since the Oracle 5 series was launched, so I am expecting the sale to start a bit timid. It’ll pick up during the third week or even the fourth week, so until then, we should slow down the production and act according to the situation.”
“I understand. Well… With this, we have effectively nothing else to do?”
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
“You see, all the planning concerning the expansion, production, management, recruitment, and other such things have been taken care of by the four of us. Now, all we need to do is look after the company put those plans into action, making our schedule quite relaxed.”
“Hee~ Really? I never thought I’d hear something like that after working myself to death for such a long time.”
“Yeah~ I know right!? We finally have the time to use all that money we earned~ Last time I remember seriously spending money was when I was a drug addict… Waiting for my gradually approaching death.”
“Come on Takumi, don’t make that facei~ See, I am not dead, am I? I am right here! You’ve worked me so hard that I can’t even dream of anything other than work now.”
“Talk about your past again, I dare you.”
“I-I w-was just kidding~ Haha~”
“You better be.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
As Kyoko and I were sitting on the dining table with multiple documents and a laptop in front of us, discussing this and that, Riku walked over from the kitchen holding a tray with her hands wrapped in mittens.
“Nothing much~ Kyoko was just feeling nostalgic since it seems that we’ll be quite relaxed from now on.”
“Ara~ Is she now? What was she feeling nostalgic about?”
“Doing drugs and being dead.”
As soon as these words left my mouth, Riku’s expression grew darker and her hands slightly trembled.
“Kyoko… Didn’t we decide that nobody will talk about Akane’s and your past in this house? Tell me, do you want to return to those days? If you do, then I will be happy to oblige.”
“Sorry! Sorry okay! It’s my bad! I am sorry Takumi… Kyoko too… Sorry I made you remember something unpleasant.”
Kyoko is usually a very carefree spirit and couldn’t give any fewer fucks for anything or anyone in this world. Except for… Well… The three of us.
Kyoko’s expression was sincere while her tone conveyed her immense guilt.
“It’s fine~ Don’t sweat it too much. Now, since you ladies have your workloads thinned out, you should go do all the things you couldn’t during our time together.”
I immediately changed the topic since I spotted Akane coming over with a casserole in her hands. Kyoko’s past was unbearably painful, but it could be considered warm if compared to Akane’s. Kyoko can freely talk about her experiences since she’s moved past them and lives in the present. This is true for Akane as well… However, the trauma that Akane carries isn’t something that can be cured in a mere three years. A lifetime of complete happiness would be insufficient to negate all the wrong she has experienced in her life.
“Akane. It seems that the work for the next couple of months is finished, so now you have time on your hands. Why don’t you go out and have fun with Riku and Kyoko?”
“Yeah. Go out with them~ You’ve earned quite a bit of money, why don’t you spend some of it and enjoy yourself? I know that you’re not familiar with such things, so you can just accompany Riku and Kyoko. They’ll show you the rains.”
“Money? Takumi-sama, I don’t have any money though. Nor do I desire anything. All I want is to stay beside you… That’s all I need… Is that… too much… to ask…?”
Akane’s incomparably beautiful face paled at the thought that I would neglect her. The corner of her eyes began to moisten as tears threatened to rush out.
“Come here, Akane.”
As I invited Akane over, Fumiya and Miyuki also arrived in the room to take seats around the dining table. I had Akane sit beside me while Kyoko was already seated on my right. I dragged Akane’s chair closer, and her light as a feather body was pulled closer along with the chair. I circled my hand around her waist and enveloped her in an embrace.
“It isn’t what you think, Akane. Nobody in this world can replace you in my heart. I only wish for you to experience happy and fun things to slowly overwrite the horror you’ve endured. As for the money, everything I have is at your disposal, you can use my assets as you wish. Don’t hold back, live the way you want.”
“Understood, Takumi-sama. I will do as you say.”
“Sigh~ I’d rather you live your life the way you want~”
“Takumi-kun, will you be attending the school trip?”
“School trip? What school trip?”
Minami’s expression turned strange as she puffed her cheeks.
“Geez~ I knew you’d forget about the trip… Nakano-sensei informed us of the sports day and school trip during morning homeroom day-before-yesterday. You were half-asleep at that time, so it’s not expected for you to forget, but still…”
“Haha~ My bad. So, what about the sports day and school trip? Fumiya didn’t tell me anything about them, can I ask you for guidance?”
Minami’s mood instantly brightened as she cutely smiled and leaned on my table, decreasing the distance between us.
Women and their instantaneous mood swings.
“You see… We’ll be having our sports day something this week, nothing except for the apparent date is known, Nakano-sensei should tell us about it today, or maybe even tomorrow.”
Minami’s eyes shined and her expression grew excited as she continued.
“As for the school trip, we’ll be going on a four-day-three-night trip to a certain location picked by the school. And from what I’ve heard, the location, budget, accommodation facility, and quality of other such things would most probably be based on the class’s position in the sports day.”
“Is that so?”
“Well… Our school has way too many children, so they can’t arrange for everyone to have a luxurious experience. Our school is already extremely unique in planning a school trip for students of every year. Normally, a school trip is only a one-time event aimed at the graduating students, however, our school sends students on a total of three trips to three different locations during their time here. Though the money asked is a bit on the heavy side, I don’t think that anyone studying in this school can’t aff- Ah!”
As if realizing something, Minami broke out of her dazed state and looked at me with apologetic eyes.
Why is she looking at me like that?
To find an answer, I looked at Fumiya who was talking to Takara a little distance away from us. It seemed like he was listening to our discussion, he raised his hand and rubbed his thumb against his index finger.
He probably means money, but why? Does Minami mean that I can’t afford to go on thi- Oh~! Yeah, I forgot about that.
“You don’t have to worry, Minami. My sister enjoyed herself on the school trip last year, and she’s going to enjoy it this year as well. Needless to say, the same goes for me.”
I would’ve skipped it if I had work, but it looks like I can go.
“Your sister… Kawashima-senpai… WAIT! Then you already knew about all of this, didn’t you? The sports day and school trip? Then why did you make me explain all of it? Huh?”
“Well… Your expression was just so lovely and your voice was sweet like cotton candy… I couldn’t help myself from being swept away.”
Takara and Fumiya were looking at me with impressed eyes, and Minami, who was facing me, was red from her embarrassment. She lowered her head a bit and bit her lip in an attempt to calm herself down.
“…So, this is the format. Do you have any questions?”
Nakano-sensei completed her explanation concerning the sports day and its rules. In my opinion, it’s truly a criminal coincidence that Class A and we are a team.
A student from the back-end of the class raised his hand in excitement.
“Will the winning team truly be treated better than the other teams during the school trip?”
“Uh… I don’t know where you heard this from, but it is fa- Ah, damn it! Fine, yes, it’s true, okay? Are you satisfied? The top team will be awarded special accommodations, dining, and other benefits during the trip, and they will not be required to pay any extra amount for this luxury. However, this is a secret, only known to the staff, so please don’t talk about this outside of class, okay?”
The students answered together. An atmosphere of anticipation and excitement enveloped the class as they discussed the approaching events with cheerful voices.
“Friday. No illnesses, no sleep-deprivation, no stomach ache, no accidents, no dizziness, and no other excuses. Am I understood?”
There goes my Friday.
“I have seen you take to the field, so try to participate in as many events as you can. Fujiwara-san, keep an eye- No, not you, it’ll just backfire. Miyashita-san and Yuzaki-kun, keep an eye on him for me, will you?”
“Fufu~ I’ll be sure to keep an eye on him.”
Takara, what’s with that smile?
While I was looking around, I noticed that the majority of the girls, including Nakano-sensei, were looking at Minami with amused expressions. When I glanced at the seat in front of me, Minami was leaning forward with her hands covering her face.
“Shall we begin the discussion then?”
Minami and Fumiya were standing in front of the whole class, taking the initiative to not let the so-called discussion turn into something else.
“Minami-chan… Shouldn’t we get the class A guys in on this too? I mean, it isn’t necessary, we can just send our list and let them make appropriate adjustments. It’s just that it’s been a while since we went out together because of the tests and stuff, so it’ll be nice to have an outing.”
“Not a bad idea.”
While students continued to agree, a boy from the front spoke up.
“Well, not to spoil the fun… However, wouldn’t it be boring without the leading ladies? Miyashita-san, Kobayashi-san, Fujiwara-san, and others… They wouldn’t be joining us, would they?”
“Yeah, and Aoki-kun, Kawashima-kun, and the regulars wouldn’t be here as well…”
As the discussion escalated, Minami, from over in the front of the class, called out to me.
“Kawashima-kun, will you be able to attend?”
She asked with hesitant eyes.
“No, I have wo- Uh, sorry, I just remembered that I don’t have work today, I’ll go.”
“If Takumi is going, why would I go home?”
“Takara-san? Will you be able to accompany us? Will your family be all right with it?”
From the seat beside me, Takara glanced at me before replying.
“Sure, why not? I haven’t had the chance to get to know people outside our class, it’ll be a good opportunity.”
“Well, since Takara-san is going, then I’ll tag along as well.”
Minami said with a smile.
“I’ll accompany you guys as well.”
As if a bunch of dominos, the students, be it male or female, began giving their consent one after the other.
“Okay~ Since so many people are coming, let’s get one of those large rooms in the karaoke place in front of the station. Even if all of Class A decides to attend, we’ll have sufficient space to accommodate all of us.”
Minami suggested while walking over to her seat to retrieve her phone. Probably planning to contact Princess to inform her of the plan.
However, as soon as Minami grabbed her phone and began to dial a number, Ose Minako, one of the girls in our class, called out to her in a hurry.
“Minami-chan! It’s a call from Class A!”
Minami was startled for a second, but then she immediately took action and asked Ose-san to hand her phone over. I don’t know what happened afterward since Minami was talking in a very low voice.
However, at the end of the day, it was planned that all of Class A and Class E would meet up at the Karaoke in front of the station, booking of which would be taken care of by Takara, who would be paid afterward by all those who joined the gathering.