Journey to the Present.
I had come to understand the nature of my feelings towards Takumi following the incident on the field. However, as a person who had never thought that I’d fall for someone, I had tried my best to deny my feelings, but that little resolve was soon annihilated when I bumped into him during recess about a week after the field incident.
My pounding heart, sweaty palms, and overall state of nervousness made sure that I would never doubt my feelings ever again. From that point on, my feelings just kept getting more and more intense, to the point that I had turned into a cliche maiden in love. I am better now after spending a considerable amount of time with him, but back then I couldn’t even hold a proper conversation with him without getting flustered.
Falling for Takumi had changed my life for the better. My tedious daily routine had experienced some considerable changes. I tried my best to greet Takumi in the mornings and evenings. I had memorized his schedule, so I made sure to hang around the staircase when he arrived in the morning and ‘coincidentally’ run into him. And since the both of us were part of the go-home club, I hung around until Takumi descended the stairs and was sure to send him off with a smile.
It felt like flowers were blooming within my heart whenever I thought of him. I would sometimes find myself subconsciously looking for him while walking around the school during breaks and such. I even mustered up the courage to wander around the second-floor corridor, just so I could catch just a glimpse of him. I don’t have to do any such thing now since I can just waltz into Takumi’s class because of the friendship I built with one of the girls in Class 1-E.
Fujiwara Minami. The girl that I had found an interest in when we had combined P.E. During the time I was trying to further my relationship with Takumi, I had bumped into her on multiple occasions, and we somehow ended up getting along quite well. I won’t deny that at first, I associated with her only to have easy access to Class 1-E, but over the course of the past couple of months, I had come to practically fall in love with Minami. Especially during the summer break, when we hung out almost every day whether it be at each other’s houses or outside. The wariness I initially held towards her for being my love rival was quickly blown apart by her sheer cuteness and charm.
The trio of Minami, Chiaki, and myself became quite well-known in our year. I mean, the two most popular girls had come together and had become best friends. I didn’t once doubt that it would create a commotion amongst nosy high-schoolers. Minami had one of the purest eyes I have ever seen, and after getting close to her, I made sure that she wasn’t tainted by any of the other people who approached her out of malice, be it boys or girls.
We may be rivals in love, but no bastard touches MY Minami. She has no idea that I like Takumi though, and every time she talks about Takumi with a smile on her face, it is like a stab to my heart. I feel extremely guilty knowing that I am crushing on my best friend’s crush, but I am also afraid of how she will react if I tell her the truth. I am sure that even someone as lovely as Minami will be a little angry, and she might not even talk to me after that, but what can I do? When you fall in love, you fall in love. I tried to bury my feelings, but they just burst out stronger than ever.
Sometimes, I would catch sight of Takumi’s side profile or his back when we hung out in the second-floor corridor. Since we didn’t talk much back then, I began treasuring these sightings more and more. I would always ask Minami about Takumi indirectly, and she would brighten up and talk about him with uncharacteristic vigor, making both Chiaki and I smile in warmth.
There were numerous little anecdotes. Too many to count, and I enjoyed them all. They would make me giggle out of nowhere at random times. Whenever I was upset, I would think about Takumi and his various exploits, and it would instantly lift me up. Even now, I sometimes seek Minami and ask for stories about HER crush, and she unsuspectedly narrates them to me with an affectionate smile on her face.
As our relationship progressed, the greetings became more common, and he would even stay and make some small talk. I was over the moon with happiness. My grades were good, my family was happy, I had two friends whom I loved to death, and my relationship with my crush was going smoothly. I felt like nothing could make me upset anymore…
But then, one day in the latter half of June, I had a run-in with a certain pretentious bastard who seems to dislike me without any reason whatsoever.
I was wandering around the second-floor corridor, looking for Minami. I had a document from the World History teacher that I needed to hand over to her, but she wasn’t in her class, so I had no choice but to walk around aimlessly in search of her. I had already visited all the other classes on this floor and had even looked in the women’s restroom, but there was just no sign of her.
Speaking of which, I couldn’t find Takumi either. It’s not like I was especially looking for him or anything, but at this point, I can’t stop my eyes from reflexively searching for his presence.
Are they…? Surely not, right? Right?
I am aware that Minami is crushing on Takumi, and it wouldn’t be strange if she happened to make a move on him despite her timid personality. However, I never expected them to get together this early. No, this could all just be me overthinking things. I should look around more.
As I was about to march off, I felt a hand land on my shoulder.
“Takumi isn’t here.”
A chill crawled up my spine as the male voice whispered. I instinctively pulled away and turned around to look at the perpetrator. And there he was, the most sought-after boy in our year, Aoki Fumiya.
What caught my eyes first was his hair that was swept back and tied in a neat ponytail. I’ve seen him numerous times over the past couple of weeks since he’s always hanging around Takumi, but I’ve never really conversed with him, neither have I been in such proximity to him. But now that I am looking at him from up close, I can completely understand the girls’ obsession with him.
However, all of that doesn’t matter at this moment.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re looking for Takumi, aren’t you?”
“Takumi? Do you mean Kawashima-kun? Why would I be looking for him?”
I looked into his eyes and said in the calmest tone I could muster, my heart beating incessantly at the possibility that he was aware of my feelings towards Takumi.
“Fufufu~ You don’t have to deny it, you know? I won’t tell anyone. He’s my best friend after all.”
His voice was soothing, but I could sense the slight tinge of amusement. His narrow eyes curved in sadistic pleasure didn’t help either.
“What do you want?”
I could tell that he didn’t mean any harm. Be it his exalted status in the school, his amused smile, or his close relationship with Takumi. It was like he would just tease me about it and leave it at that, similar to how we tease Minami.
“Fufufu~ Let me tell you frankly, he doesn’t like you.”
I felt my heart go cold. I could hear a ringing in my brain as I tried to wrap my head around his words.
“Ufufu~ I’m sorry. That wasn’t the best way to phrase it. I meant that he doesn’t like you romantically, yet. The same goes for Minami-chan, of course.”
He knows that Minami likes Takumi too!? Well, he managed to find out that I like him even though I’ve never said it out loud. It would be comparatively simple to find out that Minami likes Takumi considering many of the girls in her class are aware of her feelings.
“Are you making fun of me?”
His smile stiffened for a second at my cold tone but he raised his hands in front of him and spoke defensively.
“Oh no no no no, quite the opposite actually. I am quite a huge fan of this little love triangle, you know? I’ve known that you were in love with Takumi since that day in the field, but I merely observed from the sidelines. If I ever even for a second felt that either of you had ulterior motives towards Takumi… Let’s just say that it wouldn’t end well.”
I caressed my arms that were now covered in goosebumps because of his scary smile.
“However, from what I’ve observed, you two are rather pure, so I am not too worried about it. But it’s amazing, isn’t it? The two most popular girls here fell for Takumi, and he’s tryna be low-key too… Pfft~ Ahaha~”
He laughed aloud with his hands clutching his stomach. I was about to say something but he spoke up before me.
“Anyway, you should step up your game if you want to be in a relationship with Takumi. He won’t just wag his tail and come to you like all of those worshippers of yours. Not to undermine your beauty, but he’s seen much better than you.”
He closed the distance between us as a crowd has started to gather around.
“If you want to appeal to him, you have to do it head-on. Don’t expect him to fall for you after seeing you a couple of times, it ain’t gonna happen. I said it to Minami-chan, and I will say it to you. He’s much more into confident and proactive women, I’ve witnessed it first hand.”
Listening to his words, I realized my mistake. It has been over a month since I came to know of my feeling, but I had done nothing to act on them. Somewhere in my heart, I believed that he’d eventually fall for me if we just kept interacting.
I had always hated my beauty because of the consequences that came with it… The reason Takumi caught my attention in the first place was that he was unaffected by my appearance… And now I am relying on the very same appearance of mine to make him fall for me… What the hell…
I looked Fumiya in the eye and said with conviction.
“Thank you. I will try my best from now on.”
“Hehe~ You have a strong rival, you know? She looks timid, but she’s got guts. I will be rooting for you both though, I don’t wanna pick sides.”
He said with an amused smile and walked away while waving towards the crowd full of girls that were looking at him reverently.
As I was walking towards the staircase to return to the first floor, I noticed that Minami had returned to the classroom without Takumi, meaning that they were most probably not together.
“I completely forgot about the World History work!”
Feeling a little better after talking with Fumiya, I ran over to Minami with a smile on my face and completed the errand before returning to my class.
And that was my first ever proper conversation with that little shit.
It wasn’t necessarily bad, and he even made me realize my mistake. I truly believed that he would be an ally of some sort, but boy was I wrong.
He’s always gentle and supportive of Minami, but always rude to me. ‘I don’t want to pick sides,’ he says, so much for that.
I believe nothing else happened after that incident. I became a little more aggressive, I guess. However, one can’t simply change their entire personality, so I decided to take it slow and not rush things, lest it fires back on me and ruins my chances even further.
The first semester finals were right around the corner, so I didn’t have much time to pursue him. Our school is a college prep school, one of the best in Japan at that, so the competition is tough and grades practically define your existence.
My parents aren’t really the ones to pressure me for academic excellence. However, despite fooling around and never taking studies seriously, my brother somehow got into Tokyo University. As such, I can’t just disappoint my parents and myself by being mediocre, so I work hard to maintain my grades.
Well, it’s mostly to escape my brother’s smug face and taunts, but I will never admit that.
I had a crush to impress and a rival to beat, so I worked especially hard in those exams, putting in more than ten hours a day for over three weeks straight.
And it bore fruit.
Now that I think about it, wasn’t there that little incident after the results were announced?
Well, it was a small episode, but it did leave a huge impact on me.
The results of all the students would be posted on the notice board a little later, but the names of the top ten students were announced throughout the first-year campus through a microphone to appreciate the top scorers and encourage competition. I had somehow managed to achieve the top spot in our finals, the second place behind me by just three marks. To my surprise, Minami had obtained ninth place and Fumiya was just a little behind me with fourth place.
I wasn’t shocked because of Minami’s achievement, as she had always been a sincere girl who studies regularly. If anything, I thought I would be competing with her for the top spot. Fumiya though, I haven’t seen that boy study even once. Be it during breaks or recess, he’s either playing with his other friends or bugging Takumi. I may have judged a book by its cover but I hadn’t expected him to be so good at studies. Let’s see if it was a fluke or not during the second-semester finals.
Anyway, after the results were announced, I had been shrouded in praises, practically stuffed with them.
However, even amongst all those praises, I never heard the words, “You did good,” or, “Congratulations.”
It was just a constant surge of “As expected of Miya,” or, “I expected nothing less of Miya.”
Looking back, there was nothing necessarily wrong with their words. However, for me at the time, those words were a type of curse. Ever since 8th grade, I had been placed on a pedestal. Someone perfect. Someone who is, in their words, expected to behave a certain way.
When one has high expectations placed on them, the disappointment when they don’t meet your expectations is equally as large. It takes a toll on the person who is subjected to these expectations, especially those that are in the limelight and have thousands of eyes on them. Internet celebrities, content creators, actors, models, and anything in between.
There are no praises or discontent, it’s just ‘As expected,’ or, ‘I expected more.’ Years of hard work and good deeds can be forgotten with one mistake. The name and fame one achieves by meeting the expectations of the populace can be extinguished by underperforming once.
And this was the same treatment I went through. A 14-year-old girl was burdened with unreasonable expectations of both adults and fellow students. It created trauma in me, and as such, I had decided to enroll in a school far away from my old one where I wouldn’t be subjected to the same expectations and hopes, but it was all for naught.
Barely three months in and I was already placed on a pedestal without me even realizing it, expected to achieve academic excellence. And if I had gotten a low ranking, I am sure there would be random people, strangers, people whom I have never crossed paths with, saying that they didn’t expect this from me behind my back, and that does take a toll on a person. It brought me a rush of traumatic memories from my middle school days, overwhelming my sense of accomplishment, giving way to a deep-rooted fear.
There was a part of me that wanted to approach Takumi to hopefully receive some praise, but I was so afraid of him reacting in the same way as those other people that I couldn’t find it in me to seek him out. I am aware that he isn’t such a person now, but back then my fear of the unknown overtook me and led me to run to the rooftop to be alone and vent.
Our rooftop is accessible to all, but it seldom receives visitors since it is nowhere as picturesque as T.V shows and anime portray it. There is no shed so it’s hard to hang out there during the summer, and it’s always dirty, so the girls usually avoid it as well. The only time the rooftop has visitors is during lunch break when the breeze is cold and refreshing.
I ran to the rooftop to escape Takumi, but fortunately or unfortunately, I couldn’t quite escape him. I saw him just sitting there on a sheet of paper, staring into the sky. I remember my heart beating against my chest, not from adoration, but from anxiousness and fear.
I was about to turn around and walk away, but he noticed my presence just as I was about to cross the threshold of the door. He turned his head in my direction and raised his eyebrows in supposed surprise. I gasped, barely managing to keep the whirling typhoon of emotions in my heart from spilling out.
I said with a meek voice, trying my best to conceal my nervousness. He looked at me for a moment and said with confusion evident on his face.
“Hello, Princess. What is it? You seem sad somehow… Oh, today is the result announcement, isn’t it? I have been here the whole time so I wasn’t there when it was announced. Was your name not announced? Are you afraid you’ll get a low ranking?”
I gathered all the courage I could and spoke up.
“I ranked first!”
My voice was much louder than I would’ve liked. I lowered my head in anticipation and fear.
“Is that so? That’s pretty amazing considering there are 500 students in our year. Good job, Princess. If I may ask, how was Fumiya’s result? Did he manage to get in the top ten?”
I raised my head only to meet with a light smile on his face.
“Y-yeah, he got fourth.”
“I guess that’s okay? Anyway, I am proud of both of you. If you see Fumiya, tell him to come to the rooftop, I left my phone in the class.”
That was the only thing I could say before running away from the rooftop while holding my mouth. I ran down the stairs, almost falling over more than once. I descended to the third-floor corridor and hid in a storeroom that was very compact in size and only held a bunch of cleaning tools in it.
After that, I finally couldn’t hold back anymore and let go. I cried. I cried, and I didn’t stop until my eyes were dry. I washed away all my previous emotions with those tears, replacing them was something much more intense.
The look on his face while saying those words were etched in my heart.
It was a small encounter, but it left a huge impact on me. He might’ve not thought anything of it since he never mentioned it after that, but it sure did loads to shape my personality going into the summer vacation. That conversation which had lasted less than two minutes made me realize my priorities, and made me care less about the opinions of those that are of no concern to me.
I had been blaming others for puppeteering me through peer pressure, but it was equally my fault for giving into their expectations and behaving in a way that pleased them.
He said he was proud of me. Those few words of praise from him were more precious to me than all of the compliments I’ve received over the years combined. I was made aware of priorities, and the importance of being unconcerned with what those unrelated say about you.
It wasn’t simple to get rid of the deep-rooted anxiety in me, but I slowly eased into it throughout the summer vacation. Now I am confident enough to not get affected by the words of people that are inconsequential to me. Well, we’ll see when I am back inside the school and interacting with more people again.
Enough with the reminiscence about Takumi and what happened between us in the past, let’s look forward and make sure to further our relationship positively and have him fall for me~!
The days had passed and the rainy yet warm month of June was underway. The first semester finals would be conducted during the latter half of the month, so the studious ones had already cooped themselves up with their books, and the daring ones were waiting for the day before the exam to cram.
Following my little encounter with the Princess at the field, she had begun approaching me a lot more. Be it just for a mere morning greeting, or to have a full-blown conversation. It’s not like I can’t understand her excitement since she doesn’t seem to have any other male acquaintances, but it sure does get troublesome being subjected to so many malicious eyes.
It came as a surprise to me that Princess and Minami had gotten close to the point that they were virtually inseparable, and with the other girl named Yukimura Chiaki whom I’ve never really interacted with, the trio made for a drool-worthy sight that got the boys of our year all fidgety and excited.
And somehow or other, I had gotten involved with them more than I’d ever like to. Especially Minami, ever since we began calling each other by our first names, she has been very proactive in starting conversations and asking questions, unlike her timid self from April.
I was happy observing her as she broke out of her shell and genuinely opened up to the Princess and the other girl. She had always been a little stiff before as if she held a part of herself back from our classmates. However, when she is with those two, something changes in her as she becomes more vivid and expressive.
I don’t have a particularly deep relationship with Minami, but she seems to regard me quite high for what it’s worth, so I am just reciprocating some of her feelings.
And that was what I believed before realizing the truth when she began asking me questions that delved more into my personal life. The questions were not of a malicious nature, but they were not something you’d just casually ask an acquaintance either.
I approached Fumiya with my concerns since he was the best person to consult for matters involving interpersonal relationships and such.
“I have a feeling that Minami has feelings for me, you know? Please tell me I am just misinterpreting things.”
“You sure aren’t. I am surprised it took you so long to realize it. I can’t blame you though, all the women around you are pretty straightforward. They don’t beat around the bush like the high-schoolers.”
“Don’t change the topic, Fumiya.”
“Fufufu~ She’s not the only one, you know?”
It took a second for me to register his words. Another one? I thought back on all the girls that I’ve interacted with regularly since entering the school.
I checked off every girl that had no opportunities to develop feelings for me. If a girl is falling for me, it sure isn’t for my looks, so there has to be an event that leads to a girl having a good impression of me.
After the process of elimination, only one person came to my mind and I uttered her name
I didn’t pay much attention before, but looking back to our interactions, she did seem way too cheery for someone just conversing with an acquaintance or a friend.
Those eye contacts… She was probably stealing glances at me. Those coincidental meetings… She must’ve memorized my schedule. Suddenly getting close to the girls of my class… She could be using it as an excuse to hang around our class.
“Sigh~ I thought I was pretty experienced when it came to women.”
“As I said, it’s not your fault. You’re more accustomed to dealing with older women, don’t forget that the girls here are 15-16 years old. They’re completely different beings. Anyway, you have the two most beautiful girls in our year crushing on you, how do you feel, Mr. Popular?”
“I don’t know how it happened. Even after trying to be as low-key as I could, this happened somehow.”
I can see how Princess could be attracted to me, she must’ve craved some male company but all those around her were horny teenagers, so meeting me must’ve been a new experience for her. But why Minami? Did I unintentionally do something that caught her interest? Well, whatever.
“Sigh~ I just have to make sure to limit my interaction with them from now on, I guess. I came to this place to get some downtime from work and stress, not to pile up more problems.
“Hehe~ What’s the problem? They’re so cute and pure~ Whenever I notice them stealing glances at you, it heals my heart~”
“Sigh~ It’s fine as long as it doesn’t get too troublesome.”
The time passed without anything of interest happening. Well, there was that little incident with the Princess, but I’ve forgotten most of what occurred, so I am sure that nothing noteworthy happened.
My summer vacation wasn’t anything special, if anything, the school days seem more of a vacation to me than the actual holidays. I made it through somehow, and now I am stepping into the second semester of my high school journey.