The clubroom later in the day was far more frigid than usual.
We informed Hiratsuka-sensei about how the clubroom heater had started spewing out abnormal noises since a few days ago. After that, we were notified not to use it until the manufacturer made their repairs.
Our school life was as normal as could be—the clubroom wasn’t utilized during the day—but it was a slightly different story after school.
With the gradually declining sun and the dropping temperatures, we still chose to participate in club.
That’s why even in the clubroom, my scarf was still wrapped around my neck. The only reliable source of warmth worth mentioning was at best the electric kettle.
However, the kettle wasn’t meant to keep us warm. After all, it was being used to brew our tea for today. That said, its miniscule contribution of warmth was far better than having none at all in this frozen wasteland of a room.
Humans were creatures that couldn’t cope with the emptiness that followed the loss of their extravagant life they had gotten so used to. For every chilling sensation that crept up my feet, my hand would stop turning the page of my book on a casual whim.
At any rate, our club wasn’t one to see frequent visitors. It’d be far more enjoyable spending my time reading at home than here. Heck, as shameful as it is for me to say this, reading in a Starbucks surrounded by overly aware (lol) people would be more preferable than this. On another note, why did overly aware (lol) people always sit near the window and attempt to show off by playing around with their MacBook or pretend to read a new book they bought, anyway? Were they trying to be the bugs that would stick themselves to windows on a late summer night?
Of course, reading peacefully at a popular location such as Starbucks wasn’t that simple. If we take into consideration how crowded it’d be, the clubroom was the superior place to be. And I certainly didn’t dislike the tranquil and cool atmosphere that was in it. But come winter, the coolness would intensify.
My seat, in particular, was positioned near the wall that separated the room from the hallway. Only, this wall was as thin as Something-Place 211. Calling it a panel would be more accurate. It was so thin that it didn’t prove to be much in obstructing the outside air and the cold wind would seep through the crevices of the doors.
“…Hey, can we end club early today? It’s really cold.”
My shoulders would shake every time I became aware of how cold it was. Unable to endure the chilliness, I spoke to the two that sat near the windows.
Reading just as I was, Yukinoshita tilted her head in wonder. “Really…? Well, what should we do?”
“Ehhh, why? I’m not even cold.”
Yukinoshita moved her hand to her chin and contemplated. Answering her question was Yuigahama.
Well duh, of course Yuigahama wouldn’t feel cold.
After all, she was the one who immediately relocated her seat right next to Yukinoshita after realizing how cold it was in here. She then invaded Yukinoshita’s lap blanket. Yukinoshita would normally shoo her away with complaints about how sultry and bothersome she was being, but today, she was letting Yuigahama do as she pleased.
As such, they both had very cozy expressions.
While they were sitting in a spot where the sun could reach them, the biggest reason was the mutual exchanging of their body warmth. Looking rather warm, you two…
I gave those intimate two a reproachful stare. Yuigahama who was clinging right onto Yukinoshita slightly straightened up.
“H-Hey Hikki, aren’t you cold over there?”
“…Yeah, it’s cold.”
When she reconfirmed the fact with a question, I felt another chill crawl up my body and I found myself rubbing my upper arms.
“Oh…” Yuigahama turned over the blanket once as though to confirm its size. After, she hesitated for a moment and let out a small breath.
When she sent me an examining look with upturned eyes, I grew restless.
She breathed in and out in hopes of trying to say something and her plentiful bosom would expand and contract. Then, looking ready, she opened her mouth, her voice so small and audible that didn’t align with her behavior moments before.
“Th-Then, how about you…”
Yuigahama mumbled her words in difficulty and Yukinoshita finished her sentence with a soft smile.
“Wear your coat?”
I saw that coming, yes. I grabbed my coat as was suggested and placed it around my shoulders, not wearing it through my arms like how an office lady sensitive to the cold would agonize from air conditioning during the summer.
I wonder if club can end any sooner… As I was staring at the clock on the wall, there were knocking sounds at the door. Ah, damn it, someone actually came… I guess I won’t be heading home any time soon.
“Come in,” Yukinoshita answered the door, ignoring me as I hung my head in depression. After waiting for her voice, the door then flung open.
“Good work everyone!”
Entering the room with a bow, the person’s flaxen hair swayed. Visible between the gaps of her bangs were her large pupils, and she wore a faint smile at her mouth.
Today, like every other day, Isshiki Iroha had come to our club. This time, however, she greeted us more politely, giving rise to a sense of discomfort. I don’t like where this is going…
“Ohh, Iroha-chan. Yahallo!” Yuigahama raised her hand and called her name. Isshiki waved back and the baggy sleeves of her cardigan would flap around.
“Hellooo there, good evening to you, too… Um, isn’t this room kinda cold?” Isshiki returned her greeting, came into the room, and stopped. She then gave Yukinoshita a puzzled look.
Yukinoshita smiled, looking slightly problematic. “Yes, the heater isn’t functioning as it should at the moment.”
“Huh, is that so?” Isshiki said, not sounding particularly interested. She grabbed a chair and headed directly for the spot beside Yukinoshita. Then, she took a seat, pulled on the blanket at Yukinoshita’s lap, and became one with the pseudo-human kotatsu.
Having Isshiki suddenly cling on to her, Yukinoshita grumbled with a bewildered and threatening tone, but Isshiki didn’t pay her much attention. As she mumbled to herself, “Sooo warm!!♪” she shrank the distance between Yukinoshita and her by wriggling closer to her.
“Oh, wanna get a little closer?”
“Is that okay? Thank you sooo much!”
Yuigahama offered kindly and Isshiki thanked her with a fawning voice. From there on, Yukinoshita was sandwiched together from both sides.
Stop it! Don’t squish Yukinon anymore! She already has to deal with the blowing wind that runs across the open fields of Kanto, namely, her chest! If you’re going to keep pressing her together like that, at least do it in an upwards-like manner!
Obviously, I couldn’t say that out loud. But while I was stuck in a rut between whether I should stop the Isshiki and Yuigahama sandwich, the two of them continued their game of push with their backs against Yukinoshita.
“…Jeez.” Yukinoshita sighed and let them have their way. She scooted her seat back slightly, giving enough room for Isshiki to share the blanket. She let out a happy “yaaay” as she jerked her seat closer and closer to Yukinoshita until she was snugly stuck to her.
Although Yukinoshita gave her an irked look, her hand did otherwise. She held the teapot wrapped in a quilt cloth and began pouring some tea in a paper cup.
“Th-Thank you very much.”
After taking the steaming cup with both hands for warmth, Isshiki began drinking. Mmm, you three look awfully warm…
But you know, Yukinoshita-san, you do realize that you’ve been pampering not only Yuigahama, but Isshiki nowadays, right…?
Thinking back, for Yukinoshita, Yuigahama was her very first kind of friend while Isshiki was her very first kind of underclassman. Seeing her act somewhat like an upperclassman was a pleasant sight to behold.
I proceeded to gaze at the warm three girls from my isolated, freezing spot. After drinking her tea and looking comfortable, Isshiki sent me a short greeting.
“Oh, senpai, thank you for your time the other day.”
“Mm, yeah,” I answered.
Yukinoshita and Yuigahama looked at me, curious about our exchange. Uh, this might be hard to explain…
All we did was hang out, just the two of us. That’s all that really happened, but imagine saying, “We really only went out to have fun, nothing else happened.” If I had to explain myself to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama with an absurd excuse like that, it felt like I was acting too self-conscious.
But I felt just as guilty for keeping quiet. No, feeling guilty in the first place was what you’d call being overly self-conscious. Gosh, Hachiman-kun, you’re so creepy…
Ultimately, all I could do was sit there quietly, meaninglessly breathing out that sounded like long sighs and groans. As if finding my behavior suspicious, Yukinoshita frowned while Yuigahama made alternating glances between Isshiki and me. Oh dear…
For the next, few short moments, the room was controlled by a bizarre silence. Even though the room was freezing, I could feel the sweat glands on my scalp opening.
As if to destroy that silence, Isshiki coughed. “So like, I’ve been thinking, but I want to try making a free newspaper for the Student Council.”
“Pardon? A free newspaper?”
Yukinoshita gave a dubious look to Isshiki because her sudden talk was completely unrelated to earlier. But hey, nice job, Irohasu! Now I was free from both of their stares…
“A free newspaper was, um, that thing, right?”
“Yes, that thing.”
Yuigahama and Isshiki used demonstrative pronouns only in their exchange. A few days ago when Zaimokuza came to our clubroom, I recall touching on the subject of a free newspaper during our discussion. That was enough for me to tell what they were referring to in their crude conversation.
The reason why, however, didn’t get across to me.
“But why a free newspaper?” Yukinoshita asked, tilting her head.
Isshiki withdrew her hand that was under the blanket and proceeded to explain while wagging her finger.
“We have our Student Council’s fiscal year-end coming up soon. So, when the vice president and the others gathered all the data, it turns out we still have a lot of money left in our budget this year.”
“You don’t say…”
The last Student Council President was Meguri-senpai. As the Comfy Megu☆rin, she didn’t really have a strong associated image of someone avaricious about money. For there to be a remaining budget was somehow believable.
But the current Student Council President was Isshiki Iroha. As the Shrewd Iro☆hasu, she was probably concerned about the money…
And as I had expected, she clapped her hands in front of her chest and smiled. “We might as well use up all the money since we have some left, right? I checked how much we have left, and it looks there’s enough to make a free newspaper.”
“That doesn’t mean you should try to increase your work…”
Incomprehensible. Regardless of how much leftover money there is, actually trying to do more work is incomprehensible… This girl’s definitely up to something… I gave her an interrogating stare to which Isshiki brushed it off with an “aha!” and a smile. E-Even more suspicious…
“But look, Iroha-chan. If you have leftover money, shouldn’t you save it up? Savings are important, you know?” Yuigahama stated as if reprimanding her. That’s something a mom would say…
She certainly did have a point; that is, if we assume the money was Isshiki’s. But that’s the problem. The money wasn’t Isshiki’s pocket money, but the budget money for the Student Council.
Having listened to the conversation thus far, Yukinoshita came to a realization regarding that point. She placed her hand to her chin and slowly spoke.
“I imagine it may not be that simple.”
“Why?” Yuigahama asked, tilting her head as though to rest it on Yukinoshita’s shoulder.
“If there’s still remaining money in the budget from a previous year, it’s possible the budget allocated for the following year may be reduced. If I was the one handling the budget, I would without a doubt reduce it.”
“Yes! Exactly! That’s why, to avoid getting my budget reduced for next year, it’d be better to just use up all the money before the year’s over, right?”
After Yukinoshita’s explanation, Isshiki wriggled her body closer to Yukinoshita. And to further gain her approval, Isshiki snuggled up against her like a child.
I could hear her let out a shallow and perplexed voice. Caught in the middle from both sides, Yukinoshita was squeezed into a posture as though she was in a loaded train. Yep yep, it’s good that you’re all getting along together.
That said, Isshiki’s concern wasn’t completely unrelatable. It wasn’t Isshiki’s money though, of course. Like seriously, “my budget…?” It’s the Student Council’s money, not yours. But if she’s looking to stay within budget, publishing a free newspaper shouldn’t present much of a problem.
“Go for it. Don’t really know what you’re planning to publish, though,” I said, casually.
Isshiki detached herself from Yukinoshita and turned towards me. “Actually, about that, I’ve already kinda decided on what to do, see. I was thinking of doing something like introducing spots you could have fun at, places you could eat good food at, or even cute cafes.”
“Oh, that sounds great! How about clothes or assorted items, too!? People might like those!”
“That would make it something similar to a fanzine or a local magazine. The content certainly does seem like things people would like to see as well…”
Yuigahama became enthusiastic thanks to Isshiki’s idea and moved closer. Because of that, Yukinoshita was pressed in between even further.
Hmm, still, places you could have fun at, places you could eat good food at, and cute cafes, huh…? I felt like I heard that somewhere before. I think it was from “Being Human is Nice?”2 A great place to go and hot rice, they must be waiting for the cute cafes? The only thing that was correct was the rice part. Okay, so it’s something else then.
“So a local magazine would mean… something like the ‘Chiba Walker’?” Yuigahama asked, leaning her body towards Isshiki.
Isshiki nodded with a “yep, yep” and pitched forward. Finally freed from their pressure, Yukinoshita breathed out with relief.
Isshiki’s explanation continued further.
“Like, if it’s an informational magazine, I can pretty much go wherever I want and just spend and spend and spend and put them under as expenses, right?”
Isshiki wore a ka-ching! ☆ smile while also uttering the worst things ever. What do you mean “spend and spend and spend…?” You’re not trying making comments to try to instigate people to spend their social game money here…3
Yukinoshita and I were appalled. On the other hand, Yuigahama tilted her head in thought.
I really hope you know what that means… Ignoring Yuigahama, when Isshiki saw my reaction, she puffed her cheeks.
“Weren’t you the one that told me to do that, senpai? That the money’s just going to end up as expenses, so I might as well just use it however I’d like?” Isshiki said.
Yukinoshita then gave me a cold glance. “You’re not teaching her anything proper, are you…?”
“Hold it, I did not say that.”
In trying to defend my honor, Isshiki shook her head and glumly looked at me. “Yes, you did. When we were preparing for the Christmas event, you definitely said that.”
Did I really…? That event was a collaboration with the other school anyway, so we should just use the money as much as we want without being concerned about their expenses… Okay, I did say that. A perceptive Irohasu was scary. Actually, it’s pretty obvious she took it the wrong way…
“Isshiki-san, your actions can also be deemed as misappropriation of funds…”
“But everyone will get to know about lots of stuff and I’ll get to have fun. Isn’t this, like, WIN-WIN for everyone?”
Yukinoshita chided her, but Isshiki retorted back as if she was unrelated. Oh my! Tamanawa-kun’s being a bad influence on this child… Dad won’t allow you to be with a person like that, you hear!?
“When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound all that bad…” Yuigahama said, groaning. In reality, if something you did was enjoyable to you and that directly linked with everyone’s happiness as a whole, you couldn’t call that dishonest behavior unconditionally. It might actually be ideal to cater to your interest while reaping the practical benefits.
So Isshiki wasn’t just blabbering about absurd things. I could understand that much. Now we had to consider how realistic her suggestion was.
Yukinoshita crossed her arms and thought. She then slowly spoke.
“However, will they actually approve those expenses?”
“Oh Yukinoshita-senpai, what are you talking about? The one in charge of approving that is the secretary, you know?” Isshiki answered, making a comical laugh. Never mind, she really is proposing something absurd… Well, either way, in the event something happens, Isshiki was the one taking responsibility. If the secretary’s job was to approve adjustments to the budget, then it was Isshiki’s job to embowel herself at the very end! That’s her responsibility as the person in charge, after all!
As to whether Isshiki was actually aware of that or not, I was a doubtful, but it looks like she was motivated enough in turn.
“So, back to the newspaper… How do you think I should make it?” Isshiki asked, restarting the conversation and jumping into the main topic. Mmhmm, it’s good to know that you’re raring to go…
“You’re not going to get much out of us…. It’s not like we’ve made one before…”
“That’s true… Rather, we don’t know the process in doing so.”
Yukinoshita expressed her agreement. Listening on the side, Yuigahama looked as though she recalled something and clapped her hands.
“Hey, didn’t we make a page for that one local magazine from before?”
“Oh yeah, we did do something like that, didn’t we…?”
From what I could remember, it was a matter that Hiratsuka-sensei brought to us. A local magazine was going to be published for the livelihood of the region and its target demographic was the younger generation. We were tasked with producing a single page on the subject of marriage. We went through quite a lot to get it done.
We talked while I recalled those memories one by one. Then, Isshiki abruptly pitched forward. “Oh, that’s good! Now it looks like we’re getting somewhere!”
“We were only required to do one page back then. If we have to start from scratch, the circumstances change. It’s impossible,” Yukinoshita said, rebuking Isshiki.
Isshiki adjusted her sitting posture in dejection and dropped her shoulders. She then looked at Yukinoshita with upturned eyes.
“Yes.” Yukinoshita coldly asserted. However, with Isshiki groaning, giving her a somewhat reproachful, but spoiled look, even Yukinoshita was a loss for words and averted her face. Oh no, not good! At this rate, Isshiki’s going to have her way with Yukinoshita!
In the face of well-established logic and words, Yukinoshita was quick to turn people down. But whenever she was pressured by sentimental words and gestures, she’d cave in surprisingly easy. Source: Yuigahama’s usual exchanges with her.
Under Isshiki’s scrutiny with helpless eyes, Yukinoshita squirmed in discomfort. Yuigahama then intervened.
“Okay, okay, so about making that free newspaper, why don’t you go look up how to make it first? Try asking some people with the know-how and get their help… After that, we can make it together with you!”
“You’re so kind, Yui-senpai!” Isshiki made an elated smile when Yuigahama addressed her warmly. But after careful examination of her words, Yuigahama was certainly kind, but she was actually saying to “come back another time.”
I’d expect nothing less from Yuigahama. As the leading expert on how to suck up to Yukinoshita, Isshiki’s offensive appeal didn’t prove to be very effective against her.
“Yeah, Yuigahama’s right. If you really have to do it, then it’s best if you took some time to prepare for what you’ll need.”
The three of us expressed our disapproval. Isshiki made a troubled look, her eyebrows frowning.
“It’s not that simple, see.”
“Why?” I asked.
Isshiki casted her eyes downwards. With a solemn voice, she whispered, “It’s because the fiscal year-end is coming up soon.”
It felt like she had mentioned something really significant just now.
That’s true, it’s just near the fiscal year-end. My parents were probably going to be far busier than normal.
Apparently, during this period, corporate slaves had a lot of obligations to take care of.
That is, according to the public internet rumored to have all the truths. Supposedly, one reason why there’s a focus on merchandise such as BD Boxes and OVAs in February and March was because they were closing in on the fiscal year-end.
Of course, this didn’t apply to all things related to anime. This period was when companies would try to make financial ends meet for their business projects by mass producing merchandise to increase sales. Source: Mama and Papa. Today like every other, the both of them were busy working…
“Like, I’m not too sure of all the details. If we want to squeeze in the expenses by the end of the fiscal year, we have to do it before the accounting period at the beginning of March. We’ve already passed the beginning of February, so we only have what’s left of this month!” Isshiki said, impatiently. She wagged her finger while trying her best to explain the situation. As adorable as she was for doing that, hearing her say things like “fiscal year,” “expenses,” and “squeeze” wasn’t cute in the least…
Anyway, I understood that she didn’t have much time left. For the rest of this month, she should focus on compiling all the invoices and receipts in order to make the accounting period for next month.
So that means that it’d be bad if she didn’t get her work done by the end of this month…
While we might’ve just entered February, it’s already a short enough month as it is. On top of that, even if she’s looking to make just a free newspaper, building it up from scratch was a Herculean task.
“It’s absolutely impossible, give up,” I said. Yukinoshita silently nodded while Yuigahama made a helpless and bittersweet smile.
Tearing up, slouching over, and looking up at me won’t do you any good. What’s impossible is impossible. I slowly shook my head. Then, Isshiki quietly stood up.
“Senpai… I’d like some advice…” Isshiki stood up, quietly walking towards me. She stopped in front of me and looked down at me while I was sitting. She was right in front of me, yet she was hesitantly looking away.
“For…?” I asked.
Isshiki, however, didn’t say anything. Yukinoshita and Yuigahama gave us a puzzled look.
In complete disregard to the three of us who were perplexed, Isshiki began unbuttoning her blazer one by one. Whoa, what the heck is this girl doing?
I was in shock, but so were Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. No seriously, what the heck is she doing? Oh, gosh, wait, wait, are you undressing!? Help!
Isshiki wriggled her body to take off her blazer and groaned as if holding something in. Next, she shoved her hand inside her pink cardigan and began rummaging at the chest area of her blouse.
“Umm…” Isshiki let out a dull voice as she continued fiddling with her blouse. While she was doing that, her front collars would openly flap around, showing glimpses of her collarbones. I redirected my gaze since I was concerned with seeing that directly, but it only made the rustling noises of her clothes and her breathing all the more real.
“I have no idea what you’re trying to pull, but seriously, do that over there.” I looked down and shooed her away with the wave of my hand, trying to make some distance.
Isshiki then gasped loudly. “Oh, here it is.”
The hand she withdrew from inside her clothes was gripping several scraps of paper. Using her other hand, she slowly took my hand and closed it with those scraps inside.
The sudden contact of Isshiki’s hand. Her thin and supple fingers and the sensation of a girl’s skin that was so mysteriously soft caused me to grow stiff in place. Isshiki immediately let go and what remained within my hands were the warm pieces of scrap paper.
When it hit me that this miniscule warmth was from her, my hands were on the verge of sweating. I timidly opened up my fist.
There were several pieces of paper. As I sifted through them, I was met with familiar, printed words. The word “receipt” was lettered at the top and listed below were the names of the bowling alley and the cafe. There was even the meal ticket from the ramen shop.
Don’t tell me, these receipts are…
The thought suddenly ran through my mind. When I lifted my face, Isshiki was smiling and met my eyes.
Did you see it? You saw it, right? Then, you know where I’m going with this, right? Having her smile fire all those questions at me made having a spoken explanation unnecessary.
Isshiki jerked her hand at me, asking for the receipts back. I gave them back and she respectfully accepted them, quietly putting the receipts back in the breast pocket of her blouse.
“So, senpai, about my advice…” Isshiki said the same thing from earlier, only this time with a cutesy and coaxing voice.
For the most part, I understood what it is that Isshiki wanted to say. She’s essentially telling me that I was an accomplice.
But I should’ve been innocent. I mean, I paid for my own bills and it’s not like I was in her debt or anything. Yet, why was I feeling so guilty…? I had some fun and if anything, she was the one who should’ve been in debt for my expenses, you know? No, but still… Buuuuut…
It must’ve been because Isshiki was so confident when she presented the receipts to me that I was starting to feel like I had done something wrong. Now I know what it feels like to be an unrelated bystander in an incident and later forced into attesting…
I coughed once and turned to Isshiki. Alright, this is where I show off my bargaining skills!
“…A-Anyway, why don’t we hear you out first?”
“It’s like she threatened him, didn’t she!?”
Yuigahama’s shocking voice and Yukinoshita’s sigh of disbelief compounded.
× × ×
To hold a more in-depth discussion, Isshiki went back to the Student Council to bring back some material. Some time had passed since she left. While we waited for her return, Yukinoshita gave us another filling of black tea.
When the steam ascended from the tea, the aroma filled the room. The heater wasn’t functioning as usual, but the combination of the tea and my coat was enough to take my mind off the coldness of the room.
“Sorry for the wait!”
The door flung open and Isshiki excitedly came into the room.
She came in carrying a clear file. She placed that on the table and began removing its content onto the desk. Her eyes sparkled as though she was a child looking at a leaflet of a toy shop right before Christmas.
Having been witnessed to her acting like that, even I was starting to want to make this free newspaper a reality. However, spiritual concepts like energy, guts, and motivation alone weren’t enough for that.
First, we needed to get a handle on the situation. The more you understood your situation, the more cornered you’d be; that’s what they called work.
If the costs and the schedule weren’t flexible enough, you couldn’t make something happen in the first place. Being aware of that and still trying to press the issue would only lead to a drop in morale. On the other hand, in the case where the costs and the schedule were flexible, people would get complacent and claim it’d be a cinch. They would drop their guard and ultimately, everything would fall to ruin. Ew, what’s up with that? Having the job in the first place led only to a future where everything failed…
But that’s exactly why it’s important to refuse the job once you had an idea of your capacity. In the situation where you didn’t have the option of refusing, you should negotiate to reduce your workload. It’s only after spending my time in this environment of forced labor called the Service Club that I was finally able to go through this epiphany. Finally.
I waited for Isshiki to finish preparing the documents and I spoke to her.
“First thing’s first, we haven’t decided we’re going to do this yet. We’ll decide only after we hear the specifics and discuss whether it’s doable or not.”
“Yes. That’s fine with me!” She answered with a cheery voice and a bright smile.
Argh… You’re making it harder for me to refuse if you look at me with those sparkling and expecting eyes…
I was speechless and sat there groaning. As if being my proxy, Yukinoshita started the conversation to advance it along.
“Well, why don’t we start off with how you’d like to approach this.”
“Yes. So, ummm, when we made printouts for the Christmas event last time, we made the orders from a printing company. I contacted them and asked them some questions, see?”
As Isshiki was speaking, she quickly took out several documents. They were pamphlets and sales quotes. But I have to say, to think she had already established communication with a printing company… She didn’t look like she could do any planning, but she certainly did have the ability to take action…
“So this is what they recommended to me…” Isshiki pointed at a spot in the pamphlet. Yukinoshita who had been beside her looked at where she indicated.
“Eight pages of full color… The scale’s gotten quite big now…” Yukinoshita pressed against her temple as if to restrain a headache. Isshiki let out an embarrassed laugh next to her.
“Well, I kinda ended up deciding on this because of where the conversation was heading.”
“Heading where exactly…?”
I was astounded. Isshiki’s cheeks inflated. “…I mean, you end up saying ‘yes’ when an adult tells you something, right?”
“I get you. I totally get you.” Yuigahama nodded, boldly expressing her agreement. Mmhm, girls nowadays… I can’t help but be worried that a bad adult or upperclassman will deceive them one day…
“Let’s see… Based on the budget, we can determine how many copies we can print… We should be able to secure places if it’s within the school and we can make them recyclable… It doesn’t seem like we’ll need to worry about any inventory risks, either.”
On the other hand, Yukinoshita paid no attention to the other two and mumbled to herself, processing the material at her own pace. Mmhmm, Discommunication-chan… I’m a little worried about you, too!
After a thorough examination of the pamphlet, Yukinoshita lifted her face and slid it over to me. I took the pamphlet and sifted through it. The pamphlet had a simple set of instructions all the way to printing.
“We can have the company handle the design and framing the content for us… This means as long as we can prepare a draft of the content and instructions on the design, we should be in good hands.”
“You don’t say. That doesn’t sound any different from the local magazine page we did before.”
So in short, as long we knew what we wanted printed in the newspaper, we wouldn’t have any problems. That being said, it didn’t change the fact that we needed to FIX the images and the composition in the articles. Phew, it’s abnormal how overly aware I felt for just saying FIX.
“The page count compared to back then is considerably different, however…” Yukinoshita answered. Her voice sounded somewhat tragic. That’s where Yuigahama opened her mouth with an energetic voice.
“But hey, we have the people from the Student Council this time. If we just split up the work with everyone, we should be able to manage something, right?”
“Yeah, that’s true. That should somewhat…” Just as I was about to continue, I could see Isshiki looking away with a sour face.
“…Isshiki-san? Just why are you so quiet?” Yukinoshita smiled sweetly, her voice amiable and her gaze warm. But mysteriously enough, there wasn’t a hint of warmth in her smile and just looking at her caused a chill to run up my spine. I’m telling you already, that’s really scary…
Isshiki was just as frightened—no, she was panicking to the point that she was making a commotion.
“Ah! N-No! Um… I-It’s just everyone’s kinda busy with the fiscal year-end. So I thought maybe there wouldn’t be any problems after we got that covered, or something…”
“…In other words, you’re saying we shouldn’t expect their assistance.”
“Yes…” Isshiki lowered her shoulders in apology when Yukinoshita let out a thin sigh.
“N-Now now, there’s not much we can do about that. If we really do need the help, I can try asking my friends or something… So, um… let’s just take it easy!” Yuigahama gripped her fist and said in encouragement. But this girl’s definition of “taking it easy” was probably different from doing things appropriately or properly…
In any case, we could see the costs of work and the workload. Presumably, we also had an idea on how the lowest number of staff we’d have. The only thing remaining was the schedule. Once we knew that, we could judge the possibility of this task.
We had a rough idea of the plans for the entire month, but we needed a much more in-depth look into the schedule.
“So, when exactly does this need to be done?”
“Very soon.” Isshiki took out a schedule sheet and tapped it. “Right now, with our remaining budget, the perfect plan is apparently this one with a discount, see? So in order to use that plan, the printing company said we need to submit the material and data to them during February.”
Hoh, a discount. So they had things like that, too. If they could use up the remainder of their budget with that plan, then it shouldn’t be a problem. It coincided exactly with the accounting period for next month, so Irohasu was rather good at managing herself!
I thought in attempt to avoid reality, but there’s just one thing I couldn’t ignore entirely.
Hm? In February? I tilted my head and Isshiki quickly added with a small voice. “…So, there’s… about two weeks left.”
“Huh? No way, not happening. Two weeks? You’re asking for the impossible,” I answered instantly with the shake of my hands. Yukinoshita across from me slowly nodded her head.
“That’s true. It’s not a realistic amount of time to work with. On top of that, if we assume that we need to supervise and check over the publicized content, proofread it, correct it, and make it consistent with other things, we’re looking at only one week.”
“It got even shorter!?” Yuigahama turned towards Yukinoshita with an astounded face.
“This is merely an ideal schedule in order to publicize the newspaper… Of course, it’s far from ideal already with this late of a start. We should stay ahead of schedule while keeping in mind of any potential problems.”
Although Yukinoshita explained logically, matter-of-factly even, even she knew it wasn’t a very realistic proposal.
“…Of course, this is only under the assumption that we undertake this request.” She added, looking at me for confirmation. It looks like she was entrusting the final say to me. The schedule she anticipated was fairly harsh, but it wasn’t bad enough that we could consider it absolutely impossible.
One week, huh…? Wait. If I can’t work on the weekends and today’s day is… I tried adding the days, but somehow, I couldn’t do the calculations. Huuuh? Hachiman-kun, were you really this bad at arithmetic?
No, the numbers were clearly in my head, but my heart, however, wasn’t very accepting of them.
“Okay, tell me something. If we follow the schedule, how many days are there until the deadline…?”
“Umm…” Yuigahama looked up at the ceiling and began counting with her fingers. Her expression turned into a look of surprise.
Yukinoshita looked at me with sorrowful eyes. “…You can still see hope if you don’t count the days.”
“Saying that already tells me there is no hope…”
This totally won’t work out? Yeah? I glanced at Isshiki and even her expression grew dark.
“…I guess… it’s no good?” Isshiki whispered intermittently, her voice vulnerable as though she was keeping herself from breaking into a fit of crying. Her eyes became moist and her breaths were laden with heat. Her fists that gripped her skirt weakly trembled. Her thin shoulders skipped and she slowly and timidly looked into my eyes. It’s almost as though she was putting her feelings of passion into every single one of her movements that it made me feel like wanting to take up the job.
But not so fast! I was already used to Komachi, my little sister, crying like that! When you’re brought up with a sister like her, you end up building a resistance whether you liked it or not! That’s why, I was very used to accepting things without hesitation.
“So you just need something done in a few days, right…?” I answered her with a voice that I’d normally use with Komachi. I hate it! I hate this onii-chan attribute of mine!
“Thank you soooo much,” Isshiki said, smiling as she expressed her appreciation. In contrast, the other two on the side were looking at me with a considerably cold stare and made deep sighs.
“…I see you’re as soft as ever.”
“W-Well… That’s one of Hikki’s good points… and also one of his hopeless points.”
As Yuigahama made a problematic smile, she also looked at me with cold eyes even though I thought she’d mediate for Yukinoshita.
Er, I’m very sorry… I’m very sorry for causing you so much trouble… Instinctively, I was going to apologize to the two, but the one who originally brought this job to us was Isshiki. She’s the one at fault, not me.
I glanced at Isshiki and she was rubbing her chest in relief.
“Phew, you’re a real life saver. I was really hoping I could put the things from before under our expenses.”
She had an incredibly happy smile in contrast to her laudable attitude from earlier. I mean, I guess it’s fine since I had a vague idea that this was going to happen.
But at least keep your sly act up all the way until the end! Good grief, I had absolutely no hopes or dreams.4
× × ×
It was a pretty harsh schedule, but we somehow managed to settle on something. Developments from here on would influence our costs, but at the current state, there weren’t any problems with the budget.
However, we had yet to decide on what to do, the most crucial part.
“Okaaaay, let’s begin the planning meeting.”
Isshiki announced her words in long-winded fashion. Only Yuigahama gave applause. Although Isshiki initiated the meeting, she faced Yukinoshita in the next instant wondering how to proceed.
After taking her look, Yukinoshita placed her hand to her chin. “I suppose we should think about the concept first.”
“Wouldn’t what Iroha-chan mentioned earlier be good? Introduction to local fun spots or stores with delicious food or stuff like that.”
“Oh, yes! I think that’s good! I think a plan where we can do all kinds of research and put those under expenses is good!”
Isshiki appeared to be in full agreement with Yuigahama, but what she was saying sounded like she had a completely different objective in mind…
Hearing the two of their opinions, Yukinoshita shook her head. “If we had the time, that would be fine, but given our situation, filling eight pages with just that would be more than we can handle. We need to think about other kinds of articles.”
“Is there anything else you want to do?” Yuigahama asked Isshiki.
Isshiki crossed her arms and tilted her head in contemplation. After groaning for a few minutes, she whispered, “…Not really.”
After listening to her answer, Yukinoshita’s shoulders dropped and Yuigahama wryly smiled. Well, that’s just how she is…
Yukinoshita’s proposal—brainstorm from the concept up—was a very by-the-book method. You could even say it’s the proper and correct way when actually publishing a free newspaper. However, in Isshiki’s case, publishing the newspaper aligned with her objective, so the concept was just an after-thought for her.
What we should think about now wasn’t the concept that we, the publishers, would use as a basis for the newspaper, but the concept of how we could capture the attention of the readers.
“If we’re unsure of how to start, why don’t we work backwards from the goal?”
It looked like my idea didn’t make much sense to Isshiki. She tilted her head in a right angle and looked at me with narrowed eyes. How irritating… I was actually trying to help, you know…
But though Isshiki didn’t get it, Yukinoshita certainly did.
“Goal… In other words, you mean the readers?”
“Yeah. We basically narrow our target demographic and cater to what they’d like to read.”
“Readers… So this paper’s just getting passed around in the school?” Yuigahama asked, and Isshiki nodded.
Well, we’re ultimately in the dark until the very end, so for now, the appropriate thing to do here was distribute pre-release copies or first editions within the school.
We narrowed our vague target demographic even further.
“So, it’ll be around March by then, right? That means the third years will be graduating, so the main targets would be the current first and second years.”
“Depending on when the paper is published, we may have to consider targeting upcoming freshmen as well.”
“Oh, I get the feeling there’d be more new students who’d look at this!”
“That’s true, new students are more likely to take one since it’s a bit out of the ordinary for them.”
The three of them converged under the same opinion. Now, we determined our main target readership.
After narrowing down our target readership, the remaining thing to do was to plan and adjust our course of action accordingly.
Yukinoshita who had been taking notes stopped writing with her pen. As she reviewed what she wrote down, she opened her mouth.
“If we are going to target the upcoming freshmen, the theme of the paper can be about introducing the school and we can create a section for introducing local spots… That should give us something solid.”
“That’s pretty common, but it’s the conservative way to go for the first issue. If we can tie it in as some kind of new student life guide book, we should be able to make something decent.”
“Ohh, that does sound decent…” Yuigahama said, sounding impressed. Similarly, Isshiki clapped her hands as if finding everything so far satisfactory and agreed.
“That sounds good to me! So, how should we go about introducing the school?” Isshiki gave Yukinoshita a look with eyes of expectation. However, Yukinoshita gave back a dull stare, apparently telling her to think for herself. Ohh, how strict of her…
With Yukinoshita’s cold look at her, Isshiki stammered. As she gave Yukinoshita glances, she timidly spoke.
“We could… p-promote the clubs, or something…? Maybe?”
Isshiki meekly huddled to herself and squeezed her bosom.
In contrast, Yukinoshita silently listened to her and questioned her with a look as to whether that was what she really wanted.
And lastly, Yuigahama watched the two of them nervously.
Silence ruled over the room for the next few moments. In this congealed atmosphere, Isshiki groaned. Just stop it, you guys! It hurts just watching her, so just tell her she’s right, please!
Though I wasn’t sure if my plea had gotten across, Yukinoshita eventually smiled. “…I suppose that’s fine.”
Yukinoshita brushed her hair at her shoulders and nodded. Isshiki sighed in relief at her side.
“We’re going with that, then. Mmkay, so we’ll do club introductions. Clubs, clubs…”
Yuigahama gladly nodded as well and began writing down the names of various clubs. Yukinoshita looked over at her notes.
“We should be able to do quite a bit with this amount. I believe it should be about two pages worth.”
“It’d be nice if we could get one more page out of it.”
Eight pages might’ve not sounded very much, but in reality, it’s quite a lot. It didn’t seem that way when you were reading, but when it came to actually filling the pages, it’s very time consuming. Even the single page we did for the local magazine last time was pretty painful.
“You’re right… I suppose we should select a club and feature them in a large, special article.”
“Sounds like the Tennis Club!”
“Sounds like the Soccer Club!”
Isshiki and I answered at nearly the same time to Yukinoshita’s suggestion. We then glared at each other.
“It clearly has to be the Tennis Club. Everyone wants to join, you know.”
I mean, everyone’s read Prince of Tennis, and tennis was getting pretty darn popular nowadays. Isshiki, however, wouldn’t budge.
“It obviously has to be the Soccer Club no matter how much you think about it. That’s what everyone wants to see, and there’s Hayama-senpai.” Isshiki argued her position in earnest.
M-Mmm… I kind of lost my ground once Hayama’s name popped up… It’s certainly true that featuring a photo with Hayama would be met favorably… Like Sagami Minami for example, she seems like she’d take several of them for herself. And then there was Miura who’d swipe a single photo of him when no one was looking. Wait, no, if we featured Totsuka’s picture, everyone would definitely—alright, that’s out of the question. The only one who should get to enjoy Totsuka’s pictures was me!
I fought with my inner demon and groaned in frustration. Yuigahama made a complicated face while watching me.
“Mmm. People might say stuff about us if we give special treatment to just one club…”
“Ahh, I guess we might get some people complaining.”
As considerate as always, Yuigahama. That’s our Gahama-san. As it turns out, even if our intentions weren’t like that, we wouldn’t know how others would perceive it. It’d be easier on us if we just followed the template to a T to avoid any needless conflict.
Isshiki, however, had a different opinion. Her eyebrows scrunched together like a frown and displayed her discontent.
“Ehh, can’t we just ignore them?”
Ohh, she sure has a strong heart… Though, “It doesn’t matter what someone like Isshiki does, someone’s going to complain anyway!” might be more accurate here.
Yukinoshita sighed and turned to Isshiki. “It’s not that simple. This paper will be sanctioned by the Student Council. There are some things you need to consider with something like this… After all, the one who will be the target of the backlash is you.”
Her words were harsh, but her tone was kind and considered Isshiki’s well-being.
“…Well, I guess so.”
Yukinoshita’s words that thought of Isshiki seemed to have gotten through to her as she nodded reluctantly. Although it’s a bit hard to tell, Yukinoshita was acting like a proper upperclassman for her.
“Oh, but hey, why don’t we ask Hayato-kun? He’s the president of the club president meetings, so if we have him act as the representative for all the club presidents, everyone should be fine with that, right?” Yuigahama said with a positive voice, acting as the other good upperclassman to Isshiki.
Isshiki perked up her face and made a sparkling smile. “That sounds good! I’ll interview him!”
“Yes, let’s fill one page with that interview.”
Having figured out our plan, the next thing was to fill in the page with details.
Yukinoshita wrote down a list of things to ask for such as club president names, pictures, and comments to feature on the overview page of the clubs. Isshiki looked at those notes and spoke.
“Are we not going to feature the Service Club?”
Upon mentioning that, Yukinoshita and Yuigahama looked up and exchanged glances. A short silence was born as though they were checking with each other or unsure. I then broke that silence.
“We don’t need to write anything about this club.”
Isshiki asked me curiously while tilting her head. Because she looked at me directly, I choked on my words. I spat out words that I didn’t really mean in order to smooth it over.
“Come on, it’s embarrassing to write about yourself, right…?” I said.
Yuigahama nodded in realization. “Ugh, that’s true…”
“Besides, no one even knows about this club, so featuring it in the paper isn’t going to make anyone happy.” I continued.
Yukinoshita moved her hand to her chin and thought. “I suppose so, and it’s not like we’re looking for new members…”
“Right? Plus, it’d be easier for us if we prioritize the editing by reducing work where we can.”
Though I was saying that, I was well aware of the actual reason why.
And it was simply because I had no idea what we should write about for this club. I wasn’t sure what to call our club activities or how to define them.
Isshiki opened her mouth as though trying to add another point of her own, but she stopped that with a sigh.
“…Well, if that’s the reason, I guess there’s no helping it.”
For now, it looks like she was convinced. Isshiki quickly took the notes. While fluttering them, she turned to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
“So, is it okay if we use this material for the paper?”
“Yes. Also, regarding the spot introductions…”
Isshiki took out her smartphone after listening to Yukinoshita.
“Oh, actually, I already looked them up. I have some pictures of the stores on my phone.”
“Ohh, I wanna see!”
Isshiki fiddled with her cellphone while Yuigahama watched. Naturally, as the one stuck in between those two, Yukinoshita was further pressed together while looking at Isshiki’s phone.
Isshiki slid her fingers across the screen. For every picture, they’d engage in a girly conversation, “That’s soo cute!” “This is so nice, right?” and “Can you move back to that photo just now? Yes, the one with the cat sundries.”
I listened to the three’s energetic exchange while sitting in my seat that was apart from them. I absentmindedly played with my phone in the meantime.
And suddenly, their chatter stopped.
Having found that odd, I looked at the three of them. Isshiki had an “oops” face. As for Yuigahama and Yukinoshita, they looked at me in fixation.
“Oh, um, ahaha, it’s like, I-I thought it’d be nice if I tried going there, too…”
When I asked, Yuigahama made a reluctant laugh. Next to her, Yukinoshita was wearing an amiable smile.
“…It seems like you enjoyed yourself quite a bit in this picture, didn’t you?”
Isn’t the room kind of cold? So cold! I wonder if they can fix the heater any faster…?
× × ×
Clack, a cup was placed on a saucer.
“In any case, it looks like we won’t need to worry about the coverage for the spots.”
“Yes, I think so,” Isshiki answered while putting her phone away. The pictures Isshiki took during our outing the other day was apparently going to be used for this free newspaper. That’s what Isshiki explained it as, anyway. I had no idea how Yukinoshita and Yuigahama took that, but I was released from their cold stares.
“Okay, Iroha-chan will be in charge of that,” said Yuigahama, circling her notes. So we had decided on what to do. Now, what’s left was to break up our responsibilities. Of course, we had to distribute each page as well, but we divided every duty one by one.
Yukinoshita arranged what was written in the notes. “I’ll handle the page layout, schedule, and the design. Yuigahama-san, you’ll be in charge of collecting data on the clubs and handling communication with them.”
“Roger that!” Yuigahama answered back lively, nodding back.
Then, Yukinoshita glanced at me. “As for Hikigaya-kun…”
“Cameraman, got it.”
Cameraman, that is, to take pictures of every club. That basically means I had a legal way of procuring photos of Totsuka. I was so motivated that I’d exclaim, “Leave the cameraman role to me! Scratch scratch!” but Yukinoshita’s reply was callous.
“You will handle the writing, coverage, photography, planning, production, proofreading, public relations, accounting, and all routine duties.”
Talk about a lot… There are even unnecessary jobs in there, too. I made a vexed look and Yukinoshita glared at me.
“Are you unsatisfied with something?”
Not something, but everything. I thought. Then, Yuigahama patted Yukinoshita’s shoulders.
“O-Okay, okay, Yukinon. We’re already done with the coverage for the stores, so…”
When Yuigahama tried to intervene, Yukinoshita had a slightly objecting face. She then sighed and brushed aside her hair.
“…That’s true. In that case, Hikigaya-kun will be in charge of the writing and routine tasks.”
I nodded in consent, making an internal “I gotcha!” side peace ☆ sign. Well, when it came to composing something, I was the right choice for speed. I could imagine Yuigahama and Isshiki making a lot of typos while Yukinoshita’s writing would be pointlessly dry and stiff.
Once we were assigned our roles, we were ready to start working until Isshiki weakly raised her hand. “Umm, what am I supposed to do?”
“That goes without saying. You are the Editor-in-Chief.”
“Ohhh… sounds kinda amazing.”
Yukinoshita stated instantly to which Yuigahama gave her blessing with a round of applause. Well, Isshiki was the one who brought this job to us, so it’s only natural that she was given the position with the most responsibility. Our dear soon-to-be Editor-in-Chief didn’t seem very aware of it and tilted her head.
“What is an Editor-in-Chief supposed to do?”
After hearing that, Yukinoshita sighed in resignation. “Let’s see… First, you should get permission for us to feature information and pictures of the stores in the paper.”
“Yes! I’ll go do that!”
Isshiki’s response was lively, evident that she seemed up for the task. Confirming that, Yukinoshita added further. “Also, we’ll need to secure distribution channels. Have you already decided where to distribute the papers?”
“I guess places like in front of the Student Council Room, faculty lounge, and places where everybody passes by?”
“Well then, go ahead and get permission to use those places.”
“Yes! I’ll go ask Hiratsuka-sensei.”
“Can you make copies of these on your way back as well?”
Yukinoshita handed Isshiki the notes. Isshiki accepted the notes as though pressing them against her chest and saluted.
“Yes, I understand…! Wait, aren’t these just chores?” Isshiki’s shoulders dropped. Ohh, she noticed.
“Your job is to supervise and review the entire situation, negotiate with third-parties, do the final check, and provide support where appropriate.” Yukinoshita explained.
Isshiki breathed out in admiration stood up. “Okay, I’ll go tell Hiratsuka-sensei.”
On her way out the room, just when she passed right by me, she grabbed my sleeve. “Let’s go, senpai.”
“What, go by yourself…”
“Come on, senpai, if you’re there, you can act as the lightning rod—I mean, I might think of something amazing, you know!? I’m really depending on you, senpai!”
You didn’t have to correct yourself… But as Isshiki said, I certainly had my reputation as a lightning rod. If having me present meant the talks would go more smoothly, I should just go and get it over with.
“Alright, let’s go.”
I removed my sleeve from her grip and got up from my seat. And then, Yuigahama noisily stood up from her seat as well.
“Oh, I’ll go too!”
“Jeez… I suppose I’ll have to go as well to explain the documents.” Yukinoshita sighed and quietly left her seat.
“Okay! Let’s all go together!”
Yuigahama took Yukinoshita and Isshiki’s arms and headed for the door. Mmm, doing that makes the cold hallway look a little bit warmer…
Well, if the three of them were there, it looks like I wouldn’t need to do anything but stand there. I followed the three of them from behind and we left the clubroom.
× × ×
We went inside the faculty lounge, and headed straight for Hiratsuka-sensei’s desk.
Amongst all the desks inside the room, we spotted her sitting at one that was conspicuously messy. She was typing on the computer that was in front of her. Occasionally, she’d carry soba noodles from her bowl of take-out food on the side to her mouth. Wow, she’s eating something again…
“Hm? Ohh, Hikigaya. What’s everyone doing here?”
“We wanted to discuss something with you…”
“Hm? Mmm…” Hiratsuka-sensei shot a glance at her bowl and took a moment to think.
“Please feel free to continue eating,” Yukinoshita said.
“Is that so? My apologies.”
Hiratsuka-sensei made an apologetic laugh and brought the bowl closer to her hand. Then, she rotated her body halfway on the chair and took her chopsticks.
“So, what is it that you want to discuss?” Hiratsuka-sensei continued after slurping her soba.
“Um, we were thinking of making a free newspaper.”
“Free, news, paper?” Hiratsuka-sensei repeated the words in puzzlement, not expecting to hear that.
Isshiki went into the details about her plan of publishing a free newspaper. Yukinoshita would interject where appropriate while presenting the documents, pamphlets, and quotes that outlined everything.
“We have already estimated the costs of the paper and it’s feasible to operate within budget. We still only have a rough idea of what the paper will be about, but this is what we have gathered so far.”
“Mmhmm.” Hiratsuka-sensei looked at all the documents in interest while periodically slurping her soba. Once we flipped through all the documents, she lifted her face looking as though she grasped the general gist of the plan.
“Well, I don’t have any problems with what you have… But can’t this be done with a mimeograph and straw paper?”
The instant she asked, Yuigahama tilted her head. “Straw paper?”
“Huh? Mimeograph?” Isshiki gave Hiratsuka-sensei a confused, or rather, an impolite look. Jeez, this girl sure has bad manners…
If this was the usual Hiratsuka-sensei, she’d give her a taste of her educational crash course, but she didn’t seem to be in that mood right now.
“Oh, so you don’t know what they are…”
When she feebly mumbled, a tense and self-deprecating smile ran across her face.
“I know about them, but I have never seem them in person…”
“I guess so…”
Yukinoshita stated meekly as though it was the final nail in the coffin and Hiratsuka-sensei responded with a trembling voice. Well, we can’t do much about machines and raw material getting increasingly more advanced, after all. Then again, it’s kind of suspicious that sensei even knew about a mimeograph… Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I know her age or anything, okay?
That female teacher of an unknown age—around thirty—slumped over and hugged her bowl of food.
“Well, go ahead and do as you like.”
With just that, she began slurping her slightly expanded soba in sorrow…
× × ×
Once we obtained Hiratsuka-sensei’s permission, we were finally able to get down to business.
In fulfilling my responsibility that every individual was assigned, I borrowed the laptop and began my composition on the keyboard.
Then, Yukinoshita walked over to my side and spoke to me.
“Hikigaya-kun, can I have a moment of your time?”
“Mm,” I answered.
Yukinoshita took a seat diagonally from me and expanded the draft table for each page of the newspaper. This table was, simply put, an overview of the layout and content for every page.
Using the tip of the pen, she tapped at one section in the table. “So, our problem is how we want to handle the front cover.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just skip the design and use a picture?”
“Should we try for a simple design like a picture with a caption or a framework with a log?”
“Ahh, maybe we can make it more visible if we do something like Times or Forbes?”
“Yes, I believe if we make it clear what we want to show, it should stand out more.”
“Less effort for us, too.”
As we were engaged in discussion, I felt distant stares focused on us. I took a look and Isshiki was wincing at us.
“Just what the heck are you two talking about…?”
“Oh, I know, right!? That’s what I’ve been thinking the entire time!” Yuigahama said, pitching forward on the table. I wonder if she’s happy because she made a friend… Those two friends, in particular, were apparently creating a template of questions for every club. We left those two to their own devices since Yukinoshita and I needed to continue with our chat.
Yukinoshita added a note in the table. She then stopped her hand and squished the pen against her cheek.
“So we know what we want for the design, so now the problem is what we want in it.”
“Why don’t we just use Isshiki’s photos? What with being the president and all.” I pointed at Isshiki with my index finger.
She shook her hands. “Huh? You mean like gravure pictures? Swimsuits are no good for me, sorry.”
“You swear I’d know that… For one thing, no one’s expecting stuff like that from you.”
What else were you no good with…? Well, that slyness of hers was part of her innocent and pure act, so I guess I had an idea of what. However, someone of my stature was built not to believe in words like purity, amateur things, and magic mirrors.5
As though something rubbed her the wrong way, Isshiki’s voiced turned cold, the glint in her narrowing eyes also looking sharp. Her mouth then curved downwards and she placed her hand on her bosom while thinking. Eventually, an unpleasant smile appeared on her as as though she thought of something and suddenly spoke in a cheerful and sweet voice.
“Oh gee, I wonder who you’re expecting pictures from then, huh? Ohhh, like maybe from Yui-senpai?”
“Wh-Whoa! N-No way! I definitely can’t do that, for sure!”
Isshiki pulled Yuigahama down and forced her body forward. The added effect of her body leaning forward emphasized her chest and the flickering glimpses of her skin from behind her flapping collars. In keeping my gaze from instinctively latching onto that view, I forcibly turned it away. I won’t lose! Humans won’t lose to things like desires!
In managing to remove my gaze, I ended up locking eyes with Yuigahama. Her cheeks reddened and she held her shoulders as though to hide her body.
“Ah, um… I-It’s kinda embarrassing doing stuff like that… and I don’t want other people to see me, and stuff…”
Yuigahama was red down to her neck as she stuttered. When she finished, she gave me a feverish look. Quite frankly, if we featured her on the cover, I’m sure a select group of people would rejoice, bu t I couldn’t really feel that way. I mean, look, the person in question clearly didn’t like it, see?
“Well, uh, yeah… I definitely wouldn’t do that, either.”
“R-Really…? Thank goodness.”
The tension dissipated from Yuigahama’s shoulders. Similarly, I let out a deep breath.
But once Yuigahama calmed down, the cause for this conversation came to mind.
“Anyway, gravure doesn’t mean just swimsuit photos. What was it, rotogravure? That’s called gravure too, I think.”
Right, Yukipedia-san? I looked at Yukinoshita, and she was fiddling with her ribbon neck tie. When our eyes met, she had a look of surprise and promptly averted her face. She retied her ribbon afterwards.
I could hear her make a shallow sigh. Could you, like, not go quiet at a time like this…?
“Anyway, photos of your regular uniform is good enough. Okay, next. Yukinoshita, what should we do about the back cover?” I asked Yukinoshita, changing the subject. She then gave me a momentary look as though examining me. While she didn’t respond, she was all ears. I went ahead and continued.
“Should we put advertisements on the back? Like for mysterious prayer beads, or speed reading techniques, or strength training equipment, or even health products?” I said, imagining how funny it’d be to take pictures of Zaimokuza bathing in a tub full of bank notes. Eventually, Yukinoshita opened her mouth.
“Looking for places that’ll let us place their ads at this point isn’t very realistic. It may be something to consider if we’re doing periodical publications, but that may not be feasible this time. We don’t have the material for it either, so we should fill it with text.”
Her gaze was still glued to the table draft as she spoke in disinterest. I took a moment to think.
“So either a magazine column or a postscript from the editor… Well, I can handle that.”
“Yes, please do,” Yukinoshita answered briefly. She began working her hand again but continued to look away from me. Unlike earlier, her pen squeaked a lot louder. I wonder if she’s still concerned from earlier… She really doesn’t need to let it bother her, too…
It’s okay! You still have some hope left! And I mean genetically!
× × ×
Now then, my assignment was the writing for all things related and photography that I had desired so much for. But in turn, that also meant having to be present in the interviews for every club. With so little time on our hands, our coverage team was split into pairs. Isshiki and I were one pair while Yuigahama and Yukinoshita were the other. After averaging out our communication and academic ability, well, I suppose this was the right way to split up. Isshiki and I handled the male clubs while Yuigahama and Yukinoshita handled the female clubs…
The first club to interview was… the Tennis Club, of course!
Yuigahama had already made prior appointments, so Isshiki and I arrived at the tennis courts with winds fiercely blowing through them.
“Your receive is too slow! You can do a little better than that!”
The cute voice that resounded throughout the courts belonged to the captain of the Tennis Club, Totsuka. With his racket resting against his shoulder and his other hand on his waist, he yelled out advice to his underclassmen. It looks like he was already accustomed to being the captain.
Upon arriving at the junctures of the tennis courts, Totsuka noticed us. He jogged over to us while waving his hand.
“Hachiman! Hello to you too, Isshiki-san.”
“Hello there, thank you for your time today.”
“Sorry for interrupting your practice.”
Following along with Isshiki’s respectful bow, I did a ceremonious chop with my hand as a form of greeting to Totsuka.
“Oh no, not at all! Um, you’re taking pictures, right? Feel free to start whenever you’d like.” Totsuka shook his head. After, he stretched out his hands and turned towards the entirety of the courts. He then rotated his head our way and smiled. Yep, I’d say we’re perfectly ready to go!
“Alright, let’s get started…”
Since Totsuka looked so cute spreading his hands out like that, I started off first with a photo of that. I posed with the camera and pressed the shutter. In doing so, Totsuka looked confused—I took another picture. He cutely tilted his head to which I took another shot. I was just about to take another one of Totsuka’s curious look, but just as I readied the camera into position, he opened his mouth in bewilderment.
“Um… aren’t you going to take pictures of our practice?”
“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right, but this comes first.” I declared to him, taking a considerably forceful and open tone. Totsuka faltered in the face of my intensity.
“R-Really…? It’s kinda embarrassing… mmm…”
Totsuka placed his hand on his cheeks to hide his embarrassment from taking photos and brooded over it. But after a glance towards the tennis courts, he muttered. “But we might get new members if they see this…”
“That’s right, it’s possible the new students will use these photos to decide what to do.”
When Yuigahama went to make appointments with every club, we also had her inform them of the objective of this free newspaper. For the clubs, this was a perfect chance to promote themselves. When I responded to him, Totsuka lifted his face as though to ready himself.
“I-I’ll try my best…”
He then clenched his fists in front of his chest and looked motivated.
“Y-Yeah…? Alright, let’s do our best.”
It’s fine that I was able to convince Totsuka, but somehow, I was starting to feel like I had deceived him into a photo shoot. This feeling of guilt… No, wait. This isn’t guilt, but…… immorality! Heck, in a different sense, I was raring to go now!
“Alright, let’s go nuts with the pictures.”
After hearing his spunky reply, I readied the camera.
“Can you try taking a stance with your racket this time?”
I took shots from a low angle of Totsuka swinging his racket as well as spectacular shots of Totsuka in animated motion. I captured Totsuka hold his ground with a step when he lost his balance in the viewfinder. Shutter chance!
I took shots of Totsuka in motion to my heart’s content and proceeded onto the next stage.
“Next, can you try hugging your racket?”
“Sure… Hmm?” Totsuka bended his head in puzzlement while hugging his racket to his chest. That’s where I took consecutive shots, spectacular shots, and even panoramic shots. While we’re at it, let’s throw an optional towel in there. That’s good, that’s real good. Let’s get a little bolder, why don’t we? I continued taking photos in that enthusiastic fashion. Beside me, Isshiki was looking rather dismayed.
“Senpai, haven’t you taken enough photos already…?”
“Really? Well, I guess so.”
“Yes.” Isshiki nodded. Indeed, Isshiki had a point.
“True, I guess we have enough of the racket. Let’s take pictures without it this time.”
“Huh?” Isshiki went stiff.
Ignoring her, I looked into the viewfinder and thought about what to take photos of next.
“Totsuka, can you do this for a bit?”
Totsuka’s response was somewhat dispirited, as though he was a bit exhausted. I know what this is. He’s reacting like my house cat that’d lose all his energy from posing too much. In other words, he was that much cute!
Heeding my instructions, Totsuka set his racket down at his feet and sat down hugging his knees. I took shots of him at a front angle and a diagonal angle. I had him take even more varied poses going through a pattern of consent with his gaze. As for his gaze, he was stuck between a smile and a look of boredom.
“H-Hachiman… Are you still taking more?” Totsuka said with a stiff smile and a broken voice.
I guess Totsuka’s kind of tired right now. What should we do…? I thought, and it hit me.
“Let’s take a quick break, then.”
“So you’re still going to continue…” Totsuka’s shoulders dropped.
Yep, so I wasn’t mistaken in choosing to take a break now, after all. To prepare for the second half of the photo shoot, I fiddled with the camera and checked the pictures taken thus far. I then realized something important.
I called Isshiki, who had long given up on dealing with me and watched us from afar. She walked over with an annoyed look.
“Do you have spare memory cards? This one’s, like, out of space.”
“Just how many pictures did you take…?”
“I actually already got rid of the extra images, though…” I said.
Isshiki let out a deep sigh and grabbed my sleeve. She then pulled on it and began walking.
“We have enough already! Totsuka-senpai, thank you very much,” Isshiki said.
“Ah, sure. Thank you too, like really.” Totsuka made a sudden smile and answered back, having been depressed while hugging his knees and sitting on the floor.
By all means possible, I wanted to capture that smile of his in a photo, but with Isshiki reeling me in by my sleeve, I wasn’t granted the wish of consecutive or spectacular shots. At the very least, I turned his smile into a photographic memory to be stored in the album of my heart.
× × ×
Isshiki dragged me along by my sleeve and before long, we were at the Soccer Club.
The fields the Soccer Club practiced on was right beside the tennis courts, so it wasn’t very far. I might as well add that I didn’t have all that much interest in the Soccer Club, either.
I figured we could just be on our way after two or three shots of them, but Isshiki wouldn’t allow that.
“Ohh, please focus a shot on Hayama-senpai over there. Oh, right there, right there!”
Isshiki tapped my shoulders and designated specific moments for a shot. After taking the pictures, we checked over each picture one by one.
“Please let me see… Oh, some of these have Tobe-senpai in them, so I’m gonna delete them, okay?” she said, and deleted the pictures. She then pushed the camera back to me.
Oh, come on, what’s the big deal? It’s just Tobe… No one’s going to care if he’s there or not, you know?
This continued on for a little longer, so we weren’t making much progress.
“Hey, this is enough, right? There’s no more memory…”
“And whose fault do you think that is?” Isshiki puffed her cheeks and glared at me with a sidelong glance.
Not much I could say against that. Ultimately, I was forced into taking pictures of the soccer mini-game until it ended.
Once it finally finished, Hayama walked over to us.
“Hayama-senpaaaai!” Isshiki yelled out while waving her hand.
Hayama lifted his hand back. “So I heard from Yui that you’re making a free newspaper of the sort? You’re doing whatever you’re asked to like always, huh?”
Hayama made an invigorating smile while being subtly astonished.
“I already told you that’s just how our club works. I don’t want to hear that from someone going out of his way to stop practice early just for an interview. Sorry for bothering you.”
“That’s a funny way to show your gratitude.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Then, he looked towards the courtyard. “It’s cold here, right? How about we do the interview over there?”
Since the pilotis area of the courtyard was surrounded by the school building, the winds didn’t pass through. With a happy smile, Isshiki led the way towards a good spot. The spot she went to had a vending machine with a simple bench on the side. Isshiki took a seat and patted the seat next to her, motioning for us to come over. How sly…
I let Hayama go first while I went to buy a can of black coffee and black tea from the vending machine. As I juggled the hot cans hand to hand, I sat across Hayama.
“Just say random stuff. You’re pretty good at that, right?”
I tossed him the canned coffee as I spoke. When Hayama accepted it, he looked at it in surprise. He then briefly sighed and made a strained laugh. With a mocking tone, he said, “Are you being sarcastic?”
“Just praising you. I don’t really care, but we’re counting on you.”
“…Well, I’ll try to meet your expectations to the best of my ability,” Hayama said, and smiled. He raised his hand at me and faced Isshiki.
“Okaaaay, let’s begin the interview!”
Isshiki started the voice recorder on her smartphone and set it aside her tea. I took two steps away from them and readied the camera. The Hayama beyond the viewfinder was, as I thought, the Hayama Hayato that everyone knew. However, the joking and wryly smiling Hayama from just a moment ago felt slightly different.
× × ×
We wrapped up our interview and photo shoot with Hayama. Afterwards, we visited all the other clubs, subsequently finishing them up as well. We even managed to get a shot of Hayama opening his hands upwards, so quality wasn’t a concern.
Yuigahama and Yukinoshita should’ve been about done on their end with female clubs, too. The remaining job was to take photos of Isshiki Iroha for the front cover of the newspaper.
As per the request of the model Isshiki, we relocated to the library for the photo shoot.
We went through the front entrance from the courtyard, changed into our indoor loafers, passed by the faculty lounge, and entered the library.
In the later hours of after school, the library was rarely used by students. A peaceful atmosphere permeated the room.
“So, why the library…?”
Isshiki surveyed the library and walked around to find a suitable place for photos. When I asked her from behind, she turned around. “Isn’t the library, like, very intellectual?”
“What an unintellectual thing to say…”
“That’s fine. This is a matter concerning my image.” She turned her face away and began walking, making several stops. And finally settling on a spot, she took a seat at a table with her back against the bookshelves. Then, she took out her compact mirror and started fixing up her appearance.
The tall bookshelves loomed over Isshiki as a protector of the sort, and the dark-colored book spines contrasted with Isshiki’s gaudiness. The lights were bright in the library in the evening, a form of consideration to make it easier for readers, and they served to show Isshiki’s white skin imbued with a slight color of warmth.
I didn’t know very much as an amateur, but I felt Isshiki’s appearance could make for a pretty picture. That’s what you could expect from Isshiki Iroha; she was fully aware of how to exhibit her charm.
“Alright, I’ll take some shots.” I called out to Isshiki. She answered by resting her cheeks in her hands and her elbows on the desk.
Her moist eyes and her long eyelashes in her inviting upwards expression was impressive and despite the innocence in her somewhat elated smile, her cherry lips glazed softly.
Even though I had the lens directed at her, I had forgotten to press the shutter. It’s only after I heard a cough that I came back to my senses.
I pressed the shutter several times and lowered the camera. As I checked over the photos I had just taken, I spoke to Isshiki in a way to cover up my earlier moment of absentmindedness.
“You seem pretty used to taking pictures…” I said.
Isshiki was about to change her pose and looked into her mirror while thinking. After facing the mirror, she tilted her head. “Really? Isn’t it normal to take pictures all the time?
“Not all the time.”
I felt it was only during extraordinary events like field trips or events that I would take pictures that could be left as commemorations and as memories. At least, that’s how it had been for my entire life so far.
But Isshiki was saying something entirely else. She closed the compact mirror and glanced at me. Even though the camera wasn’t focused on her, her smile was soft.
“Memories are important, don’t you think?”
That was something normal to Isshiki Iroha.
She was saying that even the typical scenery that never saw any change and didn’t distinguish between what was normal and extraordinary was a memory to be cherished.
“…I suppose,” I answered briefly, and I positioned the camera again. Now then, let’s think. Will these photos be the memories of what’s ordinary, or the memories of what’s extraordinary? I thought as I pressed the shutter.
× × ×
Having amassed most of the material for the paper, we began working. A few days had passed since then. The club introductions and the spot guide proceeded forward smoothly and the interview article was mostly finished. The design was making favorable progress and we filled in each page one by one starting from the first.
As for all the articles, just a few caption and header adjustments and they were more or less done. Featured comments from the club presidents had their wording revised and that, too, was almost finished.
Progress was good. It should’ve been good.
We also made sure to flavor the articles featuring the clubs, recommended spots, and interviews with Isshiki lingo. We received confirmation from every club for their photos as well. We even humored Isshiki’s sudden desire to fix the front cover which went by without a hitch.
Yet. Yet, despite all of this, my writing had yet to end.
“How did this even happen…?”
Was it because I was taking this seriously? Indeed, I was working seriously; not only did I do the writing for the normal articles, I helped Yukinoshita, and I went to the Game Club for their comments in place of Yuigahama.
For someone like me, I worked pretty hard, spending the the past few days up until today being very busy. Maybe that’s why… When you got too busy, you’d end up forgetting about your other jobs…
I had an entire column to write, to the point where it was “two days until the deadline!”
As I held my head in my hands, Isshiki stood next to me. She then poured me some tea from a bottle.
“Here you go, drink this. Please do your best,” she said. She put away the bottle inside the mini-fridge that was under the table. Afterwards, she took a seat at another desk that was diagonally opposite from mine.
The tea, the desks, the seats, and lastly, the room were all different from the usual.
Presently, I was confined to the Student Council Room, forced to write the rest of the magazine column all the while being under surveillance. Because our clubroom’s heater was still broken, the Student Council Room arranged by Isshiki was offered as the alternative for my confinement.
I glanced at the window and it was already sundown. Normally, I’d use my cellphone instead of a watch to check the time, but I didn’t have the means because my phone had been confiscated. I surveyed the room and stumbled upon a table clock, its hands pointing at cruel numbers.
I was brought to this room immediately after school and had yet to take a foot outside since then. That’s because the deadline was tomorrow.
Oooooooooooooh crap… I haven’t written a single thing… I can’t imagine me finishing on time at all…
I mashed the keyboard in an attempt to get something down only to erase it all because it wasn’t to my liking. I went through many iterations doing just that. Crap, craaaaaaaaaaaap. At this rate, we’re not going to make it in time, ahhhhhhhhhhhh!
As I flailed around at my desk, Isshiki looked at me while backing away. Her expression looked like she wanted to say, “Ugh…” as she shook her head. Then, something caught her attention and she began sifting through her blazer’s pocket.
“Senpai, phone,” she said, and took out my cellphone from her pocket, trying to hand it over to me.
However, a call right before an upcoming deadline was never anything good. In the first place, if you’re going to make demands like that, there wouldn’t be any need for anime recaps. Postponing the release date because the author said so didn’t exist either.
That’s why at times like these, it’s best to check the caller and then ignore the call.
“…From who? The editor?” I asked.
Isshiki sighed in disbelief. “If an editor’s the first thing you think of, the situation must be bad… Umm… Oh, it says ‘Mom.” Maybe it’s from your mom?”
“…The editor’s… mom…? Are they keeping watch over me under the guise of family?”
“No, why would you even think of that? It’s senpai’s mom, I think.”
“Right. Just leave it, I’ll call her back later.”
“Oh, if you say so.”
Isshiki answered back briefly and placed the cellphone back in her pocket. She then flipped and checked over a good stack of papers, perhaps for the fiscal year-end, occasionally stamping them.
Having her working on the side only made me feel like I should actually get my work done… Reluctantly, I began tampering with the keyboard.
And so, another period of time passed by.
It was already dark outside the window, nearing the time for when students should head home. I stopped hearing the sound of stamping, not noticing that Isshiki had already finished her work. I glanced over at her and she was staring at her smartphone.
Can I stop here for today, too…? There’s still tomorrow. And I can just try harder tomorrow. I’ll be done by then…
The instant the thought ran across my mind, my concentration vanished in a puff of smoke.
“I’m done, I just can’t write anymore today. I’m not going to get much written when I’m panicking like this. I guess the only thing I can do now is go home and get some sleep.” I declared, loudly.
Isshiki lifted her face from her smartphone and looked at me. After sighing in disbelief, she made a kind expression. “Right, well, I guess that might be a good idea.”
“I know, I know. It’s okay if we miss the deadline by a little bit, right?”
Is this what you’d call writer’s high? Burdened with excess stress right before the deadline, exhausted from continuous labor, and the mysterious feeling of exaltation from trying to escape reality, I found myself letting out a nefarious chuckle.
Isshiki then made a stiff look. “…Huh? You’re not going to make it?”
“W-Well, I’m not sure…”
But really, this column only had to be about a couple thousand of words at best, so if I just did my best today and tomorrow, I had the feeling I could finish. But it wasn’t that simple since I only managed to get several hundreds of words in a few hours.
I was hesitant to say that out loud. The reason being, Isshiki was holding her head before I could even explain it to her.
“Oh no… That’s not good… Umm, isn’t that, like, really bad?”
Isshiki groaned and fell forward on her desk. She slowly turned her head towards me and her eyes were slightly cloudy. Right after, she murmured in a small voice, “The expenses! The discount! The extra charges! Over the budget! The account expenditures!” and shook.
Her reaction told me everything. Isshiki expected us to finish in time for the discount plan and accounted for that in the budget. And she had likely already noted it in her financial report.
Of course, it should still be possible to make revisions to the report.
But this was the consequence of the pride of Somethingaya Somethingman; despite his grandstanding of how he’d get something done in a few days, he kept putting his work off while going, “No worries, no worries, I can do it super fast.” It’s not good to be prideful…
“…I-I guess it’s bad… yeah. I-I’ll try a little harder, okay?”
“R-Really? Please do…”
Isshiki looked up at me with moist eyes. Her eyes didn’t look sly in the least which was exactly why the normally childish Isshiki appeared more honest. Having seen her like that, I had to get this done no matter what…
There’s a deadline that must absolutely not be missed.
× × ×
To tell you the truth, I can’t do it anymore. I’m sorry for saying this so suddenly. But I just can’t.
In just a few hours, the incredibly normal chime will sound.
That’s the sign of the deadline.
Be careful of the small-chested editor who will come before long.
When that comes, the end will come in just a few moments later.6
These thoughts ran through my hollow head.
Bogged down by the deadline that must absolutely not be missed—I was already longing for the time after school of the following day—I was borrowing the Student Council Room today like the other days, doing isolated work in a different room.
Although I tried to do what I could yesterday after garnering my motivation, my body eventually reached its limit like Chiyonofuji Mitsugu7 and I went home. While I did make some semblance of progress after getting home and doing some writing on my smartphone during class, the end was still nowhere in sight.
And now, from the window of the empty Student Council Room, I was staring up at the declining sun. Of course, there’s no progress with my manuscript.
Crap, crap… I wasn’t even typing on the keyboard, yet I was clattering in my seat. Then, there were knocks on the door of the room.
“Hey Hikki, how’s it going?”
Entering the room with a greeting was Yuigahama. It looks like she was here to check on my progress.
“…I-I guess there’s a little below seventy percent, yeah.”
“Whoa, that’s amazing!”
“Of what’s left….”
The instant I whispered that, Yuigahama let out a tragic whine. I, too, wanted to whine from my own predicament…
As I hung my head in dejection, Yuigahama walked up to my desk and tapped my shoulder. “You can do it! Don’t worry, we’ll definitely make it! I’m gonna do my work here with you, too!”
Saying that in a situation like this only sounds like you’re here to monitor me…
I’d normally refuse doing any work while under surveillance, but such was the situation. Keeping me on my toes was the only way to keep me from shirking my duties. Well, if this was a part-time job, I definitely would’ve ignored my responsibilities. But with Isshiki yesterday and Yuigahama today watching me, I had to get my work finished. Boys, you see, were rather obstinate creatures…
I got motivated again and faced my manuscript. I moved the cursor to where I had left off to continue my last progress. After squeezing out several lines of words, I was assaulted by despair yet again. Every time the white chunk of space was burned into my eyes, reality would look straight at me and tell me I wasn’t outputting enough for how much time I was spending.
In one day, I only managed to get a little less than twenty percent done. There was about eighty percent left and doing all of that in the next few hours was physically impossible. If I somehow managed to make it in time, the law of the universe would be broken!8
Ugh… As I was overwhelmed by reality, there was another sound different from my key presses on the side. I looked over to Yuigahama and she was using a calculator with her ball pen.
“…What are you doing?” I asked.
Yuigahama placed the pen behind her ear and faced me. “Hm? Oh, umm, I’m calculating how much money was used so far. It seemed kinda off when I glanced over the reports.”
“Isshiki’s kind of sloppy with the math, after all…”
“Ahh, that’s true… Well, that’s where Yukinon or even I come in!” Yuigahama said, wryly smiling. She appeared almost like an older sister. I’m sure she was taking proper care of Isshiki as an underclassman.
The only problem was how that cute underclassman would always bring nothing but bothersome things to us. Actually, her circumstances behind her first visit to the clubroom were pretty outrageous…
However, this might just be the reality of things when getting work.
One person would make a big lie. Then, that lie would turn into something tangible, causing work to come in. In society, a big liar like that was also known as a producer. So in that sense, Isshiki might have the qualities of a producer. For this request in particular, Yukinoshita would be something like a director while Yuigahama would be an AD. As for me this time or rather, as always, I was the low class, subcontracting corporate slave.
I faced the computer again to do my work like a grunt. But I went through another cycle of writing and deleting lines, so I wasn’t getting much done.
At some point, it started to feel like I was spending more time looking outside the window at the setting sun or even staring at the desk clock than I was looking at the screen of the computer.
The passage of time alone was enough to drive your mind into a corner. I unconsciously let out a deep sigh, also feeling the effects of exhaustion from sitting and facing the computer for so long.
“You okay, Hikki?”
Yuigahama rose from her seat, having heard my loud sigh, and took a few steps towards me, standing at my side. She then looked down into my face with concern.
She was so close that the stretch of my hand would allow me touch her face. We could even hear each other’s breathing. Our closeness and the embarrassment from our eyes meeting caused me to pretend to crack my neck and turn away.
“The schedule isn’t looking too good at this rate…” I grumbled, attempting to gloss over that moment. Then, both my shoulders suddenly got heavier.
“If we don’t make it in time, then we don’t make it.”
When I turned my head around, Yuigahama was resting her small hands on my shoulders. Her slender fingers curled into a fist, gripping at the shoulder blades of my blazer.
“I’ll apologize together with you and I’m sure Iroha-chan will understand, too. It’s a pretty unreasonable request from the start, anyway.”
“True, it was unreasonable.”
As I spoke, I wriggled my body to escape from her hands, but she didn’t let go. Eventually, she began hitting my shoulders lightly in short intervals.
“It’s not like it’s your fault, Hikki. Even if you give up now, no one’s going to blame you. And this isn’t really something we have to get done.”
Her words were a little unexpected. It’s because Yuigahama had never expressed clear refusal of any of the requests the Service Club had accepted thus far.
With a feeling of bewilderment, I found myself turning around to see Yuigahama wearing a frail smile.
“…I don’t really like seeing you in pain, Hikki.”
“Saying that is unfair.”
Despite my outburst, I could tell how soft my tone was. Perhaps it was my exhaustion. Being told something like that with such a gentle voice along with the shoulder massage only caused my shoulders to relax.
Simultaneously, I tensed my shoulders again.
For a wonderful girl to give me those kinds of words, this was nowhere near the time to give up and run away. It’s when you were given these kind and sweet words that you mustn’t rely on them and abandon yourself to. That’s why it only gave me less of a choice to resign here no matter how idiotic the circumstances are or how difficult the problem is.
“You think so…?” Yuigahama stopped her hands and rested them on my shoulders, eventually lifting them up slowly.
“Oh, uh, it was more like a figure of speech.”
I chose the wrong words when I called the person who was worried for me unfair. I rotated my chair and turned my body towards Yuigahama. I sat there while digging around for the proper words to tell her. Yuigahama, however, didn’t give me the time and nodded.
“…Yeah, I think I am unfair!” Yuigahama said, her voice cheerful and as though she was convinced of something.
I didn’t quite catch the meaning behind her response, but I wanted to get the right nuance across to her and opened my mouth.
“I didn’t mean it like that, but uh, in a good way…”
Yuigahama, however, shook her head and interjected. “I think… I really am unfair… It’s because I can never stop you or even help you. And also… for a bunch of other things.”
Yuigahama’s words were in a jumble, perhaps because she was trying to think while she talked. But it’s due to that that I felt her words were from the bottom of her heart. In the same way she’d laugh to hide her embarrassment or mumble her words and look away, I’m sure she wanted to play it off somehow.
But even so, she looked straight at me, as though wanting to tell me everything.
“That’s why… That’s why, when something like this happens again, I’ll make sure to do it.”
Her sincere expression and her slowly weaved words were imbued with a sense of reality but also an empty ambiguity. Eventually, everyone would make sure to do it. They had to, even if they didn’t know what it is that they needed to do or if they could do it. I’m sure that’s something that everyone thinks about, even if vaguely.
I was, of course, no exception. That’s why, for the time being, I needed to do the things that were right before my very eyes. I rotated my seat and faced the computer again.
“It’s not a big deal. I’m always the one selfishly doing it. You’re not at fault for stopping me. If anything, the ones who make inconsiderate promises are at fault… That’s why, uh… I’ll see what I can do.”
“…Oh… Okay, let’s do our best, then!” Yuigahama said, her voice lively, and she gave my back a strong push.
× × ×
No, no! I wanna go home! I don’t know anymore! Forget submitting the draft and proofreading it! I’m tired of looming deadlines and being confined in this room! I’m not working or doing the manuscript anymore!
I shouted in a fit and fell forward onto my desk. Right now, I was the only one in the Student Council Room. I screamed as much as I wanted.
I handed Yuigahama a data printout in the middle of my work and she went to give it to Yukinoshita. When she left, I was sapped of my concentration.
Well look, I somehow managed to get eighty percent of the column done. I received some motivation from Yuigahama, so I think I had done some pretty good work, especially considering it’s me.
But for the remaining twenty percent, not a single, worthwhile sentence came to mind, and I was stuck looking up at the ceiling while resting against the back of my chair. Ahh, can’t the Illuminati just come here? I’d really like to be free from this job forever already, please.
I, for one, think concentration was a spontaneous thing and not a continuous thing. Instead of doing all-nighters for a couple days where you wouldn’t make much progress, it’s important to do it in a systematic and regular fashion. Though, all of that didn’t really matter when you realized there’s a deadline right around the corner. It’s like the day before an exam, seriously.
I continued to stare up at the ceiling like a dead battery and there were knocks on the door. With no spare energy to answer, I turned only my eyes towards the door and the person came in the room regardless of a response.
The one who came in and asked with a bag over her shoulder was Yukinoshita.
“…If I was, I would’ve let you know.”
“That’s certainly true,” Yukinoshita said in agreement. Then, she walked up next to me and took out a printout marked in red from her bag.
“This is from earlier. There are unfinished sentences in the latter half.”
I took the printout from her and did a quick scan. Along with unfinished sentences, I came across several errors. I updated the manuscript with the fixes and I could still feel a presence next to me.
“…Do you need something?”
“Ah, no… There isn’t anything in particular.”
Yukinoshita sounded flustered when she spoke and quietly crossed her hands behind her. She then took a step back and pulled out the seat that was beside me. After taking a moment to dig through her bag, she eventually took out a clear file and began working on something.
It looks like Yukinoshita came here to work as well as watch over me. The fact that she was here meant that we were in the final stretches before the deadline.
Pressure or not, I already knew the horrors of the deadline.
Once I finished making the revisions on the manuscript from the printout I accepted earlier, I scrolled the screen down to finish the remaining twenty percent.
Only several hundred more words to go.
If I could write that much, I could fill up all the space on the page.
I could, but if I produced something incredibly poor, the one who would be the subject of backlash would be the Editor-in-Chief, Isshiki. Thoughtlessly accepting the task only to turn a blind eye to Isshiki getting the brunt of things wasn’t something I could do.
To avoid that, it ultimately meant producing something of quality. Rather, if I submitted something poor, first and foremost, the editor Yukinoshita as well as the Editor-in-Chief Isshiki would tell me to do a retake on the manuscript. I might as well do it seriously from the beginning if it meant having to revise everything.
I mustered what remained of my willpower and continued pounding away at the keyboard. The digital display at the bottom of the screen would tick by, minute by minute, and the empty space would fill in, line by line.
Before long, my hands halted in place, not moving an inch. Unconsciously, I let out a disheartened voice.
Apparently hearing my voice, Yukinoshita had an overjoyed face and was about to stand up. I raised my hand to stop her and slumped over, lying on the desk.
“It’s over, it’s all over. It’s impossible, I can’t do it. I can’t think of anything. I can’t think of a single word anymore…”
“That’s what you meant…” Yukinoshita sighed in astoundment and sat back in her seat. “But we can’t have that. We barely have any time left, you know?”
“Well, yeah, I know that, but…”
I was so aware of it that I was sick of it. But my brain just wouldn’t function no matter how much I wanted it to. My brain was always resistant to labor, so I was starting to feel nothing could be done at this point. In the same way you’d wring a wet towel until the very last drop, not a single word came to mind.
I fell backwards onto my chair and looked up at the ceiling. I’m all out of options…
I left my curled hands on the keyboard despite not moving them. With my hands like that and my body facing up at the heavens, I resembled the corpse of an insect. I’m nothing more than an insect… A small and incompetent insect that can’t even make a deadline. Let’s call myself Hachiman the Insect from now on. And let’s cast aside my human shell into the sea…
I stared at the ceiling peacefully and Yukinoshita entered my field of vision. As she looked down at me, her face looked somehow anxious.
“…Here, take this.”
As Yukinoshita spoke, she quietly set something wrapped in a handkerchief near my chest.
I lifted my face and took the wrapped object from her; it was slightly warm. The handkerchief was decorated with an adorable design of cat paws. After unwrapping it, what came out was a can of MAX COFFEE. It looked like she tried her best at keeping it warm.
Seeing that brought a smile to my face.
“Take a breather. You’re not going to get anything done if you’re staring at the screen the entire time. It’d be better if you take a short break,” Yukinoshita said, abruptly looking away. She went back to her seat and resumed her work.
I appreciatively accepted her offering and decided to make use of it. I snapped the tab of the MAX COFFEE can and drank it while watching Yukinoshita’s profile in a daze.
In the meantime, Yukinoshita’s hands didn’t stop. She was silent and only the sounds of red pen writing on the paper could be heard. Nevertheless, I felt the frequency of the sounds was a little odd.
“…Sorry, is it that bad?”
When I asked her, Yukinoshita turned her face towards me. She then dropped her gaze to the paper at her hands, understanding what I meant. While rolling the red pen along her lips, she opened her mouth.
“…There are mistakes, but they’re at most misspellings and typos. There isn’t anything glaringly wrong, so don’t worry. Rather, it’s the other two who had far more typos,” Yukinoshita said with a teasing tone and chuckled. She looked much more her age like that, taking a much more cherubic appearance.
“Well, you were making a lot of red marks, so it got me a bit worried.”
“Oh. You only forgot to add some notes near the words, so I’m just adding those in. I make revisions as I go along.”
“Sorry for the trouble.”
I thought I was being casual in stating that, but Yukinoshita stopped her hands and gently set aside her red pen on the table. She then lowered her shoulders in discouragement.
“…I’m sorry, too. I should’ve checked on your progress when I had the chance. I should’ve known that even you can make mistakes.”
“Ah, no, it was just a miscalculation on my part. Actually, is that, like, some kind of super high-grade sarcasm…?” I asked.
Yukinoshita smiled and shook her head. “That’s certainly part of it, but… it essentially means that it was my miscalculation as well.”
So you really were being sarcastic…
Either way, there’s no doubt that the both of us had made the wrong call. Whether it was me, her, or ourselves, we still had yet to come to an understanding. And that was presently like the state of the sky that expanded beyond the window, the sky that belonged to any one person. While you were unable to distinguish between noon and night, the moment you could tell was the moment the color of would change, moment by moment.
“In the end, I’m the one who’s unable to do anything the most,” Yukinoshita muttered, looking at the indistinct sunset.
“You’ve done more than enough. It’s not like Yuigahama and I are any good at scheduling. Isshiki’s pretty good at bragging and making ends meet, but she’s not exactly the type that can plan things…”
While answering, I looked at the same sunset. Regardless, it’s likely the color we were seeing were different. Red, pink, or scarlet. Perhaps, vermillion or even dark red. It may very well be orange. But no matter what the color, it wouldn’t have bothered me.
“So, uh… you’ve been a huge help.”
I took my eyes off the window and returned them back to the Student Council Room.
The setting sun poured into the room, dying it red. When I turned to Yukinoshita beside me, her downcast expression was unperceivable. But her ears and her nape that peeked out from between the gaps of her hair was submerged in scarlet.
“…If that’s what you think, then I hope so.” Yukinoshita sighed, and muttered with a low voice, as though having no confidence, or perhaps, as though she was sulking.
However, that was at most only an instant. She promptly lifted her face, brushed aside her hair at her shoulder, and with her voice no more chilly than the usual, she said, “I’ll make some adjustments to the work at the end and buy you some time.”
“Ah, s-sure… Huh, you can do that?” I asked, but Yukinoshita didn’t answer.
Instead, she started dialing a number with her cellphone.
“…Yuigahama-san? Change of plans. In case the manuscript isn’t completed in time, fill the rest with as much text as you can and submit it. As for the last portion, enter in dummy text. We’ll proofread it and revise it then. That’s all. Can you let Isshiki-san know as well…? Yes, please do.”
After Yukinoshita cut the call, she directed her gaze at me as though to confirm I had heard all that.
“…Is that okay?”
“It’s simply an emergency countermeasure in the event we don’t make it on time. We’ve already factored the extra expenses that will come with making corrections in the budget, so there shouldn’t be a problem. I’m afraid we may not be able to do a final check on everything, but… there’s little we can do given the situation,” Yukinoshita said, and smiled. In order to deal with any unforeseen accidents, she prepared a schedule with a buffer as a last resort.
Good grief. She’s the one always telling me how soft I was, but who exactly was the soft one here?
Well, I couldn’t deny that I was a softie. But a softie could easily be an antagonistic demon. But that’s exactly why I wanted to turn down being pampered like this.
I swallowed the rest of my MAX COFFEE and forcefully put the can aside. The table clanked when the can came in contact with the steel desk.
“Time to finish up,” I said, and faced the computer once again.
“…I see. In that case, do your best.”
As short as her soft words were, they were more than enough to reach my ears.
× × ×
It might’ve been because of the quick break, or the sugar from the MAX COFFEE that fueled my brain, but my hands continued typing, aiming to fill the remaining blank space.
I continued writing without heeding the time and before I knew it, Yuigahama and Isshiki were already present in the Student Council Room.
The three girls tensely sat across from me and silently waited for me to finish while staring.
Y-You guys are making it harder to write…
But regardless, I produced sentence after sentence, eventually making the seemingly final one. I pressed the enter key, but didn’t immediately remove my hands from the keyboard. I read down, line by line. After confirming that I couldn’t write another sentence, I knew that the manuscript was finally complete.
“I’m definitely done now…”
My body immediately went limp and I fell back onto my chair with my arms dangling at the side. I sighed in reassurance and Yukinoshita came over to my seat.
“May I take a look?”
I pushed the laptop towards her and Yukinoshita went right into checking over my work. Yuigahama and Isshiki watched her in apprehension. Conversely, I was anything but nervous. After all, I was free! What the heck is a deadline? I don’t know what that is! Fuhaha! I’m free! I held in the urge to scream at the top of my lungs and patiently waited for Yukinoshita to finish.
And after some time, Yukinoshita lifted her face from the computer. “…No problems to be found. Isshiki-san, please check it over.”
Next, Isshiki started checking as well, but the fact that it made it pass Yukinoshita meant that it shouldn’t have any problems. So that being said, my work was over. Oh man, a world without deadlines really is the greatest!
As I was inebriated with a sense of liberation, Yuigahama and Yukinoshita spoke to me.
“Good job, Hikki.”
“…Good work today.”
“Ahh, you guys, too. Sorry for holding things up.”
Dear me, indulging in this sense of liberation almost made me feel like I had accomplished everything by myself, but this time around, it was all thanks to the three who watched over me and kept me from running away in the middle of everything.
If I thought about it that way, the euphoria I was experiencing was all because I was put under surveillance.
…So that basically means that editors and deadlines were like dangerous drugs. They definitely needed to be regulated. DEADLINES, JUST SAY NO!9
“I’m done checking. No problems here,” Isshiki said, closing the laptop.
Yukinoshita nodded back. “We’ve managed to finish on time, so why don’t we go for a cup of tea back at the clubroom?”
“We’d better celebrate!”
Yuigahama and Isshiki responded back in enthusiasm. However, Yukinoshita gave Isshiki a cold look.
“You need to do the final check on everything. After that, have Hiratsuka-sensei look at it as well. That’s your job as the Editor-in-Chief.”
Seeing Isshiki complaining caused Yukinoshita’s eyebrow to twitch. Noticing that, Yuigahama came in between them. “Now, now, we’re still going to be around, so come on over after you finish up.”
“Uuuugh… Yes ma’am. I’ll finish everything in a jiffy and be right there.”
Isshiki gripped her red pen even before she ended her sentence and began reviewing everything with eyes as round as a plate. We watched her with a sidelong glance while making our way out of the room.
On the way to the clubroom, Yukinoshita briefly sighed. “…Isshiki-san should have just been that motivated from the start.”
“Iroha-chan can do it if she tries.”
“Yeah, you get people like that. People who don’t do anything unless they’re backed into a corner,” I said, wearing a bitter smile to Yuigahama’s words.
Then, Yukinoshita wore a teasing smile and looked at me. “Oh, just who could you be talking about?”
“I’m talking about in general.”
× × ×
It looked like the heater in the Service Club had its repairs come in yesterday and was now completely warm and cozy unlike a few days ago.
The Student Council Room wasn’t a particularly uncomfortable place to be in, but in the end, I felt much more at ease in the clubroom. I didn’t mean this on an emotional level, but on a more instinctive level; it’s like being territorial. And when inhabiting a place for close to a year, even dogs and cats would start treating it as their own territory. I wasn’t an exception.
But the clubroom I was comfortable with looked rather disheveled due to all the work we had been doing for the free newspaper in the past few days.
While Yukinoshita prepared the tea, Yuigahama and I decided to clean up the room.
We gathered up the documents and threw them away. After taking some time to finish, we sat in our seats with exhaustion which was when Yuigahama let out an “ah.” I turned around to her and she was holding the camera we had used when interviewing all the clubs.
“Hey, we should take a picture. A picture of the Service Club!” Yuigahama said.
Yukinoshita’s brows wrinkled. Seeing that, Yuigahama tilted her head inquisitively. Yukinoshita shook her head causing Yuigahama to tilt her head in the opposite direction.
The two engaged in a dialog with only their expressions until the door of the clubroom opened noisily.
“I’m all done with pounding the suckers!”
Issihiki came in as she spoke. Uh, you really don’t need to say “pounding…” When she noticed the camera in Yuigahama’s hand, she raised a voice of surprise.
“Oh, so this is where the Student Council’s camera was. Do you still need to use it?”
“It looks like she’s going to take a picture of the Service Club,” Yukinoshita answered, sounding like a stranger. Mmhmm, you’re actually a club member, too… In fact, you’re the club president, you know?
“Oh, I can take the picture for you.”
“Iroha-chan, you should take a picture with us, too.”
“Yes, by all means, we can afterwards…! But first, let’s take one of everyone in the Service Club.”
Isshiki firmly refused with a smile and stretched her hand out to Yuigahama. She might’ve been acting considerate in her own way. Realizing her intentions, Yuigahama handed over the camera.
“Really? Thanks so much. We’ll leave it you then! Let’s all take one together afterwards!”
“Um, I haven’t said a single thing about taking the picture…”
“Yukinon, you’re being too stubborn.” Yuigahama stated bluntly and Yukinoshita stuttered. Well, either way, she’s probably going to give in and have her picture taken in the end… Acting a little hard-headed wasn’t going to change anything, not that I was any different.
However, I recalled a persisting problem with the camera.
“…I don’t really care, but the memory card’s full, you know.”
“Oh, that’s right. It’s because senpai took so many photos of the Tennis Club.”
“What exactly did you take pictures of to use up so much memory…?”
Yukinoshita stated in astoundment while Yuigahama thought it over and made a big nod.
“The Tennis Club… So Sai-chan, huh…? I guess there’s not much we can do there.”
“Yui-senpai, you’re really okay with that!?”
So she finally gave up… No, there’s a small chance she acknowledged it… Or so I thought until Isshiki clapped her hands and shoved them in the pocket of her blazer.
“If there’s no memory, how about this smartphone then?” She asked, and presented my smartphone. Speaking of which, she had my phone today, too.
“Ahh, well, there’s still space in there, so I don’t mind.”
“Okay, we’ll go with this,” Isshiki said, winking and promptly readied the phone. This might’ve been Isshiki’s consideration as well. Honestly, I don’t get her at all…
“Umm, okay senpai, you stay seated there. Yui-senpai and Yukinoshita-senpai should stand behind senpai.”
Isshiki shot out instructions and Yuigahama took the reluctant Yukinoshita’s arm. And finally, Yukinoshita gave up her resistance. The both of them then stood together behind me… Behind me?
“…Huh? Wait a second? Isn’t this arrangement kind of weird? Isn’t this like one of those coming-of-age family photos? Maybe you two should back off a bit more?”
If anything, you two are too close! Too close, I said! I mean, taking a picture together is one thing, but having you two so close to me really gets me nervous, so stop it.
The chair made a racket when I tried to get up to make some distance, but both of my shoulders were forced back. I looked up and Yukinoshita was looking at me with a sweet and cold smile.
“Hikigaya-kun, you’re being very stubborn.”
“Iroha-chan, we’re ready to go now.”
Yuigahama further pressed down on my shoulder and called out to Isshiki.
“Okay, here we go. Say cheeeeese.”
There were several flashes of light in conjunction with the sound of the snapping shutter. Ahh, I definitely made a funny face… It definitely had to look like those coming-of-age pictures…
As I sat there feeling dejected, Isshiki approached me and handed back my smartphone.
“Here you go, senpai… It’s a good picture,” Isshiki said, wearing a slightly mature smile. I didn’t bother trying to ask what she meant since I was sure she meant exactly what she said.
“Hikki, can you send me the picture? Oh, actually, Iroha-chan, let’s take a picture together!”
“Okaaaay! Please take the pictuure, senpai.” Isshiki lightly tapped my shoulder and hurried over towards Yuigahama and Yukinoshita.
“I’d like to refrain…”
“I said no. We’re all going to take the picture!”
“How should we arrange ourselves?”
While the three thought about their arrangement for the picture, I quietly looked at my phone. The screen displayed the photo of the Service Club taken a moment ago.
…She was right, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It doesn’t look like a coming-of-age picture, too.
And also, before when I didn’t know what to write for what the Service Club was like or what we were like, I felt like I could do it now. That’s why the picture wasn’t as bad as I thought.
I still didn’t know what to call this club or how to define it. But I’m sure there’s something we could share by virtue of having no words for it. If we did have the words, it’s likely we’d end up trying to keep our manifested, awry feelings held together.
“Hikki, take the picture!”
I stood up after Yuigahama yelled out. I directed the camera of my smartphone towards the girls and positioned it.
Yuigahama wore her usual energetic and bright smile.
Isshiki had her first-rate camera face.
And lastly, hugged closely from both sides, Yukinoshita, although slightly vexed, was blushing red with embarrassment.
Just how many more days of these normal trivialities could we continue to accumulate from here on?
Just what kind of pain would accompany the nostalgic sight of these photos when we became old enough?
In thinking all of that, I pressed the shutter.
- Economy Hotel Place 21 ↩
- Ending theme to Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi ↩
- Flower Knight Girl – Part of the game is to make comments in a way that will get people to spend their in-game money or something to that effect. ↩
- Yumekui Merry – Merry’s catchphrase, also has the same voice actor ↩
- A reference to Sekai no Omanko, NSFW ↩
- Saikano ↩
- Chiyonofuji Mitsugu – A sumo wrestler who retired ↩
- Final Fantasy V – Exdeath ↩
- Anti-drug slogan in Japan. Equivalents would be D.A.R.E or JUST SAY NO. ↩