I learnt that Osanai’s given name was Yuki.
It was a name that really suited her, since she was endearing and gave off the impression of being indefinite1.
For some reason, since we started dating, Osanai never displayed anything resembling stiffness. Based on her behavior, she was not someone who could easily make acquaintances. In fact, it was quite the reverse. She would even try to escape from people she didn’t know well. Yet, she interacted with me normally from the very beginning.
In fact, the one who became stiff since our encounter led us to begin dating was me. I couldn’t get used to leaving school with a girl for about half a month.
During that half a month, I was thrown a gigantic bombshell.
In Funado High School, students are supposed to wear a class tag. Boys wear it at their collar, while girls wear it at their chest. However, that rule had become purely symbolic, and with no one enforcing it, about eighty percent of students did not wear it. And thus, I was made to swallow a fact that I should have known long ago.
It was only a short while into autumn, when the leaves started turning red, I believe. Osanai usually commuted to school by bicycle, but she went out of her way to push it so that she could walk along with me. I inadvertently asked a question.
“By the way, which class are you in again?”
Osanai had seemingly predicted that I would eventually ask such a question. She even seemed to find some kind of humor in the situation, as if she’d thoroughly prepared for it. With a chuckle, she replied.
“I’m in Class C.”
It was a lie, I thought. I was also in Class C, after all.
I still didn’t know Osanai well, which was why I believed it to be a roundabout joke of some sort. Returning a vague smile, I asked again.
“So, what’s your real class?”
“It’s the truth. I’m in Class C.”
“Don’t lie. I’m also in Class C.”
“I’ve been told by others that I’m lying, but this is the truth. I’m really in Class C.”
Osanai then looked up at my face and surreptitiously added a line.
“…For second-year students.”
I’d never doubted the assumption that Osanai was a freshman like me. She was so small, after all.
Of course, I couldn’t believe it at first, so Osanai unassumingly retrieved her student notebook from her breast pocket. There was a year written on it, and it was one year earlier than my year of enrollment. I was lost for words.
“So you were a senpai all along?”
Osanai smiled with evident satisfaction.
“Yup, but you can treat me as per usual. I don’t look like a senpai, right… Urino-kun?”
Indeed, she did not look like a senpai at all.
Not long after that, when Hiya found out that I had started going out with Osanai, he said,
“Wow, I never knew you were a lolicon, Urino.”
For that tasteless joke, I responded with a body blow.
Eventually, as the wintry winds blew and the deciduous trees started shedding their leaves, winter arrived.
During the period close to, but not quite, December, I was invited to a café after school by Osanai. It was called “Earl Gray 2”, and was a snug, neat place, perfect for its main clientele of girls.
Osanai frequently went to this café, not because she liked the coffee or black tea there, but because she liked the cakes.
“I’ll have a cake set. Black tea with milk, and tiramisu for the cake.”
She ordered without looking at the menu. I didn’t receive that much pocket money, but I ended up going with the flow and murmuring in a small voice, “I’ll just have a coffee.”
The tiramisu came in a glass cup. Osanai first stroked its surface with a spoon. With some of the cocoa powder scattered over the tiramisu now stuck on the spoon, Osanai licked the powder off the spoon. She looked like a cat playing with its prey.
In contrast, since I was unable to handle the piping hot coffee, all I did was aimlessly stir the contents of the cup, which only had sugar added to it. Since I was in front of Osanai, I didn’t want to do anything discourteous, so I silently stirred, making sure the spoon did not touch the sides of the cup.
Osanai unexpectedly called out to me. Without making a sound, I turned my eyes to look at her. Osanai stopped picking at the tiramisu, instead holding the spoon vertically.
“Why did you sigh?”
Only now did I notice that I had indeed sighed. If Osanai had sighed while we were alone, I would have also panicked and wondered if she was feeling bored. I set the spoon down and apologized.
“Is there something on your mind?”
Osanai lightly waved her spoon in the air.
“How about consulting your elder sister?”
To other people, Osanai and I probably looked a lot more like a brother treating his younger sister to dessert rather than a couple. Hearing Osanai refer to herself as my “elder sister” of all things was too funny, so I couldn’t control myself and let out a burst of laughter. I then replied in a low voice.
“…This isn’t a laughing matter.”
“Eh? It isn’t?”
Osanai stuck her spoon deep into the tiramisu in one stroke, as if it were a sign of protest. It hit the bottom of the cup, creating a chink sound.
I clearly understood the reason behind my sigh. I didn’t exactly feel like consulting this older sister, but I did feel like letting her listen to my worries.
It was not my intention to talk so solemnly, but my voice naturally took on a slightly darker tone.
“Do you read the schoolwide newspaper?”
“By that, do you mean Funado Monthly?”
I was surprised.
The schoolwide newspaper produced by the Newspaper Club was supposed to be distributed on the first day of every month. That said, due to the schedule being put off by events like long holidays and examinations, that was more of a guiding principle. The newspaper had eight pages in total. Apparently, they used to enlist the services of a printing shop in the past, but since articles can be written on a personal computer, we now used the printers installed in the school to print a copy for each student.
It was tough work to fold close to a thousand school newspapers, but distributing them also involved a heavy amount of manpower, since we would place a copy on each student’s table early in the morning of the first day of the month. That was only done because of tradition, but it made us feel a sense of hopelessness, as if no one would pick up a copy if we didn’t deliver it right to their tables. In fact, hardly anyone read it at all. The wastepaper baskets in each classroom would be filled with our newspaper on the first day of every month.
The name of the schoolwide newspaper was indeed “Funado Monthly”, but even some of us in the Newspaper Club would sometimes forget.
“How do you know?”
It was a weird question, but Osanai still answered.
“My friend makes it. I make it a point to read it whenever it gets delivered.”
She was talking about President Doujima. It had already been three months since I started going out with her, but I still hadn’t asked about her relation with the president. After that time right after the summer holidays, Osanai hadn’t come into our clubroom again… That made me want to ask, but I decided to leave it till later. Now was not the time, and more importantly, I would seem like a narrow-minded guy if I poked around too much.
Now, to talk about the schoolwide newspaper.
“So, how is it?”
“What do you mean, how?”
“Is it interesting?”
I don’t know who called Osanai a liar, but at that moment, Osanai undoubtedly spoke the truth. Without a moment’s hesitation, she replied.
I smiled wryly.
“Normal? Don’t you have any other way to put it?”
“Yup. It’s smack dab in the middle of average. It’s unparalleled in its regularity. Whenever I read Funado Monthly, I think that its normalcy is out of the ordinary.”
Out of the blue, a bunch of rich expressions was thrown my way. Listening to her words made me think that it was a great thing to be normal.
Anyway, it was exactly as Osanai said. Funado Monthly was normal. Way too normal.
All I could do was nod. Then, I spoke firmly.
“I always thought that was bad, and I had an idea to change it. We could write articles about incidents outside school. I don’t think that would instantly make the paper amazing, but at the very least, it could be the start of something.
“Yet no one accepted my idea. I couldn’t take action. That was why I sighed, I think.”
The tenth issue, distributed on the first of October, ended with coverage on the Sports Festival. The eleventh issue focused solely on the Cultural Festival. The twelfth would undoubtedly be a year-end special issue.
While I kept saying that we couldn’t keep following the average year’s footsteps, I had no trump card to procure, so all I could do was be taken for the ride as time dragged on. I would often be irritated, and sometimes even feel like shouting out loud. At other times, I would feel gloomy. That was why I let out a sigh.
“What do you mean, why?”
“Why do you think that’s bad, Urino-kun?”
I couldn’t immediately tell what she was asking me about. It was, as she said, smack dab in the middle of average. A newspaper like that could be described as nothing but bad.
“Do you like Funado Monthly, then?”
Osanai returned a look of puzzlement, then stuck her spoon into her mouth. Suddenly, I noticed that the tiramisu which she’d been toying with earlier was already half-empty, as if it had been sliced horizontally in the middle. When did she… While holding the spoon in her mouth, Osanai shook her head.
“It has nothing that would make me like it.”
“Exactly. That’s what’s bad about it. There should be something that makes you read on, or makes you say that you like it.”
With a small groan, she placed her spoon on a plate, then frowned.
“That isn’t really a reason to say that it’s bad. Do you really love the schoolwide newspaper that much? Do you want everyone in the school to read it?”
So that’s what she was getting at. I brought the coffee to my mouth, but it was still hot.
“When you put it like that, not really. I, and only I, want to write an article that isn’t already in any issue of Funado Monthly.”
Feeling that wasn’t enough to fully express my thoughts, I added.
“It’s not that I want to become famous or anything. I just want to leave behind some sort of mark saying that Urino Takahiko was in Funado High School. I wonder if this all sounds weird.”
This time, Osanai grinned.
“I understand… it’s like wanting to be the first one to step outside on a snowy morning and create a set of footprints.”
That was romantic. As I thought, Osanai could show off her feminine side.
“And then you shovel the snow so that no one else can leave their footprints.”
“Eh? As I said, so that no one else can leave their footprints.”
I still couldn’t understand Osanai’s sense of humour.
As if she just thought of something, Osanai swiftly moved her spoon, demolishing the remaining half of the tiramisu in one go. She ate so quickly that some cocoa powder got stuck around the edges of her mouth. Without paying any heed to that, she spoke.
“Anyway, I want to root for you, Urino-kun… Is that fine?”
Hiya-kun was also rooting for me. Just the other day, he’d said to me, “Hurrah, hurrah!”
However, Osanai’s support was different from Hiya-kun’s support. With her cheering me on, I felt that I could give it my all.
Naturally, I nodded and replied.
“I’ll be counting on you.”
The effects of that support appeared one week later.
On the first Friday of every month, all members of the Newspaper Club would gather for an editorial meeting. Even people who didn’t normally show up like Kishi Kanta would be forcefully brought in.
It was September when I’d raised the point of writing articles about events outside school. I’d been silent during the meetings in November and December. That was because I thought that constantly bringing up an idea with no material to back it up would only make everyone else less receptive towards it. Of course, that didn’t mean I’d been doing nothing at all. If I could convince the head, the other members would follow suit. I’d approached the President multiple times, but he’d never given a positive response, even as the December meeting drew close.
When I’d brought up the topic in September, I’d had a story in mind, which was the kidnapping of a Funado High School student in the summer holidays. However, I couldn’t find any remarkable news stories at this point in time. Furthermore, bringing up an incident that had occurred during the summer holidays when it was already December would probably not be very persuasive, what with it being a completely different season. Not that any news gathering was going on right now, anyway. Should I still try saying it, even when I’m completely unarmed…
With that dilemma hidden in my heart, I attended the meeting.
“For the January issue, we’ll have one page for the principal’s words. We’ll also have each year head and the student council president write two pages on the theme of ‘Welcoming the New Year’. And, well, that will be the end of it.”
With last year’s January issue in front of him, the second-year student Monchi explained its contents had always been decided by the school every year. That made me find it acceptable, especially since that process had been repeated many times already.
“Right, now to decide who goes where. All of us will be going to the principal.”
President Doujima quickly moved on to the next point of the meeting, about who would go to which person. This was something to pay attention to, in case I had to request an interview with the person I would be assigned to.
“I’ll give you all a simple outline of what you’ll be writing about, so listen carefully. It’ll be a problem if we have any overlap.”
So President Doujima was paying attention to the details. He also seemed apologetic that we were following in the previous year’s footsteps. In the end, I was assigned to ask the second year head to help us with the article, which I quietly accepted. After all, my job would probably be over with an exchange like this: “I’m from the Newspaper Club, please give us two pages again this year.” “Oh, is it that time of year already?”
With that, the procedure was roughly set. The distribution of page space was also just like the average year’s. We would all be dismissed in roughly thirty minutes… If I wanted to bring that up, now was the time.
“Ah, please wait a moment.”
But the person who interrupted everyone as they were about to get up was not me.
It was a voice trembling with indecision.
“Uh, umm, there’s something I would like to try doing, or rather, something I wish to do, or something like that. Could I have a moment to speak?”
The voice belonged to Itsukaichi Kimiya. Since he was the one who told everyone to wait, all eyes were on him, but probably unable to bear all that attention, he started looking down at the ground.
“What is it?”
President Doujima urged him on. Even Kishi, who had almost fully stood up already, sat back down, clicking his tongue.
Itsukaichi restlessly brought a copy of Funado Monthly out from his bag. It was the latest issue, distributed at the start of this month.
“Newspapers often have something like ‘The Reporter’s Eyes’ or ‘Little Tidbits’, right? Those columns, or whatever they’re called, are usually in a corner of the newspaper, and have short write-ups of recent events. I was thinking that it would be good for Funado Monthly to have that as well. What do you think?”
His way of speaking made it seem as if he was not used to presenting in front of others. I could understand what he was trying to say, but I still didn’t know if anything would happen from this.
With a somewhat fast pace of speech, Itsukaichi continued.
“It doesn’t have to be that long, but I just thought that it would be good if there is a space for anyone to take full responsibility and freely write whatever they want.”
“That’s unnecessary, isn’t it?”
Itsukaichi probably hadn’t finished speaking, but Monchi cast a damper on his idea.
“There’s nothing you particularly want to write, anyway. Also, you seem to be misunderstanding something. Funado Monthly isn’t a place for you to write whatever you…”
“Well, let’s hear him out first.”
President Doujima stopped Monchi in his vehement argument. He then folded his massive arms, showing that he was cool and composed.
“Itsukaichi, there’s something you want to write, correct?”
It was at that point when I noticed that his suggestion overlapped with mine. Both of us wanted a place to write freely.
With President Doujima unexpectedly driving straight to the heart of the matter, Itsukaichi was a little disoriented. Even so, he somehow managed to nod.
“Yes, I do.”
“Why don’t you say it out?”
As if checking the words he was about to say, his mouth moved silently for a moment.
“Umm, on the 20th of January, there will be a charity bazaar at the Community Center. A few students from our school will also be there, and since they would feel uneasy with only adults there, I was asked to promote the event so that other students would attend as well.”
“Asked? By whom?”
“By someone in my class. Um, should I also say their name?”
The president unraveled his fingers.
“No, it’s fine. I understand what you’re saying. So, you want to write a column?”
With the motive clearly communicated, Monchi frowned unhappily. If he opened his mouth, he would have said something like, “So you want to appropriate the paper to reflect first-year tastes?” However, he kept silent. I’d come to realize this over multiple editorial meetings, but apparently Monchi could not say anything while President Doujima was listening to someone else.
“Since it’s for charity, the proceeds will be donated. So it’s not a business, and I was asked to help… Though I told them that Funado Monthly is not such a newspaper.”
No one was asking that of him, but his reasoning improved. I could somewhat understand what he was feeling. Having President Doujima stand in front of you silently with his arms folded certainly made you feel pressured.
The president considered wordlessly for a moment, but that did not take long.
“…I understand what you’re saying. You want to help, right? However, that means we’ll have to mess with the structure of the newspaper. Do you have any ideas?”
As if he’d prepared for that, Itsukaichi flipped over the pages of a copy of Funado Monthly on his table. With his index finger, he pointed at a section on the last page.
“If we remove this part, we can make space for the column.”
The section he was pointing to was the editorial note. It ate up a quarter of the page, and was meant for all Newspaper Club members to write down some simple comments. However, it would be too long if everyone wrote a line, and too short if only a single opinion was presented. It was quite a half-assed space.
“If we cut this in half, we could get back an eighth of the page.”
Someone let out a voice, saying, “Wow.” It was from neither President Doujima nor Monchi, so was it Kishi? Or perhaps I’d muttered it myself. A brief moment of silence ensued, but that was not because everyone was brushing aside Itsukaichi’s idea. In fact, it was the very opposite. Everyone was probably surprised by how good an idea it was. Putting aside Itsukaichi’s silly column, cutting down on the overly long editorial note had enough merit by itself.
Accepting that idea, President Doujima spoke.
He started, but his following words were slurred with a little bewilderment.
“The editorial note could be useful if we had a lot more members, but it’s certainly lacking with only the five of us here. So shortening it is fine… but if we add a column, we can’t have it only once. Itsukaichi, are you going to write it every month?”
For the first time, Itsukaichi hesitated.
At that moment, help was offered from an unexpected source.
“Isn’t it fine? We could just take turns doing it.”
Kishi, who had been silent the whole time, put a word in.
“It’s only once a month, so taking turns is fine, isn’t it?”
Still somewhat displeased, Monchi pressed on.
“If the Newspaper Club gets more members in the future, the editorial note will become longer. Is it alright for us to unilaterally change it now that there is only five of us?”
However, President Doujima made a sharp choice.
“Unilaterally? We don’t exactly need to ask anyone for permission to do it. We can make the decision by ourselves.”
“Of course, but…”
“If lots of new members come in next year in April, we can think about it then. Changing the structure of the paper at the start of the year is also good timing.”
He said, looking at each person in turn.
“…Let’s take a majority vote. Those in favor of Itsukaichi’s suggestion?”
It was a surprisingly swift vote. Itsukaichi himself, Kishi and I raised our hands. Three out of four. The matter was decided.
“Right. Itsukaichi, make preparations on your end. The meeting is adjourned.”
The meaning of this was clear.
While it was only an eighth of a page, a place to write about something outside the school campus had basically fallen into my lap. The idea which I’d presented so passionately in September had been casually dismissed, while Itsukaichi’s lack of confidence seemed to have worked out against all odds.
After leaving school that day, I met up with Osanai at a crepe store, one of the rare occurrences when I invited her out. There, we stood chatting about recent developments, and Osanai was overjoyed to hear my news.
“That’s great, Urino-kun. Good for you!”
At that time, I probably gave a listless reply like “Yeah” or “Yup”. Rather than being unable to believe my windfall, I was a little miffed that my effort had been all for nothing. Did it work because of the word “charity”?
While I was holding a strawberry crepe with copious amounts of fresh cream, Osanai chided me.
“You’ve got to get your act together! At this stage, there’s only the possibility that you could get a page out of it. You have to properly seize the chance! If not, my support will be wasted.”
She was right. I bit down hard with my back teeth.
This was my chance for me, Urino Takahiko, to carve my achievements into Funado High School. In the December editorial meeting, the door towards that goal opened a little, and that was all that happened.
The incident during the summer break had already lost its freshness. Now I had to find something to replace that, and stick it into that mere eighth of a page. However, at that point in time, I still had not found anything like that.
I could probably stifle the doubts of whether all this was possible for me. I can do this!
That was exactly what I felt whenever I saw Osanai’s light smile. Before I knew it, my hands were filled with strength.
As I had those thoughts, a chocolate-coated banana protruded from under the crepe skin.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!