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The Triangle of rejection
School ended, and I was stuffing my textbooks into my school bag when Tetsuhiko called out to me.
“About the thing we’re doing for the cultural festival, I managed to get the usual spot again so let’s have a meeting.”
There was a good reason for my complete lack of motivation. Tetsuhiko had created and was running the slightly dubious circle known as the Entertainment Appreciation Society, which however consisted of only the both of us and honestly at this point I was just name lending.
The Entertainment Appreciation Society was slated to perform at the cultural festival and for that purpose had reserved a time slot in the gym, but two weeks had passed with the performance’s subject matter still undecided. Of course we had talked about it several times, but a play that would give Tetsuhiko the bragging rights he sought remained undiscovered.
By now I was pretty sick of the repeated unproductive meetings.
“Oh yeah, later I wanna get Shida-chan’s opinion too, so ask her for me, alright?”
“Cuz she’s your childhood friend?”
Shida Kuroha. My classmate, who also happened to be the inseparable next door neighbour I’ve had the misfortune of knowing for the last seventeen years.
Of course Tetsuhiko would use me to invite Kuroha. But at this very moment it would be really, really hard for me to talk to her.
“Well, let’s just leave that aside for today. Don’t worry, I’ll ask Kuro about it another time.”
Damn it, I thought. Tetsuhiko’s intuition was extraordinarily sharp.
“Come to think of it, Shida-chan never came over to talk to you during lunch, right? That’s pretty rare.”
“Really? I think that happens often enough.”
Having apparently discerned something from my expression, Tetsuhiko gave a firm nod and slapped me on both shoulders.
“Go and apologise as soon as possible. It was your fault, after all.”
“How did you end up assuming we had a fight?! And that it was my fault too?!”
“What else could it possibly be? I would hardly expect that from such a nice girl.”
“… Well, that isn’t something I can deny.”
She’s someone to whom I can tell everything to and be accepted… most of all a childhood friend who knows everything there is to know about me.
To me, Kuroha is an irreplaceable existence.
“I know Shida-chan has always been that older sister type who likes taking care of others, but even then she’s always been especially sweet to you. What exactly have you done to make her so upset?”
“Oh come on, she can be pretty tough on quite a few things, you know.”
“It’s a loving toughness then.”
My breath caught at the mention of the word “love”.
Tetsuhiko’s persistence was truly something to be feared. While he folded his arms and stared, I whistled to avert suspicion.
“Sueharu, I’m just saying, but Shida-chan is a woman of an extremely high calibre. High enough that if you were not childhood friends you wouldn’t even be able to touch her. Do you understand?”
“… Yeah, I know. I know she’s popular. She’s cute, so it’s only natural I suppose. I’m proud that she’s my childhood friend, and I admire her social ability amongst other things too.”
An image of Kuroha formed in my head.
Kuroha was always being compared to smaller animals. The babyface of a cat, and the stature of a mouse or squirrel. She had straight, chestnut-coloured, medium length hair. She was short, always moving about and her facial expressions changed constantly. Many found those attributes of hers adorable and it was not surprising that she had a large social circle of both boys and girls.
“For a guy who can’t compliment girls to their faces, you sure have no trouble praising Shida-chan, huh?
“That’s because she’s a close friend.”
Complimenting girls was honestly pretty embarrassing. The feeling that I was flirting never sat well with me at all.
Praising a close friend was different. The pride I felt from being so intimate with such an amazing person made me want to do it even more. There was really no reason to feel abashed about saying one’s true feelings.
“Ooh, so that’s how you feel about me, Haru.”
A sweet fragrance gently tickled my nostrils.
A head of chestnut-coloured hair peeked out above a collar.
Kuroha really couldn’t have come much closer to me as she made sniffing motions with her nose while she inhaling my scent with a cherubic smile on her face.
For certain reasons, I could not bring myself to look at Kuroha’s face.
I broke out in cold sweat. Unsure of how to respond, the best I could do was recoil and mumble.
“You’re too close, Kuro…”
Kuroha had forever been kind of like a pet, but I always thought she was more accurately described as having the form of a human and the behaviour of a small animal. As her habit of sniffing things so properly exemplified. We were only close in spirit because we were childhood friends.
“Ooh, are you embarrassed, Haru⁓? Look how cute you are. Your older sister really loves that side of you, you know?”
“D-D-Don’t say things like ‘love’ so casually, Kuro. Also you’re too short to be my older sister.”
“Aww come on, Haru. Quit pointing out my height all the time.”
I was flicked in the forehead.
Kuroha was only 148 centimetres tall. While she tried acting like an older sister, at a glance it was hard to see her as anything but a smartly dressed middle schooler pretending to be an adult.
“I’m always cleaning up after your mess, Haru, so wouldn’t you say I’m basically your elder sister by now?”
“Kuro, you already have so many little sisters, it’s fine if you don’t constantly watch my back too, you know.”
“You have a lot of younger sisters, Shida-chan?”
Kuroha nodded at Tetsuhiko’s question.
“Yup, a pair of twins in the first year of middle school and one in the third, making four of us.”
“That’s why the older sister trope is so ingrained in Kuro.”
“What are you talking about, Haru? You’re the one who made me this way after always causing me so much trouble.”
Kuroha tousled my unruly hair.
Her actions were really a little too intimate and provocative for a high school boy. I thought little of it because things between us had always been this way, but rationally it was really not something that should have been done in the classroom.
Kuroha was popular and I suffered an incredible amount of jealousy for it.
“Tsk, don’t think we’ll let you off just because you’re childhood friends.”
I could hear the tongue-clicking clearly.
“Damn, can’t wait to use my right arm.”
Err, Hasami, could you not stare at me that way? We’re already in the second year of high school, so there isn’t any need for violence, right?
“There’s a cave in the mountains out back, if we do it there–”
“Befitting Sueharu’s name, on a sunny day we’ll send him on his final journey–”¹
Erm, could you guys stop discussing where to bury me, please? I’m seriously freaking out.
I could hear the envious voices buzzing but Kuroha seemed not to notice in the slightest.
“Anything wrong, Haru? You don’t look very happy.”
“Err, no… it’s nothing really.”
“Ooh, that just makes me worry even more. Come on, why don’t you try telling big sister?”
Kuroha was kind and caring.
Her concern for me only made me feel worse.
“Haru, you’re really not acting yourself.”
“… What does it mean to act myself?”
“Hmm… to be insensitive and dumb?”
“You’re horrible! I violently object! The next time we meet will be in court!”
“Oh, you’re really pushing yourself too hard, Haru…”
“Not I’m not. Ugh, I’m just gonna head out to the toilet for a b–”
Unable to do anything about the sour atmosphere, I stood up to prepare to freshen up.
“–Could it be that you regret rejecting me?”
For a brief moment, the class fell completely silent. It was as if time had stopped.
I felt the blood in my veins leave me.
I wanted to scream “Why did you have to say that here?!”, but that would definitely have resulted in me being loudly shouted down. Of course I had had my reasons, but it would not do for me to make poor excuses for myself right now.
In other words, I had to make my escape while everyone was still dumbfounded.
That was how I thought as I stealthily grabbed my bag while turning towards the corridor, but–
“Oh dear, where do you think you’re going after causing such a fascinati– I mean, serious incident, hmm, Sueharu?”
Tetsuhiko wrapped his arms around my shoulders, preventing me from moving.
“Uh, well, to the toilet of course…”
“I. Won’t. Let. You.”
“Quit. Kidding. Go. To. Hell.”
I tried to escape while Tetsuhiko locked me in a Nelson hold. A horrible swaying clash of strength played out in the classroom.
“You bastard! Tetsuhiko! Let me go!”
“Hahaha! Everyone’s waiting for you!”
H-he’s aroused and showing his true colours.
Tetsuhiko’s handsomeness always ensures he finds a girlfriend quickly, but his relationships don’t last very long either. The main reason for that is that he is garbage, but it is probably also because he doesn’t bother hiding that fact in the first place.
I have never disliked Tetsuhiko’s quickness to reveal his true self, but in the current situation it was too dangerous. At present I was the focus of multiple murderous glares.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. Kuroha is popular. She had massive support amongst the lolicon crowd, and was practically idolised by guys with a little-devil-lolita-elder-sister-complex.
The kindled flames of their jealousy sought to burn me to a crisp.
“I see, I see.”
The boys in the class were now more like wolves gathering in front of their prey, ruthlessly looking for any sign of weakness from me while their rage boiled over.
“Ok calm down, guys… I have good reasons for doing what I did…”
“…Huh? You shitting us? What reasons?”
I briefly glanced to see how Shirokusa was doing. She was near her desk, and appeared to be having a quiet conversation with her only friend in class, Mine Meiko.
“How could I get myself out of this mess?”
I used the full power of my mental faculties to simulate several possibilities.
“I rejected Kuro because there’s someone else I like!”
Saying that would keep my feelings towards Shirokusa hidden, and would probably not be lying either.
But if those words ever left my mouth…
“So who’s this girl you like then? We won’t let you off if you don’t tell us! Hahaha!” Tetsuhiko was guaranteed to say with a full-faced grin as he threw more oil onto the fire.
At present the classroom was a witches’ sabbath. He who was to be possessed would not be allowed to resist.
What if I confessed to someone else as a proxy? No, it was hard to think of another girl outside of Kuroha who would be willing to accept a fake confession from me and pass it off as a joke later.
I could also pretend to accept Kuroha’s confession right this instant, but that would be the worst option of all. Because it would be inconsiderate to Kuroha.
I trusted Kuroha more than anyone else. I cared for her and respected her as a person. That’s why I didn’t want to lie to her or give her any unhappy memories.
So it followed that I would eventually be forced to say Shirokusa’s name, effectively confessing to her.
But that could safely be said to be the worst confession ever. Under these circumstances the chances of Shirokusa accepting it were virtually none.
Just think about it. If Shirokusa were to accept my confession now, she would be seen as the bad guy as well. “How could you make Shida-san cry just so the both of you could be happy?” is what Shirokusa was likely to be told. Even if Shirokusa truly had feelings for me she would probably forlornly wonder why I chose to confess under these conditions while predictably rejecting me.
“Oh, what am I gonna do? How am I gonna get out of this?”
I checked out what Kuroha was doing.
While Kuroha had masterminded the current situation, she had probably not done so with evil intentions. Kuroha could be an airhead sometimes, though always with negative ramifications.
In other words, if I hinted that I was in a pinch, there was a chance she would help me out.
I tried to prompt her using the direction of my eyes. Do something to stop them, please!
It hurt my heart to seek protection from the girl I had rejected. I thus sent Kuroha signals while trying hard not to injure her as much as possible.
“Do you regret it, Haru?”
“I do, I do!”
“If you say you do, does that mean you want to date me after all?”
“Uh, not exactly–”
I had gotten that far before immediately realising that I had picked the wrong choice of words.
Consequently a hail of verbal abuse landed like arrows launched from a shooting gallery.
“Huh?! Not exactly?!”
“You bastard, just who do you think you are?!”
“Woah woah woah woah calm down! Seriously guys just wait a minute!”
“What good would waiting do, huuuuuuh?!”
“Damn right! Somebody! Get the crowbar!”
“I’m sorry please forgive me.”
I immediately dropped to my knees.
“Damn, Sueharu, that was fast!”
So Tetsuhiko quipped, but my ego was unscathed. I had thrown my pride into a ditch a long time ago.
“Don’t underestimate the power of the crowbar, Tetsuhiko! It really hurts!”
“Gross. The fact that you already know how it feeIs is disgusting!”
“Oh Haru, you really always think kneeling when you’re in a pinch will you get out of trouble, don’t you?
“Just like how a girl uses her tears as a weapon, kneeling is my ultimate trump card!”
“Yes Haru, but saying that while you’re on your knees doesn’t make you look cool at all ✩”
In the meantime the angry militants had already sidled up.
Kuroha was the only reason I had not yet been attacked. If she left I would undoubtedly be set upon from all four sides mercilessly until left for dead.
“Please move out of the way! I need to teach this idiot a lesson!”
“… Erm, guys?”
Still wearing a dazzlingly cute smile on her face, Kuroha began exuding an ominous aura.
“Haru and I are having a talk, so could you not disturb us?”
While Shirokusa never bothered hiding her displeasure, Kuroha was the opposite. A plastered-on smile was the true mark of her anger.
Her warmthless smile had a unique terror different from Shirokusa’s.
The extremists could only mumble “Oh– sure. Sorry.” as they quickly lost their bluster and retreated.
As the danger pulled back I was finally able to catch my breath.
“Whew… Thanks, Kuro…”
“I said, moving on.”
Those were words meant for me to feel her resolve. My body thus stiffened of its own accord.
I looked into Kuroha’s large round eyes, and with greater prudence and sincerity than before, chose words that would not constitute a lie.
“Well, it’s like right now I don’t really have any plans to date somebody, and… No! What I mean to say is that it’s not that I dislike you, or think that you’re not good enough, or don’t find you cute at all, really. You’re incredible, and I think any guy who gets to date you is really lucky, but the timing just isn’t right for me right now, you know?”
Disordered and incoherent, I was unsure if I had managed to get my feelings across. But I had tried the best I could without mentioning Shirokusa.
Kuroha crossed her arms, accentuating her bust which was large relative to the rest of her small body.
In this fashion she relented by tiptoeing a little and whispering softly into my ear.
“You seem a little happier, so maybe I’ll let you off for now.”
Kuroha grinned and proclaimed loudly.
Kuroha peered at my astonished face with extreme satisfaction.
“Were you flustered, Haru? Troubled? Stressed?”
“Sorry, Haru. I thought I’d just tease you a little by confessing to you. It was a lie the entire time.”
“Y- Y- why you!”
“You thought I was serious? Even though you rejected me? Oh, you big dummy!”
She poked me with her elbow. It hurt, but the feeling of relief I experienced was far stronger.
“All right everybody, let’s go home!”
“Damn, what a waste of time!”
The boys who were gathered dispersed. I detected no shame at all over my horrendous treatment which also turned out to be unwarranted. It was truly appalling.
“Oi, you guys, don’t I deserve an apology?”
At my implied grievances the boys clicked their tongues.
“You know, Maru, you should already have gotten the death penalty just for calling Shida-san ‘Kuro’.”
“You are guilty, childhood friend! Guilty!”
“Calm down, Godo! It’s alright! Maru doesn’t cut it as a childhood friend so Shida-san is still pure!”
“Why do you guys always treat me so horribly? I have feelings too, you know?”
The words I tried to elicit sympathy with failed completely. The boys merely spit and scowled. This class was truly a collection of scum.
Those were my thoughts as Kuroha placed her hand on my shoulder.
“Haru, I think you should be feeling more grateful to me instead!”
“Really Kuro, no more of these kinds of things, okay?”
“But it taught you a good lesson, didn’t it?”
“Maybe, but– Damn, you just tried to trick me again, didn’t you?!”
I messed with Kuroha’s cute braids and she ran away with an amused squeal.
To me, something feels wrong when Kuroha isn’t around. I was acutely aware of how much I valued her existence.
But this sort of relationship fits us better. Getting along closely by playful teasing, not awkwardly being all lovey-dovey over each other, was more like what Kuroha and I were like.
“Really, you only let go when it comes to me, Haru. You better take responsibility, okay?”
“Okay. Let’s make babies.”
“Dummy. Pervert. Ooh, you’re just the worst, Haru. Only sexually harassing me this way. I bet you think it doesn’t matter because I’ll soon forgive you anyway, right?”
“No no, not at all.”
“Fine, then the next time you sexually harass me I won’t let you copy my homework.”
“Please, Kuroha-san, in your infinite generosity anything but that!”
“That was fast! Haru, you kneeling at this point has practically zero value.”
“You don’t understand, Kuro. Kneeling not only appeals to the person you’re trying to apologise to, but also creates background pressure on her to forgive you.”
“The fact that you’ve thought this through so thoroughly really turns me off. Big sister worries about your future, Haru.”
So our characteristically inane conversation went, when the next punchline flew in from an unexpected corner.
“Wait– you’re serious?”
“Well… yes, that seems to be the case.”
The words were Shirokusa’s and Mine’s.
The class had returned to a level of normalcy after Kuroha’s admission to lying and in fact many had already left.
In this circumstance, Mine’s astonishment was suitably striking.
The plump and airheaded Mine fit nicely alongside the cool and intense Shirokusa, but their relationship was such that one could surmise that they would not be friends if Mine was of a more excitable temperament. It was extremely rare to see Mine so high-strung.
Feeling the sudden attention, Mine’s cheeks reddened and the tone of her voice fell. The ensuing conversation thus became harder to hear, but by desperately straining my ears I could somehow make out a few fragments.
“When did he…?!”
“A we… ago.”
“Where… you confessed…?!”
“By the sea.”
“Oh, how roma…c.”
… Wait, what? What did she just say? Did she not say something being confessed to?
“Shirokusa-san, you said that Abe-sen… and you were… family fri… right? … it would only be a matter of time before the two of you got close to each other but it… happened, huh… A… senpai is… cool… popular, I… you… make the best couple ever. I wish… nothing but the best.”
Hmm? Hm? Hmmmmmmmmmmm?
Were my ears going bad? I felt like I had just heard something that could not have been possible…
“Wow, Kachi-san is dating Abe-senpai from the third year.”
Kuroha’s whisper pierced right through my heart.
“Abe is the one who’s dad is an actor and recently made his own acting debut too, right? Well I personally hate that kind of nepotism, but he’s popular and also an appropriate partner for Shirokusa, I guess.”
Tetsuhiko’s words went straight through my right ear and out my left. I could hear them, but my brain refused to understand their meaning.
“Didn’t I tell you? Kachi is too good for you, man. Women have always existed to deceive men and, well, there you have it. If you think about this another way though, this means you won’t have to awkwardly make a fool of yourself at the “Confession Festival” anymore, so it’s not all bad, right?”
I used my rage to strangle Tetsuhiko by his collar.
“Tetsuhiko, didn’t I already tell you that I think nothing of Kachi?”
“Oh, yeah yeah. Sure, I get it.”
I threw the still joking Tetsuhiko aside and slung my bag over my back.
“Oi, Sueharu. Going home already? What about the cultural festival?”
“Who cares about what I think? Go make your own decisions.”
Tetsuhiko did not try to stop me any further.
Kuroha called out to me, but I couldn’t summon the energy to reply.
I pretended not to hear and left the classroom behind.
¹A pun on Sueharu’s name. Sue = 末, which can be defined as “end”, while Haru = 晴, which means good or sunny weather.