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It’s first love so it can’t be helped
I realised early on that plotting to trap someone was not as easy as it seemed.
Searching for Abe’s weaknesses, it was essential that I both observed him from afar and talked to people who were close to him.
But if I did so, what would those people surrounding him think? Probably that I was a weird fellow, to which some of them would certainly alert him.
Therefore, I had to first create a pretext for action.
“Sorry, could I have a moment?”
I called out to a male student who remained behind in Abe’s class of 3-A.
“I’m helping out at the newspaper club, and currently I’m collecting information regarding Abe-senpai…”
“Is that so?”
After leaving Kuroha, I first went to the newspaper club. The president and I were acquaintances who had gone to the same middle school.
I asked him if he was interested in material on Abe-senpai, who had made an appearance in the latest drama series, assuming I had any. To which he replied “Of course!” twice.
I was thus able to use the title of “Newspaper Club Assistant” to ask my way around. This way, me canvassing for intelligence would be nothing remarkable, and if I said “Thanks again for talking to me. Oh, and by the way, try to keep the fact that I was snooping around secret, if you can. I don’t want to tip Abe-senpai off, and if we find anything interesting later, it’ll be a lot more impactful when we suddenly break the news.” the other party would readily respond, “I see, sure then.”
While I could not be certain if they would actually keep quiet on the matter, I was sure that to try and silence them any more would only invite suspicion. Even if they spilled the beans I never gave my name, which made me think things would somehow work out.
With all that in mind, I interviewed a three-person group of mixed gender.
If I were to summarise their impressions into a single sentence, all of them thought he was an extremely good person.
“He doesn’t act stuck up or put on airs at all even though he’s the son of an actor. We all knew about his dad, right, so I asked if we could meet him. You know what he said then? ‘Why not let’s all get ramen or something else together first?’ I asked him why, then he asked me ‘How would you introduce someone you brought to meet your parents?’ I said ‘As a friend, I suppose.’ ‘Then I have to know you well enough to call you a friend first.’ he replied. ‘How can I introduce to my parents somebody I’ve only met for the first time?’ he said frankly, without any anger or nastiness. When I heard that, I thought it was very true. That’s why I think he’s a decent guy, a good guy too. A secret? Never heard of one. He’s so open about everything. At any rate, he’s a good guy.”
“I only show up occasionally at the Light Music Club, but even when I came back after a year he still said hi… I was proud about that, to be honest. Abe-senpai’s singing? Of course it couldn’t be compared to a professional’s, but he still sang pretty well. Did he squabble with the other members or anything? Like over love? Well, some girl confessed to him, while another senior who played the drums was interested in her, so I would say the atmosphere got a little tense. But Abe-senpai apparently rejected her outright, and everybody knew he wasn’t to blame at all, so everything went back to normal very quickly.”
“Well the truth is, last year I confessed my feelings to Abe… but it didn’t work out. At that time because I was so set on him, I became so depressed after getting rejected that I couldn’t see anything else, and I began making up and saying bad things about him. Like for example that he was a piece of trash who would hit on any slightly good-looking girl and then throw her away afterwards. But nobody believed me of course… because they were lies that could never be true. I drove all my friends away with my lying, and I was almost at my wit’s end when Abe-kun called out to me… and apologised. He wasn’t to blame at all, and I was, but he said wholeheartedly that he was sorry for hurting me. That’s when I sincerely replied to him that I was genuinely sorry too. Abe-kun was also there to support me when I apologised to everyone for lying… that’s why I’m grateful to him from the bottom of my heart.”
Returning to lock up Meeting Room 3, I stayed inside re-reading the interview notes I had taken down.
“How much more perfect can one person get…”
One could usually find something to criticise in most people, but the impression others had of Abe was astonishingly positive.
It was genuinely frightening. It was almost revolting that someone like that could exist.
“It’s no wonder that he managed to seduce Shirokusa then…” I began, then proceeded to correct myself.
“… As if! Those two things aren’t related, dammit!”
Behold this mask of envy, born from the fires of my own jealousy! Anything good I hear about my love rival only adds fuel to the flames! Now I want to expose all of his flaws even more!
“–What things aren’t related, I wonder?”
Meeting Room 3 was located at the very far end of the gym, a place you would not wander to by chance. One would not reach such a remote spot without having the intention of going there in the first place.
It was to such a room which a boy wearing a uniform entered without knocking.
I was already too familiar with the refined facial features and gentle demeanour which could have been said to belong to a prince, despite never having spoken to their owner at all.
My adversary in love who I was trying to find the weaknesses of – Abe Mitsuru. For some reason he had come to Meeting Room 3.
It couldn’t have been for something trivial. But unsure of his true intentions, I made sure to avoid any careless movement.
“It appears you’ve been asking around about me a fair bit… Maru Sueharu-kun.”
There was a complacency about the way he talked. He should have been able to sense my hostility, yet didn’t feel the need to take me seriously? His careless demeanour disgusted me.
“I see, you’ve already heard then. That was quick of you.”
“Well yes, by chance. I figured that if you weren’t the one doing the asking you wouldn’t have shown up here.”
“… Interesting, how would someone as famous as you know about someone like me?”
“I don’t think it’s so much as I knew about you… as I remembered you, perhaps?”
My heart jumped, and its throbbing became more intense.
I felt my throat dry up. I wanted to escape, but the exit had been sealed.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about… Well, I must be going.”
I pushed Abe aside and placed my hand on the doorknob.
“‘The child actor prodigy’, Maru Sueharu – I didn’t know you went to this school until recently.”
My hands began to tremble. I wished I could head home and crawl into my futon at once.
“H-Huh… someone else who shares my name perhaps? Either way, I’m…”
“It isn’t good to lie, you know. You have the looks. I’m certain that it’s you. Surely you wouldn’t mind having a little chat?”
It took all of my energy to close the door which had been opened slightly ajar. I felt my strength escape me, leaving me unable to even find the willpower to run away.
“I’ve seen the drama you starred in, you know. The one that had over 30 percent viewership. It even became a social phenomenon, right? The last time I watched it was quite some time ago, but I still remember your acting making me cry. Then you made me laugh as well, which was amazing. I was obsessed over that child actor who starred as the Taiga drama’s¹ main character. Even in movies–”
“P- Please, Senpai, that’s enough–”
“Hm? Is that so? Oh, that’s right. You worked with my father too on the Taiga drama, didn’t you? Back then, my father would praise you every time he got the chance to when he was at home. I was pretty excited by the thought that someone like you, who was my age but already an amazing actor, could exist. That was why I started working towards the goal of becoming an actor myself.”
“Oh, you’re too kind… Now please, excuse me…”
As I prepared to leave, Abe grabbed my wrist.
“–Could you just tell me one thing?”
“Err, look, I’m really busy right now…”
“Six years ago, why did you suddenly disappear from the acting world? I believe my father knew, but he would never tell me… I would like to know why.”
Memories from that time flashed back in my mind.
The sound of a clapperboard slamming shut. The satisfied smiles of fellow actors. Me telling my mum I had done it. Her not responding at all. Not moving even when I shook her. Feeling her warmth against my hand. But still she remained motionless. The excitement turning into screams. That’s why I–
“I don’t know! I don’t know anything!”
I clenched my teeth and shouted.
Abe remained silent, observing me with an eerie composure.
He then whispered a few words.
“So in other words, you ran.”
At his talk I snapped.
I lost all control of my emotions. Though bereft of energy just moments before, fuelled by reckless anger I broke free from Abe’s grasp.
“Don’t act like you know all about me! Do you think you can just say whatever you like?!”
“It’s the truth, isn’t it? I wouldn’t mind if you told me otherwise.”
“Why do I have to take this shit from you?!”
“Because I hate you.”
I felt like I finally saw the true feelings of the man known as Abe for the first time.
He was thought of as a perfect superhuman no matter who I asked. Finally talking to him face to face, everything had proceeded as advertised.
But now the word “hate” had managed to leave his mouth. This was the man’s true character.
“Have you watched the drama I acted in?”
“… I have.”
“What did you think?”
“You looked pretty but your acting was atrocious” – would probably have been too much to say in front of the person in question.
“Well, I already know without you telling me. ‘It was horrible’ – that’s what you would have liked to say, right? I know about my own lack of talent.”
“… I see.”
“‘I see’, huh? My, you’re pretty horrible yourself. So you do think I have no ability after all. Well, I suppose that is the truth though.”
Abe sighed deeply and let the tension dissipate from his shoulders.
“I became a child actor after seeing what you had accomplished. But I had no talent, and things were no easier for me even using my father’s name. Recognising my ineptitude, I tried applying myself in other directions. But still I wanted to be an actor. That’s why this year I went back again, only to feel the pain of my own inability every single day. Then, while all that was happening, I found out you were in this school. Could you, the once so-called child acting prodigy, possibly understand how I feel?”
“… Well, I’m pretty pissed off too.”
“That was quite the offhanded comment.”
“While probably not as much as you, Senpai, I’m also angry at the person who realised who I was.”
Having weird things expected of me, picking an awkward quarrel, receiving outlandish praise then being bizarrely looked down upon.
I was sick of all of it. I could accept playing around and being made fun of, but I found being lectured about things that happened in the past intolerable.
“The person who told me you were enrolled here was Shirokusa-chan.”
Shirokusa knew about my past…? The topic had never once came up when we talked, yet she had told Abe about me…? What was going on…?
“Shirokusa-chan and I have been like family for the longest time. Her father is the chairman of a fairly large company, and was close friends with mine when they studied together. Well, I say that, but Shirokusa-chan and I didn’t see each other very often during middle school because of how busy each of us were, and only after we ended up in the same high school did we begin talking again. Wait, she never told you?”
“… No, not really.”
Abe laughed subtly.
I knew clearly that at this moment that he was making fun of me.
“Are you trying to pick a fight with me?”
“I did have that intention from the start, only I never disclosed it until now. I guess I really am a ham actor.”
“Wait a minute, does that mean the reason you’re dating Shirokusa is–”
Abe unveiled his most malevolent smile of the day.
“You’ve finally realised. Yes, you’re absolutely right. I thought of going out with Shirokusa-chan simply because I wanted you to taste the feeling of humiliation – that was the main crux of it. After finding out we were in the same school, I immediately set out to find out more about you. And interestingly enough, you seemed to have fallen head over heels for Shirokusa-chan. I thought at once that that was something I could use, and began to take steps to make Shirokusa-chan mine. So for lack of a better way to phrase it, I just wanted to find a way to beat you any way I could. Tangibly and unmistakably.”
I grabbed Abe’s collar and raised my right arm.
“Oh, could we please not resort to violence? I won’t stop you if you want to get yourself expelled, though. That way my victory would be even more complete. Thinking about it that way, this might not be such a bad thing after all.”
What the hell?!
What the hell what the hell what the hell?!
Perfect superhuman, my ass! I haven’t done anything to him at all recently, why is he dragging up something that happened years ago?!
This is the guy who’s dating Shirokusa? How did she end up dating him?
Goddamnit! Fuck! Shirokusa, you idiot! You allowed yourself to be deceived by this guy just because he’s hot?!
“Now you’re looking for my weaknesses… but I don’t think you’ll be able to find them. I may suck in front of a camera, but I’m great at making the people around me think I can’t be bad.”
“Wow, that’s amazing. I’m the complete opposite. Is there a trick to it?”
“There isn’t. Though if I were to credit something, it would be the appearance of sincerity, I suppose.”
“What a relief. While I asked around about you I thought I was being petty for disliking somebody so agreeable… but it appears I had no reason to be worried after all.”
“I see, that is a relief… You creep me out.”
Abe brushed my hand away as if it were something unclean, then massaged his now unrestrained neck and cleared his throat.
“Oh, yes. I will tell you one thing, however. Shirokusa-chan and I are dating, but there appears to remain a bit of uncertainty on her part.”
“Uncertainty, you say…?”
“She appears to have some memories from the past.”
“Right now, our relationship hasn’t been made public yet. Well, Shirokusa-chan let the cat out of the bag, so the news is spreading, but the Agency has their own intentions and such and I’ve had to be evasive with my words. That’s why I’m going to confess to her again at the ‘Confession Festival’. After I do so publicly in front of so many people the Agency won’t be able to retract what I’ve done, but more importantly it’s a plan to blow away whatever memories she’s still holding on to. Do you understand? The ‘Confession Festival’ is the time limit of your first love.”
I took a deep breath and fought hard to regain my composure.
“My, how disgusting you’ve become after just pulling away one layer, Senpai. You’re now somehow more fascinating than you were when you were just a perfect superhuman. If I wasn’t personally involved in this mess, I might not have grown to hate you so much.”
“Well, I hate you even more now that I’ve actually talked to you. Either way, I’m satisfied, so I’ll be taking my leave. I will say it was a productive conversation.”
He said what he wanted to only as he wanted. Leaving a dubious smile behind for the very end, Abe exited the meeting room.
I punched the wall as hard as I could. Pain from my fist shot up into my brain.
The weak have their own way of fighting. It was to not choose a method at all.
Then there were two ways of fighting.
The first was to attack weaknesses. But Abe’s weak spots were hard to find at best. That left only the other fighting method to be chosen.
I now had no choice but to ‘fight in an arena I would win’.
And that arena would be – something I already knew.
¹ Taiga drama is the name NHK gives its annual, year-long historical fiction television drama which airs every Sunday for 45 minutes.