Chapter 1: Surprise

 

“Ladies, gentlemen, I applaud you for coming out in the meager remainder of summer vacation”

Kagurai-senpai looked over us and said with a grin.
Today was such a day with only three days of summer vacation lying ahead of it. The curtain opens at the casual diner in front of the station. We had been gathered in the no-smoking section at the back.

“What is it, Kagurai. Did you need us to help out with your homework?”

The one who pierced through with a cold and cynical attitude towards her senior was my classmate, Kikyouin Yuzuki-san. On this fine day, her hair was once again set in her charm-point ponytail.

“Kikyouin-senpai. Kagurai-senpai’s in a different school year than the rest of us. I don’t think we’ll be able to help.”

Putting in a gentle retort with a serene tone, the mechanical lubricant and conscience of our club, Kurisu Crimson Kuria. As she stirred up her melon soda, carefully making sure not to spill it, her form was oh so adorable.

“But doesn’t that sound like the sort of thing Kagurai would come out with?”
“Ahh…”
“No, dear Kurisu. Don’t clam up there. If you’re going to follow through for me, do it to the end…”

Lamenting with a dubious expression was the president of our club, Kagurai Monyumi-senpai. While her hair was once long and beautiful, when she returned home the other day, she had resolutely cut it short.

“… Good grief. Oy, Kagoshima. You say something. These two are lacking in their respect for me.”

The talk was turned towards our club vice-president in name alone, Kagoshima Akira—meaning me. I was lightly surprised by Kagurai-senpai’s statement.

“Huh? You’re telling me you didn’t gather us up to get us to help out with your homework?”
“You too!?”
“I was certain of it, so I brought a few things from home… an electric dictionary, and few books you could write reports on and…”
“And you weren’t even joking!? You’re casually the cruelest one of all!”

I was seriously worried for her, but from what I could see of her grandiose grievances, it did seem my intentions had missed the mark.

“You lot… what made you think a summons from me equals helping out my studies?”

I can only think it was her daily karma. This person’s not quite there when it comes to anything apart from computers, after all. Kagurai-senpai made a declaration to us in a voice conceived in slight resentment.

“I’ll admit, I’ve yet to complete a majority of my summer homework, but that’s not what I called you here for!”

… So in the end, she’s not done, we retorted in our hearts.
By the way, I myself had a majority of it done by yesterday.
A week ago, there was a turn of events that led to Kurisu-chan living with me, but since then, I earnestly wrestled with it and managed somehow or another. Rather, when I convinced myself, “I’ll have to go at it like my life depends on it, or it’ll never be over,” and actually went at it like my life depended on it, it actually felt like I had finished with time to spare. I really am a man who’s terrible at pacing himself.

“Then what did you call us out for?”
“Why Orino’s birthday, of course.”

I immediately understood as the words left her mouth. I see. No wonder Orino-san wasn’t present. I thought she was late, or perhaps had to leave her seat for some reason, but… I guess she wasn’t called from the start.

“Orino’s birthday… when was that again?”
“August thirty first.”
“August thirty first… that’s the day after tomorrow, ain’t it?”

Kikyouin-san opened her eyes wide.

“That’s right. The day after tomorrow. And the last day of summer vacation to boot.” Said Kagurai-senpai. “Therefore, once August thirty first comes around, I was thinking we of the computer club would hold a birthday party for her.”
“That sounds nice… but also quite sudden.”

Three days left of summer vacation, and Orino-san’s birthday was the day after next.

 

[2 PAGE SPREAD OF THE MEMBERS GATHERED AT A RESTAURANT]

 

When we went shopping the other day, Kagurai-senpai did say something about Orino-san’s birthday, but I didn’t hear another word until this very day. I was sure we were going to do something once the new semester had begun.

“Honestly, I’d have liked to set up the plan a bit earlier. But even if it is over summer break, it’s the last day. So I was sure there would be members who hadn’t finished their homework yet…”
“I’m almost done with mine.”
“Finished ages ago.”
“Me too. Ah, Orino-senpai said she already finished up before training camp.”
“… I-I see. How wonderful. As the president of the ComClub, I’m proud of all of you.”

Kagurai-senpai’s voice was clearly shaking. It does seem that of these face, the only one who hadn’t finished her homework was none other than her. Her dignity as a senpai was run through the mud.

“W-whatever the case, I hesitated over whether to leave the final day open for any last sprints of homework, but yesterday, I resolved I would hold this party.”

She set herself up in a machine gun tone, before continuing on calmly.

“A birthday really should be celebrated on the day in question, after all.”

While she said something nice with a nice smile, the three of us calmly analyzed the situation. Don’t tell me this person… is using Orino-san’s birthday as an excuse not to do homework? Just because she realized there was no way she’d manage in her three days remaining, she wanted to escape reality with a birthday party?
Seeming to sense our eyes of doubt, she faltered back.

“W-what? I-if you have any objections, raise them now.”
“No, I have no complaints.”

Said I. Even if there was a bit of escapism included in, I doubt Kagurai-senpai’s desire to celebrate Orino-san’s birthday was a lie. And I felt much the same.

“Let’s do it, this surprise party.”

*BREAK*

And so the three of us left the diner and made for the department store in front of the station. That department store was the largest large-scale retailer in the area, and if you made your way to it, you’d be able to obtain roughly anything.

“For now, that should take care of the birthday cake reservations.”

After making reservations for a whole cake at the patisserie on the first floor (splitting the cost). Kagurai-senpai folded her arms and grunted an ‘indeed’.

“When you think of birthday, you think of cake, so that’s one cake down… now then, what’s next?”
“Huh? You didn’t have some specific plan?”
“That’s right. At present, I haven’t thought of anything. I just thought I’d gather everyone up so we could put our heads together.”
“Now that sounds hit or miss…”

When she had the aptitude to mobilize, she hadn’t the slightest ability to plan.

“And this is the first time I’m doing this sort of thing.”
“This sort of thing?”
“This birthday party thing. I’ve seen it time and again in games, but it’s the first time I’m doing one for real. In my era… ah, no, yeah. Well, whatever the case, I’ve no experience.”
“Is that so?”

When I asked,

“Ah, the truth is, I’ve also…”
“I’ve never had one either.”

Kurisu-chan and Kikyouin-san both raised their hands.

“Eh? Both of you?”
“Yes. It’s not as if I’m inexperienced in celebrating birth in itself, but I’m not very knowledgeable on what sort of thing constitutes a birthday party in this country.”
“I see… you did just come to Japan this spring.”

Though I’ve yet to hear where she was before she came to Japan.
I’ve grown curious and asked a number of times, but each time, “Umm, that’s a secret,” she’d either play it off, or, “I’m from another world—ah, i-it’s nothing, I didn’t say anything!” she would return an eighth-grade-syndrome response, so lately, I’ve just about given up.

“What about you, Kikyouin-san? You didn’t have any opportunities to hold a birthday party?”

When I nonchalantly asked, Kikyouin-san awkwardly cast down her eyes. I could see a daaaark shadow cast over her back.

“… That’s right. Never.”

Ah, crap. Did I step on a landmine?
Come to think of it, Kikyouin-san was- put nicely a loner, and put not-so-nicely, a girl who had spent her student life alone. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m sure she lived through a world with no relation to peaceful birthday gatherings.

“… Ah, no, but I wasn’t lonely at all or anything. Every year, I’d make some Japanese confectionaries together with Tamane-sama.”

Kikyouin-san frantically put up a tough act. It was kinda cute.

“Meaning, the only one with birthday party experience here is Kagoshima.”

Kagurai-senpai said, somewhat resigned.

“No, it’s not like I have that sort of experience either. At most, I’ve been called to a friend’s house a few times in elementary school.”
“But you’re definitely more knowledgeable than us, right? Very well, I’ll make it a presidential order. Vice-president, Kagoshima Akira. You are to take charge of Orino’s birthday party.”

I just got appointed to the role with the most responsibility. Even if she wanted me to take charge, it wasn’t as if I was a birthday party professional…

“Whether Orino’s birthday party is a success or not all hinges on Kagoshima.”
“Don’t lay down the pressure.”

Kagurai-senpai grinned as she stimulated my sense of responsibility; I tried thinking over what it meant to have a birthday party once more.

“Let’s see. The essence of a birthday party–”

I desperately shook up the memories of the birthday party at a friend’s house I participated in during elementary school. Umm, how did it go again? Their mother prepared the cake and the feast, we prepared the sort of presents a child would give… but in the end, if you’re asking what we did…

*BREAK*

“—It’s got to be Smash Bros.”

*BREAK*

“””Smash Bros!?”””

The three cried out with expressions of terror.

“K-Kagoshima. The meaning of a birthday party is Smash Bros…?”

As Kagurai-senpai asked in a quivering cadence, I gave a heavy nod.
Right.
Now that I think back on it, all those friends’ birthdays I went too were all just times people gathered under the name of a party to hold a Smash Bros tournament.
Everyone got together for a merry climactic battle.
The time we spent gaming was far longer than anything spent on any birthday-ish events.

“In this country, a birthday party is where everyone gathers to play Smash Bros, or in some instances, Pro Evolution Soccer. This is a well-known fact that’s surely written into the dictionary definition.”

“Haah…” The three of them looked impressed.
… No, I was making a joke there, don’t look at me like that.
These three inexperienced in the way of the birthday seriously believed my nonsense, so I hurriedly moved to get things back on track.

“W-well, it’s not like a birthday party has any definite form in the first place. As long as everyone has fun, isn’t that all that matters?”
“I see. You have a point there.”

Kagurai-senpai assented, the other two nodded.

“For now, I think a cake and presents are indispensable.”
“Hmm. The cake’s been bought, which means next comes presents.”
“In that case, shouldn’t we just buy them here and now?”

Kikyouin-san took a sweeping look along the store interior as she said.

“This department store sells everythin’. If you search, I’m sure you’ll find whatever you’re lookin’ for.”

*BREAK*

We entered present buying time.
At first, we intended to all move as one but, “Isn’t that kinda embarrassing?” came the verdict, and we dispersed into independent action. After deciding we would meet up in an hour at the rest area on the first floor, each member started shopping as they pleased.

“Now then…”

I boarded the escalator bound for the second floor, and worked my head.
A present for Orino-san, eh. Now what would that be?
I don’t have a clue what would be a good thing to get her. On top of that, my budget isn’t anything special. I didn’t intend to go out and by a present today, so I didn’t put much in my wallet when I went out; what’s more, my low funding was already shaved down from the cost of that cake…
While I was busy mulling over it, the escalator reached the second floor.

“You’re late.”

And for some reason, there was Kikyouin-san. Folding her arms, she complained to me with a displeased face.

“Can’t you get up any quicker?”
“… Eh? What do you mean I’m late?”

It’s not like we were meeting up or anything. We didn’t have any prior arrangements to look for a present together.

“I was waitin’ here. For you to arrive.”
“Eh…”

She was waiting?
For me to ride the escalator up?

“I wanted to be alone with ya’ a bit.”

Being told that in a level face sent me into a fluster.
W-what’s up with Kikyouin-san?
Whenever our faces met, a tongue click or a sigh, if I called her name, I’d be ignored eight out of ten, and if I teased her just a bit, she would immediately punch me in the stomach (granted, the solution to that one is just don’t tease her), and that prickly girl wanted to be alone with me…
Is this what the world calls the coming of the dere…
No—that’s wrong!

“W-who are you!?”
“… Hah?”
“There’s no way Kikyouin-san would ever show me such dere! You may take her form to deceive me, but I won’t be–”

I was punched in the stomach.

“Fguh…”

I suppressed my belly with both hands as I writhed.

“That plainly effective output, that angle with full knowledge of the location of my solar plexus, and the very slight, subtle undertones of love… this punch truly is Kikyouin-san’s…”
“Just how much are you reading into my punches!? ‘n wait, I’m not sendin’ em with love!”
“Hm. Her specialty violent retort, and her art of snapping… this truly is the real Kikyouin-san.”
“Just what criteria are you using to define me!?”

Letting out a breath of relief, I pat my stomach.
I folded up my T-shirt and took out the volume of Corocoro Comics I had stuck under it.
Praise the heavens, thanks to the Corocoro, I got off with little to no damage.

“—Why do you have Corocoro stored around your stomach!?”

Kikyouin-san said, amazed.
She had gone passed surprise, more creeped out at this point.

“Yes, well you see, lately, whenever I know I’m going to be meeting you, I generally prepare myself.”
“Why!?”
“I mean, you’re always quick to punch me.”
“That’s because you make sure to do things that’ll get you a punch!”

I had no rebuttal to that one.
I mean, teasing Kikyouin-san is fun.

“Ah, fudge… if I knew you had a magazine there, I would’ve hit you more seriously.”

Clenching her fist, Kikyouin-saan irritantly lamented.

“Fu fu fu. Kikyouin-san, you’ve got a long way to go. Well, no matter how hard you strike me, I do think I’ll get off with no damage.”

When I got up high and ran my mouth, “… Oh?” Kikyouin-san’s temple twitched as she glared angrily at me.

“You’re actin’ all proud just because you ate one healthy serving. Do you even understand how much I’m usually holdin’ back with you?”

Of course, I was quite well aware. Kikyouin-san had brute force on a level one might think she was taking on Youkai every day. But today’s me was a new man. I was accompanied by my comrade of over ten years.

“Kikyouin-san, I’d be insulted if you grouped Corocoro with all those other magazines on the block. This page number that far exceeds Jump or Shonen Magazine… boasting a top-class thickness among all the numerous monthly publications, a punch this baby can’t block doesn’t exist.”
“Hmm, wanna test that theory?”
“Oh, now that sounds interesting.”

It had kinda become an air where I couldn’t pull back, so I accepted without due consideration. I fastened the Corocoro to my abdomen again and touched my hands to my hips to take on an intimidating pose. Before my eyes, Kikyouin-san tightly clenched her right fist and pulled back. Winding her slender body to its absolute limit, she made free use of the spring of her entire frame to prepare herself. On my back, and my stomach pushed against the CoroCoro binding… I felt an ominous sweat.
… This is bad, Kikyouin-san’s going all out. What do I do, could it be I just erected a tremendous death flag?

“U-umm… Kikyouin-san…?”
“RinByouTouShaKaiJinRetsuZaiZen.”

She’s not listening!
And wait, isn’t she kinda chanting something!?
An unfathomable power was concentrating itself on Kikyouin-san’s right fist… was the feeling I got. If I had to stick a sound effect to it, it was a ‘whhnneeeEEEEE!’ sort of feel.
C-crap. If I don’t tense my muscles… no, guard like a rock, I’m screwed!

“… Here I go.”

At the attack proclamation, I swallowed my spit.
I concentrated every bit of my consciousness on my abdomen.
Believe, you must believe in the CoroCoro Comics!

“… Hah!”

Kikyouin-san released all her power, driving into the pit of my stomach a—

*BREAK*

“Hey, mommy, what are those people doing?”

*BREAK*

………
……
I suddenly recalled where we were.
The second floor of a department store. Right next to the escalator.
Right before my eyes was the toy section.

“H-hey. Don’t make eye contact.”

Pulling the hand of a child, around four or five, a mother swiftly walked past.

“……”
“……”
“… Kikyouin-san.”
“… What?”
“You really shouldn’t hit people.”
“You’re right. I’ll do my utmost to restrain myself next time.”

We both undid our preparations for war, returning to our normal stances. Yep. Let’s pretend none of that ever happened.

“So anyways, Kikyouin-san. In the end, what did you mean when you said you wanted me alone?”

I nonchalantly returned to topic.

“It’s this, this right here.”

She said, and held out a brown envelope to me. When I took it and opened it up, I found it contained three ten thousand yen bills.

“Could this be…”
“Right. That Tsuchimikado finally got up to returnin’ it. Finally found some funds to spare, apparently.”

Tsuchimikado Senzou.
A con artist who tricked me a few months ago.
I see, I finally understood Kikyouin-san’s intent in isolating me. I never told Kagurai-senpai or Kurisu-chan I had money taken from me.

“Yes, I’ve definitely received thirty thousand yen. Tell Tsuchimikado-san I said thanks.”
“Why are you thanking him…? You might have forgotten, but that money was tricked off of you.”
“Ah, you’re right… yeaaah. But hey, just thank him anyways. It was all thanks to Tsuchimikado-san that we were able to go to training camp and all.”
“That’s true, but,”

Kikyouin-san sighed with a discontent face.

“… ‘n wait, you don’t need to thank that guy. If you left him be, he totally planned to keep you waiting another year or so. I had to pester him again and again before he finally forked it over…”
“You kept pestering him?”
“… Yeah.”
“I see. Then it’s thanks to you. Thank you.”
“… Shut it. I don’t need your thanks. I just can’t stand it when the score ain’t set straight…”
“Yeah. I know. That’s why, thank you.”
“… Tsk.”

Kikyouin-san clicked her tongue, turning her face away. I transferred the thirty thousand yen to my wallet. In a sense, it came at the perfect time. It now seemed I could manage to afford a present for Orino-san.

“Come to think of it, have you decided what you’re going to get her?”
“Not yet. I’ll just wander around, ‘n get her what catches my eye. You?”
“I’m still thinking about it. This sort of thing’s surprisingly difficult.”
“You don’t look like the sort that’d understand a woman’s heart, after all.”

Kikyouin-san gave a mocking laugh, so I sullenly responded.

“Your words do me ill. Choosing a present for a woman is a piece of cake for a gentleman such as I.”

I’ve given Orino-san a stomach wrap—or what I mistook as one, and in the end she got a hair band—before, and in addition to that…

“I gave you a diaper, didn’t I?”

Crash.
Kikyouin-san slipped, her body stuck straight into the toy shelf.

“What are you doing? Ah, look at the mess you’ve made.”

Kind as I was, I began cleaning up the toys scattered across the ground. But without showing any gratitude for me, Kikyouin-san shouted out with a bright-red face.

“How long are you going to drag that joke out!?”
“What? It’s not a joke, we’re talking about your maniac fetish, aren’t–”
“You seriously think that!?”
“? Well, yes I seriously do, I’m seriously worried for you, but… to each their own, so it’s not good to hold a prejudice, is how I see it.”
“You’re tolerant in the strangest places!”
“Ah, of course, I haven’t spoken to anyone on the matter, and I have no intent to do so. No need to worry.”

I stuck up my thumb.

“It’s our little secret.”
“… Well. Thaaanks. For. That…”

For some reason, Kikyouin-san’s face twitched, its expression one on the verge of snapping.

“… You don’t have to make that scary face… next time I get you a present, I’ll make sure to get you Mooneyman instead of Pampers.”
“Is that all you took from it!?”
“Eh? Did your taste in paper diapers change?”
“Just shut it already!”

Kikyouin-san’s punched my stomach at the speed of sound.

“But I have my CoroCoro, so it doesn’t work!”
“Ah, god, this guy is a pain!”

Snapping with teary eyes, Kikyouin-san attacked my rear with a full-force Thai Roundhouse.
But I have my diaper, so it doesn’t work!
… Is what I wanted to say, but that wasn’t my fetish, so it hurt enough to bring tears to my eyes.

*BREAK*

While I was holding my bottom, hazy in agony, Kikyouin-san had disappeared off somewhere, so as was the initial plan, I looked around for a present on my own. I started with a stop to the ladies’ fashion corner on the third floor. I immediately regretted that decision.

“… Whoah.”

I was enraptured in an immense sense I was playing an away game. What is it, this out of place feeling? The numerous glittering stores expanding before my eyes. The entire floor engendered a no-boys-allowed air.
A man loitering around alone would likely invite in cold eyes. Well, I didn’t think that was being overly self-conscious, but whatever the case, I was just that nervous. A man like me was never meant to set foot on this floor.
I got the feeling the kind adventurer in my heart was telling me, “Are you sure you’ll be alright with that equipment?” In RPG terms, this was an area where monsters clearly outside my level range would appear… what one might call as that feeling that I should go level myself up somewhere before I came back. I’ll raise my man power a bit more, and come back sometime later. It’s too early for me.
Let’s go the Men’s and Ladies’ fifth floor, I considered, when I spotted Kurisu-chan in the store right in front of me.

“Kuuuriiiisuuu-chan.”

I approached and tried calling out.

“Ah, Kagoshima-senpai.”
“How are things on your side? Did you choose a present?”
“I’m still mulling over it. You’re searching in this area too?”
“I was considering it… but wandering this floor is too high of a hurdle.”
“Yeah, it might be a bit harsh for a man. Though it’s not like they’re not allowed to come.”

As Kurisu-chan said, there were some men dotted around the floor. But not a single one of them was alone. They wandered as a set with a woman.

“It’s too disheartening alone so I’m glad I found you. Hey, can I tag along with you a bit?”
“Of course you can.”

She readily accepted.

“That’s good. I might stick out like a sore thumb on my own, but I’ll probably be fine if I’m with you.”
“Eh? D-do you mean…”

Kurisu-chan’s face turned a little red as she looked around.

“T-t-that me and you look like a–”
“I’m sure everyone will think we’re siblings.”
“……”

Her budding bloom of an expression instantly turned dark, for some reason she sullenly lowered her shoulders. After that, we aimlessly wandered around the floor.

“Come to think of it.”

When we shifted to the second store, I suddenly recalled and asked.

“Did anything happen with Nobuko-san after that?”

The other day, Kurisu-chan met up with her own grandmother. It was the first time she saw her in her life, apparently. The circumstances of the Kurisu House were somewhat complicated, and I didn’t understand the half of them, but at the very least, I could comprehend that the meeting was special to Kurisu-chan.

“Truth be told, we went out to play yesterday.”
“Oh really?”

She nodded and smiled an ehehe. I never got to ask her what happened once we stopped living together, but it did seem their relationship was more favorable than I had imagined.

“Where did you go?”

When I casually asked, Kurisu-chan’s body froze up on the spot.

“U-umm…”

A heavy shadow falling over her head, she struggled to get the words out.

“T-the pachinko parlor…”
“……”

Where is that old lady bringing her own granddaughter…

“I-is that okay?”
“… It wasn’t okay at all. To start with… in the first five minutes, my five thousand yen went up in smoke, and I thought I was going to die… to think such a scary machine existed in the world…”
“……”
“And then an employee came over to me… No entry to minors, he said ridiculously angry, and drove me out of the store… what’s more, grandma had entered kakuhen, so she couldn’t come to help me……”
“……”

(TL: I don’t gamble, so Wikipedia: Most Pachinko machines employ the kakuhen (確変, short for 確率変動 meaning probability change) system, where some percentage of the possible jackpots on the digital slot machine result in the odds of hitting the next jackpot multiplying by a large amount, followed by another spin regardless of the outcome.)

“In the end, it took close to three hours before grandma came out, and I felt like I was waiting for nothing outside of the store… ahaha.”

Kurisu-chan made a smile so dry it took me by surprise.

“B-but Nobuko-san entered kakuhen, right? I’m none too knowledgeable, but that’s a good thing, isn’t it? If she made it big, then it all works out…”
“No… in the end, the machine made off with it all.”

T-there’s no light at the end…
There should be a limit to a bad end.
When I found myself unable to grasp the words to cheer her up, Kurisu-chan breathed a small sigh and regained her smile.

“Well, yesterday was a bit dubious, but in a sense, it was a valuable experience. I think I’ll try inviting her out somewhere next time.”
“You’re right. That sounds best.”

I returned a smile, and the two of us returned to choosing presents.
Hmmm. But while it didn’t really bother me, there were some strange scents to be found in ladies’ fashion stores. It was a bit of a new discovery. Do they spray around an aroma?
… Mn?
Aroma?
That’s right. Wouldn’t a perfume be quite the splendid gift for Orino-san?
I get the feeling it’s a tad cliché for a gift to a woman. A bit too safe to boot, but in these things, making a display of eccentric individuality is contrarily the path to failure. After parting from Kurisu-chan, I made for a higher floor.

*BREAK*

After purchasing a nice perfume on the sixth floor, I returned to the meeting spot: the rest area on the first floor. It was a bit ahead of schedule, but I decided to arrive first and wait for the others.
That’s what I thought when I made my way down, but to my surprise, the space was already occupied.
‘Twas Kagurai-senpai.
Resting down on a bench, she was reading a game magazine. The book-store bag right beside her made me surmise it was a magazine she had just bought.

“Oh, Kagoshima. You’re fast.”

Noticing me, Kagurai-senpai raised a hand.

“I’m fast… then what does that make you? Did you already buy a present?”
“No, I haven’t. I already knew from the start what I was going to give her. I’ve been waiting here the whole time.”
“Oh, is that so.”

The one who brought this whole thing up, Kagurai-senpai had prepared a gift beforehand.

“… Wait a second, I’ll find something to stick in.”

Kagurai-senpai kept the magazine pages pinned down with her fingers as she began rummaging through her bag.

“If you’re just leafing through it, why don’t you just dogear it?”
“Dogear?”
“You fold down the corner of the page in place of a bookmark.”
“Oh, so that’s what it’s called.”
“I hear it’s because the folded down page looks like a hanging dog’s ear.”
Hmm… that’s the first I’ve heard of it. I only knew about a dogear in computer terms.
“That’s the one I’ve never heard of.”

While I introduced the proposal, Kagurai-senpai was the type who didn’t want her pages folded, even if it was just a magazine, so she used a receipt from her wallet as a bookmark and tucked the book into her bag.

“So what are you going to give her, Kagurai-senpai?”
“Adult games.”

Without hesitation, without the slightest attention to public eyes, she said it terribly frankly.
… How should I put it, she really is undeterred.
It seemed she intended to use a present as an excuse to proselytize.

“No ordinary adult games, mind you, it’s the Monyumi Best Selection. After careful selection upon careful selection, I’ve picked out three godly works of art.”
“So it’s not just one.”
“I’d be happy if Orino could use this opportunity to walk the same path as me.”
“Please don’t pull others down the road of heresy.”
“Despite what she says, Orino’s seems to be inadvertently interested, so I’m sure she’ll be delighted.”

Orino-san… seems interested… yeah. Well, I’m sure girls are interested in that sort of thing too. Yep.
And after that, “In the first place, while they’re often greatly misunderstood, it’s not as if adult games are nothing more than lascivious experiences. Depictions of sexuality are definitely important, but what’s important is the process to reach it. The meaning is derived through surmounting those episodes that can’t be told without spilt tears, and only then–” Kagurai-senpai started heatedly lecturing so I quietly stood from my seat and went to buy a drink.
I pushed the button for orange juice. I removed the drink from the port. The number on the machine’s roulette game turned—

“… Whoah! I-I won!?”

7777.
Four numbers, in a splendid line.
Amazing, it was the first time in my life I ever won.
I guess you really can win these.

“K-k-K-Kagurai-senpai! I-I-I won, I really won!”

In my rising tensions, I frantically called over to Kagurai-senpai.

“And that’s precisely why what’s commonly referred to as a tearjerker is quite often a—wait, huh!? Kagoshima, when did you get over there…? You weren’t listening to me?”
“That can wait! More importantly, get over here, quick!”
“… More importantly…”

Disheartened as she was, Kagurai-senpai made her way over.

“Look, look! I won! Isn’t that amazing!?”
“Well of course, you’ll win from time to time. If you didn’t, it’d be fraud.”

In contrast to my merry romp, Kagurai-senpai was the epitome of level-headedness.

“I’m sure they’re set to let you win at a set probability. I’ve heard the rate differs from machine to machine, so don’t you think the maker’s considered various things when making it? Like with slot machines?”
“Eh? That’s how slot machines work?”
“Yeah. I’ve never entered a real pachinko parlor, but I’ve played them in games, so I know.”

… So whenever she remembers something, it’s from a game, I thought but didn’t say.

“Rather than whatever happens after you sit down, slots are a game where it’s more important to see just how you can sit at a winning machine. The difference between machines set to win and those that aren’t is intense. The people who make a living from the slots spend their waking hours gathering data to search out a machine they can win at.”

Hmm. I didn’t know.
I was sure it was a game where you arbitrarily sat at an open machine, arbitrarily pressed the button, and where a win was a pure stroke of luck.

“So being strong at the slots doesn’t mean you have amazing kinetic vision?”
“That’s only in the world of shonen manga. It’s not like skill is irrelevant, but no matter how quick one is at the draw, to start with, you won’t win if you sit at an unwinning machine.”

Yeaaah. That’s a world I don’t really get.
Ah, but now that you mention it, the slots at the casino in pokemon definitely did have machines that were easier to win at, I think.
I see, so it was a casino surprisingly conforming to reality.

“Hmm. Was the slot metaphor hard to get? Umm, for a simpler example of probability manipulation…”

Kagurai-senpai thought a bit before hitting her hands together.

“There’s the loot gacha.”
“……”

I didn’t say anything.
No comment, from me.
I won’t take the slightest responsibility for her statement.

“That aside, Kagurai-senpai. I already bought my juice, so you can have the freebie I won.”
“Oh, I can? Thank you.”

Said Kagurai-senpai, as she reached her hand towards a vending machine button.
But along the way, she came to a stop.

“… Oy, Kagoshima. Take a look.”

Her voice was clearly shaking. I looked at the vending machine as instructed—and went speechless.
The light on the buttons had gone out!?
Huh!?
They were lit up to a moment ago!

“Come to think of it… there was a time limit to a win. If you don’t make your selection within a set interval, it’s made as if you never won at all.”
“T-that’s the system…”

I crumbled to the ground, pressing my hands against it in depression. Dammit, when it’s not as if I actually lost anything, I felt an immense sense of loss.

“Because Kagurai-senpai showed off her useless trivia…”
“Don’t pin it on me. In the first place, isn’t it your fault for wasting time calling me over? You should’ve just made a purchase.”
“I mean, I wanted to get you a can as a present… and,”
“And?”
“I wanted to share my happiness.”
“……”

I heard a sigh. When I raised my face, Kagurai-senpai was making a tired, bitter smile.

“You really are something, Kagoshima.”

While it was a cynical line, for some reason, it didn’t feel harsh on my ears.

*BREAK*

A few dozen minutes later, once Kikyouin-san and Kurisu-chan had brought their presents and arrived, we all headed for the hundred-yen shop together.
In order to buy poppers, paper, and other such party goods.
When you say hundred-yen shop, you think of party goods, when you say party goods, you think of the hundred-yen shop. This is common sense.

“… Hmmmm.”
“Kagoshima-senpai. What are you worrying over so seriously?”

When I groaned in the store, a nearby Kurisu-chan looked into it.

“Yeah, just a bit. Hey, between the groucho glasses and the bald wig, which do you think will get a laugh?”
“… You’re seriously worrying about that?”
“These are what bring life to a party. Look, it even says, ‘Guaranteed Laughter!’ right on the box.”
“Don’t seriously believe the maker’s deceptive advertising.”
“Hmmm. Which one are you going to put on?”
“I’m the one wearing it!?”
Kurisu-chan lost her pluck.

“I think these things are more fun when the least-likely person carries them out.”
“I don’t want to! Definitely not!”
“Hey, hey, don’t be like that. I’m sure it’ll look good on you.”
“It doesn’t make me happy to hear I’d look good in groucho glasses and a bald wig!”
“But you know, you’re cute, so I’m sure you’ll look good in anything.”
“Eh… n-no way… well, if you insist, then—no, it’s seriously not happening! Don’t look down on me too much!”

Gnn. So it didn’t work.
Failing to coerce my junior into my evil scheme, I returned to my stroll around the shop. For the time being, I put both the glasses and wig in my cart.
Even if we didn’t use them at the party, they were a hundred-yen a pop, so it didn’t really matter… my mind was warped by the hundred-yen shop magic.

“Oyyy, Kagoshima.”

When I was carefully inspecting the key role of a surprise party—the party poppers in the back of the store, Kagurai-senpai called over from around the entrance.

“Tadaa. I’m a glasses girl.”
“Oh my.”

Standing to the side of the revolving glass stand, Kagurai-senpai had equipped a pair of blue-framed glasses. She was slightly shifting her head to stare at me with upturned eyes.

“How about it? Does it excite you?”
“No, glasses don’t really do it for me… but you do look good in them.”

Those fake glasses with a sharp design fit her well with her slender chin. While there was a tag hanging from the corner of the frame, that was the charm of it.
“I see, I see,” Kagurai-senpai happily smiled. “It looks like equipping glasses has drawn out my intellectual image even further.”
“………”

Intellectual image… she says…?
Did I ever see Kagurai-senpai in that sort of… no, I did, long, long ago.
Before we were so close, I get the feeling I thought she was a cool, intellectual person.
I found myself reflecting on the time we first met. But… when I did, for some reason, the word ‘fisting’ came up, so I forcefully terminated that thought process.
It was a term with too great of an impact.
My memories were on the verge of being blotted out by it.

“But, well, having glasses mean intellectual is a bit cheap. Having bad eyesight has barely anything to do with intelligence.”
“Now that you mention it, that’s true. But, then, why do people wearing glasses look smart?”
“Isn’t that because bad eyesight means they must hit the books a lot?”
“I see… but that’s got to be a bit old-fashioned. These days, there are plenty of people who ruin their eyes with games and phone.”
“Well, that’s right.”
“Nobita-kun wears glasses, but his grades aren’t great.”
“… Well, that’s right.”

Nodding with an ambiguous expression, Kagurai-senpai groaned in ponderance.

“Other than that, it’s got to be from the large influence manga, anime and other fictional works have had.”
“By which, you mean?”
“Intellectual characters are almost always wearing glasses, right?”
Yeah, I agreed. Those so-called smart characters did put them on from time to time.

“So don’t you think the influence of fiction has established the image that glasses means smart?”
“Hmhmm… wait, huh?”
“What’s wrong?”
“But Kagurai-senpai, the reason smart characters in fictional works wear glasses is because society had already established the image that glasses means smart, isn’t it?”

Isn’t it precisely because the viewers and readers were under the fixed notion that glasses means intellectual, that the glasses archetype came to be?

“… Mm. C-certainly.”

A wrinkle graced Kagurai-senpai’s brow in thought.
Hmmm. It’s like the question of the chicken and the egg.

“When you get into it, it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight… like the glasses they are.”

When I said that a little proudly, Kagurai-senpai tilted her head.

“Pardon? Kagoshima? What part of that was supposed to be the joke?”
“Eh… no, see, glasses, when you look at them closely, they’re like a sideways eight… meaning, they look like an ∞ symbol, don’t they? That’s why, I put together that ∞ shape, and the proposition there didn’t seem to be an end to it…”
“That’s hard to understand, and not particularly clever.”

She resolutely cut me down.
I thought I had said something wise, and on top of that, I desperately tried to explain it, so I kinda grew exceedingly embarrassed. Unable to stand it anymore, I quietly left and returned to the store’s depths. In the area where the tableware and ceramics were stored, I discovered Kikyouin-san with her gaze fixed on a single point.

“Kikyouin-san, is there something you want?”

I approached and tried asking.
“Mn. Ah, not really.”

She said, as she pointed out what she was looking at.

“Have a look at that.”
“Which one –!?”

The next instant, I shuddered.

“T-that’s…”

I gazed intently over the item Kikyouin-san pointed out.
To think I’d lay eyes on it in a place like this…?

“It’s kinda nostalgic, isn’t it? That pot.”
“… Yeah.”

At Kikyouin-san’s level voice, I gave a powerless nod.
Lined up before my eyes, a shelf of the hundred thousand yen pot I had bought from Tsuchimikado-san.

“I did hear it was a hundred-yen pot. He must’ve bought it here…”
“Right. The one you got for a hundred thousand.”
“……”

She didn’t have to say it. Let me stand tall a bit, why don’t you?
When they were gathered in droves like this, all I could see was cheap, mass-produced pottery. And yet, I ended up buying that pot at one thousand times its market value.
Even if I eventually got all the money back, I scorned the stupidity of my past self.

“… I think I’ll buy one. How should I put it, as a cautionary piece.”
“I don’t see why not. But what about the one you already have?”
“Oh, that one was smashed up when I threw a ball full force around the house.”
“… The hell are you doing?”

Kikyouin-san looked at me with the eyes of one observing a foreign lifeform, so I awkwardly averted my eyes. The pot was broken when I was playing with the dog Chris, but thinking about it calmly, I really had to wonder what the hell I was doing.
… Rather, if I reflected on my life to this point, as a whole, I get this feeling only the impression, “what the hell am I doing?” would come out…
I wonder what mood and momentum I’ve been living my life.
I’m getting to a good age, I should start looking out for myself. End quote.

*BREAK*

And like that, by the time I noticed it, we were buying various irrelevant things, but if we split the cost, it didn’t amount to anything much.
As expected of the commoner’s ally, the hundred-yen shop.

“Yeah. That was a fun trip.”

With all the shopping over, as the four of us were walking through the first floor of the department show, Kagurai-senpai spoke to bring it all to a close.
“Hmph,” Kikyouin-san cynically rung her nose. “Don’t they say, preparing for the party’s the easiest part?”
“In that case, we’ve got to work hard to make sure the real take’s even more fun.”

By the way, the birthday party location was my house.
The day after tomorrow, around five in the afternoon, the members apart from Orino-san would gather up and prepare, and when five came around, we’d call Orino-san. That was the plan.
Anticipation began to swell in my chest.
I can’t wait.
I wonder if Orino-san will like it.
And with those thoughts in my head, we made for the exit.
The automatic door opened, and someone stepped in.

“… Huh? Everyone…?”

The one who appeared right in front of us… was Orino-san.

Wearing a thin cardigan, with leggings under her skirt. I’ve noticed it lately, but I often see Orino-san wearing leggings or tights. Does she not like exposing skin, perhaps? She was wearing quite the daring outfit during the movie production though.
Orino-san fixed her gaze on us, blinking her eyes a few times.

“…!”

The four of us stopped right in our tracks. We hurriedly hid the various goods in our hands behind our backs.
Oh snap!
To think we’d meet Orino-san of all people at a time like this…!

“O-O-Orino-san! What are you doing here!?”

Silence wasn’t helping our predicament. For the time being, I tested the waters with conversation, but in my fluster, my voice came out unnaturally loud.

“I’m.. just here to buy some essentials…”

Orino-san said as she shifted her eyes. To me, then Kurisu-chan, Kikyouin-san, and Kagurai-senpai.

“… What are you all up to?”
“T-that’s…”

I frantically worked my head.
If it got out that we were preparing for a surprise party, the surprise would be ruined. I had to somehow avoid the topic.

“Umm, the four of us got together to play today… and, we were doing some shopping at this department store.”
“Umm… t-the four of you?”
“Yeah. The four of us.”
“… Oh, I, I see… I, see…”

Orino-san lowered her eyes, she suddenly began acting restless. Touching her hair with her hand, she let her eyes loiter here and there, without any peace of mind.

“Umm… huh…? This looks like a gathering of the ComClub members, right? I don’t… think I was invited…”
“Yeah. You weren’t invited this time.”
“… I-I see. A… haha…”

Orino-san leaked a dry smile. An unnatural smile she seemed to be forcefully making, and that expression of hers was surprisingly dark. Rather, her eyes were completely dead.

“… Ah, umm, I just remembered some business I have to attend to.”

Her pitch rose as she declared. She turned right around on her heels, passed through the automatic doors, and raced off.

“Fuu. Doesn’t look like she suspects anything.”

I let out a relieved breath as I turned around. Three notably dubious faces entered my eyes.

“H-huh? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong…? What do you think you’re doing?”

Kikyouin-san glared at me with gloomy eyes.

“Eh… I just thought I’d cover up the birthday party…”
“I get that, but I’m tellin’ you to choose your words. Take a deep breath, and try thinkin’ back over what you just told her.”

Hm.
Umm, in order to keep it a secret that we were hiding from her, and secretly preparing, I made it so that we were hiding from her and secretly playing. And since she wondered if she wasn’t invited, I confirmed she indeed was not.
……
………

“That almost makes it seem as if we’re shunning Orino-san!”
“That’s what I’m sayin’, you dense idiot.”

C-crap…
I grew too desperate trying to cover it up, my head didn’t get around to that.

“Do you think Orino-senpai will be alright? She was making a face like the world was over…”

Kurisu-chan said worryingly.
the regret within me gradually grew larger.

“A-anyways, I have to hurry and revoke that statement.”

I hurriedly moved to chase after Orino-san, but Kagurai-senpai grasped my shoulders to keep me in place.

“No, you don’t have to give chase, Kagoshima. You’ve actually done splendidly.”
“… What do you mean?”
“At present, I surmise that the shock from being the only one left out has dropped Orino down into the dumps. Her heart is being swallowed up by the darkness of despair. But what will happen two days from now, when she learns it was all in preparation for her birthday party?”

What will happen? Don’t ask me… umm.

“… Her joy will rise proportional to her sorrow…?”
“Precisely! This is precisely what it means to make the best of a bad situation.”
“If I had to say, that sounds like more of a lucky punch…”

No, but is that really alright?
I can only hope all goes as well as she seems to think.
Rather, worst case scenario, when we call her up in two days’ time, there’s a possibility she might go “Even if you try to cover for it now, that doesn’t change the fact I was left out…” and not even come.
It won’t be a surprise if we reveal it before we call her, so we have to keep it a secret until she arrives at my house…

“… You’re right. Now that it’s come to this, let’s go at it prioritizing the surprise.”

After mulling over it, in the end, I reached my conclusion.

 

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4 Responses to Chapter 1: Surprise

  1. Reaper Phoenix says:

    Thanks 4 the chapter!

    I would be suspicious if my friends acted like that near my birthday. Then again I read a lot of stories where these kind of things happen.

    Like

  2. Muhtar Lutfi says:

    I don’t think we’l be able to help. (we’ll)

    when she returned home the other way, (day)

    The talk was turned towards out club vice-president in name alone, (our)

    I thought s he was late, (she)

    once Auguest thirty first comes around, (August)

    I doubt Kagurai-senpai’s desire to celebrate Orino-san’s birthday w as a lie. (was)

    and I thought Iw as going to die. (I was)

    and drove me out of the story. (store)

    there’s was a time limit to a win. (there)

    Don’t look down on my doo much! (me)(too)

    Like

  3. Kita says:

    hi elisabeth

    Like

  4. Like a rock
    Thanks for the chapter

    Like

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