Chapter 45 – Prelude
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And so, the day had arrived. The school cultural festival had begun.

The sky was clear and bright as I stood before the school entrance, which was—just as expected—packed with more people than usual.

Everyone seemed to be having fun, but I couldn’t relax for a few days now. I guess the reason was obvious—the goal I had set for today. Actually, I had been avoiding thinking about it, since it would only make me more uncertain. Unfortunately, it didn’t help the least bit. Perhaps it even made the situation worse?

Well, I still had plenty of time before that. Until then, I was going to enjoy the day as much as possible… or so I thought. It was impossible. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but I couldn’t use that thinking productively.

I was scared. I didn’t want to do that. Nobody and nothing were forcing me. Nobody but me would learn that I was ever planning to do that, so if I just gave up, nothing would happen.

But I couldn’t give up.

There was a reason I was set on doing it. I didn’t want to hide anything from her, especially that it was about her. She meant a lot to me. She was my only friend. She didn’t mind putting up with someone like me… it alone was a lot already. After all, it worked both ways. I accepted her odd behavior, which was something that turned most people off. I never thought of her as crazy or anything. It was just her weird way of dealing with trouble.

That’s why I had to tell her everything. I hoped… no, I knew that she wouldn’t discard me.

Who knows, maybe even a smile would appear on her face?

 •

“P-P-P-Please die, y-you… f-filthy human…!”

“Cute!!!!!”

The room was a classroom rearranged to resemble a restaurant. It was full of tables with either two or four seats—most of them were already occupied.

Apparently, this café was one of most popular places on the cultural festival. The maids, despite being just ordinary students of this class, usually without any particular acting skills, were doing an unexpectedly great job of pleasing the customers.

Their outfits were not uniform, mainly because of an unanticipated shortage. For that reason, the maid café ended up being more of a cosplay café. For example, a girl with a pink magical girl suit could be seen. Her motif was bringing good to people, therefore she was always keeping a wide and bright smile on her face. Whether she really felt as happy as she seemed, it wasn’t certain—but if not, then she was quite good at acting.

Another girl wore a strange orange thing over her ears—perhaps it was an odd, futuristic headset. Characters like that had been popular a long time ago, so nobody seemed to be familiar with this trope anymore. Most props were brought in haste from random places, so something that old could have been among them as well.

Most girls were dressed in outfits that were filled with bright and happy colors like white or pink, but among them, one girl stood out in particular.

From the tips of her shoes to the cat ears protruding from her hood, her suit was all black. She used only one eye to look at the world surrounding her as her left eye was concealed under a black eyepatch—in fact, it wasn’t just a part of her current outfit, but she wore it at all times. Moreover, her mouth and nose were hidden by a black mask, which muffled her voice as well. Her motif, which was thought of by her classmates, was the Grim Reaper. Even though it didn’t match with what she truly thought of herself, she didn’t hate that idea.

What remained a secret to her classmates, was that the suit wasn’t only a cosplay—she often wore it when she went outside, just like that.

In fact, her classmates knew next to nothing if it came to her. She never talked, but she was never talked to either. Some people had caught her acting oddly, like quietly speaking to herself about odd things, which was what caused her to be chosen as one of the waitresses.

Actually, she was given choice, but she didn’t have it in herself to refuse. They said that it would help her get over her embarrassment, but as it seemed, she was only suffering.

“…”

The girl, whose name was Himawari, was nervous. None of her classmates knew about the name she used to describe her “real” identity, Lumiya. She was told to act in a way she found extremely embarrassing before people, which was why she wanted her job to end as soon as possible.

But there was one thing she feared the most. She knew that it would definitely happen, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Needless to say, it was about the human she was close to.

She had told him about the café, which was why she was sure that he would come. Even though she had always been acting in this peculiar way before him without much embarrassment, and the exact same outfit as she was wearing now had been seen by him numerous times, she didn’t want him to see her currently.

“H-Hurry up and die…”

“Could you write my name on here??”

“F-Foolish. Who do think you are…”

Since she was supposed to be the Grim Reaper, she was told to be hostile towards the customers, although due to her hesitation and embarrassment, the entire act ended up being quite adorable, so no one got mad.

“She’s quite talented, this Nakamura, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, yeah. I wonder if she has worked somewhere already.”

“No way. We’re still too young to be hired.”

“Right…”

More of her hidden potential was revealed to her classmates that day.

“It’s here…?”

I had been curious ever since I heard about it. Well, she was on my mind all the time recently. Sure, I was incredibly embarrassed before seeing her because of what was going to happen in the evening, but I couldn’t help it. She had told me that her class was going to make a café, and I wanted to see her working there… I hoped that she would be working there, at least.

And now, I was standing before her classroom. As expected, there were many decorations set out, which were meant to attract the customers.

“Welcome!”

A girl observing the entrance welcomed me, just like she did to everyone else that was passing by. Of course, I was hesitant to enter—after all, I was most likely going to see her inside. The same girl that I was going to confess to later.

Moreover, it wasn’t like I could talk to her freely there. There would be other people watching us, so we had to avoid being seen together. Sure, it was alright as long as it seemed like she was just serving me like any other customer.

“…”

And so, I made a step inside and took a look around. Immediately I noticed numerous customers and waitresses in mainly white, but different uniforms. Most people would be looking for an empty seat, but for me, there was something more important—of course, it was about that girl.

Fortunately, I was able to notice her instantly—there was only one figure that stood out from the others in clothes I already recognized. It appeared that she was serving another customer… but I couldn’t catch what she was saying. Would she approach me soon? Well, she was most likely embarrassed, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she decided to avoid me instead.

It wasn’t like I could approach her just like that, so I proceeded to take an empty seat.

Having placed an order and waited for a few minutes, I saw a waitress heading towards me. Immediately I noticed those black clothes—it was Lumiya.

Over her left eye, there was an eyepatch—just as usual. What I hadn’t expected was that she would wear a mask—it was most likely the same one she wore when we went to the restaurant. I wonder, wasn’t she too embarrassed like that?

Nonetheless, I was embarrassed too. So much that after seeing her, I jolted and turned my gaze away—but it was already too late, since her muffled voice already reached my ears.

“Wh-what are you doing here…” her voice sounded quite unsteady and exhausted.

“I came to see y-you… your class café.”

I knew what I was going to tell the same girl that was standing before me in just a few hours. She knew nothing… and realizing that was quite shocking, even though it was obvious.

“D-don’t get me wrong. There is a reason why I am doing this… and it has nothing to do with those humans…”

“B-but more importantly, I have something to tell you.”

“Wh-what? Be quick, because they might raise suspicions…”

“Err…”

I didn’t want to suggest anything, but I didn’t want to leave her utterly confused either. Since the cultural festival was underway, school grounds would be brimming with people until late evening… but that one place would surely still be empty.

And there, I was going to do it. Thinking about it, I still couldn’t believe it. There was no way I would be able to do it today. But I was preparing for that day for some time now already… so I had to do it. And it had to be today.

“I… I have something to tell you. Would you mind coming to our usual place? When they lit the fireplace…” I scratched my cheek and emptily stared through the window as I spoke to the girl dressed in black that was still standing patiently.

“An emergency meeting? Yes, I am always ready, human.”

“N-no… it’s not an emergency. I just… like, I want to show you… something…“ I continued talking, even though I could just leave it like that and it would be alright.

“I understand. Fireplace is the signal. I shall observe it and come when appropriate”, her voice didn’t seem to be suspecting anything.

“Y-yeah. Thank you…”

“N-now, usually I would tell you to die, but… I won’t. Because you’re a good human.”

“Huh?” before I knew it, she had already left. Due to her face being covered by the cat-ear hood, I couldn’t even catch the slightest glimpse of her expression.

Now, there was no going back. I was going to tell her everything for sure. It was set in stone already. I didn’t care about what would be her response… no, I did, but I tried to avoid thinking about it.

But really, I had never thought that I would find myself in such situation. It was horrible and exciting at the same moment… I didn’t hate this feeling.

It was inevitable.

The cultural festival had been basically over. All guests had long left the school grounds, and there was only one event the entire student body was waiting for—the fireplace. The sun had already set, so it was the major light source.

Couples of boys and girls were dancing around it—apparently, it was a tradition. Of course, I had never done that. As if I could ever find a girl to dance with… well, I could see some guys joking around. But I had no friends either.

More importantly, I had designated the fireplace being lit as a signal for us to meet. It would be in our familiar place—the small forest behind the club building. It was quite desolated, so there was almost no chance of us being seen or heard. Also, it was quite comfy and relaxing… but I doubted it would help me now.

Taking a look around, I couldn’t see her anywhere. Perhaps she had already gone there? Then again, it was quite dark there, so I could overlook even her bright hair. Especially if she still had those black clothes on for some reason.

Nonetheless, it was time for me to head there as well.

But my legs wouldn’t move.

The reason was obvious. I was genuinely scared. After all, I was going to tell her a lot of embarrassing things. Naturally, I was afraid of her reaction. I didn’t want her to laugh at me. It would hurt me a lot. What if her response was, “What do you think you are, you foolish human?”. It wasn’t like I couldn’t imagine it happening.

Everyone seemed to be happy either dancing around the fireplace or eagerly talking to each other. I was, just as usual, standing in a dark corner with no one near me. Undoubtedly, nobody would notice me if I just left.

That wasn’t the issue. I was afraid of what was awaiting me once I arrived there.

The girl would be standing there, expecting nothing. Then, I would start talking to her. It would be awkward as hell, like never before. After all, I was going to confess. It took a lot of courage, and even though I was going to do it in a few minutes, I didn’t think I had enough of it. The possibility of a failure was enormous.

But I wanted to do that. I wanted to try it out, this girlfriend thing. I was sure that it was my only chance ever—meeting her was already a miracle, so there was no way it would happen again.

She wasn’t just “a girl”. She was Lumiya, or rather, Himawari, the peculiar girl I liked. There was a lot to her. It wasn’t like I was bewitched just by her appearance. It was everything that I had experienced with her since our first meeting that led to the state I was in now. There were multiple sides of her that she showed me. I liked all of them.

That’s why I thought it was only natural that I had to confess to her at some point. As it seemed, the time was now.

I had to believe in myself. It was going to be a success—there was no way she would refuse. I mustn’t think of what would happen otherwise. Hopefully, I would never need to deal with it. I had to make it my mindset.

And so, I made my first step forward. I wasn’t going to give up. The cowardly side of me had to finally shut up—this time, I was going to let out everything I had on my mind, loud and clear.

I hoped so. Maybe, even if just for a little while, I would be able to find the courage in myself.

After all, I didn’t have to be afraid of anything. I knew that girl well enough.

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