By the time the interrogation was over, it was already dawn.
The sun, almost risen above the horizon, became so bright that it irritated my eyes. It should probably be alright if I skip school today.
Right now, we are standing outside of the police station. All the parents that quickly called the police are still talking with the authorities inside. Hence, I have to wait.
No matter what, I still wanted to take a public transport and go home. People like us that wanted to breathe some fresh air have to come outside and sit down while waiting.
“I’m really sorry, Aramiya,”
“Hey, there’s no need to think too much,”
I’m still feeling the pain throughout my entire body, but Ayame continued to console me. Moreover, once we have arrived at the police station, Ayame tied her hair back into a pair of twintails. Actually, a ponytail doesn’t look that bad at all, right? Yup.
“I’m really sorry… Aramiya… and also Ayame-san too,”
Then Hatsushiba was released as well. She was at first thought to have been acting alongside Songou, but Ayama and I gave our objections to that claim. As a result, she received the right to move out freely with us.
Even Songou doesn’t know what came over him, but it seemed like he also refused the claim that Hatsushiba was on his side.
Thanks to that, It became much easier for me to help out Hatsushiba..
“Even if Yuuka did something unforgivable…”
But, it seems that she still couldn’t accept it.
She probably doesn’t think of herself as pure and innocent..
“Yuuka was truly tolerating Cotton most of the time…! But, I couldn’t believe the fact that Naosumi would be using sleeping pills, or be spreading such nasty rumors…I was only looking away from Cotton, and didn’t think for even a bit of wanting to help her.… And, I still dragged Aramiya to face this kind of situation as well…!”
It was mostly true that Hatsushiba had been deceived into being his assistant. She was forced to spread the rumors that Songou made to make them look worse. Because her father’s job was threatened, Hatsushiba had to follow the orders. The longer time had passed by, the more difficult it became to solve the problem. Also, the older rumors that are still going around were basically making new rumors appear. It seemed like Songou was additionally spreading other new rumors as well.
And once he was in the process of entering high school, Songou applied to the same school that Ayame was going to attend. On the other hand, Hatsushiba also had to follow the both of them.
However, Songou’s application was rejected and turned into a problem for him. So, he had to use the method of ordering Hatsushiba to keep an eye on Ayame and stop anyone from approaching her. But, when it seemed that Ayame and I were starting to get into a relationship, Hatsushiba started trying to separate me from Ayame while reporting the progress of my relationship with Ayame to Songou as a spy…
Once Songou heard about everything, he became so hot-tempered that this incident finally occurred.
It seems that Songou, who just got arrested, still has many older criminal cases. Therefore, he definitely deserves to be punished now.
If Songou’s father had been one of the evil people, it would have been difficult; however, it appears like he’s actually a very good person.
The claims that “Whatever Hatsushiba’s father does, he’ll get that,” or “He has supporters within the business circle, committing only this much of a crime is a piece of cake,” seemed to be Songou totally making up stories on his own.
Well, if I have to say that Songou must be responsible for everything he did, then no one would stop him at all.
Nonetheless, the things that Hatsushiba did so far were still unforgivable. At least, she could only find a way for survival even if I didn’t think of complaining to her at all.
“Hatsushiba, please don’t misunderstand. Despite having good intentions, I’m the person who didn’t plan to help. However, it was only because that was necessary.”
Hatsushiba looked at me with confusion.
“Having you around makes it much easier to get rid of all the rumors about Ayame that have spreaded across the school.”
“Getting rid of the rumors…”
“I want to solve the problem of the people who have a misunderstanding about Ayame.”
One thought makes me feel like I’m interfering in something without a good reason; however, another thought of mine wants Ayame to stay around other people in this school normally..
If the school was so boring that we had to skip out, then making the school become more enjoyable would be enough to make her want to stay.
In that case, it is necessary to eliminate all of the rumors related to Ayame that are blocking the way first. This girl isn’t the type of person who’ll become a gangster or do anything related to prostitution at all. If you got to know her, you would find out that she’s actually an interesting person.
“Aramiya, are you thinking about that right now?”
Ayame talked to me shockingly.
“It just came to mind,”
And, if there weren’t any rumors about her, I would be able to stay with her more comfortably.
“Hatsushiba, it’s still not too late yet. From now on, you need to plead your guilt and ransom yourself from what you had done to Ayame, alright?”
Doing it like this may seem too good, but I’m not that angry with this girl. I’m actually feeling pity toward her instead.
“Aramiya… you truly are awesome. You are able to forgive just about anything.”
“No, not at all.”
“No. Actually, you could say it like that, but Yuuka still thinks that you’re already awesome,”
Another thing, I think it might be necessary to have Hatsushiba alongside Ayame in her school life from now on.
Therefore, even if I think that the punishment may be a bit too soft, it could be much more beneficial towards Ayame if she and Hatsushiba could forget those painful memories, and reach a better understanding of each other through forgiveness.
“What do you think, Ayame?”
And then she said,
“…If Hatsushiba, no actually, if Yuuka is able to forgive me… Then I also want to… reconcile as well,”
She said bashfully.
Well, these two girls were initially close to each other anyways.
Both of them gradually became more distant and didn’t have a reason to reconcile in any way.
“Cotton, there’s no need to say sorry at all! Yuuka… Yuuka was actually the person who became distant from you while spreading the rumors…! Sorry… I’m so sorry, Cotton…”
“No, when I was a delinquent, Yuuka always helped me. But, it turned out I didn’t realize you felt like that… I’m sorry…”
Then the both of them hugged each other. Well, saying it right now is nothing special, but it secretly looked a bit like a yuri scene to me.
“How much did Yuuka use to make Cotton stay isolated? I’ll pay back twice the debt that I had with you… Those rumors, Yuuka shall be the person who’ll fix everything…”
“I would also like to come back and act normally… please stay as my dearest friend from now on…”
Both of them hugged each other for a while as if trying to fill in the gaps between them that existed for many years before having to regretfully separate from each other.
After that, Hatsushiba then turned to look at me once again.
“Thank you, Aramiya. Right now, Yuuka has finally woken up. ”
“It’s great that you have finally woken up. But, now that you’ve said it, you also have to do it, right?”
“Don’t worry, Yuuka shall follow Aramiya from now on. Following Aramiya’s back, the dogs shouldn’t bite anyway, right. Therefore, Yuuka shall obey every single thing that Aramiya tells me to do. You can tell me whatever you want and I’ll do it!”
I could hear those sweet words that she’ll do anything that I want, but I don’t know why I feel a soft chill is running down my spine..
Okay, anyway, since Hatsushiba has now become more encouraged, going off track is probably not a clever thing to do.
“Then, let’s conclude everything that has happened, shall we.”
Ayame said feeling satisfied.
“No, that’s not it.”
Once I said like that, Ayame and Hatsushiba turned their faces towards me with an expression as if saying “eh?”
“There’s still one strange rumor about Ayame.”
Hatsushiba tilted her neck with a confused look.
“The fact is that people have rumored about a ‘used good’ item being around since middle school. It has only been about this until now, but it’s still not understandable.”
Once I said that,
Hatsushiba blew out a laugh quietly.
On the other hand, Ayame bent down and showed the most embarrassed face that I’ve seen before. She compressed her lips into a single peculiar looking line.
“Eh, why are you giggling?”
“Ah, uh, Aramiya, there’s no need to think too much about this story, alright.”
Ayame herself also waved her hands as if saying she doesn’t want others to dig into her past. Eh, what is this behavior trying to imply?
“There’s nothing wrong at all, come on just say it. No matter what, people like Aramiya will know anyways.”
But, Hatsushiba encouraged her with a cheer full of joy.
Ayame sighed and began to explain with a blunt look.
“The story begins during primary school when I was wearing a secondhand shirt from my older sister…”
“Eh, really, that’s it?”
If that’s all then it shouldn’t be…
“No, how’s it just that? The problem comes from my name.”
Ayame gently rubbed her cheeks to reduce embarrassment.
“Here you go, I told you guys before that my parents got divorced, right? Ayame is my mother’s old surname,”
Oh, I see… eh, or,
“In contrast, my father’s surname is Tanaka,”
Oh, I see.
“So, your name is Kotoko Tanaka, am I right?”
Hatsushiba said while trying to hold her laugh.
Then Ayame continued explaining as if trying to reveal the answer.
“People then used the word *Naka from Tanaka and Ko from Kotoko to connect with each other. Then, they started to calling me secondhand…”
…Can I get a timeout from both of them before turning my back.
“What the hell is thissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!!”
And then I yelled as loud as up to the sun and the sky like that.
I really couldn’t hold back my yell. It really ended like this! Who on earth could have guessed this correctly!
“Then most of the girls started feeling pity for me with that nickname so they started calling me ‘Cotton’.”
“Oh I see…”
Well, she used to tell me that “they made up that name because they felt pity,” right. I also thought that those names were a pity due to her parents’ divorce. Was I having a misunderstanding for god’s sake. I didn’t expect that it wouldn’t be related to the meaning of secondhand even a bit…
“Which kind of idiot would be able to call another person that kind of strange and terrible nickname,”
It appears that both of the names that have been claimed are—
“Was it you who did that!!”
“Eh, what do you mean!?”
I was tolerant of being sleepy by coming to school very early in the morning to manage something with Tozaki.
Initially, I was planning to skip school. But, once I heard this rumor, I wasn’t able to skip school at all.
In one aspect, this guy is actually the final boss! If this were an eroge game, then it would be known as “concealing the hints very precisely”.
The three of us took Tozaki to the dormitory staircase where there were no other human shadows.
“It was you who made up that “secondhand” nickname for Ayame, right!?”
“Eh… huh? Was it me?”
Is he still trying to act ignorant?
Hatsushiba also squinted her eyes and stared at Tozaki’s face.
“Yes, it was you, Tozaki. You were singing a song that said ‘The Naka from Tanaka, and the Ko from Kotoko combine to becomes secondhand, secondhand, a secondhand girl- ♪’ Isn’t that correct?”
The song lyrics seemed to sound very pathetic. It’s worse than when I had sung that song “Suddenly the Heart is Calling” as well. (EN: What were the songs?)
Once Hatsushiba greeted, Tozaki clapped his hands loudly.
“Now I remember! It’s actually me.”
You seem to have forgotten again. They said that people who bullied others wouldn’t come and sit down thinking of what they had done to their victims. But, it’s still depraved like this anyway.
“Well, I also thought that it’s really… funny… sir…”
Ayame fully simultaneously exposed the radiation of her gangster’s trait and stared at Tozaki with a smile.
The radiation flew into the air even if she didn’t say anything.
“Eh (x9 times) …”
I approached Tozaki from the back and locked his arms.
“Ayame, just smelling the mouth and neck (a little bit) is enough, but please don’t make it become a new rumor,”
“What do you mean by smelling the mouth and neck!? Pl-Please, I beg you! Pl-pl-pl-please spare my life!”
Tozaki screamed, which echoed throughout the entire dormitory staircase.
Then, I reached out my hand to rescue Tozaki who was currently being snared in distress.
“But, if you choose to cooperate with us, we’ll let you find many other ways to help us out.”
“Really! Sir Bodhisattva Aramiya! Affirmative! I’ll do anything you want!”
“Hmm? You just said that you’ll do whatever I want you to do, right? Okay then,”
I made eye contact with Tozaki who’s glaring at me like looking at a god before I’m about to say that,
“You shall come and help us eliminate all the rumors related to Ayame.”
“Aye sir, eliminating the rumors! …Wait, ru-rumors?”
“Yes, the rumors that spreaded all across the school. Including rumors like the secondhand and prostitution. Those are rumors that do not have any truthful sources.”
“Oh, they don’t have truthful sources!? But, that rumor has spread to the point of becoming the truth already. It seems difficult—”
“Ayame, I think you can punch him?”
“Stop! Please don’t use any violence, I beg you! Okay! Okay! No matter if I have to dive into water, or walk through fire, I’ll do it! Aye sir!”
He yelled as if he were a dog being stalled. Okay, this means he decided to accept the mission.
“Well, it’s definitely great that you understand. However, if you ever betray us, you probably know what’s going to happen, right?”
“Yes, sir! Yes, madam!”
This guy seems to have gone wild, but that’s good. At least now I can let go of his arms that have been locked.
“But, judging from what you said, you’re going to eliminate the rumors. How are you guys planning to do that? Walking around the entire school and announce the truth to everybody?”
Tozaki turned to look at me with a face full of curiosity.
“Umm… mainly walking around the school announcing… anything apart from that will cause some problems. People also wouldn’t really believe us.”
“Then, shall we go discuss this together in a classroom first?”
“We probably need to discuss and plan right now. But, talking inside the room would make it look like we’re planning to do something terrible again. I want it to be somewhere else more private.”
“Are there any other good places? Anywhere that we can all comfortably sit down together.”
At that time, Ayame started to speak thoughtlessly.
“And, how about the club room that Aramiya currently uses?”
“Eh, wait, that room—”
How could you use that room! That is my land of paradise!? Just taking it away from me like this is—
“Ah, it does sound good, the room is spacious enough too,”
“Hey wait, Hatsushiba,”
“Really, Aramiya, you do have a club room as well, then it has to be that place,”
“Wait, Tozaki! Are you trying to seek revenge because of what happened just now!? I’m going to punch you in the stomach!?”
“Hey no, aren’t you trying to help Ayame? Then, you should be more of a gentleman than this,”
He still has the guts to say that I’m boasting. I really want to slap him in the face.
On the other hand, Ayame turns around looking guilty for a moment. She may probably feel uncomfortable that she only said it without thinking, but everything turned out like this.
Since she’s making that kind of face, I really will have to let them in…
“…For god’s sake… okay, fine… But, once we’re able to eliminate the rumors, I’ll have to chase you guys out, alright?”
I could only do this much. Allowing others to temporarily be inside a sacred place is something they should really thank me for.
“Affirmative! Then, we shall start eliminating the rumors about Cotton now. Shall we call this mission ‘The Gossip Sweeper’?”
I don’t know if she was awake throughout the night, but she skylarked strangely just now. Could she make up a name that sounds less covering than this?
“I also don’t know what we could do as well… But, since I have been nicknamed as a secondhand, I’ll do my best at whatever I can do.”
“Good, we shall start tomorrow then. Today we skylarked until our brains stopped functioning well. Tozaki, you go and come up with at least ten plans before tomorrow ,alright?”
“Te, ten? Hey, I think that’s too much—”
“Ayame, I just found a sandbag made out of ‘punch him’ meat,”
“Whoa! Okay fine! I’ll go and think about them alright! Using violence is not cool at all!”
During this time, it’s better for me to use Ayame as an excuse for Tozaki to listen. It’s very convenient.
Doing this to him continually seems to make me feel pity towards him. But, let’s say it’s just his karma for creating a strange nickname for a girl. Never mind.
“We’ll be having a meeting to find a way to completely eliminate the rumors from the school about Ayame doing prostitution work. Also, we’ll make a way for Ayame to live her life without having any idiots approach her as well. Let’s assume if we can’t solve this issue first, Ayame’s life in this school will still be the same. We’ll solve this before the long summer holiday starts. These are the targets we have right now.”
During the summer holiday, there’ll be many important games being sold. This is why I want this mission to be completed beforehand.
“Okay, you’ll see Cotton. I’ll make sure your time in school for the next two years is enjoyable!”
Ayame’s cheeks gradually became red with shyness.
“Everyone, I’m really sorry for all the things you had to tolerate because of me…”
“You don’t need to think too much about it, Ayame. I didn’t actually plan to do it for you at all. I just dislike the fact that the real you, and the rumors about you don’t match each other at all.”
Once I finished talking, both Hatsushiba and Tozaki looked at me as if they’ve seen a tsundere girl.
“Why are you guys looking at me like that!?”
On the contrary, Ayame smiled as if looking at that scene cheerfully.
We can conclude that at the school, I have been sleeping almost all the time. But let’s say that the day had passed smoothly.
After school ends, I head home with Ayame.
Today, I’m seriously tired so I have to skip the extracurricular activity for now. Hatsushiba also needed to go home early because she has work to do.
“Please look after Cotton too.”
She’s telling me this too. I really felt in pain as she told me this.
“Just get it done so you’ll feel that it’s truly over.”
I truly agree with Ayame.
“Aramiya, what will you do next?”
“I’ll just go home and sleep. I’m feeling pretty tired…”
“True, I’m also sleepy as well.”
This isn’t the first time that I’ve stayed up all night. I even accidentally fell asleep during school. But even in that case, I still feel shabby anyway.
The part where I got punched is still painful.
…But, the worst thing was when I almost got raped.. To be honest, I’m still shocked. I’m not sure, but if I had still been unconscious… wouldn’t I have already been attacked? At that time, Ayame herself might have felt like that too. She might be much more frightened than me.
Ayame called me without letting me stand up properly.
Ayame hung her head down. She seems to be anxious about something.
“Imagine if I weren’t a virgin, would you still come and rescue me?”
“…What are you imagining.”
“Come on. I’m really curious.”
Oh, I see.
If you were to see a girl being threatened like that in front of you, I think that anyone would want to go and rescue the girl.
Whether or not the girl is a virgin really doesn’t make a difference..
Thinking about it, the fact that I hate non-virgin girls is because of the girls that tricked me. Once I moved up to junior high school, I had become more mature. If not, it’s because of those bitchy girls that have boyfriends and constantly like to come start arguments with me.
Well, it was actually me who was arrogant and idiotic. I might have been searching for virgin girls as if it were my last hope. Having a virgin girl come and console my mind was probably what I thought I wanted.
But, a type of rumor I hate stuck onto me ever since I started doing many different things with Ayame;however, I might have gone through a change on the inside that can’t describe correctly.
“I think you should help me?”
I’m secretly not able to say it out loud so I tried to talk thoughtlessly.
But, even if I answered like that, Ayame still seemed to look happy.
I’m honestly thinking that this girl is really motivated.
“Ah, well, may I just beg for one thing from you?”
Then she said to me sounding hesitantly.
…Anyway, just for today, I’ll do whatever she wants since she’s helping me as well.
“If it’s about something that I can do, then no problem,”
What does she want me to do?
Telling me to be her boyfriend? Asking me to buy eroges? Or asking me out on a date?
If she doesn’t me for something beyond my capability, then it’s still fine…
“May I have your phone number and email?”
Then she begins to request for something that seems very small.
“Eh? Phone number and email…?”
“Ye-yes. You can’t?”
“No, it’s not that I can’t, but just this…”
“What a relief…”
She showed a smile filled with happiness.
Seeing her smile really makes my mind feel a bit shaky again. It’s just that this was a very small thing to ask for.
It was something that you could ask for whenever you want and get at any time.
Coincidentally, it turns out that we have yet to actually exchange phone numbers. Why did it turn out to be something that she needed to beg for?
“Just with this, I can contact Aramiya at any time now. I can also send messages too.”
“Are you really that happy?”
“Yes, I’m happy,”
She presses on her phone with a face full of joy. Then, she sends an infrared signal to my phone.
Once my information enters her phone, she holds her phone with both hands compromisingly.
Damn, every expression she shows makes her look adorable.
Right now, I’m in the ideology of a 2D world.
I didn’t expect to make up with 3D girls or anything.
But, while I’m staring at Ayame, that hope gradually grows bigger.
Someday, there might be a time when I can approach the 3D world.
There are times when Ayame steps over the wall boundaries between both the 2D and 3D worlds ,and becomes my dream girl.
I also don’t know what the future will be like…
“Once I’m back home, I’ll message you!”
“Please reply too.”
“If I’m awake, then I can.”
This relationship of ours might slowly move forward, bit by bit, like this for sure.
And, even if we still can’t see the finish line.
Or, whether or not that finish line even exists, I don’t know either.
But, right now, I feel like that doesn’t matter anyways.
Because when I spend my time with her, I think that anything will be totally enjoyable.
“Right now, I need to tell you that I’m about to be in love!”
Then Ayame smiles widely to me.
*End of Volume 1*
Note of “*”:
*Kotoko Tanaka is written in Japanese as 田中 古都子.
Once we combine the Kanjis of Naka and Ko (underlined) together, it would become 中古 which means “secondhand item”.