as a punishment,” she started.
“I ‘confessed’ my feelings to a shy guy like you, so I thought you’d give the OK right away.
Why on earth did you need more time?
She continued, “Oh, you have bags under your eyes.
Did you seriously mull it over all night long? Ahahahahaha! Did you hear that, girls? He spent his whole night worrying over a joke of a confession!”

What’s up with this? Why are these girls just giggling at me? I thought.
At that moment, I noticed Maika, and she looked at me and laughed.
Laughed with them. Don’t tell me… Is she in on it too? What did I do to make you hate me so much, huh?!

“Why do you have to do this to me!?” Seeing Maika laughing with them, I couldn’t help but raise my voice in anger.

“Jesus.”

“What the hell was that?”

“Is this a joke?”

I could hear the boys around me, and they were livid.

“You girls are pitiful, playing around with people’s feelings,” Kenichi, my old friend, talked smack to Hirano.
“The other girls joined the circle too, I saw it.
You all laughed at him.
C’mon dude, grab your bag.
Let’s go.”

“‘Kay,” I answered, following right behind him.
We left the classroom, followed by the other boys who witnessed the scene.

“That sucks.”

“It really does.”

The guys started saying things like that, but isn’t it just my fault everyone’s in this mess? However, for some reason, we ended up all going to karaoke after that, just me and most of the boys in the classroom.

“I’m sorry, Kyohei, I butted in without being called,” Kenichi started.
“I just couldn’t stand it.
Everyone else here probably feels the same.”

So he said, but what about the other guys? And why, even? We barely talked and stuff… As I thought so, they started saying what was on their minds.

“I mean, whenever I ask you something about studying, you teach me in a polite and easy way dude.”

“You say you’re gloomy or whatever, but you have plenty of other nice points other than studying.
You know a ton about games, sports, shows, and even novels.
You never get tired of talking about them!”

“The guys really do care about you, bro.
In a good way.”

“Come to think of it, weren’t you ranked third in a global competition for an FPS? It was in the duo category if I remember correctly.”

“H, how did you know?” I was surprised.

“It’s because of Kenichi,” they all answered in unison.

One of them continued, “We were watching the game live at his house.
That was one hell of a match.”

“Erm, my duo did a lot of carrying for me though,” I blurted.

“Still, it was amazing to watch.”

The guys were so excited they didn’t even sing.
All this time, I thought I was being just another gloomy stain on the wall, unremarkable in everything I did.
But despite my own complexes, they all looked at me with warm eyes.
I couldn’t even believe they watched that competition.

“We barely talked over the last few days, so what’s going on with Ayatsuji?” Tanaka, one of the guys, asked me so.
Were you paying that much attention?

Okay, I’ll go from the top and tell them everything.

“The other day, when I was talking with Maika about colleges and stuff, she told me it was none of my business and that I should stop acting like her boyfriend.
She also said she’d never date me, and… Well, the truth is I was going to confess my feelings for her on my birthday, but she rejected me before I could even say anything…”

“Oh, I see… Sorry for making you bring up such a topic, bro.”

“No, it’s okay.
When I saw her laughing along with those girls about that false confession thing earlier, I lashed out, but I’m cool now.
I just feel so stupid worrying over it last night…”

“Gotcha.
Actually, this whole confession thing really came out of left field,” he looked at me.
“If you say you’re over your childhood friend Ayatsuji, I’ll introduce you to another girl.
I’m not lying, and in fact, there’s one who really cares about you.”

So he says, but I don’t know if I want a relationship right after all this trouble.

“I appreciate your concern, but I’m just not in the mood…”

“I think it’s okay if you start out as friends, then you think about it slowly.
I just hate that the girls think you’re some shady schmuck, so let’s show them you have some game.”

“No, I’d feel sorry for having you deal with all that.”

Even with everything they said, my self-loathing didn’t stop clawing at me.

“Don’t worry bro,” Kenichi continued.
“My sister doesn’t care about any of that.
She’s more than willing to help.”

“Eh, by a girl, do you mean Risa-chan?”

“That’s right.
She’s been looking at you for a long, long time, but it was pretty obvious you only had eyes for Ayatsuji.”

Risa is his younger sister, and we also played together sometimes in elementary school.
She used to call me big bro and was pretty cute.
She’s almost the same age as her brother and is currently in her freshman year.
Despite that, I haven’t seen her ever since we enrolled here.

“Well, just come visit my house sometime, just for fun.
Then you can think about what you’re gonna do.”

…I have really good friends, and he’s right.
No one ever got anything from whining and being a wuss.

“Thank you, I’ll visit you sometime.
And thank you guys for hanging out with me today.
I’m still angry for being lied to, but you’ve all helped me keep my cool.”

“It’s nothing,” they all said in unison.

“It’s nice to hang out like this again,” I noted.

“Yup.
The boy’s club is hot and bothered, but it’s probably just for now.”

“You feel the puberty in the air?” Someone teased.

Thanks to the boys, I feel alive again.

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