I met Umi Aoyama when I was in elementary school.
At first I thought she was a guy.
Aoyama, who wore short sleeves and short pants and had short hair, was playing dodgeball with the boys on the playground. A friend of mine invited Aoyama to join us in dodgeball, and that was the beginning of our friendship.
We hit it off right away because we both liked to play outside. After a few times of playing with many people, we naturally became good friends.
She was always asking me, “What are you going to do tomorrow?” with a friendly smile. Tag, hide-and-seek, dodgeball, softball, we played every day.
In the upper grades of elementary school, Aoyama’s chest began to grow a little.
That’s when I finally realized.
“Umi is a girl?!”
“You’re so late. I’ve always been a girl”
“The only one who didn’t know was Shota.”
It was shocking, but it did not change the relationship. It did not matter whether Aoyama was a woman or a man. It was not because I was not playing around with gender.
However, when I entered junior high school, I became aware of her as a woman.
Aoyama had been growing her hair long since her senior year of elementary school. By the time she entered junior high school, her hair was pulled into a trademark ponytail, and she wore a school uniform. The first time I saw her in a skirt made a strong impression on me.
But our relationship remained the same.
“Hey, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
One day shortly after entering junior high school, Aoyama asked me in a fearful tone.
“What’s wrong all of a sudden?””
“A girl in my class said that friendship is not possible between men and women.”
“I don’t think so. We’re friends.”
Aoyama smiled broadly at my answer.
“No, no, we’re not friends anymore. Shota.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re best friends!”
The only person I could call a best friend was my childhood friend Renji Inuyama. So I was happy to hear Aoyama say so.
That is how we became best friends.
As I entered junior high school, my opportunities to play outside were drastically reduced. The biggest reason was that I began to worry about the eyes of those around me. It was conspicuous that boys and girls were mixing and mingling, and girls other than Aoyama had graduated from playing tag and hide-and-seek.
We got into games.
We began to enjoy sports games, racing games, and fighting games. Finally, we ended up with FPS.
“I heard GPEX is a fun one.”
“It’s a FPS. A game played on a computer. As I recall, Shota had a computer, right? It’s basically free, and if you’re interested, check out some videos.”
Our family was poor, but my uncle gave me a computer. It was left in a corner of the room with no place to work.
I was interested in it when I saw a streamer recommended it.
I immediately installed GPEX, connected voice chat and went out to the battlefield with Aoyama.
As a matter of course, I lost a lot. Even so, Aoyama and I became addicted to GPEX. We went out to the battlefield and got beat up, then rushed out to the battlefield determined to get revenge, only to get beat up again.
“I couldn’t get a shot off at all.”
“I propose the theory that is because of lagg.”
“If that’s the case, then my internet must be a piece of s**t.”
“Yes, it’s all the fault of the line that we can’t win.”
“So what do we do now ……?”
“We’ll just have to get revenge.”
Every day I connected the voice chat and played wacky.
I didn’t win at all. There was no way the novice duo could beat their fierce opponents. Also, since it was the first time for both of us to play a game on a computer, we were not even familiar with the controls.
We lost many times.
Every time we lost, we complained to each other.
[“I’m going to go with the theory that the weapons we picked up were bad.”]
[“I went a little easy on them today.”]
“I was actually playing one-handed .”
“Did you see the God play now? Yes, I am the best.”
“Yo, God’s child.”
Every time I beat an enemy, I got carried away, and when I lost, I complained and grumbled.
One day, after many such days.
“Woohoo, we won for the first time!”
[“We did it, Shota!”]
“Woohoo, our first win!”
[“We did it, Shota!”]
“Well done shooting that last one.”
[“Right? Because I have a good aim”].
“Well, you missed a lot in the fight before that.”
[“That’s because my connection is garbage.”]
“No, you’re in perfect connection.”
[“Then why is Shota’s aim so crappy?”]
That’s because of my…… shitty connection”
We were laughing and playing like this.
Looking back on it now, it was fun. The sense of fulfillment I got from playing silly games with Aoyama was amazing. We were like best friends, and we were on the same wavelength.
Needless to say, my grades at the time were garbage. I was near the bottom of my class because I was always playing around. Aoyama had the same level of academic ability as me and was incredibly stupid.
It was around the time that my childhood friend Akazawa began to repeatedly make hurtful comments about me, but I was still able to have a relaxed mind thanks to Aoyama. Since we were both idiots, we would plan study sessions, etc., and it was not uncommon for us to get so absorbed in playing games that we ended up not studying.
I thought this friendship would last.
I entered eighth grade.
More and more students began to devote themselves to their studies and club activities. I was also active in the tennis club and was a regular member. Aoyama was called the ace of the track and field club. She won awards at competitions and people around her had high expectations for her.
As expected, she was no longer able to play GPEX every day.
Still, we continued our relationship.
The turning point came one day as summer approached. Aoyama began to ignore me.
Originally, I tried to stay away from her at school. It was because it would cause strange rumors if men and women were close to each other. Even so, I would at least say hello to her when we passed each other on campus. Aoyama began to ignore even that greeting.
“Hey, what do you want to do today?”
“Don’t you want to play GPEX?”
At first I thought it might be a fluke, but no matter how much I spoke to her, she never responded. When I tried to walk next to her, she would speed up and go away.
It was a mystery to me why the sudden change in his attitude.
The answer came a few days later.
Shota Mukawa is a stalker of Yuuhi Akazawa.
It was because of that rumor. My classmate Nekoda informed me of my situation and I finally realized that I had been isolated at school.
After the rumors broke, I felt out of place, and the people I had considered my friends were all leaving me. The people I had no relationship with began to look at me with a white eye.
One day when I had a day off from club activities, I opened a Discordo. I was incredibly relieved when I got a chat from Aoyama.
[“‘I’m sorry. There were rumors at school.”]
“No problem. It’s not your fault, so don’t worry about it.”
[“Yes. So the …… rumor is false, right?”]
[“Of course it’s not true.”]
[“Right. I know that. Because Shota doesn’t have a smartphone.”]
“I guess so. Just don’t talk about it at school until the rumors die down.”
I was even grateful for Aoyama’s behavior after learning about the rumors.
If Aoyama was seen getting along with me, even Aoyama would be persecuted. I didn’t want to involve her, my best friend.
I was grateful to Aoyama for keeping her away from me. There was a possibility that Shota Mukawa would start a rumor that he was stalking another woman. So I was grateful that she kept his distance from me.
We talked and had GPEX as usual.
Those days often continued.
But one day.
–I can’t play with you for a while.
Suddenly, I received a chat from Aoyama. To which I replied, “Got it”. After that, I stopped logging into GPEX and Discordo.
A few days later, I passed by her class and heard the conversation.
“That stalker guy is dangerous, you know. You should watch out for him. Umi’s cute, so stay away from him for a while.”
“Yes, I’ll try to stay away from him.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Aren’t you from the same elementary school?”
“More or less”
“Wasn’t he dangerous back then?”
“Yes. I had a feeling he was dangerous, for a while.”
I heard them talking like that.
This is how the relationship between me and Ami Aoyama ended.
I don’t know how much “a while” was mentioned in the chat, but somehow I knew that I would never play or talk with her again for the rest of my life.
The seasons passed, and it was autumn.
In addition to the stalker, there was another rumor circulating at school. Because of these two rumors, I was no longer a hater, but a criminal.
I was isolated in class and harassed numerous times. There were thumbtacks in my shoes, graffiti on my desk, and even flowers on my desk on the worst occasions. But I was never directly beaten.
But then the incident occurred.
On November 19, my birthday, which I will never forget.
I was walking up the stairs to go to a mobile classroom. As I was walking with my head down, I felt the presence of someone at the top of the stairs.
My body floated in the air.
Someone pushed me.
When I realized this, I felt a dull pain in my body. I felt a tingling pain in my back and a jolt that shook my head. I rolled down the stairs and fell on the landing.
My consciousness faded. As my consciousness faded, my eyes caught sight of him. I saw Umi Aoyama standing at the top of the stairs.
I woke up on a hospital bed. It seems I hit my head hard and suffered a concussion.
My mother burst into tears when she saw me awake. I felt guilty for causing her worry.
She, Umi Aoyama, did not come to apologize or visit me.
The next day, I started going to school at the infirmary.