We started practicing for the play. At first, it seemed like we were smoothly memorizing our lines, but…
We began by speaking our lines to each other to get a feel for the scene. Since each of us has our respective roles in the class, we couldn’t cover the entire play, but we worked on the parts we could. However, I noticed it was quite challenging.
Changing my facial expressions proved difficult. Honestly, I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t quite fit in. I wanted to manage to smile or look grumpy, but I couldn’t do it at all… So, today’s practice ended in a rather awkward manner. There’s still time; I shouldn’t rush, but I can’t be complacent either.
After everyone had gone to bed, I turned on the living room lights and read the script alone. I tried to imagine the scenes in my mind.
At midnight, Cinderella panics because her magical time is running out. She’s lost one of her glass slippers at the ball, and she realizes it… That’s the face I tried to make when I looked in the mirror.
I checked my current expression in the mirror. Yep, nothing. Oh well, it can’t be helped. Now, let’s try a smile.
For some reason, smiles are challenging. There’s a common question, “What’s 1 + 1?” that people ask when taking pictures. I respect those who can smile effortlessly in response. I remember once I took a class photo. Everyone had normal expressions, except for one person who wore an evil mastermind’s expression.
Smiles… smiles… Did I laugh heartily during the summer festival? That time spent with him. I laughed so much it felt like I laughed ten years’ worth. I should try to recall that feeling. However, as soon as I remembered, my cheeks turned red, and I couldn’t muster a smile.
No, this memory is unusable. It’s so embarrassing. So, I struggled to come up with a way to improve my expressions on my own. My acting skills are low. I’m far behind Karen and Moegi in that regard. I need to do something. However, this is my problem, so I shouldn’t involve others.
As I contemplated doing it alone, the living room door opened, and there stood…
“Why are you trying to do this on your own?”
Karen was in her pajamas, her hair unbound as usual. Kohaku and Moegi were there too.
“Well, I didn’t want to bother anyone.”
“Don’t worry about that. We’re friends, right?”
“Yeah, senpai. I may not be capable of much, but I’ll help in any way I can!”
I felt happy. Having people like this by my side is everything. Lately, I’ve been thinking that I’m just an immature person who can’t do anything. I wanted friends but never took any action to make them. I kept running away, using excuses like being scary or lacking social skills.
Even if my eyes are frightening and I’m not great at conversation, there are people like this who are with me. I’ve realized that the courage to step forward was the only thing I lacked.
Everything changed when I met him. But I haven’t done anything myself. I’ve just been happily scooping up everything like a child, and he’s been entertaining me. This isn’t enough.
I want to become stronger. I want to make sure this play, which involves so many people, is a success. I want to genuinely grow as a person. Let’s do my best.
“Thank you, everyone.”
“Well, it’s the least we can do. But it might be better to tell the person secretly watching over there.”
She pointed with her finger in the direction of the door, which was slightly ajar, revealing someone eavesdropping.
“Izayoi-kun, Aoi-senpai is probably in trouble, and I want you to help her out.”
With a warm gaze, he watched over us. To express my gratitude, I opened the door. He was there in his pajamas.
“We’re here to support you!”
“Then I’ll just watch from this side of the door. Please continue!”
“You’ll be watching?”
“Yeah. But aren’t you tired? You stayed up late yesterday.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m not tired at all.”
That night, we practiced our acting, receiving his warm gaze late into the evening. Well, it didn’t go perfectly right away, and I apologize to everyone for that.
The next day, I woke up early again to start practicing. I didn’t want to burden everyone who had stayed up late with me.
Once again, I found myself alone in the living room. I sipped hot water while working on my facial muscles. There was still a slight trace of sleepiness, but I shook it off and opened my eyes wide.
I had chosen to play Cinderella because I wanted to do it myself. There were many reasons, but there was a significant responsibility as well. I wanted to become a princess. I had a responsibility to play Cinderella, a role I had chosen to help myself grow. It felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders, incredibly heavy.
But I had to do my best. This was necessary for my growth. There was no time to rest. I injected some determination and tried to smile. I raised the corners of my mouth. If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t succeed.
“You don’t have to struggle alone!”
Suddenly, the living room door opened. He appeared as if a car had slammed on the brakes. It was early in the morning, and he had stayed up late yesterday, so he must have had very little sleep. He posed slightly, placing his right hand next to his right eye.
“? You don’t have to struggle alone!”
He said it again as if I haven’t heard him. I didn’t know how to respond to his unexpected appearance. He looked kind of cute…
But setting that aside, he mentioned I was struggling. I wasn’t really.
“I’m not struggling. I have things to do and goals to achieve. I just need to move forward.”
“Not really, just normal.”
I touched my hair and looked away shyly. His eyes sparkled, and it was clear he meant what he said.
“You’re going to practice for the play now, right?”
“Well, it’s just imagining things for now, but yes.”
“Can I help?”
“I’m sorry. You stayed up late watching over us yesterday…”
“That’s fine. My body is a reincarnated form created from magic, having been reincarnated from the Demon Lord a thousand years ago. So, it doesn’t require sleep!”
I’m stunned. I don’t understand what he’s saying, and when I think about human anatomy and functions, it seems impossible… but maybe, just maybe…
“I’m sorry. It’s a lie.”
A light fist strike with a small fist. What is the meaning of making fun of a Senpai? I was a little surprised.
“I, I’m sorry, I just… I’m begging you, please let me help!”
“Why are you begging so much? Well, if you put it that way, should you help?”
Since he offered to help, I decided to ask him.
“Oh, you’re the beautiful princess from that time!”
“Uh… I, um, forgot my lines… sorry…”
“Alright, let’s do it again!”
He repeated the lines with me multiple times. For some reason, when I’m told to say romantic lines, my mind goes blank. But he patiently helped me practice without showing any sign of annoyance. My heart was beating strongly, and I couldn’t help but feel happy, even though I should be overwhelmed by the guilt of involving him in this.
“All right, we’ve gone through the script five times now!”
“Yeah, thank you…”
He played all the roles except for Cinderella. He must be tired too. Maybe it’s time for a break…
“Shall we go for another five rounds?”
“Continuity is key, as they say. If Cinderella can deliver her lines without a second thought, we’ll surely have a great success in the actual performance! Furthermore, from now on, let’s treat this like a traditional Japanese card game, Hyakunin Isshu Karuta. If the first part is said, I’ll immediately respond with the second part. We’ll practice this as well!”
“Y-yeah, that sounds reassuring. B-but…”
“Don’t worry about it! Now, let’s start our Cinderella for the next five rounds!”
He’s fast, like a flash of lightning. He seems to have forgotten about any feelings of inconvenience, and he takes the script in his hand to once again act as the villainous noble girl. We’ve already completed five rounds, which makes a total of ten.
“Now, let’s work hard until we reach the fifteenth round. But maybe we should take a little break. As much as repetition is important, going overboard is not good either. Human concentration has its limits, and doing things with awareness is always better. Let’s take a short rest.”
“Yeah, and I’ll bring some hot water.”
I make some hot water and bring it to the table, setting his cup down. Then, I sit on the sofa.
“Drinking hot water is good for your body, so go ahead.”
“Thank you. Cheers.”
Sipping on the piping hot hot water, I could hear him breathing lightly. Given the amount of practice we just had, Kohaku should be waking up soon. Karen isn’t a morning person, so she probably won’t be up for a while. Karen may appear tough, but she’s actually quite clingy, as I discovered the other day.
[Karen, wake up, it’s morning.]
[Huh? Mom? Carry me…]
She mumbled, wrapping her arms around me. Despite her usually tough exterior, she might be a bit of a softie. After that, she turned bright red and asked me not to tell anyone about this incident. I see her every day at school, and talking to her is always enjoyable. Playing games together is fun too, although sometimes I have no idea what she’s talking about. Regardless, I want to understand her better in the future.
[Violent tsundere heroines can be unlikable, so I have to be careful ……]
I have no idea what she meant by that, but it must be something important to her. Even if I don’t understand it now, I’ll make sure to understand it someday. She’s an important friend, and I want to learn more about her.
As I drank the hot water and talked with him, I realized that I don’t feel the weight of responsibility when I’m with him. He willingly carries the burden of what I should be feeling. I can’t help but feel that I should be the one carrying the responsibility, not him.
“You know, I wonder if I’m really growing as a person. Maybe I’m just burdening you…”
“I mean, I also rely on you, like when you cook for me. It’s a mutual thing. I’m sorry if I’m not helping with your growth or something… But, I think that this effort and struggle, it’s like, well, it becomes your experience, your nourishment, or maybe even something that belongs to Aoi-senpai!”
“Besides! But I also think that even if you work hard, it won’t all pay off. But I don’t think it is in vain! Also, please don’t take on responsibilities alone. Well, people support each other to become a person, so let’s …… support each other and give each other trouble!”
“Did you think you said something good just now?”
“Oh, did you catch that?”
“And it was a bit of an old-fashioned saying.”
“But thanks. It really resonated with me…”
At that moment, I didn’t let it show on my face, but my heart was pounding unusually fast. It was as if there was no turning back anymore…
Managing my racing heart, I continued the conversation with him.
“By the way, how’s the game I lent you?”
“It’s fun. Thanks for lending it to me.”
He lent me an older handheld game console, and I’ve been playing Ultramonster, or simply Ulmo. I used to play it before, but I stopped because my data got erased thanks to Wasat, so I left it at home. But playing games with everyone rekindled my gaming spirit.
“It’s Ulmo, right? Are you playing it too?”
“Yeah. Ulmo is great. I haven’t played much recently because of the play rehearsals, but I’ve already defeated the boss before the play was even confirmed.”
“Oh, that’s impressive!”
“Yeah, I guess. I think I’m obsessed with Ulmo. Especially this title from the 3rd generation we’re playing now, it’s the best. You can easily lose track of time.”
“That’s true. I think it’s great!”
We got all excited talking about Ulmo and other games. It was a brief moment, but it was an important time for me.
Afterward, we resumed our practice.
“Still, my expressions…”
“I think you’re doing fine.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Yes, I do.”
We were discussing expressions when Kohaku, who looked sleepy, entered the living room. Her morning routine was to brush her teeth, wash her face, drink hot water, fix her appearance, and then bask in the morning sun. This was her usual routine. Even though I had kept her up late the night before with the practice, she woke up at the same time as usual.
“Good morning. Fuwa~.”
Completely relaxed, Kohaku let out a sleepy yawn. This was something only I got to see early in the morning. Kohaku probably knew that I was awake because I was no longer in the same room, but she didn’t notice that there was someone else here.
“I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-Izayoi-kun, what are you doing here?!”
“Morning practice for the play with Aoi-senpai…”
“I-I see! That’s lovely to hear! But if you’re here, please let me know next time! Mou, my hair is all frizzy… I haven’t done my makeup, and I even yawned! My hair is a mess, my makeup is undone, and I yawned! Ugh, my image as the most adorable aristocratic lady is ruined…”
Embarrassed by the fact that she was seen with a yawn and her appearance not perfect, Kohaku’s fair skin turned bright red. She put her hands on the floor and hung her head down.
“Kuu, to see Kohaku-san’s cuteness like this in the morning… I must be the luckiest person in the world.”
It seemed like Kohaku heard his words clearly. She lifted her head and asked him.
“Eh? D-Do you really think I’m cute?”
“H-How cute do you think I am?”
“It’s beyond words. I always like you as you are, but this slightly relaxed, natural appearance is irresistible!”
“Ehehe, is that so? Well, that’s good to hear. I’ll go drink my hot water.”
She quickly recovered and headed to the kitchen. For some reason, though, I felt a bit annoyed… My cheeks puffed out without my realizing it.