[Hihara Karen PoV]
We embraced each other for about five minutes since we started, even though I had mentioned it was almost time for dinner. Could it be that Izayoi hasn’t been thinking at all? If that’s the case, it’s getting a little awkward, isn’t it? Are we going to spend the night like this?
These are ridiculous thoughts.
Anyway, I should say something to him.
Of course, we chose this moment to talk at the same time, making it awkward. Or maybe it was just embarrassing.
But for some reason, I found myself gripping his yukata tightly. My heart and body were in contradiction, and I was confused. Then, he finally mustered the courage to speak.
“Ah, maybe we should head back soon?”
I had been waiting for those words, or maybe I hadn’t. It’s a complicated feeling, but with his words as the trigger, we separated our hands from each other.
In the pitch-black world, illuminated only by the moonlight, I couldn’t tell how long we had been hugging. I didn’t know, but one thing was clear: if we were suspected by the others, it wouldn’t be good.
After all, I had just become Izayoi’s one and only girlfriend for now… but if everyone found out, it could lead to various problems, and I couldn’t afford to let that happen.
We stood up from the bench.
And there, I blurted out something I hadn’t really been conscious of, but it just came out. Since I was Izayoi’s only girlfriend for now… well, maybe just a little something different could be allowed. So, a kiss, maybe…
“By the way, for now, I’m the only one who’s Izayoi’s girlfriend, right? So, um…”
“Oh, about that…”
“What is it?”
“Well, actually… I’ve been dating Moegi a few days ago…”
“Haaaaaaaaaaa?! Since when?!”
“About three days ago…”
I had no idea! But at the same time, it made sense. So that’s why she suddenly got so close to him, and the frequency of her physical contact increased abnormally. Moegi, that sneaky girl! Is she some kind of assassin?!
I’ll have to talk to her about this later…
Damn it, second place. The position of the loser. Izayoi and I are not childhood friends, which is the only saving grace.
Thinking that way, I lost all the happiness I had just felt, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of competition and jealousy.
I pulled his face towards mine and our lips met, as if engraving a deep love.
“Um, I should head back now.”
I quickly moved away from his lips and left the scene.
I was so embarrassed by my own actions. What have I done?!
We’re going to have dinner together afterwards! It’s definitely not a pattern where I’ll be tormented by thoughts of that kiss! Acting like a good girl and then kissing passionately, only to eat dinner with everyone after, isn’t that the most embarrassing thing ever?!
I messed up in so many ways. I could have done something more amazing, but I couldn’t.
The fact that Moegi had been secretly working behind the scenes also came to light. What’s going on?!
Well, it’s fine. We’ve become a special couple now. I’ll further increase my favorability rating from here!
After spending time with everyone, playing cards and having dinner, I was secretly called over by Karen-chan. It was in a small tea and relaxation area within the ryokan, and she was already there when I arrived.
“…Can you sit down for a moment?”
I sat down on a sofa-like seat as she had asked, and she began to speak with an air of difficulty.
“Moegi… you were dating Izayoi, right?”
She knew?! Well, there’s a chance she’s bluffing… Since it’s also a secret between Izayoi and me, I should try to play it off.
“N-No, it’s not like that.”
“No, I know. I’m dating him too.”
“I just became his girlfriend earlier.”
I didn’t expect this. I had anticipated and prepared for this to happen, but I guess my time as his only girlfriend is over. It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
“I see… um, congratulations? Are you okay”
“I think it’s fine.”
“…Can I ask you one thing? Does Moegi like Izayoi?”
“Well, I guess so. But I don’t mind if he’s with anyone. I’ll prioritize Karen-chan and his time as much as I can…….”
As I said this, she crossed her arms and began to speak.
“Right. Changing the subject a bit, does Moegi watch romantic comedies or anime?”
“Well, not really, to be honest.”
“Well, there are various types of romantic comedies, but most of the time, it ends with the protagonist choosing one heroine, and the other heroines get eliminated.”
“And when the favored heroine is eliminated or suggested to be eliminated, it causes a huge uproar on the internet.”
“I guess that makes sense… because fans want their favorite character to be happy.”
“What I’m saying is that the heroines who are eliminated from the heroine race usually wish for the happiness of the protagonist and the main heroine. They often support them and graduate from school, silently keeping their feelings hidden.”
“I see… that’s a unique perspective.”
“Wanting someone else’s happiness more than your own is truly remarkable. But I also think it must be incredibly painful. Isn’t that the case for Moegi too?”
“Well, it might be.”
I couldn’t quite grasp half of what she was saying, but I felt like I understood the other half.
“In that case, maybe it’s best not to say you’re okay with any number. Izayoi won’t want you to suffer or endure anything. He chose the route where everyone is happiest and satisfied.”
“Yeah… Thank you, Karen-chan.”
“…It’s not a big deal. I just said what I wanted to say.”
She said that a bit shyly. But then, her expression turned a bit confrontational, something I had never seen from her before. I found myself holding my breath.
“―And besides, I’d hate for someone who thinks any number is fine to take away Izayoi’s time.”
With those words, she returned to the room.
She knew that her time with him would be reduced with me around. Even without me, there’s also Kohaku-chan and Aoi-chan, so their alone time would be limited. She accepted all of that, yet still chose the path of love with him.
I felt completely outdone. I was embarrassed about how I had briefly felt superior. The girl named Hihara Karen was not an opponent to be taken lightly.
The title of being the “one and only” had meant something to me, and I had unconsciously been happy about it. I didn’t want to lose it. But in an instant, I was equaled and left behind.
I felt a sense of defeat towards Hihara Karen.
I’ll catch up with her …… soon. ……
I still don’t know what to do. With a new resolve in my heart, I followed her.
I found myself eavesdropping on their conversation nearby, silently holding my breath as their words reached my ears. And then, I was left utterly stunned.
Unbeknownst to me, these two had become his lovers. I had no clue that this had progressed so far without my knowledge.
I thought I had mentally prepared myself for this situation. After all, Karen-senpai was an extraordinary person, and Moegi-senpai possessed exceptional qualities. But when it actually happened, the feeling of being outshone by someone else flooded me with anxiety.
As I observed Karen-senpai’s resolute expression, I couldn’t help but come to a painful realization. It seemed like she was now the one closest to him… I couldn’t ignore that feeling.
Behind my back, everything had been unfolding, and I felt like a stranger in my own world. I thought I understood everything about Izayoi-kun, but I truly understood nothing at all. I had been oblivious to the emotions of everyone involved.
I desperately clung to the belief that being his number one was the best, the only option I could accept.
My sense of urgency grew stronger with each passing moment, and in the midst of it all, I lost sight of who I truly was.
I went to his room late at night when everyone else had gone to sleep. We had enjoyed playing cards and talking a lot with everyone earlier, but there was something different about it tonight. Aoi-senpai seemed genuinely happy, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Moegi-senpai and Karen-senpai were consciously competing with each other.
I couldn’t stay like this any longer. I wanted to get closer to him, more than anyone else.
Despite being in a different world, the room had a traditional Japanese ambiance, with sliding doors. I entered through them.
I had told him earlier that I had something to discuss, and I wanted to talk privately with him late at night.
Inside, the room was dimly lit with a soft orange glow.
“Izayoi-kun… I’m sorry for coming at this late hour.”
“It’s okay! I’m used to being up at night.”
“Is that so?”
It’s amazing that he didn’t show any discomfort and boil tea for me even though it was a late-night consultation.
Moreover, there were persimmon peas on the table. It gives the feeling that they are easy to consult with!
The cushions are facing each other. And there’s some kind of aroma burning in the air. What a lot of thoughtfulness!?
As expected of my Izayoi-kun.
He urges me to sit down. There is also a futon for him to sleep on in the room, which is remarkably spacious.
There are many things to think about, but we are finally alone. How long I have waited for this opportunity. Finally, finally, it is my turn.
It’s hard to make a strong appeal when everyone else is there. I am late to the party. Even if I have to be forceful, I’m going to be his first here.
He sat down on the cushion under the desk. Then, as if to entertain a guest, he turns his hand to the cushion across from him and says, please sit down.
But I did not sit on the cushion, but on the futon.
“Uhm, not like this…….”
“I prefer it here. No good?”
A little bit, I say mockingly. I often use it because it’s effective for Izayoi-kun. Then he blushes and gives a thumbs-up, and the other fingers are clenched and a good job hand is done.
“How about you come over here, Tenya-kun?”
“Well, sitting on the same futon…”
While he agreed to my choice of seating, he stayed on the cushion. I beckoned him over.
“It’s a bit cold here…”
“Well, considering it’s summer in this world…”
“I’m, um, shivering…”
“Let’s go, then.”
I used some playful tactics to coax him into joining me on the futon. It was clear that he had a certain weakness when it came to assertive women, especially someone as audacious as me. Well, there wasn’t anyone as audacious as me, so I was confident it would be fine.
This whole situation felt a bit embarrassing. Still, I had invited it upon myself. But despite that, I cherished this opportunity to be alone with him, to finally make him mine.
Our interactions had been quite limited with everyone else around, and I couldn’t wait any longer. There were things I wanted to discuss, and the increased frequency of those voices in my head was genuinely bothering me.
“Um, so, what did you want to discuss?”
“Well, I’ve been hearing voices again, more frequently than before.”
I had used the excuse of needing to discuss something with him to create this private moment, and it wasn’t entirely a lie. The voices were genuinely becoming more frequent.
“Hmm, is that so?”
“If it’s not too much trouble, could you, you know, talk to someone inside me again?”
“Wait! I keep the yukata on!”
I opened my yukata slightly to reveal more of my chest. The previous bath incident had been unexpected, but I wouldn’t let something like that embarrass me again.
“I think it would be easier to hear if you were closer to the inside.”
“Well, that might be true, but…”
He hesitated, blushing again. I had no doubt he was worrying about my comfort.
“Come on, don’t be shy, Izayoi-kun.”
I used my usual seductive tone and playful demeanor, and he went from blushing to looking genuinely concerned. These were the moments I loved the most—the moments when he looked straight into my eyes, showing how deeply he cared.
After he attempted to communicate with me as he had done previously, he seemed to sigh in frustration and apologized for his apparent helplessness.
“I’m sorry… nothing happened.”
“No, Izayoi-kun, there’s no need to apologize. I’m the one who insisted on this.”
“It’s just… it feels like I couldn’t do anything.”
“Izayoi-kun, you always give your best. There’s nothing half-hearted about you!”
“K-Kohaku-san! You’re too kind!”
“You’re the one”
“No, Kohaku-san, you are…”
“No, no, Izayoi-kun, you…”
As we exchanged humble words, the night progressed further.
“I think it’s time we went to sleep. It might affect us tomorrow.”
“Yes, you’re right. Let’s prepare for sleep.”
He expressed concern for me and suggested we sleep, so I lay down on the futon and covered myself with the blanket.
“Um, about that…”
“Uuugh, your sparkling eyes and your sweet voice… but…”
He seemed conflicted about something, so I took his hand and guided him to lie down next to me. I snuggled up to him, using his arm as a pillow and covering us with the blanket.
“Is this okay? I won’t do anything, just keep you company.”
“Just… keeping you company…”
“Is that a problem?”
“No, it’s not…”
He hesitated, but ultimately accepted the idea of just cuddling in silence.
I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. Why wasn’t he making a move? I wasn’t unattractive, I had a good figure, a seductive voice, and plenty of allure. Plus, we were alone together in this situation, so why wasn’t he taking the initiative?
Even with Karens-senpai, he had almost made a move… My dissatisfaction and impatience got the better of me.
I cautiously touched his thigh.
“I just touched your thigh. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?”
He seemed flustered, looking away from me, likely trying to maintain his composure.
“Could you look this way?”
“Don’t you want to see my face?”
“Then, please look.”
Our eyes met, and I noticed his gaze gradually losing its restraint, resembling that of a wild, untamed creature. Just a bit more, and I would become his number one, surpassing Karen-senpai, Moegi-senpai, and even Aoi-senpai…
Being number one was good, but it wasn’t enough. I needed proof. Proof that he wouldn’t abandon me, that he couldn’t. I had a strong feeling that Kuroda Izayoi was a person bound by responsibility, especially when it came to us.
If I made a move now, he would stay with me forever, showering me with love. I wanted that so badly; I craved it, yearned for it.
Since that summer festival day, I had carried this desire with me, day after day. However, I had kept it suppressed because I knew that acting on it would only restrain him, making everything uncomfortable.
Time with everyone is enjoyable. However, Karen-senpai, Moegi-senpai, and Aoi-senpai have all been drawn to Izayoi-kun more and more. And he chose a harem.
To say that I have no dissatisfaction would be a lie, but I was fine with being by his side. I didn’t dislike everyone either.
…But all of us, including me, are aware that he values these kinds of relationships. That’s why I sometimes think about it. I can’t help but wonder if when everyone starts to dislike me, he will distance himself from me regardless of his feelings.
I don’t want to go back to that darkness.
Please, give me proof… your love to erase my anxieties… I thought it was a twisted feeling, but I believed he would accept it.
“K-Kohaku-san… I don’t want to do anything half-hearted, and everyone, all of them, with me…”
I thought that way. I believed he would answer like that. After all, he knows that I want a deeper relationship. I thought he also understood that these feelings couldn’t be suppressed.
But he rejected me because of everyone.
In that moment, the moment he slightly rejected me, everything else ceased to matter. Common sense, coquetry, cuteness, mutual affection…
All of it became irrelevant.
As long as he’s here, as long as he’s by my side, I don’t need anything else.
“Um, I…how can I say…huh? All of a sudden…”
He collapsed in the middle of his sentence. No, I put him to sleep. I know that I have the power to do this with my magical armor.
I feel warped. If I want to be by his side, I should be able to do that. I believe in him completely.
But the moment everyone else becomes involved, I can’t trust him anymore. That means, in other words, that I don’t trust my senpais.
Mixed with that realization, my own weakness, and feelings of disgrace, tears fell from my eyes.
“I’m pathetic, I’m sorry for this… I can’t believe it, I’m sorry…”
Overwhelmed by my own weakness, I carried him on my back and took some of our belongings before disappearing from the inn.