Translated and Edited by: luccayn.
-san: A polite suffix, but not excessively formal.
-kun: A common suffix among friends and younger people.
-chan: A common suffix among people you’re close with, mostly used for feminine nicknames and girls, since it’s cutesy and childlike.
-senpai: A common suffix and noun used to address or refer to one’s older or more senior colleagues in a school, workplace, dojo, or sports club.
TL Note: Oops! I’ve been translating Stepmother and Stepsister as in-laws. Fixed, and the NU page will be updated soon!
I was no longer a Mizumoto. Just another high schooler like any other, both in appearance and otherwise… That was true up until I reached my second year, when my life went through a radical shift.
Before that, some context is due. From the moment I was birthed to some year mid-elementary school, I had only my father. My mother had died so she could bring me into this world, so he had to step up and raise me. He did so by himself until I was a sixth grader, when he remarried. The woman he chose was, coincidentally, my childhood friend’s mother. Since her daughter and I were already good friends, the marriage was a welcome one by all means. Things were looking up.
However, life’s hand was often cruel. By the time I was in eighth grade, my father died in an accident, leaving me all alone in this world. Soon after his passing, my stepmother transformed sickeningly. I was but a slave in her hands. She even told me I should work if I had the time to get all “buddy-buddy” with my sister. Thus, almost all our contact was forbidden, and I was truly, truly alone.
I got used to that lifestyle in time, though. But from the depths of my own heart, I wished for my stepmother to acknowledge me as her own. Regardless, she often complained I was not as good as my sister academically, resulting in my struggling for improvement. I worked my bones cold so I could be on par with her, yet not a sound of praise came my way, being instead replaced by laden sarcasm.
“What, you want to add more tuition fees and burden us all? Egotistical brat…” She spat at the time, leaving me shocked and cold. All I wanted was to be accepted, nothing more.
Still, I had to push through the pain and work so I wouldn’t be abandoned. However, despite the grueling hours, she ended up throwing me to the curb without so much as a glance.
“Oi! Creepy-a*s Panda! Wake up!”
Their crooked voices pulled me back to reality. Rubbing my fatigue away—or trying to—I looked around. The clock pointed its hands to mid-lunch-time, and my classmates huddled and laughed at me.
“Good morning. Slept well? Ha-ha!” His voice rang dry.
“M, morning…” I answered sheepishly.
“When will you pay attention to the teacher, Creepy Panda? Wake up properly! Ha-ha-ha!”
The man towering above my desk was Yuto Matsuyama. He was the son of the chairman of this very school—Matsuyama Academy, one of the most prestigious in the prefecture. Not only was he second in his grade, but he was also an all-around athlete, handsome, and tall to boot. If he wasn’t worthy of a throne at the ever-invisible school caste, I don’t know who’d be.
“You didn’t stay awake into the night while playing p*rn games, did you? Ha-ha-ha!” His laugh echoed inside like knives.
“N, no, I wasn’t…!” I desperately denied it, yet the incessant laughter drowned any attempts to salvage myself. Instead, I was barraged.
“Holy—what a weirdo!”
“That’s the Creepy Panda for ya.”
“No way in hell I’d play like him and sleep through classes, ha!”
“Yeah, and his eyes are mega gross! Foul, even!”
They dictated an image of me based on their own thoughts. I was what they wanted me to be. Still, I longed to stand up and shout from my very bowels; I wasn’t like this because I wanted to! If I could, I would… Yet, I had no choice but to endure.
“Hey Iwaki,” Yuto called out to me once again. “I’m gonna have to tell Dad if you keep flunking class, won’t I?”
“So, you understand, don’t you?”
“I… I do…”
“Okay, okay. Hey, guys! Juice for everyone, on the house! Thank the Panda for it!” He boomed to his cronies.
“Thanks, Creepy Panda!”
“As he should.”
“You’re so kind, Matsuyama-kun!”
“You should thank Yuto-kun for not having you expelled!”
Surrounded by them, I had no right to refuse. Heavy on my feet, I quickly left and made way to the vending machine.
Day after day, I’ve been threatened by Matsuyama to buy juice for him and our classmates. I tapped away at the machine, choosing the flavors according to each of their orders. All I could do as any sign of protest was sigh at the waste of time and money.
It hit me harder due to my own circumstances. Right at the end of spring break, I was kicked out of my former house without a penny in my pocket. As if a cherry on a cruel cake, it turned out my former mother wasn’t even paying for my tuition expenses, instead borrowing from a scholarship—something along those lines. Thus, I was left to earn my living, which included tuition, living expenses, rent, food… Just to keep having a roof over my head, I had to work part-time up until the dead of night while going to school during the day. Hence, my sleep schedule became non-existent, and I ended up having no energy left during classes.
Unfortunately, I was but an un-hammered nail. Yuto Matsuyama ended up noticing me and made it out like I was some sort of gloomy, lazy, and overall disgusting person to the class. As if to rub salt in my wound, he started the foul nickname “Creepy Panda,” which was obviously derogatory. It came to due to the sunken dark circles under my eyes, a byproduct of my overpacked duties. In the end, I became a bullying target.
I didn’t stand still, though. I remember I had gone to the teacher’s office and told them about it, begging for help. Yet, my apparent “bad behavior” was already common talk, and I was blamed instead.
For the billionth time, a sigh escaped my lips, my hands grasping their lots of juices in my hands. A sudden wave of depression washed over me as I mulled over going back to class. That’s when…
“That’s the next council president!”
“I adore her!”
“What I wouldn’t give to date her…”
“Dude, don’t even try.”
These were only snippets of what could be heard, and they all were due to one single person. Saki Mizumoto. She was the current treasurer of the student council and a knockout. To put it in other words, she was the Japanese incarnation of female beauty, boasting raven hair so lustrous, models would run away ashamed at the sight. In addition to her splendor, she blustered a brilliant mind. Talented as they come, she was the top in her grade… And until just a month prior, she was my stepsister.
Despite being raised in the same household, our upbringings couldn’t be more different. Needless to say, she wasn’t treated like I was. Incidentally, the fact she and I used to be related—though by law—wasn’t known to anyone but the teachers.
Noticing she was around, I scurried off to my classroom so my former sister, now a Madonna, wouldn’t see me.
Time passed and lunch break ended. With the next class approaching, I was determined to not sleep this time. Against my own wishes, however, I found myself slipping away after fighting against the drowsiness, and ended up being called a problem child by the teacher… My classmates obviously saw that.
As soon as it ended, they ambushed me. Him at the vanguard. “Slept well today, huh? Ha-ha-ha!” He said, grabbing my face and pulling my skin. “Look, guys! The Panda lost its black eyes and turned human! He’s human again!”
“Stop!” I tried, uselessly, to get away.
In response to his loud laughter, my classmates gathered around as if at a zoo. However, I was so exhausted by the grueling work I had done, that my resistance was all but futile.
“It’s true! Hah!”
“So this is evolution…”
“Congrats on your promotion to human! Hahaha!”
“And what a promotion! Heh, heh!”
“You’re right, haha! The Creepy Panda has a personality now!”
“You better listen to class tomorrow!”
This wasn’t an unknown sight to me. Usually, they’d use me as some sort of toy every day after classes. However, today we had an unexpected intruder.
“What are you guys doing?”
Saki stood by the entrance of the classroom, donning a student council patch on her shoulder. She must’ve been on patrol. Still, most of my classmates stiffened at the sudden appearance, with the only exception being Matsuyama.
“Nothing. I was just playing with Iwaki-kun because he was sleeping through class, Saki.” He called her by name, letting it linger as if to emphasize it. She, in turn, looked around and sighed. I thought she’d say something about it, but then…
“Is that the truth?” She inquired once more.
“Yes, it is. Hey… Don’t you believe your stepbro?”
Did he just… imply he’s her stepbrother? The crowd around me had the same reaction.
“Did you just say ‘stepbro’? Do you mean, you’re…”
“Oh, my bad! Slipped out,” he wasn’t so sorry.
Acting deliberately, he certainly tried to make it known to everybody. In fact, he was eager to. Still, he kept going.
“My father and Saki’s mother are getting married after we finish our exams. That means she and I will become step-siblings,” he boasted with a puffed chest, followed by the boom of his cronies.
“I didn’t know this was a thing that actually happened!”
“It’s just like in dramas!”
“You guys look so good together!”
Cheers erupted from around me, and without so much as a passing thought, they forgot all about me. Seemed like they were way more interested in his story. Saki continued to explain the situation and ease the crowd.
Sure, I was interested to know how it happened, but there was no time to waste. Sorry, Saki. But you came at a clutch time, I apologized in my mind as I scrambled away, hurrying to my part-time job.
I worked at a construction site. Yeah, it was dangerous work, but the pay was good enough.
“Good work today.”
My shift ended relatively early. Normally, I would continue to another site I worked at, but apparently, work was called off. It’s been a while since I was able to catch proper sleep, but even not having to cover another shift didn’t mean I would. Getting home before 10 PM was but a pipe dream…
Limping homeward, I dragged my tired body. In moments like these, where you find yourself at your lowest and most tired, you ask yourself the obvious things. Why was I doing all of this day in and day out? I worked hard to earn my tuition money, yet I always end up too tired and fall asleep in class. Bit by bit, any money I could save for the future was taken away by bills.
“I… I might just quit…”
Graduating college, getting a job at a nice place—I thought that would be my way to repay my true parents for their kindness, and my mother for her sacrifice. To do so, I figured I would work hard at Matsuyama Academy, one of the best schools in the prefecture, but… If it meant going through this hell every single day, I might as well quit.
As my thoughts spiraled and spiraled, I spotted the ramshackle apartment I was living in. My room was on the second floor, number 203, and it was but a small studio with a loft. The walls outside were a tad better than ruins, and the inside was no different. The only saving grace was that it had a bath; the only thing I looked forward to every day.
I hobbled up the stairs tired as ever, but as I was approaching my front door, someone called out to me.
“Brother…” It was a familiar voice. “It’s been a bit…”
My former sister stood behind me; a figure totally unlike this shoddy and barren place.
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