Translated and Edited by: ynlucca.
It was the summer of my freshman year.
Upon enrolling in the prestigious and private Hakuou high school, I reunited with a boy I’ve known since childhood.
His name was Kuzuo Kuzuhara.
Honestly, I was a little scared at first. After growing up and enrolling in high school, his eyes had become dead-as-fish, and he had an unapproachable vibe. His outward appearance and the atmosphere around him had changed drastically, though… He was the same as ever inside.
Kuzuhara had always been an unapologetically kind person, helping those in need without even batting an eye. I was frankly happy to see him again.
But I had my concerns.
He’d always be approached by fishy adults on his way to and from school. He had almost no friends as well – the only one I had noticed was a blond delinquent with piercings.
Kuzuhara also slept very poorly. He’d frequently doze off mid-classes, and dark circles donned his eyes almost permanently.
Since we were… childhood friends, I knew quite well his family’s situation.
When he was in sixth grade, the company his parents ran went bankrupt. With a huge pile of debts stacking on top of them, they sold their mansion, which was a neighbor to ours, and moved to a small apartment nearby.
Not too long after that, his mother abandoned them, and his father began living a life of debauchery.
His family is extremely poor, and like a slow-burning flame, they suffered for years.
Yui, his sister, also told me the reason why he was dead-tired all the time. He’d started a part-time job, recklessly working day in day out.
He’s a serious man at heart and is the sole provider for his family, taking the place of his loose father.
And the spiral of poverty is not easily broken.
However, fortunately for Kuzuhara, he was accepted into one of the most prestigious high schools of all Japan – Hakuou. Graduating there meant he had a bright future ahead of him.
So that’s why–
“–Kuzuhara-kun, let’s study together?”
I had mustered the courage to ask him that at one point.
He was visibly displeased. His eyebrows furrowed as if to say “It’s too troublesome”, just like he’s always done when we were in elementary school. That face was kinda funny, to be honest.
“Well, one month from now there’ll be a national standardized test at the Suntetsu Prep School. Would you like to take it with me?”
I have a theory. Human willpower is weak, while the environment’s selective force is strong – It’s difficult to achieve results by the sheer willpower to study hard. Only by putting yourself in an environment where you have no choice but to study and where studying is the norm, can you accomplish the arduous task of studying.
In other words, the first thing that needs change is the environment. Progress will certainly follow thereafter.
“No, those mock exams are pretty expensive, right? My family can’t afford it.”
“That’s not a problem. There’s a summer recruitment program going on right now, and Hakuou students can take the mock exam for free.”
“… For… free.”
One of Kuzuhara’s few weaknesses. Free things.
Perhaps due to the long time he’s been living in poverty he’s very susceptible to the word “free”. Well, I’ve done my research.
“… Free… It’s free…”
After having his hard-as-steel willpower shaken, I decide to deal another hit.
“In addition, all examinees will receive a mechanical pencil and an eraser, for free.”
“… I mean, mock tests are quite nice actually…”
He poked a small eraser in his pencil case, nodding cockily.
One month later, I went to the Suntetsu prep school located in front of the station.
Coincidentally, Kuzuhara sat in front of me… He doesn’t seem used to exams. Will he be okay? I’m worried he might forget something mid-test, or mismatch the answers with the mark sheet.
As I stole glances at him, I noticed his exam registration sheet… His name was marked as Asopasomaso. An Anpanman reference…
I almost burst out laughing. I’ve only heard about these rumors, people taking these kinds of exams with strange nicknames. Never expected that to happen in front of me, though… Okay then.
My purpose here is to drag Kuzuhara-kun out to this examination battlefield. As soon as he arrived here, my goal was achieved.
The test sheets and the mark sheets were handed out soon after. The first high school freshman national standardized test had begun.
First subject: English. Accents, grammar, short excerpts, and long texts. This test had everything.
After solving the questions, I glanced at the watch sitting atop the table and noticed something in the corner of my eye…
Kuzuhara-kun is already asleep. He plopped himself over his desk and went ghost-silent. Just thirty minutes before the end of the test, too. Maybe he’d run out of energy along the way.
A chime resounded shortly afterward, signaling the end of the test with its tune.
“–The test is over. Please put down your pencils.”
Then we followed the instructions of the examiner, giving our mark sheets to the person in front, from the back to the front of the class. I then poked the back of my sleepy seatmate.
“Kuzuhara-kun, your English test is over. Please hand over these mark sheets along with yours to the front.”
He gently rubbed his brows, passing along the mark sheets.
“You look tired… Did you not sleep well last night?”
“Haah… Well, I’ve been working late recently, so yeah, I’m a little sleep-deprived.”
“A part-time job, huh… You work until when?”
“I think… A little after seven.”
“That’s… All night long, isn’t it?”
Kuzuhara-kun managed to participate in the exams, even though he’d pulled an all-nighter of hard work. Like a rower that adamantly never stops rowing the boat… No wonder he slept halfway into the test.
A part-time job. Huh… It can’t be helped then. That was crucial for him since he had to provide for his family, so I can’t really say anything in regards to that.
Maybe the teacher knew about Kuzuhara-kun’s living conditions, and that’s why he didn’t say anything about it… Maybe what I’ve done was unwarranted.
After leaving class, I apologized for imposing my selfish good intentions onto him, and for taking away his scarce, though important time.
He just turned around to me and smiled. “Don’t worry about it, I was just about to run out of erasers.”
He’s as kind as ever – Blunt, a bit twisted, not honest with himself… But, deep inside, he was a warm person.
A month later, the results came in.
“… Oh, I’ve done it!!”
Out of 600 points, I managed to score 537. This time around, there were a lot of difficult and strange questions, so I scored a little lower than last time, but… I was ranked 5th place nationwide. My personal record.
This should make my father happy…
I headed for our house’s library, heart thumping with anticipation.
“Oh… This is crap.”
My father sighed, looking at me with contempt.
“Tohka, as a Shirayuki you must always be the victor, and what does that mean? That means being number one… Number. One. Second or fifth place, the hundredth or hell, even last place doesn’t matter. It’s all the same trash. If you’re not number one, you’re not worth a dime.”
In a fit of rage, he hurled a glass at my feet. As the shattering echoed through the library, several shards flew in my direction, hitting my feet.
“Why are you so useless, huh?! Do you really have my blood coursing through your veins? At all?!“
“… I’m… Sorry…”
“Listen to me. All this bullshit you’re doing is completely useless! You’ve gained nothing, not a single penny! There’s no point in living if you can’t get results!” He pointed at the top of the test ranking sheet. ”And if you want to be recognized as a member of the Shirayuki family, take a look at Nagisa Jinguji and show. Some damn. Results!”
I’ve heard that name so many times I despise it.
He’s the leading candidate for being the Jinguji Conglomerate’s next president. A monster who’s always been ranked number one nationwide for the junior high, and the high school mock exams.
He’s not a fake genius like me. He’s the real deal.
“Hm… That Jinguji is in second place? If that’s the case, first place goes to… Oh. A joke nickname. I hate it.” He threw the ranking sheet and left.
… A joke nickname?
There was one person that came to mind, but no… That’s impossible.
I fearfully checked the top of the leaderboard, and I was stunned.
“… No… Way…”
Out of 600 contestants, number one was… Asopasomaso.
Kuzuhara-kun was a genius of the highest caliber.
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