She finally gives me a hint, but it isn't related to the answer at all. I'll just end up at the same conclusion as before - a literary club.

No, wait... Just wait a minute and calm down. Cool it. Be cool, Hikigaya Hachiman.

She said 'there aren't any other club members apart from me,' and yet the club was still functioning.

In other words, did that mean there are phantom members? Then the twist in the story would be that the phantom members really are phantoms. In the very end, my romantic comedy would develop between a beautiful phantom girl and me.

"An occult research society!"

"I told you it was a club..."

"O-occult research club!"

"Wrong...That's ridiculous. Ghosts don't exist."

She didn't say something cute like, 'B-because you know, they really don't exist! I'm not saying that because I'm scared or something!' Instead, she used all her power to look at me with the most scornful eyes, the kind of eyes that said, 'Idiots should die.'

"I give up. I don't have a clue."

As if I'd figure it out with just that... You should've made it simpler. Something like, 'In your house, there is a flood above but blazing heat below. Why?' Wouldn't that be because your house is actually on fire? At any rate, this isn't a guessing game but a riddle.

"Hikigaya-kun. How many years has it been since you've talked to a girl?"

She went and asked such a sudden and irrelevant question to shatter my line of reasoning. Some nerve this girl has.

I'm pretty confident in my ability to retain information. I can remember the kind of trivial conversations that most people would forget, to the point where the girls in my class treated me like a stalker. According to my superior hippocampus, the last time I talked to a girl was two years ago in June.

Girl: 'It's pretty hot today, huh?'

Me: 'More like humid, don't you think?'

Girl: 'What?......Oh...Um...yeah, I guess'


It went something like that... Well, except that she was actually talking to the girl sitting diagonally behind me. Humans more often remember unpleasant memories. When I recall that incident in the middle of the night, I still get the urge to pull the covers over my head and scream.

Just as I was reliving that horrendous incident, Yukinoshita made a loud proclamation.

"Those that possess much are motivated by charity to give to those who do not. People call this volunteer work. Providing development assistance to developing countries, organizing soup-runs for the homeless, allowing an unpopular boy the opportunity to talk to a girl... Extending a helping hand to those in need. That is what this club does."

At some point, Yukinoshita had stood up. Naturally, she was looking down at me. "Welcome to the service club. I invite you."

She said it straight to my face without sounding welcoming at all. That made me a little teary-eyed. She just kept rubbing salt onto my wounds, depressing me even further.

"Hiratsuka-sensei says it is the duty of the superior to save those who lead a pitiable existence. I will make sure that I accomplish what she requested of me and fulfill this responsibility. I will rectify your problem, so show some gratitude."

Perhaps she's alluding to 'noblesse oblige,' a French phrase for the moral obligation of the noble to display honorable and generous conduct. Yukinoshita standing there with her arms folded certainly spelled nobility. In fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to call her noble, considering her grades and outward appearance.

"This bitch..."

But I must say no more. I ought to wield all the words I have at my disposal to explain that I am not one to be pitied.

"...You know, I'm actually fairly superior, if I may say so myself. I ranked third in the Japanese Proficiency exam! I'm pretty good-looking! If you disregard the fact that I don't have a girlfriend or any friends, I'm basically top of the line."

"I'm sure I heard you mention a fatal flaw towards the end, but... In a way, it's amazing you can say all that so confidently. You're a weirdo. I'm already creeped out."

"Shut up. I don't want to hear that from a weird girl like you."

She really is weird... Or so the rumors say. I don't recall ever talking to someone, so I must have overheard. They say that Yukinoshita is very different from the girl she appears to be.

She must be a so-called cool beauty. Right now she wore a cold smile. Or, to use a better descriptive word, a sadistic smile.

"Hm... Based on my observations, it seems that your loneliness is a result of your corrupt mind and cynical temperament," Yukinoshita concluded eagerly. "I will first find a place for you in society. Given that you're so pitiable, I just can't leave you alone. Did you know? Finding a place to belong will save you from the tragic fate of burning up to produce a star."

"'The Nighthawk's Star', right? That's pretty nerdy." If I wasn't the culturally aware prodigy who placed third in the Japanese Proficiency exam, I wouldn't have gotten that reference. I liked it, so I remembered it well. It was so tragic that I actually cried. It's the kind of story that is well liked by everyone.

Yukinoshita's eyes widened in surprise as I spoke. "...I'm astonished. I never imagined that a below average high school boy would read the works of Miyazawa Kenji."

"Did you just belittle me?"

"I'm sorry; that may have been a bit of an exaggeration. Just short of average is probably the correct thing to say."

"Don't you mean a bit too much of an exaggeration?! Didn't you hear me say I ranked third in the grade?!"

"It's pathetic to be full of yourself just because you ranked third once. It's also pathetic to consider the results of a one-subject examination as indicative of a sharp intellect."

This girl... There is a limit to how rude one can be. For her to be treating a guy she just met as belonging to an inferior race, I must only have as much knowledge as the Prince of all Saiyans.

"That said, 'The Nighthawk's Star' suits you perfectly. Take, for example, the Nighthawk's physical appearance."

"Are you saying that my face is disfigured...?"

"That's not what I'm trying to say. I'm just saying that sometimes the truth hurts..."

"Aren't you practically saying the same thing?!"

At this point, Yukinoshita took on a serious expression as she rested her hand on my shoulder. "You should not look away from the truth. Look into a mirror to see reality."

"Hey, just wait a minute. My features are quite handsome, if I may say so myself, enough to have my sister tell me, 'Onii-chan, if only you didn't talk at all...' That's virtually the same as saying the only thing good about me is my looks."

As expected of my sister. She has a good eye... Unlike the girls in this school!

Yukinoshita placed a hand on her temple as though she had a headache. "Are you an idiot? Beauty is not something that can be decided about oneself subjectively. In other words, as we are the only two people in this room, my objective opinion is the only correct opinion."

"D-despite being confusing, somehow your argument makes sense..."

"To start with, eyes such as yours, which emulate those of a rotten fish, will invariably leave a bad impression. I'm criticizing your unattractive facial expression, not your facial features. It is proof of your considerably twisted nature."

As she talked, Yukinoshita's face was certainly cute, but on the inside, it was different. The look in her eyes was comparable to that of a criminal. She and I both lack any cutesy charm.

...That aside, do my eyes really look like those of a fish? If I was a girl, I could interpret it as a plus. 'What, do I really look like the Little Mermaid?'

Just as I was busy distracting myself with my musings, Yukinoshita flipped her hair over her shoulder and said, as if in triumph, "The point is, being self-confident in superficial aspects such as grades or physical appearance is unappealing. Not to mention those rotten eyes of yours."

"Enough with the eyes already!"

"Yes, I suppose even if I say any more than this, it won't change anything."

"You can start by apologizing to my parents."

I could feel my face twitch in anticipation of her response. It soon appeared that even Yukinoshita's expression became despondent as she reflected on her words.

"I certainly said some horrible things. It must be painful for your parents."

"Please just stop," I entreated, on the verge of getting teary-eyed. "It's my fault. No, it's my face's fault." Finally, Yukinoshita put an end to her steely words. I quickly realized that it was useless saying anything. And as I became immersed in a vision of myself sitting at the foot of Buddha's tree, meditating with the aim to attain enlightenment, Yukinoshita continued conversation.

"Well then, that completes this conversation simulation. If you can converse with a girl like me, then you should be able to talk to just about anybody." Smoothing her hair with her right hand, Yukinoshita's expression brimmed with a sense of accomplishment. Then she smiled pleasantly. "Now you have this spectacular memory to hold in your heart that will keep you going even when you're alone."

"Isn't that solution just wishful thinking on your part?"

"But if that's so, then it wouldn't fulfill Sensei's request... I have to approach it on an elementary level. Like, for example, having you stop coming to school."

"That isn't a solution. That's just like covering up a stench."

"Ah, so you are aware of the fact that you're a nuisance?"

"Is that why I receive these foul glares and people avoid me?" I attempted to respond with a play on words, but to no avail.

"...So annoying."

After I laughed at my somewhat witty remark, Yukinoshita glared at me as if to say 'Why are you even alive?' Like I said, her eyes were scary.

Then a silence descended upon the room, silent enough to make my ears hurt. Actually, they probably hurt probably because I let Yukinoshita say whatever she wanted.

However, a violent clatter soon shattered that silence as someone violently pulled open the door.

"Yukinoshita. I'm coming in."

"I told you to knock..." Yukinoshita sighed.

"Sorry, sorry. Don't mind me, just continue as you were. I just thought I'd stop by and see how you're doing." Hiratsuka-sensei gave Yukinoshita a generous smile, leaning against the classroom wall. She then looked back and forth between us.

"It's nice that you two are getting along with each other."

What made you draw that conclusion?

"Hikigaya, keep up the good work and focus on straightening out that cynical temperament and curing those rotten eyes of yours. I'll be heading back now. Just make sure you head home before the end of the school day."

"P-please just wait a second!" I grabbed sensei's hand in an attempt to stop her. In that instant-

"Ow! Owwwww! I give up! I give up!"

She had me in an armlock. After I frantically tapped out and admitted defeat, she finally let me go.

"Oh. It was just you, Hikigaya. Don't just carelessly stand behind me... I'll instinctively unleash my powerful techniques on you."

"What are you, Golgo? Besides, aren't you the careless one? Don't do that so suddenly!"

"Aren't you demanding? ...Anyway, what's the problem?"

"The problem is you... What do you mean by 'straighten out'? Doesn't that make me sound like a juvenile delinquent? Just what the hell is this all about?"

Hiratsuka-sensei rubbed her chin thoughtfully for a moment.

"Didn't Yukinoshita explain it to you? Basically, the main aim of this club is to help people solve their problems by encouraging self-improvement. I guide students who I believe require self-improvement to this club. You can think of it as the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Or perhaps Revolutionary Girl Utena, if that makes it easier to understand."

"It made it even more difficult to understand and just illustrates how old you are."

"What did you just say?"

"...Nothing at all," I murmured, retreating from her terribly frosty expression.

Hiratsuka-sensei sighed as she observed me.

"Yukinoshita. It appears that you're having a hard time straightening him out."

"That's just because he himself isn't aware of the fact that he has a problem," Yukinoshita replied coldly to Sensei's troubled expression.

...This feeling... I can't stand to be here for another second. It's like the time my parents found my porn stash in sixth grade and kept lecturing me about it.

No, probably not that bad.

"Um... You've been saying nonsensical stuff about straightening me out and improvement and reformation and revolutionary girls and whatnot for a while now, but I never really asked for any of it..."

Hiratsuka-sensei cocked her head slightly in confusion. "Hm?"

"...What are you saying? If you don't change, you'll be at a level that'll make living in society difficult." Yukinoshita looked at me as if her argument was self-evident, like 'War is fruitless. Lay down your arms.' "It appears that your humanity is severely inferior to that of others. Don't you want to change that part of yourself?"

"That's not it... I don't want people to keep harping on about making me change, telling me who I am. Generally, to change yourself at the word of another would mean that you wouldn't be yourself anymore right? 'It is said that the self is...'"

"'The self is such that it cannot be viewed by oneself objectively.'"

My attempt at sounding impressive by ripping a saying off Descartes was intercepted by Yukinoshita... Even though I was about to say something pretty good.

"You're just running away from the problem. If you don't change, you won't move forward." Yukinoshita said, cutting me down with her harsh words. Why has she been so hostile and snappy the whole time? Are her parents crabs or something?

"What's wrong with running away? Don't keep telling me to change; you're just repeating yourself. Do you face the sun and say, 'The westering sun is too intense and everybody's bothered by it, so please set in the east from now on'?"

"That's a fallacy. Please don't stray from the issue at hand. The sun does not move - it is the Earth that moves. Don't you know the heliocentric theory?"

"That was just a figure of speech! If that was a fallacy, then what you're saying is also a fallacy. If I changed, I'd be changing to run away from the problem. So why are you telling me not to run away? If I really wasn't running away from the problem, I'd stay right where I am. Why can't you just accept my past and the way am I now?"

"...That wouldn't solve any problems or save anybody." As Yukinoshita spoke the word 'save', her expression was that of bloodcurdling anger. I inadvertently flinched. I was ready to apologize and blurt out a 'S-s-s-s-sorry!' if need be. Talking about salvation wasn't usually something a mere high school student would do. I just couldn't understand what it was that was driving her this far.

"Calm down, you two." Hiratsuka-sensei's calm tone eased what was becoming, or rather, what had started as an unpleasant atmosphere. Even a glance at her grinning face showed her anticipation and delight. "Things have become interesting. I love developments like these. It's like JUMP. Nice, right?"

Somehow, Sensei was the only one who was ecstatic. She was a woman with a young boy's eyes. "Since before ancient times, when two collide in the name of justice, it is customary in shounen manga to battle it out in an all or nothing match."

"But we're not in a shounen manga..." Nobody paid attention to me.

As Sensei let out a resounding laugh, she turned to us and made a loud announcement.

"Well then, let's do it this way. From now on, I will guide troubled lambs to this club where they will be under your supervision. The both of you will try and help them as you see fit. And it would be good if you prove your moral righteousness to each other to the best of your ability. Who can help these people?! Gundam Fight. Ready, Go!!"

"I refuse," Yukinoshita declared, bluntly rejecting her proposition. Her eyes harbored the coldness she had directed at me only a little while ago. Well, I agreed with her, so I nodded in assent. G Gundam isn't even from our generation.

Sensei saw our unwillingness and bit her nails in frustration.

"Tch, maybe a Robattle would have been easier to understand..."

"That's not the problem..."

Games like 'Medabots' are too geeky...

"Sensei. Please stop acting childishly hyperactive. It is unbecoming of someone your age and it's awfully indecent." Yukinoshita hurled ice-cold sharp words like they were icicles. It wasn't clear if sensei had calmed down or not, but in an instant sensei's face was colored pink in embarrassment. She cleared her throat so as to cover up her faux pas.

"I-in any case! The only thing that will prove one's rectitude is their actions! If I said you must have a match, then you will have a match. Neither of you have the right to refuse."

"That's too tyrannical..."

She's just like a kid! The only part of her that's adult like is her chest. Well, if it's something as stupid as a battle, then I'd lose for fun. Hah. Still, getting a star for my efforts wouldn't be so bad... It's convenient and overly extravagant to say there's meaning in participating in something like this.

Nonetheless, the overly detestable woman-child with a mind full of shounen manga was still spouting absurd remarks.

"To make you fight with your utmost desperate efforts, I'll provide a little motivation. How about, the winner can command the loser to do anything they wish?"

"Absolutely anything?!"

By anything, it must mean 'that' right? It can't be anything but 'that' anything... Gulp.

I suddenly heard the sound of a chair being pulled back. Yukinoshita had moved back two meters, hugging her arms to herself as she took a defensive position.

"Competing against this boy makes me feel that my chastity is in peril. I refuse."

"Prejudice! It's not as if all second year high school boys only think about obscene stuff!" There are a lot of other things like, uh... I'm thinking! peace? Stuff like that? Those topics are it for me.

"So even Yukinoshita Yukino is fearful of something... Are you that afraid you'll lose?" Hiratsuka said with a malicious face. Yukinoshita seemed a little offended at that.

"...Fine. Though I'm a little annoyed to give in to such cheap provocation, I accept. While we're at it, I'll let you deal with that boy, also."

Woah, Yukinoshita's a sore loser. How do I know that, you ask? Well, she basically said, 'I can see right through your intentions' but she still gave in. I mean, what does she mean by 'deal with'? You're scary. Just stop it already.

Hiratsuka-sensei ignored Yukinoshita's gaze, grinning broadly.

"Then it's decided."

"Hey, you haven't asked me if I accept..."

"There was no point in asking you, not with that grin on your face."

I see...

"I will decide the winner of this match. I'll decide on my own judgment, of course, but don't worry about that... Just act appropriately, act properly, and do your best." Hiratsuka-sensei left the room with those words, leaving only a very cross Yukinoshita and I behind.

There's nothing to talk about, of course. A sound like that of a broken radio resounded in that silent, motionless room, a sign that a chime was about to ring. Indeed, after a synthesized chime had sounded, Yukinoshita suddenly closed her book. The chime must indicate the end of the school day.

With that as a signal, Yukinoshita quickly set about getting her things together to go home. After she had carefully put her book in her bag, she stood up. Then, she gave me a fleeting glance. And with just that and not a word, she left. Without even a 'see you tomorrow' or a 'goodbye', she had briskly walked out. I didn't even get the chance to call her out on her exceedingly cold reception.

And there I was, all alone, the only one left in that room. Was today an unlucky day or something? I got called to the teacher's lounge, was forced to join a mysterious club, was verbally abused by a girl whose good looks are wasted on the only cute part of her - her face... I've sustained some considerably extensive damage.

Isn't talking to a girl supposed to make you more excited? My heart only sank in despair.

If it's going to be like this, then talking to stuffed animals everyday would be a lot better. They don't talk back and they always smile brightly at you. Why wasn't I born a hardcore masochist?

And on top of that, why am I forced to compete in such a pointless match? With Yukinoshita as my opponent, I don't think I can win. I wonder if something like a match would generally be considered part of club activities. When I think of club activities, something like what those girl bands do on those DVDs would be just right.

With things continuing as they are now, will we ever be able to get along? Not likely. She'd probably command me in that unconcerned manner by saying something like, 'Your breath smells, so could you stop breathing for at least three hours?'

As I expected, youth is full of nothing but lies.

After losing a baseball tournament during their third year, they shed tears to make themselves seem beautiful. After failing their college entrance exam, they insist that their failure is simply a life experience. After failing to confess to the person they like, they withdraw into self-deceit and feign ignorance, saying that they were thinking about that person's happiness.

And then there's this: anticipating a romantic comedy with an unsociable, irritating so-called tsundere girl that is never going to happen. My essay does not require any amendments. As I expected; youth is a pretense, a deceptive word, full of fraud.


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