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~Chapter 8~

 

“Sixty-eight... Sixty-nine... Seventy...”

I counted my push-ups aloud, and I couldn’t help but be pleased with myself. I was following the idea I got from last morning and I found that working out a little in the morning felt surprisingly good. I was also pleasantly surprised about just how fit I was. I was about to reach a hundred push-ups and I wasn’t even short of breath yet. Maybe my body was used to this kind of thing?

With one final heave, I finished the last set and sat up on the floor. Basking in the rush of blood following the exertion I leaned back, supporting my weight on my hands behind me, and let my thoughts wander.

I probably did work out in the past, I concluded. While I wasn’t exactly a body-builder, some closer inspection in front of the mirror (which in no way or shape involved posing) revealed that I had an evenly balanced, toned body. You don’t get one of those without putting work into it.

That made me wonder: just what kind of person was I before my amnesia? Did I train just for the sake of shaping my body, or was there some other reason? Athletics? Some other sport? And if we are at that, what were my hobbies? What kind of movies did I watch? Did I have a favorite band? Did I even listen to music?

I had no answer to any of these questions. During the breaks at school, I tried to ask Joshua about myself a number of times, but his answers were inevitably the same as the first time: I never really talked about myself, so he didn’t know for sure. I tried to covertly inquire from Angie as well, but she seemed to know me even less than Josh. From their point of view, I was always the goofy guy who got Josh into trouble, an image I wasn’t entirely comfortable with.

The more I thought about it though, the less significant the problem seemed. After all, there was a distinct possibility that Leonard Dunning didn’t even exist until I woke up on that confusing, headache-filled morning. Scary, but possible.

I waited for a few more minutes in silence, and once my heart rate returned to normal I stood up and headed for the bathroom. I took a quick shower and returned to my room with a towel still draped over my head. On my computer screen I saw that I still had my last observation-document open, so I walked over and saved it.

This one was a separate file I kept for keeping tabs on the people I knew. It was mostly about the circle of me, Josh and his three love interests, though I also had a few short entries for the nurse and the three stooges. And then, of course, there was Judy...

I involuntarily sighed. Even after a full night’s reflection I still couldn’t decide where I stood with her. She turned out to be a lot less docile than I expected from a placeholder, and I had a hard time reading her through her perma-deadpan, but she also seemed enthusiastic enough and her notes and observations were up to notch... save for that whole flirting business, of course. That one was dead wrong.

I absently scrolled through the document without sitting down before I closed it, revealing a flood of browser tabs and windows of the same site hiding underneath it. Needless to say, I spent most of my night surrounded by those pages. I specifically focused on the genre I suspected I might have been trapped in; the high-school harem-comedy. I mostly did so through the mountains of examples I could find online, as I suspected seeing those would have given me more ideas than reading some generalized description.

Unfortunately, my research left me with about as many questions as I started with, though not necessarily the same ones.

First, there was the issue of Josh. Was he blissfully unaware of the girls’ affections, or was he just keeping his distance in fear of complicating things and possibly hurting them? In other words, did he play the clueless archetype or the indecisive one? Or maybe a combination of the two? At least I didn’t take him for a harem seeker, so the third archetype was out of the question. As for the girls themselves, my research had only reinforced my initial impressions of them.

Angie was the childhood friend (they had a Japanese term for it; it was osana... somethingsomething... I’m not good with foreign languages). They are a staple of the genre, but at the same time they are not the most likely to end up with the protagonist. That spot belongs to the first newcomer, the one who shakes up the status quo. That would be the princess in our case, but I was afraid my early, misguided interventions might have derailed her role. In my defense, once I realized what I had done I went out of my way to get her involved with the guy and repair the damage, but only time will tell whether I succeeded.

The class rep fulfilled the role of the third option, the character who would hopelessly pine after the protagonist without much of a chance and mostly exists to round out the early love triangle. I liked her (hence why I considered her the dark horse), so I was determined to give her a fighting chance anyways.

Finally, the girl who kissed Josh. For now I will call her Mystery Girl X. She appeared sooner than I would have expected, and if I had to venture I would say it was so that she would kick off the plot since the princess didn’t do so already. If my hunch was correct, I would be hearing more about her in the near future. She probably won’t amount much in terms of the love-dodecahedron (or whatever this will end up as); late arrivals almost never win in the relationship-tug-of-war... unless Josh ends up with a harem in the truest sense, that is...

I took a deep breath and rubbed my face with my palms. Remember, they are still people and not just characters in a story; I reminded myself. They make their own choices, and while they might embody certain conventions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ruled by them.

With that thought in mind, I saved my tabs and put the computer into standby mode. I was a good twenty minutes early, but I decided to go to school anyway. I put on my freshly washed and ironed uniform (apparently the ninja zombie maids fixed my clothes up overnight if I put them into the wardrobe in the evening, or at least that was my currently preferred theory), packed my bag, checked my wallet and ultimately left the house a good ten minutes ahead of my usual schedule.

The morning streets were emptier than usual. Apparently placeholders took their own schedule very seriously. At least that’s what I thought until I noticed someone standing by the crossroad. My suspicions about the identity of said person were soon proven to be correct once she noticed me and began walking towards me.

“Good morning,” Judy greeted me in all her deadpan glory.

“Hi,” I replied absent-mindedly, as my attention was drawn to a certain odd detail. “Are those circles under your eyes?”

She promptly rubbed her eyes with the back of her wrist and on closer look I also notice that she had bloodshot eyes.

“I didn’t sleep well.”

“That is an understatement if I’ve ever heard one. Are you going to be all right? Should I call in sick for you?”

She hesitated, but ultimately she shook her head.

“I’m fine.”

“If you say so...” I started walking and she hastily caught up to me. She really didn’t have to. I wasn’t about to run away.

We walked in silence for a few seconds before she yawned loud and wide, startling me for a second. I looked at her again and I could only shake my head at the sight.

“I tell you, you look really bad,” She didn’t give me a reaction, and it made me wonder. “Just why couldn’t you sleep anyway? Did something happen?”

She shook her head again. “Insomnia.”

“Just insomnia? Out of nowhere?” This time she nodded. I was pretty sure there was more to it, but she didn’t seem to want to talk about it and I didn’t want her to clam up on me, so I decided to drop the issue. “All right, let’s go with that then. By the way... were you waiting for me at the crossroad?”

She hesitated for a while before nodding. “I didn’t know where you lived.”

“Wait, you wanted to pick me up in the morning?” She nodded once more. “You really don’t have to do that.”

“I don’t?”

“No, you don’t.”

“… Then are you going to pick me up instead?”

I gave her a wry look, but she didn’t seem to get the hint and just looked at me with sincere inquiry.

“No. No one picks up anyone.”

“I see,” She nodded to herself. “So we will meet at the crossing like today.”

“No, I meant… Uh. You know what? Fine. Let’s do that.”

She gave me a firm nod and I just had to wonder why she was so fixated on this. On second thought though, the situation was actually quite handy. I wanted to discuss some things with her anyways, and having company on my way to school didn’t sound that bad on second thought.

“Say, I haven’t actually told you what you should look out for, have I?” She was thinking for a moment and then shook her head. “Okay, here’s the plan…”

“Wait,” She interrupted me and fished a small book out of her breast pocket. It was about the size of my palm and covered in pink leather (or faux-leather, I didn’t check) with a small pen fastened to it on a short string. She took off the tip from the pen, poked a page a few times and then nodded to herself. “Go on.”

“All right then…” I continued tentatively. She was already taking this way more seriously than I expected. That was a good thing… right…? “So, as I was hinting at yesterday, I have a certain hypothesis about the nature of this world.” She was only looking at me attentively, so I decided to cut the chase and drop her into the deep water in one go. “I believe this world is following the mechanics of a story; a harem comedy, to be precise.”

“Harem-comedy?”

“It’s a genre where a bunch of girls are vying for the affection of a single guy, but it is mostly played for laughs and only gets serious at the end.”

“I see…” She began furiously jotting down words into her notepad, then paused and looked up at me critically, or at least as critically as he poker-face allowed. “So that is why you are flirting with every girl?”

I rolled my eyes in exasperation. “No, and I told you I am not flirting with anyone. I am just being friendly.”

“U-huh.”

‘Why are you looking at me like that!?’ I wanted to yell at her incredulous eyes, but I swallowed it and moved on.

“Listen, the guy at the center of attention is not me but Josh.”

’Josh’?”

“Joshua… Umm… A moment…” I floundered for a second while looking for my phone. “It’s… Ugh… Where is my contact list when I need it?”

“You don’t know your friend’s name?” She asked with the incredulity in her eyes swelling to unseen proportions, which in her case meant ‘barely visible, under the right lighting conditions, if you squinted hard enough’.

I awkwardly cleared my throat and tried to smile.

“Oh, right. I guess I haven’t mentioned yet, but I seem to have an itsy-bitsy case of retrograde amnesia.”

“I see,” She said and just wrote a few more lines into her little book.

That was… a slightly underwhelming reaction. I was about to move on when, just as the whole name-business was about to settle, a brand new question reared its head in my mind.

“Speaking of which… Judy, what’s your name?” She only blinked at me uncomprehendingly in response, so I decided to reiterate. “I mean, your surname. You never really told me.”

I was expecting her to lock up, but instead she just blinked again and her brows furrowed in deep crevices like she was thinking hard about a math problem or something.

“Sennoma,” She said at last.

“Sennoma?” I repeated after her.

“Yes. Yours?”

“Mine?”

She nodded. It was a silly question; shouldn’t she already know that?

“Well, it’s Leonard… Um…” I floundered again under her inscrutable gaze.

“You don’t know your own name?”

“Hey!” I protested loudly. “You had to think for a moment too! I have amnesia, what’s your excuse? … Oh, I know! It’s Dunning. Leonard Dunning.”

“I see…” She nodded to herself for the umpteenth time while jotting down something. “What are the names of the others?”

“I… well, we kind of only call each other by nicknames, so I honestly don’t know,” I grudgingly confessed. “It never came up since I lost my memories.”

“Nicknames?”

“Yes, like how I call the princess 'princess', or the class rep 'class rep'.”

She paused to ponder for a while, which in her case involved tapping the back of her pen to her lips… which frankly looked ridiculous, as she had to place her notebook right under her chin for the string to reach that far. Anyways, after a few seconds she glanced up to me again.

“… Should I have a nickname too?”

“Excuse me?” The question came out of the blue so hard it dazed me for a moment.

“A nickname. I think I should have one too.”

“Errr… Normally you don’t just up and demand a nickname, you know? It kind of has to come about naturally.”

“I see…”

Was she… was she actually disappointed? It was hard to tell from her expressionless face, but she definitely felt crestfallen... which made me feel guilty for some mysterious and thoroughly annoying reason. However, before I could say anything, she suddenly perked up (well, at least by her standards).

“I will call you ‘chief’,” She declared in her usual monotone, though for some reason she still looked fired up.

“Wait a moment! Wasn’t this about you wanting a nickname?!”

“Yes, but I decided I will let it come about naturally, chief.”

I blinked and buried my forehead in my palm.

“Please don’t tell me you are going to stick ‘chief’ to the end of all your sentences…”

“No… Only when the situation demands it.” She paused for a few seconds and then added. “Chief.”

“You did that on purpose!” I borrowed a page from the princess’ handbook and pointed an accusatory finger at my assistant, but she only looked blankly at me… though her eyes once again betrayed the wicked grin she was suppressing… Or maybe I was just seeing things. Either way, I dropped my finger in defeat. It was time for a tactical retreat. Commencing the shift in topics in three, two, one…

“Anyways, we were talking about your part before this whole conversation got hijacked by names, right?” She nodded. “Okay, here’s the deal: I already have a set of notes with the outlines of my observations,” I reached into my bag and handed her a couple of bound pages I printed out last night. “If you give me an e-mail address I will also link you a few sites useful for gathering references and tropes to look out for.”

She carefully took the notes from me and glanced over them.

“Fascinating.”

I almost stumbled when I heard her. This might have been the first time I’ve heard her express overt emotion, and being in awe over the rough outlines of my various hypotheses and their supporting evidence was the last place where I expected it to happen. She flipped over the pages one after the other, and before I knew it she was handing it back to me. I only looked blankly at her extended hand before I remembered that she had a crazy memory. I took my notes back and put them away, though at the same time I couldn’t help but wonder why she was using her own notebook if she could remember everything anyway. Maybe it was for my benefit?

“That’s the gist of it. What I really need is a second viewpoint, so I want you to be around me and observe the same things I do, then at the end of the day we compare notes and see if there were any differences.”

“So I should stand by your side for the whole day.”

“Yes, as much as possible.”

She nodded hard and gave me a look full of determination. “I can do that.”

“Easy there,” I told her with a smile. “Just act natural.”

“I can do that too.”

“… Okay then,” I took half a step away from the unusually fierce assistant, but she didn’t get the hint and just closed the distance anyway. I sighed and was about to start thinking about what we should talk about next when something hit my back.

“Morning!” I was greeted via blunt force trauma by my best (by default) male friend.

“Same to you…” I told him with a pointed look while stretching my back.

Josh laughed merrily but then abruptly fell silent as he noticed Judy. He gave me a look that said ‘Dude, what?’ (Josh’s expressions were rarely eloquent), at which point I felt obliged to introduce her.

“You remember Judy, right?”

“Of course I do,” Josh sounded as if I just insulted him. “She is in our class. You even asked me about her yesterday.”

Now it was my assistant’s turn to look at me, her expression saying ‘What is he talking about?’… Or maybe ‘They have a sale on beef in the supermarket.’…? With her it was a wee bit harder to tell.

“It was after we met on the roof,” I told her, and she nodded in response. Afterwards I returned my attention to Josh. “So you see, we kind of had a chance meeting yesterday.”

“I see, but why are you two walking to school together?”

“We live close to each other,” Judy supplied the answer. For some reason Josh seemed less than satisfied.

“Just like that?”

“Well, there are some other reasons…” I answered tentatively, but then I was suddenly interrupted.

“What’s your surname?” Judy interjected with her notes in hand.

“Excuse me?” Josh looked at her incredulously, but she didn’t seem to care.

“What’s your surname?” She repeated obediently. “The chief can’t remember because of his amnesia.”

“Whoa!” Josh raised his hands in a ‘T’, the universal sign of ‘time out’ and turned to me with a scowl. “Why does she know you have amnesia? Wasn’t that supposed to be secret? And who the hell is this ‘chief’?”

“She is a special case. She is helping me with collecting info to recover my memories. She is an assistant of sorts.” I paused to scratch the side of my jaws. “As for the chief question, that’s me…”

“I thought we were observing people to pffffpfh…” Judy sputtered through my hand hastily clasped over her mouth.

“A moment,” I smiled at Joshua before I dragged her a bit back, leaned closer to her and then whispered directly into her ear.

“He doesn’t know that part. In fact, I want to keep even the amnesia thing a secret from everyone else. If anyone asks, you are helping me with a school project. Got it?”

She nodded and I let go of her with a sigh. That was way too close to my liking.

“What was that?” Josh asked with one of his highly proficient skeptical expressions.

“Nothing, just a little tactical discussion.”

“Don’t you think that was a tiny bit suspicious?”

“Nah, there is nothing suspicious here, right Judy?” I looked over my shoulder at her and found her rubbing her jaw with a grimace. For a moment I almost panicked. “Oh crap, did I hurt you?”

She shook her head. “I just bit my tongue a little.”

“Oh crap, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I mean… crap.”

She looked at me floundering in front of her with her usual expressionless visage and then raised two fingers. I, in turn, looked at her with mild puzzlement.

“Two what? Or is that a victory sign?”

She shook her head again. “I want two extra sandwiches and you are forgiven.”

“Sandwiches? Since when did I agree to pay you in sandwiches? Not to mention, I have none. That lunchbox from yesterday was an exception, not the rule.”

“In that case you are not forgiven,” She stated as matter-of-factly as if we were talking about the weather. “I shall forever and ever hold a grudge against you and plan an elaborate and needlessly complicated revenge against you. It will probably involve sharks.”

“Ugh… You know, it’s hard to tell you are joking when you are saying everything so seriously.” Her usual poker-face somehow seemed more intense than usual, so in the end I gave up. “Fine, fine! How about something from the cafeteria?”

She paused with a thoughtful gleam in her eyes and nodded after about five seconds.

“That should do. You are on probation until then.”

“How gracious of you,” I smiled ruefully as I was turning back to Josh. “Where were we?”

“… Nothing. I don’t even want to know anymore.” With that, and a small shrug, Josh started walking again. I rushed after him and Judy was sticking to me like my own shadow. I turned my head to the side and whispered to her:

“You see what you have done? You totally put him on guard! I told you to act normal!”

“I was.”

“Oh, right… Then from now on act like how it would be normal for someone else.”

"I see." She jotted this down, and then looked up to me again. "How do I do that?"

"Ugh." I grimaced at the question, and then with a defeated expression I told her, "Just follow my lead and improvise."

“Got it.”

I involuntarily sighed and lined up with Josh while wearing a renewed smile on my face.

“So, how did yesterday’s date go?” A single look at his rapidly darkening face was enough to tell the answer. “That bad?”

“Worse!” Josh exclaimed in righteous indignation. “First Angie ate my entire allowance for the month in the form of a giant parfait I am pretty sure couldn’t even fit in her frame. Then we went on window-shopping and the prin… I mean, Elly insisted on going into a jewelry store and gawk at wedding rings of all things! Then that girl showed up again…”

“Mystery Girl X?” My friend gave me a pointed look, so I hastily explained myself. “The white-haired one?”

“Who else? She tried to drag me away while the others weren’t looking, but then Elly noticed her and tackled her out of the shop!”

“Wait, this was still in the jewelry store?”

“Nah, it happened afterwards. It was a phone shop; they were looking at straps or something… Anyways, she just did a flying tackle on the girl and by the time Angie and I got out to help she ran away.”

“The princess?”

“No, the white-haired girl! Then on top of that the prin… Elly, sprained an ankle…” I nearly exclaimed ‘Again?’, but held it down. “…so I had to take her home on my back, and of course Angie was nagging me all the way about inappropriate touching like I had any time to even think about such things, and then once we arrived at Elly’s mansion, her butler scolded me, like any of it was my fault!”

I waited a few seconds for Joshua to regain his wind.

“… So it was an unmitigated disaster?”

“Yes!” He yelled out so loud even some of the placeholders on the street looked at us.

“… Do you feel better about it now that you got it off your chest?”

“I… Huh...” With a puzzled look in his eyes Josh raised a single eyebrow. “I actually do.”

“Good.” I patted him on the shoulder with a smile and he tentatively returned the gesture. The smile part, I mean. There was no reason for him to pat me on the back after all. “No more triple dates for a while, I suppose?”

“It wasn’t a triple-date, we were just hanging out,” He insisted with a sour look in his eyes. “But no, no more of those for a while.”

“And what if Mystery Girl X shows up again when you are on your way home?”

Josh gave me a wry look. “I think I will be able to deal with a pretty girl chasing after me, thank you very much. I will ask her name, make small talk about the weather, school life… maybe invite her over to a coffee or something…”

I held his gaze for a while and it took me a lot of effort to keep my face still.

“… You are going to run away, aren’t you?”

Josh broke out into a grin and gestured with his hand. “Like the wind!”

We held it in for a second or two before we both laughed out loud, but even while doing so there was something else on my mind. I waited for him to stop chuckling before I brought it up.

“Hey Josh, maybe there is a third option.”

“Oh?” He looked surprisingly intrigued, though also a little on guard. “I’m listening, but I warn you: If you tell me it’s another triple-hangout but with the other two girls, I will punch you.”

“Nah, maybe tomorrow.” He gave me a flat look, which I promptly disregarded. “I actually wanted to go out and buy a new phone. You mentioned you were at a phone-shop yesterday…”

“… and so you want me to take you there?”

“Yup.”

Josh didn’t hesitate for long.

“Fine by me. We haven’t hung out for nearly a week; I was just about to miss it.”

I smiled at the comment and couldn’t help but notice that my assistant was busy making notes at our side. I leaned over and, using my height advantage, peeked over her head. To my surprise, there were barely any words on the page, though those were written in the same impeccable penmanship as her other notes. She looked up at me and for a moment I swear I saw a tiny flush on her cheeks, but she averted her face so fast I couldn’t be sure.

“It’s hard to write while walking,” She stated with a distinct sense of sulkiness to her voice.

“You shouldn’t write while walking at all. It’s dangerous. You are going to…”

Just then, as per the unwritten laws of ironic timing, we reached an intersection with a high curb, which she magnificently missed. With practiced girl-catching reflexes (it’s weird that I even needed to have such a skill) I managed to grab her shoulders before she stumbled and fell flat on her face. In fact I grabbed her so firmly that I left her feet dangling on the other side of the curb.

She blinked at me, then glanced down at her airborne feet before returning her eyes to me. “Point taken,” She stated in her customary monotone.

I rolled my eyes and put her down. “You need to be more careful. It’s important to make notes, but you can do them later, there is no sense in endangering yourself. What if a car was coming down the road just now?” I scolded her gently while straightening her uniform on her shoulders where I crumpled them. “Safety first.” She only nodded to my words and after a sigh I let her go and we followed after Josh. We didn’t have to go far.

To my surprise I found my friend standing still and directing a pair of scrutinizing eyes at me from under knit eyebrows.

“What?” I asked, but he just tilted her head with a small grimace.

“What did you say, what was your relationship again?”

I raised a single brow before glancing over to Judy.

“I told you, she is my assistant.”

“Aren’t you a little too unreserved for just that?” Seeing my confused expression Josh pointed at Judy. “People don’t just casually touch each other like that in public. You didn’t even hesitate.”

“We do that too.” I pointed at him, but he only shook his head.

“That’s guy stuff. She is a girl.”

“How does that make a difference?” I was not just confrontational there; I really didn’t see the difference.

“It just is!” Came the heated reply. “There are different rules for these kinds of things!”

Was Josh a bit of a prude, I wondered? Anyways, I shrugged my shoulders.

“Well, it was an emergency. Also, it wasn’t anything inappropriate, so I don’t see any problem with it.” I glanced at Judy again. “You?”

She shook her head. “No. I get paid extra for it.”

“Whoa!” I stopped with my hand raised. “Hold on a minute! You are not getting paid extra for that.”

“I won’t?”

“Nope. You get the standard rate.”

“What is the standard rate?”

I paused. “Now that you mention it, we never actually figured out the finances, have we?”

“I want three sandwiches,” She proposed. “Plus dental.”

“… You seriously want to get paid in sandwiches?” She nodded. “Fine, but only normal ones. And no super-sizing, it’s bad for your health.”

Judy raised a hand. I nodded to her to indicate she can speak.

“Chief, I want a raise.”

“… What? You have been only working for a day!”

“But in that day I was a model worker. I should get promoted, but I am willing to compromise.”

“Absolutely not! We have rules at this business, young lady!”

Judy tried to fold her arms, but her notebook was in the way, so she put it away first before she crossed them in front of her chest.

“In that case, if our demands are not met, we will strike.”

’We?’

She gave me an uncharacteristically enthusiastic nod. “I unionized.”

“When?”

“Just now.”

I lightly stomped my feet and finally hung my head.

“Argh, fine. Three sandwiches and a soft drink, but not a french fry more!”

“Sir, you have a deal.”

We theatrically shook hands and then I turned back to Josh.

“Oh, sorry. Business negotiations can creep up on you like that. What were we talking about?”

Josh looked at me with a slew of fourteen different flavors of bafflement sprinkled with a generous dose of flabbergastedness (I don’t think that’s a word, but it should be). By the end he just threw his hands into the air and groaned aloud.

“Fine, I give up! Sorry for asking! Geez!”

With that, and some stomping, he began walking up the hill leading to the school gate ahead of us. I fell back to Judy’s side with a smile and whispered:

“Great improvisation.”

“Thank you,” She answered as stoically as ever. “I would prefer coke.”

That threw me off for a moment.

“Wait, you were serious back there?”

Instead of answering she looked at me and… was that… Yes, I could actually see the corners of her mouth twitch upwards in a cute little smile. It was barely there, but from her that might as well have been a giant, ear-to-ear grin. By the time I got out of my surprise-induced stupor she also skipped ahead to Josh’s side and I could only sigh.

“One day that girl is going to be the end of me…” I grumbled as I picked up the pace as well, ready to begin yet another decidedly non-average school day.

 

~Part 2~

 

The rest of my morning commute was fairly uneventful. Once we reached the classroom Angie, after a cursory greeting that didn’t even take note of Judy, grabbed hold of Josh and dragged him away before either of us could say a thing. It was probably related to yesterday’s events, I surmised, so it had little to do with me. As such I headed for my desk, sat down, prepared my books... and finally turned to the motionless girl imitating a somewhat boringly positioned wax statue by my desk.

“Say, shouldn’t you go to your seat?”

My assistant looked at me as dispassionately as ever.

“I’m supposed to watch you.”

“Yes, but you can do that from over there too, can’t you?”

“... Yes.”

Contrary to her words she stayed still and kept watching me. I held back the urge, but after a few seconds I still sighed in exasperation.

“So?”

She raised an open palm.

“I’m still thinking.”

“About what?”

“A good excuse to stay around.”

“Don’t just admit you are looking for excuses!” I exclaimed wearily. “Not to mention, you are bothering the others.”

She looked around with an expression obviously asking ‘What others?’. She had a point, as much as I didn’t want to admit it. We were fairly early as is, which meant there were only a few placeholders idling around. Josh and Angie were missing due to already explained reasons, the class rep wasn’t at her desk either (though I could see her bag on it, so maybe she was just on an errand), and as for the princess... she was fashionably late, as usual.

Just as I was thinking about her, I noticed a tuft of golden hair fluttering by the entrance. I focused my attention there and after a short while the rest of the princess’ head came into view as she peeked in. I sighed and pointed at her as I turned to my assistant.

“Her.”

Judy followed my finger to the confused blonde (in fact she might as well have had a giant red question mark over her head at this point) and then looked back to me.

“She isn’t here, I cannot bother her.”

“She is over there because of you. She is shy and doesn’t know what to make of you.”

“Really?”

We looked over again and at this point the princess was getting to about three question marks, so I decided to end her self-imposed exile and waved for her to come over. She seemed hesitant at first, but then she glared at me (or maybe it was Judy?), straightened herself and strut into the classroom with the dignity of royalty... A peevish, petulant and slightly awkward royalty, but still...

“Good morning, princess!” I greeted her cheerfully to try and ease her up a little, but she just kept frowning at me.

“Who is that?” She pointed at my assistant and it was my turn to frown.

“Don’t be rude,” I scolded her and, to my surprise, she actually seemed to take it to heart for a second or two. I waited for her to settle down before I continued.

“She is my assistant, Judy-bot. She is the cutting edge in artificial note-taking technology. Isn’t that right?”

I glanced a Judy expectantly and she nodded in return.

“Beep-beep?”

“Wait, no, that’s wrong,” I interrupted her. “That’s something a forties robot would say! You are cutting edge! You’re supposed to have a better voice modulator!”

She looked at me blankly for a few seconds. Then she puckered her lips and let out a series of dull, hissing sounds before she turned her disappointed eyes down.

“I can’t whistle...”

“Now, now...” I patted her on the back of her hand. “I’m sure it will get implemented in the next patch.”

I faced the princess with a smile, and I found her so befuddled that it took me all my self-discipline not to laugh out loud.

“Are you serious?”

“... No,” The two of us answered in unison and the princess’ face immediately flushed crimson.

“Then what the heck was that all about?!”

“You seemed down, so I thought I try to cheer you up with some levity?” I ventured a half-truth.

“Oh...” My words apparently stole some of the wind from the princess’ sails and her outrage deflated like a faulty balloon. Judy took this opportunity to close the gap.

“I am Judy Sennoma. We already met.”

“We have?”

“On the day you transferred.”

The princess pondered for a moment and then shook her head ruefully.

“Sorry, I cannot remember. So many people said hi, it all kind of blends together.” So she cannot tell placeholders apart? Both Judy and I exhaled in unison as we reached for our respective notes, then we both froze mid-motion as we noticed what the other was doing. The princess, on the other hand, didn’t seem to take note (no pun intended). “Anyways, you still didn’t answer my question!”

“Which one?

“About what she is doing here!”

“... We already answered that,” Judy interjected.

“Yeah, I told you she is my assistant.”

“But what does that even mean?!”

“She is helping me with research,” I answered calmly. “It’s an extracurricular paper.”

“Oh... The one you asked the nurse about?”

“The one and the same,” I smiled at her reassuringly.

“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place? Idiot.” With that, the princess sat down and entered pouting mode. As she did so, I couldn’t help but notice that she was favoring one of her legs.

“How’s your ankle?”

She looked back to me with a startle.

“What... do you mean?”

“I’ve heard it from Josh that yesterday you sprained it again.”

The girl blushed, this time obviously not from anger. It was a welcome sign; I was getting bored with her being angry at me all the time anyways.

“I thought it healed, but I guess it will need a few more days...”

“You should really take better care of yourself,” I chided her gently. “You are not supposed to tackle people, especially when you are injured.”

“W-Why do you even care?!”

I sighed. Fury-free princess was nice while it lasted...

“Because you are clumsy and I’m worried that you hurt yourself again.”

“Stop doing that!”

“Stop doing what?”

“Saying things like that!”

“... Listen, I told you this already, but you can’t just tell people not to care about you anymore.”

The princess’ eyes opened wide and she let out one of her cutesy squeaks before she turned around and hid her head under her arms. I sighed. Now we were back to this again. Two steps forwards, one step back...

“Chief, are you done flirting?” Judy demonstrated her horrible sense of timing at my side.

“I told you I am not flirting,” I stated emphatically.

“It sure looked like that from where I was standing.”

“Then you were standing at the wrong place. Why not try another vantage point, like that one?”

Judy looked over to the place I was pointing.

“That’s my desk. I cannot hear what you are saying from that far.”

“Precisely.”

She nodded after a moment. “Very well, I will come up with my own dialog then.”

“No, wait! That sounds even worse!” I dropped my shoulders and poked the still princess in the back to get her attention. “Listen, don’t take what she says too seriously, she is just fixated on this for some reason. I really wasn’t even trying to flirt.”

Suddenly the princess snapped up and pointed a silent but incredibly cutting glare at me. For a few seconds I tried to meet her gaze, but when I finally gave up and tried to raise my voice she abruptly yelled out, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!!! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!!!”, and with that she fell over her desk again and covered her head with her hands.

I blinked once, twice and then gave a withering glance to my assistant.

“You see what you have done?” I pointed at the still slightly trembling princess. She looked over, shrugged her shoulders and walked away. “Hey, don’t just walk away at your own leisure!”

She didn’t listen to me, instead she went to her desk and took a seat. I was still groaning in defeat and massaging my forehead when I heard the creaking of a chair beside me. I looked over and nearly fell out of mine when I saw Josh. The guy was not only disheveled, he also had the print of a slender hand clearly outlined on his cheek in red. I almost had to get a double-take before I managed to speak.

“And just what happened to you?”

He looked at me with tired eyes and exhaled in a pained groan.

“Angie asked me for help. She and Ammy had to carry some handouts to the teacher’s office and they wanted a boy to do the heavy lifting.”

“What does that have to do with the handprint?”

“I’m getting there... So, we were carrying these giant stacks of photocopying paper down the stairs when there was a breeze. It sent a few papers from the top flying, so Ammy tried to catch them, but she slipped and fell on me...”

“Ooooh...” I nodded to myself sagely. “I can see where this is going...”

“So...” Josh continued wearily. “I tried to break her fall and I might have... accidentally...”

“You cupped a feel?”

“No! I mean... maybe I touched it a little, but it was a total accident!”

“I hear you. So, what happened next? Did the class rep slap you?”

“That’s the weirdest part!” Josh exclaimed in mock despair. “It was Angie! And then she ran away and I had to gather all the fallen papers!”

“That’s cold.”

“Yeah... Girls are weird, man.”

I glanced over at the princess on the front and my assistant at the rear, and for the first time, I was inclined to wholeheartedly agree with my friend.

“They are Josh. They sure are...”

 

~Part 3~

 

“Why are you so excited?” Joshua looked at me sideways. The mark on his face had already faded considerably by the end of first period and by this point it was barely visible. I glanced back at him between two swings of my arms and smiled.

“Why shouldn’t I be? I missed the last PE class and my body is full of excess energy to burn off.”

“If you say so...” He sounded decidedly unconvinced. I didn’t really care; I was too busy limbering up my joints. Then he asked, “This isn’t about the girls’ uniforms, right?”

Now it was my turn to look at him sideways while doing the splits.

“Pardon?” For some reason Josh was only giving me a ‘How are you doing that?’ look, so I repeated myself a bit louder. “I said, pardon? What was that about the girls?”

“... Nothing.” He dismissed me and began his own warm-up routine. Now that was just a dick move, piquing my interest like that.

I tried not to be bothered by it as I did a few one-handed push-ups, alternating between the arms after every fifth push, and I felt nice and limber in no time. Since the weather was still nice, we were having the physical education class outside, on the sports field behind the main building. The class was co-ed and, unsurprisingly enough, it was also taught by Mrs. Applebottom. Nevertheless, we were still separated into two groups. The guys, which of course included me, were preparing at one end of the field while the girls did so at the other, and Joshua’s comment involuntarily drew my attention to them.

They were... nothing special, really. I mean, they were generally attractive teenage girls doing warm-up exercises, but it wasn’t like it was a special sight (unless if it was one’s thing, of course; I’m not judging). It wasn’t the clothes either. I was half-expecting them to wear those silly form-fitting tight shorts they inexplicably call ‘bloomers’, but they weren’t. In fact their getup was fairly sensible, with almost knee-long sports shorts and thick white t-shirts. There was nothing really titillating about them.

“A-ha!” Josh exclaimed at my side.

“Hm?” I looked over to him and he was smiling triumphantly. “What?”

“You were looking at the girls!”

“... Yeah, so? I wanted to figure out what you were talking about.”

“U-huh,” Josh patted me on the back with a skeptical smile as he walked by, leaving me none the wiser of just what the heck he was getting at.

The confusing start aside the rest of the class went swimmingly. After some further warm-up mandated by the teacher, the class continued their separated but equal activities. We were playing basketball, which was a ton of fun. I had a natural height advantage over practically everyone, and since I was brimming with energy, I kept dashing around the field and scoring points left and right.

To my surprise the only guy in the class who could keep up with me was Josh. We were on opposing teams, and over time the match slowly devolved into a duel just between the two of us. I was bigger and stronger, plus I proved to be pretty nimble on my feet, but Josh was just a little faster and had better control over the ball. Not only that, he was better at pacing himself, and while I soon lost the initial rush I felt over being able to move freely, he was able to give an even performance from beginning to end. It was a tough match, but in the end my team, and by that I mean me in particular, came out victorious, though only by two points. Most importantly, it was a blast.

As for the girls, most of them were gawkers, cheering for one side or the other. Angie, in particular, was constantly shouting advice to Josh (most of which were actually good ones, so they must have made up during one of the breaks when I wasn’t looking). The class rep seemed to prefer the underdog, always cheering for the side that didn’t have the ball at the moment... though in her case ‘cheering’ might have been too strong a word. Let’s go with ‘reserved encouragement’ instead. Now the princess, on the other hand, was loud enough to make up for two and then some. Unfortunately for me she wasn’t as much cheering for Joshua as rioting against me. In a way I had to admire the way she managed to come up with insults that somehow didn’t sound insulting (just how did calling me a ‘handsome lecher’ even relate to my basketball skills anyway?), but she was still distracting enough that I lost a couple of points because of her.

As for my assistant, she mostly stayed silent, kept writing her notes, and whenever I looked at her she made it a policy to limp-wristedly wave a tiny *Go Team ______!* flag. Don’t ask me where she got it, I had no idea either.

As for why the girls had time to cheer, it was mostly due to the fact that they were playing tennis, and there were only two courts for that. Some amused themselves by playing with the rackets and some spare balls, but whenever it wasn’t their turn they generally just idled around the basketball field. On the other hand, when it was their turn they immediately stopped cheering, even the core girls, and rushed to play themselves.

As far as I could gather from the snippets of placeholder dialog I overheard during the game, girls’ tennis was actually getting popular in the country, which I had no idea about, but it made me stop and think for a moment: What country? Hell, I kept forgetting to check the geography of this world, so I still had no idea where the hell I actually was!

Then I had an idea: Why not ask Judy? She should be able to tell me, and then some other details too, stuff that asking Josh about would have been awkward and possibly data-contaminating. In the worst case scenario, where she had no idea either, I could still ask her to remind me to check so that I wouldn’t keep forgetting it.

With that in mind, I stood up from the bench where I dropped myself after the match was over just as Josh was returning from a quick errand, carrying a pair of soft drinks (for which I had to pay, of course). He tossed me one of the cans and it felt almost icy against my sweaty palm.

“Thanks.”

“You are welcome.”

He raised his can and we toasted before drinking them in one go. Once emptied I handed the can back to him.

“Could you throw this away for me? I have something to take care of before I forget it again.”

“Sure,” He took the can, but his eyes were fixed on me.

“Have you seen my assistant?”

“Judy?” His eyes suddenly narrowed in suspicion. “Last time I saw her she was sitting on the grass by the tennis court. Why?”

“Because what I need to take care of involves her.”

“Ooooooh...” Josh smiled knowingly and I rolled my eyes.

“Get your brain out of the gutter, please.”

“Hey there pot, this is kettle. He says you are black.”

“Ha. Ha. I would love to listen to your stellar wit, but I have to run.”

I walked past him and he kept waving after me with the same smile. Seriously, why is he convinced that I was some sort of pervert... “Hm... Maybe I used to be...?” I contemplated as I was about to reach the tennis court. It took me about half a second to find Judy in the crowd, which surprised even me. It was probably because of how much I have interacted with her in such a short time, but to me she stuck out of the uniformity of the other placeholders almost as much as any one of Joshua’s girls.

I found her leaning on the ball-catching fence around the court in the company of a few other girls. I walked up to her without hesitation and somehow my presence seemed to scatter the other students. I didn’t mind it though; the fewer people around us, the lower the chance they might overhear something.

She didn’t notice me right away. In fact, she was so wrapped up in watching the match that I had to poke her shoulder a bit for her to look my way.

“Hi. Whatcha watching?”

She wordlessly pointed to the field with a ‘duh’ in her eyes, and I had to whistle in amazement. It was Angie and the princess playing, and they gave one heck of a performance. Now, I am the first to admit that I knew about as much about tennis as I did about quantum mechanics, but even I could see they were on a professional level. There were times I could barely see more than a yellow blur of the ball.

Just as I looked over the princess returned a high ball with a sharp smack that landed just a hair’s breadth outside Angie’s reach. My assistant immediately raised her little triangular flag in the familiar unenthusiastic wave. So she was doing that for everyone, huh? In a way that was a relief.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, pointing at her hand.

“From the storage room,” She answered matter-of-factly while pointing at the small white building at the other end of the field with her flag. “They have a lot of them, though most of them already had sports teams written on them. ‘Team Eduard’ and ‘Team Jackson’, I believe.”

“Huh... Those are weird names for a team.”

“Maybe they are for individuals? Like a team’s star player.”

“That’s really rude to the rest of the team.”

“Yeah.”

We both agreed and then fell silent, watching the match between Angie and the princess unfold. The princess was in the lead, and she looked like she was in her element on the field, but Angie wasn’t half bad either. In fact, she looked really fired up and was dishing out fastballs as hard as she got them.

I was just thinking about whether they might have been actual professionals when I noticed the princess stumbling. It was only for a moment, but after that I paid closer attention to her and noticed that she indeed was still favoring one of her legs. I sighed and formed my hands around my mouth in a funnel as she was about to serve.

“Take it easy, princess! You are going to hurt your ankle again!”

She twitched and looked around frantically. She finally found me and waved her racket in my direction in a show of almost comical outrage.

“I don’t need your warnings! I hate you!”

“The two things are in no ways related! Just be careful, okay?”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

I lowered my hands and shrugged. “She sure is an irritable girl,” I muttered, and Judy only nodded at my side. In the meantime the princess served and it prompted another heated duel on the court. “They are pretty good.”

“Angeline is on the tennis team. Eleanor was apparently playing in tournaments on the mainland.” Judy explained to me, though she didn’t actually take her eyes off the match.

“Really? That explains a lot...” As I was saying that, Judy’s last word finally sunk in and I remembered why I came over in the first place. I clicked my tongue over the near-miss and turned to her to hit the iron while it was hot. “Hey, Judy? Can I ask you a quick question?.”

She turned away from the match to face me, but all of a sudden her legs buckled and she fell backwards, away from the fence.

“Whoa!” I immediately reached out and caught her by the waist before she could completely topple over. Her legs were still slack, so I lowered her and I had her sit down. As I touched her through her clothes I also realized that she was hot. She wasn’t burning up or anything, but she definitely had a high temperature, and as I took a closer look I quickly realized that she was pale even beyond her usual complexion.

“I’m... all right...” She said between pained breaths. Her words felt extremely jarring, as they were somehow still monotonous even in this situation.

“Like hell you are!” I completely ignored her protests and put my hand on her forehead. “Just as I thought, you do have a fever. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“... I’m not sick… just tired.”

“No, you are both.”

It was around this time that Angie came to the fence and began tiptoeing around like she could see more that way.

“What happened?” Her voice sounded more curious than worried, but then she noticed the girl lying in front of me and her face tensed up.

I looked up at her and shrugged my shoulders. “According to her, it’s just lack of sleep. I’ll take her to the infirmary anyways.” I turned back to Judy. “Can you walk?”

She nodded feebly and tried to rise to her feet, but she was so wobbly it was painful to watch. In the end I lent her a shoulder, though she had some difficulty holding on due to the difference in height. Just then I noticed that there was a disturbance in the loose ring of placeholders idling around us, and a moment later a familiar face elbowed his way to our side.

“Is there a problem?” Joshua asked as he finally arrived by our side. “I saw her collapse, did something happen?”

“Hopefully nothing serious. I’m taking her to the nurse. Where’s the teacher?” Josh looked around and gave me an unknowing shrug. “Fine, it’s not like they would be a lot of help. Please tell her where we went once she actually shows up.”

I didn’t even wait for him to nod before I began all but dragging Judy along.

 

~Part 4~

 

“O-ho-ho. Kids these days just don’t know their own limits…”

I tapped my feet against the floor in irritation

“Hey doc, could we skip the pleasantries and the annoying laugh and get to the point where you actually examine her?”

“I’m all right,” Judy insisted, but I vetoed her protest by keeping her sitting on the examination table with just one finger on her shoulder.

“O-ho-ho. If what the young lady says is true then it’s just a case of mild exhaustion due to lack of sleep triggered by sudden physical exertion during your physical education class. Some sleep and drinking lots of fluids should take care of that in a jiffy! ... O-ho-ho.”

“... Now you are only doing the laugh to annoy me, aren’t you?”

“O-ho-ho. Kids these days are so short-tempered.”

I rolled my eyes and faced my sick assistant. To my relief, she recovered some of her color, though the rings under her eyes were still as dark as before. Seeing that I turned back to the nurse.

“Hey doc, can she sleep here?”

“O-ho-ho. Most certainly, that is why we have beds, contrary to what some might believe.”

“... Why are you looking at me like that?” The old man continued to smile mysteriously. “I told you, I am not taking girls here for that.”

“For what?” Judy asked, her eyes betraying just a hint of suspicion.

“Long story, I will tell you once you get better. It involved the princess' hurt ankle.”

“Okay then.” Thankfully she seemed satisfied for now and didn’t press the issue. I suppressed an irritated sigh and was just about to continue with my previous line of thought when the door to the nurse’s office opened with a loud bang.

Startled, I looked up to find myself face to face with Angie, still wearing her PE uniform and heaving like a furnace.

“How is she?!” I could only blink for a moment at the loud question and it took me an embarrassingly long time to regain my composure.

“She is fine, I think.”

She immediately eased up upon hearing my words.

“Thank goodness, I was worried sick for poor whatshername...”

I gave the girl in the doorway a critical look. “You don’t even know her name.”

“Small details.” She smiled as she walked in. “She is your friend, and a friend’s friend is a friend!”

“That’s... haaahh... right... haaahh...” Josh heaved as he stumbled into the office as well. Great, now the entire worrywart-squad was here.

“You really didn’t need to run here without changing, you know...” I told them wearily.

“Nonsense, a friend’s friend’s friend was sick, of course we would hurry!”

“That was one friend too many,” Judy stated in her typical deadpan, but Angie only waved her hand dismissively.

“Semantics!”

“So...” Josh started speaking between heaves. “What was... the... problem...?”

I looked at him and could only shake my head. Was he dashing the whole distance? Anyways, I answered:

“She just needs sleep, something your presence isn’t helping.”

“Oh, don’t be rude!” Angie scolded me with a tight smile. “Showing camaraderie to our friends’ friends is really important when they are ill.”

“... You still don’t know her name, do you?”

“Why are you so hung up on the small details?!”

All of a sudden Judy tugged on my shirt, drawing my attention away from the angry pout of the childhood friend at the front.

“Yes?”

“It’s lunch break,” She stated dryly, and it took me a moment to gather what she was getting at.

“Right, I owe you some sandwiches, don’t I?” She nodded in response. “Later. You have to sleep first.”

“I cannot sleep on an empty stomach.”

I gave up with a sharp sigh and dropped my shoulders.

“Fine, I will get you something, but you are staying here. What would you like?”

She visibly pondered for a moment with a finger on her lips before answering.

“Something with lots of meat.”

“I recommend the meat-lover’s double-decker! It has fried chicken-breast and slices of bacon between two beef patties. You cannot get any meatier than that!” Joshua interrupted, completely disregarding my glare. “What? You are loaded, you can afford it.”

“It’s not about that!” I started to object, but then Angie inserted herself between the two of us.

“Nah-ah! That’s the wrong attitude! You are supposed to follow a sick friend’s wishes if you can, no matter the cost!”

“I tell you, something like that is...”

“Do you say that you do not care about the well-being of our poor, sick friend enough to get her the food she desires? And to say so in front of poor whatsherface!”

“... Just ask her name, will you?” I sighed and turned to Judy, only to find Joshua confidentially whispering to her. Just when did he get behind me anyways? I could only hear the last words of their conversation, but my fears were confirmed when she turned to me with a hungry gleam in her eyes.

“I want a Wagyu-beef sandwich,” She stated about as emphatically as her monotone allowed. I glared at Joshua, then directed a slightly less pointed look at her before I crossed my arms in front of my chest.

“What the heck is that?”

“Wagyu-beef?” Joshua grinned at me with an enthusiasm that showed that he had been fishing for the question. “It is a kind of cow meat from Japan. It is well known for its exquisite taste, beautifully marbled appearance and high unsaturated fat content. They make it by massaging the cows and feeding them sake and beer and it’s…”

“Wait, stop!” I raised my hands to hold off the torrent of trivia. “Did you actually do research on this?!” He nodded enthusiastically. “Let me guess, it was so that you can mooch off me.” He nodded again, this time a bit more hesitantly. I frowned at him, then at Judy, who was almost drooling at the description (a sight especially unusual on her face) and I let out a frustrated groan.

“No. You are exhausted, so you need something light and easy to digest. You are not getting any of these hyper-fancy sandwiches, and that’s final.”

“Stingy,” Angie grumbled at my side.

“Yes, stingy,” Judy echoed, completing the united front of accusing eyes arrayed against me.

I dropped my shoulders with a sigh, grabbed hold of the two culinary corrupters and began driving them out of the office. They protested as hard as one would expect them in this situation, but Angie was what, half my size? As for Josh, he was still heaving for some reason and felt as weak as a kitten. In the end I managed to push them back to the door without much effort.

“Stop interfering and let her rest,” I told them firmly between two pushes. “Not to mention, you need to get changed or nobody will eat anything!”

Saying so I ever so gently threw them out of the premises and then dusted my hands with a small flair to declare my superior people-pushing skills. I was ready to return to Judy when I noticed that there was another person in the corridor.

“And what about you?” I asked sardonically as I turned to the princess sticking to the wall near the door. She was red as a tomato and refused to meet my eyes.

“I-I-It’s not like I came here to check on you two or anything!” She sputtered at me in a feeble display of accusative outrage, and I couldn’t stop myself from chuckling at her.

“No, I’m sure you didn’t.”

“I’m serious!”

“Sure you are.”

“I didn’t say anything funny, stop laughing!”

“Actually, you did.”

The princess stomped her feet (the uninjured one, so she was at least learning) and growled at me with eyes more at home on a Viking warrior than a teenage girl.

“I hate you!” She declared from the top of her lungs and immediately took off, nearly toppling Josh and Angie in the process. My friend watched her go and then looked at me critically, one eyebrow arched.

“Do you have a problem with her or something?”

It took me a moment to formulate an answer to such a blatantly off-key question.

“No. What gave you that idea?”

“Well, you ‘are’ always messing with her, and she apparently hates you...”

“Nah, that’s just the tsundere talking. I bet she is prickly with you too.”

Josh pondered for a moment before giving me a weak nod. “But then why do you always provoke her?”

“You’ve got it all wrong,” Angie interjected. “Leo only does that because he secretly likes her.”

I gave Angie a flat look.

“That is just as wrong in the opposite direction,” I told her firmly. “True, I do not dislike her, but I mostly just find her hilarious, that’s all.”

“Uh-huh,” Angie nodded knowingly, though her mischievous smile said she either didn’t believe me or that she found her own interpretation more amusing.

I sighed wearily and began shooing the two away once more. “Just go already, will you? I want to check on my assistant one more time and then I will meet you at the cafeteria.”

Following my insistent pushing, the two finally gave in and walked away. I made sure they were out of sight before I rubbed my face and returned to the infirmary, only to find the nurse jovially stoking his moustache by the door.

“O-ho-ho. Oh, to be young again...”

“What?”

“O-ho-ho. Watching the affairs of youngsters like yourself just makes me so nostalgic.” He leaned closer to me and whispered, “If you ever need advice in the matters of the heart, you can always ask me for advice. You might not think so, but I was quite popular at your age too...” He paused for a wink and then added, “I can also help with the other kind of problems of the heart too. I know a good cardiologist.”

After a few flat blinks I proceeded to continue rubbing my face and completely deny the very existence of the annoying old man in front of me. I wordlessly walked around him and only stopped in my tracks when I noticed Judy was already lying down on one of the beds and was covered under a blanket, with her back to me.

“Oh...” I whispered as I drew a little closer to check on her.

“I’m already asleep. Go away,” She stated flatly, though she did sound at least a little sulky.

“... Then how are you talking to me?”

“This is a pre-recorded message.”

“... ... Okay then. If you are asleep then I suppose you don’t need your food after all.”

My assistant visibly twitched under the blanket.

“This pre-recorded message also predicts that I will only nap for a few minutes, so I will have time to eat lunch.”

I silently rolled my eyes just for myself and turned around, circled around the still jovially chuckling nurse and left the office without saying anything else. Once out on the corridor, I allowed myself a few more sighs before I headed for the dressing room, just in time for the long chime of the lunch break to sound.

I decided I better hurry up. I had to change, get my wallet, head for the cafeteria and buy food both for myself and Judy and then get back to the nurse’s in time so we could actually eat. I shook my head in disappointment. I hoped my life would start making more sense as my research progressed, but instead each day was more of a pain in the neck than the last. That said...

“I wonder if they even have those beef sandwiches...”

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Egathentale

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RandeKnight @RandeKnight ago

I was about to give it up due to all the annoying girls, but Judy-bot has sucked me in.

Too soon for 'Judy is best girl'?

argusthecat @argusthecat ago

It's weird that our protagonist keeps falling into the trope traps he should e able to spot, more and more as he spends more time in this world.

    Author

    Egathentale @Egathentale ago

    Honestly, it's a thin line to walk. Leo is already hypercompetent to a degree, and I feel that if I made him able to see more of the "trope traps", as you put it, it would just make him another boring, infallible protagonist, something I really want to avoid.

    In my humble opinion, a good protagonist must have foibles and blind spots, and they have to make at least some mistakes for them to be human, and thus relatable.

    RandeKnight @RandeKnight ago

    No, it's common for people to be really aware of other people and their faults, but fail to recognise the same faults in themselves.

    I love it when he belatedly realizes that he's fallen into the 'comedy sidekick' role and can't seem to fully get out of it. That's one of the reasons he needed Judy-bot so that an outside person can tell him about all the tropes he's filling unknowingly.

MayContainYuri @MayContainYuri ago

Explain to me how you managed to make a book so hilarious that I can't contain my laughter.

Thanks for the awesome book!

Hououin Kyouma @Hououin Kyouma ago

“'U-huh.'” I think it's usually uh-huh.(U-huh appears twice.) “'What did you say, what was your relationship again?'” I think ", what" can be removed to make the sentence sound better. “'In was Angie![...]'" It*. "[...] thought she had some difficulty holding on due to the difference in height." though*. Does a high school cafeteria serve Wagyu beef? :thinkingface:

Ekmo @Ekmo ago

...He totally forgot to ask about the country he's in, AGAIN, eh?

 

Also:

"Maybe I my body"

HIS BODY IS GOING ALL XIANXIA YOUNG MASTER ON HIM! OH NOES!

Oninomad @Oninomad ago

I'm going to be completely honest, my interest in this story waned quickly, like after chapter 3 it'd take me all day to finish a chapter because it seems good but didn't click with me so I'd wander off to read something else but I'd come back because the writing and premise are solid. Judy turned it all around, the dynamic she creates, the interplay of characters and the story potential her development creates finally drew me into the story.

oliverwashere @oliverwashere ago

typos:

more ideas that reading

than

once I realized what I have done

had

hopelessly pin after

pine

It was silly question

was a silly

thought for some reason

though

Wait moment!

Wait a moment!

thought at the same time

though

so I want to you be

want you to be

in the form a giant parfait

form of a

left her feet tangling

dangling

What if I car was

a

he just tilted her head

his

I stated empathically

emphatically

In was Angie!

It

their getup was fairy sensible

fairly

thought only by two points.

though

even related to my basketball skills

relate

It was probably because how much

because of how

thought she had some difficulty

though

stated about as empathically

emphatically

thought she did sound

though

darkpiplumon @darkpiplumon ago

A little late to the party, but Sennoma, Judy's alleged surname means "nameless" in esperanto. Remember, all names appear to have a meaning

Yakosh @Yakosh ago

"Now, I am the first to admit that I knew about as much about tennis as I did about quantum mechanics." This line was kinda funny to me because I personally know quite a bit more about quantum mechanics than tennis.