Tokino Ichiyama loved friendly girls.
Girls who were closer than friends. Girls who were in love with their best friend. Girls who were dating. There was something unbearably cute about girls in love with other girls, and Tokino loved to watch them. She knew it was an odd hobby, but when she came to Kokonotsuboshi Girls' Academy of Commerce she found indulging in it to betoo tempting to resist. Shirojo, as most people called it, was a hotbed of friendliness. And the most promising pair was one she spied at the club introductions: the president and vice president of the quiz club.
But when she went to join the quiz club, she got a surprise: not only was she not the only first year joining, but she wasn’t even the only first year joining because of the existing members.
That was when she met Chiharu Hase.
Chiharu was just as big a fan of friendly girls as Tokino, which came as a huge surprise. Tokino had never met another fan before. Once they’d figured each other out- well, once Chiharu had figured Tokino out and confronted her right after the first meeting- they’d become comrades, and quickly enough, friends.
Over the course of their first year, Tokino learned a lot about Chiharu. She was bubbly, cheerful, and barely able to contain herself when she got excited. She gestured a lot when she got passionate about something. She was knowledgeable about a lot of odds things, and knew a lot about cooking, but she wasn’t very good scholastically- she’d excitedly told Tokino about how the quiz club had improved her studying, but she still never scored very high in the exams. Her reflexes were stunning (the one thing they consistently beat their senpais at) and unlike Tokino, her endurance was good as well. She wasn’t as competitive as Tokino, and liked straightforward love stories more than tragic complex webs of intrigue. She liked rice more than bread.
And she was braver than Tokino.
The two senpais they’d admired had gone to nationals, and when Natsuki had hugged Rika in joy, it had finally signalled a shift in their relationship. Rika had been thrown completely off, and for the first time, Chiharu and Tokino found it hard to just sit and watch.
Chiharu had been the one to suggest they butt in to help, and Chiharu was the one who had the courage to admit that they were fangirls. Tokino had felt the same, but at every stage it was Chiharu who had the courage to take action.
Between the two of them, they’d succeeded in giving Rika the chance to confess. And of course Natsuki had accepted her feelings.
The problem was what came after.
When they were all walking back to the clubroom together, Natsuki had started the conversation that would change Tokino’s life.
“So… you two love girls who’re friendly with each other, right?” she’d asked, overhearing them gleefully talking about her and Rika’s “love aura.”
“Well, yeah.” Tokino had said, crossing her arms sagely.
“We’re happy just watching.” Chiharu had chimed in, as the two nodded and made affirmative noises.
“Do you get all excited over your own friendliness too?” Natsuki had asked.
It was like she’d broken a spell. They’d sputtered out some denials, but Rika confirmed it and as soon as they’d looked at each other it all clicked in an instant. The close relationship they’d shared was cast an entirely new light.
Tokino, still reeling, had managed something about it being “better than being unfriendly” and Chiharu had agreed. Tokino had said they should keep it up, but once she’d gotten home, the enormity of everything had crashed down on her.
She was in love with Chiharu.
She’d never even considered it. At no point did it ever cross her mind that she and Chiharu might be “friendly”. They were just comrades, fellow lovers of the same thing.
But now that the veil was lifted, she couldn’t unrealize it.
It wasn’t fair. It had been so easy when they were encouraging Rika. Natsuki was so clearly in love with her as well, and all she had to do was confess. But Chiharu… when Natsuki had brought up how friendly they were, Chiharu had responded first. “It’s not like that.” And then, when Tokino came to the club next, barely able to keep her nerve, Chiharu had acted completely normal. As if nothing had happened. If she loved Tokino back, wouldn’t she be just as on edge as her?
Tokino wasn’t that bad at keeping a secret, and she was happy being just a friend and a comrade to Chiharu. She could have kept it under wraps and waited to see what Chiharu’s feelings were, if it wasn’t for one obstacle.
Tokino wasn’t sure exactly when it had started, but Chiharu had gotten into the habit of bumping shoulders with her. As a gesture of friendship, or encouragement, or just affection.
As much as they were friendly, that one sign of physical affection was the step too far for Tokino’s heart. And since it was something Chiharu did to reassure Tokino, of course she ended up doing it more when she noticed Tokino’s distress.
To be honest, it was sort of ruining Tokino’s fun. In much the same way as she hadn’t been able to enjoy the drama of Rika realizing her feelings when it was her friend and senpai, it was becoming increasingly hard to look at friendly girls and smile rather than nod solemnly at the one she suspected was in love and think “I know your pain, my friend.”
Chiharu noticed, of course.
“Did your preferences change recently?” she asked over pancakes one day, as they spent another afternoon together studying.
“E-eh?” Tokino stuttered, flushing. Was this it? Was Chiharu asking if she’d crossed over the invisible line into loving girls rather than just loving girls loving girls?
“You used to be way too into pining stuff, but recently you’ve been totally against it!” Chiharu accused, pointing her fork at her dramatically, then hastily drawing it back to her mouth as the chunk of food on it threatened to fall onto her textbook.
“Ahh… you know, after the stuff with Rika-senpai, it’s like, I don’t really wanna see people sad like that anymore.” Tokino lied, not meeting Chiharu’s eyes.
“Yeah, I toootally get that.” Chiharu said, flopping down on her books and grabbing her head. “It’s like, every time I see a couple like them I’m just like ‘confess already’, you know? Ugh, it’s no fun if you can’t enjoy the anticipation, right?!”
“Totally.” Tokino said, easily slipping into their hobby as a distraction. “I’ve been really into those puppy love types lately. You know, when they’re like-”
“-Basically already dating but neither of them understands that it’s romantic? Oh, that’s always so cute!” Chiharu squealed in glee, then her face fell when she looked down at her textbook. “Ughhhh, we haven’t been studying any of this stuff in quiz club.” she whined, flipping through the pages. “Tokino, save me…”
“Stop distracting us from studying, then.” Tokino said with a sternness she couldn’t quite feel earnestly. To tell the truth, Chiharu’s whining was kind of cute, but if she spoiled her now she’d never end up studying at all.
Chiharu pulled a face. “Fine.” she grumbled, picking up her pencil. “But I still think you’re weird lately.”
Tokino ignored that comment. On that day, she’d had the luxury of just brushing past it, and soon Chiharu had been too occupied with math to question it, but...
It would only be a matter of time until Chiharu noticed. For now, Tokino was protected by, as she’d said to their senpais, not being “on each other’s radars”. It would take a while for Chiharu to even make the connection of thinking about Tokino’s behaviour as that of a friendly girl. But once she did, she’d figure out what was going on instantly- they’d both seen enough friendly girls to tell what Tokino was feeling.
There was a temptation to just wait for that to happen. To let Chiharu be the one who confronted her again, instead of making any moves on her own. But she knew that was cowardly. She couldn’t just sit back and passively hope that Chiharu would do everything for her. She couldn’t keep leaving everything to her. It wasn’t fair. She had to properly confess for herself.
But she was afraid.
That was what it really came down to. She was scared that Chiharu wouldn’t feel the same. Tokino had never had a friend that meant as much to her as Chiharu, or someone she could share her passion with. What if Chiharu treated her differently? What if their relationship was made awkward?
So Tokino, coward that she was, continued to say nothing and hide.
“BZZZZ! And that’s ten for us.” Natsuki shouted, raising her and Rika’s entwined hands in triumph.
Tokino sighed as Chiharu let out a groan and banged her forehead against the table. They were always a little behind their two senpais, but they’d been improving. Having the more experienced team suddenly crush them this badly again was disheartening.
Well, not that Tokino didn’t know why. She’d missed way too many questions, and her sync with Chiharu was totally off- which meant that they couldn’t take advantage of Chiharu’s quick reflexes the way they normally did, with Tokino tapping her with an elbow if she knew the answer. It was a tactic that they’d come up with only recently, and already Tokino was faltering with it.
“You two have been kind of off recently.” Rika said, frowning. “Is something wrong? Are you nervous about the school festival event?”
“Ahaha, a little…” Tokino lied. Tokino hadn’t really worried much about the quiz show they were putting on for the school festival, with what she had on her mind, but it was as good an excuse as any.
Rika’s frown deepened. “We really need this to go well to attract some new members, since we’re leaving next year… maybe Natsuki could teach you her technique to stay calm.”
“N-no, I’ll be okay.” Tokino said hastily. Rika was right. She needed to focus. Besides, she was tired of losing so much.
The problem was, she now had a dilemma. It was only a week until the school festival started. Should she confess before, and risk her and Chiharu being awkward around each other for the event? Or confess after, and try to perform on stage with her coordination off like this?
Really, she should confess right away, so that if things got awkward there’d be time to change plans.
Needless to say, she didn’t.
And now, a week later, she found herself backstage, silently panicking.
Things had only gotten worse since that day. Chiharu, believing Tokino’s quick lie about being nervous, had gone all out to try to help, encouraging her and putting in extra study time. It made Tokino’s heart swell, but the more nice things Chiharu did, the more times she bumped her shoulder into Tokino and gave her a reassuring smile, the more Tokino’s feelings burned to escape and the more afraid she was of losing their current friendly relationship.
And now here was the culmination. As they stood backstage, watching the previous act wind down, Tokino desperately tried to focus on stage fright as the less distracting emotion right now.
Chiharu reached down and squeezed her hand. “Let’s get ‘em!” she whispered dramatically, and Tokino’s heart nearly stopped. Focus on the act. She repeated to herself. Just focus on the act.
“Mmm.” she said, trying to ignore the warm of Chiharu’s hand, still clinging to hers. “Let’s beat them this time.” Put all of your mental energy into the competition. Focus.
It was useless. Just as she’d been hopelessly distracted the first time their senpais had held hands, Chiharu’s newest gesture of affection sent the quiz answers fleeing from her mind. She gently extracted herself from Chiharu’s grip, and when Chiharu looked at her, puzzled and a tiny bit hurt, she couldn’t quite meet her gaze. “I’m fine, really.” she said. Chiharu frowned, and bumped her shoulder.
“...You can tell me what’s bothering you, you know.” she whispered, as the roar of the crowd reached its peak and the curtain started to close on the current act.
Tokino didn’t have a chance to respond as they were hurriedly bustled onto the stage. The quiz club’s event was simple enough- the four of them made up two teams, and they called up another four from the audience to make two more. With a teacher reading the questions, they did a full mock competition.
Luckily, Tokino’s competitive nature came to the forefront, and for a moment all her worries about confession vanished. She wasn’t self-conscious about Chiharu, or her feelings, or anything. She just wanted to win. She was just consumed with the questions being read off, and whether she knew the answer, and how fast she could say it.
Soon enough, the two volunteer teams were hopelessly behind, and it was down to them and their senpais. That was expected, but what wasn’t expected was how close they were to winning. Somehow, they’d managed to get lucky with the questions, and were tied, nine to nine.
Making the pretty safe assumption that neither of the volunteer teams would beat them to the buzzer (at this point Tokino was fairly sure at least one of the groups had given up even trying to answer) this question would determine the winner.
The teacher drew the next card from the holder and peered at it.
“In 1508, what was built in Mi-”
Tokino knew this one. Her slight nudge to Chiharu’s elbow was in time, and Chiharu responded instantly, her quick reflexes beating Natsuki to the buzzer.
“Noda Castle!” Tokino called out.
There was a pause.
And then the teacher nodded.
“Correct. The winners are Chiharu and Tokino.”
They’d won .
They’d actually won, on the stage in front of everyone. They’d beaten Natsuki and Rika, who’d made it to nationals.
The crowd erupted in cheers, always eager to see the victory of an underdog, and Chiharu let out of a whoop of joy. “We did it, Tokino!”
Tokino could hardly believe it. Flush with victory, she pulled Chiharu into a tight hug before she could think about it. Oddly, instead of hugging her back, Chiharu froze in surprise, and Tokino pulled back as Natsuki started her speech about how to join and when the quiz club met.
As the curtain closed and they headed off stage to be replaced by the taiko club, Tokino turned to Chiharu, still intoxicated by the heady wine of success. She felt like she could do anything. And it was all because of her amazing partner. “I can’t believe we actually did it!” she said, grinning. “You’re so amazing. I love you, Chiharu!”
...Wait, hold on.
Caught up in the moment, Tokino didn’t even process what she’d said at first. It was only when Chiharu slowly started to turn a deeper and deeper red, as her mouth opened and no sound came out, that Tokino realized she’d just confessed. Right after their presentation, tucked away in a corner of the backstage area, with Rika and Natsuki no doubt waiting for them to catch up and return to the clubroom, Tokino had just done what she’d been putting off for weeks in one instant.
Well, as long as she was confessing, she might as well make it clear.
“...I really do love you.” Tokino managed, forcing her voice to remain steady. “...Will you go out with me?”
Tokino could barely manage to look at Chiharu, terrified of her answer. But Chiharu’s face, thankfully, wasn’t overtaken by repulsion, or pity, or sadness. Instead it was painted with a mixture of excitement and confusion.
“You love me? But wait, we’re not- but the senpais did say we were friendly- I- do I love you? I mean, it would explain a lot- but I’m not- am I? I guess I never really liked any boys- does being into friendly girls mean we’re into girls or is that a coincidence?” Chiharu was babbling now, talking more to herself than Tokino. “But what kind of love- I mean is it like friends love or love love- I mean like, do I want to kiss you? That sounds nice, actually. But does that really mean-”
Well, that sounded like an invitation.
Stepping forward, Tokino cut Chiharu off with a kiss, which, after a moment of confusion, Chiharu returned.
Pulling back for breath after what felt like both a single second and an eternity, but was probably somewhere in the middle, Tokino smiled widely at her friend- no, her girlfriend, now, surely.
“So, if we could beat Natsuki and Rika with the power of friendliness, do you think love would be enough for us to win nationals?”