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“So which one are you?”

The question catches Yuugiri off guard, and he sighs and prepares for the inevitable. Here he is standing outside the principal’s office, waiting his turn, being punished for “rudeness to his female classmates”, never mind the pair of them had practically molested him earlier, and this girl from class B who was already waiting there when he arrived decides to talk to him and probably make things worse.

“What?” he says, trying to convey his disinterest as thoroughly as possible without ignoring her—which would probably backfire. He’s dealt with a yandere before. It wasn’t pleasant.

“Which type,” she says, coolly, crossing her arms in front of her chest and standing up taller to look down on him. “Nice guy? Forgotten friend from childhood? Bad boy doesn’t seem your style.”

Yuugiri blinks and goes straight for his best line, “I like digging up worms from graveyards.”

“Gross,” she says, making a face, before muttering, “I guess you do occasionally get those weirdo love interests.”

“No, I—” Yuugiri begins to protest, probably to no avail by his usual luck, but Aggro Girl cuts him off before he can even say anything.

“’Kay, I’ve never had to dump your type before, so I’ll be blunt. You’re weird and not hot and I’m not interested, the end.”

“We’re not going out,” he says. He’s run into enough tsunderes to know “not hot” usually leads to a protracted “date me anyway” spiel.

“Glad we’re clear.” As she talks, she backs off and leans against the wall instead of looming over him. “Maybe I’m getting better at this,” she says in an overly self-satisfied way.

At being annoying and contrary? Yuugiri thinks, but takes the bait anyway because this hallway is pretty boring. “At what?” he says.

“Getting men to back off.”

“Wish I could learn the same for women.”

“Wait, were you actually not hitting on me?” she says, furrowing her brow as she looks him over again.

“No.” I will never understand women, he thinks.

“Huh, that’s a nice change.” She smiles then, a kind of crooked and strange but genuine thing.

It dawns on him then. “Wait, you’re not hitting on me?”

“What the fuck?” The smile’s gone and she’s back to full aggro, but this is practically a revelation for him.

“I mean, at first I thought you were being tsundere but you’re actually not interested?” he says, still not entirely believing.

“No interest in your kind whatsoever,” she speaks with finality.

“Me either.”

The two look at each other solemnly, as if waiting to see who will draw first in the gunfight they’re both expecting.

Aggro Girl breaks first and says, “Okay, I just have to check, you’re not going to turn out to be, like, the gay best friend who is only pretending to be gay to get close to the girl he likes?”

“I don’t like you,” Yuugiri says blankly.

“Nice!” she says, which is oddly in line with what too many of the girls after him say, but the reasons may actually be different this time and it's kind of a relief. “I can literally never catch a break from this reverse harem crap.”

“I wish I was in your shoes,” he says, thinking what it’d be like to have a bunch of guys at his beck and call. “I have boobs suffocating me on a daily basis and it’s hell.”

“Living the life,” she mutters.

They clearly have zero interests in common and talk only at cross-purposes, and yet, in the case of women, Yuugiri hasn’t felt anything approaching the kind of kinship he feels now since before puberty at least. Said kinship is what leads to his admittance: “I basically think I’m the main character in a harem manga.”

“My blog is titled “‘I’m the main character in a reverse harem manga,’” she offers in return. “‘Course everyone who follows it turns out to be really a dude.”

“I can’t even get away from it at home,” Yuugiri says, and now it’s all starting to spill out—the pent up frustration of his truly absurd life. “My step-sisters are always fighting over me.”

“I live with my uncle,” she says—and what’s that supposed to mean?

“What’s he like?” he asks.

“He’s kind, I guess, but I think he wants to marry me when I’m old enough.”

Oh. Yuugiri doesn’t immediately have anything to say to that. Girl protagonists have it tough, he thinks. In the end he just admits, “I don’t actually dig up worms. I just say that to put people off.”

“I used to know how to talk to people,” she says, scratching at her arm under the sleeve of her school uniform. “Now it’s not worth the effort. You know how it is, you’re nice, they think you’re in love with them; you act like a bitch, they think they personally need to take you down a peg.”

“You act gross, suddenly that gross thing’s their favourite hobby; you put up with them, they think they’ve worn you down…yeah I know,” he says.

She nods, her lips pinched unpleasantly. She drops the expression after a moment and asks, “What’s your name?”

“Touge Yuugiri,” he says.

“Sato Yuuka,” she tells him in return. “What are you in trouble for?”

“Chewing out some girls who had it coming. You?”

“I hit a guy with a shinai in P.E. You know, before he suited up. Jerk.”

Yuugiri raises his eyebrows and shakes his head. “Huh, you gonna get sent home for that?”

“Dunno, depends how angry the principal is after she’s done with whoever’s in there now. Sometimes she cuts me some slack. Been awhile though,” Sato says, eyeing the door.

Yuugiri lets things sit quiet for a moment, before asking something that has never seriously occurred to him before, and yet is nagging at him now. “If you exist, and I exist, do you think there’s more people like us? With the same problem, I mean?” Possibly more guys who are caught in a harem despite no interest in the opposite sex. That’d be even better than meeting Sato.

She doesn’t exactly answer the way he expects. “Well, there’s this one girl I know, she’s kind of an oddball I guess, I mean, she once told me she thought she was the protagonist of an isekai game, but it’s like, she’s weird, but she’s not intimidated by me, you know, and she, I mean, she also has legs for days, you know how it is, and…”

“I didn’t ask that,” Yuugiri says, unimpressed with the way the point that she might have had gets lost in a stupid ramble about a crush. She’s supposed to know he’s not interested: in talk about or just women, period. Let him have this.

“Shut up,” Sato says, “Anyway, I don’t totally believe Nanami either, but she’s the only other person I’ve heard say something like that.”

“Wait, is that Suzuki Nanami from my class? The one who’s always absent?”

“2-A, yeah? Then it’s her. You talk to her much?” Sato is clearly too interested.

“She sits near my friend, Harui, when she’s there,” he says. Frankly, he wishes she were always absent so he could always take her spot when they’re hanging out before class starts.

“At least you have friends. I swear Nanami’s, like, the only one who doesn’t get mad at me for taking up all these jerks’ attention.”

Or because you scare them, Yuugiri thinks. He doesn’t say that though, since he doesn’t have any particular reason to be mean to this girl, for once in his life. Instead he admits, “To be honest, Harui’s my only friend. But it’s okay, he’s, uh, he’s pretty cool.” Yuugiri tries to play it smooth but he’s fallen into the exact same trap that Sato fell into earlier, and Sato’s face shows it.

“To each their own, I guess,” she says dubiously, staring straight ahead as she leans against the wall. “You know what?” she says after a moment, “Let’s be friends.”

Yuugiri ponders a beat too long before responding and as he opens his mouth to maybe kind of tentatively be friends with someone of the opposite sex who genuinely doesn’t seem to be interested him (yet, he thinks), the door to the office opens and Sato’s being called in and Yuugiri’s left in the hall alone until the principal’s done with her and moved on to him.

It’s about a week later after no sighting of her that she singles him out as he’s heading home, having barely escaped the clutches of some third year girls who ambushed him on the way out. Sato grabs his arm and pulls him out of the way to somewhere less visible, but the look on her face isn’t her aggro mode or her cool mode but that dumb way she gets excited about her crush, and his instinct is right the moment she lets go of him and opens her mouth.

“So you know that girl I like, Nanami?” she says, somewhere between nervous and excited and hating life—he recognizes it well. “She was talking to your guy, right and it kind of seemed like she was gonna ask him out, so I…sort of, um, jumped in and asked him to go on a date instead.”

You bitch, he thinks.

In lieu of response however, she keeps rambling, reaching an increasingly intensive pitch as she gets to the point.

“And then I asked her along as your date as a double-date kind of thing and they both were a bit weirded out but they said yes so we’re going to the arcade in the shopping centre on Saturday and I want you to distract him for me so I can make my move. Please!” She bends her head down to look him straight in the eyes. She’s so tightly wound Yuugiri thinks she’d deck him if he said no. Not that he’s going to, mind.

A date with Harui, with two girls present to keep away his relentless fans, but with no interest involved between the theoretical dating parties and mutual wingmanship?

“This is everything I ever wanted,” Yuugiri says.

“Let’s make it happen!” Sato says, smacking him hard on the arm.

He could do without the bruises from that, he thinks, but he might do alright with a friend like this.