“Anyway, thanks so much, guys! This might be the happiest birthday of my life so far,” Yuigahama said as she looked at her mountain of presents.
Yukinoshita shrugged. “You’re exaggerating.”
“Not at all! I really am happy. Up till now I was happy that mum and dad would hold a party for me, but… this year really is special… Yukinon, thank you.”
“…I-I only did what anyone would do.” Yukinoshita looked the other way.
As usual, Yuigahama beamed at her. Indeed, it might be a good birthday.
“But you know, Yuigahama, you sure get along with your folks. Last year, I got handed a thousand yen for my birthday and that was it. I didn’t even get a cake.”
Zaimokuza coughed. “Mine was around the same. Instead of cash, they bought me KFC.”
“Huh… r-really?” said Totsuka. “My family would prepare a cake and there’d be a present under my pillow the next morning…”
“That’s kinda mixing it up with another event.”
But I understood all too well the desire to prepare the best birthday for Totsuka’s sake. Good job, Totsuka’s mother and father.
Our family, on the other hand… just as I was thinking about that, Komachi spoke up.
“Come to think of it, onii-chan, aren’t you the only one who’s treated like that? For my birthday, we go out to buy presents together, eat out and buy a cake on the way home.”
“Perhaps Hikigaya-kun is merely unloved…” said Yukinoshita.
“Hey, you! Don’t talk crap! I’m totally loved! If not, I plan to have them take care of me for twenty more years, so they’ll be in trouble!”
“What a bad son…” Yuigahama said with real distaste. It kind of hurt.
Following that, Komachi grimaced. “Well, our parents are generally half-assed…”
“My parents are so half-assed I admire them somewhat.”
“As one should…” Yukinoshita insisted quite seriously, but she really didn’t get it.
“Why, I was born on the eighth of August, so they called me Hachiman (1).”
“They really are half-assed!” Yui exclaimed.
I know, right? I thought the same way. But as far as Yukinoshita was concerned, that did not appear to be the case. “But isn’t that how naming works? Mine was like that too. I’m Yukino only because snow was falling when I was born (2).”
Oh hey, there were other people like me. That was what I thought, but since it felt like the name Yukino went with Yukinoshita very well, I shut up and said nothing. While I stayed silent, Komachi seemed to be getting the same impression I was.
“But Yukino’s a pretty name, you know?”
“Thank you. I don’t dislike it either. In fact, I’m fond of it. I also think Komachi is a splendid name that suits you very much.”
“Oi, cut it out, Yukinoshita, don’t seduce people’s sisters. Maria-sama is watching (3).”
It was the kind of atmosphere where white lilies were blooming in the background, but only behind them. The one who ruined the mood was, of course, His Lordship Zaimokuza.
“Ahem. So your parents all decided your names.”
“What, you were different?” I asked.
Zaimokuza pitched over suddenly, almost toppling over. “My name was passed down from the distant past. To think it was given to my parents who named me, I see, it must be fate…”
Like anyone gave a shit.
“Hmph. Incidentally, ‘fate’ ought to be read as ‘grandpa’.”
“Then you should’ve said so from the start…”
Just as I was thinking it was all so pointless I could die, Totsuka chimed in with information that was not pointless in the least. You could say it was the one top secret.
“Ahahaha, then my name might be the most normal. They only named me that so my life could add colour to others (4).
“Ah, your name expresses your character. Totsuka, you’ve really brought colour to my high school life.”
“Geez, don’t be such a tease! I’ll get mad, y’know?”
I wanted him to get mad at me…
As I went from a determined face to a totally blissful smile, Totsuka seemed to think of something. “Ah. Hey, Yuigahama-san,” he spoke up. “Why’s your name Yui?”
“Huh? Me?” She thought about it. “Errrrr, I never really asked…”
“It’s your birthday and all, so why not ask when you get home?” suggested Yukinoshita. “Since your parents appear to love you very much, I’m sure you’ll hear a wonderful story. If you’d like, you may tell it to me as well.”
“Oooooi, Yukinoshita. This time Buddha’s watching too!” This time I could see a halo of enlightenment behind her. That was really not very romantic.
“Hey, Hikki and Yukinon and Sai-chan and Chunni all have meaningful names… ah.” Yuigahama seemed to think of something.
“What’s up?” I asked.
Yuigahama lowered her head, looking ever so slightly depressed. “N-nothing… I just realised that I-I’m the only one without a nickname and stuff.”
“Nah, you only just made up that nickname, you know? I am not happy with that nickname at all.”
“I also rejected it in the beginning but gave up eventually when nothing improved…” Yukinoshita said.
Zaimokuza let out a snort. “Being called Chuuni hurts just a tad…”
The rejections came one after another. But Yuigahama looked unconvinced. “Huh? Why? I thought they were good nicknames…”
“Ah, I-I don’t really mind?” Totsuka interjected. “Plus, I think Hikki is a cute name as well.”
“I know, right?” Yuigahama cheered up.
“Well, compared to the earlier ones, it’s not so bad, I guess…” I admitted.
“So by ‘earlier ones’, you mean to say you’ve had nicknames before now?” Yukinoshita asked.
“Yeah,” I answered. “‘Introducing the Top Three Annoying Nicknames My Classmates Gave Me Corner.’”
“Wow, a really depressing corner just started…” Yuigahama displayed slight bafflement.
But Komachi came in with high spirits. “This is the assistant, Komachi. Now to present the three selections!”
Riding Komachi’s announcement, I presented the order.
“Dudum!” After Zaimokuza produced a drumroll effect, I let the moment hang.
Then I said, “’The brother of that seventh grader Hikigaya-san.’”
At that moment, Yukinoshita made a slightly sad face. “How fitting for your classmates to call you that… they completely denied your existence…”
“It’s not my brother’s fault!” Komachi insisted. “I kind of stand out, so it was a tragedy of circumstance!”
As I fought to control my tears, I presented the next item. “Number two.”
After Zaimokuza’s drumroll effect rang out, everything went quiet.
“Hmph, I have memories of this too. They wanted to say ‘this guy’ or ‘that guy’ or whatever. Well, it would induce fear to call out a great name like my own directly, so it can’t be helped!” Zaimokuza launched into his commentary without any provocation.
Of course, Komachi went on with the actual presentation.
“Now then, for the shocking number one place!”
“N-number one…” I announced the number.
“Dudum!” Then came the drumroll.
Everyone held their breath and waited for me to continue.
“I-I don’t wanna say it…”
I really didn’t want to say it anymore. My eyes started watering inadvertently. When that happened, Totsuka started patting my back gently.
“So it was that mean… H-Hachiman, no need to force yourself, okay?”
“Thank you, Totsuka…”
As I was choked with tears, Yuigahama pummeled me mercilessly with words. “You didn’t have to do it to begin with if you’re gonna bring out your own trauma…”
“Shuddup! Since you have such a weird fondness for nicknames, I decided to burst your bubble!”
“Hikigaya-kun, I do believe you are a special case…”
So Yukinoshita said, but I do think everyone experiences this kind of thing to a degree. Those damned nicknames are honestly good for nothing. Whether or not she knew my feelings, Komachi laid out a new suggestion.
“Ah, then let’s try this. Let’s all give Yui-san a wonderful name.”
“Komachi-chan, you’re such a nice girl! Great, so from now on, Komachi-chan is Macchi.”
“Yeek, Yui-san, your naming sense sucks!”
“Huh, no way… I thought I was good at it.” Yuigahama recoiled in mild shock.
Right next to her, Totsuka began to think hard. “Hmmm, a nickname, huh… how about Yuitch?”
“The ‘tch’ in Yuitch is the ‘tch’ in bitch, right? Good call, Totsuka. Might as well call her bitch.”
“I told you not to call me a bitch! Rejected!”
“Hmmm, I wonder if my Komachi points would go up if I called you Yui onee-chan?”
“That! That’s overstepping it! It’s embarrassing so – rejected!”
“Oho… ‘The Black White Tiger of Chiba’.”
“Uh, the two names in that nickname don’t match…” I pointed out. “And hey, pick clearly between black or white.”
“Needless to say, rejected!”
Totsuka’s (er, my) suggestion was rejected, followed by Komachi’s and Zaimokuza’s in turn. Then, having waited for the opportune moment, Yukinoshita made her entrance.
“Then… how about Yuinon?”
“Huh? It doesn’t sound right…”
Having been summarily rejected, Yukinoshita’s shoulders sagged.
“You’re one to talk, considering how blind you are to your poor naming sense… you may as well choose it yourself if you’re so picky,” she told Yuigahama.
Yuigahama thought about it for a moment. “It’s painful to think of your own nickname…”
“You might not realise this, but you’re in plenty of pain already…” I said.
“Shuddup! And hey, I’m not in pain at all. I’m totally normal,” Yuigahama insisted.
In response, Yukinoshita nodded eagerly. “Indeed, you’re very normal – commonplace, even.”
“Did you just say something kinda hurtful?!”
“Yukinoshita’s praising you for once,” I said.
“That’s Yukinon’s way of praising people?!”
“Not calling you trash or dirt is high praise by Yukinoshita’s standards,” I said. “Now hurry up and think of a nickname already.”
“Hmmm, it’s hard when I’ve been put on the spot… ah.” Yuigahama looked as if she had just hit upon a good idea.
Totsuka looked at her expectantly. “You thought of something?”
“Yep.” Yuigahama paused. “I’m Yuigahama Yui, so… Y-Yuiyui, I guess.”
“Pffft!” I snorted without thinking.
Oi, was she for real? That was supremely embarrassing.
“H-heeeey! Why’re you laughing?!” Yuigahama flared up, but Yukinoshita only regarded her with concern.
“Is thinking of such an embarrassing nickname for yourself the height of masochism? If you have problems, you should seek help…”
“You’re worrying about me with a straight face?!”
On the other hand, Totsuka and Komachi seemed cool with it.
“I think it’s nice,” said Totsuka. “Isn’t it cute?”
“Indeed it is,” said Komachi. “It fits Yui-san.”
Upon being told that, Yuigahama’s confidence returned to her. “I-I know, right? I’m not in pain at all!”
“Ahh, it sounds like a plea for help when you say it yourself.”
“She just looked away with a strained smile!” Yuigahama clutched her head in agony, but before she knew it, reinforcements had arrived.
“Hmph, however, one can get used to it while you’re saying it. When I first assumed the name of the Master Fencer General, it felt out of place, but three days later, the conviction that nothing had changed was born in me.”
“Chuuni, you said something neat! But don’t lump me with you!”
After sinking the lifeboat Zaimokuza ought to have represented, Yuigahama turned to Yukinoshita.
“Anyway, Yukinon, would you try calling me that?”
“Uwaaah. That was a quick response from Yukino-san…” Yukinoshita’s refusal was so prompt it made Komachi wince.
“Ohhhhhh.” With evident chagrin, Yuigahama turned her full attention to me. “Th-then, Hikki… w-would you try calling me that…?”
“H-huuuh? I don’t wanna call out such a fancy and fairytale-ish name…”
And seriously, it was just too embarrassing. As I was hesitating, Yuigahama’s gaze met mine for one brief moment before she quickly looked away.
“…okay, then. Just Yui is fine.”
As if she thought her nickname was embarrassing too, she gripped the hem of her skirt tightly with her fingertips and averted her gaze with a faintly red face.
Zaimokuza snorted. “You seem to be destroying the definition of nickname.”
“Chuuni-san, that’s a good thing right now, so please shut the hell up,” said Komachi.
Then, for a slight moment, the air was still. A tranquil silence fell over the surroundings.
Slowly, Yuigahama raised her watery eyes and looked at me with an earnest gaze.
“Yu… Yu… argh, if it’s nicknames we’re talking, why not just call yourself something dumb like Gahama-san and be done with it?”
“You don’t plan to call me Yui even though you had the guts?!” Yuigahama was taken aback.
“Onii-chan’s good for nothing…” Komachi muttered, making fun of me slightly.
Er, I mean, it’s embarrassing, after all…
Anyway, without any nicknames being decided, our leader Yukinoshita summarised the proceedings.
“In any case… it’s fine to call Yuigahama-san by her first name?”
“That’s enough already…”
(1) Hachiman’s name has the character for eight in it.
(2) Yukino’s name has the character for snow in it.
(3) A reference to Maria-sama ga Miteru (lit. The Virgin Mary Watches Over You), a light-hearted yuri series about Catholic schoolgirls who refer to each other as sisters.
(4) Saika’s name has the character for colour in it.