The campus after school was penetratingly cold. A few days had passed since we received that mail and we were heading further into winter.
Even though it was so clear out and warm during the day, the temperature immediately dipped as soon as the sun settled.
Following that was also the wind.
The winter sea breeze blew freely without being obstructed by any large buildings due to the school being on the coast. Chiba Prefecture also happened to be the flattest prefecture in Japan. It’s a well-ventilated prefecture. Incidentally, it’s a prefecture where young people were active At Home1. What the heck was this? This sounded like a help wanted advertisement for a black company2. I found myself convinced that Chiba would turn into a corporate slave breeding place as a bedroom town3 for Tokyo. How mysterious!
But having lived here as a citizen of Chiba for the past seventeen years, even my body had grown accustomed to this freezing wind. Thanks to that, I also ended up getting used to the harshness of criticism from society.
A stronger wind blew even harder and I adjusted the collars of my coat. I adjusted my gaze towards the soccer club afar.
I waited for the soccer club to finish their practice near the bike parking area that was just about concealed by the special building.
As discussed the other day, it was to ask Hayama about his career path. I spent a few days waiting for the timing, but unable to get just the two of us alone, I opted for lurking until he was on his way home from club.
Still, with how warm the clubroom I was in earlier, I was enduring the cold.
I left the room when they started to clean up as I was watching them from the windows of the clubroom, but it looked like I was a bit too early. They were doing their stretches.
As I was waiting in the meantime, I was distracted by the cold and lightly stamped at the floor until my sleeve was tugged on.
I turned around and some kind of fluffy cat getup was grasping a can of coffee.
“Here, take this.”
Called by the voice, I lifted up my face and Yukinoshita, with cat mittens on, was holding out a can of MAX COFFEE. So you’re using those mittens, huh…?
I appreciatively took the can. Soooooo warm! In place of a hand warmer, I kneaded the MAX COFFEE in my hand.
Yuigahama was rubbing her hands together in the back while Yukinoshita was pressing her cat mittens against her cheeks. The two came to check on the situation, but there were no signs of Hayama coming yet.
I looked up at the sky that became dark as if it was blotted in ink and said, “…It’s fine if you guys go home first.”
“But we can’t let you handle everything…”
Yuigahama was stumped and looked at Yukinoshita for agreement. Yukinoshita nodded.
I shook my head. “No, it’s a lot easier for me to ask him alone, probably. Wouldn’t it be harder for him to talk with you guys? Not that I’d know.”
For Yukinoshita to approach Hayama at a place like this and at this time of the day wasn’t a very good idea. It’s plausible enough that gossipy people would start talking about things that happened and didn’t happen. Because of that, the way I spoke was somewhat indirect.
Yukinoshita placed her hand on her chin thinking for a moment, but then raised her face. “I see… Well, that’s true, too.”
“Mmm, I still think it’d be better for me to ask though.”
“In that case, I’m sorry for leaving this up to you…”
“No, it’s fine. If it’s work, then there’s no getting around it.” The two looked at me anxiously and I answered them with a laid back tone.
Yukinoshita smiled. “That’s rather out of character for you to say.”
Seriously. I made an instinctive, self-deprecating smile and nodded. Yuigahama readjusted her backpack on her back looking like she made her decision.
“Okay, see you tomorrow then.”
“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”
I lightly waved my hand to the two walking to the front gate and turned my gaze back towards the soccer club again. They had finally moved from the grounds and were heading to their club room. Ah, crap. That’s right, they change in the club room, huh? Oh, maybe they’re going to take showers, too? I’ve never been in a sports club, so I wasn’t really sure about this stuff…
I guess I’ll have to move over to their side. While sipping at my MAX COFFEE to make it last, I leaned against the wall of the new school building that was immediately next to the club room.
× × ×
When the sun dipped entirely under the horizon, it felt much, much colder. Nevertheless, I persisted in my observation of their movements, waiting impatiently for them to return.
But it really is cold… Although this may have been for work, why did I have to wait for Hayama anyway? Couldn’t we just interview his guardian spirit4 instead of asking him and call it a day?
My heart is already broken. My body is of ice and my legs of sticks… As I stood here alone with no signs of anyone coming, I thought I was on the verge of activating a reality marble5 of the sort…
But the wait eventually proved worthwhile. The soccer club members started making their way towards me.
Hayama, however, wasn’t present in the group. Why the heck isn’t he there…?
I got off the wall and looked around. Then, I called out to a person in the group. It was Tobe who had brown hair that was noticeable from afar and was in a cheery mood.
“Ohh snap? Ain’t it Hikitani-kun. What’s up?”
He approached me while candidly waving his hands, so I lightly raised my hand back.
“Hayato-kun…? Ahh, he’s kinda in the middle of somethin’ right now,” said Tobe, his eyes swimming around.
I tried following his eyes around, but Hayama was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s not here?”
“Nah, it ain’t so much that he ain’t here. He’s here, but was here?”
Tobe’s words were vaguely incoherent. So, which is it? You sure are a pain…
“If he’s not here, then tough luck… Alright, I’ll head home then.”
I was just a tad bit dissatisfied leaving empty-handed after all that waiting, but if there wasn’t anything to be gained, it was better to head on home. In gambling, cutting your losses was a basic. That, too, could be utilized in the gamble called life. Seriously, wasn’t my life just an endless series of loss cutting?
I said my goodbye to Tobe and headed for the bicycle parking station.
I thought I heard Tobe’s voice from behind, but I ignored it and continued on.
Then, behind the school building, I discovered Hayama. What do you know? He’s here, after all. It looked like he had used the path that led to the side gate instead of the one that led to the front gate.
I stepped forward for a few steps thinking how to initiate a conversation and I abruptly stopped in my tracks.
It’s because at a spot where the orange glow of the lampposts barely reached, I noticed someone else besides Hayama.
Reflexively, I hid myself with the wall of the school building. I pressed my back against the wall, feeling the coldness of the surface.
I couldn’t tell who the person with Hayama was since it was so dark. But I could tell from the person’s stature that it was a girl. And judging from the tone of the disjointed “I’m sorry for calling you out here so suddenly” and so forth of the conversation that I could hear along with the wind, it was presumably a girl in our year.
The girl was wearing a dark blue pea coat with a red scarf. She looked up at Hayama’s face with upturned eyes, squeezing the scarf at her bosom. I could still tell at this distance that her slender shoulders were trembling from nervousness.
—-Ahh, so that’s what’s going on.
That explained why Tobe was being evasive.
The girl took a small breath and gripped the collars of her coat as if readying herself.
“Um… I heard from my friends. Hayama-kun, is it true you’re dating someone right now?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Then, would you like to…”
“Sorry. I can’t really think about that right now.”
Their voices small, I could only overhear the conversation up to that point.
But from then on, I couldn’t hear them any longer.
I’m sure both of them were at a loss for words.
However, voices or not, I could tell.
It was a feeling of hopelessness far from a straining tension unique to the situation and far from a sensation of pleasantry. The mood that was strikingly similar to the cold winter sky was something I had experienced very recently.
This resembled that one act between Isshiki Iroha and Hayama Hayato during the Christmas season at Destinyland.
Before long, they spoke a few words to each other, likely to be their goodbyes. The girl waved her hand weakly, turned around, and walked off.
Hayama’s shoulders slightly dropped as he watched her leave. He made a prolonged breath and lifted his face. And it was then I entered his field of vision.
Hayama smiled, not from shame, embarrassment, or even joy, but just resignation. “I guess you caught me in a weird situation.”
“Ahh, well, you know… My bad.”
Since he called out to me first, I lost my initiative. I wasn’t able to say anything worthwhile as a result. No, even if he didn’t speak up first, in the end, I still didn’t know how I was supposed to call out to him. I could’ve given words of consolation if it was someone who was rejected, but if it’s someone who did the rejecting, I had no idea what to say.
But seeing through my hesitation, Hayama seemingly made a smile. “Don’t worry about it. The guys from my club were being pretty considerate of me today, too.”
The way he sounded was as if this had happened several times already in the past few days.
“Huh… Must be rough.”
There honestly wasn’t anything else for me to say. I wasn’t particularly interested in Hayama Hayato’s love life nor was I envious of the attention he received for someone of his position. It might’ve been nice of me to tease him by cracking a joke, but unfortunately, we weren’t that close.
For an instant, Hayama’s face distorted into a full smile, as if his breathing was blocked, as if he was enduring some kind of pain.
But he immediately shook his head lightly, wearing his typical smile, and motioned with his chin towards the bicycle parking station. I walked after him.
“Yukinoshita-san probably has it worse than I do.”
“Huh? Yukinoshita? Why?” I reflexively asked back when he suddenly brought up her name.
Without turning back, Hayama crudely spat out. “There are a lot of people like that out there, people that get a kick out of digging into people’s lives. They’re probably just curious, but there are people who find it bothersome too.”
Hayama’s voice took on an unusually sharper tone. I couldn’t associate him with the image of the guy who always wore a gentle smile.
But I knew that he was speaking about the recent rumor.
I’m sure the reason why the girl earlier confessed to Hayama was because that rumor had made its way around. Her friends definitely used that as a pretense to spur her on. These past few days were probably the same way.
Hayama glanced back at me as he was walking. His apologetic expression, his eyebrows somewhat lowered, was illuminated by the glow of the lampposts.
“It might be causing trouble for Yukinoshita-san too. Sorry, but can you apologize to her for me?”
“Do it yourself.”
“I’d like to, but it’s not a good idea to approach her right now… If I did, it’s enough for people to thoughtless blow up the rumors again. It’s better to just let it be.”
He sounded like he had gone through this before. It felt as if he was recalling the truth he had gained from those past experiences.
And perhaps, that truth wasn’t something that only he had gained. It’s likely she did as well.
I stopped abruptly because that thought crossed my mind. But I somehow managed to move my legs forward and took a step.
“You seem used to it… Did this happen a lot before?”
“……Speaking of which, didn’t you need me for something?”
When I asked, Hayama momentarily shrugged his shoulders and suddenly came out with something completely different. That was enough to tell me that he didn’t want to delve into the issue any further.
In that case, that was the line I couldn’t step over. In accordance with the line presented before me, I discussed something else.
“No, it’s not anything important. I just wanted to ask you something… Like, your career path and stuff,” I said.
Hayama muttered quietly, “Is that it?” and made a wry smile. “Did someone ask you to?”
“No, well… it’s for reference.”
I couldn’t really reveal that Miura was the one who made the request. As I stood there unable to answer, Hayama let out a sigh as he was walking ahead.
“…Is it… because it’s for work again?” The words he responded with were cold and somehow had a hint of scorn to them. I couldn’t look at Hayama’s face ahead. Only his stiffly gripped fist came into view. “You’re the same as usual.”
His packed words that he uttered could be heard distinctly even in this headwind. Whenever the wind blew, the galvanized iron roofing would creak and the neglected, rusting bike would rattle.
Those noises were unpleasant, making my replying voice turn sharp.
“I said it before. That’s the kind of club it is. It’s voluntary service.”
“I see. Can you do me a favor then?” Hayama declared and stopped. He then turned towards me. “Can you stop doing bothersome things like that?”
He wasn’t smiling. His gripped fist loosened and his voice was monotone and had no strength. Despite that, his voice resounded quietly in the night campus without getting drowned out by the wind.
With no words I could reply or continue with, a small silence fell over us.
But that was only for a moment.
Hayama promptly smiled and then asked with a mocking tone as though in jest. “…Or something. What would you do if I told you an objection like that?”
“What I would do…? I’ll think about it when that happens, obviously.”
From that point on, we didn’t say anything more to each other until we made it to the front of the bicycle parking station. Hayama stopped his feet and pointed at the side gate.
“I’ll be going home by car.”
“Right. I see.”
I told him meaning to say goodbye, but Hayama didn’t budge.
All he did was look up at the sky.
Wondering if there was something he could see up there, I looked as well.
However, the only things I could see were the school building dimmed with light and the glow of the lampposts reflected against the glass windows. The moon and stars weren’t there, only the projection of an artificial glow.
Then, Hayama suddenly spoke up in recollection. “As for your question earlier, I’ll leave the answer up to your imagination. I don’t know who asked you, but… if you make your choice without giving it any thought, you’re definitely going to regret it.”
Hayama walked off.
He went towards the dark, dark area where the light of the lampposts didn’t reach. I knew that direction led to the side gate, but for just a moment, I wasn’t sure where he was heading to.
Those words he uttered that should’ve been directed to someone who wasn’t here.
Yet, strangely enough, it felt as though those words weren’t directed to that someone at all.
× × ×
There’s one thing I noticed as I spent my days at school while insubstantially contemplating over the habits and incidents of the man named Hayama Hayato.
It’s that Isshiki Iroha’s anxiety wasn’t unfounded.
It’s like Isshiki had mentioned in the clubroom the other day. The recent rumor was affecting Hayama’s surroundings.
Gossip concerning Hayama and Yukinoshita crept its way around, be it the classroom or the hallway.
It’s a natural effect considering those two were prominent celebrities in this school. They garnered equal interest from both genders.
Even as I was spacing out in the classroom during break time, I could tell that my classmates were making ganders at Hayama.
Chatter between girls sitting diagonally behind me were could be heard now as well.
“How true do you think it is?”
“No idea. It really does make you wonder. Maybe they’re actually dating, you think?”
“But some girls from class E said it wasn’t true.”
“Well duh. They’re not gonna rub it in by saying it’s true. They’re so nice!”
“Nice, my butt! That’s actually hilarious.”
They didn’t specifically mention it, but more likely than not, they were talking about the rumor about Hayama and Yukinoshita.
Instead of talking about the unfounded rumor, they made baseless gossip. Only, the problem was there was an allure to it. It’s why people were so focused on it and were amused by it.
Well, chatter, chatter melon6 was all the rage with seventeen year old girls and if it’s concerning nearby famous people in their school, then it was an especially simple topic to talk about.
The girls, whose names I wasn’t sure of, continued whispering.
“But it sure is a surprise. Yukinoshita-san looks like that, but she’s pretty into looks too, huh?”
“Ohh, I totally get that. They’re dating without even talking to each other. It’s like, she’s literally only after his looks or something?”
“Huh? Doesn’t that make Hayama-kun the same then?”
They giggled to each other with quiet voices. It looked like they were at least trying to be considerate with Hayama and the others in the same class in a way so they couldn’t hear.
But it was incredibly grating to my ears.
It was irritating. It really was.
The grating gossip was like hearing mosquitoes buzz around you as you tried to sleep or like hearing the second hand of a clock ticking on a late, restless night. Just listening made me click my tongue.
I had absolutely nothing to do with the rumor and even I was getting irritated. I could imagine the people involved in the rumors were even more so.
Completely ignorant people would spout whatever they wanted with their baseless speculation, deduction, desires, and jealousy and carry the story in an amusing direction, jumping on the bandwagon.
Perhaps, most of them didn’t mean any harm. Except, their only reason for involvement was because it was fun that way. And you seriously took it up with them in protest? They’d tell you, “It’s just a joke, don’t get so worked up”.
It’s because I could see it, no, it’s because I knew those two that I understood for the first time.
Yukinoshita Yukino and Hayama Hayato had been living in this kind of environment. For how much expectations and attention that were placed on them for their beautiful appearance and excellent ability, they had to accept the disappointment and envy alone.
In a society that scrutinized puberty, school is the very definition of a prison. Those who are popular are constantly the center of public attention. The masses take it upon themselves to watch over them. And occasionally, they punish them. It’s similar to holding the Stanford Prison Experiment on a day and night basis. Their sense of duty transitions into something aggressive of their own accord.
The nameless prison guards behind me continued their worthless chatter.
Then, there was a solid, tapping noise along with the voices. The girls went quiet.
I turned towards the source of the noise.
In doing so, what I saw was Miura crossing her legs and tapping irritably on her desk with her nails. Her face was directed towards Yuigahama and the others, but her eyes were glaring this way.
Miura’s gaudy, moreover well-featured, appearance was already intense when directly faced, but the mean look she had in her side glance was much more so. As a matter of fact, she was scary, like three times scarier than normal. She wasn’t even glaring at me and I still found myself looking away.
Ahead of where I turned to, Hayama was sitting in front of Miura, smiling wryly at her.
The things in the conversation between the girls probably weren’t heard by Hayama and Miura.
But it was evident from the mood.
You didn’t need to hear what was said or what was in a conversation because in this classroom, you could sense whether things were favoring you or excluding you. Miura was transmitting her hostility in this space with just a single glare.
Both girls stood up, finding it difficult to remain in class, and hastily shuffled past me outside. Oh my, chitchatting in the classroom, I wonder?
“Wasn’t that super bad just now? Did she hear us?”
“I dunno… But I wonder what Miura-san thinks about it.”
I fell forward on my desk pretending as if I didn’t overhear the conversation they had when they passed me. I had the feeling that if I didn’t do that, I’d end up staring in the direction of Miura and the others.
Ripples that expanded on the surface of water would eventually disappear.
But there’s also the case of the butterfly effect.
I patiently waited through the break, listening closely to the wind that tapped against the window.
× × ×
The wind persisted even after school.
Cold, arid winds blew through the Kanto Plain. The suspended humid air from the Sea of Japan was obstructed by a range of mountains including the Ou Mountains. The clouds stopped there while the winds continued blowing downwards.
The freezing, dry winds struck the windows outside of the clubroom at the hallway.
The clubroom inside was damp and warm, however. Much of that was primarily due to the warmth of the tea in front of me.
I sipped my teacup and settled down. I said, “Well, I was magnificently shot down by Hayama-san…”
I sounded somewhat apologetic since I did make that grandstanding of “I’ll ask him!” initially. After reporting the news of yesterday, Yuigahama showed a bitter smile.
“Uh huh, I knew that was gonna happen. Hayato-kun seems to be in a bad mood, too… It’s okay Hikki, it’s not your fault.”
I’m getting consoled… Yukinoshita sighed with an ironic smile after her.
“We never expected anything in the first place, so you don’t need to be concerned about it.”
Her words seemed awfully questionable as encouragement, but I could feel some hint of kindness in her voice.
But the voice that followed had a stronger sense of disappointment.
“Well, that’s definitely, definitely senpai for you.”
Why’d you emphasize the first syllable twice? Am I going to die two times?
“And why are you here again?” I looked at Isshiki.
Isshiki placed the paper cup she had in her hand on the table, straightened her collars, brushed the hems of her skirt, and while she was at it, fiddled with her bangs, and sat formally.
“I’m here today this time for a proper consultation,” said Isshiki, looking completely serious.
But the glimpse of her collarbone from her straightened collars, the fluttering of her skirt filling my mind, and her groomed bangs, the power of her upward gaze had increased. She looked far from appearing serious.
She had my attention for just an instant, but I strengthened my heart and removed my gaze from Isshiki, feeling maybe just a little regretful. I’m not falling for that…
“If it’s for the student council, I’m not helping anymore.”
“…Oh, okay.” Isshiki muttered dejectedly.
It sounded like she clicked her tongue afterwards, but I was just imagining it, right? Irohasu?
Watching our interaction, Yukinoshita cleared her throat. “Surely you didn’t come all this way just so you could have us assist you, right?”
There was a pressure in her voice as she smiled. Her tone was so soft, yet icy chills ran up my spine. Isshiki promptly straightened her posture.
“O-Of course! I was just kidding! I’m making sure to do my work!”
“Then, what’s your business?” Yukinoshita asked, sighing with exasperation from seeing Isshiki’s attitude.
Yuigahama mediated. “Iroha-chan’s probably curious about Hayato-kun’s career path and came to ask about it, right?”
“That’s my Yui-senpai! That’s exactly why I’m here! Buuuut, that’s not the only thing.”
Yukinoshita looked at her to go on. Isshiki lightly placed her hand on her chin and contemplatively spoke. “It’s liiike, there’s been an increase in people making passes at Hayama-senpai.”
“Well, confessing to him, basically. Even if it doesn’t go well, they do it just to check, like an appeal of the sort.” Isshiki apathetically answered Yuigahama’s question.
The incident from yesterday then came to mind. Of course, I didn’t mention to Yukinoshita or Yuigahama what I witnessed, so they seemed to have been thinking about other things.
“What do you mean by ‘check’?”
“Is that really gonna work as an appeal?”
Yukinoshita and Yuigahama looked at Isshiki in puzzlement. Isshiki cleared her throat and sat up straight. Then, she turned her seat towards me.
Isshiki let out a brief, but passionate breath and gazed at me in earnest. “Senpai… is there… anyone you’re dating right now?”
Her voice faintly trembled, her speech erratic, and her cheeks flushed. Peeping out from her excessively long sleeve was her thin wrist that was surprisingly white. She timidly squeezed the ribbon at her bosom with the hand of that wrist, the creases of her shirt exhibiting an air of excitement.
For only a slight moment, her moist eyes quivered.
She had struck me at such an unexpected angle that I could feel my heart beat faster. I swallowed my breath to calm it down.
“No… not really…” I spat out with a rasping voice.
The room went dead still.
Naturally, I was quiet, but so were Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. In that silence, Isshiki made a mean-spirited smile. “See, something like this, yeah!”
“Th-The problem’s obviously the way you said it! Right, Hikki?”
……No, that appeal didn’t exactly not hit home, yep. No actually, it really did hit home. Isshiki Iroha, you’re pretty darn good.
I turned to Yuigahama and Yukinoshita when I was called and I was being eyed with a dull look.
“…And just why are you quiet?” Yukinoshita pleasantly smiled.
Stop that. That smile of yours is really scary, you know.
“W-Well, you know, yeah. I get Hayama’s situation now. I totally get it.”
They went to check the validity of the rumor and while they were at it, they tried confessing too. Failure notwithstanding, it’d serve as a trigger for the two of them to grow closer, or something to that effect.
Maybe this was one of those appendix scenario additions that unlocked the route for a character you couldn’t conquer at the beginning…? Or was it some kind fan disk that added a scenario of giggling and screaming, hmm??
Anyway, it could be said that this was also the doing of the rumor.
“So, what did you want to discuss?” I asked.
Isshiki acted overbearing. “I want to know how to get ahead of my rivals!”
She had some guts for not giving up this late in the game. I replied half-impressed, half-disgusted, and half-disinterested. Oh wait, that’s 1.5 times the regular amount.
Isshiki interpreted that as a response from me and arbitrarily continued her story. “Considering the situation right now, it’s a chance for me. People noooormally give up after confessing, right? Hayama-senpai seems totally sick of the confessions too, so that’s where I can come in as a ‘safe tile’7 and ambush—I mean, I can, like, give him some plump comfort!”
That’s quite the forced correction there… What the heck did plump comfort even mean? Isshiki wasn’t exactly plump either… It’s the immaturity Isshiki gave off from her flash image that was her charm… Ah, that’s not what this was about. I didn’t care enough about what’d happen between Hayama and Isshiki that I stopped listening halfway through.
I looked over at the other two wondering if they were listening and they were intently doing so.
Yuigahama and Yukinoshita muttered in repetition and sent Isshiki a serious gaze. It’s like, they were so serious that I could feel the room temperature instantly plunge… It’s most certainly not calm!8
Their stares, however, weren’t noticed by Isshiki. It’s because she was looking outside the window, likely watching the activities of the soccer club on campus.
“So, I was thinking some kinda place where we could just take it niiiiice and easy just to relax or something…”
Isshiki’s profile highlighted by the glare of the waning sun appeared somewhat anxious, but calm.
Although her tone was cheerful, she was showing concern for Hayama in her own way.
Oh. So you aren’t being half-hearted about this, after all. I’m pretty sure you’d win over most guys if you showed them that side of yours…
“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” I said, finding myself smiling.
Then, Isshiki’s face energetically lit up. “I know, right! So, that’s why I’d like to talk about places you’d recommend!”
“Uh, isn’t that your specialty?” I asked.
You’re definitely asking the wrong people. Yuigahama could fall back on her friends for information, but Yukinoshita and I didn’t give off the image that we’d know any decent places to go out and have fun.
Isshiki swelled her cheeks. “I already tried all the things I came up with before! That’s why I’d like an opposite approach this time.”
Amazing. Her ability to act was really amazing. Are you sure you aren’t a member of TOKIO?
I sat there impressed and Yuigahama, sitting diagonally opposite of me, pressed her index finger against her chin and tilted her head. “So basically… you want us to think of a place where you can casually hang out without worrying about people?”
“Simply put, that’s exactly it, yep.” Isshiki nodded her head while answering Yuigahama’s question.
Yukinoshita sighed gently. “…Well, I suppose that’s fine.”
Her smile made her appear much more like an older sister than normal. Seeing Yukinoshita as someone who she could get along easily right now, Isshiki made a happy smile.
“Thank you very much…! Soooo, with that out of the way, senpai, what do you think?”
“Why ask me…”
I drew a blank. I was thinking about suggesting to her to just go to Destinyland for now, but that might’ve been a bit much for someone who was rejected there…
But well, I had no idea what Hayama’s interests were, but wouldn’t he just act as if he’s having fun regardless of what they did and where they went? Of course, whether he’s actually having fun or was just acting was another story.
While I was thinking, Yuigahama leaned forward from her seat. “Hi-Hikki, where do you think is good? Um, you know, just for reference…”
“We’re completely different, so I don’t think it’ll serve as one, you know,” I said.
Yukinoshita chuckled. “That’s true. You’re like his antithesis, after all.”
It felt like there was some form of ridicule in her agreement, but it didn’t offend me or anything.
In reality, it wasn’t wrong to call me his antithesis. I was quite proud of being a fairly high spec holder, but it was nowhere close to Hayama… But for me to be proud of this level of spec as if I was some kind of small accessory was I worthy to be Hayama’s antithesis?
Really, what the heck, what’s with this small-fry accessory…? But hey, girls liked small accessories and sundries, so maybe small-fry accessories might surprisingly be popular! Gotta be positive! Such and such thoughts occupied my head.
Yukinoshita lightly coughed. Then, she turned her face away and added hastily. “…But, it’s exactly because you’re his antithesis that I believe it will serve as a reference. If you take the exact opposite of the view of an antithesis, that can be said to be nearly the correct answer. The opposition of opposition is agreement, right?”
“Don’t you mean the opposite of opposite isn’t necessarily the truth…?”
That’s some funny logic. Opposition of opposition is agreement… this isn’t Bakabon’s Papa9 or anything… was what I wanted to say, but Yukinoshita and Yuigahama were attentively staring at me, waiting for my answer.
Well, um, if you keep staring at me so seriously, I’m not going to be able to come up with anything, so please stop.
“…Uh, I’ll try to think about it.”
I managed to respond to them and covertly removed my gaze from them. Abruptly, I could hear a “phew” or “bleh” of disappointment and discontent.
“Please make sure to think it over then, okaaaay?” said Isshiki, smiling.
But that’s where I’m stuck though… I’m already having trouble thinking for myself, let alone for Isshiki. In fact, I’m the one who wants to ask here… Well, whatever. I’ll think it over next time.
In any case, Isshiki’s changing attitude towards Hayama may have been due to the rumor. At the same time, Hayama’s surroundings were seeing definite changes.
But how was it going for the other person in the storm?
“…Speaking of which, Yukinoshita, how about you? Has anything changed because of that rumor?”
“Me? There aren’t very many people who would come near my class to begin with…”
That’s true. Yukinoshita belonged to the class of International Cultivation, class J, which was located at the farthest end of school and was comprised ninety percent of girls. As a result, there was a unique air about them that kept people from proactively approaching them. So in that sense, she might’ve had it better off than Hayama.
But that didn’t mean there wasn’t any kind of influence at all.
Yukinoshita let out a short sigh. “Well, there certainly does seem to be people saying things secretly, but this isn’t any different from before, so it’s hard to judge…”
“I totally understand. When you stand out, people doooo say a lot of stuff behind your back.”
No, in your case, Isshiki, I think it’s a bit different…
Yukinoshita smiled and lightly nodded, adding further with a quiet voice. “…But it’s not as horrible as it was back then.”
“Back then”. Those words nagged at me.
Her past that I was ignorant of. Or rather, her past she didn’t speak of. And her past with him.
However, was it okay to ask about it? At the very least, in this situation where there were people present, I felt it wasn’t something I could ask. Did I have the right to simply ask her about the things she didn’t talk about?
While hesitating, I tried to speak.
And suddenly, there were several knocks at the door of the room. Everyone reflexively turned their eyes towards the door and I lost my timing to ask her.
The door was then opened without reservation, not waiting for our response.
“…Got time right now?”
It was a voice tinted with anger. With eyes shifting around the interior of the room and loosely rolled blonde hair shaking in displeasure, standing at the entrance was Miura Yumiko.
“Yumiko, what’s wrong?”
“…I want to talk about something.”
“Oh. Well, for starters, come in, come in.” Yuigahama called out.
Miura nodded and took a step into the room. She then looked at Isshiki dubiously.
“Ah. Okay, I have student council work, so I’ll take my leave here…” said Isshiki. She hurriedly left the room after being mindful of the mood.
“See you later, bye.” She said with a small voice as she closed the door.
After seeing that, Yuigahama recommended a seat to Miura. We sat in a natural order of me, Yuigahama, and Yukinoshita facing Miura ahead.
“Did you want to talk about the mail?”
“No, not that… Well, there’s that too.” Miura looked away, mumbling her words in difficulty to Yuigahama’s question. She then made a large sigh and for some reason, faced Yukinoshita next. “…Actually, is there something going on between you and Hayato?”
Her words and her gaze were sharp.
And surely enough, she was referring to the recent rumor. The irresponsible gossip concerning Hayama and Yukinoshita was originally just in the class, but was now being whispered throughout the school.
It’s something I should’ve noticed when Isshiki barged in our club on the first day we resumed our activities. That also included the possibility that there were girls who went to check directly with Yukinoshita.
And for Miura who was in the closest position to Hayama, there’s no way she thought nothing of it.
Miura’s gaze burned up, but Yukinoshita took it coldly.
“There’s nothing at all. We’re just acquaintances from the past,” Yukinoshita said, answering nonchalantly, but Miura’s stabbing glare didn’t loosen.
“You sure about that?”
Yukinoshita sighed tiresomely. “Do you think I have anything to gain from lying…? Things like that have always been a bother since a long time ago.”
“Huh? What’s with your tone? Talk about getting on my nerves. I really, really hate that part about you.”
The one who raised her voice in reproach was Yuigahama. Miura’s shoulders twitched in surprise and she timidly shook her head.
Ahead of Miura’s gaze, Yuigahama’s lips distorted as if she was angry somehow and she brought up what they had discussed in class at some point. “I explained it before, didn’t I? It really was just a coincidence and that nothing happened at all after that.”
“…If that was everything, Hayato wouldn’t be so worried. I mean… that’s never happened before, too…” said Miura, her tone somewhat sulking and lacking its usual strength. She faced downwards and slightly bit her lips.
Perhaps, the person in the closest position to Hayama Hayato in this school was Miura. I wasn’t sure of the length of their acquaintanceship, but they should’ve gotten friendly after becoming second years at least.
That’s why any kind of abnormality in Hayama was clearly visible to her. I’m sure she had a far better understanding of him than I did.
But there were things that even Miura had no knowledge of.
The only one who knew those things at this moment in time was Yukinoshita Yukino.
Yukinoshita flicked away the hair at her shoulders and spoke coldly. “It’s not like he’s concerned for me. It’s likely he’s concerned about something else entirely.”
“That… That just might be what you think, right? It’s not like we know what Hayato’s thinking about, anyway.” Miura dropped her shoulders. While fiddling with her hair with her fingertips, she quietly checked with Yukinoshita, “…Like, wasn’t there something like that? I mean, not now… but like, back then, or something.” Miura spoke her words in fragments.
Those words that Miura uttered inarticulately.
They were things I had considered as a possibility while at the same time, excluded as if they weren’t possible.
Yukinoshita doesn’t lie. It’s just that she doesn’t say what’s true. There’re also times where she’d try to cover things up in an incoherent, roundabout way. I knew all of that.
In that case, what about Hayama Hayato? I knew absolutely nothing about what his feelings were, his heart, and his desires. It’s not like I wanted to know either.
All this time, I’d say that, confident there’s something between the two all the while trying not to think there was.
And right now, Miura was trying to touch upon that.
Yukinoshita, however, sighed and brushed it off. “…So what if there was something and I told you everything, would anything change? Would you or anyone believe it?”
Her pressing tone caused Miura to hesitate from answering. She strongly squeezed the cuff of her cardigan in contemplation, her lips trembling, but ultimately, her voice didn’t come out.
Yukinoshita looked at her and made a shallow sigh. “In the end, it’s meaningless.”
Explanations, excuses, defenses, and the conversation weren’t given any meaning.
As they say about the vulgar masses, the more people flock to a group, the more foolish they become. No matter how prominent an individual is, no, it’s because he is prominent that he would be blotted out by the sheer force of numbers when thrown into that lump of people. Individual will, qualifications, and personality, let alone emotions aren’t considered at all.
This was the inconsideration that Yukinoshita had tasted all this time.
We see only what we want to see, listen only to what we want to listen to, but for the things we want to say, we aren’t able to. This is the society that we’re living in right now.
But Miura was different.
“Every time… the way you act like that…!” She voiced her clear emotions of fury and stood up.
Yuigahama’s voice of surprise to restrain her didn’t make it in time. I stood up frantically as well, but Miura brusquely walked directly up to Yukinoshita, seeing only her.
“Just who do you think you are, seriously!”
Then, Miura violently reached out to grab Yukinoshita.
But her hand didn’t reach Yukinoshita.
Yukinoshita quickly rose to her feet and caught Miura’s hand that reached out to her collars. She then gave Miura a coldhearted look.
“Unfortunately for you, I’m used to things of this nature… Though, you’re the very first one to directly come at me like this.”
They both glared at each other with their intense breaths and cold voices going back and forth. Miura made steady shallow breaths as if she was enduring something while Yukinoshita made deep, deep breaths.
“Is there anything else you want to say? Or is there a continuation of this?”
Miura gradually lost her energy while Yukinoshita’s emotions increasingly swelled. It was as though they were transferring their passion between each other from their entangled gazes and held hands.
Yukinoshita wore an inhumane smile in provocation. That’s right. When she makes a smile like that, she’s the splitting image of Haruno-san, such an out of place thought sprung to mind.
However, it wasn’t a smile that I wanted to look at for very long.
“Quit it already. For now, just let go and sit down.”
I lightly patted Yukinoshita’s hand that was still holding onto Miura’s arm. I hesitated for a moment contemplating whether it was okay for me to touch her, but for Yukinoshita with her current belligerent attitude, it was better than using words.
Yukinoshita shot me a piercing gaze for an instant, but she obediently released Miura’s arm. Miura then loosely dropped her arm and took a step back.
I entered the space that opened between the two and motioned to Miura without contact for her to go back. Yuigahama took over from there.
Yuigahama lightly tapped Miura’s shoulders, still glaring at Yukinoshita bitterly, and had her take a seat.
“Just calm down for a bit… Okay?”
As I was watching those two, I moved my seat to a position that’d allow me to immediately get in between Miura and Yukinoshita.
“Yes. Didn’t I say so? I’m used to it.”
Yukinoshita firmly clutched her hand that held Miura’s arm and smiled bitterly at me. The aggressive emotion from earlier was gone.
“It’s not something I’m concerned with at this point… It’s enough that the people I’m close to understand, so it’s not a problem.”
Yuigahama anxiously called to Yukinoshita and she made a powerless smile. She softly rubbed her hand that held Miura’s arm again and she sat down. Once the situation had finally calmed down, Yuigahama sighed in relief and returned to her seat.
Miura had been watching those two quietly the entire time. She partly closed her eyes as if it was dazzling.
And then, she uttered, her lips only slightly trembling, with a whispering voice. “…That’s normal, isn’t it…? That’s why.”
“Eh?” Yuigahama asked.
Miura looked away. “The thing about close people… It’s because I want to be that way that I want to know.” Her mouth embarrassingly groped around as she added and she then brushed her hair. After, she turned her face away from us and tediously looked outside the window.
—-Yeah, so that’s how it is.
Those words didn’t have the slightest intention of properly getting something across to someone, yet I understood. I ended up understanding. To be more exact, it felt like it was something closer to empathy.
Yukinoshita wasn’t the only one who was exposed to inconsideration.
I’m sure that he, who shared the same past, was as well.
It wasn’t just that only one side was exposed to the twisted inconsideration. I’m sure the other side wasn’t understood at all either.
“Miura. So what you want to know isn’t what happened a long time ago, right…?”
I felt that my voice had some astonishment in it.
When I spoke, Miura sent me a glare. But her eyes that lacked its typical spirit glittered from moisture instead.
The things that she wanted to know likely weren’t the things that happened in the past, let alone his future career path.
What was he thinking? What was he feeling?
All she wanted to know were his feelings.
She wanted to understand him.
“I-It’s just… um. I just think it’d be nice if we could maybe stay together a bit longer, so… Um, together with everyone… as we are…” Miura tried to give her side of the story, slightly flustered, but her energy eventually withered away. Eventually, she stopped and slowly dropped her shoulders. “It’s just Hayato’s been distant recently… It’s like he’s going to go somewhere at this rate.” Miura added to her words with an extremely small voice while gazing at the corner of the floor.
Exactly from what point “recent” was, I didn’t know. But the environment that enclosed Hayama Hayato was gradually changing.
Isshiki’s confession, or even the outing with Orimoto and her friend, girls from another school. And lastly, the rumor with Yukinoshita.
To this day, these stories associated with Hayama never came up. No, more accurately, he had detached himself from them. And now that balance was crumbling.
When they started to grow distant, talks about the class splitting up sprang up at the same time. They knew fully well that their unity would be lost in the future.
That parting and that feeling of distance were things Miura had indeed felt.
“I know this is weird even for me, but… I… just don’t get anything else.”
Yuigahama stood up and went next to Miura. She squatted down beside her and took her hands.
“It’s not weird. It’s not weird at all. Thinking that you want to be together is a really, really normal thing to do.” Yuigahama replied with a kind tone to Miura’s collapsing words.
Then, Miura let out a deep, deep breath and looked downwards. I could hear a quiet breathing that sounded as if she was holding back from sobbing.
I’m sure she knew that they couldn’t stay like this forever, that there were things that no matter how much she felt about the future wouldn’t be granted, and that the mere mention of something could destroy everything, but even so, she still didn’t want to lose them.
That’s why, at the very least, she wanted to be close, she wished to remain close, all so she could support Hayama Hayato, his surroundings, and his wish to be who he is.
That curt and unassuming mail. It was the one and only form of modest resistance that she could do. Packed in just that one sentence alone were her compelling feelings and wish.
But that’s exactly why there was something I didn’t understand.
I made one large breath and called out to her. “But look, Miura. If Hayama’s not telling you, doesn’t that mean he doesn’t want you to know? He might end up hating you.”
Yuigahama looked at me critically while Yukinoshita looked at me, perplexed.
I was fully aware that it was a cruel question. But it’s something I still wanted to ask. It’s not like I wanted to know Miura’s resolve. Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in that at all.
It’s just, I still wasn’t confident whether taking a step over the line for someone who didn’t wish for it was the right thing to do or not. I thought that you could build and maintain a relationship without going out of your way to concern yourself with it.
That’s why, I asked. “Even so, do you still want to know?”
I questioned her, wanting to know whether she was okay with stepping over that line even if it meant being hated, being neglected, being called shameless, and hurting someone.
Miura didn’t hesitate to answer.
She glared at me with teary eyes and squeezed her fist.
“I want to know… Even so, I want to know… because I don’t have anything else.”
Her eyes were moist, her voice trembling, but she, without a doubt, gave her answer.
Perhaps these feelings were always inside of her; the feeling of wanting to know, the feeling of wanting to understand. It’s just that they’re now pouring out in droplets as she desperately swallowed her trembling breaths.
If she knew that it was something that wouldn’t come true, but still sought for it and opposed it.
Then, that was no different from someone out there.
“I got it. I’ll do something about it.”
It was my turn to answer immediately.
Yuigahama and Yukinoshita made slightly surprised faces.
“What do you mean do something about it…?”
“I force him to spit it out. If not, then I’ll look into it and dig it up.”
“Even if he does tell you, there’s no proof that it’s true.”
“Yeah. So… I’ll do some detective work after.”
However, that probably wasn’t enough.
I needed to properly understand why Hayama was being so logically stubborn about not wanting to tell anyone his career path. I’ll probably need to take the proper steps towards doing that, but well, I’ll think about it little by little.
Right now, what was important was Miura’s determination.
“Whatever the case, it might not be fully accurate… but if you’re fine with that, then I’ll do something about it,” I said once more.
Yuigahama looked at Miura’s face and kindly spoke to her. “Yumiko, is that okay?”
After Miura replied with a tone as if she was a child, she sniffed her nose and rubbed her eyes with her sleeve. Because she had rubbed them so roughly, her eyes looked like the eyes of a panda.
However, after seeing her face with the crumbling makeup, I thought for the first time that Miura Yumiko was a cute girl.
|Chapter 3||Top||Chapter 5|
- At Home – A real estate place that you can find apartments, houses, and so forth to lease. ↩
- Black company is a essentially a sweatshop; exploiting workers and so forth. ↩
- Bedroom town – A town with residents that work elsewhere. ↩
- Interview with x’s guardian spirit – A series of book written by some guy who supposedly can call forth guardian spirits of some famous person and interview with him. ↩
- Reality marbles – Fate series, parodies UBW’s chant. ↩
- Chatter Melon (Oshaberi Melon) – Kikuko Inoue’s radio. ↩
- Safe tile – In Mahjong, a tile you can discard without giving advantages to other players. ↩
- Aikatsu – Kiriya Aoi’s catchphrase. ↩
- Tensai Bakabon – One of Bakabon’s Papa’s phrases. ↩