In the end, a few days had gone by and I had yet to hear anything worthwhile regarding Hayama’s career path aside from the voices of my restless classmates.
In observing Hayama’s group, they spent their unchanging days like before. Miura, perhaps even Tobe, stayed beside the existence that was the heart of their group without blatantly growing distant, staying mindful of him yet staying out of his way.
There wasn’t much time left to resolve the consultation we had accepted from Miura.
The final deadline to submit the Prospective Career Path Questionnaire was at the end of the month, just before the marathon. Before then, I needed to find some kind of answer regarding Hayama’s career path.
Presently, the only thing I knew was that Hayama hadn’t told anyone of his career path. That’s it. For now, my sole option was to gather material to make conjectures.
I spent those few days in that manner and drawing closer was the marathon as well as the opening of the new week after school.
After inspecting the state of the class, I went into the hallway. The situation was in a stasis, stagnating. Yuigahama was also proactively chatting with Hayama and the others in the small timeframe before they had to go to club, making her own investigative efforts.
In which case, there shouldn’t be any issues with me heading alone to club today. When I left the classroom, I walked down the solitary hallway that led to the special building.
And further ahead, Hiratsuka-sensei was lightly motioning me to come over.
“On your way to club?”
“I see. You came at a good time. I was planning on going there as well,” said Hiratsuka-sensei. She pointed in the direction of the special building and started ahead as if prompting me. It looks like she planned to discuss something with me as we walked.
If she’s visiting our club, I suppose she wants to talk about work… As despondent as I was, there wasn’t any merit in going against her. I obediently followed along.
“Are you available tomorrow after school?”
“As far as I know, yes.”
In truth, I didn’t have any arrangements of the sort. For the most part, there was Miura’s consultation, but it’s not like I had anything specific to do regarding it.
Frankly, I was at an impasse.
I was on a successive series: Eavesdropping on the conversations around me (stalking), carefully scrutinizing Hayama’s actions (stalking), fumbling around for the timing to catch Hayama by himself (stalking), only for everything to be in vain (strike). With the cutoff for submitting the Prospective Career Path Questionnaire in mind, it’s only a matter of time until game and set, let alone three outs.
Hiratsuka-sensei, either satisfied with my response or assumed I didn’t have any plans in the first place, moved the conversation along in disinterest.
“Tomorrow, there’s an academic and career center, but it looks like we’re a bit short of helping hands… The student council is working pretty hard, however.”
You don’t say. Isshiki looks like she’s screwing around, but she’s actually doing her work properly.
“…And there, a nomination came from Isshiki. It seems she wants you to help them with the work.”
Is Irohasu’s order me?1 The word “work” isn’t exactly causing my heart to bounce up and down though…
“So why go through all the trouble with you, sensei…?”
Isshiki was already pointlessly loitering at our room, so she could’ve just asked then.
“It’s because it’s a formal order from the student council,” said Hiratsuka-sensei, nodding. “Well, it means she’s growing if she sought permission from an advisor. I don’t know what her intentions are, but human resources that can be freely utilized without any issue fit you guys perfectly, so it’s a logical decision.”
It looks like Hiratsuka-sensei was seeing the growth of Isshiki in her own way… No, this was definitely Isshiki’s plan: She went through sensei, so we couldn’t refuse. But well, if Isshiki was putting a lot of her own effort into it, then I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to help her for a little bit.
“Well, if that’s all, that should be okay… But what exactly do you do at an academic and career center?”
“In a nutshell, it’d be discussing test-taking strategies. Think of it as something where you can direct specific questions to your upperclassmen.”
“It’s rather early to be preparing for tests, don’t you think? I mean, why start now…?”
“We should have gone over this during homeroom.” Hiratsuka-sensei’s expression turned indignant.
…Speaking of which, I think we did talk about that in class. I wonder if I just missed it… Ahaha… I forced out a dubious smile and played it off.
Hiratsuka-sensei left the matter alone and sighed briefly. “It’s because our school offers the International Liberal Studies course. There are kids who wish to study abroad as well. Those kids in particular need to prepare as early as possible, so we may be much earlier than general schools.”
True enough, career paths weren’t limited within domestic borders. But I never gave it much thought since it seemed too good to be true, but there certainly should’ve been people who were sought to continue with higher education overseas. One characteristic of our school was offering an International Liberal Studies course. As such, the choice to study abroad was much more palpable.
Studying abroad, huh…? That’s amazing… I went overseas on a trip before, but I’ve never thought about living over there.
At the very least, it wasn’t something you should be rash about. That meant those who wished to study abroad might’ve decided on it considerably far in advance.
“I suppose there are a lot of people who have already decided, huh? I hear there are people who already turned in their questionnaires, too…”
“No, that’s not true. It’s just a handful of people that did. We did say the deadline was at the end of the month. It’s times like these when people turn in things at the very last minute… Ahh, Hayama did come to turn his in, though.”
“You don’t say…”
For his name to pop here was just my luck. Now I don’t need to bother with carefully constructing a conversation as a lead-in to ask about him, I thought.
However, Hiratsuka-sensei gave me a fixed stare with sidelong eyes.
“You won’t get anything from me since it’s personal information.”
“…I-I-I-I-I-It’s not like I wanted to know or anything.”
“Well, it’s understandable. Your curiosity gets the better of you when it comes to wanting to know about the schools people around you are interested in. It’s also an entertaining topic until it’s time for the actual exams.” Hiratsuka-sensei smiled as if feeling nostalgic from days past. She then continued. “Students like Hayama and Yukinoshita in particular are the center of attention even amongst the teachers. It’s a matter concerning the school’s accomplishments as well.”
“Huh, they have quite the expectations, don’t they…?”
“Your liberal arts grades aren’t anything to sneeze at either… But the disparity in attention is baffling,” said Hiratsuka-sensei.
She puffed her cheeks and seemed slightly upset, but well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. To this day, I had yet to develop a favorable relationship with a teacher. Because of that, despite receiving good scores on exams, the grades that showed up on my report cards always seemed to be lacking something. I will never, ever understand why teachers found the blubbering (lol) punks in middle school to be more likable…
While engrossed in my unpleasant memories, Hiratsuka-sensei suddenly stopped. She brushed aside her long hair and looked straight at me.
“What do you plan on doing?”
“I’m choosing the liberal arts,” I said, immediately replying.
Hiratsuka-sensei shook her head. “No, no, I mean after that.”
The instant I answered, my head was lightly chopped. Hiratsuka-sensei placed her hand on her waist in resignation and gave me a scrutinizing stare. It lacked her usual overbearing attitude, but made her look more like an onee-san, making me feel a little uneasy. Then, she sighed. “Look at reality.”
I-It’s not like I’m running away from reality, it’s just that I’m facing my dreams… But saying this would’ve been too much for Hiratsuka-sensei’s earnest gaze.
I scratched my cheeks, looked away, and answered, “I still haven’t decided yet. Besides, it’s not like I have a specific career in mind and I don’t really want to take up a research position either, so I believe choosing the liberal arts isn’t a problem.”
“Do you have anything you’re interested in?”
“If it’s something I’m interested in, it’ll be a hobby. Doing something you like for a living sounds painful to me.”
“Life is hard!” At least, I think that’s what the “Jinsei”2 CM said. It really gave off the vibe that “life is too damn hard!”
“…That’s very like you, Hikigaya. Well, you do have a point as well. In reality, if we’re talking about your future being largely influenced by your undergraduate program, then that isn’t true for most people.” Hiratsuka-sensei crossed her arms and looked outside the window. “There are people who go on to publishing from a university of sciences while there are people who enter the entertainment industry with a degree in sociology. There are even people who advance to universities for foreign language study and then wander the world. People who attended law school aren’t necessarily all going to become lawyers or prosecutors. As a matter of fact, it’s not like I was enrolled in the department of education myself. Anyway, doctors, lawyers, and researchers aren’t the only ones…”
“Right. Pharmacists too…” I said.
It’s certainly not always the case that your future occupation would have any correlation with your undergraduate program. I mean, look at my pops. He graduated from some incomprehensible undergraduate program and was doing some incomprehensible job. Wait, there’s a correlation there…
Nowadays, there’s an apparent distinction between the liberal arts and the sciences and they’re even saying to consider things from an interdisciplinary perspective. Even companies seemed to be taking risks and were hoping for a different system of human resources.
In the end, a person’s qualifications and skills were large assets. For example, communication ability or communication ability, also, communication ability. These communication abilities should’ve been deemed necessary by society. Aww man, I don’t want to think about job hunting.
“But well, as a teacher, this is something I need to inform you of…” said Hiratsuka-sensei, and she patted my shoulders. “There’s no need to determine your entire future now. If you want, you can transfer to other colleges, change your department, or even wait until you are accepted into a better college. Changing your career is possible, too. This is merely just one opportunity amongst the numerous choices available to you.”
I’m sure there were many chances to determine your path. It didn’t matter whether it was with your post-education or your career. So in other words, marriage was one of the opportunities among those choices, right!? I couldn’t say for sure whether that opportunity existed or not though! For me or for sensei!
But that really just amounted to having the chance to choose again. There’s no guarantee you’d be able to take back any of your failures. You just might end up failing more and increasing your pain.
“…But wouldn’t it be bad if your first choice was a mistake?”
“Indeed. That’s why what teachers can do is increase those options…” said Hiratsuka-sensei. “And also, decrease them.”
“Is it really okay for you to decrease them?” I asked.
Hiratsuka-sensei made a complicated expression.
“Of course, the one making the final call is the student. At best, we can only offer advice. So for the time being… you need to hurry up and give up on your dream of being a full-time house-husband.”
Ahh, she just threw that option out the window… My options…
Eventually, we finished crossing the long hallway and approached the stairs. I was planning to climb them, but Hiratsuka-sensei was going to turn the corner. It looked like she wasn’t coming along with me to the club. Her job was done after delivering Isshiki’s request.
Hiratsuka-sensei lightly raised her hand and began walking away from me. I nodded in response.
Then, she stopped her legs and turned her head towards me.
“…If you end up going with the teaching profession in university, how about considering that? Surprisingly, you might fit the role perfectly.”
“Definitely not, there’s no way I could be a teacher. That means I’ll have to deal with a student like this.” I shrugged my shoulders and answered.
Hiratsuka-sensei wryly smiled. “Point taken. I can agree with you on that.”
…You’re one to talk, being the busybody that you are.
I nodded my head one final time and watched Hiratsuka-sensei off.
× × ×
In opening the door, my eyes met exactly with Yukinoshita’s.
With a blanket covering her lap, she held a book wrapped in a cat cover that she seemed fond of, but her gaze was occupied by the door.
It looked like Yuigahama had yet to arrive, so Yukinoshita was alone. She softly smiled at me.
After I replied, Yukinoshita closed her book and stood up. She then started on her tea preparations as always.
As the water boiled, Yukinoshita took out two teacups and spoke to me.
“It seems you’re a little late today.”
“Hiratsuka-sensei had some sort of request or something…”
Yukinoshita loaded the pot with tea leaves and tilted her head in puzzlement.
“She said there’s an academic and career center of the sort tomorrow and that the student council needs some help.”
“I see. The student council… I’ll free up my schedule then,” said Yukinoshita.
“Yeah.” I found myself responding naturally due to her exceeding nonchalant answer. “…Uh, wait, it’s fine if I’m the only one who goes.”
Considering that I was the only one who was nominated, it’s probably just menial labor like setting up chairs. There’s no need to trouble Yukinoshita and Yuigahama over it.
Despite what I said, Yukinoshita showed no signs of concern and immediately replied, “I don’t really mind… It’s not like I have anything else in particular that needs to be done.”
“Well, that’s true…”
I was at a dead end, but that’s not to say Yukinoshita had any specific plans herself. It’s really shameful considering what I blurted out to Miura, but this was our current situation. So doing something to occupy ourselves might allow us to relax a bit.
We both went quiet after that, the sight of the pot boiling the water occupying our eyes. As we waited for it to finish, the door was vigorously opened.
They were familiar and characteristic greetings.
First, it was Yuigahama. Next, entering the room after her was Ebina-san.
“Good afternoon, Ebina-san.”
“Hello there, we haven’t seen each other since the New Year, huh~?”
Yukinoshita politely recommended a seat to Ebina-san to which she thanked her and sat. While Yukinoshita prepared a serving of tea for our visitor, I looked at Yuigahama seeking an explanation thinking, Now then, why is this missy here, I wonder…?
Yuigahama nodded. “Remember? We were talking about how we should check with people who might know what Hayato-kun’s career path could be, right?”
“So that’s why I talked about it with Hina and we figured we might as well think it over with everyone here. Right, Hina?”
“I hope I’ll be useful though~.”
Yuigahama kicked off the conversation and Ebina-san made an anxious nod.
Well, not a bad decision. Ebina-san occupied a relatively intimate position when it came to Hayama and Miura’s relationship. She wasn’t someone I, or even Yukinoshita, could simply ask by ourselves, but it could work if Yuigahama was mediating.
Also, Ebina-san may be hiding under the guise of a rotten girl, but she also had a mysterious side to her. Even if we missed the answer, we might stumble across some kind of hint.
However, Ebina-san’s expression was cloudy. Her glasses were also fogged up by the tea she had accepted from Yukinoshita.
“Hayato-kun’s career path, huh…? Can’t say I’ve heard anything about it myself. That, and Hayato-kun’s good in both subjects, so it might be hard to say.”
“Ahh, I thought so. That’s true…” Yuigahama dropped her shoulders and agreed.
Well, as long his grades weren’t as lopsided as mine, narrowing down his career path from an academic perspective may be difficult.
It might be pessimistic to think of avoiding things you weren’t good with, but it fit me to a T. But well, that didn’t mean it applied to everyone out there.
With my cheeks in hand, I sighed.
Ebina-san continued to think. Looking like something came to mind, she opened her mouth.
“Oh, but, I think he might’ve said something about types of occupations.”
“Eh, what, what? Did he really say that?” asked Yuigahama.
Ebina-san nodded. “This was a while back, but it was during the workplace visit. I think he said something about the mass media or foreign capital groups or something?”
“Ahh, right, he might’ve mentioned that.” Yuigahama clapped her hands together.
Upon mentioning it, I certainly did get the feeling he did say something along those lines back then. But be it mass media or foreign capital groups, they were still too broad. It’s not like the liberal arts made it easier to enter the mass media and foreign capital groups weren’t limited to just one industry. It’s a fool’s errand trying to work backwards from there.
“However, those may be just things he said out of curiosity. That may be a little too weak to serve as a starting point,” said Yukinoshita, placing her hand on her chin.
She was absolutely correct. As reality turned out, the place we ended up going to during the workplace visit was a completely unrelated IT firm anyway.
But Ebina-san seemed to have understood that as well.
“Yep, I have the same opinion. It’s just…” Ebina-san abrupt stopped speaking. Her gaze was directed at the corner of the room, looking at no one in the room.
“It’s just…?” Yuigahama urged her to go on.
Ebina-san lightly shook her head. “It’s just, everyone ended up going to the same place, so I don’t think it’s going to be much of a reference!”
“Ahh, that’s true,” said Yuigahama.
Ebina-san uttered her lasting words unnaturally and Yuigahama nodded her head. However, I sat there unable to nod mine. Just now, what was it that Ebina-san really wanted to say?
Yukinoshita crossed her legs over again and asked Ebina-san further, “Did he say anything else?”
“I don’t recall anything else particularly related…” Ebina-san cocked her head in puzzlement as if searching through her memories, but her gaze then turned to me. “Oh, but hey, maybe HIkitani-kun might know when it comes to little things like that, right?”
“Huh? Me?” I pointed at myself instinctively after being abruptly thrown into the conversation.
“That’s true, Hikki watches people rea—“
Ebina-san jumped to her feet and interrupted Yuigahama. “See! It’s like an eye conversation unique to homos! It’s all about the Haya-Hachi!”
“There’s no such thing, nope,” I said.
What in the world is an eye conversation unique to homos? Is that some kind of Newtype disposition? Damn woman! Stop trying to be a rotten girl!
“Spare me from jokes like that,” I said.
Yuigahama made a strained smile while Yukinoshita let out a brief sigh, pressing against her temple as if restraining a headache.
Ebina-san let out the usual rotten “gufufu” laughter with a frightening voice, but she then suddenly pushed up the frame of her glasses with her finger. I couldn’t tell where her gaze was directed towards due to the glare in the lenses of her glasses.
“…Well, I wouldn’t call it a complete joke though.” Ebina-san added with a small voice. If anything, it was so minute that I thought I’d miss it entirely. Before I could question the intent behind her words, Ebina-san moved her chair and leaned forward. “Oh, but we can always talk our brains out about the possibilities of Haya-Hachi!”
“No way, definitely…”
“Now that’s a shame,” said Ebina-san. “Anyway, I’ll be on my way now. See you again, Yui, Yukinoshita-san.”
She stood up and headed towards the door of the club room.
“Ah, okay. Thanks!”
“If you come across anything, we’ll be happy if you could let us know again.”
“Sure thing. See you later.” Ebina-san answered Yuigahama and Yukinoshita with the wave of her hand and left the room.
Watching the door for a moment, I let out a short sigh. “Looks like it’ll take a bit more time until we come across something.”
“I suppose so.” Yukinoshita nodded and reached out to her tea that turned cold.
Yuigahama had her mug in one hand as well while fiddling with her cellphone in the other.
“…Restroom break real quick.” I informed them briefly and left the clubroom.
Not much time had passed since Ebina-san’s departure from the Service Club. She shouldn’t have gone that far. I wanted to go into a little more detail, no, I wanted to ask her what she really meant by those words.
And on top of that, I felt that she still had some things she wanted to talk about because I was the only one she didn’t say goodbye to. Either that, she might’ve just had forgotten me. In that case, that’s more like bullying, right? If the invisible presence was Another3, then someone probably died.
With those thoughts in mind, I turned the corner and sure enough, Ebina-san was walking ahead.
The sounds of my footsteps echoed in the hallway and Ebina-san turned around.
“You know, I think it’s kind of pointless.” She started off. Her tone was as though she had anticipated I was going to chase after her.
“The way you’re digging around like this. Hayato-kun isn’t someone who’ll expose his weaknesses so easily.”
She halted to a stop with the gaze beyond the lenses fixated on me. The coldness of her stare showed a distinct contrast with the expression she maintained every day. Or possibly, this rigidness could’ve been a part of her real nature. It was something I had sensed in the incident during the field trip.
I lightly shrugged my shoulders and looked away from her eyes. “…I figured. But after talking big to Miura, I have to get this done.”
Thereon, our words disappeared.
In this hallway, the only ones present were Ebina-san and me. When we both went quiet, a silence filled the air with only the audible sounds of the wind tapping against the windows.
Feeling awkward from standing still in the silence, I scratched my head and what I wanted to ask Ebina-san came to mind. I coughed once and opened my mouth.
“I actually wanted to ask you, is your side fine with this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, regardless of how things go, I can’t imagine you guys acting the same way as you alwa—“
“That won’t happen.” Ebina-san cut me short and promptly answered. “Hayato-kun will definitely find a way to avoid the issue and I think Yumiko will understand that. I don’t think the class change will actually cause everything to break down.”
Her statement was ambiguous, but her voice had a quality akin to conviction.
“I see. You trust them quite a bit, don’t you?”
“That’s not really it… I just think Hayato-kun’s going to choose the method where no one is hurt. Rather than trust, it’s more like a selfish wish of mine.” Ebina-san smiled, sticking out her tongue.
Perhaps, if I was like I was before, I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt an ink of suspicion in Ebina-san’s words. I think I would’ve arbitrarily decided in some respects that Hayama Hayato to be just that kind of person.
But now, it’s different. Her words may not be clear, or something tangible, but even so, lodged deep within them was a murky sensation of discomfort.
That’s why it made me want to ask.
“Hey, why do you think that?”
“…Answering everyone’s expectations is Hayato-kun, after all.” Ebina-san removed her gaze from me and smiled again. Not a tinge of charm was in that smile, only the slight upward curve of her lips; a cold expression.
Having been witness to that so nearby, I couldn’t think of any words to reply with. In that small born silence, Ebina-san hopped a step back from me and shortly raised her hand. “Okay, I’ll be going home now.”
“Ah, yeah…” I said, managing to answer. I watched Ebina-san’s back as she left.
As of now, I had yet to arrive at something reminiscent of an answer.
But something felt strangely out of place. As I contemplated over the source of it, I headed back to the clubroom.
Abruptly, I looked up at the sky from the window of the hallway. Up where I looked was an indistinct, dim winter sky, tinged with scarlet and indigo.
In due time, the sky would eventually blacken.
Thoughtlessly, naturally, and betraying no one’s expectations.
× × ×
After Ebina-san’s coming and going to our club, we didn’t see any more visitors. Once it was time for us to wrap up our activities, I set out for home.
I announced my return at the entrance with “I’m back”, but I wasn’t met with a response. My two corporate slaves of parents weren’t likely to be home given the time and Komachi was either at cram school or in her room.
I ascended the steps, entered the pitch black living room and flipped on the lights. Flippity-flip.
The light filled the room.
Afterwards, a human figure appeared in the living room that I thought should’ve been empty.
Taking a closer look, Komachi was resting her cheeks in her hand absentmindedly at the table.
Having heard my pathetic voice, she turned towards me in realization and grinned. “…Ah, onii-chan. Welcome back.”
“Y-Yeah, I’m back…”
I threw my coat and bag onto the sofa and switched on the heater. Apparently, Komachi had been in that daze for a while now. The living room was completely chilly.
“What’s wrong, Komachi?” I sat on the couch and asked.
Komachi showed an embarrassed grin and fell forward onto the table.
“N-No more. I just can’t anymore…” Komachi sobbed as she spoke and then began holding her head. “Uuuu… When I fail this exam, it’ll definitely be the start of the downward spiral of my life… And then the neighbors will laugh at us, ‘Did you hear about the two shut-in kids at the Hikigaya household? They’re two peas in a pod, fufufu’… I’m sure I won’t be able to lead a proper life!”
“Uh, I’m not a shut-in though…”
Not lending an ear at all to my retort, Komachi rustled her hair and collapsed forward on the table again.
Oh boy, here she goes again… It’s the same trap she fell into earlier during the end of the year.
Well, there were things like marriage blues or maternity blues, also, there’s Tail Blue4, too. In Komachi’s case, it’d be something like exam blues. Others included the Sentai force guys like Exam Points Red or Corporate Slave Black. What an unpleasant Sentai force, yep.
Anyway, I had a general idea of how to handle Komachi.
“How about taking a break? Like, think about something fun,” I said in accordance to my onii-chan manual, but I saw no response from Komachi. Usually, she’d bite on to it instantly…
I rested against the sofa finding it strange and turned towards Komachi. She was slumping over the table and was slightly pouting. Her fist atop the table was lightly grasped.
“…There’s no way I’ll have fun.”
Unlike earlier, the humorous tone from her voice was gone. Her sulking brought back memories of when she was a little kid.
“Did something happen?”
Komachi’s answering voice was blunt. However, contrary to being so brief, it sounded like she wanted to say more.
I sat there quietly, waiting for her to continue. Nearly a whole minute had passed. In the living room, the discernible sounds were just the ticking second hand of the clock on the wall and the rush of cars driving past from outside.
Eventually, Komachi let out a resigned sigh.
“…It’s just, you know? When I take a break, or right before I sleep, or when I eat, I start wondering if I did that or if I finished this,” said Komachi, talking gradually. She didn’t look my way, fixated only on her lightly gripped fist. “Like, what am I going to do if I didn’t make it… or like, what if I failed, what am I going to do? Stuff like that.”
She crushed her fist harder. To unravel that, I spoke to her as slowly as possible. “You don’t need to worry about that. After all, you did pass the exams for the private school.”
“It’s not like I want to go there.”
Komachi turned her face away from me. By doing that, I couldn’t get a read on her expression. Then, I could hear a disjointed voice.
“It’d be dumb to pay for a school that I don’t want to go to… I’ll feel bad for dad, too.”
Both of our parents worked, so we had some flexibility. Honestly, I think we had enough saved to cover tuition for a private school. But money probably wasn’t the issue Komachi wanted to talk about.
But she feels bad for dad, huh? Typically, she’d just omit him, but times like these were when she’d bring him up.
Of course, it’s not like Komachi truly hated pops.
But backed into the corner by exams, her normally hidden nature was coming apart at the seams.
“Plus, I really don’t want to hear that I failed…”
Her voice was shaking.
Komachi was a bright and capable little sister, always with a smile on her face. She handled our house and of course, she even looked out for her older brother. There’s no doubt she kept this energetic behavior at school as well.
But during the winter break, it’s certain that she was trying to take some distance from her friends. Present there was the friction and pressure of human relationships that I couldn’t fathom.
The more energetic you are, the more apparent it is when your radiance is gone. Private schools had already announced the results of the exams and it should’ve been a topic going around the classes between classmates. The thorns of offhand remarks that were normally trivial would eventually turn into pointed spears at the heart.
That’s why people wanted to take some distance from people and from reality.
When Komachi finished her fragmented words, in their place, I could hear a sigh as if she was sobbing.
I got up from the sofa and sat at the seat across Komachi.
“Well, yes, high school exams are certainly important. If you pass this one, there’s definitely going to be a considerable gap between you and your middle school friends and it’ll be hard to face them.”
“Uh huh…” Komachi responded with a voice that didn’t seem to understand all that well.
It’s possible that this was reiterated at school, cram school, or even by our parents. But I continued regardless.
“But universities exams are much more important and job hunting is probably much, much more important. And while you’re doing all that, your friends will decrease and most of all, if you get through them, it’ll become a complete disaster.”
Her voice was mixed with confusion to which I answered with all my confidence, “But it’ll be fine.”
Komachi lifted her head. Her eyes were slightly wet, her expression somewhat surprised. When she made a face like that, memories of when she was younger surfaced and I slipped out a smile.
“Instead, you can put it like this: As long everything checks out at the end, you’re good. Same goes with baseball playoffs. Attending an amazing high school or college is similar to receiving an advantage for taking first place in a regular season. The advantages will be in your favor, but it won’t decide everything.”
Once, there was a team who had seized ahold the title of number one in Japan by climbing up through a series of short battles in the brief post-season from rank three in the regular season. No one knew what happened. When you’re losing, subbing in a pinch-hitter could lead to an upset like an infield hit to the slow grounder. Life and baseball were dramas without a script.
I thought I was passionately telling a story, but Komachi didn’t seem too interested in the talk about baseball as if she had zoned out halfway through and only her face was directed towards me without answering.
Mmm, according to my onii-chan radar, this isn’t what Komachi wanted to hear.
I scratched my head, clueless of what else to say, and decided to just say whatever came to mind.
“Well, you know… If it comes down to it, if it’s just you, I’ll do something about it.”
“Supporting two people isn’t all that much different from one person. I’ll beg our parents for you.”
“You’re supposed to say you’re going to work there…” Komachi wiped her eyes as she spoke and smiled.
“That’s a last resort for me… And this may be odd coming from me, but your onii-chan is pretty darn amazing. I can succeed with most things… That’s why, just relax.” I stretched my hand out and lightly patted Komachi’s head, then rustled her hair.
“Hey, onii-chan. When I watch you…” said Komachi, cutting her words short. She rested her hand against mine and looked at me with eyes that were still slightly moist. She then let out an exhausted sigh. “I start to think that getting so worried is really dumb…” She brushed off my hand.
“…Good for you.”
This darn little sister… This is what I get for being nice to her… Then again, that makes her cute too, okay? Mmm, but the cuteness onii-chan was expecting was just a little different…
“Argh, okay, enough of this. Back to studying.”
Komachi stood up from her chair, returning to her usual self and headed out towards the living room. When she held the knob of the door, she stopped abruptly.
“Thanks.” She muttered, quickly went out the living room, and shut the door.
Past the door was just the sound of climbing footsteps that sounded much busier than normal.
× × ×
The following day after school, Yukinoshita, Yuigahama, and I arrived at front of the conference room.
We were here to assist the student council as requested by Hiratsuka-sensei yesterday, that is, to prepare for the academic and career center. Although I stated that I would’ve been fine alone, the two arrived at the conclusion that they had nothing else to do and the situation ended with “Let’s get this finished quickly with the three of us!”
The last time I was here at the conference room was during the Cultural Festival; well, during the preparations for the Sports Festival.
I placed my hand on the door and the conference room was already unlocked. It’s likely that Isshiki and the other student council members were already here. I knocked on the door and I could hear a slow-witted voice, “Cooome in.” I opened the door and Isshiki at the window side turned around.
As if to say, “So sloooow” Isshiki trotted over and tried to grab my sleeve. But as soon as she noticed the two behind me, she slowly bowed.
“Oh, thank you two as well for coming.”
“What should we do?”
Yuigahama cheerfully answered to her bow and Yukinoshita looked inside the conference room.
Similarly, I shifted my eyes inside and the room was currently in its default setup. A long, narrow square was formed by and seats were systematically lined around it.
“Since we’re prepping for the academic and career center, we have to reorganize the room. Also, the student council has to be around and act as appropriate support or something.”
“Huh, sounds like that’ll take a while,” I said.
Isshiki dropped her shoulders. “Yes, that’s right. And this is supposed to be student council related work, too… It’s seriously nothing but grunt work here…” said Isshiki.
“Well, that’s just what the student council is…”
“I didn’t hear a single thing about this… Gosh, if it wasn’t for a certain somebody telling me to become the student council president…”
Flick flick flick. Isshiki intentionally sent me glances.
“So annoying… But for how much you’re grumbling, it looks like you’re actually working.”
“…W-Well, it is work, after all,” said Isshiki, twisting her body uncomfortably and looked away from me. She then coughed once and she shook the stack of papers in her hand. “A-Anyway! Please move the chairs and tables. Then create six special booths with the partitions. Senpai and vice-president, please handle the heavy lifting.”
Aye, aye! I nodded, making a side peace sign ☆ internally, and Isshiki returned one as well. She then looked at Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
“As for the girls, please handle the chairs. There should be one seat on the tutor side and two on the student side. If you finish, please prepare tea for the tutor’s use.”
Isshiki handed out instructions as she looked at the printout. Surprisingly, she had become very efficient and was now quite the expert. The secretary girl in braids nodded in response to the instructions.
On the other hand, an individual was tilting her head. Of course, it was Yuigahama.
“Chuuter…? A mouse?”
“It’s not a pet’s name, you know…”
We’re not talking about Nyanta, Hamtaro, Ebizou, or Kikuzou here. Wondering how I should explain it to her, Yukinoshita assertively took a step forward.
“Tutors are people who give advice and assist with education guidance. In this case, they’ll be people who are doing the counseling.”
“That’s right. Along with the teachers, we’re also having alumni and third years who received recommendations attending,” said Isshiki.
“Alumni…” Yukinoshita frowned.
What a coincidence. Right now, I probably imagined the exact same thing as she did. It was an unpleasant premonition I often had.
“Okay. I need to go call the tutors, so vice president, please handle the rest.” Isshiki stated and left the conference room.
The rest of us proceeded with the preparations according to the instructions of the vice president.
As I carried in the partitions with the vice president, he looked apologetic and spoke up.
“Sorry about this, you really helped us out. We wanted help just for setting up the room.”
“Ahh, it’s fine with me. Having things to do beforehand is a lot better.”
During the Christmas event, we had gone through hell because we had nothing set in stone. Compared to then, I think the situation had turned considerably better whether it came to Isshiki’s motivation, the student council’s awkwardness, or the relationship of between Yukinoshita, Yuigahama, and me.
The trigger could’ve been anything and if we could carry heavy things together like this little by little, then we should be able to change our way of being.
We moved the tables, lined the partitions, and the only remaining work was what the girls had to do. Since we worked so efficiently, we were left with plenty of spare time before the scheduled start of the center.
There, I spotted a figure restlessly examining the interior of the conference room at the door, coming here earlier than the others. The familiar ponytail that went back and forth at the door shook.
Her name was, I think, Honda, no, Suzuki… or maybe Yamaha? Weren’t these just motorcycle stuff? I mean, her delinquent appearance already gave off that impression. Motorcycle, motorcycle… Motorcycle, Kawasaki, motorcycle? Yeah, it’s probably Kawasaki.
Since Kawasaki was worried about whether it was okay for her to enter, I decided to call out to her.
“Hey, it’s going to take a bit longer.”
Kawasaki froze when I spoke to her. Her response was rather short, blunt even. She always reacts like this, doesn’t she…?
But having her stand around and wait pointlessly made me feel apologetic since she came all the way here. Until the room was finished setting up, I decided to pass the time with her.
“Then again, you’re actually here for the academic and career center, huh?”
“F-For the most part…”
Kawasaki’s attitude seemed agitated somehow when she answered. She certainly did feel more like a regular girl whenever she reacted like this. Though there’s a frightening air to her, her earnestly coming to a center like this made her appear like a good child. That part of her made uncle see her in a very favorable light, yep.
This is a good opportunity. I’ll try asking Kawasaki what her career path is, though I’m not sure if it’ll be of any use.
“Oh yeah, what are you doing for your career path?”
“Huh? Me? I’m… thinking of going to a public school for the liberal arts… or something.”
“Specific and vague at the same time, huh…” I said.
She started off certain about the schools she was interested in, but she ended on an ambiguous note.
Kawasaki then glared at me with half-closed eyes. “Got a problem?”
“Not at all. Not at all, okay?”
I ended up responding politely. Now, couldn’t she do something about that hostility of hers…? Of course I had no problems with it. I’d totally wish she’d stop with that real monk5 aura of hers. She could probably shoot out some Raging Fists, too…
“But if you already picked out a place, did you really need to come?”
“…I wasn’t sure about my grades, so I just thought I’d come and ask about them
While her words were straightforward, a lack of confidence could be detected in them. It looks like she was determined to enter a public school.
Yeah, that’s right. She had siblings, didn’t she? Every family had their own respective circumstances.
Any household, no matter whose it was, had circumstances. That should apply to Hayama and Yukinoshita all the same. In Kawasaki’s case, she had a lot of siblings. She gave the future some thought and decided to go with a public institution. She had a younger sister at a nursery school, too. So there wasn’t any harm in attending a public school. What a nice onee-chan, really. Worlds apart from a certain onee-sama out there…
“Speaking of which, is your little sister doing okay? Uhh, Mii-chan?”
“Huh? Who the heck is that?” Kawasaki sent me an intense glare.
O-Oh c’mon, I just got her name wrong… This darn siscon… Anyway, what’s her name again…? Haa-chan? No, that’d be me, I think. Hachiman turns into Haa-chan. Okay, how about Kaa-chan… well, that’s for maman.
I reasoned through several thoughts and when I arrived at a name that sounded familiar, I clapped my hands.
“Oh, it’s Saa-chan.”
In that instant, silence settled in. Then, Kawasaki snapped to her senses and retreated one step backwards. With a completely red face, she violently spat out, “Huuh!? Who are you calling Saa-chan—You have no right to say that.”
“Oh yeaaah. Saki, huh?”
So that’s why she turned into Saa-chan, makes sense. However, Kawasaki didn’t seem at all too pleased and took another step backwards.
Stop with the annoying “hah, hah!?” Are you T-san6 born at a temple or something? In Kawasaki’s case, it’d be K-san? Ah, right, it’s Kei-chan.
“Kei-chan, right? Kei-chan. I just remembered,” I said.
Kawasaki sharply glared at me. “Next time you forget, I’ll pound you.”
I can’t say it… I can’t say that I forgot her little sister’s name and that Kawasomething-san’s name was fuzzy to me, too… But talking about her little sister apparently caused her to soften and she began speaking with a gentle tone, completely different from earlier.
“Next time, um, if you see her again… can you play with Kei-cha—Keika, again?”
“Mm, yeah. Well, I don’t imagine ever seeing her again, but if I do, sure.”
After nodding to her reserved reply, the door of the conference room slid open and Yuigahama’s face popped out.
“Hikki, we’re done preparing.”
And then Yuigahama noticed Kawasaki, going “Ohh” and waved her hand. Kawasaki nodded back and bowed her head.
“Are you here for the center? Come in, come in!” said Yuigahama, and beckoned Kawasaki in.
As I watched her leave, I opened the door to the conference room entirely. Doing this made it easier for other students to enter.
When I was about to place the door stopper at the bottom, a voice spoke to me from above.
“Hey, I didn’t get to ask you… your career path.”
I turned around and only Kawasaki’s head was facing me.
“I’m going for a private school in the liberal arts.”
“Uh huh… So, the liberal arts.” Kawasaki stated in disinterest and walked towards Yuigahama’s motioning.
…Well, it’s the same liberal arts. In the off chance that we end up in the same classes next year, then I might meet her little sister again. So I’ll play with her when that happens.
× × ×
After Kawasaki showed up, other students intermittently started to come by. I glanced at the clock and the scheduled start of the center was just a little longer.
Beyond the door, a noisy, speaking voice could be heard from the hallway. Yukinoshita who was standing next to me strained her ear in its direction. Yuigahama walked to us and sent a curious gaze towards the hallway side.
It was a familiar voice to me as well. Sure enough, the owner of the voice had accompanied Isshiki Iroha into the conference room. And expectations met, it was Yukinoshita Haruno. Following behind her was Meguri-senpai.
When Haruno-san spotted me, she amiably waved her hand. “Oh, it’s Hikigaya-kun. Hyahallo!”
“Hello.” I bowed my head slightly.
Haruno-san made a content smile and then shifted her gaze to Yukinoshita. Yukinoshita boldly took on that gaze and both of their gazes flew back and forth.
“So Yukino-chan was here, too. Mmkay, onee-chan will hear you out on lots of things today,” said Haruno-san, poking fun at her.
Yukinoshita squinted with a grimace. Situation going critical… Really, you two, please do stuff like that at home…
Promptly assessing the dangerous mood, Yuigahama stood next to Yukinoshita and started a conversation with Haruno-san.
“Ah, so it was Haruno-san when they said alumni, huh?”
“Yep, yep. I heard something about getting a reward…” Haruno-san smiled with incredible glee. “So here I am♪!”
This person sure has a lot of free time or maybe she doesn’t have any friends…? I had my suspicions of her, but Haruno-san was the type of person to be liked by others. She seemed to have earned another follower today as well. Isshiki came immediately next to Haruno-san and started a conversation with sparkling eyes.
“I’m soooo glad an amazing senpai like you came today, you really helped us out!”
“Really? It’s not that big of a deal, you know?”
Although she was acting unassuming, Haruno-san’s composed smile was brimming with confidence, somehow even frighteningly captivating.
“Not at all, Haru-san-senpai, you’re just, like, so cool! I really admire you! I want to be just like Haru-san-senpai, too… or something.”
Haruno-san embraced Isshiki and coddled her. In her arms, Isshiki was making a sheepish smile. Ahh, this girl was trying to get in the good graces of an influential person and if things went well, she’d try to get some know-how knowledge…
But Haruno-san, a formidable enemy, chuckled with a fascinated smile as she rubbed Isshiki’s hair, as if she had seen through that level of calculation completely.
I witnessed something unpleasant… If possible, I didn’t want Isshiki turning out like Haruno-san. But Meguri-senpai had a delighted smile as she watched them, that unnatural scene possibly being interpreted differently by those who looked.
In accordance to the Solace no Hado7, the comfy Megu Megu Megu☆rin Megurin Power, I could feel my heart becoming nearly Meguri’d.
When she noticed me, she greeted me with the wave of her hand and walked up to me. “Hikigaya-kun, it sure feels like a long time!”
“Ah, right… Senpai, you were called, too?”
“Yep, I received a designated school recommendation, after all.”
When we started that discussion, Yuigahama came over and joined in. “Wh-What’s a designated school recommendation?”
“A designated school recommendation is the system where a university imposes a quota of student recommendations on a high school. Students who satisfy the selection requirements are nominated and recommended by the high school. The relatively high success rate compared to direct applications is one characteristic of the system.”
For some reason, Yukinoshita had answered Yuigahama’s question. Meguri-senpai was listening and nodded her head.
“That’s Yukinoshita-san for you. You’re so knowledgeable! For our school, there are considerably prominent universities you can be recommended for. So if you can maintain excellent grades in school, you’ll be able to get one.”
“Fufun”, Meguri-senpai’s small boastful puff of her chest was adorable. Gahh, I’m getting Meguriiii’d…
However, this former student council president wasn’t just a comfy person. When work needed to be done, she made sure it happened. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to get something like a recommendation. The level-headed Meguri-senpai looked at the clock. It was just about a few more minutes until the scheduled start time.
She walked towards Isshiki who was still frolicking with Haruno-san and asked, “President, what should we do?”
“Ah. Then, Shiromeguri-senpai, can you take the corner booth while Haru-san-senpai takes the one next to it…”
After Isshiki was pulled back into reality, she began making assignments. As she was doing that, Yukinoshita glanced at the clock again. She then called out to Haruno-san.
“Nee-san, do you have a moment?”
“I want to ask you something. Hikigaya-kun, Yuigahama-san, can I have some of your time as well?” said Yukinoshita, and she motioned us towards the corner of the conference room.
Since she said she wanted to ask something and also called us together, I had a general idea of what she was going to do. She was probably thinking of asking Haruno-san about Hayama’s career path. When that came to mind, the one with the longest association with Hayama, both inside and outside of school, was certainly Haruno-san. Yukinoshita’s thinking was on the right track.
We covertly gathered at the corner of the conference room and Yukinoshita frankly asked, “Do you have any idea what Hayama’s career path may be?”
As if Haruno-san had not expected a question like that, she repeatedly blinked her eyes. But she promptly let out a short, derisive laugh. “Hayato’s career path? Oh, is that it?”
Her apathetic tone gave off the impression as if she was aware of something.
Not overlooking that, Yukinoshita inquired, “Do you know something?”
“Who knows? I’m not really interested, so I haven’t asked. I bet he’s already chosen something anyway.” Haruno-san answered back curtly and let out a long sigh of amazement. She then directed a mean-spirited smile towards Yukinoshita. Her eyes brimmed with a sadistic, dark glitter. “…Besides, Yukino-chan, you should have an idea of what it is without having to ask me.”
“I wouldn’t be asking you if I did, nee-san,” said Yukinoshita, replying with a similarly sharp and cold gaze.
That provocative tone caused Haruno-san to show a slight grimace for just an instant.
But she immediately retracted it and with a voice not severe in tone, but composed, bluntly stated, “Think very hard about it on your own.”
The way she spoke as if in rebuke caused Yukinoshita to lose her words. Yuigahama, as well, widened her eyes and looked at Haruno-san. Even I was slightly caught off guard. It was a tone that didn’t feel hostile or malicious, yet by no means could it be described as virtuous or affectionate.
Haruno-san promptly stuck out her tongue and showed another teasing, unpleasant smile.
“Here I was thinking you could finally do things by yourself, yet you’re relying on people again like back then. I mean, that’s what made you sooo adorable when you were younger. Oh, I know,” said Haruno-san. “More importantly, Yukino-chan, what’s your career path?”
When she asked Yukinoshita, she came back to her senses. She flicked aside the hair at her shoulders and looked at her haughtily. “I don’t believe it’s necessary to tell you, nee-san.”
“Mom’s also the one who asked me to. Unless an opportunity like this comes around, it’s kind of hard to ask. Yukino-chan never, ever mentions the important things, after all. Onee-chan doesn’t know what to do here.” Haruno-san placed her hand on her cheeks with a wry smile. She sounded like she was joking, but that tenderness instantly vanished and she made a glance at me. “…Right, Hikigaya-kun?”
“Ah, no…” I stuttered with my answer due to being abruptly brought up.
Haruno-san’s eyes that looked as if she had seen through everything grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let me go. In that instant, at the corner of my vision, I could see Yukinoshita biting her lips with a downcast look.
“…It has nothing to do with you, nee-san.”
“So coooold. Ah, I know. Hikigaya-kun, why don’t you talk to onee-chan about some things?” said Haruno-san. “…I can tell you anything, you know?”
She poked my cheeks and peered into my face. Because we were inside, her bosom, likely covered outside by her cut and sewn muffler scarf, peeked out and a sweet smell of perfume was—close, close, close!
“No, well, I’ve already decided…”
I made some distance equivalent to the amount she approached me with and strongly bent my body backwards. Haruno-san’s cheeks swelled in dissatisfaction. She then let out a bored sigh and turned to Yuigahama this time.
“Aww. Okay, I guess I’ll settle for Gahama-chan then.”
“I’m just an addition!?”
Yuigahama shrieked in agony from the excessive crude treatment and Haruno-san giggled.
After that, Isshiki and Meguri-senpai came over. They probably came to call Haruno-san. The start of the center was approaching as well.
Naturally, there were students who arrived at the last minute and the conference room erupted with activity.
In that crowd, I spotted Hayama and the others. It’s likely he was acting as a chaperon for Tobe or even Miura.
Of course, he noticed us as well. Although we were at the corner of the room, Haruno-san, an outsider, attracted attention easily.
Near the entrance of the room, somewhat further away from us, Hayama called out to her.
“Ah, it’s Hayato.” Haruno-san greeted with the lifting of her hand.
Then, it sounded as if the commotion in the conference room had slightly ballooned. Haruno-san tilted her head to that reaction.
“Is it just me or do the stares feel kind of strange?”
“Well, yes, you do stand out.”
I didn’t need to say it, but from the perspective of an onlooker, Haruno-san was a beauty that just walking in a city would cause people to glance at her. In a school environment, she stood out like a sore thumb.
But Haruno-san made a face that didn’t buy into my words.
“It feels a little different from that though…” said Haruno-san.
“Ahh, it’s gotta be because of that rumor.” Isshiki slipped out her remark in recollection.
Meguri-senpai latched onto that. “Oh, that rumor! It’s kind of wonderful, don’t you think? I really like those kinds of rumors, too.”
“Rumor? Huh, what’s that about, Iroha-chan?”
Haruno-san didn’t let that word slide by and she directed a gaze to Isshiki.
“Ah, ummm…” Isshiki contemplated whether it was okay to tell her, making alternating glances between the discouraged Yukinoshita and Hayama who was chatting further away, and was at a loss for words.
But Haruno-san placed her hands lightly on Isshiki’s shoulders as if pressing her for an answer. “Tell me please?”
At that point, she couldn’t refuse. Those words were just as heavy. Haruno-san wore her usual smile while quietly waiting for Isshiki to act. After a few seconds of that, as if giving in, Isshiki whispered into Haruno-san’s ears while being mindful of the reactions around her.
Haruno-san leaned her ear to one side as she nodded with an amused expression. Ahh, if this person gets wind of the rumor, there’s no telling what’ll happen…
But Haruno-san’s attitude wasn’t as I imagined it to be.
“Oh, so that’s what it is… That’s something they’ve been through since a long time ago,” said Haruno-san, coldly.
After thanking Isshiki, she turned around as if dropping all of her interest.
“Meguri, let’s get going.”
Haruno-san accompanied Meguri-senpai to their assigned booths. When she parted from us, she turned her head and waved her hand at us.
“Okay, see you around!”
Both her expression and gestures were cheerful, but next to me, Isshiki had a stiff smile in contrast. She then rotated her head towards me as if making mechanical sounds and let out a relieved sigh.
“Th-That was sooo scary… That’s definitely Yukinoshita-senpai’s onee-san, there’s no doubt about it!”
“No one doubts that.”
“That’s an unpleasant way to lump us together.” Yukinoshita sighed, pressing against her temple as if holding back a headache.
Yuigahama then lightly patted her shoulders. “It’s okay! Yukinon isn’t scary at all!”
“That’s fine, but I somehow get the impression you’re making a fool out of me…”
“Eh? Th-That’s not true! Yukinon, you’re like, how should I say it… really cute!” Yuigahama clenched her fists and emphasized.
Yukinoshita made a flabbergasted look and averted her face. But even so, you two are as friendly as ever…
In any case, the academic and career center was going to begin. Fortunately, we were only ordered to set up the room. The rest could be left up to the student council.
“Alright, Isshiki, we’re going back.”
“Yes, thank you very much!” Isshiki politely bowed.
I nodded back and then called out to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
“Alright, let’s head back to the club.”
“I suppose so.”
“Uh huh, got it.”
I accompanied the two on our way out of the conference room and we passed by Hayama and the others who were stopped at the entrance. I made a glance at Hayama and he was engaged in a conversation with the others.
“Beeh, who the heck should I talk to?”
“There’s still time until it’s your turn, so just think it over.”
Hayama had a bitter smile to Tobe’s words and he quietly looked to the front. Ahead was Haruno-san.
“Hey, Hayato… Are you close with that person?” Miura stated with a quiet voice as she looked at Haruno-san without turning to Hayama.
Hayama looked at her, to some extent with surprise, but quickly made a broad smile. “…She’s just a childhood friend.”
With that conversation behind me, we went back to the clubroom.
× × ×
A desktop calendar was set on top of the table in the clubroom. Well, it wasn’t so much of a calendar, but more of a desktop cat album, what with cat images placed in all the spaces of the page. I stared at the calendar while groaning.
“…I poured your tea.”
“Hm? Ahh, thanks.” I sipped from my teacup as I glared at the calendar.
Yuigahama gawked at the calendar. “There isn’t too much time left until the turn-in date, huh?”
“Yeah. But I’m totally clueless here…”
So far, I had asked several people indirectly, but not a single answer relating to Hayama’s career path came up. It might’ve been because I was so poor at asking people, but if I went out and checked with people upfront, there’d be problems if he got wind of it. I was already refused by him in person when I asked him directly, after all. It’d be inconvenient if it got out that I was digging around for the reason why he didn’t want to tell anyone about his career path. I didn’t care what he thought of me, but I wanted to avoid putting Miura in an uncomfortable position.
As I thought about various things while counting down the few remaining days, there was the sound of a teacup being placed on a saucer.
I turned my head and Yukinoshita was making an unusually earnest expression.
“Hikigaya-kun… I spoke to you about Hayama’s parents before, correct?”
“Yeah. Something about them being lawyers and doctors.”
“…Huh!? Really!?” Yuigahama made a look of surprise, seemingly hearing this for the first time.
“You never asked?” I said.
Yuigahama inflated her cheeks as if slightly sulking. “You normally don’t talk about stuff like that… I mean, it’s not like I know what your parents do, Hikki.”
“Both of them are just your typical corporate slaves.”
“Ah, same here. My mom’s a normal housewife though…”
Oh yeah, I totally get that vibe… Considering her inability to cook and her housewife aura in the strangest things, it was oddly plausible.
Your personality was greatly shaped by the environment in which you were raised. In the same way, I didn’t want to be a corporate slave, owing it to my parents who I observed as I grew up. But hey, our household finances weren’t in dire straits since we had double the income, so I was quite grateful. You could even say the reason I was supportive of women independence was because of my working parents. And in the future, once Komachi started working, our double income would become triple income and our household would be secure.
As I dreamed about my wonderful family plan, Yuigahama continued the conversation.
“S-So is Hayato-kun going to follow his family?” asked Yuigahama.
Yukinoshita placed her hand to her chin and tilted her head.
“I wonder… Hayama-kun’s father himself handles the law firm while his maternal grandfather is a family doctor, so both are certainly a possibility…”
“So we can’t really narrow it down between the liberal arts or sciences then.”
Be it lawyers or doctors, both occupations required credentials. If his only choice was just one or the other, then we could exclude one subject or the other, but with both options possible, ultimately, we were still clueless.
Yuigahama moaned as she listened. She then lifted her face. “But isn’t it like super amazing if he went with either of them?”
“That’s true. From a general perspective, I believe they’re an affluent family.” Yukinoshita nodded.
Certainly, if we’re discussing lawyers and doctors, they had a strong profitable image. I was aware of some of the circumstances concerning Hayama’s family, but it was outrageous having to hear it again. Why was a guy like that attending our school? He should’ve just gone to a better private school.
Well, I guess Yukinoshita’s similar in that regard. I looked at Yukinoshita.
“Actually, can you really be saying that?”
“As far as cash is concerned, they’re likely wealthier. I can’t say for our total assets, however.” Yukinoshita stated calmly and nonchalantly.
A girl of marriageable age should not be uttering words like cash and total assets. On the other hand, Yuigahama stared into space, twisting her head and mumbled something.
Oh, so you know what a cash card is? Good on you, Yuigahama. I’ll teach you what a debit card is next time.
Anyway, putting Yuigahama aside, let’s think over Hayama’s career path for now.
First without a doubt, the main premise was that he was planning to advance to university. Hayama was an honor student with excellent grades and placed second in our year on the proficiency exams. If he had no intention of continuing his education, there’d be a huge ruckus amongst the teaching faculty, but according to Hiratsuka-sensei, that wasn’t the case.
So far, so good.
But Hayama’s career path wasn’t what I wanted to know. At best, it was just which of the two subjects he was going to choose for his third year here.
“…I have no clue,” I mumbled.
Similarly in contemplation, Yuigahama spoke up.
“Maybe it’s the liberal arts? It seems like most people went with that, too.”
“Yeah. Well, that’s pretty easy to imagine.”
In reality, everyone who pictured the human figure called Hayama Hayato generally thought that way. He was a person who didn’t make things complicated, got along with everyone, and could even treat people like Zaimokuza and me at the bottom of the school caste kindly. The image of audacious frolicking and giggling wasn’t inconsistent with the Hayama figure to this day.
But right now, a discrepancy was emerging. I had no clear idea how I was supposed to interpret that.
When I began thinking in silence again, Yukinoshita, similarly quiet, looked at me as if she wanted to say something. I responded with just my eyes and she started to speak in contemplation.
“I think… he’ll choose the sciences…”
“Why’s that?” Yuigahama asked.
Yukinoshita looked downwards anxiously. “I can’t really say it’s a grounded reason, but, um, it’ll also be concerning me, so…”
“…You don’t need to force yourself to say it if you don’t want to.”
Yukinoshita’s voice was mixed with hesitation and anxiety that I instinctively interrupted her. However, after repeatedly opening and closing her mouth, she lifted her head as if making her resolve.
“Not at all, um… It’s not like there’ll be anything to lose if you knew, right?”
She sure is bad at wording things, not that I had the right to say that. Yuigahama and I adjusted our sitting and faced Yukinoshita. She then slowly began to speak.
“You’re aware that Hayama-kun has a long association with my family, correct? When we were younger, the two of us and nee-san were often together. Since nee-san’s that kind of person, we usually had to go along with whatever she did…” said Yukinoshita. “So to put it simply, I believe it’s fine to assume that he grew up with nee-san as an influence.”
After she finished, she let out a small sigh.
What she told me during the Christmas season didn’t vary all that much from what she just said now. But now that I had witnessed the sight of the three of them together and heard their old stories in-person, I was struck with a definite feeling of reality.
The present Hayama Hayato. And the past Hayama Hayato spoken by various people. What I needed to think from this point on was the Hayama Hayato of the future. Other things, I could put to the side for now.
“Um, Haruno-san went with the sciences, right? So that means he might also choose the sciences. You do get influenced a lot when you’re younger, too,” said Yuigahama.
“Yes… But I can’t say that for sure.”
Yukinoshita’s answer sounded vague. Yuigahama and I looked at Yukinoshita to continue and with a preface, “It might be a contradiction, but” she said, “If he plans to continue our family relations in the near future, then I believe it would be much more efficient if he succeeded the law firm.”
“Wouldn’t that mean he’ll be going with the liberal arts, then?” I said.
Yukinoshita shook her head. “There are other ways to continue that relation, so…”
Not just lawyers, but other business conditions could be used to maintain a relationship. It didn’t even need to be from a business standpoint either. For example, a marital relationship, though it felt completely out of touch with reality, was one possibility that could be considered.
As I thought it over, Yukinoshita added in supplement. “Of course, I don’t know what Hayama’s family thinks on the matter. I can’t say for certain that isn’t influencing Hayama’s career path. I’ve never heard him going against his parents before.”
“Ahh, right. Hayato-kun seems like he handles his family business quite a lot, huh?”
Yukinoshita nodded to Yuigahama’s simple thought. After listening to this story, I had a general grasp of his family’s situation. Even so, we still lacked a solution.
Before I noticed, I was scratching my head and let out a sigh.
“I doubt we can ask Hayama’s parents. There’s not much we can do if we’re heading into family territory.”
“I suppose so… “ Yukinoshita’s expression turned gloomy. “But at the very least, my mother wishes for a lasting relationship.”
I reflexively averted my gaze.
“Got it. For now… I’ll think it over for a little bit,” I said, and stopped the conversation.
Truthfully, I really wanted time to organize my thoughts. At this point, our remaining option was to make conjectures from the scarce pieces we had. Let’s just think about Hayama’s career path for now.
If I didn’t do that, I had a feeling I was going to imagine something horribly nauseating.
I let out a big sigh and when the conversation was implied to be over, Yukinoshita and Yuigahama loosened their postures. Everyone reached out to their tea and a peaceful silence was born. The lukewarm tea that washed down my throat felt good.
The sound of a teacup being placed reverberated in the quiet room and Yukinoshita slowly opened her mouth.
“I’m sorry for the other day when it seemed like my mother sent you away… I believe I could’ve have spoken up about it a little better.”
When she finished, she gazed at the surface of the tea in her cup and sucked in her lips. Yuigahama gently rubbed Yukinoshita’s shoulders.
“No worries at all. Besides, it’s not like we can just intrude on a family get-together. Right, Hikki?”
“Yeah. It’s not something you need to beat yourself over.”
Yukinoshita expressed a gentle smile, faintly tinged with anxiety, and slightly bowed her head to Yuigahama and me.
Everything about her conduct was beautiful. Her elongated back, her hands gently joined together on her lap, her thin and supple fingertips, her long eyelashes that lined along her closed eyelids.
As I watched all of that in fixation, Yukinoshita lifted her face and our eyes met. We both frantically turned our faces away from each other.
“Sh-Shall we call it a day now? I’ll clean up the tea.”
As if finding it a little awkward, Yukinoshita stood up in a hurry and began cleaning. She placed the teapot and cups on a tray, likely planning to clean them outside.
“I-I’ll go clean them too!”
“That’s fine, so wait for a moment.”
Yukinoshita stopped Yuigahama just as she was about to stand up and hastily left the room. Yuigahama and I were left alone in the room and we exchanged looks. Yuigahama made a smile and giggled.
“Hey, Yukinon’s starting to talk about herself a little more. Like you know how before she’d never talk about her family by herself?”
“That’s… yeah, I guess so.”
Perhaps, that might’ve been her way of getting closer to us. Though, she was incredibly awkward, abrupt, and slightly off-track. Even though she handled most things skillfully, there was a crude side to her, too.
No, I wasn’t exactly in the position to be saying that about other people at all.
Someday, I’ll properly ask. Right now, I really had no idea what things I was allowed to ask about, but even so, someday, I’ll do it for sure.
× × ×
I parted from Yukinoshita and Yuigahama at the entrance of the school and headed towards the bicycle parking station.
The sun had mostly set and a chilly, wintry wind blew through the gaps of the school building. Other clubs had seemingly already concluded their activities, so the courtyard was very quiet.
As I walked in the courtyard, I could hear a calling voice going “Heeeey”. I turned around, but no one was there.
“Up, look up!”
As I was told, I moved my eyes up. When I did, I was looking just near the student council room and at the open window was Yukinoshita Haruno waving.
“Hey, wait for me,” she said, casually, and then disappeared.
“What the heck is she doing…?”
I thought, Seriously, just how much free time does she have? Then, someone else stood at the window. On closer inspection, it was Isshiki Iroha. She bowed her head, waved her hand as a goodbye with a smile, and promptly closed the curtains. What’s with her…?
While looking up at the window of the student council room wondering what that was all about, before long was the sound of light footsteps. I turned in its direction and Haruno-san was running my way.
“Phew, I got totally absorbed in talking with Shizuka-chan and Iroha-chan that it got super late.”
Seemingly having rushed over here, Haruno-san was somewhat short of breath. She then made glances around the area.
“Where’s Yukino-chan? You’re not together?”
“She has to catch the train.”
“…What the heck. I totally waited for nothing then.”
Ehh, weren’t you totally absorbed in talking earlier? For this person to actually wait to ambush people is really scary… It’s likely that after the academic and career center, Haruno-san warmed herself up in the heated student council room while keeping her eye on the courtyard. There’s no doubt Isshiki was forced to kill time with her. It’s not even my fault, yet I was feeling apologetic all of a sudden now…
As if she was pulling herself together, Haruno-san stood next to me and patted my shoulders. “Okay, Hikigaya-kun will do. Walk me to the station.”
Haruno-san didn’t look satisfied with my response and placed her hand on her waist, looking sullen. “What’s that? You’re going to make a girl walk home this late? Escorting is a gentleman’s role, you know!”
Well, generally speaking, you’re the one at fault for staying out this late… It almost came out of my throat, but I swallowed it down. Or more correctly, I swallowed my breath.
Haruno-san held my arm and moved her mouth to my ears as if to have a secret talk and whispered, “You don’t get very many chances to go home together with a beautiful onee-san like me, you know!”
Bzzt, a cold chill that wasn’t from the winter weather ran up my spine. I took a step away from her in a panic and Haruno-san giggled in amusement… She’s seriously teasing me. Unlike Isshiki and Komachi, her impish conduct was on the level of a great demon lord. And as you could see, you couldn’t escape from the great demon lord.
I fanned my hot cheeks and pointed towards the bicycle parking station.
“Well, that’s fine with me… May I go get my bike?”
“Okay, let’s go together then.” Haruno-san answered, stood next to me, and we began walking.
As the situation currently stood, it was already dark and on the way to the station, there was a park and obscure places like narrow alleys.
I also happened to be a man who lived in a Japanese society that respected seniority and placed women above men. As such, I was vulnerable to older women. I’ll add that I was also weak to younger women, my little sister included. While I’m at it, I couldn’t act strong in front of men as well, so I was essentially a weakling against all of mankind.
We left the bicycle parking station and exited the side gate. As I pushed my bike along, Haruno-san and I walked through the night city.
It wasn’t all that far to the station. The private houses near the park were still illuminated, likely to have been decorated during Christmas, and the dark street was weakly lit up.
Although Haruno-san asked me to walk her, she was quiet along the way. Of course, I didn’t say anything to her either and only the noises of cars driving past, voices leaking from the private homes, the blowing of the cold winter wind, and our footsteps could be heard.
Before long, we arrived at a small, bending lane and Haruno-san spoke up for the first time.
“Hikigaya-kun, what’s your career path?”
“Well, the liberal arts.”
“Oh okay. You’re always reading books, after all. That’s our Literature Boy.”
“Ahh, no, that’s… I guess.”
It’s true that I was reading a book when I met Haruno-san before in the city. But I was only reading it because it was really awkward… It was just my book barrier of certain death. Due to how lame that reason was, I naturally averted my eyes from Haruno-san.
But after Haruno-san took a half-step out in front, she leaned slightly forward and peered into my face.
“What kind of books do you read?”
“…Usually anything. I don’t read foreign ones though.”
“Mmhmm. Then, how about Akutagawa or Daizai?”
“For the most part, I’ve read them, but… I tend to read general literature more.”
Quite frankly, I could enjoy things called literature if I decided to engross myself in it, but otherwise, the only worthless impressions coming out of me would be “Wow, that’s high literature for you! It isn’t famous for nothing! This is definitely an immortal work, so five stars!” On that point, entertaining works including light novels received plenty of flak, but they were still enjoyable even if the content wasn’t appealing, so light novels were the best! What’s with this terrible way of enjoying things…?
As I thought about those things, Haruno-san who was walking beside me nodded with agreeable responses. She then spoke up.
“Okay, so maybe the department of letters wouldn’t fit you. I think you might find social studies or something along those lines more fun,” said Haruno-san.
When she told me, my mouth was stuck open. At some point, she started counseling. I wasn’t very satisfied since I wasn’t really in the mood for it, but I should probably accept her good will with gratitude.
“You’re welcome.” Haruno-san smiled and then coughed. “So, did you hear anything from Yukino-chan about what department she’s interested in or anything?”
Tch, so this was what she wanted to talk about! What a waste of my thanks…
“No, I didn’t hear anything about her choosing one or the other.”
“…Well, I guess she wouldn’t tell you herself. Hikigaya-kun, make sure to ask her, okay?”
She slapped my back. Um, even if you ask me to… But I couldn’t tell her to ask Yukinoshita herself. I doubt Yukinoshita would honestly answer her anyway, and I had yet to ask her myself. I couldn’t tell someone to do something that I didn’t do.
“Make sure to ask her the next time you meet her,” said Haruno-san, formally. She then went “Ah” as if remembering something. “Speaking of which, did you ask Hayato directly?”
“Ahh. He told me some things, but he didn’t tell me.”
“Ohh. So Hayato didn’t, huh…?”
Haruno-san removed her gaze from me and ahead towards the main street of the station that began to come into view. But it looked like she wasn’t looking at the flow of people passing by. Her narrow, nicely shaped eyes were likely not looking at the present.
“I see. So Hayato’s expecting something, too.”
Her sudden mutter didn’t sound like it was directed to me, but I reflexively questioned it regardless. Eventually, Haruno-san looked my way and made an enchanting smile.
“Something that’ll find him, I guess.”
After stating only that, she slightly increased her pace and walked out in front of me. She flapped the hems of her red coat and did a turn.
“I’m fine up to here. We’re almost at the station anyway. Thanks for walking me.”
“Right, see you then…”
As I was about to lightly nod my head, Haruno-san stuck her index finger in front of my face and continued with a lively voice.
“Don’t forget to ask Yukino-chan what her career path is. I’ll be checking answers with you next time.”
“Can you really call that checking answers…?” I said.
Haruno-san poked my cheek and smiled. “Don’t sweat the small details. See you!”
She did a small wave with her hand and gallantly walked off. I watched her leave as I rubbed my poked cheek. She continued on without turning around, eventually being engulfed by the waves of people.
But even in that congestion, Yukinoshita Haruno could still be seen clearly.
|Chapter 5||Top||Second Memorandum|
- Is the Order a Rabbit? ↩
- Jinsei – A light novel also published by GaGaGa Bunko. ↩
- Another – A “fake” student in the class that is already dead. ↩
- Ore, Twintails ni Narimasu – Flat is justice. ↩
- Real Monk – A joke in FF11 on the Japanese servers that refers to players who actually know martial arts in real life. ↩
- T-san – Copypasta about a monk named T-san who was born at a temple and goes HAA (Huh!?) ↩
- A parody of the Satsui no Hado from Street Fighter. ↩