I closed my book and flopped onto the sofa.
Faint creaking springs shook the quiet living room. Kamakura had been sleeping sideways on the cushion of the kotatsu and his ears stood up.
Komachi had gone off to cram school while my parents were as late as ever in coming home. In this bleak living room, the only ones present were my beloved cat Kamakura and me.
As I was sleeping, I turned my face to the window due to the brightness of the lighting. It was already dark outside and the window was occasionally struck by the freezing, winter winds.
A few days had passed since the academic and career center, but I was still completely clueless regarding Hayama’s career path. I tried asking several times, but I received no reply.
I allowed the time to carry on meaninglessly and upon realization, the marathon was tomorrow. The following day after that was when the Prospective Career Path Questionnaire had to be submitted. The end of the month was the cutoff.
I jerked my body which was laying on the sofa into motion and squirmed my way into the kotatsu. My Prospective Career Path Questionnaire which had already been filled was placed on top of the table.
My career path was long decided.
I chose the liberal arts without hesitating between the liberal arts or the sciences. My desired undergraduate department was the private liberal arts, so I had the name of the department written down as well as a decent university that was in line with my academic ability.
Exactly what did I do to decide on my career path? It’s actually simple. I chose the liberal arts because the subjects were my strong points. I was poorer in the science subjects and you could say I had tossed them out from the very beginning.
Fortunately for me, though I wasn’t sure if I could say to that extent, my specialty was clearly demonstrated in my grades, so I was able to pick my career path without the least bit of concern.
In the first place, I didn’t have very many options. That’s why I was able to decide through process of elimination.
But flip the situation. How was it for the people who had an abundance of choices to pick from?
For example, Yukinoshita Yukino.
How exactly did she decide?
In retrospect, I should’ve asked her when I had the chance. As far as simple talents were concerned, the one closest to Hayama Hayato was Yukinoshita.
Despite that, I had utterly excluded the possibility that Yukinoshita’s choice could’ve served as some kind of reference. Of course, thinking about that now was absolutely meaningless. Thinking of that as the reason felt like I was going to be hit with a much more horribly difficult problem.
But now, what I needed to think about was Hayama’s choice between the liberal arts and the sciences.
Exactly how did Hayama Hayato make his decision? If I tried to bring up the choices Hayama had, there’d be too many to name. He didn’t have the ability to choose by process of elimination nor did he have negative elements to eliminate things by.
The more stories I heard from people, the more incomprehensible it became.
Not only was he proficient in the subjects of the liberal arts and the sciences, he’s also implied to be eligible for a sports recommendation. To excel that much meant AO exams or designated school recommendations were plausible outlooks as well.
If he was similar to Totsuka in that he’s aware of the undergraduate department he was interested in, I could work backwards. However, I wasn’t even at that stage where I could ask that. It’d be a different story if like Zaimokuza, he was conscious of his inability to deal with strangers, but Hayama didn’t fit that bill, either.
Thinking about Hayama from the angle of his academic achievements and school conduct was close to impossible.
In which case, I needed to focus my thinking in another direction.
For example, like the circumstances of family that Kawasaki had to deal with. Her decision was brought about because of her feelings for her family. Conversely, for Hayama, he had numerous options to choose from and they weren’t things that would obstruct him in any way.
I just couldn’t see things like worries or shortcomings for Hayama. This was something both Tobe and I had agreed on. If I were to borrow Ebina-san’s words, he was someone who didn’t show his weaknesses, didn’t hurt anyone, and answered everyone’s expectations.
It didn’t matter who I asked or who spoke about him, Hayama had nothing but possibilities.
“He could do anything” was Hayama Hayato.
A super human that was cool, kind, wore refreshing smiles, and was equipped with the knowledge of the literary and martial arts.
Everyone carried a similar impression of him. Everyone thought of Hayama Hayato as a good guy.
Now then, was that really the case?
There’s just one person. There’s just one person who unquestionably didn’t think so.
There’s just one person who told me clearly.
–I’m not as nice of a guy as you make me out to be.
Should those words be believable, then the person himself had definite misgivings of his own way of being. The only one who didn’t consider him as a good person was himself.
Everyone giving praise was sickening. It’s even more disgusting when the people responded to that praise in kind. Despite knowing fully well that it’s pure hypocrisy, vicious deception, and arrogant self-satisfaction, they continued to answer people’s expectations. It’s truly revolting.
Someone once said: “Stop turning yourself into a victim.” Don’t be stupid. Doing things for the sake of answering people’s expectations and for the sake of not hurting anyone was the very epitome of self-sacrifice.
“That’s how it was long ago,” she said. “Nothing changed and things stayed the same”, she said.
There were people who lived all their life never going against the intentions of everyone including their parents and could do everything flawlessly. Just what exactly did these people choose? Still placed with expectations, relied on, and continuing to answer them, just what kind of future were these people aiming for?
Yeah, it’s completely unbelievable.
Had it been me, I wouldn’t have been able to stand it. I’d toss all that bothersome crap away, destroy it all, and make it all pointless. I likely would’ve felt the expectations from people I didn’t even know to be annoying. I wouldn’t want to affirm a single strand of hair on people whose names I didn’t even know and people who I wasn’t even friendly or close with. Be it expectations or praise, I’d probably reject them.
However, Hayama Hayato wouldn’t do such a thing. He’d try to be Hayama Hayato until the very end, all for the sake of answering expectations and all for the sake of hurting no one.
Many people forced the idea of expecting virtuosity, kindness, and farces from Hayama Hayato to be natural, insisting on a victim. His pride and his kindness were also swarmed with demands. Unfortunately, Hayama Hayato was endowed with just the ability to answer all of that.
Yet, there’s just one point that Hayama was refusing to yield.
And that’s telling anyone his choice between the liberal arts and the sciences.
Despite being the one who answered everyone’s expectations.
Just why did Hayama Hayato not tell anyone?
As I was alying down, I looked at the window that vaguely projected the condition of the bright room. It’s transparent, yet I was unable to see past it, my gaze staring only at the unreliable mirror image.
Because of the darkness of night, I though the reflected face appeared unwell. I jerked my body into motion and moved my face closer to the window.
As I was doing that, I remembered something from some time ago. “If you were requested something contradictory, what would you do then?” Hayama certainly asked me. “Could you stop doing bothersome things?” He said.
In the end, both Hayama and I covered it up and vaguely answered at the time. One side postponed it to a later day while the other played it off with a meek smile.
But it’s probably the same. While the process may be different, the decision to not choose was the same.
In that case, Hayama’s answer was already set in stone.
I grabbed my neglected cellphone left on top of the kotatsu.
I spotted the person I was looking for in my small list of recorded numbers and pressed the call button while rising to my feet.
The sound of ringing continued for a moment.
In the time I waited for the other side to pick up, I worried several times whether I should just cut the call. I wasn’t sure if it was okay for me to ask this. I could be hated. I could be met with disdain.
But even so, I had no other answer I could think of and this really was the only choice I could take.
Before long, I could hear a reserved voice from the other end.
“Hey, it’s me. Sorry for calling this late,” I said.
The person on the other end, Totsuka Saika, replied with a lively voice.
[Oh no, don’t worry about it. It’s kind of rare getting a call from you Hachiman, so I was a little surprised.]
I guess he would be. This was probably the first time I properly called him, after all. But I wonder if he’d be even more surprised after hearing what I had to say after this.
I let out a sigh slowly so Totsuka wouldn’t hear it and bowed my head despite knowing he couldn’t see it.
“…I need a favor.”
× × ×
The next day after my call with Totsuka was a clear, winter day with minimal winds.
The park which served as the starting point for the marathon saw the gradual gathering of both the first and second year boys and girls. The route the boys were running on was on the coastal lane and back here with the Mihama Bridge.
The distance was long, really long. Anything bigger than three would be counted as a lot for Hachiman-kun who was no good at arithmetic!
Well, regardless, the number of kilometers wouldn’t affect what I needed to do.
When we were instructed to line up, we sluggishly began lining up behind the white line drawn at the starting point.
I mingled through people towards the leading group by slimily maneuvering my body like that of a hagfish. Unexpectedly, everyone made way for me. I wonder why? I guess it’s because I was all slimy and stuff?
This was at most just a school-only marathon. It wasn’t a particularly flashy event nor did it affect our grades. Being forced to just run in this cold weather didn’t see that many motivated people.
All except for one person.
With the expectation of taking another win this year, Hayama couldn’t let this end in an unsightly result. He wasn’t allowed to take it easy in public view.
He was at the forefront of the line, a spot that was across from me with several people in between. It’s essentially the pole position.
When he stretched his elastic body, girls who were going to watch us take off raised their cheering voices.
Thirty minutes after the boys was when the girls would start. Until then, it looks like they were going to cheer and observe the boys.
Hayama lightly raised his hand to the cheering voices. At the end of where he looked, slightly apart from the girls frolicking energetically was Miura.
Seemingly nervous due to the girls around her, Miura sent only reserved glances his way. Beside her was Ebina-san and Yuigahama. A step further behind them was also Yukinoshita.
And walking up to them was Isshiki.
After noticing Miura, Isshiki bowed to her. Miura nodded back. Isshiki made alternate looks between Hayama and Miura and had a fearless smirk.
Then, she placed her hands to her mouth and yelled out with a large voice, “Hayama-senpai, doooo your best…! Ah, while I’m at it, senpai, too.”
After hearing that, he waved his hand with a wry smile and for some reason, Tobe who was slightly further away replied with an energetic “Yeaaah”.
“No, no, I didn’t mean you Tobe-senpai,” said Isshiki, slightly waving her hands as if saying “no way”.
Miura watched that quietly, but after taking a deep breath in determination, she spat it out along with her voice. “Ha-Hayato… D-Do your best!”
Her reserved voice was so small that it seemed like it could be drowned out by the cheering voices. But Hayama quietly raised his hand and of course, wore a gentle smile.
Miura watched that in a trance and slowly nodded without letting out her voice.
Isshiki watched the both of them in satisfaction on the side and then turned this way again. “…Senpai, do your best too, okaaaay!”
This time it looked like she was looking my way and telling me.
Y-Yeah…Just why is she so stubborn about not saying my name…? I wonder if she doesn’t remember… As I thought about that, Yuigahama who had been watching Isshiki in a daze took a single step forward.
Then, Yuigahama waved her hand. “D-Do your best!”
Her voice was considerably more soft-spoken than Isshiki’s as if she was being conscious of her surroundings, but it definitely reached my ears… Thank goodness she didn’t call my name. I’m grateful for her consideration at times like these.
I covertly raised my hand with appreciation and Yuigahama clenched her fist back. Then, next to her, Yukinoshita’s eyes met with mine.
She wordlessly made a small nod. It felt like her mouth moved just slightly, but her voice didn’t reach me.
I wasn’t sure what she said nor did I know who it was directed to.
But well, I felt motivated.
Alrighty, let’s get to work…
I slipped my body further through the crowd and stood in the same starting line as Hayama at the very front. His eyes were facing forward, not looking in my direction.
I rotated my shoulders, stretched my Achilles heel, and took one more step forward.
After completing my preparations, my shoulders were suddenly tapped.
I turned around and Totsuka in his gym clothes was there. His thin legs that stuck out from his shorts moved incessantly, shaking from the cold. But he withheld the quivering and smiled at me. “Hachiman, let’s do our best.”
“Yeah… Totsuka, please.”
There was a lot of clamoring at the start line and lowering my head caused me to bump into someone. But even so, I still bowed my head. Yesterday, what I had asked Totsuka for help with wasn’t exactly something praiseworthy. I felt shameful for requesting Totsuka over the phone.
But Totsuka moved his lightly gripped to his chest and nodded with spirit.
“Yeah, leave it to me!” said Totsuka. “It doesn’t seem like it’s welcomed all that much, though…”
Totsuka had a troubled face and examined the other students. I looked at the group waiting further behind him. They were the members of the tennis club.
“You don’t need to do anything obvious. You just need to make sure the awareness is there. You don’t need to force yourself, either,” I said, and tapped Totsuka’s shoulder. But I quickly retracted my hand being overly worried about whether I had wiped off the sweat or not. Not good, not good. The more I think about it, the more sweat will come out and it’ll be all slimy…
I was on the verge of remembering the time during my elementary school outing when a teacher forced me to hold hands with a girl and she ended up hating me because of the sweat in my hand which led to me being dubbed as Froggygaya… Wait a minute, I completely remembered it.
Well, with this cold season, I shouldn’t be producing that much sweat. The sea wind was even prickling my cheeks right now as well.
Suddenly, the wind stopped.
“Oh, Hachiman. So you were here… Funuu, Sir Totsuka seems to be here as well?”
Abruptly making his appearing after pushing through the crowd was Zaimokuza. It looked like he was using his large frame and obstructing the wind for me.
“Hachiman, let us run together.”
“No… Ah, actually, I have something I want you to do.”
“Homuu?” Zaimokuza responded bizarrely while tilting his head.
Since it wasn’t something I wanted other people to hear, I moved my body slightly closer to Zaimokuza… For some reason, it was really warm around him, talk about gross.
I whispered into his ear and Zaimokuza took a breath going “fushurururu”.
“Hmph… I see what you are trying to do. However, I wish to avoid doing anything conspicuous or exhausting…”
“…Well, I guess so.”
My request to Zaimokuza was something incredibly burdening. Considering Zaimokuza’s athletic ability and weak mentality, he probably wouldn’t accept so easily. As a matter of fact, I think I normally turned down any requests he made to me, anyway.
I asked Zaimokuza exactly because my heart wouldn’t be hurt even if he’s treated like a dirty, old rag, but well, Zaimokuza, too, was a human. My heart may not be the one going through the grinder, but Zaimokuza’s would.
He squared his shoulders after I spoke, crossed his arms, and became arrogant. “…I do not mind doing it if you buy me a bowl of super gita ramen from Naritake.”
“You sure?” I asked.
Zaimokuza made a resigned, exaggerated sigh. “Good grief, what are you going to do without me…? As they say, you can’t keep to yourself with the truth before your eyes.”
What an annoying way to put it… I was the one who asked for his help and even I was feeling annoyed. I looked at him with apathetic eyes.
Hesitant about his surroundings, Zaimokuza said, “But, I am not doing anything that will stand out! I refuse the notion of people speaking behind my back or being flamed on the internet! Should I get criticized, I am going to spit out your name for the sake of my own, you got that!” Zaimokuza pointed at me and declared.
When I saw that, a bitter smile slipped out. Yeah, Zaimokuza-san just has to be this way! He’s really trash! Trashy cool!
“Yeah, that’s fine. You’ll be a big help. I’ll even add batter topping to your ramen for you.”
“Hmph, I suppose that will do for my calorie compensation.”
Uh, I don’t know what calculations you’re doing, but this marathon is nowhere enough to burn the calories gained from Naritake…
I gave my thanks to Zaimokuza and Totsuka again and looked towards Hayama who stood before the white line.
He was in a chat with Tobe and the others about something. When he noticed me, he sent me a smile wondering if I had some business.
I shook my head and I looked ahead.
In just a moment, the marathon would start. I could tell without bothering to look at the clock placed in the park.
The noisy voices of the students in the back gradually hushed. The sporadic cheering of the girls also grew smaller.
When everyone went quiet, as if waiting for that moment, someone walked towards the white line drawn on the floor.
“Now, are we ready?”
The one who said that and aimed a pistol at the sky was Hiratsuka-sensei.
Why is Hiratsuka-sensei…? Usually it’s a gym teacher that does this. Jeez, this person totally just wants to do things that stand out. Or could it be she just wanted to shoot the pistol, hm?
Hiratsuka-sensei raised the pistol up high and used her other hand to cover her ears. When she placed her finger on the trigger, the male students faced forward and the girls held their breath as they watched.
A few seconds passed and Hiratsuka-sensei slowly opened her mouth. “Take your position… Ready.”
In the next instant, the trigger was pulled followed by a gunshot.
Then, we all simultaneously started running as if being launched.
First, I warmed up my legs by slowly beginning my run. My goal was catching up to Hayama.
But numerous individuals lined up beside me went out at top speed as if it was the climax.
The reason for that was because of the incessant flashing of cameras. I wasn’t sure if it was for the yearbook or whatever, but for some reason, there were cameras at this marathon.
These idiots who ran with all their strength for the first dozen meters of the marathon just to leave an image were endless. In the end, they probably just wanted to brag saying, “I was first in the middle of it, you know!” Boys were really stupid.
The lot who bet their lives on their starting dash would quickly lose their energy.
That’s why the real battle started on the sidewalk we exited to from the park segment.
I quietly avoided the retiring group that fought for the top with their starting dashes and called to Zaimokuza, “Zaimokuza, I’m counting on you.”
“Phew, phew, hm…? Y-You got it!”
Zaimokuza’s breathing was already becoming violent, but after he replied, he increased his running speed. But well, since it’s Zaimokuza, it wasn’t all that much faster.
When Hayama who was in front of me and I sprung out at the top, Zaimokuza somehow kept behind us while going “fushuru, fushuru”.
We proceeded like that until the end of the park segment and Hayama turned right and out onto the sidewalk. I followed.
However, Zaimokuza’s limit when running at his best was several hundreds of meters. He gradually began to slow down and when we made it out to the narrowest sidewalk from the park, his speed dropped instantly.
“Haaaaaaa…. No more…”
He gave up and dropped to a near-walking speed dulling the movements of the group behind him. There’s no doubt a large build running lazily in front would be an obstacle.
Thanks to Zaimokuza, we were able to take some distance from the others.
The problem was from this point on.
No matter how large Zaimokuza was, he couldn’t completely seal off the path. Eventually, the group looking to take the top would slip by Zaimokuza on the side and come after us.
As I continuously checked behind me, Totsuka’s tennis club appeared exactly.
My eyes met with Totsuka as I was looking back. We then both nodded.
The course of this marathon was utilizing a general sidewalk. If you walked in a line with three people, you’d completely block off the path.
That’s why I made one request to Totsuka. While I was at the front, try to run together in a tight group as much as possible.
Of course, obvious interference would be a problem. That’s why they just needed to make some space that kept people from wanting to go through by moving slightly to the side, but also giving room for people to overtake them.
There wasn’t a need to block the path entirely.
It’s fine to just have people hesitate mentally from wanting to pass by them.
What would people who didn’t take the marathon seriously do when the group in second place in front of them was running at a similar speed?
It’s likely they wouldn’t overtake them. If it’s people who were content with decent results and didn’t need to take first place, they’d just stick with the second place group, essentially aiming for their one chance.
So far in reality, after getting onto the sidewalk, the top group consisting of Hayama and me saw no chasers from behind. It’s possible people would come after us near the final stage of the marathon, but that didn’t matter to me at all.
As long we could create the situation where it’s just Hayama and me for now, then that’s fine.
I glared at Hayama’s back, running ahead of me.
The stage was ready. It was made ready for me.
From here on was the beginning of a battle solely for me.
× × ×
The winds that blew from the sea numbed my cheeks. When the heat overflowing from the interior touched the cold air, my body pricked with chills.
Every time the soles of my shoe stomped the asphalt, the core of my body received a shock.
I couldn’t distinguish the rumblings sounds as the wind or the cracking of my body. Both sounds gradually mixed together with just warmth escaping from my mouth.
I inhaled violently and there was the sharp smell of salt water.
The trees that grew along the coastal lane seemed to be windbreaks. The place we started off from was planted with numerous pine trees, but after passing by that scenery, the trees that resembled white skeletons with shedding leaves stood out.
I shot out my legs even without being conscious of it. It was like the involuntarily pumping of blood from my heart. My heartbeat and my pace were competing, one trying to overtake the other.
My thoughts sporadically came and gone as I continued to run.
I was glad I commuted to school by bike. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to run as well as this despite not being in any sports club. It’s not like I was completely bad with marathon training. As a matter of fact, anything other than ball games was my specialty. It’s because I could see the game to its end by myself. I didn’t have to bother anyone and there’s a clear goal. For the rest, all I had to do was absentmindedly occupy my head with worthless things and move my legs.
But today’s marathon was a little different.
It felt a lot more agonizing than normal.
It’s because my pace was faster than during class. It’s because the coldness turned even more relentless and that it’s windy. It’s because I thought so much last night that I didn’t get a wink of sleep.
There were plenty of reasons.
However, the biggest reason was because of the one in front of me, Hayama Hayato.
As someone who seemed clearly used to club activities, Hayama didn’t appear exhausted and was making steady progress in his run. His upper body saw no needless and his lower body was stable, a refined form so to speak. I could see why he was able to take the win last year.
On the other hand, I was looking upwards while running without taking into account my pace and was still barely able to keep up with Hayama.
But that would soon be over.
The developments of the race up until now had not moved. As of now, Hayama and I formed the leading group in first place while the second place was occupied by a group with Totsuka and his tennis club as its core. It looks like he was managing their speed of those trailing behind them well. Or perhaps, the athletes were abiding their time until the second half.
There should be even more people after them, but because they were so far away, I couldn’t see them even with the turn of my head.
Hayama maintained his steady pace as usual. Our first plan of sabotage must’ve gone well since we managed to create considerable distance between our groups, so there didn’t seem like anyone would come chasing after us.
But the problem was me.
We were still in the first half of the marathon, yet my stamina was nearing its limit.
Since earlier, my sides had been aching, my feet stinging, and my ears tingling. Honestly, I wanted to go home this instant. If I were to eat something, I’d probably vomit it all out.
I somehow managed to run all this way, but unless I did something now, I wasn’t likely to be able to continue any further.
As I continued running with my eyes glued to Hayama’s back, I suddenly felt the sensation at my feet change. The cold wind blew into hems of my shorts.
We were just about close to the turnaround bridge.
On top of the bridge, teachers were waiting, giving us ribbons in place of checks.
Finally finishing half of the marathon, I was on the verge of releasing a breath of relief, but I forcibly swallowed it down and circulated the oxygen through my lungs.
I couldn’t lose my focus here just yet.
I slightly upped my pace in order to chase after Hayama who was several steps further ahead. More jolts ran through my feet that firmly planted onto the floor.
In reality, if I didn’t do all of this, I wouldn’t be able to catch up to Hayama. Unfortunately, there’s an evident gap in our leg strength. Had it just been the two of us running normally, this situation would’ve been impossible.
That’s why I had borrowed Totsuka and Zaimokuza’s assistance and ran with all my strength completely neglecting the regulation of my pacing.
It was all for this chance, for this moment.
I violently breathed out countless times and somehow caught up to Hayama.
When I ran up next to him, Hayama had not given me the slightest look for all this time finally turned towards me. His eyes went wide and had a look of slight surprise.
“You’re actually keeping up, huh…?” said Hayama, without cutting his breathing.
In contrast, I answered with a fragmented voice. “Yeah, pretty much. If I, thought about, controlling my pace, I wouldn’t be able to.”
Hayama marginally moved his head to the side and glanced at me. I couldn’t help but smirk at his expression that wondered why I’d do something like that. Due to my dry throat, in that moment, I choked. After suppressing my coughs, I slowly opened my mouth.
“It’s not like anyone’s expecting me to make it to the goal. They won’t even care if I retired in the middle.”
Truthfully, I wasn’t really concerned with placing in the marathon, let alone finishing it. It wasn’t a problem as long I could find myself running alone with Hayama Hayato after the turnaround point with no one to bother us. I ran with all my strength, all so we could arrive at this point… Despite all that, the despair of being barely able to keep up with Hayama who was regulating his pace was no joke. My spirit was on the verge of collapsing, but still, I was already past the turnaround point.
What came to mind when people made it through the turnaround point of a painful penance?
Was it despair that there’s still another half to go or was it reassurance that it was just another half until they made it? In the case for a majority of people, it’d be one or the other. And the feelings from both choices would form a hole in someone’s spirit.
This hole would cause people to realize their fatigue. Source was me. Frankly, a feeling of exhaustion enveloped me when I was about to let out a breath of relief from finally finish the first half and when I looked downwards, my feet naturally grew heavy.
That hole and that fatigue was my chance. When people lost room to move, their true intentions spilled out. In the same way my little sister Komachi did, they’d spit out what’s locked deep within their hearts.
That’s why I pushed myself up to this point.
In any other normal situation, he’d surely just dismiss my words with a peaceful smile regardless of what I said to him. In that case, I needed to take away his headroom so he couldn’t avoid things.
But while Hayama was surprised from me running next to him, he looked calm as he always would. He had a somewhat stern look because he was running, but he didn’t look shaken up.
I needed one more push to disrupt Hayama’s equilibrium.
Just one thing that could pierce right through Hayama, right through his core.
I forcibly stifled my increasingly heavy breathing. My chest was in pain, but I endured it and smiled, distorting the corners of my mouth.
“…Is Miura convenient for avoiding other girls or what?” I said.
Hayama turned towards me. He glared at me with a sharp glint, breathing out hot breaths in place of swallowing down his hostility. Yeah, this is the expression I wanted to see.
He wordlessly looked at me and slightly increased his pace as if deciding to ignore me. I frantically chased after him and hit him with more words.
“How about it? Is she useful?”
To be honest, I knew Miura wasn’t a bad person. As someone who had a glimpse of her excessively straightforward personality, uttering something like that pricked my heart somewhat.
In that case, that should apply to the listener as well.
“Be quiet for a bit.” Without looking at me, Hayama stated with a voice mixed with irritation. I took a step backwards, encroaching on his overbearing attitude that conflicted with his normal, calm tone.
But I focused again and took a step forward.
“You can’t expect me to be quiet just like that… I’m not as nice of guy as you make me out to be, yeah?”
I made a menial smile, borrowing the words I was once told by someone. When I did, Hayama gave me an apathetic look with a condescending smile.
“Is that a joke? I’ve never thought of you as a good guy.”
Because he had stated so bluntly, I lowered the speed at which I was running. Should I lose my concentration here, the gap between us would increase and increase, so I attentively kept my face forward.
“What an unpleasant guy…”
The words slipped out of my mouth and Hayama smiled with some amount of ridicule.
“I don’t want to hear that from you.”
You got that right. I was on the verge of smiling. But my efforts turned out fruitful since I was able to make him react differently from his typical calm self. If so, this was the best timing.
I regulated my breathing again so my voice wouldn’t sound broke as I ran.
“So liberal arts or the sciences, what did you pick?”
“I won’t tell you.”
“Let me guess. You picked the sciences.” I instantly shot back an answer.
Hayama sighed briefly in amazement. “…Do you really think I’m going to answer a two choice question?”
“Fine, I’ll say it differently,” I said. I scantly upped the pace of my legs that shot out. I focused on my heavy thighs, raised it, and overtook Hayama by small, several steps. I moved my head and turned around. “Choose the sciences. I don’t know what you picked nor do I care. But you can still change it, so go on and change it.”
Hayama showed a stupefied face that was rare for him and pitched forward for an instant. He quickly covered that, lined up with me again, and ran.
“…You blurt out some of the craziest things.”
As if in a panic, even Hayama’s breathing had increased.
“I can’t help it. I need to know which of the two subjects you went with, but… You’re not telling me and a little guesswork isn’t getting me anywhere… That means the only thing I can do is to make you change your choice to the answer I want.”
Hayama Hayato had too many choices that I couldn’t narrow them down. In that case, all I needed to do was effectively erase all of them. If I was the one who could decide which of the two subjects he should pick, then the request from Miura would be satisfied.
“That’s more than just getting your priorities backwards, you know…” Hayama let out a dry laugh.
He might’ve been dumbfounded. But I didn’t blurt it out without reason.
“There’s a merit to changing. Actually, it’s the only way to satisfy your desired conditions.”
“Conditions?” Hayama made a dubious look. Thanks to that, Hayama’s pace lowered. I matched mine with his.
“You told me to stop doing bothersome things, right…? In other words, you want to stop being the Hayama Hayato that everyone wants you to be.”
Hayama abruptly stopped his legs. I noticed that and halted as well.
At that moment, I felt sweat coming out. It’s likely because we had been running directly against the wind that I never even noticed. I wiped the sweat with the sleeve of my jersey and turned to Hayama.
Hayama looked at me with an expression of surprise and despite not being tired, let out a deep sigh.
“And why do you think that?” Hayama gave me an urging look and began walking. I followed.
“Nothing really. I only thought about the things you’d try to throw away. After all, when picking between the liberal arts and the sciences, it’s normal to discard the subjects you’re not good at and the things you don’t want to do.”
If we’re just talking about simple entrance exams, then with Hayama’s academic ability, classes at school shouldn’t have been much of an influence. Prep school was enough for him to understand what was necessary. So in there, the meaning wasn’t about entrance exam strategies or interested universities.
The question was, what was it that Hayama Hayato chose to throw away?
The remaining meaning was the life he’d have as a third year in high school, in other words, his relationships.
“Honestly, choosing the liberal arts or the sciences isn’t a big problem as long you did something about the entrance exams. And yet, you never told anyone. So basically, weren’t you planning to throw away something by keeping quiet?”
Hayama stayed silent, not giving an answer and only continued walking. But I could tell that silence meant I should go on.
“The sciences have less people in the first place, girls too. For now at least, you’d be able to move away from the problem that’s plaguing you. Besides, if your career path’s different, then you should be able to convince everyone and get away from them. If things naturally disappeared, then you can avoid hurting anyone as well as betraying someone’s expectations.” My voice grew huskier due to my dry throat, but I still managed to weave my words and added one final thing. “Your desired conditions can only be satisfied in this way.”
As if bothered by his flowing sweat, Hayama brushed up his hair, wiped it, and then looked towards the sea.
Then, in a small voice, he whispered, “I guess we really wouldn’t have been able to get along, after all…”
Upon asking him, coming from the rear was the sound of light footsteps. When I turned around, several people from the group in second place were coming after us. Apparently after seeing Hayama beginning to walk, they saw it as an opportunity to take action.
Both Hayama and I watched them go past us.
As we watched their backs grow distant, Hayama opened his mouth.
“Well… You’re pretty amazing.”
“Oh, so the right answer was the sciences?”
“That’s not it. It’s just you really are warped,” said Hayama, shaking his head.
For him to purposely declare that I was wrong on this multiple-choice question meant the remaining choice was the correct answer. “So it’s liberal arts” or so I tried to say, but Hayama interrupted me with a meek, composed voice
“I hate you.”
Not even giving me the slightest look, his sudden words caused me to lose my voice. Although I wasn’t exactly the most likable person, being told upfront like this, refreshingly on top of that, had never happened before. Hayama didn’t seem to mind my reaction as he continued looking forward, continued looking into the distance, and continued gradually.
“I absolutely can’t stand it when I feel inferior to you. That’s why I want you to be my equal. That’s why I want to raise you up high, and that just might be it, all so I can accept the things I lose to you in.”
I’m sure that was the same for me. I elevated Hayama as a special existence as a means to convince myself, reinforcing a lie all this time, the lie that Hayama Hayato was, without a doubt, an absolutely good guy.
I responded meaninglessly and Hayama then faced me as if it had reached him this time. He wore a smile that was far more refreshing and provocative than any other one.
“That’s why I won’t do as you say.”
I nodded and Hayama returned one as well.
It’s likely that the choice between the two subjects didn’t matter at all to Hayama deep down. To him, either choice didn’t make that much of a difference.
That’s why, hearing that right now was enough. I could also resolve Miura’s consultation. Though, that’s not to say the entire problem at hand had disappeared. Anything after this point on was outside my jurisdiction.
“We should get going now,” said Hayama, lightly moving along and beginning his run.
Idiot, I can’t run at all anymore. While thinking that, I more or less chased after Hayama.
That’s because there’s still one more thing I wanted to ask.
I forcibly carried my dragging legs along. Fortunately, my breathing had eased after some rest. My heart was still beating quickly, but I took a deep breath to slow it down.
“…Did you choose the liberal arts because of family problems? Uh, like in a relationship kind of meaning.”
“My family? Did I ever talk to you about them before?”
This speed we ran at was apparently at the level of jogging to Hayama, so right now, his gait and voice were light.
“No, well, I just happened to hear about it…”
My body that was cooled by sweat was further chilled by the cold sea wind. My body stirred from the freezing coldness, an enveloped discomfort, and the strange silence.
But as if no longer concerned with his place in the marathon, he directed me a gaze of interest and looked like he was in contemplation. He then abruptly opened his mouth.
“Are you bothered by the rumor?”
“Huh? No, that’s not really it… It’s just, well, you know, that… Kind of.”
When I fretted over how to explain it, Hayama raised his voice and laughed. Despite running with such a beautiful form, his upper body was shaking bit by bit and then swaying.
“…What’s so funny?” I asked.
Hayama wiped his eyes forcibly. “Nothing, sorry. You don’t need to worry about it. I’ll make sure it goes away.”
“Ahh, if you can, that’d help me a lot. I can’t stand how tense the club is right now.”
In the time we had that conversation, I could hear the breathing of another student approaching my side. I turned around once and then back to the front. The ones that passed us should’ve put some considerable distance from us already.
My legs wouldn’t move as I wanted them as if they were attached with heavy lead.
“Looks like they got away pretty far… I guess we should take it easy. Sorry for screwing up your successive win,” I said, proposing.
However, Hayama shook his head. He shook his hands like a sort of light stretch and then grinned. “…No, I’ll win… That’s me, after all.”
He stated in such a way, that winning, that he’d answer everyone’s expectations, and that he’d act as Hayama Hayato all the way until the end, as if that was him.
Hayama steadily increased his pace, taking a several steps ahead of me as I was running sluggishly, and turned around. “Besides, I don’t want to lose to you.”
He left with those words and ran off.
Further and further, I was left behind.
There wasn’t much remaining of my spare energy to chase after him and all I could do was watch him leave. Hayama Hayato had blurted out the answer I wasn’t able to, dreamed of the possibilities that I couldn’t believe in, and went out into the distance.
Damn it, aren’t you cool or what?
Don’t tell me he’s a sore loser, too? I had that idiotic impression as I ran and my right leg collided with my left calf.
Unable to catch my fall, I collapsed onto the floor. I lay there on my back, looking up at the sky.
My white breaths blended with the thoroughly blue winter sky overhead.
× × ×
In the end, the marathon quietly progressed with no changes to my plans of laying or sleeping on the ground.
After my collapse, I stayed on my back for a while. Totsuka did come to help me up, but since I couldn’t bother him more than I already had, I had him go on ahead. I managed to make it to the goal, dragging my hurt leg by myself.
For the most part, I didn’t place last, but for the last spurt, I had joined the very last group of the marathon and made frantic efforts at the moment of the goal. It’s to the point I checked around wondering, “I don’t need to make it to the goal anymore, right…?” By the way, the one who answered me was Zaimokuza who was running together with me at the end.
When we finished running, my trembling knees gave in and this was a good time for Nico Nico Nii…1
I checked my condition after falling over and was in terrible shape.
My knees and lower leg were grazed, my shorts were messy with mud, I was cramping around my butt area, my side was aching the entire time, and trying to find any part that didn’t hurt was difficult. In the first place, I was always a painful child, so if I could get even more hurt than this, it might actually be worth studying (it hurts).
If it wasn’t for cheering myself up halfway through with “Do your best ♡, do your best ♡”, I think my life would’ve turned into zero.
Of course, there’s no one waiting for me at the goal.
Rather, there’s just one gym teacher regretfully present near the goal site while everyone else seemed to be gathered at the square of the park.
I went over there to take a peek and they were right in the middle of a public ceremony event.
Usually, a marathon didn’t have an awards ceremony like this, but seeing that Isshiki was serving as the host of the event, the student council probably planned it in a hurry. Surprisingly, she was a capable individual. Isshiki Iroha was one to be feared.
“Now then, now that the results have been presented, we’d like to hear a general comment from our winners!” Isshiki spoke happily, holding a microphone that looked like she brought from the student council room. In the meantime, seeing the vice president adjust the speakers was a little surreal.
I quickly surveyed the area and the first and second year boys and girls couldn’t be distinguished from each other and were gathered here at the square of the park. People from my class such as Yuigahama, Miura, Ebina-san, Tobe, and Totsuka were in there as well.
As I watched from afar, Isshiki called forth the winner. “The winner, Hayama Hayato-san, please come up to the stage!”
When Hayama was called, he ascended onto the improvised stage wearing a laurel wreath. The gallery erupted into cheers. Actually, I can’t believe he seriously won…
“Hayama-senpai, congratulations for winning! I totally knew you were going to win, you knooow!”
Isshiki gave him a clear, bias greeting and Hayama answered with a refreshing smile.
“Now then, please give us a comment.”
After handing the microphone to Hayama, he was given applause and hand whistles followed by the start of the HA-YA-TO call. When she handed the microphone to Hayama, what followed were applause and hand whistling, and the start of the HA-YA-TO call. Tobe’s interjections of “Heeeeeya”, “Yeaaaaaah”, and “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” were incredibly annoying.
He waved at them with an embarrassed smile and began speaking.
“It was looking a little close in the middle of the marathon, but thanks to my good rivals and everyone’s cheering, I was able to make it to the end. Thank you very much,” said Hayama, stating without hesitation. He then paused for a moment. After spotting Miura in the crowd, he waved at her. “Especially Yumiko and Iroha… Thank you.”
Then, the cheering voices swelled even louder. Oooka whistled with his fingers while Yamato sent magnificent applause. As for Miura and Isshiki, they turned stiff from having their names suddenly called, but gradually started twisting their bodies in embarrassment and hung their heads with flushed cheeks. Yuigahama kindly patted Miura’s shoulders.
When the onlookers saw Hayama’s warm gaze and the two’s reactions, they grew noisy. I see, so this is what he meant by making it go away.
The winner continued further with his comment.
“After this, we’ll focus on our efforts on our club and do our best for our last tournament. Also, to the soccer members today, it seems like a lot of you ended up with poor results, so I’ll be whipping you guys into shape.”
Hayama directed a malicious smile at Tobe and his group. Tobe fell backwards with a “Whooooa~”.
“Hayato-kuuun, ya can’t do that! You gotta let us know that beforehand!”
Tobe raised his natural voice so it didn’t lose to the microphone and everyone exploded into “dowahaha” laughter. What a kind world this is…
“Okaaaay, thank you very much. And that was our winner, Hayama Hayato-san. Okay, round of applause… We don’t really need to bother with second place and the rest, right?”
Slipping in the loud applause was Isshiki’s needless confirmation to the vice president which got picked up entirely by the microphone. What the heck is she doing…?
Isshiki somehow managed to gloss over her slip and Hayama who descended down the stage had a friendly chat with Miura and the others.
The sense of distance they had before was no longer there. In fact, Miura was shrinking back, embarrassed by the gazes of the surroundings, and was hiding behind Yuigahama and Ebina-san’s back.
After making sure of that, I left the square of the park.
Without a doubt, I had seen with my own eyes Hayama Hayato’s act of being Hayama Hayato. Perhaps it could’ve just been his farce of altruistic self-interest specialized in answering people’s expectations, but I had no complaints considering how perfectly he handled it.
When I left the square, I encountered a group of people dismissing themselves at the same time. The boys and girls were having a trifling chat.
“Yeah, that rumor was just a lie, after all!” “Hayama-kun and Miura-san get along really well!” Watching them with a sidelong glance, I dragged my staggering leg towards the school’s infirmary.
× × ×
The school building was deserted and it felt much colder than it did at the square earlier.
A lot of the students were either still at the square for the marathon or freely spending their time elsewhere.
I changed into my indoor shoes and walked in the empty hallway of the special building. Just the act of doing that caused light pulsing stings to my leg.
I knocked on the door of the infirmary.
I was answered with a familiar sounding voice. This voice is… As I thought, I opened the door and as I had anticipated, the one ahead was Yukinoshita. Still wearing her track uniform and sitting in a chair, she looked at me blankly.
“Hikigaya-kun…? I thought for sure you were Yuigahama-san.”
“If you’re looking for Yuigahama, she’s still at the park. Then again, what are you doing here?”
“I took a short rest and they forced me to drop out…” said Yukinoshita, gritting her teeth. Apparently she was booted out of the marathon while in the middle of a break. After seeing her frustration, it looked like she was actually intending to finish it, huh…?
“Hikigaya-kun…” She glanced at my leg and her eyes narrowed in pain. “You were hurt?”
“Yeah, just a little.”
I couldn’t possibly tell her my legs collided into each other. I mean, it’s lame. Plus, you know, it’d be as if I was like the victim of domestic violence or something. Something like, “That’s not it! This just happened because I fell over!” I couldn’t have people be needlessly concerned that I was involved in domestic violence, either.
“You could have gotten treated at the goal. The nurse should have gone over there.”
“No one was there when I finished…” I answered.
Yukinoshita placed her hand to her chin in contemplation of something. “I see. You have awful timing, or maybe awful luck, or awful eyes, or perhaps–”
“My personality, my attitude, everything about me is awful. Anyway, we can use these disinfectants and stuff, right?” I asked her while rummaging through the unlocked medicine cabinet.
Yukinoshita sighed. “…You seem awfully clumsy as well.” She stood up, motioned me away from the medicine cabinet with just her hands. She took the disinfectant and bandage and pointed at the seat in front of her. “Sit over there.”
“Uh, I can treat myself.”
“Just sit down.”
While unsatisfied, I took a seat as I was told for now. When I did, Yukinoshita sat in the seat she was in earlier and moved to the front of me.
She placed her hand on my leg and began sterilizing the open wound. There was the sharp smell of antiseptic solution. Then, slightly stooping over, Yukinoshita’s head came closer along with the gentle fragrance of SABON.
For every dab of the piece of cotton damped with disinfectant on my open wound, a sweet, itchy pain pulsated. I wasn’t particularly accustomed to this kind of medical treatment. Because she timidly touched at my wound, I occasionally felt a sting in my injury from the disinfectant.
“Hey, um, i-it stings, you know…”
“Of course it does, I’m disinfecting the wound. It’s only natural that it’s effective on you, Hikigaya-kun.”
“Uh huh, let’s stop treating people like bacteria, okay?”
“It’s proof that it’s working. Bear with it.”
Look here, the good medicine tastes bitter theory, was it? You can’t expect me to believe that. If being bitter was enough, wouldn’t that mean my life is the best thing ever?
Although I brought it up, Yukinoshita’s touch grew softer, seemingly being somewhat considerate of me, and her hand treatment became careful. This time it felt so ticklish that I had to restrain my body from leaping.
Until she finished disinfecting the area where the abrasion of my injury was, we were both quiet. I gradually grew used to the prickling pain and my stiff body started to relax. Yukinoshita spun the bandage once, then twice, and slowly opened her mouth.
“It seems you ran with Hayama-kun… Did you hear anything from him?”
“Yeah… At the very least, it’s not the sciences, probably,” I answered oddly, unable to think of any other way to phrase it.
Yukinoshita chuckled. “That’s a strange way to put it… All done.”
Yukinoshita breathed out in satisfaction and lifted her face. When she did, Yukinoshita’s face, which had been stooping over, became so close to mine to the point we were almost touching.
Both of us were locked stiff in that position.
Her exposed skin that was as white as a blanket of snow. Her wet, damp black pupils. Her long eyelashes that momentarily shook with a blink. The finely shaped bridge of her nose. The smiling shape of her mouth along with the escaping of breaths.
When Yukinoshita’s thin shoulders quivered, her long, glossy hair flowed.
I frantically looked up at the ceiling, fell backwards with my body, and made some distance. Somewhere in that moment, I felt a sting from my injury.
“…Ahh, thanks for this.”
“…Not at all. It’s no big deal.”
After I expressed my gratitude in a way to smooth things over, Yukinoshita adjusted her sitting and turned her face away.
At that point, the infirmary was submerged in silence.
With nothing to do, I looked at the bandage that she wrapped for me earlier. Upon looking, the knot of the bandage was tied in the shape of a small ribbon… So by “all done”, she meant this, huh? Don’t they have those metal clippings to fasten the bandages? Use those. What’s with this ribbon…? It sure is cute.
As I looked at the ribbon, I slipped out a smile. I started to feel somewhat better.
I pulled my chair, took a shallow seat, and stretched my back. Yukinoshita tilted her head finding my posture to be strange.
Right now, I felt I wanted to ask her.
“…Hey. Can I ask you what you’re doing for your career?” I asked.
Yukinoshita let out a breath as if in bewilderment. Her hand which she placed on her chin to think was brought down to her chest and stopped.
“I’m enrolled in International Liberal Arts course, so it shouldn’t matter whether I choose one or the other…”
“…You’re right. I just wanted to try asking. Don’t worry about it.”
It was an answer I had somewhat expected, but even so, I was satisfied, though it might’ve been self-satisfaction instead.
I stated with the intention of glossing it over, but Yukinoshita placed her idle hands on her lap and looked at me with a slightly downcast expression.
“This is the first time you’ve asked me something like that, isn’t it?”
I knew that, but I pretended not to.
For all this time, there were plenty of opportunities to ask personal things like that, but I had drawn a line that I swore not to step over. It’s because I thought I wouldn’t be forgiven if I did.
Yukinoshita coughed as if having a difficult time speaking and looked into my eyes at an oblique angle in examination. “…For now, I decided on liberal arts.”
“Yes. That’s why… we’re still together for the time being,” said Yukinoshita, smiling. It was a smile as though she was a little girl on the day before an outing.
“Well, as far as liberal arts are concerned.”
I chose the liberal arts and there’s no doubt Yuigahama did as well.
Just how much meaning that division had, I didn’t know. Ultimately, we’d eventually embark to different places and to different worlds. In the same way a group of three when younger couldn’t stay together forever. As time continued on, the way things ought to be would undoubtedly change.
What didn’t change were the truths of the past. That may tie in with responsibility, but it could also be something that could keep things in place. As long that one step over the line left a footprint, then that’s fine.
“Alright, I’ll be heading back to class now.”
“Sure. See you later.”
Together with her brief response, she lifted her hand just a little bit and shook it as helplessly as ever. I nodded to her and placed my hand on the door of the infirmary.
The door then shook. I opened the door, wondering where exactly the wind was coming in from, and a person was standing in front of me.
“Whoa… freaked me out there…”
My chest thumped from the sudden appearance of a figure and I suppressed it. The person in front of me was Yuigahama Yui and her expression was stiff as well, stumbling with her words.
“Yuigahama… Did you just get here?”
“Eh, ah, yeah. Yeah, I did! I was going to knock…”
When I asked her, as if the surprise from earlier made her late, she responded in a panic. She then lightly closed her eyes, adjusted her breathing and lifted her face.
“Yukinooon! Sorry for being late!” She said with a loud voice and entered the infirmary and sat across Yukinoshita. Yukinoshita had a slightly puzzled face but quickly shook her head and smiled at Yuighaama.
“I don’t mind. I wasn’t bored.”
“Okay, that’s good… Ah, I know. Since Hikki’s here, now’s a good time.”
Yuigahama turned to me and beckoned me over with her hand.
Well, I couldn’t leave the door left open like this. There’s just one wall partitioning the room from the hallway, yet the hallway was extremely chilly.
I entered the infirmary once again and I was enveloped with the warm air. Yuigahama moved her seat next to Yukinoshita, sitting side by side in front of the heater, the source of the warmth.
“We need to tell Yumiko today about the request, right? But there’s a party after this and Yumiko is heading directly there. What should we do?”
In contrast to Yuigahama who spoke in a hurry, Yukinoshita placed her hand to her chin and began thinking.
“…Then on our way home, it seems we’ll have to go to Miura-san and speak with her.”
“At least say you’re going to the party!” Yuigahama shrieked in sorrow.
Yukinoshita and I exchanged looks. We were both used to this pattern. We both nodded and spoke simultaneously.
“Alright, if we can go, we’ll go.”
“Yes, we’ll decide on the flow of things.”
“In the end, you guys aren’t just going to go, you know!?”
After letting out an exhausted sigh, she calmly opened her mouth.
“Okay, well, but, compared to before, I guess it’s better…” said Yuigahama, and she relocated her stool with casters next to Yukinoshita.
“Okay, then let’s all go together…! Everyone… together.” She repeated her mutters and moved her body closer to Yukinoshita.
“…So stuffy.” Yukinoshita frowned as if the heating in front of her was the cause. But she didn’t forcibly pull Yuigahama off of her and stayed as is. Yuigahama didn’t seem intent on moving from here, either. In front of the heater, she began making a comfortable, happy face.
I’m pretty sure the school nurse is going to come back eventually and chase us out …
Well, until then, I guess I’ll stay here in this warm room, too.
- Love Live – Yazawa Nico’s catchphrase. ↩