Once the sun had completely set, the temperatures plummeted and the winds grew fiercer. As we walked the path along the public park towards the station from school, the trees with shedding leaves shook from the northern winds.
I adjusted the collars of my coat and buried the lower half of my face into my scarf. Walking ahead of me was Yukinoshita, Yuigahama, and Miura. Today’s after-school club activities were suspended so we could make a report on the consultation we accepted from Miura and we accompanied her on the way to the after-party.
As Miura’s tartan scarf and proud curly hair fluttered with the wind, she muttered, “Oh… so Hayato’s picking the liberal arts.”
“Uh huh. That’s the feeling we got at least,” said Yuigahama, anxiously fiddling with the bun of her hair.
Well, it’s word of mouth information, so the reporter wasn’t exactly believable as a source, see. It’s fine to lack confidence, yep.
Even after hearing that, Miura kicked the ground with her slipped on loafers and indifferently looked up at the sky. “Okay, maybe I’ll just go with that, too.”
“Should you be choosing so easily like that?”
Yukinoshita’s voice, while soft, also sounded critical. Without turning towards Yukinoshita and still gazing up at the darkness, Miura walked on as if observing the stars.
“I mean, I don’t really have anything I want to do. I could just, you know, go to prep school if I really have to take the sciences, right?”
I think that’d only work out if you had Hayama’s level of academics, but what about Miura? Aren’t you being a little too optimistic? I wasn’t the only one with this thought. Yukinoshita had a sullen face as well. By the way, Yuigahama was nodding her head. The one who should be the most concerned with their academic level is you, you know…
But my concern was apparently needless.
“I can just take some time off for the exams… But I can’t really do that with this,” said Miura. She stopped, lifted her heels as if stretching her back and held her hands together at her back. I couldn’t see what expression she had from behind. However, I had the feeling her eyes were as transparent as the winter sky.
“Just so you know, you’ve got another thing coming if you’re going to stick with that.”
“Hikki, shush!” Yuigahama nudged me with her elbow as if chiding me.
Miura moved just her neck and glared at me. “Huh? I don’t need to hear that from you, Hikio.”
Waah… Miura-tan, you’re sooo scary… Miura glared at me for a moment, but eventually suppressed her sharp look and took another step. With a small voice as if making a rebuttal to me, she mumbled.
“It’s just… well… see, even including the annoying stuff,” said Miura, turning around as if making a spin. The hems of her coat and her glossy blonde hair lightly danced. Her body still turning in motion, she wore a slightly embarrassed grin. “I guess it’s okay, after all.”
I couldn’t help but be in awe when she said that with such a nice smile. To think you could state it so simply. It’s a pure aspiration exactly because it’s so simplistic, so concise and so straightforward.
For a short while, I watched that smile in a daze. When she noticed my gaze, Miura retracted her smile and briskly began walking in displeasure.
“Oh… with just that, it’s okay. So it was that simple…”
When I turned around to the muttering voice, Yuigahama was squeezing the bosom of her coat. Standing next to her, Yukinoshita was looking at Miura with a stunned expression.
However, it might not have been something to be surprised around. Even during the field trip, Miura had grasped Hayama and Ebina-san’s intentions. Perhaps, those soft emotions she had could even be called genuine… Don’t forget Miura-san was a holder of mother qualities, too!
Miura turned back noticing that we were at a stand-still.
“Yui, thanks.” She faced Yuigahama and lightly tapped her shoulders. Then, she rotated just her neck and gave me a look. “Ahh, Hikio, too.”
She doesn’t even care… I was being treated like a complete supplement, not to mention my name isn’t Hikio. Well, that’s fine too.
“Also… Yukinoshita-san? You… um, you know, it’s like…” Miura shifted her gaze from me to Yukinoshita. She chewed her words anxiously, but eventually looking determined, she glared at Yukinoshita directly and abruptly bowed her head. “Sorry.”
Yukinoshita blinked with a blank expression, but after breathing out with a small smile, she flicked away her hair at her shoulders with her mitten-covered hands.
“It doesn’t bother me. Rather, I’d like to praise your audacity for coming directly at me.”
“Tch, what’s with that ego? So irritating… I totally apologized for nothing.”
Their words seemed hostile, but both of their voices were soft.
Yuigahama looked at them with anxiety, but unable to hold it in any longer, jumped at Yukinoshita and Miura. “Okay! Then let’s all go to the after-party.”
Held by Yuigahama, Yukinoshita twisted her body as if trying to turn down the invitation. Miura, who was in Yuigahama’s arms as well, glanced at Yukinoshita and said, “Why don’t you come, too?”
“…I suppose so. Just for a little then.”
Her hesitation lasted for only a moment. Yukinoshita formed a small smile and answered. Miura averted her face.
The location for the after-party that we relocated to was a fancy and hip looking store, an English-styled pub. In there, the students revolving around Hayama’s group and Isshiki were frolicking noisily.
Judging from their liveliness, it looked more like Hayama’s victory celebration than an after-party. Including Hayama’s group, Isshiki, Totsuka and his group, and for some reason, Zaimokuza was in there.
Upon entering the store, Miura promptly went to Hayama. Yuigahama was perplexed at what to do, but when Yukinoshita nodded to her, she made a reluctant smile and went after Miura.
With the two of us remaining, Yukinoshita and I briefly ordered our drinks and leaned against the end of the bar counter.
“Thank you for your work.”
Yukinoshita stood next to me and lifted her glass and I raised mine to a similar height. We weren’t accustomed to this kind of boisterous atmosphere, but it’s Yukinoshita and me. I’d say watching them from the corner was just about the perfect distance for all of us.
For a moment longer, we continued watching everyone silently, but as if noticing our gaze, Hayama who had went around made his way to us. Going through the formalities as the leading actor sure seems tough…
“Hey there… Thanks for coming.”
Yukinoshita shook her head indicating it’s not a big deal and I nodded in agreement. As I thought about whether it’d be better to congratulate him, Hayama quietly lowered his head.
“Sorry… for all the trouble I’ve caused you… Like that rumor… and other things.”
Yukinoshita choked on her voice in bewilderment. But that was only for an instant as she quickly assumed a firm attitude and reiterated what she had stated in the clubroom.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s a trivial matter compared to back then.”
“Back then, huh?” Hayama muttered with a shameful expression.
Seeing that, Yukinoshita’s expression grew cloudy as well.
“…I understand it somewhat now. I’m sure we could’ve handled the situation a lot better. That’s what I believe I caused you trouble as well… I’m sorry.” This time, Yukinoshita bowed her head. When she lifted her head, with eyes that looked nostalgically into the far past, she added, “But I’m grateful that you were looking out for me.”
Hayama’s expression was filled with surprise. Taken aback, he made a fixed gaze at Yukinoshita. “…You’ve changed a little.”
“I wonder about that. There are just a lot of things different now from back then,” said Yukinoshita, and she moved her gaze towards Yuigahama. Then, she glanced at me.
Feeling restless from having heard something I wasn’t supposed to, I instinctively averted my eyes.
Yukinoshita breathed out as if smiling and turned to Hayama. “You shouldn’t let the past tie you down anymore… There’s no need to force yourself to chase after someone.”
“…That clearly includes me too,” I said.
Hayama smiled, somehow triumphantly.
Walking up from behind Hayama was Yuigahama. A little further behind her was Totsuka following her. Intoxicated by the lively atmosphere in the store, Yuigahama wrapped herself around Yukinoshita’s arm.
“Yukinon, the food’s here! There’s, like, a lot of chicken! They’re all super whole roasted!”
“It’s really amazing! C’mon Hachiman, you should come over too!” Totsuka made a perky smile.
I appreciated his invitation since I was feeling awkward being there. “Yeah!” I replied twice energetically and just as I was about to head over with Totsuka, Hayama stopped me lightly with his hand.
“We’ll be over there in a bit… Right, Hikigaya?” said Hayama, and looked at Totsuka and Yuigahama with a meek smile.
Yuigahama nodded. “Okay, we’ll be waiting over there!”
She then forcibly dragged Yukinoshita along. Totsuka lightly waved his hand and returned to his seat. Ahh… I wanted to peck at chicken with Totsuka, too…
As I watched the three of them leave, Hayama shook his glass followed by the sound of clanging ice.
“Yeah, she really did change a little… It doesn’t look like she’s chasing after Haruno-san’s shadow anymore.” Hayama’s gaze that followed Yukinoshita quietly narrowed and was sharp. His voice afterwards was somber. “…But that’s all there is to it.”
“Sounds fine to me,” I answered, not giving it any thought. For Yukinoshita, I’m sure it was a part of her growth. It’s likely that she had been constantly compared to the existence that surpassed her own. Continuing to chase after Haruno-san’s shadow and trying to grab ahold of something that was different from Haruno-san was a testimony of her struggle. In that case, I felt it was something to be proud of.
But Hayama looked at me in amazement. He painfully swallowed the content of his glass cup and asked solemnly, “…You haven’t noticed?”
“Well, if you don’t get it, then that’s fine too…”
“That’s an irritating thing to say.”
“I was told in the same way a lot back then, so it just naturally came out similarly.” Hayama wryly smiled.
That way of speaking certainly did resemble how that person would speak.
When Yuigahama and the others arrived at their seats, Miura and Isshiki waved their hands at Hayama. They were probably telling him to hurry on over. Hayama lightly waved back and just as he was about to head back, he went “ah” as if recalling something and resumed his original position and spoke to me.
“Right. I forgot to tell you something.”
“It’s a follow-up to your explanation. It’s about the reason why I didn’t tell anyone my decision between the sciences and the liberal arts. It wasn’t because I wanted to cut off my relationships. Relationships won’t reset from moving up a year or going on to college.”
“No, they definitely will.”
“That applies only to you, Hikigaya. I’m different from you.”
“…Yeah, that so. Well, what’s the reason then?”
When I asked Hayama who shrugged his shoulders with a mocking tone, he gulped down the content of his glass and breathed out. As if he was reciting in front of a grave with a slightly solitary face, he slowly opened his mouth.
“Picking the only possible option when there’s nothing else can’t be called my own decision.”
It’s when he explained that I finally understood. It wasn’t that Hayama didn’t say anything about his career path.
It’s that he couldn’t. Even not saying anything wasn’t his own volition.
After continuing to answer expectations and wishes for so long, he could only interpret those as conformist actions. He wasn’t allowed to hold onto anything but the most optimal solution. Although he had told Tobe that he’d regret not choosing for himself, the one who actually had regretted it was, without a doubt, Hayama. Repentance was exactly what that was.
In that way, Hayama would continue to answer people’s expectations. From this point on, he’d do so with his own will.
“That’s why, I’ll be the only one who doesn’t deny it.” “I need to show that there’s someone who isn’t forcing expectations.”
It’s because he felt that brazen rejection alone was what it meant to truly understand and that cold indifference itself was kindness. To him, the affirmation of those who didn’t understand him were nothing but shackles to him.
“I also forgot to tell you something… I hate you too,” I said as I turned my face away.
Hayama looked at me in wonder for a moment, but suddenly laughed.
“I see. That might be the first time I was told that face-to-face.” Hayama suppressed his laughter and stated in satisfaction. This time, however, he took a step forward from the bar counter. “But even so… I won’t choose anything. I want to believe that’s the best way.”
He added, “It’s just self-gratifcation for me” and smiled, going back to where he was originally.
But I couldn’t smile.
If the answer that Hayama Hayato gave was criticized as insincere, then surely, that individual would give a satisfying answer. He’d definitely give an answer that’s different from Hayama Hayato’s.
I gulped down the ginger ale I had in my hand and looked towards where everyone was sitting.
A prickling bitterness remained in the depths of my throat.
|Chapter 7||Top||Third Memorandum|