The ending ceremony was performed without issue.
Sagami’s address, however, ended on an unsightly note.
Naturally stammering her speech, the content jumping all over the place, and failing to announce the excellence award.
Yukinoshita calmly held up the cue cards all the way through.
In the end, tears began streaming from Sagami’s eyes.
Students who saw her as being moved to tears shouted to her, “Do your best!”, “It was an awesome festival!”, “Thank you!”
Before that, I didn’t think for a second that those were the tears they had thought they were. Vexed at how pathetic she was, vexed at having to be subjected to this experience; they were those kinds of tears.
However, the tears that flowed after her greeting and tribute speeches were, I’m sure, honestly from being deeply moved.
It was only after going through the worst feeling that words of kindness would really settle in. Of course, the one who was responsible for making her feel that way was me, so I felt extremely guilty for that.
Sagami exited to the wing of the state, her makeup in a complete mess, and looked considerably exhausted. Her friends promptly came to support her up as if she had just reached the goal of a marathon.
“You would’ve been completely fine if that guy didn’t say anything.”
“That would totally screw you up.”
It looked like my actions were being talked about and the gazes I had been getting from the Planning Committee members for a while now hurt.
Moreover, the news seemed to have propagated to my class as well. Everyone in 2-F would look at me and then whisper amongst each other.
It was a fairly painful place to be in.
Mixed in that repressed commotion were familiar voices.
“Ah, ya see? Hikitani-kun’s seriously terrible, man! Somethin’ happened like that durin’ summer too!”
Curse you, Tobe…
“…Well, he’s just got a bad mouth. If you actually talk to him, he isn’t really like that.”
“Hayato’s so nice…”
“Hayato-kun is covering for Hikitani-kun… Yesterday’s enemy is today’s homo, buha—“
“C’mon, Ebina, you seriously just need to stay quiet… Look, now your nose is bleeding. Here, blow your nose.”
Yuigahama had a wry smile the entire time while Totsuka looked at me out of concern.
I returned a smiled, telling him that this was nothing at all, and watched my classmates make their way to the exit.
There was still Planning Committee work even after all the classes had left the area.
We got to work with cleaning up the stage, the wing, and the sound and video equipment. Every member of the Planning Committee was involved. As I watched from the side, I thought that the committee had, when all was said and done, grown unified. Though, that was a strange thought since I was a member as well.
“Alright, gather round, Planning Committee!”
With most of our work completed, the gym teacher Atsugi, who held an administrative position for the Cultural Festival, yelled out. The Planning Committee slowly assembled together in front of him.
“Alright, you guys still got plenty of work left, but first off, good job. The Cultural Festival ain’t too shabby from what I could see. As for the celebration party afterwards, don’t screw around too much that you’ll cause trouble, you hear? Stay safe.”
While his call was overbearing, his words were gentle.
What followed were claps and cheers of “woo”. It was the final storm of emotions where everyone had become one, praising each other for their hard efforts and mutual struggles. Sagami who was standing to the side was given a little push from Meguri-senpai.
“It’s your chance, Chairwoman Sagami.”
She was telling her to address everyone with a word or two. Realizing that, Sagami hesitated. After carrying out the opening ceremony poorly, causing chaos in the middle, abandoning her responsibility during the ending ceremony, and concluding the festival on a sloppy note, hesitating was the natural reaction.
“You’re the Chairwoman, aren’t you?” said Yukinoshita, stating an established truth with a severe tone.
If the regrets and failures of the Chairwoman belonged to Sagami, so did the glory and commendation that accompanied it.
“…Right,” said Sagami, making a slight, bitter nod. “Um, I apologize for all the trouble I’ve caused. But I’m very glad that everything ended safely… Thank you very much and thank you for your hard work.”
“Thanks to you too!”
Everyone bowed their heads lastly and dispersed. The girls hugged each other while the guys did high fives. Sagami turned to Yukinoshita and slightly bowed her head.
It’s finally over…
I left the circle of Planning Committee members and let out a long sigh.
Everyone proceeded to return to their classes while chatting with each other. They were discussing the celebration party tonight. It’s likely they wouldn’t invite me to it. If they did, it wouldn’t be out of kindness, but as a formality because they disliked leaving someone out. Although even if I went, the only thing I could really do was stuff my face anyway…
The sudden onset of exhaustion caused me to drag my legs.
Everyone else proceeded to go past me.
The moment Sagami and her friends walked past me on the side, their conversation ceased for an instant. Making sure not to even give me so much of a look, their gazes were slightly fixated straight ahead.
You really are naïve, Sagami. If you seriously wanted to ignore someone, you’re supposed to do it without actually being aware of it.
In that traffic of people, I spotted Meguri-senpai.
When she noticed me, she walked over. “…Thank you for your work.”
“You as well.”
Her expression was gloomy when she came to talk to me.
“Your insincerity really is just the worst, huh?”
Did she hear about the circumstances from Sagami, or maybe even her two friends? Then again, she didn’t have a very position impression of me anyway so that didn’t matter. Being told that and unable to voice an objection, I could only apologize.
“…But, I had a lot of fun. I’m really happy this great Cultural Festival was my last. Thank you,” said Meguri-senpai, showing a comfortable smile. She waved her hands and left with “I’ll see you later then.”
For Meguri-senpai, it was her very last Cultural Festival. As the Student Council President, I think that was something she didn’t want to yield. On the surface, at the least, she was probably glad that there weren’t any huge problems.
It was a feeling that saved me ever so slightly.
“Are you okay with this?”
My answer to the question presented to me from behind was already set in stone.
“Yeah, this is fine.”
You can’t clear misunderstandings. But what you can do is ask something new. The question she posed me and the answer I gave may not have been the correct one, but it was an answer I was fond of. That’s why this is fine.
I slowed my walking feet.
The gymnasium that was mostly devoid of people made the unchanging gait from behind me distinct.
Coming up to my side and walking with me was Yukinoshita Yukino.
“…You really do try to save everyone, don’t you?”
“Say what?” I asked her back, not understanding what she was getting at.
“Normally, Sagami-san shouldn’t have been forgiven for abandoning her responsibilities and running away. However, when she returned here, it was as if she was like a victim from whatever crude words you had told her. She even had Hayama and her two friends as her witnesses. She was a perfect victim.”
“You’re reading into it too much. I didn’t think that far ahead.”
“Really? But results are results, and that’s what it came down to. That’s why I believe it’s fine to say that you saved her.”
No, that was wrong. It wasn’t an act worthy of that kind of commendation. It wasn’t an act deserving of acknowledgment or praise, but an act that should be denounced and blamed.
Once we made it to the exit of the gymnasium, I was finally able to give her an adequate response.
“Well, let’s say that’s true. But the only reason it worked out was because Hayama was there. So you can’t exactly say it was thanks to me, right?” I answered.
Yukinoshita went quiet, looking slightly sullen.
“Oh, there you go again with the modesty.”
It was a voice that resembled Yukinoshita’s.
I looked at her and she shook her head indicating she hadn’t said anything. I only realized moments after who it was from.
“…Nee-san, you’re still here? Why don’t you hurry up and go home?”
Appearing from near the door of the gymnasium was Yukinoshita Haruno and Hiratsuka-sensei.
Hiratsuka-sensei and Haruno-san were standing, the former with a cigarette in hand while the was ready to head home after getting changed.
Haruno-san tapped my shoulders. “Gosh, you’re just awesome, Hikigaya-kun. I heard about what happened from everyone, you know. That heroism of yours really gets me going. It actually might be kind of a waste on Yukino-chan.”
“The only wasteful thing around here is the time spent talking with you, nee-san. Hurry up and go home,” said Yukinoshita, making light of her.
Haruno-san exaggerated a hurt expression. “You’re so cold, Yukino-chan… Aren’t we, like, total buddy-buddy after playing in the same band? Buddy-buddy sisters, even?”
Yukinoshita lifted her eyebrows as if that set her off. “You’re one to talk. Who’s the one that went off on a tangent during the performance? And who do you think was the one that had to follow with that?”
“Oh c’mon, what’s the problem? It got everyone excited and all. Isn’t that right, Hikigaya-kun?”
“Well, sure, things did get pretty crazy in there,” I said.
Yukinoshita then blinked her eyes two to three times. “…You were watching?”
It looked like she didn’t think I would be there. But I couldn’t blame her for noticing me since I had gotten back at the very last minute. She was on the stage too, so obviously, she couldn’t see me.
“Only the end… Well, what can I say? It was pretty darn good. After watching, I, uh, was really impressed.”
I’m sure there were a ton of more words I could have picked to compliment her, but unable to find a good way to tell her, I could only manage a fragmented and crude impression.
Yukinoshita abruptly looked away in response to my vague reply.
“T…Than—That performance was far from perfect. It’s not like I made any mistakes or anything, but more importantly, it was a complete mess. It’s only because the audience was so excited that we managed to smooth it over, but in a more controlled situation, I’m sure it wouldn’t be worth listening to, and also, the biggest fundamental problem was our lack of practice, and another cause was that not every member was in complete sync, but still, as I was the person in charge of the main melody, I wasn’t able to lead the entire song all the way, and as a result…”
“Wooow, just look how embarrassed you are. You’re so cute, Yukino-chan,” said Haruno-san, interjecting.
Yukinoshita cleared her throat and then glared at her. “…Nee-san, why don’t you hurry up and go home?”
“Okay, okay. I will, I will. I’ll see you later then. I had a blast. I bet mom’s going to be really surprised after hearing about today… right?”
That smile, as if testing her, caused Yukinoshita’s expression to stiffen. After making sure of that, Haruno-san turned her back and walked off. I don’t know what crossed Yukinoshita’s mind when Haruno-san left with those words. The circumstances involving those two were still a mystery to me even now.
When the distance grew between Yukinoshita and Haruno-san, Hiratsuka-sensei folded her sleeve back and checked her wristwatch.
“It’s almost time for the homeroom of the day. Hurry and return to your classes.”
“I understand. I will see you later then.” Yukinoshita’s stiffness dissolved and she answered. After she gave a simple regards to Hiratsuka-sensei, she began walking. I followed after her.
“Okay, I’ll be taking my leave too.”
Her voice that called me to a stop was heavy.
When I turned around, Hiratsuka-sensei had a stumped smile.
“How should I say this…? The slogan was one thing and Sagami was another, but I really think you contributed quite a bit to the end result. You caused the Planning Committee to start acting, and you also managed a scapegoat for Sagami.”
She interrupted her words there. That period was, mostly like, to prepare for something. Not for herself, but for me.
“But I honestly can’t praise you.” Hiratsuka-sensei extended her hand to my cheeks. They gently supported me, not allowing me to avert my eyes. “Hikigaya. Helping others isn’t a good reason to hurt yourself.”
The indistinct smell of tobacco and the contradicting softness of her fingertips. Her eyes tinged with moisture were as if they could see right through my heart.
“No, it’s not like I’m hurt or anything…”
“…Even if you’re used to the pain as well. You need to realize already that there are people who will find it painful to see you hurt like this.” She tapped my shoulders. “That’s the end of your lecture. Go on ahead.”
I parted from her with a single word and headed for my classroom.
But even when I turned the hallway, I could still feel her gentle eyes seeing me off.
× × ×
The classroom was noisy with the lingering enthusiasm of the Cultural Festival.
The homeroom of the day was just a simple formality so once the class officer wrapped it up with a meddlesome speech, the conversations shifted to the celebration party afterwards.
In which case, that had nothing to do with me. Heck, there was even a speechless pressure that told me that I didn’t need to come.
I hurried and got ready to go home since it would have been painful refusing an invitation that was extended to me out of consideration.
Though for an instant, I found myself being pointlessly concerned about whether Sagami was going to take part with the class or the Planning Committee.
What remained in the hallway were the remnants of friendship and passion of every class.
The Sunday tomorrow was a day off. Monday was a holiday. The entire morning of Tuesday would be spent cleaning up by every class. Until then, everything would be left as monumental memories. And after we finished cleaning up, we would turn towards a new event of our youth and go straight towards it.
I was probably going to be a part of that class cleanup as well. The excuse of being a Cultural Festival Planning Committee member was today, henceforth, invalid.
…Well, that said, I still had some leftover work.
I adjusted the bag on my shoulders.
Inside my bag were memo notes of reports that needed to be organized by the assistant historians. My final job was to aggregate the memo notes given to me by the other assistant historians into a single report. Before I could input them into a computer, I needed to extract out specific information from them.
If I was at home, I would probably fall asleep and if I was at a restaurant, it would have been too full. There was the chance fellow students might be killing time there until the celebration party too. So I wanted to avoid working at those places.
My feet naturally carried me to a quiet place where I could concentrate.
In the special building with no one around, I walked down the hallway and noticed the cold air. We were starting to get deep into autumn.
It’s been half a year since I had started passing through this hallway and started going to club.
I arrived at the room of the Service Club and placed my hand on the door. It was that moment that I realized I didn’t have the key. Normally, I never had to worry about it, since she would always arrive here first. But today, there was no proof she would be here.
I removed my hand from the door, thinking I should just give up and head home.
But the handle of the door was oddly light.
I went ahead and opened the door.
It was an unchanging, extremely normal classroom.
However, if there was something completely out of place, it was because there was a single girl inside.
Under the setting sun, she was quietly moving her pen.
This painting like scenery gave the illusion that even if the world had ended, she would, without a doubt, still be here in this room.
The moment I saw that, both my body and mind stopped.
––Against my better judgment, I was fascinated.
Noticing that I was standing there idly, Yukinoshita gently placed her pen on the desk.
“Oh, welcome. Most hated man on campus.”
“You pickin’ a fight…?”
“What happened with the celebration party? You’re not going?”
“Don’t bother asking something you already know the answer to,” I said, answering her instead of her question.
Yukinoshita smiled cheerfully. She was probably going to say something outrageous again with that sweet smile of hers.
“So? How does it feel to be so hated?”
“Heh, actually having your existence recognized is a pretty good feeling,” I said.
Yukinoshita placed her hand on her temple as if holding back a headache and sighed. “I’m not sure if I should find that amazing or shocking… You really are strange… But I don’t particularly hate that part of you that affirms weakness like that.”
“Yeah, I don’t hate it either. In fact, I just love that part about myself.”
Yaaaay, I’m the best. I’m going to start working despite badmouthing myself, I’m so cool. If I didn’t encourage myself this way, I had the feeling my heart was going to break.
I took out the memos from my bag and began organizing them. I almost forgot the reason why I came here.
Speaking of which, why was Yukinoshita here?
“So, what are you doing here?”
“I need to fill out the career aspiration survey. I didn’t have enough time to do it since I was too busy with the Cultural Festival preparations. I can finally get it done now that everything’s calmed down.” Yukinoshita answered and went back to writing. But her hand just wouldn’t move. In place of hand, her mouth moved. “What did you come here to do?”
“I need to organize the reports. I wanted to do it at a quiet place where I can concentrate,” I said, moving my pen.
Yukinoshita focused her gaze at my hand. “I see… We think similarly.”
“We don’t have very many options in the first place. It’s what happens when two loners meet on a convergent evolutionary path. It doesn’t mean you and I are similar at all.”
Most likely, both Yukinoshita and I had come here only because we were seeking out a quiet place. The places we could act weren’t very many and it just so happened that we inhabited the same place that we came across each other. In reality, we lived in nearby cities, yet we had never stumbled across each other once. It’s only because we were on campus that we could meet like this.
While Yukinoshita and I were alone for similar reasons, we were completely different people.
––She and I aren’t similar in the least.
––Maybe that’s why. Maybe that’s why, whenever we exchange words like this, it always feels refreshing and pleasant.
––I felt the remaining passion from the festival welling up in my body. I posed the question again and the new answer I arrived at is my conclusion.
––So maybe she and I.
“…Hey, Yukinoshita. We can—”
“I’m sorry, that’s impossible.”
“Gah! I didn’t even get to finish, damn it.”
Yukinoshita went and firmly denied me. She chuckled, finding it funny somehow.
“Didn’t I say it before? That it’s out of the question for me to be friends with you.”
“That’s right. I do not lie, after all.”
Sure, but you do say some rude and outrageous things, though.
But I couldn’t ignore those words. I decided to not to force my ideals on others. I think this was a good time for both Yukinoshita and me to be freed from that curse.
“No, it’s fine if you want to lie. I do it all the time.” In fact, I just lie and lie and lie all the way. That’s me.1 “It’s not a big deal if you lie about not knowing something. It’s more ridiculous to not be okay with it only to force it later.”
It should’ve gotten through to Yukinoshita with just this.
That is, what it was that I was talking about and when.
The morning of the school entrance ceremony.
On the first day of the high school enrollment, I was involved in a car accident. It was just my luck to leave as early as possible on the day of the entrance ceremony, feeling giddy about being able to start a new school life.
It was about seven. Yuigahama was walking her dog in the neighborhood near the high school where she lost her grasp on her leash and at a bad time, the limousine Yukinoshita was riding had come by.
Those were the circumstances of the accident.
That’s why it was only after that accident that Yukinoshita Yukino knew Hikigaya Hachiman.
But even so, she said she didn’t know me. Not once did she ever bring up the accident. And this was the girl who would clearly say more things than she really needed to.
The long, long silence continued.
In the evening approaching club room, Yukinoshita remained looking down, unmoving.
Staying still, I could hear just her voice.
“…I’m not lying. I mean, I didn’t know you at all.”
It was as though she was continuing an exchange we had some time ago.
However, different this time was what came after.
Yukinoshita lifted her face.
She gazed at me, straight on, and smiled. “…But now, I know you.”
I looked at her expression and I finally understood.
“Yes, really,” said Yukinoshita as if in triumph.
Crap, I really just couldn’t win against her. If she’s going to tell me something like that with that cute of a face, how could I even say anything back?
Suddenly, the words of the fox came to mind.
––Words are the source of misunderstandings, after all.
How completely true.
You can’t clear misunderstandings. There will always be things you can’t undo in life and your mistaken answers will stay as they are.
That’s why instead, you should give up on them and pose the question again.
All for the sake of knowing a new and correct answer.
Both Yukinoshita and I didn’t know each other.
What is it we should have to call it “knowing”? We didn’t understand that.
Had we just watched each other, then we could have understood too. What is essential is invisible to the eye. That’s because we would avert our eyes.
In the span of almost half a year, we were finally able to know that we existed.
Our statues were constructed from just our names and fragmentary impressions of each other, like that of mosaic, burying one fragment one by one until we were able to make up virtual images of each other.
And surely enough, those images probably weren’t even real.
Well, that didn’t matter right now.
With the end of the long break and the short festival, finally returning were the worthless and hopeless days of everyday life.
On the door came knocks that were as though they were the footsteps of that everyday life.
The one who opened the door was Yuigahama Yui.
But I couldn’t figure out the reason for why she would come here. Shouldn’t she be at the celebration party somewhere right now?
“Yuigahama? You need something?”
“Good work with the Cultural Festival! So let’s go hit up the after-festival event!”
“Not going. So, what’s this about an after-festival event?”
“You don’t even know and you refused!? C’mon, Yukinon, let’s gooo!”
Yuigahama sat at the usual seat situated beside Yukinoshita and shook Yukinoshita’s body like a spoiled child. Although Yukinoshita looked somewhat bothered, she didn’t push her away.
“I don’t know too much about it myself, but what exactly is it?” asked Yukinoshita.
Yuigahama looked up at the empty ceiling. “U-Um… It’s kinda like a big kind of celebration or something…?”
“What the, you don’t even know either…”
I shuddered to Yuigahama’s overly vague comprehension and Yukinoshita placed her hand on her chin.
“Judging by the word, can I interpret it as the opposite of the eve of a festival?”
“That’s it!” Yuigahama pointed at Yukinoshita, praising her for the correct answer. Did she really get it right…?
Yuigahama continued with her vague explanation.
“Hayato-kun and the others planned it and it’s at the live house near the station! They started talking about inviting a lot of other people and not just from our class too, see…”
“I see. So that’s why you wanted to invite Hikigaya-kun too.”
“No, I’m part of their class too. I’m included in the former already. Right?”
I had to confirm out of anxiety.
“Uh huh, just barely. Hayato-kun did say to invite Hikki too.”
“What do you mean by barely…? As in barely part of the class or barely not part of the class? Forget that, I’m the one who wants to refuse here. As if I’ll accept Hayama casting me his patronage.”
I’m not so painfully pathetic that I need an invitation of pity. These obligatory formalities that did nothing but cause unhappiness for both parties need to be done away with already.
To appease my temper, Yukinoshita spoke with a guiding and soft tone. “You don’t need to be so headstrong about it. It’s a wonderful invitation, no? Why not join them? Hikicasting-kun.”
“Hey, don’t casually say my name wrong. Anyway, what the heck is Hikicasting? Don’t go making me a part of the cast because you feel like it, okay?”
First off, I could never take up the role of being someone’s foil. At best, I could be a mob character or a wicked assistant. As a matter of fact, it’s possible I was no longer an actor.
“N-Now now… It’s a good opportunity so let’s go.”
“I’m fine here. Even if I went, I’ll just be hanging out at the corner of the wall somewhere. Having a guy like that ruining the mood would make me feel bad,” I said, and went back to organizing the reports.
Work was good… It makes for a convenient excuse when refusing people. If I became a corporate slave, my loner life would accelerate even faster.
“…That’s true. Besides, this after-festival party isn’t a part of the Planning Committee, so I don’t really see a reason to go.”
“Ehhh!? We can’t do anything about Hikki since he has work, but Yukinon is…” said Yuigahama and Yukinoshita began writing something as well. “Yukinon, what are you writing?”
“Career aspiration survey.”
“Ohhh… Okay, I’ll wait until you’re done!”
“I didn’t say a thing about going…”
It looked like Yuigahama was positioned to wait. Yukinoshita said so in bafflement, but Yuigahama was watching over her with a smile. Ahh, she’s going to take her along at this rate… If she said she’s going to wait, then she’s going to wait. She’s a faithful dog.
The deep reddened evening sunlight poured into the club room.
The festival had ended.
What’s done is done.
You can never redo things in life. Even the curtains on this hopeless act will be drawn eventually.
But knowing fully well that one day I would lament over the things that I had lost, I concluded the written reports.
- Lyrics from the opening of Tottemo! Luckyman. ↩