Throughout the darkness was the rustling of students. It was possible that each individual voice meant something, but with so numerous voices overlapping, there was no meaning.
Blackout curtains were meticulously hung over the stage, covering up any openings. The feeble glow of people’s cellphones and the emergency exits could at most illuminate a person’s palm.
In this darkness, nothing was distinct.
And it was this exact moment where everyone had become one within the darkness.
Under the sun, our differences were as bright as day, making us aware of how hopelessly distinct we are. But in this darkness now, the ambiguous silhouettes blurred the line that distinguished one person from the other.
I see, it made sense why everything was blacked out before an event.
It essentially meant that the person who bathed in the spotlight that cut through the darkness was exhibiting what makes him unique from the masses.
Therefore, the one taking center stage must be someone special.
The voices of the students dissipated one by one.
The clock on my wrist indicated 9:57.
It was almost time to start.
I pressed the intercom button and it signaled. The microphone had a pick-up delay from the moment the button was pressed, so I waited two seconds before speaking.
[——Three minutes to start. Three minutes to start.]
Within the second, there was a static noise in my earphones.
[——This is Yukinoshita. All staff, report in. We’ll be going as scheduled. Report any problems immediately.]
Once she finished speaking with her calm voice, the transmission was cut off with a buzz.
Static noises followed.
[——Backlights, all clear.]
[——This is the PA system. No problems here.]
[——This is the backstage. The cast members’ preparations are slightly behind. But they should be able to make it in time for their turn.]
Numerous sections gave their report. I honestly wasn’t able to catch all of them.
I mean, I was already doubtful of what my job entailed. The assistant historians were loaded with quite a bit of tasks on the day of the event. That included miscellaneous jobs concerning the stage of the opening and closing ceremonies. My job today was to be the time keeper for the ceremony. It was as simple as announcing “it’s almost time!” or “there’s still some time left.” I couldn’t exactly refuse orders from the top anyway.
All the reports aggregated at the control tower, Yukinoshita.
[——Understood. Everyone should be on standby until the cue is given.]
I was at the wing of the stage and stared at my watch.
For every tick of the hand, the silence settled in further.
Beyond the small window should’ve been a gymnasium filled with numerous students. Only, it resembled some kind of gigantic living creature wriggling in the darkness. Like Nyaralathotep1, for example. An otherworldly god with thousands of faces… Huh? Wait, no. Mil Mascaras2 was the one with thousands of faces. Okay, whatever.
A minute until show time and the gym sank into a sea of silence.
Everyone was living in the same moment, forgetting to whisper, let alone murmur.
I pressed the button of the intercom.
My finger continued pressuring the button.
My eyes were glued to my watch.
I stopped breathing in.
I breathed out in between the counts.
I caught my breath for an instant.
Someone took over the countdown.
It was an extremely sedated, even cold, voice.
And then, the counting voice disappeared.
However, there was definitely someone counting down [Two] with their fingers.
Yukinoshita was looking down at the stage from the bay window of the PA system room on the second floor, looking up from the wing of the stage.
Then, the final countdown, [One], ended in our heads in the soundless space.
Instantly, the stage erupted with lights dazzling to the naked eye.
“Hey, you guys! You guys culturing out there!?”
Meguri-senpai made a sudden appearance onstage and was met with the bellows of the audience.
“Chiba’s Specialties, Dance and—!?”
Was that slogan getting around…?
“If we’re all fellow fools, let’s dance and———!?”
“Sing a soooooooooooooong!!”
In response to Meguri-senpai’s mysterious call and response, the students went ballistic.
And without delay, dancing music exploded.
It was the start of the opening act. “This is a jointed effort between the dance association and the cheerleading squad,” Meguri-senpai continued with her enthusiastic microphone act while the students on the stage danced, joked with each other, and flung their arms around, kindling the flames of excitement.
…Wow, so stupid. Our school is really stupid.
What the heck is this about “culturing”? Yeah right.
Oops. I couldn’t keep watching them forever.
[——This is the PA. The song will be wrapping up soon.]
A report came from the PA system.
[——Understood. Chairman Sagami, standby.]
Yukinoshita who listened to the report gave one of her own after. That cue should’ve also been transmitted to the host, Meguri-senpai, as well.
The dance team exited to the left of the stage and Meguri-senpai on the right called out, “Next, we’ll have a word from the chairman of the Cultural Festival planning committee.”
Sagami had a stiff expression as she walked to the center of the stage. Gazes numbering over a thousand were directed at her all at once.
Before she was able to reach the taped center, her legs froze in place. Her hand that held onto the wireless microphone was trembling.
Once she managed to raise her stiff arm, she spoke into the microphone.
In that moment, an ear-splitting EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENG howled out.
It was so on point that the audience burst into laughter.
I knew from the start they didn’t mean any harm from laughing. After all, I’ve been living my entire life being laughed at. I could tell the difference between types of laughter easily with my skin alone.
But for Sagami who stood stock-still on the stage trying to bear with her nervousness and isolation, I doubt the thought even crossed her mind.
Even after the howling subsided, she still didn’t say anything.
Meguri-senpai gripped her microphone anxiously and covered for her, “…Okay, one more time. Planning committee chairman, your words please!”
Her voice caused Sagami to restart into action and she opened the cue card she had been squeezing the entire time. Her fingertips easily slipped against the card. The cue card dropped with a puff, inviting more laughter from the crowd.
With a completely flushed expression, Sagami picked up the card from the ground. Irresponsible words, “Do your best!” were yelled out from the audience. They likely didn’t mean any harm. But I don’t think it would serve as encouragement for her either. To those experiencing misery, there aren’t any words you could tell them. All they really want is for everything to be as silent as an inorganic object. They just want to be left alone like the wayside pebble.
Although Sagami’s opening speech was jotted down on the cue cards, she flubbed her lines regardless, stammering forward.
As the time keeper, I signaled to her to wrap up her speech by rotating my arms in a circle since she had gone over the expected time. Sagami, however, didn’t notice my signal and was on the verge of breaking down.
[——Hikigaya-kun. Signal to wrap it up.]
Yukinoshita’s voice mixed with static spoke to me. I glanced at the PA system room on the second floor and Yukinoshita was looking at me with crossed arms.
[——I’ve been doing it for a while now. Doesn’t look like she can see me though.]
[——I see… I may have made a mistake with your assignment.]
[——Is that a jab at my lack of presence?]
[——Oh, I didn’t say anything of the sort. More importantly, where are you? In the audience?]
[totally are jabbing at me. Actually, aren’t you looking at me right now?]
I reflexively answered back. It was possible my beginning words may not have gotten picked up by the intercom.
[——Um, vice-chair? Everyone’s listening…]
I could hear a very discrete voice from the intercom.
…Right. The intercom was open to everyone, wasn’t it? I just made an incredibly, scathing embarrassing memory.
A few seconds later after a planning committee member had called us out, a noise filled my earphones.
[——……We’ll continue with the schedule as planned. Everyone should keep that in mind.]
After a lengthy pause, she stated and ceased all communication henceforth.
The opening ceremony finally ended with the chairman’s opening speech and we moved on to the next stage.
It was an opening full of poor prospects.
× × ×
It was finally the start of the Cultural Festival after the opening ceremony.
The Cultural Festival was going to be held for two days, but was only open to the general public on the second day. The first day was in-house only.
This would be my second Cultural Festival at this school, but there wasn’t anything worth mentioning. It was just your typical Cultural Festival.
Every class held their exhibitions, the cultural clubs held demonstrations and performances, and the volunteers played in a band.
Food and beverages that weren’t exactly prepared by actual cooking were sold as if this trending. Sleeping at school to prepare for the festival also stopped being allowed.
But people were still getting excited regardless, so the Cultural Festival itself was really something. People were enjoying the “Cultural Festival” as an icon; in other words, they were enjoying it for its abnormality from their daily, not so much for its scale and quality.
That’s what you could expect from a festival.
Naturally, the fervent enthusiasm also made its way to my class, 2-F.
Battles of solicitation immediately littered the hallway and passing through would have been quite the endeavor. Leaflets were distributed, groups with sign on sticks marched on, and people in party-catered outfits bought from some Don Quijote store were running amok. Wow, talk about annoying.
I went back to my classroom after finishing up the cleanup for the opening ceremony. When I made it back, the inside was in a state of chaos. Everyone was in the middle of making the finishing touches for their very first performance.
“What’s with the make-up!? What are you doing!? The grease paint’s too thin!”
“The heck, are you freaking out? You’re soo funny, like really. Everyone’s coming just to see Hayato anyway. Shouldn’t you, like, chill out?”
Ebina-san roared out angrily while Miura gave a pep chat to one person after the other. Her words were pretty mean, but it looked like everyone was starting to relax.
I looked around at my classmates and they were all diligently engrossed in their jobs. Did everyone get closer with each other in this past month and a half?
They would laugh, they would cry… Maybe they would even yell at each other… They were just one step away from breaking out into a fist fight, but even so, they would notice each other’s true feelings and finally become one… maybe… Well, not that I would know since I wasn’t there.
I had nothing to do, so I loitered near the entrance of the classroom, pretending to be extremely busy while mumbling “oh yeah, right…”
“You’ve been pretending to work for a while now, but could it be you have nothing to do?” They were words you would hear directly from the mouth of your boss. I turned around and standing there was indeed, the boss, well, the boss of the Cultural Festival, Ebina-san. “If you don’t have anything to do, can you handle the reception? Or do YOU want to be a part of the play?”
Nope, nope. I answered with the shaking of my head.
“Okay, reception it is. Let people know what the times are for the performance. All you need to do is just answer whatever you’re asked.”
“Wait, I don’t even know the times of the play or anything else.”
“That’s okay. They’re posted at the entrance. But it’d be kind of lame if there wasn’t anyone sitting at the front. Anyway, it’s fine if you just sit there.”
Seriously, just sitting? What kind of dream job is this? I want to make the best of this experience and use it as leverage for my future occupation.
I went ahead and left the classroom as she suggested and surely enough, there was a folded long table along with two-legged and three-legged pipe chairs on the floor. Hmph. Let’s get these set up.
I unfolded the long table and propped it on its legs and then I expanded the pipe chair; job complete. That was pointlessly cool! It might’ve been my nature as a guy, but I really liked going through these types of transformations. I also liked disassembling things too. Occasionally in class, I would take my pencil apart and put it back together.
There was a poster detailing the time schedule of the performance on the wall in large letters. If it was immediately next to me, then I don’t think anyone would bother asking me anything.
It was just five minutes until show time. As I was sitting idly, class 2-F grew one level louder in the classroom. I took a peek inside wondering what may have happened.
“Aww yeah! Let’s huddle up!” said Tobe.
Everyone grumbled “no way” and “seriously?” but still began forming the circle. Had this been recreation time, then it would’ve looked like they were going to start playing “Whatever Basket”3.
“Ya know what, we ain’t getting’ anywhere unless Ebina-san gets this goin’. C’mon, over here. Straight to the center!”
There’s no concept of a center in a huddle, I thought, but Tobe was actually indicating the spot next to him. It was a position where he could be justified in linking shoulders with Ebina-san. You’ve got some spunk, Tobe. You’re a formidable strategist.
Then, Miura pulled Ebina-san’s arm inwards as if supporting that strategist. “C’mon, Ebina. Get your butt in there.”
She was pushed inside of the huddle and she was exactly in the middle. The heart of the huddle. Everyone encircled Ebina-san. Tobe, sniff.
Ebina-san spun around and looked at everyone. Her eyes then stopped at a single point.
“C’mon Kawasaki-san, you too.”
“M-Me? I’m fine here…”
“Gosh, there you go again. You need to take responsibility since you’re the one who made the outfits, okay?”
“Huh…? Weren’t you the one that said you would do that?” Kawasaki complained as she walked towards the huddle.
Once everyone, except for me, had gathered, Yuigahama looked over her shoulder at me. I smiled and shook my head at her. Her face then turned into an upset pout.
I’m fine here, jeez. I was better off not joining. It would be more awkward letting me in there when I didn’t even do anything for the class than just leaving me out of it entirely.
If I couldn’t be confident about standing along them, then it would be better for me to stay out of it. I mean, look at Sagami. She looked a little ashamed too, you know?
Sagami didn’t have a very cheerful expression in that huddle. She was probably still hung up on her earlier blunder, but it might also be because she was concerned about her own lack of participation.
People accustomed to assigning ranks to people do so for all manners of things. Sagami at this very moment was reflecting on her own rank. And I think the manifestation of that rank lied with the person who was far from Miura, Hayama, and the others, and wasn’t within her direct line of slight, offset to the side.
Mental distance is something that manifests itself in reality.
In which case, Ebina-san, currently the center of everyone, was without a doubt the very heart of the Cultural Festival.
After Ebina-san shouted out, everyone followed.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that bad of a feeling watching the completed huddle from outside.
× × ×
The classroom was enclosed with blackout curtains and was filled to the brim.
Ebina-san concluded that they couldn’t fit any more customers and instructed me to place a note on the door indicating the class was full and that no more people could be accepted.
After placing the note, I relocated the long table to the front of the door to keep any more people from entering.
I peeked through the small opening of the door inside the ventilated classroom.
It was finally time for the curtains to ascend above the stage.
The opening act of the play started off with a monologue from the “narrator” performed by Hayama.
The spotlight beamed down on Hayama.
The audience instantly broke into excitement. It looked like the audience had consisted mostly of Hayama’s friends and his fans.
Against the desert background was a plane prop. The picture that the “narrator” drew was reenacted in real time by a group of guys in cartoonish outfits upon their appearance on stage. Two of them acted out the illustration of an animal being choked by a boa constrictor. That comical scene was met with abrupt laughter from the audience.
Hayama’s long monologue continued further.
And there, “Excuse me, can you draw me a picture of a sheep?” Totsuka’s shadow uttered his line.
“Eh? What was that?” Hayama overlooked that small muttering voice.
Totsuka repeated his line once again, “Draw me a picture of a sheep please.”
Then, the spotlight highlighted Totsuka who was standing at the wing of the stage. His adorable outfit and appearance saw another lively reaction from the audience.
Now that the two had finally met, the story moved forward.
When the “little prince” began retelling his stories of his time with a rose back on his home planet, a guy wearing full-body green tights and a red shampoo hat narrated with an effeminate tone.
It got much worse from there. A majority of the stories of the “little prince” visiting the numerous asteroids were visually handled as small skits.
The desperate king who sought to exhibit his authority as well as preserve it was wrapped with numerous, extravagant rugs brought in from various houses. Yamato was in agony from the heat.
The vain man who bawled over wanting people’s admiration and acknowledgment was wrapped in aluminum foil. Tobe’s entire body was dazzling.
The drunkard who drank to forget his shame of drowning in alcohol was surrounded by 1-sho bottles and packs of Onikoroshi “Demon Slayer”. Oda or Tahara or whatever was so red from stage fright that it looked like he was actually drinking alcohol.
The businessman recited numbers and shouted aloud, “Look, I’m someone important, alright!” Due to Ebina-san’s good guidance, the suit the class officer was wearing suited him quite well.
The lamplighter who was devoted to his duty and was constantly switching his lamp on and his was clad in a jump suit that looked dirty and stained. The one going around the lamp set was the opportunist Oooka, which actually might have fit him quite well.
The geographer, who had never set foot out of his study, writes down only what he was told from explorers but knew nothing, was surrounded with maps and globes. Oda or Tahara or whatever was reading books, giving the impression of a scholar.
Through the exchange of ideas between everyone (probably) and Kawasaki doing her best (surely), the resulting outfits were a seemingly big hit with the audience (hurray).
And then, on the stage, the “little prince” descended onto Earth.
The little prince landed in the desert, encountered a snake, and came across numerous roses. It was then the little prince realized that the things he had in his possession were, in fact, nothing at all.
The audience sniffed to Totsuka’s extremely sad lines. Since Totsuka was so cut—since the little prince was so pitiful, even I wanted to rush over and give the little guy a hug.
It was there a man wearing a coat with a fox mask appeared.
—Oh, this is a scene that I like.
The little prince invited the fox.
“Come and play with me. I’m terribly sad right now…”
Totsuka stated his line with a downcast look. Oh yes, that’s really good. By the way, the first manuscript that Ebina-san wrote had it so the scenario had him ask “do you want to do it?”4 instead. What the heck was she thinking…?
The fox answered the little prince.
“I can’t play with you… I am not tame.”
The line, “I am not tame” grabbed my attention. It was a line that concisely and realistically encompassed the idea of “getting along”.
To get along is essentially a situation where numerous things are tamed, tamed in such a way that allows you to get along with someone, or even everyone, without causing any problems. At some point, even your circumstances and your mind start becoming tamed. Your fangs are ripped out, your claws are broken, and your thorns are plucked out. You would be treated carefully, as if trying to touch a tumor without hurting it, or even be able to hurt it. This satirical interpretation towards “getting along” was something I was fond of.
The scene transitioned to the next as I was in the middle of my thoughts.
“First, you will sit down a short distance away from me, like this, in the grass. I will watch you out of the corner of my eye and you will say nothing; words are the source of misunderstandings, after all.”
The little prince and the fox went through dialogue after dialogue.
And then, the both of them tamed each other.
But their departure eventually visited them.
For a parting gift, the fox left the little prince with a secret. This was likely the scene that made “The Little Prince” incredibly famous.
——What is essential is invisible to the eye.
After the departure of the fox, the little prince visited several more places and the stage returned back to the desert again.
The “narrator” and the little prince searched all over the desert for a well.
“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
The audience let out a gasp to Totsuka’s line. This was also a line representative of “The Little Prince”. There were probably a lot of people who knew it.
Eventually, the “narrator” and the little prince who went through many conversations, spent a lot of time together, and joined their hearts had to part as well. By the way, the first manuscript that Ebina-san wrote had it where the scenario added “lips and bodies pressed against each other”. Really, what is wrong with her…?
“Little prince… I really like how you laugh….”
Hayama’s line caused the girls to scream. I think a MP3 recording of the line could’ve netted me some profits.
“We’ll be together forever…”
Another line from Hayama caused the audience to breathe out as if they were being fulfilled. Yeah. We should record a pillow talk CD and include a body pillow. I sense a booming business there.
And finally, it was time for the parting scene.
The little prince was bitten by the snake and collapsed without making a sound. Totsuka’s acting that looked like it would disappear without a trace stole the audience’s breaths away.
The stage blacked out.
A single beam of the spotlight shined down on Hayama.
The final scene was wrapped up with a monologue from the “narrator”.
Once it was over, the audience gave a thundering round of applause.
In commemoration, the very first performance of the LittleMusical (Musical “The Little Prince”) ended with full seats.
In any case, you couldn’t exactly call this a musical. It was more like a play… They didn’t even sing or dance.
× × ×
The door of the classroom was closed whenever there wasn’t a performance.
It looked like being the receptionist also meant being the house-sitter as I was sitting on a pipe chair at the entrance of our class while my classmates were taking a break or visiting other class exhibitions.
Tomorrow, I had to go around school for my planning committee job as an assistant historian, so today was the only day I could participate in class. Unable to contribute to the initial class preparations and with all of tomorrow being booked, it was only fair I was stuck here all day today. Heck, I wanted to thank my classmates instead if they went through the trouble of preparing and approving this job for me and considering it as a form of class participation.
Well, people that considerate were a dime a dozen though. I had an idea of who could have suggested such an idea.
A plastic bag was placed on the desk with a thump. I looked up to find Yuigahama.
She took a pipe chair leaning against the wall, unfolded it, and dropped onto it with an “ooph”. Are you an old lady or something?
“So, how was it?”
“Seemed okay, I guess? The audience seemed to like it at least.”
Putting aside the fact it couldn’t be considered as a complete play, it did its job well in riling up the audience. Ebina-san’s super producer vision was still a mystery to me, but I think the play was able to establish itself as entertainment, incorporating Tobe’s idea of “fun”.
There really wasn’t any reason to complain, especially since it was something out of a high school Cultural Festival. Making people with an expansive social network like Hayama, Tobe, and Oooka a part of the cast wasn’t an act of favorites, since I think they were able to maximize the amount of excitement in their respective circles.
Seeing someone you got along with act out a different character, and then, seeing that person leak out his usual character was another type of fun altogether they could create compared to what they already deemed to be fun.
With that in mind, the musical could be considered decent. More importantly, it was because Totsuka was cute.
“Everyone really did put a lot of time into it,” Yuigahama said as she was stretching her body and bending her back with a groan. Her emotional tone conveyed all the hardship they had to deal with up to this day. You guys did a good job, really… Anyway, stop stretching backwards like that with that T-shirt, I can’t help but notice your chest and navel.
“Well, I figured. I’m sure they all did. But I wasn’t there so I wouldn’t know.”
“Well duh, you were in the planning committee. A-Also… are you bothered at all about being left out of that first huddle we did?” Yuigahama pressed her index fingers together and looked up at me. This was one of her habits whenever she asked something sensitive. She was worrying about pointless things again.
“No, not really. Besides, I didn’t even do anything, so it wouldn’t be right to include me.” It didn’t change the fact that she was being considerate of me. I answered her honestly which was rare for me.
Yuigahama sighed with a renounced smile. “…I knew you’d say that.”
It’s a little embarrassing if you knew what I was going to say, please stop.
Yuigahama leaned back against the backboard of her pipe chair and its squeaking resembled an embarrassed laugh.
“Duh. I mean, you’re serious about the weirdest things. I can tell just from watching you.”
“What, you’re watching me…?”
The pipe chair then squeaked in surprise. When I looked, Yuighama had stood up half way and was waving her hand in front of her chest. “Ah, just kidding. Forget I said that just now. I’m not watching you at all. What I meant was I look away a lot.”
“Uh, it’s not like you can’t or anything…” I scratched my head in response.
We both went silent. In that time, the noise from the two neighboring classes grew conspicuously loud.
It sounded like class 2-E and 2-G were a big hit.
In particular, class 2-E. They had some sort of jet coaster attraction and there was a long queue for it.
People unable to deal with the long wait started complaining and the students of class 2-E weren’t sure how to deal with them.
As strange as it is, lines typically attracted more lines. This wasn’t limited to just lines. Things that were selling sold even more. The very fact that it was selling doubled as advertisement which led to even more sales.
Class 2-E’s situation was no exception as seen from the growing tail of the line.
“Wow, that looks rough,” Yuigahama gasped.
“Things are going to become unmanageable if that keeps going, won’t it?”
From what I could see, class 2-E didn’t have enough people so they couldn’t process the line fast enough. It was only a matter of time before the hallway was a congested mess.
It was at that moment.
Breeeeeet—a high-pitched sound could be heard.
I looked in its direction and Meguri-senpai was there.
“Everyone, get on it,” Meguri-senpai said even though there was no one present. Suddenly, the other student council members appeared. They proceeded to organize the line and relocate the rest of the people in the back elsewhere. Are you guys the staff at comiket or something?
“Is class 2-E’s representative here?” Yukinoshita was mixed in there as well. She promptly summoned the class representative, listened to the circumstances, and went over how to deal with the situation.
“Yukinon’s so cool…”
“Sure. The guy from 2-E obviously looks really scared though…”
To us, Yukinoshita was like her usual self, but to the people who weren’t familiar with her, her cold intensity was frightening.
“But she looks a lot better now.”
Yukinoshita let out a small breath after finishing the discussion about the countermeasures with the representative. When she lifted her face, her gaze was directed my way for just a moment. But she quickly averted her eyes and walked away. She probably had another job to deal with.
As we watched her leave, I spoke to Yuigahama sitting next to me, “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Hm? What is it?” Yuigahama rested her chins in both of her hands on the desk and answered without turning.
“When we went to Yukinoshita’s place last time, did you guys talk about something?” I asked.
Yuigahama mumbled while thinking and then spoke, “Nothing at all.”
“Huh?” I asked for an explanation with a gesture.
Yuigahama then narrated the continuation of that day. “This was after you went home, Hikki. We got hungry, so we ate dinner together. Then we watched some kind of DVD. After that, I went home… So I didn’t ask her anything you wanted to know, Hikki.”
Her last sentence was almost as if she was refusing to say.
“…Well, it’s not like there’s anything I wanted to know.”
“Really? I wanted to know some things though.”
“Huh? So why—“
—didn’t you ask her? I tried to ask, but when I looked at Yuigahama’s profile, my voice withered away. Her expression as she watched Yukinoshita in the distance turn the corner of the hallway was so sincere that I hesitated from going any further.
“You see, I’m going to wait for Yukinon. I think she’s trying her best to talk to us and get closer to us… That’s why I’m going to wait for her.”
It was an answer you could expect from Yuigahama.
Yuigahama would definitely wait. It’s because she had been trying to get closer all this time. Yukinoshita fully understood this and that’s why she was trying to respond back by trying to take a step forward herself.
“But I won’t wait for people that aren’t going anywhere.”
“Huh? Well yeah, there’s no point in waiting for a person like that.”
Yuigahama smiled lightly. With her cheeks cupped in her hands, she slightly twisted her body my way.
In front of the idling class, the traffic of people accelerated. Students walking in the hallway were going back and forth, heading for their next destination or trying to solicit more customers. The commotion didn’t need to discriminate between every individual in a frantic rush nor us. It was just one with the background, the sounds of the environment.
That’s why I could hear her voice so clearly, a voice that was much more soothing and mature than normal.
“That’s not it. I won’t wait… but I’ll go instead.”
My heart jumped. It was a pain that could away at me internally.
When I looked at Yuigahama’s moist eyes, it made me want to think about the meaning of those words. But if I were to think about them, I will be at a dead end. And ultimately, I will likely be mistaken. I’ve come this far being mistaken about a lot of things. But this time, I don’t want to be mistaken, I’m sure.
That’s why I didn’t have the words needed to answer her at this moment.
“Uh huh, really.”
I gave her a meaningless and vague response and Yuigahama returned a shy smile. Her embarrassed smile was telling me that the discussion was over.
Both of us let out a small sigh and averted our gazes.
It was then my eyes spotted a plastic bag resting on the table.
“Anyway, what’s with the bag?”
“Oh, I forgot. You didn’t eat lunch yet, right?”
She shuffled through the bag and took out a paper pack. She then took out something from inside that pack. Huh. That’s one weird matryoshka item. I thought, but apparently it was something else.
It was like, bread or something. A plump, rectangular loaf of bread.
It was plastered with fresh cream mixed, dressed in chocolate syrup with colorful, chocolate sprinkles. But it was essentially bread. A plump, rectangular loaf of bread even. Then again, this was just a loaf of bread. Cooking? More like a loaf of bread.
But Yuigahama proudly lifted up that loaf of bread ON THE FRESH CREAM5.
“Tada! Honey toast!”
…Ooh, so this was the rumored popular honey toast at “Everyone’s Favorite Karaoke Pasela”6… Is this the collaboration menu or something? Am I wrong? It’s not a collaboration? Are we not going to get a drink and coaster specially made for us? Karatetsu7 is welcomed too!
I looked at it with a mildly passionate gaze. It might’ve been because of that that Yuigahama said tiredly, “It’s not that big of a deal. They have this at Pasela in Chiba too.”
“Uh, I don’t exactly go out to karaoke, you know.”
But in the hands of an amateur, this was the kind of quality you could expect for honey toast. Obviously, an actual pro would make it more authentic. I mean, this was just bread, seriously. Couldn’t they put in a little more effort in making it look less like bread? It’s literally bread. Absolutely bread.
“Yoink,” Yuigahama let out an energetic yap you wouldn’t expect from her when distributing food and she apportioned the food onto paper plates. So you’re doing it bare handed… Well, that’s fine too.
I took a bite of the torn piece of honey toast.
“So good!” Yuigahama stuffed her face, chewing with fresh cream dabbed on her face. She must be a sweets person. She looked pretty happy.
As I was watching her expression, I was starting to get the feeling I might end up liking the honey toast myself.
I carried a piece to my mouth in anticipation.
…This bread is so hard… The honey hasn’t even soaked in all the way yet.
There wasn’t enough fresh cream on it, so this must have been some kind of slow-inducing punishment game halfway in… Yuigahama’s idea of choosing this for lunch was pretty dangerous too.
But the person in question seemed satisfied. Was there anything good about this?
“The fresh cream is so good!”
Hey… Wait… Is fresh cream even necessary on honey toast? You stole some from my portion too, didn’t you?
I thought I’d give her an earful, but I restrained myself since Yuigahama was enjoying it. We finished it off with tea, making it a complete meal.
…Yeah, well. I guess it’s good, maybe?
Yuigahama finished her food and wiped away the cream at her mouth with a tissue. Her lips were glossy. The sunlight reflecting against them was bright. I ended up averting my eyes as a result.
The honey toast was pretty big even though there were two of us eating it. Well, it was an entire loaf of bread…
It had to have been expensive then. It was nothing like a burrito.
“Oh yeah, how much was it?” I took out my wallet and asked.
Yuigahama stopped me. “It’s okay. It wasn’t much.”
“No, I can’t have that.”
“I said it’s fine!” Yuigahama stubbornly refused. At this rate, we’d go back and forth…
“I may have the desire to be raised, but I don’t intend to take charity!”
“What’s with that bizarre pride of yours!?”
Yuigahama groaned and took some time to think. She then whispered quietly, “Jeez. You’re such a pain, Hikki… Fine. Why don’t you treat me to honey toast next time then…? Say, Chiba’s Pasela.”
“You’re going to choose the place too….?” I spoke bitterly, but even I knew what the meaning behind that was.
Because of that, I found myself gauging my distance with Yuigahama again.
I really do think we’ve gotten closer compared to before. I’m not so immature that I would deny that fact out of desperation.
It was like that for the written application too. If it was just filling it in, I really could have just asked anyone.
But I went out of my way to find Yuigahama and even relied on her.
I was allowing that.
It was really easy to rely on Yuigahama.
That’s exactly why I needed to keep myself in check.
To blindly place unrestrained faith in someone is dependence.
I mustn’t rely on Yuigahama’s kindness. I mustn’t let Yuigahama’s good will spoil me.
Her kindness was something that created painful memories, made you worry and agonize over them, and wring them out. And I knew all of that. That’s why I mustn’t place my trust in her so easily.
On the slim chance that all of that weren’t due to her kindness or good will, but due to much more different emotions, then I had to be even more careful. Because that was simply taking advantage of a person’s weakness.
Feelings should be managed appropriately.
Distances should be maintained suitably.
——So is it okay for me to take at least one step forward again?
The Cultural Festival is a festival. A festival is extraordinary.
It’s that extraordinariness that causes your judgment to be off more than normal. But well, I’m sure even I would make the wrong judgment, at least for today.
“…Can we do another place?”
“Uh huh, sure,” Yuigahama smiled. “So when should we do it?”
There was a strange intensity behind her smile.
“U-Um, I’m sorry. May I just have a little more time to think it over…?” I found myself speaking politely.
Yuigahama replied back with a reluctant sigh to my answer.
There was just one day left of the Cultural Festival.
However, without a doubt, the end will come.
The clock that continues to tick moment by moment was indicating that even this moment, too, will eventually end.
- Nyarlathotep – A malign deity, particularly known to be utilized in H.P. Lovecraft works. ↩
- Mil Mascaras – A prominent wrestler. His name translates to “thousands of masks”. ↩
- Fruits Basket Turnover – A children’s game where each player except one is given a seat and also a fruit name. The standing player goes to the center, calls out a fruit, and those who are called stand up and move seats while the center play tries to take a seat. ↩
- Yaranaika? – A Japanese meme which eventually became one in the West. ↩
- ON THE DISH – Parody of a food menu item at a restaurant. ↩
- Pasela – Karaoke bar. ↩
- Karatetsu – Karaoke bar. ↩