This is a “what if?” scenario.
What if life was like a game where you could load up a save file and go back to a point where you could alter your choice? Would your life change in any way?
The answer is a resounding no.
Only those who were blessed with choices would benefit. To those who never had those choices in the first place, that hypothetical scenario was meaningless.
As such, there would be no regrets. More accurately, it was life itself that was the epitome of regrets.
That’s how it was.
There was also the “little too late” scenario. Once you got started on “what if” scenarios, you wouldn’t see the end of it. Nothing would change regardless of the answer you gave. The moment you had settled on a decision, it was already too late to take it back.
Ifs, parallels, and loops were constructs that didn’t exist in this world. In short, the scenarios in life were all linear. Preaching for possibilities was nothing but a futile effort.
I was fully aware of how wrong I was. The world, however, was a bigger perpetrator than I was.
It was ridden with wars, poverty, discrimination and a bunch of other things. Job hunting could easily go unrewarded with absolutely no offers. Even part time jobs took your pocket change as collateral damage, particularly in the cases where you had to cover the missing amount from your own pocket when you had to do a money count.
So where exactly did this world’s truth exist? A truth defined by the wrongdoings of this world couldn’t be called a truth at all.
On the other hand, the truth may very well be in the form of all that was wrong in that world instead.
But, was there any meaning in trying to prolong something that was bound to end?
Eventually, you’ll lose everything. This was an absolute truth.
But still, even so.
The eventual loss of everything had beauty to it.
The eventual end of everything had meaning to it. Even things like temporary repose, a combination of stagnation and uncertainty in life, would eventually be something you couldn’t deal with anymore.
Coming to terms with these truths was what you should be doing.
One day, sure enough, you’ll look back on the things you had lost as if they were treasures you had come to adore and as if they were similar to the happiness of drinking sake by yourself.
× × ×
What an unpleasant morning.
The clear weather skies were accompanied with a chilly wind that softly shook the windows. In the room was a relaxing space that invited napping temptations.
Really, what an unpleasant morning.
It was the Monday after getting back from the field trip that finished up the break.
Mondays gave preemptive rise to feelings of melancholy. After I forced my sluggish body out of bed, I squirmed my way towards the washroom.
I looked at the mirror with half-awake eyes. Reflected every time was me.
…Hmph, the same as always.
Indeed, I was as unchanging as ever to the point that it was sort of anti-climactic.
Everything reflected in the mirror compromised the basic fundamentals of what made me: the feeling of not wanting to go to school, the feeling of wanting to just sit around all day and do nothing, and the feeling of oncoming homesickness moments after I leave the house.
But there was something different. The water I splashed on my face was colder than usual.
With the autumn season over, it was safe to say it was now winter. November was coming to a close and what remained of the year was just one more month.
My parents had left early for work to avoid the commuting rush. The upcoming seasons were prime time for when people would barely make it on time to work or when people took late hours since it was unnecessarily crowded. As expected, people were still weak to the winter mornings even after becoming an adult. After all, anyone would want to stay cooped up in their futon until the very last second.
Even so, they all had a reason why they needed to continue working.
There was little doubt there were people who acted based on proactive reasons. But, on the flip side, there were people who only acted that way because society had demanded that of them. To avoid being the odd one out, they went with the flow but at the same time, making sure it was a natural transition.
In short, people acted only when there was something to gain and nothing to lose.
My face that was reflected by the mirror was clearly as normal as any other person. But my eyes that stared directly back at me wasn’t by all means ordinary; the rottenness in the eyes were nothing short of being at the pinnacle of all high schools throughout.
But that was what made it me. That was what made it Hikigaya Hachiman.
Satisfied with my unchanging self, I left the washroom.
When I entered the living room, my sister Komachi was standing in the kitchen. She took a daunting pose as she stood in front of the teapot.
Since my parents had finished their breakfast early, the menu was already set to be Japanese. Once Komachi brought out the tea, everything was ready.
The water began boiling as soon as I pulled out the chair. Komachi poured the water into the teapot and quickly raised her head.
“Ah, morning onii-chan.”
We exchanged our morning greetings. After, Komachi spoke with an impressed tone.
“…You seem kinda wide awake today.”
I titled my head when she said that. Was I normally that bad of a morning person? Wait, no, on second thought, of course I’d be weak in the morning. My blood pressure wasn’t low by all means but you probably couldn’t say the same for my motivation. That said, Komachi wasn’t always entirely wrong when she pointed something out to me. But true enough, I really was fully awake today.
“…Aah, well, the water was pretty cold when I washed my face earlier.”
I blurted out the first thing that came to mind as my reason and Komachi looked at me dubiously.
“Uh huh… I’m pretty sure there’s nothing different with the water though.”
“It got pretty cold all of a sudden, didn’t it? Anyway, hurry up and let’s eat so we can go to school.”
She carried the tea kettle over to the dining table while making a lot of stepping noises with her slippers on. It seems that my family did not pick Ayataka as the brand of tea to be in the tea kettle.
After we sat in our seats, we clapped our hands and gave thanks for our food in sync.
During the winter season, the Hikigaya household Japanese meals consisted of primarily warm meals and miso soup. The miso soup’s purpose was to warm up your body before you head out. Overflowing love from mom, I suppose.
I blew at my miso soup to cool it down since I was the owner of the sensitivity of a cat’s tongue. When I looked at Komachi who was doing the same thing, our eyes met.
Komachi placed her bowl on the table gently and slowly spoke up.
I responded and gave her a glance that suggested her to continue. When I did, Komachi asked me as if she was probing something.
“Did something happen?”
“Nothing at all… Instead, think about this. Absolutely nothing happened in this life of mine. They say that an evil may sometimes turn out to be a blessing in disguise. So, on that assumption, it might be better for something to happen after all. Like, if you contracted some chronic disease, you’ll end up going to the hospital often but on the contrary, you’ll end up being healthy. In that sense, if nothing happened then that means there might possibly be a storm brewing up soon.”
I spat those words in one breath only to have Komachi blink at me in surprise.
“What’s wrong, onii-chan?”
Completely normal. A completely normal reaction.
She asked without the slightest hint of being affected. I mean, everything I said was completely stupid, but aren’t you going to say something about it?
I really had to rack my brain to come up with all that too…
As expected, Monday completely threw me off.
“Well, you know… Basically, nothing happened.”
I carried the sunny side eggs up to my mouth with a quick motion. But still, were sunny-side eggs more of a Western dish or a Japanese dish?
After hearing my reply, Komachi answered indifferently.
Komachi pushed her tray aside to learn forward and peered into my face.
“Heey, did you know?”
Or maybe she was a sheltered cat which meant she was a sheltered princess. Wait, maybe she was the rice monster Pappu, we’re in the middle of breakfast after all. There was no way she was acting like Flabby Panda2 either. Komachi wasn’t flabby in the slightest. In the first place, leaning forward meant emphasizing her chest so it might be better for her to get a little flabbier there. Actually no, there’s no need for that. She was already super cute the way she was now.
As I convinced myself, Komachi let out a short sigh.
“Onii-chan, normally you say the most pointless things, but when something’s wrong, you actually say things that are even more pointless than the usual…”
Harsh critic as always. Being told what you said was pointless makes it hard to respond. Well, it was true that I was only saying pointless things anyway. But still, analyzing me in fine detail from my speech and conduct, was she some sort of psychological investigator or something? What’s with that profiling?
Komachi poked at her salad with her chopsticks and looked like she was going to say something only to be stopped by her hesitation. She rolled around a nearby tomato on her dish.
I had an idea of what words were lodged in her throat likely thanks to our bond as siblings. Or maybe because I ended up realizing the same thing she did.
Komachi gently put down her chopsticks and asked about me.
“Did… something happen with Yui-san and Yukino-san?”
I continued to eat in silence while listening to her. I was taught to not talk while eating after all. I took my time swallowing my food. After that, along with various feelings, I gulped down my miso soup.
“…Did they say something?”
When I asked her, Komachi shook her head slightly.
“They’re not the type to talk about those things and I’m sure you know this too, right?”
When she brought that up, I had nothing to say.
Whether it was Yukinoshita or Yuigahama, while they were both pretty critical about the most worthless things, they definitely wouldn’t blabber about things to another person’s sister.
“I just thought something was going on.”
Komachi spoke and eyed my reaction.
Living together for a long time meant that there would be things that the both of us would notice about each other, be it good things or bad things.
But there were things you didn’t want noticed either.
After I answered her with empty words, my eyes hovered towards the clock on the wall. I picked up my chopsticks and continued eating.
In contrast, Komachi was taking it slow.
“You should chew your food carefully. Anyway,”
Komachi looked intent on continuing the conversation. It seems she predicted I was going to cut the conversation short.
Her stare looked into the day after tomorrow and she looked like she suddenly remembered something.
“Remember something like that happened before?”
As I said that, I became completely aware of what she was talking about. What she was alluding to was the incident in June. Speaking of which, I get the feeling Komachi did the same thing back then; pointing something out to me.
Oh. I haven’t changed at all. That’s me for you.
Not even the slightest growth or change, nothing at all.
Nevertheless, Komachi gripped her teacup seemingly to warm up her hands. She was doing that even though there wasn’t a tea stalk floating atop; that, I could see clearly.
“…But, I think it might be a bit different than last time.”
“Well, of course. People change day to day after all. Even cells get replaced all the time. Given five or seven years, people will change, probably. So basically, you know, humans are…”
Komachi smiled in resignation and tried to play it off. After she let go of her teacup, she put her hands on her lap.
“…So, what did you do?”
“Why are you asking as if I was the one who did something?”
I responded back, but Komachi continued to look at me in silence. That expression told me that she wouldn’t settle for anything stupid coming from me.
I scratched at my head quickly and averted my eyes.
“…Nothing happened. There was nothing at all in the first place.”
“Even if onii-chan isn’t aware of it, there’s always the possibility that you did something. Okay fine… try talking about something one by one.”
“So you say…”
I thought for a little bit.
Although it’s been a few days since I got back from Kyoto, I did do my fair share of thinking. I asked myself whether there was something wrong with my actions or whether there was a problem with something I did. I most certainly did reflect on my actions.
But regardless, the only thing that came to mind was a solution that was the most effective that paved way for a conclusion that was guaranteed to be safe. Given the limited options we had available, I thought the end result was more than enough.
The worst possible situation was avoided and we even managed to clear another request at the same time. As for whether the actual process was something to be praised or not, that was up for debate but ultimately, we had reached a conclusion.
But, there wasn’t a need to explain in detail of all those things to Komachi. As long as I was aware of it, that was enough.
“No, nevermind, it’s nothing.”
I shrugged it off. From there, I signaled that that was the end of this conversation and proceeded to wolf down my food.
Despite that, Komachi continued to face me.
“Oh you. So, what happened?”
Komachi tilted her head dubiously, rested her chin on her hands, and jokingly laughed.
As cute as the posture she was in, there was a strong sense of purpose behind it. It was a stance that wouldn’t allow the conversation to end on a vague note.
But, at that point, it was starting to get a little grating.
Normally, I wouldn’t get irritated at this level of nosiness from Komachi. Typically, I’d laugh it off and go with the flow and just say something random only to confuse her.
But if we’re talking about normally, then Komachi wouldn’t be this obstinate about her business.
When I tried to act like I always did with Komachi, consciously trying to enact how I should be, I grew aggravated.
“…You’re being annoying. Enough already.”
My words unintentionally sounded rough to Komachi’s surprise. However, she was only shocked for a split second and her shoulders started to shake.
She suddenly opened her eyes wide and yelled out in a loud voice.
“…W-What’s with that tone of yours!?”
“I don’t sound any different than usual. Truth of the matter, you really were being annoying.”
These words definitely weren’t the ones that I wanted to say. I definitely wanted to just play it off. But once the words came out, I couldn’t take them back.
No matter when and where, you couldn’t take anything back.
Komachi narrowed her eyes and glared at me. Eventually, she dropped her eyes to the table.
“…Hmph, okay. Fine, I won’t ask about it anymore.”
After that, there were no more further conversations at the dining table.
We both continued to eat in silence and the time that passed slowly felt like it was frozen.
During that time, Komachi quickly gulped down her miso soup and stood up. She stacked her dishes and plates in a hurry and carried them to the sink.
She then walked briskly to the door and stopped. Without looking at me, she spoke quickly.
“I’ll be going first. Make sure to lock the door.”
I gave her a short answer and Komachi slammed the door closed.
In that moment, I could hear a small voice.
“…Something did happen.”
Left alone in the living room, I grabbed my tea. The tea already lost its warmth and when I sipped it, it was lukewarm.
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Komachi act like that. It was too late but I wonder if I got her mad…… I got worried.
Komachi doesn’t get angry very often. But when she does, she was the type to stay angry for a while. In addition to that, she was a girl right in the middle of puberty. When she comes home, I don’t know what kind of face she’ll make.
Even though she’s my actual sister, I don’t know.
It truly was difficult to get along with other people.
× × ×
The scenery on the way to school was completely dyed in autumn colors.
The leaves of the trees that lined up along the bicycle path on Hanamigawa Street either decorated the long running lines of trees or fell down to the floor. The sky stretched far and wide overhead while the dry sea breeze blew down the path, overpowering the summer warmth.
As small as it was, it definitely did feel like the season was about to change. In particular, the change from summer to fall was easy to see with your own eyes. And once it was late fall, you would then see the colors of winter start to settle in.
This consecutive change in seasons may have been the only time you could see the diverse transformations with your own eyes.
What could the neighbors be doing this late in autumn?
The saying of a famous haiku.
Unique to this season was the melancholy, wretchedness, and possibly even a fragment of their loneliness that caused people to wonder what their neighbors could be doing.
Loneliness was what piqued a person’s curiosity in the well-being of others. To push out your own loneliness, you worry about others.
But if you looked at that in another way, it might have just been the manifestation of the desire to worry about yourself.
The person reflected on the other side of the mirror was just a stranger or so they say. However, that stranger was ultimately the person themselves; through this visible pretense they call a filter, what was left was just the person themselves.
Therefore, people only really thought about themselves.
When people were curious about the well-being of others, they were comparing themselves; an act simply to decide their own position by verifying it with others.
The use of others to establish their own position lacked any form of honesty. Doing it this way was wrong.
As such, isolation was justice as well as the correct answer.
My bike rattled as I proceeded on ahead. Occasionally, there were sounds of rust squeaking coming from the bike somewhere. Regardless, I pedaled on without worrying about it.
Considering the time, you wouldn’t be late but you’d definitely make it to the classroom at the last minute.
This was my usual commute time.
When I entered the bike parking venue, there were people running ahead in a hurry.
I locked my bike and hurried along to the front entrance like everyone else. Whenever I was alone, I would walk with a quick pace. This was a skill that was engraved in me since I barely ever walked with anyone. At this pace, I just might end up being considered for the Tokyo Olympics walking race as Japan’s representative. Yeah right.
The front entrance was always quite the sight since it exuded a comfortable atmosphere.
The morning greetings and talk added to the commotion filling up the stairs which flooded into the hallway.
With the biggest event, the field trip, finally over, everyone had returned to their ordinary high school lives.
The classroom was no different.
I shuffled noiselessly through the aisles between the desks in the conversation filled classroom. When I made it to my seat, I quietly pulled out my chair.
I sat down silently and waited for morning homeroom to start.
Even if I tried to space out, my ears and eyes would continue to process information of their own accord.
Since my classmates didn’t react to me at all, it seems that the fake confession from the other day didn’t go public. Well, that seems about right. Just thinking about it logically, there wasn’t a person who’d want to spread rumors about it.
I’m sure Tobe, Ebina, and even Hayama wouldn’t feel particularly pleasant about it if it became talk of the school.
The atmosphere of the class was the same as always. As a matter of fact, the atmosphere seemed to be better than usual.
Clearly, having gone through the trials of a field trip together, their bonds had deepened even further. But no, that wasn’t the case.
Instead, it was probably due to the remaining time they had left.
Going to a chilly place like Kyoto was one of the biggest events in the lives of high school students and they were able to see first-hand the change in seasons. Now that that was over, it’s likely that everyone more or less became aware of their situation.
November was going to end shortly. Once we were halfway into December, we’ll have winter break which ends the year and continues into January. It’ll then be February which had fewer days than the typical month and the remainder of March will finish up with spring break. The remaining time left continues to tick by, hour by hour. In short, the remaining time we had left in this classroom was close to three months.
That’s why they wanted to treasure this moment.
But who did they treasure this moment for? Their friends weren’t the ones to say the least.
No, what they treasured was their youth. This very moment that they’re absorbed in was what they treasured. You could make a case for calling this narcissism as a matter of fact.
As I arbitrarily observed, analyzed, and came to my conclusion, I let out a small yawn.
Thinking up of all these absurd things was proof I was tired.
It was the first day after the holidays and I could feel my body weighing down on me already.
To get the soreness out of my shoulders, I stretched my neck around.
The usual faces of my classmates came into view and they were chatting up storms as always. At another spot was someone with a ponytail looking outside through the window.
Kawasaki was in the classroom and stood there looking agitated. However, she looked steady and unchanging as ever.
When I looked ahead of her, there was a group of two to three girls showing each other photos of the trip. In that group of girls was Sagami having a good time. She was one, rare even, of a kind to not see any kind of growth despite going through all of those events from before. Well, I don’t really want to get mixed up with her anymore so I don’t really care. I couldn’t hear any form of insults coming from them which might have been thanks to the field trip.
Sagami’s group wasn’t the only one talking about the field trip as there were other groups spread out in the classroom doing just the same.
However, eventually these chats of the field trip will turn into memories and sink into the depths of their memories. When they look at their photos again, memories will come rushing back only to change into something different.
This didn’t apply just to the field trip since I’m sure this very moment was just the same.
Of course, those who were aware of that were few and far between. It was also possible they noticed already and were just putting up bravado to have fun.
Little by little, everyone will act as if they haven’t noticed anything and pretend as if they were never aware of anything in the first place.
That’s why all of them might have been the same.
I continued looking around the classroom, particularly in the back.
It was the same, unchanging scenery.
“Ya know, we made it back to Chiba, right? At the Keiyou Line, they were already gettin’ into the Christmas mood, so I was panicking there. Like, the Disney Land advertisements are frikkin’ crazy!”
The one that played with the hair on the back of his with a playful attitude was Tobe. He was just as energetic as he was before the field trip.
“Disney Land’s getting way into it!”
“I get it.”
Ooka and Yamato acted just the same and followed along with Tobe.
“Disney Land huh~”
The one who said that while playing with her blonde curls using the tips of her fingers looking spaced out was Miura. If Miura were one of those girls who looked up to the Disney princes, I think that’d make her quite girly.
“It’s already that time of the season huh……”
The one with a smile on his face while resting his chin on his hands was Hayama. Listening to them was Yuigahama who placed her index finger on her chin and as her eyes hovered up towards the ceiling, she spoke as if she remembered something.
“Ah, speaking of which, I think they built a new attraction there.”
After she spoke, Ebina crossed her arms and began thinking.
“Eh? Isn’t that for the resort side? Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one it is…… that is, which one is on top and bottom.”
Ebina was tapped on the head by Miura but smiled afterwards.
Hayama’s group was the same as always.
I felt slightly relieved seeing that.
It was the world that they wished for; a stagnating world that never changed.
This world of theirs was eventually going to decay and rot, but that’s not to say it wasn’t already. So maybe that was its true form after all.
Both Hayama and Ebina didn’t interfere with this side.
That was indeed the correct decision. If they wanted to continue as they were before and after the field trip, then their interaction with each other shouldn’t change. But that also meant that the distance between me and them was everlasting.
As I looked at them stupidly, my eyes suddenly met with Yuigahama’s.
It wasn’t that long at all and only a few seconds should’ve passed. But oddly enough, it felt longer than it should have. As if our gazes were trying to probe the other, I quickly averted my eyes in discomfort.
I rested my body on my left hand and closed my eyes. Although I averted my eyes, my ears still continued to work.
“It’s that, yeah? Like we’ll all go to Disney Land, like to here!”
Their conversation had nothing substantial in it, but regardless, Hayama’s group continued to talk.
There, Yuigahama’s laughter mixed in with the others to which she seemed to be relieved as she stroked her chest.
…But really, there’s absolutely nothing substantial in their conversations.
It’d be bad if the conversation was just because of the mood.
On the same note, they could easily just be talking to each other while directly avoiding the real issue. Yet another possibility was they were enacting a charade to simulate their usual group dynamic from before the field trip.
In any case, it’s a beautiful thing to have friends. The affection for each other and being each other’s shield was a beautiful thing. They were keeping up their appearances up quite nicely. Of course it’d be beautiful.
As such, the formula was comprised of these extremely simple elements: to be on good terms equals beauty equals affectation and being each other’s shield. As expected, my math sense was in bad shape. Speaking of which, completed mathematical formulas were beautiful according to one branch of the sciences. I can see where they were coming from. There was a sense of security in the truth that was defined to be everlasting. But, anyway, getting all fired up over a mathematical formula will make me look like a scientific pervert. As expected, science and mathematics were disgusting.
As I thought of useless things to kill time, I opened my eyes slightly to check the time. The bell was going to ring soon…
At that moment, the figure of someone who rushed to make it on time to class appeared outside the class. He was in a hurry although his pace seemed relaxed.
The person who opened the door shakily and poked his head through the opening to look into the classroom was Totsuka. Once he confirmed the situation in the classroom, he sighed. Totsuka wiped down his sweat and looked at his watch.
“Yay, I made it on time…”
Totsuka nodded with a relieved expression and exchanged greetings with classmates on the way to his seat.
A little halfway towards his seat, Totsuka noticed that I was looking at him, the entire time might I add, and approached me. Actually, what should be questioned here was why I was looking at him the entire time, but I’ll flip the question there: was there anyone who wasn’t always looking at someone?
Since Totsuka had ran here to class, he was breathing hard with a flushed face. He must have been at morning practice since the exhaustion reflected in his eyes was getting to me.
I cleared my throat to avoid getting worked up about the situation and greeted him. But as calm as I was, it wasn’t like me at all. I responded with an appropriate tone.
But, Totsuka looked at me in puzzlement and was oddly quiet. The hands he had gently lifted up were stuck airborne.
When I asked, Totsuka waved his hands playing it off and smiled.
“Ah, nothing, just thought you were saying hi just like normal.”
Upon hearing that, I shifted just slightly earlier to my reaction. Was there something different than usual?
But thinking about it probably wouldn’t give me an answer.
I shut off my brain there and spoke.
“Aah… Yeah, right. Just like normal. Were you at morning practice?”
“Yep. It’s been so long that I got absorbed in it. Ah, still feeling tired from the field trip?”
I recalled the trip on my back home. I was asleep for most of the entire trip on the Shinkansen. He must be talking about that. For the most part, I was half-awake, but I really wasn’t in the mood to talk with anyone at the time… Umm, I mean I wasn’t exactly in the greatest mood and I didn’t want to let Totsuka see that side of me, you know?
I mean, I want to stay as the cool Hikigaya Hachiman in front of Totsuka after all. What is this guy saying?
“Aah, yeah, I’m good.”
“I see, that’s good then.”
Totsuka replied with a smile and at that moment, the bell rang. Totsuka waved and left for his seat. I smiled comfortably in response.
Right, I wasn’t tired at all anymore. Or should I say, the fatigue that I’ve been suffering from was blown away just now.
× × ×
As classes ended one by one, I could feel my body getting increasingly sluggish. I began to count the remaining hours left of school out of habit.
And then, the day concluded with homeroom again which also meant the end of the countdown.
Time was up.
I grabbed my bag that had nothing important inside and stood up.
People headed for their clubs and headed for home quickly shuffled out of the classroom. I could feel stares pricking at my back but that was eventually cut off when I closed the sliding door behind me.
The hallway was submerged in a relaxing atmosphere. Students were running back and forth heading in different directions. They showed no signs of stopping despite walking so leisurely.
I chose to walk down the side of the hallway that wasn’t lit up by the sun which didn’t feel as warm as the other side.
I descended down the stairs and noticed that the density of students wasn’t as high as usual. The reason was probably due to some classes still stuck in homeroom.
Not a single person called out to me or questioned my actions as I continued on to the front entrance. I arrived without a hitch.
Starting from here, I’d change my shoes and head for the bike parking area. After unlocking my bike, I’d ride home while spacing out. In a short while, I’d eventually make it home safe and sound.
But that wasn’t very like me.
I am me. Just like always. That’s why I should pass the time like I always do.
Just as I exited the front entrance, a vending machine came into view.
It was time to change gears. I chose canned coffee. But again, what I chose wasn’t the Ayataka brand.
“…This sure is bitter.”
I gulped down the coffee and threw the empty can into the trash. The bitter taste continued to linger in my mouth and running around wouldn’t make it go away.
As usual, my legs felt heavy but I forced myself to move. I took a route different than the one I usually used to go to the club room.
As I walked through the hallway and ascended the stairs, bothersome thoughts started to fill my head. I made small sighs while I did.
After taking my time, I was in finally in front of the club room.
Before I placed my hand on the door, I breathed in deeply.
At that moment, I could hear voices leaking out from the inside. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were talking about, but it seems like they were here already.
Having confirmed that, I opened the door in one motion.
Once I did, they stopped talking.
The three of us were silent. Yukinoshita and Yuigahama, who were fixated on me, had a look of surprise.
They probably thought I wouldn’t bother coming since it was so late already. They were half correct. I wasn’t particularly that motivated to come here after all.
I was just being stubborn, that’s all. It was just the stubbornness of someone who was shredded to pieces by the malicious and uncooperative intent of others.
This show of resistance belonged only to me for the sake of not denying my past, my actions, and my beliefs.
I greeted them with a nod and proceeded to my designated spot.
Once I situated myself in the chair I pulled out, I took out an unfinished book from my bag. The bookmark that marked my spot in the book was still the same as it was before the field trip.
When I began reading, time that was frozen began to move again.
Laid out on the table were quilt tea cozies with baked sweets and chocolates. Lined up one by one were a tea cup and mug with steam arising from both.
The room felt warm and smelled of tea possibly from water that was recently just boiled.
However, I could feel the warmth of the room gradually drop and drop.
Yukinoshita looked at me with cold piercing eyes.
“…So you came after all.”
“Yep, as you can see.”
I answered nonchalantly and flipped the page I was on despite having only read a little less than half of it.
Yukinoshita didn’t say a word after that.
Yuigahama snuck hesitant glances at me, but the only thing she did was place her mug to her mouth.
But true enough, the mood was incredibly stuffy. It was pretty much asking me why I came.
The criticizing silence continued.
My eyes followed along the lines of the book. I rested my back against the chair and loosened my shoulders as I flipped the pages. It was the start of the unproductive period where I unconsciously began to count down the remaining time between the remaining pages of the book and when it was time to head home.
Someone had cleared their throat, the rustling of clothes could be heard, and someone could be heard fidgeting.
Even the ticking of the long hand of the clock could be heard.
As if that was the trigger, Yuigahama slightly breathed in and spoke up.
“Ah, speaking of which, everyone was acting really normal. Um, that is… everyone…”
Although she was in the middle of her speech, her words grew increasingly mumbled as if the stale atmosphere was crushing her. But, Yukinoshita and I were looking directly at her.
By everyone, she probably meant Tobe, Ebina, Hayama and even Miura.
But she was right. The field trip was over but that group hadn’t change at all. They were on good terms like always and that was something you could take from just looking at them.
“…Right, just looking at them gives me the impression there’s nothing wrong.”
It wasn’t like I was proud of what I did. In fact, what I did was probably classified as the worst things you could do. Regardless, the fact that what I did didn’t go wasted saved me.
That’s why it was fine to consider that as my own honest opinion.
“…I see. Then, that’s fine.”
Yukinoshita followed the rim of her tea cup with her fingertips as she said that. But, her weary gaze was directed at the surface of the tea and her expression indicated she wasn’t in the least convinced.
As if Yuigahama mustered her strength after that conversation was over, she laughed heartily while caressing the ball of hair on her head.
“I mean, it was a little scary, but I didn’t really have anything to worry about. Everyone’s just… normal.”
That summoned energy lost momentum halfway through. She lowered her despondent face downwards and the words she uttered at the very end sounded hollow.
“…I don’t really know what they’re thinking about anymore.”
Exactly who were those words directed at? The chance that the word everyone included people not limited to Hayama and his groupies startled me.
As I sat there with no response, Yukinoshita spoke up.
“…That’s how it was originally. There’s no way we’d understand what they’d be thinking about anyway.”
Yuigahama became quiet again after hearing those blunt words. The warmth of the mug that Yuigahama gripped onto had already disappeared.
Seeing Yuigahama look hurt, Yukinoshita continued on with her words with “besides”.
“Even if people knew what each other were thinking, whether we’ll understand or not is a different problem.”
Yukinoshita stretched out her hand to the tea cup she was looking down on. Although the tea should’ve been cold by now, she drank it slowly and carefully and silently placed the cup back on the saucer without making any noise. It was as if she hated the sound.
The silence questioned me. Regarding the meaning of her words, that is.
“…Sounds about right.”
There wasn’t a need to think about it since the meaning was obvious. What Yukinoshita said was absolutely correct and there was no fault that I could nitpick. It was indeed the truth.
I let out a short sigh and straightened up.
“Well, you don’t need to worry about it too much. As long as we act like normal, then that would be the best thing, right?”
If we wanted to continue in the same way without changing, then we should do the same with our surroundings too. The bonds between people were easily breakable after all. It was a combination of internal and external factors.
Yuigahama repeated my words slowly.
“We should act normal too… yeah…”
She nodded despite not looking too confident and convinced.
I nodded as well in response.
This was our decision.
No, it was my decision.
But just one person didn’t show signs of consent. Yukinoshita Yukino gazed directly at me. As I sat there feeling the pressure from her gaze, Yukinoshita slowly began to speak.
“Normal… I see, to you, that would be normal.”
When I answered, Yukinoshita let out a small sigh.
“…You won’t change, is that it?”
It felt like I had been told something like that before. But the meaning laced in those words back then was completely different. This time, her words had no warmth as if she had given up, as if something had ended.
Those words pricked at my chest.
Yukinoshita looked like she had trouble trying to say something as her words were cut off abruptly. Her eyes wandered around as if she was trying to look for the words she wanted to say.
—-Ahh, this was surely the continuation from before.
The words that she had swallowed back then, she was going to tell me them.
I relaxed my body that grew stiff unknowingly and waited for Yukinoshita to continue.
Yukinoshita gripped at her skirt. Her shoulders slightly shook. Finally looking determined, her throat began to move.
But, the words just wouldn’t come out.
“Yu-Yukinon! U, Um, um you see……”
Yuigahama forcefully placed her mug on the table and hoping to talk, interrupted the conversation. It was as if she had a feeling that what Yukinoshita was going to say were words that shouldn’t be said.
But that was nothing more than procrastination. The way she acted as if she was trying to pretend she didn’t notice could only be seen as if she was trying to keep a secret under wraps.
The stagnant mood continued and the two tried to look for words to say, only to give birth to silence.
How much were they looking for? It definitely wasn’t anything trivial. The only thing in motion was the small hand of the clock.
Still, the sound of knocking came from the door as if minding the ticking time.
We all faced the door, but no one spoke up.
Once more, there were more knocks to confirm.
The one who answered was me. I wasn’t all that loud, but it seems it had reached past the door.
The door clattered open.
The one who said that and came in was Hiratsuka-sensei.