The piercing cold woke me up.
As I squirmed restlessly sitting up, a blanket slowly slid off of me.
Apparently I fell asleep on the sofa last night. I vaguely recalled my mom telling me something. It was something along the lines of “you’ll get a cold if you sleep on the sofa”.
But with that being pointless, she just left me there and let me sleep. My memories were a little hazy and I might have said something back, but I probably just fell straight back to sleep in the end. My sleeping companion, Kamakura, was nowhere in sight. He likely went to sleep in a warmer place.
As I cracked my neck, shoulders, and waist, I stood up. On the table was prepared breakfast.
I took a look around the room while eating and my parents seemed to have already left the house. Komachi seemed to have left for school as well and the only one remaining in the house was me.
On top of the table were the donuts I brought home yesterday and there were less of them than before. Someone must have eaten them.
While changing, I could feel the chilly weather that got colder day by day.
Did I really get a cold…? Or was it because I slept in a weird position that I didn’t get enough sleep?
I had a slight headache too. I think there was some headache pain relievers somewhere… I rummaged through the cabinet and took in the first bottle I saw.
Mmmm yeaaaaaaaaah! Medishine’s shooooo guuuuuuud!!1
Hmph, this was definitely the line to say after a serving of medicine.
I left the house and headed for school on my bike while repeatedly chanting “it’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold”.
Yesterday was the day right after the field trip so there was this odd feeling of restlessness somewhere. But once that made it to the regular classes, it’d go away somewhere eventually.
The school gate, the bike parking area, and the front entrance were all things I’ve gotten used to over the two years I’ve been here. But I didn’t feel any attachment to it at all so it was a mysterious feeling.
When I entered through the front entrance, I bumped into Yuigahama.
I quickly greeted her and headed for the classroom. From behind were footsteps that sounded more restrained than usual.
I could hear sighs coming from the back as if there were words lodged in her throat. I continued walking down the hallway, trying my best to not be too bothered by it.
There were less and less people as I approached the stairs. Noticing this, Yuigahama hopped up the stairs and ascended alongside me.
“S-So, about today… Are you… going to the club?”
She asked with a very awkward, but probing tone. But I already knew what I was going to say.
“No. I’m not going.”
After I said that, Yuigahama tried to laugh it off as if she already knew what I was going to say.
“R-Right… U-Um, the thing is, we’re going to talk a little bit more with Iroha later so we can get a better idea of what to do or something.”
Judging from her tone, Yuigahama was probably working together with Yukinoshita. It was probably after I was on my way home that they talked to each other.
While Yuigahama continued speaking, we had only climbed a few steps up the stairs.
“So, I just kinda thought Hikki not knowing was kinda that, you know…”
There were a lot of meanings in the word “that”. It was a pronoun that made you curious just exactly where the truth was and made you want to dig into it. When I glanced at Yuigahama, her facing down expression made me realize she still had more things to say.
The stairs that I was used to ascending felt longer than usual.
Words suddenly escaped my lips.
“…Er, it’s nothing.”
“Aren’t you angry?” were the words I kept myself from saying. How unsightly. How incredibly lame.
What’s the point in trying to act dumb?
Yuigihama wanted to spend the days just like always; the same way as before.
That should’ve been in line with what I wanted to do as well.
You keep things to yourself and make a composed face as if nothing was there. You continue to do this every day. But eventually, you’ll forget about them. And when the time comes when you can’t take it back, you’ll look back on these memories nostalgically wondering if that was how it really went with hints of regret. You’ll end up telling yourself that they were nothing more than just bittersweet memories.
“…Well, that’s fine if it’s just to hear her out.”
I said those words when we finally finished climbing the stairs. I quickly turned to the hallway and never got to hear a response.
× × ×
When class ended, my classmates left in doves of twos and threes. Of course, there were also people who stayed in the classrooms having fun talking with each other. People who stayed to chat until clubs started up were also in the class.
I quickly got ready to head home and I steadied my breathing at my seat. I would go directly home from here or so I’d like to.
As long as the service club stayed voluntary, there was no obligation forcing me to go. But my brief exchange with Yuigahama in the morning when I bumped into her shortly after arriving at school, I needed to go to the service club room so I could hear out what the deal was with Isshiki.
To be honest, my plans could be executed regardless of what Isshiki’s thoughts and circumstances were. That’s why it wasn’t necessary at all for me to listen to what they had to say.
That being said, there could possibly be things that could come up that would affect what Yukinoshita and Yuigahama had in mind regarding their plans.
So basically, it boiled down to listening to what Yukinoshita and Yuigahama had to say instead.
With that in mind, exactly how far could I go in facing Yukinoshita head on? This was exactly similar to when we first met each other and how we argued over the validity of our methods at every opportunity. Or actually, I got the feeling it was mostly her criticizing what I did half the time.
Right. If I thought about it like that, then this time was exactly the same as back then. Yukinoshita rejected the way I did things this time as well. With that being so, this formality between us would continue as usual without the slightest change and our situation would stay maintained.
If nothing changed, then there wouldn’t be any problems.
After coming to a conclusion, I stood up from my seat.
When I made slight glances around the room, people who were absorbed in their conversations were all gone. Even Yuigahama was nowhere to be seen and seemed to have left the room already.
I went into the hall and headed for the special building.
Although it was going to be after school very soon, it was eerily quiet since it was about this time when the cultural clubs would start their activities.
Thinking on it, last year during this season, I never did walk down this hall. How this chilly air propagated throughout the hallway during the late autumn was something I came to know at this very moment.
When I arrived in front of the room, I opened the door without hesitation.
“Ah, he really came…”
The owner of those words was Yuigahama. She looked at me in relief.
There were two others in the room.
Yukinoshita glanced at me very slightly, but she seemed to have been occupied with writing something before I entered. She quickly went back to focusing on the paper in her hand.
The other person was Isshiki Iroha who was sitting in the direction of Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. She twisted her body around and looked at me. After making a curious expression which flat out said “who the heck was this guy again? I better smile though”, she smiled and slightly nodded her head.
Well, to Isshiki, I was probably a worthless existence to her so it was understandable. Particularly in her case where her usual partners were people like Hayama, she was no doubt part of the top caste of the social hierarchy.
Even then, it wasn’t like she was openly ignoring me, but she was definitely giving off this well-off aura. Frankly, if it was me from a long time ago, this was definitely the bare minimum for me to fall for her. On the contrary, it was this slight cunningness that girls typically hated that caused this time’s incident to happen.
I nodded slightly to Isshiki and went to my usual seat. When I did, Yukinoshita began.
“Well, shall we begin?”
So they haven’t talked about anything yet, huh? I shot a quick glance at the clock and a good amount of time had already passed since the chiming of the last bell that signified the end of school. It looked like Yuigahama took notice of what I said this morning about “just to hear her out” and waited for me.
“…Sorry for making you wait.”
When I said that, Yukinoshita responded with closed eyes, not looking at all in my direction. No more words came out of her after that.
A silence akin to halting gears filled the room to which Yuigahama laughed uncomfortably. She turned towards Isshiki.
“Um, sorry for making you come here. Were you busy with your club by chance?”
“Nooope, not at all! Besides, I let Hayama know that I had something important to do and he gave me the okay too.”
Isshiki answered energetically and leaning forward, she continued.
“Speaking of which, Yui, you’re in the same class as Hayama, aren’t you? Could it be you’ve already talked about me?”
“Eh…? No, not in particular.”
Yuigahama tilted her head with a half open mouth. She tried recalling something from her memories, but it looked like nothing relevant came up. Isshiki who asked the question began brooding.
“…I see. He didn’t hesitate to send me on my way so I for sure thought you might have heard something from him.”
Haa, I see. From the tone of her voice, I can assume that Isshiki was in love with Hayama.
So, it was basically along these lines: “The reason why he sent me away so easily from the club today was because he knew about my circumstances and not because he didn’t need me, right?” Hey, that kind of feeling was something I was kind of familiar with so it’s kind of hard to comment.
I better stop reading too deeply into what a person says and does, yeah! Knowing the truth just hurts after all.
If I was able to notice what Isshiki was thinking, there’s no way Yuigahama would.
She quickly made a “crap!” expression and followed up right after.
“Ah, but since it’s Hayato we’re talking about, if he knew about it, wouldn’t he be a lot more assuming of what’s going on, maybe! That’s why you don’t need to worry about it too much… okay?”
Yukinoshita watched their exchange in disinterest. When she noticed the pause in the conversation, she called out to Yuigahama.
“Yuigahama, let’s get started.”
“Okay, good idea. So, we’re going to decide what our objective is so we’re gonna ask you about a few things, okay?”
Yuigahama got into the main topic and Isshiki responded with an idiotic sounding yes.
“For now, Iroha, we’ll find another candidate to step in and you’ll face off with that person in the election. And then you’ll lose as simply as possible in the final vote. We think this is the best way. Is that okay with you?”
“Let’s see, that really does give you a ‘final vote’ feeling. Ah. But, if possible, I’d like to lose someone who’s amazing. It’d be better for me personally!”
She looked like she wasn’t thinking at all, but Isshiki replied vigorously anyway.
Although Yuigahama was the one explaining it, the actual brains behind the ideas were probably Yukinoshita who filled her in yesterday. They talked with each other to get a solid grasp of what their objective was. Today’s goal was to check Isshiki’s thoughts on it. From there, they would proceed to the next part of the plan.
That was fine. But, there was still a part that was problematic.
“Did you find someone willing to be a candidate?”
“Not yet actually…”
Yuigahama choked on her words and averted her face. Well, there’s no way it’d happen in the time span between yesterday and today. What was important was when they could find the candidate.
“What’s the cutoff for when you can run as a new candidate in the election?”
“The Monday two weeks from now. That said, the deadline’s supposed to have already passed, but that Monday is tentatively the new cutoff day. It’s the only day when they’ll accept any more candidates. The voting will take place on the Thursday of that week.”
My question was directed at Yuigahama, but the one who answered abruptly was Yukinoshita. Her eyes were focused on the paper at her hands and the minimal information that left her mouth had no feeling of emotions at all.
I lightly crossed my arms and began calculating the remaining time between today’s date and the cutoff date.
Today was Tuesday. It was also after school already. If they were really going to go with the other candidate plan, then it was best to think that they’d start tomorrow. If you consider that you can’t do much on a Saturday, then there wasn’t much wiggle room.
If you also factor in the time needed to collect the written application to become a candidate as well as the list of names endorsing the candidate, then the time was even more limited. On top of that, they also needed to support the candidate as well as the personnel involved in the campaign.
“Until then, you need to find a candidate, persuade him or her, and find over 30 people to endorse her. After that, there’s also the election campaign as well huh…”
“We’re very aware of how little time we have left.”
Yukinoshita snapped back at my words I accidently let out with a cold tone. And then, she finally raised her head and spoke to Isshiki.
“That’s why we plan on going on ahead regarding those things… Isshiki.”
Isshiki gave a flustered reply. Yukinoshita may have been one of those punctual types that Isshiki wasn’t good at dealing with. She quickly fixed her posture and sat straight. But her hands that were slightly gripping onto the baggy cuffs of her uniform stayed the same. She used those very hands to fix the hems of her short skirt. There wasn’t any signs of nervousness at all in her gestures.
Isshiki looked at Yukinoshita in a formal manner and looked ready to listen. Yukinoshita who met her eyes head on began to speak.
“Regardless of how it’s done, a speech needs to be made for Isshiki.”
“Haa, well, that isn’t too much of a problem…”
Well, she looked like she was used to being seen by people anyway.
But her voice sounded like she didn’t get it at all so that made me worry. It’d be a problematic for me if she acted like that. It’d be like Yukinoshita said and it’d boil down to the plan I had in mind which was to make the speech myself.
“In the speech, the promises of the campaign need to be laid out so you can talk about them. Although, I don’t think there’d be anyone who would listen to it seriously…”
Somewhere in those words were feelings of self-mockery. It sounded like there were more to those words, but instead of brooding about it, Yukinoshita continued on.
“It might be better for the other candidate to have different campaign platform when Isshiki is doing her speech. If it’s the same thing, it’d just become a popularity contest. We want to aim for a somewhat noticeable difference in the two platforms.”
If all they needed to do was support some candidate, then that would be ideal. But, if it became a popularity vote, then it’d be a fierce battle dictating who was less popular than the other.
If they preach the same thing, then it’d boil down to a battle of who was more ostentatious. The center of attention would end up being on the speaker was than what the speaker was talking about.
Isshiki and Yuigahama nodded with an expression that ambiguously walked the line between understanding and not understanding the issue.
Not making a big deal out of their reaction, Yukinoshita held out a piece of paper.
“I thought up the details of the campaign platform and the speech so could you take a look at them? It’d help me out if you could think of other things that are slightly different using this as a reference.”
Isshiki grabbed the piece of paper and looked at it on the side.
“…Um, is this all?”
Isshiki quickly skimmed it and said surprisingly. Indeed, the methodical writing style of Yukinoshita Yukino was different on the paper and not to mention the amount was little.
The campaign consisted of two promises.
They were the establishment of a university-minded study center and the loosening up of the standards of club activity fees.
The clause regarding the club fees was easy to understand as it was on the paper. After looking at the content regarding the university-minded study center, I got a good idea of what it was.
In order to help with one’s academic studies, the school would set up a system where past term tests and problems would be stored in a database that could be offered and loaned out on request which would essentially teach you the know-hows behind what you were looking for. Of course, this wasn’t just simply another reference room. The main point behind the idea was that it would encompass everything up to the term tests. For students aiming for a recommendation for a particular school, this would serve to boost their confidence if they manage to get good scores on these tests.
This took on the position that appealed to both those in clubs and the test-oriented students.
Isshiki carefully looked at the paper while expressing her surprise, but other than the two points listed by Yukinoshita on the paper, there was nothing else.
Yuigahama looked at Isshiki and massaged the balls of her hair.
“You know, I thought it wasn’t all that much either too.”
“Numbers aren’t the issue at times like these. Having at least one would’ve been good enough too.”
Yukinoshita smiled as she said to Yuigahama. Her expression looked much gentler and mature than usual.
I understood what Yukinoshita was trying to say. In reality, the speech was nothing more than to direct your questions at. Even if you said a lot of things, it’s doubtful anyone was really listening. What’s important was getting the right points across to everyone.
But, oddly enough, because Yukinoshita seemed so used to this, I couldn’t help, but think of the Yukinoshita household.
If I remember correctly, Yukinoshita’s father was a member of the prefectural assembly or something. She may have had some familiarity with elections and speeches.
That’s why what Yukinoshita came up for the campaign promises was fine.
What bothered me was what would happen later on.
“…You guys were the ones who thought up what the campaign should be about. This means that the candidate is pretty much a puppet candidate, but is that okay with you?”
Yukinoshita’s smile she had been making up until now cracked. Apparently, I hit a sore spot as Yukinoshita went silent.
Yuigahama and Isshiki looked at me with eyes asking for an explanation.
“It’s fine doing it your way if it turns out well. That is, if reality was that simple… But let’s say the candidate does win the election, what is he going to do about managing the student council? Are you going to continue helping him after that? Maybe even forever?”
I had no intention of criticizing Yukinoshita, but every word was sharp. Yuigahama quickly interrupted.
“T-That’s why we want to look for someone capable first.”
“You’re just making it harder. If you think about the future, then it doesn’t really mean much. It’s not a very good idea.”
This wasn’t just about this election in particular. This also involved the student council administration from here on out. Yukinoshita and Yuigahama’s solution was still incomplete.
I couldn’t figure out the meaning behind it.
Yukinoshita’s gaze dropped to the surface of the table and I couldn’t see anything from her expression. There were no signs of movement at all in her downward facing expression, her gorgeous intertwined fingers, or her slender shoulders.
Just after a short breath, I could hear a slightly feeble and quivering voice.
“…Then, what meaning is there behind your methods?”
When she asked me, I couldn’t give an answer right away. Even though that was a question that seemed so obvious and even late, I had yet to think of an answer for it.
What meaning did my methods have?
Obviously, nothing at all.
There was never any meaning at all. All I did was just push things onto the backburner and kept it there until it all became for nothing. The way I did things fell under that kind of type after all. It didn’t matter if someone pointed it out to me this late in the game, I was well aware of it.
But cases where those methods were the only ways to resolve the problem and where those methods were the most effective existed.
That was indeed the truth.
This case was all the same. If this was the same way, then what I was going to say was already set in stone.
“If it’s just this time, then for now, I’d say avoid everything. After losing because of a vote of no confidence, then we can pull out and let the special election happen. That’s the right answer.”
“Just this time? No, that’s wrong.”
Yukinoshita’s voice wasn’t as feeble as before. It was a criticizing voice that was dyed with a stern chillness.
Yukinoshita who was looking downward the entire time looked up.
Her blue eyes were fired up. The light from her sharp eyes wouldn’t allow me to look away. It was a glare that felt as if she was holding an ice prick to my neck. It took a hold of me and wouldn’t let me go.
I swallowed nervously.
Yukinoshita bit her lips. It was like she was trying to swallow her words. But even so, she couldn’t stop herself and the words came flowing out.
“…You did the same thing before and avoided the situation.”
Her voice was so quiet. It was so quiet yet it reverberated so well in my ears.
The vivid, blue moonlight illuminated the bamboo forest and the cold wind blew past the leaves and branches. What floated into my mind was that kind of scenery.
As I tried to shake those thoughts away, I unconsciously rustled my hair.
“So… was there a problem?”
The incident during the field trip wasn’t solved in the least.
Instead, the problem was pushed into the darkness. The result of avoidance wasn’t something to convince everyone. Rather, the whole point was aiming to not convince anyone at all.
That’s why there wasn’t a single person who could criticize my actions at the time.
Except for Yukinoshita Yukino.
Yukinoshita’s gaze maintained their intensity as she continued staring at me.
Her sealed lips trembled.
“Weren’t you the one who said there wasn’t any meaning in those kinds of superficial appearances…?”
Loneliness reverberated somewhere in that cold and soft voice of hers. I couldn’t help, but look away.
Those piercing words alone were words I couldn’t bring myself to answer.
That was probably the one and only shared belief between Hikigaya Hachiman and Yukinoshita Yukino.
As I sat there without saying anything, Yukinoshita sighed in resignation.
“You don’t plan on changing, do you?”
I answered without hesitation.
I won’t change. I just can’t change.
Yuigahama spoke up trying to do something about the stiff atmosphere. But her eyes wandered around because she didn’t know what she wanted to say. Her eyes went back and forth between me and Yukinoshita.
The stiff, frozen time continued to tick by. Yukinoshita and I were both dead silent.
Isshiki gave Yuigahama a troubled look. Since Yukinoshita and I were not close to Isshiki, the only reliable person in this rigid space was Yuigahama.
Before Yuigahama could find her words, I stood up from my seat.
“…I’m going to head home now. I already got the gist of what’s going on now.”
There was no point in staying in the room any longer because there would be nothing to gain from doing so.
It was likely only things would be lost if I stayed.
My indoor shoes echoed throughout the quiet room. No one moved except for me.
The time it took to make it to the door didn’t feel very long. It was probably because I wasn’t thinking about anything. Or maybe it was because I was thinking too much that I lost my sense of time.
I closed the door behind me and walked down the hallway for a bit. In the soundless hallway, the slight sound of a sliding door could be heard.
I turned around reflexively and standing before me was Isshiki Iroha. I relaxed my shoulders. She looked more reassured than she was dejected. Right now, I didn’t have any confidence I’d be able to talk to the girls properly.
Isshiki walked up to me and spoke to me in a small voice as if mindful of the club room behind her.
“Ummm, it’ll be okay if I leave it up to you guys right…”
She asked me worriedly. Although she came for her request, instead of getting a solution to her problem, she was shown a squabble that you couldn’t even call an argument that wasn’t relevant at all. I could understand why she’d be worried.
“As long as someone somewhat capable comes up, then it’d be a lot easier for me you know…”
“In that case, Hayama’s class comes to mind…”
“Hayama’s no good!”
I thought so… Then again, I doubt he’d do it anyway…
“…Anyway, worse comes to worse, I’ll do something. I mean, something will come up eventually on the day of the vote.”
“Haa, it’s just losing by itself would cause problems for me too…”
I said what I could, but Isshiki’s vague response clearly showed she was feeling anxious. Even so, it looked like she was putting in the effort trying to hide her anxiety. She clapped her hands together and made a cute smile.
“But, well, you guys really helped me out. No one else would come out to help me after all. I only have you upperclassmen left to rely on!”
Both her gesture and her speech were good. If you didn’t know any better, you’d suddenly get the urge to protect her. But if you were aware that this was all part of her character, then you wouldn’t think anything of it.
Unlike the types like Orimoto Kaori, her actions were characterized by that of an outsider’s or possibly the portion of her that was interested in guys.
Her fluffy self and her refreshing and cool self.
She would act based on those characteristics alone with her own personal feelings having no relevance whatsoever. If she didn’t follow through with her character, then the only thing you’d see was an egotistic individual.
That’s why her behavior stayed the same with me.
There was no meaning in doing anything more.
Proof of that, well not really proof, was seen when Isshiki goes “ah” as if she remembered something. She then clapped her hands together and quickly took her distance from me.
“I still have club to attend so I’ll be excusing myself okaaay. Thanks for the help.”
Isshiki raised her hand lightly and briskly walked away. The lack of interest in me was shown in her indifferent gesture.
If this was a long time ago, I definitely would have thought there was some sort of significance to a worthless conversation like this.
Geez, I only grew up in the most unlikable ways. I instinctively let out a self-mocking laugh.
- A line used in 18+ eroges by Misakura Nankotsu. ↩