A few days passed since the day I talked with Yukinoshita and the others in the club room.
In that time, my life consisted of only going home and going to school back and forth. Even at home, I didn’t even see Komachi and never really had a real conversation. My only speaking partner was just my cat, Kamakura.
I would probably go straight home after homeroom without visiting the club today as well.
The words of the homeroom teacher went in one ear out the other with those thoughts in mind. Homeroom ended shortly after.
I grabbed my bag and stood up. Yuigahama was still in the classroom since I could hear her mixed in with the other chatting voices. I fixed my head downwards such that it wasn’t facing in her direction and I quickly walked.
When I arrived at the front of the door, someone suddenly tapped my shoulders.
“Got a second?”
When I turned around, the person before me was Hayama and his refreshing smile.
When I answered, Hayama looked around him before telling me to come over. Apparently, he wanted to have a secret chat.
But getting my face all close to Hayama was definitely something I didn’t want to do. Actually, Ebina’s still here you know… That’s just kind of, a little… it’s soo embarrassing…
Well, whatever. We never talk to each other normally so there shouldn’t be anything to talk about let alone anything secretive.
Though if there was something, then it would be related to the field trip a while back. But that, too, was something that we both decided not to talk about anymore.
I kept my face where it was and instead, stared at him telling him to go on with his story.
When I did, Hayama made a troubled laugh, gave up, and shrugged his shoulders. He looked like he was going to start talking from there.
“It’s about Orimoto-san and Nakamachi-san the other day.”
Oh yeah, it was because of Haruno-san that he fell into her trap of being introduced to those two. So that’s how it was; I guess he was having trouble trying to woo them or something. But sad news for you, there’s nothing I could do for you.
But that wasn’t actually what Hayama had in mind when he brought it up.
“I wanted to talk to you about the time on Saturday.”
Saturday, huh? Saturday. Speaking of Saturday, then it’s gotta be that. That’s the day before Super Hero Time, wasn’t it? So he must have been talking about Jewelpet Sunshine and Pretty Rhythm. So you just wanted to check when those shows were being broadcasted, huh? It’s in the morning man. You didn’t need to go through the trouble of asking me to figure it out.
Or so I thought, but there was no way Hayama was asking about that.
Then, what did he mean by Saturday…
As I thought about it, Hayama looked at me dubiously.
“Wait, they didn’t ask you? They sent me a text about wanting to hang out in Chiba on Saturday.”
“No, they didn’t ask me…”
Go out? That’s a kid I didn’t know, mister…
In the first place, I never got a mail though? Oh wait, I never did change my mailing address. The text I sent with my last address didn’t go through after all.
Then not getting an invitation was obvious. Oh I see! It’s because they didn’t know my address that I didn’t get an invite, huh! Oh, those shy girls!
Yeah, maybe in another lifetime.
Words weren’t needed as I really wasn’t invited.
But Hayama looked like he didn’t understand and tilted his head.
“I see… I thought they meant all of us when they said they all wanted to go out.”
If you consider that from Hayama’s perspective, then that would be right. He was a guy who had the “everyone, let’s get along!” motto.
“Well obviously, that’s just a pretext. Whatever it is, a guy who goes despite not having been invited is out of his mind. You should just do as you like.”
“Not having been invited, huh?”
Hayama nodded and with a smile, he continued on.
“Well, want to go with me? It’d better if the numbers match too.”
“Like hell I’m gonna to go…”
Was he an idiot? Not getting an invitation in the first place was what you would call an uninvited guest, Einstein. It was pretty obvious the moment they saw me there, their face would contort into a “why is he here?” face.
Also, there were other problems aside from their reactions.
“Besides, do you really think I’d go out with you?”
When I asked him, Hayama withdrew his smile and made a serious face. I was probably making the same face.
Given how different our world and social stature was, I couldn’t imagine at all the two of us choosing to meet each other willingly outside the school premises. No, it didn’t even have to be outside the school. This current situation was irregular in itself.
If you thought about it both objectively and subjectively, this pairing was completely out of left field.
I still hadn’t forgotten that show of pity from Hayama that one time.
The moment our positions were clearly segregated from the top and the bottom was the moment the distance between us was dictated. I wasn’t allowed to step over to the other side just like how I wouldn’t allow Hayama to step over it either.
It was the narrow-mindedness of both the world and me.
If you were watching from the side, you’d see a stare down between two people in silence.
The one who broke the silence was Hayama.
“Can you come along and think of of it as helping me out?”
To my surprise, Hayama had bowed his head. I couldn’t see Hayama’s downcast expression, but based on his tightly gripped fist, he wasn’t smiling.
To go as far as bowing his head, I couldn’t understand what was going through his head. Even so, I wasn’t in the mood to lend him an ear either.
“I won’t be of any help to you nor are you the kind of guy who needs it.”
After I said that, Hayama moved his shoulders slightly. However, he continued to bow his head.
“…Also, that’s a weekend so I don’t want to leave the house. Ah, how about that? You should bring along a friend and introduce him instead. That way, everything would work out perfectly.”
After I spat those final words, I left the area.
Just before I closed the door behind me, small murmurs could be heard.
× × ×
I got home and lazed about until midnight. The TV was left on, books were scattered about, and I was playing a mobile game on my phone. This Wonder Trade system was one godly system kind to loners.
My parents came home late and although they gave me a few scolding words, I only replied with vague answers like “uh huh” and “sure” to which they abandoned me and left me to my own devices.
Normally, I would jump straight to bed or focus on reading a book, but recently, no matter what I did, there wasn’t anything that would keep my attention.
But still, now that it was in the middle of the night, I was finally starting to get sleepy.
As I yawned on the sofa and did a big stretch, the living room door opened.
Just when I thought it was the cat that opened the door on his own, standing there was actually Komachi in her night cap and pajamas with a disgruntled look.
As I worried about what to talk about, Komachi spoke up first.
When she gave me those surprising words, I grabbed my cellphone and looked at it. No incoming call, no texts, running low on battery. Hey, I really hate this phone.
So, what did she mean by phone? I turned to look at Komachi and a cellphone flew at me. I just barely caught it from hitting my face head on. When I looked at the phone, it was Komachi’s.
“I’m going to sleep now. When you’re done, just leave it there.”
She said it quickly and withdrew to her room.
I looked at Komachi’s cellphone that was left in my care. On the screen reflected the “on hold” message.
Let’s pick it up for now. I didn’t know who it was on the other end, but as long as Komachi had passed this person along to me, then the person had to be someone decent.
I took the call and put the phone to my ear. However, I was still somewhat weary and talked into the phone.
An energetic, bright voice that gave rise to an urge to hang up on the spot greeted me from the other end. I moved the phone away from my ear and checked the screen again. On the screen read Yukinoshita Haruno.
Why was this person calling me? Or rather, why did this person know Komachi’s number…? With doubtful thoughts filling my head, I glared at the cellphone and “heeey” could be heard from the cellphone’s receiver.
But, I already picked up the phone so I had no choice, but to follow through. I gave up and placed the phone next to my ear.
“How may I help you?”
“In the middle of a fight with your little sister?”
When I asked her, she answered with an unrelated question. Did Komachi say something or was she just guessing at it? I guess the long unending feud between the sisters wasn’t just for show. Huh, I looked at myself and my stomach started to hurt so I wanted to stop.
“It’s not even much of a fight compared to what’s on your end.”
I told her sarcastically which caused Haruno-san to laugh.
“Ahaha, I see.”
“Actually, how do you know Komachi’s phone number?”
“You know, after the culture festival, I met her for a little bit, remember? We exchanged our numbers then.”
So that was when… That should’ve been the first time they ever talked to each other but apparently they exchanged numbers at that exact moment. Once again, my little sister’s range of relationships expanded even farther. Wait, didn’t this mean she had more contacts than I did?
“Let’s put that aside. I heard some things, you know. Are you sure you don’t want to go on the date you were invited to?”
“I wasn’t invited…”
What’s with this person? Did she call me just to slap me around with reality? Wait, did Hayama talk to her about this? Now that’s a line you didn’t have to cross…
As I thought how I should explain to her repeatedly that I wasn’t invited at all, a slightly gentle voice came from the other end of the phone.
“But Hayato did, so why not just go?”
“No, I’m obviously not going to go…”
Besides, that’d be just absurd. Even if I went, the girls’ faces would distort into expressions that took Hayama into consideration which would also be asking “why was this person here?” In fact, I’d do just the same for them. I’d tell them “You don’t have to force yourselves, it’s fine! There’s always next time!” and once I went home, I’d end up making it easier for them to talk. What’s the deal with that? Which class reunion of mine was that?
“Oh, come on. Don’t you think it’s so romantic going on a date with a girl you used to like a long time ago?”
She teasingly laughed as she said that.
“I wouldn’t call that love.”
“What would you call love then, hmm?”
When I answered promptly, she returned back with a question. I didn’t need to think twice about it. From middle school to now, it was something I had already thought through. The words slipped out smoothly.
“It was just a one-sided interest, or, well, a misunderstanding, so it’s not genuine.”
Just because she talked to me and paid me some attention, I ended up getting curious myself and then I convinced myself that she was into me. And the result? It was nothing more than a misunderstanding. In the end, the simple truth of someone liking me was what I was really fond of. Something that selfish had no resemblance with the feelings of love.
The act of confessing was labeled with the words “to like” which ended up giving those feelings its definition. What was the truth then? If I was asked this question, I wasn’t confident I’d be able to answer. That applied even now.
I could hear sighs coming from the other end of the phone.
After what seemed to be a period of thinking, she chuckled. I couldn’t see her physically, but I was easily able to imagine her mouth distorting into an alluring smile.
Haruno-san’s voice reached my ears clear and vividly.
“You’re like some kind of monster of logic..”
“What’s that about? That’s not true.”
I was given an oddly cool name. I made a derisive laugh.
“I see. Then, how about a monster of self-consciousness?”
Haruno-san’s voice didn’t sound playful at all. I understood that she was saying it wholeheartedly.
Maybe that was why.
I felt mysteriously content with those words.
Indeed, my self-awareness was beyond saving and it was uncontrollable inside of me. That’s to say, it was likely the self-awareness that would even deny my own self-awareness. It was the monster that awoke from its slumber after secluding itself at the dead-end of a maze-like existence in legends. In the end, that monster would be killed by the hero, I think.
As I was sucked into my own thoughts, an especially energetic voice brought me out of my daze.
“Anyway! You’re to go on the date, got it?”
“No way, that day’s a bit inconvenient for me, anyway.”
Although I did play dumb, the words came out immediately. It’s automatic.
“That’s why it’s on Friday now. You don’t want to go out on a weekend right?”
But the enemy was quite sly. Haruno-san quickly reacted to my excuse. Wait a second, how did she know what I said in the first place? Did she hear that from Hayama too? Also, why was she deciding everything herself?
“Uh, that day is also a bit…”
“…Even though you went out with Yukino-chan? I mean, you even went with Gahama-chan too.”
When she said that, the early summer and the summer break came to mind.
The reason was because she was present during those times. Well, she must’ve been one of those blessed people. They were the kind of people where it was natural for fun things to gravitate towards them. You could only see them as the chosen ones and that was quite rare.
Still, even considering those two things that came up, they weren’t liable to be called dates.
But for both cases, that very well may not have been the point.
The words to properly describe those times were words I didn’t know. So I decided to just list out whatever words I could think of.
“That was nothing more than just shopping and being a helper and stuff.”
“Then this is just going out to have fun, right? You’re just acting as Hayato’s chaperon. You can also say that you’re just walking in the same direction as them.”
To go that far, even I didn’t have an answer to that. If I were to associate a special meaning with the act of going out to have fun, then I had to dig out the special meanings of shopping and being a helper long ago.
Grrr… I choked on my words and Haruno-san pressed me further.
“Or could it be… you’re expecting something to happen?”
There was no way I’d expect anything. When I answered immediately, an amused laughter echoed from the other end of the call.
“Then, what’s the problem? And besdies, Hayato isn’t someone who’d go lowering his head for a favor, you know.”
“Really? He asks for favors all the time, though.”
“He wouldn’t lower his head, though. He’s actually pretty prideful.”
Was that how it was?
“If you don’t show up, I’ll drop by your house and drag you along, okay!”
What the, were you a childhood friend? On top of that, you even knew where I live? That’s scary. Speaking of which, the Yukinoshita sisters and Hayato knew each other when they were younger.
While my head filled with unrelated thoughts, the phone forcefully hung up. She was quite the selfish person blurting out whatever she wanted to say, but I guess that was what made the person called Yukinoshita Haruno.
As Komachi instructed me earlier, I placed her phone on the table. I could’ve returned it to her in her room, but I imagined our exchange earlier would’ve been the same. Besides, she said she was going to sleep so she probably wouldn’t answer even if I called her… Well, she was probably just faking it anyway.
I was a bit tired after the long phone call.
I sunk back into the sofa and started to think again. At this rate, I was probably going to pass out on the sofa again like last time. It was probably better for me to get to my room while I was awake. That way, it’d be easier for Komachi to pick up her phone too.
The sound of the door opening and shutting echoed in the house and when I left the living room and arrived at my room, I collapsed on my bed.
I stared at the ceiling.
Even if it was just on the surface, I was going to go out to have fun with girls. Not to mention with the girl I confessed to long ago.
That said, I didn’t need to think about anything. All I had to do was blend in and wait until it was over. It was akin to being an advertisement for a store. Its only job was to stay put and wait as time continued to roll by.
This time would follow the same idea. I was nothing more than Hayama’s escort. I was a supplement. In a lunch box, that’d be the pickled vegetables. I couldn’t even become Baran. I also couldn’t become a Dragon Knight and I definitely couldn’t shoot Dragonic Aura either.
× × ×
In the time up to the day when I would go out with Hayama and the others, no one contacted me at all. Admittedly, they didn’t have a way to contact me so there wasn’t much they could do, but still, what’s with this… This feeling of being a supplement. For a supplement like me to be treated so roughly like this, weren’t the only similar treated things like food additives?
I made my way to school and as usual, I blended into the background and headed to my class.
It was a few moments before I would arrive at my seat.
And again as usual, Hayama was surrounded by his group of friends, Tobe, Miura, Yuigahama and so forth, at the back of the class. He was talking with them just like normal and even though he had plans to go hang out with girls today, he didn’t feel that way at all.
He must have been used to it, that’s why. I mean, for a supplement like me, I had to sit on my thumbs thinking “when are they gonna contact me? Still waiting” while feeling restless…
My restlessness may have been showing because Hayama noticed me and started maneuvering around the tables in my direction.
When he stood before me, he took some time wondering what he should talk about. But in the end, he spoke undisturbed with brevity.
“About today, when can you go?”
There was something wrong with the way he was asking me… Don’t tell me he wanted to go together…?
“What about your club?”
Today was a weekday so Hayama should have club to attend unless he was implying I should wait until he was done. Definitely not doing that.
However, Hayama answered nonchalantly.
“It’s a day off. Sometimes the fields are too crowded so we get a break instead.”
True enough, the fields at our school weren’t very big. The soccer club, the baseball club, the track and field club, and the rugby club were all sharing it. So sometimes, there would be these kinds of days.
“Aah, right… Then, just tell me where we’re meeting up at then.”
Whatever it was, there wasn’t a point in going together from school to Chiba. Meeting at the designated spot was good enough.
Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to continue this conversation any longer. I noticed Yuigahama was peeking over in our direction and I wanted to hurry up and be done.
When I told Hayama, he looked like he didn’t want to make me wait any longer so he withdrew back a bit and took out his phone.
“I see… Do you mind if I get your number then?”
I wrote my number down on the back of a printout. I lost my phone a lot at home so I remembered it pretty well. While my house phone was ringing, I’d end up remembering it…
“It’s very like you to just give only your number.”
As he recorded the written down number into his phone, Hayama chuckled. Buzz off. It’s not like we’re going to text each other so the number’s good enough.
“Okay, I’ll see you later then.”
Hayama looked like he was done recording it and left for his seat with those parting words. Not bothering to see him off, I rested my chin on my hands and closed my eyes.
It was about nine hours until it was time to go to Chiba. Now that it’s been determined that I’d be going out, I started to get less and less motivated.
It looked like I was going to spend the entire day in an increasingly gloomy fashion.
× × ×
As soon as the last homeroom class ended, I left the room faster than everyone else.
The place we were gathering at in Chiba was at the display in the front of the station. Orimoto and her friend were probably coming by train and it was an easy place to find so it was a good choice.
But it wasn’t a place to be standing around for too long.
Because I headed for Chiba as soon as school ended, I arrived with slightly an hour to spare. I fastened my bike at an appropriate spot and decided to kill time at the café further down the street.
I entered the café, ordered a coffee, and sat near the window.
There wasn’t much heating at this spot, but I was able to feel some of the open air which made the coffee delicious.
When it got cold, coffee became delicious. MAX coffee was pretty good throughout the year, but it was especially good during this time of the season.
But, well, other coffee brands were somewhat good this season as well … The coffee’s so bitter.
I put on my earphones and opened up my book. While the café wasn’t very fancy and somewhat plain, it was very relaxing.
I flipped page after page while songs played one after the other.
The cup I reached out to was warm.
I pulled back my cuffs and peeked at my wristwatch which reflected how much time had passed. There was still some time before the appointed time. As I sat there absentmindedly thinking about what to do from here on, the street light that illuminated the dark city suddenly got dark.
Something was tapping against the glass window.
When I turned to face the window, the person who was waving her hand at me was Yukinoshita Haruno… Why the heck was this person here?
Haruno-san’s mouth was flapping open and closed saying illegible things. Since she was beyond the glass, there was no way I could hear her so I twisted my head. Haruno-san shrugged her shoulders and headed for the entrance of the store.
Still, even though we were separated with just one sheet of glass, I became fully aware of how Yukinoshita Haruno, objectively, was an existence that naturally attracted attention. Passing by guys would sneak a glance at her and send her looks saying “this girl’s pretty cute”. Even when she was inside the store, Haruno was still attracting a lot of attention.
She bought a coffee at the register and sat at the seat across from me.
“What are you doing…?”
That was the first thing that came out of my mouth.
Haruno poured in milk and sugar in her coffee and used her spoon to mix it. And then she made an incredibly amused, wicked smile. Ugh, your face looked a lot blacker than the coffee.
“Just here to check on the date that someone resembling a little brother and my little brother in law are on. As the older sister, of course I’d be interested, right?”
“Again, I’m not your little brother in law…”
“Someone resembling a little brother” was probably referring to Hayama. They actually gave off that image considering Haruno was three years older. But the way she said it made it sound as if the two of us were on a date so could you please stop that…?
As I thought depressingly, Haruno-san added something that sounded as if she was talking to herself.
“Besides… I’m a little curious as to why he’d go that far to get Hikigaya-kun to tag along.”
The smile she made earlier wasn’t the same smile that she made now. It was much more frightening and sly.
But if you took a look at the Hayama at school, you’d sort of understand what his reasons were. In the end, he was just feeling awkward about how someone was left out. Even though I was present when they met for the first time, I wasn’t invited. He probably didn’t like that.
That’s why it wasn’t anything worth worrying about for someone like Haruno. In fact, the one I was curious about was Yukinoshita Haruno.
“You sure have a lot of time…”
I voiced the concern I had in mind and Haruno made a nonchalant expression and responded back.
“It’s quite normal for a college student with money and excellent grades.”
Crap, she did some subtle bragging.
Still, college students really had a lot of time on their hands… Well, this probably just applied to those who didn’t have a part time job, research, or homework to do.
That was fine and all, but there were surely plenty of things they could do to spend their time on. In the first place, college students didn’t even attend their classes. In the spring, they’d go flower viewing; in the summer, they’d have a BBQ; in the fall, they’d dress up for Halloween; in the winter, they’d have a hot pot party. The entire year would consist of drinking alcohol or so was the image associated with them. The places they would mainly inhabit would be at someone’s place near the college, at the arcade, the slot machines, or maybe even some Mahjong parlor. If college was really like that, I don’t think I’d fit in…
Haruno-san didn’t give off that image though. But that begged the question: what does this person normally do…? As I thought about how mysterious she was, I suddenly thought up a concern and asked her.
“Do you not have very many friends?”
“That’s right and the only person who really ever gives me the time is just Hikigaya-kun you see…”
She purposely pretended to break into tears. Whoaaa, she’s so bothersome.
Still, it was kind of hard to pass it off as just a joke.
Haruno-san was the type who’d be fine even if she was alone. Besides, considering that she was Yukinoshita’s older sister, for her to be isolated would be expected.
She was idolized and because of her excellent outward appearances which also had a completely black side to it, she garnered respect. With that in mind, there were probably a lot of people who approached her with the objective to get along with her. It was true that I’ve seen her hanging out with friends before though.
But I imagined there weren’t very many people she had established an equal relationship with.
Maybe that was why she was always so persistent with her little sister who was nearing the same position.
Noticing that I went quiet suddenly, Haruno-san spoke up with a bitter smile.
“Well, earlier was just a joke, but I don’t plan on getting in your way or anything today, so you don’t have to worry.”
When I snapped back to reality, I responded immediately.
“Ah, sure. Do whatever you want.”
“Oh, what a surprising response.”
Haruno-san blinked with surprise. But surely it wasn’t that surprising. I actually wouldn’t have minded if she did come to be a nuisance. In fact, I’d love it if she came to destroy the entire thing ASAP. That way I could get home earlier.
“Hmm, I’ll take you up on your offer then. And it’s just about time.”
With the appointed time approaching, Haruno-san checked her wrist watch and spoke. I also looked at my watch. It was indeed about time. If I left the store now, I’d make it there at the right time. Let’s take it easy and get over there.
I quickly gathered my belongings that were fairly organized and stood up from my seat. When I did, the sitting Haruno-san grinned at me.
“Okay, try your best!”
“Sure, I’ll try my best to not get in the way.”
As expected, Haruno-san didn’t look like she was going to tag along. She was probably going to hang out and watch accordingly.
Haruno-san waved her hands in front of her and sent me off. I turned my neck slightly, nodded to her, and left the store.
× × ×
The sun sank into the horizon and the night side of the city began to surface. At the front of the station were numerous of people waiting for their appointment just like me.
It was a Friday night. There were probably a lot of people who were going out to drink tonight as well.
Couples who just arrived exchanged a few words with each other and went their way arm in arm.
I pulled back my sleeve and checked the time. It was exactly five in the evening. This was the time we were supposed to meet up. Being the first one here gave the impression that I was really looking forward to this outing so I wasn’t very happy about it. That said, if I was late instead, then I’d end up causing trouble for everyone else despite being nothing more than the tacked-on supplement.
Either way, I was in a problematic position. I should avoid walking at the front and keep myself from being a hindrance to a minimum. It looked like I was going to have a lot on my plate for the next few hours.
Moments before it turned five, Hayama was the first to show up. It looked like he came by train as he was mixed in with the crowd of people exiting from the ticket gates. But even in the hordes of people, he was still remarkably noticeable that his figure naturally entered my line of sight.
Hayama adjusted his bolo tie as he looked around and seemed to have noticed me. He raised his hand slightly and headed my way.
“My bad for being late.”
“Nah, you got here just on time.”
A minute or two was within the margin of error. I wasn’t all that much of a stickler when it came to time so I didn’t mind it.
Now it was time for the girls to come… As I thought that while surveying the immediate area, Hayama stood next to me and did the same thing. While doing that, Hayama looked like he was having trouble trying to say something.
“…Sorry for making you tag along. You really helped me out, thanks.”
“Whatever. I only came because the older Yukinoshita scares me. If you’re gonna thank someone, thank her.”
In truth, if it wasn’t for Haruno contacting me, I definitely wouldn’t have showed up. It may not mean much coming from me, but I was rather weak to older girls telling me this and that. Oh, but one shouldn’t forget that I was also weak to the pleas of little sisters. Even I’d hesitate a little if a girl classmate asked me for help. Oh dear, girls are super scary.
It really didn’t hit me that Hayama would get me where I was weak so it turned out favorably for him. The expansive range of his buddy-buddy disease made me apprehensive. These words weren’t exactly warning words, but I’d at least like to get in a complaint or two.
“But really, you really had to ask that person just to get me to…”
“Ah, is that them?”
Hayama cut me off midway through my sentence. He pointed in a direction that was still quite far away, but the walking figures that appeared were Orimoto and her friend.
When they noticed the two of us waiting, they rushed over to us.
“Sorry for the wait!”
“Sorry for being a bit late…”
Orimoto didn’t appear to mind something as trivial as the time as she raised her hand while her friend Nakamachi or whatever looked apologetic as she bowed her head.
“Not at all… Shall we get going?”
Hayama smiled gently and started walking. Orimoto and her friend followed after him. It looked like Hayama explained the situation beforehand. When the two girls arrived, they didn’t make a face asking why I was here.
“First was a movie, I think?”
Hayama turned around and slowed his pace to which the girls adjusted theirs. They approached him and began talking.
I started following them one step later.
It’s not like I was acting like a Yamato Nadeshiko or anything. Of course, it did look like I was being considerate given how far apart we were, but there was a bigger reason for this.
When we met up with Orimoto and her friend, something felt oddly out of place.
If I were to put it into words, then it was this anticlimactic feeling that made me wonder “was this how it really went?”. Regardless of how superficial your outing with the girls was, it was a pretty big event for guys in high school.
That’s why I thought it was surprising to be feeling out of place.
Even the times during the early summer and the summer break were different. I even preached to myself to not misunderstand the situation. But, today, I didn’t have that worry at all.
That’s to say, I didn’t know what to think…
In fact, when Hayama showed up, there was at least a small reaction from me. Nah, like that’d be true.
I listened to their conversation along the way in silence.
As for what the plans were today, we were going to watch a movie followed by shopping. Along the way, we’d stop by an arcade, get something to eat, and then we were done. That was the general gist of it.
It felt really standard.
And fifteen minutes had passed since we started moving.
The only things that came out of my mouth so far consisted of only these six types: “Sure”, “No”, “Well”, “Aah”, “That so”, “I see”. I was pretty sure beat’-em up fighter games had more voiceovers than this…
On second thought, didn’t the fact that I could perfectly communicate with just these limited choices meant my communicative ability was super high? Then obviously those who didn’t bother to talk to me were the chumps with the inferior ability to communicate.
After talking about various things and making a few stops here and there, we finally arrived at the movie theater. The distance from the station to here was only about five minutes if you went alone, but it took a rather long time with the four of us.
In any case, the first plan was the movie.
Although we entered the movie theater, what movie we would watch was something decided by the girls and I, of course, was never given the right to contribute. But fortunately, they picked the movie I didn’t get to watch last time so I was actually pretty happy.
Hayama quickly bought the tickets. That’s so Hayama~! So reliableee~!
Times like these were where I may have been obligated to contribute something extra, but I was just a supplement after all. For the supplement that had the primary purpose of filling the number count, its existence was a matter of fact. Please don’t expect anything too glamorous.1
It looked like they had researched the times for the movie since we immediately went into the theater without having to wait.
The seating order was Hayama in between the two girls with me sitting next to Orimoto. It was a decided fact that Hayama would be in between the girls so it happened very smoothly. The remaining problem was where I would sit. The most suitable choice was next to Orimoto given that we were acquaintances.
We took our seats, but the movie wasn’t going to start immediately. There were people talking all over, er, that is, there was talking to my immediate right. They were talking in energetic, small whispers.
I rested my weight on the left armrest of the chair and my body assumed a natural posture that faced to the right. It was the Miroku2 half-lotus meditative sitting position also known as the “ah, yeah, I hear ya, I hear ya” pose. This pose made it look like you were kind of participating in the conversation. You didn’t have to be considerate of anyone and no one would force themselves to talk to you either.
Eventually, the lights in the theater darkened. Everyone went quiet simultaneously.
In the dim theater, the movie robber3 began to slither around. Recently, the movie burglar had become the face of movie theaters. Once the character that everybody was familiar had appeared on screen, chuckles could be heard.
As I watched the screen, there were taps on the right armrest. When I made a sidelong glance, Orimoto covered her mouth with her hand and said in a quiet voice.
“Hikigaya at the movies, huh? I bet everyone in middle school would freak out so hard huh?”
Orimoto held back her laughter as she nodded.
Damn right. I’m sure those guys from middle school would definitely freak out.
Honestly, even I was freaked out.
I’m sure myself from back then would freak out too. Rather than be happy, he’d dig himself a hole and jump in it. He’d just spout incomprehensible excuses. “This really wasn’t like that, really. I didn’t really want to go out, really.” He definitely wouldn’t go too. I really didn’t understand the logic that fueled my mysterious purity in my middle school days.
Well, it’s not like anything fundamentally changed, but for me to come out to a place like this, I guess I may have gone through some sort of growth.
At the very least, I don’t misunderstand or make the wrong assumptions anymore.
Even if there was someone sitting next to me, even if their face was close to me, I wouldn’t get any funny ideas about them at all.
As I left the weight of my body up to the left armrest, Orimoto did the same to the right armrest on my end.
This feeling of distance was somehow nostalgic. Thinking back on it, I get the feeling things were the same back in middle school. Considering the situation now, as trivial as it was, Orimoto and I had never been this close before. But this was something the person Orimoto Kaori would do with the people she had no interest in. That was all it was.
However, right now, I felt I could finally put an end to what never got started.
× × ×
When we exited the movie theater, my cheeks were subjected to the cold wind.
In the two hours we were watching the movie, the temperature had dropped.
In regards to the movie, it was pretty decent. There were plenty of highlights and I wasn’t bored at all. It was very Hollywood if I say so myself.
I wasn’t the only one with impressions. Hayama and the other two were actually just talking about it at that moment. It was basically that. There was a reason why it was easy to pick a movie for a date. That’s because it gave you something to talk about right after a movie; something like that was definitely bound to be written in an issue of Hot-Dog PRESS4.
As Nakamachi went “that was pretty amazing” and “it was interesting”, Hayama would smile and nod. Orimoto would join in on the conversation.
“Like seriously, wasn’t that explosion really loud? Like Hikigaya was acting totally weird when it happened! Talk about hilarious! The way he was moving was so creepy that it made me laugh!”
“Well, the sound was a lot louder than I thought it’d be…”
I was swept into the conversation so I responded for the time being. After all, ignoring someone when they called your name gave a bad impression. Anyway, the important thing today was to not get in the way.
Hayama followed after my words.
“Aah, yeah I was a little surprised too.”
“But weren’t you like super calm about it, Hayama?”
Nakamachi stayed next to Hayama and said that while looking at him. When she did, Orimoto lined up next to them not wanting to lose and clapped her hands in exaggeration.
“Ah, I thought that too! I was a little surprised too, but Hayama was completely fine huh~. Buut, the way Hi-Hikigaya mov…!”
The laugh she was holding in burst out and Orimoto’s body shook. Nakamachi looked at me and started chuckling as well.
R-Right… D-Did everyone enjoy my clown acts (unwelcome eyes)?
Anyway, even if they’re laughing at me, as a supplement, if I wasn’t getting in their way, then all was well.
Hayama looked at the two girls with a mixed smile and when he quickly looked at his watch, he spoke in an urging tone.
“We should hurry or we won’t have much time to look around.”
“Ah, right. When do the shops close again?”
Orimoto asked. I, of course, wouldn’t know the answer to that question. Besides, I didn’t even know which stores we were going to, you know… Why did I have to partake in a mystery tour of my own home chown5?
Nakamachi dabbled with her phone. Apparently she was looking it up.
“Um, at 8:30 it says.”
“No way! Crap! Don’t we, like, totally have no time?”
Orimoto took out her cellphone hurriedly and looked at the time. It was just about 7:30 PM. So we had about an hour left. I didn’t know how long it took for girls to shop, but there probably wasn’t much wiggle room.
Everybody’s pace naturally became faster.
From what I could tell from Hayama’s pace, the plan was to leave the Nampa-Dori Street towards the PARCO shopping center. So that meant we were going to PARCO.
Still, Nampa-Dori6 was a terrible name. There was also a bridge in Kaihin-Makuhari called the Nampa Bridge. What’s going on with Chiba?
We continued while taking sneak peeks at various stores along the way until finally arriving at a big intersection. On the other end was a large park where you could see a lot of young people skateboarding and dancing.
Now then, next thing on the schedule was shopping.
We entered PARCO and while we ascended up the escalator, there were conversations about what kind of clothes would be good for their winter uniform, muffler, and so forth and I wasn’t included.
We then made it to the second floor.
The floor was littered with stores that high school girls could kill some time at: Women Fashion, Interior, and miscellaneous stores.
Interior and the miscellaneous stores had sofas and beds which allowed you to relax as much as you wanted allowing you to soak in the soothing atmosphere. If the two of you sat on the same sofa, then you just might get closer; that is, if you were to think about it from the perspective of Hot-Dog PRESS.
But as far as clothes and accessories were concerned, I was completely clueless about what was good.
What exactly was the right way for guys to pass the time at times like these?
The last time I went shopping in the women area, I felt pretty ashamed, but it made me think about how it really felt back then.
What I did was pretend to be fooling around.
But today, that didn’t seem to be necessary.
Was it because Hayama was here or was it because we were a boy and girl group of four? The store clerk didn’t seem particularly suspicious this time around.
If we were choosing gifts for someone, then it was possible for me to give my opinion on the matter. But as far as those girls were concerned, I had absolutely no idea.
I stood there idly next to Hayama as the time went on.
“Hayama, how’s this?”
“Ah, how about this one?”
Orimoto and Nakamachi began their fashion show for Hayama. Hayama looked like he was going to be occupied.
On the other hand, I had plenty of time to kill so I decided to fool around. I imagined I was acting as a bodyguard of an important individual while staking out the area. I placed my hands on my ear discretely as if someone was contacting me through a wireless device and pretended to look for possible sniper positions.
And something of interest came up on my lookout.
There was a familiar sounding voice.
“But you know, trying on clothes is fine and all, but it doesn’t matter since we have uniforms on right?”
“You’re the one that wanted to check out boots, Yumiko…”
As I cautiously looked for the origin of those voices, I came across the figures of my classmates in a store diagonal from here.
It was Miura Yumiko standing in front of a mirror with an unconvinced face and Ebina Hina with a resigned expression.
“Definitely black, huh?”
She murmured to herself, grabbed the black leather boots and changed into them. She stood in front of the mirror again with a pensive expression. There, Ebina who was watching her looked like something came to mind. She clapped her hands and a huge smile formed on her entire face.
“Ah, wouldn’t that be good? Black boots with your uniform really gives you the impression you’re into some sorta maniac play.”
“…Nevermind. Also, say something like that again and I’ll boot you.”
With just the boots, I imagine.
Miura made an obvious, disgruntled face and took off the boots. Her expression alone made her look upset, but she looked like she was actually having a lot of fun.
All was well if they were having fun. But, it did bug me a little how Yuigahama wasn’t there. Whenever they go shopping or out to have fun, the image of the three of them being together seemed natural. I guess she had stuff to do.
“I guess Suede would be good after all?”
Ebina took something else from another rack and slowly turned around towards Miura. In the middle of that, Ebina’s eyes met with mine which was on them the entire time.
The last time we had a face to face encounter was probably during the field trip. A passing silence came about as we both wondered how to respond to the other.
During that time, thinking it was strange, Miura turned her head.
“Ebina, what’s wrong?”
And then, she noticed me, well, more accurately speaking, she noticed Hayama further in the store. She also happened to see the girls with him as well.
Miura’s loosely, curled blonde hair fluttered as she stood up abruptly.
But the boots she took off caught her feet and she marvelously fell over.
Panties! They’re pink! Didn’t expect that!
Whoa, close one. I was this close to thinking “so glad I decided to go out today~!”.
“W-Wha, Yumiko! Are you okay!?”
Ebina alarmingly ran up to Miura and supported her up.
Miura was groaning in tears from the pain. It looked like she hurt her butt when she fell down as she was holding it as she stood up. Noticing this, Ebina gently began rubbing it. What’s with this painting?
“Kuuuuuuuuuh, ugh, Ha-Haya…”
With the pain not subsiding, Miura looked at Hayama with wet eyes.
Aah, that looked painful. Both your heart and your body.
Still, to see a girl who’s usually so confident and strong-willed in tears was quite the view!
Or whatever, but this wasn’t the time to be impressed. Based on Miura’s reaction, there was still some time before she would recover. Once that happened, there was no doubt she’d come marching over here to Hayama and pick a fight with Orimoto and her friend. If she brought that dreadfulness of hers that she showed when she saw Isshiki that last time, it’d be really problematic. After all, I’d probably end up staying out longer and getting home later.
I stealthily maneuvered my way towards Hayama’s back and spoke to him in a whisper.
“Hayama. We should probably go somewhere else.”
When I said that, Hayama checked his watch. No, I wasn’t talking about the time. I was talking about something more fearsome.
But Hayama arbitrarily looked convinced for one reason or another and whispered, “Yeah, that seems right.” He then called out to Orimoto and her friend.
“I actually have something I wanted to look at.”
After he called out to them, Orimoto and Nakamachi returned the clothes and accessories they grabbed to their original places.
“Suure. Whatcha gonna look at it?”
“Shall we get going first?”
We made some distance from Miura and Ebina and now it was time for Hayama’s shopping.
As of now, there were zero plans for my shopping. Nah, it’s not like I had anything I wanted. I mean, the only place I’d go to would be a book store and I’d rather just go by myself if that was the case.
“I wanted to check out some snowboarding gear.”
Hayama spoke as he headed in the direction of the escalator. Sportswear were typically on the sixth floor.
Coming from the descending escalator were noisy voices.
“Irohasu. Like I said, Murasaki Sports is good enough, ya know?”
“No, that won’t do. Ah, wasn’t there a Lions Sports store near the west entrance?”
“Wait up, that store’s for baseball, ya know. It just has “sports” in the name, that’s all.”
It was two people; one with flaxen short bobbed hair and the other with brown-dyed long hair. In their hands were the bags of the sports shop we were about to head to.
“Oh, oh? Ain’t that Hayato?”
After getting to the bottom, Tobe noticed Hayama first. And then he started bawling.
“What’s up, Tobe?”
Hayama asked in a confused manner with Tobe suddenly clinging on to him. Tobe had a displeased expression and while openly pulling his hair, he began complaining.
“Hear me out yo. Irohasu suddenly wanted a new jersey all of a sudden so we came out here to do some shopping and now she only talks about protein…”
As he continued to talk, Orimoto, her friend, and I finally came into his sight. Tobe choked on his words and took two steps back. Apparently he thought we were on a double date (lol).
“Eh… Ah, my bad, seriously was I intrudin’? My bad, my bad! I’ll be goin’ on right ahead. Right, Irohasu?”
Tobe was flustered as he spoke and when he turned to look at Isshiki, she wasn’t there.
That’s because Isshiki had already found her spot next to me.
So fast! Irohasu so fast! Freaky!
“Senpai, what’s wrooong? Ah, are you fooling around?”
She spoke in an airy manner with a grin on her face. Those words were common to say when you came across your upperclassman in the city. But oddly enough, it had some impact.
Because somehow, it sounded like she was saying “you sure have some courage to be forgetting about my request and going out to have fun with girls instead, huh”. No, no, I really didn’t’ forget, okay? And as for your request, I already did think it over in my own way so…
“Uh, it’s not like I’m fooling around or anything…”
As I thought about how to explain myself, Isshiki gripped my sleeves and looked at me with upturned eyes resembling a small animal. What the heck? She sure was cute, wait a second, how problematic.
As I grew suspicious of her, she continued to pull at my sleeve. An unexpected force caused me to drop my shoulders and I leaned slightly forward.
When I did, my face descended to just about Isshiki’s height. Isshiki, who was right next to me, made a perky smile. Her lightly pink, shaking lips began to move.
“But really, who is that woman? Ah! Your girlfriend perhaps? Eh, but wait, there’re two of them… How are they related, hmm?”
Scary… You’re really scary.
How were you making such a happy smile with that coldhearted voice of yours…?
“Nah, well, you know…”
As I pondered about how I should answer to defuse the situation, Hayama called out to Isshiki.
“Iroha, sorry. I actually had him come with me.”
“Aaah, so that’s how it is~. Ah, I’m actually about to go somewhere too, would you like to go together?”
She quickly let go of my sleeve and made a turn in the direction of Hayama. She was surprisingly forceful, wasn’t she?
Around there was Tobe who was trying to call Isshiki over. Thank goodness I was freed from her grasp…
“C’mon Irohasu. We should get goin’ already. Yeah?”
“You two were in the middle of shopping right…? Okay, Iroha, Tobe. I’ll catch you two later.”
Hayama softly raised his hand and Isshiki did the same and waved back while cutely going “daaang”.
“Okaaay. See you later then.”
Isshiki then waved her hands at me.
“Next time we meet senpai, please fill me in on the details, okay~.”
Ah, nevermind, I wasn’t free from her after all. She’ll definitely make me spill the beans the next time we meet…
Anyway, the next time we’d meet would probably be the day of the election. Then again, we probably would need to meet at least one more time before the actual day of the event.
It’s fine if the speech that would cause Isshiki to lose by a motion of no confidence wasn’t all that great, but should it be too poorly thought out, then it would cause her image to drop. That said, there’s always the slight chance that she’d get voted for regardless of how trashy the campaign speech was. This was a rather difficult consideration to take into account.
In any case, it was something that would be settled in a single moment. I’ll try to talk with her early next week… So how should I explain today’s outing, I wonder?
As I thought about how I was needlessly entrusted with more worrisome issues, I saw Isshiki and Tobe off.
While walking, Tobe would go “alrighty”, “lez go!” and other stuff, trying to be considerate of Isshiki by being energetic. What a good fellow.
“Alrighty! Irohasu, let’s head to the Lions Sports store!”
“Ah, that’s fine. That store’s primarily for baseball anyway.”
I could hear a very pitiful voice in their direction.
“…She really is something.”
As I saw them off, I blurted out my impressions. Having heard that, Hayama made a bitter smile.
“Yeah. She really is a handful.”
“You don’t say…”
Oh? You bragging? Ah? So I was thinking, but Hayama said something surprising.
“So Iroha acts like that around you too, huh…?”
I asked him, not understanding what he meant. Suddenly, Hayama made a serious face.
“…It’s not like she only does it with me, but Iroha meets with a lot of people and she tends to want to show off her cute side. I’m sure she thinks that she has a certain image of herself she has to protect. I’m sure she wants to be loved. That’s why it’s rare for her to show off her honest side like that.”
Doesn’t that just mean she didn’t want me to like her that she was able to show her true colors…?
As the two descended the escalator and disappeared, Orimoto and Nakamachi who were standing a distance away came over. Were they being considerate or did they think it was a good idea not to get any closer with the curly haired Tobe and the obviously, wary Isshiki present?
We ascended the escalator to the sixth floor. When we made it to the top, we entered the sports store that was immediately in front of us.
“Were those your friends earlier?”
“Yeah, they’re in the soccer club with me.”
Hayama answered Nakamachi’s question. Orimoto joined in on the conversation with an appropriately, surprised reaction.
“I totally get that! They really gave off that feeling!”
Was that so…? Tobe really didn’t give off the impression that he played soccer. Though if you asked what fit him then, I wouldn’t be able to answer. I wasn’t interested in knowing after all.
But it wasn’t like Orimoto was interested in Tobe.
“Hayama, you look like you’d play soccer. Did you do it when you were younger?”
Apparently this was what she wanted to ask.
“Yeah. But I only seriously got into it in middle school.”
Hoo. That’s a shocker. I guess the junior youth fit his image. I didn’t actually say this out loud, but it may have been showing on my face as Hayama made a bitter smile and added.
“Well, in elementary, I did a lot of things, but I never did get around to doing soccer, that’s all.”
As I thought, “oh, I see”, I nodded. Then again, this reaction felt like I had more interest in Hayama than the girls here. Really, I didn’t care and I was only listening because I had nothing better to do.
It was a bit awkward so I decided to deflect it off by fiddling with the hanging sportswear and the hand grippers.
But now that I thought about it, Hayama was a man full of mystery. It’s not like I ever bothered to try to learn anything about him, but he never really talked about himself. And that somehow resembled Yukinoshita in some way. Was this what they call the modesty of high society?
Thanks to that, even my disinterested disposition caused me to listen to his story. The two girls, of course, took the bait.
“Oooh. But wasn’t your middle school pretty strong, Hayama?”
“Wow. Our middle school’s club was totally weak. Right?”
Orimoto turned only her head in my direction and wanted a confirmation. To make fun of your own environment to flatter the other party was, well, the modesty of the middle class. I returned a nod.
When I did, Orimoto looked like she suddenly thought of something and went “ah”.
“Speaking of which, Hikigaya. You weren’t in any clubs, but didn’t you, like, get an award for the sports test or something?”
Now that she mentioned it, something like that did happen… Then again, the so called “sports test” was simply students recording each other’s results. Everyone typically recorded down whatever results they felt like. In my case, my partner always had no motivation and for the 20 meter shuttle run, they’d be too tired and would just put whatever number they could. Thanks to that, I got an A. But even without that, the standards were pretty loose anyway. There were a lot of people who got A’s in the class after all.
Of course, I imagine Hayama got the same grade as well.
Hayama reached out for some of the sportswear and suddenly spoke up.
“Don’t you get something like a medal for that?”
Hayama pulled from his vague memories. Thanks to that, the door to my memories flung open.
“Yeah, yeah! So, like, during the closing ceremony, when Hikigaya went out front to receive it, everyone sort of just burst out laughing!”
Orimoto exploded into laughter as if she remembered what it was like back then. Nakamachi started going off too as she put her hand on her lips because she was imagining how it went.
Ahaha. I totally made a dry laugh myself.
Stuff like that was pretty common when a guy who normally didn’t stand out suddenly became the center of attention. It was similar to when you were reading out loud in Japanese or English. Bringing attention to the culture was the modesty of the lower classes.
The two looked satisfied after a good laugh and started grabbing different sportswear that would fit Hayama while going “snowboard might be fun, huh!”.
As I watched them two steps behind, Hayama quietly came to my side.
“…You sure had an odd middle school life.”
It wasn’t all that odd. There were probably plenty of other people who had the same experience. If anything, Hayama seemed to fit the bill more.
But Hayama apparently didn’t mean it that way. He shrugged his shoulders and continued.
“I’m not talking about that… During middle school, I heard you liked her?”
He said that and looked at Orimoto.
“So that was your type, huh…? Kind of surprising.”
“You sure are annoying…”
Hayama’s smile looked like it was making fun of me. Hayama was the type to not break his smile with his good social manners, but this was the first time I had seen him having a good time.
But he didn’t have to tell me. I already knew.
I would even dare to say it was nothing, but youthful indiscretion on my part.
Even if I turned my head the other way, the fact that I thought I liked Orimoto Kaori wouldn’t change and that I also confessed to her as well. But that didn’t mean Orimoto was the only special one.
“It’s not like it was just Orimoto. Completely wrong, I’d say. Girls that were quieter or the more noisy ones were the ones I li… well, those types.”
Actually saying the word like was a little too embarrassing for me. I hesitated for a bit before trying to play it off.
“I wouldn’t say those types were what you liked.”
Hayama made a bitter smile. That mature attitude of his ticked me off. An indescribable irritation started to swell inside of me. I held it in and spoke slowly.
“…Besides, that may be the case back then, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be that way now.”
Hayama nodded, looking convinced. Our conversation ended there.
Even so, Hayama continued to stand next to me.
We stood there silently while listening to the BGM playing in the background and Orimoto and her friend’s lively chatter.
Hayama suddenly spoke up.
But he sounded like he was having difficulty speaking and his words cut off. As I thought about whether he had more to say, I turned to look at his face and Hayama quietly averted his gaze elsewhere. It was directed somewhere far away, somewhere not in the vicinity of the store.
“So basically, you’ve never really actually liked someone, huh?”
Those were words that seized my stomach. In that moment, my breathing had stopped. By reflex, there were no words I could muster out. It was something I never really ever thought about.
But I intuitively felt that staying silent wasn’t something I should do and I slightly opened my mouth. Even so, my voice wouldn’t come out.
As I stood there with no words to respond with, Hayama made a self-derisive smile.
“…Both you and me.”
He quietly looked up as if he was looking at the sky. Hayama’s profile looked like he was repenting for something.
“That’s why I misunderstood.”
His small murmur melted in the atmosphere and vanished.
“Hayamaa, how’s this?”
Orimoto’s voice came from far away. Hayama strongly closed his eyes once and quickly opened them. It was his usual refreshing, smiling face.
He walked towards Orimoto and her friend as he said that. The way he walked off was the Hayama Hayato that I knew.
However, the Hayama Hayato that I didn’t know had a sorrowful expression that looked like he was going to cry.
× × ×
While they were picking out sportswear, it was just about closing time for the shops. So that meant we were entering the last stretch of my long job as a supplement. When we made it outside, it was completely dark out as well as cold.
Hayama checked his watch and called out to Orimoto and her friend.
“Are you guys a bit hungry?”
Orimoto immediately responded and Hayama made a bitter smile. At a time like this, he wouldn’t go so far as to blow off the self-proclaimed refreshing Orimoto. But, I think at times like this was when uncle should be showing off his shy side.
“Okay, what should we eat?”
When Hayama asked, Nakamachi looked lost in thought for a moment, but replied modestly.
“Anything’s fine with me.”
“What to eat, huh?”
Orimoto spun around and looked at me. Her expression had hints of amusement mixed in it.
Well, if they asked for my opinion, then I’d answer. I wanted to go home early so I had to choose somewhere close to here. In which case, an appropriate choice would be a store immediately right outside.
I thought about how Chiba’s Saizeriya had covered a lot of bases. So my decision came out quickly. But after hearing that, Nakamachi had an apathetic look in her eyes.
Didn’t you just say you were fine with anything…? So, what? You don’t like Saize? Or is it me you don’t like?
Actually, forget about me, apologize to Saize right now. Even if you hate me, please don’t hate Saize!
On the other hand, Orimoto held her stomach while going “Saize… Saize, huh… Sa, i, ze…” and burst out into laughter. As I thought about how we were never going to pick anything at this rate, Hayama came in to mediate.
“Well, I guess we shouldn’t get anything too heavy, so why don’t we settle for that café over there?”
Hayama pointed in the direction of a café across the street. It was a store that looked chic and hip so the girls nodded in agreement. They definitely only said yes because Hayama suggested it, didn’t they…? Had I blurted this out, I couldn’t see a future where everything would work out peacefully. It was basically that. “The law decrees that you don’t get popular from being in a band, but you get popular because you’re a popular guy in a band.” Something like that.
In any case, we crossed the street and entered the store.
The inside was moderately warm and the dim lighting of the store made the atmosphere very comfortable.
After each of us made our respective orders, we ascended to the seats on the second floor.
The dim store was somewhat empty probably because of the late time.
There were several people sitting at the seats to the side of the stairs and at the window counter was one person. Further in were open tables. With our group, we decided to move over there.
From this position, the seats for smokers at the counter that were separated by a sheet of glass could be seen on the other side.
And there was a female customer with a hat covering her eyes wearing headphones and of course, she didn’t have an ashtray prepared since that was only for smoking customers.
She really did come along…
Yukinoshita Haruno secretly waved in such a way that only I could see.
Well, it didn’t look like she planned on getting in the way so there’s no harm in leaving her alone… She hadn’t done anything yet so far, after all.
Also, Hayama should have noticed too. But since he hadn’t said anything, there was no doubt he was ignoring her.
Orimoto and her friend didn’t seem to have noticed Haruno at all though. But if you thought about it, that was obvious. It probably never hit them that the older sister in college would come to check out her friend she treats as a little brother on his date. Not that I would think of it either.
What’s more, the girls were dreamily engrossed in talking with Hayama. Anything else wouldn’t come into their view. Ah, I wasn’t included either as weeeeell.
Due to the warm drinks, the girls were speaking smoothly. I sat there listening to their conversation in silence. For the most part, I made sure not forget to respond accordingly while I blew at my coffee to cool it down.
As I raised my head and thought how the coffee had finally cooled down, the conversation had stopped.
Orimoto looked like she didn’t know what to say and looked at me. Eh, what, did I need to say something? I grew apprehensive for a moment, but it turned out I didn’t need to worry.
Orimoto made a laugh and spoke in a ridiculing way.
“But Saizeriya’s just out of the question!”
“Yeah, no way.”
Nakamachi giggled in the same way.
…Hoh. So, sorry to ask, what was your name again, Whatmachi?
I suppose it was understandable for Orimoto to use me for jokes considering she knew the particulars back in middle school. In fact, it was appropriate. But, for her friend to be doing the same thing was just a little bit questionable…
Once you looked down on someone, then you could say whatever you want. Before I knew it, I was branded as the character you could say whatever you wanted to and do whatever you wanted to.
With that acting as the groundwork for everything, as long it was Orimoto, or rather, my past self that caused it to be created, there was nothing I could do.
I resigned myself to deal with it. Aah, coffee and life were really bitter.
I made a bitter, forced smile. While my mouth twitched, sitting next to me was Hayama who put down his cup.
“I’m not really fond of that…”
“Ah, I know, right!”
Nakamura responded as if she didn’t know what he was referring to.
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
He spoke in a voice that was sweeter than chocolate and as if he was trying to gently admonish their misunderstanding.
“I’m talking about you two.”
He spoke with a voice as bright as the sun.
Orimoto and Nakamachi responded in confusion as if they didn’t process what they were told. I wasn’t quite able to perceive the meanings of his words and got confused myself.
Everyone was speechless and the quietly playing BGM in the store sounded louder than usual.
And in that silence were the sounds of footsteps. The sound came from the stairs and it was heading in our direction.
“…Looks like they’re here.”
Hayama muttered and stood up.
And then he raised his hand quickly and in the direction of his look stood Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. They were in their uniforms with their bags on their way home.
I reflexively stood up when these unexpected visitors showed up.
Yuigahama had a lonely smile, standing there dumbfounded. She strongly squeezed the straps of her backpack on her back.
And beside her, Yukinoshita was looking at us authoritatively. Her cold eyes that wouldn’t show any emotions didn’t change even after meeting with my gaze.
It’s almost as if their attitudes were tormenting me that I instinctively averted my face.
“Why are you guys here…?”
The question that escaped my lips was answered by Hayama.
“I called them here.”
Not only did I stare at him in wonder, but also Orimoto and her friend. As far as those two were concerned, they probably didn’t even understand what was going on. Hayama’s words were harsh and on top of that, people they didn’t know showed up. And the one who called those people was Hayama himself.
As we stiffened up in this confusion, Hayama turned to Orimoto and her friend and continued.
“Hikigaya isn’t the kind of guy you make him out to be.”
The smile on Hayama’s face had already disappeared. His voice sounded distinctly hostile. Orimoto and her friend grew petrified in place as they were given a sharp glare.
“He gets along fine with those two girls who are much, much more wonderful than you two could ever be. Could you please stop running your mouth only on what you can see?”
In the direction Hayama was pointing out were Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. Orimoto and her friend looked their way. And then, a groaning sigh could be heard.
Their voices wouldn’t come out. The reason was because they were disillusioned with the man called Hayama Hayato or because they feared him and at the same time confused.
As they wondered how they were supposed to answer, a silence emerged.
Except for one person.
Was it my imagination that I could hear a sneer in the direction of the seats at the counter on the smoker side?
Eventually, Orimoto made a deep sigh.
“Sorry, I’ll be going home.”
When she said that, she grabbed her bag. Nakamachi followed her in a panic.
“Y-Yeah. Sorry, me too…”
The two stood up and headed for the stairs down to the first floor. Halfway through when Orimoto was just about to pass by Yukinoshita and Yuigahama, she stopped for a moment. She looked at them both with a glance.
Yukinoshita continued to stare at me and Hayama as if someone like Orimoto wasn’t someone worthy of consideration in her line of sight while Yuigahama uncomfortably looked away because of the awkwardness of being stared at.
“So that’s how it is.”
Orimoto murmured, looking convinced and continued walking. When Nakamachi began climbing down the stairs, she turned around once and looked at Hayama. But, even so, she faced back down the stairs and descended quietly.
When Orimoto and Nakamachi disappeared, Yukinoshita let out a small sigh. She then gently spoke.
“I was told we were having a meeting regarding the election.”
As she said that, Yukinoshita sent Hayama a sharp glare. The glint in her eyes directed blame at Hayama more so than words could. Hayama couldn’t think of how to answer and looked away.
“By election, do you mean the student council?”
When I asked, Yukinoshita ignored my question and Hayama nodded feebly. Yuigahama, however, tried to smooth it over while stuttering in the process.
“U-Um, you see, Yukinon and I talked about how maybe we could try to get Hayato to come out for the election, so that’s why today, we were going to talk to him about it, and, and…”
She rapidly spoke on and on, but at the very end, she lost her words.
As expected, Yukinoshita and Yuigahama planned to nominate Hayama as the candidate. That decision itself wasn’t all that mysterious. You could even say it was correct. But it was odd for Hayama to actually accept it. Regardless of how much of a “can’t refuse someone if they asked for help” personality he had, Hayama was in a club. On top of that, he was the club president. If he was half-hearted about either one, he’d cause trouble for both. Hayama should’ve been well aware of that. So there was no way he’d be able to accept the offer so easily.
As I stood there not understanding what Hayama’s real intent was, I looked at Hayama. When I did, Hayama who took on my glare responded in a weak voice.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could.”
The one who reacted to those words wasn’t me.
“Hmmm, I see, I see.”
The woman who had been sitting at the seats for smokers in the corner the entire time stood up. She took off her hat and walked up to us.
When Haruno appeared, for the first time, Yukinoshita was trembling. She probably wasn’t expecting to meet her in a place like this. When Haruno saw this, a malicious smile formed on her face.
“So, Yukino, you’re not going to run for student council president, huh? I was totally under the impression you were going to.”
She took one step after another, closing the distance between her and Yukinoshita before eventually standing in front of her. Yukinoshita bit her lips and softly casted down her eyes.
But even if she averted her gaze, she couldn’t keep her ears from listening.
“You’re exactly like mom in the way you push someone to do things for you.”
Those words were words Yukinoshita couldn’t respond to and all she could do was strongly clench her fist. Haruno moved her face closer to Yukinoshita and softly rubbed her nape.
“Well, I guess that suits Yukino-chan just fine, though. After all, it’s fine if you don’t do anything. I mean, someone’s always going to do it for you, right?”
She traced her long, supple fingers smoothly across her pale nape. She continued on as if she was tearing out her arteries and as if she was gradually strangling her neck.
When her fingers reached her throat, Yukinoshita brushed off Haruno’s arms.
For several seconds, Yukinoshita and Haruno stood off against each other. No one was allowed to come in between them.
“I see, so that’s what this is about…”
Yukinoshita murmured and then shot a glare at Hayama. Hayama made a deep sigh and closed his eyes while Haruno fearlessly smiled.
Yukinoshita adjusted her bag on her shoulders and turned around.
“If there’s nothing else, I’ll be leaving…”
She turned half her body to say that and began walking.
The frozen time slowly shifted into motion once again. Once we were able to breathe again, Yuigahama came back to her senses and chased after Yukinoshita.
When the sound of hurried footsteps disappeared down into the stairs, the only ones left were me, Hayama, and Haruno.
“Just why would you say things like that to Yukinoshita?”
When I asked, Haruno’s cruel smile she had the entire time disappeared and she let out a small sigh.
“Do you really have to ask? It’s just the usual.”
“You’re going a little overboard if you’re just trying to meddle with her.”
Up until now, Haruno had always meddled with Yukinoshita in some way. But today, there was clearly a difference. Those supposed words of provocation had a hint of lukewarm aggression. Curious about the reason, I decided to ask, but Haruno tilted her head in a sweet fashion and played dumb.
“You think so?”
Brothers and sisters were, no, it was exactly because they were brothers and sisters that there were things that just wouldn’t work well together. It was especially even more apparent when these two sisters were continuously compared for their excellence. That’s why, it was reasonable to see why Yukinoshita would think a particular way towards her older sister. At the same time, Haruno was also subjected to this comparison. Then from just that alone, it wouldn’t be odd to think Haruno thought the same way towards her younger sister.
“Yes. Well, I happen to have a little sister myself, so I can easily tell if there’s ‘something’ going on between fellow siblings.”
That’s why I could say this with confidence.
But when Haruno heard that, she smiled. It was completely different from the smile at the donuts shop. There was absolutely no trace of that calm demeanor of hers back then.
“You seem to understand everything, don’t you, Hikigaya-kun?”
Those words that dripped with sarcasm felt like it was sneering at the depths of my shallowness. Simultaneously, there was this rejecting sharpness that barred all outsiders.
The pressure that was exerted from this hidden smile gave me goose bumps.
Looking at my attitude, Haruno’s eyes narrowed. Her stare was different from earlier and was much kinder. The tone of her voice also brightened.
“Oh, don’t give me that scary look. I’m honestly really impressed.”
“Thanks for that…”
I rubbed my clothes at the area where the goose bumps were as I answered.
Haruno whose gaze was directed at me was surprisingly soft.
“You really are something else. How you try to look beyond what a person says and what a person does is something I’m really quite fond of, you know.”
My words got trapped in my throat when she gave me those sudden words and with a smile, Haruno added more.
“Things that shrink back from something malicious really are cute.”
In that sadistic expression of hers wasn’t the slightest hint of love or anything of the sort. It was a lot simpler. They were eyes that looked like they were watching a pet. That gaze then shifted over to my side.
“People who can just handle everything flawlessly just aren’t fun, right?”
Silent the entire time, Hayama let out a sigh that sounded like he was coughing. It didn’t need to be asked as to who she was referring to; I knew.
As me and Hayama stood there without answering, Haruno slightly shrugged her shoulders.
She then grabbed her belongings that were left at her seat.
“Anyway, I’ve figured out what was bugging me, so I guess I’m gonna head home. I’m kinda tired of this, anyway.”
She parted with just those words without turning back and quickly headed for the stairs. The way she left so skillfully was very typical of a free person like her; it didn’t look like anyone could tie her down.
Just a slight hint of Haruno’s perfume lingered.
It was just me and Hayama left.
I wanted to hurry up and put an end to this sour moment and reached for my bag.
But there were just a few words in my mouth.
These few words came out even though I tried to hold it in.
“…Quit trying to interfere with your needless concern.”
I probably wasn’t angry at what Hayama did in its entirety, but the fact that I couldn’t stomach letting Yukinoshita and Yuigahama see me together with this group with Orimoto and her friend.
A part of me already understood that, yet I still couldn’t help but become irritated.
Hayama made a self-deprecated laugh and relaxed his shoulders. When he did that, the Hayama whom I thought was overbearing looked tiny.
“Sorry. That wasn’t my intention… I just did something I wanted to do.”
“You mean… what happened with Orimoto earlier?”
That wasn’t something I expected from the Hayama normally. That also applied to that cruel smile that Yukinoshita Haruno had. Even though she was so pretty and bright, there was just something shallow somewhere in that smile of hers.
I was aware that his actions were just to protect me. Even so, I just couldn’t comprehend why Hayama would go as far as destroying his own image to do that.
“…Are you really okay with what you did to them earlier?”
“…I feel terrible for doing it. I don’t want to do it ever again.”
Hayama bit his lips and I spat out.
“Then don’t bother in the first place.”
Really, what a joke. I just didn’t understand what these nice guys were thinking about. Because they were so in love with everyone getting along, they ended up opening up other problems when they try to fix one. I didn’t even ask to be thrown into that circle either.
Hayama fell back onto the chair. And then he looked at me, suggesting me to sit down. I declined that offer and waited for his words while standing.
When I did, Hayama sighed thinking not much he could do and leaned forward while crossing his fingers.
“…I’ve always been thinking. About a way to take back the things that I destroyed.”
I didn’t know what Hayama was getting at.
But based on his ambiguous way of speaking, basically, he wanted to avoid referring to something, and I guessed at what he was actually talking about.
“I… had expectations of you. Even though I understood you, I asked you for help anyway. Because of that…”
Don’t you dare say anything more.
The voice I used to stop him sounded more violent than normal. I wasn’t in the mood to be touching upon what he was talking about anymore. The things that should have been settled and ended were about to be dug from their grave from what Hayama was about to say.
Hayama looked like he didn’t want to touch on that either and momentarily cut off his words. He then threw it out which followed into his conclusion.
“You need to understand your own worth more… And it’s not just you, but the people around you, too.”
“What are you saying…? Huh?”
His surprising words caused me to stutter.
“But it’s just so difficult, so… I mean, there should’ve been a better way to do it… This was really the only thing I could do.”
Hayama said those self-deprecating words and made a bitter smile. But when that smile disappeared, he looked at me with extremely sad eyes.
“…This is how you did things up until now, right? Can’t you just stop making a victim out of yourself now?”
“…Don’t lump me together with you.”
What was locked in my throat came out with my breath. My voice quietly reverberated in the store. Mixed in my voice was irritation, rage, and then a small amount of grief that I only just noticed.
—-Ahh, how incredibly irritating. What a terrible mix of feelings.
Even though you were just standing by, even though you came this close. Why were you going over there?
I’m sure I was just expecting the truth. Maybe Hayama might have actually understood.
But that was wrong.
Don’t look down on me and sympathize with me. Don’t pity me.
Hayama was misunderstanding. I pitied Hayama so I lent him a hand. But it made no sense for Hayama to pity me.
A lump of undefinable emotions came out on its own from my mouth.
“Victim? Don’t screw with me. It’s completely normal to me.”
Hayama listened silently to the words I shot at him. He stood there just looking like he was impressed. That made me even more irritated.
“After all, it’s because I’m always alone. If there’s something that needs to be solved, the only one who can do that is me. Isn’t it obvious that I should be the one who does it then?”
The only one in my world was just me alone. Whenever I confronted whatever I could, the only one there was just me alone.
“Whatever my surroundings think, they don’t have a damn thing to do with anything. The things that happen right before my eyes are always only the things that I can do. Don’t misunderstand and stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
The world was my ego.
If I chose to do something and it failed, then that was fine. However, if some outsider tried to take that result and make it his own, then that was completely different.
They were usurpers who tried to act like a savior.
I glared at Hayama and he returned the glare back.
At some point, Hayama, who probably hadn’t noticed himself, was clenching his fists. He suddenly loosened his grip and casted his eyes downward.
“Don’t you help people… because you want someone to help you?”isn’t it because you’re wishing for someone to help you?”
That settled it.
I knew it, but this guy really didn’t understand at all.
It was as though he only interpreted all my actions as something I did only after I selfishly considered things.
But let’s say there was a chance that was the case for Hikigaya Hachiman.
He wouldn’t let someone like him of all people to be the one to say that.
That sham of an emotion was something that I and she didn’t have in what we did up until now.
I stopped bothering with glaring at him.
I didn’t ask for that superficial kindness and pity. This adolescent drama with the template asking for tears was so disgusting it made me want to vomit.
In this drama, no matter how it was structured, there would always be a loser and that was an unavoidable fact. Then there was the possibility that there would be times where I was the loser. Even the Hayama in front may have to become a loser too.
This was a zero-sum game. If someone were to get the good end of the stick, then someone would get the bad end. There was nothing more than that. Even if you glorified your youth, just one mistake could completely turn it over.
But even so, all of you guys should stop labeling things while you look down on them.
Don’t show your sympathy, don’t show your pity. Because that was nothing more than comforting yourself.
I snatched the bag that I left alone.
“Don’t force your disgusting sympathy on me and pity me. Labeling me like that is nothing but trouble.”
I spat out those words, turned my back, and descended down the stairs.
I left the store with a speed faster than usual and I didn’t stop until I made it close to the station. It wasn’t like anyone was chasing after me, but I continued to keep moving.
When I made it to the parking area where I left my bike, I finally stopped.
I looked up to the sky and numerous stars glittered.
Numerous bikes fell over possibly because of the cold, blowing wind. The bike that was at the very bottom of the heap was mine. As I pulled up each bike one by one, words left my lips.
“…Don’t screw with me.”
Who were those words aimed at?
I won’t let anyone call it self-sacrifice.
I won’t let anyone call those who picked to the best of their ability the choice that was most effective amongst their limited choices a victim. It was a disgrace that surpassed everything. It was blasphemy against those who desperately tried to live.
Why the hell would I become a victim for the lot of you?
It may not be something tangible, audible, or describable in words.
But I certainly had a conviction.
It was the one thing that I shared with someone, and the one that I lost.