It was after school. Once I left the club, I looked outside from the hallway of the special building.
Raindrops smoothly dripped down the glass. The rain that persisted even now since the morning bleakly poured and poured.
The other day, after informing Yukinoshita about Komachi’s exams and that I’d be leaving early, she wasn’t particularly doubtful and I was able to leave the club.
Was there a window open somewhere? The floor was damp and my indoor shoes squeaked as I walked in the empty hallway.
There was one week left until Christmas.
Chiba in December rarely saw snow. I didn’t have to worry about a white Christmas. But what I had to worry about was the dreary workplace I was about to head to.
I left the school building and headed directly for the community center.
Because it was raining when I was about to leave home, I came to school by taking the train and bus. If it was a warmer season, then I would’ve came on my bike and got mostly wet, but during the winter, I really wanted to avoid that.
Because of the dropping leaves from the trees, the street which I traveled along was bleaker than ever.
Normally, the sun wouldn’t be set for another few hours, but because of the weather today, it was already dark.
In my clouded field of vision, the umbrella moving ahead of me was dazzling. Decorating the vinyl umbrella at a single point was a lovely, printed peduncle.
The owner twirled her umbrella as she walked seemingly staving off the boredom. Occasionally, her flaxen hair would peek out.
Judging from her hair style and her height, the one ahead of me seemed to be Isshiki.
Isshiki was walking in a slow pace so I ended up catching up to her quickly. When I lined up alongside her, she noticed me as well and tilted her umbrella to check my face.
I answered back by slightly raising my umbrella as well.
“Are you going to buy snacks today too?”
“Nope, it doesn’t look like there’ll be a conference today.”
“Aah, that’s right.”
As Isshiki said, a conference wasn’t going to be held today. Yesterday, the time was delegated for examining the raised opinions and thinking of the pros and cons to each one as well as a unifying proposal for implementing them practically. So there wouldn’t be any catering today. It looked like my job of carrying the bags of snacks wouldn’t be necessary as well.
As I thought about that, Isshiki peeked under my umbrella and made a wicked smile.
“…Fufufu, what a shame. Not being able to score some points with me and all.”
“Like there’d be something that simple that could score points with you.”
While we had that senseless conversation as we walked, a vinyl umbrella that could be described as plain or even boorish hurried our way. Under the umbrella was the shameless fluttering of the hems of a Kaihin Sogo High skirt.
“Oooh, what’s this? It’s Isshiki-chan and Hikigaya.”
Raising her umbrella high, the one who called out to us was Orimoto.
“Heeya. You seeee, I was talking with my friends so now I’m kinda late.”
As usual, Orimoto’s take on the distance between people was close. From there, she lined up next to Isshiki and began chatting with her amiably. Of course, Isshiki didn’t show a moment of displeasure in her face even in the face of that attitude. She made a bright, amiable smile and chatted back.
We continued walking in the rain as I listened to them from the side.
Just when the conversation between the two was about to stop, Isshiki had a realization and spoke.
“Speaking of which, weren’t you an acquaintance with senpai?”
“Yep, yep, we were in the same middle school.”
When Orimoto answered, Isshiki made a glance at me.
“So even senpai had someone he was close with, huh?”
That reaction of hers had me in a pickle. But similarly, Orimoto’s words that she responded with sounded a bit troubled.
“Rather than close, umm… Well, just a little.”
As if her ambiguous words felt out of place, Isshiki’s eyes glittered and she bit onto it.
“Oh, what’s this, what’s this? This vague wording of yours?”
Orimoto made an “oops” face and sent me a look.
I couldn’t blame her. It’s not like Orimoto and I were close, so for her to come out with an ambiguous wording like that was indicative of the truth.
But Isshiki wouldn’t let that opening slip by. She made a grin and pulled at my sleeve.
“Senpaaai, what’s goooing on?”
Stop it, stop pulling. Our hands are kind of touching too, you know, it feels kind of soft and it’ll make me really conscious of it, so stop it!
“Well, a lot happened back then…”
Isshiki repeated after me and she then looked at Orimoto. Orimoto who was at a loss of how to answer stuttered, but brushed it off with a laugh.
“Well, it’s just a story from the past, see.”
That answer was a little surprising. I was expecting her to turn my past confession into the butt of jokes again, but she turned her face away from Isshiki and only spoke those words vaguely.
I won’t say I didn’t mind if they spoke about the past, but I only thought it’d be unavoidable if it did happen which made me interested in Orimoto’s change.
Isshiki looked like she wanted to ask more and having noticed that, Orimoto faced me and quickly changed the topic.
“Putting that aside, Hayama-kun doesn’t come out to things like this, huh?”
The word “Hayama” caused Isshiki to twitch in response. The amusing, broad grin that Isshiki had on her face the entire time was now stiff.
“…Are you an acquaintance with Hayama-senpai toooo?”
Isshiki’s voice was slightly deep. Scary. She may have been smiling with her face while going “ufufu”, but this had to be that; her eyes were too serious that she was smiling in an effort to not show it…
“We went out for a bit before, you see.”
“Hoh, went out…”
Isshiki picked out a word from what she said and sized up Orimoto. Crap. This was going to turn into something troublesome.
“He’s busy with club, so I doubt he could.”
When I broke into their conversation, Orimoto tilted her umbrella and asked.
“Hikigaya, you look like you got along with him so I thought he’d stop by halfway through or something.”
“We don’t get along at all and calling him out at a time like this would just be a bother.”
“Really? I mean, doesn’t things seem bad? Our student president only started in fall so he’s not used to it. That’s why I thought you’d call him in the same way ours would call for helpers or something.”
I see. So even the Kaihin Sogo High side, at the very least, Orimoto recognized that the situation was bad. She may have appeared to unconditionally agree with everything, but she seemed to be aware of it internally.
“True, it might be bad, but I wouldn’t call for Hayama.”
“Hmmm… Well, if we met, it’d be pretty awkward anyway.”
The words she added in a small voice were sensible. Considering how we broke up that time when I went to Chiba with Hayama and the others, it was probably hard to face him. Even I didn’t really want to actively meet Hayama face to face either.
The reason why Orimoto brought up Hayama was either because it would’ve been difficult for her to meet him or possibility she just wanted to confirm. I could understand that.
But as Isshiki was pondering about something, she alternated glances between me and Orimoto. Well, if she didn’t remember Orimoto, then there wasn’t a need to tell her. I bet she didn’t even have the slightest interest in other girls too, huh…
When we stopped talking about Hayama that served as a connecting point in our conversations, we walked for a while without saying anything.
We were just about close to reaching the entrance of the community center until Orimoto spoke up with “aah” in a voice that seemed like she wanted to say something. I wonder what it was, glanced at her and Orimoto was staring at my face.
“…Also, I thought maybe those girls Hikigaya are close with might come too or something.”
“No… Probably not.”
There’s no way I would call them. There’s no way I could call them.
Orimoto said so in disinterest and kicked up a puddle of water. She then tilted the umbrella and looked up at the sky. Following her, I looked up at the sky as well. Towards the west was the slight glimpse of sunset coming out. If it was that much, the rain might stop soon.
Regardless, the sky was still dark as always.
× × ×
It was a little after entering the community center. I raised my eyes up to the clock.
Only time passed today as well.
I closed the laptop I borrowed and pressed my eyes with my fingers.
The task of looking over the opinions from yesterday’s conference was a lot more difficult than I thought.
As time passed, the things I could do also dropped little by little.
There isn’t enough time, there isn’t enough help, there isn’t a budget. If you had these three excuses, then you would have a legitimate reason. As long you had this reason, you could give up on anything and you’d be able to compromise.
Naturally, that wasn’t limited to just postponing the schedule and freezing the project, but we were already at the point where we couldn’t withdraw.
The essential portions of the event had not been settled on and the only thing that increased was involved people. If you likened this to anime, then it would be something like the production committee having decided on something while the main anime in question wasn’t. There’s no way that anime would be done nicely, huh…
And while we’re like this, the clock ticked forward and the calendar progressed day by day. We could call it spent time and effort, but truthfully, it was just forced working hours. If you likened this to anime, then the planning conference would take up all the time leaving all sorts of important stuff in all sorts of messes… or something.
What was essential was balance and determination. At the present moment, both of these were completely lacking.
After another sigh, I turned towards the laptop again.
I calculated the budget, confirmed the schedule, and thought about the cost performance of the expenses regarding the realistic portions of the plan. Just in case, I looked up the contact info for the church and jazz band or so forth.
Still, the more I did this work, the more I felt how infeasible this entire event was going to be. Goooosh, what the heck is this, are they, like, total idiots or something? I murmured out in a small voice “there’s like totally no way we can do this!” and the others at Sobu High seemed to be feeling the same way when the vice president let out a sigh.
After that, he showed me documents.
“About this, no matter how I calculate it, the budget’s just not enough. What should we do?”
“We either shave off the things we do or raise funds. I guess we’ll have to vote at the next conference.”
Honestly, that kind of time was precious. But to get the other side to give up, we needed well-grounded material; we were at a dead end otherwise. If we had a valid argument along with material, we might’ve been able to take an opposing stance.
I scratched my head and reached out for my coffee. The astringent and bitter taste of the black coffee in the paper cup seeped out and I couldn’t think of it as good at all.
Was there something sweet around here…? I looked at the top of the desk. And ahead of where I was looking was Isshiki who walked my way.
“Senpai. The decorations are about to be finished soon. What should we dooo next?”
Aah, that’s right. Our job was to deal with the elementary students too, huh… I momentarily stopped my hands from doing work and crossed my arms and thought for a bit.
Things that would be necessary, but also doable by elementary students regardless of the developments in the future, huh? The ornaments for the venue were just about finished. So the other things left would be…
After thinking that far, something came to mind.
“Has the tree been set up yet?”
When I said, Isshiki had a difficult face.
“We already have the tree… But wouldn’t it just be in the way if we set it up nooow?”
Well, that reply was expected. True, it really would be an annoyance if we just set it up here. The tree this time in particular was rather huge as well, so it had a rather bizarre presence to it. In that case, we could take advantage of that presence.
“We can talk with the center and ask them to move it to the entrance. It should be perfect since it’s just a week before the event. On the day of the event, we can move it back in the hallway then.”
“I see… I understand.”
After a few nods, Isshiki walked back to the elementary students. I saw her off and looked back at the laptop. I didn’t see any snacks in the end, but talking with Isshiki just now was a good breather. Still, having to have a change of pace from work to do work was signs of terminal symptoms, wasn’t it? Corporate slave peace? False influence? Give me freedom before I die from overwork…1
But I couldn’t be joking around like this. Although I was only helping Isshiki in order to fulfill my responsibility of forcing her into becoming the president, I now noticed that I was the one giving out directions. And no one in particular seemed to have any qualms about it. Everyone naturally began confirming things with me.
The way this was done was extremely bad. It was a hopelessness I had seen somewhere before.
If we didn’t change the situation, it would eventually fail. That was something I was all too familiar with. Above all else, it was a situation that the student council president, Isshiki Iroha, definitely wouldn’t be too overjoyed about.
To quickly change the situation, I’ll have to leave the rest to Isshiki and get a consensus.
I carried the organized documents in my hands and headed to where Tamanawa was. The usual style of conference we had was no good. If the representatives didn’t decide things in a summit meeting, then they’d just sidestep each other.
“Hey, got a second?”
“What is it?”
Tamanawa seemed to be doing some sort of work. Displayed on the screen of his MacBook Air were the words “Plan Outline”. When I took a peek, the things typed out were how to get a synergetic result from incorporating many opinions.
So it looked like he was intent on trying to make everyone’s opinions a reality.
Having taken a look at the draft of the plans, it made me a bit reluctant to speak, but even so, I presented the documents in my hands to him.
“I looked into the many ideas here. The things that we might be able to do and not… Well, we won’t even be able to do most of them, but…”
Tamanawa took the documents and flipped through it.
“With this, we have a clear look on the problems, right?”
Needless to say, there wasn’t enough time and money.
“Okay, so let’s think about how to resolve this.”
“No, wait a second. Really, that’s impossible. There’s only a week left.”
“Yeah, that’s why I think we can use external sources to order a BAND and the sort. See, I did a search, but they have a lot of those PRIVATE LIVE deployment SERVICES. If we can put that together, I think we can make a good EVENT befitting of us.”
Where in the budget was that going to come from…? That thought stayed lodged in my throat, but to someone whose thoughts coagulated internally, then it probably wouldn’t get through.
It’s not that Tamanawa didn’t listen to people because he did. As a matter of fact, he listened to everything.
That’s exactly why he would try to derive a conclusion that took into consideration every opinion.
“First, we’ll talk it over with everyone and decide on it at the next conference.”
Tamanawa’s intent seemed strong. It looked like he was being stubborn somehow. On the many occasions I talked with Tamanawa, his stance had yet to break down. Rather than stubborn, it should be called tenacious, no, delusional, perhaps? It was a mystery as to why he would go so far as to try to make every opinion a reality.
But that was when I realized.
It wasn’t all that long ago since Tamanawa became the student president. He had a rather impressive appearance that I misunderstood, but he was just like Isshiki in that it was only recently since he became president.
That’s why he wanted people’s opinions and would listen to them. Only after getting consent would he take action. To avoid problems from springing up, he would adjust them after the fact without turning it into a dispute.
For Isshiki who looked up to me for instructions, that mentality may have been similar. I couldn’t even act as a decent support for Isshiki who I knew only for a short while so there was no way I’d be able to support Tamanawa who I only met just the other day, much less change his mind as well which was even more impossible.
There was nothing more to ask for. Next time, decide it for sure; I pressed on him that single point.
“…If you don’t decide things for sure at the next conference, we won’t be able to finish the work. I’m counting on you there.”
Tamanawa answered and as expected, he still had a refreshing face. But right now, somewhere, it looked fishy.
I gave up on convincing Tamanawa and returned to my original place.
This isn’t good… I just lost all my options.
In the end, what we’d be doing would probably be decided at the next conference, but would it really? Judging by how the conferences have been up until now, I couldn’t say so confidently.
Whatever the case, at this stage, I lost all the things I could do. The only thing left was to just watch this event fall apart embarrassingly.
As I thought that while heading to my seat, halfway there I spotted Rumi doing work by herself.
I looked around, but there were no other elementary students around. They should’ve been busy doing the decorations for the tree. I was curious about what she was doing alone and approached her.
“…Are you making the decorations?”
Rumi put the folded paper in between the scissors and cut along the creases. It looked like she was making the decorations resembling snowflakes.
Judging from the situation, apparently the decorations weren’t actually all finished and that Rumi was finishing it up. Well, if you thought about it from the kids’ side, they’d rather work on something new like setting up the tree than the same repetitive task of creating things.
Still, for there to be no supervisor with an elementary student using a sharp tool was odd. I guess I’ll call out to her. Besides, since no one was watching, Rumi shouldn’t get weird looks even if I talked to her.
“Are you doing this by yourself?”
I crouched just a bit and spoke with the intention of talking to her, but Rumi didn’t answer. She just continued to place the folded paper in between the scissors.
…Well, not much I could do if she ignored me.
I gave up and just as I was about to leave by standing up, Rumi glanced at me. She then grabbed one more piece of paper and looked away from me.
“…Can’t you tell from just looking?”
She replied with a cheeky tone that sounded like she was making a fool of me. What’s with that time lag? The recent satellite broadcasting was a little bit faster you know.
As I thought what an uncute brat she was, the way she was doing the work by herself also left a good impression. At the same time, the reason the situation became like that came to mind.
Again, Tsurumi Rumi’s situation was a side effect of my actions as well. In that case, then the responsibility I had to uptake was there as well.
I plumped down next to Rumi and I grabbed a sheet of folded paper from the stack. I swiped the scissors that were lying on the floor.
Uhhh… Haa, since there was an outline of the crystal on the paper, I should cut along the lines… No, that’s wrong. It’s created by folding along the lines something like a cut out of the sort… Surprisingly, this was a rather complicated setup and I began to fold and cut the paper imitating what I saw.
When I did, the sound of cutting beside me stopped. When I looked, Rumi had stopped working and was looking at me in surprise.
“…What are you doing?”
“Can’t you tell from just looking?”
I answered her in the same way she did earlier. Rumi understood that and lightly glared at me with a frown.
“…You don’t have anything else to do?”
“That’s the thing, I really don’t.”
In other cases, there were plenty of things that needed to be done, but to my regret, there wasn’t a single thing left that I could do. The rest was left to whatever happens at the next conference.
When I said, Rumi looked at me with apathetic eyes.
“Oh, shut it.”
After that, it was just us two creating the remaining ornaments in silence.
I didn’t know who it was that suggested this, but creating these ornaments with the folded paper was more delicate than I had imagined and the work of cutting through the paper required quite a bit of concentration.
I found myself engrossed in the task and it felt like the noise coming from the Training Room had gone off somewhere.
But there, the sound of jogging footsteps increasingly got louder towards me.
Taking a look, Isshiki was jogging over here.
“Ah, I’m going to borrow the cutter, okaaay?”
She added a small excuse and grabbed several cutters lying on the top of the desk. It looked like they were tools needed for the tree decorations.
There, Isshiki noticed Rumi. Rumi was focused on her work that she didn’t pay Isshiki any attention. But Isshiki seemed to be interested somehow.
Isshiki waddled at me with her hands. What is it…? I bended my body over and Isshiki whispered into my ears.
“…Senpai, could it be you’re into younger girls?”
“Well, I’m not bad with them.”
It might’ve been because of my little sister, but I wasn’t particularly too concerned with girls this young. In fact, I get more nervous with people close to my age. Of course, if they were as young as Kawasaki’s little sister, I definitely didn’t know how to deal with them, but it was only that much. Ah, I was completely bad with younger boys though. Those brats, they’re way too like animals so words wouldn’t get through to them after all…
I answered, but Isshiki didn’t. Was it just a corpse2, I wonder…? I looked at her and Isshiki had a perplexed face.
“…Could it be that you were making passes at me just now, I’m sorry, I do like them older, but it really wouldn’t work out.”
“I obviously wasn’t saying that.”
My gosh, I feel like an idiot for answering her question so seriously…
When I shook my hands at her to go away because she was getting in the way, Isshiki let out “what’s with that treatment…?” as a complaint and she went back to the Training Room.
Once Isshiki was gone, the quiet time continued on again.
The sound of rubbing papers and scissors. Neither of us said a word as we continued to pile up the snowflakes made from the folded papers.
Eventually, we finished the last one and Rumi and I looked at each other.
“Guess we’re done now…”
After she answered, she let out a satisfied sigh along with a small smile. But when her eyes met with mine, she quickly turned away seemingly out of embarrassment.
I let out a small sigh and stood up.
“…Alright, I should go back.”
Still sitting, Rumi looked at me wanting to say something. However, I answered back without waiting for her.
“They’re probably still working on the tree, so why don’t you try going over there?”
When she answered, Rumi stood up and headed for outside of the Training Room. As for myself, I went back to my original seat.
What Rumi wanted to say, I didn’t hear it. That’s because my chest hurt from that smile.
When I see that, it made me aware of how I would try to relieve myself from something this trivial. Even though Tsurumi Rumi’s smile wasn’t something to reinforce my own actions.
There were certainly things that were saved from my past way of doing things.
But just that alone surely wasn’t enough.
My responsibility. Here I was, still not knowing that answer.
× × ×
We sent the elementary students home and continued working for a while longer. We eventually finished organizing the remaining documents and no longer had anything else to do.
The Student Council members of Sobu High looked disinterested and were checking over their work and recalculating the budget to pass the time. The Student Council of Kaihin Sogo High, on the other hand, were having some kind of enthusiastic discussion about something.
This is all I can do for today, huh?
“Isshiki, I don’t think there’s anything else for me to do. Mind if I leave?” I asked Isshiki who was sifting through a stack of papers nearby. She looked up at the clock and thought. Then, she spoke.
“Right… Why don’t we call it a day, then?”
“Sounds good. I’ll be leaving first.”
As Isshiki expressed her appreciation to me from behind, I left the training room.
When I made it outside of the community center, it had already stopped raining. The city lights bounced off of the puddles of water only to be absorbed by the running current in the roof eaves. But as pretty as this sight was, it looked bleak in some way.
I straightened the collar of my coat and turned my feet towards the bicycle parking area. I then realized that I didn’t bring my bike today. Since it was raining all morning, I had to use the train and bus.
As I walked to the station, MariPin came into view. Its large sign was radiantly lit up and when the automatic door opened, a warmth of air poured out from inside.
Speaking of which, Mari-Pin has a KFC, doesn’t it…? I totally forgot that I needed to make an order there.
I figured I might as well make the order for the party barrel that mom asked me to do, although this was earlier than usual. Our house was somewhat far from here, but we’re probably just going to warm it up in the oven toaster, anyway. I was the one picking up the food too, so there’s no harm in making the order here. That being said, for a chicken3 like me, picking up chicken was perfectly fitting!
I went inside Marin-Pia and it looked like there’s some kind of Christmas sale being held. The people carrying around large luggage were conspicuous. I made a quick survey of the interior and headed to the KFC after finding its location.
At this time of the year when Christmas was about a week away, KFC’s business thrived. There were already several people waiting in line looking to order their party barrels. Well, actually, this place was a convenient place to stop by for people on their way home from their company. The station’s pretty close, after all. I lined up and was able to make my order without any hassle.
My business here was done, so I just needed to go home.
I started off for the closest exit to KFC. Because of the constant incoming and outgoing people, the automatic door stayed open. Beside the people on the first floor, the people heading for the nearby escalator as well as the people getting off of it mingled together creating a large congestion.
As you’d expect from Christmas, the end of the year. It was a rather urgent atmosphere, huh… And then, I looked at the escalator.
When I did, in the wave of people descending down the escalator, I spotted Yukinoshita Yukino. Even though I should’ve just left as soon as possible, I stopped my feet in surprise.
Yukinoshita really stuck out even in this congestion. I wasn’t even looking for her, yet her figure quickly came into my view.
Yukinoshita seemed to have been shopping at a bookstore as she was holding a bookstore bag in her hands.
I was in the path she was heading in. Naturally, she noticed me as well and showed a surprised expression. Our eyes met and we both recognized each other’s existences. Trying to act as if we never saw each other here would be difficult.
I lightly moved my head to greet her and Yukinoshita who just got off the escalator and headed for the exit nodded back.
My pace where I had remained still since earlier and Yukinoshita’s, who walked with a brisk pace from the escalator, overlapped as we both went outside at almost the same timing.
The people heading on home on the main street and the coming and going shopping customers crowded the area.
After leaving the entrance on the KFC side, what quickly came into view in front of us was a small plaza. I wasn’t sure about the afternoons on days off or the warm season, but on a cold night where the rain had let up, no one had stopped there.
But that’s where we ended up stopping at for one reason or another.
Yukinoshita readjusted her coat and fixed her muffler to check its condition. I adjusted my muffler in a commanding fashion in the same way.
Was this a habit from being in the club recently? I could’ve just stopped myself, but as I was looking for words, I reflexively spoke up.
“Ahh, doing some shopping?” I asked.
“Yes… What about you? What are you doing here at a time like this?” Yukinoshita said with a cold tone, wearing the unchanging expression no different from normal.
Today, I left the club early as well. Therefore, to be here at this kind of time was unnatural. It was obvious to be asked that here. A coincidental meeting here was something I had wanted to avoid. Still, now that we had met, there was no way to avoid it.
As I scratched my cheeks, I looked away from Yukinoshita.
“…Yeah, I had a few things to care of here.”
I couldn’t say what it really was. That’s why I voiced out obscure and meaningless, generic words. But there wasn’t a lie in it.
Yukinoshita looked down and complied with a quiet voice.
“Is that so…”
She then raised her face. Her lips which she bit looked worried as whether to say or not say something shivered ever so slightly and her eyes that faced me lightly shook.
“…I see you’re helping with Isshiki-san with her request.”
It was a quiet voice lacking in ambition. Those words that sounded like it would crumble were you to touch on it were like the dropping of frost during the night. That’s why it felt terribly cold.
It’s likely that Yuigahama didn’t tell her. I think Yukinoshita probably guessed it herself. She may have tolerated it up until now, but now that she saw my suspicious actions in person, she probably couldn’t keep herself from asking about it.
“Ahh, well, I didn’t have much choice given the circumstances…”
No matter how ambiguous I was with my words, the truth wouldn’t change, but I couldn’t say it any other way. Denying it at this point didn’t have any meaning.
“You didn’t have to lie about it.”
Yukinoshita’s gaze was directed at the empty ground where only the cold wind blew past. She was probably calling my excuse regarding Komachi a lie.
“I’m not lying. It really was part of my reasons.”
“…You’re right, it certainly wasn’t a lie.”
When I said so self-deprecatingly, Yukinoshita combed through her hair blown by the cold wind with her hands.
Seeing that gesture, our exchange back then came to mind.
Yukinoshita Yukino doesn’t lie. I obstinately believed in that and when I learned that she doesn’t say the truth, I was disillusioned.
Disillusioned not of her, but of myself in the past for forcing that ideal on her.
On the other hand, how am I now? Am I not worse off than I was back then? It’s not a lie if you didn’t say the truth. But I swallowed that deceptive assumption and even made use of it myself.
It’s the kind of deception I should have abhorred and rejected. But I used it. It made me think of how repulsive I really am. That’s why the words I spoke sounded remorseful.
“…Sorry for taking up the request on my own.”
Yukinoshita closed her eyes and then quietly shook her head.
“I don’t mind. There isn’t anything I can do about what you do on your own time, nor do I have the right to. Unless…” Yukinoshita stopped. Her hands that held the bag strapped to her shoulders squeezed even harder. “You need my permission?”
Yukinoshita slightly tilted her head and her transparent eyes questioned me. Her tender voice wasn’t criticizing me. That’s why it felt unnecessarily painful. An oppressive feeling crawled its way to my chest.
“…No, I just wanted you to know.”
I spat out those words. I didn’t know what kind of answer would be correct. A correct answer might not have been prepared in the first place.
I moved only my eyes and looked at Yukinoshita. She was wearing that same smile she had in the club room that looked like she yearned for those long-past gone days.
“…I see. Then you don’t need to apologize. Besides, I’m sure it’s easier for Isshiki-san to work with you.”
Yukinoshita smoothly spoke in a slow, yet nonurgent voice. I stayed silent and listened. If I wasn’t allowed to apologize, was there anything else I could say?
Yukinoshita continued on. She did so without looking at me, but only at the fog-like clouds that were polluted by the orange lights of the far coast industrial area in the cloudy, starless sky.
“I’m sure you can resolve it all on your own. That’s how it’s always been, after all.”
I thought that wasn’t right. I hadn’t resolved anything up until now. Whether it was Isshiki or Rumi, in the end, I only made things vague which ultimately turned into a mess. As for saving them, it was absolutely nothing like that.
“I haven’t really resolved anything… Also, I’m only doing things alone because I’m alone, that’s all.”
I’ll do something regarding myself. It was nothing but a very natural thing to do. Whether I was thrown into it or it happened to fall into my hands, once I got involved, then it would eventually turn into my problem. That’s why I was only doing it by myself.
It was something engraved in me and by relying on someone so easily despite not knowing any other way to do things would only turn it into something worthless. In the first place, even if someone who was wrong took the proper measure, it’s obvious that they wouldn’t come up with a correct result.
That’s why I’ll do it myself. That’s all there was to it.
That should’ve been the same for Yukinoshita who I had been working together with in the club for more than half a year.
“Aren’t you the same?”
With confidence, no, with expectations, I said so. But Yukinoshita’s words hardened.
“No… I’m not.”
She hung her head, sealed her mouth, and squeezed on the sleeves of her coat. Peeking out from her loosened muffler was the movement of her white throat. It looked as if she was struggling within the wind. This might have been the first time I had seen Yukinoshita like this.
Yukinoshita continued looking downwards and she squeezed out her words.
“All I ever did was act like I could do anything… like I understood everything.”
Just who was she talking about? Was it her or could it have been me? Nevertheless, it was probably the same thing either way. Just who was the one who thought that they understood everything?
That’s why, I had to say something and even if I didn’t get my thoughts in order, I still had to speak up.
I tried to say something, but I couldn’t continue my words any further. Yukinoshita quickly raised her face and interrupted me with her usual composed voice.
“Why don’t you take some time off from the club? If you’re just being considerate of us, then that’s an unnecessary concern.”
Her expression that spoke in succession had a transparent smile again. It had a calmness that resembled a delicate bisque doll displayed in a glass case.
“I’m not, really.”
I knew that these words were not the ones I should’ve said. Even so, if I was silent here, then I understood that even that empty room would be lost.
However, a mistake stayed as a mistake. No matter how you tried to smooth it over, it wouldn’t be fixed.
Yukinoshita quietly shook her head. She loosely let the bag she had around her shoulders drop.
“No, you are… You have been, ever since that time… That’s why–”
As I intently listened to her vanishing voice, I waited for the succeeding words. But those words wouldn’t come out as Yukinoshita said something different.
“But you can stop forcing yourself now. If that’s all it takes to destroy something, it was never meant to be anything more… Am I wrong?”
In the face of that question, I went silent.
That was something that I believed in, but not anymore.
However, Yukinoshita believed in it. The thing that I stopped believing in during that field trip.
I made one lie during that time. That wish of not wanting to change and them not wanting to change was distorted by that lie.
Ebina-san, Miura and finally, Hayama.
They wished for an unaltered blissful everyday life. That’s why they lied little by little, deceived each other, and by going that far, it was a relationship that they wanted to protect. Having understood that much, there was no way I could deny that so easily.
The conclusion that they came up with, the choice to try to protect what they had was something I couldn’t think of as wrong.
I incorporated them into my own self and ended up giving my approval to it. I was pleased with those days in my own way and even I started to feel disappointed in losing them.
Even though I was fully aware that they would all disappear eventually.
That’s why my beliefs became warped and I lied to myself. There was nothing to replace the things that were important. Once you lost those irreplaceable things, you could never lay your hands on them a second time. Therefore, you had to protect them; that’s how I lied.
It’s not that I had protected something. I was just clinging onto the feeling of having protected something.
Just now, the question Yukinoshita shot at me was surely an ultimatum.
There was no meaning to things that were only superficial. It was the single conviction that we both once believed in.
───Did I still have that conviction?
I couldn’t answer. As I am now, I was already aware of the fact that trying to mend surface appearances wasn’t completely pointless. As one of the ways to do things, I understood that it existed. That’s why I couldn’t deny it.
Unable to say anything, Yukinoshita looked at me with lonesome eyes. Yukinoshita was quiet and seemed to be waiting for my answer. Still, when she understood it was a voiceless answer, she let out a small sigh and made a fleeting smile.
“You don’t need to force yourself to come anymore…”
Her spoken voice was terribly kind.
The sound of loafers echoed on the brick stairs. Even in this congestion, I felt like I could hear the sound of the footsteps becoming farther and farther indefinitely.
Yukinoshita disappeared into the crowd of people. She wasn’t that far away, yet it felt absurdly distant.
As I watched her off unable to say anything, I sat on the stairs of the small plaza.
When I noticed, a Christmas song was playing in the nearby store. In the plaza was a Christmas tree that was illuminated and decorated with a present motif ornament.
The contents of that box were probably empty.
As if it was like that club room. Even so, I still tried to reach out for that empty box.
Even though it wasn’t something I was supposed to have wished for.
× × ×
I was in a daze, thinking about nothing in particular.
I sat at the steps of the plaza and stared at the flickering illuminating lights on the trees.
My body grew colder and colder as I sat there and I eventually came to a decision. I stood up after puffing out a breath of white air.
I checked the time and it hadn’t been very long since Yukinoshita’s departure.
The station front was boisterous consisting of many people heading home, shoppers, and students on their back from their clubs.
But oddly enough, it felt quiet to me.
I left the plaza and stepped into the congestion of people. Even so, the voices around me and the Christmas carols didn’t register in my ears. The only thing I could clearly hear was my exhaling breaths.
I languidly walked down the sidewalk. I couldn’t move my legs forward as much as I wanted to, perhaps due to bumping against the crowd of people leaving the station.
There were people who had stopped in place as well as cars driving by on the street. It might’ve been because they were here to pick up people at the station or they were the cars going in and out of the nearby parking structure.
One car amongst them honked its horn. Don’t honk in the middle of city… I made an annoyed look in its direction as did a few others.
Ahead of where I looked was a black sports car with an oval front that wasn’t a very common sight in this area. That car slowly drove up to my side and the window on the left side of the car rolled down.
“Hikigaya, what are you doing here?
The face that appeared behind the window was Hiratsuka-sensei.
“Oh, well, I was on my way home… I’d ask you the same, sensei. What are you doing here?”
I somehow came across someone I wasn’t expecting at a surprising place like this. Upon asking, she showed a smile. “There’s only about a week left until the event, right? I figured I’d come to see how you guys were faring, but you guys were already done by the time I arrived. I was on my way home until I spotted you in the crowd.”
“Quite the all-seeing eyes you have, huh?”
“When you’re forced to do student counseling, you can’t help but notice students in their uniforms in the city.” She grinned as though in self-deprecation. Then, she motioned her hand towards the passenger’s seat. “Since we met, why don’t I give you a ride home?
“No, you don’t have to.”
“It’s fine, hop on board. A car’s already coming up behind me.” Hiratsuka-sensei said, hurrying me. I looked at the back and a car had driven up right behind her. And since she already asked, I had to get in.
Reluctantly, I tried to get in the car, but there was only one door on the left side. This must be one of those two-seater cars. I ended up going around to the other side. Speaking of which, the steering wheel is on the left side, huh…?
I got inside and took a seat. While I put on the seat belt, I glanced around the car. The seats and the dashboard were of fine leather while the odometers and the wheel were dressed with aluminum with a metallic shine. What the heck is this? This is crazy cool.
“Did you have a car like this? This isn’t the one from summer break…”
When she gave us a ride to Chiba Village back then, I recall her using one of those common minivans…
“Yeah, that one was a rental car. This guy is my beloved car.”
She happily hit the wheel with her fist as she spoke. The way she was boasting like that made her look so much like a handsome man. But for a single woman to own such a fancy looking two-seater car… I get the feeling that her interest in these kinds of things was one of the main reasons why she can’t get married…
The aforementioned beloved car made low revving sounds and drove off.
After giving her a rough idea of where my house was, she nodded and turned the wheel. The fastest way there was to take the national highway from here.
But when I looked at where the car lights were shining, we weren’t headed for the highway.
I looked over at the driver’s seat in confusion. Hiratsuka-sensei puffed the cigarette in her mouth as she looked forward and spoke.
“Do you mind if we take a little detour?”
I couldn’t really complain since I was getting a ride home. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but as long I managed to make it home, I didn’t mind.
In the meantime, I laid back against the seat and rested my chin in my hands with my elbows on the window frame. There seemed to be a slight onset of fog as there was an orange hue mixed in with the street lights visible from the car.
At my feet, the vents were releasing warm air. I yawned several times, the warmth comforting my chilly body.
Hiratsuka-sensei was speechless as she handled the wheel beside me, but instead, hummed with a quiet voice. The melody of her faint breaths resembled a lullaby that I found myself naturally shutting my eyes. She was handling the car so carefully despite being a sports car that the vibrations felt like a shaking cradle.
A night drive to an unknown destination.
As I was dozing off, the car eventually came to a gradual stop.
I made a quick look around and it was a road with nothing to it; what stood out were the equally spaced street lights and the lights of the cars driving past on the opposite lane.
“We’re here,” she said, and got out of the car.
Where is “here” exactly…? I thought, and got out as well.
Suddenly, my nose was assaulted by the smell of the sea. And then, after seeing the glow of the new city ahead, I guessed at the location. Nearby was the Bay of Tokyo and we were currently on top of the bridge hovering over the mouth to the Bay. For us Sobu High students, this was a spot where we would hold a marathon rally in February marked as a checkpoint. On the handrails of the bridge were the scribbles of couples and I remember scoffing at it very well.
When we went out to the sidewalk, Hiratsuka-sensei tossed me a can of coffee. I was close to dropping it due to how dark it was, but I somehow managed to catch it. The can I grabbed was still warm.
Hiratsuka-sensei leaned against her car and as she puffed her cigarette, she opened the can of coffee with one hand. That appearance of hers was oddly fitting.
“You look kind of cool”
“I am trying to look cool, after all.”
I was trying to poke fun at her, but she sent back a nihilistic smile. Oh please, I really will think you’re cool if you make a smile like that.
I turned towards the sea, finding it embarrassing to look at her any longer.
The seat at night was entrenched in darkness. Thanks to the miniscule source of light on the surface, I could see the water waving back and forth. It looked so terribly gentle that it made me think the water would never look that way anymore once it stopped.
While staring at the water in fixation, Hiratsuka-sensei spoke.
“So, how are things coming along?”
What exactly was she asking about? I wasn’t quite sure since there was no context, but given the season, I thought she was talking about the Christmas event.
“…Hmm.” She looked away to breath out smoke and then turned back. “What’s bad?”
“It depends on what you’re asking…”
“Well, try talking for a bit.”
“In that case…”
As I contemplated where to start, I opened my mouth.
First, the largest problem I needed to discuss was time. I don’t think it’s possible to turn the situation over with only one week left.
And another problem that followed was the causes of how we lost all that time. This obstructed our process. On one hand, Tamanawa unconditionally listened to the opinions of others. On the other, Isshiki continued to seek them. With these two at the center of everything, too much time was lost.
To improve the situation, we could either throw the task onto someone else or possibly adjust their mindset, but both seemed rather unlikely.
For the former, there wasn’t anyone used to the position in the first place. The people who were just helping were acting reserved thinking that they should avoid going out to the front disregarding the student council president. Even the student council members in question were probably thinking they should stay below the president.
As for changing Isshiki and Tamanawa’s mindset, that was difficult as well.
The time those two had been student president was shallow. That’s why their lack of experience was something that couldn’t be avoided. The problem was that as leaders, they didn’t have a vision. They couldn’t see a vision for success. But, instead, they could see one where they failed. They became the president and once they failed the burden with the big task of cooperating with another school and for the region, it would be over. They were probably afraid of that.
There were plenty of times where you’d trip over yourself on the big stage. Only the ones saying that failing was part of the experience were outsiders, for the actual deed was unpleasant to the person in question.
The people from the safe zone would speak of things like “try harder next time” and “everyone fails at some point”. They’d say things like that. But there were times when there wasn’t a next time because that first failure would carry over to the next opportunity, turning that into a failure as well. The words “it’s okay to fail” were truly irresponsible words. The responsibility of failure was always something of no worth to the person who failed.
For those with a considerable imagination, they easily understood that there were things that they shouldn’t fail at. It was likely that both Tamanawa and Isshiki were capable of that.
That’s why they sought for people’s opinions as well as incorporated them. All for the sake of sharing the responsibility when they failed.
It was doubtful anyone would say “it’s your fault” directly to someone. But it was likely they would do so internally to console themselves.
The acts of reporting, contacting, consulting, compromising, and confirming were to increase the number of related parties, all just to share one’s own responsibility. If they could turn the entire failure into everybody’s responsibility, they could reduce the burden on their hearts one by one.
They are unable to shoulder the responsibility themselves which is why they attempt to obtain the opinions of others.
And that was the reason why this event was stagnating right now. Who at the top or who at the bottom would shoulder the burden? Not deciding that right from the beginning was a mistake.
“Well, that’s more or less the situation…”
I wasn’t confident I managed to get all the issues across very well. But I talked for quite a bit of the things I thought of.
Hiratsuka-sensei listened to me in silence the entire time. As soon as I finished, she made a complicated look and nodded. “…You’re quite observant. You’re quite impressive when it comes to reading the mentality of others.”
That wasn’t true. Those were just the selfish thoughts I’d have were I in their place instead. I tried to deny it, but Hiratsuka-sensei interrupted me by erecting her index finger. She then looked into my eyes and slowly spoke.
“However, you don’t understand how they feel.”
My breathing stopped. My voice, my words, and even a sigh wouldn’t come out. It felt like she struck at the heart of the matter. I then realized the true identity behind the thing I, the thing Hikigaya Hachiman tried to understand, but couldn’t.
It was supposed to have been something I was told a long while back. “You need to consider the feelings of others more. Even though you understand everything else, why don’t you understand that?” It felt like I was told that.
Unable to answer, Hiratsuka-sensei spoke as she crushed her cigarette in her ashtray.
“A person’s thoughts don’t always reflect their feelings. That’s the reason why you end up with a result that seems unfair to you at times. And that’s why Yukinoshita, Yuigahama, and you come up with the wrong answers.”
“…Um, they’re not very relevant to this right now, are they?” I said, dumbfounded by their sudden mention. I wasn’t in the mood to talk or think about them right now. Hiratsuka-sensei shot me a glare.
“I was asking about them from the beginning,” she said, sounding displeased and lit another cigarette. That’s true, she didn’t exactly say what she was asking about before. I was the one who started off on the Christmas event.
“But either way, it all boils down to the same thing. The root of both problems is just one thing: it’s the human heart.”
Hiratsuka-sensei exhaled the smoke. Its shape turned hazy and quickly disappeared.
Heart. Feelings. Thoughts.
I followed the dispersing smoke with my eyes because I felt I might’ve been able to still see something.
But I was just being conceited. I ultimately didn’t see anything. I thought I was thinking about the feelings of others, but the only thing I could see was what was visible to my eyes. I acted on something that was the truth even though it was nothing more than an assumption. Just how was that any different from self-satisfaction?
If that’s how it is, I would never be able to understand.
“But… is that really something you can understand just by thinking about it?”
If it’s thinking about the merits, demerits, risks, and returns of things, I could understand. I know I could.
Desire and self-protection, hatred from jealousy. I could analyze the mentality of the actions that were grounded on those abundant, repulsive emotions. That’s because I had plenty of those ugly feelings inside of me. That’s why it was simple to imagine. If they were similar things, then there was still room to understand it. I could explain using logic.
But if there’s no logic, it’s too hard.
Without the concept of profit and loss, it was hard to imagine the feelings of people who went beyond logic and theory. I had too little to go on and above all else, I had committed too many mistakes up until now.
Good will, friendship, or even love; they were all things I had been mistaken with. I was sure that I was mistaken with them even now as I thought about them.
A mail would come, our bodies would come into contact accidentally, we would smile at each other when our eyes meet in class, a rumor that someone liked me running amok, we would talk a lot even though our seats being next to each other was just a coincidence, we would always go home at the same time; during that, I was mistaken.
Even… Even in the off chance that I was correct about them.
I didn’t have confidence I could continue believing in that. I could put aside all the agreeable judgment factors and pose every possible obstacle, but even so, that kind of thought wasn’t something I could call genuine.
If it was something continually changing, then the correct answer didn’t exist there. I thought you definitely wouldn’t be able to bring out an answer.
Hiratsuka-sensei listened to my words and made a faint smile and after that, she focused on me with a strict look.
“Don’t understand? Then think about it more. If all you can do is calculate, then keep going until you can’t. Come up with all the answers you can and eliminate them one by one. The last one is your answer.”
Her look was filled with passion. But what she was saying was irrational. No, it didn’t even have logic to it.
For someone who could only make conjectures through reason and calculation, then he just had to see through it all until he couldn’t anymore. She was saying to get rid of all the possibilities one by one through the process of elimination.
Just how inefficient and pointless was that? On top of that, there’s no proof that there would be an answer. I was both shocked and surprised that I couldn’t come up with any words.
“…There are still going to be things you won’t understand though, right?”
“Then you’re either reasoning things wrong or you’re overlooking something. That just means you’re calculating things wrong or you overlooked something. Sounds like you’ll have to change your approach,” she said, nonchalantly throwing in a joke. She stated so matter-of-factually that I let out a dry laugh.
“You’re so absurd…”
“Fool, if you could calculate your feelings, they’d all be digitized by now… The remaining answer you can’t calculate is what they call human emotion.”
The tone she used to speak those words was rough, but kind.
Like Hiratsuka-sensei said, I thought there were things that couldn’t be calculated. Even if you tried, there were things like the pi number or the infinitely recurring decimal that existed.
However, that wasn’t something you use to abandon your thoughts. It’s exactly because you didn’t have an answer that you continued to think. That was far from repose, as it was more akin to torture.
Just imagining made chills run up my spine. Unknowingly, I was adjusting the collars of my coat. When I did, Hiratsuka-sensei chuckled as she looked at me.
“Well, I imagine that’s the reason why I can’t get married because I made that kind of mistake with my reasoning… You see, my friend had a wedding ceremony some time ago…” she said, wearing a self-inflicting smile.
Had this been any other situation, I would’ve poked fun at her by saying something random.
But I didn’t feel like doing that today.
“Not at all, it just means your partners can’t see what’s good.”
“Huh…? Th-That’s rather out of left field, hm?” she mumbled embarrassingly with a look of surprise and looked away.
But I wasn’t flattering her. Because I felt from the bottom of my heart that if I was born ten years earlier, I would’ve fallen head over heels for her. Though, there really wasn’t any meaning in an assumption like that.
I lost touch with my thoughts and I couldn’t help but smile. Similarly, Hiratsuka-sensei laughed. After a moment, she cleared her throat. “W-Well, fine. I’ll give you a special hint as gratitude for your compliment.”
After saying that, she turned to me with an expression with sincerity unlike her smiling one earlier. In response to her persuasive tone, I straightened my back and faced Hiratsuka-sensei. When I sent a look indicating I was ready to listen, Hiratsuka-sensei slowly spoke.
“When you’re thinking, don’t confuse the things you should be thinking about.”
So she said, but it didn’t seem to be relevant. It was too abstract that it was more like a no hint. Hiratsuka-sensei tilted her head in contemplation when she looked at my face that didn’t seem to understand.
“I suppose… For example, let’s consider the reason why you’re helping Isshiki as an individual and not the Service Club. Is this for the club or is it for Yukinoshita?”
In the abrupt example, the sudden name she brought up startled me. Reflexively, I faced Hiratsuka-sensei and she had a bitter smile.
“I can tell just by looking. Yukinoshita came to inform me regarding the matter with Isshiki… She’s not one to talk about herself, but judging from her behavior, I thought that might’ve been it. Does the same apply to you?”
“Ahh, I don’t know about that…”
I shot out some words as I dug around for the words I should’ve said, but Hiratsuka-sensei didn’t wait and continued on.
“If you’re holding the same thoughts, then you would arrive at an answer that kept your distance from them in order not to hurt them… possibly. That was just an example, however.”
“…Well, I suppose so. It was just an example.”
It was just an example. I was told that and I answered with that. It was simply a case study and the things Hiratsuka-sensei said weren’t the truth for how I was now.
Hiratsuka-sensei then nodded at me in confirmation.
“But that’s not what you should be thinking about. In this case, what you should be thinking about is why you don’t want to hurt anyone. And the answer should immediately come to you. ───It’s because they’re dear to you that you don’t want to hurt them.”
As she looked at my eyes, Hiratsuka-sensei added those final words. It was as if she wouldn’t allow me to make an objection, let alone avert my eyes.
Hiratsuka-sensei’s face which was lit up by the orange street lights and the flashing by car lights looked lonesome somewhere. Then, she whispered in a soft, warmhearted voice.
“But you have to understand, Hikigaya. You can’t avoid hurting others. People unconsciously hurt others just by being alive. Whether you’re living or dying, you’re always hurting someone. You hurt someone if you decide to get involved with them, but at the same time, you still might end up hurting someone by deciding not to get involved with them…”
After saying that, Hiratsuka-sensei took out another cigarette. She stared at the cigarette and she continued further.
“But if it’s someone you don’t care about, you won’t even notice. What you need is awareness. It’s exactly because you care about someone that you’ll feel that you had hurt them.”
Once she finished, she finally put the cigarette in her mouth. The snapping sound of rocks rubbing against each other came from the lighter and it faintly lit up Hiratsuka-sensei’s face. Her eyes were closed as if she was asleep and it was a very gentle expression. She then let out a big breath along with smoke and added.
“To cherish someone means to have the resolve to hurt them.”
What she was looking up at was the sky.
I looked in the same direction as her, wondering what she was thinking at this moment. What was there was the slight glimpse of moonlight shining through the opening from the clearing of clouds at some point or another.
“That’s all you get for a hint.”
Saying that, Hiratsuka-sensei moved from the car she was leaning on and showed me a grinning smile. She then stretched.
“It’s because both parties think of each other that there are things they can’t obtain. However, that’s not something to be sad about. It might even be something to be proud of.”
That was very beautiful. But that was all there was to it. To be thinking about it yet unable to obtain it, for it to be in front of you yet your hands wouldn’t reach, that was surely painful. Then you might as well just give up on thinking about it and looking at it.
As I thought that, I couldn’t help but ask.
“…Isn’t that really painful?”
“Yeah, it’s painful,” Hiratsuka-sensei said. She took a step closer and leaned on the car again. “…But it’s possible. After all, I managed to get through it.” She grinned with apparent determination.
Hiratsuka-sensei said so with a grin, a smile that looked determined somehow. I doubt she’d tell me everything, but I’m sure a lot happened in the past for her. I wasn’t sure if it was okay for me to ask. Perhaps, once I became an adult, she’d talk to me about it? In noticing how I was looking forward to that, I instinctively averted my face and gave her an insult.
“You’re being kind of arrogant if you think others can do what you can, you know.”
“…Not very cute, are you?”
When she said so annoyingly, she brushed my head in an iron claw fashion. I could feel the pain in my skull and as I struggled, the strength suddenly went away. However, her hand was still on my head.
“…I’ll be honest with you.”
The tone of her voice was deeper than the one she used earlier to talk. Because my head was held in place, I could only move my eyes to look at Hiratsuka-sensei and she had a slightly sad smile.
“It really doesn’t have to be you. Someday, Yukinoshita will change and she might even meet someone that can understand her. There might be someone who can take the extra step for her. The same could be said of Yuigahama as well.”
Just when would that be? It seemed like something so far into the future that it wasn’t realistic at all, yet at the same time, it seemed so close that I felt it was awfully real.
“I’m sure you guys feel that your time now is everything. But that’s not true at all. It’ll eventually make sense to you. After all, that’s how the world is made.”
Those words were probably correct. Someday, somewhere, someone would definitely step over the line for her. When I thought about that unsteady truth, I recalled the slight pain inside me and I twisted my body to brush it off.
At some point, the hand on my head was gone and was now on my shoulder. Hiratsuka-sensei’s voice sounded much closer than it did before.
“…It’s just that I hope you could be that someone for her. I’m hoping that Yuigahama and you will be able to step over that line for Yukinoshita.”
“…Telling me that isn’t going to–”
In that instant when I tried to reply, Hiratsuka-sensei gently embraced my shoulder. The faint warmth from our closed distance caused me to lose my words. Stiffening up to that sudden movement, Hiratsuka-sensei looked into my face as she spoke.
“Your time now isn’t everything…. But, there are things you can only do now… It’s now, Hikigaya… Now’s the time.”
I couldn’t look away from her moist eyes. Right now, I didn’t have an answer that could answer only to that earnest look. That’s why I stood there, unable to answer.
Hiratsuka-sensei’s hands that held my shoulders had more power in it.
“Think, struggle, stumble, and worry───It’s not genuine otherwise,” she said, and quickly let go. Then, she wore her typical cool and refreshing smile, indicating the lecture was over. The stiffness in my body had finally disappeared.
The rain of words struck me and lodged in my chest were many, many voices. However, I wouldn’t spit those out. This was probably something I had to think myself, filter, and then swallow.
That’s why I’ll say something different and in place of gratitude, abusive words.
“…I don’t think you can call it genuine because it makes you suffer, though.”
“You really aren’t cute at all.”
Hiratsuka-sensei amusingly laughed and hit my head from behind.
“…Well then, why don’t we be on our way? Hop on board.”
After saying that, Hiratsuka-sensei sat at the driver’s seat. I answered with a “roger” and went around to the passenger’s seat.
In the middle of that, I quickly looked up at the sky.
The moon that should’ve peeked out in the clearing of the clouds was already hidden. The night sea didn’t see a single illumination and the chilly wind that pierced my cheeks was cold.
Even so, surprisingly, it didn’t feel as cold as it should’ve been as a feeling of warmth still lingered in my body.