Once it was night, chilly winds began to blow through Destinyland, positioned in a section of the coastline.
If the winds grew too strong, the fireworks would likely be suspended. But there hadn’t been an announcement regarding that, so the fireworks were probably going to be held as scheduled.
After finishing our shopping at the Pan-san store, we visited numerous other attractions, taking pictures for material. I was extremely dubious of whether these pictures would turn out useful at all, but ultimately, it’s not like there was much else we could do during the two days we had off. With that in mind, this wasn’t totally a fruitless endeavor even if the pictures were, at most, just reference material.
Constantly walking and standing caused fatigue to accumulate. While we had taken occasional breaks, the crowd didn’t allow us to move as we wanted, making every single one of us considerably exhausted.
Presently, we were wandering around hoping to ride one last attraction before the parade started. But unlike the afternoon, everyone’s pace was slower.
Naturally, I ended up at the back of the group, a habit that started up whenever I moved with a group. But thanks to that, I was able to get a glimpse of all the exhausted expressions of the group, whom as a whole spoke less and less.
Particularly, diagonally ahead of me, Isshiki talking to Tobe left an impression on me.
“…Tobe-senpai, do you have a second?”
“Ooh, what’s up, Irohasu?”
Isshiki spoke to Tobe in a low voice, carefully avoiding any unwanted attention, though Tobe’s voice was loud in response. She then pulled Tobe’s sleeve downwards, finding that problematic, and whispered into his ear.
“…Eh, ya serious?” Tobe said with a surprised expression, or rather, unpleasant. After making a complicated look and glancing around him, he lowered his voice and whispered something. Seeing Tobe who was normally loud secretly whispering like that was bizarrely unnatural.
Once their conversation ended after a few words, Isshiki lightly bowed to Tobe and she quickly scuttled to the front where Hayama and Miura were. It looked like she had asked Tobe for something. As for Tobe, he was incessantly pulling the back of his hair looking stumped.
After reaching the front, Isshiki stood next to Hayama with Miura at his side as well. It looked like we were going to continue straight ahead until we made it out of the plaza.
Hayama, not visibly exhausted, chatted with Isshiki, who nonchalantly came up to talk to him, while Miura walked sluggishly in exhaustion.
Following behind them were Yuigahama and Ebina-san who were yapping to each other, still energetic.
And then there was me. I was trailing behind them, currently set in slightly tired mode.
Yukinoshita, who was similarly positioned to me, was trudging along as well. For someone who wasn’t confident in her own stamina, here she was, in this crowd of people. She was the most visibly tired of us all.
She was heavily dragging her slender legs heavily even now. She suddenly let out a deep breath.
“Yes.” Yukinoshita answered briefly. She didn’t look at me, though I wasn’t sure if that was because she was too exhausted to, or that our distance was still somewhat strained.
“Ah, crap.” Yuigahama said as she was walking ahead.
I looked in her direction and the street that extended to the plaza that we were going to leave was just about to be barred away with ropes for the parade.
Yuigahama and Ebina-san noisily dashed off ahead and was barely able to make it past the rope that was about to be set in place. Both Yukinoshita and I, further behind them, were completely late in getting our start.
Both of us were separated from Yuigahama and the others by a single street. Noticing that we had fell behind, Yuigahama called out.
I lifted my hand lightly and answered. “Go on ahead. We’ll be right behind you.”
“Gooot it!” Yuigahama shook her arms and went after Hayama and the others.
I saw her off and turned to Yukinoshita. “…Okay, we should get going.”
“I suppose so.”
It wasn’t a big deal since we knew where they were heading. It was a little out of the way since we had to take a detour around the plaza, but that wasn’t bad. But with the street blockaded for the parade, our side was seeing an increasing density of people.
On top of that, it was night time and the lights of the attractions were all brilliantly lighting up. There were numerous people who stopped and prepared to take pictures as if they were paying their offerings. Because of that, we couldn’t proceed as we had wanted to.
It took a considerable amount of time to reach Spride Mountain, the next ride we planned to ride. I took a look at the entrance, but Yuigahama and the others were nowhere to be seen.
Yukinoshita tried looking around as well and spoke when she noticed that they didn’t seem to be in the area. “Shall we call them?”
“I guess so…”
I took out my cellphone and called the one number I knew from their group. It took three rings for the other side to finally answer.
“Yeees?” Along with Yuigahama’s voice were other noisy ones. They were probably Hayama’s and the others’.
“Where are you? We’re both here.”
“Ah, sorry, we already went inside.”
I thought they were going to wait for us, but I guess not… I received a light shock.
Perceiving that, Yuigahama said frantically, “It’s okay, it’s okay! If you take the FASTPASS line, we’ll meet up right away. It’s not very crowded right now too, so you’ll get through the line super quick. That’s why we ended up talking about how it’d be okay for us to go on ahead and stuff…”
I glanced at the waiting line while listening.
As she said, the line was shorter than usual. The display with the wait times indicated about thirty minutes. Considering how fast the line was moving now, it was likely going to be much shorter. Also, if we took the FASTPASS line as per Yuigahama’s suggestion, we should easily be able to meet up. Sometimes, there were people who would use it to go to the restroom while waiting in line, so there shouldn’t be much of a problem using it to meet up with others.
“Okay, see you in a bit.”
I hung up and looked at Yukinoshita’s face. “It looks like we’ll meet with them inside.”
Yukinoshita nodded back and we headed towards the line.
The FASTPAST line couldn’t be used at the beginning. There were set times in which the FASTPASS could be used and it was also closely watched. That’s why we ended up lining up in the normal line. But even in this line, we could smoothly continue on. This was likely due to the customers migrating towards the parade area.
“For now, I guess we should stay in this line until it stops moving.”
We’d go as far as we could in this line. From there, if we took the FASTPASS line like switching over traffic lanes, then we should be able to find Yuigahama and the others immediately.
As we stayed in line, it progressed further and we had already covered a lot of ground.
And then, there was a group of seemingly high school students from some high school wearing gakuran1 uniforms at the front in a dispute. When it was the opening of the parade and fireworks, the young people waiting for their chance would dash with all their might so they could ride the attractions over and over again. It looked like that their dashing was the main cause of the dispute. They were quarreling about who was first and who had cut them and the sort.
The staff immediately flew in and they were all asked to leave. The line continued solemnly with that warning in place.
Yukinoshita looked at the faces of the people at front and at the back.
“It doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to use our friends as an excuse to move up ahead…”
“Yeah. I’ll try calling her one more time…” I took out my phone and pressed the redial. But no matter how many rings went by, there was no answer. “And she’s not picking up…”
Yuigahama’s number was the only one I actually knew… I had given my number to Hayama before, but I never got his.
“Do you know any of the other guys’ contact info?”
I asked Yukinoshita just to be sure, but she shook her head. Figures… I tried calling several more times as we reluctantly stayed in line and with the line moving forward, we could already see the lower level. Once we went down that curb, we would arrive at the boarding area.
“At this rate, it’d be faster to just get on the ride than go back. They might be waiting at the exit, anyway.”
“…I-I suppose so.” Yukinoshita answered with a voice that sounded agitated.
When I glanced over at her, she was quietly looking away.
I asked her, but she didn’t respond.
…Wait. Now just wait a second. Wait, wait. It feels like I’ve seen this several times before… A little concerned, I asked Yukinoshita, “Can I check something with you?”
“What could that be?” Yukinoshita looked at me with a tense expression.
I looked at Yukinoshita’s eyes and slowly asked her while paying attention to her reaction, “Could it be you can’t handle this kind of stuff?”
The both of us still quiet, we stared at each other expressionlessly. And then, Yukinoshita’s gaze smoothly slid to the side. “…It’s not that I can’t.”
Yeah, I remember her saying something evasive like that before… She said the same thing when I told her she couldn’t handle dogs.
Ahh, I knew it was totally something like that. It’s totally the usual Yukinoshita pattern. Thinking back on it, I did recall her staggering on her feet after getting off SpaMt. It’s not that she couldn’t handle crowds, but that she couldn’t handle rollercoasters.
“You really need to say that stuff ahead of time… We’re going back.”
“But you’re not good with this, right?” I asked.
Yukinoshita frowned and with emphasis, said, “I said I was fine, didn’t I?”
“Don’t be dumb. It’s not something you need to be so stubborn about. You don’t need to force yourself, either.”
It’s because I thought that way that my words came out harsher than normal.
Then, Yukinoshita’s shoulders shook and she dropped her gaze. “…That’s not it. You really don’t need to be concerned about me. I’m fine, really.”
Her voice sounded much more childish compared to her usual tone. No, it’s just because she only appeared to look mature, but in reality, she was simply a girl that was my age.
Yukinoshita continued her words, stuttering and clumsily. “I wasn’t very confident at first, but when Yuigahama-san was with me, I was fine… That’s why, I’ll be fine, I think.”
Yukinoshita’s reason wasn’t very straightforward nor was it well-grounded. Compared to her typical logical attitude, she wasn’t really saying anything relevant. However, but it was this illogicality that I could feel it was how she really felt. If so, then that was something I had to respect.
“Well, if you say so…” I said.
Still, Yukinoshita didn’t lift her head. Despite being bad with rides, she totally didn’t look like she was going to be okay boarding this… I scratched my head looking for the words I needed to say.
“Well, just do this. Just relax more when you get on the ride. It’s not like we’ll die or anything.”
“Y-You’re right,” said Yukinoshita, facing downwards. She then glanced upwards at me with upturned eyes. “…We really won’t die, right?”
Just how anxious are you…?
“Don’t worry. At the very least, not from what I’ve heard,” I said, and the line progressed forward with Yukinoshita also trudging along. After passing the last curve, we were at the boarding platform.
It was then our turn to get on the ride.
First, I boarded the ride. Next was Yukinoshita and she climbed on to the ride with clenched fists. Her arms were slightly trembling from excessive strength.
Even when the ride slowly started off, Yukinoshita didn’t relax her posture.
Eventually, a fancy song played as the attraction’s tale of Br’er Weasal and Br’er Ferret2 unfolded. The weasel robot was mechanically clattering while blinking. But, Yukinoshita was too focused on what was ahead of her that she didn’t have the luxury to pay attention to her surroundings.
“Um… We’re not going to drop yet, so you can to let go of the bars.”
“Y-Yes. That’s, certainly true…” Yukinoshita sighed, finally releasing her grip on the bar.
“You really are bad at this, huh…?” I asked, but I honestly didn’t think she’d be this scared.
Yukinoshita then made a self-deprecating smile. “Yes. Long ago, nee-san… would do all kinds of things, so…”
“Hm? Oh, your sister, huh?”
That person again…
Yukinoshita Haruno. While she was Yukinoshita’s older sister, she was also a perfect, super human demon that surpassed her little sister. How should I say this, Yukinoshita-san, these days, you don’t seem so absolutely perfect anymore… I mean, you still, by far, excel more than everyone else, though.
As if our little chat had calmed her down, Yukinoshita inspected the attraction. The frogs were frolicking around with spurts of water rising.
Yukinoshita slowly spoke as though going along with the slow progression of the ride. “It was back when I was younger. Every time we visited places like these, nee-san would always bother me.”
“I can kind of imagine that…”
Haruno-san was already meddling with her little sister now, so it made sense she was already active a long time ago. Considering this was when they were kids, this was no doubt on the level of bullying whenever she played around with Yukinoshita.
When I said that, Yukinoshita chuckled. This may have been the first smile she had shown since we got on the ride.
“Yes. She would shake the Ferris wheel, pull my hands off the bar on the coasters, and do all kinds of things other things. There’s also the time where she would spin the coffee cup that I stopped… Nee-san back then really looked like she was having a lot of fun…”
Yukinoshita’s expression would gradually grow dull as she spoke. Just listening made even me feel disheartened too. Isn’t Haruno-san pretty much the culprit for the things that Yukinoshita was bad at?
“Nee-san’s always like that…” Yukinoshita said briefly.
The ride advanced through the dark, dark course. The vulture robot narrated with ominous words. I looked up past the vulture and the ceiling opened, the night sky peering through the opening. The ride ascended, all the while clattering and clattering. We were just about to reach the peak. Yukinoshita went stiff.
Just when I thought the ride was going to instantly plunge downwards, it made a sudden stop, lining parallel to the horizon.
We could then see the outside of Destinyland. The attraction that resembled a sea volcano was illuminated brightly with red and puffed out smoke and the swarms of hotels gorgeously glowed with the lights of Christmas. Far in the distance, we were met with the night view of the new city center.
And most gorgeous of all, the many lights that twinkled emulated that of a full starry sky, and the nightscape of Destinyland expanded out and beyond right below our eyes.
In seeing all of that, Yukinoshita let out a short breath.
Halting my turned gaze was the White Wall Castle, lit with colors of white and blue.
But also lit was the coat of pure white that embraced Yukinoshita, and her smiling visage that was on the verge of bursting into tears.
In gazing at that priceless, yet transient figure, my breath was taken away.
Yukinoshita released her hand from the bar and squeezed the cuff of my coat. In that instant that our hands touched, it felt as though something had taken hold of my heart.
Before long, I was visited with a pleasant floating sensation, a sensation as though I’d continue to fall forever.
“Help me someday, okay?”
Her soft-spoken voice dissipated along with the descending wind, making me unable to reply.
That may have been, I think, the very first wish that Yukinoshita Yukino had ever uttered.
× × ×
After I walked for a little bit from the exit of Spride Mountain, there was a shop.
I bought a drink at random from there and went back on the street I came from.
After we got off the ride, Yukinoshita was staggering on her feet so she was resting on the bench that was immediately outside the exit.
When I made it back to the bench, Yukinoshita seemed to have bought some kind of thin oblong plastic pouch when I wasn’t around and was putting it away in her bag. After she noticed me, she closed her bag and placed it on her lap.
I held out the Christmas version drink in a Pan-san bottle case I just bought from the store and Yukinoshita took it meekly.
“Thank you… How much was it?”
“No, it’s fine. You don’t need to bother. It’s awkward taking money from a sick person.”
“I can’t have that.”
“The ambulance doesn’t take money, right?”
“The firefighters get proper compensation though.”
“The citizens of good will do it free of charge. I’m doing this for self-satisfaction, so just take it.”
“Nothing, but sophistry…”
She squeezed the bottle with both hands while talking in resignation. After that, she gently stroked the shapely Pan-san portion of the bottle with her fingers.
“…Something like this happened before, didn’t it?”
I opened the coffee I bought from the shop earlier as I spoke. Yukinoshita lightly twirled the straw with a bamboo motif that came with the Pan-san bottle.
“Yes. Nee-san was there at the time too.”
If I remember correctly, that should’ve been the first time I met Haruno-san. Speaking of which, that time was when I forcefully pushed the plushy I won from the crane game onto Yukinoshita. We encountered Haruno-san immediately after that.
“I was really surprised because you suddenly pointed out accurate things about nee-san…”
She made an abrupt ironic smile as if she was laughing in reminiscence as she spoke.
“It’s just what I thought after looking at her. Besides, she doesn’t smooth it over even when she’s being obvious about it.”
“I suppose so. But I think that’s also nee-san’s charm. Since back then, nee-san was always loved by a lot of people. Even with that personality… No, it’s because of that personality that she was expected of many things as well as being loved and doted on… And she answered to all of that.”
Yukinoshita spoke with a voice that was somehow enthusiastic and depending on how you listened to her, you could’ve thought that she was proudly boasting of her older sister. But that enthusiasm quickly sizzled away.
“I conducted myself like a doll behind her. Because of that, I was told I was obedient and a good, unproblematic girl, but… But I knew… That they were saying a lot of things like how I was unsociable and how I was lacking in charm underneath it all.”
As I made short agreeable responses to Yukinoshita, I sipped my coffee again. It warmed my body, but it tasted awfully bitter.
Obedient, not problematic, and a good girl. Those were probably words that trapped her.
“I was told that too. Unsociable and charmless… Actually, I still get told that even now. By Hiratsuka-sensei.”
“Aren’t you more along the lines of impudent or cheeky or garbage or so?”
“Hey? Wasn’t that last one kind of different?”
When I told her, Yukinoshita cheerfully laughed. Before long, that turned into a gentle smile.
“Both you and nee-san are consistent in your actions and that’s why I think you’re seen like that… But I just didn’t know how I was supposed to act.”
Yukinoshita quietly looked up at the sky. And up there weren’t stars, but the orange light emitted by the lamps. Numerous of them lined up one after the other and were danced from the blowing wind.
“I think in that sense, Hayama-kun and I were definitely the same. It’s because we’ve always been watching nee-san.”
I was surprised when she suddenly brought up Hayama’s name. But Hayama was someone who had known the Yukinoshita sisters far longer than I have and probably even on a closer level too.
That was a domain that I still had no knowledge of.
It’s just even so, Yukinoshita Yukino and Hayama Hayato. I was aware that Yukinoshita Haruno was always at the place where these two would arrive at.
One who continued to project her admiration and enmity to this day.
One who tried to get closer from admiration only to be assimilated to this day.
Just how was Yukinoshita Haruno reflected in the eyes of these two?
And just how did those two see each other?
I started wanting to ask her about it, but even so, I didn’t. I washed away the mouth that was about to say something with the black coffee and jumped into another topic.
“Do… you still want to be like her?”
At some point during the Culture Festival, Yukinoshita mentioned she held admiration of her in the past.
“I wonder. I don’t feel that way right now, butt… I think it’s because nee-san has something that I don’t.”
“And you want that?”
Yukinoshita quietly shook her head.
“No, it’s just I wondered why I didn’t have what she did. And then, I became disappointed in myself for not having it.”
I felt like I could understand that feeling. Aspiration, envy, and jealousy would eventually be connected to disappointment. Understanding from watching others was always just your own deficiency.
Yukinoshita’s gaze dropped to her hands.
“It applies to you as well. You also possess something that I don’t… We weren’t similar in the least, it seems.”
We weren’t similar in the least. And yet, there was this aspect close to being half-hearted that repeatedly led me into thinking selfishly, misunderstanding, and getting mistaken about my feelings of myself.
“That’s why, I felt I wanted something else.”
After she said that, Yukinoshita adjusted the collars of her coat and directly faced me.
“It’s only after I realized there isn’t anything I can do that I began wanting something that nee-san and you don’t have… Because if I had that, I thought I can do the saving.”
Just what exactly was it that she needed and what was it that she could save? I wanted to fill in those lacking words so I asked her.
However, Yukinoshita wouldn’t tell me.
“…Oh, what ever could it be, I wonder?”
Yukinoshita wore only a smile, a girlish smile that was as though she was testing me.
Perhaps the answer to that question was her “reason”.
Why did Yukinoshita Yukino try to become a candidate during that student council election?
Or possibly, what was it that she had yet to talk about or that I didn’t try to ask about?
Here I was not asking her about the meaning of those words in that instant when that ride was going to fall. And Yukinoshita didn’t touch on it either. She talked about something else in bits and pieces as if substituting for that.
It was like that mistaken wish that someone had where you could understand even if you didn’t talk or ask about anything.
I drank the rest of the coffee that was already lukewarm. When I did, Yukinoshita who saw that with her own eyes stood up.
“I feel a lot better now, so we should be on our way.”
I answered her and we headed for the plaza. The plans after this should’ve been to watch the fireworks from the plaza.
The parade was going to end soon. Once that happened, the street that was blocked off would open up.
× × ×
I called Yuigahama and got from her a general idea of where we would meet.
Yukinoshita and I walked our way up to the front of the White Wall Castle not talking about anything in particular. When the parade ended, we were able to move around more freely than earlier because the number of customers around had decreased. Since Yukinoshita also had time to rest, her footsteps looked light as well.
And when we arrived at the plaza, we looked around for Yuigahama.
“Ah, Hikki, Yukinon. Over here!”
Yuigahama waved her arms with a cellphone in one hand. It looked like she was about to call us just now. Once we got together, Yuigahama quickly clapped her hands together and lowered her head.
“Sorry! For going on ahead and stuff.”
“It’s not like it was a big problem.”
When Yukinoshita replied with a smile, Yuigahama patted her chest in relief.
“Well, the others are here too, so I’d feel bad for making them wait on us. Anyway, did you take pictures of the parade?”
“Ah, yeah! Got it all down!”
Yuigahama fiddled with the digital camera and showed the screen as she spoke. For now, we were still here to collect material, so I wanted to at least get pictures of the entirety of this Christmas event.
“See this, Yukinon. Look, look!”
“…Do you mind if I check over the data for a moment?”
When Yukinoshita murmured in a small voice, she clicked her tongue and pressed against her bosom. Apparently she was rather frustrated for missing the Pan-san parade. No, um, if you just said so, we could have gone over there?
The two started to liven up from one thing to another as they looked at the digital camera and well, that’s nice, but just where were the others?
It was almost time for the fireworks to start.
And when I scanned over the plaza, there was a voice with a familiar noisiness.
“Huuuh? Where’s Hayato?”
“Aah, Yumiko. Come over here for a sec.”
“Wait, Tobe, what?”
Tobe pulled Miura along and headed in our direction. And following them from behind was Ebina-san.
“Eh, aah. Well, ya know, what to say? This is like an awesome spot, kinda? Ebina-san would prefer it over here, yeah?”
“Eh? Sure, although anywhere is fine really.”
It felt like Ebina-san’s barrier against Tobe’s consideration was really strong…
Anyway, with them here, we were mostly all gathered. Now the remaining ones were Hayama and Isshiki… It was probably because I was looking around that Yuigahama did the same as well and looked around the area. She then asked Tobe.
“Tobecchi, where’s Hayato-kun and Iroha-chan?”
“Eh, aah… Well, they’ll be straight on over here soon.”
Tobe was saying it kind of vaguely, but, well, in this guy’s case, he would normally just say one random thing or the other, after all… I mean, he’s a good guy and all though.
In the meantime, the street lamps and the light decorations around the plaza’s perimeter dimmed. Classical music then started to play.
Yukinoshita looked up at the sky above the White Wall Castle after she spoke. It looked like that area was where the fireworks would go off. As you’d expect from the holder of the year pass, very knowledgeable.
Yuigahama and I looked in the same direction as Yukinoshita.
When we did, the many colored rings of light bloomed profusely in the transparent winter sky. Speaking of fireworks, they tended to be something usually done in summer, but to see the fireworks flare up in the sky with Orion, expand, and disappear was a surprisingly strange thing to see.
“It’s kind of nostalgic, huh?”
Next to me was Yuigahama who quickly whispered into my ears.
A shiver went up my spine and when I turned my head, Yuigahama was clapping her hands as she went “oooh” seemingly forgetting what she had said just now. Um, you see, the thing is that my focus is completely directed to the surface of the earth right now, so I can’t concentrate at all on the fireworks you know. Lawsuit.
As I didn’t feel like looking up, I spotted familiar looking physiques in my field of vision that flickered from the fireworks.
While the fireworks exploded, the expanding light illuminated the two people shrouded in the darkness.
Hayama and Isshiki were watching the fireworks from a place a little further away from us.
Along with the flickering of the fireworks was the shortening of the distance between the two. When I realized it was like I was watching a shadow play, I was watching only them.
The final burst of lights poured down the night sky.
And in the illuminated plaza was Isshiki who was slowly distancing herself from Hayama as she faced downwards. The remaining Hayama looked up at the sky while Isshiki walked off in the opposite direction.
The music stopped and the radiance of the attractions and the light of the placed street lamps returned.
In the group of customers who sighed in satisfaction, only Isshiki alone looked like she was suppressing something as she squeezed her lips together and she ran past us.
Tobe was the first to notice when she went right past us and he called to her back.
“Hold up, Irohasu!”
Still, Isshiki continued on without turning around and disappeared into the congestion of people.
“Hold on a sec, I’mma go look for her.”
Tobe ran off in a panic. It looked like Miura guessed at what was going on after seeing that. She coiled her hair with her fingers and let out a deep sigh.
“Haa… I’ll go too.”
“Okay, I’ll look as well.”
Ebina-san followed after Miura. Yuigahama then lightly raised her hand to that.
But Miura stopped her there.
“Yui and uh, Yukinoshita-san? should wait here, okay? Since she might come back and stuff. Also, if I find her, I’ll call you so let Tobe and Ebina know.”
When she brushed off her hair annoyingly, she called to Yuigahama and Yukinoshita. Although she didn’t look at all motivated, she handed out explicit instructions.
When Yuigahama answered, Miura nodded and started walked off quickly.
As Yukinoshita saw Miura go off in the distance, Yukinoshita tilted her head.
“Did something happen?”
Well, the only thing Yukinoshita was looking at were the fireworks after all…
If my conjecture was correct, then only one thing came to mind given the circumstances.
Destinyland during Christmas, the fireworks following the parade, at the front of the White Wall Castle, the time created for just those two, and finally, Tobe’s attitude.
Amassing these was worth a yakuman3. It was likely Isshiki confessed to Hayama. That was the only thinkable thing.
“…Well, I’ll get going too.”
“Okay, got it.”
Yuigahama replied and Yukinoshita made another doubtful head tilt in puzzlement.
However, where I was going wasn’t to Isshiki Iroha. Miura could probably handle Isshiki more skillfully. It’d be a lot better for her to go instead of me.
But there was just one person that I thought I definitely had to go see.
Even after Isshiki left Hayama, he didn’t approach us. That meant that he was waiting.
I trekked down the road as the scenery of that shadow play flashed by in my head.
And in the darkness separate from the White Wall Castle was Hayama.
At the moment when everyone’s attention was focused on Isshiki, Hayama slightly walked to this side street.
When Hayama noticed me, he made a seemingly sad smile.
Hayama leaned against the fence of the plaza and let out a small sigh.
“…I guess I did something bad to Iroha.”
“How selfish. If you’re going to feel guilty afterward, then you should’ve just dated her instead of turning her down.”
When I told him, Hayama made a troubled smile.
“That’s impossible. You have a bad personality to be saying that even though you know what’s going on.”
I had a lot of confidence concerning that point. The corners of my mouth distorted into an unpleasant smile reflexively.
Even so, Hayama didn’t get particularly upset and looked at me with eyes that looked stricken with melancholic grief.
“…Did you know? About why Isshiki confessed to me?”
“No, there’s no way I’d know that.”
But the way Hayama said that was as if up until now, he was conducting himself in a way so that Isshiki wouldn’t confess to him.
“Did you know? About Isshiki, er… her feelings or whatever.”
His answering voice was gloomy. There wasn’t a hint of conceit or arrogance in it. Only the feelings of regret were mixed in it. So that’s how it was…
Hayama was someone who couldn’t maintain a relationship with someone unless he stayed ignorant to their feelings. When a person’s feelings didn’t get across, then they would distance themselves and leave. That wasn’t entirely Hayama’s fault, but in order to avoid it, Hayama had to sidestep those feelings altogether.
That was something clear as day during that incident during the field trip as well. And it was that time that I became sympathetic to that kind of thinking. I ended up understanding it. It was something I couldn’t call a mistake. However, I knew that to avoid things was something that would turn into hurting others.
“If you knew, then isn’t it just a lack of resolve on your part?”
When I said so, Hayama lightly shook his head.
“…That’s not it. I’m honestly happy about Iroha’s feelings. But that’s not it. They were probably not for me but…”
Hayama’s staggering voice didn’t make any sense. Still, Hayama didn’t continue his words even as I waited and jumped into a different topic.
“…You’re pretty amazing. The way you just change the people around you… I’m sure Iroha was the same way too…”
“Haa? What’s with the sudden praise?”
When I said that, Hayama made a dry laugh.
“Haha, that’s not it… I told you, didn’t I? I’m not that good of a guy as you make me out to be.”
Hayama said those same words he told me back on campus. He then looked down and let out a deep sigh.
“Praising you… is for my sake.”
“Why would you do that…?”
When I looked at Hayama in puzzlement, Hayama lightly narrowed his eyes and glared at me.
“It’s probably the same reason why you continue to arbitrarily decide that I’m a good guy.”
“…It’s not like I have a reason at all. I’m just saying what I see.”
Hayama replied with a cold voice.
───Yeah, it’s not that. It was something I realized a long time ago. Hayama Hayato wasn’t just your everyday good guy. That thin smile of his was all the proof you needed.
Hayama retracted that smile and stood up from the fence he leaned against.
“I’ll head on home first. Let everyone know for me.”
“Mail them yourself.”
“…Right. See you.”
Hayama made a bitter smile and lightly raised his hand.
And then, without turning back, Hayama Hayato disappeared into the depths of the darkness.
× × ×
The interior of the train that was heading home was silent. Of course, part of it was due to the built up exhaustion, but the biggest reason for this quietness was because Tobe who would talk to Isshiki about various things while being considerate was missing.
It wasn’t just Tobe who was missing as Miura and Ebina-san weren’t here either.
The lines those three transferred to go home was from the Musashino Line to the Nishi-Funabashi Line while Yukinoshita, Yuigahama, and Isshiki took the Keiyou Line, a different route. There wasn’t much of a difference in either line for me, but it was a lot of trouble transferring to Nishi-Funabashi so I decided to go with the Keiyou Line.
Although the train was somewhat packed and there weren’t seats you could sit in, it wasn’t comparable to during the school and work commuting rush. Yuigahama and Yukinoshita would occasionally talk about something, but other than that, they would look outside the window.
When the train proceeded on for about twenty minutes, we were just about to arrive at the Kaihin-Makuhari Station which was Yukinoshita and my stop.
“Well then, I’ll be getting off here.”
Yukinoshita stood before the door after she spoke. Following her was Yuigahama.
“Ah, I’m getting off here too.”
“Aren’t you a bit further ahead?”
When I asked her, Yuigahama grabbed Yukinoshita’s arm.
“Tomorrow’s a day off, so I’m going to stay at Yukinon’s place today.”
“Ah, that so.”
Well, even before, Yuigahama tended to stay at Yukinoshita’s place quite often so given the opportunity, then all the more. Their relationship returning back to how it used to be was something to welcome.
That being the case, I had to get off this station as well. But if I did, then Isshiki would be left alone in the train.
“Isshiki, which station are you getting off at?”
I asked her, but Isshiki didn’t respond. Instead, she pulled at my blazer’s sleeve.
She then silently held out her bag of souvenirs.
“Senpai. It’s super heavy.”
“It’s because you bought too much…”
I took the bag as I spoke. When I did, Yuigahama suddenly smiled.
“…Uh huh, I think that would be better.”
“Isshiki-san. Make sure to be very careful.”
Yukinoshita-san? Didn’t that kind of mean something else?
When we arrived at Kaihin-Makuhari, the two got off the train. Isshiki and I who were left stayed on the train for another three stations.
The station we would get off was the Chiba harbor. From there, we would transfer to the monorail. There weren’t very many customers using it at this time right now, so the only ones riding were just us.
The monorail proceeded through the night city brilliance. That same floating sensation from staying suspended at a high altitude I wasn’t used to was as if I was riding another attraction.
Isshiki muttered with a sigh as she looked out the window.
“Haa… I guess it was no good…”
“…No, you should’ve known that going at him right now wasn’t a good idea.”
My association with Isshiki was short and that applied to Hayama as well since it wasn’t like they were really friendly. Even so, I didn’t think those two would go through the trouble of closing their distance like that.
With her stare still directed at the window, Isshiki spoke while looking down on the city.
“…I mean, what else could I do? I was all excited and stuff.”
“That’s surprising. I thought you weren’t the type of person to get pushed around by the atmosphere like that.”
When I told her, Isshiki’s face that was reflected on the window turned into a small smile.
“I’m surprised too. I thought it was going to be a lot stiffer too.”
“…Yeah, pretending to have a mind full of love makes you pretty clever or something.”
As I tried to continue talking, Isshiki suddenly turned her head and interrupted me.
“I wasn’t talking about myself… I was talking about senpai.”
Again, she flung the conversation in a different direction. I thought we were talking about Isshiki, but where did the conversation fly to? Or was she talking about another senpai? Then again, why was I the only one she called senpai, anyway…? Was it because she couldn’t remember my name?
As I thought about various things, Isshiki fixedly looked at me. As I thought, she was talking about me. Isshiki laughed and showed a smile.
“There’s no way I wouldn’t be moved after I saw that.”
When I asked her, Isshiki corrected her posture seriously and sat up straight. She slowly looked at my eyes and spoke.
“…I’m starting to want something genuine too.”
My face turned red to those words. That’s right. When we left the club room that time, we happened to meet Isshiki. I reflexively pushed against my brow.
“You were listening…?”
“Your voice was leaking out like normal, you know.”
When Isshiki nonchalantly replied, I spoke back with a pathetic voice.
“…Please forget it.”
“I won’t… I can’t.”
Isshiki answered with an expression that was more earnest than normal.
“That’s why I thought I’d try going forward.”
I don’t know what genuine thing she wanted. It wasn’t necessarily the same thing as the illusion that I had. In the first place, that might not have existed. But Isshiki Iroha most certainly wished for something. I thought that was very noble of her.
I couldn’t really think of any worthwhile relieving words, but I looked for the words to tell Isshiki.
“Well, you know. It’s basically that. Don’t worry about it. It’s not like it’s your fault anyway.”
When I did, Isshiki blinked her eyes in puzzlement. After that, she scooted away to take some distance from me.
“What are you doing? Are you making passes at me while I’m heartbroken? I’m sorry, it’s still not possible just yet.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
Just how did she rationalize that…? Was this some kind of anagram of “don’t worry about it” or something? When I was taken aback, Isshiki coughed and closed the distance she took.
“Besides, it’s not over yet anyway. In fact, this is a more effective way of approaching Hayama-senpai. People will sympathize with me and the people around me will act reserved too, you knooow?”
“…R-Right. So it’s something like that.”
It’s like, as expected of Isshiki, huh…? When I spoke both impressed and surprised, Isshiki laughed as she puffed out her chest and continued on proudly.
“That’s what it is. Besides, even if you’re turned down, there are things you just have to do. And there’s also that. They’ll become more conscious of the person they rejected you know? They’ll think they’re pitiful, right? It’s normal not to feel apologetic…That’s why, this defeat was just part of the preparations. It’ll be used for next time’s advancement… And, um… I’ll have to try my best.”
She slipped out a small weep and tears formed at her eyes.
You couldn’t tell someone who was trying their best to try their best. Komachi said “I love you” was good enough, but that was something restricted to my little sister. I thought maybe I should pat her head once, but that too was only for my little sister.
“You’re pretty amazing.”
The only thing I could say was this much. When I did, Isshiki looked at me with moist, upturn eyes.
“It’s all your fault senpai that I turned out this way.”
“…No, that’s true for the issue with the presidency, but for other things…”
But without listening to the end, Isshiki moved her face closer and whispered into my ears.
“Please take responsibility, okay?”
And then, my junior made an impish smile.