We had now occupied a table meant for four, with me beside Shiori, and Miyake and Kojima in front of us. However, the two’s disparaging quarreling hadn’t concluded. It only got worse. I only overlooked their imbecilic bickering and eyed Kojima in repellence.
Just look at him. He definitely picks his boogers. He’s like those guys who never wash their hands after using the bathroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the type to watch anime girl show’s directed towards primary-schoolers...
“Senpai…?” A hush Shiori asked.
I steered my appalled look away from Kojima and lent my attention to Shiori. She had her typical look: uptight and tense while we looked at each other.
typical antsy, tense appearance, with her eyes aimed at me in hesitancy.
“Er, exactly what are we here for again?”
I came back into my senses and realized her feeble question, halting and pondering about it carefully. After a few seconds of deliberating, I’d relocate my head back to the two child-like squabblers with a fatigued sigh.
“Will you two shut your mouths already?” I interrupted their argument. “I didn’t come here just to watch an argument about how one of you has a few more brain cells than the other.”
The two abruptly followed my command and gaped at me in stupefaction.
Only after a few more seconds of inelegant silence, Kojima would finally open his mouth.
“... R-Right. My bad, Okumori-kun…”
“Yes. Sorry! We went overboard…” Miyake followed.
A quivering breath left me. I shut my mouth, swallowed, and enforced a hassled shake of my head.
“S-S-Senpai is scary...” Shiori muttered in a tremulous voice beside me.
I gave a glance towards Shiori and noticed her panic-stricken eyes that looked at me. Her lips wobbled in dread, and her body jittered uncontrollably. I modestly nodded.
“That scared me, though…” Kojima rigidly chuckled, “I forgot that you had that side of you.”
“You think? He’s super scary sometimes, Kojima-kun! He speaks like a villain!” Miyake added in.
“Ah, yes, yes! He looks like one too, doesn’t he?” Kojima returned the exhilaration to Miyake.
Oh, are you insulting me now?
Miyake continued. “Mhm! And, like, he’ll get really angry sometimes, and he’ll just go-” She forced an indignant scowl, with her eyebrows pointed down and her lips aimed outwards.
“Shut up, monkey.” She mocked in a depressed voice, then returned to her usual high-pitched one. “That’s what he says! He calls me monkey! A monkey! Do I look like a monkey to you, Kojima-kun?!”
“Ye- No! Not at all!” Kojima laughed.
If my intuition was correct, I had the gut feeling that Kojima was simply trying to act rapturous, arguably just so he wouldn’t get hit again by Miyake’s devastating blows. Can you blame him, though?
I brought my fingers up and massaged my forehead in frustration as I listened to the galling insults the two continued to agree on. Each word that was blurted out of their mouth made me more scunnered and impatient by the second.
I knew the exact reason as to why I was feeling so choleric about their inadequate verbal abuse, but, even so, I refuse to confront it.
“U-Um…” A timid voice said.
We all ceased what we were doing and set our gazes upon who it was. Shiori sat, having an ashamed appearance on her face.
“... I-Ice cream sounds nice, right…?” She asked in a low, delicate tone.
Miyake’s eyes fluttered upon hearing Shiori’s words and turned to Kojima to beam an appealing smile.
“You heard her, Kojima-kun!”
He raised his hand and shut his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry. I’ll get it for you… What do you guys want?”
Miyake shot her eyes to me, spooking me.
“Vanilla, right, Ki-kun?” She intriguingly asked.
I swallowed and nodded.
“Ki… Ki-kun…” Kojima followed with a discreet snicker.
I slightly warmed up after hearing Kojima’s small cackle.
Miyake would scoot her seat closer to Kojima while I was still viewing them, and flick his forehead in a violent manner. It sharply broke his giggling, as his head recoiled back from her wild blow.
“Ow!” He shrieked.
He looked back down and had a resentful look, all while covering his forehead with both of his hands.
“Making fun of others isn’t good, Kojima-kun.”
Miyake seemed rather irked towards Kojima, having perturbed eyes piercing straight into his soul.
“R-Right… Sorry. I won’t do it again.”
What the hell?
Miyake’s aggrieved appearance vanished when she got on the table and leaned over in Shiori’s direction with a grin.
“What about you, Shiori-chan? What kind of ice cream flavor do you like?”
Shiori moved back in her chair, a clear sign of discomfort from Miyake’s enthusiasm.
“I… I like mint?” She replied reluctantly.
“Ooh! Mint is good too! You have good taste, Shiori-chan!” She praised her.
“Thank you… “ Shiori bowed her head.
Miyake would bring herself back down onto her seat and lift her other hand in the air. “I want vanilla, though! Vanilla is my favorite flavor!”
“Yes, yes…” Kojima approved.
He then pushed himself up from the table and sluggishly began to make his way over to the ice cream machines. I spectated him in uncertainty, yet scandalized too as he indistinctly uttered the words: “Chan… Chan… Chan…” under his breath.
Just as I set my eyes back on Miyake, she appeared to also have a mystified look, just as mine. She wasn’t staring at Kojima, though, but Shiori. It made me apprehensive about what she was going to comment on.
“... I still can’t get over how cute you are! To think you were hiding all of that behind that mask!”
“Ah! Um… Thank you?”
“I should take a picture!”
“Huh? Ehh?!” Shiori shrieked when Miyake’s words dawned upon her.
“Come on! It won’t be that bad! I just want to show it to Ki-kun’s mom!”
I pushed myself up and threw my head right to left in denial. No! Don’t do that! She’s going to berate me relentlessly! Stop!
Miyake would see me but only slapped my worry away with amusement.
“It’s fine, Ki-kuuun! She’ll be happy that you have more friends!” She giggled.
Don’t do it!
“Come on, smile!”
Miyake drew her phone out in a flash and targeted all of us in the photo. I looked away and tried to evade the screenshot, now having my gaze at Shiori. I watched as Shiori struggled her fingers into peace signs. She also smiled, but amateurishly. When she shut her eyes, she just looked like a flustered mess of red.
“C-Chiizu.” She stammered.
Miyake leaned over the table and set herself in the view of the phones' camera, presenting another peace sign and a poised smile. I was also caught in the crossfire, as I spotted myself in the back with a grisly look pointed at the two girls.
Mom, please don’t yell at me for this. I am not the one who initiated this idea.
Miyake tapped the capture button on the phone over and over again while she giggled. After she was done, she sat back down and salivated at the pictures she took with sparkling eyes.
“Cute… Too cute…”
“Is that a good picture, Miyake-senpai…?” Shiori asked.
I launched myself forwards in an attempt to snatch Miyake’s phone, but she moved her chair back and pulled her phone away from my grasp.
“No! I won’t let you have it!”
Oh, just give me it, will you?! I’m saving us both!
I didn’t stop after her declaration and kept trying to steal her phone away from her without any means to give up.
A minute later.
I give up.
“Uwaaah…” Miyake concernedly moaned, her free hand on her cheek as she observed her phone. “Your mom’s sending so many texts…”
Kojima arrived back and took his seat beside Miyake with the three ice cream cones present in his hands.
“Yo, you three. Make sure to pay me, I’m not letting you go just because we’re friends.”
He handed us our ice cream with an amiable smile to me and Shiori but gave a worried and anxious look towards Miyake as he offered the last cone to her.
“Thanks, Kojima-kun!” Miyake appreciated it as she took her cone. “I’ll pay for it, don’t worry!”
“Mm, You’re welcome…”
I inspected the vanilla ice cream cone in my possession with a peculiar feeling in my body. I inhaled, then exhaled, and slowly raised it up to my tongue. I licked it and tried to savor whatever taste was present.
I don’t taste anything.
It was the same with the ramen earlier. I could taste the sharpness of the spice, but not the flavor. Maybe if Miyake didn’t blast my face with her saliva and ramen, I probably would’ve been able to experiment more.
But, for some inexplicable reason, the ice cream didn’t taste like anything either.
I sighed and continued to lick the ice cream in sadness.
I glanced over and caught a glimpse of Shiori, who had been smiling contentedly as she licked her mint ice cream cone in appeasement. She swayed her head right to left, humming a quiet tune while she enjoyed and relished her ice cream.
That’s too cute. What the hell?
“By the way, Ki-kun!” Miyake called out.
I stopped and looked over at Miyake.
“Where’s the teddy bear we bought… ?”
… I bought it. Not we.
Wait, where is it?
I began to search my surroundings, but there was nothing near me that resembled anything of a teddy bear. It was just the empty shop and the white marbled floor that was visible. After a few seconds of flummoxed searching, it’d hit me as to where I had put it.
I looked up to Miyake with a straight face.
“You lost it, didn’t you?” She said with a sullen look.
“Geeeez!” Miyake stared at the ceiling. “That was seven-thousand yen! You can’t just be losing those types of things all of a sudden!”
“S-S-Seven-thousand yen for a teddy bear…” Kojima mumbled in what seemed to be envy.
She stood up and minimized our distance, getting in my face with disgruntled eyes. “More importantly, that was your money! Are you happy that you wasted seven-thousand yen?! Huh?!”
She lifted her free hand into sight, pushed her index finger into her thumb, then released it to strike my forehead with her nail. I flinched and jolted my head back.
I moved my head back to Miyake with a nettled scowl.
That hurt, you monkey! Don’t flick my forehead!
I evaded her angry gaze and looked out the store window to get rid of my bitterness.
“I’ll get it myself…” I eventually silently grumbled.
“Wait… Are you sure? I can come too!” She insisted.
I refused and pushed myself up from the table.
To be fair, it was a good chance to separate me from the three. Well, for now, at least. Even if it’d take a few minutes, it was all I needed to relax from the arduous chattering they continued with.
“Ehh?! Fine… We’ll be waiting here then, Ki-kun…”
I rolled my eyes and ambled my way out of the store without giving Miyake a second thought.
As soon as I stepped outside, a feeling of relief flowed throughout my body. Everything felt satisfying all of a sudden; the isolation, the cold air, and just the sensation of exiting the store made me feel oddly composed.
Except for one obvious thing. The tumultuous noises of socializing.
But, thankfully, I had a solution. Now that Miyake wasn’t here to intrude, I could finally listen to my music.
I pulled out my phone and inserted my earbuds inside my ears. I’d then set my eyes on my phone, and started to search for something that could fulfill my sequestered desires. Eventually, one would catch my eye, so I played it.
I now walked to return to the food court.
Well, if anything, it was there. If I remember, that was where we went right after buying that useless bear. That said, I couldn’t really care less about the teddy bear itself, because it was just something that I might throw away once I finally arrive home.
Actually, on second thought, maybe I’ll give it to my mom. I’m not too sure about it, but what I am sure about, is that I completely loathe that bear. I feel as if I’m some sort of adolescent freak just by thinking about it.
That was just one thing out of various issues that shot around in my head, though.
One was how I couldn’t taste anything, the other was my perplexity about why I felt a little sick, and the third and final thought, was, of course, Shiori.
Just remembering that lachrymose, helpless state that she brought herself to caused me to feel ashamed and chastened the more I lingered on the memory.
She had a fake masquerade, and I was the one to view it.
We all have that fake masquerade, to be honest. It’s to keep us intact and secure in the social hierarchies that we are in. So, we all force that fake deed of selflessness unto others to keep it that way. It’s just an unspoken rule everybody abides to because showing that vulnerable side of you just means you’re a scrawny waste of space.
To force that charade, and force that munificence to others, because the fear of being seen as weak is the fear that bugs us the most. Even if it is obvious from first glance, we don’t give up to hide it, because the thought of being called weak makes us want to shrivel up and sob.
But, we’re all weak. Not a single person, in this entire world, is perfect in everything. It is false every time we see someone who is ‘strong.’
Almost everyone we see seems perfect, in one way or another. But, they hide that weak side of them. Rarely do they ever show those tears of desperation, or those words of absolute truth come out of their mouth.
We all have that deceitfulness that we force upon others.
However, unlike the naive others in this dishonest world, I do not expect rectitude from those who falsify themselves.
Still, Shiori’s act made me debate this depressing monologue of mine. Crying and venting to me, even if we had just met, had completely taken me off guard.
And, I don’t know what to think about it anymore.
Eventually, the teddy bear that I had been trying to find was soon in my eyes. It sat beside the chair me and Miyake had previously occupied, and it seemed rather cute as it happily sat.
I grumbled, snatched it from the seat, and started to make my way back to the ice cream shop.
But, this time, my head was just blank as I composedly sauntered back. Instead of running my imaginary mouth, as usual, I could only think of the music that was playing in my ears. I wasn’t complaining, either, because this was probably going to be the most soothing part out of this whole day.
Well, just until it ends.
Because when I came back, my body became paralyzed. While I stood in front of the ice cream shop, I spectated through the window in complete consternation.
What I had been watching had terrified me to the utmost level.
Kojima, who had previously been ecstatic, had his hands now raised in fear. His shirt was tightly clenched by some black-haired guy with a green t-shirt.
Miyake, who was gleeful before, was now holding Shiori in her arms in intimidation.
And, finally, Shiori who had been shy and timorous earlier, now had a face of horror pointed at whatever was in front.
There were two more guys who stood in front of Miyake and Shiori, both scrawny in build, but tall. They had their arms crossed, looking down upon the two girls with clear indecent eyes. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but a part of me didn’t want to hear it either. I refused to remove my earbuds, but I didn’t dare to even move an inch as well.
Then, all of a sudden, one of them grabbed Shiori by her shoulders and jerked her away from Miyake’s hands. Miyake tried to reach out for her, but the second guy caught her wrist and pinned her on the window.
Stop it. Let her go.
I wanted to move, but I couldn’t. My body shook in fear, and my breath trembled.
Before I knew it, my eyes began to well up, too.
No, no. Don’t do it.
Then, finally, a burst of adrenaline entered my body. All of a sudden, I was sprinting inside. Without any hesitancy, or uncertainty at all. My fist curled up into a ball as I swiftly approached, and soon, it’d be launched straight at whoever was the unfortunate person I locked my eyes on first.
But, that spark of energy just faded away. Rather than landing my punch, it faltered to the floor. And instead of trying to throw another punch, my body rejected my attempt.
Now, I couldn’t feel anything.
The only feeling I had was penitence and dysphoria. I could feel my heart sink while the floor below me came closer to my eyes.
Then, everything blacked out.
… Ah, right, how could I forget? My judgment of a forged personality affects me too. I was always weak. I was always useless.
Never once, in my life, had I ever been someone strong.
So I know deep down, I'll always be someone weak.