“Alright girls, today we're going to have a scavenger hunt exercise.”
At that the girls around, we began chatting away in excitement. I couldn’t lie, this sounded a little fun. Sora and Suzu had one thing going for the both of them and that was speed but a scavenger hunt tested not only that ability but one primal one. Smarts. I crossed my arms and smirked sharply. This might be a tad mean to say but Sora wasn’t the sharpest nail in the pile and the same goes for Suzu-san. At least back in elementary, it was Suzu-san and Sora who had the lowest grades out of the five of us. I turned to Yui-san who seemed to be rubbing her feet together.
“Eh? Y-yes Ha-chan?”
I got a full few of Yui-san now. Her entire body was trembling, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. Her feet kicked forwards abruptly now and then like a body snatcher was trying to steal her away. I took her sleeve causing her to turn back to me.
“We can win this!”
I chimed before glancing over at my now rivals. Sora cheerfully waved at me which only irritated me more. So, I pushed my tongue out at her. Suzu-san giggled while hitting Sora on the shoulder…Seems she didn’t even see my tongue assault as she was too busy messing around with buddy now.
After a brief explanation of the rules, we were all handed a piece of the scavenger hunt. It seems they were giving us one clue that should lead to the next. However, we all were getting different parts of the main clues first. Meaning we’d all circle one another in our search. I guess this was to prevent us from following one another and coming to the answers together. In groups of two now we all started at one single point.
“Now girls, you have 4hrs to complete the task. Afterward, you’ll be given a small map that will lead you to the last location. If you have any questions please ask the council however if you do you’ll be docked 1 point. Winner has the most points in the end.”
Mitsuki sensei ended her spill before taking a deep breath of her own.
“Now, if you don’t mind I’ll be running a 5k on the mountain path!”
Mitsuki sensei rushed out before we could ask her any questions. Seems she was more fit than I’ve ever imagined or that she’s pushing her body to the limit for a reason I didn’t dare think about why.
Now with a sound horn, the young male teacher stepped out. He put his whistle to his mouth before signaling off…
He fired a blast of air in the whistle causing the loud noise to reverberate. Sora-chan and Suzu-san dashed off to the south but our first task was to the north. The hint was…
I’m surrounded by water. No matter how tall I grow I’ll never escape.
As we walked, Yui pondered.
“Ah…Ha-chan. What’s surrounded by water and won’t be able to escape?”
“Hm, I think it’s a tree but what body of water is it?”
But then it hit me. The hint wasn’t expecting us to find the tree out of all that here in the forest but the body of water. Meaning we had to find the water source and follow it until we reached the tree surrounding it.
I cried but my legs were too slow to run so we just walked fast. I wasn’t made for running like Sora and Suzu. Same with Yui-san. Our builts were more for indoor activities. As we walked along the creek we reached a small bridge. Below us was a body of water with a small landmass. On there was a lone tree that towered high to the heavens. The sight was remarkable enough that we both took our phones and got pictures of it. I sent one to Onee-san and immediately got a reply with a bunny ogling at the image. It made me laugh a bit.
“Oh, Hana, here’s the next clue!”
Yui-san sang as she pulled a piece of paper. This would be the pattern we’d repeat as we made our way through the forest. Interestingly enough we didn’t pass many of the students as we walked about. But that was to be expected as the scavenger hunt was created so groups can’t copy each other. As we made our way to the fourth hunt location that turned out the be a bundle of flowers…
“Heck, where the hell is this, Suzu-chan?!”
“Beats me. I’m no good at riddles.”
The voices of our rivals filtered through the hollow trees. Her fiery hair lit so brightly I was slightly worried that she’d catch the forest on fire. Suzu’s signature bun popped up and down.
“Oh, it’s Suzu-chan and Sora-chan!”
Yui-san cheerfully cried before I grabbed her mouth and held her down in the bushes.
“Shhh! We don’t want them to find this spot!”
I screamed in a whisper. There I lied on top of Yui-san with my hands over her mouth. Her fats pushed up against my mind. I was seriously annoyed by this point but I took a deep breath and chanted one thing to keep me calm.
“I’m…still growing…I’m still growing.”
I wined. Yui-san tilted her head at me but I couldn’t allow that to hinder me. We just had to wait it out until Sora and Suzu-san gave up then we’d be ahead of them for sure. I wanted to make sure I win by a landslide that way…that way….
Then it dawned on me…Was I…jealous?
“Ohhhhh, look at what I found!”
I turned to see…Suzu-san peering down at me and Yui-san. Now that I thought about it…this position we are in isn’t the most modest, is it?”
Yui-san screamed something unholy before pushing me off and running away. Her hand buried in her face she cried as she ran deeper into the forest.
“Ha-chan you idiot!”
I lied there confused at what I did. Suzu-san then lifted me from my armpits like a mom would her baby.
“What were you two doing?”
She grinned, hitting my side.
“N-Nothing! I have to go catch her.”
“Now hold on a minute, Hana-san!”
Suzu caught my head and turned me around like a wind-up toy.
“You know where the answer is here, don’t you?”
My teeth grit. There is no way I’ll tell my mortal enemy the answer! I thrashed about but Suzu-san’s grip was tight. She had no intention of letting me go until I caved in. My only lifeline…Yui-san had ditched me in the dust. I was alone, fighting in a war that I had no idea how it’ll end.
“Suzu-chan, don’t tease Hana-chan!”
But then her voice trickled in. She came from behind a brush and shook her head, latching onto Suzu.
“You know the rules, Suzu-chan. We’re not supposed to get help from others.”
“Oh, come on, Sora-chan! She’s right here…we can ask nicely.”
I puffed my cheeks as big as I could and stepped forward with my newfound confidence. Now with Sora backing me, I evaded her space. With a push of my tongue, I gave her the bigger “Meeeeeeh” I could muster before running off in Yui-san’s direction.
Before I turned around to see Sora scratching her head while Suzu-san seemed to have a perplexed look on her face. I knew I was being unruly…to Suzu-san. Wasn’t I? She didn’t do anything wrong but the thought of her…being better best friends with Sora than me wasn’t going away. Sora was my best friend…wasn’t she?
Now I raced off…or rather walked faster.
I cupped the sides of my mouth in an attempt to amplify my voice. It hollowed out, kicking along the trees. But Yui-san was nowhere to be seen. I still can’t for the life of me understand what made her run off like that. My shoulders slumped down as if the dewy earth were causing them to droop.
“…I can’t believe I’m acting this way…”
Now alone I reprimand my actions. Suzu didn’t deserve that…Something in me just feels as though…
“…I don’t know.”
I admit. I never felt this kind of way before. But then again, Sora is my first and only best friend. Yet I’ve recently concluded that…
“…We don’t have much in common…do we?”
There I stood now as if my feet planted into the ground become a piece of the earth. Forest land surrounded me making me feel even smaller. The world of Hana and Sora don’t fit together. But the world of Suzu and Sora are like two puzzle pieces that snug ever so gently into one. That was the realization that I came to. That Hana and Sora’s world was one out of convenience.
My feelings erupted to that. Now I was crying out to the world that snugged just as fine together. The world of Hana and Yui-san. That’s just how things were, they made sense that way.
But then I heard rustling from a nearby brush. A slowly approached only to be sprung by a rabbit. It’s twin-tails bounced as she latched onto me.
“I got lost, Ha-chan! I’m sorry for running off.”
Yui-san pled, wrapping her arms around my stomach. She cried softly causing me to rub her gentle hair.
“It’s okay, Yuipi…”
Her tender voice dripped over her tears. Her arms clenched tighter as she rubbed her cheeks against my gym sweater.
It was a little strange that she was taller than me but I’m treating her like she’s a baby. But then when I thought back to that time in elementary, Yuipi was always like this. Now thinking like that, it must have been hard for her to stand up to someone like Sakura. If I had to compare the two, it’s like a bunny facing up to a lioness. So, to not get eaten, she might have just stayed quiet for that.
“Are you ready to go, Yuipi? We still have to beat Sora and Suzu.”
With a harsh flip of her hair, she agreed as we continued the hunt. After collecting the rest of the scavenger hunt materials we made it back to the fat man. He sat in a chair looking out into the distance.
“Ah, you two are the first to arrive.”
To my surprise, we both tilted our heads. We handed him the different flowers and rocks we obtained by doing the hunt. With a checklist, he marked them all. Now being closer to this mean he wore a gentle face. With glasses and cheeks as large as apples.
“Hm…Koda Hana-san, right?”
With a slight nod, he continued.
“You’re doing well here so far. Keep up the good work, alright?”
He smiled brightly causing my blood to warm up. I wasn’t sure what he meant by “doing well here” but I nodded in agreement and smiled slightly.
“Oh, and you too Fujima Yui-san.”
He added as he handed us a smaller map. On it marked the last location he wanted us to go I take it.
“There you go. You both already finished the hunt to take a nice stroll to that point on the map. You’ll be excited to see what we have planned out for you all.”
We both bowed.
We sang in harmony before walking off. Now interacting with him one on one …he seemed like an extremely nice man. All the mean things I was saying about him now felt like pricks of poison that I needed to wash off. I silently scolded as I walked with Yuipi.
“Why…did you decide to call me Yuipi again?”
I stopped in my tracks. The reason why I decided to call her Yuipi was…
It was obvious and I knew it. If Suzu-san was getting closer to Sora…why can’t I get closer to Yui? I was being pathetic and immature. I’ve never felt so petty in my life. But that was all negative things. I also knew that Sora’s words from last night filtered into my chest earlier. That Yui-san had always had a soft spot for me…
“…Because I want to be closer to you.”
I half-lied. It was true that I wanted to be closer to Yui…but only out of spite for Sora leaving me behind. But then a soft embrace captured my hand. There Yui tugged me along. Why were we holding hands though?
She admitted but I wasn’t able to see her face as she was tugging me from the front. Once we made it to the location on the map, a small, encircled area with bond firewood piled up in the middle was there. It was full of wooded benches and such encapsulating this area. It reminded me of a college auditorium classroom how the seats were laid about, aiming at the center. We found a spot in the middle and sat down together. In silence now we both, worn out from all the walking we watched the unlit firewood peacefully.
“I was depressed after our group broke apart, Ha-chan.”
With a deep breath, she continued. The clean forest air purified her words all the more.
“I don’t have much in common with Suzu-can but she didn’t stop trying to talk with me. However…”
She then turned to me and poked my nose.
“Suzu-chan is still a cherished friend of mine.”
“A best friend?”
I questioned like a kid.
“…You know, maybe she is my best friend.”
“But why? You both don’t share much in common as you said.”
“Why does that matter?”
Yuipi tilted her head.
“I feel as if I can tell Suzu-chan everything. We enjoy each other’s company and not only that.”
Yui held her chest.
“Suzu-chan…makes me feel safe.”
“There was something that Suzu-chan did that she didn’t mention earlier, Ha-chan.”
Her soft hands rubbed together as she gazed out into the ocean of trees surrounding us.
“Once Sakura-san scolded us for…not being as fun as she said, Suzu-chan…exploded on her.”
She chuckled warily.
“She stood between us and told Sakura to leave me alone and that she was a terrible person for blaming me for the negativity of the group.”
Her shoulders slumped as her thin lips pursed.
“She then pulled me away. Sakura called out to us and that’s when Suzu said that if she ever messed with me…That she’d beat her up to protect me.”
“Suzu said that?”
Yuipi just moved her head…
My jaw hung low. I could imagine that happening…but with Sora being the one to say it instead. Was it that…Yui feels the same way about Suzu that I feel about Sora? That she is her best friend…and nobody else should take that spot away from her?
That’s when it welled up in me…what I was thinking.
“…I like Sora-chan, Yuipi.”
My mouth moved on its own, sparking a surprise by Yuipi. She tilted her head in seeming confusion.
“What do you…mean?”
My lips pursed. I think I understood what I wanted to say but didn’t all the same. Only after all this hassle and annoying events did it come to me. Maybe this isn’t anything about her being my best friend. Maybe…
“I…think I like Sora.”
I shrugged as I confessed to Yui. My feelings poured out, again not because I can clearly convey them but because I had a little filter to not express myself…
“And…I think that’s why I got jealous when I saw her and Suzu-san get along.”
I huddled my legs together now.
“Sora’s my best friend…but her and Suzu-san get along better than we do. I…just don’t want to lose the place of being Sora’s…Best friend.”
“Oh…so that kind of…like?”
I sighed as I lifted my feet on the bench. My chest started to burn as held my knees I rubbed my soft cheeks on my kneecaps. My body did this on its own.
“I… don’t know, Yuipi…maybe?”
Could it be that’s what all these emotions are? I could tell however one thing was certain…I didn’t want anyone stealing Sora-chan away from me. But then Yuipi took her gentle hands rubbed my back. Only yesterday did we reconcile and yet she’s soothing my aching heart like we’ve been together for years...
“Don’t worry Ha-chan. Have you…told Sora-chan how you feel?”
I closed my eyes only for Sora to come into my view. So, I shook my head washing away her from my mind.
“I… don’t even think I know how I feel myself right now. I just know that if…someone is a better fit to be her friend then me…I start to feel anxious. Like Sora would realize that…we don’t match…and get bored of me.”
Yui’s mouth opened slightly. But then voices of other girls came in. In pairs, they walked down the small hill and filtered into the surrounding bond fire. It was only a matter of time before Sora and Suzu-chan would come but I wasn’t ready to see them yet.
“Ha-chan, nobody is going to take Sora from you.”
Yui-san declared, whispering in my ear.
My ears twitched. How could she make such a promise though? Was she just saying this to soothe my immature feelings? That I only wanted to play with Sora like she’s a toy for my amusement?
“Oh, there you are!”
Suzu-san cried, rushing over to us.
Defiantly, Yuipi stood up and faced up to Suzu. I was astonished at her sudden burst of energy as I watched the two. Sora filtered in last as she made her way down our row.
“Too bad you didn’t make a bet, Hana-chan, Yui-chan. You guys would have beat us.”
Sora chuckled, holding her stomach.
“I…have a request!”
Yui pushed her hands to her chest and got into Suzu’s face. I was extremely worried about what she was about to say. My mouth opened as wide as watermelon and I could feel the blizzard sweat trickle along my back. I was about to stand up and push her, to stop her from exposing my selfish feelings…
“Suzu-chan! I want to be your partner for the next upcoming games!”
Yuipi nearly screamed, causing the other groups to look our way. Shocked, Suzu-san flung back on one foot like a flamingo.
She shouted, flapping her arms like wings. She turned to the side and looked at me. My face felt like it was going to shoot steam from my ears.
“Ahh…what a strange request. Why would you want that…Are you and Hana…err…fighting, Yui-chan?”
Yuipi then burst back and held onto my shoulder.
“N-No! Ha-chan and I aren’t! We’re getting along very well!”
Her hands were trembling and I could hear the nervousness in her voice. I turned to Sora who had her arms crossed eyeing the situation. But then her poster relaxed as she turned to me. I caught eyes with her and suddenly my chest began to warm up. The embarrassment was getting to me to the point that it felt like a thorn was pounding on my heart. If it kept going I’d bleed out so I silently prayed it would go away soon.
Her gems finally let go of me as she veered to Suzu-san.
“Don’t you see, Suzu? Yui just missed being around you.”
She guts Suzu causing her to keel over. After a sharp breath or two, she stood back up with a blush on her face.
“B-But we see each other all the time, Yui-chan! We go to the same school and…”
Suddenly Suzu went quiet as she gazed back at Yui. With a rub of her head, she looked to the side.
“Hm…Well I think it’s more fun to verse against Sora than partner with her anyway.”
Sora giggled while holding her stomach. I think she was enjoying this a bit too much. Just watching her…made my chest warm up.
Suzu leaped up and took hold of someone I wasn’t expecting…she latched onto me, pushing Yuipi’s warm embrace away. We now joined like two parts of a machine.
“Then I’ll partner with Hana-san instead!”
Our cheeks brushed up against one another. I tried to maximize the distance of our cheeks, but she just drew closer like a bee to a flower.
“Then I’ll partner with Hana-san instead!”
“Me and Hana-san’s gonna beat both of you in any more games! That’s for sure, right Hana-san?”
I already forced Yuipi to stick up for me. What was I suppose to do, tell Suzu no and run to Sora. But before I could speak Sora did the speaking for me.
“Fine! You’re on, Suzu!”
My head swirled like it was in a blender. Not only was I not with Sora now but I was stuck with someone I undoubtedly don’t share any interest with. Suzu-san and I NEVER talked let alone Sora and I…
She then whispered in my ear…
“Sora’s not that smart but you are. You’re my trump card, Hana-san. Make me proud!”
Could it be…that Suzu-san is just oblivious to the social emotions of others? I then turned to Sora and she did something I wasn’t expecting. She closed one eye and gave me a wink. How that moment…felt like time stopped for me. I’m not sure what that might have implied but one thing was certain…
Sora was making the best of every situation.
Wish I could do the same one day…
Steeling my resolve…as much as I wanted to be with Sora this entire trip, I still had a few more days to make that happen. But Like Suzu-san said beforehand…
We go to the same school. Right now we’re with friends we haven’t seen in a while. Maybe…Sora was telling me that I should go with the flow? With my inner self coming to its conclusion I glanced at my best friend.
“Suzu and I are going to win then.”
I declared, pointing at my fiery-haired rival.
“Oh, is that so, shorty?”
Sora teased. Now that I thought about it…this was a different side to the teases Sora usually played with me with. It’s like…I’m seeing a brand-new side to my best friend.
Made me smile.
Once the students all made it we had a lesson, ate outdoor cooking, and had a bonfire. As requested, when we had any other games Suzu-san and I were partners. And because so, I ended up doing all the thought-provoking work and luckily won all the challenges. Each time we won, Suzu-san would latch onto me and jump with joy. It…was fun.
“What a long day…”
There we lied in the comfy sleeping bags. Now lights out, the fluffy inside camping bag threatened to take my conscious away and into the starry night sky. The rest of the day was filled with more games and lessons. Suzu-san and I worked together for the remainder of it and to my surprise, it felt like I was beside Sora. They are similar in many ways…
Sora pulled her sleeping bag towards me as she shimmed over. Now we lie close…a little too close for comfort.
“Eh, what is it?”
“Did you…want to partner with me instead?”
I rolled over to Sora with a surprised expression. Our eyes met as I looked away slightly. My cheeks puffed, I knew she was teasing and being myself…I admitted it.
“Hm…Yui-chan told me.”
A chill went over my spine. What did Yui-chan say?! I… wasn’t sure what I was saying to her but what if she got the wrong idea? That’s when Sora unzipped her sleeping bag. Confused I watched as she tugged on mine.
“Eh, what are you doing?!”
“Shhhh! It’s lights out, remember?”
I quieted my heart as she unzipped my bag as well. The heat escaped into the marginally cool room. That’s when she did something interesting. She hooked her sleeping bag to mine and zipped them both together. Now we both lied in the same…bed of sorts.
Sora just snickered.
“It’s the same brand so it has a feature to make the bags bigger. That way we can share each other’s warmth!”
The wolf then assaulted me, hugging me from the front.
“Ahh…We can’t sleep like this, Sora-chan. What would the other girls say?”
“What, you don’t like a bit of cuddle-ship with your best friend?”
“I’m not going anywhere, Hana-chan. You’re my best friend.”
Her warmth…made my heart pound differently than when I’m with Onee-san or my mom’s. No, Sora-chan is certainly special…to me. So, I closed my eyes and pushed forwards, nuzzling my nose against her chest.
We both giggled now in the cool room our bodies warmed each other. Our legs entwined as we kept laughing away like two idiots. When I'm with Sora...I fell like Yuipi...safe.
I closed my eyes but then like balloons with too much air they popped open when I remembered something important. Now would be a perfect time because…were so close.
“Sora-chan…are you still awake?”
Her tantalizing green eyes shined back to me.
“I know it’s late but…ah…”
I poked my head out of the bag and reached for my stuff piled on the wall. As I searched through I pulled out my handheld game system. Two units that we can both play simultaneously. I then dug back into our cave as I snuggled closer to her.
“I…brought that game you wanted to play with me.”
Sora shouted. I could hear the rustle of the other students turning in their beds. Praying they weren’t awake I shushed her. But her eyes lit up like precious stone reflecting off the ocean’s wave.
“You mean that fighting game one? I’ve been so pumped to try it.”
“Wanna play? I brought headphones so we both can play without anyone knowing.”
“Since when did you become such a bad girl, Hana-chan?”
“I’m not a bad girl, I…just wanted to play it with you.”
Sora lowered the system now in her hand. As we lied on the side, facing one another the heat of the sleeping bag felt as if it warmed up greatly. Sora’s shallow breath trickled along my cheek. It was then I realized how close we were to each other.
Her cute smile rose as she clicked on the game system and put her earbud in her left ear.
“Don’t cry when I kick your ass.”
She rubbed her knee against mine as she whispered. It felt hot as I kicked at her back. In the silent room, we tussled in the night, playing our childish fighting game as our feet pushed against one another. We battled well into the night, far past curfew.
This is who she was. My best friend Sora. Someone who is completely different than me but is special to me.
That’s it. Sora-chan…
Is special to me.
Volume 2 Bonus - END