Chapter 20:

Bitter Past, Sweet Present

Couple That Can't Touch

Araki-kun sat beside me and Kawahara stood still in front of us. They both stared at me, waiting for my explanation for why Araki-kun felt my ankle was abnormally heavier compared to his. It had been a while since I had told anyone about it and I couldn't help but feel a bit anxious.

"It's because I broke my left ankle three years ago while sprinting. It's never felt the same after that," I said, looking down at the concrete as my heartbeat raised.

"You sprinted?" Araki-kun asked me while Kawahara wrote something down in her notepad.

"I did. Practically every weekend, for fun, and in a lot of competitions since middle school. I don't like bragging about it, but I was quite fast," I giggled and scratched my cheek. "At least it recovered more than the doctors expected it to. I even still jog sometimes, b-but don't tell anyone, I'm not allowed to do that!"

"I won't. And don't worry, I'll take care of your ankle," Araki-kun replied.

"Thanks," I smiled. "You too, Kawahara, please don't tell anyone."

"Sure," she responded.

"Really? Pinky promise?" I grinned and lifted my pinky.

She stared at me, expressionless as usual.

Hisa and Rem did it all the time, so I did it to her just for fun, but I felt somewhat guilty.

"I'm sorry, I'm just kidding—"

To my surprise, she actually hooked her pinky around mine and gave it a firm squeeze. She even smirked a bit.

I think I'm understanding her better, I thought.

Araki-kun stared at our awkwardly-long pinky promise with a slight smile as well.

"That's enough, Kawahara," I giggled.

"Oh, I apologize," she replied and walked back, holding her notepad and pen tightly.

"It's okay."

She returned to writing, still smirking.

"Did you get good data today?" Araki-kun asked Kawahara.

She nodded. "I would've liked to record more, but there's only so much you can do with two hands. It makes you realize how limited and fragile humans are."

"Yeah…," I giggled nervously.

Maybe there's a lot more to understand.

"Oh, I should find an assistant," Kawahara added.

A lot more…

"You can think about that later, we should get going before it gets completely dark," Araki-kun interrupted.

No kids were playing around anymore and the sky had become so much darker than I expected it to in only twenty minutes.

"Ah, my mom is going to kill me!" I screamed.

"I should get going as well," Kawahara said and took her phone out of her skirt's pocket.

"Do you take the train?" Araki-kun asked.

She shook her head and answered, "I prefer to take taxis. I'm requesting one now."

Araki-kun stood up. "That's not necessary, my chauffeur can drive you home."

"But I don't want to meddle in your lovey-dovey matters any further."

My cheeks suddenly flushed. So she knew what she was doing!

"T-That doesn't matter, we're not going to let you go all by yourself this late," I said.

She stared at us for a moment before pushing her glasses up. "Sure."

Araki-kun called Yoshimura-san and he arrived in just five minutes.

We headed into the city and left Kawahara at her house, which was a lot closer than mine and not at all what I would've guessed it to look like. Though it made sense because her father was a videogame director and her mother worked at Hosei University, which wasn't far from Kasen.

Araki-kun and I were alone for the rest of the drive to my house, located nearer central Tokyo. Of course, Yoshimura-san was driving, but he had closed the window in the middle of the car to give us privacy.



We talked at the same time and stared at each other for a second.

"Go first," Araki-kun said.

"Sure," I giggled. "I've been wondering since we were stuck at the store, why did you transfer from Zei to Kasen?"

"Oh," he uttered.

"It's okay if you don't want to answer!"

"No, it's fine, it actually adds perfectly to what I just told you about my sister," he replied. "Because Zei is the most prestigious college, in addition to having all the pre-college grades, my parents made me study there since the first grade. It means I had just started elementary school when the incident with Otsune happened."

Even though he was looking out at the road ahead and not at me, he seemed calm while telling me everything. Maybe he was already at peace with it.

"Ten years passed with nothing but money-related subjects and people judging each other by their family's status. I felt I wasn't going anywhere in life at that school. Then, a drop spilled the glass. My mind couldn't handle it anymore, so I convinced my mom to transfer me to Kasen. My father wasn't happy at all," he chuckled.

He had it tougher than I thought…

"That's everything," he said and looked at me.

"What was the drop that spilled the glass?" I asked.

"It was the re-enrollment period for this year. I had been pestering my parents about transferring to another school for a while and I was sure they were listening to me, but Sakakibara-san then told me I was going back to Zei. And that was it. They didn't even dare to tell me face to face. I guess that made my mom feel guilty, so she applied for the transfer behind my father's back. I'm sure they were close to getting a divorce at that point."

"Sorry if I'm asking too much," I apologized.

"I said it's fine. I haven't ever been this comfortable talking about it with someone," he replied.

"Oh, I guess I'm glad to hear that?" I giggled while scratching my cheek.

He replied with a gentle smile and my face boiled hot. I turned away from him.

What was that reaction?!

"Did something happen?" he asked.

"I-I'm not even sure," I responded. "But you should smile more often."

"Oh, I-I'll try," he stuttered with his hand on the back of his neck.

Though I teased him to distract him from my flushed face, I wasn't lying. It was the first time I'd had that kind of reaction just by looking at someone smiling.

"I wanted to ask you about the tickets," Araki-kun interrupted my thoughts.

"What about them?" I asked.

"Were you planning our date to be at the theme park?"

"Yes. Ah, right!"

I took one of the tickets out of my skirt's pocket and handed it to Araki-kun. He looked at it before putting it inside his backpack.

"Did you buy them?" he asked.

"No, it was the prize for winning second place in the Egg Hunt. Hisa and Rem gave them to me to ask you out; this was all their plan," I giggled.

"I see."

"Talking about the prize, wasn't the prize for first place a bunny?"

"Yes, I'm taking care of him."

"Really? How's that going?"

"Great. He's well behaved and we bought a cage for him."

He instantly cheered up as soon as we started talking about his bunny and we kept chatting for the rest of the drive to my house.

One of the topics was about Golden Week, which was next week. Araki-kun told me that they were going on their annual family camping and I mentioned that my family was going to the Kite Festival to celebrate my little sister's birthday.

We arrived at my house in no time. The streets already needed to be illuminated by the lamps and house lights.

I thanked Araki-kun and Yoshimura-san and got out of the car. I stood still on the sidewalk as they drove away, only then did I realize how surreal everything had been in the past hour.

I asked Araki-kun out, told him about my ankle, talked about his past… I need to tell Hisa and Rem!

Yu-tan jumped at me out of nowhere and squeezed me. "Sis! Where you?! Who is car?! Are they evil?!" she worriedly shouted.

"Don't worry, it was just a friend," I replied.

When did she get this strong?!

"Oh, just a friend, huh?" Mom sarcastically remarked, standing at the door with a broad smirk.

"Y-Yes, Mom, a friend!"

"If you say so," she said as her smirk turned into a friendly smile. She was the last person I wanted to know about Araki-kun, not because I didn't want to tell her, but because it was impossible to predict her actions.

"By the way, Mom."


"I'll need to work this week."


And so one of my busiest weeks began. I didn't typically work at my family's bakery midweek, but I had to make an exception. Not only did I need money for the date itself, but I also needed it to buy another ticket because I promised Yu-tan I would take her to the theme park for her birthday.

Half of the week flew past and I was dead-tired. Having club activities after school and then work wasn't easy at all, but I was managing it so far.

The sun was still setting when I arrived at the bakery a couple of blocks away from home and stepped inside. There were three, short, aisles of counters that were filled with biscuits, stuffed bread rolls, cookies, bagels, and doughnuts. The other two windowed counters were full of cakes, cupcakes, and muffins.

Looks like today hasn't been that busy—

A girl with a red apron walked up to me and said, "Welcome to Kakes, please take your time to pick what you need."

I stared at her, baffled, and she stared at me, deadpan.

"You can also have a free taste if you need—"

"Wait, wait," I interrupted her. "I don't want to be rude or anything, but who are you?" I nervously giggled.

"Good job, Tadokoro-chan!" Mom clapped behind the counter next to us.

"Thanks," Tadokoro-san replied.

"Mom! Can you tell me what is happening here?" I asked.

She walked out from behind the counter and approached us. "Suzuka, she's Tadokoro-chan, the new employee. Tadokoro-chan, she's Suzuka, my daughter—who I let work here out of pity," she whispered to Tadokoro-san.

"What are you saying?!" I yelled.

"Nice to meet you. Let's work together, Suzuka-san," Tadokoro-san bowed.

"Ah, nice to meet you, too," I replied and bowed. "But I'm working here because my mom needs help and I need money, not because of pity!"

Mom laughed and slapped my back. "There's no need to get that defensive. Come on, we should get ready for the next wave of customers. Tadokoro-san, I know you wanted to learn how to bake, but we should start slowly."

"Sure, there's no problem," she replied.

"Great. I'll be in the kitchen, ask Suzuka if you have any questions. I'll call you if I need help," Mom added and walked into the kitchen at the back of the shop.

"Okay," I replied.

Tadokoro-san and I were left alone in front of the counter. We stared at each other for a few seconds before I realized I needed to change clothes.

"Tadokoro-san, I'll go change my clothes so I can start working. You can stay here and welcome the customers."

"What should I say?" she asked.

"Just say the same thing you said to me when I arrived, it was good."


She's even less expressive than Kawahara, I thought.

I walked to the back of the store, grabbed my work outfit, and headed to the bathroom to change. I only took a couple of minutes, but I could already hear all the fuss being raised in the store, so I rushed back out.

Tadokoro-san was running back and forth through the bakery as customers kept asking her questions that she didn't even know the answers to yet.

I let out a deep breath.

She's new, after all. How is she not going to be nervous? This is going to be an even longer week than I imagined.

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