Chapter 13:

Honoka's Interlude

Paradise on Earth

Fear and disappointment, those are the two feelings that drive people. When one overcomes the other then things change, whether that be good or bad. Maybe things have been so bad for me that I can hardly remember anything from my middle school years.

I don’t have amnesia, who I am now is congruent with who I was before. But if you asked me about an event from when I was twelve, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

The first memory I have is sitting in the car with my parents. My dad was driving while my mom was in the back with me, I think trying to keep me occupied or something. My mom’s face is what sticks with me, not because she was radiant with beauty or anything, she’s my mother, but because of how bored she looked playing with me.

My mother never enjoyed her role very much it seemed. She inherited the ownership of this overpriced Mount Fuji hiking tour and resort business from my grandpa. She met my dad when he became her financial advisor soon after she started running the business. She enjoyed her job well enough, but she was never a fan of people, outside of my dad. And when I was born, I’m sure she wasn’t a huge fan of me either. Babies are difficult and she’s always tired.

So, when she learned that I was being bullied at school, she didn’t do anything about it. She didn’t talk to the principal or anything, that was all my dad. But there was nothing to be done because the entire club was involved in some way and you can’t lecture every parent, especially if the coach didn’t care.

Especially if the coach was the one who did it.

It started with small jabs “Daitan, be sure to drink a glass of milk for your sake okay?” To screaming at me as to why I was three milliseconds slower on my current run from my previous one. I was in track, and for a while it was fun. I wasn’t the best runner but one of the better ones on the team. They needed me to win competitions and my coach emphasized that early on. Over time this made me more and more worried as to my performance during competitions and whenever I was in practice. This anxiety would get so bad that it would distract me when I was on a run, to the point where I tripped near the finish line of a competition and a single kid in the audience laughed.

My coach goaded my team into laughing when I made the same mistake during practice. Except after which me and a few other teammates would get screamed at for five minutes.

I was never good at making friends in the first place, my team housed the only people I could trust. But eventually they started parroting what the coach told them for I was the only “great one” who would also do so poorly.

When I told my mom about this, she responded with “Honoka, I know it hurts but sometimes you have to deal with people not being nice to you. Practicing outside and getting better can help you earn their respect.” In reality I already tried doing that, so when I heard her response… something broke.

And I felt nervous all the time.

And started spending my allowance on a lot of food that I would eat at one time

Eventually, my dad found out and had a big fight with my mom about it. It’s my fault they split and now I live much closer to Tokyo.

My dad hoped going to a new middle school and quitting track would give me a fresh start and calm me down, but it didn’t.

Instead, all I saw were people laughing at me. So, I shut down and stopped talking to others. Otherwise, I would be a nervous wreck all the time and constantly have attacks where I couldn’t breathe for a minute.

I’ve heard people joke about me being “cool” but I’m sure they were making fun of me in some way. I’m not that valuable. I hardly ever spoke during class.

When I got to high school things weren’t any different. Until a kid named Hiroshi Kazuma asked me out on a date. I was too nervous to turn him down, so I said ‘yes’ and met him at a park. I knew even before the date started it was a bad idea and about ten minutes in when I had hardly said anything, I was ready to break down. Kazuma, despite being a moron, noticed this and asked me if I instead wanted to hang out as friends without any stakes. I was still too nervous to say no, so I agreed, and we had a fun time. Honestly, it was the most fun I’d had with a person my age since I don’t know how long. Eventually, he asked if I wanted to be friends with him. I told him he didn’t want to, I got too anxious all the time. He understood that already and said he thought it was fine, the only condition was that I meet his friend Junichiro Sato. Meeting him was also very nerve-wracking, but it turns out, not only was Kazuma a perverted idiot, but Sato was also an idiot who was less perverted.

Being around both of them was calming, to the point where I didn’t dread school and I didn’t feel as desperately hungry anymore. I was also very sad when Kazuma left but that meant I was able to have Sato all to myself for a few months. And during that time I came to like him, more than any person I’ve met before. Talking to him felt so comfortable, it reminded me of my mom’s overpriced hot spring.

It turns out making rude remarks could also be fun sometimes, Kazuma taught me that and Sato cemented it. I felt so free for the first time in years…and then other people started to appear, most of whom were in our class. I still was able to steal Sato’s attention during lunch, but it increasingly felt like everyone else had more time than me. I wasn’t upset about that or anything, but I increasingly started to feel more nervous, especially if one of them started dating him, then I might have even less time with Sato. And I can’t tell him about my fear, or else he might not like me anymore.

That’s when I started eating again at the beginning of second year.

And when Sato disappeared after the water park, I got even more anxious. I started to notice all the other students in the classroom again, the fear got even worse.

Kaiyo has mentioned to me a few times over text what the students on her team say about me. Apparently, some of them are from my middle school. What I feared the most after hearing this is not what they were saying, but who they were saying it to.

In other words what if they said those things to people from Class 2-D?

And today… it was too much.

I’m not good at English anyway and today I looked like even more of a fool, just like in track.

Though for some reason when I was almost done crying, I suddenly felt really tired and passed out.

Now I can’t wake up.

I feel a presence standing over me, almost like they were hovering over the bed.

I could hear them panting.

If this means anything I’m terrified.

Even if it doesn’t and I simply have to go home, I’m still terrified.

Midnight Serpent

Paradise on Earth