Chapter 6:

Small Gains

Third and Final Time

Three weeks had passed since our school’s trip to Kyoto and I was no longer eating lunch alone.
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Now, at the chime of the bell, Hinata would excitedly call me over to join her, Inori and Kana and eat with them.Bookmark here

Every time, I accepted with a small smile, happy every time she asked.Bookmark here

I was so happy that I lost sleep over it.Bookmark here

As I was drifting off last night, thinking about how much I was looking forward to talking to Hinata and the others, my mind suddenly came across an awful possibility.Bookmark here

What if, one day, Hinata stopped calling me over?Bookmark here

What if, tomorrow, she says that she doesn’t want to eat with me?Bookmark here

What would I do?Bookmark here

Naturally, my mind wouldn’t let me rest after that and I got little sleep.Bookmark here

Even that morning, as my mother handed me my bento, I was still scared of that nightmare becoming realty.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong, Akane?” My mother asked.Bookmark here

I didn’t say anything, so she said nothing back and held me tightly, stroking my hair.Bookmark here

After a minute, I thanked her and headed off for school.Bookmark here

I don’t know how my mother knew that’s what I needed most, but I was grateful.Bookmark here

Maybe I would’ve been like that with Ryuuji’s child.
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A memory from my first life drifted into my mind.Bookmark here

As part of an awareness campaign for mental health issues, we had a guest lecturer come into our high school.Bookmark here

“I always describe depression as a constant, downwards spiral, one that can suck you into it and not let you go for days, weeks, even months at a time. You try your best to fight it, but the pull of the spiral is so great and so overwhelming that all you can do is try to endure it.”Bookmark here

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I smiled bitterly as I drew closer to school.Bookmark here

When would I reach my breaking point?Bookmark here

When would the spiral’s weight crush me?Bookmark here

I thought of Hinata, of Inori and Kana, and of our lunchtimes together.Bookmark here

If those suddenly vanished from my life, that might do it.Bookmark here

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“Akane, let’s eat lunch together!”Bookmark here

Time had flown by despite the coldness in my chest.Bookmark here

For once, I was grateful that it had passed so quickly.Bookmark here

My birthmark burnt a little as I walked over to them.Bookmark here

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Hinata and I had gotten quite close, close enough that I felt comfortable calling her my friend. There was still a little bit of distance, I felt, between Inori, Kana and I, though we could talk pleasantly enough with Hinata there.Bookmark here

They didn’t seem to dislike me, but I remembered how bewildered they had been during our school trip.Bookmark here

As we had walked around the sites during our free times and activities, I had gone out of my way to find as much to talk about as possible and what better things to talk about than the tourist spots of Kyoto.Bookmark here

I had spent many hours researching the history of the most famous historical sites, including the Fushimi Inari-taisha where we walked through the first day, and Hinata seemed fascinated by what I had to say.Bookmark here

Kana and Inori just seemed to be blown away by how much I knew.Bookmark here

I think I went too far with gathering intelligence to the point where I must have put them off quite a lot.Bookmark here

That night though, we did have a big girl’s talk with them and the four other girls that we were sharing with which was nice enough, though my responses were about as short as those one the train.Bookmark here

Strangely, no one seemed to mind.Bookmark here

I even ended up exchanging my contact details with all seven of them, though only Hinata texted me regularly.Bookmark here

Still, I was happy with how the trip had turned out.Bookmark here

I had one friend and the groundwork had been laid for me to acquire more.Bookmark here

All I needed to do was not mess it up.Bookmark here

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“Ah~”Bookmark here

I accepted the karaage Hinata offered me and it was delicious.Bookmark here

I don’t know why, but Hinata started giggling a little.Bookmark here

I looked at the other two, but they were just smiling while watching us.Bookmark here

“…What?”Bookmark here

“Nothing~”Bookmark here

“Right?”Bookmark here

Hinata seemed a little bit embarrassed, but I didn’t see what the problem was per se. I’d always wanted to share food like this, so, without worrying about what Inori and Kana thought, I offered Hinata one of my eggrolls to her with my chopsticks.Bookmark here

Admittedly, I was too embarrassed to say ‘Ah’ like she had, but Hinata accepted it nonetheless.Bookmark here

With slightly pink cheeks, Hinata chewed away at my food like a chipmunk.Bookmark here

“How cute.”Bookmark here

Hinata stopped chewing all of a sudden.Bookmark here

It was then I realised that I hadn’t thought that but said it aloud.Bookmark here

Now, I was embarrassed, especially because Inori and Kana started laughing at Hinata’s flustered reaction, which was really cute.Bookmark here

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We spent three happy weeks together like that and, I hoped, that they would continue.Bookmark here

Whether or not they would depend on one person.Bookmark here

Rei Yukimura.Bookmark here

The person who was meant to be in our group on the school trip was finally coming back to school after a prolonged absence.Bookmark here

His cold, it turned out, was a much more serious illness than anyone thought it was and he had to be hospitalised for two weeks.Bookmark here

I didn’t hear exactly what it was because everyone started spreading rumours, so the truth was hard to discern.Bookmark here

Some said he’d had two different types of the flu.Bookmark here

Others said he’d actually broken his ankle and never had a cold to begin with.Bookmark here

One particularly strange one was that he had gotten attacked on the street by some drunk salaryman.Bookmark here

Hinata, however, told me that Rei’s parents said it was a really strong allergic reaction to something they didn’t know he was allergic to.Bookmark here

Shrimps of all things.Bookmark here

He’d never had any before and then his family went out to a seafood restaurant, and the rest is history.Bookmark here

“He’d always been put off trying them because of the eyes,” Hinata told me. “Finally, his mum pestered into trying them and then, well, let’s just say she’s never going to do that again.”Bookmark here

“…Are you two close?”Bookmark here

“Hmm, not really?” Hinata ran a hand through her hair as she thought about him. “It’s more like, I’m one of the only girls he talks to regularly.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“Oh, curious about Rei, are we?”Bookmark here

…I’m curious about your relationship with him.Bookmark here

When I didn’t say anything, Hinata shrugged it off and said, “We used to be close when we were kids, then he moved away for a while and his parents enrolled him at a small country school. When his father got transferred to Tokyo, they moved in next to our house and we sort of reconnected.”Bookmark here

She then went on to tell me that it was only natural for me to be curious about him, because he was handsome, smart and he would’ve been on our trip.Bookmark here

“It’s not like that,” I said, but Hinata seemed to think I was being bashful.Bookmark here

I tried to explain that I wasn’t, but that seemed to convince her even more.Bookmark here

That said.Bookmark here

I did notice it.Bookmark here

A slight pain in her eyes when I kept denying it.Bookmark here

…Did she hope something would happen between me and Rei, or is there something else to it?Bookmark here

I don’t know, but I felt bad because I’d made Hinata look like that.Bookmark here

Then, the day finally came - Rei was coming back and everyone, including our homeroom teacher, threw him a mini party at lunch.Bookmark here

When he stepped through the doors for the first time, I did think he was an attractive boy, but I felt nothing else.Bookmark here

He had black hair, sharp brown eyes and I could tell that he was quite physically fit as well; his toned abs were a little bit visible through his shirt. His face was definitely my type as well, with nice cheek bones and a nice smile, but my heart didn’t flutter at all.Bookmark here

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I spotted Hinata eyeing me up, but then she quickly turned away.Bookmark here

Maybe she was trying to see how I’d react to Rei, but I imagine it was an underwhelming reaction.Bookmark here

Much louder and more vocal about this gentleman were some of the girls near me.Bookmark here

Apparently, they were quite fond of him.Bookmark here

Though, based on how more than 90% of the class went up to greet him when he came in, maybe it was just that he had a lot of friends.Bookmark here

Whatever the reason, I didn’t care.Bookmark here

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I didn’t want to fall for a man, not after what had happened with Ryuuji.Bookmark here

Not for a while, at least.Bookmark here

I hoped my next partner was going to be a woman, though that seemed like a distant dream right now.Bookmark here

What about Hinata?Bookmark here

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Curious, I looked over at her, but could only see the back of her head.Bookmark here

Still, I knew that she was cute, extremely cute.Bookmark here

Maybe she had someone she liked.Bookmark here

Hang on.Bookmark here

My mind connected the dots.Bookmark here

Maybe Hinata likes Rei.Bookmark here

Maybe that’s why she seemed a little upset when I was talking to her about him.Bookmark here

If that’s the case, then I don’t know what I’d do if I did like Hinata.Bookmark here

Presently, all I wanted were friends that would last a lifetime or, in my case, another 10 years roughly.Bookmark here

Anything more than that would be greedy.Bookmark here

The next day, after Rei’s welcome back party, Hinata invited him to our table for lunch and, instinctively, I knew something would change in my life, for better or worse.Bookmark here

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A Note from TheGrompFather:Bookmark here

Hi guys,
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It’s been a while since I updated Third and Final Time, I know, but I would just like to say two things here at the end of this chapter. Bookmark here

First - I decided to wrap up The Children of Eris’s 100 Days War Arc first rather than work on both stories at once. It turned out to be too difficult to update both stories frequently, so it made sense to me to finish one first and then dedicate my time to the other once done.Bookmark here

Second - I wanted to pick Third and Final Time back up when I could give you guys a better timetable of releases. I know that my release schedule for it was pretty inconsistent to this point, but I have some good news I want to share with you all.Bookmark here

I am pleased to announce that Third and Final Time will now be updating every 2-3 days from today onwards, so please look forward to that!Bookmark here

Thank you for reading this and hope to see you again soon,Bookmark here

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TheGrompFather.Bookmark here

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