Third and Final Time
Three weeks had passed since our school’s trip to Kyoto and I was no longer eating lunch alone.
Now, at the chime of the bell, Hinata would excitedly call me over to join her, Inori and Kana and eat with them.
Every time, I accepted with a small smile, happy every time she asked.
I was so happy that I lost sleep over it.
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.
What if, one day, Hinata stopped calling me over?
What if, tomorrow, she says that she doesn’t want to eat with me?
What would I do?
Naturally, my mind wouldn’t let me rest after that and I got little sleep.
Even that morning, as my mother handed me my bento, I was still scared of that nightmare becoming realty.
“What’s wrong, Akane?” My mother asked.
I didn’t say anything, so she said nothing back and held me tightly, stroking my hair.
After a minute, I thanked her and headed off for school.
I don’t know how my mother knew that’s what I needed most, but I was grateful.
Maybe I would’ve been like that with Ryuuji’s child.
A memory from my first life drifted into my mind.
As part of an awareness campaign for mental health issues, we had a guest lecturer come into our high school.
“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.”
I smiled bitterly as I drew closer to school.
When would I reach my breaking point?
When would the spiral’s weight crush me?
I thought of Hinata, of Inori and Kana, and of our lunchtimes together.
If those suddenly vanished from my life, that might do it.
“Akane, let’s eat lunch together!”
Time had flown by despite the coldness in my chest.
For once, I was grateful that it had passed so quickly.
My birthmark burnt a little as I walked over to them.
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.
They didn’t seem to dislike me, but I remembered how bewildered they had been during our school trip.
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.
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.
Kana and Inori just seemed to be blown away by how much I knew.
I think I went too far with gathering intelligence to the point where I must have put them off quite a lot.
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.
Strangely, no one seemed to mind.
I even ended up exchanging my contact details with all seven of them, though only Hinata texted me regularly.
Still, I was happy with how the trip had turned out.
I had one friend and the groundwork had been laid for me to acquire more.
All I needed to do was not mess it up.
I accepted the karaage Hinata offered me and it was delicious.
I don’t know why, but Hinata started giggling a little.
I looked at the other two, but they were just smiling while watching us.
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.
Admittedly, I was too embarrassed to say ‘Ah’ like she had, but Hinata accepted it nonetheless.
With slightly pink cheeks, Hinata chewed away at my food like a chipmunk.
Hinata stopped chewing all of a sudden.
It was then I realised that I hadn’t thought that but said it aloud.
Now, I was embarrassed, especially because Inori and Kana started laughing at Hinata’s flustered reaction, which was really cute.
We spent three happy weeks together like that and, I hoped, that they would continue.
Whether or not they would depend on one person.
The person who was meant to be in our group on the school trip was finally coming back to school after a prolonged absence.
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.
I didn’t hear exactly what it was because everyone started spreading rumours, so the truth was hard to discern.
Some said he’d had two different types of the flu.
Others said he’d actually broken his ankle and never had a cold to begin with.
One particularly strange one was that he had gotten attacked on the street by some drunk salaryman.
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.
Shrimps of all things.
He’d never had any before and then his family went out to a seafood restaurant, and the rest is history.
“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.”
“…Are you two close?”
“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.”
“Oh, curious about Rei, are we?”
…I’m curious about your relationship with him.
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.”
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.
“It’s not like that,” I said, but Hinata seemed to think I was being bashful.
I tried to explain that I wasn’t, but that seemed to convince her even more.
I did notice it.
A slight pain in her eyes when I kept denying it.
…Did she hope something would happen between me and Rei, or is there something else to it?
I don’t know, but I felt bad because I’d made Hinata look like that.
Then, the day finally came - Rei was coming back and everyone, including our homeroom teacher, threw him a mini party at lunch.
When he stepped through the doors for the first time, I did think he was an attractive boy, but I felt nothing else.
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.
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I spotted Hinata eyeing me up, but then she quickly turned away.
Maybe she was trying to see how I’d react to Rei, but I imagine it was an underwhelming reaction.
Much louder and more vocal about this gentleman were some of the girls near me.
Apparently, they were quite fond of him.
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.
Whatever the reason, I didn’t care.
I didn’t want to fall for a man, not after what had happened with Ryuuji.
Not for a while, at least.
I hoped my next partner was going to be a woman, though that seemed like a distant dream right now.
What about Hinata?
Curious, I looked over at her, but could only see the back of her head.
Still, I knew that she was cute, extremely cute.
Maybe she had someone she liked.
My mind connected the dots.
Maybe Hinata likes Rei.
Maybe that’s why she seemed a little upset when I was talking to her about him.
If that’s the case, then I don’t know what I’d do if I did like Hinata.
Presently, all I wanted were friends that would last a lifetime or, in my case, another 10 years roughly.
Anything more than that would be greedy.
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.
A Note from TheGrompFather:
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.
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.
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.
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!
Thank you for reading this and hope to see you again soon,