Chapter 7:

Two Steps Forward

Third and Final Time

Rei Yukimura.

A friendly-looking handsome boy who had definitely always been popular with girls.

In fact, since his return, there had rarely been a moment when a girl wasn’t talking to him or looking at him.


I felt nothing when I saw him, except unease.

Was it his smile, his demeanour, the way the rest of my classmates gravitated towards him, or was it because he was a he?

In my past life and in this one, I had not had good experiences with men.

In fact, I still carried those scars.

Thankfully, he wasn’t anywhere near me.

I was sat next to Hinata, Inori was across from me with Kana, and then Rei was sat at the head of the table.

Lunchtime had been a source of comfort for me since I made my first friends in high school, but now I wished it would end quickly and painlessly.

“Hey, Rei, did Hinata show you the pictures of our trip to Kyoto yet?”

“A few, though.” He smirked. “She sent a few where she was making a dumb face.”

“Hey! You said you didn’t see those before I deleted it.”

“I screenshotted them.”

“Delete them!”

“I sent them to Inori and Kana too.”

The table seemed to be having a good time, apart from me.

I wanted to join in, to try and get along with Rei, but I just couldn’t do it.

It’s not like I didn’t have times when I could’ve said more than just ‘yeah’, but I was scared to speak up.


Rei hadn’t done anything wrong.

He was nice.

He was friendly.

He hadn’t done anything to me.

So why couldn’t I even look at him?

I sighed quietly to myself and continued eating in almost complete silence.

I was embarrassed with myself.

Hadn’t I started moving forward?

Hadn’t I finally made progress in this life?

I had friends and I had things I looked forward to.

And still.

I retreated into my shell because it was easier.

No, it wasn’t just that - it was too comfortable to leave it once I’d gotten back into it.

Here, I was safe.

I didn’t embarrass myself; I didn’t have to deal with the stares or what anyone else was, and nothing could hurt me except me.

On some level, even now, I still thought this was the best way to live - alone.

“So, what did you guys all like most about Kyoto?”

“The hotel. It had these gorgeous hot springs, and the staff handed out ice cream to us afterwards!”

“What about you, Kana?”

“Me? Umm…I guess the Fushimi Inari Taisha. I’d always wanted to go, but my family always wants to take trips overseas rather than in Japan. Oh!” Kana surprised herself with the volume of her voice. “Sorry. I just remembered - Akane knew some really cool facts and stuff about Kyoto, and I think that might’ve been my favourite thing in the end.”

“Really?” I felt Rei’s gaze turn to me. “What about you, Akane?”

I started to sweat.


He asked a simple question - you can answer it.

Spending time with Hinata, Inori and Kana.

Just say that and-

Take a deep breath, Akane. Hold it for a moment, then let it out quietly.


I put another piece of food into my mouth, preventing me from elaborating further.

“It’s a cool place, isn’t it?”

I nodded and started chewing more slowly.

“Akane knew a lot about Kiyomizu-dera, too, didn’t you?” Hinata asked me, lightly poking my side.

I swallowed and said, “Yeah…I love Kyoto, so I’ve read lots of books about it.”

“What sort of stuff?”


I took another bite and I think, that time, people caught on.

At least, the small forced smile on Inori’s lips said as much.

I couldn’t see Hinata, Rei or Kana’s reactions, but I imagine it was similar to her’s.

The conversation continued without me for some time, though everyone did try to occasionally include me in their talks.

If it was one of the girls talking to me, I could join in with no issues.

If it was Rei, he’d be lucky to get more than two words out of me.

I’m sorry, Rei, but thank you for trying.

I heard a small, mischievous chuckle beside me.

“Hey, Rei, do you have anyone you like right now?”

Slowly, time crept forwards.

Fear grasped my heart as I realised what Hinata was trying to do.

She still thinks-!

At that point, I knew I couldn’t stay here any longer.

I didn’t care how it looked to the others, I needed to leave before-

“I do.”

His cheeks seemed a little red.


Then, with a small smile, he declared, without shame:


Inori almost burst out laughing, but bit down on her lip to stop herself, though they still trembled.

“That’s not what I meant-!”

Rei’s eyes popped open a little and he took his phone out of his pocket. After unlocking it, he sighed a little and started packing his things away.

“Sorry. Gotta go.”

“Hey, wai-!”


Just like that, our lunchtime came to an end.

Or so I thought it had.

“That’s not like Rei.”

“What isn’t?” Kana asked.

“Rei always has his volume on loud, so there’s no-”


Apparently, the girls had figured out something and decided to keep quiet. All I could see was Inori nudging her head a little towards me, perhaps to get Hinata to stop talking.

Regardless, it didn’t bother me.

We all finished our meals and spent the time awkwardly in silence.

For once, I did not feel a warm, fluffy feeling after lunchtime.

I don’t know what it had been replaced with, but it wasn’t a pleasant emotion.

Did Rei leave out of consideration for me?

Could he tell I was uncomfortable with him being there, or did I make him feel that way to the point where he had to leave?

Maybe he had been embarrassed that his crush had asked him such things point blank?

Those sorts of thoughts lingered in my mind until the very end of the day.

If I couldn’t even talk to Rei, would it ever be possible for me to have any male friends ever?

Or was it because of the misunderstandings with Hinata that made me incapable of talking to him?

“Hey, Akane.”

After putting my indoor shoes back in their locker, I was approached by Hinata, carrying a stack of papers a teacher had asked her to carry.


“Did I…say something I shouldn’t have…earlier?”

“You did.”



Akane, why?

Look at her face.

The pain.

You were too blunt.

I don’t know what sort of face I had made, but I knew I couldn’t stay here any longer.

So, I fled.

I walked as fast as I could away from the pleading Hinata and went straight home, locking myself in my bedroom.

I’m such an idiot.

Why do I keep doing stupid things like this?

I cried into my pillow for ten minutes before the tears dried out.

I redid my makeup, had a peaceful dinner with my parents, relaxed in the bath for half an hour, and then spent the rest of the evening doing homework and nothing else.

Then, my phone began to vibrate.


I was scared to answer, but I knew from my past lives what would happen if I didn’t.

So, I picked up and waited for her to talk first.

“I’m sorry.”

“…I’m sorry too.”

“Why are you-?”

“Because.” I swallowed hard. “I said something mean to you. I’m sorry, I didn’t-”

“I know.”


“Because.” Hinata laughed beautifully. “I know you have trouble with these sorts of things. You told me, remember?”


“I crossed a line at lunch I shouldn’t have, and I know that, but I thought I could help you guys get-”

“Hinata. I do not like Rei that way - I swear.”



A few moments of silence passed before Hinata let out a massive sigh and audibly collapsed onto her bed.

“Oh my God, I’m such an idiot! I’m so sorry, Akane! I just thought-!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at her embarrassed voice.


“Sorry, but I knew that’s what you thought.”

“…I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, Hinata. Just…believe me the next time I say it.”

“I will! No matter who it is, unless you say you like them, I won’t believe it!”


We spent the next twenty minutes chatting pleasantly on the phone about our day, the trip to Kyoto and more. When I told her that my favourite thing about the trip was getting to know her and the girls, she seemed really embarrassed and thanked me in a soft voice.

I’d never realised it before, but I’d never had such a long phone conversation before that wasn’t for a meeting at work.

I didn’t expect it to be this fun, this heart-warming, this peaceful.

Maybe it was special because it was Hinata.

“Hey, Akane.”


“I still feel bad about today, and-”

“Don’t be.”

“I know I shouldn’t, and you’ve already forgiven me, but I still want to make it up to you somehow. Is there any way I can?”

For once, I did not have to think about my answer.

“…Can I sleepover at your house?”

“S-sure. Oh, I can invite Kana and-”

“Just…just the two of us.”

“A-ah, u-u-um…s-s-sure.”