Third and Final Time
Three months had passed since my third high school debut and I was in a better place in my life.
After the sleepover with Hinata, I started hanging out with the girls more often after school and we even had a few group sleepovers. Hinata seemed a bit more relaxed when we were with them, so I didn’t think it best to bring up the idea of another night with just the two of us.
That is until Hinata herself suggested one a few weeks ago.
I gladly accepted and we stayed round hers again.
I had considered letting her sleep around mine, but then I remembered how plain and boring my bedroom was, so I thought it best to not show her that.
We might be good friends, maybe even best friends, but that doesn’t mean we have to share everything with one another.
Hinata knew I suffered from anxiety, but not from depression.
I knew that Hinata had had issues in the past with her body image because of bullying when she was young, but I imagined that she had others secrets she never wanted to share with anyone else.
Regardless, I was enjoying my third life.
I gripped my chest lightly as a small, burning sensations spread from my birthmark.
It often did that, now more than ever.
Perhaps it was the devil’s way of reminding me not to get too used to this happiness, or maybe it arose every time I feared I’d lose this happiness, but it was something I had started getting used to.
That doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt.
Rei only occasionally stopped by to have lunch with us, though I’m pleased to say I can at least hold basic, amiable conversations with him. We don’t talk at all when we’re left alone but, if we’re with the group or with one of the girls, we can speak to each other just fine.
I wonder if he’s just as awkward with me as I am with him.
Or maybe it’s my awkwardness that makes him that way.
I shook my head - that sort of thing shouldn’t matter.
If I started letting the small things get to me, it’d start to chip away at the bigger, better things in my life.
My parents were alive and happy, I had friends, I had a social life, and I was no longer an outcast.
There was nothing but things to be thankful for.
“Hey, Hinata.” Rei popped his head into our classroom during lunch and held up a small bag to her. “You forgot your gym clothes.”
“Ah! I totally forgot we had that today!”
“Why do you think the boys were getting so hyped about playing football?”
“…I thought they were playing after school somewhere.”
“And the fact that everyone else had their gym bags?”
I laughed and lightly stroked my friend’s head. “Don’t worry about it - we all have those days.”
Her eyes started gleaming and she looked up at me. “Even you, Akane.”
“Sorry - it’s just you.”
“Akane!” Hinata started pretending to cry and threw herself into Inori’s arms. Inori seemed a bit trouble by her affection and just sighed.
“Rei, get her off me and give it to her.”
Without much effort, Rei pulled Hinata off Inori and handed her the bag. Then, with a small chop to her head, he said, “Don’t bother Inori.”
“What are you, her boyfriend?”
“You know I’m not.”
Kana and I had a little laugh at our friend’s expense, though Rei and Hinata didn’t seem to take as much joy from their interaction as we did.
As expected of childhood friends, I should say.
Had I not had that sleepover with Hinata a few weeks ago, I might have thought she liked him in a romantic way.
When I asked her, however, she made a disgusted expression and proclaimed, “Who could ever love that bastard?!”
I don’t think I had ever seen her so angry before.
Definitely no love there.
Does it make me a bad person if I’m glad that’s the case?
They’re old friends and nothing more - that’s good for me.
“Hinata, you better thank your mum for this - if she hadn’t asked me to bring them, I would’ve let you rush off this morning without them.”
“That’s what you get for being an idiot.”
“Who’s an idi-?!”
“Hinata.” I pulled her into a hug and smiled at her. “You’re troubling everyone else.”
Apparently, my skin ship was enough to calm her down because she quickly stopped talking, then apologised to the rest of the class.
“…You two really are close.”
“Is that a problem?” Hinata grinned mischievously. “You jealous, Rei? That Akane gets to hug me whenever she-”
Rei’s face reminded me of Hinata’s from a few weeks ago.
How could someone show such animosity with such a simple expression?
“Oi, Rei! What’s taking you-?”
Three boys came into the classroom, no doubt wondering why their friend hadn’t come back to have lunch after dropping Hinata’s bag to her.
Two of them had black hair and one had light brown hair, and they seemed to be the athletic types.
I didn’t know their names, nor did I want to.
Talking to Rei had been difficult enough - talking to boys other than Rei would take a lot more time and effort.
“Oh!” One of the black-haired boys started smirking after checking out our group. “Rei, you didn’t mention you were friends with such lovely ladies.”
I looked over at Inori as she rolled her eyes; Hinata seemed unphased, though Kana froze up a little.
“Nice to meet you, Rei’s friends. I’m Hayato, from class 1-C. My hobbies consist of baseball, football, basketballs, actually, just any kind of sport, and-!”
“Sorry about this, you guys.” Rei sighed a little as he stepped between us and them. “Hayato, I was just about to come back anyway, so-”
“Come on, man, it’s not fair you hogging all these beautiful girls to yourself!”
Hinata’s quiet, judging whisper reached only his ears and not his friends.
“Hayato, you’re coming on too strong.” The brown-haired boy grabbed Hayato by the collar and pulled him back. “Sorry about him - he’s just really stupid, so please ignore him.”
“We knew that Rei often went to see Hinata during the day, but we’d never heard anything about you guys, so Hayato was just a bit surprised. Please don’t hold it against him. Rei, let’s go.”
“Come on, man, at least let me get their names!”
“If that’s what it will take you to go, then sure.” Rei sighed heavily, then pointed to us as he introduced us. “Hinata, Inori, Kana, Akane. Right, let’s go.”
“That’s not enough! At least, at least let me-!”
“Aki, grab his other arm.”
Rei and the other boy dragged Hayato away, and I silently thanked them in my heart.
“I honestly didn’t know Aki and Hayato went to this school,” Hinata said with a small smile. “Sorry about that, girls - they’ve always been like that. Though.” She looked over to the brown-haired boy curiously. “I’ve never seen you before. Are you one of Rei’s old friend’s too?”
“No, no, I met them on our first day.” The boy smiled back. “I’m really sorry about Hayato - he’s kind of the reason why we don’t have many female friends.”
“Why not? He’s such a charmer.”
Inori, your scathing sarcasm could cut steel.
Still, the boy laughed. “You aren’t wrong. Honestly, I think it’s because Aki got a girlfriend recently, so he’s been a bit jealous and tried getting his own.”
“What. A. Shock.”
“Anyway!” Hinata lightly banged on her desk. “I didn’t catch your name.”
My blood ran cold.
I turned and looked more closely at the boy before me and, suddenly, I saw it.
I remembered looking through old photo albums.
I remembered our wedding day.
I remembered the day we started going out.
I remembered the day we met.
Which high school did he say he was-?
I couldn’t breathe.
The way he spoke.
The way he moved.
It was all the same!
It wasn’t just someone with the same name.
It was Ryuuji!
I looked down at my hands as every sound became incoherent noise.
I couldn’t stop shaking.
I grabbed my left with my right to try and stop it, but it only got worse.
I tried to dig my nails into my thighs, but it didn’t stop.
My breathing became shallow, rapid, and quiet.
Had anyone noticed?!
If they had and were trying to talk to me, I couldn’t hear them.
I couldn’t see them.
In my mind, I took one wrong step and slipped down the stairs.
When I tried to grab on and stop myself falling deeper, I realised they weren’t stairs.
It was a spiral.
How long had I been hyperventilating for?
I…I had to go.
I excused myself to the bathroom and had to fight the urge to run there.
I couldn’t let myself get exposed.
I couldn’t afford to pass out.
I-I---I had to…
I spent the rest of lunchtime with my head over a toilet bowl.
My lunch, which had been so delicious and sweet, tasted bitter and rotten coming back.
My breathing was laboured but it had stabilised.
My clothes were soaked down to my underwear.
I hadn’t sweat so much before in my life.
I felt cold.
So very cold.
I hugged myself for warmth, but that just made me cry instead.
Why did he have to be here?
He’s not the man I knew; I know that, this is long before we ever met, but I can’t!
I can’t stand it!
The way it all makes my skin crawl!
The way it crushes me beneath an inescapable weight!
The way it makes me remember the pain of him abandoning me!
“Why?!” I screamed out at the top of my lungs, but no one heard my cries. If they had, then they left me to it as I kept repeating that word until my voice went hoarse.
I woke up on the bathroom floor an hour later and took myself on uneven steps to the nurse’s office.
“…I don’t feel so good.”