Chapter 9:

Ever Fleeting

Third and Final Time

Three months had passed since my third high school debut and I was in a better place in my life.
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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.Bookmark here

That is until Hinata herself suggested one a few weeks ago.Bookmark here

I gladly accepted and we stayed round hers again.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

We might be good friends, maybe even best friends, but that doesn’t mean we have to share everything with one another.Bookmark here

Hinata knew I suffered from anxiety, but not from depression.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Regardless, I was enjoying my third life.Bookmark here

However.Bookmark here

I gripped my chest lightly as a small, burning sensations spread from my birthmark.Bookmark here

It often did that, now more than ever.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

That doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I wonder if he’s just as awkward with me as I am with him.Bookmark here

Or maybe it’s my awkwardness that makes him that way.Bookmark here

I shook my head - that sort of thing shouldn’t matter.Bookmark here

If I started letting the small things get to me, it’d start to chip away at the bigger, better things in my life.Bookmark here

My parents were alive and happy, I had friends, I had a social life, and I was no longer an outcast.Bookmark here

There was nothing but things to be thankful for.Bookmark here

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“Hey, Hinata.” Rei popped his head into our classroom during lunch and held up a small bag to her. “You forgot your gym clothes.”Bookmark here

“Ah! I totally forgot we had that today!”Bookmark here

“Why do you think the boys were getting so hyped about playing football?”Bookmark here

“…I thought they were playing after school somewhere.”Bookmark here

“And the fact that everyone else had their gym bags?”Bookmark here

“…Shut up.”Bookmark here

I laughed and lightly stroked my friend’s head. “Don’t worry about it - we all have those days.”Bookmark here

Her eyes started gleaming and she looked up at me. “Even you, Akane.”Bookmark here

“...”Bookmark here

“Akane?”Bookmark here

“Sorry - it’s just you.”Bookmark here

“Akane!” Hinata started pretending to cry and threw herself into Inori’s arms. Inori seemed a bit trouble by her affection and just sighed.Bookmark here

“Rei, get her off me and give it to her.”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

“What are you, her boyfriend?”Bookmark here

“You know I’m not.”Bookmark here

“Shut up!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

As expected of childhood friends, I should say.Bookmark here

Had I not had that sleepover with Hinata a few weeks ago, I might have thought she liked him in a romantic way.Bookmark here

When I asked her, however, she made a disgusted expression and proclaimed, “Who could ever love that bastard?!”Bookmark here

I don’t think I had ever seen her so angry before.Bookmark here

Definitely no love there.Bookmark here

Does it make me a bad person if I’m glad that’s the case?Bookmark here

They’re old friends and nothing more - that’s good for me.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“That’s horrible!”Bookmark here

“That’s what you get for being an idiot.”Bookmark here

“Who’s an idi-?!”Bookmark here

“Hinata.” I pulled her into a hug and smiled at her. “You’re troubling everyone else.”Bookmark here

Apparently, my skin ship was enough to calm her down because she quickly stopped talking, then apologised to the rest of the class.Bookmark here

“…You two really are close.”Bookmark here

“Is that a problem?” Hinata grinned mischievously. “You jealous, Rei? That Akane gets to hug me whenever she-”Bookmark here

Rei’s face reminded me of Hinata’s from a few weeks ago.Bookmark here

How could someone show such animosity with such a simple expression?Bookmark here

“Oi, Rei! What’s taking you-?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Two of them had black hair and one had light brown hair, and they seemed to be the athletic types.Bookmark here

I didn’t know their names, nor did I want to.Bookmark here

Talking to Rei had been difficult enough - talking to boys other than Rei would take a lot more time and effort.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Oh God.Bookmark here

I looked over at Inori as she rolled her eyes; Hinata seemed unphased, though Kana froze up a little.Bookmark here

“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-!”Bookmark here

“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-”Bookmark here

“Come on, man, it’s not fair you hogging all these beautiful girls to yourself!”Bookmark here

“Rei…”Bookmark here

Hinata’s quiet, judging whisper reached only his ears and not his friends.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Come on, man, at least let me get their names!”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“That’s not enough! At least, at least let me-!”Bookmark here

“Aki, grab his other arm.”Bookmark here

“Gladly.”Bookmark here

Rei and the other boy dragged Hayato away, and I silently thanked them in my heart.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Why not? He’s such a charmer.”Bookmark here

Inori, your scathing sarcasm could cut steel.Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

“Any luck?”Bookmark here

“None.”Bookmark here

“What. A. Shock.”Bookmark here

“Anyway!” Hinata lightly banged on her desk. “I didn’t catch your name.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I’mBookmark here

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Ryuuji Sakamoto.”Bookmark here

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Huh?Bookmark here

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Eh?Bookmark here

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N….no…Bookmark here

That’s…Bookmark here

…No…Bookmark here

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That’s…Bookmark here

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ABookmark here

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Lie…Bookmark here

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Right?Bookmark here

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My blood ran cold.Bookmark here

I turned and looked more closely at the boy before me and, suddenly, I saw it.Bookmark here

I remembered looking through old photo albums.Bookmark here

I remembered our wedding day.Bookmark here

I remembered the day we started going out.Bookmark here

I remembered the day we met.Bookmark here

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Which high school did he say he was-?Bookmark here

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I couldn’t breathe.Bookmark here

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His face.Bookmark here

His voice.Bookmark here

The way he spoke.Bookmark here

The way he moved.Bookmark here

Everything!Bookmark here

It was all the same!Bookmark here

It wasn’t just someone with the same name.Bookmark here

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It was Ryuuji! Bookmark here

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I looked down at my hands as every sound became incoherent noise.Bookmark here

I couldn’t stop shaking.Bookmark here

I grabbed my left with my right to try and stop it, but it only got worse.Bookmark here

I tried to dig my nails into my thighs, but it didn’t stop.Bookmark here

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My breathing became shallow, rapid, and quiet.Bookmark here

Had anyone noticed?!Bookmark here

If they had and were trying to talk to me, I couldn’t hear them.Bookmark here

I couldn’t see them.Bookmark here

In my mind, I took one wrong step and slipped down the stairs.Bookmark here

But.Bookmark here

When I tried to grab on and stop myself falling deeper, I realised they weren’t stairs.Bookmark here

It was a spiral.Bookmark here

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How long had I been hyperventilating for?Bookmark here

I…I had to go.Bookmark here

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I excused myself to the bathroom and had to fight the urge to run there.Bookmark here

I couldn’t let myself get exposed.Bookmark here

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I couldn’t afford to pass out.
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I-I---I had to…Bookmark here

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I spent the rest of lunchtime with my head over a toilet bowl.Bookmark here

My lunch, which had been so delicious and sweet, tasted bitter and rotten coming back.Bookmark here

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My breathing was laboured but it had stabilised.Bookmark here

My clothes were soaked down to my underwear.Bookmark here

I hadn’t sweat so much before in my life.Bookmark here

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I felt cold.Bookmark here

So very cold.Bookmark here

I hugged myself for warmth, but that just made me cry instead.Bookmark here

Why?Bookmark here

Why did he have to be here?Bookmark here

He’s not the man I knew; I know that, this is long before we ever met, but I can’t!Bookmark here

I can’t stand it!Bookmark here

His face!Bookmark here

His voice!Bookmark here

His laugh!Bookmark here

The way it all makes my skin crawl!Bookmark here

The way it crushes me beneath an inescapable weight!Bookmark here

The way it makes me remember the pain of him abandoning me!Bookmark here

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“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.Bookmark here

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I woke up on the bathroom floor an hour later and took myself on uneven steps to the nurse’s office.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?”Bookmark here

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“…I don’t feel so good.”Bookmark here

Kuromaru (クロまる)
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