Chapter 12:


Third and Final Time

Half and half.Bookmark here

That’s how I’d describe the rough response to our class’s coming out’s yesterday.Bookmark here

Half didn’t mind, spoke to us normally or praised us for our courage.Bookmark here

Half didn’t look at us, didn’t speak to us, or cursed at us behind our backs.Bookmark here

It was uncomfortable and I thought I’d crumble beneath the pressure for sure, but Rei ended up being the one to support all four of us in the end.Bookmark here

He was popular throughout the entire school, not just our year group.Bookmark here

In fact, a number of his senpai supported him and made some speeches to their clubs about not discriminating against someone based on their sexual orientation.Bookmark here

A few, however, cut ties with Rei completely, calling him ‘gross’ among other things.Bookmark here

Still, I was able to endure it.Bookmark here

I had Hinata, Inori, Kana, Rei and his friends supporting me.Bookmark here

Ami had a good support bubble around her too and most of our class treated us much the same, save for those idiots who made those lewd comments about me.Bookmark here

This morning, when I sat down at my desk, I found a note inside with a single word written on it.Bookmark here

Freak.Bookmark here

I shredded it into a million pieces and put the remnants in the bin.Bookmark here

Perhaps the idiot who left it there wanted me to give a big reaction to it, but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.Bookmark here

Instead, I had a normal day at school, save for a few awkward conversations with Inori.Bookmark here

I feared that my outburst the day before would’ve broken our friendship forever, until.Bookmark here

“Hey, Akane, do you have any plans for the weekend?”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“Then, want to go on a date with me?”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Saturday came and Inori looked disappointed with me.Bookmark here

She had dressed up in really cute clothes and put a lot of effort into coordinating her entire outfit.Bookmark here

I had thrown on some baggy trousers, a t-shirt slightly too big for me and a hoody. Bookmark here

“Akane - do you get an allowance from your parents?”Bookmark here

I nodded, and carefully avoided mentioning an exact amount. After all, I had helped my parents win a lottery not too long ago, and I didn’t want to draw any negative attention to myself as a result of it.Bookmark here

In my wallet, I had about 30,000 yen in cash and I had a debit card with a monthly allowance of 100,000 yen on it.Bookmark here

“Come with me.”Bookmark here

Without waiting for my response, Inori took my hand and dragged me into a designer clothes store.Bookmark here

Then, she started choosing lots of items and handing them to me.Bookmark here

After thirty minutes, my arms were overflowing with fabric and then Inori took me to a changing room. Bookmark here

Strangely, she came into the room with me and started handing me clothes to put on.Bookmark here

Apparently, she didn’t trust me to choose my own outfit.Bookmark here

I don’t blame her.Bookmark here

I’d only ever dressed up once for one person and that was the last time I went to Hinata’s house.Bookmark here

I giggled quietly when I remembered her reaction.Bookmark here

As I tried on the clothes, Inori didn’t watch me change, probably out of consideration about my scar.Bookmark here

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever shown anyone but my parents and doctors the scar. Even during PE and our physical health examinations, I’ve always been allowed to wear a jumper over my shirt; the principal even said I could change in a private room before and after class too.Bookmark here

After Inori made me try on the fourth outfit she’d picked out, I started wondering why I hadn’t just worn that one-piece dress again.Bookmark here

Or - was it that I didn’t want to wear it for anyone but Hinata?Bookmark here

“You okay, Akane? Your face is a little red.”Bookmark here

“I-I’m fine.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Our date ended up consisting entirely of shopping, walking and checking out a few accessories and pieces of jewellery. Bookmark here

Aside from the outfit Inori chose for me earlier, we didn’t end up buying much. Bookmark here

We were currently resting on a bench, resting whilst sipping on some drinks we’d bought at a vending machine. Bookmark here

I’d never gone on a date with friends before like this, so I was really happy, but…Bookmark here

The more I looked at Inori, the more it felt like she was forcing herself to act normal.Bookmark here

There were a few times I thought I saw her cheery demeanour fall apart, then quickly recover once she realised what she was doing.Bookmark here

It made me more uncomfortable than I ever thought it could.Bookmark here

There was something just deeply upsetting about seeing a friend trying to act like they were okay when they-Bookmark here

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Oh.Bookmark here

I bit my lip.Bookmark here

Inori - is this how it felt for you guys?Bookmark here

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I felt awful.Bookmark here

I’d lashed out at her like that when she felt like this…I’m a horrible person.Bookmark here

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“Sorry.”Bookmark here

“…Huh?”Bookmark here

Inori sighed a little and looked away from me. “I’m really sorry about the other day. I…I didn’t mean for-”Bookmark here

“I know.”Bookmark here

“That doesn’t make it right. If-if I’d just talked to you about it in private, or if I’d just texted or called you, or-”Bookmark here

“I was ignoring everyone’s messages.”Bookmark here

“Then, what if I’d asked to talk to you after school or in the corridor during lunch?!”Bookmark here

“I…would’ve run…away.”Bookmark here

“…Right.”Bookmark here

“Inori, I’m…sorry…for yelling at you.”Bookmark here

“Don’t be, don’t be!” She forced a smile and waved her hands in front of her. “I went over a line that I shouldn’t have, and you have every right-”Bookmark here

“I should’ve told you guys. I should’ve…spoken up, said something, anything, to let you guys know how I felt about guys, but.” My fingers gripped my skirt’s hem tightly. “I was too scared to.”Bookmark here

“I don’t blame you for being scared, especially after what people said.” Inori clicked her tongue. “I should’ve recorded those bastards and sent it to the whole school.”Bookmark here

“You could’ve gotten in trouble for that.”Bookmark here

“It’d have been worth it if it made you feel a bit better.” Inori looked into my eyes. “Would it?”Bookmark here

“…Probably not.”Bookmark here

“Right.” She looked away again. “If I hadn’t made that dumb joke, you’d never have had to come out publicly like that and then you wouldn’t have had these rumours about you, and-”Bookmark here

“Inori, I know people talk about me behind my back. All this does…is give them one more thing to say. However.” I took her hands in mine and smiled. “I accept your apology.”Bookmark here

Relief washed over Inori’s face as she gripped my hands back a little. “Thank you, Akane. And…” She sniffed a little as a few tears formed in her eyes. “I’m really glad you’re my friend.”Bookmark here

We held hands until Inori finally calmed down, and almost used an entire packet of tissues. Bookmark here

Once she let go, I decided to do something I never thought I’d do.Bookmark here

I’d tell her about him.Bookmark here

“My ex…was a great guy when I met him, or, at least I think he was. He was smart, funny, kind, really sweet, and he was always there for me when I needed him. I was so happy when I was with him and I really, really loved him from the bottom of my heart.” I smiled thinly as I recalled my second life. “Honestly, I thought that we would be together forever.Bookmark here

“When we started…middle school, he became really jealous of me. He’d always hear people telling him about how amazing his girlfriend is, how smart she is, how lucky he was to be my hus-boyfriend and…he couldn’t take that.Bookmark here

“He, uh…” I bit my lip. “Started saying things, bad things, about me to other people. Saying I wasn’t that smart, that I cheated, that I was struggling mentally and hiding it from other people. He…he even said that…he hated me because I was too perfect. That’s why we broke up and he never spoke to me again.”Bookmark here

I hadn’t once glanced at Inori since I started my story, but I could just about see her blurry expression out of the corner of my eye.Bookmark here

“…Akane, where’s this guy? I’ll beat him up for you! Actually, scratch that.” She whipped out her phone. “I’ll call Rei and everyone else and they’ll-”Bookmark here

“Wait, wait, wait!”Bookmark here

“What?! Surely you aren’t going to-?!”Bookmark here

“He moved to Korea a few weeks after we broke up!”Bookmark here

“…Seriously?”Bookmark here

I nodded furiously. Bookmark here

“He-his father ended up transferring over there during our second year.”Bookmark here

It wasn’t a good lie and it was one that could easily be disproved, though I had to stick with it.Bookmark here

“And only a few close friends knew we were dating, so…so.”Bookmark here

“So that’s why some people say you cheat on your exams?”Bookmark here

“E-exactly.”Bookmark here

Inori seemed to accept my excuses, calmed herself down and slowly went back to being her normal self.Bookmark here

“God, if I’d known some guy had done that, I would’ve dragged Rei and the others away from you myself. Actually.” Inori leant over and whispered into my ear. “Do you want to tell Hinata or Kana about this, or just keep it between ourselves?”Bookmark here

“…I don’t mind telling them, but I don’t want to tell Rei or anyone else. Maybe at our next sleepover together I can tell the girls.”Bookmark here

“Hey, if it’s too hard for you, I can help you. I mean, I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been for you to tell me all this, so I’d like to help you however I can from now on.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, Inori. That means a lot.”Bookmark here

“Of course.” She showed me the brightest smile I’ve seen her make in a long time. “So, what do you want to do now? We could call it a day, do some window shopping, pick out some swimsuits or-”Bookmark here

“I could help you find a cute outfit for your next date with your boyfriend.”Bookmark here

“H-huh?!” Inori’s whole face turned bright pink. “Y-y-y-you don’t have to do that!”Bookmark here

Ah, I felt relieved.Bookmark here

Inori was back to her usual self, as was our relationship.Bookmark here

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My chest was enveloped by a gentle, pleasant warmth as we continued our date.Bookmark here

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