Chapter 13:

The Hardest Step

Third and Final Time

“Ladies, I have called this emergency conference for one reason and one reason only.”

“Hinata, I’m tired - can’t we-?”

Hinata quickly shushed Kana, placing her hand over our friend’s lips. This, of course, resorted in Kana almost biting Hinata’s hand, though she was able to avoid the strike in time.

It was a Friday night, and we were having a sleepover round Inori’s house.

We’d had six group sleepovers since my first one round Hinata’s, and we’d spent the night at everyone’s house but mine.

I knew that the girls wanted to ask me why, but they seemed to understand that I didn’t want to talk about it.

Maybe they thought my parents were strict or something - I just left it ambiguous since it was easier.

“Ladies - our summer vacation has officially begun and, you know what that means.”

“Summer homework?”

“Heatwaves, sweat, increased electricity bills?”

“Dreading that the air con breaks down?”

“No!” Hinata playfully smacked our shoulders with her balled up fists. “What it means is we’re all going to the pool together!”

“…Just the four of us?”

Hinata smiled brightly at me and nodded. “Of course! In fact, I even asked Rei if he and the guys had plans and he said they were busy that day.”

“What’re they doing?” Kana asked.

“Going on some trip to the mountains, so.” Hinata flashed us a peace sign. “It’s just us girls!”

I sighed internally as the others lightly applauded Hinata.

Despite everything I’d been through, I still wasn’t comfortable with Rei and the others.

They had come to my aid when I came out and, from what I’d heard, they were supporting Hinata and I in the shadows, combating any negative rumours with positive ones, but that didn’t make the anxiety in my chest dissipate.

Rei I was okay with - I could make light conversation with him and was comfortable enough with him hanging out with us four girls.

The others, however, were a completely different story.



I couldn’t separate the two in my mind.

They were the same person, but they weren’t.

I understood that, I tried desperately to wrap my head around that, but my heart wouldn’t listen to me.

Ryuuji Sakamoto was Ryuuji Sakamoto.

“…H-hey, Akane, this is probably not the best time to ask this, but are you…okay with this?”

“What do you-?”

I cut myself off - I understood what Hinata was asking.

If we went to a pool, then we’d be wearing swimsuits and that would mean my scar could be visible.

All three of them were giving me worried looks.

Inori in particular looked a little troubled by Hinata’s question.

When we went out shopping the other day, she picked out some swimsuits for me to wear, and some were two-piece ones. She didn’t look when I wore those, but instead just asked if I thought they looked good.

In the end, I bought two swimsuits - a one-piece and a two-piece, but I didn’t know which I would wear.

It’s not that I was ashamed of my body.

If anything, the scars I bore were a mark of pride - I’d saved Ami’s life and it was a medal of honour I bore.


I didn’t like other people staring at me.






I had felt all those gazes before and I didn’t want to feel them again.

“…I’ll be fine.”

Truthfully, I liked the two-piece more, but.

I wanted to have fun.

I didn’t want to crumble beneath the weight of other people.

So, it was agreed - tomorrow, we would each head home, grab our things, and meet at a water park.

As I was packing my belongings, I couldn’t stop myself from packing both swimsuits into my bag.


We left Hinata’s at 7AM and met up at the water park at 9.

Once we changed and put our things into our lockers, we were ready to start our long day of fun on the hottest day of the summer.

In the end, I had chosen my black one-piece suit over the white two-piece.

When Inori saw what I was wearing, she made a complicated face.

That said.

My friends really are cute.

Inori was wearing a pink bikini outfit that made her quite bewitching; I remember her buying that and saying she wanted to show it off to her boyfriend.

Kana’s was a simple pale blue two-piece that she seemed to be quite shy in, making her even more adorable.

Hinata though looked amazing. She was wearing a yellow two-piece swimsuit with a black trim; she had recently started growing her hair out and had it tied up in a ponytail.

She was really pretty and - she seemed embarrassed to have me staring intensely at her.

“…You look great.” When Hinata almost fainted from the blood rushing to her cheeks, I quickly followed up with, “As do you two.”

“Thanks, Akane. You look great too. Though.” Inori smiled weakly and looked at my shoulder. “Is it-?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Oh! Who’s that I see?”

Oh no.

With trepidation, I looked behind us and saw five guys walking towards us and, front and centre, was Rei.

Upon seeing us, his face went through a range of emotions.

First, was surprise.

Then, frustration.

Then, resignation.

Finally, he mouthed I’m sorry to me as they approached.

Rei, Hayato, Aki, Ryuuji and someone I didn’t know approached us.

“Hinata, you said it’d be just us girls,” Inori whispered.

“It was!” Hinata covered her mouth when she realised she’d been too loud. Then, much more softly, she said, “Rei said they were going to the mountains, I swear. So why are they-?”

“Guess our little surprise turned out better than we hoped,” Hayato said, wrapping his arm around the older boy I didn’t know. “You were right, big bro - it was much, much better to come here than go all the way to the campsite!”

“I-I guess.” Rei laughed awkwardly as he mouthed I’m sorry once more. “S-so, you guys are here too-?!”

“Hey, Rei!” Hinata pulled him close angrily, trapping him with her arm. “You said you were going to the mountains!”

She was speaking in a hushed voice, but her anger was as clear as day.

“I thought we were too, until Hayato’s brother took us the wrong way, said it was too hot to go to the mountains and, before I could object, we were here.”

“That sounds likely.”

“Hinata, I didn’t know, I swear.”

“I believe him.”


They both looked to me. “…I believe him. I don’t know why he’d lie about this and.” I glanced over at the idiot twins as Inori dubbed them. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Did they-?”

“No. How could they? I didn’t tell them, and there’s no way any of you guys would’ve.” Rei sighed a little as he freed himself from Hinata’s grasp. “I’ll try my best to keep them away from you guys, I swear.”

“You better. I swear, Rei, if Akane-”

“A-actually.” I felt the goosebumps rise across my skin as the words slowly trickled out of my throat. “I-i-if…if…you guys want to…hang out with…us, then…I don’t…mind.”

“…Akane, are you sure?”

I nodded at her as she wrapped her hands round mine. “…They seem…” I swallowed a small bit of vomit down my throat. “Nice and…I don’t want you guys to fuss over me.”

“We weren’t - we were-”

“I know.” I put on a somewhat forced smile. “But…I want to try and…get past this.”

It was scary.

It was like I was stood on the edge of the world’s tallest cliff; I could slip and fall at any time, but I knew I couldn’t keep living like this.

I couldn’t run away from my past lives forever, and I couldn’t avoid boys forever either.

I lightly embraced Hinata, startling my friend who, after a few confused moments, held me back. “I’ll be fine and.” I tightened my grip. “If I’m not, I’ll tell you.”

“…You promise?”

I smiled warmly - I could hear her pouting. “I promise.”

“And you’ll stick close to me in case something goes wrong?”


“Then.” She hugged me back strongly. “It’s fine.”

While it hadn’t exactly been the day we’d planned, we did end up spending time together as a big group, though I mostly stayed by Hinata’s side.

More accurately, Hinata wouldn’t let me leave her side.

She had started taking greater care of me ever since I told her and Kana about my ex; in the end, I’d told them last night before we decided to go to the pool, and they could not have been more supportive.

They, like Inori, demanded to know where he was to teach him a lesson, though Hinata had said she’d go as far to buy plane tickets for it.

Still, I was having some fun.

We swam in the main pool for a bit, enjoyed the waves, then we went down all six slides in order. Three of them were solo riders, one was a four-seater one and the last two were pair riders.

Hayato’s older brother had to join another group on the four-seater one, but the rest of us divided into groups based on gender.

Then, of course, for the pair slides, Hinata and I rode them together.

They were a lot of fun, though Hinata did get quite scared on the last slide - The Annihilator.

It was a super tall one that had twists, turns and drops like a rollercoaster, and her screams were so loud I thought I’d go deaf.

After it was over, she was shaking so much I didn’t know what else to do but hug her.

That seemed to calm her down a little, so I suggested we go on ahead of the others and take a break in the lazy river.

“Y-y-yeah…sounds good.”

I don’t want to be bound by my past lives.

As Hinata climbed into an inflatable ring, I suddenly remember that goal.

Despite every grand claim I’d made in my final life, I was still digging my heels in and refusing to take major steps forward.

Every time I had managed to, it hadn’t been of my own free will.

I had been forced into it by my emotions.

I hadn’t made a conscious choice to tell Hinata about my anxiety on the train.

I didn’t tell my parents that I was depressed, and even refused to do so after I passed my breaking point.

I intended to never reveal that I was bi-sexual until I was 100% certain someone liked me for who I was.

So, as I pushed the girl I had a crush on down the lazy river, I swore to myself that I’d finally do it.

I’d finally take control of my life.

I would confess to Hinata today - no matter what.