Chapter 14:


Third and Final Time

After drifting through the lazy river for ten minutes, the others came to find us and suggested that we got lunch.
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Just before we left, I grabbed Hinata’s arm and whispered, “H-hey, before we go home, c-c-can I speak to you…in private?”Bookmark here

“S-sure.”Bookmark here

“…Thank you.”Bookmark here

I spoke softly enough that no one else should’ve heard us, but I did notice Rei giving me a few looks here and there during lunch.Bookmark here

But he was more than ten metres away from me - there’s no way.Bookmark here

Still, it didn’t change what I had to do.Bookmark here

I was going to confess.Bookmark here

No one would get in my way.Bookmark here

No one.Bookmark here

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“Hey, they have a volleyball court!”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, they do.” Aki sighed a little and asked, “Ryuuji, don’t tell me - you want to play, don’t you?”Bookmark here

“Why not? It’s not every day you can play beach volleyball!”Bookmark here

“Indoors, at least,” Inori quipped.Bookmark here

“Come on, it could be fun. And, hey, we can always go swimming later. Right now, there’s no one on it, so please. Just a few games.”Bookmark here

“I’ll pass,” Hayato’s older brother said.Bookmark here

“…What about the rest of you guys?”Bookmark here

Rei looked awkwardly over at us, casting a few more glances at me. I mouthed to him I don’t mind which seemed to settle the matter.Bookmark here

“Alright - just for a bit. I mean, we didn’t come to a water park to play volleyball.”Bookmark here

“Great! That’s fine.”Bookmark here

“Actually.” Hayato grinned and let out a low murmur. “What if we made it more interesting?”Bookmark here

“Go on.”Bookmark here

“Well, if Kou’s sitting out, then why don’t we do a double’s tournament, and the winners can ask the loser to do something.”Bookmark here

“Pervert,” Inori, Hinata, Kana and I all said at once.Bookmark here

“Oi! I never said it had to be anything like that!”Bookmark here

“Well, if it was that, I’d be fine no matter who lost,” Rei mused. Bookmark here

“I meant like a dare or something small, like let us copy your summer homework or-”Bookmark here

“So, that’s the real reason?”Bookmark here

Hayato shut his mouth and looked away from us.Bookmark here

“W-well, if it’s just something like that, then that’s alright, isn’t it?” Aki asked. “Nothing that crosses the line or anything, and we’ll stick to same gender pairs, okay?”Bookmark here

We agreed to Aki’s proposal and drew straws to see who would end up with who, and the teams ended up as: Rei and Aki; Hayato and Ryuuji; Kana and Inori; Hinata and I.Bookmark here

Truth be told, I was not too happy with this arrangement.Bookmark here

I should’ve been happy to be with Hinata, but - she’s not the most athletic member of our group.Bookmark here

Inori is.Bookmark here

Actually, Hinata’s arguably the least athletic of us girls.Bookmark here

She has boundless energy and throws her all into everything, but it doesn’t often produce results in sports, and today was no exception.Bookmark here

At first, it looked like my abilities would’ve been enough to carry us to victory, but then they started targeting Hinata and we started losing badly really quickly.Bookmark here

Our first game was against Inori and Kana, who were relentless in picking on Hinata.Bookmark here

There was only one small saving grace about this - Hinata kept making lots of cute faces whenever they picked on her, or if she missed a shot.Bookmark here

I wish I had a camera.Bookmark here

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What is this?Bookmark here

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I was never like this with Ryuuji in my second life.Bookmark here

Even during our happiest moments, I was never like this.Bookmark here

There were times when I thought he was cute, handsome or really hot, but this - this felt…different.Bookmark here

Why?Bookmark here

“Oi, Akane! It’s your serve!”Bookmark here

“…Right.”Bookmark here

Our final game, the loser’s bracket, had just begun.Bookmark here

Whoever lost would have to obey an order from Rei and Aki who, all things considered, were arguably the best pair to have lost to.Bookmark here

If it was Inori and Kana, I wouldn’t even want to imagine the embarrassing things they’d try to make us do.Bookmark here

If it was Rei, he’d make sure that the order didn’t cross any lines I’d be uncomfortable with, so I didn’t mind losing.Bookmark here

However.Bookmark here

Seeing Ryuuji and Hayato on the other side - I felt like I didn’t want to lose.Bookmark here

We were down by one point and there were two minutes left before the match ended.Bookmark here

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Ryuuji.Bookmark here

I know, in my heart, that you are not the man I loved and grew to hate.Bookmark here

I know that you, right now, are a good, friendly guy, who aided me even when you didn’t have to.Bookmark here

You’ve been nothing but kind and sweet, but - Bookmark here

This anger.Bookmark here

This pain.Bookmark here

I cannot release the hand gripping my heart in a vice whenever I see you.Bookmark here

So-!Bookmark here

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I leapt up into the air and spiked the ball back into their court, scoring a point.Bookmark here

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If playing volleyball with you, if winning against you now, helps me loosen that grip even slightly, then I’ll do it.Bookmark here

I of all people know how much a second chance means.Bookmark here

Which is why - no matter what happens today, I’ll give you another chance.Bookmark here

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It’ll be difficult, painful - I’ll feel like I’m suffocating again, but I want to try.Bookmark here

After today, no matter what happens, I’m not going to let my past lives hold me back any longer.Bookmark here

Today, I move forward!Bookmark here

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“That’s game! Sorry, ladies, but you lose!”Bookmark here

“Dammit! We were so close! Sorry, Akane, I - why are you smiling?”Bookmark here

I hadn’t even realised myself but it wasn’t a bad feeling.Bookmark here

“No reason.”Bookmark here

“Alright - so, that’s that. Akane, Hinata; sorry, but you have to follow whatever order Rei and I come up with. And we’ve already decided on it, haven’t we?”Bookmark here

“Yep. Girls, we know just how much you both love thrill rides, especially you Hinata.”Bookmark here

I saw my friend’s face go pale as the others started snickering.Bookmark here

I knew exactly what they were going to say.Bookmark here

“Akane, Hinata – please go ride the Annihilator water slide; twice, back-to-back.”Bookmark here

“No!”Bookmark here

Just when I thought Hinata couldn’t scream any louder.Bookmark here

And so, with a downtrodden Hinata, we made our way back over to the slide that had traumatised my friend so much.Bookmark here

“No, no - Rei, I hate you. Why me?”Bookmark here

Oh my - she’s actually got a few tears in her eyes.Bookmark here

I lightly stroked her head and said, “It’ll be fine; I’ll be right there with you.”Bookmark here

“…Really?”Bookmark here

“Really. I mean.” I laughed a little. “It’s a pair slide.”Bookmark here

“…And you’ll sit in the front?”Bookmark here

“And I’ll sit in the front.”Bookmark here

“And you’ll hold my hand.”Bookmark here

“And…sure.”Bookmark here

Hinata brightened up quite a bit and rubbed her head against my hand like a puppy.Bookmark here

Thank you for this, Rei.Bookmark here

On the first time down, the others had gathered to see us dismount and hear Hinata’s screams; naturally, they laughed when she got embarrassed and told the boys how much she hated them. Bookmark here

“Well, we’re going to go back in the tidal wave pool for a bit, so just come meet us when you’re done here.”Bookmark here

“I’ll remember this, Rei Yukimura!” Bookmark here

“Oh, how scary. Hey, anyone want to buy a waterproof camera to-”Bookmark here

“Akane, let’s go!”Bookmark here

This time, she dragged me to the slide.Bookmark here

This time we ended up having to queue for twenty minutes, the whole time, Hinata insisted that I held her hand.Bookmark here

When I asked her why, she just said, “Otherwise I won’t stop shaking.”Bookmark here

Though she said that, she was still shaking.Bookmark here

So, we rode it again, still holding hands, though we had a bad dismount this time.Bookmark here

Our raft was capsized and we both ended up under the water.Bookmark here

In the confusion.Bookmark here

“Ah-!”Bookmark here

Hinata ended up in my arms.Bookmark here

“…You okay?”Bookmark here

“…Yeah.”Bookmark here

Our faces were only a few inches apart and she had both of her arms in front of her chest.Bookmark here

Hinata was always cute, but now - she looked beautiful.Bookmark here

“Please vacate the exit area!”Bookmark here

The lifeguard’s call brought us back to reality as we scrambled to get out of the pool.Bookmark here

“S-s-s-s-so, le-let’s go-”Bookmark here

I grabbed her hand.Bookmark here

“…Can we…talk…first?”Bookmark here

“…Sure.”Bookmark here

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I took Hinata to the most secluded area I could find in the shade, and we just stood there, in silence, for an uncomfortable amount of time.Bookmark here

“So…what’s…up?”Bookmark here

All of my resolve that I’d built up felt like it was about to collapse beneath me.Bookmark here

…Where did all of my earlier bravado go?Bookmark here

Didn’t I say that I’d confess no matter what?Bookmark here

Didn’t I say I wouldn’t let my past lives bind me?Bookmark here

Didn’t I-?Bookmark here

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“Akane?”Bookmark here

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Why am I overthinking this?Bookmark here

I looked more closely at the girl I liked, deep into her jewel-like eyes, and felt my cheeks warm.Bookmark here

Hinata - there are so many things I could say I love about you.Bookmark here

Your eyes.Bookmark here

Your cute expressions.Bookmark here

Your laugh.Bookmark here

Your energy.Bookmark here

Your sweetness.Bookmark here

Your trust.Bookmark here

There are few days when I don’t think about how grateful I am to have met you, and you probably will never know just how much you mean to me, and how much you’ve changed my life.Bookmark here

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So - I told her all of that.Bookmark here

I didn’t care how embarrassed either of us were.Bookmark here

I told her everything I loved about her, word for word as the thoughts floated into my mind.Bookmark here

And then.Bookmark here

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“Hinata - I love you. Please go out with me.”Bookmark here

I wouldn’t let it be left ambiguous.Bookmark here

I wouldn’t leave myself a way out in case she turned me down.Bookmark here

No, this was it.Bookmark here

No matter what my best friend says, I’ll accept it.Bookmark here

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My eyes started to water.Bookmark here

As did hers.Bookmark here

Did that mean-?Bookmark here

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“Of course!” Bookmark here

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I don’t know when, but Hinata had thrown her arms around me, and had started giggling happily. She was rubbing her cheek against mine, her tears falling onto my skin, and laughing - it was the laugh I loved most in this world.Bookmark here

“You…this isn’t…”Bookmark here

“It’s not a dream, and I love you that way too!” Hinata laughed again, broke away from me and started wiping the tears from her eyes. “I’ve loved you for so long and.” She sniffed. “I didn’t think you’d ever-! I mean, you’re you and I’m-”Bookmark here

“That’s my line, idiot.” I lightly chopped her forehead and giggled. “Even when you said you were into girls, I didn’t-”Bookmark here

“Oh god, that’s when I thought someone would find out and then tell you, and then we’d-!”Bookmark here

I put my hand on her cheek; she became meek as her skin turned pink.Bookmark here

“Hinata - you’re my girlfriend, right?”Bookmark here

“…Yes.”Bookmark here

“Then…can I…kiss you?”Bookmark here

She smiled lovingly at me. “…Yes.”Bookmark here

In a quiet corner of the water park, our lips touched and I became the happiest woman alive.Bookmark here

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I had a girlfriend.Bookmark here

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